Marjorie Taylor Greene hit with audio of harassment after attempting to dunk on Eric Swalwell

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., got into a heated Twitter spat on Wednesday after Greene accused Swalwell of lying about a pro-Trump family he witnessed while giving a Capitol tour.

"Today I gave a tour in the Capitol and was stopped by a father with his young boy," Swalwell recounted over Twitter. "The father yelled at me 'Hey Swalwell' and then told his son, 'that's Swalwell. He's trouble. He doesn't back Trump.' I kept walking and felt sad for the boy. He's being raised in a cult family."

Hours later, Greene claimed that there was "no way that happened."

"Because we all know good Trump supporting fathers would say, 'that's the Democrat who had sex with a Chinese spy,'" she quipped.

Such allegations first emerged out of right-wing circles in December 2020 after Axios reported that Swalwell had years-long communications with a Chinese spy known as Christine Fang. Fang reportedly took part in fundraising for the California congressman's 2014 re-election campaign and helped assign an intern to his office. Swalwell reportedly cut ties with Fang in 2015 after U.S. officials notified him that Fang was part of a broader Chinese operation to influence promising politicians. That operation, according to Axios, involved sexual relations with at least two Midwestern mayors. Still, there is no evidence that Fang and Swalwell had any sexual conduct.

After Greene attempted to dredge up this unsubstantiated claim on Thursday, Swalwell shared a threatening voicemail that was sent to his office, claiming that the sender was likely motivated by violent rhetoric Greene has espoused.

"Marjorie loves to play the victim. But she's an inciter of violence," Swalwell tweeted. "Her constant attacks — even after the FBI said I was never suspected of wrongdoing — lead to threatening calls like this. This caller from today threatened to kill my three children."

In the voicemail, someone's voice can be heard saying, "Hey, you little c**ksucker. You still banging the Chinese spy Fang Fang? ... We're coming to your house this weekend. Gon' get you and them little mutant bastards, them little mutant offspring of yours. We're gon' get ya."

It isn't the first time Swalwell has shared such threats. Back in December, the congressman shared a private Twitter exchange of a man telling him he should be hung and shot.

NOW WATCH: Justice Breyer issues scathing dissent as Supreme Court kills New York gun ruling

Justice Breyer issues scathing dissent as Supreme Court kills New York gun ruling

Republicans abandon their free-market ideals to go all-in on the culture wars

In America's current political climate, there are a vanishingly small number of issues on which Democrats and Republicans in Congress can make common cause. But if there is one area of policy where the political willpower exists for significant bipartisan legislation, that area is without a doubt Big Tech. Over the years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly railed against the oligopolistic tendencies of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, arguing that all four behemoths violate antitrust laws designed to promote competition and protect consumers from being exploited. This shared grievance has brought together some of the most unlikely allies in Congress who can, at the very least, agree that too few companies in the tech world have too much power.

One reason these odd alliances have materialized is because Big Tech does not map squarely onto traditional left-and-right lines. The technologies that undergird Big Tech, such as cloud-computing and algorithmic sorting, are nearly impossible for the average person to understand, leaving lawmakers with very little material to push a clear political agenda. Some conservatives have dubiously alleged that Big Tech "censors" right-wing voices. But even then, there is significant disagreement amongst Republicans around whether the problem of "censorship" would be actually remedied by heightened antitrust laws.

This point was brought into sharp relief on Tuesday in a Fox News op-ed published by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a libertarian conservative known for his relatively unorthodox political views. In it, Paul casts doubt over the economic prudence of breaking up the Big Four and calls on his fellow Republicans to stand by the free-market ideals that the party is known for.

"While many of my colleagues share my anger with big tech companies [over censorship], they do not share my free-market principles. Instead, the bipartisan zeal for vengeance inspired an antitrust crusade against Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter," he writes. "But these proposals to ostensibly cut the tech giants down to size would, instead, perpetuate the dominant position of these companies and deprive consumers of the technological innovation that only free-market competition can provide."

To make his case, Paul argues that consumers benefit from a popular business tactic in Big Tech called "vertical integration," where a company streamlines and cheapens its operations by owning multiple stages of production. As an example, Paul cites Apple: "Apple not only manufactures the iPhone, but also acquired AuthenTec, which developed the fingerprint ID sensor to unlock the device. Apple also sells its products through its own retail stores. Like McDonald's, Apple's use of vertical integration allows it to ensure the quality of its product and pass along savings to consumers."

At first blush, it's easy to see why vertical integration might benefit consumers: They don't have to go through the arduous task of independently purchasing all of the constituent products and services that come with the iPhone. But many of Paul's Republican colleagues would like to make Apple's model much harder to sustain, arguing that it engages in anticompetitive practices by simply buying out smaller tech firms and incorporating their innovations into its own product line.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has introduced the "Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act," a bill that would "ban all mergers and acquisitions by companies with market capitalization exceeding $100 billion." Hawley's measure specifically prohibits "vertical" mergers and would impact over 150 major corporations, including Apple and Amazon. "Amazon should be broken up," he said in a press release last year. "No one company should be able to control e-commerce AND privilege its own products on the same platform AND control the cloud."

Hawley's bill is animated by a reigning belief amongst antitrust advocates: Competition is good because it forces companies to continually improve their products and, in the process, maximize consumer welfare.

"Fundamentally, it's about a consumer's ability to choose another option if they're not happy with a particular product," Charlotte Slaiman, Competition Policy Director at Public Knowledge, told Salon in an interview. "[Companies] want to do better in order to keep customers. If they see that they're losing customers, they're going to change their behavior to provide a better product."

To Paul, that general sentiment might be true. But increasing government oversight, he argues, will harm the innovations that might arise out of contentious buyouts. "Yesterday's innovations would likely have been prevented by today's antitrust proposals," he writes. "For example, Microsoft purchased Forethought, which allowed it to improve PowerPoint. In 2005, Google purchased a failed dating website called YouTube and helped transform it into a video sharing platform visited by over 2 billion users every month. Had the threat of antitrust litigation been stronger, these acquisitions – and innovations – may never have been made."

To be sure, there is vigorous debate amongst experts around whether mergers and acquisitions in tech lead to innovation. But as that debate rages on, many Republicans in Congress are already gunning for a crackdown of epic proportion.

This January, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the "American Innovation and Choice Online Act," a non-discrimination bill that would prevent companies like Google and Facebook from using their platforms to disadvantage their competitors' products or services. The measure, supported by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wy., would cover at least 50 major companies in the tech industry. In February, that same committee passed the "Open App Markets Act," a narrower tagalong bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., that would restrict companies like Apple and Google from giving preferential treatment to their own apps.

That being said, the GOP is not fully in sync on which bills, if any, should ultimately reach the president's desk.

Last June, during a bipartisan push to advance a spate of anti-tech bills through the lower chamber, House Republicans splintered over whether the bills took the right approach.

"The premise that big is bad, or that we should have legislation that defines companies being treated differently simply because they've grown to a certain value, I think that's inherently bad legislation," as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told The Hill at the time. "And I looked forward to a markup where I think that we should insist on some of that being changed."

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, bashed the legislative package as a Democratic power-grab that failed to address concerns around "censorship."

"The House Republican plan to confront big tech won't be influenced by anything other than the commitment to free speech and free enterprise," Mark Bednar, a spokesman for McCarthy, told The Wall Street Journal.

Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the Chamber of Progress, a center-left coalition of technology firms, said that Republicans generally fall into two camps on Big Tech.

"One is Rand Paul saying, 'Let's go to Parler and Truth Social and create our own things' – and that competition will solve things. The free market response," he said in an interview with Salon. "And then the other is … essentially: Let's use our political power to require the tech companies to make … policies that are aligned with our cultural values."

Still, there remains a separate contingent of Republicans who appear to be more concerned about the sheer size of Big Tech as a problem in and of itself. The main challenge for that group, Kovacevich suggested, will be locating the "point of pain" on the consumer's end.

"We don't see that in tech," he told Salon. "For example, Big Tech antitrust bills around non-discrimination are mostly driven by [concerns around] companies that would benefit from [discrimination]," he said. "But it's not driven by a voter looking at this and saying, 'I'm demanding that something change here.' And that's really important."

GOP tries to undermine Jan. 6 hearings before they even begin with claims of 'altered evidence'

The House GOP is already mounting a counter-programming campaign designed to undermine the credibility of the January 6 hearings, even before they've begun.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, accused the panel investigating the Capitol riot of "altering evidence and lying to the American people about it."

"The goal has been stated," he continued. "Their goal is to end the Electoral College and their goal is to stop President Trump from running in 2024."

Jordan did not explain which evidence has allegedly been tampered with or how such tampering might inform the proceedings.

According to Axios, Rep. Jamie Raksin, D-Md., a member of the committee, has expressed a desire to scrap the Electoral College, deeming it an undemocratic institution that could allow for elections to be subverted, just as former President Donald Trump attempted after the 2020 presidential election. However, it is not apparent that the rest of the committee is on board with this plan. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has pushed back on Democratic proposals, according to the report.

House Republicans have also questioned the panel's relationship with former ABC News President James Goldston, a documentarian who, according to Axios, has "joined the committee as an unannounced adviser."

Goldston is reportedly advising the committee on how to compellingly present footage of the Capital insurrection, when thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on January 6 to prevent Congress from certifying Trump's loss over false allegations of voter fraud.

But in a letter on Wednesday, a group of conservative lawmakers claimed that the Committee on House Administration had not been made privy to Goldston's hiring, according to ABC News.

"To our knowledge, the Committee has not received or considered such a request," they wrote. "Such an arrangement would violate House Rules and the House Ethics Manual regulations which clearly states that 'no logical distinction can be drawn between the private contribution of in-kind services and the private contribution of money.'"

It remains unclear precisely what exhibits will be shown and what questions will be asked in the first hearing. However, Republicans are already criticizing the committee's first witness, documentarian Nick Quested, who filmed the Proud Boys in the days leading up to the riot, according to CBS News.

"Their first witness is the documentarian," Jordan said this week. "So that sort of tells you how political this thing is."

Perhaps the most shocking attempt at counter-programming this week came from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who suggested that Raskin's judgment is clouded due to the suicide of his son.

"When people encounter trauma, they often associate a lot of the other things around that trauma with it, even if they don't naturally or even rationally associate," Gaetz said on a podcast with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. "And what I worry about for the Congress and for Jamie Raskin, you know, no one would ever want to lose a child, particularly to suicide."

Raskin's son, Thomas, died by suicide just days before the insurrection.

Trump ignites a fury from his MAGA base after endorsing Kevin McCarthy for re-election

Donald Trump threw his weight behind House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Saturday, calling the Republican lawmaker "strong and fearless" ahead of McCarthy's potential re-election.

Trump's endorsement came in a social media post over Truth Social, in which the former president said that McCarthy is an "outstanding representative for the people of California."

"In Congress, Kevin is a tireless advocate for the people of Bakersfield and the Central Valley. He is working incredibly hard to Stop Inflation, Deliver Water Solutions, and Hold Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi Accountable for their catastrophic failures and dereliction of duty," Trump wrote. "Kevin McCarthy has my Complete and Total Endorsement."

Trump's imprimatur reportedly sparked ire from much of his base, in large part because McCarthy has not expressed total devotion to the former president in the past.

"Trump endorsing Frank Luntz bunk buddy Kevin McCarthy, instead of using his political capital to undermine bad GOP leadership, is a sign that Trump has not learned much after all this time about who is and is not America First," tweeted right-wing writer Pedro L. Gonzalez.

Conservative radio host Leo Terrell casted strong doubt over McCarthy's true allegiances, claiming that the representative "does not want President Trump to win re-election in 2024."

Back in January 2021, just after the Capitol riot, the House Republican was reportedly considering asking Trump to resign, according to The New York Times.

"The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign," he told a group of GOP lawmakers over the phone. "What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that and nobody should defend it."

Shortly after a recording of that call was leaked, the former president expressed that he "didn't like the call" but ultimately dismissed it because McCarthy had apparently been loyal enough. "I think it's all a big compliment, frankly," Trump told The Wall Street Journal. "They realized they were wrong and supported me."

It isn't the first time that one of Trump's endorsements has been castigated by his own base, as Newsweek noted. Back in April, Trump ignited a fury in the MAGA-verse after backing celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania. The former president also struck a nerve for endorsing J.D. Vance, the conservative author and venture capitalist, for the U.S. Senate in Ohio.

Behind the Joe Biden v. Jeff Bezos beef: What their inflation spat is really about

The White House clapped back at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Monday after the multibillionaire criticized the president's plan to combat inflation with steeper corporate taxes, saying that "it doesn't require a huge leap to figure out why" Bezos, whose $1.63 trillion company paid no taxes last year, would be opposed to the plan.

The online crossfire began on Friday, shortly after President Biden took to Twitter by saying, "You want to bring down inflation? Let's make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share."

Though Biden did not namecheck Amazon directly, his comment did not sit well with Bezos, who immediately accused the president of pushing disinformation by drawing a connection between inflation and corporate taxes

"The newly created Disinformation Board should review this tweet, or maybe they need to form a new Non Sequitur Board instead," Bezos said in response. "Raising corp taxes is fine to discuss. Taming inflation is critical to discuss. Mushing them together is just misdirection."

Bezos even praised West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's obstruction of his own party's anti-poverty and climate action agenda.

But the White House did not back down from the executive's criticism.

"It doesn't take a huge leap to figure out why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face … by asking the richest taxpayers and corporations to pay their fair share," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told CNBC.

The Bezos-Biden spat comes as the price of food and fuel soars across the U.S., putting millions of working Americans at further risk of food insecurity and eviction as the nation still reels from the pandemic. The annual rate of inflation was about 8.3% ending in April, the highest it's been in 40 years. Meanwhile, Securities and Exchange Commission filings for 100 U.S. companies reveal that corporations have used inflation as a pretext for raising prices while boosting their profits.

On Twitter, however, Bezos appeared to attribute the radical rise in prices to federal spending, a talking point that Republicans have used to pin the blame on Biden.

"Remember the Administration tried their best to add another $3.5 TRILLION to federal spending," he tweeted. "They failed, but if they had succeeded, inflation would be even higher than it is today, and inflation today is at a 40 year high."

But as Salon reported back in April, many experts have told a different story, citing corporate consolidation, corporate profiteering, and deregulation as chief reasons for price increases across the board. "You don't see any correlation between inflation and the generosity of fiscal relief. Inflation is up everywhere, regardless of whether countries were stingy or generous," Josh Bivens, Director of Research at the Economic Policy Institute, told Salon at the time.

Lindsay Owens, Executive Director of the Groundwork Collaborative, told Salon that in order to fight inflation, Biden will need to disincentivize companies from applying the profit-driven markups to their products that are causing prices to rise. (Markups represent the difference between a product's selling price and its production cost.)

"Since the pandemic, about 54% of the price increases we're seeing are coming from what we call the markup," she said in an interview, citing research from the Economic Policy Institute. "That piece gets a lot less fun and a lot less lucrative," she added, when "it's taxed back and shipped off to the Treasury."

Even Larry Summers, who attributed the inflation to Biden's fiscal spending, echoed Owens' sentiment this week over Twitter, saying that Bezos is "mostly wrong in his recent attack on the @JoeBiden Admin. It is perfectly reasonable to believe, as I do and @POTUS asserts, that we should raise taxes to reduce demand to contain inflation and that the increases should be as progressive as possible."

Some experts have suggested that higher corporate taxes could actually lead to higher inflation. In one Washington Post article, Bloomberg Opinion columnist Karl W. Smith argued that such hikes would "reduce the profitability of new investments, further dampening the incentive to increase production." Because "less investment also leads to less supply," he added, "the net effect could be to increase inflation pressures."

However, Owens disputed this claim, citing the aftermath of Trump's decision to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% in 2017.

"We just had a big reduction in the corporate tax rate under President Trump with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," she said. "It didn't result in big wage increases for workers, it didn't result in a lot of additional productive investment and growth in the real economy, and it definitely didn't translate into lower prices for consumers.

Buffalo gunman's racism appears linked to mainstreaming of white nationalism

Amid the outpouring of grief and heartache following Saturday's massacre in Buffalo that left 10 people dead and three wounded, critical observers say the racial animus which evidence shows motivated the killer must be seen in the larger context of a white nationalist mindset that has increasingly broken into the mainstream of the right-wing political movement and Republican Party in recent years.

Taken into custody at the scene of the mass shooting at the Tops Market was Payton Gendron, the white 18-year-old male who has charged with murdering the victims. Gendron live-streamed his attack online and also posted a detailed, 180-page document that has been described by those who have reviewed it — including journalists and law enforcement — as a white nationalist manifesto rife with anti-Black racism, antisemitism and conspiracy theories about "white replacement."

According to local outlet News 4 in Buffalo:

The document, which News 4 has reviewed, plotted the attack in grotesque detail. The writer plotted his actions down to the minute, included diagrams of his path through the store and said he specifically targeted the Tops Markets location on Jefferson Avenue because its zip code has the highest percentage of Black people close enough to where he lives.

"This was pure evil," said Erie County Sheriff John Garcia during a press conference on Saturday. The attack, he said, "was straight-up racially motivated hate crime from somebody outside of our community."

A senior law enforcement official in Buffalo told NBC News that officials were working to verify the document's authenticity and confirm Gendron was behind it.

"We are aware of the manifesto allegedly written by the suspect and we're working to definitively confirm that he is the author," the official said.

NBC, which reviewed the document, reports:

The manifesto includes dozens of pages of antisemitic and racist memes, repeatedly citing the racist "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory frequently pushed by white supremacists, which falsely alleges white people are being "replaced" in America as part of an elaborate Jewish conspiracy theory. Other memes use tropes and discredited data to denigrate the intelligence of non-white people.
In the manifesto, Gendron claims that he was radicalized on 4chan while he was "bored" at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
The document also claims "critical race theory," a recent right-wing talking point that has come to generally encompass teaching about race in school, is part of a Jewish plot, and a reason to justify mass killings of Jews.

The manifesto also includes repeated references to another mass shooter motivated by racial hate, Brenton Tarrant, who in 2019 live-streamed his vicious Islamophobic assault on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he murdered 51 people and wounded dozens of others.

With these and other facts established about Gendron's apparent motivations and ideology, many of those horrified by Saturday's killings responded by saying the brutal and deadly attack in Buffalo cannot — and should not — be separated from the growing embrace of the far-right nationalism that has increasingly found a home inside more mainstream institutions in the U.S., including right-wing media outlets like Fox News and a Republican Party enthralled by the xenophobic and fascistic conspiracy theories of Donald Trump.

"We are horrified, heartbroken, and enraged at the news of the vicious attack on our neighbors and loved ones in Buffalo, New York," said People's Action, the progressive advocacy group, in a statement.

"This racist attack is a pure example of evil," the group added. "It's also the predictable result of the relentless onslaught of white nationalist and antisemitic conspiracy theories spewed from the far right, increasingly distributed by major corporate news outlets like Fox News and the extremist politicians their billionaire allies have cultivated."

"In Christchurch, New Zealand and El Paso, Texas and Poway, California and now again in Buffalo, New York, a gunman motivated by a white nationalist conspiracy theory about invading immigrants shot and killed people of color," said Sumayyah Waheed, senior policy council for Muslim Advocates, in a statement referencing a series of mass shootings carried out by white supremacists in recent years.

"In Christchurch, El Paso, Poway, California, and now in Buffalo, a gunman. motivated by white nationalist conspiracy theory ... shot and killed people of color."

"Just like in Christchurch," Waheed continued, "the alleged Buffalo shooter both posted a manifesto about the 'great replacement' conspiracy theory and also livestreamed his massacre on social media. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to the people of Buffalo."

In a statement on Sunday, Kina Collins, a gun violence prevention advocate and Democratic congressional candidate running for Congress in Illinois' 7th district, made similar arguments.

Calling the shooting a "devastating and sickening display of the racism, white supremacy, hate, and gun violence that plague this country," Collins said, "Black people in Buffalo were targeted for no reason other than that they are Black."

"This was an act of terrorism and it should be treated as such," she added. "It is another reminder that white supremacy has and will always be America's greatest threat. White supremacy has infiltrated our military and police departments. It was also on display on January 6th last year as insurrectionists, fueled by white supremacy, attacked our Capitol and threatened the lives of sitting members of Congress."

Journalist Sam Sacks also made a connection between the Buffalo shooter and the "Big Lie" movement that drove the Jan. 6 insurrection last year.

Waheed in his statement said, "This hateful, white nationalist rhetoric is not just being spread by lone gunmen."

Such rhetoric, he said, "can also be found on cable news and in the rhetoric of politicians today. On his cable news show, Tucker Carlson said that 'the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.' In campaign ads, Donald Trump described Latino immigrants as an 'invasion.' In a speech, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called the election of Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib 'an Islamic invasion of our government.'"

With Republicans and major media personalities "normalizing white nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-Latino, antisemitic and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories," and gunmen like the one in Buffalo carrying out such attacks, Waheed said it is now "clear that white nationalism is the greatest threat to our nation's security and we must hold everyone who spreads this hate accountable before anyone else is harmed."

How conservatives were duped by a Russian disinformation campaign

Right-wing personalities are spreading baseless notion that the U.S. is producing bioweapons in Ukraine, a Kremlin-backed conspiracy theory apparently used to justify Russia's devastating invasion of Ukraine.

The theory, reported by Media Matters, was publicly presented during a Tuesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in which Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland whether Ukraine has access to "chemical or biological weapons."

Nuland responded that Ukraine has "biological research facilities" that the State Department is concerned might fall into Russian hands.

Later, Rubio noted that "Russian propaganda groups" are spreading "information about how they have uncovered a plot by the Ukrainians to unleash biological weapons in the country."

To that point, Nuland acknowledged that "it is a classic Russian technique to blame the other guy for what they are planning to do themselves."

While U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly denied possessing bioweapons in Ukraine, members of QAnon have spread the theory near and far – and now, it's getting validation from mainstream conservatives with massive followings.

On Wednesday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested that Nuland, who suggested that Russia might be using disinformation tactics, was in fact the one waging a propaganda campaign against Russia.

"So what you are saying, Victoria Nuland, if, for example, you were funding secret bio-labs in Ukraine but wanted to hide that fact from the people who were paying for it in whose name you are doing it, then you might lie about it by claiming the Russians were lying about it," Carlson ranted. "In other words, you might mount a disinformation campaign by claiming the other guy was mounting a disinformation campaign. Is that what you are saying, Victoria Nuland?"

Ex-Trump advisor Steve Bannon echoed a similarly meandering line of thinking that same day, instructing Florida residents to ask Rubio whether the CIA and Defense Department gave him specific questions to stick to in the hearing.

"What are they creating?" Bannon asked of the agencies. "Are we involved in any way? Have we financed it? Are we partners? Do we actually know what's going on?"

Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn was even more to the point, declaring that the U.S. had somehow admitted to developing bioweapons in Ukraine.

"I was told that biolabs in Ukraine was a conspiracy theory yet here we are," Flynn wrote over Telegram. "They are now admitting it openly."

While it is true that the U.S. has biolabs in Ukraine, there is no evidence that the U.S. is building bioweapons with them. In fact, the U.S. operation of these labs stems from a 2005 agreement between Ukraine and the U.S. to secure old Soviet-era weapons that were left behind in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's disintegration, CNN noted.

"The US Department of Defense's Biological Threat Reduction Program works with the Ukrainian government to consolidate and secure pathogens and toxins of security concern in Ukrainian government facilities, while allowing for peaceful research and vaccine development," the U.S. embassy explained back in 2020.

According to CNN, the theory that the U.S. is holding bioweapons in Ukraine typically flares up during times in which Russia is under intense international scrutiny. Kremlin agents have been known to plant pro-Russia stories in fringe media outlets, which results in conspiracy theories percolating to more mainstream personalities with larger audiences

The troubling role of Clarence Thomas' wife in Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election

For decades, Ginni Thomas, a top brass conservative activist, has devoted her life to advocating for right-wing causes, aligning herself with donor networks and advocacy groups that have and continue to play a key role in maintaining Republican authority. But Ginni Thomas is no ordinary Republican operative; she is also the wife of Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. And as her political activities extreme, critics fear that, given the recent rash of partisan Supreme Court rulings, she may have concerning sway over her husband's jurisprudence.

On Tuesday, The New York Times Magazine reported that the couple has "defied" the ethical "norms" of the Supreme Court, particularly when it comes to Ginni Thomas' political projects, whose goals almost always align with her husband's professed ideological leanings.

"She's an operator; she stays behind the scenes," ex-Trump advisor Steve Bannon told the Times. "Unlike a lot of people who just talk, she gets shit done."

For one, Ginni Thomas reportedly serves in a prominent role in the Council for National Policy, a shadowy umbrella organization that brings together a number of leaders from groups like the Federalist Society, the National Rifle Association and the Family Research Council. According to the Times, Thomas specifically serves on the C.N.P. Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the organization, which "allows for direct political advocacy."

Following Donald Trump's election loss in November 2020, C.N.P. Action reportedly circulated "action steps" aimed at pressuring state officials in Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania to go along with the former president's campaign to reinstall himself as president.

"There is historical, legal precedent for Congress to count a slate of electors different from that certified by the Governor of the state," the group reportedly wrote in a December memo.

In the aftermath of the January 6 Capitol riot, fomented by the very election fraud claims C.N.P. Action espoused, the group reportedly sought to "drive the narrative that it was mostly peaceful protests" and "amplify the concerns of the protestors and give them legitimacy," according to documents obtained by the Times.

By February, a coalition of Pennsylvania Republicans brought Trump's election fraud claims to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ballots had been systematically compromised. While their allegations were ultimately shut down by the court, Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, writing that his own colleagues' reasoning was "inexplicable."

Ginni Thomas has also advocated on several other issues that recently made their way to the Supreme Court. In particular, the Council for National Policy campaigned aggressively against abortion and lockdowns during COVID-19. Incidentally, in January, the Supreme Court in insulated a near-total ban on abortions. And the next month, it prohibited a ban on indoor church services despite the spread of the coronavirus.

Though much of her work is reserved to the world of advocacy, Ginni Thomas also reportedly meddled in the Trump administration's staffing, a habit that at times irked White House aides.

"In the White House, she was out of bounds many times," one of Trump's senior aides told the Times. "It was always: 'We need more MAGA people in government. We're trying to get these résumés through, and we're being blocked.' I appreciated her energy, but a lot of these people couldn't pass background checks."

Another aide, more tersely, called her a "wrecking ball."

According to the Times, Trump told Ginni Thomas that she was welcome to drop in for visits to the White House. Numerous aides said that "she was also reportedly known to pass "notes" to the president "on her priorities through intermediaries."

In one alleged meeting with the president, held back in 2019, Ginni Thomas brought in members of Groundswell, a conservative group that, according to Mother Jones, is planning "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation."

"It was the craziest meeting I've ever been to," a Trump aide told the Times. "She started by leading the prayer." The aide also recalled talk of "the transsexual agenda" and of parents "chopping off their children's breasts."

The following year, the Times noted, Justice Thomas joined his conservative colleagues in a dissent arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

What's behind the right-wing book-ban frenzy? Big money -- and a long-term plan

Until very recently, "book bans" seemed like a term out of the past, or a phenomenon that erupted sporadically in small school or library district in the most conservative areas of the country. But over the last several years, parents' groups aggrieved by the left's alleged influence K-12 education have been working tirelessly to bring them back. All kinds of books have been exiled from library shelves or school curricula in the latest book-ban frenzy, although there's no question that books about slavery, racism and the civil rights movement, along with books about growing up LGBTQ and that community's struggle for equality, are center stage.

This phenomenon has largely been perceived, and framed in media accounts, as a grassroots movement, with local groups of parents or school-board officials leading the brigade in their own towns or neighborhoods. But that may not be the real story. New reporting suggests that certain elements of this broad-based advocacy have been coordinated by some of the country's most influential deep-pockets conservatives, who stand much to gain from fanning the flames of the culture war, even at the most granular levels.

Last week, The Guardian reported that a number of ostensible grassroots groups on the frontlines of the "parental rights" movement have connections to right-wing politicians and donor networks who are highly skilled at "astroturfing" local conflicts on a national scale.

Notable among these groups is Moms for Liberty, a 70,000-member nonprofit with 165 chapters throughout the country. The group is operated by Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, two former school board members. But according to its articles of incorporation, Moms for Liberty was originally co-founded and co-directed by Bridget Ziegler, the wife of Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party, as Media Matters noted. Marie Rogerson, a former campaign consultant who now serves as the group's director of development, formerly worked for Republican state Rep. Randy Fine, according to Treasure Coast Newspapers. Fine himself has been a central figure in Florida Republicans' crusade against "critical race theory."

While Moms for Liberty is perhaps the most high-visibility advocacy groups of its kind, there are many others in the mix. Groups like Parents Defending Education and No Left Turn in Education also operate in the same ecosystem and, like Moms for Liberty, have connections to big players in right-wing politics.

Parents Defending Education — a self-described "grassroots organization" promoting "the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our kids" — is led by Nicole Neily, whose résumé is littered with connections to the Koch brothers. Neily was the president and founder of the pro-free speech group Speech First, which according to The Nation, runs "a highly professional astro-turfing campaign, with a board of former Bush administration lawyers and longtime affiliates of the Koch family." Neily has also served in leadership capacities at the Independent Women's Forum and the Cato Institute, both of which are direct recipients of Koch cash.

At present, nonprofit law does not require nonprofit organizations such as Moms for Liberty to disclose their donors. But in an interview with Salon, Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice denied speculation that the group is funded by big-money benefactors, claiming it is mostly financed through memberships, small donations, and t-shirt sales.

"If somebody wants to write me a check to get masks off of kids' faces and to make sure that kids in schools are not being indoctrinated," Justice said, "absolutely, I'm going to take that check."

No Left Turn's funding is, likewise, something a mystery. The group, which had 30 chapters in 23 states as of last June, lists among its supporters numerous high-profile right-wingers, including David Clarke, the pro-Trump former sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who often speaks at GOP events and has taken money from the National Rifle Association. Clarke formerly served on the board of the Steve Bannon-backed group that was later implicated in a border wall fundraising racket. Other board members include Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International, an evangelical lobbying nonprofit famous for spreading anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience; and CEO Elana Yaron Fishbein, who reportedly attended a private briefing held by the Heritage Foundation last May with state lawmakers looking to remove "critical race theory" from classrooms, according to NBC News.

No Left Turn and Parents Defending Education did not respond to Salon's inquiries.

In organizing terms, Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education and No Left Turn all adhere to a similar formula, as the Guardian noted. In most cases, a parent ostensibly flags a local school for doing something they consider beyond the pale, such as incorporating "controversial" books about gender or sexuality into the curricula. That parent and their allies reach out to one of the aforementioned groups, whose leaders weave the incident into their broader national narrative.

To smoothen this process, some groups provide detailed walkthroughs for parents about how to file open records requests, create press releases, file civil rights complaints and petition school boards. One template provided by No Left Turn, for example, offers "a letter written by a parent of a child whose teacher assigned the reading of 'Front Desk' by Kelly Yang," a children's book about a young Chinese immigrant that parents in a small Long Island district described as "extremely divisive and controversial" and characterized as "a recommended CRT novel." (There is no such thing as a "CRT novel," recommended or otherwise, and Yang's book has never otherwise been described in those terms.)

Taken together, parents' rights groups appear to have a relatively narrow focus: to eradicate what they see as left-wing ideology from public schools. But Dr. Maurice T. Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the author of "Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization," argues that their real goals are far more ambitious.

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind — zero — that what groups like Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education are doing is structural and aimed at the destruction and ultimate privatization of America's public school system," Cunningham, wrote by email. "These groups are communications operations and highly networked into The Daily Caller, Breitbart [and] Fox News. They have gotten educators fired and attacked online. They want to create chaos," he concluded, "to destroy trust in public education and draw funding away."

As Truthout reported last week, Erika Sanzi, Parents Defending Education's director of outreach, serves as a fellow at the right-wing Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an ardent backer of charter schools. Likewise, education fellows Kim Richey and Aimee Viana both worked for the U.S. Department of Education under Donald Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who aggressively advocated for defunding and undercutting public schools with charters and private alternatives. DeVos has sponsored the Independent Women's Forum (formerly run by Neily) and was granted an annual award by the organization back in 2019. The women's forum itself has received more than $1 million from the Bradley Foundation, which has a history of promoting charter schools.

Asked for her opinion on education privatization, Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice, told Salon, "I don't think that abandoning the public education system is what's best for America."

"Moms for Liberty fights to reform public education," Justice said. "One of the ways that I feel is most important that we do that is getting parents back into classrooms, reengaged with their children's education."

Over the past several months, parents rights' groups have turned their attention from poorly-defined academic concepts like "critical race theory" to removing books they deem objectionable. More often than not, these turn out to be written by authors of color and LGTBQ+ authors, or to deal directly with themes of race, sex and gender.

In Texas, this book-banning fever has now reached the state legislature, which is now considering a bill that would require school districts to disclose how many copies they hold of 850 books that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex." Bookriot found that the list most frequently cites the work of Julie Anne Peters, known for writing lesbian-oriented YA novels, and Takako Shimura, the author of "Wandering Son," a Japanese manga series that features a trans main character.

A number of well-known Black authors, from the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison ("Beloved") to Jerry Craft ("New Kid"), Tiffany D. Jackson ("Monday's Not Coming") and Ibram X. Kendi ("How to Be an Antiracist") have seen their books targeted for removal in Texas, Virginia and Missouri. In the single most infamous example to date, a Tennessee school board voted 10-0 to remove Art Spiegelman's "Maus" — a Pulitzer-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust — from its eighth-grade curriculum.

Going by the numbers, parents' rights groups have shown no signs of letting up. According to the American Library Association, the U.S. saw 156 attempts to censor books from schools in the entire year 2020. During the last quarter of 2021 alone, the ALA recorded 330 such attempts. Meanwhile, students are already protesting against the bans and numerous youth-led activist groups have begun distributing banned books for free.

Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education at PEN America, told Salon that these restrictions will have untold negative consequences on kids, especially in the case of works that provide a platform for marginalized voices and perspectives.

"It's impossible to deny that this will have a long-term detrimental effect on the ways in which students encounter diverse stories" and "learn to empathize across difference," Friedman said in an interview.

The issue, he added, goes well beyond angry parents and school boards. "We now also have a political campaign to pass bills barring the discussion of certain topics in schools," he said, "and there's a new wave of bills that is increasingly targeting all kinds of curricular materials or materials in school libraries."

Indeed, over the past several years, state-level Republicans have led a broader effort to control or restrict certain ways and means of teaching about American history, LGBTQ+ rights, sex education and related topics. To this point, 36 states have proposed bills or otherwise moved to restrict "critical race theory" or the instruction of racism and sexism in the classrooms, according to Education Week. Fourteen states have successfully enacted such laws. (In actual academic practice, critical race theory is largely limited to law school, and not used at all in K-12 education.)

In December, Oklahoma GOP legislators introduced a bill that would would bar school libraries from "maintain[ing] in its inventory or promot[ing] books that make as their primary subject the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity or gender identity." The measure, critics fear, could ostensibly erase kids' access to stories about the LGBTQ experience from the entire state.

Just last week, Texas Gov. Rick Abbott introduced a "Parental Bill of Rights" that would ban "pornographic" material in school libraries. During the measure's unveiling, Abbott made references to Maia Kobabe's "Gender Queer: A Memoir" and Carmen Maria Machado's "In the Dream House," an adult-oriented memoir about an abusive lesbian relationship.

Friedman said these measures won't just impact how kids build their worldviews, but how also they define themselves. "If students don't encounter a book in school," he explained, "they are being deprived of the opportunity to think about alternative identities, or even to find themselves. They're being deprived of the opportunity to feel like they belong."

Marjorie Taylor Greene's threats worked

Thirteen Republican lawmakers who voted for Biden's $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill are now receiving threatening calls for breaking party ranks following the release of their office phone numbers by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Last week, the measure – which has been significantly watered down by centrist Democrats and House Republicans over the past several months – passed along a 228-206 House vote with just 13 Republican votes, according to AP News. Immediately following the bill's passage, Greene tarred the Republican defectors as "traitors," tweeting all of their names and office telephone numbers.

Still reeling from the bill's long-awaited passage, voters are flooding the thirteen Republicans' detractors' office lines with "menacing" messages, according to The New York Times, even though polls show most Americans support the bill, regardless of their party affiliation.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., an 18-term moderate who voted for the bill, said that his office has received dozens of disturbing messages from random callers, some of which have amounted to death threats, The Washington Post reports.

"You're a f---ing piece of s--- traitor. I hope you die," one caller told him, also adding that he hopes Upton's family and his staff die.

Addressing the call on Tuesday, Upton told CNN's Anderson Cooper in a Tuesday interview: "We have seen civility really downslide here. I'm concerned about my staff. They are taking these calls."

Other lawmakers like Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., have been similarly inundated with aggressive calls, according to the Times. Kinzinger was reportedly told to slit his wrists and "rot in hell." Another caller told Bacon's office that he hoped the congressman would slip and fall down a staircase.

In the past, infrastructure, once a relatively banal policy matter, has often been wrangled in a bipartisan manner. But now, with a politically supercharged environment following Donald Trump's presidency, Republicans who show any perceived lack of fealty to Trump make themselves vulnerable to scorched-earth attacks – both from voters and their own colleagues.

"When it comes to policy these days, we're basically divided into two tribes. And you stick with your tribe and you don't try to help the other tribe," Glen Bolger, a GOP pollster and strategist, told AP News.

During his time in office, Trump vowed to pass his own version of a comprehensive infrastructure package, though the bill never came to pass. On Tuesday, Trump pointed this out, taking specific aim at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for apparently failing to do his bidding.

"Why is it that Old Crow Mitch McConnell voted for a terrible Democrat Socialist Infrastructure Plan, and induced others in his Party to do likewise, when he was incapable of getting a great Infrastructure Plan wanting to be put forward by me and the Republican Party?" Trump said in a statement.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., an ardent Trump backer, has stayed mostly mum on the subject of infrastructure.

"As with every GOP controversy, even one that now involves a threat to human life, Kevin McCarthy's direction is informed only by what secures him the speakership next November," David Jolly, a former Republican congressman, told NBC News. "He'll lose votes by engaging, but ultimately keep them by remaining silent."

According to AP News, the bipartisan bill – projected to add 2 million jobs annually over the next decade – will disburse $110 billion to revamp the country's highways, roads, and bridges; $39 billion for improvements in public transit; $66 billion to reduce an Amtrak backlog, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure; $65 billion for expansions to broadband access; $65 billion to improve the electric grid; $25 billion for airport renovations; and $55 billion on water and wastewater services. The bill is expected to be financed in part from unspent COVID-19 relief funds and unemployment insurance.

The ivermectin craze is being fueled by medical front groups with ties to right-wing dark money

Two years ago, ivermectin was an obscure drug consigned only to those who had the rare displeasure of contracting parasites like scabies or river blindness. American doctors wrote a mere 150,000 prescriptions for the drug in 2019 – roughly 0.1% of the prescriptions written for Lipitor, a widely used atorvastatin designed to lower cholesterol.

Last year, however, as the pandemic raged on and conservatives stood their ground against common sense public health measures like masks and vaccines, ivermectin became a household name. Despite lacking proper consensus from the scientific community, the drug has been widely touted by right-wing pundits, politicians, and entrepreneurs as the unofficial magic bullet for COVID-19.

In many ways, the right-wing frenzy around ivermectin can be traced back to that of hydroxychloroquine, which was last year baselessly extolled by Donald Trump and many of his supporters in media and congress. However, ivermectin appears to have taken a much stronger hold over Trump's following (and beyond), benefiting from a robust network of profit-seeking providers continuously selling it to thousands of Americans.

Over the last several months, much of the battle to normalize ivermectin as a legitimate COVID treatment has played out in courts, which have seen a sudden surge in lawsuits filed against hospitals unwilling to administer the drug. Such offensives have arisen in states like Louisiana, Illinois, California, Kentucky, Delaware, Texas, and more.

"I've never encountered this and I've been in practice over 40 years," Dr. Rodney Hood, who serves on the National Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force on Vaccines and Therapeutics, told FiveThirtyEight. "You don't get treated based upon what you feel or think," Hood said. "There are certain approved treatment regimens for certain diseases. If [what a patient is demanding] doesn't fit within that regimen, then you cannot treat them."

In one of the most widely publicized cases from August, Julie Smith, the wife of a 51-year-old coronavirus COVID patient in Ohio, sued a Cincinnati-based hospital network for not administering the ivermectin to her husband, demanding that the hospital deliver a three-week course of the drug. That month, Smith saw a favorable ruling from Butler County Judge Gregory Howard, who formally ordered the hospital to administer the drug to her husband despite warnings from the Centers for Diseases Control that its use could be unsafe. In September, the decision was reversed by a different Ohio judge, who noted that "medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19."

In May, Desareta Fype, the daughter of a 61-year-old woman with COVID-19, similarly sued an Illinois hospital after all of its affiliated doctors refused to administer ivermectin to her mother. A judge later told the hospital to "get out of the way" and allow any board-certified doctor to give Fype's mother the drug, according to The Daily Herald. The hospital's attorney, Daniel Monahan, said that 20 physicians and 19 other health care workers at the hospital all refused to deliver the medicine despite the ruling, ultimately prompting Fype to hire an outside doctor to administer the drug.

While many of the ivermectin suits have been filed by seemingly unconnected individuals throughout the country, there do appear to be several common threads.

One of these threads is Ralph Lorigo, who this year became the most "in-demand" attorney for plaintiffs looking to compel the use of ivermectin in hospital systems for their loved ones, according to The Daily Beast. Lorigo helms a general practice law firm in West Seneca, New York, and has reportedly worked on at least 60 ivermectin cases, per a Journal News report. The attorney, who represented both Julie Smith and Desareta Fype, claims to be "largely successful" in delivering wins, allowing patients to force ivermectin's use.

Citing an array of dubious studies, Lorigo told the Beast that his legal actions are aimed at delivering "last-ditch" treatment for patients that have exhausted every option. But many medical professionals argue that the suits put unnecessary strain on hospitals that are already buckling under the weight of a pandemic.

"Hospitals are dealing with the unvaccinated COVID-19 patients at a very high pace," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Beast. "And then you're going to burden them by filing a lawsuit or creating legal problems over them trying to provide the best care for these people who chose not to be vaccinated and who are now crushing their hospitals?"

Timothy Brewer, an epidemiology professor at UCLA, added that Lorigo's "why not?" approach is far from justified, largely because the studies proffered by Lorigo are hardly conclusive, potentially adding complications to drugs patients are already being given. For instance, many of the studies use statistically insignificant sample sizes, deliver unsafe doses of the drug, or were written by doctors with clear conflicts of interest.

In recent months, Lorigo, the chairman of New York's Erie County Conservative Party, has said that his business has become effectively consumed by ivermectin suits, telling SpectrumNews1 that he receives "somewhere between 80 and 150 emails and requests for information and help" on a daily basis.

"We freely give the information. I've been here seven days a week for the last seven weeks without a day off, trying to get people the information that they so desperately need," he added.

It remains unclear how much the attorney profits from each suit – or how the suits are structured. Asked who fronts the money, Lorigo refused to answer. According to Bloomberg Law, he alleges that he offers his services at a "reduced rate."

Aside from Lorigo, another common thread in the ecosystem of ivermectin litigation is America's Frontline Doctors (AFLD), a conservative political group founded by Dr. Simone Gold in 2019.

AFLD is arguably the most dominant force currently working to legitimize ivermectin as a valid COVID treatment, connecting hundreds of patients with drug providers happy to fuel what's become a multimillion-dollar industry in ivermectin sales, Time reported. The Intercept estimated that, between mid-July to mid-September of this year, AFLD and its partners raked in roughly $6.7 million in revenue by coordinating telehealth consultations for the drug. But in the process, the group reportedly bilked hundreds of unsuspecting customers out of thousands in consultation fees by, in many cases, failing to deliver the drug at all.

Irwin Redlener, who directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University said that the group AFLD is "the 21st century, digital version of snake-oil salesmen."

"And in the case of ivermectin, it's extremely dangerous," he added.

Throughout the pandemic, AFLD waged a whole host of right-wing disinformation campaigns. It advocated for the use of hydroxychloroquine, called lockdowns "mass casualty events," disputed the efficacy of mask-wearing, and alleged that death certificates were being forged to artificially inflate the pandemic death toll.

While Gold has reportedly labeled the group "grassroots," AFLD is led by a cavalcade of high-brass conservatives with roots in think tanks and advocacy groups like the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and FreedomWorks. Its founding director, Jenny Beth Martin, is the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing group started in opposition to President Obama's domestic agenda before becoming a pro-Trump outfit.

On top of AFLD's connection to the Tea Party Patriots, the group is also affiliated with the Council for National Policy (CNP), a "shadowy coalition" founded in 1981 "that coordinates initiatives among conservative megadonors, political operatives, and media owners, many of them Christian fundamentalists," the Washington Examiner reported. Conservative businessman Richard Uihlein gave the group $4.3 million over a five-year period through 2020.

Marco Rubio wants to go after corporations — but there's a catch

Marco Rubio is trying to get ahead of the Republican pack, unveiling a legislative offensive against the left's so-called "woke" agenda, introducing a bill that would incentivize shareholders of large public companies to sue company directors who engage in "wokeness."

The 21-page bill, dubbed the "Mind Your Own Business Act," federally prohibits corporate executives from making "non-pecuniary" decisions to promote the company's "public image" or "employee morale," creating a cause of action for shareholders aggrieved by a company's interest in "wokeness" over profit-maximization. Shifting the burden of proof onto executives, the measure would "require corporate directors to prove their 'woke' corporate actions were in their shareholders' best interest."

Rubio's bill rattles off several examples of how executives have apparently allowed "political bias" to undermine their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. It implies that businesses have in the past denied goods and services to particular states and industries, promoted race and sex stereotyping, and used board and members to advance political agendas.

"No more legal tricks that shield these corporate executives from accountability," Rubio announced in a press release. "If they really believe that being woke is good for business, they should have to say so – and prove it – under oath in court."

But critics say that the bill's nebulous nature casts endless doubt over how it would actually be implemented, with some even arguing it applies the very kind of big government approach to big business that Republicans typically detest.

"It makes no sense," said Richard Painter, a Democrat who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. "Corporations don't have to maximize profits," he told Salon in an interview. "It's a complete fallacy that directors have to maximize profits. They can focus on the interests of labor, the environment, and a range of concerns."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

"What if business firms don't think "profit maximization" is the most important thing?" echoed Lawrence B. Glickman, a professor in American Studies at Cornell University, over email. "What if they believe that investments in the future—and thus lower or no dividends to shareholders—are more important? And what about their duties to their employees?"

At present, there is no provision in federal corporate law that mandates corporations to maximize their profits or returns to shareholders – a fact recently affirmed by the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. "Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not," the court wrote. To boot, neither state codes nor corporate case law have ever set a clear precedent for such a requirement. In fact, both confer broad discretion to executives when it comes to ensuring corporate welfare.

When shareholders sue company directors for breaching their fiduciary responsibility (i.e. derivative suits), they again do so under the jurisdiction of state laws. But Rubio is pushing for the "federalization of corporate law," Painter said – and that's an approach Republicans would normally decry as fascist or anti-capitalist.

Such Republican rhetoric has been common in the past decade, with politicians like Rubio repeatedly emphasizing the apparent need to protect state rights' from federal overreach, particularly when it comes to social issues.

Back in 2015, just months before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Rubio argued that same-sex marriage should be individually resolved on a state-by-state basis, saying in a CBS interview: "States have always regulated marriage. And if a state wants to have a different definition, you should petition the state legislature and have a political debate. I don't think courts should be making that decision."

This year, Rubio again alluded to states' rights in his opposition to the John Lewis Act, a Democratic-backed voting rights overhaul. "Democrats want unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington to run our elections in Florida," he said in a June press release. "Not only is that unconstitutional, it is reckless."

Other critics of Rubio's bill have claimed that it would be shut down by existing legal precedents.

In fact, a doctrine already exists to prevent aggrieved shareholders from filing the kind of frivolous suits that would arise from Rubio's bill, argued UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge. "At present," he wrote on his blog, "the sort of woke decisions … almost certainly would be insulated from judicial review by the business judgment rule." This rule makes the presumption that business directors are serving the interests of their corporations, placing burden of proof to on plaintiffs to argue otherwise. But Rubio's measure fails to make explicit mention of this doctrine, posing questions around how the two would be compatible.

Rubio's "Mind Your Own Business Act" comes amid a broader GOP effort to offload the responsibility of law-and-order onto Republican voters.

Last month, Texas enacted a near-total abortion ban that incentivizes its residents to sue anyone who aids, provides, or receives an abortion after six weeks into pregnancy. The measure effectively puts a $10,000 minimum bounty on wrongdoers, allowing plaintiffs to collect tens of thousands of dollars in compensation. In the lead-up to both the 2016 and 2020 elections, Donald Trump similarly encouraged his supporters to engage in illegal poll watching over baseless fears around voter fraud. Voting rights advocates widely condemned Trump's rhetoric as an intimidation tactic that might lead to voter suppression.

In some cases, Trump has overtly promoted vigilante violence, Salon's Heather Digby Parton noted last month. Ahead of a 2017 rally, Trump promised his supporters that he'll "pay the legal fees" if they "knock the crap" out any protesters at the event. That same year, the former president claimed that there were "very fine people on both sides" of Charlottesville, Virginia's "Unite the Right" rally, which drew hundreds of neo-Nazis and counter-protesters together in a violent clash.

The GOP's deputization of its own voters can be traced back to America's brutal treatment of racial minorities, Glickman said. "I think this is part of a long tradition of the sanctioning of extralegal violence—you can go back to the Fugitive Slave Act, the KKK and other vigilantes during Reconstruction, and lynching."

In 1850, Congress passed a second version of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave-owners to contract private bounty-hunters to recover enslaved people who had escaped into free states. The law also punished anyone who aided or abetted in the escape of fugitive enslaved people with a six-month prison sentence and a fine of $1,000 (roughly $35,000 in 2021). Slave-owners were known to publish reward offers in newspapers for runaway enslaved people.

During the Jim Crow era, Stefanie Lindquist wrote in the The Conversation, the country saw a privatization of the electoral system that was again weaponized against Black Americans. For example, from 1889 to 1953, Lindquist wrote, the Jaybird Association, an all-White Democratic political organization, single-handedly ran its own "pre-primary" to vet party candidates for office. The effort was designed to combat the biracial coalition of former Republicans that had maintained control of the county government since 1869.

Rubio's law also comes amid an apparent growing rift between the GOP and corporate America.

Back in April, big businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta backed away from Georgia's GOP-backed restrictive voting bill in response to progressive outrage over the bill's potential to suppress minority voters, even though these very companies had donated to the measure's sponsors. The move earned corporate America harsh criticism from the GOP, which accused it of falling into hands of "woke" left operatives. In the aftermath of the fatal January 6 Capitol riot, a number of corporations similarly promised to suspend donations to the 147 Republicans who voted to nullify President Biden's 2020 election win. However, many of these pledges were summarily jettisoned, according to The Los Angeles Times, which found that companies like Cigna, AT&T and Intel broke their promise many months later.

But Painter, Bush's chief White House ethics lawyer, told Salon that it's in Corporate America's best interest to dispense with the Republican Party.

"This thing keeps accelerating, but this can move toward authoritarianism, where corporations are used – with their money and so forth – to install authoritarians to power," he said. "An awful lot of businesses supported the Republican Party enough in 2016. They didn't like Trump, but they helped Trump get in through contributions made to the Republican Party, because they didn't like the Democrats."

Commentators on both the left and right have expressed extreme doubt over the "Mind Your Own Business" Act's potential passage. Matt Stoller, Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project, told Salon that the measure is "not going to pass and it would likely be unconstitutional."

Why former Trump Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin is making a last-minute plea to Mitch McConnell

Donald Trump's secretary of treasury Steven Mnuchin reportedly held private meetings with Sen. Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to resolve the current debt impasse – but his efforts failed, with McConnell reportedly concerned that too high of a debt limit would threaten the nation's economic integrity.

The development, first reported by The Washington Post, comes on the heels of a now months-long standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the alleged potential for Biden's infrastructure deal to cause dangerous levels of inflation. According to a Tuesday analysis by Moody's Analytics, a federal default could spell a loss of six million jobs within the U.S. economy and is predicted to double the unemployment rate to 9%. During the Trump administration, the national debt climbed by about $8 trillion, according to the Post.

According to the Post, Mnuchin shared McConnell's concerns about raising the debt ceiling in private meetings with the senator. The former treasury secretary also reportedly discussed with McConnell the "mechanics of how the debt limit would be lifted, as well as the difficult negotiations with Democrats over the debt ceiling under Trump in 2018." However, his efforts to talk McConnell down from his cliff were apparently to no avail. Punchbowl News reported that Democrats reportedly sent McConnell other "intermediaries" prior, but none made any progress.

On Monday, Democrats in both the House and Senate leadership announced a proposal to raise the debt cap through December 2022. If Democrats failed to garner the support of 10 Republicans for the bill – a near certainty – then they will have the ability to pass it through budget reconciliation, which necessitates a simple majority vote.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

This week, Treasury Janet Yellen demurred the GOP's fiscal conservative, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Congress must raise or suspend the debt limit.

"The U.S. has always paid its bills on time," Yellen argued. "But the overwhelming consensus among economists and Treasury officials of both parties is that failing to raise the debt limit would produce widespread economic catastrophe."

Although Democrats largely balked at GOP concerns about raising the debt ceiling, they have largely been insistent on conducting the move in a bipartisan fashion.

"The debt limit is a shared responsibility, and I urge Congress to come together, in that spirit, on a bipartisan basis as it has in the past to protect the full faith and credit of the United States," House Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a Sunday letter.

"We took on this debt in a bipartisan way. We're prepared to expand the debt in a bipartisan way," Larry Summers, President Obama's economic advisor, told the Post. "I don't see why it's justified to refuse to acknowledge reality," Summers said in an interview. "Reality is not a partisan thing. Raising the debt limit is acknowledging reality, not making a partisan choice."

On Tuesday, the House approved a measure that would prevent a government shutdown and suspend the debt limit if a compromise is not reached in time, though the bill could still be impeded in the Senate.

California recall shows Republicans will never give up the Big Lie

Fox News is stirring concerns that the California recall election may be in need of an audit – a conservative tactic now being widely used to discredit Democratic wins throughout the country.

During a Tuesday broadcast of Fox News' "Outnumbered," Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren argued that "the only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud."

"So as they say, stay woke, pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California, because it's going to have big consequences not only for that state, but for upcoming elections," she added.

Newsom "knows that mail-in ballots, which by definition lack any form of voter ID, cannot be verified," echoed Fox News host Tucker Carlson last week. "Those [sic] kind of ballots overwhelmingly benefit his party because they abet voter fraud."

The main promulgator of the GOP's Big Lie about the myth of voter fraud, Donald Trump, has even jumped in on the action.

"It's probably rigged," Trump, who baselessly blamed California for his 2016 popular vote loss, said about the recall during an interview on Newsmax. "They're sending out all ballots ― the ballots are mail-out, mail-in ballots. I guess you even have a case where you can make your own ballot. When that happens nobody's going to win except these Democrats."

The growing right-wing message, reported on by Media Matters for America, comes as numerous polls put incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom way ahead of all of his challengers.

According to AP News, election security experts are already calling on California to conduct a recall, even when all the ballots have yet to be collected.

"It is critical to recognize that the release of the Dominion software into the wild has increased the risk to the security of California elections to the point that emergency action is warranted," the experts wrote to the secretary of state's office. Election offices throughout 30 different states use Dominion's equipment.

Back in August, proprietary copies of Dominion's software were distributed at an event hosted by Trump-supporting pillow salesman Mike Lindell, according to The Guardian. The copies originated from Mesa County, Colorado, and Antrim County, Michigan – both of which saw Trump-backed challenges to the 2020 election results.

"We told election officials, essentially, that you should assume this information is already out there," Matt Masterson, a Trump election security official, told The Guardian. "Now we know it is, and we don't know what [hackers] are going to do with it."

The experts – which include cybersecurity researchers, computer scientists, and election technology experts – are demanding that California implement a ""risk-limiting audit," AP noted, a statistical method used to compare actual and reported election results.

In response to their letter, Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Shirley Weber, outlined myriad ways in which California sets heightened election security requirements, which includes routine testing and physical security policies. "California has the strictest and most comprehensive voting system testing, use, and requirements in the country, and it was designed to withstand potential threats," Dresner told AP.

Dominion is reportedly aware that its software images have been made public, but it maintained that the development does not pose a significant security threat.

Trump fans lash out at Republican Ron Johnson after senator admits Wisconsin election 'not skewed'

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., an ardent promoter of Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, had a bizarre moment of clarity this week when he argued that "there was nothing obviously skewed" about the 2020 election results in Wisconsin.

In what appears to be an undercover video filmed by The Undercurrent at the Wauwatosa GOP Chicken Burn on Sunday, Johnson was captured trying to disillusion The Undercurrent director Lauren Windsor (who posed as a Trump supporter) from the notion that the former president lost as a consequence of systemic election fraud.

"In Wisconsin, do you know the vote totals?" Johnson asked Windsor.

"I don't, no," she responded.

"So without knowing the votes totals, you can't even state that opinion," he shot back.

Johnson continued by rattling off a number of vote counts across presidential and congressional candidates in the 2020 election, suggesting that fraud would have been statistically implausible.

"Prior to this election, I was the number one vote-getter statewide with under 1.5 million votes," he explained. "This election, Trump got 1.61 [million]. No Republican has ever cracked 1.5 million. Numerous Democrats have gone over 1.6 [million] and 1.5 [million]. Just the Republican state assembly candidate got 1.661 million votes. The eight congressional candidates also got 1.661 million."

Johnson continued: "So we obviously counted enough Republican votes. The only reason Trump lost Wisconsin is that 51,000 Republican voters didn't vote for him. They voted for other Republican candidates."

But Windsor pressed on, continuing the ruse. "So you're telling me Joe Biden won this state fair and square?" she asked.

"It's certainly plausible," he said. "There's nothing obviously skewed about the results."

Needless to say, Johnson's admission was met with shock and derision from Trump's most diehard supporters:

Though Johnson conceded to Trump's electoral loss, the Republican lawmaker nevertheless believes in the necessity of a "forensic audit" in his home state.

"I'm the only one who had a hearing on the irregularities of the [2020 election results]," he said in another video released by Windsor. "The last thing I would focus on would be the [voting] machines. We have paper ballots, we have the machines logs, we've got the machine totals. We should be focusing on that."

Back in December, Johnson held a widely-mocked hearing as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Trump's allegations of widespread voter fraud. State officials have repeatedly rebuffed these concerns.

Johnson's comments come just after a GOP-led state committee last week approved a $680,000 budget for an official probe into the state's 2020 election results.