What to call the people who don't get passes

Fascists. They are fascists. Civility will not return us to a time that never existed.

Every time we walk back through I remember. I’ve been here many times before but the time I remember the most was right after Trump was elected. We forget it now with everything that’s bludgeoned our sensibilities each day for the last two years, but Trump kicked off his presidency by trying to ban members of an entire religion from even entering the United States. For almost a week we were in a state of sustained chaos as people from seven Muslim-majority countries were detained and interrogated at airports from New York to LA. In Dallas, we met the family of an elderly Iraqi woman who had been locked in some room at the airport overnight.

I stood right where I took that picture below and talked to the woman’s son — who had worked with the U.S. government in Iraq after we invaded that country, a government that later saw fit to help him flee his homeland — as he waited for those doors to open and see his mother again. Other families were there, too, along with hundreds of protesters. It was the beginning of the Trump presidency but it feels like another era. Even though Trump was talking about immigration it’s worth remembering that his first big official act was the Travel Ban. Or were we calling it the Muslim Ban? I can’t remember, but the second one is far more accurate, so let’s go with that.

Since then Trump has pretty much forgotten about the threat he says Muslims pose to our safety and freedom and has replaced them with Mexican and Central American migrants who he says are so dangerous we must build a wall to keep them out.

So, every time we return from a trip overseas we walk through those same doors in the international terminal of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and I remember what I saw there that day, more than two years ago — government-sanctioned discrimination against entire groups of peoples because of their race and religion.

Every time we walk back through I remember and am surprised that I ever could have ever forgotten. This is how I return to my country every time I have left it, and this is the disturbing  memory that hits me in this very normal place.

***

Since Trump was elected there has been a reticence to call him a fascist. Phrases like “autocratic tendencies” or “sympathetic to dictators” are often allowed by the punditry class that presides over the Rules of Objective Journalism in this country. But alleging outright fascism by an American president has been too uncivil for the vast majority of reporters, pundits, writers and publications. These people are laboring under the false hope that, by remaining civil, reason and understanding will prevail, and we’ll return to a simpler time when liberals and conservatives and everyone in between will respectfully agree to disagree, comfortable in our shared understanding that We’re All Americans or some other flawed canon that makes us sleep a little better.

Of course, this is not true. The first reason this is not true is because there never was such a time. Recently, 9/11 has been brought out of the back of the political broom closet by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a shining example of this alleged ability to Come Together. Its memory is “sacred,” Nancy Pelosi has said. 9/11 is such a powerful stimulant that people lose all ability to understand the proper context of words, resorting to the flag-humping rhetoric that is exactly the type of stuff that riles people up to the point where they might go from saying they’re going to kill Rep. Ilhan Omar to actually doing it.

All one has to do to understand the rage-inducing properties of 9/11 is to remember what happened to Arab-Americans, Sikhs and Muslims following the attacks. Like much of history, 9/11 was not as pristine as we’d like to remember it.

There were hundreds of assaults, threats, acts of vandalism against people who were either Muslim or had the appearance of someone from the Middle East in the first month after 9/11, according to the Arab American Institute.

The violence culminated in the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man in Arizona who paid for the attacks with his life because his killer mistook him for a Muslim — which is to say Sodhi died because Americans were so enraged about 9/11 they believed they were justified in going after people who had nothing to do with 9/11 because they slightly resembled the attackers. Sodhi was planting flowers outside of his gas station in Mesa when Frank Silva Roque rolled up with a .380 pistol and put five bullets into Sodhi. Roque then tried to shoot a Lebanese-American clerk at another gas station but missed before driving to a home in which he used to live that was then occupied by an Afghan family, firing several rounds into the house but not striking anyone.

The whitewashing of 9/11 as moment of complete national unity is just one example of why the right’s bad-faith calls for civility — their insistence that words like fascist are too hyperbolic — cannot return us to a time that never existed.

The second reason it is not true that the left toning down its rhetoric about this administration will somehow heal our deep divides is that the right has never played by their own supposed rules.

For the entire Obama administration, the right-wing media complex, Trump himself and the Tea Party accused the president of everything from being a secret Muslim terrorist to the antichrist while the mainstream media punditry weakly lamented the Breakdown of Civility. In those years, the Republican Party and right-wing Americans repeatedly punched liberals in the mouth with their fascist and racist rhetoric, and liberals responded by saying I respect your position of wanting to punch me in the mouth, but I will not punch you back because two wrongs don’t make a right.

It is time to ask ourselves where that has gotten us.

***

This is all Luke O’Neil was trying to do when he wrote for the Boston Globe last week that he regretted not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon when he had the chance as a waiter a decade ago. Kristol, you might remember, was one of the leading drum-beaters advocating to invade Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 but that we targeted anyway. They became our victim just like Sodhi became Roque’s — because we felt justified in retaliating against anyone who vaguely fit the description of the men who flew their planes into our buildings.

O’Neil led his column with this regret, then segued into a discussion of how people like Kirstjen Nielsen shouldn’t feel comfortable being seen in public due to her support of this fascist administration's war on immigrants.

Make sure she has to eat “GrubHub over her kitchen sink” for the rest of her life, Luke implored. When Nielsen was “shame-marched” out of a restaurant in Washington D.C. — around the same time Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mitch McConnell and Stephen Miller experienced the same consequences for their actions — “was the last time I remember being proud to be an American,” Luke wrote.

The piece went predictably viral, eventually making it on to Tucker Carlson’s show. This launched things into the stratosphere. Soon, Luke’s mentions were inundated with vile threats and unending vitriol. Someone dug around the Internet and posted photos of his in-laws and his wife’s uncle, which is a terrifying combination of creepy and potentially very dangerous. He shut down his social media for a few days until things blew over, and the right-wing mob moved on to the next outrage, which turned out to be the ridiculous fracas over Omar’s comments about 9/11.

“I don’t mind people telling me I suck — we’re all used to that,” Luke told me. “But i just takes one person to get riled up by the ‘loony libs’ to actually do something about it.”

Luke is just the latest in a group of liberal, working class writers who have been targeted by the most powerful media apparatus in the country — Fox News and its sprawling empire of millionaire grifters and hate-mongers who falsely believe they are oppressed for being Christians, being white, or not “politically correct.” About a month ago it was Talia Lavin, who was targeted by Laura Ingraham and called a “journo-terrorist” to Ingraham’s millions of viewers because Lavin took an adjunct professorship at New York University teaching students how to cover the far-right.

Ingraham and her media allies have had it out for Lavin ever since she briefly mistook an ICE agent’s tattoo for a symbol of a white nationalist group while working as a fact-checker for the New Yorker — a mistake Lavin noted immediately and apologized for.

Ingraham, who is worth an estimated $45 million, punched down at Lavin, who like most freelancers lives paycheck to paycheck.

“I am 29. I have no job. I am teaching a single course, for $7k as an adjunct,” Lavin noted.

Just as the Republican Party convinces working class Americans to vote against their own interests for oligarchs who give themselves tax breaks and pass laws to help their own companies, their allies in the media convince viewers that people like Talia and Luke are the enemy — not the elected officials trying to take away their health care with no replacement.

Carlson, another millionaire who claims he and his fellow white nationalists are being oppressed while their friends in the Republican Party run the country, made sure his millions of viewers knew Luke’s name when he spasmed over the Globe piece on his show last week.

“I’m 40 years old and I’ve got $40,000 in student debt and I rent a house and drive a shitty used car. I’m not David Brooks and Jake Tapper or some shit,” Luke said. “But none of that matters to people because everything’s culture war now. I don’t see any way out of it.”

***

As coverage of Nielsen’s resignation evolved from somewhat-unexpected breaking news to leaks and palace intrigue, it was easy to see the public image rehabilitation at work.

Nielsen was actually fighting the good fight, NBC News reported, preventing Trump from enacting even more draconian policies than he already has, including apparently still wanting to separate migrant families despite his executive order prohibiting the practice. She was forced out amid a new push by the architect of Trump’s immigration policy, Stephen Miller, who has been on the warpath within DHS, pressuring officials to do something — anything — to stem the flow of migrants that has been increasing exponentially in the last two months.

“They failed in the courts and with Congress and now they’re eating their own,” Politico quoted an anonymous source close Nielsen as saying.

Poor Kirstjen Nielsen. She was just doing her job, doing what she was told, and then not doing it when she knew it was blatantly illegal — like turning away migrants seeking asylum, their right under U.S. and international law. The unnamed sources went to work on Nielsen’s behalf, laying the groundwork for the time-honored practice of rewarding people in Washington D.C. who have done terrible things by ensuring they can go directly into lobbying, the private sector or academia and make very good money while maintaining prestige despite their horrendous acts in government.

Except this time it was slightly different. Some professors have signed a petition saying they’ll refuse to work with Nielsen if she’s offered any sort of position at their universities, which is where Trump lackeys Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski landed — Harvard, incredibly — following their disgraceful tenures. And writers like Luke spoke up to say that people like Nielsen should never feel completely comfortable in public again, that it’s our right and duty to remind her that separating 2,000 migrant parents from their children was an inexcusable act and she should be reminded of her wrongdoing for the rest of her life.

But that was too uncivil for right-wing pundits, whose supporters went to the very civil work of threatening Luke in detailed and disturbing fashion, including saying that he and Omar should be beheaded.

***

The right always wins in this country because it is the basic instinct of all humans to work for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else. Because most people are selfish and consider themselves more important than everyone else, many Americans are thus to the right of the political spectrum.

To live with other people’s well-being in mind as much as your own is to fight against the selfish DNA we have carried inside of us for millions of years. Conservatives will always win in one form or another because it is much easier, safer and more efficient to go through life being a piece of shit to your fellow man than to do things that might help someone other than yourself.

Any debate about whether it is appropriate to call Trump a fascist is simply an extension of the silly argument that those on both sides of an issue deserve equal coverage.

When one side is banning people from an entire religion from entering the country and separating parents from their children, they do not get a pass as if their policies are reasonable. Both acts are objectively wrong, and it is a matter of simple morality to say so in the moment. The tendency is to cop out and Let History Be the Judge. The position of many journalists is that it’s not their responsibility to make these judgments in real time, but it is only those judgments that will separate those on the right side of history from the wrong one.

For this reason and many more, it is reasonable and appropriate to call this president and his supporters fascists. If that gets some of us less work because we’re not being Objective, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

What I cannot stomach is walking through the international terminal in Dallas and not remembering that this presidency began with the identifiably fascist act of banning people because of their race and religion. To not call it so would be to relinquish my responsibility to the truth and cede an air of legitimacy to this administration’s clearly fascist policies.

Those policies are rooted in the ideal that only the right-wing is allowed to decide who becomes and is considered an American. The maddening irony is that their policies are fundamentally un-American.

I know this because every time I meet a migrant I am struck with the overwhelming impression that they possess more American qualities than all the right-wing millionaires on TV and in the government who would do away with a democratic form of government in a heartbeat in favor of an autocrat who would achieve their goals.

In fact it is clear that is exactly what’s happening right now.

***

I was coming back from Juárez in January when I had another one of these experiences of a migrant’s American-ness. On the plane was a young man and his child or younger brother. He carried a ziploc bag containing a few boarding passes and a note:

Hello, I don’t speak English and this is my first time travelling in the United States. Please help me get to my destination. Thank you.

By the time the plane landed we were looking over his documents. A fellow traveller explained to him in Spanish what gate he’d have to find. We pointed at the screen.

“Omaha,” the young man said, repeating what he’d been told.

Another man approached, speaking Spanish.

“Omaha?” he asked, and beckoned for the young man and the child to follow. The three were off.

This is the way it’s always worked here, we were told growing up: Someone knows the way or knows someone who knows the way. Someone has a house to rent or a job to work. Someone has a brother or a friend who can help you get settled in.

Every single one of us who isn’t Native American has a story like this in our family history. People named Serrano should have just as much of a chance at telling those stories as people named Smith.

In every story, someone, somewhere helped to make it happen, whether it was finding a gate at an airport in Dallas, or crossing a river in southern Mexico.

America is supposed to be the only place in the world where the someones and somewheres are.

***

P.S. All the photos in this post are mine from a recent trip to Mexico City. By the way, thank you to any readers who chipped in on Rubén’s asylum defense fund. We nearly reached our goal, and for now I’m going to transfer the $755 we raised straight to Rubén. If the lawyer takes his case we’ll try to raise some more. Thanks as always for reading, and share this post with anyone who you think might be interested in subscribing to Where Do We Go From Here.

Asking is strength and giving is will

At the border they told him, "We don't want you here" because he is in a wheelchair. In Honduras they told him, "We will kill you one by one."

He is 31 and in the United States now after a few months spent wheeling his wheelchair across two continents to make it here. I met him at a shelter in Juárez, where he was separated from the other migrants because he had an infection, and the 100 or so people sleeping, eating and living on the floor of a basketball court next to his small room could have made him more sick with their combined humanity. A day after we met, volunteers came to the shelter and took him to Paso Del Norte, the main bridge spanning Juárez and El Paso where migrants are beginning to pile up as the Trump administration continues to restrict people from claiming asylum as much as possible.

He came to America because the gangs in his hometown in Honduras threatened to kill him and his family. Also, in America he may be able to make enough of a living to afford the medication that keeps the infection away, the infection that required him to have two surgeries in recent weeks in an American hospital that can properly deal with such things. In America, he may be able to get a job even though he can’t walk. Where he is from, there are no jobs for people who are in wheelchairs.

His lifelong best friend was with him on this journey, but now he is gone because he tried to get food for him, and when he came back the Mexican immigration authorities had deported him. He name is Rubén (1) and he is a Godly man who believes with his whole heart in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Even though his life has been hard, his faith sustains him. He has witnessed much violence and lived in fear for most of his life in Honduras; many people in this country think that’s not enough of a reason to be allowed to live here. President Trump himself says people like Rubén shouldn’t be believed.

His supporters cheer this because they don’t listen to stories like the one I am about to tell you.

***

Rubén is one of six boys and was born in a town in Honduras not far from the border with Guatemala. In the mid-2000s he came to the United States and ended up in the panhandle of Texas, working as a roofer and eventually marrying an American woman. One day he was riding in a car with a friend when they struck another car by accident in a gas station parking lot. When the police arrived they found out Rubén was undocumented so they arrested him, and he was eventually deported.

There, he worked whatever odd labor jobs he could find. Then, he wrecked a motorcycle he was riding, paralyzing him from the mid-chest down. It’s possible his injuries wouldn’t have been as severe had he been in America when the accident occurred — medical care in Honduras is nothing like it is here. “If you go to a hospital, you might be damaged more,” he says. That’s what happened to his younger brother, who died in the hospital after going there with a minor illness. “They did not take care of him,” Rubén says. Rubén’s father was more lucky. He survived after being shot four times in the stomach and lives with plastic intestines inside of him.

The crime is bad in Rubén’s hometown but not as bad as elsewhere in Honduras. Still, Rubén says the narcos and criminals basically run his town, killing with impunity. After his accident Rubén thought often about coming back to America  but the journey seemed impossible — 2,000 miles of open country, sometimes inhospitable towns, dangerous crossing routes patrolled by gangs who would take you for everything you had and then take you for ransom when you had nothing left.

Then, two years ago the violence came directly to Rubén, forcing him to make a drastic decision.

His brother and step brother were sleeping on the front porch when the bullets came. His step brother never woke up because of the two bullets that went into his chest and the one that entered his head. The shots woke Rubén’s brother and he started running, so he lived.

But neither the brother nor the step brother were the intended targets, Rubén says. The gangbangers got the wrong house. Rubén’s father started telling people in the neighborhood that he knew who did the shooting. So the gangbangers came to Rubén and his father and told them that if they kept talking, they would also be killed.

“We will kill you one by one,” the gangbangers said.

At that point, Rubén’s life consisted of sitting around the house and watching a lot of TV, almost all news. Some days he’d go to the store and get the money his relatives in America were sending back to him so he could buy the food and medicine he needed to survive. But the rest of the time was spent mostly at home, watching the news — and the news was constantly talking about the caravans.

The news mentioned the logistics of the caravans, and how a new one planned to form in Guatemala after smaller groups from elsewhere in Central America trekked there. But the news came with a warning: it was hard to make it and it was not going to be easy. For all the talk of liberal groups helping, encouraging and even funding caravans — remember the brief and ridiculous spat about Beto O’Rourke supposedly paying to transport Honduran migrants to the border? — Rubén says the news was trying to dissuade people like him from making the trip.

But he was determined, so, with his best friend who is his cousin and maybe 500 others from the town, he joined up. Whoever had food and water on any given day shared it. People in towns along the way sometimes gave the migrants in the caravan sustenance. They walked dozens of miles each day. With his cousin’s help, Rubén made it to Piedras Negras, on the border with Texas, in a few weeks.

That’s where we first saw evidence that the Mexican government was doing Trump’s dirty work by preventing migrants from even reaching the border to apply for asylum. It’s where Rubén spent a few weeks before the buses came and the migrants were shipped all across Mexico, because the government needed to do something after all the bad news about Piedras Negras and what was happening there.

A bus took him to Juárez, and to the little room in the back of a gymnasium where he lay by himself to avoid getting sicker. We met him there on a Tuesday afternoon.

***

It is a very difficult thing to watch someone cry. It is more difficult when they are crying because you have just asked them a question that brings up something painful. But this is the job and it must be done, which means it was not an easy thing to watch Rubén cry as he recounted the story of his cousin being deported back to Honduras because he’d been mistaken for one of the migrants who had protested conditions at Piedras Negras.

“He is more like a brother to me,” Rubén said that day in the room you see above, and the tears came quickly.

The next day, Rubén’s fortunes changed. A migrant advocacy organization called Grupos Beta came to the shelter and, without any prior notice, put Rubén in an ambulance and took him to the border. The paramedics said nothing on the way there. Along with a few other migrants whose number had reached the top of the list of those waiting at shelters in Juárez to apply for asylum, members of Grupos Beta wheeled Rubén up the steep incline of the Paso Del Norte bridge and toward the apex, where an invisible line separates worlds. He told the border agents there that he wanted to apply for political asylum.

“Do you have fear?” was the first question they asked. He told them that, yes, he most certainly had fear.

Then they held him in a room with a dozen other migrants for three days.

“Why are you coming here? We don’t want you here. You cannot work.” an officer told Rubén, noting his disability. “Here, everything is money.”

The tears came again.

It was a Mexican-American officer who told him this. Her name is Belinda Ramos.

Ramos then tried to trick Rubén into admitting he’d been previously deported by officers in El Paso. This had never happened but Ramos knew if she tricked Rubén into saying it then it would be more difficult for him to obtain asylum.

“You’ve been deported before,” Ramos said, motioning to another Mexican-American officer. “He was the one who deported you,” she lied.

After Ramos left, the second officer, whose last name is Quintana, came and reminded Rubén that he is not worthy of being in America.

“We don’t want you here. You cannot work,” Quintana said.

“If I go to Honduras, nobody will give me anything,” he told Rubén. “I have to work.”

Quintana then quoted the Bible, or what he wrongly thinks is a quote from the Bible.

“Help but yourself and I will help you,” Quintana said, repeating a variation of “God helps those who help themselves,” which is not in the Bible and runs counter to Christ’s mission of giving comfort and aid to all, regardless of their abilities and talents.

This made Rubén cry, but he was not afraid anymore because he is a strong believer in Jesus Christ, and he knows that he is a Godly man.

“Pedir es fuerza y dar es voluntad,” he told Quintana.

“Asking is strength and giving is will.”

Then Quintana went away.

***

In the middle of a night after three days sleeping on a pad in a cold, cement block of a room, the officers took Rubén away. First, he went to a hospital, where he was treated for his infection and was able to finally reach his family. Soon, they had purchased him a bus ticket to a plains state, where he is staying with a family friend while he waits for his day in court.

He has been given an “order for expedited removal,” which means the government wants to deport him. Rubén hasn’t yet had his credible fear interview, the most important part of any asylum case. If he passes and is given what is called a “positive credible fear determination,” he’ll need to get a lawyer to have any chance at winning asylum and staying in America.

With a lawyer, Rubén’s chances of obtaining asylum are five times higher, according to the National Immigration Council, which notes that 90 percent of applicants without an attorney were denied asylum in 2017. Only about 37 percent of all immigrants — which includes asylum-seekers — are able to to gain access to a lawyer, according to a 2016 study.

Rubén is not automatically provided with a lawyer under the current make-up of the immigration court system. If he is able to obtain one, he’ll likely have to make what’s called a family-based particular social group (PSG) claim. This type of asylum claim means that Rubén — the asylee — is trying to convince the court that he has been targeted or threatened because of his membership in a particular social group, in this case his family. Other particular social groups include members of the LGBTQ community, police officers, political dissidents — and not the false ones that so many in this country believe they represent — and many others. Of course, since the immigration court system is not independent and is part of the Department of Justice, which itself an arm of the executive branch and therefore subject to a given president’s political whims, family-based PSG claims are being targeted by the Attorney General’s office for removal from acceptable asylum claims.

In this way, the category of acceptable asylum-seekers gets more and more narrow. Former Mexican police officers who were threatened by gangs don’t count, journalists threatened by gangs and police don’t count, and domestic violence victims shouldn’t count, the Justice Department maintains and a judge has disagreed with.  Only the “perfect victim,” an improbable category of asylum-seeker who has spoken out directly and publicly against the government or a political party, and was directly and with evidence threatened by that entity, qualify these days. Many others — 59,557 of the 92,828 whose cases have been decided since Trump took office — don’t quite count. (2)

Without a lawyer, Rubén will likely become a member of that first category and sent back to Honduras. There is just one immigration attorney in Tulsa who is currently accepting asylum cases. Rubén needs $100 for the initial consultation, which is already taken care of. But he’ll need more money than that if the lawyer takes his case. He will also need money to pay for some of his medical and living expenses, which may include large bills from two surgeries he has had in recent weeks to take care of the infection.  

The first thing he did when he got out of surgery was write a Facebook post that praised God for helping him. He hasn’t asked for any help in trying to get a lawyer or for anything else, despite his belief that there is strength in asking.

So I am asking for him. I’ve started a GoFundMe page with the initial goal of raising $1,000 to help Ruben. Please consider donating, and sharing this story so that others might as well.

***

P.S. The top photo in this post was taken by my friend and colleague, the photographer Zach Nelson, who collaborated with me on a story from El Paso and Juárez for VICE early this year. The second photo is mine, taken at a temporary migrant shelter in Juárez. On the right is Andrés, a Honduran migrant who introduced us to Rubén — and with whom we’ve sadly lost touch. On the left is Julián Cardona, a photographer, journalist and fixer in Juárez with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with many times. Along with Chuck Bowden, Julián published a book about migration in the city. It is called Éxodo and sits on my coffee table. You can read his words about Juárez here and view some of his work here. The third photo is of the room in which Julián, my editor at The Daily Beast, Justin Miller, and I first met Rubén.

I’m very hopeful that we can reach the fundraising goal I’ve set — the last time I did something like this was with the family of Juan Salgado, who you might remember from this post back in January. We exceeded the goal that Juan’s family set to fund a proper funeral in Mexico. Back then I had the help of Miller and The Beast, which ran Juan’s story. This time I’m trying to do it on my own — and with your help. Thanks as always for reading.

(1) Ruben is not his name. It has been changed to protect the identities of him and his family. He fears the gang will retaliate if he uses his real name and they see this story, so I have agreed to change it.

(2) This statistic was reached using Syracuse University’s TRACImmigration system, which allows you to manipulate immigration data obtained from the federal government in many, many ways.

They are stacking up at the border and held like animals in a pen

Hundreds of migrants are being kept under a bridge in El Paso as authorities scramble to process them.

They look sad and tired, peering through the chain link fence into the camera lenses that for the last two days have been snapping away. They are maybe a few hundred migrants, being held in a caged area underneath the Paso Del Norte bridge.

Most of them are Central American families fleeing failing states inundated with government corruption, violent crime and poverty the likes of which most American will never understand.

For the past month, authorities in El Paso have been processing about 700 of them a day, Customs and Border Protection says. Last week, the situation got so bad that CBP closed some inland checkpoints so they could send agents to the border to process asylum claims.

The migrants are crossing the Rio Grande — which is more like a stream than a river this time of year — entering U.S. territory and waiting near the fence for Border Patrol to arrest them. After that, they’re taken for processing, handed over to ICE, given a court date and released. The families aren’t really processed at all. Instead, they’re simply given a court date and sent on their way, often into the waiting hands of Annunciation House in El Paso, which is beyond capacity, says Justin Hamel, a photographer who lives in the city.

He’s been documenting the surge, which hasn’t gotten much attention lately as the release of the Mueller report has sucked up all the air in the room. He’s also spent some time with the United Constitutional Patriots, a militia (although they abhor that phrase, Hamel says) that has been patrolling an area just west of El Paso, where Sunland Park, New Mexico and the village of Anapra outside Juarez are separated only by Mount Cristo Rey and the desert and hills surrounding it.

I caught up with him Tuesday afternoon. Here’s a rough transcript of our conversation.

***

JG: Tell me what’s been going on there? I saw the picture you posted last night on Instagram where it looked sort of like people were climbing the wall. Is that in the area by the river where people are turning themselves in?

JH: No it’s actually four miles south of that, south of the X. And they’re not climbing the wall, they’re just sitting on this levee on the other side of with their hands on the fence. I haven’t figured out if there’s a specific place that people are going to to cross, but it seems to be a consistent stream across the river all throughout downtown El Paso, from groups of 5 or 6 to a few hundred at a time. There’s a CBP overflow tent under Paso Del Norte to keep people out of the elements while they process their claims.

There’s not enough agents to process all these people. There’s just not enough anything right now to handle the influx of people. All the systems are sort of overwhelmed right now. If they’re a family they’re not even holding them in detention. They’re just giving them a court date and letting them go. Last week Greyhound changed their policy so ICE can’t drop people off without a [bus] ticket, so ICE hasn’t brought any of the people to the station. There are 20 or so shelters in El Paso from hotels to a lot of churches that are taking people.

JG: So I assume Annunciation House is completely slammed?

JH: Yeah, they’re taking in 700 people a day. A-House is overwhelmed — they’re looking to buy a bigger building or lease one because they’ve spent so much money on hotel rentals that that’s not sustainable.

JG: I also saw that it looks like you’ve been talking to some border agents. What do they think about all this?

JH: They’re pretty overwhelmed but the ones I talked to, they’re not scared or worried about the types of people turning themselves in and waiting at the fence. What they are concerned about is a large group of 100 or 200 people walking across and tying up resources while a cartel tries to sneak people across a couple miles away. I read last week that the Border Patrol’s Joe Romero said that was their major concern. It takes up so many resources to process migrants at the fence, he was saying.

JG: With that many migrants — I know you can probably tell the difference down by Paso Del Norte — but what does downtown El Paso look like? Are there just a bunch of migrants wandering around?

JH: No, it’s really just business as usual. The only time you actually see it is if you’re driving along the border highway. No matter what time day or night there will be at least three or four or five people there by the fence. They’re just sitting there waiting — they seem happy. No one’s attempting to go over the fence, as far as I can tell.

JG: Tell me about these militia guys. When did they get there?

JH: They arrived right before the Trump rally, when they held an event called Build the Wall where there were photos of them with their arms stretched out where the wall ends. Their goal is to stay until the wall in El Paso is finished, whatever that means. This is kind of helping play into the narrative that the wall needs to be built even though most people are crossing in places where there’s already a wall and turning themselves in.

Note: Hamel says the group consists of less than 10 men, most or all of whom claim to be veterans, some of them saying they were in the special forces. They are armed with pistols and occasionally carry assault rifles and have a camp set up on what might be city land near Mount Cristo Rey. They claim that, when they find migrants crossing, members of the group shine flashlights and tell the migrants to sit down. The group then calls Border Patrol and tells them they’ve apprehended some migrants.

JG: First of all I’m not even sure if that’s legal. These guys aren’t licensed by the State of Texas to be peace officers, so I don’t think they have any legal right to tell anyone to do anything.

JH: For the people coming across, these guys are armed and in uniform so they don’t know that they’re not actually officers.

JG: How did you come across them?

JH: I saw a story in a local publication back in February I think. Then one day I just drove out to this area where I thought they were — they really weren’t hard to find. I walked up to them and started having a conversation with them for about an hour and took some photos.

JG: Who are these guys? And what do they do for a living that they can just hang out and play army man in the desert for a few months?

JH: They all say they’re vets, that they’re special forces, which of course I have no way of confirming. They all go by code names and don’t give out any identifying information. One person from Minnesota, a handful are from the El Paso area and a couple are from New Mexico.

When I met them they asked me for my phone number and social media stuff and did a quick scan of my social. They saw that I’d liked Beto’s Facebook page and I told them, Hey, I live in El Paso, I could have liked that just because I want to know what he’s up to.

JG: Are they actually catching anyone?

JH: They’ll say a claim like, We walked up to these 20 illegals and told them to sit and wait for Border Patrol, and next sentence they’ll go on some Hillary, Muslim, crazy conspiracy thing. [Laughs] It’s really hard to parse what may be true with all of the insane rhetoric they espouse.

JG: I gotta hand it to you, man. It’s my job to talk to people that I totally disagree with but I don’t think I’d be able to make it more than a few minutes before getting into an argument with these guys. Also, clearly Border Patrol isn’t going to do anything about it — and I doubt some city or county politician wants or cares enough to make a statement by kicking them off that land — but Jesus Christ what happens when one of these guys pops off and shoots a migrant?

That worries me, honestly. When I’m out there with them …. You know, energy just gets amped up, we all run in and get in the bed of a truck and take off. That’s my biggest concern.

P.S. All the photos on this post are courtesy Justin Hamel. Hamel is a photographer who moved to El Paso in September after roaming the country for another project. He is preparing to open Frontera Studio in El Paso by April. You can view some of Frontera’s work here, and more of Hamel’s work here.

Many people are angry and many others don't care. We enter a new national era.

Protest and indifference in Dallas after a white bartender beats a black woman provides a glimpse at what the next two years will look like.

It started the other night when a white bartender beat the hell out of a black woman, and it ended early Sunday morning with the cops clearing the street under threat of arrest so traffic could flow smoothly in the busiest bar district in Dallas.

“This is the Dallas Police Department,” an officer said through a bullhorn as 1 a.m. approached. “This is your third and final warning. You are blocking a roadway and need to move to the sidewalk immediately. If not, you will be arrested.”

“Thank you for coming out,” the cop added.

A young black woman twirled in front of the line of officers who were smart enough not to have escalated the situation by showing up in riot gear but were ready to go with those plastic zip ties they use to make mass arrests. Hidden behind them a block back and around the corner was a couple of cops in a paddy wagon, waiting to fill it if they needed. I heard this over the police scanner I had piping through earphones into my ear, so I told one of the main protesters that the cops were not fucking around.

By the time we went to grab a last call beer it was all over. No one had been arrested and, other than a brief and stupid three-way scuffle between a drunk guy, protesters and the cops, there had been nothing remotely approaching violence. The worst part was watching a black female cop have to stand there and absorb vitriol from the twirling woman and her friends who were reminding that cop that the white officers around her would never save her, would never be there to help her.

“I hope you sleep well tonight, sista,” they taunted her. “Because we won’t with all these white supremacist cops running around.”

After three hours of walking through Deep Ellum — a drunk and rowdy neighborhood packed with bars, clubs and restaurants every few feet — the protesters were done. They made their taunts and eventually most of the cops dispersed, leaving just two of them and a squad car on the corner. I watched them from across the street as I sipped my beer.

They waived their flashlights on the street to let drivers know traffic was flowing again. The cars rolled by, blaring music. Girls in short skirts and high heels plotted out their final drinks of the night. Young men followed them, tongues wagging.

If you passed through that intersection at that moment you would have had no idea that dozens of protesters had spent their Saturday night there expressing their pain and anger that the bartender — who viciously beat the women over a parking dispute and has been accused of using racial slurs while doing so — hasn’t been charged with a hate crime.

Hours’ worth of heated moments that are partly the product of hundreds of years of scars building on top of each other for black Americans were once again on display — only to be wiped quickly away so people could carry on with their Saturday night.

I think of the firefighters I used to watch wash the blood off sidewalks and streets in Peoria and Chicago where I saw so many people die. It reminds me how quickly we all forget about things that just happened, and how numb we have become to things that happen every day.

“Yeah it’s amazing. Our Republic is falling but I can still get my zingers at Casey’s,” someone wrote to me the other day.

***

We’re at the end of something we know and the beginning of something we don’t, now that the key finding of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — that the president didn’t work directly with Russia to interfere in our election — has been released. For the last two years this question has been hanging over us, or at least some of us.

Never discount the fact that, at any moment, at least a third of the country has no idea what’s going on and more to the point doesn’t care. They only care when something happens directly to them or someone they know, or something happens in front of them, like it did last night.

There were a dozen great moments of white and hispanic folks stumbling upon what was at one point a group of nearly 100 black protesters walking through the streets, chanting. In each of those young faces you could see the wheels slowly starting to turn that they were witnessing something quite a bit bigger and more important than their Saturday night, before the wheels reversed and they went back to focusing on themselves.

But my favorite moment, simply because it was both enraging and stupid enough to nearly perfectly encapsulate this exact, terribly dumb time in this country’s history, goes like this:

White guy 1: “Hey man we should yell at them ‘We support the cops!’”

Black guy turns around: “What?’

White guy 2: “So what’s going on, man?”

Black guy: Explains, I chime in, saying they’re protesting the beating of a black woman.

White guy 2: “Well, did it really happen? Because, you know, fake news.”

That’s how easy it is now. Someone just has to say fake news and it somehow qualifies as a meaningful statement or sentiment, a thoughtful criticism, even. Before, it was just that the media was biased. No matter who you talked to, no matter what you were talking about, the media was biased. Now, you just say fake news.

But before it was different. Even it was as short sighted, the criticism was at least somewhat reasonable: The media is biased. Although it never made much sense considering no matter who you were talking to, they always said the media was biased, without recognition that the very same criticism was coming from the other side at the same time.

One of the great joys of being a journalist is being screamed at by people on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum because you were being biased against them. We go out there every day to try to tell people what we’ve learned and found, and they come back at us with, That’s because you’re biased — no matter what is that you’re saying.

***

I was looking through my notes from Charlotte when I started writing this because it was the last time I remember walking around with protesters like I did last night. That was in September 2016, and it was toward the end of a run of two years in which I travelled around the country covering police shootings. Most of the national media did the same. Then we elected Trump and now we don’t really cover that stuff anymore.

Anyway I found this, which I can attribute to a white guy I met in a sports bar while we a Carolina Panthers game on one of the first Sundays of the season.

“What needs to happen in this country is that the media needs to quit trying to divide us. In my opinion the media is the biggest problem in this country. The media reports purposefully the stuff that’s gonna cause controversy.”

Think about the deep and fundamental lack of understanding of how journalism works that is reflected in that statement. It’s the same misunderstanding that the president has about the role of journalism — that no one should report anything that makes him look bad. This man in Charlotte was saying, essentially, that we shouldn’t report anything that makes anyone look bad.

To clarify, the media covers “stuff that’s gonna cause controversy” — otherwise known as bad things — because that’s the only way that bad things can maybe become good things. We have to know about bad things that are happening if we want to put a stop to them, which most people do.

So now, after two years of wondering about what Robert Mueller would find, we’re at the end another era. The last era pretty much ended in Charlotte, which was the last time the national media covered a police shooting in large numbers. And this era ended on Sunday with a simple statement from the Department of Justice that said the president didn’t conspire with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

Now, we enter something different. I don’t what it will bring or how it will end but I do know this: it will be marked with a great level of indifference by the many and significant obsession by the few. I think a lot about how easy it is to ignore or not even know about what’s happening in this country. Because people have to go to their jobs and pay their bills, clean their cars and buy groceries, take their kids to school and feed them dinner and get them to bed at night — all the things we have to do each day just to keep on living. But we ought to pay attention and be involved or else we’re going to be in worse trouble than we are now.

How we get people to care enough to know what’s happening and get involved is something I can’t even begin to have an answer to, but I think I caught a glimpse of it how some will respond to this new era of heavy partisan warfare for the next year as the next election nears.

After the protesters left and the traffic resumed a young man returned to the table his girlfriend was sitting at. She was trying to talk to him and he held up a finger to let her know he wasn’t feeling well. She kept talking and he started looking very bad. He vomited right on the table they were sitting at and she rolled her eyes. The bouncer politely asked him to leave and motioned to the waitress, who was cleaning other tables of spilt beer and leftover pieces of hamburgers. I’m sorry, the bouncer said with his eyes.

She walked over to the table and began wiping away the vomit, cleaning up a mess she hadn’t made.

***

P.S. All the photos in this post are mine. I’m not sure how many people reading this newsletter come here specifically for immigration coverage, but for those who do, we’ll be getting back to that later this week. As always, if there’s something you like, don’t like, are ambivalent about or whatever, reach me at justin.glawe@gmail. And if you like what you see please forward this email to anyone else who might want to join Where Do We Go From Here.

False dissidents: They say they're oppressed but they run the country

The White Grievance Industrial Complex convinces Americans are oppressed. The reality is they're in charge.

Under the chyron, CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT, Tucker Carlson laid out the desperate situation he and other conservatives face in this country.

Without citing any specific examples, Carlson last week described a stunning series of events in which “fairly prominent, well-educated people with dissenting political opinions” have been “disappeared.”

“This is what an authoritarian society looks like,” he declared. “It’s a place where the group in charge will tolerate no criticism at all.”

The “group in charge” in this description is an imagined coalition of Democrats, mainstream media organizations, liberals, progressives and pretty much anyone who was offended by comments unearthed last week that showed Carlson calling women “extremely primitive,” disparaging Iraqis as “semi-literate primitive monkeys” and defending convicted child rapist Warren Jeffs by saying the multiple felonies he was convicted of amounted to “bullshit.”

There’s just one problem with this: the coalition Carlson described isn’t in charge. Instead, the party most closely aligned with his increasingly white nationalist rhetoric — Republicans — are.

To be a political dissident, as Carlson claims he is, one must be speaking out against those in power, not facilitating them by creating propaganda in support of the ruling party, as Carlson and his fellow grifters in the White Grievance Industrial Complex do each night. They are so adept at selling their wares of false oppression that many of Americans deeply believe their voices are being silenced despite all evidence to the contrary.

They believe Carlson when he says a “Twitter mob” came for him not because he made racist comments on a shock jock radio show a decade ago, but simply because he is a conservative. They believe Devin Nunes when he says his tweets aren’t showing up in people’s timelines because Twitter has an anti-conservative bias. They believe Trump when he says that basically any story that doesn’t make him look good is fake news.

They believe the Complex when it tells them they’re being oppressed, but the reality is that everyone in their belief ecosystem is in power.

***

In addition to holding the White House and the Senate, Republicans also control most state governments. Thirty state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, which is slightly down thanks to Democratic gains in the midterms. (It’s actually surprising that Republicans don’t control more state houses, considering they’ve been in charge of redistricting voting districts to their advantage for the better part of the last two decades.) In 22 of those 30 states, Republicans also occupy the governor’s mansion — a regional fiefdom that includes the massive populations of Texas and Florida, and much of the southeast and midwest, accounting for nearly half the states in the country.

Some 193 million Americans live each day under at least one form of Republican government while sixty million fewer Americans live under Democratic control. If you consider things like school boards, county, regional and municipal government bodies, we can say that two-thirds of Americans live in areas where conservative citizens are active enough in the political process to have identified the GOP as consistent with their values, and elected leaders who support the party’s platforms.

But the Republican domination of American life only begins with this examination of numbers. To dig deeper you have to look at what the party is doing in those 30 statehouses and 22 governor’s mansions. Here’s a brief and disturbing rundown:

  • In Florida, Republicans are trying to place new restrictions on a recently-passed law that allows felons who have completed their sentences to vote, saying they should have to pay all of their court fees and fines associated with their crimes. It would affect nearly 80 percent of the 1.4 million new voters, many of whom are people of color. Under the proposed rule they’ll essentially have to pay for their right to vote, which 64 percent of their fellow citizens gave them in a referendum passed in November.

That’s what’s happening in four states where Republicans have legislative majorities. There are 26 more whose statehouses are staffed by fewer and fewer reporters as local newspapers continue to scale back coverage and staff.

***

At the federal level, Trump has been filling courts with conservative judges at a record pace. Some of them hold virulently anti-LGBTQ views. One has said that Kentucky death row inmates are not guaranteed a “pain-free” execution. Another sided with a Michigan county board that asks members of the audience to join them in a Christian prayer before each meeting. All can be counted on — as Mitch McConnell has planned since the Obama administration — to fundamentally transform the federal court system to reflect more conservative points of view.

Now, one out of every five judges in federal appeals courts are conservative Trump appointees. McConnell plans to speed the process even more for circuit and district courts, and will likely be successful thanks to Republican control of the Senate.

With so much power, how can it be that conservatives are being oppressed for their political views, as Carlson, Sean Hannity and other members of the White Grievance Industrial Complex claim daily? The obvious answer is that they are not, which begs the larger question of, Why do so many Americans apparently believe them?

First, Republicans are incredibly talented at convincing working class Americans to vote against their own interests by electing politicians who have far greater wealth than themselves — and who then create laws that benefit the wealthy more than the poor and the middle class. They achieve this through all of the culture war, race-baiting tactics that have been discussed to death since Trump was elected.

Most importantly, they have created a completely false narrative that conservative or center-right beliefs — which remain those held by a majority of Americans — are under attack.

Republicans know they must amplify this exaggerated threats to stay in power. And so, understanding that anger motivates, the ruling party in this country can’t very well remind its supporters that Republicans are in power — and that if someone is looking to blame a political party for the problems in their life, they would likely have to look toward the GOP. Instead, Republicans have found a variety of scapegoats, primarily immigrants and the media, to blame.

The icing on the cake is the brilliant and untrue story that the party that controls more government bodies than any other is actually in danger of extinction. It is a persecution complex for the ages, and a complete twisting of reality that should scare the hell out of anyone who thinks that autocracy and fascism can’t happen here.

Carlson, Hannity and many others are co-conspirators, beaming this message of fake dissidence into millions of American homes every night — in primetime and on the country’s most-watched news channel, no less. Meanwhile, the party they support holds power in nearly two-thirds of states, the White House, Congress and an increasing percentage of federal courtrooms.

After the message successfully goes out, Sean Hannity calls the president, or dines with him, or speaks at one of his rallies.

***

P.S. The photo on this post is from Doug Mills of the New York Times. This post is part of a new project I’m undertaking with my friend and colleague, Jeremy Borden, called The Gonzo Primary. We’ll slice directly through the bullshit of standard national political reporting to bring everything from detailed policy examinations and analysis to raw, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with Americans of all stripes as Democrats work their way across the country in an attempt to take back the White House. We will not be doing horse race coverage and generally speaking care less about how people feel than what they know. You can read more about it here, and subscribe to Jeremy’s newsletter here.

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