Mother Jones Magazine

There Are No Black Victims In Donald Trump’s America

After Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Shesky, and was lying paralyzed from the waist down and handcuffed to a hospital bed, right-wing media, conservatives, and the usual crowd of other assorted racists were searching for a justification for what seemed to the rest of the world as an unprovoked assault. Some said that Blake was reaching for a knife. Others insisted he was resisting arrest. The more creative ones claimed that he had sexually assaulted a minor (something the police officer likely wouldn’t have known). And so, of course, he deserved to be maimed. The basic message was obvious: His very Blackness meant that he couldn’t possibly be considered to be an innocent victim. He always had it coming.

Blake has joined a perpetually growing list of Black people who’ve been on the wrong side of a gun clutched in the hand of someone unable or unwilling to see our humanity; Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd—their stories are different yet remarkably similar. Arbery, who was shot and killed by armed white men in Georgia for the crime of Running While Black, was falsely accused by right-wing media of robbing a home. Taylor, an emergency room technician who was killed by Louisville Police while sleeping in her own bed, has been described as being involved in the drug trade, despite no evidence and her family’s insistence that this is simply not true. And Floyd, the catalyst for the ongoing protests and the uprising sweeping the country, has been described as having resisted arrest and having fentanyl in his system.

But even if all of these false allegations were true, they still would not justify the killings. Police and white people with guns are not the judge, jury, and the executioner, even though recently they have done a good job of adopting all those roles. The rush to search for an excuse, any excuse, for these deaths rests in one underlying assumption: There is no such thing as a Black victim.

The rush to search for an excuse, any excuse, for these deaths rests in one underlying assumption: There is no such thing as a Black victim.

Unfortunately, this also seems to extend to Democrats, liberals, and other anti-racists who are constantly on the defense, desperately trying to prove that these deaths are unjust. As soon as the victim is accused of resisting arrest or smoking weed in college, well-intentioned people flood my social media feeds with videos and images of Black people doing absolutely nothing and still being targeted or killed by police as counter-narrative to a false narrative they seem to have accepted. They are searching for the perfect victim, the clear cut case that will finally convince the right and other assorted racists that we aren’t to blame for our deaths.

There’s a problem though. All that these good intentions achieve is to reinforce the idea that some Black people do deserve to be killed by police. And if they’re convinced that Black people are incapable of being victimized, what purpose does the search for the perfect victim serve—other than diverting our attention to the real victim and traumatizing the rest of us with endless loops of death? 

In the Trump era, the denial of victimhood has been expanded to include anyone who fights to curb police violence. Despite the administration’s claim that they support peaceful protesters, all demonstrators continue to be depicted as anarchists, terrorists, thugs, and looters. When Kyle Rittenhouse, a white armed 17-year-old from Illinois, shot three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two, the president couldn’t even bring himself to denounce Rittenhouse or offer words of sympathy for those who were slain (who happened to be white). He did, however, offer words of regret for Aaron “Jay” Danielson, the far-right protester who was shot dead in Portland on Saturday.

The backdrop for all the violence unfolding in the country is the coronavirus. The highly contagious disease has sickened more than 6 million people making the United States the country with the worst outbreak in the world. The impact of the disease hasn’t been equitable. Black and Brown communities have suffered disproportionately from the infection and deaths, partly because those who live in these communities are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions.

For months, conservatives and Republicans have been pushing the lie that only those with underlying health conditions can die from the virus, as if that explains the mortality rate instead of the utterly inept response of the administration to the crisis. Over the weekend, as the coronavirus death toll climbed past 180,000, Trump retweeted a false claim that only 9,000 people had died from the virus in the US, because researchers estimated that these were the only people who didn’t have any other underlying conditions. Those tens of thousands of other people with diabetes or high blood pressure or even high cholesterol were going to die anyway. In other words, like victims of police shootings, they basically had it coming. 

Essentially blaming tens of thousands of COVID-19 victims for their own deaths helps Trump do the only thing he’s good at doing: not taking responsibility. If the death toll is dramatically lower,  Trump doesn’t have to shoulder any blame for his disastrous handling of the pandemic. If Blake deserved to be shot seven times, and the vague possibility of fentanyl made it only reasonable for Floyd to have had his airways restricted until he died, then police violence against Black people isn’t endemic in this country. The wave of violence at protests over the last few weeks becomes Joe Biden’s fault. After all, if victims of police brutality and 183,000 from the coronavirus deserved to die, then Trump can blithely exempt himself of any responsibility at all. He can just sit back and watch it burn. 

Inside the Scramble to Serve Children With Disabilities During COVID

Kelsey Schwartz was a hyperactive kid, always running around and climbing on things. With strong internal cues telling her to move her body, there were times when, if she didn’t get enough exercise during the day, she would get a maddening urge to fidget her legs—a disorder known as “restless leg syndrome”—when trying to fall asleep at night. As a kid, the treatment she devised was to go outside and ride her Razor scooter in circles around the cul-de-sac out front, trying to tire her legs out so that she could fall asleep.

I remember looking out the window of my childhood bedroom and seeing Kelsey scootering in the dark, around and around and around. Because, you see, Kelsey is my little sister. I am four years older than she and wasn’t surprised when hyperactive little Kelsey grew into hyperactive big Kelsey and decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy. For the past five of her 27 years, Kelsey has been working with children with disabilities at clinics and camps. Now, she’s beginning her second and final year of her master’s degree in occupational therapy. 

The field Kelsey has chosen emerged from two 19th century movements: the Moral Treatment Movement, which pushed for more compassionate treatments for people with disabilities, and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which opposed industrialization and promoted the importance of people doing things with their hands. Occupational therapy methods became systematized and were first implemented on a broad scale after World War I when wounded and paralyzed veterans returned to the United States. The government funded holistic therapeutic exercises—like painting and woodworking—to help them rehabilitate at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, DC. Since then, occupational therapy (OT) has expanded to include treatments for just about anyone who requires some assistance with their activities of daily living, from kids with disabilities, to people rehabilitating from injuries, to elderly folks coping with dementia and hip replacements. “Doing stuff yourself is really important for our health,” Kelsey told me. “What we do is who we are.”

“Doing stuff yourself is really important for our health. What we do is who we are.”

For the past two summers, Kelsey has been working as an aid at an adaptive camp in Maryland, a specialized program for kids with disabilities, operating within a standard-issue summer camp for “neurotypical” kids. Kids with disabilities and neurotypical kids are in the same groups and do the same activities, with the only difference that the kids with disabilities have aides, like Kelsey, to accompany them throughout the day.

But camp is just a brief respite from the challenges of the pandemic, which has disrupted therapy sessions for developmentally disabled kids. Occupational therapy involves lots of supervised movement, physical activity, and social interaction, so the transition to a socially-distant virtual environment during the pandemic has been tough. My sister and I sat down to talk about how her work at the adaptive camp, the ways the profession is changing, and what she thinks the long-term impact of the coronavirus crisis on children’s development could be.

What would you consider some of the foundational things that you’re working on with kids? What are some of the core skills you focus on?

For kids, the main occupations are school, social participation, and play. Those are the three biggies. A lot of the kids are coming to occupational therapy for either fine motor issues, like handwriting, or for that social piece. A lot of my work at the camp is that social part of being a kid with disabilities and being integrated into a group of neurotypical kids. For many kids, just being a part of group and thinking about dynamics is a really challenging thing. 

Tell me a little bit more about the adaptive camp you work at? 

A lot of research has shown how beneficial outdoor activities are for kids–in motor development, social development, all those kinds of things. A big struggle that parents of kids with disabilities have had is with that [social] integration portion. A lot of how we learn is through observation. It’s important is to see other kids interact with each other, not just interacting with adults who are acting like they’re kids. Because kids, you know, they’re not perfect. They’re not going to say, “Oh, I lost, it’s okay.” That’s adults modeling how you should act. Most kids don’t really act that way. 

So we set up this new model where the kids who wanted to be part of the adaptive camp would sign up, and we try to find a place for everyone. That first year was a lot of trial and error. It’s hot. There’s a lot of exercise. Then you also have to be social with the rest of the group. There’s a lot of transition times in camps, in just getting a big group to do something. That would be difficult for a lot of the adaptive campers. Standing and mingling was really hard. We tried to find the best times to take breaks and figure out what activities worked best for certain adaptive campers.

About how many kids did you have signing up for the adaptive camp throughout the course of the summer?

There was a lot of interest, because it’s the only camp in this area where you can be included in a neurotypical group, but also have support and someone who’s there just for the kid. My technical role is as an adaptive aid, and I’d have either one kid or two kids per week. The first summer was maybe eight or ten kids. Last year was the second year we did it, and we hired three more aids for at least twice as many the kids. The first summer was pretty much all kids with autism. This year we’ve been getting some more kids with physical disabilities or intellectual disabilities. They’ve ranged in age from seven years old to 21. We do canoeing, paddle boarding, ropes course, hiking. They had a primitive skills day, like fire-building or shelter building. A water day was always good. Paddle boarding was always a big win. 

What has camp looked like this year?  

This summer camp isn’t running as usual because of COVID. You can sign up for either a morning or an afternoon and book a camp activity you want. It’s a maximum of six people per group and you have to bring your own group of people. People are coming within their own groups, so it’s not like people signing up and we assign them. For the adaptive kids we’ve had them bring their siblings, which is really cool. A lot of them are really excited to show off what they’ve been doing to their siblings.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from parents about what this camp does for their kids?

We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. We’ve had kids with a lot of aggression issues who’ve been kicked out of camp after camp. I think for those parents it’s really hard because their kids are just excluded a lot. Finding a place where their kids are welcome, and where they’re successful has been a big difference for parents who get nonstop negative feedback that their kid is disruptive or their kid is fighting. We’re not going to kick kids out for punching people. Sometimes that happens. I’ve been punched a couple times. We’re working through these issues instead of just sending the kids away. We’re working around what their strengths are and what their needs are.

A lot of schools are going to be virtual next year. What do you think that’s going to be like for parents of kids with disabilities? 

A lot of kids receive services through the school, like OT and speech [therapy]. That kind of stuff is in their IEPs [individualized education plan]. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that. It’s obviously different school by school. I know in the spring, kids kind of stopped receiving those services. Telehealth is now a new thing that they’re trying to do.

How does OT telehealth compare to in-person OT?

I haven’t done it, but OT professionals have found it both challenging and exciting. When you provide therapy there’s a certain level of helping someone physically and emotionally, which is harder to do through telehealth. It’s harder to have that human connection. But they’re also able to treat more people through telehealth because you can meet with anyone, anywhere. They’ve been having issues making sure people have access to fast internet and computers. They use protected software that’s HIPPA compliant—you wouldn’t just meet via Zoom. For kids, sometimes the therapist will send them supplies, like putty, and the parents need to be more involved in sessions, which has been a positive and a negative. Parents are learning more about their kids’ OT, but it’s a bigger burden on them. There is also a lack of control with kids. When you’re on telehealth, you’re a little bit at the mercy of the kid. I’ve heard stories of people being mooned.

When you’re on telehealth, you’re a little bit at the mercy of the kid. I’ve heard stories of people being mooned.

What do you think about kids being on screens all day?

I think we’re gonna find a lot more issues from sitting on the screen all day than people are ready for. I’ve heard kids saying, “My parents got me blue light glasses.” Or, “Now I sit on the physio ball instead of sitting in a chair.” They’re getting neck pain and back pain.  

Kids really aren’t made to be sedentary. Kids love to spin. They love the tire swings. It’s really good for development to get these experiences in when you’re a kid. And kids just aren’t getting as much of those experiences. In the most basic form, movement is good for kids. And when kids are on screens, they don’t really move. That’s just a fact.

You were telling me the other day something about couches …

It’s really common for people in their TV rooms to have those big sectional couches. Everyone has a spot on the sofa. In the ’60s and ’70s, people didn’t have big couches like that. Kids would either sit crisscross on the floor—and that’s your core strength is holding you up—or they’d be on their stomach with their arms down holding themselves up. They’re using their back muscles, they’re using their core muscles. So even kids getting seats on a couch is a big difference just in terms of what they have to do while they’re watching these screens.

You are also a student. How has the Coronavirus interrupted your school life? I know you mentioned that you were supposed to have a cadaver lab that was canceled.

In the spring everything went a little wild. We moved totally online, and quickly moved to telehealth for field work. I had “Neuromuscular Mechanisms,” which involves a cadaver lab, and the cadaver lab got moved online, which was really confusing. There’s a lot of websites you can use. They show you a 3D model of a limb and you can click on the nerves, the muscles, the blood vessels, the bones, and you can dissect it. You can click on the bicep muscle and then press hide, and the bicep disappears so you can see like the stuff underneath it. It’s different using a cadaver because in every person’s body there are abnormal things. In the simulation labs, the people are kind of perfect. It wasn’t the best replacement, but it got us through.

This fall is my “physical dysfunctions” semester where we learn about adult neurological and musculoskeletal conditions that result from things like strokes and brain injuries. We learn how to transfer people from a bed to a wheel chair and make plastic splints. A lot of things we’re doing have to be in-person. There’s going to be a couple days where we’ll have to be on campus. Before school starts, we have to get a coronavirus test. We’re going to have to record our temperature and our human contact every day. You have to fill out this whole thing. And then it’ll either approve you to be on campus or not approve you. They’re going to supply us with full PPE. We’re getting two sets of gowns. We’re getting face shields. They’re transforming buildings into study pods. I’m appreciative of the faculty in my program. It’s not ideal for anyone, but they’ve really been putting in a lot of effort. Pretty much all of them have taken courses over the summer on how to teach an online class.

Do you like your work and why?

I love it! You have to have a sense of humor if you’re going to work with kids with disabilities because otherwise you’re just gonna go crazy. But it’s so fun. Their point of view on life is so interesting. It’s interesting to think about the world in different ways and hear different perspectives. It’s also really rewarding. I found that most of the time, when I estimate what the kids will be able to do, they always end up being able to do more than I think they will. The limits that have been put on them are from the adults around them. For example, this one kid really wanted to do the zip line, but every time he was up there, he was freaking out. We were up there one time for an hour with him, and when he finally went it was a big moment. It’s just really rewarding watching kids take these huge steps and do something new. They usually end up being so proud of themselves. But it can be exhausting. There’s a lot of stuff that happens that you’re just like, oh my god, I need to go home and sleep.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

The Trump Files: When Donald Took Revenge by Cutting Off Health Coverage for a Sick Infant

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on August 25, 2016.

Donald Trump likes to get his way, and he’s not above cutting off a sick infant’s health coverage to make it happen.

The story begins after the death of Trump’s father, Fred Sr., in 1999. As David Cay Johnston explains in his book The Making of Donald Trump, Fred Sr. had written a will after the death of his oldest son, Fred Jr., known as Freddy, in 1981. The will left the majority of Fred Sr.’s wealth to Donald and his surviving siblings. Freddy’s family was largely cut out.

When Fred Sr. died, Freddy’s children sued, claiming that the will “had been ‘procured by fraud and undue influence’ by Donald and the other surviving siblings,” according to Johnston.

Johnston writes that medical insurance had consistently been provided to the family through Fred Sr.’s company. This coverage was crucial for Freddy’s grandson (Donald’s grandnephew), who suffered from seizures and later developed cerebral palsy. So crucial, in fact, that a letter sent from a Trump lawyer to the insurer after the patriarch’s death in 1999 said that “all costs” for the sick child’s care should be covered, regardless of caps on the plan or medical necessity, according to Johnston. That didn’t last long.

A week after the lawsuit was filed in court, Freddy’s son (Donald’s nephew) received a letter informing him that the health insurance would be discontinued, meaning his ill son would be left without coverage. Donald openly admitted to the New York Daily News that he and his siblings took this action out of revenge.

“Why should we give him medical coverage?” Trump said, adding, “They sued my father, essentially. I’m not thrilled when someone sues my father.” 

Trump explained that his late brother’s family didn’t receive much in the will because their father wasn’t fond of Freddy’s ex-wife, the New York Times reported.

Trump told the newspaper that the family members later settled the lawsuit “very amicably.” What became of the care for his sick grandnephew? We’ll never know. The settlement agreement, according to Johnston, is sealed.

Biden Blames Trump for Violent Outbreaks

After another week of deadly violence across America, Joe Biden issued a stern warning to voters: Violence is facing Americans on all fronts, and President Donald Trump is squarely to blame for it.

Biden hammered that theme in a speech he gave in Pittsburgh Monday afternoon. “We need justice in America, and we need safety in America,” Biden said, naming the pandemic, its attendant recession, police violence, and white nationalism. “The common thread? An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better. An incumbent president who sows chaos rather than providing order.”

Biden’s speech was prompted by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the murders of two protestors by a white supremacist as they took to the streets to demonstrate against the officer’s actions. As the violence unfolded, Trump had been tweeting demands for law and order. Over the weekend, he credited the return to calm in Kenosha with his decision to send in the National Guard—though Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made the initial decision to call them in. All the while, Trump has mocked Biden and said that he’s soft on crime because “he can’t lose the Crazy Bernie Super Liberal Vote!”

Police violence and racial inequality took center stage for Biden’s attack on how the president’s rhetoric has made the country less safe. “Seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake, a knee on the neck of George Floyd, the killing of Breonna Taylor—in her own apartment,” Biden said, listing the recent attacks that have spurred nationwide demands to the end of police brutality. But the former vice president also rebutted the president’s attacks. “Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” he asked. “I want a safe America—safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.”

"This is a sitting president of the United States of America. He’s supposed to be protecting this country, but instead he’s rooting for chaos and violence. The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he’s trying to scare America." — @JoeBiden pic.twitter.com/vJ1odJYwMm

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) August 31, 2020

“We need justice in America, and we need safety in America. The common thread? An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better.”

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Friday that nationwide discontent boosted Trump’s reelection prospects. “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order,” she told Fox and Friends

Biden has made the opposite bet, one that has fueled his campaign’s entire raison d’être. He premised his entrance into the Democratic presidential primary last April on the Trump’s response to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he said there had been “some very fine people on both sides” of the violence. He repeated that logic at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, saying that Charlottesville had been his “call to action.” After a racially-motivated mass shooting in El Paso last August left 23 dead, Biden hit those notes during a speech in Iowa. But the former vice president, who was officially named as the Democratic presidential nominee earlier this month, hasn’t yet had the chance to draw this particular contrast with Trump, in real-time, with the spotlight of the general election upon him.

Last spring, Trump began to distance himself from his response to Charlottesville after Biden entered the race with that message. After Biden spoke today, Trump instead doubled down on his law-and-order rhetoric. “To me, he’s blaming the Police far more than he’s blaming the Rioters, Anarchists, Agitators, and Looters, which he could never blame or he would lose the Radical Left Bernie supports!” Trump tweeted after Biden’s remarks.

Appeals Court Says Bill Barr Can’t Drop Michael Flynn Charges Yet

The Justice Department will have to defend Attorney General William Barr’s controversial attempt to drop charges against Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to Donald Trump who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

In the latest twist in the legal drama over Flynn’s case, a federal appeals court ruled that US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan can proceed with a plan to question the Justice Department’s decision to ask that charges against Flynn be dropped. The full court overruled a three-judge panel of appeals court judges who in June ordered Sullivan to agree to end the case against Flynn without review.

Sullivan may yet accept DOJ’s request to drop the Flynn case. But the new ruling means the judge can question the department’s conduct and continue to rely on a former federal judge he appointed to argue against Barr’s decision. That former judge, John Gleeson, called DOJ’s reversal on Flynn, which was ordered by Barr, “corrupt” and “a gross abuse of prosecutorial power” in a June brief.

In March 2017, Trump pressured former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn, an act former special counsel Robert Mueller said may have amounted to obstruction of justice. After Flynn’s plea, Trump has railed publicly against the case, claiming without evidence that it constituted part of a plot by former members of the Obama administration to damage him politically. In its motion to drop the Flynn case, the Justice Department argued that Flynn’s lies were not material to the FBI’s investigation into contacts between Trump and Russia.

Gleeson said those arguments were a pretext for DOJ to succumb to political pressure from Trump. Courts have the power to “protect the integrity of their own proceedings from prosecutors who undertake corrupt, politically motivated dismissals,” Gleeson wrote. “That is what has happened here. The Government has engaged in highly irregular conduct to benefit a political ally of the President.”

The full appeals court did not address Gleeson’s claims, instead ruling on a narrower question of whether they should uphold a so-called “writ of mandamus” requiring Sullivan to accept DOJ’s motion without review.

The appeals court ruled that step was unwarranted because Flynn has a less drastic alternative: “The District Court could grant the motion, reject amicus’s arguments, and dismiss the case.” Flynn can always appeal if he believes Sullivan’s actions merit it, the court said.

Sullivan is known for tough treatment of government prosecutors. He famously rebuked federal lawyers for misconduct in their prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) while dismissing Stevens’ conviction for ethics violations. Beyond indicating plans to hold a hearing on DOJ’s bid to dismiss the Flynn case, Sullivan has not said how he plans to proceed. But the appeals court ruling opens the door for the judge to scrutinize Barr’s bid to help a Trump ally.

How the Media-Fueled Rise of the KKK Explains the White Vigilantes in Kenosha

In Kenosha, Wisconsin a 17-year-old dressed up in the regalia of the modern warriors he saw online—AR-15 style rifle, backward hat, jeans—to patrol a protest. Kyle Rittenhouse wound up shooting two people fatally and injured one more. Republican media has already spun this idea. He saw a lawless world in the uprisings of people demanding respect, they say. He was pressed into duty as a wannabe cop because the regular cops have been hamstrung, they say.

“Those in charge, from the governor on down, refused to enforce the law.” Tucker Carlson told viewers last Wednesday. “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”

This idea, of a vigilante maintaining order when he sees Black people rising up, reminded me of the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Like the Klan, today’s right-wing military groups are discreetly organized and wrapped in myth. They’re small organizations that gain power when they make national headlines, eager to throw open their doors to anyone looking for a home for his or her sense of grievance. And like the Klan, groups tend to spring up when politicians say lawlessness is rampant and someone has to do something.

To understand how racism is connected to a long history of right-wing paramilitary groups and vigilantism in the United States, I contacted Elaine Frantz Parsons. Her book, Ku-Klux The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, traces the groups’ roots from bored, college-educated ex-Confederate soldiers’ purposefully silly club to invisible empire. “It is patently obvious that the purpose of the physical Ku Klux Klan was to promote white political, economic, and social interests,” she writes. “What is less obvious is that the same is true of the idea of the Ku Klux.” White racists—Northern, Southern, passive, active—realized the “Ku Klux label could serve their interests” in creating a national brand for rampant white-on-Black violence.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What’s been going on in Wisconsin—with paramilitary groups and right-wing, extremist militias attacking people—reminded me of some of what you discussed in your book about the Ku Klux Klan in post-Civil War America. Do you see those connections, too?

I suppose so, because you have these two elements.

On the one hand, you have a broad sense of attention and resentment on the part of a group that sees itself as oppressed—perceives itself as oppressed. Yet, also, they actually have a lot of access to violent power.

I think another connection is that people perceive themselves as now being part of this national movement. Where before they might have had a private resentment—they might have been angry at a Black man who got a job or went to college that they hadn’t; they might have felt people were taking what was theirs—those things become solidarity with other people nationally who feel the same thing. You’re being told that what they’re doing is forming these militias. So you’re drawn to that same form.

In what ways did politicians then—like Trump now—foster a sense that people should be part of these organizations by saying we’re in a lawless country?

One way you could read what’s going on is vigilantism, right? If you have a perception that institutions are not acting in your interest, are not available to you, then one thing you can do is use private violence—particularly if you think that the public institutions have some sympathy for you. They can’t protect you. But they aren’t going to bring you down, either.

The person who wants to be a cop is acting like law enforcement as a vigilante fake cop.

Yeah. And so part of what happened then in the Reconstruction era was that the Southern whites were saying: “Okay, the North is temporarily on the side of free people and their allies. But we know that it’s natural for white people to be on the same side with each other. And so we think that if we keep on resisting this then, naturally, Northerners will end up not suppressing our violence—and sort of coming around to our side.”

You know, I’m saying this trying to describe what’s going on in the Reconstruction era. But I think it works very well for today as well.

In a similar way, local law enforcement officials are now seeming to forgive these actions, too. Did that happen during Reconstruction?

It was complicated in the Reconstruction era because, for a period, the federal government controlled the local government. But as soon as you had Democrats take over the local governments, they were often in alliance with the Klan.

What are the major differences right now, then?

The difference is that now we have the internet, so they can be communicating with each other a lot better. The Klan, back in the Reconstruction era, it really was just local groups. But they were all doing the same thing; they were bound together by the press coverage.

The other big difference between what’s happening now and what was happening with the Klan is, depressingly, that the Klan is easy to suppress if the state wants to suppress it. Because it works by being widespread and shallow. Right? And so that’s really easy to infiltrate. Whenever the government has had any desire to infiltrate and stop it, it can really do it immediately. All you have to do is just go out and say, “Where’s the Klan?,” join it, and then bring it down.

Infiltrate and overturn, right?

Yeah, it’s super simple. Our country got really, really good at bringing down the Klan. So if there was a federal interest in bringing down the Klan, it could be brought down.

They didn’t have to do much! In fact, they didn’t do much; they basically didn’t use the kind of force that some people think that they should have used to suppress the Klan. And yet the Klan was suppressed. But we don’t seem to be interested in doing that.

Those kinds of organizations can be extremely dangerous, though, when you don’t have an organized government which is willing to bring them down.

I’m curious if you could just walk me through what led to the emergence of the Klan, the flipside—and the basic steps of how media coverage sort of exacerbated what was a local chapter in Tennessee into a national problem.

So what happened in Tennessee is, you had a small group of men—it may really have just been one guy who was the editor and his friends—who were hanging out and made up this organization. He made it up creatively; he made it seem bizarre and interesting. (And he did it in a way that actually drew upon Northern tropes, drawing on stereotypes that were common in New York City on the stage at minstrel shows.)

Then people started to say, “Oh, like this is a Southern, mysterious organization? Maybe it is going to attack or it is attacking and intimidating Black people.” We don’t know the order in which this happened. The people who did develop it were incredibly racist—very resentful of Black people and their success. But it’s unclear whether they were told by the media that they might be an anti-Black violence group first or whether they first became an anti-Black violence group. But either way, people started saying, “Oh, what’s going on?”

Then the group started to get picked up (at the beginning of 1868) by the Northern press—particularly the New York City press, the New York Times and the New York Tribune (which was bigger than the Times). In all these kind of teaser articles: “What could it be?!”

People in the North started getting into it: dressing up like Klansmen, forming fraternities that were Klan themed, forming baseball teams that were Klan themed, putting them in advertisements. The Klan became trendy and cool. There was even a Yale supper club that was Klan themed. They were the Ku Klux and woe to the freshmen—they were going to put the freshmen through a really tough orientation as initiation. They were dressed as Klansmen and called themselves Ku Klux. And these guys—for what it’s worth—were actually Republicans. They were on the side against the Ku Klux. But it became this trend. People were bored. People didn’t understand the South. For the newspapers, it was sensationalism. It was interesting and mysterious.

Also, because white people nationally were extremely racist, they wanted to believe that what was happening to Black people was their own fault. The Klan give them a way to do that. The idea of the Klan was that it was just scary but not actually dangerous.

The main form of entertainment in 19th century, everywhere, is the minstrel show. The minstrel show is all about Black people being afraid of dangers that don’t exist. Basically, what happens is the Klan says, “Oh, we’re these fictitious dangers that Black people are always afraid of.”

So when Black people claimed that they were injured by the Klan, it was just that they were overexcited and easily afraid. The trope of the Klan worked really well because it tapped into Northern people’s racism as well as Southern people’s—all white people’s racism.

Black Philanthropy Month Sets a New Record for Giving and Growth, and It’s Running Far Beyond the Stretch of August

As the month comes to a close today, the scope and power of Black Philanthropy Month continue beyond the confines of any calendar or designated stretch of days; it’s running all year long at #BPM365. This month’s haul was its largest in history, measured not just financially but in the impact of livestreamed events, media coverage, and community service projects, thanks to the movement’s founder, Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland, and its architects, Tracey Webb and Valaida Fullwood. They see the campaign less as a finite financial pitch than as a movement to cultivate acts of giving and support, compiled in this year’s list of stories.

The very word “philanthropy” evokes a range of structural challenges. It’s also a call to action, from the substantive to the symbolic, the immediate to the aspirational. A sharp essay on the subject was written days ago by Hawwa Muhammad, founder of Pink Trumpet, on the Tides Foundation’s website. Give it a close read; she outlines three pillars of the campaign’s future and ways to think about sustained giving as a lever of real, not just gestural, change.

The month launched in 2011 as a commemoration of the United Nations proclaiming that year International Year for People of African Descent, and with Copeland’s, Webb’s, and Fullwood’s efforts, it’s reached nearly 17 million people, with a new organizing concept each year. Check out the highlights and reach us at recharge@motherjones.com with stories about the campaign’s impact far beyond the backend of August. And follow Copeland, Webb, and Fullwood for initiatives throughout the year.

New Poll: Trump’s Popularity Among the Military Is Eroding

Donald Trump’s popularity with members of the military is at an all-time low, according to the findings of a Military Times poll released Monday. Nearly 50 percent of troops view him unfavorably and more than 43 percent say they will vote for Joe Biden in November, compared to just 37.4 percent planning to vote for Trump. 

The male-dominated military tends to be more politically conservative than the general population, but since Trump took office, his support among active-duty troops and veterans has taken a nosedive. In May 2016, more than 54 percent of troops surveyed by Military Times said they intended to vote for him, but by 2018, his support had taken a dive. That year, Trump sent thousands of troops to the southern border as part of a pre-election stunt to draw attention to the arrival of a migrant caravan, shocked his advisers by announcing an unexpected withdrawal of US forces from Syria, and sparred with James Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general who resigned as secretary of Defense that December. 

Despite his clashes with military leaders and numerous attacks on military families like the Khans, Trump had mostly maintained high levels of support among veterans and enlisted service members. Veterans were even credited with helping him win the White House, given their outsized support for him in swing states like North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida. But that support is not as persistent as Trump, or his allies, seem to think. 

New @MilitaryTimes survey of active duty troops has absolutely devastating numbers for @realDonaldTrump. The Republican Party has long considered the military as part of its base, but Biden is now leading Trump among servicemembers 43/37.https://t.co/2c5ifD4KI1 pic.twitter.com/wqfIxrNOkc

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) August 31, 2020

In recent months, he has frustrated the military with a series of bizarre, politically-motivated orders, from clearing several service members accused of war crimes to requiring West Point cadets to return to campus, at the risk of their own health, so he could give an in-person commencement speech. 

His threat to use the military to quell protests in the wake of the killings of George Floyd sent another shock through the military community, leading even the tight-lipped Mattis to step off the sidelines and condemn Trump. Rosalinda Maury, director of applied research at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which conducted the survey in partnership with Military Times, told the news outlet that, despite some commonalities on certain topics, “the military is not a homogenous population.” But what’s clearer than ever is that Trump’s expectation that the military will have his back at the polls, as they did in 2016, is a flawed one. 

Fact of the Day: The Cost of Tariffs

Like most taxes, tariffs on goods and services get passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices. The cost of these tariffs has amounted to a steady $300 per household since the Reagan era, but that changed two years ago when President Trump imposed an array of new tariffs on foreign goods. American households now pay an average of $700 each in tariffs, more than double what they’ve paid under previous administrations.

President Trump’s Racist Appeals Get More and More Explicit

The president of the United States passed along the following tweet this morning:

Black Lives Matter / Antifapic.twitter.com/2fmDlT52aN

— TDN ® (@TDN_NOTICIAS) August 30, 2020

This video has nothing to do with BLM, nothing to do with ANTIFA, and nothing to do with the violence in Portland or Kenosha. It’s just an excuse to put up a random video of a Black guy shoving a white woman. In other words, it’s pure racist incitement. Disgusting.

UPDATE: The original source of this video has been suspended by Twitter. Here’s a single frame from the video that gives you a sense of what the scene looked like.

Minneapolis Has a Long History of Racist Police. Activists Want to Kick Out the County Attorney Who Protected Them.

There are diverging accounts about what happened in the early morning hours of November 15, 2015 in Minneapolis. Police responded to an assault call and, officers say, there was a physical confrontation with the suspect, which ended with one of the cops shooting 24-year-old Jamar Clark. But according to witnesses, Clark was handcuffed and pinned to the ground when he was fatally shot in the head.

The police may dispute the eye-witness accounts—and video footage captured from the rear of the ambulance that was called to the scene only offers a vague glimpse of the shooting—but there is no disputing that Clark, an unarmed Black man, was killed by two white police officers. And Mike Freeman, the district attorney of Hennepin County—the same county in Minnesota where 46-year-old George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day this year when a white police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—declined to charge the two officers involved in Clark’s death.  

Both Clark’s and Floyd’s tragic stories are all too familiar in Minneapolis, which has struggled with police violence for years. Despite a turnover of police leadership and adopted reforms, the problems with the Minneapolis Police Department persisted, and Floyd’s recent killing has shined an international spotlight on the issues that have long plagued the city. But for many local activists in Hennepin County (home to Minneapolis and its Western suburbs) the problem isn’t just the police—it’s Freeman, the longtime county prosecutor, who for years has declined to bring charges against cops for police-involved violence, especially cases that involve white officers and Black victims. It’s a pattern, activists argue, that has allowed the most abhorrent and racist behavior by cops in Hennepin County to essentially go unchecked. Now, in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder and Minneapolis’ reckoning with its police department, a dedicated group of activists are in the midst of a Herculean effort to recall Freeman as the Hennepin County DA. 

The rationale for recalling Freeman, according to the activists behind the effort, is simple: “[He] has violated the constitutional rights of all Black residents of Hennepin County by denying them equal protection of law,” the recall effort’s website states. “White cops and Black residents know that Mike Freeman will protect cops who kill Black folks.” Though Freeman was initially leading the investigation into Floyd’s death, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz asked state Attorney General Keith Ellison to assist Freeman’s office, later deciding that Ellison would take command of the prosecution, though Freeman has stayed on to assist the investigation as the co-prosecuting body. Given that Freeman’s office is still involved in the case and, given his tumultuous history with similar cases, activists think it’s paramount to have him removed from office as soon as possible. 

Days after Floyd’s murder, Lena Gardner, a local activist in Minneapolis, got a call from her friend Kathleen Cole. Both women had been key organizers in the protests that spawned in the wake of Clark’s murder in 2015; Gardner as core organizer in the original Black Lives Matter Minneapolis group and Cole as a founding organizer for Showing Up for Racial Justice-Twin Cities. Through their years of local activist work, they were quite familiar with Freeman’s reputation and knew that he’d be involved in prosecuting the four cops responsible for Floyd’s death. Given this, they thought it was tantamount that Freeman be removed from office. When they started collecting signatures, they were surprised to learn that a lot of people didn’t really know what the Hennepin County attorney does, nor how much power that person has over holding police accountable. “But once they found out how much Mike Freeman has dropped the ball in police accountability cases, people would tell us ‘yeah, it’s probably time for us to recall him,'” Gardner says.

Gardner and Cole then linked up with another local organizer they knew, Jared Mollenkof, a public defender who sits on the board of the Minneapolis Freedom Fund, the local bail fund that exploded into public view in the wake of the George Floyd protests, raising more than $30 million in a matter of weeks. From there, the three of them started to recruit the other members that now make up core team for the recall campaign—some they knew from their work in electoral politics but mostly through their backgrounds in grassroots organizing. Eight days after Floyd’s murder on May 25, the campaign to recall Freeman officially kicked off. 

“It’s alarming how racialized Freeman’s prosecuting is.”

Freeman’s long tenure as the Hennepin County attorney began in 1991, after he had served for nearly a decade in the state Senate. He held the position—a particularly powerful role that represents nearly a quarter of the state—until 1999, after he mounted an unsuccessful gubernatorial run. In his place, Freeman threw the full weight of his support behind then-political novice Amy Klobuchar, who had long supported his career as the Hennepin County DA. When Klobuchar decided to run for the US Senate in 2005, she returned the favor, backing Freeman in the 2006 election for his old position, which he won by a wide margin

Freeman has comfortably held his position ever since, garnering a reputation for being tough-on-crime and particularly chummy with the Minneapolis Police Department, especially when it came to instances of police violence. Most troubling, though, is his reputation when it comes to racial profiling and prosecuting people of color in Hennepin County. 

In 2016, Black residents made up only 6 percent of the state’s population, but nearly 37 percent of the state’s prison population. And according to court data compiled by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2017, since he took office Freeman has charged Black residents in Hennepin County with 44 percent of all felonies, despite that Black residents only make up 12 percent of the county’s population. More recently, data obtained by the New York Times found that more than 60 percent of the victims of police shootings in Minneapolis in the past decade were Black residents, who account for only 20 percent of the city’s population.

Though Freeman, as county attorney, is not in charge of the Minneapolis Police Department, his office is tasked with prosecuting officers involved in police shootings and the decision of whether or not to charge any officer involved in a shooting lies solely with him. Likewise, Freeman’s position gives him the chief authority to prosecute those facing felony charges, and the racial disparity in Hennepin County’s prosecution rate is a direct reflection of what cases are brought by Freeman’s office.

It’s no easy feat to recall an elected official in Hennepin County, and the campaign says that it has never been attempted before. For starters, the requisite number of signatures required to kickstart the recall process is 126,522, roughly 10 percent of the total county population and they must be signed in person—no small task on its own, but even tougher in the midst of a global pandemic. At the beginning of the Floyd protests in and around Minneapolis, Gardener says the campaign took advantage of the moment to start collecting signatures. “We would get 800, 1,000 signatures at a time at protests,” she says. “But as those have dissipated we’ve been switching to a ground game.” That’s taken the form of traditional grassroots political efforts, with volunteers stationed at high traffic areas—like grocery store parking lots, community centers, and shopping centers—to collect signatures, as well as phone banking. Still, the group is taking advantage of any opportunity they can to gather signatures, including at the Minneapolis Children’s March on Saturday

In mid-June, the campaign formally registered as a 501(c)4 in order to fundraise for its signature-gathering efforts. They raised $10,000 to purchase access to a Voter Activation Network, a voter database often used by electoral campaigns to identify and target registered voters. Cole says that they’re working on an education project to help local voters understand the role that the county attorney’s office plays in mass incarceration in the state. By the third week of August, they have gathered more than 20,000 signatures. They still have a long way to go to reach the requisite number of signatures to trigger the recall process, but it’s not an impossible task. And the money and resources that the group is pouring into their ground game is, at the very least, generating fresh engagement from Hennepin County residents. “I think now there’s a lot more people paying attention and trying to figure out how to save Black lives and do policing and the whole criminal justice system differently,” Gardner says. “And they’re finally starting to listen to organizers who have been saying things for decades.”

Gardner points to a number of cases similar to Clark as part of a disturbing pattern. There’s the case of Wayne Reyes, who in 2006 was suspected of stabbing his girlfriend and friend in a domestic dispute. When police pulled him over, they said that he stepped out of the vehicle and pulled out a shotgun. And so six officers fired 43 rounds at him in four seconds, killing him. But according to Reyes’ daughter, the blurry dashcam footage from one of the responding officer’s cars that captured the incident does not show Reyes outside of his vehicle until after he was shot. One of those six officers who shot Reyes was Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Floyd when he put his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Instead of charging the officers, Freeman sent the case to a grand jury who decided not to bring charges.

In 2018, Freeman declined to charge two police officers who shot and killed 31-year-old Thurman Blevins after chasing him through an alleyway in a Minneapolis neighborhood. According to body-worn camera footage of the incident that was released, some of Blevins’ last words were, “Please don’t shoot me.” And in February of this year, Freeman’s office did not bring charges against five police officers who fatally shot 30-year-old Brian Quinones-Rosario, who livestreamed himself being chased by police in his vehicle before getting out and threatening the officers with a knife. 

In one of the few instances where Freeman did bring charges against a police officer, it was against a Somali-American cop, Mohamed Noor who fatally shot Justine Damond, a white woman from Australia when she snuck up on Noor and his partner while they were parked in an alley at night. Noor was initially charged with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder, but Freeman’s office later added the charge of second-degree murder. He was acquitted of the latter charge, but convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

“It’s alarming how racialized Freeman’s prosecuting is,” says Gardner. “When it’s a white victim and a Black cop or a Somali cop, he is hyper ready to pursue action. But when it’s a white cop and a Black or Indigenous victim, he will rarely bring charges. And that’s why he needs to go.”

A spokesperson for the Hennepin County attorney told Mother Jones that the office “disagrees with the campaign’s opinion of County Attorney Freeman,” but declined to provide any further comment. 

The effort to recall Freeman appears to have an unlikely ally to help make the case: The lawyers representing J. Alexander Kueng, one of the cops charged as an accomplice in Floyd’s killing. Earlier this month, one of Kueng’s lawyers, Thomas Plunkett, filed a motion to have Freeman removed from the case, arguing that he has become too close to law enforcement to ethically prosecute the case. In his motion, Plunkett argued that, in public statements, Freeman has already proclaimed Chauvin, Kueng, and the other two officer’s guilty. “Mr. Freeman has called the death of Mr. Floyd a ‘senseless death’ and [said] that he is sympathetic to the Floyd family,” he wrote. Elsewhere in the motion Plunkett filed, he argued that Freeman is in a position of inherent conflict because of the history of law enforcement and prosecutors working together in order to bring about convictions. “Mr. Freeman is unique as he fits snugly in both the ‘white washer’ category and ‘overzealous scapegoated’ category,” Plunkett said.

This isn’t the first time that there’s been talk of launching a campaign to recall Freeman. In 2019, shortly after he won his last reelection and a week after he announced the conviction of Noor, Freeman appeared at a crime prevention meeting in north Minneapolis where multiple sources reported his erratic behavior. According to the Star Tribune, Freeman was speaking at a meeting for a street violence and gang intervention program where he “struck a boastful tone” as he told the audience—which included gang members, police officers, lawyers, and other residents—that he “wasn’t afraid to charge anyone,” including police officers. Later in the evening, Freeman allegedly slapped the body of police car and told nearby officers, “Thanks for not shooting me,” which was interpreted by those officers as an off-color reference to the Noor case. A week later, Freeman announced he was taking a leave of absence to enter an alcohol treatment program. After that incident, Cole says that there was talk in local activist circles of trying to mount a campaign to recall him, but that it didn’t ever amount to anything more than a private Facebook group.  

Even if the recall effort isn’t successful, its organizers recognize that it’s an opportunity to start laying the groundwork to support a progressive candidate to take on Freeman in 2022, when he’s next up for reelection. In the 2018 election, Mark Haase, a progressive upstart attorney who co-founded the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group that fights to restore full rights to formerly incarcerated residents, ran against Freeman, hoping to ride the crest of newly elected progressive DAs, like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, and Wesley Bell in St. Louis. Haase lost that election by nearly 10 percent. Gardner thinks that was because Hennepin County voters just didn’t know enough about the role that prosecutors have in the criminal justice system. “Even as we defund the police, we also have to radically transform the county attorney’s office if we’re going to have meaningful change toward decarcerating Minnesota,” Cole adds. 

But if the recall effort does get enough signatures and gets as far as a public hearing, Gardner thinks that they have more than enough evidence to prove that Freeman should be removed from office. “I feel like we really can’t wait because the cops are probably going to kill another person and that person is probably going to be Black,” she says. “I just don’t feel like he’s going to bring justice because he’s shown that he doesn’t believe in justice for Black people, really, when it comes down to it.”

Why Do Oil Companies Care So Much About Your Carbon Footprint

This piece was originally published in Grist and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

If only there were an app that would let you track your personal carbon footprint in real-time, like a FitBit. You could watch the weight of your emissions grow as you drove to the store, took a bus to the park, or rode the train around town. As the number ballooned, the app would prompt you to assuage your guilt by buying carbon offsets—helping programs that promote biogas in Indonesia, cleaner cookstoves in Mexico, and tree-planting in the United Kingdom.

Now imagine that app was funded by an oil company.

That’s the real-life story of VYVE (rhymes with “five”), one of a handful of new carbon-tracking apps. It’s backed by a subsidiary of BP called Launchpad, a venture capital-like group that funds low-carbon startups which might one day become billion-dollar companies—”unicorns” in startup lingo.

VYVE is still testing out new features, but thousands of people in the United Kingdom and United States are already using it, said Mike Capper, the company’s founder. Older carbon calculators required you to check last month’s energy bill or remember what you ate for lunch on Tuesday. VYVE keeps things simple by focusing on emissions from transportation. Capper, who has worked on efforts to reduce emissions in BP’s supply chain, envisions a future where VYVE is on smartphones around the world. “I want to be the leading organization that people turn to track their carbon footprint and reduce it,” he said.

The “carbon footprint” concept is everywhere these days, as a range of big corporations pledge to slash their carbon emissions to tackle global warming. Amazon plans to get to “net-zero” emissions by 2040, Microsoft vowed to go “carbon negative” by 2030, and Lyft plans to have an entirely electric fleet of vehicles by 2030.

The corporate promises are new, but the conversation about our personal carbon emissions has been around for decades. Environmentalists have long obsessed over the emissions associated with their lifestyle decisions—whether to fly, own a car, and eat red meat. It’s a concept made popular by—get this—BP itself. More than 20 years ago, one of the company’s marketing campaigns helped cement the perception that the responsibility for reducing emissions lay with individuals, working the phrase “carbon footprint” onto our tongues. The underlying message: Let’s talk about how to solve your emissions problems.

You might think that a company evangelizing the carbon footprint would have its own house in order.

You might think that a company evangelizing the carbon footprint would have its own house in order. But research shows that since the late 1980s, just 100 big companies—including BP—are responsible for about 70 percent of global emissions. BP is near the top of the list of the highest-emitting companies in the world, responsible for more than 34 billion metric tons of carbon emissions since 1965.

The oil giant is now reckoning with—or at least acknowledging—that legacy. In recent years, the company’s direct greenhouse gas emissions have started to dip, though they rose in 2019 after some major acquisitions. BP’s new CEO, Bernard Looney, admitted in an interview with the Sunday Times earlier this month that his work is “socially challenging,” saying that some BP employees were becoming disillusioned with the company’s role in contributing to pollution. He added that he understands the view that oil “is a bad industry.”

BP has recently made some big promises, announcing this month that it would produce 40 percent less oil and gas within a decade, as part of a shift in strategy to broaden its range of energy sources. And it’s doubled down on the carbon footprint. Last October, BP tweeted a link to a different calculator it had created, saying: “The first step to reducing your emissions is to know where you stand. Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!”

Funding projects like VYVE in tandem with carbon-cutting promises could be viewed as part of a larger, earnest effort to take on climate change. Of course, a skeptic might see it as another example of “greenwashing,” a type of PR spin that looks good on the surface, but only serves to hide the muck underneath.

One such skeptic is the inventor of the “ecological footprint” idea, William Rees, an emeritus professor of ecology at the University of British Columbia. Rees doubts that companies will do what it takes to avoid disastrous climate change. “It may sound cynical,” he said, “but mainstream governments and the corporate sector really have no interest in making the fundamental structural changes needed for the economy to become ‘sustainable.'” That kind of transformation would mean overhauling businesses for the sake of the planet at the expense of profits.

Capper, VYVE’s founder, thinks the scale of the problem posed by climate change means governments, businesses, and individuals all need to take action. The capacity of individual action is untapped, he said, since “99 percent” of the population doesn’t know what their footprint is, let alone know how to reduce it. “People haven’t got a clue,” he told Grist.

Social scientists have long argued that ditching plastic straws, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, and other small steps could be a gateway to getting politically involved. The thinking is that the more people recycle, the more likely they are to identify as environmentalists, the type of folks who would join the Sierra Club or a get-out-the-vote campaign in a community overburdened by pollution. There’s also evidence that green habits are contagious; if you get solar panels and drive an electric car, your neighbors are more likely to do the same, thanks to peer pressure.

The narrative of individual action rose to prominence in 1990, after years of weakened protections for the environment under the Reagan administration. It gave environmentalists a sense of agency when they’d given up on policy.

Recent research, however, suggests that engaging in environmentally-friendly lifestyle behaviors can sometimes backfire. It might lead you to think you’ve already done enough by taking plastic bottles to the recycling center last week. Looking at your own footprint could also distract you from paying attention to the much bigger polluters out there.

Experts caution that tracking your carbon footprint with an app like VYVE might play into that trap. Julie Doyle, a professor of media and communication at the University of Brighton, said in an email that VYVE appeared to focus on “individual behaviour rather than the systemic and structural changes required for addressing climate change—particularly as it encourages individual financial payment to carbon reduction projects.”

This year, we got a taste of how far individual action might get us. As coronavirus spread across the world, the ensuing lockdowns meant that a lot fewer people were flying around and driving their gas-guzzling cars. The drop in transportation activity led to a dip in carbon emissions, at least for a spell: The Global Carbon Project estimates that the lockdowns will put a 4 to 7 percent dent in global emissions this year. Not bad, right?

Well, one recent analysis called the overall effect “negligible.” In order to keep global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels, we’d need to see a 7 to 8 percent cut in emissions year after year, Rees said. In other words, eliminating transportation wouldn’t get us very far—20 percent of the way there, tops. The other 80 percent of emissions come from electricity, heating, agriculture, manufacturing, and other types of industry. Even if we were trapped in permanent lockdown, that still wouldn’t get us close to solving climate change.

On a hot summer day in the early 1950s, Rees, around 10 years old at the time, was eating a feast at his grandparents’ farm. Staring absently at the beef, chicken, potatoes, and baby carrots on his plate, Rees had a realization: He had helped raise all of it. “I knew deep in my bones that farm work and food made me a product of soil and land,” he wrote in a reflection later on.

That moment led him to study, and later teach, ecology. His work at the University of British Columbia has focused on ecological economics and the limits of the land to provide for humanity’s needs. It wasn’t a popular line of research among his academic colleagues, who argued that with people congregated in cities and towns, the Earth was still mostly empty. Rees thought differently. “That’s just where we keep our bodies,” he said. “The land we use in cities is not in the city, it’s everywhere else.”

“The land we use in cities is not in the city, it’s everywhere else.”

In the early 1990s, Rees was writing a paper on this subject when his computer crashed. His new one took up less area on his desk, so it had a smaller “footprint” — and that’s when the lightbulb turned on. In a much-cited 1992 paper, Rees coined the term “ecological footprint,” a measure by which people could understand how any population—an individual, a city, a country—was affecting the planet. For climate change specifically, “carbon footprint” was the next logical step.

You could say the rest was history, or you could say it was BP’s turn. In 2000, BP launched an award-winning ad campaign with the assistance of the public relations agency Ogilvy & Mather. The goal was to rebrand BP as an environmentally-friendly company. “British Petroleum” was out, “Beyond Petroleum” was in.

In 2004, BP unveiled a carbon footprint calculator, and the following year, it released a series of advertisements asking questions such as “What on earth is a carbon footprint?” and “What size is your carbon footprint?” Mathis Wackernagel, a colleague of Rees and the president of the Global Footprint Network, later told a reporter that BP’s backing gave the term its “biggest boost.” According to Google Ngram, a tool that tracks the usage of words in books over time, the phrase soared in popularity after BP’s marketing campaign.

Clayton Aldern / Grist

The idea of the footprint took off, but not in the way Rees had hoped. By his definition, a footprint is physical; it’s the amount of land area required to support someone’s lifestyle, a measure with finite limits. “When industry talks about carbon footprints, they just talk about the weight of carbon being emitted each year,” Rees said. “If 37 billion tons of CO2 goes up into the atmosphere—well, what does that mean?” Without a point of reference as to what amount of carbon dioxide the world can sequester, “it doesn’t mean anything.”

In a recent article on the news website Mashable, some communication experts denounced the phrase “carbon footprint” as fossil fuel “propaganda.” The emphasis on personal responsibility, they argued, subtly shifts the burden of climate change from governments and corporations to individuals.

BP’s ads in the 2000s echoed the earlier marketing campaigns. Consider the famous “Crying Indian” ad from the 1970s, in which a Native American man sheds a tear after someone passing by in a car throws trash at his moccasins. “People start pollution,” the narrator says. “People can stop it.” Turns out that the group behind the anti-litter PSA, Keep America Beautiful, was funded by Coca-Cola and Dixie, maker of the Dixie Cup, the very same companies making all the trash scattered on the road.

“Corporate America in general has always tried to, with the help of all kinds of other actors, put the onus of environmental protection in general and dealing with climate change on individuals,” said Riley Dunlap, a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University. In the United States, a country with a strong streak of individualism and belief in the Protestant work ethic, people were more likely to accept this narrative of personal responsibility for a society-wide problem.

The story that individual choices could save us has been repeated so many times that the idea often passes without discussion and plays an outsized role in policy discussions and company decisions. “I’m not trying to impugn the motives of some of the people working for VYVE,” Dunlap said of the personal emissions-tracking app. “But they’ve bought into this thing, too. BP and others have convinced them that individuals are the key thing, or else they wouldn’t be working on this.”

Once you’ve logged your first trip with VYVE, a message comes up on the bottom of your screen. “CONGRATULATIONS,” it says. “You just took another step to understanding your impact.”

“I absolutely believe BP’s on the right path with the commitments it’s made and the actions the organization is taking. I have a lot of pride in that, actually.”

Capper, the founder of VYVE, said he was unaware of BP’s history of promoting the carbon footprint. “I absolutely believe BP’s on the right path with the commitments it’s made and the actions the organization is taking,” he said. “I have a lot of pride in that, actually.”

In response to questions about whether VYVE’s focus on individuals could let companies off the hook, David Nicholas, a spokesperson for BP, pointed to the company’s new carbon-cutting goals as an example of its sincerity. Within a decade, he said, it’s likely that BP’s investment in low-carbon energy will increase 10-fold, with “oil and gas production falling by a million barrels a day, or 40 percent.” Carbon offsets will play a role in helping both businesses and VYVE users reach net-zero emissions, he added, and the app would help people do that through “gold-standard offsetting projects,” as measured by United Nations guidelines.

Although the website of Launchpad, BP’s “unicorn factory” that’s backing VYVE, says it aims to “accelerate the energy transition,” some of the companies it supports appear to be tied to fossil fuel production. Take Stryde, a company that maps rock formations below Earth’s surface to help explore for more oil. Stryde’s website says that its heritage “is firmly in oil and gas” and that unlocking oil and gas fields “lies at the core of our offer.” The company is investigating how its technology could be used for carbon sequestration, mining, and renewables.

Tom Burke, the chair of environmental think tank E3G and a former adviser to BP, doesn’t think there’s any hidden political strategy behind VYVE. Rather, he suspects that the app might have simply been borne out of a desire to do some good, perhaps driven by younger BP staff.

Given the lack of public trust in the oil industry, Burke suggested that VYVE be more transparent by, for example, posting on its website a list of who on its board of directors works for BP. “If they don’t make it absolutely clear that they are the major player in this, then it undermines confidence in it,” Burke said of BP. That wouldn’t change the fact that “offsetting is really problematic,” he said. Carbon offset projects have earned a shaky reputation for not always working out as planned.

Despite decades of talking about carbon footprints and “feel-good carbon offsetting,” the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere keeps rising, Rees said.

“Individuals are really almost powerless to do anything,” Rees said. “You can change your purchasing habits a little, but on the whole what we do as individuals is relatively trivial, because the heavy lifting — the kinds of things that would make a real difference — are actions taken for the common good.”

So is it time to forget about your carbon footprint? Rees thinks the idea can still be useful, though it would help if the climate movement reclaimed the concept and took it out of the hands of oil companies.

“Look, what’s the alternative here?” Rees asked. “Stop talking about the carbon emissions altogether?”

The Trump Files: When Donald Got in a Fight With Martha Stewart

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on August 19, 2016.

Donald Trump wasn’t the only celebrity with a show called The Apprentice. In fall 2005, media mogul Martha Stewart had a short-lived spin-off of the TV series. When Stewart’s show failed to be renewed for a second season because of low ratings, she blamed Trump for keeping his show on the air and taking away viewers from her version. Trump didn’t take too kindly to the comment, and in typical fashion, the billionaire fought back.

In an open letter, he called her performance “terrible,” said the show “lacked mood, temperament, and just about everything else a show needs for success,” and decried her “totally unconvincing demeanor.”

Stewart, in shock, responded to her “longtime friend,” calling his comments “mean-spirited and reckless.”

But Trump didn’t stop there. In an interview with Newsweek, he said, “What moron would think you’re going to fire the guy with the No. 1 show on television?” according to the New York Daily News.

Trump tried to calm things on Larry King Live the following month, saying, “I love her. She’s a wonderful woman. I wish her well.” But it doesn’t seem like Stewart was placated. Last fall, in an appearance on the late-night show Watch What Happens Live, Stewart resurrected her 10-year-old accusation against the current Republican presidential nominee.

“I was supposed to fire him on air,” she said. Stewart later added, “And then Donald liked it too much. And look at, you know, it’s fantastic for him. It’s built him a platform. So now he thinks he can be president.”

 

The Subdued Brilliance of Chadwick Boseman

On Friday, I caught the TMZ alert no pop culture devotee wants to see.

Chadwick Boseman. Dead. At 43. Of colon cancer.

Will 2020’s collective trauma never end? As if the nation’s mourning of the escalating 180,000 deaths from a virus that has disproportionately hit Black and Latino families the hardest wasn’t enough. As if the sudden death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and their friends in a helicopter crash didn’t penetrate the soul of a young man who grew up watching Bryant’s highlight reel. A photo popped up on my Twitter feed of Boseman standing next to Kobe, two Black legends, the latter with a dark stain that complicated perceptions of his life’s accomplishments and legacy.

2020 has been wild pic.twitter.com/Mjj7yvHNOG

— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) August 29, 2020

But Boseman’s life hadn’t been beset by scandal; the Hollywood tabloid world left his personal life untouched. We learned that he was born in Anderson, South Carolina, in 1976, the youngest of three. His father had worked for an agricultural conglomerate, his mother was a nurse. Boseman’s brothers were his role models. One became a preacher, the other a dancer who performed with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe. 

One can tell just how startling Boseman’s death was by watching the unraveling of collective mourning. Writers and celebrities alike recall Boseman as a man of dignity, a gentle soul, a superhero, a Black man driven by conviction, coolness, and solemnity, his life cut short by a devastating disease.

Like many others, it left me wondering, “What could have been?” After learning of Boseman’s death, I watched Black Panther for the gazillionth time like so many others. Then I dug back into his catalogue: his stoic depiction of firebrand Jackie Robinson in 42—Boseman landed this first leading role at 35, a late-bloomer by Hollywood standards. And he soon landed several more. A sly, forceful portrayal of the brilliant Thurgood Marshall, and a rollicking yet complicated act as James Brown. At the time, I, naively cynical, saw his marathon of Hollywood features as Hollywood’s way of exploiting the attractive leading Black man to fulfill the biopics of our nation’s historic Black figures. Who was next, a revival of Muhammad Ali? 

Yet I learned that Boseman loved Ali, and would have loved to play that role. As I look back on these characters, I’m realizing that, in a marker of his subtle brilliance, Boseman looked past the facade of those historical figures and accessed what lay beneath, the complications of lives lived. As New York Times writer Reggie Ugwu wrote in a 2019 profile of Boseman:

Boseman told me his method of humanizing superhumans begins with searching their pasts. He’s looking for gestational wounds, personal failures, private fears—fissures where the molten ore of experience might harden into steel.

For the role of T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, that meant conceiving of a childhood squeezed by the weight of an ancient unbroken dynasty. When it came to becoming Jackie Robinson, he focused on formative years as a Negro League firebrand that crystallized the baseball pioneer’s polished exterior. James Brown: a meditation on irrepressible self-confidence, long starved by years of deprivation and insult in Jim Crow South Carolina.

“You’re a strong Black man in a world that conflicts with that strength, that really doesn’t want you to be great,” Boseman told Ugwu. “So what makes you the one who’s going to stand tall?”

In each of his roles, even in Black Panther‘s fictional King of Wakanda, Boseman, through his big, pearly white smile and intriguing energy, illuminated the depths of men pursuing justice and upending the status quo in his own way.

His Jackie Robinson, in one moment, would at the plate silently take the vile racist animus spewed by an opposing manager in front of a raucous crowd, and in the next would burst into the dugout, slam his bat into the wall, and bellow this guttural scream that shakes one’s soul. Boseman tapped into the unending pain Robinson must have felt.

And he just as easily embodied Thurgood Marshall’s settled rage as he’s mandated by a white judge to stay silent in the courtroom while he represents a Black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, a frustration that gives way to his powerful damning of injustice on the courthouse steps to reporters and, later, a memorable soliloquy that became his co-counsel Sam Friedman’s closing arguments. It marked an important snippet of time in Thurgood Marshall’s tale, one perhaps known more so for the other cases he pursued (like Brown v. Board of Education) and his time as the Supreme Court’s first Black justice.

In his compelling role in Da 5 Bloods, he served as Stormin’ Norman, the stand-in for the radical Black Vietnam-era soldier who fought for a country that hated him for the color of his skin. As the New York Times’ Wesley Morris wrote, Boseman “was in his way a historian—of other people’s magnetism and volition. Excellence and leadership spoke to and sparked him.”

And as T’Challa on Black Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live, in one of the funniest SNL segments in recent history, he taught us truly what a Karen was.

“Let’s go to ‘White People’ for 400.”#BlackJeopardy #SNL @chadwickboseman pic.twitter.com/rkMmTOVShH

— Saturday Night Live – SNL (@nbcsnl) April 8, 2018

If his side-eye at Green Book was any indication, he made for an astute contemporary historian. 

This look he exchanged with Michael B. Jordan when Green Book won best picture is the moment I realized Chadwick Boseman wasn’t just a beautiful and gifted performer, but also a shady king. We’ll miss you. Rest easy. pic.twitter.com/XrGp8Rejrf

— Tracie Hunte (@TracieHunte) August 29, 2020

It’s almost fitting that his role as the Black Panther most gripped the public consciousness. Boseman’s journey morphed from heroes of history into the literal fictional superhero that Black and Brown children could look up to. In T’Challa, Boseman found a complex figure who straddled between protecting Wakandans by keeping them isolated from the rest of the world, and offering the imaginary country’s innovations to aid in global progress. We saw a Black man lead a superhero franchise without parody, unifying people who desperately wanted to cross their arms and shout “Wakanda Forever.”

Little did we know Boseman had battled colon cancer while he shot that film, just as he would with Marshall and Da 5 Bloods. Little did we know that, like T’Challa, he took the hits and, in ways we couldn’t yet understand, sacrificed his well-being for public awe and happiness. (Neither Da 5 Bloods director Spike Lee nor Black Panther director Ryan Coogler knew about Boseman’s illness. Coogler wrote in his emotional tribute to Boseman that, “Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering.) If nothing else, his influence in such a short time is clear by the looks of joy and awe seen in Black and Brown fans who got the chance see him in person, as seen in a viral Jimmy Fallon clip:

This was amazing. @chadwickboseman surprises #BlackPanther fans while they say what the movie means to them. pic.twitter.com/ZXnfLuV83f

— The Tonight Show (@FallonTonight) March 1, 2018

There’s a moment in Black Panther that will now and forever break my heart. As T’Challa, Boseman lay unconscious in a mound of snow after being thrown off a cliff in a battle against Killmonger. T’Challa’s mother, his love interest, and his genius sister, praise the ancestors as they covered his bloody face in snow in the hopes he could be revived. He ventures off to a mystical ancestral plane, its once-deep purple skies now bright. T’Challa, adorned in white, turns to his fictional father, T’Chaka, who tells him: “The time has come for you to come home, to be reunited with me.” But T’Challa refused and condemned the ancestors for turning their back on the rest of the world. He decided he must return to right the wrong.

In just eight years, Boseman expanded the way we think about men who loomed large. So few leading actors can transform from the embodiment of the civil rights struggle to a costumed pursuer of justice in an unjust society, marked by his own complications and expectations. Questions swirled as I marveled at what could have been—a young John Lewis? James Baldwin—and what was supposed to have been—T’Challa part deux? As I watched Black Panther once more over the weekend, I kept sincerely wishing Boseman could wake up again from this terrible dream just as T’Challa had. 

California Needs More Firefighters—But It’s Preventing Skilled Former Inmates From Helping

California is burning: Ongoing blazes have devoured more than 1 million acres this year so far, killing at least seven people and destroying hundreds of homes. The state is also facing a firefighter shortage. But even so, it is preventing a trained group of people from assisting in its unending annual fight against wildfires: former state inmates. And that’s despite the fact it trains these inmates to fight fires and exploits their labor when they are imprisoned. 

It’s clear that the state could use additional assistance from trained former inmates.

That could soon change. The state Assembly has passed legislation that would allow formerly incarcerated people who participate in the state’s firefighting program to expunge their criminal records upon release from custody and pursue firefighting jobs. (People convicted of certain crimes, like certain violent felonies and sex offenses, would be ineligible.) The Senate would need to approve the legislation before its session ends on Monday. If approved, it would go to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. 

As wildfires rage throughout California, it’s clear that the state could use additional assistance from trained former inmates, but their criminal records prevent them from obtaining firefighting jobs after their stint in prison is over.

As Heather Knight wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: “It’s a ridiculous catch-22 that California—engulfed in apocalyptic fires because of climate change that are likely to grow worse—cannot afford to continue.” California currently depends on 3,100 inmates, who have volunteered, have shown good behavior while imprisoned, and have not been convicted of arson and other matters, at 43 fire camps, most of whom are qualified to work the frontlines.

And yet, if these same trained inmates have a felony record, they face insurmountable odds in obtaining an Emergency Medical Technician certification to pursue a job they are trained to do—one that pays, on average, $146,000 in California. While these trained inmates are wards of the state, as my colleague Julia Lurie wrote in 2015, they “receive a sentence reduction and $1 per hour while fighting fires, saving the state $80 million per year.” Or, as Jeffrey Choate, who fought wildfires as a participant in California’s exploitative labor system and was released in July, put it: “It’s straight slave labor.”

The least California could do would be to provide a pathway for these formerly incarcerated firefighters to capitalize on the skills they gained while doing this backbreaking—and lifesaving—work.

Disgraced Republican Financier Accused of Secretly Lobbying for China

On May 25, 2017, Elliott Broidy texted Rick Gates with a message for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Broidy, a top fundraiser for Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee, said that China would be willing to increase its cooperation with US law enforcement if the Justice Department deported Guo Wengui, a wealthy Chinese dissident living in New York.

“Mine is legitimate back channel,” Broidy wrote to Gates, a former top Trump campaign aide who Broidy had hired as a consultant. Broidy did not mention that he was in the process of receiving millions of dollars from a shady Malaysian businessman who had sought his help convincing the US government to extradite Guo.

Prosecutors say a cadre of GOP power brokers and fundraisers tried to persuade the Trump administration to hand over Guo to China.

These details were included in an extraordinary August 17 court filing alleging that a cadre of Republican power brokers and fundraisers tried to persuade the Trump administration to hand over Guo to China. In the filing, federal prosecutors say that Broidy broke a law requiring people acting in the United States as agents for foreign principals to register with the Justice Department. Broidy has so far not been charged with any crime. Gates has not been accused of wrongdoing in this matter.

The allegations date to a Wild West moment in Washington, DC, during which Broidy and Gates—two figures now known for their separate involvement in various controversies—joined forces. In early 2017, with established lobbying firms short on ties to Trump, influence peddlers claiming connections to the new president raced to step in. After Trump’s election, Broidy sought business in Romania, Angola, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere, while helping officials from those states gain access to the Trump administration. He hired Gates to advise him on the new administration and to provide “knowledge of how to deal with Trump,” Gates later told federal prosecutors. Broidy has maintained that he did not sell his access to Trump to foreign entities seeking favors from the administration.

The jockeying over Guo’s fate was apparently tied to a complex and bizarre international scheme marked by stunning corruption. According to federal prosecutors, a globe-trotting businessman named Jho Low hired Broidy to persuade the Justice Department to shut down investigations related to the embezzlement of an estimated $4.4 billion dollars from a Malaysian state-owned investment fund known as 1MDB.

Then, after Broidy met with a Chinese government minister at Low’s behest, Broidy and Gates also began pushing a Chinese priority: the deportation of Guo. A mysterious businessman who made billions in real estate in China, Guo fled to the United States in 2014 when it appeared likely that the Chinese government planned to charge him with financial crimes. Then, from a $67.5 million penthouse on Central Park, Guo launched high-profile attacks against Chinese Communist Party leaders, accusing them of corruption. Chinese authorities charged Guo with bribery and fraud in 2017. A former assistant also sued him for rape that year. Guo denies all the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated.

The effort to deport Guo and scuttle the 1MDB probe didn’t work. Guo stayed in the United States and went on to ramp up his anti-China efforts, working closely with another former Trump campaign official, Steve Bannon. As part of an unrelated money-laundering case, Bannon was arrested this month off the coast of Connecticut while staying on a yacht owned by Guo. And the Justice Department did not drop its 1MDB investigation. Low was indicted for money laundering and fraud in 2018. He later agreed to pay $1 billion in restitution, while remaining a fugitive, reportedly in China. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was defeated in a 2017 reelection bid and imprisoned in Malaysia for his role in the 1MDB scandal.

In their court filing, prosecutors charged GOP fundraiser Nickie Lum Davis with acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Davis is expected to plead guilty to one count in an arraignment Monday in federal court, under what a source familiar with the matter said is a cooperation agreement. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Davis is likely to avoid prison. Her attorney, Abbe Lowell, a prominent defense lawyer whose clients include Jared Kushner, did not respond to questions. 

Since 2018, Broidy, a Beverly Hills venture capitalist and owner of a private security and intelligence company, has reportedly faced a federal investigation into his activities. Broidy’s representatives have said he complied with the law. And he’s blamed his troubles on a hack of his email he says was orchestrated by agents of Qatar, who, he alleges, leaked damaging material to the media. Broidy claims Qatar targeted him due to his role supporting a blockade imposed on that country in June 2017 by several of its Middle Eastern neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The UAE in late 2017 awarded Broidy’s defense firm a lucrative contract.

But the case against Davis suggests that Broidy is drawing intensified federal scrutiny. The federal court filing says that Davis “aided and abetted” Broidy’s work as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal. The filing also accuses Pras Michel, the musician and former member of the Fugees, of participating in the undisclosed lobbying effort funded by Low. Federal prosecutors indicted Michel on separate but related charges last year. The Wall Street Journal first reported the allegations against Broidy and Michel in the recent filing.

Gates—who in 2018 struck a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors and who has testified against his longtime partner Paul Manafort and Trump adviser Roger Stone—appears to be helping law enforcement in this current case. Gates described his work with Broidy related to 1MDB in a March 18, 2018, meeting with law enforcement, according to an FBI summary of the session released in response to a freedom of information request by Buzzfeed.  

The court filing submitted in the Davis case does not use the names of Broidy, Gates, Guo, or Michel, instead referring to them as Person B, Person D, PRC National A, and Person A, respectively. But people familiar with the case identified them.

An attorney for Broidy did not respond to questions. Gates’ attorney also did not respond to questions. A lawyer for Michel declined to comment.

The full story laid out by prosecutors is long and complicated. But here’s the gist of what they say happened: In 2016, the Justice Department began investigating Low for allegedly laundering proceeds from Malaysia’s 1MDB scheme in the United States. Low’s many investments included a Hollywood production company involved in several movies, including The Wolf of Wall Street. He developed relationships with celebrities, including Michel. In 2017, Low hoped to derail the Justice Department investigation of 1MDB and sought help in convincing prosecutors to drop the case. Michel connected Low to Davis, who in turn suggested Broidy, whose successful fundraising for Trump gave him entrée to the administration, including direct access to Trump.

According to prosecutors, Broidy, for $1 million, agreed to meet with Low in Bangkok in May 2017. For an $8 million retainer, Broidy began working to sway the Justice Department to drop its 1MDB investigation. To maintain distance from Low, Broidy allegedly demanded that the money come through another source. Payments went from a Hong Kong entity controlled by Low to a company created by Michel, then to an account connected to Broidy’s wife’s law practice. Broidy also drafted a contract through which he would be paid a $75 million “success fee” if the Justice Department dropped its 1MDB investigation within 180 days.

“Instead of being positive, this is now causing me damage.”

Broidy texted Gates in May, asking him to help set up a meeting between Trump and Najib, prosecutors say. The next month, Broidy began pushing for a round of golf between the two world leaders. Broidy believed such a meeting would allow the Malaysian prime minister to “attempt to resolve the 1MDB matter,” according to the filing. Broidy, who at the same time was seeking a defense contract with Malaysia, also “hoped that arranging golf with the President would further his business interests,” prosecutors say. In late June 2017, Broidy began pressing Gates and a “high ranking official in the White House” to arrange the golf outing. Broidy told the official that Trump had agreed to golf with Najib at one of Trump’s own courses. 

As Broidy struggled to secure a date for the leaders to golf, he lashed out at the White House official. “I know you are busy and procedures apply but I’ve been more than patient,” he wrote. “Instead of being positive, this is now causing me damage. I would truly appreciate it if you could get back to me with a date. Thank you!”

Though the golf meeting never occurred, Najib did get a meeting with Trump in September 2017, and he also met with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August. According to the court filing, Michel gave Davis talking points “on behalf of” Low, then a target of the 1MDB investigation. These talking points, which said the 1MDB investigation had “caused unnecessary tension” in US-Malaysian relations, were intended for Tillerson as background. According to prosecutors, Davis gave the talking points to Broidy, who sent them to Gates, who said he would forward them to Tillerson’s office. 

Broidy didn’t stop there. On October 6, 2017, he met with Trump at the White House. Afterward, Broidy told Low he had raised the 1MDB investigation with Trump, prosecutors say.

Concurrently, Broidy was pushing for Guo’s extradition, an effort he launched after a secret May 2017 meeting with Sun Lijun, then China’s vice minister of public security, in a hotel suite in Shenzhen, China. The meeting had been arranged by Low. Sun is not named in the filing but was identified by the Wall Street Journal. A source confirmed his identity to Mother Jones. Sun is now reportedly the subject of a corruption investigation in China.

Later that month, Broidy sent Gates a memo intended for Sessions. The memo cited an “opportunity for significantly increased law enforcement cooperation with China” on cybersecurity if Guo were deported. Prosecutors say that the content of the memo came from Low and Sun and that Gates told Broidy he delivered the memo to Sessions. A Justice Department spokesperson said in 2018 that Sessions did not receive the memo.

Broidy tried other avenues to help the Chinese win Guo’s extradition. He worked to get Sun high-level meetings during a US visit in late May 2017, including with Sessions, an effort that apparently failed. And in July, Broidy exchanged text messages with the senior White House official about Guo, prosecutors say.

Broidy also helped arrange for phone calls between Sun and casino mogul Steve Wynn, a friend of Trump who at the time was the RNC’s finance chair. On August 19, 2017, Broidy and Wynn called Trump from Wynn’s yacht to push for Guo’s extradition, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors did not use Wynn’s name in the legal filing; he was first identified by the Journal. In a statement, Wynn’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten, said Wynn’s actions were undertaken “not on behalf of a foreign government but rather entirely for the benefit of the United States.” Weingarten said Wynn had cooperated with the federal investigation into the matter.

Wynn stepped down from his RNC post in January 2018 amid allegations he had pressured employees at his casino company to perform sex acts. Wynn has denied those allegations. Broidy resigned from his RNC post in April 2018 after admitting he had paid $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who said she became pregnant during an affair with him.

In a statement to Mother Jones, Guo said China’s Communist Party has targeted him for “exposing their weaknesses.” He said the case against Davis “is only the tip of a far-ranging campaign the Chinese Communist Party has undertaken utilizing corrupt lawyers, government officials, and so-called lobbyists and political consultants to influence the US government at the highest levels to take action against me.”

“I have cooperated directly with the FBI and commend the US Department of Justice’s efforts to oust Nickie Lum Davis, CCP spies, and those greedy US accomplices who are willing to shed their democratic ideals to support the CCP,” he said.

After Protesters Clash in Portland, Trump Takes to Twitter to Fan Violent Flames and Spread Misleading Claims

On Sunday morning, as President Donald Trump made his way to his golf course in Sterling, Virginia, he passed a Grim Reaper waving the sign that read “183K”—a reference to the mounting death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.

Hours earlier, instead of focusing on his government’s pandemic response or condemning the killing of a man shot in Portland, Oregon, Trump took to Twitter to champion his supporters and condemn Black Lives Matter protesters as the two groups clashed in the Oregon city on Saturday night.

First, at 4 a.m., he took to Twitter to label Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler a “FOOL” and called on the National Guard to intervene in Portland’s demonstrations. The video featured Trump supporters shooting paintballs at peaceful protesters.

The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching and incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing. The people of Portland won’t put up with no safety any longer.The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard! https://t.co/bM6ypak94t

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020

Then, he cried out to the “GREAT PATRIOTS,” a caravan of Trump supporters headed to demonstrations in Portland:

GREAT PATRIOTS! https://t.co/BWGxVoBTmI

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020

At 6:49 a.m., Trump then retweeted a misleading claim that simply reinforced his warped view that all of the so-called “unsafe” cities are led by Democrats.

Thank you Lisa. Well stated!!! https://t.co/k0urkflQdx

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020

The truth, of course, is more complicated. “Murders are also up in Jacksonville and Miami, both of which are overseen by Republican mayors and a Republican governor. And this is all happening under Trump’s presidency,” Vox‘s German Lopez wrote. “The trend doesn’t appear to be partisan.” 

A few minutes later, Trump responded to a tweet by National Review editor Rich by calling on DC Mayor Muriel Bowser to “arrest these agitators” or else the “Federal Government will do it for you.” The video Lowry shared features Black Lives Matter protesters in the nation’s capital blocking traffic while protesting in the streets. 

.@MayorBowser should arrest these agitators and thugs!Clean up D.C. or the Federal Government will do it for you. Enough!!! @MayorBowser https://t.co/45RzrDqw1q

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020

On Saturday night, the White House announced that Trump would visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, as demonstrations unfolded in the streets. But on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Rep. Karen Bass of California saw through the purpose of the visit as a means to “to agitate things and make things worse.”

Democratic Rep. Karen Bass says she thinks President Trump's upcoming visit to Kenosha has "one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to agitate things and to make things worse" https://t.co/hmSUc0IwQH #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/ov4o9jynAa

— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) August 30, 2020

In yet another sign of how Trump is fixated on gaining support, no matter how stained the source, he “liked” a tweet commending 17-year-old Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, who was charged with killing two men and injuring another during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Trump dodged a question about Rittenhouse on Saturday, telling a reporter: “We’re looking at it very, very carefully.”

The president liked a tweet that says accused Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse “is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump.” pic.twitter.com/l0qvMIkB7C

— Patrick Marley (@patrickdmarley) August 30, 2020

And it wouldn’t be a typical Sunday morning in the Trump White House without the president shouting his typical racist dog whistle, one that has become foundational to his 2020 campaign:

LAW & ORDER!!!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020

The president’s tweets represent a means to an end. His retweets of his supporters shooting paintballs at protesters in Portland serves to instigate the violence-riddled vision of American cities he thinks is true. He leverages his platform to decry anti-racist protesters, frustrated at the near-monthly injustices they are seeing as “agitators” to reinforce the misleading notion that American cities, specifically Democrat-led ones, are unruly and in shambles. It’s a Nixonian message from a time long past that’s meant to sow discontent, to create a chaotic view of American life months before his reelection and depict an unstable society that he believes he alone can fix. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Former Intel Officials Thought Mueller Was Investigating Trump’s Personal and Financial Ties to Russia. He Wasn’t.

Former longtime intelligence officials saw President Donald Trump’s extensive history of financial dealings with Russia as such a possible national security threat, they thought it warranted a sweeping investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election.

But as a new book notes, from the start of the investigation, the Justice Department narrowed the inquiry to a criminal investigation into whether the Trump campaign associates broke laws in connection to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. What’s more, it did not tell the the FBI about the investigation, “all but ensuring it would go nowhere,” writes Michael S. Schmidt in his upcoming book, Donald Trump v. the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein determined that the FBI didn’t have enough evidence to warrant a sweeping investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia. Rosenstein also thought the intelligence agency’s director, Andrew McCabe, who approved the inquiry, had conflicts of interest. As Schmidt writes:

Mr. Rosenstein never told Mr. McCabe about his decision, leaving the F.B.I. with the impression that the special counsel would take on the investigation into the president as part of his broader duties. Mr. McCabe said in an interview that had he known Mr. Mueller would not continue the inquiry, he would have had the F.B.I. perform it.

“We opened this case in May 2017 because we had information that indicated a national security threat might exist, specifically a counterintelligence threat involving the president and Russia,” Mr. McCabe said. “I expected that issue and issues related to it would be fully examined by the special counsel team. If a decision was made not to investigate those issues, I am surprised and disappointed. I was not aware of that.”

FBI officials had questioned whether Russia had influence on the president, so much so that Trump fired former director James Comey to derail any further investigation. The revelation that the Justice Department never explored Trump’s personal and financial ties to Russia, and neither did the FBI, raises significant questions leading up to the 2020 election. As Schmidt noted:

Mr. Trump has sought to build a Trump Tower in Moscow for at least two decades, including during the campaign. His son Eric once said the Trump Organization relied on Russia for “all the funding we need” to purchase several golf courses in the United States. And the Senate report this month revealed the allegations of Mr. Trump’s potentially compromising encounters with women in Moscow in 1996 and 2013.

In May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller launched his investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government” and the Trump campaign, but later told Congress he had not conducted a counterintelligence investigation. Rosenstein reportedly told Mueller that if he wanted to expand the investigation, he had to ask for additional resources. Mueller, in turn, built a staff “to investigate crimes, not threats to national security,” Schmidt reported. A Republican-led Senate intelligence report concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win, a determination also made by Trump’s own intelligence agency (whom he has frequently attacked), though both reports found there hadn’t been a coordinated conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

What’s more, the Senate report determined that Trump’s campaign advisers had extensive contact with people tied to the Russian government, including one associate whom the report called a “Russian intelligence officer.”

In short, Rosenstein’s decision to not go forward with a counterintelligence inquiry and instead prematurely narrow the inquiry’s scope to possible crimes limited what the public could know about its president—ahead of yet another election. 

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