They call us radicals as they try to subvert democracy

Calling an entire election into question with no evidence is as radical as you can get.

The events of the past week have distorted many things and clarified many others. One of the things it has clarified is that the Republican Party has no interest in upholding the most basic tenet of a democratic republic: free and fair elections. As they perform the very un-democratic task of calling Joe Biden’s win into question, the GOP and its media allies are also pushing a narrative that the Democratic Party is led by far left radicals who want to do everything from take your guns to cancel Christmas to perhaps provide you decent health care. 

This, of course, is not true. Yes, Beto O’Rourke once boasted that he would take away your AR-15, but Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have largely avoided even discussing gun control, let alone whether they have any plans to push forward on the issue. Instead, they’ve spent the days since winning the election doing what presidents-elect normally do: setting up a team to adequately run the federal government and implement their policy goals. Those goals are not nearly as radical as the Trump sycophants taking to the airwaves and spewing their bullshit online would have you believe. 

In fact, it’s the Republican Party that has become more radical in the last four decades, as my colleague Jeremy Borden pointed out in April — a trend that went into warp speed with the election of Donald Trump, an obvious fascist with no respect for democracy or the laws that protect it. Meanwhile, Democrats have wrongly tried to meet the GOP in a middle that is increasingly right of where the center was 30 years ago. But before we get into that, let’s examine some of the claims Republicans are making regarding voter fraud in this election.

  • In Pennsylvania, the state Republican party found that 21,000 dead people were on state voter rolls — which is legitimately concerning! But the Breitbart story laying out this explosive development notes, cautiously, that the Philadelphia GOP “alleges” that 840 dead people supposedly voted in the election. In a tweet, the state GOP said you could “see it here for yourself,” while linking to the page on the secretary of state’s website that allows one to search for names of individual voters to see if their ballots had been counted. One would think that that legal team pressing the claim that tons of ballots were cast on behalf of the dead would go through the work of putting together a list of the 840 dead voters, complete with proof that they’re the same person who has had an obituary printed in the local newspaper. But that’s basic shit. And the people who are running Trump’s legal team in Pennsylvania — which include reporter-beating Corey Lewandowski and corrupt former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi — do not, clearly, know how to do basic shit. A second story on dead people voting in Pennsylvania provides a single example of such an occurrence — albeit without any examination of whether there could have been someone with the same name and date of birth as the alleged deceased voter in question. 

  • In Michigan, Republicans have said more than 14,000 dead people were on the voter rolls. When CNN randomly chose 50 names of deceased Michiganders’ and ran them through the state voting website, they found not a single corpse with a vote. 

  • In Georgia, un-elected Kelly Loeffler and her fellow insider trader David Perdue have called on the secretary of state — a Republican — to resign over his alleged mishandling of the election here. Naturally, they provided no such hard evidence that anything nefarious occurred, instead choosing to eat one of their own in the hopes it turns out enough of their Trump-loving base to put them back in Washington after a forthcoming January runoff. 

  • In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign has failed to pay the $3 million required to start a recount, which tells you all you need to know about the president’s belief in his chances in that state.

  • Nationwide, the campaign is asking its supporters for money to boost its legal efforts — all while noting in the fine print that as much as 60 percent of money received will go to paying off old campaign debts, which again tells you all you need to know about Trump’s belief that he can actually win all these legal battles.

Most of the GOP and the attorney general are now complicit in an effort not just to avoid the results of this election but call it — entirely and unfoundedly — into question. Even though it appears the actual lawyers working on these lawsuits are mostly mailing it in, the fact that they’re doing it all is very concerning. Yes, most of this is in service of Trump’s ego but it’s also so Republicans can call future elections into question. They’re setting up a significant number of Americans to believe that this election was stolen from by Democrats so that in 2022, 2024 and beyond they can remind them of this “fraud” and they’ll buy it. 

Republicans know this. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham know this. It doesn’t help democracy or their working class supporters and makes the prospect of societal unrest more likely, but it helps them stay in power, which is what all of this is about. That’s fine, as far as politics goes. We all believe our side is right and that we can improve American life through our own politics. But there used to be norms, norms that Democrats stupidly still abide by, thinking that their Republican colleagues will one day do the same — perhaps once the storm of Trumpism has passed! This is wrong. What Democrats have failed to understand is that, even before the madness of Trump, Republicans had no interest in Democratic norms, or civility, or “working across the aisle.” It was always about unmitigated power. This is why the authoritarian part of the Republican brain has always been more prominent than the libertarian one. That’s why this is not the time for Democrats to come toward the center, for the “center” has been skewing right for decades — at the expense of working people and democracy. And even — and Joe Biden would do himself a favor to say explicitly — at the expense of the white working class. 

That’s how you clarify things for a people who voted for a child of millionaire Manhattan privilege who, just a few weeks ago joked in Erie, Pennsylvania that, if it weren’t for his unending need for affection and to be re-elected would never have previously ever gone to Erie, Pennsylvania — because why would he have? Erie sucks, he alluded. Why would he ever come there if the people there weren’t telling him they loved him? He told them he’d bring the jobs back but he hasn’t. And he and the Republican party never will. They busted your unions and colluded with corporations to ship your jobs overseas. They told your people in the working class that lower taxes on corporations would keep your jobs here even as they met with those corporate fat cats and came to an understanding that, to keep tax revenue flowing and corporate donations coming in for their political campaigns, they were willing to sell you out. I shouldn’t say you; I should say us. As much as I’ve hated on Trump over the last four years, I recognize that many people I know and love have supported him, giving more in common with many Trump supporters than I have differences. At this moment, I hate no more. I just want you to understand — as a son of the Midwest, as a son of coal-digging Prussian immigrants and Midwestern meat packers — that Donald Trump never cared about you. The only reason he went to you in Erie or Wilkes-Barre or anywhere else was because you gave him some of the affection he’s always sought. It’s sad to say it, but in private he jokes about people like you and me. He makes fun of us. We’re the suckers, he believes. We’re the workers who do what he needs for him to make 10,000 times the amount of money we make. We provide the strong backs to an operation that has made him billions that he has squandered, and our backs will never be the same. 

The radicalization of the Republican party over the last 40 years has publicly focused on social issues. Privately, it worked to undermine the working class — the very same people who were being riled up by a stew of pro-life, second amendment and impending-socialism fear-mongering. Now, they’ve added the lie of fraudulent elections to this mix. One more thing for you to be scared about and hate Democrats for. None of it’s true, of course. But truth is a very relative thing for much of this country, and Republicans have exploited that void perfectly.

This is a radical position. Questioning an entire election just because the president’s feelings are hurt and his dad never took him to a fucking baseball game is not only absurd but very dangerous. There’s been much talk of a future authoritarian president — not hindered by Trump’s crippling stupidity and stunning incompetence — actually succeeding at doing irreparable damage to democracy. Republicans, radicals that they are, have put themselves in position to embrace that, democracy be damned. 

All the photos from this post are from a very strange period in 2016, when it became apparent to me that Trump might actually become president. The first is from Trump’s rally in Chicago that never happened because Chicago doesn’t play and protesters shut that shit down. The second is from an abandoned building in East St. Louis. The third is of a veteran I met on the road somewhere in Ohio. His chopper went down in Iraq and everyone but him died, so he had it tattooed on its arm to memorialize his comrades. The final photo is from an abandoned Days Inn, somewhere north of Indianapolis off I-65. Thanks to all readers of Where Do We Go From here, and remember, if you like what you see, tell a friend.

The Eve of Destruction

There are plenty of scenarios for unrest following the election, but the most plausible comes from the right.

Election Night used to mean several things in the news business. Cold coffee and free pizza is the newsroom stereotype. There was also the grueling and annoying task of calling local election officials to see what the returns looked like. It’s been almost a decade since I sat at a desk in a newsroom on Election Night and made those calls, ate too much pizza and drank coffee deep into the night to add my small part of the larger news-gathering operation that needed to get into the paper before deadline. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fondly remember it as a moment when the wheels of democracy peacefully rolled along a track toward some shared future.

It’s an idealistic vision that is somehow able to invade the minds of otherwise very cynical journalists. It’s one I can’t imagine possessing anymore, not with everything I’ve seen and covered in the last six years since I left newspapers for good.

We are on the precipice of something not seen in this country for several decades. A choice between a very dark future or a relatively normal one. This Election Night will not be like any of the others in my time behind a computer screen. That idealistic vision of a peaceful transition of power is gone, bludgeoned to death by the same dim violence of Donald Trump’s madness that has ruined much of the American experience in the last four years. The normal preparedness — lining up all the phone numbers at far-flung election boards two counties away; preparing to do the thing I hate most about reporting: approaching random people to ask them their political opinions; and reaching out to losing and winning campaigns — now must be joined by preparing for unrest.

A recent email from an editor stuck out to me in its indication of this new, disheartening normal. He just wanted to make sure I was available for deployment in the event of clashes at polling places, acts of vigilantism, and general chaos. Forget calling polite and competent local election officials to get vote counts; I and many other people are making sure our cars are gassed up and gas masks cleaned because of the fucked precipice we as a nation now find ourselves on.

Another realization of this danger zone we are all about to march into came yesterday when my wife asked about all the possible scenarios. I began talking about early voting numbers being probably good for Biden, the likely possibility of a “red mirage” on Election Day, and a new poll showing Biden ahead in several swing states. That wasn’t what she was asking. She wanted to know what I thought were the various scenarios and their consequences on the streets.

In order of least likely to most, they are as follows:

Trump landslide

This very implausible scenario would cause more confusion than anything else. After that, the left would take to the streets nationwide just as they did in historic numbers after Trump’s first election. But the protests will be more subdued, I believe, because many in the crowds will understand that their efforts to incapacitate a second Trump term will be better used elsewhere — donating to Democratic politicians, backing liberal groups, and supporting organizations that defend migrant, abortion, voting and other rights under attack from Trump and Republicans. There is the slight possibility of a left-wing domestic terror attack, but that’s not historically been part of the left’s playbook, and in the last few years has increasingly been part of the right’s.

Biden landslide

This is the best possible Election Night outcome not just for humanity but for a chance to avoid unrest. A Biden landslide will defuse those on both the left and the right who would otherwise take to the streets in any of the scenarios below. Trump will make his typical complaints about a rigged election, but the numbers will be too overwhelming for many Republicans to back his claims. More importantly those numbers will be too damning for many of his radical supporters to do anything other than complain. But, if Trump refuses to leave office — and is subsequently removed by law enforcement or the military — his supporters may enact revenge on the various groups they blame for his defeat. Finally, as is the ever-present danger of American life, a militia group or a lone wolf, enraged by Biden’s victory, could pull off a mass shooting or other act of domestic terrorism.

A close win on Election Night

Where all this is almost certainly headed, the tight numbers on Election Night will likely cause the nation to freeze. Trump voters, who apparently believe the coronavirus is not a threat, will turn out in large numbers on Tuesday, prompting Trump to claim victory as millions of mail-in votes stream in and are counted — or not, as the president has directly told Americans he intends to prevent. If Trump does something crazy, like sign an executive order saying no more votes can be counted, DC will burn. Short of that, as the numbers go up and down for each candidate in the days and weeks following Tuesday, there will be flare-ups in places where votes were discounted or added to either side’s tally. Imagine the Brooks Brothers riot but in several different states and involving supporters from both sides. Behind the scenes, lawyers from both campaigns will be maneuvering to have their votes counted and their opponent’s thrown out. Then will come the court cases and the lawsuits — which are already twice the number that came as a result of 2000’s contested presidential election — and the worst possible scenario for mass unrest: a Supreme Court case.

2000, but worse

Clearly part of the playbook considering how much emphasis Republicans placed on quickly nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a decision at the country’s highest court for either candidate will cause acts of violence. That unrest will be more widespread if the decision comes down for Trump, which early indicators point that it will. Protests in major American cities will turn violent when police try to crack down on protesters. Right-wing agitators will embed themselves in the crowds to stir the pot just as they did in the wake of George Floyd’s killings. The president, emboldened, will insist on a heavy-handed law enforcement response. His supporters might take to the streets themselves, feeling justified by the Supreme Court decision and protected by law enforcement who overwhelmingly support the president, to enact their own violence on protesters.

The unsettling truth is that something will burn and someone will be shot on or following Election Day. The unrest has already begun in New York City, where Trump supporters and protesters clashed on Sunday afternoon, with police intervening. If it’s flames, it will be because Trump either won or stole the election through the courts. The fire will come in a riot, because riots are the weapon of the left. If it’s a shooting, it will be because Biden won and Trump claimed — as he has been telling us that he will do for months — that the election wwas stolen from him. Someone will be shot by someone on the right because the weapon of the right is the gun. It is their weapon both because they are cowards who could never kill someone with their bare hands and because the gun is a ruthlessly efficient weapon that has proved very successful in the killing the right’s enemies in Black churches, Jewish synagogues, Walmarts filled with brown people, and all the other places I’m forgetting right now where the president’s supporters and right-wing terrorists have murdered their fellow American in the past four years in support of Trump’s fascist ideology.

Everyone has something to lose in this election. But Trump’s white working class base — the same people likely to be armed or involved with militia groups — have not only a higher propensity for violence but something they desperately can’t afford to lose: identity. Their jobs didn’t come back from China, as Trump promised. Their taxes aren’t any lower and their wages no higher. Their healthcare isn’t any better than it was before as a pandemic sickens or kills their family and friends, upending their lives. All they have is the sense of white identity that the president provides through his daily rages and grievances. This is what comforts them — it is all that they have — and losing it could send them over the edge.

All the photos from this post are from Inauguration Day in 2016. I had forgotten that millions took to the streets following Trump’s election, which is a good reminder when considering what will happen in any of the scenarios above. I will be covering events on Tuesday from my home in Savannah. If anyone has anything that needs looked into or hears about plans of violence or unrest, please let me know. As always, if you enjoyed this post, please share this newsletter with a friend. To all, godspeed.

The creeping marauders who don't exist

Trump and Barr plan a crackdown on non-existent forces behind nationwide protests.

It’s a terrifying vision. Shadowy groups of left-wing extremists and anarchists, raising money and sending their foot soldiers all over the country to bring havoc to peaceful, law-abiding communities. 

Except it isn’t happening. With the full investigative power of the federal government behind them, President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have yet to identify a single incident of this kind — even as they baselessly speculate that this invisible network is roaming the nation to foment unrest and commit violence. In some cases, it’s come down to local law enforcement to convince citizens and right-wing vigilantes that this fantasy is not occurring. These are the same law enforcement agencies Trump and Barr claim to be protecting with what will likely be deemed an unconstitutional order to strip federal funding from what Barr’s Justice Department has now called “anarchist jurisdictions” of New York City, Portland and Seattle.

This is not how any of this works. But you can’t really blame Trump, Barr, their fellow Republicans, the GOP’s media allies and average Americans on Facebook for believing that things do work this way. None of them can really be blamed because the people who believe these things have ever been to a protest themselves, let alone actually protested. 

They’ve never been to a protest or protested because they come from the parts of our society that control it. Simply put, they’ve never had anything to protest against because their interests have always been aligned with the current subjects of nationwide outrage — law enforcement and the structures that uphold systemic racism. So it makes sense that they would have to concoct a reason why people would travel to take part in a protest — entirely their right, regardless of political affiliation — which some people most certainly do. 

But not in the way Trump, Barr and Americans consuming a toxic stew of misinformation from right-wing media helpfully provided to them in heaping quantities by Facebook’s mind-warping algorithms.

Yes, protesters and activists travel, even across the country, to take part in actions. Yes, some of them identify as Antifa and anarchists. But besides the fact that there is no proof they are doing this in large numbers and in highly-organized fashion, there is nothing inherently wrong or illegal about travelling to take part in a protest. It most certainly is not sedition, as Barr would like to charge. Any illegal action would only come at the protest itself. 

Ironically, it’s largely right-wing groups who act in the fashion Barr and Trump claim is rampant on the left. The Proud Boys are regularly seen at events nationwide alongside more militant groups like the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers. In all my travels covering unrest in the last six years, the only somewhat-organized left-wing groups I’ve seen in American cities experiencing unrest are the Revolutionary Communist Party of Chicago, who I first came into contact with in Ferguson, and, far less frequently, the New Black Panther Party and its affiliated splinter groups.

Protesters and activists — or the nebulous Antifa, which Barr and Trump would have you believe is a paramilitary organization and not simply a loose connection of like-minded individuals — aren’t flying around the country for several, very logistical reasons. First, it’s very expensive to do so. My rule of thumb for covering unrest is that it takes a minimum of $1,000, per man, per week to be able to properly function in that environment. (And I do it on the cheap. Television news reporters, with their camera crews and extensive gear, rack up even higher bills.) To parachute in as reporters like myself do — and as Trump and Barr insist Antifa does — requires one to immediately drop upwards of $2,000 on flights, hotels and car rental. Most Americans, especially those on the left, don’t have that kind of scratch just lying around. Secondly, most people simply don’t have the time to drop everything and catch a flight across the country just to join in on protests. Reporters have that luxury because it’s our job. 

Instead, what often happens is that protesters and activists will travel within their region. Situated in between Chicago and Milwaukee, Kenosha surely would have seen more than its fair share of outsiders coming into town following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. But that’s really no different than other cities and towns outside major metropolises. In the wake of George Floyd, Minneapolis would have drawn in protesters from St. Paul, Duluth, Milwaukee and Chicago. (I briefly saw a protester from Chicago that I used to be in regular contact with back in the Ferguson days at the George Floyd memorial.) But any protest in any city now draws right-wing agitators and pro-police types as well — a change from the two years following Mike Brown’s killing in Ferguson to the election of Trump, when national media abandoned stories of police killings and the Black Lives Matter movement in favor of his historically fascist presidential campaign.

In Minneapolis, there were all kinds of rumors about white supremacists embedding themselves with protesters to stir unrest — rumors I tried, and largely failed, for days to confirm or deny. (The closest anyone got was police saying a man holding an umbrella who was caught on camera casually smashing the windows of an Auto Zone just prior to a particularly violent night of rioting was a white supremacist intent on stirring the pot. Police have issued a warrant for “the Umbrella Man.”) In Kenosha, the only outsider proven to have caused violence was a white, Trump-supporting teen and wannabe cop who killed two protesters and injured a third with his assault rifle. 

The myth of the professional rioter is an especially powerful one, particularly for those Americans who have never attended a protest, seen a riot in person, or protested themselves. 

Many Americans are primed to believe that outside agitators are sowing destruction because it’s easier than dealing with the fact that so many people are so genuinely enraged. To do that, to understand that society can break down so quickly into chaos, is to confront an uncomfortable truth that terrifies many. It would also require those people, including Trump, Barr, and much of the Republican Party, to confront the reasons that have caused the rage.

The photo in this post came from that particularly violent night in Minneapolis, when much of the neighborhood around a Minneapolis police precinct burned. Thanks to everyone who continues to read these increasingly-sporadic posts. Since covering the Rayshard Brooks killing in Atlanta, I’ve been buried in my private research work which has left little time for new, original reporting. There have also been the not-so-small matters of getting married and buying a home, which have taken up quite a bit of time. I may get out to Portland before the election to cover the ongoing events there for a book I’m pitching about the events of this summer and the months approaching the election. Until then, onward.

An introduction

To new followers and old friends.

Hello and welcome. Some of you reading this will have discovered me through my coverage of the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis. Others might be wondering why I’m writing a re-introduction to myself. The answer: More than 1,000 people followed me on Twitter in the week and a half I was in Minneapolis, and I want them to see a sampling of my work. 

For the uninitiated, I’ve been reporting on American crime, life and death for 10 years, since I began at my hometown newspaper in Peoria, Illinois. From there, I worked at a newspaper in northern Minnesota where I covered issues affecting the Native American community, primarily homelessness, and then had a tiny stay at a paper in North Dakota before setting out as a freelancer in 2013. Since then I’ve covered police shootings and unrest in Ferguson and across the country, crime, police killings and misconduct in Chicago, national breaking news events including the Las Vegas massacre, extensive immigration coverage from the border, money-in-politics watchdog journalism, and, of course, the never-ending story of American death. I write regularly for The Daily Beast, and have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, Esquire, the Guardian and more. Recently, I’ve also written some food and lifestyle features for Heated Mag and InsideHook.

Just before Minneapolis, I covered the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, a little more than an hour south from my home in Savannah.  

I planned to spend this summer working on Unsolved Georgia, an investigation I launched in November of the murders of more than 600 women killed throughout the state since 1976. But because that project means so much to me, and because I want to do right by the victims, I’ve put Unsolved on hold. That’s because the story of the moment —police killings and the activist response to them, which will now become a focal point of the race for the White House — would drastically overshadow any progress I could have made in investigating hundreds of unsolved murders. 

I’ll now be focusing my efforts on police killings. Having covered so many of them over the years, I’m particularly well-suited to take on this assignment, which will entail diving into the more than 460 fatal police shootings — to say nothing of other fatal altercations — that have occurred as of mid-June.

This is my newsletter, Where Do We Go From Here, which often contains the extras from my stories. I’m heading to Atlanta now to cover the killing of Rayshard Brooks. Thanks for stopping by. 

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery and why it didn't need to happen

Arbery was killed when his killers didn't call for help. They and others believe that was their right.

The pain and anger never really go away. They just simmer underneath the lid of the pot. But sometimes the heat gets turned up and the cook doesn’t know, and when he goes to take the lid off the whole thing goes boiling over.

At various times the cook has been law enforcement agencies, entire cities and some whole states. At all times the cook is just the guy manning the stove for the kitchen in the restaurant of the United States of America, which is badly managed and has been for years.

Black America’s pain and anger — over slavery, segregation, voter suppression, police shootings and a general sense that many African-Americans remain second class citizens — is always simmering. It sometimes goes boiling over when a killing brings all those issues back to the surface, which is what is happening right now in Brunswick, Georgia.

Last night, hundreds of people protested in front of the home of a white man who gunned down a black man for little reason other than that the black man was running in the white man’s neighborhood, I reported yesterday at The Daily Beast. The shooter’s father, an ex-cop himself and a former investigator with the local district attorney, must never have been a great investigator because he could point to zero evidence that the dead black man was the same person who had stolen twice from the neighborhood. It was just a hunch, and when Arbery ran by that day the father, Gregory McMichael, figured he was the thief plaguing the Satilla Shores neighborhood in suburban Brunswick.

Gregory’s son, Travis, is Arbery’s killer. There’s a complicated timeline that has yet to be fully straightened out — and probably won’t be unless Gregory decides to talk to me again or until this case goes to trial — but the timeline of Arbery’s last moments are available on video for all to see. They show the 25-year-old running around to the front of Travis’ truck where he meets the younger McMichael. A shot rings out, then the pair appear to the left of the truck, clearly fighting and struggling over the shotgun. They briefly go off-screen and a second shot is heard. If you look closely, you can see a cloud of blood splatter floating through the air from their direction. Then back on screen, a continued struggle, and the final shot into Arbery before he collapses and Travis walks away.

After that, Travis yells something that’s unintelligible. (I’m having the video and audio slowed down and analyzed with forensic-level audio plugins to try to determine what Travis said and other unanswered questions from the video.) Then, the video stops.

There are lots of legal issues in this case: The citizen’s arrest statute, Georgia’s stand-your-ground law, and the state’s open carry rules will all play a role. But the bottom line is that this never needed to happen. If Arbery really was a thief, as the McMichaels say they believed, a response from law enforcement might have netted a different result. The McMichaels could have called the police. Sure, Arbery could have reacted to police officers the same way he did with Travis. But the cops would have had badges and uniforms. Arbery would have known who they were. As it stands, Arbery — whatever he was doing in Satilla Shores that day — was confronted by two armed white men, not in any uniform, wielding guns at him.

He was then presented with the choice none of us ever want to grapple with: fight or flee. Arbery apparently chose to fight which, ironically, is his right under Georgia law. That law will now determine the fate of the McMichaels, who made their own choice that day. They chose to take matters into their own hands instead of calling the police, and choices have consequences.  

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