Mother Jones Magazine

The Trump Files: Donald Reenacts an Iconic Scene From “Top Gun”

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 22, 2016.

The dad jeans. The extra-mullet-like hair. The goofy fall. There’s not much to say here—just watch Donald perform the world’s least sexy reenactment of the Top Gun volleyball scene.


No one seems to know when this feat of athleticism actually happened, but the Huffington Post pointed out that the clip was used as The Daily Show’s Moment of Zen in 1999.

Samantha Bee on What That C-Word Controversy Taught Her About Trump-Era Comedy

Samantha Bee doesn’t think comedy will take Trump down. She calls her craft “impotent beyond belief” in the face of the daily presidential wrecking ball. But then, the creator and star of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee on TBS thinks preaching to the choir is absolutely fine—moral, even.

“Talking to the people that you agree with is very good,” she tells Washington, DC, Bureau Chief David Corn in an interview for the Mother Jones Podcast recorded onstage at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. “I think it’s important to have as many voices as possible just go, ‘This is wrong. I disagree with this. This is how it should be. We’re not all crazy!”

When she started, Bee felt sure that airing just six episodes would result in the whole show being canceled for being too sharply opinionated. Now she thinks of her weekly Emmy Award–winning (and just renominated) program—in its fifth season despite the pandemic—as “my own little historical record of this age.” It’s become a platform from which she educates, commiserates, and shocks, with a panoply of facts, jokes, and mini-seminars about how the hell we got here and how to fix it. And she couldn’t care less if her critics call her an activist. “Look, when you have a show, you’ve got to do something with it,” she says. “To not use it to do something with it in a time of great distress feels like a huge waste to me. Why wouldn’t you?”

In April 2017, Time magazine named Bee one of the 100 most influential people in the world. But while the nation is “clawing our way onto the beach” for the 2020 election, Bee frames her effectiveness as a comedian in subtler, more personal terms: “I’m excited to just even incrementally try to make a single person’s life a little bit better.”

This interview, recorded in early February before multiple crises swept America, is part of a limited series co-produced by Mother Jones and the Comedy Cellar. Don’t miss Corn’s recent interviews with Debbie Harry and John Leguizamo.

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Below is an edited transcript of the conversation:

We’re at the Comedy Cellar. We’re onstage. Have you ever done stand-up?

No, I’m not a stand-up. I did theater. I did sketch comedy. My stagecraft experience is extensive. I just light up the stages, but not the stand-up stages. I don’t do this. This is terrifying, although I’m getting a really warm reception here in this empty room. I like it. I am from Canada. I have a full awareness that I am not a night owl. It’s not the job for me. I get up really early and I go to bed really early. It’s not a lifestyle that I could live.

And yet there you are on late-night TV?

Here I am on late night TV, but we tape it at 6:30 p.m.

No, don’t break the illusion.

Oh, sorry. It flies off the tip of my tongue at 10:29 p.m.

When you started Full Frontal in 2016 there was a lot of buzz about you cracking the boys’ club of late-night TV.

I did. It is a history-making show, for sure. I’m really proud of that.

And has it gone the way you envisioned?

No. It was a great time to launch a show because it was like a fucking clown car of people just fumbling their way across the stage. The world is a different place now. We’re in a presidential election campaign, obviously, and the players are not nearly as fun. People don’t want to make jokes about them at all. It’s a very different world to make a political comedy show, but I accept.

Is that because people are more upset, outraged, angry?

Sure. They should be.

Does that make it harder to do comedy, when the stakes are high?

No, it’s never really a hard job to make comedy. It has its challenges, but it’s still making a comedy show, which is awesome. I definitely lean more into my agita than the boys [of late-night comedy] do, but I have more to be mad about, I think. Point of view is everything. It’s very important to me. I don’t want to do it any other way. I want to have fun, I want to do stupid stuff, but ultimately I do have a lot to say in this climate, so I’m going to say it as long as I have a show and breath in my body.

“I do have a lot to say in this climate, so I’m going to say it as long as I have a show and breath in my body.”

Is there too much material?

In a previous world, we could’ve planned a show a little further along, but now, as you know, this is the experience of anybody who works in news in any capacity, the day looks so different at the end than it did at the beginning. We basically try to plan for a first act of the show on a Thursday or a Friday and then we throw it all in the trash and figure it out on Tuesday, and then we figure it out again on Wednesday.

Do you think comedy is an effective weapon against Trump, or anyone else?

Absolutely impotent beyond belief. No. It’s not really effective. I doubt that my show changes anybody’s minds about anything, and I’m totally fine with that. I think catharsis is very important, and that’s what I intend to provide. We try to be informational. We try to encourage people to make the change they want to see. We try to encourage people to be active and involved. But that’s about all you can really do.

In some ways, I feel like the show right now is just my own little historical record of this age. I think it’s important to have as many voices as possible just go, “This is wrong. I disagree with this. This is how it should be. We’re not all crazy. This is what real people think and our opinion has value and I stake my claim on this piece of land.” And say it into the air and then that’s it.

Can anti-Trump satire be too mean?


Can you go too far?

No. God, no. No. You can go so far that you almost get your show canceled, but, basically, ethically, I don’t think so. They’ve done some very odious things, and so I feel pretty confident in my point of view. I think our show’s on the right side of history and I think they’re on the wrong side of history.

Well, speaking of being mean, I’m going to ask you about what happened in 2018.

My show’s not that mean, David. It’s not that mean.

I don’t think what you said was mean, but other people thought that you said something mean about poor Ivanka Trump, when you were talking about the horrific family separation policy at the border and you described her as a “feckless cunt.” That created a gigantic firestorm with people calling for your head and for you to be fired. And I’m wondering, what was it like to be in the middle of all that and what did you learn from that experience?

I learned that I’m a wildly strong person. It was like slowly walking across hot coals. It was really, really challenging, and I came to the other side and I went, “You really can’t break me. That’s good. I’m good. I’m all set.” I’ve been in this business for a long time, and I’ve taken a lot of kicks in the teeth, a lot, and that one was pretty tough. But I came out the other side, the show was more popular than ever, and I felt fine.

“I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’ve taken a lot of kicks in the teeth, a lot.”

Did it ever feel like you were actually fighting for your survival?

We were definitely at risk of getting canceled, and we did not. I think the powers-that-be made the right decision, and they did support us and I’m eternally grateful for that because I’ve got a lot of people working for me that I did not want to put out of work because I made a judgment call.

On any other day, I think that joke would’ve been fine. It just struck a nerve and people went wild. People surround Ivanka and treat her as though she is a precious porcelain doll. She does play a very big role in the administration, and so, effective or not, she’s there in the White House. I think that anyone who’s in the White House playing a role like that is subject to scrutiny.

It was a very exciting couple of days in the news cycle. There were a lot of just breathless reports about how debased I was and the conversation around civility. Unfortunately, the conversation about family separation was completely diverted because I said a naughty word on camera, which I had said, by the way, in many episodes. It wasn’t like I hadn’t said that word before—it was just that this one really ignited people.

But the thing that really, really enraged me that I will never forget and absolutely never forgive is the number of valid news outlets that made the whole thing about my civility. What a shame that a conversation about family separation had to be consumed by conversations about this naughty word, and they were having panel discussions about it. I’m like, “You motherfuckers have news shows. You are news outlets. It is your literal job to say, ‘Okay, I acknowledge that thing happened, somebody said a bad word on TV. Now let’s actually talk about family separations.'” It was all about me and my dumb thing, which was fucking nothing, and they made it a story for days when there was something so big to talk about.

I’m a comedy show. I said a bad word in the service of a bigger story. It’s their job to take the conversation back to the actual news item. I will never, ever forgive the people who did that or respect them again. I learned a lot about people. I learned a lot about where they want to put their attention and their focus.

You recently had kinder words for Ivanka.

I did.

After the White House passed a bill guaranteeing paid family leave for federal workers, you gave her credit for helping to get this done and you said, “I guess even a Trump has to do something right occasionally.”

I give credit where credit is due. She did push that through. She did fight for it. For what it’s worth. And it’s valuable to people. It makes a difference in people’s lives to not have to struggle with no paid family leave.

And then we announced our own paid family leave policy, which is very robust and I’m very, very proud of it. It certainly beats any other late-night show in terms of family leave. We’re offering 20 weeks of full pay as family leave. If you’re adopting a child, if you’re a same-sex couple, any version of family leave, we offer 20 weeks of full pay—that’s for the primary caregiver, and we also offer, I think, four weeks to a secondary caregiver. It’s quite good.

You announced this on air and you challenged other late-night shows to do the same or better. What’s been the response?

“Who knows how long a person has a show, but while you’re doing it, you should try to make changes that try to leave the world a little better than when you started.”

We have heard from a couple of the shows who want to learn more about our policy. Who knows how long a person has a show, but while you’re doing it, you should try to make changes that try to leave the world a little better than when you started. I think it’s good if it encourages other shows to do the same thing, which they absolutely can do. These are shows with enormous budgets.

I’m excited when people have babies. I love babies.

You’ve been promoting protest events back to the Woman’s March. You raise money. You’re explicit about not just supporting the idea that Trump’s a threat but promoting the people doing something on the ground. I’m not going to ask if that’s hard in a comic way but is that something you thought about before you started? For some people, that would be, “Oh that’s crossing a line. She’s an activist, not just a comic getting laughs.”

I guess you could say that, but I don’t really care. I still make a funny comedy show. It’s not a show that’s pure activism and I do get that there’s a fine line between those things, but I think that when we’ve done that, we’ve done it in just the right way, and we’ve walked that line correctly, every time, and we’ve folded it into the bigger narrative of the show and made it really seamless. When you have a show, you’ve got to do something with it. You have this big platform and you’re directly addressing your audience. It’s not like doing a sitcom or a police procedural. We’re interacting with our audiences every time we perform the show. To not use it to do something with it in a time of great distress feels like a huge waste to me. 

What aggravates you most about the media?

I mostly love it. I mostly love it because how can I make my show unless you do your work? I can’t make my show without real investigative journalism happening on the ground, and that’s really hard work. It’s fine for me to sit back and go, “Oh, you should’ve done this and you should’ve done that,” but really I can’t make my show without Frontline doing their work. John Oliver can’t make his show without Frontline doing their work. We all use all the footage that they sweat blood for and get paid 12 cents for.

You’ve joked on the show about a civil war coming after the 2020 election. But results aside, where do you think the country will be at that point?

I can’t imagine, but blood just started to trickle out of my nose the moment you started talking about it. It’s scary. I don’t think it’s going to be great. I don’t have the answer. I’m a shrieking harpy. What are you talking about? I don’t have the answer to how we get back to phony pleasantries. I don’t know. 

Do you fear that we’ve reached a point of no return?

No. It could get much worse. Don’t you worry. In a year, we’ll look back on this this and go, “Oh, remember when? Remember when we were like, ‘Is this rock bottom?’ He went so much further down.”

Do you see yourself being one of these late-night hosts who stick around for decades and decades if possible?

God no. No thank you. I’m not that much of a media whore. I like being on TV, but it doesn’t define me as a person. I’ve got a lot of TV projects that I’m working on that I can’t really talk about, but I’m trying to make all kinds of TV happen, for sure. Yes, I like being on camera, but I also like being behind the camera. I like it all.

I can totally handle it. I’m ready. Do you know that I’m a beekeeper? How on-brand. How ridiculous. It started recently. Well, my mom used to do it when I was a kid. She dabbled in bees, and then I was like “I want to do that too.” I love honey and I eat it constantly, so I got my own beehive, and that’s a meditation, trust me.

How many bees does Samantha Bee have?

50,000. That’s one hive. I’m very calm around them and they’re very calm around me and we’re all in a mediation together. It’s quite nice.

Samantha, there’s one question I like to ask all of our guests, who tend to be very successful and accomplished: What’s been your biggest failure?

I’ve had lots and lots of failures, lots of times when I was not confident, when I didn’t ask for what I needed, but I actually don’t reflect on my life in terms of successes and failures. Is it too much. I’m staring into my beehive and getting mellow. I think of them more as setbacks than failures. I definitely learned something from them, so I don’t really regret them. When I was a teenager, I committed a spree of crimes, and I’m not proud of that. That’s one thing I wish that I hadn’t done.

Can you tell us more?

It was carjacking, stealing cars, with my boyfriend. It always seems like I’m trying to tell a cool story about the cool kid I was, but I don’t feel cool about it. I don’t think it was a great chapter of my life. I was really turning into not a great person, and I probably could’ve skipped that stage of my life. It was brief, maybe two years. I got over it when I was 17.

We didn’t send them to chop shops or anything, but we just used them as our car and would abandon it somewhere. Of course we would steal the stereo and sell that and then have wild parties, but that was a failure. I talk to my kids about it and I’m very honest about it, and they’re so shocked.

I remember the fork in the road where I woke up one day and went, “What am I doing? What is this? Where are we going here?” and I completely took the other path. I dropped everything from that life. Overnight, I was like “We are not dating anymore. These are not my friends. I’m taking a different tack. I’m going back to the good little Catholic girl I used to be.” And that was very meaningful, but I think that if I was going to erase or change one part of my life, I probably didn’t need that one.

It was a failure of my character at the time to be so transactional, and I’ve taken a lot of care, from the age of 16, to try to be thoughtful and generous and give back and repair that. I don’t know. It all folds into the same person.

Can you still hot-wire a car?

No, cars are different now.

An Embattled President. A Mass Movement. A Military Used Against Citizens. We’ve Been Here Before.

This article is adapted from Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest (published Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

On the first Monday of May 1971, the police chief of Washington, DC, was in his cruiser well before dawn. In the darkness, Jerry Vernon Wilson picked up his police radio and broadcast to all hands the message he’d received on Saturday directly from the lips of Richard M. Nixon. “The desire of the president,” Wilson told them, “is that this city be open for business this week.”

For weeks, demonstrators had been flowing into Washington for marches, rallies, and sit-down protests, demanding an end to America’s war in Vietnam. The nonstop action had exhausted the police force and eroded the patience and confidence of the White House. Now the authorities worried about the finale of those protests, an action that would be the most audacious since the antiwar movement began six years earlier.

When the workweek got underway on May 3, the protesters, who called themselves the Mayday Tribe, planned to stream through the city, using their bodies and their cars to block bridges, traffic circles, and the approaches to government office buildings. Deprive Washington of its workers, and the federal city would stall. Mayday’s leaders hoped this unprecedented show of public disaffection would raise the “spectre of social chaos,” knocking Nixon off course and forcing him to bring all the troops home from Southeast Asia. For months, posters with the Mayday motto had been pasted on walls and bulletin boards at hundreds of universities, coffeehouses, and bookstores across the country: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”

“If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”

Monday loomed as the largest act of mass civil disobedience the nation had ever seen, a coda to the most extraordinary season of dissent in Washington’s history. The chief knew he would be under scrutiny like never before, from the demonstrators, the press, city officials—and of course Nixon’s men. They were breathing down his neck. Richard Kleindienst, the deputy attorney general, arranged for one of his trusted aides to stick close to Wilson for the next three days. This would keep Kleindienst informed and, just as important, make the administration’s wishes known to the police chief in real time.

Still, Wilson permitted himself a bit of overconfidence. The day before, the chief had led his riot squad in an early morning raid on the Mayday encampment by the Potomac River. More than 40,000 people, most of them young, had arrived at West Potomac Park from all over the country, far more than Nixon’s men had expected. An all-day, all-night rock concert was a lot of the draw, but a good portion of the crowd had arrived to get ready for Monday’s blockade. It hadn’t been Wilson’s idea to secretly revoke their camping permit and force them to scatter; in fact he had initially resisted it. But now that it was done, he and his command believed the vast majority wouldn’t be back. The youngsters looked to be undisciplined, and there was no reason to think they had the capacity to act decisively as a group. Surprises were unlikely, since the cops had informants inside the Mayday planning meetings. 

Washington Police Chief Jerry Wilson during anti-war demonstrations in Washington DC.
John Shearer/Life Picture Collection/Getty

So the police relaxed a little, and the bulk of the department didn’t get going until after 5 in the morning. The wagons, prisoner buses, and patrol cars aimed to get into position by a quarter to six. That would be plenty early, they figured, a good 15 minutes before the Washington traffic got heavy.

But the police were about to reckon with the consequences of their Sunday action. While the Mayday Tribe had appeared meek, the early show of force by the authorities had actually toughened the determination of the exiled campers. As for the thousands of other demonstrators in town—the ones who, instead of sleeping by the river, had found lodging in homes, churches, and dorm rooms—they now had absorbed both the news of the park raid and the early reports of troops pouring into town. It erased any doubt that the government would go to extremes. Perhaps the police and the army would try to bottle them up on the campuses or seal off their targets before they even got started. As a result, many groups decided to hit the streets early, before five. Within an hour, it became obvious to Wilson.

This was going to be a tough day after all.

Police and government agents had been warning for months about the Mayday promise of “mobile tactics,” essentially a kind of hit-and-run civil disobedience by small clusters of protesters called “affinity groups.” Officials largely dismissed it as just another bit of overheated radical rhetoric. But it didn’t take long for everyone to discover its potential.

It never had been a big problem for police to manage a static act of civil disobedience, one in which demonstrators would simply sit or lie down where they weren’t supposed to, refuse to move, and wait to be arrested as a symbolic act. In DC, the white-helmeted riot police typically would contain them with a formation they called a close squad column, planting themselves on the street like a row of intimidating fence posts. Wagons would pull up to the edge of the crowd, and officers would remove people one by one in an orderly fashion. If crowds became unruly, the police would aim for dispersal rather than detention. Their columns would sweep in formation through the area, firing tear-gas bombs to panic the crowd into a stampede. Suspects could more easily be picked off after a chase.

Now there were a couple of new wrinkles. During the 1968 riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., hundreds had been swept up for violating a citywide curfew and were held for many hours without specific charges. A blue-ribbon commission was set up to suggest methods that would both protect civil liberties and smooth the courtroom process in the midst of disorder. As part of the revised rules of engagement, police had agreed that during future mass detentions, they would fill out official records on the spot. These field arrest forms, as they were called, were shorter than the paperwork used at the station houses, so they could be completed quickly. In addition, police would have to take a photograph of each suspect with the arresting officer. To that end, the department had purchased a slew of Polaroid Swingers, the first cheap instant cameras, which had created a new mass market for pictures that developed as you held them with your fingers. (“Meet the Swinger,” went the ad jingle, sung by a young Barry Manilow.) Wilson ordered officers assigned to patrol wagons to bring lots of extra film and flashbulbs for Mayday.

All this was supposed to discourage indiscriminate arrests, and to make certain there would be no doubt in court who had busted the suspect and why. The 1968 commission had written, “If we are to be concerned with the quality of the justice, as well as the efficiency of the system, it is obvious that the police must be forced to exercise maximum responsibility in completing the record of the offense.”

 Mayday would stretch this system to the breaking point. These new rules would prove “grossly inadequate” to cope with mobile tactics, as one of Wilson’s lieutenants would write in an after-action report.

The police and military response to Mayday was crafted in the weeks before Mayday at a series of war councils convened by Nixon’s men around a conference table in Kleindienst’s office at the Justice Department. They had been taken aback by the size and depth of the Spring Offensive, which was the name that disparate antiwar organizations had given to the series of demonstrations they brought to DC in April and May, a rare moment of unity for their movement. About a thousand embittered military veterans of Vietnam had been first to arrive. They camped defiantly on the National Mall and hurled their combat medals and ribbons onto the steps of the Capitol. Next, on April 24, came an enormous march of more than 400,000 people, almost certainly bigger than any previous gathering in the nation’s capital. “The people that lead this are left-wing sons of bitches,” Nixon declared in private. “They’re not patriots. I’ll lay you money, in that group that’s down here, you won’t find 1 in 100 that ever served in Vietnam. Little bastards are draft dodgers, country-haters, or don’t-cares.”

But the Spring Offensive had already cost the administration some political points. Nixon’s inner circle was determined to chalk up a victory in the next and final round.

He and his aides fretted that the veterans’ protest, in particular, was turning public opinion in the wrong direction. The vets may be “the rattiest-looking people in the world,” Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman told Nixon, but “they’re getting a hell of a play, which is too damn bad, because it’s so totally out of proportion.” Haldeman complained that there were “about six paraplegics” in the crowd and the press was writing “nauseating stories” about them. “God, everything you read would make you think all those guys out there had no legs!” he said. Henry Kissinger, the national security adviser, said, “I’m sure a significant percentage are phonies [who] get five minutes on national television every night.”

Outwardly, Nixon pretended that the demonstrations had no effect on him or his policies. When a caucus of Republican senators suggested a special meeting with the president about the Mayday protest, Nixon refused. In addition, the issue “should not be raised” at the regular weekly policy meeting between the White House and the GOP lawmakers, the chief of staff noted: “If it is, P will not speak to the subject.” Nixon arranged to be out of town during Mayday, at his Western White House in San Clemente, California. But he would stay on an East Coast schedule and would demand hourly updates from the White House.

Brooding at Camp David during the weekend of the April 24 march, the president had been obsessed with developing “a counterattack.” He wanted his aides to get out the word that television had covered the vets “in a totally unfair way” and to “be sure we’re alert to handling the violent demonstrations when they come up.”

Although the White House men had taken to calling the Mayday Tribe “the violent group,” and Attorney General John Mitchell branded its members as “terrorists,” there was no evidence, beyond the whispers from some sketchy informants, of violent actions on the agenda. No one had been talking about putting anything on intersections and bridges other than themselves and the occasional stalled car. But the Spring Offensive had already cost the administration some political points. Nixon’s inner circle was determined to chalk up a victory in the next and final round.

President Nixon with John Ehrlichman, Henry Kissinger and H.R. Haldeman in the Oval Office, 10th February 1971.
Estate of Fred J. Maroon

To do so, Nixon was trying to thread a very small needle. For his purposes, Mayday needed to be just troublesome and violent enough to obliterate any favorable opinion the average American might hold about the April demonstrations. “The next group comes in, just does a little destruction, that’s about what we need now,” he had told his closest advisers. But at the same time, Mayday couldn’t be robust enough to cripple the government’s operations because that could make Nixon look weak and incompetent; worse, it might reenergize the protesters. So the president had to undermine the protesters and be ready to hammer them down.

Most important, Nixon had to keep both tactics from the public. Revealing his deep concern could embolden the movement. And if things went terribly wrong during the crackdown—Chicago ’68? Kent State ’70?—the White House needed to be able to plausibly deny its role.

Kissinger helped stir the president up. As far as the New Left was concerned, the war wasn’t even the real issue, Kissinger insisted to Nixon. “They want to break confidence in the government,” he said. “They don’t give a damn about Vietnam, because as soon as Vietnam is finished, I will guarantee the radicals will be all over us” for other things.

Let them try, Nixon replied. “They know that they never will influence me.”

Then Kissinger pressed perhaps too far, suggesting obliquely that Nixon hadn’t been tough enough on the radicals. “I am wondering, Mr. President…whether one isn’t on the wrong wicket, batting back the balls they throw? Whether one shouldn’t accuse them of turning the thing over to the Communists?” He had hit one of Nixon’s hot buttons, and the president was stung. He said, “I think I have been on the offensive as much as I can be.”

Then Nixon added, “Or should I do more? I can hit them harder.”

At first Monday’s action unfolded slowly. The Mayday Tribe had distributed thousands of copies of a 24-page “tactical manual,” with detailed maps and photographs of the targeted chokepoints, as well as tips for thwarting police. Site One was a busy intersection of several highways on the Virginia side of the Potomac, just over the Francis Scott Key Bridge. There, the river valley provided “excellent, low, flat, open areas” for a hit-and-run protest. Many of the drivers passing through every day, the manual noted, were bound for the Pentagon to help manage the reviled war.

Police had copies of the manual and thus advance warning about every objective. But demonstrators beat them to this target. A little before 5:30 a.m., dozens of people moved into the main feeder road, the George Washington Parkway, and erected barricades across the lanes, using whatever they could find, including small boulders they rolled down from the adjoining woods.

Across the Key Bridge sat Georgetown, the tony neighborhood that housed many of the city’s political and media elite, including plenty who had long championed the American presence in Indochina. Near Georgetown University, one group drove their car onto a freeway and managed to overturn it. Others sat down in the middle of Georgetown’s main commercial intersection. Still another cluster of protesters began stringing a cable across one of the busiest roads. Traffic was becoming hopelessly snarled. Cops with cruisers, motorcycles, or scooters scrambled to the scene. The demonstrators dashed into the adjacent woods or across the highway. The police fired tear gas and grabbed the few they could catch.

There seemed to be more Mayday people on the streets than Wilson expected. Still the chief thought the chaos seemed controllable. His conviction didn’t last long.

The Mayday Tribe’s final map of targets.
Courtesy DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division

As the minutes ticked by, the police radio began crackling nonstop with reports from all over town. Several police cars broadcast emergency calls at the same time, talking over each other in rising anxiety. “Let one unit go at a time,” pleaded a desperate dispatcher. The transmissions became more garbled and distorted. “Lots of groups in the city,” reported one cruiser. “Large group at Seventh and D and Ninth and Mount Vernon—can’t tell where they are going,” said another.

Then faster and faster: “Large groups in Rock Creek stopping traffic on overpasses”…“All units — gas is being used on Prospect Street”…“Get your men out and lock them up”…“Expedite transport”…“Need a bus”…“Too big a crowd for the men there to handle”… “North Capitol Street, group heading south”…“Two cars overturned Connecticut and Calvert”…“Fourteenth and Jefferson, large crowd”…“Mount Vernon Park, large group about one thousand”… “a thousand at Nineteenth and New York”…“They have southbound Fourteenth Street Bridge blocked”…“Seventeenth and Q now being blocked.”

And finally, from all over town, with increasing urgency: “Send help”…“Need more help”…“Need people”…“Need more police”…“Need assistance right away!”…“Hurry up!”

By 6:30 a.m., “the entire police operation was in a condition-red status,” as one officer would later report, and it would not be long before both procedures and decorum broke down.

At the war councils the previous week, Chief Wilson usually had been the only city official among the dozen or so in attendance. The rest came from the White House, Justice, the Interior Department, and the military. The district didn’t yet have home rule, and its officials were appointed, so Wilson essentially answered to the president. Forty-three years old and 6-foot-4, Wilson had the calm self-assurance of a big man. He had been running the police department for less than two years but had spent his entire adult life as a DC cop. When he arrived in Washington as a 21-year-old fresh from small-town North Carolina, his drawl was so thick, it stood out even in a city still deeply rooted in the South. The year before, he’d become the first cop to receive the annual brotherhood award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which among other things had been impressed by the chief’s performance during three mass marches against the Vietnam War, all of which had gone off without widespread violence by the participants or the police.

Wilson had sought to calm the others, suggesting the threat from the Mayday Tribe was being exaggerated. He just didn’t believe these protesters were fundamentally different than the people who’d been keeping police busy for the past couple of weeks. True, there had been hundreds of arrests for sit-ins and the minor destruction of property. But the overwhelming majority of the demonstrations had been peaceful. And face it, the objective of Mayday was not to overthrow the government but to paralyze Washington for a day or so. Wilson could remember the huge blizzard that blew into the city a few years earlier, closing roads for days, crippling public transport, and triggering food shortages that led to some rationing. It was hard to imagine Mayday’s impact could be as bad, no matter how many protesters it pulled in.

Protest leader Rennie Davis faces demonstrators who said they’d stay despite a government order evicting them from their camp site near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, May 2, 1971. Viet Cong flag is at upper left. Many anti-war campers left when told, some saying they’d return for an attempt to close down the government on Monday.

But for Kleindienst, the looming challenge presented a chance for a kind of vindication. The blustery and profane 47-year-old Arizona lawyer, who carried himself in an imposing stance that, as one friend put it, looked “like he was about ready to tee off,” had been one of the inventors of law and order as a national Republican campaign issue. He had warned for years that the New Left would grow increasingly dangerous if the government didn’t come down hard.

In addition to thousands of police and National Guard troops, Kleindienst wanted to call up 10,000 regular troops. He had already overridden the objections of military leaders, who were skeptical that the situation warranted exceptions from the Posse Comitatus and Insurrection acts, which effectively made it illegal to use the armed forces for domestic law enforcement in any but the most extreme circumstances. For example, Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson, had followed the rules when he called in regular troops to help quell the uprising in DC following the 1968 King assassination. LBJ had issued a formal order that the crowds were to disperse and, when they didn’t, signed an executive order to bring in the soldiers. But if Nixon followed those rules everyone would know he was involved in Mayday planning, something the White House did not want. They wanted to maintain the fiction that all the decisions were being made by the police department.

Perhaps Wilson wasn’t pushing back as hard as he could have. But his job depended on the White House, which occasionally had snapped the leash to remind him. And there was one other thing Wilson couldn’t be expected to forget—the people in the room would have a big say in whether he might get a much bigger job, as director of the FBI. The talk that he could take over from the aging J. Edgar Hoover had been teed up again just the night before. The ABC-TV commentator Howard K. Smith said on national television that Wilson was “possibly the best policeman in the nation” and “would be a fine replacement” for the FBI chief.


“The people that lead this are left-wing sons of bitches,” Nixon declared in private.

“They’re not patriots. I’ll lay you money, in that group that’s down here, you won’t find 1 in 100 that ever served in Vietnam.”

“Little bastards are draft dodgers, country-haters, or don’t-cares.”

Troops from the Eighty-Second Airborne Division landed on the National Mall.

By 7 a.m. that Monday, the skirmishes between police and the Mayday Tribe left a heavy fog of stinging gas floating over neighborhoods in Georgetown and along the National Mall, where government workers negotiated their way to the office with handkerchiefs over their faces. Many federal agencies made arrangements to avoid the blockade. Employees considered essential had been told to sleep overnight in their offices or book hotel rooms nearby. Some were ordered to their desks as early as 3 a.m.

Meantime, the police clashed with protesters on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and at Dupont Circle. A contingent of several hundred demonstrators from Illinois blocked traffic at Mount Vernon Square. At the sound of the sirens they ran off through streets and alleys. An elderly woman hid a group of them in her basement. She served them milk and cookies.

On scores of side roads, clusters of youngsters cried, “Motorists off the streets!” They linked arms to stop traffic or turned trashcans and construction equipment into barricades. “We are sorry for your inconvenience,” read a leaflet they handed to drivers. “While you are sitting in your car you could take a few minutes to think about things…You may not agree with the tactics being used—you may not agree with the points of view of the participants—but we ask you to consider with us the horror, the death, the destruction and devastation continuing daily in Indo-China…our actions now need to go beyond what we have done in the past.”

Many drivers were furious; many were resigned. Some flashed peace signs. Others gunned their engines and drove straight for the protesters. Among the latter was one of Nixon’s speechwriters, an arch-conservative named Patrick Buchanan, who generally put together the president’s daily news summary. He had just been over to the Watergate apartments to pick up his fiancée—one of Nixon’s receptionists—and they were headed to the White House in his Cadillac convertible when they ran into a Mayday blockade on E Street. Buchanan, who was 32, with a “beefy, beer-drinker’s face,” thought he might get around on the far right-hand side, where fewer protesters were standing. He hit the gas, and one kid jumped out of the way at the last second. Buchanan bragged about it when he got to work.

Some groups tied ropes across the road or pushed cars out of parking spaces into the middle of the pavement, letting air out of tires or removing distributor caps. The police scrambled to respond. They radioed for National Guard jeeps to push disabled vehicles out of the way. They sent squads of cops on scooters and motorcycles after protesters, like cowboys chasing a stampede. At one point, several police cruisers, their sirens screaming, gunned right over the curbs and onto the grassy fields around the Washington Monument, firing tear gas out the windows at sprinting demonstrators. But still they felt outnumbered and outflanked.

The tactical advantage underpinning the Mayday plan was now apparent: the asymmetrical warfare of a guerrilla force against a standing army.

The tactical advantage underpinning the Mayday plan was now apparent: the asymmetrical warfare of a guerrilla force against a standing army. It was nearly impossible to defend against small decentralized bands who could shift on a dime, tie up police or troops at one spot, and then get to another place before the authorities could adjust, choosing spots that weren’t even on the original list in the Mayday tactical manual. Wilson realized that the police department’s procedures were being turned neatly against the cops, either on purpose or by luck. Dispersing crowds with tear gas so they could just move on wasn’t going to work, and the new field forms and Polaroid cameras were slowing arrests to a crawl.

From another police cruiser—apparently the one that held the representative from the Justice Department who was shadowing Wilson—came what may have been an order masquerading as a question: “Chief, do you think we should disregard field arrest forms and pictures this morning?”

One of Wilson’s underlings later summed up the dilemma: “We could either keep the streets of Washington open and the government functioning or we could carefully collect written documentation of arrest information for court. At this stage, we could not do both.”

A year before, Wilson had publicly upbraided his riot squad for failing to use field arrest forms in one big bust. And the chief had once promised the district’s chief judge that no prisoners would be accepted at a booking or holding facility without a field arrest form. He realized that if he broke this promise, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to defend the arrests in court. Nevertheless, minutes before 6:30, he made a fateful call: “Cruiser One to Command Center: We will disregard field arrest forms.”

He had taken the shackles off his cops.

Life magazine

After weeks in a city under siege by dissenters, the cops no longer felt restrained. Their chief had freed them from the rules, and they vented their mounting frustration. Instead of arresting protesters one by one and recording which law each was breaking, the tactical squads began chasing down and grabbing big groups. Police were sweeping areas “clean of the Mayday mobs…We were hauling demonstrators off the streets in wholesale lots.”

Within minutes of Wilson’s order, for example, 100 people were busted in a sweep at Tenth and K Streets. A Life photographer captured the unbridled joy on the face of a deputy police chief, Theodore Zanders, as he sprayed Mace into the eyes and noses of one group. Even though the protesters weren’t breaking any laws at the moment, he felt justified because “the act of one is the act of all,” Zanders later explained.

Vans and buses that had been loading those arrested soon were “jammed to the gunwales.” The cops called in the backup transports; those vehicles filled up just as fast. Then the police started shipping their prisoners in the DC transit buses that had been used earlier to carry cops to the scene. They hastily procured more buses from the Navy and vans from automobile rental companies. On the buses the atmosphere was often festive. “We shall Overcome,” the protesters sang, and “Give Peace a Chance.” They banged loudly on the inside of the buses and shouted encouragement out the windows to young people still free on the streets. On some transports the cops warned everyone to be quiet or to risk being “bus gassed.”

The presence of Kleindienst’s regular troops magnified the image of a city under siege, feeding anxiety on all sides. Two hundred soldiers from the 91st Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir in Virginia guarded the bridges. A caravan of National Guard jeeps rolled down M Street in Georgetown. At Andrews Air Force Base, troops from the 82nd Airborne boarded six huge Chinook helicopters. They took off for the National Mall. A couple of smaller helicopters escorted the Chinooks and set down first, laying pink-and-white smoke flares for the landing zone near the Washington Monument. Then the Chinooks came in, their gigantic dual rotors slicing loudly through the air. Their exit ramps dropped, and out of each craft hustled 33 helmeted troops. Off they ran in single file toward the US Capitol, a startling image in a constitutional democracy.

Army troops, brought out to reinforce Washington Metropolitan Police, deploy on Francis Scott Key Bridge during the 1971 Mayday demonstrations.
 Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty

About halfway through rush hour, there were already more than 1,000 people in custody. The police had planned to bring most of those arrested to the holding area at the federal courthouse, which had about 50 small cells, the largest capacity in the city. The small dropoff zone outside allowed for only one load of prisoners to be taken in at a time. The buses got stuck in a monster traffic jam. The cops couldn’t discharge their suspects and return quickly to the trouble spots, so police began stashing hundreds of detainees in the middle of parks and median strips—at Mount Vernon Square and Dupont Circle—where they were penned in by National Guard troops and later by busloads of marines.

The tide had turned in favor of the cops. Especially euphoric were the hundreds of members of the riot squad, freed to go full tilt with all their gear and tactics. They were grabbing anyone they could see blocking roads or fleeing the scene. But that could get them only so far. Many Mayday protesters who used mobile tactics had melted into the city. In addition, there were likely thousands of others in town who hadn’t done anything illegal yet. But during the evening rush hour, or later in the week, they might. As long as we’re sweeping the streets clean of these folks, why not get them all?

Police began cruising the streets for likely suspects. The only way to pick them out was by their appearance. An officer near the Mall at 14th Street gave his underlings the order to “arrest anyone that looks like a demonstrator,” not realizing, or not caring, that he was within earshot of a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. Another journalist, for the Los Angeles Times, observed people being rounded up as police took note of their clothes, the length of their hair, and the political buttons they wore.

It was payback time at the universities. At the George Washington campus, club-wielding police chased protesters who were seeking refuge. The cops pursued them right through the entrance to the law school building and through the hallways. They arrested a law professor who was wearing an armband identifying him as a legal observer. At the university’s hospital, two dozen people who’d been treated at the emergency room for tear-gas inhalation and minor injuries, some of whom had nothing to do with Mayday, were waiting outside for rides home. The police busted all of them, ignoring the protests of doctors and nurses. One of the college’s physical education instructors was dragged off the steps of his office building. In Georgetown, police swept through the streets, arresting kids for any offense they could gin up, such as jaywalking. Young people ran onto the Georgetown campus from the Canal Road entrance with scooter police at their heels. The cops hurled tear-gas bombs against the walls of the Copley Hall dormitory.

Other parts of town also became roundup sites. A teacher’s aide for deaf students was busted on her way to work in Dupont Circle. A lawyer studying at an institute nearby stopped to help a victim of clubbing; police grabbed him by the neck and loaded him on the bus.

The Civil Disturbance Unit of the Washington Metropolitan Police arrests a Mayday demonstrator at George Washington University in May 1971.
 Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty

Caught in the arrests were tourists and all kinds of people who happened to appear young or just dressed as if they were. They included future Washington personalities such as Sidney Blumenthal, a budding journalist who would write for the New Yorker and become a White House adviser to President Bill Clinton. During the citywide fracas, the civilian lawyer for the police department, Gerald Caplan, ventured from his office onto the National Mall to check things out. The tear gas burned his eyes, but he saw enough to be “shocked.” Police chasing kids all over the place, “arresting everyone in sight.” The riot cops had been told not to remove their badges, but he saw that many of them had done exactly that so their prisoners couldn’t identify them later. “They had just disobeyed orders,” Caplan recalled.

The riot cops had been told not to remove their badges, but he saw that many of them had done exactly that so their prisoners couldn’t identify them later. “They had just disobeyed orders,” Caplan recalled.

By 10:30 in the morning, more than 5,000 people were in custody. The sweeps wouldn’t end until Wilson’s police department had more than 7,000 prisoners on their hands. Many, perhaps most, of the prisoners had been part of the traffic blockade. But thousands had not. Loaded onto the buses, they asked what crime they had committed. Police sardonically answered things like “walking on the sidewalk” or never answered at all. In at least one detention bus, the driver hit the brakes whenever he spotted a young man with long hair, and sent the cops out to force him aboard.

Inside the US courthouse, the cells filled up to capacity. Then the police cleared the exercise yard at the DC city jail to contain more prisoners. That wasn’t nearly enough. The police commandeered a football practice field near the multipurpose stadium recently named for the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. Nothing but a stretch of grass and dirt surrounded by an 8-foot-tall cyclone fence, the makeshift detention camp had no provisions or shelter. The more than 2,000 detainees found some buckets and trashcans to use as toilets. The temperature remained chilly for May, only in the 40s in the morning, and a stiff and steady wind didn’t help. Few of them had been caught breaking any laws, and almost none had any paperwork filed against them. The authorities had no plans to arraign or release them anytime soon, choosing instead to keep them off the streets. Instead, when the sun went down, they were transported by bus to the Washington Coliseum, where they stretched out for the night on the oval concrete floor. Many would be there for days without contact with anyone on the outside.

After rounding up thousands of protesters and many bystanders who happened to look the part, police filled all the city’s jail cells and looked for places to stash the overflow. Many were trucked to a dusty football practice field next to RFK Stadium and later bused to the Washington Coliseum.
Washington Post/Star Collection/DC Public Library

America’s largest act of mass civil disobedience had ended in America’s biggest mass arrest. That Monday, and at protests during the next two days, the dragnet snared a total of more than 12,000 people. They were held incommunicado for hours or days with no proper charges against them.

At first, Nixon and his team crowed about the outcome. But in the end, the justice system turned out to be far less favorable ground for them. The story of Mayday would be reversed. The administration would lose; the demonstrators would win. Public defenders and civil liberties lawyers moved into action, fighting the arrests and detentions in court and filing class action lawsuits. Eventually, judges declared virtually all the Mayday arrests illegal and ordered the government to pay millions of dollars in compensation.

As legal challenges mounted, the White House denied responsibility for the mass arrests, directing Chief Wilson to take all the responsibility, which he did. “I wish to emphasize the fact that I made all tactical decisions relating to the recent disorders,” the chief told reporters, prompting Nixon’s aides to marvel that Wilson “programs beautifully.”

Many observers suspected Nixon and his men were pulling the strings but couldn’t prove it. Nixon’s own accounts, caught on tape, have remained unreported until now. They leave no doubt that the responsibility for the Mayday dragnet can be laid at the doorstep of the Oval Office.

The president discussed it several times, stating it perhaps most clearly to a group of conservative lawmakers he invited to a meeting at the White House in mid-May. Referring to the war councils held at the Justice Department, he said the plan for dealing with the demonstrators had been fully worked out in advance. “Now, you can get into a lot of fine arguments as to whether or not individuals should be arrested under those circumstances,” said the president, but he vowed not to “run away from it just because some people in the press don’t like it.”

He added, “The point is, I had the responsibility…I approved this plan.”

A couple of weeks later, he talked it over with his chief of staff: “We arrested a hell of a lot of people. In a strictly legal sense, it was not legal.”

“That’s right,” Haldeman replied.

“But we had to do it. Now that’s all there is to it. And we’ll do it again. Because keeping this government going is more important than screwing around. Because nobody was thrown in the can, nobody was kept in the can, they were all released. So what are they squealing about?”

Nixon concluded, “And don’t worry about this little technical legal question.”   

This article is adapted from Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest (published Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

“Never Have I Ever” Enjoyed TV So Much

The coronavirus pandemic has given me so many opportunities to experience new things: worrying that my face mask might fall into the toilet; making (and burning) multiple loaves of bread; and binge-watching television shows with total delight.

My deep dive into TV has produced amazing finds, including The Great British Bakeoff, Fleabag, Unorthodox, MasterChef Junior, Dave Chapelle’s 8:46, The Good Fight, and, possibly my favorite, Never Have I Ever, produced by Mindy Kaling of The Office and The Mindy Project. Forty million households watched Never Have I Ever in its first four weeks, and this probably includes you, so I won’t go into great detail, but the basic premise is that Devi, a nerdy Indian American teenager in a Los Angeles suburb, is determined to have sex—and a boyfriend, in that order.

Devi is played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who landed the part after an open audition with 15,000 other submissions, and she is brilliant. Devi, her mother, and their family and friends are a panoply of neuroses, awkwardness, humor, pain, and love.

“Never Have I Ever” captivated me because, by the end of the first episode, I knew I could let my guard down.

I’ve been a fan of Kaling’s work for a long time, but NHIE is different—and it’s not just because I was a nerdy Indian American girl living in American suburbia, who, incidentally, was too scared of my parents and myself to think about having a boyfriend or sex in high school. NHIE captivated me because, by the end of the first episode, I knew I could let my guard down.

Some of you will know the “guard” of which I speak. It’s a protection, but really it’s a nuisance. Any time I go anywhere—a restaurant, theater, concert, classroom—or watch anything, part of me is always keeping track of how many BIPOC there are, and how, onstage or on TV, they are being portrayed. My attention to it is not conscious anymore: Once my internal security system is on, unless and until my subconscious feels comfortable with the representation, I’m holding my breath.

Before I started watching NHIE, I’d heard enough about the show to expect several Indian and Indian American characters, but that alone isn’t usually enough to disarm my security system. The first few scenes have brown and white characters, and the next few have Black, Asian, Indian American, and Indian immigrant characters, plus multiracial characters and people who live across or outside the limited shorthand labels of race. About 15 minutes in, I realized there is deep inclusion, and not just racial; there are characters across religious identities and sexual orientations and abilities and disabilities. That’s when it happened: The part of me that holds my breath—constantly counting and surveying—released. I felt it happen, and it was glorious.

In each episode, there are progressively more people meeting, mixing, interacting, and scrambling our familiar concepts of representation. We get to meet who we are.

I am glad NHIE is in the world. It posits that it is possible to be anti-racist—and for a super nerdy Indian American girl to have a boyfriend in high school—at least in Mindy Kaling’s imagination. Deep breath.

“An Important Voice”: Trump Defends Doctor Who Once Claimed Diseases Are Caused by Demon Sex

Here’s a tip for boosting White House press conference viewership: Spend more time discussing alien DNA.

The topic arose during his President Trump’s Tuesday afternoon coronavirus briefing after he doubled down on his belief that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19, despite a dearth of evidence supporting this claim. On Monday night, Trump retweeted a video in which a group of doctors touted the drug as a cure for the coronavirus. Twitter deemed the doctors’ claims so egregious that it deleted the tweet and penalized Donald Trump Jr., who’d also shared the post, for spreading misinformation.

Trump didn’t seem to see the problem with the video. “There was a group of doctors yesterday, a large group, that were put on the internet, and for some reason the internet wanted to take them down,” he said at his press briefing. “There was a young woman who was spectacular in her statements about [hydroxychloroquine], that she’s had tremendous success with it, and they took her voice.”

That young woman subscribes to some rather outré theories, among which is her belief that dream-sex with witches and demons causes gynecological problems. (The myth of the incubus dates to the third millennium BCE.)

“The woman that you said was a great doctor in that video that you retweeted last night said that masks don’t work and there is a cure for COVID-19, both of which health experts say is not true,” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins said. “She’s also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens, and that they’re trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious.” 

“I can tell you this,” Trump replied. “She was on air, along with many other doctors, and they were big fans of hydroxychloroquine, and I thought she was very impressive, in the sense that from where she came—I don’t know which country she comes from—but she said that she’s had tremendous success with hundreds of different patients, and I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her.”

To be fair, Trump most likely knows nothing about the doctor’s demon-sex theories, which were originally unearthed by the Daily Beast. But that certainly doesn’t make it any less hilarious. Watch the video below:

Trump's new "important voice" is a woman who…checks notes…believes that dream sex with demons causes gynecological problems?

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) July 28, 2020

Here Are the 4 Most Misleading Statements From Bill Barr’s Contentious House Testimony

Attorney General William Barr is nothing if not consistent, and his visit today to Congress proved it. It also proved he’s not great with this whole honesty thing.

Testifying Tuesday before confrontational Democrats and obsequious Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, Barr stuck to his claims that President Trump has never asked him to intervene in any federal criminal cases. But for a guy who says he hasn’t been pressured, Barr has been awfully helpful to Trump on issues related to what the attorney general on Monday called the “bogus Russiagate scandal.”

Throughout the nearly daylong hearing, Barr made a slew of misleading statements. Here are a few of today’s worst offenders:

Playing dumb about Stone, Part 1

Barr, under questioning by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), said that he was unaware that Trump had tweeted that his longtime adviser Roger Stone showed “guts” by vowing not to testify against him. Earlier this month, Trump commuted the three-year prison sentence Stone was facing after being convicted for perjury, obstruction of Congress, and witness tampering. Evidence at Stone’s trial showed Stone in 2016 communicated with Trump about WikiLeaks’ plans to release Democratic emails stolen by Russia and that Trump probably lied to special counsel Robert Mueller about those conversations. Swalwell suggested that Trump had obstructed justice by effectively promising to reward Stone if he kept quiet, and then actually following through with that promise. But Barr said he wasn’t even aware of Trump’s many public statements on this topic.

Here’s the problem with that: Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation described Trump’s tweets lauding Stone’s “guts” and referred to a Trump interview with the New York Post in which the president praised Stone as “actually very brave” for vowing not to cooperate with Mueller. The report specifically cited both statements as evidence of possible obstruction of justice by Trump. And Barr claims he independently concluded last year there was not enough evidence to indict Trump for obstructing justice—after reading Mueller’s report. How could Barr conclude that if he didn’t review Mueller’s findings on the topic specifically?

In response to Swalwell's questions, Barr claims he was unaware of the President's tweets praising Stone for having "guts" not to testify. But it's in Volume II of the Mueller report, which Barr claimed to have reviewed to reach a conclusion there was no obstruction.

— Connor Lynch (@realconnorlynch) July 28, 2020

Playing dumb about Stone, Part 2

Barr had other trouble with questions about Stone. Ahead of Stone’s sentencing in February, the attorney general intervened to override the sentencing recommendation of career prosecutors on the case, which called for a seven-to-nine-year sentence, and force subordinates to instead suggest a shorter sentence. Barr did this the day after Trump tweeted an attack on prosecutors’ original sentencing recommendation, but Barr claims his action was not caused by the president’s tweet.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) questioned that intervention, noting that the prosecutors’ original sentencing recommendation was stiff in part because “Stone threatened to kill a witness,” and federal sentencing guidelines impose longer sentences for violent threats. Deutch was citing an April 2018 email that Stone sent to comedian Randy Credico, who was then threatening to give investigators information showing that Stone had lied to Congress. “Prepare to die cock sucker,” Stone wrote. But Barr told Deutch that “the witness”—Credico—”didn’t think” Stone was really threatening him. While Credico did indeed say in a letter to the judge that Stone “never posed a direct physical threat” to him, Credico also told a grand jury and has said publicly that he feared that Stone, who has a large social media footprint, would incite violence against him.

Responding to previous similar assertions from Barr, Credico told me last month that he finds it “deeply disturbing and cynical for Attorney General Barr to have mischaracterized my letter to Judge Jackson to justify his ominous purging of the Justice Department on behalf of his client Donald Trump.”

The great “unmasking”

Barr also went along with a false statement from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on the now somewhat infamous “unmasking” kerfuffle. Jordan (again) alleged that documents released in May show that former Vice President Joe Biden and former FBI Director James Comey were among the Obama administration officials who had asked to “unmask” the identify of former Lt. General Michael Flynn in reports compiled by a US intelligence agency, in which Flynn’s identity as an American citizen would normally be hidden. This is false. Jordan confused things: Biden and Comey were listed among officials who were authorized to review intelligence reports in which Flynn was identified, according to the material declassified in May by former national security adviser Richard Grenell. But, as we’ve reported, nothing in those documents says either man ordered that Flynn be “unmasked.” In fact, the documents do not say who ordered Flynn’s “unmasking.”

Jordan, a Trump ally, pretty clearly mentioned Biden in an effort to harm his chances of defeating Trump in November. Barr probably knows that, but he went along with Jordan’s claim anyway, even noting that he has ordered the US Attorney for the Western District of Texas to look into the unmasking issue. That’s one of at least four ongoing investigations by various US attorneys that Barr has ordered up in an effort to undermine the origins of Mueller’s investigation, which concluded that the Trump campaign sought to benefit from Russian help in 2016.

The power to fire

Maybe Barr’s most striking evasion came late in the hearing when Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) pressed the attorney general about his firing of Geoffrey Berman, formerly the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office is conducting several investigations into Trump associates. Neguse asked Barr about a public statement he issued on Friday June 19, 2020, claiming Berman was “stepping down.” At the time, Berman was not stepping down; in fact, he was refusing to do so, and had personally told Barr that. Berman did later agree to leave the job after Barr backed off an effort to replace him with a prosecutor from outside the Manhattan office, but that June 19 statement was a lie. Barr would not admit that when Neguse asked him if his statement was true at the time the department issued it. “He may not have known it, but he was stepping down,” Barr said, then smiled. 

Rep. Joe Neguse: On June 18, your Department of Justice issued a statement that Geoff Berman had stepped down as US Attorney. Was that statement true at that time?

Bill Barr: Uh, he may not have known it, but he was stepping down.

— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) July 28, 2020

The Park Police’s Account of Lafayette Square Attack Doesn’t Add Up

Many questions linger over what led to the events outside in the White House on June 1 in Lafayette Square, wherein US Park Police attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas and excessive force moments before Donald Trump strolled through the park for a photo op in front of a nearby church. The USPP has insisted that the reason for the crackdown wasn’t for Trump’s photo op, but instead to install a new perimeter fence. The agency has also maintained that the protesters weren’t peaceful, which necessitated the use of force and defensive weapons to clear the park. But during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the incident on Tuesday, both of these assertions were called into question by Democratic lawmakers and a National Guard whistleblower who testified that the USPP engaged in “an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

According to Gregory Monahan, the acting chief of the USPP, the plan to clear out the park and install the new fence on June 1 had been discussed up to two days prior, and “there was 100 percent, zero, no correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church,” he said. Attorney General William Barr, who said he ordered the clearance of Lafayette Park in order for new fences to be installed, also said that the effort had no connection to Trump’s photo op. But Barr admitted in a concurrent House hearing on Tuesday that he actually did learn “sometime in the afternoon that the president might come out of the White House” and that he later heard that Trump also planned to visit the church. Minutes before the park was cleared, he was captured on camera by CNN talking with a USPP officer. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) pointed out, something about the timeline of events that day doesn’t quite add up. 

Thanks to @RepRubenGallego, we now know for sure that the Trump admin's explanation of what happened on June 1 doesn't add up.

Listen to him lay out the timeline of the #LafayetteSquare attacks and the president's appearance – which we're told had nothing to do with each other.

— Natural Resources Committee (@NRDems) July 28, 2020

And while Monahan and Barr insist that the reason Lafayette Square was cleared about 30 minutes before the 7 p.m. curfew was because the fencing materials had just arrived, Adam DeMarco, the National Guard whistleblower, backed up earlier claims that law enforcement officials were told that the park would only be cleared of protesters after the curfew went into effect. DeMarco also testified that the fencing materials didn’t arrive until 9 p.m. 

One piece of evidence that might be able to clear all this up, however, is conveniently not available. As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, the audio of USPP’s radio communications system was not recorded on June 1, which Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) said “would answer a lot of the questions that we and public have at this moment.” According to Monahan, the reason why the radio transmissions weren’t recorded on that day had to do with a radio technician who set up the system incorrectly when the agency switched from an analog system to a digital format in 2018. The new system, Monahan explained, had only been set up to record transmissions from the USPP’s main dispatch channel, and not its secondary administrative channel, which is the channel that was used on June 1 so that USPP officers could communicate with law enforcement from other agencies. Monahan said that the agency did not realize the error in the system until they tried to pull the audio from the day in question on June 10. 

But beyond the technical inconsistencies that Monahan testified about, the biggest bombshell to come from Tuesday’s hearing was during DeMarco’s testimony, when he countered Monahan’s assertion that USPP exercised “tremendous restraint” in clearing Lafayette Square. “Tremendous restraint does not involve the use of defensive equipment as weapons,” DeMarco said, referencing the use of pepper balls, smoke canisters, and other chemical irritants that USPP used to clear the park. DeMarco testified that he and other Guardsmen did not observe any violent behavior by protesters—which Monahan insisted was happening to justify the use of force—and were “deeply disturbed” by the tactics used to clear the park. DeMarco, who spent five years on active duty, including a combat deployment in Iraq, said that had his unit in Iraq done what federal agents did to the peaceful protesters on June 1, it would have violated the Geneva Convention. 

BREAKING: Maj. Adam DeMarco, an Iraq vet now with D.C. National Guard, testified that if his unit had done in Iraq what federal agents did to peaceful Americans on #LafayetteSquare on June 1, it would have violated the Geneva Convention.

Americans were victims of a war crime.

— Natural Resources Committee (@NRDems) July 28, 2020

Lunchtime Photo

This is the street I grew up on. It used to be lined with trees, but we lost some of them to disease and then the rest to the city, which decided about 20 years ago that it couldn’t afford to maintain them. Nor, thanks to liability reasons of some kind, would it allow homeowners to take over the maintenance. So now the whole neighborhood looks denuded.

The electric pylon in the background has always been there, but it didn’t used to glow. It does that now because Southern California Edison leased the right-of-way under the electric lines to a company that stores RVs there. The storage space is lighted with intensely bright sodium bulbs that cast an orange glow for hundreds of feet. That’s why the pylon now glows orange.

This neighborhood is almost exactly as old as me: we moved in when I was about six months old. My mother is one of the few remaining original buyers still living there.

July 24, 2010 — Garden Grove, California

The Fed Plays a Huge Role in Perpetuating Racial Disparities. Joe Biden Wants to Fix That.

The Federal Reserve has a huge role to play in racial equality, but it has long perpetuated the income and wealth gaps between Black and white Americans. Joe Biden wants to change that.

Biden’s proposal, unveiled as part of his racial equity economic recovery plan, calls for the Federal Reserve to “aggressively enhance” the way it both measures and targets the racial job, wage, and wealth gaps, something the network of Federal Reserve banks have done only sporadically and without any formal mandate. Biden also wants the Fed to report on “data and trends in racial economic gaps” and the steps it is taking to close them, a move that would require an amendment to the Federal Reserve Act.

As the nation’s bank, the Federal Reserve’s key mandate is to influence the country’s money and credit supply in order to promote stable prices and employment. That role gets kicked into overdrive during recessions, and this pandemic-induced one we’re living in is no exception: The Federal Reserve has lately been buying up billions of dollars of corporate stocks and bonds to try to keep money flowing into the markets.

But how the Fed chooses to pump money into the economy has a tremendous effect on who benefits from it. The Fed’s policies are race-blind, but that’s part of the problem, leading to unequal outcomes across racial groups. Instead of buying up bonds from corporations, for example, the Fed could purchase them from distressed majority-minority communities, explains Mehrsa Baradaran, a wealth inequality expert and law professor at the University of California, Irvine. The current practice, Baradaran tells me, enriches some people at the expense of others. “This is not neutral monetary policy, and you have that recognition from the Biden campaign,” she says.

Liberal economists and scholars have argued that the Fed needs metrics for racial inequality since the Great Recession, but politicians didn’t acknowledgment that issue until recently—spurred in no small part by the wave of civil unrest that followed the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. During a Senate Banking Committee hearing in June, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked Fed Chair Jerome Powell to commit to studying how Fed policy contributes to systemic racism. Powell only was willing to say he would “take that away and think about it.”

Biden’s racial equity-focused recovery plan, released Tuesday morning as the fourth pillar of his “Build Back Better” platform for rebuilding the economy in the wake of the pandemic, is largely a repackaging of campaign promises Biden has made since the former vice president ascended to the top of the ticket. It includes an immediate $10,000 cancellation in student loan debt during the coronavirus pandemic—a burden that disproportionately weighs on borrowers of color—as well as a $15,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and billions in funding for entrepreneurs of color. All of these initiatives take aim at the racial wealth gap: As of 2016, the net worth of a typical white family was 10 times that of the typical Black family.

So far, the campaign has resisted the bolder plans that Biden’s vanquished Democratic primary rivals put forward to address the racial wealth gap. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) all supported “baby bonds,” a proposal from economists William Darity and Darrick Hamilton that would give most Americans government-backed savings accounts at birth. A senior Biden aide said they “haven’t taken it off the table” and are currently evaluating pilot programs to see if the idea delivers on its promise. 

Biden has also not committed to reparations for descendants of formerly enslaved African Americans. A senior Biden aide told reporters that the former vice president “doesn’t have a problem with the study” for the need for reparations proposed by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.), “but he believes there are things we can do right now that we don’t have to wait on a study to tell us that will change the lives of Black and brown people in America.”

Jazz Parties All Week for Kids, Adults, and Adult Kids, Powered by the Newport Jazz Festival

One of the longest-running and most mythologized (and best) music festivals in the world had its plug pulled by the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s adapted creatively: Tonight’s Newport livestream on Instagram features bassist Christian McBride and violinist Regina Carter, whose full range of tones, textures, and time signatures is consistently energizing. Carter evokes so many sounds—joyful, mournful, contemplative, vigorous—and makes it swing. Beyond the bebop and virtuosic blues she’s known for, try “N’teri,” which is endlessly replayable.

Tonight’s party starts at 7 p.m. ET, and Friday at 8 p.m. ET is kids’ night with McBride, singer Melissa Walker, and organist Joey DeFrancesco. Friday’s set is probably locked in, but Christian, can you and Joey consider a spin of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” called to mind by Jack McDuff’s timeless rendition of Sam Cooke’s original? The national movements for change, and new listeners of all ages, could use the historic refresher, and who can say no to McDuff?

Sneak peek here.

Republicans Just Don’t Care About People

Now that the Republican version of a coronavirus rescue bill is out, we can compare it with the Democratic bill passed several weeks ago. I may dive into things in more detail later, but for now let’s look at how things break down in two broad categories: aid to individuals and aid to business.


  • Democrats maintain the $600 unemployment bonus. Republicans slash it to $200.
  • Stimulus checks: About the same in both bills.
  • Democrats allocate $430 billion for schools. Republicans are offering only $100 billion.
  • Democrats want $1 trillion in aid to cities and states. Republicans want nothing.


  • Republicans want to immunize businesses from COVID-related lawsuits.
  • Republicans want more money for emergency business loans.
  • Republicans want a new round of funding for the PPP program.
  • Republicans want a 100 percent deduction for business meals through the end of 2020.

A 100 percent deduction for business meals! In the middle of a pandemic where we’re trying to persuade people to stay apart! It’s hard to think of anything more slavishly and stupidly business friendly.

The Democratic bill includes plenty of money for businesses, but the Republican bill is targeted almost exclusively at them. When it comes to money that helps individuals, either directly (UI benefits) or indirectly (schools and cities), Republicans just want to slash, slash, slash.

Trump Campaign Accused of Laundering $170 Million

A watchdog group is alleging that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has laundered $170 million through companies controlled by campaign officials as part of an effort to avoid disclosing which vendors it is really paying for services.

Under Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns are supposed to detail who they are paying. While some campaign vendors do hire sub-contractors or farm out work to other firms, a complaint to the FEC filed Tuesday by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center alleges that the Trump campaign is doing this on an industrial scale and is obscuring vast amounts of spending.

According to the complaint, then-campaign manager Brad Parscale and other campaign officials in 2018 created a company called American Made Media, which has since been paid more than $106 million, making it the campaign’s largest vendor. The campaign said that instead of hiring outside media buyers to purchase ads for the campaign, this new company would be used to directly purchase the ads and cut out the middle-man. However, the Campaign Legal Center complaint points out that public records of television ad purchases appear to show that at least some of the campaign’s ad-buying has been conducted by a Virginia firm called Harris Sikes Media. The campaign has never reported to the FEC that it hired Harris Sikes. According to the Campaign Legal Center complaint, this suggests that American Made Media isn’t buying ads itself, just blocking the FEC from seeing who the campaign is hiring to buy ads.

“The campaign’s failure to itemize disbursements to its ultimate vendors means that the public is left in the dark about the entities working for the Trump campaign, the nature of their services, and the full amount they are paid,” the complaint contends.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the complaint.

The complaint also lists several high-profile projects launched by the campaign that have never shown up in the FEC filings. For example, in April Parscale bragged in cable news interviews about a new app the campaign was developing, saying it would be “directly owned” and controlled by the campaign. But, Phunware, the company that built the app, has never appeared in the campaign’s spending reports. According to the Campaign Legal Center, that’s because it was paid through American Made Media—an allegation that would seem to be backed up by the company’s own statements highlighting its relationship with American Made Media.

Asked for comment Mother Jones, Phunware directed questions about the complaint to the Trump campaign. The campaign and National Media, Harris Sikes Media’s parent company, did not respond to requests for comment.

Parscale was fired as campaign manager earlier this month. But he has remained involved with the campaign, which is not surprising considering how closely he is reported to have ingratiated himself with the Trump family—including paying Trump family members working on the campaign through his own company, Parscale Strategy. The Campaign Legal Center complaint notes that Parscale Strategy is used as the vehicle to pay Lara Trump, who is the wife of Eric Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend. 

How Labor Secretary Scalia Played Chicken With Meatpacking Workers’ Lives

A typical poultry, pork, or beef plant employs hundreds of people—by and large immigrants, refugees, and people of color—toiling shoulder to shoulder to dismember and break down carcasses moving down the kill line at rates as high as 390 cattle, 1,295 pigs, or 10,500 birds per hour. Meatpacking workers have always faced hazardous conditions and high injury rates, and their tight working conditions make them highly susceptible to viral pathogens. What spreads inside a meat factory doesn’t stay within its walls: By late May, rural counties that had meatpacking plants with COVID-19 outbreaks had average infection rates five times higher than the rest of rural America. As of mid-July, at least 168 meatpacking workers had died from the disease.

“It’s a terrible experiment in achieving herd immunity,” says David Michaels, a professor of occupational health at George Washington University who led the the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under Obama. By the time the pandemic runs its course, he predicts, “everyone will have become infected” at meatpacking plants.

It didn’t have to be like this, and one federal agency had the power to do something to protect the nearly 200,000 people who slaughter and package America’s meat. OSHA, a division of the Department of Labor, is legally obligated to compel employers to provide workplaces “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Decades ago, as a “management side” labor lawyer, Scalia led an industry-funded effort to limit OSHA’s efficacy.

Yet “OSHA is missing in action,” says Debbie Berkowitz, who worked at the agency during the Obama administration and now advocates workers’ rights at the National Employment Law Project. In early March, Berkowitz and labor advocates including the AFL-CIO urged OSHA to issue a temporary emergency requirement that employers keep their workers safe from the coronavirus. Instead, in late April the agency issued voluntary guidelines suggesting that plants tweak the alignment of workstations “if feasible” and “consider” making signs to urge workers to physically distance.

Presiding over this hands-off response is Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, son of the late right-wing Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. But Scalia’s influence over OSHA extends beyond his Cabinet role. Decades ago, as a “management side” labor lawyer, he led an industry-funded effort to limit OSHA’s efficacy. Due to his efforts back then, the agency has “had a much harder time getting meatpacking plants to implement safe practices,” Berkowitz says—setting the stage for the COVID-19 meltdown.  

During the 1990s, OSHA sought to better regulate grueling workplaces like meatpacking plants by devising rules to protect employees from common repetitive-stress injuries. The Ergonomics Program Standard targeted jobs that involved “repetition, awkward posture, force, vibration, and contact stress” and caused serious musculoskeletal pain or lasting symptoms. The proposal would require employers to establish an “ergonomics program,” with worker input, to tackle the issue. According to OSHA’s analysis, the standard would have prevented about 4.6 million repetitive-stress injuries over the following decade, resulting in a net annual savings of about $4.6 billion on health care and other costs. Berkowitz said the rules would likely have forced meatpackers to slow down their lines—which, when the coronavirus hit, would have allowed workers to spread out more and limit their close contact.

But powerful industry groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers pushed back hard. In 1994, they created the National Coalition on Ergonomics, led by Scalia, which had a $600,000 war chest to lobby against the rules. Its effort found allies in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), which proceeded to attach riders to budget bills preventing OSHA from rolling out the rules. Simultaneously, Scalia ramped up a scorched-earth PR effort against the plan, penning articles attacking ergonomics as “weird science,” “junk science,” “quackery,” and a “concession to union leaders.”

OSHA finalized the rules in November 2000, days after the hotly contested and inconclusive presidential election. But once But after the Gore v. Bush Supreme Court decision swung the presidency to Bush, the anti-ergonomics forces regrouped behind the Congressional Review Act—part of Gingrich’s Contract With America. The law allowed Congress to repeal executive-branch orders within 60 legislative days. The kicker: Once a rule has been repealed, the act prohibits the executive branch from reissuing it or a similarly worded rule—ever. The GOP-controlled Congress rushed to nix the ergonomics rule in March 2001.

Perhaps impressed with Scalia’s performance as an anti-­labor warrior, Bush appointed him as the Department of Labor’s top lawyer. During his stint as the labor solicitor, Scalia’s former law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, lobbied the department to adopt a subtle change that would make life even tougher for meatpacking workers. Previously, the agency’s reporting forms required employers to list on-the-job injuries caused by “repeated trauma.” The new form, approved in 2003, instead directed employers to record any musculoskeletal injuries in the catchall category “All Other Occupational Illnesses.” (By then, Scalia had returned to private practice.) As a scathing 2005 Human Rights Watch report noted, the meat and poultry industry “exploited this change to falsely boast of improved safety results” as companies took advantage of not having to break out repeated-trauma injuries. And now that ergonomics standards were voluntary, meat companies “backslid on all the ergonomics work they had done,” Berkowitz says. The industry claimed steady drops in injury rates even as kill-line speeds rose.

There has never been a comprehensive study to determine how many people working in meat plants suffer from repetitive-stress injuries, but evidence of worker trauma abounds. Between 2012 and 2014, inspectors from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health made alarming findings inside two poultry plants seeking to speed up their lines: In both, more than a third of employees showed “evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome,” along with high rates of other musculoskeletal maladies. In 2016, investigators with the Government Accountability Office outlined concerns that “underreporting and inadequate data collection” of long-term injuries were hindering OSHA’s ability with ensuring workplace safety and health in meat and poultry plants.

For meatpacking workers today, the risk of repetitive stress injuries comes with the job. In early April, I spoke to Laura, a 40-year-old immigrant from Central America. She works at a Springdale, Arkansas, chicken-processing plant run by Tyson, the world’s second-biggest meat company. (She asked me not to use her real name to avoid reprisal from her employer.) After slashing chicken carcasses with a heavy knife for hours on end, her muscles ache when she gets off work, and her hands often tingle when she wakes up in the morning. Then there’s the constant smell of caustic chemicals like peracetic acid, which is used to sterilize chicken parts as they move down the line. “It’s awful. It makes your throat and chest hurt and gives you headaches,” Laura says. (OSHA has no standards on airborne exposure to these chemicals, even as their use in the poultry industry has rapidly increased.) Her workday had been rough well before the pandemic, but now she was terrified of bringing COVID-19 back from the plant to her husband and four kids.

Such fears have fallen on deaf ears in the Trump administration. In the face of the pandemic, Scalia’s Department of Labor has taken its industry-friendly stance a step further. In late April, Solicitor of Labor Kate O’Scannlain announced that if a worker sues a meatpacker for exposing her to the coronavirus, the department would consider taking the company’s side in court, as long as it had made “good faith attempts to comply” with OSHA’s voluntary guidance on COVID-19. In other words, just trying to follow voluntary safety standards is enough, even if workers get sick.

Scalia said he was following the guidance of the Founding Fathers.

At a June 15 speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, Scalia praised his department’s response to the pandemic. He insisted that its voluntary approach had proved to be the “best means to protect workers and give employers guidance and confidence in the steps to be taken to provide a safe workplace and satisfy their obligations.” By doing so, he continued, he was following the guidance of the Founding Fathers. “The genius of our Constitution,” he declared, “is the autonomy it allows the people, and the ways it checks and limits government so that private individuals and institutions may thrive.”

A few days later, Tyson announced 227 positive COVID-19 tests at its Springdale plant. When I caught up with Laura in early July, she told me she had avoided getting sick, but described a grim scene at her workplace: high absenteeism and spotty social distancing, while the line hummed along at its usual rate. She was still constantly worried about bringing the virus home. “I don’t feel safe there, but I’m not going to be able to easily find another job somewhere else right now,” she said. “And the truth is, I have to work.”

The Country’s Only Black-Owned Food Glossy Almost Didn’t Get Off the Ground

Food media is almost entirely owned and managed by white people. So it’s no surprise—in this summer of racial reckoning—that the institutions that churn out glossy culinary magazines, viral cooking videos, and scholarly food-culture content have come under scrutiny over who has the power to shape the way we think about what we eat. In early June, Adam Rapoport, editor of Condé Nast’s Bon Appetit magazine, resigned amid reports by staffers of racial stereotyping and pay disparities.

During a panel in June featuring Nigerian-born chef Tunde Wey and John T. Edge, head of the Southern Foodways Alliance, Wey offered some suggestions about how food media can harness the summer’s momentum and create real transformation:

I’m talking about the company that owns Condé Nast investing say $10 million in a startup that is owned by a Black man, a food startup by Stephen Satterfield. Take money, take $10 million, and invest it in this Black man’s company. That’s what I’m talking about.

Satterfield is the publisher and found of Whetstone Media, which produces the food-culture print magazine Whetstone and the podcast Point of Origin. Whetstone digs into the stories of the people and ecosystems behind the food and beverages we consume. This vision, Satterfield explained in our latest episode of Bite, grew out of a career spent working at restaurants focused on sourcing quality ingredients—first the pioneering Portland farm-to-table temple Genoa; and later at the excellent San Francisco restaurant Nopa. In other words, Satterfield moved into food media from a place of deep knowledge of food and wine.

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But Edge’s response to Wey’s suggestion that Satterfield deserved investment took some viewers by surprise. “Would you say that backing Whetstone is a good business decision?” Edge asked Wey.

Satterfield has struggled for years to find investors for his magazine, which is currently the nation’s only Black-owned print food magazine (soon too be joined by Klancy Miller’s For the Culture, which is seeking startup funding). Edge’s remark reminded Satterfield of the “dismissive response that white men have given me and [Whetstone] since it started.”

The idea for Whetstone germinated while Satterfield was working at Nopa. As he began to get to know the farmers who supplied the restaurant, he realized that something was getting lost in the farm-to-table fervor engulfing the Bay Area’s food scene. “A lot of the servers in restaurants, including our own, knew to name check the farms, but they couldn’t really tell you about the people,” he said. “It was a significant disconnect.” So it became part of his job to organize farm visits for Nopa staff, which eventually morphed into an in-house multi-media project he led called Nopalize

Eventually, he wanted to take his storytelling beyond just farmers in and around the Bay Area. Nopa’s owners pitched in $5,000 to help Satterfield develop the idea into an independent venture called Whetstone. But launching a print magazine with a staff requires significant startup capital, and Satterfield’s efforts to raise funds for the project hit a roadblock. 

After dozens of conversations with potential investors, mostly white men, proved fruitless, Satterfield realized that the magazine would have to rely on that guerrilla financing resource par excellence: the personal credit card. When Satterfield recounts his struggle getting Whetstone off the ground, he sounds like an indie filmmaker with a singular vision pitching clueless Hollywood execs before going full DIY. Whetstone Media, launched in 2017, remains a shoestring operation, but it’s going strong, true to Satterfield’s vision. It’s a go-to source for videos on the world’s oldest continuously producing grape vines, in the Republic of Georgia; dispatches from the culinary frontier in Scandinavia; deep dives into the history and future of Black farming in America; and explications of the naturalwine phenomenon that cut through the marketing hype, a topic particularly dear to Satterfield’s (and my) heart. 

Part of what stung so badly about Edge’s comments, Satterfield explained, is that the two men have had a friendly relationship since the mid-2000s. Edge helms the Southern Foodways Alliance, a kind of culinary think-tank housed at the University of Mississippi that covers the history and culture of southern food.

“John. T. knows the sacrifices that I’ve made to start this company,” Satterfield said. “This is someone who I thought of as an advocate for me and my career in the industry.”

After he watched Edge question his start-up during the James Beard Foundation panel, Satterfield posted a powerful letter on Twitter on June 29 joining the calls for Edge to step down from his post and make way for Black leadership of a group that focuses on a region whose food culture owes so much to Black people. Satterfield’s Twitter confrontation helped push a long-simmering debate about the Southern Foodways Alliance’s white leadership into the public sphere, leading to a big New York Times article and an open letter from former members and other associates calling for “a transformative shift of power and culture within the SFA.”

“When we don’t own our own media, we will not own our own messages.”

I reached out to Edge for his response. He said his words during the conversation with Wey were misinterpreted: “The rhetorical question I asked about Whetstone was my attempt to set up a positive conversation about the business model and the cultural value Stephen has built,” Edge wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, the conversation moved quickly away from the positive point I aimed to make: Major media companies should invest in Whetstone.”

The episode left Satterfield more convinced than ever that his vision of media ownership—not just representation—is worth fighting for, despite the dearth of investment. “It is essential that Black people own their own media, because when we don’t own our own media, we will not own our own messages,” he said. “And that is catastrophic, not just for Black people, but for all marginalized communities.” 

The Trump Files: When Donald Was “Principal for a Day” and Confronted by a Fifth-Grader

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 June 30, 2016.

The Art of the Comeback, Donald Trump’s 1997 book, featured a chapter detailing a recent week in Trump’s life so readers could learn from his scheduling secrets. In that chapter, the tycoon recounted a pleasant Thursday at P.S. 70, a public elementary school in the Bronx where he was named “Principal for a Day.” Trump had “a wonderful time” and “talked strongly about working hard and incentives” with the students—and came armed with incentives of his own.

That year, the school’s chess team was scraping together money to go to the national championship. It still needed several thousand dollars at the time of Trump’s visit, according to the New York Daily News. But Trump focused on something else. He held a drawing in which 15 lucky students could win coupons for Nike sneakers—but there was something of a catch. The shoes had to be picked up at the Niketown store at Trump Tower. “He said we were going to have to go on a bus to get them,” Eugenio Tavares Jr., a P.S. 70 student, told the Daily News.

The Nike lottery caused “frenzied excitement” among the students, the New York Times reported, but one kid questioned Trump about it. “Why did you offer us sneakers if you could give us scholarships?” asked Andres Rodriguez, a fifth-grader whose father had died and whose mother couldn’t work because of a bad leg, according to the Times.

“I asked because school is more important than sneakers, but he didn’t really answer,” Rodriguez told the Daily News.

Trump’s generosity didn’t end with the 15 pairs of sneakers. He decided he could hand out additional sneaker coupons to disappointed kids who didn’t win the drawing, and he distributed what the Times called “beautiful, psychedelic Trump Tower hats for every child.” As he departed the school, he donated a fake $1 million at the bake sale raising money for the chess team. He also contributed 200 real dollars, and reports of his visit did prompt others to call up and donate the thousands more needed for the chess-playing students.

All in all, it was an easy day of work for Trump. “The honorary position should really be called ‘principal for a half day,’ because I was finished by about twelve-thirty,'” he wrote.

ICE Has to Release Kids From Detention. It Refuses to Let Their Parents Join Them.

Time has run out for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release the more than 100 children currently being held in immigration detention. After several delays, a federal judge’s ruling that ICE must release minors held in the agency’s three family detention centers is set to go into effect today. On Saturday, the Trump administration asked Judge Dolly Gee of the US District Court of Los Angeles to delay the order again, but Gee held firm. Her message was clear: Release the children—but don’t even think about ripping them away from their parents without their consent.

ICE presented parents with an unthinkable decision.

In April, Gee ordered ICE  “to make every effort to promptly and safely” release children in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as part of her oversight of the Flores settlement, which set standards for the treatment of children in immigration custody. The settlement states that children can be held by ICE for no longer than 20 days. But it says nothing about the parents detained alongside their children. So following Gee’s decision, ICE presented parents with an unthinkable decision: Release their children to sponsors and be separated, or remain together in detention and risk contracting COVID-19. As my colleagues Fernanda Echavarri and Noah Lanard reported:

Lawyers with the legal-aid groups RAICESALDEA, and Proyecto Dilley say ICE effectively ambushed their clients and blocked parents from consulting attorneys before answering that question. In some cases, parents were asked if they would want to put their children up for adoption or send them to foster homes, said Andrea Meza, RAICES’ director of family detention services. “Our clients were appalled that this would even be a question posed to them,” Meza added. “One client stated that he and his family expected more coming to the United States and seeking protection.” 

Judge Gee would follow up her April order with an even stronger one in June, likening the threat of coronavirus in the family residential facilities to a house “on fire” and putting a firm deadline on the kids’ release: July 17. (This deadline was then delayed by 10 days after both sides asked for more time.)

In the meantime, RAICES and ALDEA lawyers have tried to secure the release of entire families by way of a separate lawsuit, also citing the imminent threat of COVID-19. On Wednesday, they filed a preliminary injunction requesting the immediate release of families, but it was denied by a different judge. 

Amy Maldonado, a lawyer representing some of the detained families, emphasized that the government’s decision to continue to hold people is arbitrary. “They could let people out tomorrow,” she said. “They could have let people out six months ago.”

For advocates, it was another sign pointing to the inevitability that detained families might once again be faced with the “binary choice” of releasing children to a sponsor and facing indefinite separation, or staying together inside. Another indicator? An influential attorney representing child detainees has come out in support of asking parents to make this choice. As Tina Vasquez at Prism lays out, Peter Schey—the veteran LA lawyer who has argued Flores on behalf of children since the case’s inception in 1985—has clashed in recent years with other immigration lawyers over his support for a child release protocol that amounts to family separation.

On July 21, RAICES and ALDEA lawyers filed a motion to intervene in the Flores case, saying the interests of the children “are not adequately represented and irretrievably at odds” with Schey’s opinion. They say that especially in the wake of a pandemic, any policy forcing parents to make such a choice is inherently coercive, and that ICE should release entire families to protect them from the virus. Schey replied by saying he didn’t believe any intervention by the other lawyers was necessary.

The government took this internal division among child immigration attorneys as an opportunity to request another delay in the deadline, but Judge Gee rejected it. In a last-minute order issued Saturday, she said in no uncertain terms that the deadline for release would remain firm, and that ICE has been expressly forbidden from separating children from their parents without their consent. Until a process for waiving that consent is established, things remain at a standstill.

Though reports submitted to the courts indicate that ICE has improved sanitary conditions inside its detention centers, the threat of the coronavirus is still very real. Forty-seven cases of the virus have been documented at the Karnes family detention center and one at the Dilley detention center, both located in Texas. And lawyers say their clients still aren’t being adequately protected.

On a video conference hosted by RAICES, Shalyn Fluharty, the director of Proyecto Dilley, a group that offers pro bono legal representation to families detained inside the South Texas family detention center, described the practice of cohorting, keeping people who have tested positive for COVID-19 together in an isolated part of the facility, as a “failure” at the center. Maldonado described a Fourth of July celebration of over 100 people at Dilley where there was “not consistent mask-wearing.”

As of July 22, 3,781 people in ICE custody have tested positive for the virus since February, and four detainees and four guards have died.

Maldonado believes that the pandemic should be enough to compel the government to release people, but doubts that it will. “I believe they are going to continue fighting to detain families—some with children as young as one year—simply to be cruel.”

The Republican Unemployment Plan Could Delay Payments by Months

After weeks of debate and delay, Republicans unveiled a summary of their proposal for a new coronavirus relief bill on Monday. And not only will millions of Americans see their weekly unemployment payments drop by hundreds of dollars if the proposal becomes law; they may not even get those payments for months.

The summary, shared by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), includes Republicans’ much-anticipated changes to the weekly $600 unemployment boost that has kept millions of jobless Americans afloat since Congress enacted it in March. It calls on Congress to cut the $600 weekly benefit to $200 through September. After that, states would have to pay unemployed workers 70 percent of the wages they made at their last jobs. 

The plan will create layers of administrative headache that threaten to tax already strapped state unemployment systems even further, and to delay benefits for months, says Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

In a memo circulated among lawmakers, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) warned that the plan would take state agencies between 8 and 20 weeks to implement. That clock would start ticking only after the bill is officially passed and the Department of Labor issues its guidance on how exactly the benefits should be distributed.

These long delays stem from the mechanics of unemployment insurance. When Congress first passed the weekly $600 unemployment boost in March, state labor departments had to reprogram their unemployment systems to dole out this additional money, which comes from federal, rather than state, coffers, and thus must be tracked separately, explains Evermore. Many states have now turned off that programming, given that the final week that workers were eligible for the extra $600 ended over the weekend. Still, state systems for doling out the same lump-sum payment to everyone now exist, and they could be reprogrammed to disburse $200 payments in a matter of weeks, notes the NASWA memo.

But this Senate proposal won’t allow state systems to simply return to flat payments. They’ll have to revisit individual unemployment recipients, calculate what constitutes 70 percent of their past wages, and program a way to dole out and track those distributions from two separate places: regular unemployment from state funds, and the rest of the payments from federal dollars. 

“State unemployment systems are already so overwhelmed,” says Evermore. “Now we’re telling them, ‘By the way, you have to rework your system to pay benefits in a way that we’ve never paid them before, good luck.’”

The NASWA memo warned lawmakers that the requirement that payments be individualized for each recipient would cause delays. “[U]sing a calculation based on individual wage records will necessarily require additional time to program,” notes the memo.

This burden will come on top of a long list of challenges that is already bogging down state unemployment systems. First, states are facing record numbers of unemployment claims; more than 40 million Americans have applied for unemployment since the pandemic began. The latest Department of Labor data shows 1.4 million new claims were filed across the country during the week ending July 18.  

The record numbers of claims have flooded state labor departments, some of which called in the National Guard to help process their unemployment backlogs.

On top of this, many states have had to apply additional layers of verification and red tape to unemployment claims, as they attempt to weed out sophisticated fraudsters who have tried to siphon off millions in US unemployment dollars by impersonating American workers. The result has been more work for these agencies, and paused or slow benefits for many recipients. 

What’s more, as many people refuse to return to jobs due to coronavirus risk or caregiving responsibilities, state unemployment systems are faced with the additional work of verifying their reasons for not returning to ensure compliance with the terms of the expanded federal unemployment program. The program allows people who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for regular unemployment to qualify when they’re not working for a number of virus-related reasons. The Labor Department has recently asked dozens of state agencies to verify that their recipients still qualify for the benefit.

Biden’s Vice Presidential Search Is Surfacing Sexist Tropes About Ambitious Women. Kamala Harris Could Be the Victim.

When Joe Biden announced in March that he would select a woman as his running mate, it was hailed as a milestone. At 77, Biden might not run for reelection or even finish his first term, but he could play an instrumental role in breaking the highest glass ceiling by making a woman his most likely successor. “I view myself as a transition candidate,” Biden told donors this spring: “You got to get more people on the bench that are ready to go in—‘Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.’ Well, there’s a lot of people that are ready to play, women and men.” Good for him. 

Stories about Biden’s choice have put a longstanding sexist narrative back in the news: Ambitious women cannot be trusted. 

But with the vice presidential selection finally around the corner, the conversation no longer sounds anything like progress. Instead, reporting on deliberations inside the campaign suggests their decision-making is being shaped by the same sexist concerns about women in leadership that helped keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House four years ago. While it’s unclear if the accounts are accurate or present a complete picture, the story they tell is deflating, familiar, and harmful—that the campaign is distrustful of women who are ambitious or who otherwise display leadership traits that somehow don’t seem to bother people when exhibited by men. They want a woman, just not that kind of woman. Sound familiar? 

The issue seems to mainly come up in talk of Kamala Harris, the California senator and former presidential contender. Harris has been the most obvious choice for months because she checks so many boxes; she has plenty of experience, she’s endured the national spotlight, and she’s a woman of color just like the base of the Democratic Party. But this spring’s protests against police brutality changed the political landscape, suddenly giving wider salience to standing progressive criticism of Harris’s record as a former prosecutor and California attorney general. The Biden campaign widened its search. 

But today, Harris remains a top contender, and the hesitation, according to anonymous sources quoted in Politico, is not Harris’s criminal justice record. The real issue is her ambition. Ambition, campaign insiders fret, might drive her somehow to be disloyal to Biden, meaning she can’t be trusted. In one Politico article, someone described as a “close Biden ally” explained that the problem with Harris (and, for that matter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren) is that she is not a team player. The story does not attempt to explain why she isn’t a team player, and instead just takes for granted that the junior senator from California, who has co-sponsored lots of legislation alongside other senators, is somehow not a team player. This designation, without any explanation, sounds a lot like a euphemism for female ambition and the fears tied up in it.

According to Politico‘s sources, Biden has decided he doesn’t want an ambitious vice president, despite previously stating that he needs someone who will be ready to jump into the job. An ambitious woman sounds good on paper, but in reality is somehow not. Here’s how one Biden adviser put it in the same Politico story: “If you assume Biden isn’t going to run for reelection you don’t want someone who is only paying attention to 2024…The decisions that need to be made are not going to be easy. Biden’s vice president might want to dodge a lot of tough issues if they only have an eye on 2024.” Biden is one of the most ambitious politicians alive; he served in the Senate for decades, ran for president twice, served as vice president, and then in his seventh decade decided to run for president again. Now, somehow, he reportedly thinks that an ambitious woman won’t support him even as he desires—as his confidants whisper to the press—a vice president like he was to President Barack Obama.

Some of the distrust of Harris appears to be coming from former Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut whom Biden tapped to assist the vice presidential search process. According to another Politico story on Monday, Dodd cannot get over the fact that Harris attacked Biden during a presidential primary debate last summer for his stance on school busing in the 1970s and isn’t sorry about it. “She laughed and said, ‘That’s politics.’ She had no remorse,” Dodd reportedly told a donor. Dodd, a veteran politician, apparently so dislikes Harris that he has pushed instead for Rep. Karen Bass of California, who, though a powerful lawmaker, has not sought the national spotlight nor the vice presidential nod. A Dodd confidant told Politico that Dodd is pushing Bass because “she’s a loyal No. 2. And that’s what Biden really wants.” 

Bass is a progressive stalwart and impressive legislator who does not deserve to be trumpeted as the non-threatening Black woman alternative to Harris’s scary ambition. But apparently that’s how she is seen by some. Meanwhile, Harris allies are busy trying to convince Biden’s team and the press that Harris is trustworthy. It seems like the ultimate insult to a woman vice presidential pick that in order to clinch the post she has to convince the campaign that she possesses just the right amount of ambition—enough to rise to the top tier of American politics but not so much that she cannot be trusted to actually do the vice president’s job of putting the president first.

Whether such accounts of Biden’s decision-making are an accurate portrayal of his worries about Harris and other potential picks or a projection of other people’s biases against women, they’ve ensured a longstanding sexist narrative is again part of the news cycle: Ambitious women cannot be trusted. 

There are legitimate reasons why Harris may not be the best choice for vice president. There are also legitimate reasons to question whether the constant worrying about loyalty, ambition, and trustworthiness are actually more about the biases of the people carrying out this process and talking to the press about it. It’s hard, for example, to think about Dodd’s objections to Harris and not flash to his own treatment of women decades ago as the drinking buddy of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Picking and electing a woman as vice president would help demonstrate that the biggest barrier to putting a woman in the White House has long been our own collective sexist hangups about ambitious women—and not any actual problem with a woman president or vice president. That progress is significant, but the selection process is a reminder that it is still being shaped by the same hangups that hold women back.

Two Cheers for Cheap Shots

During the Democratic debates, Kamala Harris took what I and many others considered a cheap shot against Joe Biden’s opposition to forced busing many decades ago. An article in Politico suggests she has no remorse over this, but that doesn’t worry Karen Tumulty:

The article suggests that some Biden allies fear Trump may “weaponize” (in advertisements) the debate-stage clash between Harris and Biden over his record on busing, which was the most notable moment of her failed bid for the nomination. Since endorsing Biden in March, Harris has campaigned energetically on his behalf.

This reported anxiety about Harris, however, suggests a different standard for women as running mates. They are apparently supposed to be window-dressing — demure and apologetic.

It’s hard to take this fear seriously. First of all, it happens every single election cycle, and the public inevitably yawns. Second, do you remember what Donald Trump’s opponents called him in 2016? If that didn’t cause any problems, nothing will.

I don’t think it matters much who Biden chooses, but the fact that Harris is willing to take the occasional cheap shot is a point in her favor, not against her. It shows that she understands politics ain’t beanbag.