Lauren Boebert slammed as a 'hateful bigot' by colleague after mocking first trans four-star admiral

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., called Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., a "hateful bigot" on Tuesday after the conservative lawmaker decried the swearing in of Dr. Rachel Levine, now the first transgender four-star officer in the nation's history.

"Welcome to woke medicine, America," Boebert tweeted, posting a picture of Levine during her ceremony.

Just an hour later, Beyer responded: "Dr. Levine is an accomplished pediatrician, a graduate of Harvard and Tulane, a former fellow at one of America's top teaching hospitals, a professor who created medical programs at Penn State to help young people, and PA's former Physician General."

"You are just a hateful bigot," he added.

On Tuesday, Levine, who was appointed by President Biden as the U.S. assistant secretary for health and confirmed by the senate in March, was officially made the four-star admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), an agency of 6,000 federal health workers tasked with managing future health crises, including the nation's ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The PHSCC is one of eight federal uniformed services.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Levine's newfound title is not only historic but well-deserved.

"She is a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency's agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health," Becerra said. "She is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.

Political appointees are routinely granted admiral status, The Washington Post noted. During the Trump administration, Brett Giroir, Levine's predecessor, was similarly made four-star admiral following his Senate confirmation in 2018.

But that hasn't stopped top brass conservatives from railing against her ceremony as an appeal to "wokeness."

Tom Fitton, president of the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, wrote on Facebook that Biden was "playing quota politics with public health service," suggesting that Levine does not deserve her new rank.

Others outright challenged her identity as a transgender women.

"The Biden Administration called "Rachel" Levine a female," tweeted conservative commentator Matt Walsh. "Not woman. Female. Notice how the whole "sex and gender are different things" shtick has been entirely abandoned by the Left. They now demand that we accept males as biological females.

"The Biden administration announces that Rachel Levine, a biological man, is now the 'first-ever female four-star admiral" in the public health corp."

"Upon being sworn in, Admiral Rachel Levine said, 'I will follow the science.' Maybe Rachel should start by recognizing that there are only 2 genders," Rep. Boebert echoed in a separate tweet.

Levine, the former Pennsylvania Physician General and later the state's health secretary, is the PHSCC's sixth four-star general.

Marjorie Taylor Greene tweets panicked message to supporters following poll of GOP voters

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., the freshman congressman who has repeatedly spread Donald Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, was apparently dismayed to learn that 4% of her state's electorate said they "won't even vote" in future elections due to that very "fraud."

"I recently conducted a poll on Georgia's elections and if my constituents felt their votes would count during a teletown hall," she tweeted on Monday. "Sadly, 4% said they won't even vote due to voter fraud. This is WRONG. Legal votes by Rs are just as important as stopping illegal ones."

Greene, who is up for re-election in 2022, has extensively supported Trump's efforts to overturn the election. Back in September, she declared – without evidence – that the former president "won Georgia," later calling for an official audit. In May, Greene also threw her support behind the GOP-backed election recount of Maricopa County, Arizona, which just weeks ago found that President Biden beat Trump by a wider margin than originally reported.

In a series of tweets, Greene also noted that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp would have lost the gubernatorial election against progressive voting rights activist Stacey Abrams if just 4% of the Georgia GOP electorate opted out of voting.

"Combine that with mass absentee ballot harvesting and Rs never win again in Georgia," the conservative lawmaker added, taking issue with the practice of ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting is the process by which third parties, like volunteers or election workers, gather ballots for voters instead of having voters submit the ballots themselves.

Last week, Trump appeared to lend credence to Greene's concerns around non-voting within the GOP base.

"If we don't solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented)," he said in a statement, "Republicans will not be voting in '22 or '24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do."

Trump's remarks came just hours after a state judge dismissed a Trump-backed lawsuit alleging fraud in the Peach State, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The decision dashed Republican hopes of the state conducting an official audit any time soon.

"This lawsuit was the result of the Big Lie, which is nothing more than a meritless conspiracy theory being spread by people who simply cannot accept that their side lost," Robb Pitts, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement. "Its defeat here today should echo throughout the nation."

Greene defeated her opponent by an approximate 50% margin in the 2020 House races, so it remains unlikely she will be ousted next year, even if she loses 4% of her voting bloc.

Right-wing fumes over NFL coach Jon Gruden's resignation for racist, homophobic emails

Right-wingers are rushing to defend Raiders head coach John Gruden following his resignation amid a series of reports that Gruden spoke in racist, sexist, and homophobic terms spanning roughly a decade.

Jesse Kelly, conservative talk radio host of "The Jesse Kelly Show," suggested that the push for Gruden's dismissal was led by "a bunch of lying, whiny pretenders in this country."

"That's the funniest/saddest thing about that whole business," Kelly tweeted. "60% of America and 99% of the NFL not only think like Gruden does, they've all sent emails/texts like that."

"Let's see the emails & texts of [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell & every NFL owner/exec," echoed Donald Trump Jr. "We must find out if they've ever said anything wrong, shared a controversial thought, or held an opinion that wasn't PC. No statute of limitations. We can't allow them to hide behind their white privilege."

Other conservatives compared Gruden's remarks to previous controversies surrounding former NFL players and even President Biden's son, Hunter.

"Ray Lewis was charged with a double murder, the suit he wore the night of the murder mysteriously disappeared, he pled guilty to obstruction of justice and settled with the victim's families," tweeted Newmax TV host John Cardillo. "He played a full NFL career. John Gruden sent some off-color emails 10 yrs ago."

Josh Barnett, an Arizona congressional candidate, expressed a similar sentiment, writing that "Hunter Biden's emails are 100x worse than Gruden's."

Gruden's emails first came under the league's scrutiny this summer as part of a broader investigation into the Washington Football Team. In reviewing roughly 650,000 emails from 2011 to 2018, NFL executives unearthed a number of objectionable emails sent by Gurden to former Washington executive Bruce Allen and other executives, wherein Gurden – then an ESPN color analyst – used derogatory language when speaking of Goodell and the league's players.

In one 2011 instance first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Gurden described DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, with an explicitly racist trope, saying that "Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires."

In a different exchange from 2014, Gruden called the NFL commissioner a "faggot" and a "clueless anti football pussy" for apparently expediting the drafting of Michael Sam, the league's first openly gay player.

Other emails reportedly showed Gurden circulating photos of bikini-clad women, including images of two Washington team cheerleaders, and mocked players for demonstrating in support of racial justice.

On Monday, Gurden – who served a brief stint as head coach of the Raiders from 1998 to 2001 and rejoined the team in 2018 – resigned following immense pressure from both league players and officials.

"I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone," he said in a statement released by the team.

Though calls for his Gurden's resignation were swiftly met, the NFL has over the decades notoriously struggled to hold its players, coaches, and executives accountable for ethical lapses.

Over the years, the league has repeatedly failed to discipline its players for domestic and sexual abuse against women, even when it comes to incidents involving the NFL's own cheerleaders, according to the Times. The league has also reportedly waged a decades-long effort to suppress a growing body of scientific evidence linking player concussions to degenerative brain disease.

More recently, the league has been thrust into the political spotlight as players have taken increasingly public stances against issues of social justice.

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, abruptly became a free agent after kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the country's U.S. police brutality and racial injustice. He remains unsigned by any team in the league. And this year, the NFL came under fire for its practice of "race-norming" – a statistical trick that yields lower concussion settlements for Black players by assuming that they have lower baseline level of intelligence than their White counterparts.

This year, the NFL has shown a relatively pronounced intent to rebrand. In September, the league announced that it would be letting players emblazon social justice messages onto their helmets and has also pledged to commit $250 million to combat systemic racism.

GOP was wrong: unemployment cuts didn't boost jobs

The September jobs numbers released on Friday suggest that the GOP governors who decided to end federal unemployment payments failed to accomplish their goal of jumpstarting the economy out of its pandemic-era mire — something experts predicted months ago.

According to the Bureau of Labor, employers reported 194,000 new jobs, a far cry from the 500,000-plus expected by analysts. The labor force likewise shrank by 183,000 since August, though unemployment did see a slight dip from 5.2% to 4.8%.

President Biden has pushed back on claims that the numbers indicate a serious level of contraction, stressing that the unemployment rate hasn't fallen below 5% since the beginning of the pandemic. Biden also noted that the monthly average job growth is still around 600,000 under his watch, suggesting the administration is slowly but surely steering the economy back to health.

"The monthly total has bounced around, but if you look at the trend, it's solid," Biden said.

Recently, the debate around monthly job growth has mapped onto distinctly political lines, as Salon's Brett Bachman reported back in May, when the Department of Labor released a similar batch of less-than-stellar jobs numbers.

At the time, conservative pundits and politicians aggressively pounced on unemployment benefits, suggesting with scant evidence that Americans were no longer motivated to work, thereby causing a massive "labor shortage." In the months following, over two dozen Republican governors jumped to end their federal unemployment programs, promising an economic rebound in return.

This week's numbers, however, appear to fly in the face such promises.

Last month, Axios reported that states that discontinued benefits saw roughly half the job growth enjoyed by states that maintained the program. Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, this week echoed a similar sentiment, citing "no surge in participation in the labor force" despite the "labor shortage woes that many business groups" have pushed.

In a Friday analysis, Matt Bruenig, founder of the People's Policy Project, pointed out the wide discrepancy in the number of people who lost their unemployment benefits in September (about 8 million) and the number of people who acquired work (about 194,000).

"194,000 jobs is equal to less than 3 percent of the people who were removed from the UI rolls in September," Breunig said. "At this rate, it would take 3.5 years for jobs-added to equal the number of people who lost their pandemic UI benefits."

It remains unclear precisely why September's numbers fell so far below analysts' expectations, but many have speculated that the pandemic continues to hold back economic growth. During the summer, many schools expected to reopen in September, but another surge in COVID-19 cases dashed those hopes, potentially leading to a wave of economic cutbacks.

"All the evidence points toward pandemic [unemployment benefits] not being the main factor," Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, told CNBC. "The best estimate right now is that it's the pandemic itself."

According to NPR, the jobs numbers may be artificially depressed because sudden seasonal changes in school hiring.

Some analysts found that the discontinuation of benefits may have even contributed to the underperforming labor market.

Peter McCrory, an economist at JPMorgan Chase Bank, wrote that "the loss of benefits is associated with a modest decline in employment growth, earnings growth and labor force participation."

Others have speculated that workers are readjusting their professional priorities amid the pandemic. According to a Pew poll, roughly 66% of unemployed Americans have seriously considered switching jobs.

"It's not just money, sitting on both sides of the scale," Melissa Swift, global leader of workforce transformation at consulting firm Korn Ferry, told Axios, citing the challenges of working with an understaffed team, juggling parenting with work, or being the only person of color at one's place of work. "We basically burned out the global workforce over the last year. One of the ways people deal with burnout is switching employers."

'Disgraceful': Florida faces questioning from Biden admin after failing to submit COVID funding plan

Florida was the only state that failed to submit a plan necessary to qualify for a federal aid program designed to buoy the state's public school system, according to the U.S. Department Education – and the department is struggling to ascertain why.

This article first appeared in Salon.

"[The Florida Department of Education's] delay raises significant concerns because of the unnecessary uncertainty it is creating for school districts across the state and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of students," wrote Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, in a Monday missive.

The state's failure "to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential … resources that are needed by school districts and schools to address the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic," Rosenblum added, noting that the state missed multiple timelines for the relief money.

Back in March, as part of President Biden's American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER), Florida received two-thirds of its $7 billion federal aid package to support "students' health and safety and address their social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Rosenblum explained in his letter.

But according to The Tallahassee Democrat, the federal government is still holding onto $2.3 billion of this package because the Sunshine State failed to submit plans detailing how the remainder would be spent.

In addition, Department of Education records indicate that Florida has scarcely spent the federal funds it has already been distributed by the Biden administration. The state has reportedly spent 79% of its disbursement from the CARES Act, 15.6% of its allotment from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and 4% of its ARP funds.

No money has been directed to local school districts, according to federal officials, but parents, employees, and local officials have clearly expressed that Florida's public school system is in dire need of a lifeline, Rosenblum said in his letter.

"There is a massive crisis with bus shortages and teacher shortages. It's clear that districts need the money," Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Educators Association, echoed to The Tallahassee Democrat.

Meanwhile, the governor's office has casted doubt over the scope of the state's needs, telling CNN on Tuesday: "At this time, no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources. Whenever this may change in the future, the state of Florida will coordinate with USDOE to ensure Florida students and educators have all the resources they need."

State Sen. Lori Berman, who sits on Florida's Education Committee, suggested that the state's failure to meet the federal relief is likely an "ideological statement."

"It's disgraceful. I've seen this state repeatedly turn down federal money because of ideological reasons," Berman told Salon in an interview. "You have to look no further than the issue of Medicaid expansion. We are one of only twelve states in the country that has not expanded Medicaid, and it's billions of federal dollars that we continually refuse to draw down because of ideological reasons."

State Sen. Tina Polsky, speculated that the state's failure to use and apply for federal aid stems from a pattern of "distrust and dislike of public schools."

"I don't understand because 90% of Floridian students go to public school," Polsky told Salon in an interview. "As much as [Republicans] would like to change that to all voucher, all charter, or all anything but public, it's not going to happen. And they're not looking out for the 90%."

The development is just the latest in an ever-widening rift between Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, CNN notes. Throughout this year, the governor has fought tooth-and-nail against Democratic-backed proposals to institute vaccine and mask mandates for both schools and businesses.

Back in July, DeSantis issued an executive order banning the enforcement of mask mandates in schools, even though children under twelve are not eligible for vaccines. In August, Florida's Department of Education further revealed that it withheld money from school districts whose boards backed mask mandates.

But Biden has started to push back on DeSantis' crusade. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education repaid members of school boards whose salaries were withheld by Florida's Department of Education. It has also opened a civil rights probe into whether the governor's ban on mask mandates violates the rights of students with disabilities.

Alex Jones fumes after judge rules he must pay for his Sandy Hook conspiracy theories

Far-right radio host Alex Jones on Thursday claimed that the First Amendment was "crucified" because of three rulings that hold Jones responsible for defaming the families of children who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The decision, first reported by The Huffington Post, effectively resolves three years-long lawsuits filed by the parents of the victims, who claimed damages as a result of Jones' baseless allegations that the tragedy was a "hoax"' coordinated by opponents of the Second Amendment. Judge Maya Guerra Gamble on Thursday issued default judgments against Jones for his apparent failure to provide the court with relevant information to the suits.

"The Court finds that Defendants' failure to comply … is greatly aggravated by [their] consistent pattern of discovery abuse throughout similar cases pending before this Court," Gamble wrote.

"The trial court's entry of a default in these cases is stunning," Jones wrote in a joint statement with Infowars attorney Norm Pattis. "It takes no account of the tens of thousands of documents produced by the defendants, the hours spent sitting for depositions and the various sworn statements filed in these cases."

"Nothing less than the fundamental right to speak freely is at stake in these cases," the two added. "It is not [sic] overstatement to say the first amendment was crucified today."

Responding to the rulings in a broadcast, Jones later said "my identity is not Sandy Hook."

"Sandy Hook is a blip on the radar screen in the different stories … I've covered," he added, "But it's not a blip on the radar screen for the lobbies that are anti-gun […] They have successfully been able to use the deaths of those children to … demonize the idea of self defense itself."

The fatal shooting occured back in December 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza stormed the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school and gunned down twenty children and six adult staff. Shortly after the tragedy, Jones began to promulgate baseless conspiracy theories alleging that the event was staged by "crisis actors," many of whom, he said, were parents of the victims.

In 2018, six families of the Sandy Hook victims filed a defamation suit against Jones, claiming that they were subject to harassment, stalking, and death threats by Jones' supporters. Another suit was filed by Leonard Pozner, another parent of the Sandy Hook victim, who Jones also accused of being a crisis actor.

Gamble's decisions center on three lawsuits brought by Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, a parent of another victim. The other two suits were filed by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, also parents of victims. A number of other similar lawsuits are reportedly being filed against Jones by parents in Connecticut.

"My clients have and continue to endure [Jones'] 5-year campaign of repulsive lies," one lawyer of the plaintiffs', Bill Ogden, said. Quoting the judge's ruling, Ogen continued: "We believe the Court hit this nail on the head when it considered Alex Jones' and Infowars' 'bad faith approach to this litigation,' Mr. Jones' 'public threats,' and Jones' 'professed belief that these proceedings are show trials.'"

Leaked emails reveal connections between right-wing Oath Keepers and NYPD officers

The New York Police Department launched an internal investigation Thursday after a data leak reportedly revealed at least two of its officers are affiliated with the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia whose members were well-represented among the crowd storming the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

"The incident is under internal review," a spokesperson for the NYPD told CNN.

The leak contains emails, published by Distributed Denial of Secrets, between various Oath Keepers and the group's prospective members, the outlet reported. It remains unclear whether the pair of officers are current or former members of the right-wing group and neither officers are currently under scrutiny in connection with the Capitol insurrection.

The leak comes on the heels of a separate but similar hack coordinated in August, in which hacktivist group Anonymous revealed that it had successfully penetrated Epik, a web hosting company that "provides domain name, hosting, and DNS services for a variety of clients," including Gab, Parler, and QAnon home 8chan, as well as the Texas GOP and a variety of other right-wing networks, according to Wired. The group, which gathered 180 gigabytes of data, is now allegedly sitting on a "decade's worth of data from the company."

Aside from the aforementioned NYPD officers, Gothamist also confirmed that three New York public officials were formerly associated with the Oath Keepers. Two of them – Ralph E. Stacy, an Oswego County legislator, and Thomas Zmich, a candidate for Queens Borough president – are members of the state's GOP Party. The third, Ed Keyrouze, is chief of staff for the New York Guard.

The outlet was unable to verify the apparent connection between the Oath Keepers and the NYPD officers.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said in response to the allegations that "there will be a full investigation to find out if any officer was involved, how were they involved, what did they do, what did they say, if it's the kind of thing that would disqualify them from serving."

"If we receive an allegation of someone being affiliated with those particular groups, then that would definitely automatically trigger a thorough investigation," NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes added.

In the past, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes claimed the group recruits heavily among past and present members of law enforcement.

Sen. Ron Johnson, worth millions, paid almost nothing in 2017 state income tax – and won't explain why

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., paid next to nothing in 2017 state income taxes compared to previous years, despite reporting an individual income of at least $450,000.

According a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report released Thursday, the Republican lawmaker paid exactly $2,105 in state income taxes — a staggeringly small amount compared to the $60,000 average he paid over the past decade.

Johnson's office has declined to explain the aberration. "The senator had a smaller tax payment because he had less income to report in 2017," said Vanessa Ambrosini, a spokeswoman for Johnson, told the Journal Sentinel. "The senator will not be providing media with his tax returns."

There are myriad reasons Johnson's declared income may have been substantially lower than what he's reported in the past, Andrew Reschovsky, a professor emeritus of economics and public policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Channel 3000. For instance, Johnson may have made a sizable donation to a nonprofit organization, incurred significant business losses, or benefited from a special deduction.

Johnson has not yet signaled whether he'll run for a third term next year. If he does, Ambrosini told the Journal Sentinel, he will provide a similar "tax detail" to that seen in previous years. During his 2010 Senate race, Johnson provided three years of federal tax returns, though he failed to do the same in 2016.

According to Johnson's most recent tax filing, the senator's net worth lies somewhere between $16.5 million and $78.1 million, as of last year. Most of his wealth appears to have stemmed from a 2020 sale of his share in Pacur LLC, an Oshkosh manufacturer of plastics.

"Wisconsinites deserve to know what Sen. Johnson is hiding in his financial records," said Philip Shulman, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

It isn't the first time Johnson has been under scrutiny over tax issues. In August, ProPublica reported that the Wisconsin legislator threatened to vote against Donald Trump's 2017 tax overhaul if the bill didn't include a provision to "sweeten the tax break for a class of companies…known as pass-throughs" — a classification that allows those companies "to effectively skirt corporate income tax by letting profits directly pass through to owners, who then pay income tax on the gains," ProPublica explained. Two of Johnsons' major donors ended up being major beneficiaries of the tax break, which Johnson's pressure secured. He then in turn voted yes on Trump's tax plan.

Johnson has also been widely criticized for his ardent support of Donald Trump. The senator voted to acquit Trump following the Capitol riot, which he claimed "didn't seem like an armed insurrection to me." Then, in March, the senator said in a radio interview that he would have been "a little more concerned" if the rioters were affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement or Antifa. His comments were widely panned by his colleagues in Congress.

A racist delusion has gone from the far-right fringe to the halls of Congress

A growing number of Republican pundits and politicians are entertaining or outright embracing the "great replacement" theory — a once-fringe white nationalist worldview that in recent years has crept into mainstream political discourse.

This theory, apparently first popularized in 2012 in a self-published book by the eccentric French novelist and diarist Renaud Camus, proposes that a cabal of liberals or global elites is attempting to "replace" the white European populace with nonwhite or non-European minorities. This idea had very little traction in America until recently, at least outside the fringes of the far right. But over the past few years, some prominent conservatives who are not overtly white supremacist have begun to embrace this notion publicly, claiming that their political opponents are enacting pro-immigration policies in order to diminish the electoral power of white voters.

In 2017, the term and the idea were abruptly thrust into the national spotlight when hundreds of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and far-right activists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest their perceived disenfranchisement, chanting slogans like "Jews will not replace us." That "Unite the Right" rally, which erupted into violence that led to the death of one leftist counter-protester as well as many injuries, made clear that racialized white grievance was now a feature of the political landscape.

In the years following, various Republicans have supported various versions of the "great replacement" theory, including Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley, former U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Maine Republican vice chair Nick Isgro, all of whom suggested that supporters of legal abortion were deliberately causing a decline in the birth rate among white Americans.

At least three mass shootings have apparently been inspired by the "great replacement" idea: The Tree of Life synagogue killings in Pittsburgh in 2018, the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019, and the El Paso Walmart massacre in August 2019.

After those atrocities, the theory appeared to receded from the national discourse — but not forever. Fox News primetime star Tucker Carlson brought it back with a vengeance, saying on the air this April that the Democratic Party was "trying to replace the current electorate" with "new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." There have been calls ever since from progressive and antiracist groups for Carlson's firing — but his fans and followers loved it.

Over the past few months, several prominent Republicans have begun to deploy "great replacement" rhetoric, invoking vague fears about whites being supplanted by ethnic minorities, or even by naming the theory openly.

Last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz, the embattled Florida Republican who has reportedly been under federal investigation for months, tweeted that Carlson was "CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America," even taking a moment to describe the Anti-Defamation League as "a racist organization." Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, made nearly the same claims in a Newsmax interview, saying that Democrats "want to replace the American electorate with a Third World electorate that will be on welfare."

Some Republicans have been at least a bit subtler, alluding to concerns around an influx of minorities changing the cultural fabric of the nation.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who recently replaced Rep. Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference, warned her voters in an ad blitz two weeks ago that Democrats were planning "a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION" by expanding pathways to citizenship.

In early September, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick reiterated these concerns to Fox News host Laura Ingraham, warning of a "silent revolution by the Democrat Party and Joe Biden to take over the country."

Citing Biden's alleged plan to loosen borders and admit more immigrants, Patrick said that if "every one of them has two or three children, you're talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters."

In April of this year, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., also echoed these sentiments. "For many Americans," Perry said during a committee hearing, "what seems to be happening, or what they believe right now is happening, is, what appears to them is, we're replacing national-born American — native-born Americans, to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation."

It also seems possible, and perhaps likely, that belief in the possibility of a "great replacement" theory is widespread among Donald Trump's supporters and the Republican base. According to a survey conducted by political scientist Robert Pape, a majority of those who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as the New York Times reports, were "awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture."

GOP congressmen reap millions in federal loans for personal car dealerships

While President Biden's CARES Act has in many ways proven a lifeline for thousands of businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 crisis, his PPP loan program, coordinated by the Small Business Administration (SBA), has also been the subject of great controversy, with many critics arguing that its provisions were abused by massive corporations that hardly needed the extra boost.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Back in December, The New York Times reported that just 1% of the businesses that received federal COVID-19 relief raked in over a quarter of the total loan amounts disbursed. "The money," the Times wrote, "was shared unevenly, with the biggest sums going to a sliver of the companies in need." Roughly 600 large businesses received maximum loans amounts of $10 million. Even public companies with massive cash reserves – like Ruth's Chris, Shake Shack, and AutoNation – took in PPP loans, casting doubt over the program's ability to fairly distribute aid.

The program, however, faced it's perhaps worst reputational blow even months before that report, when it was revealed that scores of lawmakers (and their families) received millions in loans for their own personal businesses, even when these same lawmakers may have had a hand in writing the program's provisions. To boot, some of these lawmakers opposed legislation that would have added to the program's transparency, potentially allowing them to benefit from undue federal aid behind the curtain.

According to a Sludge report, at least 28 members of Congress (or their spouses) benefited from some $27 million in small business loans. Some of these members include Reps. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., Kevin Hern, R-Okla., Greg Pence, R-Ind., and Carol Miller, R-W.Va.

One of these lawmakers, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., received federal loans ranging between $150,000 and $350,000 for his various car dealerships, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Kelly, who voted "no" on the TRUTH Act – which would have required the SBA to disclose all of the PPP's recipients in addition to their loan amounts – is tied to four businesses that benefited from the program, including Mike Kelly Automotive Group Inc., Mike Kelly Automotive LP, Mike Kelly Hyundai Inc., and Kelly Chevrolet Cadillac.

A spokesperson for his office told the Inquirer that Kelly is "not involved in the day-to-day operations of his auto dealerships and was not part of the discussions between the business and the PPP lender." However, The Post Gazette found last July that he was still named as the president of Mike Kelly Hyundai, Mike Kelly Automotive, and Kelly Chevrolet Cadillac on one of his recent House financial disclosures, with his wife reporting a salary from Kelly Chevrolet Cadillac.

Kelly is the 39th wealthiest member of Congress, according to a 2018 analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, with a net worth of $12.4 million.

Other lawmakers who benefited from the PPP program include Reps. Roger Williams, R-Tex., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.

According to Sludge, Williams, who boasts a net worth of $27.7 million, took in over $1.4 million for his JRW Corporation, valued $50 million back in 2019. The conservative legislator also reaped federal aid for his Roger Williams Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership in North Texas.

"I didn't personally benefit from [the loan]," he told Fox Business Network last year. "I've got hundreds of employees – they benefited from it."

Earlier that year, in March of 2020, Williams painted a very different picture of government subsidies, telling The Epoch Times that "a socialist wants you to get a check from the government...a capitalist wants you to get a check from the place that you work."

Williams, who voted against the TRUTH Act, also came under scrutiny from the House Ethics Committee back in 2016, when he tucked an ostensibly self-serving provision into President Obama's Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. The line item, which he himself authored, effectively ensured that his own dealerships would be able to skirt a federal prohibition on renting out cars under safety recalls.

Rep. Buchanan, the third wealthiest member of Congress as of 2018, engaged in similar conduct with his various car dealerships. The Bradenton Herald reported that the Florida lawmaker, worth roughly $74 million, accepted loans totaling anywhere from $2.7 million to $7 million for three of his personal businesses. The largest went to Sarasota Ford, his Sarasota-based car dealership in which he reportedly owns a $50 million stake.

Like Kelly, Buchanan downplayed the significance of the federal aid, arguing that he himself does not manage the dealerships. But many government accountability advocates have speculated that Buchanan's move was an abuse of power.

"While small businesses in Sarasota and Bradenton struggled to get federal aid, Buchanan cut in line and got a loan in the earliest days of the program – after the Trump administration exempted members of Congress from going through a normally mandatory ethics review before getting a loan," Sarah Guggenheimer, DCCC Regional Press Secretary, wrote.

Buchanan did not vote on the TRUTH Act. His past campaign finance practices have been marred with accusations of corruption, as well as subsequent investigations by the Department of Justice, the FBI, the FEC, and the House Ethics Committee.

During the program's administration, which ended back in May, there was no rule barring federal lawmakers (or their families) from applying for a PPP loan, and no one has explicitly argued that such legislators broke any laws.

However, "it certainly looks bad and smells bad," Aaron Scherb, a spokesperson for Common Cause, told Fortune, suggesting that their participation in the program poses a significant conflict of interest. According to a Politico report from last year, Congress mandated no specific disclosure rules around PPP loans for its own members.

"There likely are several other cases of family and friends of public officials receiving bailout funds," echoed Craig Holman, Public Citizen's Capitol Hill lobbyist, to Roll Call. "However, the general lack of disclosure of most recipients of PPP funds prevents the public from knowing all the lawmakers who benefited from their legislative actions."

Who are the Trump allies facing Jan 6th woes?

The Democratic-led select committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection has issued its first batch of subpoenas, targeting a spate of Donald Trump associates to uncover more details behind how the insurrection unfolded.

This article first appeared on Salon.

CNN reports that subpoenas were delivered to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former adviser Steve Bannon, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and Kash Patel, a former chief of staff to then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

"The Select Committee is investigating the facts, circumstances, and causes of the January 6th attack and issues relating to the peaceful transfer of power, in order to identify and evaluate lessons learned and to recommend to the House and its relevant committees corrective laws, policies, procedures, rules, or regulations," House Select Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement.

A committee letter specifically outlined why each of the four will be targeted, according to MSNBC. Bannon, it alleged, "[communicated] with then-President Trump on December 30" and "[urged] him to plan for and focus his efforts on January 6." Meadows "engaged in multiple elements of the planning and preparation of efforts to contest the presidential election and delay the counting of electoral votes."

Scavino, the committee added, was reportedly "with the former President on Jan. 5, when he and others were considering how to convince members of Congress not to certify the election for Joe Biden."

And there is "substantial reason" to believe Patel has documents that could reveal the Defense Department's role in "preparing for and responding to the attack on the U.S. Capitol."

Particular attention has been aimed at Patel, who was this week accused by Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia adviser, of "running a secret backchannel to President Trump on Ukraine matters," Axios reports.

According to Politico, Patel's name has been brought up in a number of depositions about Trump's alleged scheme to withhold U.S. military support from Ukraine. It was in this scheme that Trump reportedly sought information from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that would damage then-presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign prospects.

Patel, 41, first rose to prominence for his work as a top staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, serving the efforts of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., to delegitimize the FBI and the Justice Department during the Trump-Russia probe. Patel helped assemble a separate probe into the origins of the FBI's investigation – a venture the FBI called "extraordinarily reckless" because of its potential to publicize classified information about its own ongoing federal investigation, Politico noted.

Patel later ascended through the ranks to become the National Security Council's senior director for counterterrorism, becoming "increasingly drawn into Trump's battle against an intelligence community," a Washington Post op-ed detailed. There, he helped Trump oust a number of the former president's detractors. "Patel was the action officer," recalled a former top intelligence official to the Post. "He made it happen."

According to Hill's congressional testimony, while on the NSC, Patel grew more involved in U.S.-Ukraine relations, to the point where Trump regarded him as the designated point man on the matter.

Joshua Geltzer, who was in Patel's position earlier during the Trump administration, told Politico that Patel's advisory role would have been way outside Patel's purview.

"If true, this sort of activity seems wildly outside the scope of anything a counterterrorism senior director at NSC should be spending their time on," Geltzer said. "What's more, it politicizes a piece of the NSC staff that administrations of both parties have worked for decades to keep as apolitical as possible."

Patel, for his part, has denied any wrongdoing from current and past colleagues, telling Axios that he never "communicated with the president on any matters involving Ukraine."

"I pride myself on my record as a dedicated national security professional who is entrusted to handle our nation's most sensitive matters," he said in a subsequent statement. "At no time have I strayed from my mission to protect the homeland in service to President Trump and the National Security Council."

Patel, Bannon, Meadows and Scavino are all expected to appear before the select committee in mid-October.

COVID is changing Trump country: Alabama's population shrinks for the first time in history

Alabama's population is dwindling for the first time in state's history as a result of COVID-19's deadly spread throughout its residents.

"Our state literally shrunk in 2020, based on the numbers that we have managed to put together, and actually by quite a bit," State Health Officer Scott Harris said in a Friday press conference, according to The Guardian. "2020 is going to be the first year that we know of in the history of our state where we actually had more deaths than births."

Harris said that the state saw 64,714 deaths in 2020, which significantly outnumbered Alabama's 57,641 births that same year.

"We have data going back to the first decade of the 20th century – so, more than 100 years – and that's never happened before, nor has it ever even been close before," Harris added.

The health crisis in Alabama is just one among many throughout various parts of the South.

In Mississippi, one out of every 320 residents has died due to COVID-19, Rolling Stone reported. Over the past two months, the state has seen a staggering spike in daily cases, which at one point reached roughly 3,600.

However, on Monday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, failed to name anything he'd do differently, instead citing President Biden's apparent federal overreaches.

"It is a very difficult situation that we as Mississippians and we as Americans find ourselves in," Reeves told CNN's Jake Tapper on Monday. "But we also have to understand as we look forward: if this president has the ability to mandate vaccines, what powers do we not grant this president? What does he not have the ability to do?"

"I'm often asked by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle about Covid… and why does it seem like folks in Mississippi and maybe in the Mid-South are a little less scared, shall we say," the conservative added. "When you believe in eternal life — when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don't have to be so scared of things."

Other states disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 include West Virginia, Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee – where hospitalizations have reached a record high, according to The Intelligencer. This past week, Idaho announced "crisis standards of care" due to severe overcrowding in the state's hospital network, meaning that resources may have to be rationed toward patients with the highest chance of survival.

"The situation is dire," Dave Jeppesen, the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told The New York Times. "We don't have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for Covid-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident."

Total COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. is racing toward 700,000, with about 6% occurring over the last month, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. Meanwhile, CNN recently reported that roughly one in every 500 Americans have passed as result of the virus.

A large swath of scientific evidence suggests that more conservative – and incidentally Donald Trump-supporting – areas throughout America may be driving the spread of the disease.

In Florida, COVID-19 deaths since late June have proven about nine times higher in the reddest counties than the bluest countries. According to a San Francisco Chronicle analysis of California, "counties that voted heavily for Trump have seen higher death rates than their bluer counterparts since vaccines became widely available in June — a shift from the period before, when Democratic-leaning counties had higher death rates."

Utah State University last week observed a similar pattern when it comes to infection rates across the U.S., finding that higher concentrations of Donald Trump voters correlated with elevated infection rates per capita. The salience of political views in COVID-19 death was particularly pronounced in rural areas throughout the state, where the spread of the virus has been less studied.

Trump tries to reignite a GOP war

Donald Trump blasted Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Wednesday, telling the Republican lawmakers they should be "ashamed" of not showing him enough fealty during his ceaseless campaign to overturn President Biden's 2020 election win.

"I spent virtually no time with Senators Mike Lee of Utah, or Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, talking about the 2020 Presidential Election Scam or, as it is viewed by many, the 'Crime of the Century,'" Trump wrote in an email blast. "Lindsey and Mike should be ashamed of themselves for not putting up the fight necessary to win," the former president continued.

"Look at the facts that are coming out in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other States," Trump implored without citing any facts.

His latest rant comes amid news from this week that the two senators "personally vetted" Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, according to The Washington Post, which excerpted "Peril," a forthcoming book from Post reporters Bob Costa and Bob Woodward detailing the matter. Both senators apparently involved their senior staff in efforts to probe the results of the election.

Back in late November of last year, Graham personally called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to "find" enough ballots to turn the tide for Trump, potentially violating federal law. Additionally, Graham and his lawyer, Lee Holmes, met multiple times with ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to discuss Trump's allegations of fraud, with Giuliani distributing the senator multiple memos on the matter.

Meanwhile, Lee reportedly investigated the legal ability of former Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally block Biden's certification. The Post reported that the senator made "phone call after phone call" to various state officials, though they, by and large, refused to assign alternate state electors to the election. At the time, many Trump allies told Lee the opposite – that state electors were, in fact, gearing up to be reassigned in Trump's favor.

But Lee recalled seeing things differently.

"As we got closer and closer to Jan. 6, I became concerned because I wasn't seeing any of these developments occur but I was continuing to hear this narrative," he said at the town hall, according to Deseret News.

Ultimately, after exploring a number of different avenues for challenging the election results, both lawmakers were reportedly "unpersuaded."

"Holmes found the sloppiness, the overbearing tone of certainty, and the inconsistencies disqualifying," the authors of "Peril" wrote. "The memos," Holmes concluded, "added up to nothing."

Two senators told The Hill on Tuesday that Graham this past weekend was attempting to play the role of "peacemaker" between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has as of late fallen out of Trump's good graces. Graham was reportedly able to have Trump concede that McConnell helped him during his presidency.

"Lindsey was with the president this last weekend. From what I understand Trump said something complimentary about Mitch," one GOP senator told The Hill.

In the past, Graham and Lee have in many ways shown great loyalty to Trump.

Last year, Lee compared the former president to Captain Moroni, a prophetic figure in the Book of Mormon. Graham likewise said that the GOP "can't grow" without Trump. But by January, after months of probing Trump's election conspiracies, both Republicans voted to certify the election results in Biden's favor.

Centrist Democrats threaten Biden's agenda over opposition to lower drug prices

After a trio of moderate House Democrats, led by Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif, blocked a provision in President Joe Biden's landmark infrastructure package allowing health officials to negotiate excessively high drug prices with large pharmaceutical giants last week, Arizona's senior Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema has reportedly joined her centrist collegagues in expressing opposition to the White House's proposed prescription drug pricing reforms.

Throwing a wrench in the Democrats' agenda to make life-saving drugs more affordable for millions of Americans, Politico reports that Sinema has told the White House she does not support a provision of the reconciliation bill currently being debated in the House of Representatives that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs. While running for office in 2018, however, Sinema expressed clear support for lowering prescription drug prices.

"We need to make health care more affordable, lower prescription drug prices, and fix the problems in the system – not go back to letting insurance companies call all the shots," posted Sinema.

As Kaiser Health News notes, Sinema has since become "a leading recipient of pharma campaign cash," collecting $121,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry from 2019 to 2020.

Over in the House, Peters was joined by centrists Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., all of whom voted "no" during a three-day markup of the bill by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to Politico. The bill consequently saw a 29-29 tie, preventing it from passing out of committee.

People familiar with the matter told Politico that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had spent days convincing the moderates to back down. The committee's, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., also made multiple public pleas to the coalition.

The provision is estimated to bear a windfall for the average drug consumer, saving them $700 billion over a decade – a sum that would shore up other elements of the healthcare system, like Obamacare and Medicare, per The Los Angeles Times.

Back in July, Salon reported on Peters' apparent flip-flop on H.R. 3, a Democratic-backed House bill aimed at radically reducing the price of high-cost drugs. Peters supported the measure in 2019. But in the years following, he received hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from Big Pharma. Later he told Roll Call that the bill was a bad idea, saying that it would "dry up all the private investment that does that research."

Despite the intra-party opposition, Democrats have signaled that they will stand their ground on the drug pricing provision now that it's being tucked into Biden's infrastructure plan. Pelosi spokesperson Henry Connelly told Politico that the policy "will remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., long a crusader against Big Pharma, called the industry "the most powerful industry on Capitol Hill."

"The pharmaceutical industry has spent over $4.5 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions over the past 20 years and has hired some 1,200 lobbyists to get Congress to do its bidding," Sanders tweeted on Wednesday. "Now is the time for Congress to show courage and stand up to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. The American people will not accept surrender."

On Wednesday, Democrats launched an alternative effort to ram the bill through the legislature, Politico reported, passing identical language on drug pricing through the House and Ways Committee with a 24-19 party line vote. Still, the bill is sure to face an uphill battle in being greenlit by the House and Senate.

Peters has said that the measure will not move forward unless the party finds a compromise. "I'll be around all week and happy to talk to any senators who want to finalize something so that we can get done before next week," he told The Los Angeles Times. "Enough of us have expressed concern that we should be working on a different course. I want to be constructive."

The drug lobby has by and large backed the centrist's offensive, citing the apparent need to balance innovation with affordability. However, as Salon noted back in July, many drug price advocates have argued that this concern may be overblown.

Gun manufacturers quietly target young boys using social media

When Nikolas Cruz, a then-19-year-old from Parkland, Florida, stormed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 with a semi-automatic rifle, gunning down fourteen students and three staff in roughly six minutes, those unfamiliar with Cruz's personal history felt like the tragedy came out of nowhere. Cruz, like so many mass shooters, had exhibited all of the signs of someone to watch out for long before. Prosecutors found that Cruz had a well-documented affinity for guns and violence. He started playing violent video games as a middle school student, and sought to be a U.S. Army ranger, allegedly telling a family friend that he "wanted to join the military to kill people." Cruz was described by friends and family as being a highly impulsive teen prone to emotional outbursts often ending in violence. He was also known as an avid user of social media – particularly Instagram – which for years provided him a platform to boast about his gun collection as well as his proclivity for animal cruelty.

This article first appeared in Salon.

In February of 2017, just three days after withdrawing from Stoneman Douglas High, Cruz purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 – an AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifle that bears similarities the the military's M-16. Somehow, he'd passed a background check that included a mental health component, despite being referenced in at least 45 calls to law enforcement spanning back to 2008. A year later, shortly after the FBI was anonymously warned about his potential to carry out an act of mass violence, Cruz brought his rifle to Stoneman Douglas High and executed the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.

Gun reform advocates have worked to understand why an adolescent like Cruz – who had a long history of behavioral issues – was able to legally obtain such a lethal weapon. Companies like Smith & Wesson market their firearms to young men – a demographic that represents a disproportionate amount of mass shooters. So Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady – arguably the two foremost gun control groups in America – renewed their request for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the marketing practices of Smith & Wesson. Their plea, which stems from a complaint jointly filed to the FTC last year, airs out a litany of ways in which the gun giant allegedly attempts to connect with younger audiences, often pushing the envelope of consumer protection law or at times even flouting it altogether.

"It doesn't take a marketing expert to understand what they're trying to appeal to," Kris Brown, President of Brady, said of Smith & Wesson's marketing practices in an interview with Salon. "They're trying to market the gun as a totem – a substitute for masculinity to teenagers."

One of the ways that Smith & Wesson imbues its firearms with a sense of machismo, Brown said, is by creating a sense that its products are in some way affiliated with the U.S. military and law enforcement. Indeed, the company has regularly used such imagery on its website and Instagram, sporting pictures of camo-clad military soldiers as well as police officers serving in the line of duty. Smith & Wesson even offers its own line of firearms called "M&P" specifically devoted to military and police use. (As it so happens, an M&P gun was also used in the Parkland shooting.)

But by and large, the company sells its products to regular consumers, who have no military or police affiliation. In fact, according to a Freedom of Information Act request issued by Everytown and Brady, Smith & Wesson has secured just one small contract with the military over the last decade – a 250-unit supply of revolvers sent to Thailand back in 2012.

Despite this, Smith & Wesson has repeatedly emphasized the need to impart a "halo effect" around its products by associating them with military and law enforcement. In fact, Smith & Wesson went so far as to cite the effect as one of its key "growth drivers," per an investor presentation from 2012, and continued to do so in subsequent presentations. Asked about the effect during a 2016 earnings call with investors, the company's CEO said: "It certainly gives your product a lot of credibility if it is used, adopted and well-regarded by that professional community because the consumer does pay attention to that."

Apart from its potential to mislead buyers, the company's halo effect is especially concerning because it's "attractive to a certain subset of young men who are fixated on law enforcement and military," Alla Lefkowitz, Director of Affirmative Litigation at Everytown and a signatory of the group's complaint, said in an interview.

"You find examples of that in someone like the Parkland [school] shooter, someone like the Kenosha [unrest] shooter, someone like the Poway [synagogue] shooter," told Salon. And when it comes to consumer protection law, she said, "we see that as a real problem…because it doesn't appear to be true that Smith & Wesson's M&P line assault rifles are used by the military."

The gun lobby's alleged effort to foist guns onto young men and adolescents is not a novel phenomenon. For decades, gun manufacturers have sought to sustainably capture the interest of younger buyers, using new methods of marketing and merchandising to give their products a more youthful appeal.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) detailed this strategy in a comprehensive report from 2017. It notes, for example, how the gun lobby mass-produces light-weight "tactical" rifles designed for shooters with smaller frames, often colored-coded with respect to gender. VPC specifically found that Smith & Wesson at one point offered its M&P 15 – the same gun used by Cruz – in "Pink Platinum, Purple Platinum, and Harvest Moon Orange."

In the past, some gun producers, like Thompson/Center, have been staggeringly candid about their bid to appeal to younger consumers. For instance, in a review of Thompson/Center's child-friendly gun "Hotshot," the company's director of marketing quoted back in 2014: "We're targeting the six- to 12-year-old range and feel that with the inclusion of the one-inch spacer in the box, there will be a longer period that the child can use the rifle, potentially out to 15 years old."

Meanwhile, youth-centered trade publications, like NRA Family or Junior Shooters, heavily feature guns tailored for kids and adolescents, often framing them as family-oriented purchases that preserve American values, like freedom.

"Each person who is introduced to the shooting sports and has a positive experience is another vote in favor of keeping our American heritage and freedom alive," wrote Andry Frink, editor of Junior Shooters, in a 2012 editorial. "They may not be old enough to vote now, but they will be in the future. And think about how many lives they will come in contact with that they can impact! Each of us affects others, and it is up to us how we make an impact on the future."

While federal law prohibits anyone under eighteen years old from owning a handgun, it's fair to say that the gun lobby has, for better or worse, deeply embedded itself into parts of American youth culture. According to a 2015 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, about 72 percent of gun owners started hunting between the ages of six and fifteen. About 1 in every 18 high school students go to school armed with a gun, the American Academy of Pediatrics found in 2019.

The Washington Post observed that many states throughout the south and midwest have no age restriction on long guns (rifles and shotguns) to begin with. Given the wide swathe of literature that correlates gun ownership with household deaths and injuries, we should be especially concerned about more guns getting into the hands of kids and adolescents, Josh Sugarmann, Director of VPC, told Salon.

"We know from decades of research that bringing a gun into a home increases the risk of homicide, suicide and unintentional injury. That's just a fact," Sugarmann stated in an interview. "And the answer to that is 'let's introduce children to it as early as possible?' We don't apply that same standard to things like alcohol."

Over the past several decades, gun manufacturers have largely marketed toward younger audiences through traditional modes of print advertising, like magazines and catalogues. But more recently, they've drastically narrowed their focus on one channel in particular: social media.

This largely appears to be the case with Smith & Wesson, which now heavily relies on its Instagram page in particular to promote its products. While Smith & Wesson engages in many of the tactics discussed above – that is, posting pictures of teens shooting guns and drawing dubious associations between its products and the military – Smith & Wesson also apparently employs its own "influencers" and "sponsored shooters" to connect more intimately with younger audiences.

The phenomenon, Everytown's complaint alleges, is especially controversial because these personalities routinely fail to disclose their financial linkages to Smith & Wesson, despite promoting the company's products. The result, Brown told Salon, is that the company's influencers are able to pass off their paid promotions as authentic opinions – and in the process, avoid a relationship with youngsters feels "transactional."

"If someone tells you, 'Hey, I'm being paid to do this,' it changes [the relationship] from an individual connection to 'I'm dealing with a sales person,'" Brown told Salon. "But that's not how the law is supposed to work. That's not how disclosure is supposed to work. There are people selling things every single day who are influencers. And typically, the way it's supposed to work is: a disclaimer…and a statement."

Smith & Wesson's apparent brand ambassadors include shooting instructor Ava Flanell, trick shot artist David Nash, digital marketer Nikki Boxler, former chief of police Ken Scott, as well as professional competition shooters Jerry Miculek and Julie Golob – all of whom respectively have thousands of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube followers. These influencers often use subtle ways of disclosing their relationship to Smith & Wesson, like naming the company hidden hashtags or putting it in "More" or "About Me" sections. However, according to the FTC Endorsement Guidelines, such admissions are a far cry from the gold standard, which demands recurring disclosures throughout each new post with simple and clear language. Salon reached out to the aforementioned influencers, but none responded to requests for a comment. Smith & Wesson also failed to respond to Salon's inquiries. Asked whether Instagram had any responsibility to moderate poorly-disclosed endorsements of firearms, a Facebook spokesperson told Salon: "Branded content that promotes weapons are not allowed on Instagram and we remove posts that we find to be violating."

While the apparent lack of disclosure by the named influencers is legally questionable, it's also concerning with regards to Instagram's user demographics, Brown said. According to Statista, nearly 30% of Instagram's users fall into the 18-24 age range. A 2017 AP-NORC survey found that 73% of American teens use Instagram, with 66% on Facebook.

"Adolescents are more susceptible to advertising and especially advertising that endorses or simulates risky behavior, right?" Lefkowitz said. "And that's why alcohol companies, cigarette companies, and car companies have to be careful about the way that they market it."

Sugarmann suggested that it's only a matter of time before the gun lobby is held to account for its adolescent marketing efforts.

"The industry has just sort of been operating under the radar for a very long time on this front," he said. "And it's…an area that deserves very close scrutiny."

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