Under increasing pressure, Trump’s best buddies—all the CEOs he hangs with and considers his peers—were getting ready to disband the White House advisory councils they sit on and save face. Because imagine being the last CEO to leave the group.
But the Donald has decided to pre-empt them.
Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
Remember just back to yesterday when he was attacking them as “grandstanders”? Now he’s quitting them before they can quit him. And he has to be absolutely enraged. These are his people who have completely abandoned him. The tweetstorm in the wee hours tomorrow morning will be epic. Now all he has is the white supremacists. And most of the Republican Congress.
Amid the riots in Charlottesville, Vice News got a behind-the-scenes look into the white supremacist hate groups that organized against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue—a scene that left three dead and at least 19 injured.
The 22-minute “Vice News Tonight” episode offered an on-the-ground account of the clash between white supremacists and antifascists, and most notably, the vehicle attack that killed counter-protester Heather Heyer. Moments after the car attack, Charlottesville residents were shown screaming and running after the car as it sped away, and shouting for medics as people tried to tend to victims as best they could.
Much of the documentary focused on Christopher Cantwell, a white nationalist member of Unite the Right, and a slew of his buddies, including David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, and Robert Ray, a neo-Nazi and the editor of Daily Stormer. Most of those interviewed openly advocate for ethno-cleansing and violence against people of color and Jews. Their rhetoric was explicit and harsh, including chants of “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” a re-appropriation of a Nazi axiom about German heritage.
There is no shortage of contenders for the most hateful scene in the documentary. Journalist Elle Reeve caught Duke in passing, who expressed his frustration over the cancellation of the initial rally. "[The government doesn't want to tell] the truth about the ethnic cleansing of America and the destruction of the American way of life," he explains.
“We’re not non-violent," Cantwell adds. "[But] we’ll f**king kill these people if we have to."
At one moment in the film, an organizer threatens authorities over the phone: “I’m about to send at least 200 people with guns to go get them out if you guys do not get our people out.”
“I’d say it was worth it,” Cantwell concludes, evincing no regret about the weekend's proceedings as he removes four firearms from his person. “The fact that nobody on our side died, I’d go ahead and call that points for us… I think a lot more people are going to die here.”
A few blocks away, I arrived at the edge of Emancipation Park, where the rally was supposed to have taken place, to find skirmishes already underway between right-wing extremists and members of the loose alliance known as AntiFa (for anti-fascist). Smoke billowed near the AntiFa contingent, perhaps from one of its own canisters, or maybe a so-called flash-bang hurled by police. It was all so chaotic, that it was difficult to understand what was taking place.
I stood on the grounds of the public library for a while, seeing that as a relatively safe place directly across the street from one of the entrances to the park, a small square of a place with a narrow entryway, whose center is occupied by an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on his horse. That was the point of the site selection; the Lee statue has been slated for removal by the Charlottesville City Council, a decision to which white supremacists everywhere take offense. The statue, many of them said, honored their heritage, which would somehow be erased by its removal. But, as New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore explains it, the statue was not built in the aftermath of the Civil War; it was commissioned in 1917, the year Jim Crow segregation laws were enacted. It was a symbol of triumph, not one of a vanquished cause.
Arriving in downtown Charlottesville about a half-hour before the scheduled noon start time for the Unite the Right rally on Saturday, it was clear that violence was inevitable. I rode past a throng of men with semiautomatic rifles slung across their backs, and a group of left-wing counterprotesters bearing sticks and clubs.
I was dropped off at Justice Park, where groups of peace-promoting hippies and religious liberals congregate blocks from the rally site. At the perimeter, observers from the National Lawyers Guild, wearing their trademark green caps, stood ready to offer protesters advice on their rights, and to stand vigil as men with assault rifles stood guard. The men were revolutionaries of Redneck Revolt, a left-wing group that embraces armed resistance. Virginia is an open-carry state, so there was no stopping anyone from arriving in Charlottesville with a permitted gun strapped to their bodies.
A counterprotester later told me that members of the pro-Trump group the Proud Boys had “menaced” the Redneck Revolt guards at the park’s perimeter. Proud Boys is a recently formed group whose fundamental aim appears to be to engage in physical conflict.
When it became apparent that the rally was expected to draw thousands of white supremacists and at least as many counterprotesters to the site, the city attempted to revoke the permit for the rally at Emancipation Park, seeking to move the event to McIntire Park, a sprawling public grounds away from downtown. Jason Kessler, the permit holder and a member of the Proud Boys, challenged the city’s attempt to change the venue, and the American Civil Liberties Union took up the charge, arguing that the move would violate Kessler’s free-speech rights, seeing as how the rally message focused on the planned removal of the statue. The ACLU won an injunction, and the stage was set for a day of conflicts in downtown Charlottesville, a 19th-century grid of small city blocks whose streets all flow into a brick-paved pedestrian mall.
When I summoned my courage to wander into the street near the park entrance, I was in the midst of a loose gathering of people on all sides, where violence could break out at any moment. Guns, sticks, flagpoles, clubs — all were in evidence. I found myself walking too closely to a young white man with a hammer in his hand. A hammer. He was dressed in blue cap, blue T-shirt, blue jeans, bearing no insignias or markers of any kind. It was impossible to guess, judging by appearance alone, which side he was on. (AntiFa protesters typically wear all-black clothing, and often sport black bandanas for protecting their faces from tear gas. Right-wing extremists often wear some sort of logo signaling their faction.)
From there I took in a view of the library grounds, where people bearing banners with the angular insignias of white supremacist affiliations stood just feet apart from lefties with rainbow-colored hair. A young white man carrying the green-and-white “alt-right” Kekistani flag displayed his standard as an older white woman nearby held a hand-lettered sign that read, “JESUS WASN’T WHITE OR CHRISTIAN.” Next to her was a young white male reporter from a local news channel with perfectly coiffed platinum hair. On the library steps, a young black man wearing a T-shirt that read “Life Liberty” had a worried look on his face as he surveyed the scene. He was flanked by a white woman in a green dress wearing an elaborate, silver Statue-of-Liberty crown, and a black woman in a pink top who smiled as she gazed into her phone camera, having caught a glimpse of something that amused her. The three had no apparent connection to each other. An older white man in a yellow cleric’s stole spoke into a walkie-talkie. Several people held up “Black Lives Matter” posters.
In the street, counterprotesters of all races donned surgical masks and particulate masks, as they approached a police car parked to block their path under a banner strung above by the city that read, “Our Diversity Makes Us Strong.”
Unite the Right rally attendees descend on Charlottesville, some wearing their ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball hats and Donald Trump’s customary golf outfit: white polo shirt and khakis. (Photo by Adele Stan)
Around the corner, where Third Street met East Market, came a contingent of 30 or so white men, some wearing helmets, bearing Confederate flags. Some had homemade “shields” of the sort that had sharp edges that were later turned as weapons on counter protesters in skirmishes across the mall. At this point, though, the group was headed for the park entrance at the next corner until a cadre of police in full riot gear jogged into the park and formed a line in front of the giant Robert E. Lee statue.
“On behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, this event has been declared an unlawful assembly,” a male voice intoned over a bullhorn. “Leave the area immediately, or you will be arrested.”
No arrangements had been made, apparently, for safe passage out of the park for anyone who was in it. The white nationalists scheduled to speak at the rally were turned out into streets where counter-protesters had amassed. “Alt-right” glamor boy Richard Spencer, who leads the white nationalist National Policy Institute, later complained of having been “maced” by both leftist protesters and “federal authorities.” His complaint was issued in a Twitter video, in which he appeared shirtless.
Police guarded the entrance to Emancipation Park in front of the controversial statue of Robert E. Lee, which the city council voted to remove earlier this year. (Photo by Adele Stan)
Counterprotesters trying to leave the park vicinity were met with contingents of angry white supremacists who skirmished with them on the mall. Law enforcement were amply represented, including the local force, state troopers and National Guard troops. Still, police did next to nothing to intervene in the mayhem.
To say that the racial history of Charlottesville is fraught doesn’t begin to touch the half of it. The town is based around the University of Virginia, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1816 — the same Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence that proclaimed the self-evident truth of equality among men while keeping 600 people enslaved on his plantation. Just miles away from UVA is Jefferson’s splendid home of Monticello, where he quartered the enslaved Sally Hemings in a windowless room adjacent to his bedchamber, where it is believed she bore him six children. During the Civil War, blacks outnumbered whites in both the town and the surrounding county, and the Confederate government pressed African-Americans, both free and enslaved, into its service. Today, blacks comprise 19 percent of the town’s population, above the national average.
Charlottesville also holds historical achievements of pride for African-Americans, such as the founding of the Charlottesville Baptist Church in 1863 with a black pastor at its helm, and the election of James T.S. Taylor to the 1867 state Constitutional Convention. In 1981, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies was founded at UVA.
As a university town, Charlottesville has a more liberal bent than other towns in Central Virginia. Its mayor, Michael Signer, is Jewish, and the Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy is black. The park where the disputed statue stands got a name change in June, from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. These facts do not sit well with the white supremacists and anti-Semites who helmed the aborted Unite the Right rally.
In the Twitter video he posted after his banishment from Emancipation Park, Spencer referred to the mayor as “Signer or Singer,” invoking a common Jewish surname in order to make his point. “I don’t actually care how you’re supposed to pronounce that little creep’s name,” he added. Spencer then referred to the African-American Bellamy as a “house you-know-what,” and the “pet of white people.”
For all his complaints, Spencer must have been granted a little advance notice of the rally’s cancellation; his video posted at 11:51 a.m., right around the time when police in riot gear formed their line in front of the Lee statue.
No one knew quite what to do after the cops threw everyone out of the park. I checked my email and Twitter feed, seated under the shade of a tree on Fourth Street Northeast, watching a contingent of neo-Nazis march up an adjacent street. Two cops stood at the intersection and waved them through. (This street had been cleared of automotive traffic.) The red-and-black banners with odd but ominous-looking symbols, as well as the occasional swastika, were now simply registering in my brain as set decoration. Vanguard America, the National Socialist Movement and the Traditionalist Workers Party were all there. I made note and looked back at my phone, seeing a tweet from the president issued at 12:19:
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
That was it. Nothing condemning white supremacy explicitly.
Suddenly, a group of counterprotesters who appeared to be Black Lives Matters folks (not the black-clad AntiFa) began moving down Fourth Street at a brisk pace. I got up to follow them, but when I saw a reporter I knew at the corner of Market Street, I stopped to see what she knew. She had been approaching the intersection of Fourth and Water Street, when she heard a loud and terrible thud. A car had plowed into a march of counter protesters moving down Water; dozens of people were injured.
She began working her phone, and I moved toward the pedestrian mall on Main Street. No sooner was I on the mall when I found myself trapped there as a line of body-armored police formed a line closing off the intersection from which I had entered. There were frightened people, many of them counterprotesters from local churches, standing in front of buildings, as cops in fluorescent green vests ran past me. The bystanders told me that someone had just shouted “Sieg Heil” and punched someone else in the face. A couple who appeared to be of two different races — the man was brown-skinned and the woman looked white — stood wide-eyed. “We’re just trying to get back to our hotel,” the man said. “We had just come for a weekend getaway. We had no idea this was happening.” The people around him murmured empathetic responses. “Well, welcome,” one man said ruefully. “It’s not always like this.”
A protester at wearing a Evropa T-shirt yelling epithets. (Photo by Adele Stan)
Then a large, white man, standing a head taller than most of the men on the mall, began striding down the sidewalk, menacingly, shouting racial slurs and threats. He wore a red shirt emblazoned with the triangular emblem of Identity Evropa, which was founded by Nathan Damigo, an ex-Marine convicted of armed robbery in San Diego for pulling a gun on an Arab cab driver and then robbing his victim of $43. In April, Damigo punched a woman protester in the face at “a rally of far-right groups in Berkeley, California,” according to Mother Jones. Identity Evropa takes its ideology from the far-right groups of Europe, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and “focuses on recruiting college-aged, white students in order to discuss ‘race realism’ and white interests, targeting disaffected young men by branding itself as a fraternity and social club.”
As the man in the red T-shirt menaced the mall, counterprotesters began to follow him. Police did nothing to separate them. A young, black man began moving toward him, shouting that black lives matter, that he has a right to be here. He was shirtless, and you could see the muscles in his arms begin to tense. A black woman around his age lightly touched his arm. “Don’t,” she said, gently but firmly. “It ain’t worth it.”
Though there were no shortage of police on the mall, they mostly stood in formations at locations where violence had already taken place.
Charlottesville’s liberal religious communities were part of the counterprotests, and also provided support and inspiration to other counterprotesters. Two centers of activity were the historically black First Baptist Church, which the civil rights leader Cornel West made his home base for the weekend, and the First United Methodist Church, a mostly white congregation that opened its doors to counterprotesters as a cooling station — a place to get snacks, water and medical help near Emancipation Park. People entering the church had to submit their bags to a search, and all were wanded by a man with a metal detector before being allowed to enter the building.
The United Methodist congregation and clergy were part of a non-violent resistance movement to the white supremacists who descended on their town. Many wore yellow T-shirts; some clergy wore yellow stoles.
By the time I arrived there, Heather Heyer, one of the counter-protesters mowed down by the car at Water and Fourth Streets, had died. The president had yet to make a statement.
Sitting outside the church, I saw a few counterprotesters sitting outside the medical tent the church had erected in its parking lot. An older man with a white beard lifted his cap to show me a flesh wound on his head, which he said he got when a white supremacist demonstrator clocked him with a stick. He declined, however, to give me his name or an interview.
I saw Rolling Stone’s Sarah Posner interviewing a young woman with a bandaged forehead. The bandage didn’t quite cover the deep gash, which appeared to run from her hairline into her eyebrow, that she said she received when a white supremacist demonstrator used the edge of his Plexiglas shield as a weapon against her. She had been to the hospital to be stitched back up, but it was clear her face would bear that scar for the rest of her life, never mind the psychic wound. I asked a young man who appeared to be of Asian descent, sitting among his colleagues, if he would be willing to talk to me. He declined, and looked a bit dazed. “I’m still trying to process all of this,” he said.
One counterprotester who was willing to talk went by the nom de guerre of Antonin Sotomayor. He is a white man who appeared to be in his 30s, with piercing blue eyes. Born and raised in North Carolina, where he still lives, he spoke with great passion of the armed resistance, by people of all races in the South, to the wealthy people who owned mines and plantations. He cited the Battle of Blair Mountain. He saw the sticks carried by many AntiFa protesters, he said, as weapons of self-defense. He is a recent law school graduate, he said.
“Earlier in the day, and last night, you had the ‘alt-right’ coming and actively seeking out people — some of them really had no part in this — to assault. So this is community self-defense,” he said.
When challenged over whether or not the carrying of weapons by counterprotesters was unnecessarily provocative, he replied, “Well, I think you see how effective the left has been since COINTELPRO,” citing the acronym for the counterintelligence program launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that often used illegal surveillance tactics on antiwar and civil rights groups beginning in the 1950s and continuing until 1971, as well as infiltration of those groups. “And I think that maybe we should turn back to the boldness of the pre-COINTELPRO days.” He expressed admiration for the tactics of the Black Panthers, but also for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters under the leadership of the late Jimmy Hoffa, who went missing in 1975.
I suggest that some people would say that the Teamsters in those days were a goon squad.
“Well, the right has a goon squad,” he replied.
When I left Charlottesville, President Trump had finally come to the cameras to address the violence that had engulfed the town. Rather than cancel his planned televised signing of a bill for veterans’ health care, he simply incorporated his weak, “many sides” condemnation of violence into his celebratory event, which took place at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Earlier in the day, David Duke told a reporter that the groups assembled in Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally came to “take our country back” and “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” Duke said that taking the country back — from whom or what he doesn’t make clear in the interview — “is the reason we voted for Trump.”
There is no mistaking that many among the white supremacist movement regard the president as their ally. Some marching with white-power contingents wore the Trump campaign’s trademark red “Make America Great Again” caps. In March 2016, Matthew Heimbach, leader of the white nationalist Traditional Workers Party, shoved a black protester at a Trump campaign rally after the candidate urged his supporters to “get ‘em out of here,” and advocated the use of force. Heimbach was to have been one of the featured speakers at the rally that was shut down in Charlottesville.
At no time during his televised appearance did Trump condemn white supremacy, white nationalism or the “alt-right.” When, as he concluded his remarks, reporters shouted questions asking if he condemned white nationalism, Trump simply walked away from the podium.
Later that evening, he tweeted this about the woman who lost her life when a car driven by a white nationalist plowed into the intersection where she was protesting peacefully:
Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
When the identity of the driver, James Fields of Maumee, Ohio, was revealed and his mug shot circulated, he was found to have rallied with Vanguard America, one of the neo-Nazi groups involved with the rally. Vanguard America denies that Fields is a member. The New York Daily News reported that Fields’s mother, Samantha Bloom, said that her son had told her he was going to a rally, which she thought “had something to do with Trump.”
Public outcry appears to have prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce, later that night, that the Justice Department would launch a civil rights investigation into the incident.
In an interview with Posner of Rolling Stone, Richard Spencer said he and his friends were celebrating that evening, seeing the day as having been a success, despite the shutdown of the rally. In fact, he said, they were having a party. As for his future plans, “I think we’re going to have to come back to Charlottesville,” he said.
Meanwhile, alt-right rallies are planned in at least nine cities for next weekend all over the country. One may be coming soon to a monument near you.
Before he organized the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, Jason Kessler wrote for The Daily Caller and the white nationalist site VDare and appeared as a purported expert on Alex Jones’ Infowars network.
Kessler was the organizer for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that featured white supremacists and neo-Nazis. President Donald Trump responded to the violence by issuing a generic condemnation of problems "on many sides" and declining to specifically call out white supremacists -- behavior that fits his history of emboldening the white nationalist movement.
Right-wing media outlets like The Daily Caller have also played a role in cultivating white supremacist organizers like Kessler.
The Daily Caller contracted with Kessler “to contribute reportage to” the right-wing site this spring. He wrote two pieces in April with the headlines “Trump Supporters Vow To Rally In Berkeley Without Ann Coulter” and “Uncle: MS-13 Gangsters Mutilated Va. Teenager’s Body In Grisly Murder.” Both pieces promoted Kessler’s organization Unity and Security for America and his Twitter account.
Kessler then wrote a May 14 piece about white supremacists Richard Spencer and Sam Dickson rallying in front of Confederate monuments. ProPublica subsequently reported that the Caller failed to disclose that Kessler “is supportive of white supremacist groups, and on the day of the march had himself made a speech to the protesters in which he praised fascist and racist organizations, thanked a prominent Holocaust denier, and declared the beginnings of a cultural ‘civil war.’” While the Caller suspended its relationship with Kessler, Executive Editor Paul Conner defended Kessler’s work:
“The story is factually accurate and plainly states what happened at the event,” said Paul Conner, executive editor of The Daily Caller. “But in light of his activism on the issue, we have mutually agreed to suspend our freelance relationship with him.”
Asked about the substance of Kessler’s speech in Charlottesville, Conner offered no comment on Kessler’s statements. In an email, he said only, “We pay writers for journalism, not their opinions.”
An editor’s note was appended to Kessler’s article after ProPublica reached out to the Caller about the piece, stating: “The author notified The Daily Caller after publication that he spoke at a luncheon May 14 on behalf of an effort to preserve the monument.”
Media Matters contacted Daily Caller editors this morning about the outlet’s relationship with Kessler, whether the editors regretted publishing him, and if they would consider publishing him in the future. Shortly afterward, the publication removed Kessler’s author page and all his pieces on the site. Media Matters followed up by asking for a clarification about why the site deleted those pieces. The Caller did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
Screenshots of Kessler's Daily Caller work
Infowars has also had a role in promoting Kessler and his racist work.
Editor Paul Joseph Watson, who himself has a history of racism, aired a roughly 30-minute interview with Kessler in January to “discuss the insanity of the left and how they have lost all grip on reality.” The interview is featured on Alex Jones’ Youtube channel with the headline “Jason Kessler: Anti-White Racism Must End.” Infowars also posted a roughly 20-minute April interview with Kessler during which he warned Infowars viewers that there’s a “very pressing danger with these people” who are trying to take down Confederate statues. Both interviews promoted Kessler’s nonprofit and Twitter account.
Alex Jones aired a roughly 15-minute interview with Kessler on August 13, the day after the Saturday rally. During the segment, Jones complained that the media is “penalizing this guy because he’s saying one-third of the racist stuff that I disagree with against the [George] Soros group that’s a total cutout, just make us fight with each other. So how does media say he caused all the violence when clearly antifa was the ones attacking?” (Infowars has been claiming that philanthropist and one-time Media Matters donor George Soros has been purposely funding the Charlottesville violence.) Jones later said during the interview that Kessler walked into a “trap” set by Kessler's enemies by being at the Charlottesville rally this past weekend.
Kessler wrote three pieces for the “alt-right” affiliated outlet GotNews from January through March. Trump has reportedly received news from that outlet, which is headed by racist troll Charles C. Johnson.
Kessler has also written several posts for the anti-immigrant white nationalist site VDare. A June 19 post (his most recent) concludes that the “governments of the West are waging a campaign of slow extermination against their own core populations. It is white genocide.”
VDare recently announced that it will host a conference next year at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, CO. The 2018 event will feature VDare Editor Peter Brimelow, Breitbart.com columnist and former Republican Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, and writer John Derbyshire, who describes himself as a “mild and tolerant” “homophobe” and “racist.”
Brimelow has also contributed op-eds for The Daily Caller. His website posted a defense of the rally on August 12 by “Charlottesville Survivor,” which concluded that “it’s not Unite The Right that is ‘dividing’ America. Whites who aren’t comfortable with being dispossessed in every single Western country, or with seeing the symbols of their heritage wiped out, gathered to protest peacefully. … Why should Unite The Right apologize for anything? Indeed, how can the ‘Far Right’ be regarded as anything other than an incredibly moderate protest movement against a deliberate campaign of genocide?” (The white supremacists did not actually “protest peacefully.”)
Alec MacGillis, another journalist, posted images of the Jackson and Lee statues being taken down.
The Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, announced the creation of a special commission to review all of Baltimore’s Confederate statues and historical assets in June 2015.
Maryland, a slave-owning state, remained in the union during the civil war, which was fought from 1861-65. But Rawlings-Blake’s commission noted that though 65,000 Marylanders fought for the north, 22,000 fought for the Confederacy.
Other cities and states accelerated their plans to remove Confederate monuments following the violence in Virginia.
Only two statues were taken down immediately, in Gainesville, Florida, where the Daughters of the Confederacy removed a statue of a Confederate soldier known as “Ole Joe”, and in Durham, North Carolina, where protesters used a rope to pull down a Confederate monument dedicated in 1924.
Meanwhile in Birmingham, Alabama, the city used a wooden structure to cover up a Confederate monument in a downtown park on Tuesday night. Legislators passed a law earlier this year prohibiting the removal of structures including rebel memorials. So Birmingham mayor William Bell ordered the city’s 52-foot-tall Confederate obelisk covered with wooden panels.
Leaders of a New York Episcopal diocese said they would remove two plaques honouring Lee from a church property in Brooklyn.
Donald Trump defended Confederate statues in his wide-ranging remarks at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday evening.
“This week it’s Robert E Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down,” Trump said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
Asked specifically whether Charlottesville’s Lee statue should come down, he said: “I would say that’s up to a local town, community or the federal government, depending on where it is located.”
The US president also insisted that not all of those participating in the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville on Saturday were neo-Nazis or white supremacists, drawing a rebuke from senior Republicans and praise from David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who was at the protest.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
While Americans have been polarized over many issues in over the last 70 years or so, if there was one thing we could truly say was a consensus position among people of all political stripes it was that Nazis were bad and that decent people shunned them.
Our president made it clear on Tuesday, once and for all, that he doesn’t agree with that.
Over the weekend President Trump had issued a very weak condemnation of the horrific events in Charlottesville, insisting that “many sides” were responsible for the violence. Forty-eight hours later, after tremendous public criticism, he came forward with an obviously insincere rote denunciation of white supremacy, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. But he couldn’t leave it at that.
It’s clearly impossible for Trump even to pretend to condemn far right white supremacists with whom he obviously feels sympathy. So on Tuesday he turned around and held a press conference in which he once again condemned counter-protesters and insisted that all the “good people” who were simply protesting the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee had been treated abominably.
Rachel Maddow put together a voice-over of his comments with a montage of all those “good people”:
If you carried a torch with those Nazis, if you marched alongside them as they chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” you are not a “very fine person.” You are, at best, a Nazi sympathizer. At worst, you are a Nazi. If you stood and chanted with men and women who wore hoods emblazoned with Confederate flags you are at best a KKK sympathizer, and certainly a racist. If you stand up for these people’s good intentions and walk in solidarity with their “defense of cultural heritage,” you are at the very least a fellow traveler in white supremacy, and more likely a white supremacist yourself.
Nobody marching with that crowd is a decent person. Nobody.
Trump made clear that he believes the Nazis who went on to the campus of the University of Virginia on Friday night are just regular folks with a legitimate grievance who were “innocently” protesting. This is the final proof, as if we needed any at this late date, that his ignorance knows no bounds.
It’s probable that Trump has no knowledge of this, because he has no knowledge of virtually anything but his own press clippings, but neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the march, knew very well what image he was evoking with that march on Friday night — Nazi torchlight parades such as this one:
It isn’t just that Trump has a woeful lack of understanding about why people would be appalled and upset at the sight of hundreds of white (mostly) men carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans. He also portrayed them as good people protecting their “history” and their “culture.” That suggests his idiotic earlier comments about history, such as absurdly suggesting, “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” were a good reflection of his ignorance on the subject. (Remember that he also seemed to think Frederick Douglass was still alive.)
On Wednesday morning’s edition of “Fox & Friends,” two guests got emotional over President Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow Nazis and white supremacists.
Democratic strategist Wendy Osefo and Republican political analyst Gianno Caldwell were asked by anchor Abby Huntsman how they feel as Americans of color in the wake of Trump’s unhinged press conference on Tuesday in which he said there are “good people” on both sides of the Nazism debate.
The death of Heather Heyer and the brutal beating of Deandre Harris, 20, Osefo said, are not talking points.
“This is about hatred,” she said. “This is about white supremacy.”
As a mother of two boys, she said, she watched the hatred and violence unfolding in Charlottesville with alarm and horror.
“There are good people on both sides of this debate,” said Huntsman. “Keeping those statues up, people that I’ve talked to say this is about history. How do we move forward, how do we learn from those mistakes if we just tear everything down?”
“I come today with a very heavy heart,” Caldwell said. “Last night, I couldn’t sleep at all, because Pres. Trump, our president, has literally betrayed the conscience of our country. The very moral fabric in which we’ve made progress when it comes to race relations in America. Our president has failed us.”
With regards to their being “good people” on either side of the debate, Caldwell said, “Mr. President, good people don’t pal around with Nazis and white supremacists.”
“This has become very troubling,” he said, “and for anyone to come on any network and defend what President Trump did and said at that press conference yesterday is completely lost in the potential to be morally bankrupt.”
Both guests shed tears as they spoke about the sense of betrayal they feel in seeing the commander in chief embrace an ideology that classifies them as less than human.
Watch the video, embedded below:
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore on Wednesday didn’t mince words when discussing Donald Trump’s free-wheeling press conference that equated neo-Nazi’s with anti-fascist protestors, arguing that the president is a racist—and so is anyone who supports him.
Moore told Don Lemon that the first thing he did after Trump’s briefing at Trump Tower was flip on CNN, where the host was delivering an emotional response to the president’s rhetoric.
“It was very powerful,” Moore said of Lemon’s speech. “You talk about African American kids who have to walk in to a high school under name Robert E. Lee, a statue of a man who wanted them dead or enslaved. I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want any fellow American … to ever feel the way you describe how so many black kids grow up in this country having to feel. This has to stop.”
“He was elected by white America,” Moore said, later adding “they voted for Trump because they were angry. They voted for Trump because they wanted to throw a bomb into the system that hurt them.”
Moore said he believes white Americans have a right to be upset, but black Americans also have a right to be upset.
“[Black Americans] don’t go to the polls and vote for the hater,” Moore said. “Black Americans, by a large margin, vote for the person who doesn’t hate, who’s trying to love.”
Moore explained that most white people he’s spoken with insist they’re not racists, even if they supported someone who may be. “If you vote for a racist, what are you then?” Moore asked. “Because it sure sounds like racism to me.”
Asked by Lemon if he believes Trump is a racist, Moore replied, unequivocally, yes.
“He’s absolutely a racist,” Moore said. “He’s not as stupid as people want to believe he is. He knows exactly what he’s doing, he knows the words to use and I’m certain the 63 million people who voted for him actually—the vast majority of them—love that press conference.”
Lemon countered that Trump supporters might “take offense” to begin called racists, prompting Moore to provide what Lemon called an “uncomfortable” comparison.
“If you hold down the woman while the rapist is raping her, but you didn’t rape her, are you a rapist?” Moore asked. “Let’s cut the BS, let’s start speaking honestly. If you vote for a man who says what he said today—that the white nationalists were the victims, that he equated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with Robert E. Lee and said that the people there trying to stop the racism, the anti-racism protesters, that they were the violent ones—it just went so far.”
“That’s a very powerful and uncomfortable anecdote you shared, and people will think you’re comparing Trump voters to rapists,” Lemon said.
“Yeah, it’s uncomfortable, isn’t it?” Moore asked. “Because enablers of immoral behavior, of criminal behavior… it is absolutely criminal to stand behind the people that killed Heather Heyer, that beat the heads in of people who were trying to speak their minds in Charlottesville. If you are there, and if it you participate—even though you’re not the actual person doing it—if you helped to put Donald Trump in office, you need to think about this before you kneel down and say your prayers tonight. Think about this person that you now have leading this country.”
Lemon restated he found Moore’s comparison “uncomfortable.”
“Well, it was uncomfortable watching this today, and anyone who supports that—if you still support the racist, you are the racist,” Moore replied. “That has to end. I’m not sorry. I’m not letting anybody off the hook here. White people who voted for him.”
“America has to stand up,” he continued. “We cannot any longer mealy-mouth about this. Anybody who enables, anybody who votes for and supports a racist, is a racist. You are culpable white America, I’m sorry. But there is redemption for you.”
Watch the video below, via CNN:
Audiences at Michael Moore's one-man show "The Terms of My Surrender" were greeted with a surprise: a free bus trip to Trump Tower for a protest led by the liberal activist.
The crowd reportedly cheered when Moore offered the invitation during the latter part of his performance.
Rick Miramontez, a spokesperson for Moore's show, told the New York Times that the logistics of the protest were carefully thought-out to avoid Moore's presence appearing like a publicity stunt. “I don’t think it’s at all a thing to sell tickets," he said.
A long line formed outside the theater as people lined up for the free buses. Actors Mark Ruffalo and Olivia Wilde (the latter is in a Broadway staging of George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984") also joined the protest.
Moore told his audience on the bus, "We are here to perform a citizens' arrest—well, there’s lots of police there, maybe they’ll do it for us."
Check out some awesome photos and video below.
WATCH: Michael Moore bussed the audience of his Broadway show to Trump Tower to protest. Actor Mark Ruffalo joined Moore for the protest. pic.twitter.com/Szb5ri12gm— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 16, 2017
Michael Moore arranged for buses to take audience from his Broadway show, at which Mark Ruffalo showed up tonite, to the Trump Tower protest pic.twitter.com/B0fVghg9PA— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) August 16, 2017
Fox News is not exactly known for its progressive racial views, but conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer took to the network's airwaves Tuesday to tear into President Trump's latest remarks on Charlottesville. He was appalled at the president's racist embrace of white supremacist protesters and his suggestion that anti-racism protesters were also to blame.
“What Trump did today was a moral disgrace," Krauthammer said. "What he did is he reverted back to where he was on Saturday and made it very clear that what he read on [Monday] was a hostage tape.”
Krauthammer couldn't have been any more explicit in his condemnation of the president and his inability to recognize slavery and racism as the "original sin" of the United States. Krauthammer called the Charlottesville protest a "Nazi rally," whose "uniqueness of white supremacy, KKK and Nazism" appears lost on Trump.
Krauthammer finally added that "the only killing here occurred by one of the pro-Nazi, pro-KKK people.”
Watch his powerful condemnation of the president below:
Stephen Colbert opened Tuesday night's "Late Show" with a withering critique of President Trump's press conference earlier that day.
“Even though many criticized how long it took, the president knew the right thing was to make a statement on Monday, be clear about who was to blame and then move on to the people’s business,” Colbert said, before pausing and saying, “I’m just kidding.”
Trump whined during his press conference that if the press weren't "fake," it would have described his abhorrent Charleston statement as "very nice." Stephen Colbert's response? "[I]f you were a better president, you would've said something very nice."
Colbert mocked Trump's "all the facts" excuse for waiting so long to blame neo-Nazis by reciting a litenany of false accusations the president had previously made about President Obama's birthplace, voter fraud and wiretapping.
The "Late Show" host refused to let up, even wondering whether Trump would still be in office "by Friday."
Check out the full monologue below:
As President Trump defended white supremacists and tried to blame the fictional "alt-left" for the terrorism in Charlottesville, he was flanked by economic adviser Gary Cohen and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, both of whom are Jewish.
Missing was White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who was listening to Trump's remarks nearby. And if the footage obtained by NBC is any indication, he was disgusted with what he heard.
Kelly stands with his arms folded and stares directly at the floor. Sources confirmed to CNN that Kelly is not happy with the white supremacist-courting president.
MSNBC described White House staff as shocked after Trump went "rogue" during the press conference.
Watch a clip of Kelly's excruciating discomfort below:
ABC political consultant Tara Setmayer, a former GOP communications director, laid into pro-Trump panelist Paris Dennard when he defended neo-Nazi marchers Tuesday.
Dennard tried to suggest the marchers got a bad rap from the media, a bizarre claim to make against a backdrop of white supremacists with torches shouting hate speech.
The absurdity was not lost on host Anderson Cooper, who responded, "They’re freaking chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ on the streets of America."
But it was the conservative Setmayer who finally snapped. “Your initial reaction, Paris, was to come out and find a talking point spin on this,” she said.
After explaining that Trump "disgraced the office of the presidency," she said what everyone was thinking: "Shame on you, Paris!"
And shame on CNN for continuing to give this man a platform.
Watch the exchange below.
Nearly 8 million Obamacare policyholders who now receive federal subsidies to help defray the cost of their health insurance could lose that support and see premiums rise by 20 percent starting next January if the Trump administration stops those “cost sharing reductions” in 2018, two congressional fiscal agencies reported Tuesday.
The U.S. House’s Democratic leadership requested the report from the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation. It looked at the impact of ending federal subsidies for Obamacare’s “silver plans,” which are the second tier of four levels of plans (plus catastrophic care) offered via government insurance-buying exchanges. There are 7.7 million individuals with silver policies nationally out of a total of 11 million policyholders. (Some states, mostly blue, also expended their Medicaid programs for impoverished households and individuals.)
“Gross premiums for silver plans offered through the marketplaces would be 20 percent higher in 2018 and 25 percent higher by 2020—boosting the amount of premium tax credits according to the statutory formula,” the congressional analysts said. “Silver plans differ from other plans because they must provide CSRs [cost-sharing reductions] to eligible enrollees: The actuarial value depends on the policyholder’s income as a percentage of the FPL [federal poverty level for household income].”
The congressional reports are the latest evidence that Republican actions to disrupt and dismantle Obamacare are creating unnecessary chaos that is on track to hurt millions of Americans who obtained health care under the law. Trump has not announced whether the executive branch would withhold the subsidies, which in essence, would be tantamount to a massive tax increase for millions of financially struggling households. (This same uncertainty has prompted insurers to say they will be raising rates for non-Obamacare policyholders in 2018; New Jersey’s largest insurer said Tuesday it would raise rates by 22 percent instead of a “single-digit” increase.)
The capitalist economics at play in this avoidable crisis are blunt and harsh. The imperiled federal subsidies help lower-income individuals who could not otherwise afford insurance. The CBO/JCT analysis says if the subsidies are cut, 1 million people would drop their plans. Despite the subsidies’ public benefit, the subsidies are still a giant transfer of wealth upward—welfare for insurers, drug companies and physicians, guaranteeing their prices are paid.
Not one of these industry sectors said during 2017’s health care debate that they would be willing to moderate their anticipated profits. This same dynamic is affecting the anticipated 2018 premiums for the other policy categories under Obamacare, which the report said would also rise should Trump discontinue the subsidies to silver-level policyholders.
“According to CBO and JCT’s projections, for single policyholders, gross premiums (that is, before premium tax credits are accounted for) for silver plans offered through the marketplaces would, on average, rise by about 20 percent in 2018 relative to the amount in CBO’s March 2016 baseline and rise slightly more in later years,” the report said. “Such premiums for other plans would rise a few percent during the next two years, on average, above the increases already projected in the baseline in response to uncertainty among states and insurers about how to respond under the policy.”
The analysis also said ending the Obamacare subsidies would cause insurers to exit some states, leaving about 5 percent of Americans with no policy option. That would be a tremendous increase from today’s status quo. As of August 15, the Kaiser Family Foundation, which specializes in health policy, reported that only two counties in America (with 381 Obamacare policyholders) were poised to see private insurers leave in 2018.
Large numbers of people in many of the states that voted for Trump and congressional Republicans would be especially hard hit by ending the subsidies. According to a 2016 state-by-state listing of enrollees by Obamacare plan, these states’ silver plan recipients are as follows:
The CBO/JCT report also compared the current levels of costs for silver plan policyholders, which is pegged to how their income compares to the federal poverty line. Their subsidies shrink as household income rises.
“For people at most income levels, the actuarial value for a silver plan is 70 percent; the average deductible for a single policyholder, for medical and drug expenses combined, is about $3,600 in 2017,” it said. “People with income between 100 percent and 250 percent of the FPL [federal poverty level], however, are generally eligible for silver plans with higher actuarial values (and with lower deductibles), as follows:
“For people with income between 100 percent and 150 percent of the FPL, 94 percent (with an average deductible of about $300);
“For people with income between 150 percent and 200 percent of the FPL, 87 percent (with an average deductible of about $800); and
“For people with income between 200 percent and 250 percent of the FPL, 73 percent (with an average deductible of about $2,900)."
The CBO/JCT report is a stark reminder of not only the callousness of the Republicans who are now ruling Washington, but of how health care spending has hijacked the American economy. Should Trump revoke the subsidies, the individuals who accessed coverage would face the equivalent of a massive tax increase to keep their insurance. Meanwhile, the marketplace uncertainty caused by Trump and the GOP has become the industry's latest excuse to raise prices.
Rising health care costs are one reason working- and middle-class Americans have not seen real increases in wages for decades, once inflation is factored in. As soon as people start to get ahead, big businesses like health care keep finding ways to meet their bottom line goals regardless of the financial and other insecurities caused by doing so. This same cycle is in motion once again.
President Trump’s threat to deliver "fire and fury" to North Korea has not only set his own Cabinet scrambling to clarify what he means, but it has also increased the odds of miscalculation that could lead to a catastrophic military conflict.
While the White House insists the administration is speaking with one voice, the world is hearing three different messages as captured by this New York Times video: the aggressive message of Trump, which emphasizes the punishment North Korea could face (“like the world has never seen”); the restrained message of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (“we do not seek to be a threat to them”); and the somber message of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (any war would be “catastrophic”).
While Trump’s tough talk appeals to the president’s core supporters, it has sown confusion among friends and enemies alike about what the United States will do in a deepening crisis.
Tillerson and Mattis tried to clarify the haze of uncertainty with a piece for the Wall Street Journal (and the White House website) on Monday. While announcing a new policy of “strategic accountability,” they also added a diplomatic message unmentioned by Trump:
The object of our peaceful pressure campaign is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. has no interest in regime change or accelerated reunification of Korea. We do not seek an excuse to garrison U.S. troops north of the Demilitarized Zone. We have no desire to inflict harm on the long-suffering North Korean people, who are distinct from the hostile regime in Pyongyang.
So the U.S. government's mixed messages persist, and with them four dangers.
1. A Blurry Red Line
The trouble started when Trump seemed to draw a red line for what is unacceptable to him, by saying “North Korea best not make any threats to the United States.” But when North Korea responded by making a new threat to the United States—that it would, if attacked, strike U.S. military forces based on Guam—Trump did not make good on his pledge. He merely doubled down on his words, saying they might not have been strong enough.
Trump’s rhetoric may have only confused his primary audience, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“Trump’s remarks were not only unhelpful because they were filled with bombast,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in a phone interview. “They are also unclear about what the North Koreans are not supposed to do."
Kim may conclude that Trump’s threats are, as he said last week, a "load of nonsense" and decide to issue another one, while Trump may conclude that any such threat requires a military response, lest he be seen as not enforcing his red line.
2. B-1 Overflights
The Trump administration has stepped up flights of the U.S. Air Force’s supersonic B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula. While the Obama administration ordered overflights in response to specific North Korean actions, Trump has made them more frequent and regular.
The planes, stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, are key to the Pentagon’s plans for a preemptive strike on North Korea, according to current and former officials who spoke with NBC News last week. The B-1 carries the Air Force's largest conventional bombs, but not nuclear weapons.
The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pledged to respond to any “preventive” U.S. attack with its full nuclear arsenal.
“The U.S. should remember, however, that once there observed a sign of action for ‘preventive war’ from the U.S., the army of the DPRK will turn the U.S. mainland into the theatre of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into the one,” reads one statement. “We do not hide that we already have in full readiness the diversified strategic nuclear strike means which have the U.S. mainland in our striking range.”
So, if a B-1 overflight, intended only as a show of force, was mistaken as a “sign of action" for the preventive war that Trump is threatening, North Korea might escalate to war footing, which could in turn provoke further U.S. escalation.
North Korea’s threat to test missiles near Guam illustrates just how threatening Kim finds the B-1 overflights in the current atmosphere.
The western Pacific Island, a territory of the United States that has a population of 162,000 people, including 13,000 U.S. military personnel and their families, had not previously been targeted by North Korea, at least not publicly.
While the Pyongyang regime has long indulged in belligerent rhetoric toward its enemies, the plan announced last week—to fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles toward Guam—was both unusual and unusually specific.
North Korea has long used its missile tests to demonstrate its capabilities to the outside world without fear of retaliation. Kim may believe that the waters around Guam are outside Trump’s red line while Trump may believe that they are inside.
4. Military Exercises
On August 21, U.S. and South Korean forces will engage in 10 days of previously schedule military exercises, involving tens of thousands of troops, and thousands of aircraft and ships around the Korean Peninsula.
Past exercises, intended to deter a North Korean attack, “are believed to have included 'decapitation strikes'—trial operations for an attempt to kill Kim Jong-un and his top generals,” according to the Guardian.
The timing is “doubly concerning,” says the British news site, as it is within a timeframe in which Pyongyang says it will be ready to fire the Hwasong-12 missiles toward Guam.
The more realistic a military exercise, the more destabilizing it may be. In 1983, the military command of the Soviet Union became convinced that a NATO military exercise called Able Archer was, in fact, a ruse designed to conceal a pre-emptive first nuclear war. In response, the Soviets began planning for a countdown to a nuclear first strike by NATO on Eastern Europe.
The first comprehensive study of the incident, Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise that Almost Caused a Nuclear War, shows that danger of war through misperception was much greater than the CIA and the Pentagon understood at the time.
The lesson for avoiding nuclear war, writes Tom Blanton, editor of the book and director of the non-profit National Security Archive in Washington, is “to put ourselves in the shoes of our adversaries—what do our actions look like to them? What motivations must they have? What fears do they feel? Empathy doesn’t mean identifying with the adversary, no indeed, but understanding them. And ourselves.”
None of which the president of the United States seems inclined to do.
According to the research, the U.S. wind and solar power boom helped prevent the premature deaths of thousands of people and saved the country billions of dollars in healthcare and climate-related costs in a single year.
"We find cumulative wind and solar air-quality benefits of 2015 US $29.7–112.8 billion mostly from 3,000 to 12,700 avoided premature mortalities," according to the paper authored by Dev Millstein of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and his team. The research was sponsored by the Department of Energy and published in the journal Nature Energy.
Unregulated and poorly regulated energy production and use, as well as inefficient fuel combustion, are the "most important man-made sources of key air pollutant emissions," a 2016 International Energy Agency study found. Eighty-five percent of particulate matter—which can contain acids, metals, soil and dust particles, and almost all sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides can be linked back to those sources.
Unhealthful levels of air pollution can put people at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. But unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar power systems have no associated air pollution emissions.
As the Independent noted from the current study, major air pollutants have declined between 2007 and 2015. Carbon dioxide fell by 20 percent, sulphur dioxide by 72 percent, nitrogen oxide by 50 percent and tiny particles known as PM2.5 by 46 percent.
This decline is due to fossil fuels being replaced by renewable energy—solar and wind capacity increased from about 10 gigawatts in 2007 to roughly 100GW in 2015—as well as tougher emissions regulations.
The study also estimated that wind and solar contributed to the "cumulative climate benefits of 2015 US $5.3–106.8 billion," which includes "changes to agricultural productivity, energy use, losses from disasters such as floods, human health and general ecosystem services."
"The ranges span results across a suite of air-quality and health impact models and social cost of carbon estimates," the study added. "We find that binding cap-and-trade pollutant markets may reduce these cumulative benefits by up to 16 percent."
Google “Jimmy Fallon + Trump” today, and you're bound to find fawning reviews of "The Tonight Show" host’s atypically sober remarks on Charlottesville—a speech in which he criticized the president for his reluctance to denounce white nationalists.
“Even though 'The Tonight Show' isn’t a political show, it’s my responsibility to stand up against intolerance and extremism as a human being,” Fallon said. “What happened over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, was just disgusting. ... The fact that it took the president two days to come out and clearly denounce racists and white supremacists is shameful.”
That’s a fairly inarguable point, and I’ll at least give Fallon credit for taking a momentary break from joke-telling to make it. But the gushing over Fallon’s statement, however heartfelt it may have been, seems a bit much under the circumstances. Collective memories may be short, but the internet is forever, and if you scroll past the stories posted over the last 24 hours, you’ll get a reminder of the last time Fallon and Trump’s names were linked. It was September 2016, roughly two months before the election, when a mugging, giggling Fallon playfully tousled the hair of the Republican candidate for president.
It’s important to remember what we already knew about Trump by that point. The year prior, he’d launched his campaign with a disgusting speech depicting Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists. He’d already retweeted white nationalist propaganda that used fake statistics to criminalize African Americans. Trump had been very clear about his intention to ban Muslims from the country. At various campaign rallies, he'd encouraged his belligerent followers to “knock the crap” out of protesters, and called an attack on demonstrators in North Carolina “a beautiful thing.” The Access Hollywood tape hadn’t yet leaked, but there was already a lengthy list of women who alleged sexual harassment, and at least three women who had accused Trump of sexual assault. In short, it was already very clear who Trump was.
Fallon’s brand has been assiduously avoiding political commentary, even of the satirical sort, on his show. Unlike Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers, both of whom now command more nightly viewers, Fallon has honed an image as the one place in late night where you can go if you want to completely ignore that the country is one giant tire fire. But in that moment, Fallon’s shtick went beyond middle-of-the-road goofiness. The comedian chose to treat Trump like a loveable scamp, instead of a vocally racist xenophobe and misogynist.
September 2016 was the moment to speak out about Trump—or at the very least, not treat him like half of a buddy comedy skit—as we neared the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes.
Monday night, Fallon claimed he was “sick to [his] stomach” as he watched the Charlottesville coverage, “seeing Nazi flags and torches and white supremacists.” It’s amazing he’s only feeling queasy now, since those white supremacists were there all along, shouting their support for Trump during what felt like an endless campaign season.
CNN terminated its contract on June 4 with Reza Aslan, the popular religion pundit, bestselling author and host of the network’s recently released show Believer. A day earlier, Aslan had become infuriated by President Donald Trump’s call for restoring a Muslim travel ban in response to a terror attack committed in London by a British national. He took to Twitter to call Trump a “piece of shit” and “an embarrassment to America.” Though Aslan quickly deleted his tweet and apologized, CNN caved to pressure from stirred up right-wing bloggers, who dredged up other derogatory comments Aslan had tweeted about Republicans years before.
In a statement about his firing, Aslan said, “I recognize that CNN needs to protect its brand as an unbiased news source.”
Back in April, just weeks before CNN fired Aslan, the network hired Michael Weiss, already a contributor to the network, to bolster its investigative team as a reporter for international affairs. Weiss had been a regular contributor for CNN since 2015, fashioning himself as an expert on everything from the Syrian civil war to ISIS to Russian geopolitical subterfuge.
A look back at Weiss’s activist history reveals a clear double standard in CNN’s hiring and firing decisions. While Aslan, who happens to be a Muslim, had his contract terminated for a crudely worded tweet, Weiss was hired despite his having organized a major anti-Muslim rally that attracted help from Pamela Geller, an Islamophobic demagogue identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the anti-Muslim movement's most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
I relayed to Reza Aslan the news that Michael Weiss had been hired as a lead correspondent for CNN's investigative team. He told me he was "shocked and dismayed that CNN would choose someone with such a clearly documented history of xenophobia and anti-Muslim activism like that to represent the network." Aslan could not comment on the cancellation of his show because he was in the midst of negotiations with CNN.
Weiss has described the rally as one of his proudest achievements. Held in the heart of New York City, it was organized in support of Danish cartoonists who had depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as a mass murderer and terrorist, and who painted Muslim immigrants as unassimilable fanatics. Weiss was on his way up in the neoconservative movement, and would soon be hired by one of the premier anti-immigrant think tanks in the West, the Henry Jackson Society.
Today, Weiss is best known as a self-styled expert on Russia and Syria who has promoted regime change in both countries with an almost unmatched fervor. Despite the irony of an anti-Muslim free speech crusader emerging as one of the most aggressive promoters of Syria’s Islamist rebels, or perhaps because of it, Weiss has become the face and voice of next generation neoconservatism. His hiring by a top American cable news network marked the culmination of his long, strange transformation from political public relations agent to credentialed reporter. Behind the patina of journalistic seriousness, Weiss still bears all the sectarian fervor of a neocon operative carrying out an ulterior ideological agenda.
AlterNet sent a detailed list of questions and request for comment to Weiss's publicly listed email. He did not immediately respond.
From Zooperville to Snarksmith
The political journey of Michael Weiss began back when he was a student at Dartmouth in the late 1990’s. In the school’s student paper, The Dartmouth, Weiss amused his classmates with his satirical comic strip, Zooperville, and offended many others when he published a cartoon apparently depicting a gay student getting an erection while being subjected to a fraternity’s “time-honored ass-paddling hazing rituals.” Weiss joked that the gay student left the frat so he could “listen to his Bjork and Erasure mix-tapes without headphones.” A student named Jared Knote complained to The Dartmouth, “The publication of this abhorrent (not to mention humorless) ‘funny’ exacerbates what is already epidemic: homophobia.” (Weiss was also accused by a classmate of gratuitously mocking a mentally ill student in a separate Zooperville comic.)
After graduating in 2002, Weiss widened his circle of followers through a blog he founded called Snarksmith. On the blog, which Weiss has deleted but whose archives were retrieved for this article, he argued vehemently in support of Bush’s invasion of Iraq and boasted about a “tete a tete” he held with the British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg “at a Cosi cafe in the old Trotskysant Left's stomping ground of the Upper West Side.” Well before he had established himself as an expert on world affairs, Weiss slipped jokes about Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series into a blog post on an incident in the Pakistani city of Batman.
Weiss also became a prolific contributor to outlets like the Weekly Standard, Jewcy, Slate and Harry’s Place, emulating the promiscuously wordy, bottle-and-thesaurus style of his idol, Christopher Hitchens. On Snarksmith’s sidebar, he proudly featured a lengthy disquisition he wrote on the “fables and truths of neoconservatism.” The entry was packed so densely with overblown, extravagant language that plowing through it required the same determination any Alaskan road crew would have needed to dislodge a Valdez boulder from a four lane freeway. (A typical passage by Weiss: “An old moral protractor of the Left Opposition used to measure the angles by which one could make common cause with exponents of a hoary conservatism for the purposes of eliminating a far more exigent threat of reaction.”)
But Weiss was hardly content to remain latched to a laptop pecking away about neocon godfathers “hoisted on their own soixante-petard,” their “sufing of the vicissitudes between radical orthodoxy and conservative heterodoxy,” or the “eyebrow-raising concatenations of circumstance.” Like his intellectual heroes, he was an aspiring rabble rouser with a hunger for political street theater.
In a 2007 interview, Weiss was asked to describe his “best blogging experience.” He replied that it had been, “Organizing a 'Solidarity with Denmark' rally - after the flap about the Mohammed cartoons - in New York City. It was attended by over a hundred people, most of whom had interesting things to say.”
This was a delicate way of describing a demonstration that brought together some of the biggest names in the burgeoning Islamophobia industry.
Rallying for anti-Muslim cartoons with Pam Geller
In March 2006, Weiss organized a rally outside the Danish consulate in New York City to demonstrate solidarity with the 12 Danish cartoonists who drew images of Mohammed for the center-right publication Jyllands-Posten. Promoted as an exhibition of free speech, the cartoons elicited worldwide outrage from Muslims and sparked protests and even rioting, along with campaigns to boycott Denmark by Middle Eastern governments. (Weiss was among the right-wing bloggers who spread a false story that jihadists had attempted to kidnap the daughter of one of the Danish cartoonists. He issued a correction the day after his rally.)
The Jyllands-Posten cartoons exuded contempt not only for the religion of Islam, but towards Muslim immigrants to Denmark. One satirist depicted immigrants as anti-democratic fanatics incapable of integration. Another cartoon showed Mohammed holding back a parade of would-be suicide bombers seeking to get into heaven, exclaiming, “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins.” Yet another depicted his head as a ticking bomb.
Weiss’s rally gathered about one hundred people, many dressed in traditional Danish garb. Some carried anodyne messages of support for the Danish government, while others waved more provocative placards reading, “No Burkhas [sic] on Free Cartoons.”
“Today's rally could not have gone better,” Weiss declared after the demonstration. “There were easily over a hundred people on the scene, most of whom showed up early and stayed until 1 o’clock… Who can say that this isn't, at bottom, a struggle between life and death?”
On Snarksmith, Weiss also took time to thank the blogging colleagues who helped fill the ranks of the demonstration. “Luckily, Pamela from Atlas Shrugs came through like the Ayn Randian champ she is. All street theatre should be this well-coordinated,” Weiss said.
Weiss was referring to Pamela Geller, perhaps the most vitriolic and prominent Islamophobic blogger and activist in the English-speaking world.
Geller returned the praise, gushing on her blog about “the delicious Rally held in NYC in Support of Denmark - organized by Snark Smith - a lovelier group of freedom lovers you will never meet.”
Geller’s extremism was hardly a secret at the time. In the days just after her rally with Weiss, she took to her blog to rail against the Democratic “party of dhimmitude,” using a term to describe the second class status Christians and Jews have been relegated to under Islamic law. She then branded Howard Dean “a Jew’s worst nightmare” because he spoke before the American Jewish Committee, a mainstream pro-Israel group. In another post, she claimed “an aggressive jihad was already being waged against the United States" during the 18th century. She then took aim at Jews supportive of a peace process with the Palestinian Authority: “The Jews are victims of their own ‘enlightenment.’ This road to hell may very well be paved with good intentions but leftist Jews are suicidal.”
Even as Weiss cultivated his image as a refined contrarian who punched out multi-part takedowns of Noam Chomsky while rubbing elbows with folk-rock celebrities in Upper West Side cafes, he echoed Geller’s conspiratorial warnings of a hostile Islamic takeover of the West. In a May 15, 2006 blog post defending the decision by Dutch anti-Muslim activist and serial fabricator Ayaan Hirsi Ali to take a fellowship at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Weiss mocked her critics for their supposed belief that “the prospect of a black flag of jihad being raised over Amsterdam (or London, or Paris) is so much more equable than Richard Perle hovering around the same CoffeeMaker as this brave and sworn enemy of jihad.”
Geller, for her part, would spend the following years mobilizing neo-fascists and ultra-Zionist cranks into a so-called “counter-jihadist” movement. In a lengthy entry on Geller, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that she “has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists, spoken favorably of South African racists,” and “spoke at an event in Paris put on by the Bloc Identitaire, which opposes race-mixing and ‘Islamic imperialism.’”
The 2006 demonstrations that Weiss organized in support of the Danish cartoonists foreshadowed the deliberately provocative “Draw Muhammad” contests that Geller later staged. In May 2015, a mentally disturbed American ISIS sympathizer was gunned down by local police outside one such event in Garland, Texas. Organized by Geller, the contest featured an appearance by Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician who had become arguably the world’s most influential anti-Muslim elected official. An investigation by 60 Minutes revealed that an FBI informant encouraged the failed attack on the cartoon contest and was mere feet away from the shooter at the scene of the crime, yet did nothing to intervene.
As Geller drifted off to the farthest shores of the right, Weiss was rising through the ranks of the British neoconservative movement, with his eyes on the mainstream spotlight.
PR agent for the UK’s top anti-immigrant think tank
In 2008, Weiss relocated from New York City to London to take up a job with Just Journalism, an anti-Palestinian media monitoring group formed by the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society. Melanie Philips, the British anti-Muslim pundit and author of the Islamophobic screed Londonistan, called Just Journalism’s founding, “A very welcome and desperately-needed initiative [that] has just been launched to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East.”
The newfangled outfit also named Nina Rosenwald, one of world’s leading funders of the Islamophobia industry, as an advisor. Weiss, for his part, was designated as the organization’s communications director.
Just a year after Just Journalism was founded, its director, the former journalist Adel Darwish, resigned in protest. Darwish complained that "the project suffered from the start [from] the absence of any analyst or researcher with journalistic experience." He was especially disappointed that hires like Weiss “lacked the experience of being reporters on the ground and were never exposed to newsroom culture.” The group’s staffers were “young, impressionable and also zealous,” Darwish lamented.
In the aftermath of Darwish’s unceremonious departure, Weiss rose to the position of director at Just Journalism. But he left soon after, in March 2010, to join the more high-profile Henry Jackson Society (HJS) — yet another non-journalistic job for the young go-getter.
At HJS, Weiss set out to undermine then-director Marko Attila Hoare, who saw Weiss’s hiring as part of an overall effort by donors to drive the think tank deeper into neoconservative zealotry. The toxic presence of Weiss was a key factor in Hoare’s resignation. Citing a former HJS staffer, the journalist and blogger Richard Silverstein reported, “Things became so acrimonious [Weiss] had to hire a lawyer and later sign a non-disparagement agreement so as not to air any dirty linen in public.”
Following his departure, Hoare described in a blog post how Weiss had appointed himself “acting director of research” and unsuccessfully attempted to prevent Hoare from publishing his own column at the HJS website. Weiss then proceeded to transform the think tank’s site into his own personal blog.
“Under Weiss’s direction, the website has been not entirely ungenerous in providing space for the promotion of his own work,” Hoare wrote. “At the time this article was first drafted, no fewer than five of the ten ‘commentary’ articles and three of the ten ‘blog’ articles on the HJS website were by Weiss.”
By this time, the Syrian civil war had begun and the drumbeat for a war of regime change against a country allied with Iran and Russia was intensifying by the day. Weiss, who had demonstrated scarce interest in the country up until this point, suddenly refashioned himself as an expert on the situation.
Hoare was replaced by a figure much more amenable to Weiss and the right-wing oligarchs driving the HJS agenda. He was Douglas Murray, the xenophobic British pundit who had insisted in a speech that, “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board,” and warned of a “demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities.” (Murray’s comments were too extreme for even the Conservative Party front bench, prompting its members to sever relations with him.)
Murray not only defended far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Donald Trump from critics of their anti-immigrant demagogy, he openly decried the growth of Britain’s non-white population. “In 23 of London's 33 boroughs ‘white Britons’ are now in a minority,” Murray lamented, warning that “white voters” were “losing their country.”
While Murray escalated his Muslim bashing, Weiss invested increasing stores of energy into encouraging regime change in Syria, where a two-year-long proxy war was threatening the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The project was part of a longstanding neoconservative blueprint for the region that aimed to topple the governments of “seven countries in five years” — mostly Middle Eastern nations that had resisted American and Israeli ambitions in the region. With Iraq down and Syria in the crosshairs, Weiss positioned himself as the operation’s point man.
Rebel selfies and regime change fraud
Above: Michael Weiss in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2012, with Syrian rebels
In August 2012, Weiss suddenly materialized on BBC as a “Syria analyst” for the Henry Jackson Society, where he had previously served as communications director. Weiss had just returned from Aleppo, the Syrian metropolis where rebels had taken several districts by force from the government. The rebel units included hardcore Islamist groups like Liwa al-Tawhid and Ahrar al-Sham, as well as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda.
The presence of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups among the rebels in Aleppo had been widely reported at the time, including by the New York Times, which noted the campaign of terror it had waged in the city and against civilians in Damascus.
During his brief time in Aleppo, Weiss posed for a photo with two of the triumphant rebels. One of those insurgents was apparently a Syrian rebel commander named Yousef Ajjan Al-Hadid. Al-Hadid’s death soon after meeting Weiss was confirmed by the opposition-run Violations Documentation Center.
The other character in the photo appears to be Mahmoud Sheik Elzour, a Syrian from Hama who petitioned to stay in the United States on the grounds that he was persecuted in Syria for his family's support for the Muslim Brotherhood. When the Syrian rebellion began, Elzour returned home to join the rebels, serving as a fixer for many Western journalists. He remains Facebook friends with Weiss.
It might have seemed strange for Weiss, a right-leaning political operative who had worked with hardcore Islamophobes like Pam Geller and Douglas Murray, to be suddenly seen in the middle of a war zone palling around with Islamist guerillas. But the war in Syria had created some strange bedfellows. As Jake Sullivan, a liberal interventionist foreign policy advisor to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, excitedly informed his boss, “AQ [Al Qaeda] is on our side in Syria.” Indeed, the Salafi-jihadi rebels battling the Syrian government had become the perfect proxies for neoconservatives like Weiss who longed for conflict with Iran and Russia — and offered them a prime opportunity to weaken the US's and Israel’s strongest regional adversaries.
After returning from his jaunt into Aleppo, Weiss linked up with the Syrian opposition in Washington to stimulate support for regime change. In June 2013, he co-authored an op-ed in the Atlantic with a previously unknown, 26-year-old opposition lobbyist named Elizabeth O’Bagy arguing that the US military could easily “take out Assad’s air capability.”
Three months later, at a September 3, 2013 meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain cited a Wall Street Journal editorial by O’Bagy — “Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy,” her byline read — to support their assessment of the Syrian rebels as predominately “moderate,” and potentially Western-friendly.
Kerry insisted, “I just don’t agree that a majority [of the rebels] are al-Qaida and the bad guys.”
As I reported back in 2013, Kerry and McCain had neglected to mention that O’Bagy was working as the political director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a State Department-funded lobbying arm of the Syrian opposition in Washington.
Cited in Congress as a leading expert on the Syrian armed opposition, O’Bagy had hardly spent more than a few months researching the topic, partly as an intern at the neoconservative, arms industry-funded Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Soon after her moment of glory in Congress, “Dr.” O’Bagy was exposed as a fraud who had faked her PhD from Georgetown University. She was swiftly fired by the ISW.
But in the grand tradition of neoconservatism, O’Bagy was kicked upstairs — rewarded for her deceit and failures with a plum job in the office of Sen. John McCain. "Elizabeth is a talented researcher, and I have been very impressed by her knowledge and analysis in multiple briefings over the last year,” McCain declared.
Weiss was on his way up as well. He would be hired as a senior editor by the Daily Beast, the neoconservative oriented web tabloid, and was teaming up with Hassan Hassan of the Gulf-funded Middle East Institute to publish a book on ISIS.
Marko Attila Hoare scoffed at his former colleague’s attempts to style himself as a Syria expert. “Weiss is not, be it remembered, an academic expert on Syria and the Middle East...” Hoare wrote, “but merely an activist with strong views who follows events there closely.”
Bunk analysis and fake news, handsomely rewarded
Once Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict, neoconservative ideologues like Weiss found themselves in a quandary. As Secretary of State John Kerry privately acknowledged, Russia’s intervention had prevented ISIS and Al Qaeda from marching on Damascus. The Russian military was critical in removing ISIS from the ancient city of Palmyra, and had forced Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels from eastern Aleppo. The British military think tank IHS Jane’s, meanwhile, had identified the Syrian army as “the primary opponent” of ISIS — “the anvil to the US-led Coalition’s hammer” — confirming its effectiveness in pushing back jihadist forces. How could neocons like Weiss still claim to oppose jihadists while maintaining their vendetta against Russia and its allies?
Weiss attempted to pull off this neat trick through a series of intellectually contorted pieces asserting that Russia’s involvement in Syria was actually a boon to ISIS. “Russia’s Giving ISIS an Air Force,” was the headline of one of Weiss’s most ham-handed attempts to square the contradictions in his analysis. Arguing that Russia was “too busy killing the anti-Assad rebels supported and armed by the Central Intelligence Agency” to target ISIS, he suggested that ISIS would expand its influence as a result of Russian intervention.
Yet those supposedly “moderate” rebels that Weiss was promoting had often worked alongside ISIS (during the siege of the Menagh Airbase, for instance) or provided rearguard support to Al Qaeda (in Raqqa, Idlib, and Aleppo). When the “moderates” did confront jihadist forces, they proved impotent, and wound up having their arms taken and their fighters cannibalized. And when the CIA-backed Free Syrian Army attacked Syrian and Russia military assets, they diverted resources away from the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Looking back at the CIA’s program in Syria, Sam Heller of the Century Foundation described it this July as “an elaborate, Rube Goldbergian military-political project that could never work.”
Heller explained, “By last year—arguably earlier— CIA-backed northern rebels were mostly backfilling for either the Nusra Front [Al Qaeda] or Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist movement-opposition faction and Nusra’s erstwhile ally.”
He concluded, “The idea that the U.S. covert arms program in north Syria and CIA-backed FSA factions were somehow a bulwark against al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front was a fiction.”
Undeterred by the inconvenient facts on the ground, Weiss plowed ahead, recycling his bunk analysis again and again. After the Russian military helped the Syrian government recapture eastern Aleppo in December 2016 from a collection of foreign backed Islamist armed groups, Weiss teamed up with pro-opposition analyst Hassan Hassan to claim that Russia had just handed a massive "gift to ISIS."
When Robert Worth of the New York Times visited Aleppo in the aftermath of the rebels’ defeat, however, he found that the areas they occupied had been “almost as bad” as ISIS-held territory: “a chaotic wasteland full of feuding militias — some of them radical Islamists — who hoarded food and weapons while the people starved.”
With the rebels vanquished from their stronghold in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian militaries were able to take the fight directly to ISIS in Deir Ezzor and outside Aleppo. They were also free to recapture Palmyra from ISIS, fully discrediting Weiss and Hassan’s assertions that concentrating on the armed groups in Aleppo revealed Russia’s lack of interest in taking on ISIS.
In the last days of the battle for Aleppo, Weiss published flagrantly fake news alleging that women in the city were committing mass suicide to avoid being raped by government forces. The lone source for that claim was Abdullah Othman, a commander of the Shamiya Front, a hardcore Salafist militia that is now formally allied with Ahrar al-Sham. Seven months since Weiss published the widely disseminated story, not a single piece of corroboration has been produced. The Daily Beast, for its part, has not corrected, clarified, or retracted the story.
Weiss previously claimed that “Assad’s militias… they lock whole Sunni families in their homes and set the house on fire and let the families cook alive.” He provided no sourcing or evidence to support his incendiary claim, noting only that, “You’re just not seeing it on CNN.”
Though he has affected concern for the human rights of Syrians, Weiss’s agenda has ultimately centered on encouraging a direct military confrontation with Russia. “Hardly a risk of ‘open-ended’ conflict with Russia in Syria. Entire Russian deployment could be wiped out in 48 hrs by US. Putin knows it,” he insisted on Twitter.
General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was far less cavalier than the former Dartmouth cartoonist, Snarksmith blogger and neoconservative public relations operative. “For us to control all of the air space in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia,” Dunford warned in congressional testimony, arguing against imposing a No Fly Zone.
Backing from the US government and a mob-tied Russian oligarch
As the Syrian conflict dies down, Weiss is rebranding himself as a Russia expert and vying for the limelight amidst the storm of accusations of collusion between Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump. Despite his penchant for tossing back buzzwords like kompromat, Weiss speaks little to no Russian and has left no record of reporting inside Russia.
“Weiss has reinvented himself also as an expert on Russia – about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East,” his former colleague at the Henry Jackson Society, Hoare, wrote.
Back in 2011, Weiss established a “Russia Studies Centre,” or what Hoare derided as a “Potemkin village-like” operation “which describes itself grandiloquently as a ‘research and advocacy centre’, but is really just a website where Weiss blogs about Russia.”
After leaving HJS, Weiss folded his one-man Russia research center into The Interpreter, an online translation and blog site that takes a decidedly interventionist line against Russia’s government. This operation received its seed money and support from exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose Open Russia organization has been dedicated to the replacement of Vladimir Putin with a more complaisant, Western-friendly government.
If Khodorkovsky had not founded his personal think tank, conspiracy theorists might have invented it. As the New York Times reported, the name of his Open Russia was "an echo of George Soros's Open Society Institute," and the outfit relied on funding from the family trust of Lord Rothschild while enlisting Henry Kissinger as a member of its board.
During the Boris Yeltsin era, when a cast of oligarchs were given free reign to buy up the state’s assets and pilfer its mineral wealth, Khodorkovsky’s Menatep bank was identified by the CIA in a 1995 report as one of the most corrupt financial institutions in the world, with documented ties to organized crime. Konstantin Kagalovsky, a top Menatep executive, was implicated by US investigators in a massive scheme to illegally launder billions of dollars from Russian mobsters in the Bank of New York.
Khodorkovsky’s Menatep bank was reported to be so corrupt, in fact, that it became the target of an undercover CIA investigation into the oligarch’s mob and KGB ties. The CIA operative who oversaw the investigation, Karon von Gerhke-Thompson, testified before Congress that she “volunteered [her] services as an unpaid intelligence asset to the CIA on a CIA operation to penetrate what the CIA, FBI and Department of Justice knew was a KGB money-laundering operation with tentacles that reached in the Kremlin to Boris Yeltsin.”
Given Khodorkovsky’s generous support for The Interpreter magazine, it can be fairly asserted that Weiss’s personal political operation originated with funds from a fortune that originated from the KGB and Russian mafia — a hilariously ironic aspect of a project dedicated to uncovering Russian mob and intelligence intrigues.
In 2015, Weiss placed The Interpreter under the patronage of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a public relations arm of the US government that emerged out of what the CIA called “one of the longest running and successful covert action campaigns ever mounted by the United States.” The move made Weiss a de facto US government employee while he oversaw a raft of articles at The Daily Beast purporting to expose Russian influence on American politics.
Today, The Interpreter is supported by the Atlantic Council, an aggressively pro-war think tank where Weiss serves as nonresident senior fellow. The Atlantic Council takes a reliably anti-Russian line and has served as a regular promotional platform for Western-backed Salafist rebels in Syria. It also happens to be funded by the US and NATO, along with some of the major bankrollers of Syrian rebels, including the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.
Another significant funder of the think tank where Weiss and his Interpreter are housed is the Ukrainian nationalist oligarch Victor Pinchuk. Pinchuk made his billions through a series of rigged privatization schemes for Ukrainian assets carried out under the watch of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who happened to be his father-in-law. Pinchuk was reportedly placed on a US visa blacklist for helping Viktor Yanukovych fix the fraudulent first round of elections in the recently deposed politician’s favor. After the triumph of the Orange Revolution that ousted Yanukovych, two of Pinchuk’s assets obtained in rigged auctions were seized and resold for much higher prices. Since then, the oligarch has realigned himself and his ill-begotten riches with the pro-Western forces of the post-Maidan government in Kiev.
For his part, Khodorkovsky has continued to support Weiss by funding the publication of a tract Weiss co-authored with the British writer Peter Pomarantsev arguing that Russia was “arguably more dangerous than a communist superpower.” The two unveiled their paper on the Russian “Menace of Unreality” in 2015 at an event sponsored by the Legatum Institute, a British think tank funded by the secretive billionaire vulture capitalist Christopher Chandler. (Pomarantsev served as senior fellow at Chandler’s Legatum.)
As journalist Mark Ames documented, “the Chandler brothers were the largest foreign portfolio investors in Russia throughout the 1990s into the first half of the 2000s, including the largest foreign investors in natural gas behemoth Gazprom.” Like Khodorkovsky, Chandler’s gravy train ended when Putin clamped down hard on the oligarchs and cultivated his own circle of nationalist-minded cronies. So he formed his own influence operation, snapping up neoconservative operatives like Pomerantsev and Weiss to rally Western opposition to Putin.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US government backed entity dedicated to encouraging regime change across the globe through the semi-covert backing of political opposition groups and media fronts, also provided a forum for Weiss and Pomarantsev’s white paper on Russian subversion.
In a bizarre twist, Weiss claimed to have received additional funding for his and Pomarentsev’s paper through a previously unknown source called the Herzen Foundation. When journalist James Carden searched for information about the foundation, he came to a stunning conclusion: “there is no evidence Herzen exists.”
According to Weiss and Pomarantsev’s paper, the Russian threat stemmed from a sophisticated global disinformation campaign waged by the Kremlin through outlets like RT and “far-left and far-right movements.” The authors demanded an “internationally recognized ratings system for disinformation,” a recipe for censorship that has since inspired crank online blacklists like PropOrNot. Weiss and Pomarantsev also argued that “media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community.”
While avoiding a definition of deception, it was not difficult to imagine whom the two operatives would have singled out. As James Carden explained in a detailed profile of Weiss and Pomarantsev, “Organizations that do not share the authors’ enthusiasm for regime change in Syria or war with Russia over Ukraine would almost certainly be ‘excluded from the community.’”
Endangering ideological foes, threatening critics
The malevolent capacity Weiss has wielded against his perceived ideological foes was on full display when he targeted an Iranian-American businessman named Siamak Namazi. In his role as an editor at The Daily Beast, Weiss collaborated with and published an exiled operative named Nikahang Kowsar (who wrote under a pseudonym, Alex Shirazi, which he failed to disclose) to target Namazi with a thinly sourced, sensationalistic hit piece that branded him as part of “The Shady Family Behind America’s Iran Lobby.” At the time, Namazi was being interrogated by Iranian authorities, who suspected him of double dealing. “After The Daily Beast article came out, things got worse for Siamak,” Namazi’s cousin told the Huffington Post. Within a month, and thanks in no small part to Weiss’s handiwork, Namazi and his father were in Iran’s Evin prison.
When journalist and blogger Richard Silverstein highlighted Weiss’s role in the imprisonment of Namazi, Weiss took extreme measures to suppress the bad publicity. Kevin Rothrock, an editor at the Russia-focused news site, Meduza, received a series of angry emails from Weiss just hours after he tweeted out Silverstein’s article. “Right now, I’m compiling those who find [the article] persuasive enough to circulate,” Weiss wrote menacingly. He also demanded to speak to Rothrock’s employers at Meduza. Rothrock complained on Twitter, “This is the 2nd time Weiss has threatened my livelihood, after I tweeted a link to something criticizing his work.”
As we have seen, neoconservatives are consistently rewarded for their failures and deceitful behavior, whether they have trumped up a war on false pretenses, published fake news and half-truths, or simply gotten it all wrong on an issue where they claimed unique expertise. Weiss has committed all of these offenses and has been kicked upstairs each time. CNN was the latest outfit to award his ideologically driven gaffes with a high profile sinecure. But only weeks after being hired by the network, Weiss’s journalistic blooper reel expanded again.
Lex Harris, the CNN Investigates executive editor who hired Weiss, was among three employees fired by CNN for their role in publishing fake news accusing former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci of collusion with Russia. Since being hired by the disgraced Harris, it is not clear if Weiss has worked on a single investigative project.
Instead, Weiss is back to opinion blogging, hammering the alt-right in his most recent piece at CNN's website for its supposed sympathy for Bashar al-Assad. (Weiss was one of the earliest and most aggressive promoters of the defamatory term, "alt-left," which Trump wound up co-opting to demonize anti-fascists who protested a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.)
Weiss’s Twitter profile now identifies him as a “CNN Analyst for International Affairs,” suggesting that he was demoted just weeks after being promoted.
Whatever direction Weiss takes with the network, he can count on the support of a small but especially dedicated base. “Thanks for your patriotic work on this Michael,” Louise Mensch, the notoriously paranoid godmother of anti-Russian conspiracism, told Weiss. “You are an unsung hero, but those who know, know.”
In what is being heralded as a breakthrough for cancer research, GW Pharmaceuticals announced on Tuesday positive results from a study using a combination of cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol to treat an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM is a “particularly aggressive brain tumor, with a poor prognosis,” according to the British-based biopharmaceutical company focused on developing proprietary cannabinoid medicine.
According to the study, patients with documented recurrent GBM treated with THC:CBD had an 83 percent one year survival rate compared with 53 percent for patients taking a placebo.
Said Professor Susan Short, principal investigator of the study:
“The findings from this well-designed controlled study suggest that the addition of a combination of THC and CBD to patients on dose-intensive temozolomide produced relevant improvements in survival compared with placebo and this is a good signal of potential efficacy. Moreover, the cannabinoid medicine was generally well tolerated. These promising results are of particular interest as the pharmacology of the THC:CBD product appears to be distinct from existing oncology medications and may offer a unique and possibly synergistic option for future glioma treatment.”
The company has received Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for THC:CBD in the treatment of glioma.
GW Pharmaceutical’s glioma research demonstrates that THC and CBD appear to act via distinct signalling pathways. The combined administration of the two major cannabinoids led to a synergistic reduction in the viability of U87MG glioma cells when compared to the administration of each cannabinoid individually.
Studies of patients with high-grade gliomas showed that headache was the most common initial presenting symptom. These headaches can be persistent lasting more than six months and are often associated with other symptoms, including seizures, visual disturbances, cognitive impairment and nausea and vomiting depending on the location and growth rate of the tumor.
Stephen Bannon, the chief political strategist for President Donald Trump, could be the next White House official to get the boot — and sources claim he could be removed from his position by this Friday.
CBS News reported Monday night that “several high-placed sources inside and outside the White House” believed that Bannon could soon be losing his position. One source said he could be gone by the end of this week.
Bannon, the former chief executive of Breitbart News, has been blamed for Trump’s failure to condemn white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and similar hate groups immediately after the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville. Bannon once described Breitbart as the “platform for the alt-right.” The movement is closely associated with neo-Nazism.
“If the president is sincere about rejecting white supremacists, he should remove all doubt by firing Steve Bannon and the other alt-right white supremacist sympathizers in the White House,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a statement Monday.
Bannon also has a history of clashing with members of Trump’s national security team, CBS News noted, including feuds with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. White House staff have reportedly blamed Bannon for leaking information to the press in an effort to damage the reputation of McMaster and other political rivals.
According to the New York Times, Trump has sent Bannon “to a kind of internal exile” The two have not met face-to-face for more than a week.
But not everyone believes Bannon is in danger. One White House aide told the Daily Mail that “Steve’s staying.”
The nation continues to grapple with the fallout from this weekend’s violence after a Nazi sympathizer drove into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one person and injuring 19. President Donald Trump finally condemned white supremacists on Monday for the bloodshed this weekend, after initially failing to directly blame the group. The move followed mounting pressure and severe backlash from nationwide street protests and corporate CEOs who resigned from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council over his failure to quickly condemn the deadly violence. Meanwhile, a Foreign Policy report revealed that an FBI and Department of Homeland Security bulletin concluded that white supremacist groups were responsible for more homicides "than any other domestic extremist movement." Despite these findings, the Trump administration recently slashed funds to organizations dedicated to fighting right-wing violence. To discuss all these developments, we speak with award-winning acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates in his first major interview since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. He is the author of a forthcoming book, due out in October, "We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to look at the fallout from Saturday’s violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer killed one anti-racist activist and injured more than a dozen others when he intentionally drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters. On Monday, the driver of the car, James Fields, appeared in court for the first time.
President Trump initially failed to directly blame white supremacists for the bloodshed in Charlottesville, saying the violence was committed by, quote, "many sides." On Monday, amidst growing street and corporate protest, Trump finally condemned the deadly white supremacist violence.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws. We all salute the same great flag. And we are all made by the same almighty god. We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Trump speaking on Monday. Meanwhile, Foreign Policy has revealed the existence of a recent FBI and Department of Homeland Security bulletin that concluded white supremacist groups were, quote, "responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016...more than any other domestic extremist movement," unquote. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security report went on to state, quote, "Racial minorities have been the primary victims of [white supremacist] violence. The second most common victims were other Caucasians...and other white supremacists perceived as disloyal to the white supremacist extremism movement."
AMY GOODMAN: Despite the FBI and Department of Homeland Security findings, the Trump administration recently cut funds to organizations dedicated to fighting right-wing violence.
Well, as the nation grapples with what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, we turn now to the best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics and social issues. He’s the author of Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and the author of the forthcoming book titled We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.
Ta-Nehisi, it’s great to spend this hour with you. I want to start by asking your response to what happened in Charlottesville and then to President Trump’s actions in response.
TA-NEHISI COATES: My response is that it’s predictable. You had eight years before President Trump, a situation where the opposition party basically ran in opposition to the president on a platform of thinly based racism. That doesn’t mean that the politicians themselves were outright racist, but when charges of birtherism came up, no one repudiated it. When the House majority leader at the time, John Boehner, claimed the president had never worked a real job, no one repudiated it. When Newt Gingrich called the president of the United States a "food stamp president," no one repudiated it. And so you found yourself in a situation in the 2016 election where all of that hate and all of that racism had been stoked at the party’s base.
And so, the idea that President Trump—or that Donald Trump would then become president, that he would become the winning candidate, is not surprising at all. And that Trump himself, you know, who was the stoker of birtherism, who has this long history of racism himself, going back to the 1970s, when he was accused of housing discrimination, into the 1990s, when he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, who were later exonerated, in the 1990s, when he claimed that he didn’t want black people counting his money at his casinos, that that person, that that figure, that political figure, would then use that same energy that was in the party to become president, and the reaction would be violence, is predictable. It’s lamentable, but it’s predictable. And no one should be surprised.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you, this Unite the Right rally and the resurgence now of white supremacists publicly throughout the country, largely in—under the symbolic protests against the taking down of these various Confederate monuments and statues around the country, your sense of how this—the saving of these Confederate statues becomes the rallying call of the supremacist movement?
TA-NEHISI COATES: Well, it makes sense. I mean, the Civil War was the most lethal war in American history. The casualties in the Civil War amount to more than all other wars—all other American wars combined. More people died in that war than World War II, World War I, Vietnam, etc. And that was a war for white supremacy. It was a war to erect a state in which the basis of it was the enslavement of black people. And so that, you know, these forces that I discussed, that really, you know, bubbled from the base of the Republican Party and that Trump nakedly activated, would then rally around the cause of the Confederacy makes complete sense.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion with Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics and social issues. His forthcoming book will be out in October; it’s titled We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. This is Democracy Now!We’ll be back with Ta-Nehisi in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "This Little Light of Mine" by Odetta. This is the song activists were singing Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, as they rallied against the bust of Confederate Army General Nathan Bedford Forrest, putting a black cloth over his head and demanding the bust be removed from the state Capitol. It’s also the song that clergy sang on Friday night as they held a gathering in a chapel at the University of Virginia, as, outside, hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists marched past. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, massive protests against white supremacists and the Trump administration continued nationwide on Monday, from the streets of North Carolina, where a crowd of activists toppled a Confederate statue in Durham, to the halls of Washington, where three separate corporate CEOs resigned from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council over his failure to quickly condemn the deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. In Durham, the crowd of activists shouted "We are the revolution!" as a woman climbed up a ladder, looped a rope around the top of the Confederate Soldiers Monument in front of the old Durham County Courthouse and then pulled the statue to the ground as the crowd erupted in cheers.
PROTESTERS: We are the revolution! No cops, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A.!
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Nashville, Tennessee, activists rallied against the bust of the Confederate Army General Nathan Bedford Forrest, putting a black cloth over his head, demanding the bust be removed from the Capitol. In Gainesville, Florida, workers removed a Confederate soldier’s statue from downtown, while officials in Baltimore, San Antonio, and Jacksonville, Florida, all said Monday they would take steps to remove Confederate statues from public spaces. Major protests were also held in Washington, D.C., in Naples, Florida, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where activists burned an effigy of a Nazi.
Still with us for the hour, best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic. He is the author of Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, author of a forthcoming book, in October, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. And we are talking to him in his first major broadcast interview since President Trump was inaugurated.
This weekend, describe the groups, Ta-Nehisi, what they represent and the significance of President Trump taking two days to speak out against white supremacist violence.
TA-NEHISI COATES: Well, I’m having a bit of difficulty, I guess, generating much outrage here. I don’t know what people expected. Given Donald Trump’s record, given that he has somebody in the White House right now advising him, you know, who was the publisher for Breitbart media. Breitbart media is named after the same gentleman who basically framed Shirley Sherrod during the Obama administration. Steve Bannon, who was the publisher, bragged about Breitbart being the platform for the alt-right. The alt-right is who was protesting. And so, the notion that Donald Trump, when he has, you know, folks who provided that platform right in his—in the White House, would come out and provide some sort of strong statement against white supremacy, I don’t know where that expectation comes from. He is who he said he was. You know, you can say a lot about Trump, but, you know, he didn’t hide it. He is exactly who he said he was. And so I think the expectation that he will morph into some strong opponent or foe of white supremacy, even the kind of blatant white supremacy you saw on display in Charlottesville, I think, is misguided.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ta-Nehisi, I wanted to ask you, in that same vein, that he is who he said he—who he was during the campaign, he established a presidential advisory commission to look into the issues of voter integrity.
TA-NEHISI COATES: That’s right. That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your—I’m wondering your reaction to what’s been going on now in terms of turning the entire political process of voting upside down by going after those who are already being disenfranchised.
TA-NEHISI COATES: Yeah, I mean, you know, not to be repetitive here, but again, I mean, it fits right along with what he said. And again, you know, because I think what happens is that people get too focused on Donald Trump and forget that what this comes out of is a long campaign, over—especially over the past 10 years or so, especially during the time when we had our first black president, where people sought to cast, A, the president as illegitimate, and that was basically accepted—you had a majority of the opposition party that believed the president was not a legitimate president—and then the notion of voter fraud was taken up across the party, by some of the same Republican politicians who are now coming out and denouncing Donald Trump.
They made Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not, you know, separate from it. You know, you can’t come out at the last minute, now that somebody has been killed, now that somebody is dead, and pretend that, you know, "Oh, we had no part in this." This is the result of a process. Donald Trump did not appear by magic. And so, when you see him taking up this form on alleged voter fraud, going out and soliciting the names from various states of voters, it’s right in line not just with what Trump said, but with the rhetoric of the base and of many of the politicians in the Republican Party over the past eight to 10 years.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to those who are focusing on the Confederate statues around the South right now and actually physically, as in Durham yesterday, taking them down?
TA-NEHISI COATES: I’m happy to see it. I think I’m happy to see them. I’m happy to see that sort of awareness. I came up in a period where a show like Dukes of Hazzard was on TV, and people just basically accepted the Confederate flag in a sort of way, even as African Americans knew deep in their heart there were something deeply wrong with that. It’s good to see, you know, that there’s some sort of mass movement moving in that direction. I will say that there is some danger if it simply stops at taking down statues. I think the basic problem—and I think, honestly, this country has proved to itself over and over again—is a real lack of understanding of what the Civil War was and what its consequences were and the fact that we live with it, you know, even today. And so, I just—you know, I support the removal of the statues, but I just want to make sure that we’re not skipping over a conversation, you know, by taking down symbols and saying, "OK, that’s nice. That’s over."
AMY GOODMAN: One of those busts was the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
TA-NEHISI COATES: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And you wrote a piece about him, what, like in 2009, called "Nathan Bedford Forrest Has Beautiful Eyes."
TA-NEHISI COATES: I did. So the piece was about—I don’t want people to think like it was just, you know, lauding Nathan Bedford Forrest. But it was about how we award a certain kind of romanticism to Confederate generals and why they’ve proven so illustrative, you know, over the past—really since the end of the Civil War and the movement for the Lost Cause. And so, there’s been this movement to award glamor and glory and a kind of cowboy mystique to Confederate generals and ignore the fact that people like Nathan Bedford Forrest, for instance, perpetrated the massacre at Fort Pillow, where he murdered, in cold blood, African-American soldiers, before the Civil War, was a slave trader, literally had what he called a "NegroMart," where he vended black bodies. And people forget that. And instead what you get is the sort of swagger and glory and the mythology of the old Confederacy.
Helen Mirren is not one to keep her mouth shut, especially when it comes to the Trump administration. Most notably, she promised to be the “nastiest of all nasty women” after President Donald Trump infamously called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during the final presidential debate in 2016.
In a new Allure profile of the British actress, titled “Why Helen Mirren Wishes She’d Said ‘Fuck Off’ More As a Young Woman,” Mirren describes Trump as lacking morality and conscientiousness and dubs his tactics as terrifying.
But this time, Donald wasn’t the Trump on the end of her verbal fire. When it came to the president’s daughter, Mirren was candid in voicing her thoughts on Ivanka Trump and her book “Women Who Work: Redefining the Rules for Success.”
“[Ivanka] talks a good game, but there’s no substance,” Mirren tells Allure. “Her book is so ignorant about how the majority of women live, talking about ‘Make time for yourself to have a massage.’Puh-lease.”
Salon reviewed “Women Who Work” and came to a similar conclusion. “She is supposed to be the advocate for workplace issues facing women in an administration that has already proven itself to be friendly to forces hostile to us,” Erin Keane writes. “What Ivanka doesn’t know could hurt us all — and this book reveals just how extensive her lack of knowledge and context truly is.”
Mirren has long used her platform to champion women’s issues, address ageism in Hollywood and voice her political views. Unfortunately for the Trump family, it doesn’t look like this 72-year-old is slowing down anytime soon.
Veronica hadn’t attended a protest or rally since Donald Trump was elected president. That changed on August 14, after the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville the previous weekend, and when Trump returned to his home in New York City after nearly seven months away.
She arrived at a march organized by Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and an anti-Trump group called Rise and Resist carrying a sign with “No Hate, No War,” written in block letters, standing as straight and proud as the stone lions on the steps of the New York Public Library where the protest began. “After what happened in Charlottesville, I couldn’t just watch it on TV,” Veronica explained. “I had to show up.”
(Photo by Ilana Novick)
Alexis, 25, was curious about the other attendees, wondering, “Who was going to come out, the faces I’d see. It’s interesting.” Considering what she's observed in her previous experience at other protests, she elaborated, “I didn’t expect to see so many black people.” She’d been attending anti-police brutality and anti-Trump events for the past two years, but found that a lot more white people were showing up to the latter. “To see other ethnic groups now showing their support for black people’s lives was surprising. Before, when black people were being killed, it was only black people I’d see at these rallies.”
Other attendees came simply for the emotional support. “I needed it for my soul,” said Colleen, 68. “I was here on January 21st when 400,000 of us showed up. We were in a period of deep mourning, and I think Charlottesville brought it all back home. I’m 68 years old; I’ve protested several wars. This is like Vietnam all over again.”
(Photo by Ilana Novick)
Veronica, Alexis and Colleen were just three of the thousands of attendees of multiple marches converging on Trump Tower and Trump Organization-owned buildings to the west, near Central Park. They shut down 5th Avenue from 53rd to 59th Streets, and slowed traffic a block west. Marchers chanted "Black Lives Matter," "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA," as they walked, with a chorus of car horns and cheers from people leaving their office buildings in the business-heavy district of midtown Manhattan. At a corner near Radio City Music Hall, a man set up a drum kit, a one-person band of protest music.
(Photo by Ilana Novick)
Trump arrived by helicopter around 9pm, according to the New York Times, but protesters had surrounded his home for hours beforehand. As they dispersed, one man shouted, "We'll be back."
Many of them were back Tuesday afternoon for the New York edition of a national push to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows qualifying immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to avoid deportation. A coalition of organizations including United We Dream and Indivisible, are holding rallies around the country Tuesday to demand that Congress protect and extend the program. It remains under attack from 10 state attorneys general who sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding he end the program or face a lawsuit. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill renewing the DREAM Act, which created the program, but it has yet to be taken up by the Senate. Over 8,000 Americans are in danger of deportation if Sessions agrees to their demands.
On the fifth anniversary of the program's creation, organizers and DACA recipients spoke out in front of the White House Tuesday afternoon. In New York, they'll be back near Trump Tower Tuesday evening. Those interested can visit DefendDACA.com to find a local event.
For those who can't attend a rally, advocates are encouraging DACA supporters to call their senators and ask that they co-sponsor the Durbin-Graham DREAM Act (S. 1615). They can also call their House reps and ask them to co-sponsor Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s American Hope Act (H.R. 3591) to, as Indivisible explains, "give those with DACA and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship."
Why is it that the president and the vast majority of Republican elected officials are refusing to refer to the white Christian neo-nazis who committed mayhem and murder and, yes, terrorism, as exactly what they are? Why the false equivalence suggesting that antifascists and peace protesters are the same as Nazis and Klan members?
As Holly Yan of CNN summarizes on their website, ISIS has a long history of using vehicles as weapons for terror attacks. London, Stockholm, Nice, Berlin, Jerusalem, and, in North America, St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec and Columbus, Ohio.
All these terrorists intentionally used cars or trucks to kill people and inflict maximum terror. All were condemned by Republicans and “conservative” media as “radical Islamic terrorism,” and any number of Republicans, including Trump, milked them for all they were worth.
Yet on August 12, members of the oldest terrorist organization in the United States—the Klan—along with devotees of one of Europe’s most terrible terrorist cults—Nazis—showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia, to reprise the Nazi and Klan traditions of torchlight nighttime parades specifically to create terror. And when asked about it, Trump waffled.
He’ll threaten North Korea with nukes, but won’t even name the terrorists who showed up in Virginia.
And it’s very, very hard to find an elected Republican (who isn’t a presidential wannabe) who will call this what it is: White Christian Racial Terrorism.
The answer is really simple: If you can’t win on issues, you go for what used to be called “wedge issues.”
The Republican Party has basically one goal and one reason for existence right now: to protect and promote the interests of the rich and powerful, be they billionaires or the big corporations that spawn them.
But no Republican will run a TV ad saying, “If elected, I promise to destroy the social safety net and give the money to the billionaires; I promise to increase the levels of pollution and cancer-causing chemicals in our food, air, and water; I promise to block renewable energy and increase your utility bills; I promise to cut the taxes of the fat-cats and record-profitable corporations, while throwing you a bone of a few hundred bucks.”
So what do they do? They create a “coalition.” They do, after all, need voters to put them into power (although it’s getting so tough for them that they have to rely on massive voter suppression among woke communities, and rigged voting machines and tabulators like were used against Governor Don Siegelman).
There are a number of American constituencies that really don’t care how big a tax cuts the billionaires get, whether health care and education are savaged, or how badly our environment is poisoned, because they consider their own issues to be so Far More Important.
These include the antiabortion/misogynists, the white supremacists, the anti-Semites, small-penis gun-nuts, and a very large group of white formerly middle-class people whose livelihoods have been wiped out by Reaganism and the so-called “free trade” policies that have been pushed by Republicans since Nixon.
Republicans need every vote. Even with Nixon committing treason in 1968 to win that election, he knew he still needed the votes of racist whites in the south—thus his new “GOP Southern Strategy” (building on the old “state’s rights” strategy in which, since Reconstruction, white politicians argued that the federal government had no business stopping southern states from literacy tests to vote to criminalizing sitting in a restaurant while black).
Reagan put it on steroids in 1980, when, as his first speech after getting the GOP nomination, he made the same pilgrimage Donald Trump Jr. more recently did to the Nebosha County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.
(Reagan infamously said, there: “I believe in state’s rights; … we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.”)
While this sort of racial dog-whistle politics is not new, at least prior to the election of Trump, in previous generations white supremacists wore hoods over their heads and didn’t much go out in public with their hate.
As Lee Atwater, one of Reagan’s main strategists and the father of the “Willie Horton” ads against Michael Dukakis in 1988, told a group of Republican activists in 1980, there was a new way to serve the rich while dog whistling to the rubes—just use “abstract” language:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can't say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing,’ ‘states' rights’ and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now you're talking about ‘cutting taxes,’ and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the [Republican] racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the ‘busing’ thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”
This is how Republicans talked for decades when nobody outside the party was listening. “Cutting federal spending” was a wink-and-a-nod for “no more benefits to people of color”—and still is today.
And the white racists who voted for Republicans post-1968 largely only showed their power at election time, and even then they didn’t wear their robes or carry Nazi or Klan symbols to the polls.
But with the election of Trump (whose father was arrested at a 1927 Klan rally), all that changed. After he claimed that “all sides” were engaged in hatred, bigotry, and violence on Saturday, Nazis and Klan members openly celebrated.
We should have seen this coming: a year and a half ago, on CNN, Trump refused to rebuke David Duke and the Klan.
All to get elected. So he could cut the taxes of rich people and let big polluting business and banks have their deregulation. So he could cut his own taxes, for that matter.
You see, when you’re running a scam and need a lot of rubes to win elections, you don’t ever, ever, ever diss your rubes. This is why the GOP won’t talk (other than a few who aspire to higher office) about white supremacy.
The vast majority of the billionaires behind the Republican Party don’t give a rat’s ass about civil rights or the Klan, one way or the other.
They don’t care if working-class women can or can’t get abortions/birth-control, or if Bubba can buy a gun even if he’s certifiably insane (yes, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Trump did that).
They don’t care if the air and water are poisoned: they have super-fancy air filters for their mansions and yachts, and their own water supplies.
They could care less if Muslims are immigrating into the U.S.
And they certainly don’t give a damn about a dead Confederate general.
But they do care if they have to pay the workers who make them rich a higher minimum wage. They do care if they’re taxed to pay for the health care, education, or housing of poor and working people.
And they hugely care if they’re to be held accountable for the way they’re poisoning our world and paying people to lie to us about it.
So, with the support of a corrupt Supreme Court, they bought the Republican Party. And then got them all to sing the same tunes on the really important (to them) issues: climate change, deregulation/pollution, stealing federal lands, and cutting the top corporate and personal tax rates.
That the GOP would put America through all this racial and civil strife just to protect the interests of the few hundred billionaires and multi-millionaires who own them is mind-boggling.
That the Supreme Court would legalize it is obscene.
And that Trump would play racial politics in America in such a divisive and blatant way from the platform of the presidency proves he’s unfit for office.
What kind of a joke is Donald Trump playing on America? Six months into his presidency, some believe there may not be a master scheme, conspiracy, or trick of puppeteering at all. Could he be inadvertently engaged in...mind control?
Hear me out. Others have pointed out Trump's habit of "gaslighting" the American public—i.e., offering alternative truths that make us question our sanity. Then there's his pattern of using distraction tactics to make us look the other way while truly devastating policies are still at play (e.g., Trump tweeted out the transgender military ban in the midst of secretive Republican dealings to destroy Americans’ health care). But some psychologists see an even more powerful effect.
Eric Greenleaf, director of the Milton H. Erickson Institute of the Bay Area, is an expert in hypnosis as a science of psychotherapy. He believes Trump is inadvertently hypnotizing Americans, including the powerful (and supposedly independent-thinking) members of his Cabinet. And in one way or another, we’re all under his trance—not just the folks who voted him in.
What Is Hypnosis and How Is Trump Doing It?
According to Greenleaf, hypnosis is a “naturally occurring human experience”—not just a stage act, as most people think of it. There are five “flavors” of hypnotic trance:
This last one is the version Trump may be using on us, believes Greenleaf.
“In Trumpland,” Greenleaf says, “he says A; then he says, I never said A; then he says, I alone can solve this problem of A."
It’s essentially distractionary tactics, amped up tenfold. Hypnotists shape our attention and where it falls.
“Perhaps the best parallel is the Wizard of Oz, who tells Dorothy, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, look at the fire and listen to the Great and Powerful Oz instead."
Or, there’s the analogy to the persuasive sales tactics behind QVC.
Greenleaf says, “To understand the powerful effects of this approach to political speech, consider a natural example of confusion induction: The late-night TV shopping channels pepper the viewer with a confusing and contradictory set of statements, numbers and possibilities. ‘This sweater is one-of-a-kind, available only here for the first 15 callers.’ Then a message crawls across the screen: If you call before midnight, you can get two for the price of one, in so many easy payments… And, in a somewhat stunned state of trance, millions of people do call.”
To be clear, Greenleaf does not think Trump is hypnotizing anyone intentionally. “He’s stumbled into the technique that works. He’s done it his whole life, it’s just the way he speaks. It’s the kind of hypnosis that stage hypnotists use to stun and dissociate people.”
Rather, like most demagogues, Trump is unintentionally controlling people out of fear. Trump’s staff members are in a sort of abusive relationship with Trump, which has put them in a state of trance based on fear. Scaramucci’s demands to Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker—“who leaked that? I’ll fire them!”—are a great example: he’s like an abused dog who has been beaten by his master and is biting to take down his enemies, fueled by some muddled combination of fear and devotion.
Trump, in turn, feeds these high emotions by alternating between declarations of love for his staff and vicious name-calling on Twitter, further setting those around him into shock.
Clear Evidence That Trump Hypnotizes His Staff
It makes sense that those most dramatically affected are those who spend each day in Trump’s direct orbit. Their relationships with him are often intense and volatile.
Kellyanne Conway told Joe Scarborough she needed a shower after glorifying Trump on air, but then insisted she respects and admires the president.
“It is commonplace in our understanding of strong emotion that, at a high pitch, an emotion can shift to its opposite. We know that tears and laughter can at high intensity switch to each other. A lesser-known pair of emotions is disgust and love. At high intensity one may become the other,” Greenleaf says.
This certainly explains the explosive relationships Trump has cultivated with his closest advisers. He often humiliates people he claims are on his team, yet they still come back and praise him. After he humiliated Jeff Sessions, the attorney general praised Trump, shrugging off his bullying as a form of tough love.
“They’re in a kind of spell. They’re humiliated, but say they love him anyway,” Greenleaf says.
Scaramucci called Trump a bully and a hack on Fox in 2015, followed by enough instances of “I love the man, I love him” to qualify him for a mashup.
“Scaramucci had to move from public disgust to public love,” Greenleaf says. In cases of hypnotic trance, disgust and love are often two sides of the same coin.
After meeting with his full Cabinet for the first time, Trump nudged the Cabinet members to offer him praise, taking turns around the table. These are supposed to be independent heads of their respective departments positioned close to the president in order to advise him. Reince Priebus must have forgotten that when it was his turn, gushing to Trump, “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda."
“You may have noted the look of those that surround the president as he speaks and of his spokespeople as they speak,” Greenleaf says. “Their facial expression can remind one alternately of hypnotic subjects in an awake trance, or of Stepford wives. Their confusion and contradictory emotions are replaced by stunned acceptance and approval.”
OK, We’re Being Hypnotized. So What?
It’s not just his staff. Even those of us who only interact with Trump through the television screen are affected. In the Republican debates, after Megyn Kelly called him out for misogyny and name-calling against women, Trump joked his remarks were aimed at “only Rosie O’Donnell,” and the audience laughed and cheered. Political beliefs aside, they were momentarily stunned by his comedic timing, as were many of us at home, too.
Sixty-three million people fell under his spell enough to vote for him (though polls indicate many are waking up from their Trump trance). It’s well-documented that arson, racist graffiti, assault, and other hate crimes are significantly on the rise nationwide since he won the 2016 election, and Trump has no interest in taking responsibility. Bizarre, since in his recent speech to the police force, he told police to “rough up” suspects of color, indicating he’s moving from subliminal encouragement of violence to outright endorsement.
The clearest example of Trump’s inadvertent hypnosis over the American people can be seen in his constant lying. Joseph Goebbels famously said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This was the reigning principle behind Hitler’s style of speech, which combined with his talents as an orator, allowed him to captivate crowds of thousands and bend them to his will.
Trump may have learned this lying tactic from studying Hitler's Mein Kampf. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the New York Times, "From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls—one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts—that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.”
Are you scared yet? Wondering if you’ve unknowingly fallen under Trump’s spell? Good. Be on guard. Don’t fall for the lies and the distractions, or ignore the power players (here’s looking at you, Mitch McConnell) who are really behind the curtain, doing the most possible damage. Don’t fawn over Trump’s latest tweet. If we’re aware, active, outspoken citizens, perhaps the truth will set us free.