Mother Jones Magazine

Meet the Muslim Mom Who Has Mobilized Asian American Parents in the War on Public Schools

On a chilly, overcast afternoon in early March, a dozen riled-up parents gathered outside a Fairfax County, Virginia, school board meeting, holding “Stop Asian Hate” and “UnFairfax” signs. They were protesting a controversial reworking of admissions policies that had dramatically changed the racial composition of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, one of the country’s top magnet schools. Heading the rally, clad in a snake print dress and black boots, was Asra Nomani, a 5-foot-tall, Indian-born Muslim mother of a 19-year-old TJ alum. Nomani is the co-founder of Coalition for TJ, a parent-led organization that sued the board over its admissions overhaul, which had reduced the freshman student body from 73 percent Asian in 2020 to 54 percent the following year.

“How many of you came here for the American Dream?” Nomani asked, leading fellow immigrants in “recall school board” chants. “Are they the darkness that has set upon Fairfax?” she continued, eliciting a chorus of approval. “We are the light, and our children are the light! We are unapologetic, are we not?” Then Nomani offered a vision for the future. “We’re going to move until this goes to the Supreme Court if it needs to go. We will win not just for our children, not just for the state of Virginia, but for America.”

A former Wall Street Journal reporter who calls herself a liberal feminist, Nomani has become the face of what she describes as “hopping mad” parents in Virginia, and a central figure in the education culture wars. Christopher Rufo, the Manhattan Institute fellow who helped launch the nationwide assault on critical race theory (CRT)—an academic framework whose political fight has become a conservative bogeyman—told me Nomani is a “hero for education.” “She demonstrated remarkably effective strategies and tactics in Fairfax County, which can now be deployed across the nation,” he wrote in an email. “Parents are revolting against critical race theory and Asra Nomani has demonstrated the courage and intelligence to win the fight.”

A skillful communicator with a penchant for media appearances rich in props, she’s been repeatedly welcomed on Fox News and other conservative outlets to decry CRT as divisive state-sponsored indoctrination. She sometimes does a show-and-tell of the latest books that have drawn conservative backlash—say, Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby or Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer—while accusing Democrats, the mainstream media, and school administrators of gaslighting and silencing parents. Until March, she was a vice president at Parents Defending Education (PDE), a national organization whose stated goal is to build an “army of parents to begin reclaiming our K-12 schools from political activists and extremists.”

Despite being a lifelong Democrat, Nomani voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and has been credited with helping elect Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin; whose early outreach to Coalition for TJ parents set in motion what a campaign consultant called his “offense on education.” At his election night party, Nomani recorded a video of Youngkin spotting her sparkly “mama bear movement” T-shirt and saying he had been watching her on TV all evening. “You were great,” he said, followed by a hearty “Way to go, mama bears! You guys were awesome.”

How did Nomani manage to galvanize parents who, as one involved mother put it, hadn’t previously had a “bone of activism in their bodies”? Frustration over pandemic school closures certainly helped. But Nomani rebranded a cacophony of tangentially related grievances—sexual content in school libraries, CRT, the rollback of gifted and talented programs—into what she calls a new system of racism, which casts Asians as a “wrong kind of minority” and challenges deeply held values of merit and equality. Calling herself a liberal Muslim woman of color championing justice only increases her appeal to white Republicans who share some of her goals, and who want protection against being labeled racists. Together, they aim to build what one GOP strategist called the “biggest block of single-issue voters in the history of American politics”: parents. “We’re going to guide this country,” Nomani told Laura Ingraham in November, warning that Democrats would lose more races if they continue to treat parents “like dirt.”

“As a liberal, I am shocked that so-called progressives accept regressive notions like segregated affinity groups, targeted discrimination against Asian students, and a new hierarchy of human value that scores people by their privilege in an oppression matrix,” she wrote me. “I am always stunned when people refuse transcendent values of humanity to press sectarianism, bigotry, and separation.”

“I am always stunned when people refuse transcendent values of humanity to press sectarianism, bigotry, and separation.”

When faced with Thomas Jefferson’s new admissions policy, angry Fairfax parents did what many do: They took the school board to court, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian law firm with a track record of fighting affirmative action and challenging elite public high school admission policies that have resulted in fewer Asian American students. The school defended its new system, which replaced standardized tests with a more holistic assessment that would reflect the community’s demographics. But on February 25, a federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan ruled that the new process discriminated against Asian Americans. Parents like Nomani celebrated since they considered the school’s equity effort to be a deliberate “racially-engineered” attack on their families and a war on merit. This was just another example of the erosion of parental rights and the greater threat of “wokism” and leftist ideologies permeating public education across the country in the wake of racial justice movements.

The board appealed the court’s ruling, obtaining a stay that allows the plan to remain in place through litigation. In April, Coalition for TJ filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court to block the policy. But on April 25, the court declined to intervene. The case could still make its way back to the justices, who, this fall, are set to hear two cases challenging race-conscious college admission policies where the plaintiffs also claim discrimination against Asian Americans, to weigh in on the merits.

“This case is important because it’s really challenging the ability of schools to consider the goals and the values of diversity and school integration at a very basic level,” says Sarah Hinger, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “It could have far-reaching impact on the ways schools consider equity and it could extend even beyond race and schools.”

“They delayed justice for us,” Nomani told me, complaining of the board’s decision to fight on. “I see ourselves as the civil rights activists of the day. Our Coalition for TJ is the Brown v. Board of Education case for the 21st century.”

 

 

 

While Nomani brands herself a typical PTA mom turned accidental activist, she is hardly a novice crusader. She entered the spotlight by positioning herself as a Muslim critic of increasingly radicalized Islam—another time she felt she was waging battle with progressive censors. Born into a conservative Muslim family in 1965 in what was then Bombay, Nomani moved to the United States when she was 4. Within six years, her family had relocated to predominantly white Morgantown, West Virginia, where her father helped to found a mosque. For Nomani, her parents epitomized the American Dream: hardworking immigrants who had lived through British colonial rule and, based on merit alone, managed to thrive in a foreign land—her father as a nutrition scholar and her mother as the owner of a small clothing boutique.

In her 2005 autobiography, Standing Alone in Mecca, Nomani recounts a double life, struggling to abide by Islamic standards—not attending dances, dating, or wearing tank tops—while still assimilating into Morgantown’s dominant culture by reading Nancy Drew and Little Women, and running cross-country. As a West Virginia University student, she moved to New York to intern at Harper’s Magazine and, at 23, landed a job at the Wall Street Journal, where she would work for 15 years.

Nomani aspired to be a war correspondent but instead made a name for herself with trendy zeitgeist pieces—on in-flight sexual misconduct or how the thong became the under apparel of choice of many American women. An interviewer joked she’d become the paper’s sex reporter. In 2000, Nomani took leave to travel to India to work on a religious identity memoir that grew from a reporting assignment on the fad of Tantric sex. But the brutal 2002 murder of her colleague Daniel Pearl by Pakistani terrorists irrevocably changed her life. (In 2007, she started the Pearl Project at Georgetown University, a journalistic endeavor that began as an investigation into his murder and has since been repurposed to denounce anti-Semitism.) Four weeks after his disappearance, she learned she was pregnant by a partner who had left her. She retreated to Morgantown and, in 2003, made a pilgrimage to Mecca with her family. She left Saudi Arabia “vowing to throw whatever stones I could at the forces of darkness in the world,” she writes in the autobiography, specifically meaning Islamic fundamentalism.

The mosque that her father helped found became her first battleground. She challenged its rules about separate prayer and entrances for men and women, leading the New York Times to highlight her “Rosa Parks-style civil disobedience”—35 members signed a petition to ban her. Nomani then wrote an “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom,” which included the “right to respectful and pleasurable sexual experience.” In 2005, she went on a nationwide “Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour” and organized a mixed-gender service led by a woman imam in New York City. Talk show host and comedian Bill Maher, who has expressed anti-Islam views, called her a hero.

But her confrontational tactics—from posting “99 precepts for opening hearts, minds and doors in the Muslim world” at the mosque’s entrance, to bringing in camera crews—did not sit well with some Muslim Americans, who considered her a publicity-seeking opportunist who enabled anti-Muslim bigotry by calling on women not to wear a hijab, serving as a witness in “witch hunt” congressional hearings, and supporting policies singling out Muslims. Nomani has dismissed such criticism as character assassination and an attempt to quash dissent.

She has also been called epithets like “‘native informant,’ perpetuating certain stereotypes and problematic ideas about her own community,” says Sabiha Mohyuddin, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Sociology. Mohyuddin, who studies race and identity with a focus on South Asia, says Nomani’s views on Islam are harmful. “She’ll use the language of feminism or even her intersectionality to justify very right-wing reactionary policy.”

Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown who was formally accused of harassment by Nomani after Fair called her out on Twitter for voting for Trump, has a harsh verdict: “She’s essentially an arsonist who claims to be a fireperson.”

“Her commentary is irrelevant to me,” Nomani responded.

Asra Nomani at her home in Great Falls, Virginia, on Friday, May 6, 2022. Jared Soares

 

 

 


In June 2020, when her son was a junior at TJ, the principal sent an email about the school’s lack of diversity, urging parents to “think of privileges you hold that others may not.” Nomani describes that message and the subsequent admissions changes like a “knife in my heart.” She began networking with other parents and launched a Substack newsletter in which she publishes the results of public records requests for school contracts with speakers and equity-and-diversity consultancy firms—a multimillion-dollar “woke-industrial complex,” she claims. (On LinkedIn, Nomani brands herself as, among other things, a “private investigator” experienced in unraveling secrets.) Harry Jackson, a Coalition for TJ co-founder and parent advocate with PDE, says, “A lot of people ask her to run for office, but she likes what she’s doing.”

“These so-called moms are communication professionals, always very savvy politically,” says Maurice Cunningham, a retired University of Massachusetts, Boston, political science professor and the author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization. Organizations like Parents Defending Education, he adds, may appear to be grassroots groups but can be fueled by big right-wing money. While PDE doesn’t disclose its funding sources, its president previously ran the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and Speech First, both Koch-backed organizations.

“She has the guts to speak up,” says Alice Guo, a parent at the March Fairfax County protest. Our conversation was interrupted by a GOP campaign manager and a Republican candidate for Congress likely eager to tap into the hot-button political issue ahead of the midterms. “That woman, she’s unstoppable.”

“For the last two years you have been trying to make us invisible, but…you’re going to go down in history just like the school board in Brown v. Board.

At that night’s school board meeting, Nomani took the mic for a fiery speech that again likened her cause to the civil rights movement. “For the last two years you have been trying to make us invisible, but…you’re going to go down in history just like the school board in Brown v. Board,” she said. As shouts of “stunt” intensified, Nomani grew more agitated. Eventually, she became so heated she was escorted away from the microphone, as she accused security of trying to intimidate her, and school board members of being “the new face of racism.” The meeting was called into a brief recess, during which she continued to speak up. “You do not want our voices raised, do you?”

One sympathetic parent in attendance marveled to me that Nomani “has the power to suck all the oxygen out of the room.” Indeed, Nomani says she lost her job at PDE for her “inappropriate speech.” In an op-ed for the Federalist, where she is a senior contributor, Nomani said she was “unceremoniously” fired eight days after the school board meeting and “booted” from the company’s messaging groups within minutes. The organization did not respond to requests for comment. (She has since joined the IWF’s activism arm.)

The opinion piece published on May 18 also mentions this profile, which, Nomani wrote, she expected “to chronicle my journey from hero to zero—from politically correct activism as a Muslim feminist to a puppet master for ‘dark money,’ ‘right-wing’  parent advocates. Those are the kind of hits I got immersing in conservative politics over the past year, but it has never deterred me, because, as a fierce opponent of critical race theory, I am the same classic liberal I have been as a Muslim feminist.” 

But slights seem only to fuel her. She recently appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show in a T-shirt that her father had hand-painted with phrases used against her and other parents—“disinformers,” “QAnon moms,” and “white supremacists.” Nomani says she’s being vilified by the same “illiberal progressives” for having supported Trump in 2016 and for speaking out against the rules at her mosque. 

“We’re human beings,” she says. “They can call me a white supremacist, white adjacent, Uncle Tom, it doesn’t matter. We’re never going to give up.”

EU Plans a Green Energy Bonanza to End Its Reliance on Moscow

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The EU plans a “massive” increase in solar and wind power, and a short-term boost for coal, to end its reliance on Russian oil and gas as fast as possible.

In a plan outlined on Wednesday, the European Commission said the EU needed to find an extra €210 billion ($222 billion) over the next five years to pay for phasing out Russian fossil fuels and speeding up the switch to green energy.

Senior officials conceded that in the short term, the race to get off Russian gas would mean burning more coal and using nuclear energy. The plan, drawn up in response to the Kremlin-ordered invasion of Ukraine and subsequent soul-searching about Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, proposes upgrades to the EU green deal, the bloc’s flagship policy to confront the climate crisis.

The Commission proposed that 45 percent of the EU’s energy mix should come from renewables by 2030, an advance on the current 40 percent target suggested less than a year ago. Officials also want to cut energy consumption by 13 percent by 2030 (compared with 2020), in comparison with the current proposal of a 9 percent saving.

The Commission proposed that 45 percent of the EU’s energy mix should come from renewables by 2030.

“It is clear we need to put an end to this dependence and a lot faster before we had foreseen before this war,” said Frans Timmermans, the EU official in charge of the green deal. Contrasting the call to find €210 billion to spend on new energy infrastructure, including windfarms and solar panels, he said the EU was spending €100 billion a year on Russian fossil fuels. “Speeding up the transition means that money can stay in Europe, can help bring down the energy bills of European families and will not be used to finance this barbaric war in Ukraine.”

But phasing out Russian gas means coal-fired power plants “might also be used longer than initially expected,” states the EU strategy. The decision to quit Russian gas has also led to a scramble to increase Europe’s imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from countries such as the US and Qatar, as well as pipeline gas from Azerbaijan.

The commission said it would be necessary to spend up to €12 billion – about 6 percent of the extra money needed—to build LNG terminals and upgrade oil plants to allow EU member states to switch to non-Russian fossil fuels.

Timmermans said the EU could still meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050. “You might use coal a bit longer, that has a negative impact on your emissions,” adding: “If we can actually do what I say, reduce our energy consumption in combination with a speedier introduction of renewables, we will bring down our emissions even quicker than before.”

The Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout, a vice-chair of the European parliament’s environment committee, said the commission was leaving the door open for member states to continue funding fossil fuel infrastructure. “Investments that are urgently needed for energy efficiency and renewables can still flow into new pipelines and terminals, this might continue our fossil energy dependency,” he said.

Green campaigners voiced concern about plans to source LNG from states in the Middle East and Caucasus with poor human rights records, while criticizing the green light for new gas infrastructure.

“The more we spend importing gas, the more we continue to expose the most vulnerable in our society to unaffordable energy bills, fuel the climate crisis and fund other repressive fossil-fueled regimes around the world,” said Murray Worthy at Global Witness.

To help speed up renewable energy, the EU wants to make it easier for companies to build wind and solar farms. Officials said it could take up to nine years to get a permit for a windfarm and four for solar. “And this is time we do not have,” said one. Any change in planning laws would require action from national and local authorities.

An Infamous MAGA Lawyer Is Funding Whacky Legal Defenses for January 6 Suspects

Kelly Meggs, an Oath Keeper facing seditious conspiracy charges over the January 6 insurrection, is getting new lawyers. And his outgoing attorney says that a nonprofit set up by Sidney Powell—the infamous pro-Trump lawyer behind the failed “Kraken” election lawsuits—has offered to help pay for Meggs’ legal defense.

Jonathan Moseley has represented Meggs since October—work that’s included filing a motion that seemed to compare Covid vaccine policies to the Holocaust. Now Moseley is being forced to step aside due to his disbarment in Virginia last month for what the state bar said were improper billing practices. In interviews, he said that Powell’s group, Defending the Republic, had covered all his fees in the Meggs case, more than $70,000 through March. And he told me earlier this month that he expected that Meggs’ new counsel “would get funded in place of me for this work.”

“People will tell you that if you if don’t have bar complaints, you’re not doing your job.”

The attorneys taking over Meggs’ case—Juli Haller and Stanley Woodward—declined to answer questions about their relationship with Defending the Republic and wouldn’t say whether the group would continue picking up the tab for Meggs’ defense. But according to Moseley, Powell’s organization is already paying for Haller to represent Meggs’ wife, Connie. Haller, who worked closely with Powell in 2020 to promote election fraud claims in court, now functions “like a liaison” for Powell, according to Moseley. Moseley said that it was Haller who initially recruited him to represent Kelly Meggs and arranged for him to be compensated by Defending the Republic.

As Buzzfeed previously reported, Moseley has said that Defending the Republic is also paying the legal bills for other January 6 defendants: Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kenneth Harrelson, another Oath Keeper. Additionally, Moseley wrote in a court filing in December that Defending the Republic had agreed to pay “legal fees and expenses” for Zach Rehl, the head of the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys, who faces conspiracy charges related to his role in the attack. All of these defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Moseley told me that Defending the Republic caps the fees it pays January 6 lawyers at “something like” $10,000 per month. He has separately represented Rhodes and Stop the Steal founder Ali Alexander in civil lawsuits stemming from January 6, but he said Defending the Republic did not fund that work.

Kellye SoRelle, an attorney for the Oath Keepers organization, also said that Defending the Republic was paying the legal bills for Rhodes and other Oath Keepers in their criminal cases. SoRelle said that when she was trying to find Rhodes a lawyer following his January 13, 2022, arrest in Texas, she received a call from Phillip Linder, a Dallas attorney, who was meeting with Rhodes. Linder said, “Sidney sent me up here, and she is gonna take care of the legal tab,” SoRelle recalled. Linder, Powell, and lawyers working for Powell’s organization did not respond to requests for comment.

Oath Keepers are a loose network of militia-style groups that was launched in 2009 after the election of President Barack Obama. The organization recruits former military and law enforcement personnel, though it also accepts other members for so called “missions,” including protecting businesses against looters during civil unrest. On January 6, members of the group stormed the US Capitol. A few dozen now face criminal charges. Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, and Harrelson are among 12 group members who have been charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting to use violence to stop the transfer of power to Joe Biden. Prosecutors allege that Harrelson and the Meggs couple participated in a military-style “stack” formation that entered the Capitol that day. Connie Meggs is among group members separately charged with conspiracy. Rehl is one of five senior members of the Proud Boys, a neofacist group, charged in a separate conspiracy case.

There is no indication that Defending the Republic dictates the specifics of defenses employed by suspects and attorneys who receive support from the group. But the organization has recruited lawyers for January 6 defendants from a far-right network linked to Powell. The result has been that the group is effectively funding activist attorneys who use the defenses as a political crusade, sometimes advancing bizarre legal arguments that appear to have only a fleeting connection to the crimes their clients are charged with.

Powell’s group seeks “people who are fighters,” Moseley said.

Prosecutors have advanced January 6 cases by using plea deals to gain cooperation from a growing number of conspirators. Earlier this month, William Wilson, a North Carolina Oath Keeper, became the third person to plead guilty in the seditious conspiracy case. Wilson revealed to prosecutors a January 6 phone call in which he says Rhodes asked an unidentified person to put him on the phone with Donald Trump and to “tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose the transfer of power.” (Rhodes’ request was apparently unsuccessful.) Such plea bargains often benefit individual defendants, since they can get a reduced sentence by cooperating, at the expense of the larger group of suspects.

It’s not illegal for Powell’s organization to pay defendants’ legal bills. Moseley said he did not receive instructions from Defending the Republic on how to defend Meggs. But he said that the group’s financial support has the effect of making plea bargains less likely. In part, he said, that’s because defendants often plead guilty when they feel they are “out of options” and can’t afford to keep paying lawyers. But Moseley also said that Powell’s group seeks out aggressive attorneys who, in practice, may be less likely to negotiate deals with prosecutors. The group seeks “people who are fighters,” he said.

Some of the attorneys in Powell’s network have been involved in post-election legal battles since the very beginning. In 2020, Haller, who had worked in the Trump administration, helped Powell promote vote fraud claims in court. In filings connected to election lawsuits in Georgia and Texas, Haller indicated that she worked with Defending the Republic, listing addresses for the nonprofit as her mailing address. A federal judge in Michigan last year sanctioned Powell, Haller, and seven and other attorneys for acting “in bad faith and for an improper purpose” in a lawsuit they filed that sought to overturn Michigan’s presidential election results.

For her part, Powell became infamous for enthusiastically promoting outlandish claims about an international cabal—including George Soros, China, Germany, Venezuela, Cuba, antifa, Facebook, and cities with large numbers of Black voters—that supposedly conspired to hack US voting machines and rig the election. Powell reportedly fed ideas related to overturning the election directly to Trump. Many of the insurrectionists have said they believed claims that the election was stolen.

Powell has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating January 6 and has been sued for $1.3 billion by Dominion Voting Systems over her false claims about the company. In the lawsuit, Dominion explicitly charges that the “violent mob” that stormed the Capitol was “[i]ncited by Powell’s [d]isinformation [c]ampaign.”

Prosecutors in Washington, DC, are also reportedly investigating fundraising and accounting practices used by Defending the Republic under Powell’s leadership.

Moseley, like some of his clients, was in the crowd that gathered outside the Capitol on January 6. He publicly posted video he took there “as a volunteer reporter and writer” for National File, a far-right website. Other footage from outside the Capitol, which was flagged by Capitol Terrorists Exposers—an anonymous group researching Oath Keepers’ actions on January 6—appears to show Moseley entering a restricted area close to the Capitol. There is no indication he went inside the building, and prosecutors have not charged anyone with entering a restricted area if they are not also facing other, more serious charges.

Moseley did not dispute entering a restricted area, but he said that because the Capitol Police had retreated by the time he arrived, and barricades had been dismantled, he and others around him “had no notice of what was restricted and what wasn’t” in the area around Congress.

Moseley has long combined legal work and fringe political activism. In 2008 and 2011, he worked for Delaware Tea Party figure Christine O’Donnell, best known for capturing the GOP Senate nomination in 2010 and running an ad stating that she was not a witch. Moseley later unsuccessfully sued O’Donnell for unpaid wages. He has advanced various right-wing theories, including the false claim that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. Moseley’s online biography recounts work for Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, both right-wing organizations founded by Larry Klayman, who the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as a “pathologically litigious attorney.”

The Virginia Bar suspended Moseley’s law license in 2009, after a court found that he’d made frivolous discovery requests and had later made false statements about the judge in the case, among other infractions. Moseley’s license was suspended by the Virginia Bar again in 2019 for failing to comply with a subpoena. In 2020, a state judge faulted Moseley for, among other things, appearing “before the state court while his license to practice law was suspended.” After Moseley failed to show up at an August 2021 hearing, another judge ordered him jailed for six days.

Harrelson’s lawyer told me that it’s “none of your fucking business” who pays for his defense.

Moseley’s disbarment in April of this year resulted from his alleged violation of billing rules. He deposited a client’s up-front payment for legal services in a personal account, he acknowledged in an interview this week. He also allegedly obstructed the bar’s investigation into the matter. Moseley told me that his bank had closed a trust account he had set up for client payments, forcing him to deposit his client’s payment into his personal account, a practice the Virginia bar prohibits. Moseley argued the bar failed to make allowances for situations like his, noting that he “had no other place to put” the funds. He also said he had “earned the fees.”

“The bar is being dishonest,” Moseley added. He said he is appealing the ruling.

Moseley minimized his past disciplinary issues, describing them as “administrative” actions related to his aggressive advocacy for clients.

“I do not think it is unusual to have run-ins unless you are completely not doing your job at all,” he said. “People will tell you that if you if don’t have bar complaints, you’re not doing your job.”

While defending Kelly Meggs, Moseley collaborated on multiple motions with Bradford Geyer, an attorney for Harrelson. Moseley said that Defending the Republic is also paying for Geyer to represent Harrelson. Geyer told me that it’s “none of your fucking business” who pays for Harrelson’s defense.

The filings the two attorneys have worked on together include assertions that Kelly Meggs and Harrelson—who were both denied bail and are jailed while awaiting trial—face efforts “to force them to receive” Covid vaccines. Both men have declined vaccination. Meggs cites an unspecified medical reason. Harrelson asserts a religious objection. In a November motion asking federal Judge Amit Mehta to allow them to exceed a page limit to advance their arguments, the attorneys offered an outline that listed prospective sections, including: “C19 Conspiracy Structure” and “SCOTUS Could Not Have Foreseen the Holocaust.”

Moseley and Geyer’s efforts drew a rebuke from Mehta, who told them in an order that “the court will not allow this case to become a forum for bombastic arguments” or “propagating fringe views about COVID-19.” Mehta also pointed out that “the D.C. Department of Corrections does not require any person held there to accept a COVID-19 vaccine.” A few weeks later, the two lawyers filed a motion that, with appendices, ran to more than 600 pages and that compared Covid vaccines to the Nazis’ forced medical experiments on Jews.

In a May 5 filing, Geyer asked prosecutors for evidence related to around 80 people he called “suspicious actors” that, he said, might have been “government agents” who entrapped or “frame[d] Oath Keepers on January 6.

Geyer told me that he believes all his filings are necessary to defend Harrelson, who he said “is totally innocent.”

An Inside View of Wartime Ukraine

I’m standing on a dusty path flanked by a medic, a volunteer fighter, and another journalist. It’s early May and we are traversing through a recently liberated town on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, attempting to document a glimpse of the front line. We are surrounded by the destruction left in the wake of Russian forces and by the Ukrainians affected by a terrible and unjust war. Vehicles are strewn about as hollow shells of what they used to be, homes that still stand are decimated, and massive holes from shelling line the streets leading towards the front line; everywhere you look, your eyes seem to land upon military equipment or a solider with a solemn, cold, and nervous look adorned upon their face.

We are stopped by a radiant older woman outside of her home. She proceeds to tell us stories about her family, how her daughter is a doctor, how her son was fighting in the war but was wounded, how she has many grandchildren, and how proud she is of them. We begin to walk away when she shouts for us; we turn around and she begins to make the sign of the cross and give us a blessing that we will be just as her own children, her sons and her daughters.

I’d been in the country some six weeks, after arriving in Kyiv on April 5—more than a month after the Russian invasion began on February 24, and shortly after they were subsequently repelled from the capital. I’d arrived via train, starting at a Polish station on the border with Ukraine, where I witnessed dreary-eyed families who had fled from their homes and whose children were using their luggage as makeshift beds. Once the train crossed over into Ukraine, it was boarded by military personnel, passports and IDs were scrutinized, and my bags were searched.

A Ukrainian couple walks by a damaged armored personnel carrier near the town of Elitne in Kharkiv Oblast.

Two motorcyclists smoke in the Barabashova Market in Kharkiv, which was destroyed by Russian forces early in the war.

After I crossed, I became a witness to the war crimes of Bucha, the bombings of civilian homes in Saltivka, and the heavy artillery in the Donbas region, as well as the makeshift living quarters of soldiers and the charred dwellings of residents on the front lines, all of them defending their homes.

One day, I was with two other journalists in Kharkiv and we came to an apartment complex where residents had been living in a dusty and moldy basement below the Soviet-era structure. I’ll never forget the woman that came over to me, gleaming about her children and how proud she was that they had worked so hard to make it to America. She showed me pictures of them and her grandchildren, their houses, and their degrees. There was something about her that tugged at my heartstrings. It hit me later that this woman reminded me of my own mother.

Living quarters of a front line position for Ukrainian forces in Kharkiv Oblast.

Later, in Severodonetsk, while working alongside Road to Relief, a non-governmental organization specializing in extractions from war-torn towns, we came across many elderly citizens and their families who were survivors of the Holodomor famine of 1932, the Nazi occupation, and the repression of their nation under the USSR. Mothers, children, grandmothers, and men alike are now forced to live in the depths of the ground, being stripped of the peace and identity that they had worked so hard to obtain and preserve.

Their stories, and the stories of many who have answered the call to defend Ukraine, have set the tone of the war and shown displays of unimaginable bravery; they have now become a part of the fabric of Ukrainian identity and woven into the very texture of their sovereign state.

Yet while Kharkiv in the northeast has been liberated, the war is far from over. Bombings and shelling are a daily occurrence in the east and sporadic in the west. Almost three months in, the scars of war are beginning to show as the largest war on European soil since World War II continues to unfold.

These scars will be deep. From children born in war, to civilians permanently maimed, to the erasure of cultural artifacts, to people who are forcibly deported, to the thousands of innocent lives lost due to the ideology of another nation—these are now the tones and textures of every Ukrainian who has been forced to suffer through loss and whose resilience and love for their home will help overcome the Russian forces.

Swampy, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, shows his back tattoo during a de-mining operation on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Russian ordnance is disposed of during de-mining operations on the outskirts of Kyiv. Since the Russian invasion began in February, massive amounts of ordnance have been left behind in public and rural areas.

Two Ukrainian soldiers smoke at a front line position in the Donbas region.

A dummy at a former Ukrainian checkpoint northwest of Kharkiv.

A man fills his car’s gas tank from a spare fuel can. As the war has progressed, fuel has become harder to obtain due to increased shortages and rationing.

A gymnasium at an athletic center in Kharkiv destroyed by Russian forces.

Volunteers from the non-governmental organization Ukrainian Guardian Angels perform maintenance on a vehicle in Kramatorsk.

A volunteer medic’s helmet with a picture of his girlfriend taped to the inside.

Volunteers evacuate a 95-year-old woman from a basement in Severodonetsk, located on the frontlines of the Donbas region near Luhansk.

A Ukrainian man with the territorial defense unit in Severodonetsk lights a cigarette off a burning piece of wood while cooking dinner.

The inside of a bloody and burned armored personnel carrier.

A father and his daughter speak to each other after being evacuated from their home in Severodonetsk.

A child is evacuated from his home in Severodonetsk.

A graveyard in Kramatorsk.

A Soviet-era vehicle driving in Kramatorsk.

 

Oklahoma Just Took Abortion Bans to a New Extreme

On Thursday, the Oklahoma House passed a bill banning nearly all abortions in the state. Like a recent ban passed in Texas, which barred abortion after six weeks, the law will be enforced through private civil action. And Oklahoma’s bill takes things even further by banning abortion beginning at fertilization. It will take effect immediately upon being signed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. 

The Oklahoma bill allows private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who performs an abortion in the state or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” there. A plaintiff stands to receive at least $10,000 for winning a lawsuit against an abortion provider or other person involved in assisting a patient.

The Oklahoma bill takes things even further by banning abortion beginning at fertilization.

This ban—the latest of three abortion restrictions passed in Oklahoma just this year—is modeled after a Texas bill that took effect last fall. The Texas version has already devastated abortion access in the state. Given the precedent of the Texas bill and a similar Oklahoma bill that passed earlier this month, the latest Oklahoma ban is expected to withstand legal challenges, and is set to become the strictest restriction on abortion in a nation where Roe v. Wade is still in effect.  

Before the Oklahoma House voted on the bill, Democrats pressed Republican State Rep. Wendi Stearman on the consequences of a ban beginning at fertilization. Rep. Stearman’s answers to questions about how the bill could impact IVF treatments or affect patients during the resulting litigation did little to clarify the potential impact of the bill. But she was crystal clear when Democrat Forrest Bennett asked how the state might support parents forced to have a child they do not want. “Most parents who seek abortions are already parents who know how much it costs to raise a child,” he said. “If they have no choice but to have that child, do you not agree that a state like Oklahoma, that values life so much, should do everything in its power including funding and financing that child if there is no choice?”

“No,” said Rep. Stearman, “I do not believe that is the state’s responsibility.”

The impact of the ban will reach far beyond Oklahoma, according to Elizabeth Nash, a state policy expert at the Guttmacher Institute. Texas’ six-week abortion ban led patients to seek care in surrounding states, including Oklahoma. Now, most Oklahomans seeking care will be forced to flee their state as well, as the bill only provides exceptions for rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother. This is likely to drive up wait times in states where abortion is still legal. An appointment that last year could’ve been scheduled in two or three days time now might require a three- or four-week wait. “The number of abortion clinics have been declining for decades,” says Nash; “there is no give in the system.” 

Oklahoma’s new ban comes as providers are scrambling to prepare for the Supreme Court decision this summer that will likely overturn Roe, according to a draft opinion leaked earlier this month. When that decision comes, Oklahoma is one of 25 states that could immediately ban abortion. Nash believes that though activists have “been trying to raise the alarm for years,” this reality has been difficult to grasp for many who have felt secure in having abortion rights. “It doesn’t square with their understanding of the world,” she says, “and it shouldn’t. Because abortion bans shouldn’t exist.” 

The GOP Is Relishing the Baby Formula Shortage

In a little more than a week, the nationwide baby formula shortage has gone from barely registering with the American public to prompting the federal government to announce urgent steps to alleviate the shortage, perhaps the most significant of which came Wednesday after President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act.

Though the steps taken over the past week have been encouraging, I’m still wondering why it took this long to finally address the writing on the wall that had been up for over a year. Judging from FDA chief Robert Califf’s apparent inability to explain the cause of the shortage this morning, it seems as though we’ll be wondering for quite some time. Meanwhile, it won’t surprise you to know that Republicans have seized on the current crisis to attack Biden, and it’s my belief that some of these criticisms have been legitimate. As I wrote previously:

A failure to address an everyday struggle affecting countless parents, caregivers, and of course, literal humans who by definition rely on others for their basic needs is bound to give credence to the notion, fair or not, that life under the Biden administration just isn’t working out. That it sucks, that we’re living the ramifications of inflation, and the government seems a bit too chill about it. These emotions, whether rooted in fact or fiction, are the kinds of things people will remember this November when they ask themselves whether they’re satisfied with the current occupier of the White House.

But Republicans are no longer simply feeding the outrage machine at this point. In fact, they appear to be relishing the current crisis, smacking their lips over the chance to parlay a nationwide shortage where the health of infants is in jeopardy into a political sucker punch. Such ghoulishness was laid bare on Wednesday when a majority of House Republicans voted against an emergency spending bill aimed at easing the shortage. (Another bill, to allow low-income families who rely on WIC benefits to purchase more baby formula, passed with far more bipartisan consensus, though the nine who voted against the measure were, you guessed it, Republicans.) The bill ultimately passed. But the GOP’s near-uniform obstruction of the $28 million spending bill—a direct instruction from party leadership—underscores the absurd politicization of a crisis affecting literal babies.

And who better for the task than “Sam’s mom,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). In fact, Stefanik has become the unofficial face of the current attacks, routinely invoking her infant son and status as a new mom in order to blast Biden. As Stefanik tells it, she’s personally appalled that the federal government is feeding migrant babies detained at the border. For the GOP, it’s a perfect fit: a mother and rising star who won’t shy away from smearing her perceived enemies as “pedo grifters.” For Stefanik, well, she’s just succeeding at playing the long game. 

The White House, House Dems, & usual pedo grifters are so out of touch with the American people that rather than present ANY PLAN or urgency to address the nationwide baby formula crisis, they double down on sending pallets of formula to the southern border. Joe Biden has NO PLAN

— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) May 13, 2022

Sure, bipartisanship has been dead for some time now. Republicans have spent the past decade rejecting measures that at one point in history would have seemed like obvious moments for consensus. But as desperate families wait for shelves to be restocked, they’ll be sure to notice that 192 members of one party voted against relief for the sake of politicizing their struggle.

The FDA Is Coming for Your Almond Milk

When you drop a box of almond milk into your shopping cart, or order an oat-milk latte, are you being bamboozled? That’s the contention of Big Dairy, which has been pressing its friends in Congress and the US Food and Drug Administration to reserve the name “milk” for fluids extracted from the mammary glands of animals. The FDA, which regulates food labeling, appears poised to grant the industry its wish.

The argument, as the National Federation of Milk Producers put it a 2019 comment to the FDA, is that the existence of almond, etc., “milk” (as opposed to, say, “almond beverage”) means that we’re “being misled about the nutritional content of plant-based imitators relative to real dairy products,” thereby “causing harm to our nation’s children and, potentially, other consumers.” As the federation argues, cup of dairy milk, for example, contains 8 grams of protein, and the word “milk” makes consumers think they should get the same from an equal amount of almond “milk,” which typically delivers just 1 gram of protein. What a ripoff, the logic goes, one that could supposedly contribute to a nutritional crisis. 

The DAIRY PRIDE Act would force the FDA to crack down on plant-based alternatives.

Back in March, the FDA submitted a draft policy regarding the “labeling of plant-based milk alternatives” to the Office of Management and Budget, which must approve rule changes. While the document has not been made public, the FDA would likely not have filed it without intending to change the status quo. In testimony before the US Senate on April 28, commissioner Robert Califf indicated he agreed with the dairy industry’s line. Consumers aren’t “very equipped to deal with what’s the nutritional value of non-dairy milk alternatives,” he said. Asked about changing the FDA’s policy on affixing the milk label to non-dairy drinks, he said: “We’re moving along quickly and it’s a priority to get this done, so I can assure you it will get done.” 

These answers must have delighted several of the assembled dairy-state senators, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D.-Wisc). and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), co-sponsors of the 2021″Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act,” which would force the FDA to crack down on plant-based alternative companies that were labeling their products “milk.” 

Others on the Hill are less impressed. In a statement to Mother Jones, Sen. Cory Booker (D.-N.J.) expressed surprise that the FDA would place such a priority on tweaking names of popular beverages at a time when the agency has come under scathing criticism for neglecting the food part of its mandate. Booker pointed to a blockbuster April 8 investigation by Politico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich which found that “regulating food is simply not a high priority at the agency, where drugs and other medical products dominate, both in budget and bandwidth—a dynamic that’s only been exacerbated during the pandemic.” She added: “Over the years, the food side of FDA has been so ignored and grown so dysfunctional that even former FDA commissioners readily acknowledged problems in interviews.”

An official high up in the agency essentially agreed with her critique, Bottemiller Evich reports. The agency has “too many programs and not enough resources,” Janet Woodcock, FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, told her, “and the mismatch is profound.” As for the food division, it’s “really important, but it’s very under-resourced.” 

And yet the FDA has apparently found time to intervene on behalf of the dairy industry to deliver one of its main lobbying goals. “For too long the FDA has failed to take action to address the nutrition crisis we are facing in our country,” Booker said, referring to rising levels of diet-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, attributed to consumption of lightly regulated ultra-processed foods. “Rather than using their regulatory authority to protect consumers, FDA instead now appears poised—in a blatant example of regulatory capture after years of dairy industry pressure—to take action solely for the purpose of protecting market share for conventional milk. I am deeply concerned by the FDA’s misguided priorities, and hope that the Office of Management and Budget will return the proposed guidance to the FDA for reconsideration.” The budget office declined to comment on its timeline for deciding on the FDA’s proposal.  

In a letter to the OMB released May 19, Booke joined forces with Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah),and Reps. Julia Brownley (D.-Calif.) and Nancy Mace (R.-S.C.) to make a similar plea that OMB squash any plan to crack down on the labeling of plant-based milks. They pointed to a 2017 federal court decision rejecting the dairy industry’s claim that consumers can’t assess the nutritional differences between dairy and non-dairy products. 

“Rather than using their regulatory authority to protect consumers, FDA instead now appears poised…to take action solely for the purpose of protecting market share for conventional milk.”

For me, Big Dairy’s fixation on hoarding the “milk” name is as puzzling as Califf’s decision to make the topic a priority right now. Cow milk consumption has been declining for decades, since long before the almond milk surge of the early 2010s and the more recent oat milk boom. In 1945, Americans on average quaffed 45 gallons of dairy milk annually per capita, which translates to an impressive 2.3 cups daily. That turned out to be the peak preceding a long and steady downward slope. Now, 77 years later, we consume just 0.57 cups daily, and falling, nearly half of it in cereal or mixed into other beverages like coffee.

After decades as a fringe food found mainly in health food stores, dairy-free alternatives began to soar in popularity during the 21st century, and now account for 15 percent of “all dollar sales of retail milk,” according to the vegan think-tank The Good Food Institute. Even so, Big Dairy can’t blame the rise of alternatives for even the recent decline of milk. A 2020 study by USDA researchers found that the “increase in sales over 2013 to 2017 of plant-based options is one-fifth the size of the decrease in Americans’ purchases of cow’s milk.” It concluded that “sales of plant-based milk alternatives are contributing to—but not a primary driver of—declining sales of cow’s milk.” 

Nor is there evidence that America’s turn away from milk as a beverage has exacted negative nutritional consequences. Dietary intake of calcium, the product’s signature nutrient, steadily increased for all age groups between 1994 and 2010, a USDA study found, even as per capita milk consumption dwindled. Similarly, cow milk offers multiple times the protein of most of its plant-based rivals; but as we’ve turned away from it, signs of a protein deficiency in our diets have not developed. 

In short, the battle over what to call the stuff we rely on to enhance coffee and cereal looks a lot like a tempest in a cappuccino cup. The FDA has more burning issues to tend to. Like, say, the current baby formula crisis. And so does the dairy industry—including the problem of chronic overproduction

George Bush Finally Admits It: He Launched a “Wholly Unjustified and Brutal Invasion” of Iraq

George W. Bush—whose administration, lie by lie, sold a deeply fraudulent and immoral case for invasion—apparently sees a bit of himself in Vladimir Putin. I wonder why:

Former President George W. Bush: “The decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean of Ukraine.” pic.twitter.com/UMwNMwMnmX

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) May 19, 2022

“I’m 75,” Bush quickly offered, prompting laughter from the crowd.

The gaffe, which came during a speech in Dallas on Wednesday, is sure to launch a bunch of thought pieces this morning. For some, it was cute, another Bush giving Michelle Obama candy moment. Others, like me, will recall his historic bait and switch that killed upwards of 200,000 civilians. Well, wherever you land, here’s your ever-relevant reminder that George W. Bush is still bad; please don’t let his neverending supply of dumb endear you. Now watch this drive.

Crypto Crash Probably Won’t Ease Crypto’s Massive Energy Suck

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The crypto crash will not reduce the sector’s climate impact any time soon, an economist has warned, even though the environmental footprint of digital currencies is in theory set by their market value.

“Unless Bitcoin collapses further, there’s no reason to expect a decrease in environmental impact,” said Alex de Vries, a data scientist at the Dutch central bank and the founder of Digiconomist, which tracks the sustainability of cryptocurrency projects.

His research shows that while the increase in a cryptocurrency’s price encourages more computer capacity to be dedicated to it—increasing carbon emissions—that capacity takes a long time to disappear after the value declines, so the climate impact persists.

Cryptocurrencies work by validating their transactions through huge numbers of “miners” who use their computers to solve extremely complex math problems in exchange for the chance of getting tokens as a reward, in a highly energy-intensive process. De Vries estimates that the Bitcoin network uses about 204 terrawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year, around the same as the energy consumption of Thailand and above that of all but 23 sovereign nations.

Other cryptocurrencies add to that footprint: Ethereum, the token that underpins the NFT boom and the “decentralized finance” sector, has an annualized footprint of around 104TWh (equivalent to Kazakhstan, and more than all but 34 nations), while even Dogecoin, a lighthearted spinoff of Bitcoin famed for its community’s positive attitude, consumes an estimated 4TWh annually.

Those figures have barely changed over the past month despite $1 trillion being wiped off the crypto sector, and other measures of the amount of processing power devoted to “mining” similarly show little decline.

“A Bitcoin price of $25,200 is sufficient to sustain an annual electricity consumption of 184 terrawatt-hours.”

All major cryptocurrencies use electrical power in rough proportion to the price of the token because that dictates how much the reward given to miners is worth. For Bitcoin, for instance, the reward for successful mining is 6.25 Bitcoin every 10 minutes—currently, about $210,000.

The higher the value of the reward, the more energy it is worth using to try to win it, ensuring that as the price of Bitcoin rose from $8,000 in October 2019 to $60,000 two years later, the energy use of the sector rose too, from 73TWh to its current high.

But while an increase in the price of cryptocurrency quickly leads to an increase in the carbon emissions of the sector, a crash like the one seen in past month doesn’t do the reverse. “It likely stops the environmental impact from going up any further,” said de Vries, “but a Bitcoin price of $25,200 is sufficient to sustain an annual electricity consumption of 184TWh.”

That’s because the cost of cryptocurrency mining is split over two main areas: buying the hardware and paying for electricity. When prices are on the rise, miners buy new computers—expensive graphics cards for Ethereum or purpose-built “rigs” for Bitcoin—but once they are already set up, it’s worth switching them off only when the cost of electricity alone is higher than the expected revenue.

In a paper published in the journal Joule last year, de Vries estimated that a massive crash in the price of Bitcoin, back down to $8,000, would be required to meaningfully reduce the total emissions of mining—and even then, it could sustain an energy consumption of up to 60TWh per year.

The continued turmoil in the cryptocurrency markets means the sector may have further to contract. On Wednesday morning, tether, a stablecoin that effectively functions as a bank, paid out a further $1.5 billion to depositors withdrawing their cash from its coffers. In the past week, the slow-motion bank run has seen $9 billion of its reserves withdrawn, more than 10 percent of its total market cap and well over twice the cash-on-hand it declared it had at the beginning of the year.

Andreessen Horowitz, a prominent venture capital firm and one of the key financial backers of the cryptocurrency sector, said on Tuesday that we may be entering a “crypto winter”, echoing a warning from the Coinbase chief executive, Brian Armstrong, that valuations may be depressed for some time.

Imagine Dealing With This Many Condescending Anti-Abortion White Men and Not Losing Your Shit

Today’s House hearing on abortion rights was bound to have its share of ignorant and offensive questions, not to mention disinformation, from a certain cohort of white male Republicans. But at times the questions asked of the witnesses—particularly Dr. Yashica Robinson, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Alabama—were just too absurd, if not simply hateful.

Dripping condescension, but seemingly unaware of what an abortion is, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) repeatedly asked Robinson if she would support the abortion of a child who was “halfway out of the birth canal.”

“I can’t even fathom that,” she replied, “just like you probably can’t imagine what you would do if your daughter was raped. If it hasn’t happened, it may be difficult for you to—.” Johnson cut her off before she could continue.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) at abortion access hearing: "How about if a child is halfway out of the birth canal? Is an abortion permissible then?"

Dr. Yashica Robinson: "I can't even fathom that … just like you probably can't imagine what you would do if your daughter was raped." pic.twitter.com/LtM92m9JKS

— The Recount (@therecount) May 18, 2022

The immense disrespect that these men exhibited toward a testifying doctor, a Black woman, was palpable. “Ms. Robinson, I want to ask you a question,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said.

“Yes, my name is Dr. Robinson,” she responded, “and I provide abortion care in Alabama.”

Roy proceeded to ask Robinson how she disposed of “baby parts” removed during dilation and extraction, a procedure used for the very slim percentage of abortions that take place during the second trimester.

Robinson refused to engage with Roy’s inflammatory rhetoric. “I am a physician and a proud abortion provider,” she said. “There is nothing that you can say that makes it difficult for me to talk about the care that I provide.”

It got more preposterous from there. “The answer to the question is fairly obvious, that there are baby parts, and you don’t want to talk about how they’re being stored,” Roy said. “You don’t want to talk about putting them in freezers, you don’t want to talk about putting them in Pyrex dishes…”

And so Robinson was put in the unenviable position of having to dignify Roy with a response. “All of those things that you just mentioned, I have never seen that in a health care setting, ever,” Robinson said. “We don’t put baby parts in freezers or Pyrex dishes.”

“My name is Dr Robinson” — Dr Yashica Robinson after Chip Roy calls her “Ms Robinson”

Roy then talks over her before Robinson fires back by telling him “I am a physician and a proud abortion provider” pic.twitter.com/NTW5FM9cHa

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 18, 2022

Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) tried to pull the same big gotcha question that Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) posed to Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing: What is a woman?

“The reason that I use she and her pronouns is because I understand that there are people who become pregnant who may not identify that way, and I think it is discriminatory to speak to people or to call them in such a way as they desire not to be called,” Robinson responded. Seems reasonable enough. But did the men who are so intent on denying abortion care to those who need it really care about the answer in the first place?

Rep. Dan Bishop to Dr. Yashica Robinson: “You’re a medical doctor. What’s a woman?”

“I’m a woman,” she replies. pic.twitter.com/KEH4ngYijk

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 18, 2022

To be clear, not all members of Congress were so bogus today. Here’s Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) bravely sharing the story of her miscarriages: “The same medicine used to treat my failed pregnancies is the same medicine states like Texas would make illegal,” she said. “If Alabama makes abortion murder, does it make miscarriage manslaughter?”

Rep. Lucy McBath: “After which failed pregnancy should I have been imprisoned? … would you have put me behind bars after my stillbirth, after I was forced to carry a dead fetus for weeks, after asking God if I was ever going to be able to raise a child?” pic.twitter.com/o1XaVVqsZl

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 18, 2022

Wednesday wasn’t the first time this country’s (mostly white, mostly male) Republican representatives have talked over and down to women, and particularly women of color. With the Supreme Court seemingly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, it looks like women can’t expect certain men to start treating them as humans anytime soon.

“We Have to Break Ballet Out of the 18th Century”

Calvin Royal III sensed that Touché, the first homoerotic male pas de deux produced by American Ballet Theatre, would elicit an unusual reaction even before he finished dancing. Audience members generally rustle their programs and shift in their seats when performers are onstage. But on that late October evening inside Lincoln Center in 2021, “it was so quiet,” he remembers. “Absolute silence.” New York City–based ABT is widely considered the most prestigious classical ballet company in the country—and among the most conservative. Its repertoire features classics like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, rife with tutus and sumptuous sets.

Touché, in contrast, began with Royal and fellow dancer João Menegussi standing against a blank canvas, dressed in street clothes, staring into each other’s eyes. The unspoken tension slowly dissipated, and they embraced, spinning across the stage. Then, the lights went on, and they stumbled away from the spotlight. The theme was unmistakable: Two men were coming to terms with their desire for one another, all the while fearing the stigma attached to gay love. “You could feel people lean into the work,” Royal says. It ended with the men on the floor, shed of most of their clothes, locked in a kiss.

The dancers and choreographer Christopher Rudd knew they had created a combustible piece, but they didn’t know if it would find favor with ABT’s audience. “It’s Lincoln Center,” Royal points out—the definition of the artistic establishment. They need not have worried: It earned a standing ovation, provoking so many curtain calls that Royal lost count. Certainly part of the shake-the-rafters reception was due to the fact that the piece was featured on ABT’s first official Pride Night, but Royal believes it touched a nerve with people irrespective of their sexuality. “We’ve all experienced what it is like to be afraid of something in ourselves,” he says. “What if we were given the opportunity to go after something that we’ve never been able to fully express or verbalize?”

“What if we were given the opportunity to go after something that we’ve never been able to fully express or verbalize?”

That week, Royal—who is 33—didn’t just dance a piece intricately tied to his experience as a gay man. He also celebrated his performance onstage as a principal dancer for ABT, the first Black man given that title in nearly two decades and only the fourth Black dancer to be promoted to that rank at the company. Days before ABT’s Pride Night, he played Albrecht in Giselle, one of the iconic ballet roles, the equivalent of an actor being tapped for Hamlet.

Christopher Charles McDaniel, a dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, took to Instagram to describe how he’d spent most of the matinee in the audience in tears. “I was an eight-year-old all over again, seeing ballet and saying, ‘I want to do this!’” he wrote. “Calvin’s presence reminded me of Arthur Mitchell”—his company’s founder—“telling me I don’t have to be or look ‘classical’ but I can be classic and unique.”

Calvin Royal rehearses with ABT principal Hee Seo.

Malike Sidibe

The art form dates back to the Italian Renaissance, and most classical ballet companies are still overwhelmingly white. Royal’s presence paired with his extraordinary talent are helping to expand conceptions of who can stand center stage. He aspires to do more than that, however. He wants to extend the boundaries of ballet so that it speaks to today’s most pressing issues: “We have to break ballet out of the 18th century.”

In the ABT studios in Manhattan in mid-February, Alonzo King, the founder and artistic director of Lines Ballet company, carefully studied Royal, clad in a T-shirt festooned with the line “Use your power to empower.” Royal was entwined with dancer Katherine Williams; King told her to push back against Royal as they moved in a circle, their muscles visibly flexing. “It’s like he weighs 5,000 pounds,” he told her. “Think of machinery.”

King, an internationally renowned choreographer and ballet master, is one of four Black artists to have created a bespoke piece for ABT in the past two years, after a two-decade period in which no Black Americans choreographed for the company. That’s not the only behind-the-scenes change at ABT: In January, Janet Rollé—formerly the general manager of Beyoncé’s media and management company, Parkwood Entertainment—became the ballet company’s first Black CEO and executive director.

Although King had only worked with Royal for a short time, he had admired the dancer’s work for years. “Calvin is beautiful,” he says. By that he didn’t mean just physically arresting, although Royal is that: He stands 6-foot-1, with long limbs and chiseled cheekbones, qualities that landed him a contract with the modeling agency IMG Talent three years ago. “Truth and beauty are aligned,” King continued. “In the sincerity in his dancing, I see an honesty, a freedom.”

Malike Sidibe

King proudly points out that his company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary and features both classical and modern work, looks like America. It is perhaps because of institutions like Lines and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—whose corps is almost entirely Black—that classical ballet has not been under sustained pressure to diversify. “There is a dominance of white people in this art form and the exceptions are just that, they are exceptions,” says Julia Foulkes, a cultural historian at the New School. Pointing to a handful of Black dancers, she explains, “is a way to take the organization off of the hook.” To be sure, some dancers of color are stars: The most famous ballerina at ABT, and possibly in the world, is Misty Copeland, who became the first Black American woman promoted to principal six years ago.

ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie doesn’t think the imbalance is a symptom of deliberate racism so much as a lack of entrenched pathways into ballet from underrepresented groups. “The reason there aren’t Black dancers out there in profusion who have hit the level of excellence to get into a company like [American] Ballet Theatre is because they don’t have access to the training early enough,” he says. Performing at an elite level generally requires a minimum of a decade of intense work, and apprentices at ballet companies are often in their late teens.

For this reason, it’s surprising that either Royal or Copeland landed at ABT: Royal didn’t start ballet classes until he was 14, and Copeland was a year younger. Black dancers who have thrived at classical companies were often raised in predominantly white spaces. Some were adopted by white parents, like Royal’s colleagues at ABT, soloist Gabe Stone Shayer and corps member Jose Sebastian; Harper Watters of Houston Ballet; and Michaela DePrince of Boston Ballet. DePrince’s fellow dancer in Boston, biracial principal dancer Chyrstyn Fentroy, was raised primarily by her white ballerina mother.

Malike Sidibe

Royal’s early childhood didn’t provide much indication he would one day be a classical dancer. Born into a military family in Georgia, he moved three times before entering first grade. That year his parents split up and his mother took him and his brother to Palm Harbor, Florida, where they lived with his grandmother. Royal credits Grandma Linda with igniting his love of the arts: The house was filled with music, and when he expressed interest in playing piano, she bought him a Yamaha keyboard for Christmas. In elementary school, he saw a flyer for a production of The Chocolate Nutcracker, which reinterpreted Tchaikovsky’s Christmas tale through a mix of jazz, hip-hop, and African dance. “I loved the movement and I loved performing,” he recalls.

When he applied to the arts high school in St. Petersburg, Florida, Royal had never taken a ballet class before. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. to train, while negotiating growth spurts, “was a constant fight with my body,” he says. “Muscles I didn’t know I had ached.” But even after being sidelined for four months after a car accident, at 16 he competed at the Youth America Grand Prix, the biggest dance competition in the country, and was awarded a scholarship to ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis ballet school.

When Royal phoned his mother, who works on the support staff of the Florida Department of Corrections, to tell her, she warned that even with the scholarship, New York City rents might be beyond the family’s means. “But if this is something you want,” she added, “I’m going to get you there.” That promise, he says, fueled his determination to excel in his classes.

“From the outside, because ballet is elegant, it is associated with the effeminate. In fact, it’s surprisingly heteronormative.”

When Royal joined the school in 2006, he was the only Black dancer of the 12 students in his class. But the real demarcation was that the others had studied the discipline a decade longer. “I was like, I’ve got to get my act together,” he remembers. He started arriving at ABT’s studios early to observe older stars in rehearsal. While he admired their prowess, he noticed the male standouts, like Cuban-born José Manuel Carreño, tended to be “jacked, like football players.” Royal wondered if his own body, lithe and long, would prevent him from ascending to principal.

ABT principal dancer James Whiteside, who performs drag under the moniker Ühu Betch, says Royal’s concerns weren’t unfounded: “From the outside, because ballet is elegant, it is associated with the effeminate. In fact, it’s surprisingly heteronormative.” The marquee roles—like Siegfried in Swan Lake and Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty—are masculine princes out of a Disney fantasy. That prototype can sometimes loom over casting. As Whiteside describes in his 2021 book Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet, a former boss informed him he’d been passed over for the title role in Romeo and Juliet because he had worn his hair in a headband during class.

Malike Sidibe

Watching the classic dances from the wings of the theater, Royal loved dissecting how different artists interpreted the roles. He mulled over the choices he would make. When he played Albrecht in 2021, he created a backstory for the prince, who seduces the villager Giselle, neglecting to inform her that he is engaged to a nobleman’s daughter. (Giselle dies in despair.) Royal didn’t want to play Albrecht as a cad, but rather as a victim in his own right, born into a world he didn’t fit into: “The experience I wanted to bring to it, why I come to the village, is because it is an exhale for me,” he explains. “I am not happy in my life up on the hill, and when I [leave], I feel closer to who I am, freer.”

It’s not hard to see a similar urge to break out of societally dictated confines in Royal’s own life. Like many of his Black counterparts in ballet, he’s been pelted with the suggestion to become a modern dancer. Or assumed to be one. Once, when he arrived at the Joyce Theater to perform with ABT’s feeder company, an usher stopped and informed him that Ailey wasn’t scheduled to go on until next week.

On another occasion, a donor cornered Royal at an afterparty and, cocktail in hand, proclaimed he’d always seen him as a contemporary dancer. Royal—who has a measured, almost mellifluous way of speaking—becomes heated when he recalls his response: “I want to prove to myself I can do something that most people wouldn’t see as a possibility for someone like me, who started ballet at 14, who is living in New York, dancing with America’s national ballet company. I don’t want to pursue another path just because it’s easier for me to go that route.”

Still, there were times he wondered if his endeavor was quixotic. Four years into his tenure at ABT, he found himself mostly understudying. But in 2014, McKenzie informed him that he had won a $50,000 fellowship to further his artistic development. Royal used the funds to tour Europe and train with masters at such prestigious companies as the Royal Ballet in London and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was promoted to soloist in 2017.

King believes that attaining mastery involves internal work, in addition to intense physical exertion. “Dancers,” he tells me, “dance who they are.” That view resonates with Royal. “It was when I started to embrace myself and be honest with myself about all of the things that make me me, that’s when the whole world started to open up,” he says. Growing up in a churchgoing military family meant “don’t ask, don’t tell” was more than a theoretical concept, and that helped make Touché deeply personal for him: He knew what it felt like to long for, and fear, and finally forge a connection with another man. “In the surrender moment, it was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is what I remember dreaming what it would be like.’” It happened in his own life: At ABT, he met Polish pianist Jacek Mysinski, who is now his husband. And in 2020, Royal became a principal.

But Covid had left theaters dark, and ascending to the highest rank was a little like being handed a gift he had worked for and coveted but couldn’t open. Royal did have a chance to perform virtually, however, when New York City Center invited him to do a piece for its famed Fall for Dance festival, just months after Black Lives Matter protests had filled the nation’s streets. Royal wanted to create a piece that spoke to the moment, and he asked MacArthur-winning choreographer Kyle Abraham to create To Be Seen, set to Ravel’s “Boléro.” Royal is an uncommonly fluid dancer—which makes it all the more jarring when he surprises the audience by backing up, his hands in the air in a “don’t shoot” gesture.

“I have to carve out a whole new lane for myself and prove that I’m good enough.”

Creating two works that spoke so powerfully to his personal experience was electrifying. “I see a change that I’m anxious to see more of,” he says. Up-and-comers are often compared to former stars, and Royal knew that no matter what level of technical virtuosity he achieved, he would never evoke comparisons to Mikhail Baryshnikov. “I have to carve out a whole new lane for myself and prove that I’m good enough,” he says. That lane can serve as an onramp for other people who don’t fit the traditional prototype. For ABT’s summer season, he’s performing the male leads in Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet, roles that appear to have been out of reach for a Black star as recently as two decades ago. When Royal attempted to find tape of ABT’s first Black male principal, Desmond Richardson, he was shocked that he’d never played the lead in a classical ballet, except for Othello. “Where was his Siegfried, his Romeo?” Royal says.

Malike Sidibe

Young dancers of color are taking notice of Royal’s rise. Styles Dykes, a trainee with Tulsa Ballet, remembers how he first stumbled across Royal’s photograph: “I was like, ‘Whoa, who is that?’” Dykes says. “He kind of reminds me of me.” When he met Royal at the Youth America Grand Prix competition last year, he says, he reacted the way “most kids would seeing their favorite superhero.” Royal does remember Dykes shaking, which in turn gave Royal goose bumps. “I don’t want to be the one of few,” Royal tells me. “It’s about me being the best I can be in an art form I love and inspiring other people.”

Dykes says that even before he started hunting down tape of Royal dancing, and following him on Instagram, or dreaming of seeing him live at Lincoln Center, spotting the thumbnail photograph felt like a paradigm shift: “It made me realize I can do it too.” 

Anti-Abortion Crusaders Tried to Block a Clinic by Claiming Flushed Fetuses Will Clog the Waterways

For those seeking abortions in the state of New York, little should change if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, at least in theory. Abortion access is enshrined in the state’s code of law—it’s illegal there to deny someone the right to terminate a pregnancy. Just after the draft opinion on abortion was leaked, Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted, “For anyone who needs access to care, our state will welcome you with open arms. Abortion will always be safe & accessible in New York.”

Yet in the small town of Brighton, New York, a progressive and well-heeled suburb of Rochester, anti-abortion activists are employing a novel tactic to try and change that. With the help of national legal strategists, the local group Brighton Residents Against Violence to Everyone, along with other anti-choice groups and individuals, have made the case that a proposed Planned Parenthood clinic poses a threat to the character of the community—and, interestingly, to its waterways. It claims that because the facility will prescribe abortion medication, it will pollute area waterways with the remains of aborted fetuses flushed down toilets. By failing to consider this and other effects on the community, the group alleges, the town planning board didn’t properly follow local or state environmental law.

“If, in a given day, twenty such fetuses are flushed…it would be the equivalent of a shredded forearm or foot being passed through the system,” one resident claimed.

Reproductive rights experts told me that BRAVE’s arguments are unheard of and aren’t based on evidence or science, and that some of their bizarre claims constitute disinformation. As Michelle Casey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, told me, the opposition against the Brighton Planned Parenthood sets a new bar for inflammatory rhetoric: “I think it’s the most extreme that I’ve seen at our affiliate,” she said. “It’s really just beyond the pale.”

Still, the fight in Brighton portends another ominous front in the assault on abortion rights—or at the very least a new way to harass already beleaguered abortion providers. Construction plans for the clinic are currently on hold because Planned Parenthood’s lease was canceled over a financial dispute, though BRAVE and allied anti-choice activists are claiming it’s a victory of their own making. And as such, they are bragging about BRAVE’s environmental and community-focused tactics as an innovative legal strategy, a model for how to fight against abortions in states where the law is unlikely to change even if Roe is overturned.

The fight over Brighton’s Planned Parenthood began last spring, when the town planning board announced the proposal for the clinic and opened a public comment period. At the board’s Zoom meetings, dozens of residents showed up to voice their opinions. Some welcomed the idea of a new clinic in town—in the shadow of the University of Rochester, with its highly regarded medical school, Brighton had always had first-rate health care facilities. Others weren’t so wild about the idea. Some spoke about their belief that life begins at conception, and how they therefore considered abortion to be morally wrong.

But beyond these typical lines, their arguments fell into two particularly inflammatory categories: that the clinic would devastate Brighton’s water and environment, and that it would enable sex trafficking in the town’s backyard.

The idea that the clinic would be a stain on the community, no matter what Brighton residents believed about abortion, came up during the public comment period at several of the early meetings. During a June 16, 2021, Zoom meeting, for example, a commenter named William said that he objected to the clinic on environmental grounds; he was concerned that in order to deal with medical waste, the clinic would need to build an incinerator and expand the sewage system. “I think the environmental considerations need more study,” he said. At subsequent meetings, other residents repeated these ideas.

Then, in August, BRAVE and another anti-abortion group filed a lawsuit against the planning board that pushed their community arguments a step further, formally alleging that the board hadn’t examined the environmental or safety impacts of the clinic on the town. “By failing to consider the environmental disamenities of the project, in terms of public safety, traffic, and disposal of waste, including the handling of fetal remains,” the complaint stated, “the Planning Board failed to perform duties enjoined upon it by law.” The lawsuit also claimed that the board hadn’t reviewed how the building would be used, and that it had therefore violated New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act. 

Some of the content in the lawsuit seems designed to appeal to Brighton’s progressive residents, the kinds of people who might fight for the cleanup of local wild spaces and waterways. Lynn Howlett, who is identified in an affidavit as “a New York citizen and resident who has constitutional rights to clean water,” argued that patients who are prescribed abortion pills to take at home would flush their fetal remains in the toilet and pollute the local waterways. These remains, she said, would be “too small to be caught by the screening that would normally catch a dead animal or larger section of human tissue,” Howlett wrote. “If, in a given day, twenty such fetuses are flushed into the Town’s wastewater treatment systems, it would be the equivalent of a shredded forearm or foot being passed through the system—small enough not to be screened out but cumulatively representing a sizeable amount of human body parts.” In an email, BRAVE’s lawyer, Linda Mandel Clemente, said that the plaintiffs were also concerned that the hormones in the abortion medication would pollute the town’s water, and that these concerns taken together warranted further study by the planning board. 

He was concerned that unsavory characters would come and “loiter.” He said he worried about them playing loud music, “smoking tobacco and marijuana, which is now becoming very prevalent.”

The experts on abortion policy and practice that I spoke to all said they were stunned by the outlandishness of these arguments. They were particularly appalled at the idea that medication abortion could somehow affect water quality—it wasn’t an argument they had heard before. “That is so far outside of the realm of reality,” said Elizabeth Nash, a principal policy associate with the pro-choice think tank the Guttmacher Institute. Daniel Grossman, an OB/GYN who studies family planning at the University of California-San Francisco, was equally shocked. “Wow,” he said. “I don’t even know what to say about that, other than that patients miscarry all the time at home”—with no deleterious effect on the sewage or wastewater treatment systems.

Sasha Harris-Lovett, a water infrastructure researcher with the University of California-Berkeley’s Water Center, agrees. “I can confidently say that raising children has WAY more of an effect on the sewer system—in terms of bodily fluids and tissues, laundry detergents, and other household chemicals, and the occasional Batman figurine down the toilet—than deciding not to have children,” she wrote to me in an email. “That being said, wastewater treatment systems are designed to deal with human wastewater.” Casey, the local Planned Parenthood president, noted that none of the other clinics in the region had been required to undergo an environmental review. 

Meanwhile, another bizarre argument against the clinic was gaining steam. At a July 14 meeting, this one held in person, a resident named Cecelia said that she believed that Planned Parenthood would pose the same kinds of problems as a strip club or an X-rated movie theater: “the attraction of transients, parking, and traffic problems, and loss of business for surrounding businesses.” 

A week later, at a July 21 in-person meeting, the anti-abortion activists showed up in force—25 of them spoke at the podium. Many pointed to the planning board’s duty to uphold the quality and character of the town, which they believed a Planned Parenthood clinic would diminish. One speaker, a Brighton resident named Paul, said he was concerned that unsavory characters would use public transportation and ride-sharing services to come to Brighton’s Planned Parenthood and “loiter.” He said he worried about them playing loud music, “smoking tobacco and marijuana, which is now becoming very prevalent.” He speculated that Planned Parenthood could put up “large, neon signs that do not fit with the community.” 

Then, in an affidavit in support of its lawsuit, BRAVE president and Brighton resident Carol Crossed decried the planning board’s “failure to consider the deleterious secondary effects wrought by the sex traffickers who frequent such facilities as the Project and engage in lewd and obnoxious behavior damaging to the children attending the school, the Muslims attending and praying at the neighboring mosque, and the children playing in the nearby playground.” Mandel Clemente said in an email that members of the group have “experienced women and men driving by the abortion clinics, honking horns and shouting obscenities and pulling up shirts to flash bare breasts.” For these reasons, she believes the planning board should have done a study “designed to address similar concerns arising out of adult entertainment businesses.”

Although victims of trafficking do often seek abortions, there is no credible evidence that clinics themselves promote trafficking or lead to crime in their surrounding communities. The idea has nevertheless gained momentum over the past few years, as it’s been promoted by right-wing think tanks like Focus on the Family. In conspiracy circles, it’s taken on an even darker twist. In a 2021 Rolling Stone article, journalist Sarah Posner chronicles how Planned Parenthood became a bête noir for adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, many of whom believe that a shadowy underworld of intellectuals feasts on the blood of terrified children. A former anti-abortion activist told Posner, “I get messages from my old crowd saying, ‘Rob, how can you support baby eaters?’ It’s gone to actually baby eating. You know that people at Planned Parenthood, Hillary Clinton, and her cabal, they don’t just kill infants. They eat them.”

Grossman said that he’s also recently encountered some wild strains of disinformation around sexual violence and abortion. Last year, he served as an expert witness for a trial during which a pro-life doctor made the baseless claim that some types of sexual abuse could only be detected through a pelvic exam—so medication abortion prescribed via telehealth instead of a clinic visit would actually allow abuse to go undetected. “It was absolutely horrifying,” Grossman said. 

BRAVE’s lawyer said members of the group have “experienced women and men driving by the abortion clinics, honking horns and shouting obscenities and pulling up shirts to flash bare breasts.”

Before the suit could be litigated, Planned Parenthood’s plans were halted—though the reason why had nothing to do with BRAVE. In January, Brighton Planned Parenthood said that its lease had been canceled, which Casey emphasized had to do with an unexpected increase in the rent and was completely unrelated to the lawsuit.

Still, BRAVE dissolved its lawsuit within a few days and issued a press release proclaiming, “Brighton Residents Against Violence to Everyone (BRAVE) prevails in stopping construction of a 6500 square foot abortion clinic.” News of BRAVE’s supposed triumph spread quickly through the US anti-abortion movement. A glowing article on the website of the anti-abortion group Thomas More Society praised BRAVE’s efforts, saying its lawsuit “focused on the site plan approval process itself, including the lack of a meaningful review by the Planning Board of the many issues that an abortion clinic can bring to a neighborhood community.” It also noted that Reprotection, a national group that aims to shut down abortion clinics, helped BRAVE craft its legal strategy. In February, Missy Martinez-Stone, CEO of Reprotection, told the anti-abortion news site Pregnancy Help News, “We look forward to taking this precedent-setting lawsuit to other cities and towns across the country.” The pro-life group Life Issues Institute called BRAVE’s work “a novel blueprint for success.”

While it’s unclear if anyone else will pick up their tactics and try them in court, it’s easy to see how the newly emboldened anti-abortion movement might try out what were once considered fringe arguments in the coming months. For her part, Casey worries that the rhetoric the group used will be repeated, as pro-life groups seek to chip away at abortion access in places where the reversal of Roe won’t make abortion illegal. She said she has seen a dramatic uptick in disinformation around abortion, and that the trend toward extremism could very well threaten providers’ safety. “People actually believe that things that they’re saying,” she said. “That could cause people to do things that would be dangerous.”

Madison Cawthorn Loses

Capping off a precipitous and humiliating fall from grace, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the youngest member of the GOP’s Shitposting Caucus, has conceded the Republican primary for his North Carolina congressional seat to state Sen. Chuck Edwards.

Cry more, lib.

— Madison Cawthorn (@CawthornforNC) November 4, 2020

Cawthorn’s tenure in Congress was as controversial and performative as it was brief. Over the last few months, he has provoked the wrath of the Republican party elite with a series of bizarre statements, including his dubious claim that other lawmakers he admired had invited him to orgies and done cocaine in front of him. He has also found himself embroiled in scandal after scandal: participating in a cryptocurrency scheme, lying or exaggerating about his past, driving with a revoked license, and attempting to bring a loaded gun through airport security—twice.

By the time of his “orgy and cocaine” comment, Cawthorn’s combative and erratic behavior had already alienated him from many North Carolina Republicans. He annoyed them further by unexpectedly announcing that he was going to switch districts, only to then return to his original district after a court ruling gave the new district a Democratic skew. 

All of this led a number of influential Republicans in both North Carolina and DC to back Edwards in what seemed to be a well planned campaign to unseat Cawthorn. Their efforts proved successful Tuesday night, a potential sign that conventional Republicans still have a degree of influence over their base, even at a time when the GOP is dominated by anti-establishment sentiment. 

Republicans Just Chose Their Candidate for PA Governor. He Could Cause a Constitutional Crisis in 2024.

Doug Mastriano, a far-right supporter of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election, has won the Republican primary for Pennsylvania Governor, moving the country a step closer to what could be a potential nightmare scenario in 2024.

To ascend to the governor’s seat, Mastriano still has to win what’s expected to be a fierce general election battle against Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general. But Mastriano’s victory over a pack of Pennsylvania Republicans dramatically raises the stakes of the November contest. The Pennsylvania governor appoints the secretary of state, the official responsible for certifying presidential election results in the state. As Greg Sargent argued in the Washington Post, Mastriano could appoint a secretary of state who, amid baseless allegations of election fraud, certifies a losing GOP candidate as the victor of Pennsylvania. This certification would then be sent to Mastriano, who could forward it on to what might be a Republican-leaning Congress helmed by Rep. Kevin McCarthy. 

“What must be conveyed clearly and unflinchingly is this: If Mastriano wins the general election, there is almost certainly no chance that a Democratic presidential candidate’s victory in Pennsylvania in 2024 will be certified by the state’s governor,” Sargent wrote. 

Saying that Doug Mastriano was pro-coup in 2020 doesn’t quite cut it. He spoke derisively of the “myth of the separation of church and state” at a QAnon conference. He was at the Capitol on January 6, though there’s no evidence he went inside the building, and he hasn’t been accused of a crime.

Most worryingly, he has explicitly endorsed the radical notion that state legislatures have the legal authority to override the popular vote. 

There is mounting evidence that the PA presidential election was compromised.  If this is the case, under Article II, Section 1.2 of the US Constitution, the state legislature has the sole authority to direct the manner of selecting delegates to the Electoral College. (1)

— Senator Doug Mastriano (@SenMastriano) November 28, 2020

All of this has landed Mastriano the Trump stamp of approval. “There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano,” the former president said in a statement. “He has revealed the Deceit, Corruption, and outright Theft of the 2020 Presidential Election, and will do something about it.”

But Mastriano is so extreme that, according to Politico, prominent Pennsylvania Republicans mounted a last-ditch attempt to frustrate his victory—not because of his anti-democracy politics but because they fear he’ll lose the general election against Shapiro. Some Democrats, on the other hand, seem giddy at the prospect of a Mastriano victory. With the wind blowing in the GOP’s favor, many liberal strategists seem to believe that running against an anti-democracy extremist like Mastriano will maximize their chances for victory. Vice reported that the Democratic Governor’s Association even ran ads that could boost Mastriano’s chances in the primary. 

But if there’s one lesson we can draw from 2016 and all that followed, it’s this: Be careful what you wish for.

Prosecutors: Trump Crony Traded His Influence for Investment Cash From United Arab Emirates

When the Justice Department last year accused Tom Barrack, a friend and adviser of former President Donald Trump, with conspiring to “illegally advance and promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates,” they did not explain why they believed Barrack had secretly lobbied for the UAE. But on Tuesday, in a so-called superseding indictment of Barrack, federal prosecutors added a motive. And it’s no shocker.

In 2017, a private equity fund run by Barrack, then called Colony Capital, “raised approximately $374 million in capital commitments from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth funds,” the indictment reads. These investments, prosecutors note, followed seven years (2009 to 2016) during which the investment management company “raised no new capital from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth funds.” 

The new filing quotes from emails that a former Barrack employee, Matthew Grimes, who is also charged in the case, sent in December 2016 when the fund was set up. Grimes wrote that this “UAE fund” aimed to “achieve outsized financial returns,” but also had a “secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of” president-elect Trump. “We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in…those industries which will benefit most from a [Trump] Presidency” Grimes wrote.

There is an obvious parallel here to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a key adviser. The New York Times revealed last month that Kushner’s new private equity firm, Affinity Partners, landed a $2 billion investment from a fund controlled by Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, UAE’s close ally. Kushner got this massive investment despite a poor track record investing other people’s money. The Times noted advisers to the Saudi fund had raised red flags about the investment, including “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management.”

Barrack is charged with nine criminal counts, including failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice.

But one important piece of experience Kushner did have was his key role in defending MBS in the Trump White House after US intelligence agencies concluded the Crown Prince had personally approved the 2018 murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

As my colleague David Corn wrote, it is “hard to not see the $2 billion investment as either a payoff for past services rendered or a preemptive bribe should Trump manage to regain the White House.”

Prosecutors have alleged that Barrack, who advised the Trump campaign in 2016 and chaired Trump’s inaugural committee, maintained back-channel communications with UAE leaders during the campaign and Trump presidency, and worked to promote the UAE’s agenda in Washington, DC.

Prosecutors have detailed a series of steps Barrack allegedly took to help the Emirates. In 2017, he also unsuccessfully sought appointment to a top job in the Trump administration, including a post as special envoy to the Middle East. In an April 12, 2017, text message to an alleged UAE agent, Barrack wrote that his appointment would “give Abu Dhabi,” the Emirati capital, “more power.” Prosecutors have charged Barrack with nine criminal counts, including violating a law requiring foreign agents to register with the attorney general, and with obstructing justice by lying to federal agents who questioned him about his activities.

Barrack has pleaded not guilty on all charges. He sought to have the case dismissed in a January motion arguing that the government failed to show he’d agreed to work for the UAE. The motion also notes that the prosecutors appeared to have largely completed their investigation by 2019. The two year wait before charging Barrack, his lawyers wrote, suggests that the “government intentionally delayed bringing this case for political reasons or tactical advantage.”

The Next Song of the Summer? It’s Probably Part of a Private Equity Portfolio.

Over the past four decades, private equity has become a powerful, and malignant, force in our daily lives. In our May+June 2022 issue, Mother Jones investigates the vulture capitalists chewing up and spitting out American businesses, the politicians enabling them, and the everyday people fighting back. Find the full package here.

What do Beyoncé, Journey, the Chainsmokers, and Blondie all have in common? They all have songs owned by private equity!

PE is a multitrillion-dollar industry that has gobbled up everything from the hospital your mom works at to the local newspaper your grandpa used to read every Sunday, and yes, even your favorite songs.

The way song rights work can be byzantine, especially in the streaming era. But taking a look at one firm’s holdings can explain the money machine at play. One of the larger music-focused firms is the UK-based Hipgnosis Songs Fund. Their business model, according to the firm’s founder, is that they buy the intellectual property rights to bulk sums of popular music, claiming 50 to 100 percent of royalties that comes from streaming, commercial, and artistic music placement. Hipgnosis claims to own the rights to over 60,000 songs, equating to over 2.2 billion dollars, according to a report from the Guardian. Among those thousands of songs, there are tons you’ll probably recognize: “Toxic” by Britney Spears, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé, and “Runaway” by Kanye West. There’s even a handy chart on Hipgnosis’s site to illustrate just how they make this happen:

Now, private equity owning an artist’s music is not, necessarily, a bad thing. As the chart points out, they and their collaborators can still make money. While many of these deals are protected by airtight NDAs, the deals can be 10 to 20 times the catalogs’ annual income, according to the Guardian. And some artists are eager to make money off their music this way—particularly the songwriters, who receive an abysmal percentage of streaming royalties. But sometimes, private equity can get in the way of an artist’s life’s work. The most famous example is Taylor Swift. When mega-manager Scooter Braun sold Swift’s master recordings to Shamrock Holdings he essentially iced Swift out of owning her own work, choosing to do the deal with the firm over the artist.

And it’s just one tentacle of the giant capitalist squid that is private equity. For more, check out editorial fellow Arianna Coghill’s TikTok explainer:

@motherjonesmag My fellow #swifties will never forget #beyonce #justinbieber #taylorswift #music ♬ This Love (Taylor’s Version) – Taylor Swift

Here’s the Footage Shown at Congress’ First UFO Hearing in 50 Years

This morning, Congress held its first hearing on unidentified flying objects in more than 50 years. For many, it was a highly anticipated event: US military officials were discussing UFOs (!) in Congress. But I tuned in, and I am sorry to report, their testimony did little to address the question of extraterrestrial life—and whether or not observations of weird objects in the sky are the work of aliens.

Still, we got some footage.

Officials provided two examples of videos of “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAP, investigated by the government. In one video taken by the US Navy, the camera captures what appears to be several glowing triangles “off the coast of the United States,” according to Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray. The video was taken through night-vision goggles. For several years, the observation remained unexplained. But after a similar sighting years later, he said, the objects in question were determined to be unmanned drones. The triangular shape was a result of the light passing through in the night-vision goggles, he said.

In the second video, the object remains unidentified. The footage, which was played repeatedly during Tuesday’s hearing, was taken from an aircraft “operating in a US Navy training range,” according to Bray, who described the sighting as a “spherical object”: You can see it flash briefly toward the end of the video:

Bray shows another Navy UAP observation video captured "several years ago," taken through night vision goggles that shows "what appears to be triangles flashing:" pic.twitter.com/QAyTfk670Y

— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) May 17, 2022

Tuesday’s hearing follows the release of a 9-page, preliminary report on UAP from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in June of 2021. Between 2004 and 2021, it said, the US government had collected 144 reports of UAP, only one of which could be explained. (In that case, the object was “a large, deflating balloon.”) As for the other 143 reports? The government gave no explanations, but it did offer five possibilities as to what they might be. The categories included stuff you’d expect to see floating in the sky, like “airborne clutter” or natural phenomena like moisture or ice crystals. But it also listed some more concerning possibilities, like technology from classified US projects, foreign adversaries, or the maddeningly unspecific category of “other.” The inclusion of this “other” category, some in the media noted at the time, was certainly not evidence that UAP could be the work of aliens—but it was not an outright denial either.

Adding to the intrigue, a handful of the 144 incidents appeared to “demonstrate advanced technology,” the report noted. Here’s my former colleague AJ Vicens writing about the report at the time of its release:

Investigators noted that in 18 incidents, observers reported “unusual” UAP movement patterns. “Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.”

On Tuesday, Bray said the total number of UAP reports has risen to nearly 400 incidents, including historic, “narrative-based” observations. The rise in cases can be partly explained by the reduction of stigma around reporting UAP sightings, he said. He also said there have been 11 reported cases of “near [collision] misses” with US aircraft.

When asked about the 18 observations with unusual movement patterns, and if those objects could be a result of activity from foreign adversaries, Bray said, “We are not aware of any adversary that can move an object without ‘discernable means of propulsion.'” He added, “There are a number of events in which we do not have an explanation. There are a small handful in which there are flight characteristics or signature management that we can’t explain with the data that we have. Those are obviously the ones that are of most interest to us.”

Whether or not you believe in UFOs (I, for one, am remaining agnostic on the issue), the hearing was historic, and a clear attempt at providing transparency to the public about these sightings. As Ronald Moultrie, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security put it during the hearing, “Our goal is not to potentially cover up something. It’s to understand what may be out there.”

Still, as with many government hearings, the officials were careful about just how much to reveal in a public setting. During his opening remarks, Moultrie said, “We are also mindful of our obligation to protect sensitive sources and methods. Our goal is to strike that delicate balance, one that will enable us to maintain the public’s trust while preserving those capabilities that are vital to the support of our service personnel.”

The UAP hearing was historic, and many kudos to those who made this happen. But if this was your first exposure to this space, you wouldn't have any idea that there are some major problems here (via @BryanDBender yesterday here: https://t.co/8p1WCKUw1d) pic.twitter.com/67WR3vexII

— AJ Vicens (@AJVicens) May 17, 2022

Following the public event (which you can watch in full here), the committee scheduled another hearing, which, due to national security concerns, was held behind closed doors.

Democrats Unveil $28 Million Emergency Plan to Address Baby Formula Shortage

Much-needed relief could be on the way for caretakers amid the nationwide baby formula shortage.

Democrats on Tuesday announced an emergency spending bill that includes $28 million in funding to address the crisis, much of which aims to specifically support the Food and Drug Administration as it struggles to respond to the shortage.

“This bill takes important steps to restore supply in a safe and secure manner,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “While we know we have more work to do to get to the bottom of serious safety concerns at an Abbott facility and the FDA’s failure to address them with any sense of urgency, this bill is the first step to help restock shelves and end this shortage.”

The shortage, which has been steadily climbing since the start of 2021, exploded in February when Abbott, the leading manufacturer of baby formula in the United States, was forced to shut down its Sturgis, Michigan, formula plant after several babies became sick with bacterial infections. The plant shutdown, the resulting recall of Abbott’s baby formula products, and wider supply chain issues quickly gave way to the current emergency. Families have reported having to drive for hours in search of food for their infants; many have resorted to rationing and making homemade formula—both of which pediatricians strongly advise against.

On Monday, the FDA announced that it had reached a deal with Abbott to reopen the formula plant in about two weeks. The latest legislation comes days after Biden announced additional measures to help ease the shortage. But as I wrote last week, those steps, while encouraging, were largely limited and did little to answer the most pressing question looming over families right now: when we can start seeing empty shelves replenished. 

A vote on Tuesday’s bill is expected later this week.

TruthSocial Won’t Have Exclusive Rights to Donald Trump’s Political Posts

The business model of former President Donald Trump’s new digital media empire is largely dependent on one man: Donald Trump. For all the talk about freedom of speech and fighting the tech monopoly of Silicon Valley leftists, TruthSocial is a digital extension of the Trump brand. Paperwork filed Monday by a company Trump has teamed up with show that no one has any illusions about this. Without Trump, there simply is no TruthSocial.

Trump Media & Technology Group, the parent company of TruthSocial, is “highly dependent on the popularity and presence of President Trump, its Chairman and largest stockholder,” notes Digital World Acquisition Corp, a publicly-traded shell company that plans to merge with Trump’s media venture, in a filing submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. DWAC goes on to warn its investors that this dependence on the defeated president brings with it some risks:

President Trump has a significant influence on TMTG’s business plan. TMTG believes President Trump’s reputation and relationships are a critical element to the success of TMTG’s business. TMTG’s future success will depend, to a significant extent, upon the continued presence and popularity of President Trump. If President Trump were to discontinue his relationship with TMTG due to death, disability, or any other reason, or limit his involvement with TMTG due to becoming a candidate for political office, TMTG would be significantly disadvantaged.

In his time on Twitter, Trump built a massive audience of tens of millions of followers, many of whom loathed him as much as his fans loved him. News cycles and even the stock market were driven by his tweets. So, as dependent as TruthSocial and the rest of TMTG will be on the former president’s continued interest (and existence), having the exclusive rights to his social media postings could also provide a huge boon for the company. But, it turns out, TruthSocial doesn’t have that.

DWAC disclosed in Monday’s filing TruthSocial does have exclusive rights to some of Trump’s social media postings—but it won’t have a monopoly on the type of political red meat that made Trump such a draw on Twitter in the first place. In general, Trump will be obligated to post content on TruthSocial six hours before it can be published anywhere else. But there’s a massive loophole: These rules don’t apply to any content that is related to political messaging, political fundraising, or get-out-the-vote efforts. Those can be posted anywhere Trump wants, whenever he wants. 

Which is kind of a yuge exception to an exclusive deal.

According to the Trump Twitter Archive, at least half of Trump’s top 20 most liked tweets were directly about politics, and most of the rest directly related to his role as president, which is a pretty political job. The most popular tweet was his announcement he had Covid, followed by a statement that he was feeling well, which, considering the election that was looming at the time, was arguably as much about “political messaging” as a medical update.

Very few of Trump’s most popular tweets were strictly personal or unrelated to politics. He wished readers Merry Christmas and tweeted about the arrest of rapper A$AP Rocky and the death of Kobe Bryant. But it’s hard to imagine that those types of messages would be that much of a draw for TruthSocial.

DWAC is what’s known as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC—a “blank check” company that has gone public with literally no purpose or business. After going public, this empty shell of a corporation looks for another business that does have a purpose and wants to be publicly traded on the stock market but prefers to avoid the potentially onerous and expensive process of going through an initial public offering. If the two companies can merge, it makes for a quick shortcut to going public, which comes with tons of money and investment potential, and is exactly what Trump is seeking. Last fall, DWAC and TMTG agreed to partner up, but logistical hurdles still remain before that can happen. Monday’s filings are supposed to reveal to investors key details about the merger proposal.

DWAC went public with a share price of $10, as all SPACs do, and after announcing the plan to merge with the company behind TruthSocial, the share price shot up to a high of $97. It’s fallen sharply since then, recently trading below $40 before rising back up to $45.75 after Monday’s filing. The price of the stock has fallen and jumped erratically along with speculation about whether Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter might allow Trump to return to the platform that banned him after the January 6 insurrection. While Trump has said he won’t go back to Twitter, he’s not exactly known for keeping his promises—and he’s only posted twice on TruthSocial since its creation last fall. 

While Trump has said he won’t go back to Twitter, he’s not exactly known for keeping his promises.

What’s more, Trump’s deal with TMTG apparently prevents the company from firing him, even if it becomes clear he is no longer helpful to the brand. “The terms of a license agreement with President Trump is not terminable by TMTG when it may be desirable to TMTG,” the DWAC filing states. “The license agreement does not require President Trump to use Truth Social in certain circumstances and could require TMTG to make payments to President Trump for content” on the company’s planned video streaming service.

Specifically, the filing makes it clear that bad, or even illegal, behavior by Trump—the kind of behavior that is often grounds for voiding a contract—would not be a valid reason for TMTG to stop associating with Trump.

“TMTG has entered into a license agreement with President Trump wherein neither the personal nor political conduct of President Trump, even if such conduct could negatively reflect on TMTG’s reputation or brand or be considered offensive, dishonest, illegal, immoral, or unethical, or otherwise harmful to TMTG’s brand or reputation, shall be considered a breach of the license agreement,” DWAC told its investors. 

The filing, as it is required to be, is also brutally honest about just what kind of impact Trump can have on a brand. While his Twitter activity was the focus of global attention, DWAC concedes that surveys have shown as little as 30 percent of people say they’d be interested in using a social media site associated with Trump. And, the company notes, its association with Trump could lead to a lot of pressure on advertisers and a lot of motivation for bad actors to try and hack the site, breach its security, or flood it with spam. 

Even the fact that Trump’s name is like catnip for many Republicans is potentially problematic, the filing says, as GOP political groups have recently sent out fundraising appeals invoking Trump’s latest business endeavor. One fundraising email from the Republican National Committee asked recipients to sign up for TruthSocial and urged them: “please don’t be the reason Trump’s social site fails.” In its filing, DWAC acknowledges this might not be helpful if people “find these misleading solicitations undesirable.”

In the end, however, it’s possible that none of this will matter. In December, an earlier DWAC filing disclosed that both the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority had initiated investigations, looking at whether TMTG and DWAC executives had improperly coordinated with each other before DWAC went public and whether insider trading had occurred around the time of DWAC’s initial public offering. DWAC and TMTG officials have denied any wrongdoing and the filing emphasizes that the mere existence of an investigation doesn’t mean it has merit. DWAC hadn’t mentioned the investigations in several months, but on Monday, DWAC stated that the probes remain active and that it is cooperating with authorities in both of them. Ultimately, those investigations could doom the merger entirely, the company warned investors.

The January 6 Committee Gets Ready for Prime Time

Editor’s note: This column by David Corn first appeared in his newsletter, Our Land. But we wanted to make sure as many readers as possible have a chance to see it. Our Land is written by David twice a week and provides behind-the-scenes stories about politics and media; his unvarnished take on the events of the day; film, book, television, podcast, and music recommendations; interactive audience features; and more. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here. Please check it out.

The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack is boldly going where congressional committees almost never go: prime time. Next month, the panel is set to hold a week or so of hearings, and to achieve maximum impact, it intends to put on its show in the evening, starting in the 8:00 hour on the East Coast, when there is potential for a large television audience. With this move, the committee could achieve what hasn’t occurred in a long time: a congressional hearing that makes a difference.

Blockbuster congressional hearings used to be a fixture in American life. The Army-McCarthy hearings. The Senate Vietnam War hearings (during which a young antiwar vet named John Kerry poignantly remarked, “How do ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”). The Watergate hearings. Iran-contra. Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill. These and other hearings riveted the nation. (The Thomas-Hill hearings included a dramatic evening session.) Occasionally hearings have made news that has defined issues or yielded significant change. The 1994 hearing that placed in the hot seat the chief executives of the top seven tobacco companies—who each testified that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive—was a landmark moment in the battle against Big Tobacco and corporate malfeasance. Hillary Clinton’s marathon 11-hour appearance before a House Benghazi committee demonstrated that the Republicans’ conspiratorial allegations were baseless.

Yet congressional hearings have generally not had the impact they once did. Overall, the quality of these sessions has decreased. There’s usually too much jawboning by senators and representatives who are ill-prepared and interested mostly in producing a soundbite that may or may not be relevant to the subject of the hearing. The sessions can produce viral clips that bring attention to an important subject. (Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Katie Porter have demonstrated talent in this regard.) And they can still offer drama, as with the Brett Kavanaugh-Christine Blasey Ford showdown. But often they don’t do much to alter narratives or the world.

House Republicans turned the hearings for the first Donald Trump impeachment into a mess, with their constant braying about Deep State plots and conspiracy theories. It was Russian disinformation and other rigamarole designed to distract from Trump’s wrongdoing. And remember the hearing with special counsel Robert Mueller after the release of his report on the Trump-Russia investigation? He was tentative and taciturn and did little to advance the story of Vladimir Putin’s attack on the 2016 election and the Trump crew’s interactions with Moscow operatives. It’s been a while since there was a gangbuster hearing that captured the attention of the public for the right reasons.

The January 6 committee is trying to do better. Its members and staff have been thinking about how to stage a hearing that matters. They want to captivate the country and convey the full significance of the insurrectionist assault on Congress that prevented the peaceful transfer of power and that nearly caused a breakdown in the nation’s constitutional order. To that end, they intend to ensure that each nightly installment contains new revelations, information that can generate headlines and command widespread interest—especially in the face of what will be an all-out campaign waged by Trump and his allies to downplay and denigrate the hearings.

They also aim to construct compelling and coherent narratives about the different aspects of their multifaceted investigation. The plan is not to only focus on the day of the assault but to show the public the full picture of Trump’s efforts to subvert the election. There’s a lot to probe here: Trump pressuring state officials to improperly overturn election results; fake electors; links between the Trump White House and right-wing agitators; Trump’s attempt to lean on Justice Department officials; the involvement of congressional Republicans in schemes to undermine the vote count; the participation of far-right militias; and more.

One committee member, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), has displayed the ability to convey a strong narrative in such a setting. He was the lead House impeachment manager for the second Trump impeachment trial. As he notes in his memoir, Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracywhen he pulled together the team of House managers for that proceeding, he told them,

We are not going to get up and make a series of disconnected speeches of great oratory that vanish into thin air. We are going to tell America and the Senate one single, unforgettable story with short, vivid chapters brought to life by you and by video, one spellbinding and appalling narrative about how Donald Trump became obsessed with denying the reality of his defeat and Joe Biden’s victory and then set about using every means in the world, first lawful and nonviolent, then unlawful and criminal, and then, finally, violent and criminal, to overthrow the lawful presidential result and replace it what he called his “continuation in office.”

And Raskin achieved that. The case he and his team presented in the Senate was well-crafted and engaging, featuring gripping and upsetting video that had not been previously seen. They managed to win 57 votes for conviction, including seven Republicans, racking up the first bipartisan conviction majority in an impeachment trial—though it fell ten votes shy of the two-thirds vote required for conviction. Raskin showed that legislators could apply a sense of showmanship and news to a well-constructed presentation. The January 6 committee will not be seeking to win a legal argument, though at the end of its deliberations it could well recommend prosecutions. Its main task is to inform the public, create a historical record, and to highlight the threat to democracy that has not yet been eradicated. But the committee has a better chance of accomplishing this mission, if it can present forceful storytelling with a dash of pizzazz.

With all hearings, a key component is witnesses. John Dean, the Nixon White House insider who spilled the beans, became the star of the Watergate hearings. The committee has yet to release a list, and we do know that a great many of the key participants have not been cooperating with the panel. The public deserves to hear the testimony of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump attorney John Eastman, crazy-man lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ivanka Trump, and others, including the former guy himself. But crucial players are resisting, and the Justice Department has not been rapidly pursuing cases against those cited for contempt. On Thursday, the committee took the unprecedented step of subpoenaing five House Republicans: Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, Mo Brooks, and Andy Biggs. Each had been asked to provide voluntary testimony about their involvement in Trump’s Big Lie schemes and had told the committee to get lost. It’s unclear what will happen when they resist the subpoenas, but they won’t be testifying at the hearings.

Committee members and staffers have been saying that they have been surprised by the amount of material their investigation has gathered, including documents and testimony. That suggests there could be surprises at the hearings in terms of witnesses and revelations. Will there be witnesses who saw Trump’s actions on January 6? That could be must-see television.

In all societies, the fight to document history is a crucial endeavor. This is especially so in the face of creeping authoritarianism. Autocrats strive to control the narratives of the past and present to gain and preserve power. Trump and his gang want to diminish the January 6 assault and his attacks on constitutional government to remove the stench that hangs on the GOP and to clear the path for a possible Trump restoration. If they could, they would airbrush all this out of the picture. GOP leaders refused to support the establishment of a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6, which led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to wisely set up a committee that would not include obstructionist Republicans eager to turn its proceedings into a shitshow. (The two Republicans on the committee are Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who have broken with the Trump cult.)

The committee’s job is to provide the public a full accounting of Trump’s attempted coup and the resulting raid on the Capitol. The early signs are that it could well present a powerful and troubling story. After that, it will be up to the American public to decide what to do with this tale.

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