It took a vast and viral showing of public outrage for a Michigan court to keep a man accused of shooting his 6-year-old neighbor over a bike in his lawn in jail. Ryan Le-Nguyen was initially allowed to post a $10,000 bail after being accused of shooting the child playing on the sidewalk in front of Le-Nguyen’s home through his window last Sunday in the Detroit suburb of Ypsilanti Township, county officials explained in social media posts. Eli Savit, the prosecuting attorney, said on Wednesday in his Facebook post, “we have charged that case with the highest possible available charges–assault with intent to murder.”

“We share in the community’s pain and anger from a child being shot,” Savit added. “And we know that, for many, the pain and anger is compounded by the fact that the defendant was able to make his bond as set by the court.” 

The attorney continued:

“To be clear: our office recommended significantly more restrictive bond conditions, and we disagree with the bond decision that was handed down by the court. That is why, on Tuesday afternoon, we filed an emergency motion to cancel the defendant’s bond, and for his bond to be reconsidered.

We are committed to fighting for safety and for justice in our community, and we will continue to do so in this case–and in all our cases. Please take a moment to watch this video explaining our position and how we intend to move forward.”

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The shooting followed an earlier altercation between the child, another 14-year-old child, and a 9-year-old, a public information officer with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office told USA TODAY. Although the sheriff’s office hasn’t confirmed what specifically led Le-Nguyen to shoot at a child, Arnold Daniel, the injured boy’s father, told Fox 2 Detroit he suspects it was regarding a bike his boy left in Le-Nguyen’s yard and tried to retrieve.

“He tried hitting me with a sledgehammer, but that’s not going to work because I’m too fast,” the child told Fox 2 Detroit. He said the man identified as Le-Nguyen got a gun and shot him at that point. The sound of a gun firing can be heard on Ring surveillance video of the incident followed by footage of children running and the injured child yelling: “He shot me.”

The bullet pierced one of his arms before going out the other side, Fox 2 Detroit reported. When deputies called to the shooting arrived, the child was transported to a local hospital, treated and released.

Daniel told the Detroit Fox affiliate he spent hours on the phone trying to get county officials to explain what happened. Le-Nguyen was initially charged with two firearms charges, assault with intent to commit bodily harm, and assault with intent to commit murder, which carries a lesser sentence than attempted murder in Michigan, USA Today reported. Le-Nguyen was arraigned last Monday and later released. “And I’m trying to figure out how he got a bond that was so low for trying to kill my kid,” Daniel told Fox 2 Detroit on Tuesday. He added that his son at the time wasn’t really processing what happened. “He don’t realize how close he came to not being here, but I realize it,” the father said.

Warning: This video depicts the shooting of a child and may be triggering for some viewers.

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Facing what it described as “numerous questions” regarding how the shooter could be allowed bond, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office placed blame squarely with prosecutors on Friday. “In Michigan, the setting of bond is a prosecutorial process and a judicial decision. Police agencies do not have authority to set bond,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post. “In this particular case, staff of the Washtenaw County Sheriffs Office investigated, apprehended the suspect, and swore before a magistrate to the facts of the case. Our staff arrested the suspect and took him off the streets because we believed he was responsible for the crimes committed and he was a threat to community.”

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The sheriff’s office added in the post:

“It is then the prosecutor who advocates on behalf of the people, defense to advocate for their client, and the magistrate to make the decision on bond. As of yesterday, the prosecutor filed a motion to modify bond, the judge approved the modification, and WCSO staff took the suspect back into custody.”

Joe Simon, Le-Nguyen’s attorney, argued before Magistrate Elisha Fink, that the charges, while serious, don’t make sense because his client allegedly fired recklessly without aiming at any one person in response to noises he heard on his property, according to M Live. Simon alleged the injured child was a stranger to Le-Nguyen. “In terms of assessing my client’s danger of lethality, he doesn’t have any particular person with whom there’s an outstanding grudge or anything like that, so I’m asking the court to set as reasonable bond as possible,” Simon said in court.

Fink said bond was necessary to underscore the seriousness of the incident, which she said Le-Nguyen made the extremely bad choice of using a firearm in, M Live reported. Fink said Le-Nguyen was no flight risk but posed some possible danger to the community “not because you meant to have anything go wrong, but because you chose to behave in a way that was, in fact, dangerous.”

Here is video of Magistrate Elisha V. Fink giving attempted murder suspect Ryan Le-Nguyen a low bond so he could remain free after he threatened and shot a 6 year old Black child. These people are on code with each other. pic.twitter.com/Fw4giCrcje— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) June 9, 2021

Savit admitted, in response to criticism that his office didn’t appropriately explain the justification for the $100,000 bond he pushed for, that more could have been done. “But we made the requests that we did and I think that the gravity of the charges that we saw fit to file reflected why we were seeking that bond,” the prosecutor said on Friday.

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The Anti-Defamation League has released its most complete set of data yet on antisemitic incidents from last month, and the numbers are not good. There were 251 incidents over the final three weeks in May, beginning with the outbreak of violence in the Middle East on May 11. This represents more than double the 117 incidents that occurred over the same period a year earlier—a jump of 115%. There were 305 incidents for the whole of May. Most disturbingly, there were 11 assaults from May 11 through the end of the month—seven of which had a clear connection to the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians—compared to zero during those weeks in 2020.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive officer, stated the following in an ABC News interview: “Clearly this was triggered by the fighting in the Middle East. Frustration about what was happening in the fighting, a degree of anger … then manifested into frustration and anger being directed at Jewish people here.”

Even when considering instances where there was no indication of a connection to Israel or Zionism, there was still a jump of 15% compared to the total number of incidents during the same three-week period in 2020, the ADL found. In other words, the spike may not have been completely driven by people reacting to events in the Middle East.

It’s important to note that when Trump emerged as the Republican nominee in 2016, the number of antisemitic incidents shot up, ending a fourteen-year period of decline that had begun in 2001 (the top of the right-hand column of the graphic should read “2001-2015,” not “2001-2005”). The numbers climbed each year through 2019, and have remained at those high levels since.

Earlier this week, I posted an in-depth piece on this spike in antisemitic hate crimes, and on broader related matters, including antisemitic rhetoric coming from Republican elected officials and others on the right. The ADL report included incidents I hadn’t mentioned in that previous piece:

On May 22 in Manhattan, a Jewish man wearing a Star of David necklace was punched by a man who allegedly asked him, “What is that around your neck, does that make you a fucking Zionist?” And on May 24 a Jewish man in Las Vegas was assaulted by a stranger who said that Jews are “baby killers” who “are not going to exist” after they had a conversation about the Israel-Hamas conflict. […]

Most of the 400+ anti-Israel rallies that took place between May 11 and May 31 were not characterized by antisemitism and thus are not included in these figures. However, there were noteworthy cases where antisemitism was expressed at anti-Israel rallies. During a May 15 rally in Washington, D.C., marchers chanted in Arabic, “Oh, Khaybar, Khaybar, oh you Jews, the army of Muhammad shall return.” The chant refers to the siege and subjugation of Jews of the town of Khaybar by the Prophet Muhammad and his army, and is an implicit threat towards Jews today. On May 22 during a rally in Philadelphia, a demonstrator was heard declaring, “Israel controls the media,” a claim which is animated by and reinforces the antisemitic trope that Jews control the media.

In response to all these disturbing instances of antisemitism, 51 Holocaust survivors who serve as volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued the following statement:

We are seeing an alarming confluence of events that we never imagined we would witness in our adopted homeland. We cannot remain silent in the wake of the recent antisemitic attacks in cities and towns across the country. We know firsthand the danger of unchecked antisemitism. This targeted violence is happening as we also watch with great dismay a persistent and increasing tendency in American public life to invoke the Holocaust for the purpose of promoting another agenda.

It is deeply painful for us to see our personal history—the systematic destruction of our families and communities and murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children—exploited in this way. What we survived should be remembered, studied, and learned from, but never misused.

We thank those leaders in government and other sectors of American society, including business, academia, religious, and civic, who have forcefully rejected antisemitism and the misuse of the Holocaust in our national discourse. We call on all leaders and citizens to do the same.

In addition to the positive statements leaders across the political spectrum—including progressives—have made recently denouncing antisemitic hate crimes, and the positive steps taken by the Biden White House, it also matters greatly that Jewish Americans see attention being paid to these incidents in progressive social media and on sites like this one. That visibility is vitally important to demonstrating that we feel supported by our progressive allies.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

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When I saw the news that Black poet laureate Nikki Giovanni celebrated her 78th birthday on June 7, it got me thinking about the intersections of Black music and poetry. When we listen to and talk about Black music, oftentimes we forget to include poetry that has become song—which nowadays is referred to as “spoken word”—and its history in a variety of genres that preceded what has become today’s hip-hop and rap.  

So for this week’s #BlackMusicSunday offering, join me in exploring the music of poetry and the spoken word as it is expressed by Black artists and poets through multiple generations.

Let me first offer belated but heartfelt birthday wishes to Ms. Giovanni.

#LGBTQ History 6. b. June 7, 1943, Nikki Giovanni, Knoxville, TN, award-winning poet, social activist, educator, writer for adults and children, author “Black Feeling Black Talk” (1968). https://t.co/2QqTL7jow5— Jeff (@GreenmanOhio) June 7, 2021

For those of you who may not know about her or her work, here’s a short biography from The History Makers:

Award-winning poet, author, and civil rights activist, Nikki Giovanni, was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr,. on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A poet and spoken word artist, Giovanni entered Fisk University in 1960, where she edited the school’s literary magazine and became involved in both the Writer’s Workshop and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; she received her B.A. degree in 1967. Giovanni became active in the Black Arts Movement, organizing the Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati; during this period of her life, she developed strong and enduring friendships with fellow writers James Baldwin and Sonia Sanchez. Radicalized by the assassination of Malcolm X and the rise of the Black Panthers, Giovanni’s poetry in the 1960s and 1970s became the voice of many African Americans. 

I still remember hearing her “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why),” for the first time (of many) on Black radio in New York. She inspired me, and a whole lotta young sisters, to write poetry that celebrated us.

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I’ve only posted the beginning of the poem, written in 1972, because it’s what I remember most from back in the day, boppin’ down the street with my boombox and snapping my fingers to her beat. Be sure to check out the whole thing:

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
   the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
   that only glows every one hundred years falls
   into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
   drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
   to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
   the tears from my birth pains
   created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

Before “Ego Tripping,” Giovanni also expressed militant Blackness with an open critique of racism, spoken as an ironic gospel prayer to peace.

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“The Great Pax Whitie” (excerpt) (1968):

In the beginning was the word

And the word was

Death

And the word was nigger

And the word was death to all niggers  

And the word was death to all life  

And the word was death to all

   peace be still

The genesis was life  

The genesis was death  

In the genesis of death  

Was the genesis of war

   be still peace be still

In the name of peace  

They waged the wars  

   ain’t they got no shame

In the name of peace

Lot’s wife is now a product of the Morton company  

   nah, they ain’t got no shame

Noah packing his wife and kiddies up for a holiday  

row row row your boat

But why’d you leave the unicorns, noah

Huh? why’d you leave them

While our Black Madonna stood there

Eighteen feet high holding Him in her arms  

Listening to the rumblings of peace

    be still be still

Giovanni melded her poetry with both jazz and gospel on the1975 release of “The Way I  Feel.”

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She opens with a funky love poem from 1975 “The Way I Feel,”  which also serves as the album title:

i’ve noticed i’m happier
when i make love
with you
and have enough left
over to smile at my doorman

i’ve realized i’m fulfilled
like a big fat cow
who was just picked
for a carnation contentment
when you kiss your special place
right behind my knee

i’m as glad as mortar
on a brick that knows
another brick is coming
when you walk through
my door

most time when you’re around
i feel like a note
roberta flack is going to sing

Giovanni was not the first poet whose work would feature in Black music circles. In 1959, jazz theorist and composer George Russell, released the album New York, NY. It not only featured poetry by vocalese master Jon Hendricks, but a stellar cast of musicians including Bill Evans, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Milt Hinton, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer … and more.

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In 1968, the great baritone jazz balladeer Arthur Prysock recorded This Is my Beloved, featuring the poetry of Austrian-American Walter Benton, which had become a best-seller when it was published in 1943.

My friends and I wore out several of the original LPs: The combination of Benton’s sensual words and Prysock’s deep sexy tone, combined with a mellow jazz accompaniment, made for a perfect evening with a glass of wine with the object of your affection sitting next to you. 

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The soft sensual pull of Prysock was no match for the fired-up agony of a world where young Black and Latino folks were joining movements of resistance to the prevailing white supremacist culture in these U.S. of A. Harlem was central to the development of the Black Arts Movement, and several young male poets, and drummers came together to create a group who would become known as “The Last Poets.”

Last year, Ron Magliozzi wrote about the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) restoration of Herbert Danska’s documentary film on the Last Poets, Right On!

Billed as “a conspiracy of ritual, street theater, soul music, and cinema,” Right On! is a pioneering performance film, a compelling record of radical Black sentiment in 1960s America, and a precursor of the hip-hop revolution in musical culture. It features the original Last Poets—Gylan Kain, David Nelson, and Felipe Luciano—performing 28 numbers adapted from their legendary appearance at New York’s Paperback Theater in 1969, shot guerilla-style on the streets and rooftops of lower Manhattan. Opening months after the better-known music documentary Woodstock and almost simultaneously with Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Right On! was described by its producer as “the first ‘totally black film,’” making “no concession in language and symbolism to white audiences.”

MoMA has made the entire film available on YouTube. 

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I was close to both Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano; Felipe would go on to become a founding member of the New York Young Lords, (of which I was also a part), and chairman of its Central Committee.

Kain and I both lived on 6th Street in the East Village a few years later. Before he left the United States for Amsterdam, he left a legacy of powerful poetry behind him; his album The Blue Guerilla remains an underground classic. Accompanied by Gregory ‘Saint’ Strickland playing the blues, Kain is a Black prophetic phenomenon. Still not convinced? Tom Jureks’s review for All Music should tempt you to listen.

This solo album by Gylan Kain, one of the original Last Poets — before the group recorded for Douglas Records — is a study in angry poetics, performance art, and killer presentation. Recorded and issued in the early ’70s, The Blue Guerrilla is a freestyle set before such a thing was even a dream. Kain’s one pissed-off cat, raging not only against the usual necessary concerns, but also against the stereotypes in his own community. Free jazz-funk grooves on guitars, electric violins, a slew of drums, and ghostly keyboards accompany his gorgeous and disturbing ranting that is far from pointless. From the opening ritual scarification of “I Ain’t Black,” with it’s free jazz approach and over-the-top screaming, to the poignant indictment of “Harlem Preacher,” to “Black Satin Amazon” and “Constipated Monkey,” Kain is a hipster without a country, a street poet without an audience, an activist without sympathy. And rather than succumb and stylize his thang to get his message across, he becomes angrier, slyer, slicker, less forgiving, and more insightful. Music is placed here not as accompaniment, but as a framework for Kain to place his poetry in a context of the African-American oral tradition and the Living Theatre. And he gives no quarter.

Here’s the titular-in track, “Look Out for the Blue Guerrilla.”

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One of the most interesting, and humorous discussions of blues and poetry I’ve ever heard was delivered by Gil Scot Heron in Robert Mugge’s film, Black Wax. Heron puts his finger on a streetwise view of “poetry” when it is wrapped in Eurocentric language, and mocks it, saying “this must be deep.”

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Though most people are familiar with Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” I love the lyricism of his tragic “Did You Hear What They Said,” which opens with:

Did you hear what they said,

Did you hear what they said,

Did you hear what they said,

They said another brother’s dead,

They said he’s dead, but he can’t be buried,

They said he’s dead, but he can’t be buried,

Come on, come on, come on, come on…

It’s a lament we hear all too often today.

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It should come as no surprise that these poets and musicians would lay the foundation for the art that we now classify as hip-hop or rap.

Though there are older folks who dismiss those newer musical forms, and prefer to remain steeped completely in the past, I was around for the birth of Bronx deejays and the beginning of hip-hop in 1973. Close to 10 years later, in 1982, “The Message” from Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five was a spoken word special delivery that I still feel in my gut today:

Don’t push me
‘Cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
Ah-huh-huh-huh
It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under

Enjoy!

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With COVID-19, the right-wing insurrection and gun craziness, as well as increasingly open racism and ongoing white supremacy, I too often “feel like going under” … but what saves me daily is the cathartic power of music and poetry.

Join me in the comments below; let’s post and discuss what Black spoken word music and poems are on your playlists.

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Redwoodman, a member since 2006 whose 6412093 username was also his user ID, lived the three pillars of Daily Kos: News, Community, and Action. In his unique voice, Redwoodman told stories celebrating his love of nature, unions, and the fight for environmentally sound projects. His most recommended story told of two undocumented migrant laborers a gardener brought along “to help repair my garden walkways by leveling the paths and laying paving stones.” Knowing they likely were paid low wages due to their immigration status, Redwoodman called a friend who was head of the local cement masons’ union and “connected them with well-paying union jobs as tile setters.”

A founding member of the Backyard Science group, many of his 453 stories were whimsical Daily Buckets featuring the Frog Court and his backyard Frog Mitigation Area, consisting of three ponds and a vortex. There, Redwoodman, the self-proclaimed Senior Investigator for Frog Court, immersed himself in the lives of frogs and dragonflies, alert to the quiet arrival of Billy, the belly-flopping Great Blue Heron.

When Frog Court Judge Jeremiah Bullfrog asked to use this space for beloved Community member Redwoodman’s memorial, he forgot that Frog Court meets in that special backyard where the energy vortex, “a magical location where the veneer between several realities is wearing a little thin,” makes possible easy relationships among vertebrates and inverts. Since we cannot hear their eulogies without the “electromagnetic translators” Redwoodman created to interpret the creatures’ grunts and chirps, only we humans are able to share our tributes.

Billy Heron inspecting Lily Pool in Redwoodman’s backyard“Redwoodman exemplified what it means to do science in your backyard: watching and wondering about nature in his daily life, sharing what he learned,” observes OceanDiver. “He had an uncanny talent for entering the spirit of the creatures he knew. He was humble as a chorus frog, fierce as a heron, gentle as a pond lily, playful as Doug the squirrel. His hilarious long-running saga of Frog Court was a stinging satire of the bureaucratic machinations used by developers finagling the legal right to exploit nature. Redwoodman’s creativity was both literary and practical. He got stuff done by advocating for those who need help, and exposing the exploiters.”

Angmar, who collaborated with Redwoodman when writing stories, remembers him as “one of my first friends here. He was witty, ironic, and well-informed about the environment. A truly talented and original writer, I was lucky to know him. He’s probably the most interesting person I’ve met and he had a heart as big as a retention pond.”

In 2018, Redwoodman wrote about his cancer diagnosis and then told of the treatment that led to a remission a few months later. He claimed the Community’s support and good cheer made him feel better than the cannabis that “helps me coast along amid tides of fears and emotions.” He noted that “dozens of folks confided in their comments that they were experiencing various stages of their own cancers, from those in full remission who had fought it for a decade, to older men like myself with newly-discovered prostate cancer … Most of us shared a cry together. Their support helped me overcome a special kind of loneliness. I’ll always marvel that so many folks, whom I’ve only known through arguments over politics or discussing Cooper’s Hawk identification, would take the time to bare their own emotions in sympathy with my plight.” That remission ended earlier this year, and Redwoodman died at home on May 23.

BrownsBay summed up his reminiscence, ”The gentle kindness of that man simply exuded. Such a nice man as there ever was.  I am so sad, so much so, for his friends and family. Frog Court is now adjourned.”

OceanDiver claims, “I will greatly miss Redwoodman’s presence on Daily Kos. But I can hear him now in the chorus of frogs joyfully calling from the wetlands near my home. If you listen, you may hear him too.”

Whether you connected with Redwoodman as a fellow union supporter, environmental activist, nature lover, cancer patient, or speaker to frogs, please share your memories in a comment.

Redwoodman holds a chorus frogs who hatched in a magical backyard pool.

Four Rescued Stories from 1 PM PDT Friday, June 4 to 1 PM PDT Friday, June 11, 2021

Community Spotlight’s Rescue Rangers rescued at least 75 of Redwoodman’s stories. We always looked forward to seeing one publish on our shifts, although often his stories didn’t need our help to attract readers.

We look for well-done work offering an original point of view that isn’t getting the attention it deserves. At least one Ranger reads every story published by Community writers. When we discover awesome work that deserves more recognition, we rescue it to our group blog and publish a weekly collection—like this one—each Saturday at 7:30 p.m Pacific time. Rescue priorities and actions were explained in a previous edition: Community Spotlight: Rescuing your excellent stories for over 14 years. 

In Democrats need more accountability, GShaw suggests eight accountability reforms that can help ensure the Democratic Party doesn’t become “an official opposition party … that is allowed to win some seats but faces a situation so gerrymandered and rigged against them that this represents only a token show of democracy.” GShaw joined in 2014 and has written 83 stories. This is their first rescue.

The Barnum Effect and the GOP: A peek inside the freak show examines “the delusions Americans have of ourselves regarding race, money and power” through the lens of P. T. Barnum. Vjr7121 claims that America is hostage to “the systemic racism that permeates our founding premise,” with the GOP ignoring what many of the most-quoted sections of the Constitution really mean. “The Barnum Effect” provides a license to ignore what’s inconvenient and results in today’s carnival barker-esque approach to politics. A member since 2017, Vjr7121 has written 180 stories, with 25 rescued.

In We won’t dump the electoral college, and I don’t even think we should. Do this instead, Textus describes two election reforms to “protect us from the instability our system now demonstrates … What we need is a system that reduces areas of contention and increases the rights of the people … It needs to create an electoral college that better reflects the proportionality of the vote, reducing—even eliminating—cases in which the popular-vote loser wins the electoral vote.” Textus joined in 2004 and has written 119 stories. This may be their first rescue.

Talk to me when is both a poem and a warning. BellaEssex laments current attempts to stifle dissent, deny the consequences of climate change, and erase democracy.

“Talk to me when the sky has darkened the sun

When rivers run dry and when there are none

Who can roll back the time when flowers remain,

And everywhere looks like a deserted plain”

This is the first rescue for BellaEssex, who joined in 2020 and has written three stories.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT is dedicated to finding great writing by community members that isn’t getting the visibility it deserves.

To add our rescued stories to your Stream, click on the word FOLLOW in the left panel at our main page or click on Reblogs and read them directly on the group page.
You can also find a list of our rescued stories by clicking HERE.
An edition of our rescue roundup publishes every Saturday at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT) to the Recent Community Stories section and to the front page at 9:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. PT).

** Yesterday, siab also wrote a memorial story that includes more text from Redwoodman’s stories that tell of his life—RedwoodMan (6412093) has left us (update on a fuller memorial tomorrow/Saturday)—and people left memorial comments.

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It’s sick. So, so sick. But that’s what Republicans are all about these days: inspecting children’s genitals. It’s pretty much all they talk about—when they’re not talking about Mr. Potato Head and his starchy, androgynous genitalia. 

They’re so into it, in fact, they’ve passed bills that would allow them to scrutinize any child who wants to participate in girls’ sports but doesn’t strictly adhere to what a Republican thinks a girl should look like. And the only way to make sure said child is actually flouting the genitalia gendarmes is to line them up for inspection, tout de suite. 

This is true. This is what Republicans are doing in order to advance their girls’ sports purity campaigns. (As we all know, Republicans are huge advocates of girls’ and women’s sports.) Clearly, cis boys across the country are lining up left and right for a chance to pass themselves off as girls, as it’s a great way to compete at a high level or find an affordable apartment where they can live their lives in incognito bliss with Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks. 

The Hill:

Under a new ban on transgender students in sports passed by Florida’s House of Representatives, schools would have the power to subject students to “physical examination” if their gender is disputed.

The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” bans transgender female athletes from competing on women’s athletic teams in both high school and college sports, although transgender male athletes may still compete on either team. In cases where a student’s “biological sex” is disputed, the law authorizes schools to require health examinations or documentation from the student’s personal health care provider.

So that’s what Florida Republicans were doing in April instead of controlling the pandemic, boosting the economy, or shoving dangerous insurrectionist Donald Trump out to sea on a dead manatee with nothing but a knife, a fork, a bottle of A-1 steak sauce, and a quart of freshly squeezed aardvark milk (you know, to give him a fighting chance). Oh, and of course, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this blazing pile of poo into law—on the first day of Pride Month, no less.

To be fair, they took the genital-inspecting provision out before DeSantis signed it. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t still thinking about it. After all, Idaho Republicans passed their anti-trans law this spring with a genital inspection provision.

The law includes a provision that allows for anyone to file a claim questioning the sex of an athlete. The adjudication process could lead to sex testing that would allow for genital exams, genetic testing and hormone testing.

So why aren’t we making more of this?

Journalist Oliver Willis just asked the same question.

this is all true, and a narrative progressives should be endlessly repeating – > https://t.co/wNY4FxnpSY— Oliver Willis (@owillis) June 11, 2021

like damn man this isn’t very difficult to communicate— Oliver Willis (@owillis) June 11, 2021

“just recently a top trump campaign official was imprisoned for pedophilia, the former gop speaker was a pedophile and leading republican jim jordan turned a blind eye to abuse. we can only speculate that there is a connection to the genital obsession” https://t.co/RGb6F8O7g2— Oliver Willis (@owillis) June 11, 2021

Nontweeters can click here to read the thread. 

Would it be fair to constantly bring up Republicans’ deep-seated obsession with children’s genitals? Sure, why not? I mean, they do appear to be infatuated with this subject, and they’re cynically using vulnerable trans kids as a wedge to alarm people and win votes. Why can’t we fight fire with fire?

Democrats: Respect every child’s right to self-determination.

Republicans: Let me take a peek at your daughter; this will just take a minute … or two.

It’s a pretty stark contrast, don’t you think?

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Just $12.96 for the pack of 4! Or if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.

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This story was originally published at Prism.

Elderly incarcerated people are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19, but despite the deadly pandemic, they are still subject to a parole system more concerned with relitigating cases than acknowledging the growth and change of those inside. However, two bills currently heading to a vote this Thursday, June 10, in the New York State Legislature may radically change the state’s parole process and profoundly shift the lives of incarcerated people aged 55 years and over.

The Elder Parole Act would make anyone 55 years old and over who has served at least 15 years automatically eligible for a parole hearing, regardless of the length of their sentence or the nature of their crime. The current system only allows for an opportunity to petition the Board of Parole after the minimum sentence has been served.

The second bill, The Fair & Timely Parole Act, would alter the standard of parole by centering the commissioners’ decisions on a petitioner’s rehabilitation and their achievements sought during incarceration rather than basing decisions solely on the “seriousness” of the offense for which they were convicted. Perhaps most importantly, the Fair & Timely Parole Act will remove the absolute discretion that the Board of Parole currently enjoys. It will also provide an avenue for those who are wrongfully denied parole to successfully petition the courts for an appeal, potentially saving petitioners years of attempts.

These bills might have helped Jose Saldana, who spent 38 years in a New York state prison before he saw freedom in 2018 after four failed petitions for parole. Saldana, who now serves as executive director of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), had been sentenced to 25 years to life at the age of 27. The Board of Parole, which Saldana described as being governed by a “paradigm of punishment” and “culture of racism,” is largely composed of people with law enforcement backgrounds. Surveys as well as personal stories from those like Saldana show that the board has also typically shaped their determinations based on the original offense for which petitioners were sentenced, often disregarding how they have transformed and reshaped their lives while inside.

“They’re supposed to consider a variation of factors which included rehabilitation and support that I had from family and the community,” Saldana said, “but that one factor that no one could ever change is the one that they were stuck on. The entire interview would consist of me having to answer questions about the crime that I had committed.”

Saldana won his fifth and final petition with the support of Carol Shapiro, a parole board commissioner who had a social service background. Unlike Saldana’s previous petitions, Shapiro was willing to focus on the years of studying and organizing that he had committed to over his almost four decades of incarceration. Shapiro, who was appointed by the governor alongside several other new commissioners after RAPP successfully exposed racial bias within the state’s parole board determinations, shifted the conversation at Saldana’s hearing, which changed his life.

“[She led] close to 35 minutes of discussion about what I’ve been doing for the last 38 years of my life while incarcerated,” said Saldana. “She got past the initial questions as to what I was convicted of and went on to explore my rehabilitative achievements and that made a big difference.”

Shapiro drew criticism for her support for the release of people with high-profile cases such as Herman Bell, who was convicted of killing two police officers in 1971 and was incarcerated for 40 years. After two years Shapiro resigned from the board under the belief that she could have more impact changing the system from the outside.

Saldana’s experience with the New York state parole system is far from an anomaly. Instead it illustrates a common struggle shared by aging incarcerated people, particularly Black people who are only 15% likely to be granted release at their first parole hearing compared to 25% of their white counterparts. Many of these elderly incarcerated people received draconian sentences during the height of mass incarceration in the 1980s and 1990s and continue to languish inside. As a result, while people over the age of 50 are dramatically less likely to pose any threat to public safety, the aging incarcerated population across New York has only grown; it now comprises about one fourth of the state’s entire prison population.

Parole Justice is far from a new concern for advocates like those within RAPP who have lived inside and petitioned for their own freedom. However, the pandemic raised attention around the plight and unique vulnerability of elderly incarcerated people across the country. Unfortunately, no other state has advanced similar legislation, making New York a model for other states to follow. Both the Elderly Parole Act and Fair & Timely Parole Act need 32 co-sponsors and are shy of their goal by just five and six co-sponsors, respectively. Saldana says the outcome of this week will ultimately be a matter of political will.

RAPP, which has been leading advocacy campaigns around these bills, estimates that if they’re passed this week, roughly 400 people, many of whom are close to 70 years old, will be immediately eligible for parole and will have their cases seen by the Parole Board within 90 days. In the long-term, these bills could impact anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 elderly incarcerated people—half of whom, Saldana notes, will likely die inside if the legislation does not pass.

The lives of thousands of older incarcerated people hanging in the balance with this legislation—particularly as COVID-19 still poses an immense threat—are both a sign of the urgency of the issue and a sobering reminder of the lives already lost to a parole system that is at best inefficient and at worst purposefully malicious. RAPP has campaigned for both bills by highlighting the human cost of the current parole system, sharing stories of those who could have enjoyed freedom in their final years had parole boards taken into account who they had become instead of focusing on who they were when convicted.

Among those is Valerie Gaiter, who died of cancer in 2018 at the age of 61 in New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Incarcerated since she was 21 years old, Gaiter was the longest-serving woman in a New York state prison and yet her impact permeated far beyond the walls of Bedford. While inside, Gaiter worked for the Puppies Behind Bars program, training dogs that would go on to become companions for wounded veterans. She also tended a garden that she kept on the prison grounds, and helped younger women manage their aggression.

Saldana notes how Gaiter’s story and the positive effect she had on those around her, even while incarcerated, belies common misconceptions about who incarcerated people actually are and who they have the potential to become.

“Every single woman that I’ve run into since I’ve been released from prison attributes their transformation to Val Gaiter,” Saldana said. “She was iconic, she was a pioneer, and [was] instrumental in helping an entire generation of younger women transform their lives and she was allowed to die in prison. No other culture would allow such an extraordinary woman to die in prison. We must release them and at least let them live out the remainder of their days with family and friends.”

Tamar Sarai Davis is the criminal justice staff reporter at Prism. Follow her on Twitter @bytamarsarai.

Prism is a BIPOC-led non-profit news outlet that centers the people, places, and issues currently underreported by national media. We’re committed to producing the kind of journalism that treats Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other invisibilized groups as the experts on our own lived experiences, our resilience, and our fights for justice. Sign up for our email list to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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I’ll never understand why anyone listens to Donald Trump on any subject. He wanted to nuke hurricanes. He wanted to put alligator-filled moats along the southern border. He thinks windmills cause cancer, asbestos is swell, and exercise is bad for you. He seriously suggested pumping our bodies full of UV light and disinfectant. He thinks we have planes that are literally invisible, for God’s sake! 

Nevertheless, millions of Trump fans have bent their brains into pretzels trying to make his doofus proclamations sound presidential—or even marginally nonsimian (see also: hydroxychloroquine).

We’ve pretty well established that Trump’s brain is, at best, masticated circus peanut and, at worst, Lucifer’s molten boom-booms, and yet when he dry-heaves utter batshit nonsense, plenty of his fans seem all too ready to lick it up like feral purse poodles.

Case in point: Fully 29% of Republicans think Donald Trump is returning before the year is out—possibly riding in on a cloud or a flaming chariot or (more likely) a golf cart with a cupholder and custom-installed deep fryer.

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll asked survey respondents this straightforward question: “How likely do you think it is that former President Donald Trump will be reinstated as U.S. President this year, if at all?” The question was no doubt included in the poll because Trump himself has been telling insiders that he thinks he’ll be back in office by August. (Narrator: He won’t.)

The results? (You still have time to bail if you’ve had your yearly quota of frothing insanity. You’re still here? Okay, gird your loins.)

Among Republicans surveyed, 17% think it’s “very likely” that Trump will return to the White House this year, 12% think it’s “somewhat likely,” and 10% don’t know or have no opinion. Taken together, this shows that two-fifths of Republicans have not yet accepted that Joe Biden won the presidency.

Of course, that wasn’t the only eye-opening result. Asked whether things are going in the right direction in the U.S. or on the wrong track, only 15% of Republicans thought things were going in a positive direction, while 85% said we’re veering off course. Guess 85% of Republicans prefer raging pandemics and collapsing economies to Democratic presidents.

Is this what it’s like to lick hallucinogenic toads for breakfast in lieu of frosted Pop-Tarts? At some point, do you just surrender to the unreality of your environment?

Over at Civiqs, even more Republicans report they’re worried; a stunning 93% of card-carrying GOPers think we’re all gonna die.

Civiqs Results

If you enjoy watching Donald Trump eat the Republican Party from within, like a genetically modified tropical eyeball worm, you’ll be happy to know that the Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 80% of Republicans want to stick around so they can see him play either a major (59%) or a minor role (21%) in the party going forward. If you’d prefer he stay in Florida chucking oyster shells at flamingos from his balcony, you’ll likely be disappointed by the 13% of Republicans who want him to slink away.

There’s also some good news, of course. President Biden’s approval rating is at 53% among all registered voters, with 28% of respondents “strongly” approving of the job he’s doing, 25% “somewhat” approving, 43% disapproving, and the rest offering no opinion.

Meanwhile, 66% of registered voters want Congress to pass an infrastructure bill—so maybe we should get that done, huh? 

There’s still some sanity left in the world, so long as you look in the right place. And that right place is clearly nowhere in the vicinity of the right wing. I invite Republicans to hurry on back to planet Earth. The water’s fine. At least it is for now—unfortunately, only 12% of Republicans consider passing a bill to address climate change a “top priority.”

Go figure.

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Just $12.96 for the pack of 4! Or if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.

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Donald Trump has ruined a lot of lives. Usually that’s a tragedy. But sometimes it careens mighty close to comedy.

Needless to say, those who hitched their wagon to Donald Trump were staring at a billowy, cornucopian rectum for what must have seemed an eternity. And now they’re in a ditch, with a wagon wheel on top of them, but their ox is at Mar-a-Lago trying to figure out how a cloven-hoofed ungulate is supposed to masturbate to Arizona audit footage without opposable thumbs.

Or they’re in jail, because they believed the most prolific liar in American history had an election stolen from him, and would have their six if they just stormed the Capitol to steal it back.

Maybe this dude should just get alleged multibillionaire Donald Trump to send him some Doan’s pills, instead of wailing to the blessed ether about his all-too-preventable fate.

WUSA-TV, Washington, D.C.:

A Kansas Proud Boy charged in the Capitol riot has asked a judge to release him from jail due to chronic back pain – a condition, prosecutors say, which didn’t prevent him from allegedly wielding an axe handle against police outside the Capitol.

William Chrestman, 47, was arrested in February along with four others connected to the Kansas City chapter of the Proud Boys. Photos from the Capitol riot appear to show Chrestman in tactical gear and a respirator and carrying a wooden axe handle. He faces multiple charges, including conspiracy, civil disorder and threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer.

But … but … but … HE’S WHITE! He goes to backyard barbecues, church potlucks, and county fair truck pulls, and he doesn’t bash cops’ heads in at any of those events. 

Not to mention … he has back pain. Back pain, dude! He’s a 47-year-old man with back pain! (Also known as a 47-year-old man.) 

And did I mention he’s white?

Chrestman’s lawyers also maintain that Donald Trump ordered him unto the breach, King Henry-like, so he should get a mulligan.

“It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement,” his attorneys stated in a February filing. “Only someone who thought they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing. And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did.” 

Honestly, “Donald Trump told me to do it” is possibly the worst excuse ever. Maybe Chrestman should have convened a quorum of his brain parasites or checked in with Slenderman before he took that advice to the bank.

For their part, prosecutors weren’t buying Chrestman’s entitled entreaties. 

“Interestingly, the defendant’s back pain did not prevent him from storming the United States Capitol while armed with an axe handle, threatening law enforcement officers, and attempting to prevent Congressional proceedings, among other conduct,” stated Justice Department lawyers in their response.

Chrestman is also going all Simon Peter now that he’s in jail, denying his ocher overlord at least once … if not three times.

The Justice Department also argued against Chrestman’s attorneys’ attempt to paint him as someone peripheral to the alleged Proud Boys conspiracy related to January 6. Chrestman, the DOJ says, took an “active role in leading the co-defendants in his conspiracy and the crowd writ large in the attack on the Capitol.”

Peripheral? You mean the real insurrectionists brought axe handles with axe heads on them? Sure, dude. Enjoy the toilet gin. It goes great with shower-shoe vermouth.

Maybe, one day, white people (and I’m one of them) will understand that being white doesn’t automatically entitle one to legal immunity—even if you are taking your marching orders from your Aryan suzerain. 

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Just $12.96 for the pack of 4! Or if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.

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This story was originally published at Prism.

When Julián Hernández Sagahón fell seriously ill with COVID-19 symptoms in March 2020, he wasn’t allowed to take any sick leave from Mundo Supermarket in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he’d worked 12-hour shifts at least six days a week for 18 years. When the 45-year-old immigrant worker had a few hours off, his younger brother, Sebatián, took him to see a doctor. The doctor told Julián his lungs were inflamed and that he needed to rest, but he had no choice but to go back to his job.

“When the pandemic began, my brother was put in charge of the grocery store because he’d been there for many years, and the owner and manager didn’t want to return to work,” Sebatián Sagahón said. “I told [Julián] many times [that] as long as you’re good to work, as long as your boss needs you, they value you. But if you get sick or the company doesn’t need you anymore, they treat you like trash.”

Three days after his visit to the doctor, Julián collapsed at the cash register. He died at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn the same night.

“After my brother died, nobody cared,” Sagahón said. “I went to see the owner of the supermarket, asking him to help me with the hospital and burial expenses, but he didn’t give me any money. All of those expenses fell on me.”

The wages from Sagahón’s restaurant job weren’t enough, but with the help of friends and community, he was able to pay his brother’s burial costs. But the trauma of the loss stayed with him.

“I didn’t believe my brother was dead,” he said. “I waited for him to come home for months, waited to hear that it was all a lie, that he was still alive. Every night when I heard the door open, I would cry thinking it was him. When people die, their family is supposed to see their body. I never saw my brother again. I was given the clothes he wore to the hospital and his ashes to send back to our pueblo. It’s so painful that I never got to say goodbye to him or see him or pray for him.”

Throughout the pandemic, stories like Sagahón’s have become all too common. While it has been well-documented that immigrant workers have suffered disproportionate illness, death, and catastrophic economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, less noted is how immigrant workers have also been forced to suffer new layers of trauma and mental health conditions triggered by fear of the deadly virus, the loss of loved ones, the inability to grieve, and the stress of financial uncertainty and abusive work environments in the midst of inadequate public health and social services.

Particularly during the first few months of the pandemic, typical mourning rituals were disrupted since it was difficult to even find a funeral home that wasn’t at capacity. Morgues were also overflowing in places like New York City, forcing officials to place people’s dead loved ones in mobile freezers parked outdoors.

“We heard so many stories of people who saw their siblings and their parents for the last time,” said Nilbia Coyote, director of training and education at New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 infection rates and deaths. In the midst of so much tragedy, NICE transitioned from being a community and workers’ center to becoming an emergency response center that also supported immigrants in accessing aid for burial costs and even helped them navigate the process of repatriating their loved ones’ remains to their motherlands.

“[We heard about] members of our community who went into the hospital and never came back, or people who died at home and the ambulance took days to come and get the body—family members that never had the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones,” Coyote said. “We truly didn’t have the psychological tools to understand all of this and to grieve a collective trauma of this magnitude.”

For many, the privilege of processing pain doesn’t exist due to mounting hospital and funeral bills, the bureaucracy found within these systems, and the pressure from employers to quickly return to work—if grieving workers are given any time off to begin with.

In the predominantly immigrant neighborhood in New York City where NICE is based, most residents hold low-income jobs that have been deemed essential before and during the pandemic. Altogether, NICE has registered a total of 200 families who have lost loved ones since last March, Coyote said. As deaths have mounted, so has the need for mental health services for immigrant community members trying to cope with the devastation.

Coyote lost a dear friend to COVID-19 and faced a period of depression as she witnessed up-close how her community of immigrant workers suffered severe inequities during the pandemic—as have other Black, brown, and Native communities.

“I think that’s why I got so involved in supporting our membership of immigrant workers at NICE,” Coyote said. “My friend was in the hospital for two months before he passed away. I’m still waiting for him to appear in my dreams because I want to talk to him.” Several of Coyote’s colleagues at NICE also lost loved ones during the pandemic. “Now imagine someone who lost a child, a sister, a parent—these families couldn’t see them anymore. It’s incredible how families will confide in you because there are no other people asking them these questions and treating them with compassion and respect.”

The mental health crisis among immigrant workers is caused by “a combination of fear, necessity, desperation,” said Sara Feldman, the workers’ rights director at NICE. “We saw so many families having to move every week, every month because they were getting kicked out of their homes—even though there was a moratorium on evictions. It’s really life or death. The thought of, ‘If I’m on the streets, I’m gonna get sick. If I go to work, I’m gonna get sick.’ In addition, they’re dealing with the trauma of possibly having lost family members or friends, and the trauma of feeling forced to work instead of having the option of staying home and protecting themselves.”

On any given day, as Coyote and her colleagues at NICE connected community members with mental health and other resources, they also searched for that relief themselves. While there are some options for immigrant community members, help is still scarce, especially when it comes to culturally sensitive resources for undocumented people who don’t speak English, Coyote said. To help fill the gap, NICE has also organized remote activities that center community organizing and support groups.

Sagahón is intimately familiar with the mental health pressures facing many immigrant workers during the pandemic: He navigated financial instability due to unemployment and lack of aid, compounding his depression in the wake of his brother’s death. But he’s started to work toward recovery, with financial and legal assistance from NICE and a focus on managing his depression.

“I started looking for a psychologist online,” he said. “There was this therapist that I saw on Facebook who said that the best medicine for you and your mind was to finally accept that your loved one has died. You are hurting yourself every day thinking he’ll come home. As time went on, I accepted that my brother was gone. I had to pick myself up because I have to take care of my mom, my dad, and my family. I’m also really happy because my wife is pregnant. This is why I’m fighting.”

María Inés Taracena is a contributing writer covering workers’ rights at Prism. Originally from Guatemala, she’s currently a news producer at Democracy Now! in New York City focusing on Central America and asylum seekers, among other stories. Follow her on Twitter @m_ines_taracena.

Prism is a BIPOC-led non-profit news outlet that centers the people, places, and issues currently underreported by national media. We’re committed to producing the kind of journalism that treats Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other invisibilized groups as the experts on our own lived experiences, our resilience, and our fights for justice. Sign up for our email list to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Over the past year and a half, we’ve learned an awful lot from Republicans about “freedom.” We learned, for instance, that refusing to wear a mask in public places to protect others from a deadly virus was a symbol of such “freedom.” We learned that carrying automatic weapons into state capitals to intimidate lawmakers (and by extension, ordinary citizens) into doing whatever a small, gun-toting group of people demanded was also an expression of “freedom.” We learned from many vocal parents that shutting down schools and transitioning to online learning to protect children from coming home and infecting their parents and grandparents was a gross infringement on their “freedom.”

And finally, we learned from many folks that carrying out a violent assault on our nation’s capitol in order to try to nullify a lawful election was another example of “freedom.”

In a sense, I agree that all of these things are valid expressions—or critiques—of our freedom. The Constitution that forms the entire basis for this country’s existence allows all types of freedoms, no matter how self-destructive or ill-used those freedoms might be. You even have the freedom to commit acts of sedition or treason, as long as you’re prepared to face the framework of serious legal consequences for exercising that freedom as provided by that same Constitution.

But there’s one freedom the Constitution doesn’t allow, because it can’t. If this freedom is allowed, the whole rationale for the Constitution—and for this country itself—goes up in a puff of smoke. Jonathan Schell, writing forThe New Yorker as the Watergate scandal unfolded in 1973, put it very simply:  “In a democracy, we are not free to ignore the truth.”

At the time, Schell was referring to the fact that, while the majority of Americans had concluded that President Richard Nixon had committed a grave and serous offense in authorizing what ultimately became known as the Watergate break-in, 10 months after the incident itself, the general public remained unmoved to do something about it … almost to the point of willfully ignoring it.

But Schell pointed out that was simply not a viable option.

The public had not ruled out the possibility that high Administration officials were involved in planning and then in covering up the incident. Rather, a large portion of the public believed these things to be true, but, in a striking reversal of its traditional response to governmental corruption, it did not care to pursue the matter any further. This was, one hopes, the nadir of public opinion as an institution in our national life. When public opinion has lost the will to compel a thorough investigation into the apparent subversion of a Presidential election by officials of the Administration in power, it has been neutralized as a voice in the basic affairs of the Republic.

Schell argued that in a democracy, public opinion cannot be allowed to dictate whether truth itself can be ignored. If public opinion, whether informed or misinformed, tries to do that, it must immediately be disregarded if the country is to continue to exist. In 1973, the irrefutable truth of the matter at hand—in that case, Nixon’s perfidy and involvement—had become non-negotiable.

In effect, the public was dragged from willful ignorance by the truth. In Hannah Arendt’s words, “truth has a despotic character.” The truth is that which compels our minds’ assent. And in a democracy certain forms of truth do more than compel our minds’ assent; they compel us to act. In a democracy, we are not permitted to seek out the truth about our affairs and then to ignore what we learn. When evidence of murder comes to light, indictments must be brought and a trial held. Our system is arranged to make such action reflexive. We must hold the trial whether we want to or not.

Schell distinguished between voluntary, desirable ideals—such as the idea of decency or compassion—from adherence to this principle of truth.

Decency and compassion belong to the large category of ideals which float above our heads as a reproach to our actual behavior. Truth and justice, on the other hand, are rooted as powerful forces in the heart of our political system. They have shaped and determined the fundamental structures of our institutions. Thus, the system of justice is the mechanism whereby certain forms of truth compel us to act. In a democracy, we are free to do many things, but we are not free to ignore the truth. It holds the system itself, and our individual liberty, hostage. In the end, it is by virtue of this power of truth that our nation consents to march to the tune of a piece of paper—the Constitution.

(emphasis supplied)

As explained by author and professor of foreign affairs Mark Danner, writing for the New York Review of Books, with the insurrection of Jan. 6, the two principles that establish legitimacy to our democracy—a government allowed by elections rather than violence, and respect for and honoring the outcome of those elections by the losing party—are now held in disfavor by a substantial plurality of the American electorate. As Danner points out, the last time in history that these principles were abandoned on this scale led directly to the carnage of the Civil War, and they were not re-established for a bitter decade in its aftermath. Even their re-establishment came at a terrible cost, with the defeated southern states instituting nearly a century of racist oppression on their Black citizens in spiteful revenge for their defeat.

Danner’s point is that when the country behaves the way it is now, history suggests that the country will not endure in its present form. What Schell wrote about in 1973 was witnessing our system self-correct, as Democrats and Republican agreed that however uncomfortable the facts of Nixon’s criminality were, the truth of them could not be ignored. As a result, the nation survived.

But that is not the situation the country faces today, in the wake of Jan. 6. Not at all, in fact.

Danner writes:

In the case of the Capitol coup we have thus far ignored the truth. The coup was a crime against the state, and because it unfolded live on television as a grand public spectacle, Americans believe they know the truth about it. But we do not. We do not know what kind of planning preceded the assault and who was involved. We do not know why Pentagon officials for several hours refused to send troops to the Capitol. We do not know what the president was doing as the violence he unleashed was unfolding on Americans’ television screens. And much more. We do not know because there has been no thorough public investigation of what happened. Supporters of the former president within the political system have thus far worked hard to block such an investigation.

[…]

The result is a metastasizing corruption at the heart of the polity. About the Capitol coup there is no shared reality. Nor is there a shared reality about the integrity of the election or of the legitimacy of the president it produced. To millions of Americans the legitimate president remains Donald Trump. A quarter-millennium of American history offers no precedent for this.

Danner also quotes former CIA analyst Martin Gurri, who emphasizes that all of our focus on Trump himself ignores the weaknesses of our institutions which allowed his destabilizing influence to fester and propagate throughout the American population. As Gurri wrote in his 2018 book, The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium , “The right level of analysis on Trump isn’t Trump at all, but the public that endowed him with a radical direction and temper, and the decadent institutions that proved too weak to stand in his way.” In Trump, we witnessed what Danner characterizes as not necessarily the emergence of a traditional autocrat, but rather the triumph and “embodiment-as-leader” of the online troll, the ones who, by perpetually railing against “elites” and stoking regional prejudices have eroded the institutions of former democracies such as Hungary, effectively transforming them into breeding grounds for autocracies.

In the U.S., a country that has never shaken off its strongest cultural impulse, racism, Trump has accomplished this erosion by harnessing the fears and antipathy of millions of Americans towards their fellow Americans of a darker shade of skin, and by exploiting their fears of “replacement” by immigrants.  That’s why Lachlan Murdoch’s Fox News finds such a perfect target in Vice President Kamala Harris, who represents for its audience an amalgamation of everything they’ve been taught to fear. Fox News’ relentless focus on Harris isn’t simply an effort to thwart her chances at future election; it’s to consolidate and intensify the xenophobic hatred necessary to keep Trump’s Big Lie in circulation. Meanwhile, Murdoch is limited, by Biden’s unbearable whiteness, to merely mocking his age and implying a decline in mental acuity.

In closing his essay, aptly titled “Reality Rebellion,” Danner observes that the road-show aspect of the fraudulent “audit” of votes currently underway in Arizona, as well as similar efforts to sow distrust of valid electoral processes around the country, are all of a piece: namely, a strategy to tie that distrust to a concrete, physical event, no matter how fictitious or fanciful that event is. Danner quotes Special FBI Agent Clinton Watts, who explained on MSNBC how this “alternative reality” is being created for the purpose of stoking potential violence. Watts calls it a “Reality Rebellion,” and describes it as: “[E]ssentially trying to create an entire atmosphere, a complete show … Because if you create an action in the physical world it makes it seem all the more legitimate to use violence and to strike out.”

According to Danner, the manifestation of violence is now all but assured as the formerly winking-embrace by the Republican Party of such domestic terrorists organizations as the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters has given way to a more fulsome acceptance; these groups are now coalescing as the necessary paramilitary wing that’s characteristic of all fascist movements.  With the groundwork for contesting all elections that do not end in their favor being laid, all that is necessary to galvanize the support of millions of Republican voters may be a single spark of violence.

Whatever they might do—kidnapping or assassinating public figures, staging bombings or mass shootings—it would take the efforts of only a handful of determined violent actors to overturn the politics of the country. Such actions would be intended to provoke the security organs of the “deep state” to overreact and make widespread arrests, thereby revealing its repressive character and encouraging more sympathy for the terrorists’ cause. This dynamic would further radicalize those whose anger has already been stoked by the delegitimizing rhetoric of the Republican Party. Potential terrorists, perhaps for the first time in this country, have what is vital to make violent actions politically successful: a pool of millions of willing sympathizers.

When such violent acts occur, Danner believes they “will feed the radicalization of Republican policy in a fervid feedback loop.” 

Danner’s point is that the consequences of ignoring the truth, of failing to move forward to fully address and condemn what occurred on Jan. 6, and failing to prosecute and condemn those who funded, planned and inspired it, have already begun to manifest themselves. The strategy evinced by President Biden, which seems to hope to quell such passions simply by demonstrating the virtues and competence of government, cannot possibly make up for that failure.

Our country is facing an unprecedented time, and it it is getting late in the game to stop what Trump and the Republican parties have set into motion. We continue to ignore the truth about these people at our own peril.

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