Mother Jones Magazine

Mike Pence Calls for Abortion Bans Across the Country

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential run, called on Friday for “every state in the land” to enact an abortion ban.

Pence, who has called certain abortions “infanticide,” celebrated the Supreme Court’s historic overturning of Roe v. Wade, tweeting, “Having been given this second chance for Life, we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”

Today, Life Won. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States has given the American people a new beginning for life and I commend the Justices in the majority for having the courage of their convictions.

— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) June 24, 2022

He did not directly call for a national abortion ban (yet). But Pence has made his position clear. A “born-again evangelical Catholic,” he has gone to dubious crisis pregnancy centers, spoken at March for Life, and said at a previous CPAC that Democrats create a “culture of death” by supporting abortion rights.

On days like this, one thing is clear: As my colleague Inae Oh has written, Mike Pence is not a good boy.

Roe v. Wade Was Killed by Minority Rule

Some Supreme Court opinions are hard to unpack. Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion striking down Roe v. Wade, though, can be summarized in just a few words. “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” he wrote.

The first two clauses are the news, but last line, more than just a quick housekeeping note, is the story of how we got here. The defeat of Roe was made possible by cutting corners and seizing every advantage in an undemocratic system—it was a redistribution of power bordering on theft.

There are layers to the crisis of legitimacy here, but the most obvious one is this: Of the six justices who voted to end the constitutional right to an abortion—Chief Justice John Roberts’ caveats are the sort of thing that only he could care about right now—five were appointed by a president who first came to office after losing the national popular vote. In the cases of Roberts and Alito, the president who appointed them was himself placed in office with the help of the Supreme Court. And Neil Gorsuch owes his job not just to Donald Trump, but to a Senate that blocked a Democratic president from filling the seat for a year.

In returning power to the states—or Congress—the justices are now returning the ball to uneven playing fields, which in some cases they have played a part in creating. The Senate is undemocratic in its composition—as Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein noted earlier this year, Republican senators represent 41 million fewer people than Democratic senators—and in its ethos. It is bound by an anti-majoritarian set of rules, and filled with people (including some Democrats) who simply don’t believe that the chamber should swing in accordance with the national will. The Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act at the federal level, inviting states to attack the franchise as they see fit. And in places like Wisconsin, Democratic-leaning electorates have been simply unable to elect Democratic legislatures because of an impenetrable gerrymandering wall constructed more than a decade ago. The Supreme Court has largely given the green light to such efforts in Wisconsin and other states. Abortion rights are now in the hands of “the people and their elected representatives,” Alito says—but those aren’t the same things, and he’s helped ensure that the latter isn’t bound as closely to the former.

One of the defining stories of the last two decades is the transfer of power from a minority of the electorate to an all-powerful assembly of justices, who in turn have bestowed that power upon the most reactionary of states; it’s like money-laundering for democratic legitimacy—a crowning achievement for an age of conservative minority rule. 

I Helped Women in Texas Get Abortions Before Roe. I Can’t Believe I’m Still Having to Do the Same Scary Work.

Prior to Roe v. Wade, the seminal 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed abortion care as a constitutional right, Kitty S. served as an “abortion navigator” in Texas, helping people travel out of state to obtain the procedure. Today, she’s “shocked” that nearly 50 years later, she is doing the same—under Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which has banned abortions after six weeks since it took effect in September, and soon under a total ban now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe.

Kitty has spent her entire career in reproductive rights, working at various abortion clinics in her state, including Women’s Reproductive Services in Houston, where today she works as an advocate and educator as the clinic has adapted to life under what was one of the country’s harshest abortion laws. We spoke in early June, following the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion outlining the downfall of Roe, and prior to today’s court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Below is her story, in her own words, condensed and edited for clarity.

“You had to go before a panel and argue that you needed an abortion or your life was in danger—it was mostly a committee of men forcing you to stay pregnant.”

When I was a college student at the University of Texas at Austin in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I volunteered with Planned Parenthood. During high school, I saw how my Catholic private school friends were taught sex was wrong and weren’t offered sex education or any information about abortion, and so many of my classmates ended up with unintended pregnancies and had their lives basically ruined. I realized this was avoidable and wanted to do what I could to educate and help inform other girls about things like birth control, sex ed, and abortion care.

Abortion was still illegal in Texas at the time; you had to go before a medical panel and argue that you needed an abortion or your life was in danger—it was mostly a committee of men denying you and forcing you to stay pregnant. Patients would come into the clinic and take a pregnancy test and see a doctor or nurse. If they didn’t want to continue their pregnancy, I would sit with them in our small counseling room and discuss their options. Some were terrified, others just wanted to get out of there, and some wanted to sit and talk things out for a while. I was there to help, listen, and connect them with an appointment if they wanted. We’d connect those women to an organization that would help them make arrangements to fly to states or cities where abortion was allowed, mostly to Los Angeles and New York. Over the course of college, I helped dozens of women travel to get abortion care.

It was scary for a lot of them: They would have to go alone, meet a stranger at the airport who would guide them to a clinic, and spend the night in a hotel in a different state. Imagine, back then you didn’t have the internet or cell phones. You couldn’t text a friend or anyone to let them know you were safe, so you’d have to make a long-distance call, which would be pricey. And you would have to hope that in that 48 hours, your boss, or ultra-Catholic mother, or abusive partner didn’t find out. And hope that you didn’t come back with an abortion-related infection.

The women I’d help were desperate—they were willing to go to a strange state, a strange city, and take this big risk so they wouldn’t have to continue their pregnancies. Some were already parents and were afraid that if they were forced to have another child they wouldn’t be the kind of mother they wanted to be, the best mother they could be, and knew they couldn’t do that if they had another child. At the time, abortion was heavily stigmatized; it was seen by many as a terrible thing, and there was a lot of fear from women that their families would disown them, that they could lose their reputation, that they would have to marry the man that got them pregnant, even if he was abusive.

“Imagine, back then you didn’t have the internet or cell phones. You couldn’t text a friend or anyone to let them know you were safe.”

And they had to find a way to pay for everything themselves. There wasn’t much financial help at the time, like we see today with abortion funds; it could get really expensive. During that era women weren’t even allowed to have a credit card in their own name, so coming up with money was a very big challenge for them. We’d often ask them, “Do you have anything you could hock or sell?” I remember the boyfriend of one woman went and sold his car so she could pay for the flight to L.A. There were many women who couldn’t afford the trip and they’d be sitting there in disbelief, in anger, in overwhelming sadness. It was heartbreaking.

Then in 1973, of course we all celebrated when abortion became legal. But we slowly saw that right eroded with things like the Hyde Amendment, which says you can’t use federal funds for abortion, and parental notification laws that force minors to get permission from their parents before they get an abortion. We kind of started to see the window close a bit. When I saw how they were starting to chip away at the rights guaranteed in Roe, I realized the fight was far from over and that I needed to keep going. And since Roe, the state of Texas added some ridiculous and stringent restrictions on abortion clinics and patients over time that, frankly, feel like targeted harassment, so I felt that my work here was not done. I was happy to stay in the field and fight; I love helping women of all ages and backgrounds with reproductive health care. It’s fulfilling and I’ve always liked the people I work with.

Now, I worry we’ll go back to more women dying from illegal or self-induced abortion or even suicide. Or there are those who will be forced to give birth, which is already risky, especially in Texas. where we have a high maternal mortality rate. I anticipate more women dying from pregnancy-related complications, too, like ectopic pregnancies. I also think we’ll probably see a rise in women staying in domestic violence situations. These are my biggest fears.

The fact that I am having to do some of the same things I did to help women go out of state for abortion that I did before Roe is completely mind-boggling. I am hearing a lot of the same desperation, and sadness, and anger as I did before Roe was decided. It’s unbelievable. It’s absolutely scary watching this happen all over again.

“How we got here mystifies me. I’m shocked that people haven’t learned from the past.”

And soon it’s going to get worse. The women who have the money and the resources and the connections are more likely to get care, but so many women don’t. For low-income women, those hurdles are insurmountable—as I saw very early on in my career. And these days, especially as more states pass [abortion bans], it’s going to be exorbitantly expensive to travel. I remember a woman who was 10 weeks pregnant and needed an abortion. She didn’t have the $295 for the procedure and had to sell some jewelry and other items to pay for it. By the time she had the money, she was 14 weeks pregnant and the cost of the abortion rose another $100 and she just couldn’t afford it. I suspect we’ll hear more stories like this one.

I can’t tell you how angry I am about our governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general [who have all supported overturning Roe]. They are hypocrites—they are not adequately providing birth control and sex education, and so this situation is just going to get worse and worse.

I’m incredibly sad and angry that we are going backwards on abortion rights. How we got here mystifies me. I’m shocked that people haven’t learned from the past. What do they think, women are going to stop having sex? It’s amazing to me. We’re going to see so many lives ruined.

“From the Very Moment of Fertilization, a Woman Has No Rights to Speak Of”

On Friday, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, wiping out the constitutional right to abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years. The ruling, which had been expected since May after Politico published a leak of the opinion, will have intensely personal ramifications throughout the country, particularly in states that have been working toward this moment for decades. In some states, abortion will be banned almost immediately.

The court’s three liberal members dissented—most notably with “sorrow” for the “many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection.”

The 66-page dissent, written by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, is impassioned and scathing, capturing the devastating effects the court’s ruling will have on American life. It also warned that today’s ruling is far from the end, but rather the beginning of an aggressive assault on people’s general right to personal privacy. 

You can read the whole dissent, and opinion, here. Here are the strongest passages from the dissent:

  • “Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”
  • “After today, young women will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had. The majority accomplishes that result without so much as considering how women have relied on the right to choose or what it means to take that right away. The majority’s refusal even to consider the life-altering consequences of reversing Roe and Casey is a stunning indictment of its decision.”
  • “Today, the Court…says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”
  • “The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed…Today, the proclivities of individuals rule. The Court departs from its obligation to faithfully and impartially apply the law. We dissent.”
  • “Most threatening of all, no language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide, once again from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest. If that happens, ‘the views of [an individual State’s] citizens’ will not matter.”
  • “No one should be confident that this majority is done with its work. The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone. To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation. Most obviously, the right to terminate a pregnancy arose straight out of the right to purchase and use contraception. In turn, those rights led, more recently, to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage. They are all part of the same constitutional fabric, protecting autonomous decision-making over the most personal of life decisions. 
  • “Today’s decision strips women of agency over what even the majority agrees is a contested and contestable moral issue. It forces her to carry out the State’s will… it takes away her liberty.”
  • “As of today, this Court holds, a State can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions…Some women, especially women of means, will find ways around the State’s assertion of power. Others—those without money or childcare or the ability to take time off from work—will not be so fortunate. Maybe they will try an unsafe method of abortion, and come to physical harm, or even die. Maybe they will undergo pregnancy and have a child, but at significant personal or familial cost. At the least, they will incur the cost of losing control of their lives.”
  • “Today’s decision, taken on its own, is catastrophic enough. As a matter of constitutional method, the majority’s commitment to replicate in 2022 every view about the meaning of liberty held in 1868 has precious little to recommend it. Our law in this constitutional sphere, as in most, has for decades upon decades proceeded differently.”

Justice Clarence Thomas Just Said the Quiet Part Out Loud

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey—the two decades-old Supreme Court cases that together guaranteed abortion rights in America. The opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, undoes the constitutional right to abortion and returns the right to regulate the procedure to individual states. The decision will likely lead to the criminalization of abortion, at all stages of pregnancy, in about half of the United States.

When news of this was revealed in a leaked opinion in May, advocates made clear that if Roe were to be overturned, it could lead to the decimation of other Supreme Court cases that depend on the same legal principle: these include Griswold, which guaranteed marital couples the right to use contraception; Lawrence, which undid sodomy prohibitions in the US: and Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

In their dissent, the three liberal justices make this same point. But in his opinion, Alito pinkie swears that this is not what is afoot here: “The dissent suggests that our decision calls into question Griswold, Eisenstadt, Lawrence, and Obergefell. But we have stated unequivocally that ‘[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.’ ”

On Friday morning, Alito’s conservative colleague on the court, Justice Clarence Thomas, disagreed with that. In his own individual opinion, Thomas wrote that, in fact, overturning Roe should only be the first step. “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” he writes. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous.’”

“Demonstrably erroneous.” There is very little that is vague about those words. With the death of abortion rights in America, Thomas has now come out and said, in no-uncertain terms, that cases that enshrined Americans’ rights to marry whomever they want and to make personal decisions about their intimacy and child-bearing are flat-out wrong. For now, that is just Thomas’ opinion—none of what he’s written is legally enforceable. But the fact that he’s stating this explicitly affirms the fears of advocates that for many conservatives the demise of Roe was never meant to be the end—but rather a bleak beginning. 

SCOTUS Finally Made it Official: Roe Is Dead

Well, folks, the decision is here.

As expected, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 in favor of bypassing the precedents established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade and 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings and upholding a law passed by Mississippi in 2019 that bans abortion at 15 weeks. The opinion nullifies the constitutional right to an abortion and significantly weakens the right to privacy, which will likely spell more trouble ahead for contraceptive rights and LGBTQ+ rights. More immediately, 13 states have trigger laws on the books that will ban abortion immediately. (The procedure is already banned in Oklahoma, which didn’t even wait for SCOTUS to rule.)

Today’s ruling gutting abortion rights has been expected since early May, when Politico published a leaked draft of the opinion, in which Justice Samuel Alito declared, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” That sentiment stands.

The right to abortion has been on the books for half a century. But two generations of conservative legal activism primed the Supreme Court for today’s tectonic decision, and with the fall of Roe, former President Trump secured a defining moment for his far-right legacy: It was his appointees who finally tipped the balance on the court, and ensured this ruling’s majority. 

Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion fundamentally rejected the idea that Roe should remain under the doctrine known as stare decisis, the concept that protects legal precedent. “We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,” Alito writes. “Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

While Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority, he issued a concurring opinion that differed by saying that the majority’s argument did not require the court “to take the dramatic step of altogether eliminating the abortion right first recognized in Roe.”

The three liberal justices, writing in dissent, decried the decision for discarding “a known, workable, and predictable standard in favor of something novel and probably far more complicated,” setting states against each other, and producing innumerable legal battles to come. “The majority’s response to these obvious points exists far from the reality American women actually live,” they wrote.

“This morning, the radical Supreme Court is eviscerating Americans’ rights and endangering their health and safety,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a swiftly convened press conference. “Today the Republican-controlled Supreme Court has achieved its dark extreme goal,” she said, laying the blame at the feet of Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, accusing them of “criminalizing health freedom.”

She also warned of a nationwide abortion ban if Republicans win both houses of Congress in November.

Immediately, activists on both sides descended on the Supreme Court Friday morning to celebrate and protest. Liberal and progressive leaders across the country scrambled to pull together legal responses to ensure the continuation of the right to abortion in their states.

Read the full opinion here.

This is a breaking story. We will update this post as we digest the full legal opinion. Check back at motherjones.com for more updates on abortion access.

LGBTQ Pride Organizers Weigh Multiple Threats, From Police Brutality to Vigilante Violence

Seattle’s Pride Parade, among the largest in the country, will return this weekend after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. But the police officers who traditionally march with the group will be staying home.

Other on-duty officers will still provide security, as fears mount after dozens of extremists in white masks were arrested while plotting to disrupt a Pride parade in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. But off-duty cops will no longer join the parade as participants. They announced on Wednesday that they’ll be protesting, after Seattle Pride, which organizes the event, asked officers who planned to march not to wear their official uniforms.

Pride organizers in many cities, heeding the calls of Black activists, are increasingly downplaying the presence of officers at their events as part of the racial reckoning fueled by the murder of George Floyd. Police have a long history of criminalizing and assaulting queer people, people of color, undocumented folks, and sex workers, and some Pride participants don’t feel comfortable walking alongside them, especially if they’re in uniform. In 2019, protesters halted San Francisco’s Pride parade for nearly an hour by lying down in the street with their arms linked, shouting “Fuck the police” and “Cops out of Pride” as law enforcement tried to arrest some of them. Video footage shared on Twitter showed officers shoving members of the crowd and dragging someone across the pavement.

“[W]e have heard repeatedly from many members of our communities—in particular, Black transgender individuals and groups—that police presence does not allow for their true participation in our events,” San Francisco Pride’s executive director and board president wrote in 2020, explaining their decision to ban uniformed officers from marching. “The safety of our community is always our primary concern, and we will do what it takes to produce our event safely, obtaining the necessary permits and logistical support, while simultaneously standing in solidarity with our Black, Trans, and Lesbian/Gay/Queer+ siblings against police brutality.”

“The sense of safety that law enforcement is meant to provide can instead be threatening, and at times dangerous, to those in our community who are most often targeted with excessive force.” 

The requests have not gone over well with some queer cops. Seattle Police Chief Adrian Z. Diaz wrote that his officers felt that preventing them from marching in their official blues was like putting them “back in the closet.” San Francisco police also threatened to boycott their city’s event this year. “This committee would not order the leather community to wear polyester at the parade…But they have told us, peace officers, that if we wear our uniforms, we may not attend,” the San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance wrote in a statement last month with the Fire Department and LGBTQ members of the Sheriff’s Department. San Francisco Pride organizers weren’t swayed by the comparison—“there is no equivalence” between the leather community and cops, as SF Pride interim director Suzanne Ford put it to the San Francisco Chronicle—and reiterated that officers could join the parade in T-shirts, even ones identifying them as law enforcement. Eventually, after the argument made national headlines, both sides reached a compromise: San Francisco’s police would march in the parade, and most of them would stick to civilian clothing, with the exception of some commanders who would wear special dress uniforms and fewer than 10 officers who would support those commanders in regular uniforms with their service weapons.

But Seattle’s police are not budging. “Uniformed officers from the Seattle Police Department will staff Sunday’s parade to provide public safety,” Chief Diaz wrote in a letter. “But because of the Seattle Pride Executive Board’s decision, SPD employees will respectfully decline to march in the parade as they have for nearly three decades.”

Seattle and San Francisco are not the first cities trying to regulate how law enforcement appear at Pride events. As early as 2018, Pride organizers in Washington, DC, also banned uniformed officers from their parade. In 2021, New York City organizers announced a similar policy and asked on-duty police to stay a block away from the edge of Pride events while working. Pride organizers in Denver followed suit (though they reversed their decision this year). “[T]he sense of safety that law enforcement is meant to provide can instead be threatening, and at times dangerous, to those in our community who are most often targeted with excessive force and/or without reason,” Seattle’s Capitol Hill Pride, another organizing group, wrote in a statement last year defending its choice to bar uniformed officers from participating in its event.

Many supporters of these bans on law enforcement point to the origins of Pride: The first marches, in New York City and a few other places in 1970, were organized in reaction to police brutality. They were held around the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, to commemorate the bravery of the queer and transgender people who fought back against a police raid at a Greenwich Village gay bar in the summer of 1969.

Over the years, as Pride has gained more widespread political support, it has morphed into a major event with corporate sponsors and massive crowds, and the police have taken on an active role as security partners. In 1996, gay cops in New York City sued the police department for the right to join the parade as participants, in uniform and with their department’s marching band. Around the country, some Pride groups also embraced the police’s assistance as a way to stay safe. In 2016, for example, after the mass shooting at the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, San Francisco Pride organizers decided to ramp up security and bolster law enforcement at their event. But not everyone agreed: The local Black Lives Matter group, invited to join that year’s parade as a grand marshal, pulled out in protest. “As queer people of color, we are disproportionately targeted by both vigilante and police violence,” BLM member Malkia Cyril said in a statement. “We know first hand that increasing the police presence at Pride does not increase safety for all people.” In New York City, the Anti-Violence Project, which runs a hotline for LGBTQ people to report acts of violence, reported last year that it often receives calls during Pride celebrations from people who say the cops are harassing them.

“The right-wing campaign to threaten, intimidate, and legislate LGBTQ people out of public life has really increased.”

As Pride groups heed activists’ demands to distance from the police, they must also balance growing concerns about far-right violence and other security threats at their events. The same day that right-wing extremists were arrested near the parade in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, alleged members of the far-right Proud Boys disrupted a drag queen storytelling event for preschoolers at a library in San Lorenzo, California, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs. The local sheriff’s department is now investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. Meanwhile, Pride flags were stolen in Boise, Idaho, and in Burien, Washington. Days later, three people were hospitalized after a fire ripped through four homes on the same Baltimore block where a Pride flag was burned. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit that aggregates data about political violence and protests, anti-LGBTQ demonstrations, political violence, and offline propaganda like flyering increased fourfold from 2020 to 2021 and have proceeded at an even greater clip so far this year. Far-right militias and militant social movements boosted their participation in these anti-LGBTQ movements sevenfold.

Some extremists are organizing online, spurred by accounts such as Libs of TikTok; others have been fueled by the hateful rhetoric of Republican politicians, who are increasingly pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies at the state level. Bills attempting to prevent transgender kids from participating in sports or seeking gender-affirming medical care have proliferated in the last few years. “The right-wing campaign to threaten, intimidate, and legislate LGBTQ people out of public life has really increased,” says Susan Corke, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups in the United States. She blames conservative politicians for normalizing violent rhetoric against queer people. “That creates this more widespread fear among voters toward LGBTQ persons,” she says. Earlier this month, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote that she believed “it should be illegal” to take children to drag shows. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis similarly said he was considering ordering investigations of families who bring their kids to these shows.

“Regardless of where you live, there’s a clear message that the threats to LGBTQ people and our families are real and escalating,” says Katie Carter, who leads the Pride Foundation, an organization that offers grants to groups that run Pride events. Shortly after the arrests of extremists in Idaho, Carter, who is queer and married to a Black trans person, realized that one of the arrested men lives just blocks away from her in the Seattle area. “What this tells me is this isn’t an Idaho problem; these folks are organizing across the country,” she said, noting that many of the arrested men had traveled from other states. She and her partner now think even more carefully about their safety when walking around the neighborhood.

After the arrests in Idaho, Pride organizers around the country are staying vigilant. Even though the Seattle Police Department won’t send off-duty officers to march in the parade this weekend, it will boost the number of on-duty uniformed cops who are providing security at the event, according to CNN. Smaller cities are taking more precautions too: Oklahomans for Equality, the group that helps organize Tulsa Pride, said it was ramping up security measures after a mass shooting at a Tulsa hospital earlier this month. Debra Porta, who leads Northwest Pride, which organizes the Portland festivities, said her team communicated more closely with the police ahead of their parade last weekend.

Queer people of color have been saying for decades that the police don’t keep them safe.

But the conversations around racial justice and police brutality are happening at the same time. While collaborating closely with the police, Northwest Pride asked officers who marched in Portland not to wear their uniforms. (Porta notes that under Oregon law, uniformed officers must carry their service gun, a violation of the parade’s no-weapons policy.) And Northwest Pride simultaneously attempted to downplay the role of on-duty cops. It’s a tough balance: “In an event that entails tens of thousands of people, it is naive to think that we are not going to need some sort of professional support. At the same time, we don’t want to be inundated with a lot of law enforcement,” Porta told me. “So we work with them to not have that visual overwhelm and also to have strategies and processes in place for who responds to what.” Northwest Pride put together a large team of civilian volunteers who patrolled the Pride event along with peacekeeping teams trained in deescalation skills. If a confrontation or scuffle were to ensue during the parade, as long as there was no clear danger of physical harm, the police were instructed to let the volunteers act first. “They will follow our lead in whether or not to step in,” said Porta. “It’s a little bit of a dance. We go through it every year.”

Organizers in other cities have taken similar steps to limit how on-duty cops respond to incidents at Pride, after facing pressure from Black-led groups like Black Lives Matter, whose founders include two queer people. Heritage of Pride, which organizes events in New York City, said last year that it was hiring private security companies and would call the police for backup only when deemed necessary by city officials, the New York Times reported. The Reclaim Pride Coalition, which organizes the Queer Liberation March in New York City, rejects corporate sponsorship, bans uniformed police marching, and says the police department has no control over the event’s security decision-making.

As the debates around law enforcement and Pride continue, organizers and participants point out that the hyperfocus on security is not new. Queer people of color have been saying for decades that the police don’t keep them safe. And far-right groups have been a threat to LGBTQ people long before the arrests in Idaho. For many queer people, whether they’re walking down the street or going to the grocery store or attending an event, “thinking of safety is like breathing,” says the Pride Foundation’s Carter. “Many of us don’t even notice that we do it anymore.”

And that’s not just true during Pride month. “We live with this every single day, the potential for someone to attempt to harm the community,” Porta says. “Does that mean we don’t take it seriously? Of course not. But with rare rare exception,” she adds of the commitment to keep marching each summer, “our community is safer when we are together than when we are not.”

Senators Just Did the Rich Another Favor

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a retirement bill called the Enhancing American Retirement Now Act (EARN). That’s the Senate version of a package nicknamed SECURE 2.0, which sailed through the House in March on a vote of 414-to-4. But some progressive members have since expressed misgivings. You can probably figure out why, based on the following headline from back when the House was considering it: “Congress Is Set to Make the Rich Richer—Again.”

Indeed, these “retirement reform” packages mainly serve to enhance, at taxpayer expense, the savings of relatively wealthy Americans with private retirement plans. As I reported earlier, these new bills are just the latest in a series of federal laws enacted over the past quarter-century that have resulted in an exploding retirement wealth gap. Disingenuously peddled as a salve for working Americans, the bills increase the tax-advantaged savings of well-to-do families while doing next to nothing for those living paycheck to paycheck.

Everyone who works pays into Social Security, whose average benefits for retirees are a paltry $19,370 a year. But only about half of US families have a supplemental retirement account. Federal survey data shows that, among the wealthiest 10 percent of American households, 91 percent had one or more such accounts, but only 31 percent of households in the least-wealthy 50 percent of the population had one. 

My reporting turned up some other notable facts about retirement savings in America. For instance, the average family from the bottom half of the wealth spectrum held just $6,900 in retirement savings, including individual retirement accounts (IRAs), while the wealthiest 10 percent of households averaged $861,300. That’s a disparity of 125-to-1. There are likewise huge gaps in retirement savings between white families vs Black and Latino ones.

From 2020 to 2024, tax breaks for retirement savings will cost the government about $1.9 trillion—subsidies skewed in favor of high earners.

I also learned that retirement subsidies are the government’s single biggest tax-related expenditure—by a long shot. From 2020 to 2024, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), tax breaks for retirement savings will cost the Treasury $1.9 trillion. And the money flows disproportionately into the accounts of top earners, seemingly without limit.

In essence, even as Social Security faces a demographic crisis, federal and state governments are padding the accounts of people who have tens of millions of dollars—and in some cases hundreds of millions—already socked away for the future. Bills like SECURE 2.0, promoted by both parties and shaped by finance lobbyists, throw a few scraps to the less-wealthy but invariably make the wealth gap worse.

One reason these bills are so popular with lawmakers is they don’t appear to cost very much. But that’s a parlor trick. To cover the cost of expanded benefits, the authors rely on provisions that encourage people to put more money into Roth IRAs, contributions that are taxed up front—a short-term revenue gain for the Treasury. But because the assets in the Roth accounts can then grow tax-free for many decades, that short-term gain becomes a long-term loss that doesn’t show up in the congressional analysts’ 10-year cost projections.

The policy publication Tax Notes recently spoke with several members of the House Ways and Means Committee who conceded that SECURE 2.0 does little for most Americans and gives away too much to the finance industry. “I don’t think we were all aboard” for meaningful reform, said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey, referring to his fellow Democrats.

When asked about SECURE 2.0 provisions that increase the “catch-up” contributions—which let older Americans who can afford it put extra money into their IRAs—and delay the age at which people have to start taking mandatory distributions from their retirement accounts, Pascrell Jr. told Tax Notes that the laws are for rich people who pay “a very different tax than you and me.”

The Senate version is no different. The nonprofit coalition Americans for Tax Fairness sent a letter to the Finance Committee earlier this week laying out its issues with the EARN Act, which passed the committee with few changes. The bill, AFT noted, would: 

  • Exacerbate inequality by giving the rich more tax breaks to shelter more investment income for longer and failing to meaningfully assist low-and middle-income workers and their families to save for retirement.
  • Increase the racial wealth gap, not reduce it.
  • Reduce federal revenues beyond the 10-year window when the true cost of giveaways to the wealthy will fully manifest themselves.

“Our retirement tax system is broken,” added executive director Frank Clemente. “Each year, it showers hundreds of billions of dollars of tax breaks primarily on the richest and Whitest households.”

He went on to list the core principles his group feels should be the basis for an equitable retirement package: Any new incentives “should strongly favor those at the greatest risk of retirement insecurity…rather than skew toward the wealthy.” They should “significantly reduce, not exacerbate, the racial wealth gap.” Lastly, the long-term costs should be included in the legislative analysis, “not hidden by accounting games.”

“We believe the EARN Act fails on these core principles,” Clemente wrote.

Another way to tighten the gap, he suggested, would be to put the kibosh on “Mega IRAs.” Indeed, more than 28,000 Americans, by the JCT’s count, had IRA balances of more than $5 million in 2019, and hundreds had north of $25 million in their tax-subsidized accounts—hardly anybody’s definition of people who need public assistance.

The EARN Act contains a couple of “marginal improvements” over SECURE 2.0, including updates to the IRS Saver’s Credit—starting in 2027, the government would offer low- and middle-income taxpayers a 50 percent match on retirement savings contributions of up to $2,000. The money would go directly into their IRA, 401(k), etc, rather than be credited to their tax bill, as it currently is. “Unfortunately, these improvements do not correct the fundamental flaws in our retirement system,” Clemente wrote.

After EARN passed the Finance Committee on Wednesday on a vote of 28-0, the retirement-industrial complex rejoiced. The Investment Company Institute, whose mission is “to strengthen the foundation of the asset management industry for the ultimate benefit of the long-term individual investor,” applauded the bill’s success, and commended committee members for their “strong leadership.”

The Bonkers Story of How Trump Tried to Corrupt the DOJ to Steal the Election

It was an odd coincidence of history: On Thursday, the 50th anniversary of the “Smoking Gun” conversation that forced Richard Nixon to resign his presidency, the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot held a hearing on Donald Trump’s effort to enlist the Justice Department in a corrupt bid to overturn the 2020 election.

Thursday’s hearing told the alarming tale of how Trump leaned on DOJ officials to affirm his false allegations of fraud and baseless conspiracy theories, and tried to corrupt the department by installing as acting attorney general Jeffrey Clark, a lackey loyal to Trump’s Big Lie crusade, who was prepared to declare the election tainted and to ask legislators in swing states Joe Biden had won to nullify the results. Testimony showed that Trump came close to triggering a full-scale constitutional crisis, which was thwarted only because a few senior department officials stood up to him.  

The secretly recorded tape of that damning Nixon discussion revealed that the president had directly ordered the attempted cover-up of the Watergate break-in and had obstructed justice. But the specific plan—to have the CIA tell the FBI to cease its investigation—was cooked up by John Mitchell, the attorney general. Nixon’s Justice Department was obstructing itself. 

It was the Justice Department’s deep involvement in the Watergate scandal that led to the creation of rules to protect the department from political interference from the White House—which was precisely what occurred with Trump. “We were only a half-step away from a full blown constitutional crisis as President Donald Trump and his loyalists threatened a wholesale takeover of the Department of Justice,” the Senate Judiciary Committee, which investigated the matter, noted in an extensive report last October. 

The attempted subversion took place in December 2020, after then-Attorney General Bill Barr, up to that point a Trump sycophant, resigned in disgust when his boss refused to accept the election results. Trump then tried to pressure Jeff Rosen, the acting AG, to declare the election fraudulent.

According to notes taken by Richard Donoghue, Rosen’s deputy, Trump at one point told Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” This referred to Reps. Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others who were colluding with the White House to stop the certification of Biden’s win. When Rosen refused, Trump threatened to replace him with Clark, a DOJ subordinate who eagerly wanted the department to claim there was evidence of widespread election fraud so states could replace Biden electors with Trump electors.

At one point, Trump told Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

As the Judiciary Committee pointed out, the White House’s communications with DOJ in this matter violated the post-Watergate restrictions governing interactions between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the department. In fact, Trump’s skullduggery wins the contest for most outlandish attempt to politicize the Justice Department. (It takes some doing to one-up Nixon in that regard.)

On Thursday, Rosen and Donoghue provided dramatic testimony chronicling their conversations and meetings with Trump, who was constantly haranguing them and was upset that the Justice Department wouldn’t confirm the debunked allegations and batty conspiracy theories he and his allies were hawking. The officials repeatedly informed Trump that the department had investigated the claims and found them inaccurate and that they had no business meddling in the election. It was like telling a mob boss he couldn’t get his way. Trump would not accept that.

A key point of the hearing focused on Clark pressing Rosen and Donoghue to send a letter to Georgia and other states stating that the election was tarred by fraud, and thus state lawmakers should select new slates of electors—presumably Trump supporters. Rosen and Donoghue each believed forwarding this letter would be disastrous for the department and the nation, and told Trump as much. But neither he nor Clark would relent. 

The testimony demonstrated just how desperate and crazy Trump and his crew had become, and the extent of their schemes to to prevent the legitimate transfer of power. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows even encouraged Rosen and Donoghue to investigate the ludicrous conspiracy theory that hackers (apparently connected to the CIA and MI6) had used an Italian satellite to switch Trump votes to Biden. The DOJ declined, but the White House managed to have acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller instruct the defense attaché in Rome to look into this bunk. 

The Clark story is especially nutty. An environmental lawyer who was the acting head of the DOJ’s civil division, he had no experience whatsoever in criminal investigations, let alone election fraud. Yet Rep. Perry (R-Penn.) had introduced him to Trump, who immediately latched on to Clark as a toady who would corrupt the department to help him stay in power.

According to Thursday’s testimony, Clark’s attempts to pressure Rosen and Donoghue were assisted by Ken Klukowski, a young, conservative lawyer the department had hired in mid-December. The big reveal: Klukowski also was working with John Eastman, the conservative attorney behind Trump’s strategy to block the certification of electoral votes. This disclosure raised the possibility that someone had planted Klukowski in the Justice Department to help Trump steal the election.

Trump’s moves to pervert the DOJ culminated in a Oval Office meeting on January 3, in which he castigated Rosen for not producing evidence to back up the allegations of fraud. At that meeting, Trump expressed his desire to replace Rosen with the inexperienced Clark, who would willingly send those letters to the states. White House records, in fact, were already identifying Clark as acting attorney general, as if it were a done deal.

The coup was almost in place. Trump backed off only after the DOJ brass told him a Clark-for-Rosen switch would prompt mass resignations. During the hearing, Donoghue recalled that his fellow witness, former Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, had warned Trump that “Jeff Clark would be left leading a graveyard,” and that Engel’s comment “clearly had an impact on the president.” Once again, a thin line of sticking-to-the-rules Republican officials had blocked Trump from an unprecedented abuse of power. 

The hearing also revealed that some of the Republican House members plotting with the White House to overturn the election sought pardons from Trump after January 6. These included Reps. Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, and Perry. There was also testimony suggesting that Greene may have contacted the White House counsel’s office to request a pardon, and that Jim Jordan had inquired about pardons for House Republicans. 

Trump’s attempts to muscle DOJ officials into baselessly declaring the election fraudulent could place him in legal jeopardy. As a recent Brookings Institution report noted, this scheme may have violated one or more provisions of the federal law prohibiting conspiracy to defraud the United States or “any agency thereof.” The report also said that Trump and others in his last-days inner circle, notably Eastman, might have violated another part of the criminal code that forbids corruptly obstructing or impeding—or attempting to obstruct or impede—an official proceeding, such as the certification of electoral votes.

This week, federal agents raided Clark’s home, and the Justice Department served subpoenas on several Republicans who were involved in state-level efforts to thwart the certification of Biden’s victory. The raid and the subpoenas are signs that Merrick Garland’s Justice Department is actively investigating plots Trump and his allies instigated to overturn the election.

Thursday’s proceedings depicted an attempt to subvert the Justice Department that even Nixon could never have dreamed of. And that’s only one piece of the January 6 story. The committee has again demonstrated how Trump’s war on democracy nearly succeeded, with more hearings yet to come. 

New Title IX Rules Would Protect LGBT Students and Sexual Assault Survivors

Nearly two years since former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos implemented controversial rules for America’s schools that lessened their responsibility to respond to sexual harassment against students, the Biden administration on Thursday unveiled a new set of proposed rules that would expand protections for student survivors of sexual assault and other kinds of sex-based discrimination under Title IX, the federal law requiring gender equity in education.

The proposed regulations would protect LGBTQ students by clarifying that the Title IX ban on sex-based discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Among other top-line changes, the proposal would roll back a DeVos-era move that narrowed the definition of sexual harassment, and would expand the obligation of schools to investigate reports of sexual assault involving students off-campus. Schools would no longer be required to hold live hearings in which students who say they were sexually assaulted could be cross-examined.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this landmark law, our proposed changes will allow us to continue that progress and ensure all our nation’s students—no matter where they live, who they are, or whom they love—can learn, grow, and thrive in school,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on Thursday.

During President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, he pledged to scrap and rewrite the DeVos regulations, which were drafted with the help of men’s rights activists. Since Biden took the presidency, advocates who work with student sexual assault survivors have been clamoring for him to deliver on his promise. The release of the proposed rules, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, address one unevenness in the DeVos-era regulations that victim advocates have long criticized. Currently, schools can require a higher standard of evidence for sexual assault cases than they use in other types of discrimination cases. Under the new proposal, schools may only continue to use that higher standard—if they use it across the board.

The new rules come at the end of a school year marked by nationwide anti-rape protests as two classes of college students adjusted to their first year of campus life, with its increased risk of sexual assault—anti-rape advocates call it the “double red zone.”

Biden’s proposal for how schools should handle allegations of campus sexual assault and other sex discrimination still has a long road ahead: The proposed regulations now enter a 60-day public comment period, after which the Education Department will respond to comments, revise the rules, and publish a final version.

Backlash and possibly legal challenges are expected from conservative organizations and civil liberties groups.

Backlash and possibly legal challenges are expected from some of the conservative organizations and civil liberties groups who opposed the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, which galvanized schools to expand protections for sexual assault survivors but also opened the door to lawsuits by students accused of sexual misconduct who said their rights had been violated by school investigations. According to NBC News’ Tyler Kingkade, Congress might also block the proposal if Republicans were to take over both houses in November.

In a statement, ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling praised parts of the proposal but raised concerns about the move to get rid of mandatory live hearings in Title IX cases. “The proposed regulation laudably corrects the double standard imposed by the Trump administration, which dramatically reduced schools’ obligations to address sexual harassment as compared to other forms of harassment,” Melling said. “But we are concerned that the proposed rules deny those facing serious penalties in college disciplinary proceedings important procedural rights, including live hearings and cross-examination.” 

Melling also called the move to enshrine protections against anti-LBGT discrimination a “critical step” amid mounting attacks by lawmakers on the rights of trans youth. Meanwhile, we can expect more proposals to address rights of trans students to participate in school athletics. In a document published today, the Education Department said it will “engage in a separate rulemaking to address Title IX’s application to the context of athletics and, in particular, what criteria recipients may be permitted to use to establish students’ eligibility to participate on a particular male or female athletic team.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down New York’s Concealed Carry Restrictions

Just weeks after a gunman murdered 19 children and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court has issued a ruling that will make it even more difficult for states to pass laws restricting guns. 

The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, concerned a New York gun licensing law that required people who want to carry concealed handguns to demonstrate “proper cause.” In other words, aspiring concealed carriers had to prove that they had a special need for self-defense before they could be licensed. 

During oral arguments, the court’s six conservative justices seemed eager to blow up the New York law. On Thursday, they did precisely that, ruling that it violates the Constitution by “preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”

A Plane of Monkeys, a Pandemic, and a Botched Deal: Inside the Science Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

On May 15, 2020, a US-bound cargo plane was scheduled to depart Mauritius, an island about the size of Maui that’s just east of Madagascar. There were four key things I knew about the flight:

  1.  It involved the transportation of monkeys.
  2. The monkeys were intended for Covid research.
  3. The cost—to cover the fuel, crew, insurance, and other expenses—totaled nearly half a million dollars.
  4. The public was never supposed to find out about it.

In a backward sort of way, the only reason I can tell you anything about the flight is because it never happened.

The deal involved two companies, both of which could not have sounded more unimportant: an air carrier called Skybus Jet Cargo and a Delaware-based firm, International Logistics Support, which had arranged the flight. But, ultimately, the deal between the two companies fell through. The plane never took off. And shortly after, International Logistics Support sued Skybus for damages in a Miami court. With the resulting 300-plus pages of court documents, I was able to piece together these basics.

Navigating the monkey business, I learned the hard way, is a bit like navigating a, well, jungle.

Still, there were big holes in the picture. For instance, who purchased the animals? How many were there? What species? (My best guess was long-tailed macaques, which are commonly sourced from Mauritius.) Where—which lab or labs—were the monkeys supposed to end up? And why, exactly, didn’t the flight take off as planned?

So I kept digging. I read everything I could find about the case. I submitted public records requests to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the United States Department of Agriculture, all of which oversee nonhuman primate trade, transport, and research. I asked animal rights groups, government officials, and academics if they had any information about the case. I reached out to the companies involved, only to conduct a series of fairly fruitless interviews with the owner of International Logistics Support, a guy named Matthew Block, who, it turns out, is something of an infamous character among animal rights groups. From nearly everyone else? Crickets.

Navigating the monkey business, I learned the hard way, is a bit like navigating a, well, jungle.

But my digging took me far beyond this singular flight. The Skybus case, in fact, offers a rare glimpse into the wider trade of monkeys—a famously secretive industry—during the worst health crisis in a century. In the records I was able to find, in the conversations with the few people who were willing to talk, and in the history I was able to mine, the details surrounding the flight pointed to a much bigger story: Primate research is in trouble. And the dilemma it is facing has very real, very urgent, very human stakes.

Due to a combination of factors—including a complete shutdown of primates being exported from China, an insufficient monkey reserve in the US, ongoing opposition from animal rights groups, and, of course, the Covid pandemic—the country is in the midst of a years-long monkey shortage. To put it simply, researchers say the supply of animals can’t keep up with the demand. In 2019, the US imported nearly 34,000 monkeys, about 60 percent of which came from China. After China closed off primate exports the following year, the total number dropped to less than 27,000—a 21 percent decline—and the price for a single macaque reportedly doubled to nearly $10,000 in early 2020, and has since risen to as much as $20,000. Without a reliable supply of monkeys, researchers are going to greater lengths to advance their work—paying more for primates, importing younger animals, “recycling” monkeys more often, and sourcing them more heavily from other locations, like Mauritius. For years, Block tells me, the US largely ignored calls to expand its own monkey colonies: “Now we’re paying the price.”

Believe me, I wish biomedical research had a better substitute for testing on our closest animal relatives. And one day, it might. But no matter how you or I feel about it, it’s clear the practice has saved—and is saving—human lives. If you received a shot of the Covid vaccine, for instance, you have monkeys to thank for it; before their vaccines were released to the masses, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson trialed them in monkeys first. The same is true for Covid treatments like monoclonal antibodies or the antiviral remdesivir. Monkeys were also instrumental in testing vaccines that can protect against monkeypox.

And so the monkey shortage is putting human lives at risk. Scientists say vital medical and scientific studies have been delayed or prevented entirely, leaving us ill-prepared to keep fighting this pandemic, not to mention future ones. “It’s a threat for bio defense. It’s a threat for our economy. It’s a threat for our standing in research,” says Joyce Cohen, the associate director of the Division of Animal Resources at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center housed at Emory University. “All these things are hugely important.”

Nevertheless, much like the individuals involved with the flight, many of the people affected by the shortage—breeders, pharma employees, scientists—were hesitant to talk about it, ignored my interview requests, asked to remain anonymous, or were generally cautious about how they described their work. Some cited fear of retaliation from animal rights groups, others had concerns about confidentiality. The irony is, talking about the problem—and educating the public about primate research more broadly—may be exactly what’s needed to help address the shortage itself. 

It’s these factors that make the May 2020 flight more complicated—and more intriguing—than a simple contract dispute. According to Block, he and his unnamed client eventually got their shipment of monkeys delivered to the US, though it “slightly delayed research programs for COVID,” he tells me in an email. So while I can’t tell you the lab ID numbers of those monkeys, or the trials they likely participated in, I can tell you the history and context of the environment to which they arrived, and what the hell a plane full of monkeys set to fly across the Atlantic says about the state of science in America.

If there is a singular starting point to modern primate research, it is arguably 1908. At the time, two Austrian scientists studying polio had tried, unsuccessfully, to infect rabbits, mice, and guinea pigs with the disease. Then, they injected two monkeys, a baboon and a rhesus macaque, with a sample of spinal cord taken from a 9-year-old boy who’d died of a severe polio infection. Like human polio patients, both monkeys developed symptoms; the rhesus macaque lost function in both of its legs. While gruesome, the discovery eventually led to the release of the polio vaccine in 1955—and decades of primate research since.

By the late 1950s, primate research in the US had officially taken off, and the country was importing more than 200,000 monkeys per year, largely from India, writes science journalist Deborah Blum in her 1994 book The Monkey Wars. The numbers stayed steady through the early 1960s, with more than 100,000 animals imported on an annual basis. “Rhesus macaques were numerous then,” she writes, “so much so that they virtually could be shoveled out of the jungles of India.” Today, US monkey imports are much lower, hovering between about 20,000 and 30,000 animals per year.

Dr. Jonas E. Salk in 1954. Salk developed one of the first successful polio vaccines, which was tested on monkeys.

Keystone Press Agency/Zuma

Particularly for academic labs, the rhesus macaque is among the most studied monkey. They’re about the size of a small dog, brownish gray in color, with a naked, pink face. (As a species, they like to keep their distance from humans—unlike, say, mangabeys, “they’re not loving cuddly, cute little monkeys,” Blum tells me, and can carry a Herpes-like virus called B virus.) Part of what makes the rhesus macaque a popular choice, however, is its genes: It shares 93 percent of its DNA with us, and is susceptible to many of the same diseases, including a virus similar to HIV. And unlike many other species, rhesus monkeys menstruate, making them good candidates to study reproductive health. Its close relative, the long-tailed macaque, is also widely used for pharmaceutical testing in part because it is smaller, and therefore less expensive to house. Of all the monkeys imported into the US in the last three years, the vast majority were long-tailed macaques.

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Primate research is mostly iterative, and “breakthroughs” are usually years, if not decades in the making. Some of these advancements include anesthesia, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, cortisone shots; the discovery of lead poisoning and the effects of secondhand smoke; deep brain stimulation as a treatment for Parkinson’s; drugs that help with organ transplants, treat leprosy, lupus, depression, diabetes, and prevent HIV infection; vaccines for yellow fever, measles, mumps, and rubella, hepatitis, anthrax, Covid-19; and so much more

But, as with polio, many of these life-saving discoveries wouldn’t have been possible without taking the lives of animals. And from the very beginning of this research, there were those who loudly opposed it on ethical grounds. “There were animal activists busy on this continent before there was even a United States of America,” Blum writes in The Monkey Wars; Puritans in Massachusetts established a law against animal cruelty back in 1641. During the 19th century, “as rising industrialization drove concerns for civil liberties and oppression,” Blum writes, animal activists formed into groups, including the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which opposed operation on live animals. As biomedical research and animal testing progressed into the 1900s, so too did opposition from animal welfare groups—a reality that has undoubtedly shaped today’s research.

"There were animal activists busy on this continent before there was even a United States of America."

The modern animal rights movement really gained momentum in the second half of the 20th century, following a series of high-profile primate laboratory incidents. As Blum reports, one of the most recognized of these incidents took place in Silver Spring, Maryland. The story goes like this: In 1981, 23-year-old Alex Pacheco volunteered to join a lab at the Institute for Behavioral Research, where scientists were studying, among other things, nerve damage in monkeys. Under the guise of an eager student, Pacheco—who had recently co-founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (that is, PETA)—documented some alarming details: monkeys with infected, gnawed limbs, minuscule cages, dead animals in the freezer. Later that year, the lab’s top scientist was convicted and fined under a Maryland anti–animal cruelty law. (Those charges would eventually be overturned, but in a sense, there was no winning; the case also made PETA a household name.) In another incident not long after, animal rights groups broke into a lab at the University of Pennsylvania where researchers were using baboons to study traumatic head injuries. The activists stole footage of the experiments and edited the worst bits into a short film titled Unnecessary Fuss. Following its release, the research group lost its funding from the NIH, and Penn was fined $4,000.

For primate researchers, these incidents created a PR nightmare, not to mention decades of violence and death threats. And while Congress would go on to mandate new guidelines for “the proper care and treatment of animals used in research” and instruct the NIH to support the development of alternatives to animal testing, animal rights groups have remained a strong and vocal presence, arguing that despite the regulations, as PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo tells me, “horrific deaths and accidents” still occur in publicly funded labs. “It makes you question, first of all, oversight. But second of all, what's going on in these facilities?”

When I ask Deepak Kaushal, director of the government-funded Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, about lab accidents generally, he tells me, "I think what happens is, nothing is 100 percent. And as employees are working really hard to take care of the animals, sometimes mistakes are made. And these are very rare.”

This thorny history, in part, has led some of the people involved in the research (and the primate trade more broadly) to be hesitant to promote and discuss their work, even as it has benefitted humans—a reality which may only reinforce the public’s perception that animal research facilities are overly secretive.

“There's been a long and alarming history of illegal activity and campaigns of threats and harassment against researchers working with animal models,” says Matt Bailey, president of the National Association for Biomedical Research, an organization that advocates for the use of animals for science. “So, of course, there's a natural hesitancy—I don't think anybody is to blame for being less than excited to increase the odds of having a target painted on their backs.”

In the monkey world, I found the people easiest to access, or at least those most willing to talk, are the people who work at the seven national primate centers, which are supported by funding from the NIH. The centers—located in Washington, Oregon, California, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia—were established by Congress beginning in the 1960s with the goal of supporting human health research. Each maintains an in-house monkey colony, ranging from several hundred animals to several thousand, to support their own studies and that of other labs. And they’re notably transparent about it: If you visit any of their websites, for instance, you’ll find a list of scientific advancements or recent publications by researchers based at the centers.

But visiting the facilities, I found, can be a different experience. The California center, which is located about an hour and a half from my home in San Francisco, never responded to my requests for a site visit. The Wisconsin center allowed a visit to their administrative offices and their public-facing marmoset exhibit, but the facilities where their colony of 1,600 monkeys are held? A hard no—at least not “at this time.” The primate center located on the campus of Oregon Health & Science University just outside of Portland did grant me a visit last August, which required approval from the director.

At the time of my visit, on the street leading to the gated property, posted “security notices” remind me that no photos or video are allowed, which director Nancy Haigwood again emphasizes once I am on site, partly because photos can be shared easily and “taken out of context.” (“We’ve had infiltrators here before,” she tells me.) While I am told the facility does normally offer public tours, due to Covid, much of the property, including the indoor labs, is closed to visitors. It’s not just for the safety of the lab technicians, Haigwood tells me as we walk through the campus, thick with oak and fir trees, but for the monkeys’ sake as well. Like humans, monkeys are susceptible to Covid and an outbreak could contaminate the entire colony.

Posted “security notices” remind me that no photos or video are allowed, which director Nancy Haigwood again emphasizes once I am on site, partly because photos can be shared easily and “taken out of context.” (“We’ve had infiltrators here before,” she tells me.)

Opened in 1962, the Oregon facility is among the oldest and largest of the centers—home to a colony of about 5,000 primates, USDA records show, including more than 4,000 rhesus macaques, a few hundred Japanese macaques, and a small number of long-tailed macaques, baboons, and squirrel monkeys. Depending on their stage of life and intended use, the animals are usually housed in one of eight large outdoor corrals, two dozen indoor-outdoor “shelter” housing units, or 12 breeding pens—which I am able to observe and which include perches made from firehoses. Animals “participating in experiments” are typically held in indoor labs, which I am not allowed to see.

Beyond the national centers, research involving primates takes place at many other academic institutions and universities in the US, and at facilities affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than breed monkeys themselves, private companies typically source them from other domestic breeding facilities, or from overseas—on flights like the one arranged by International Logistics Support.

Before I reached out to the company, I read quite a lot about Block, its owner, who sources tell me has long been a high-profile and repeated target of animal rights activists. Honestly, I was prepared to speak with Joe Exotic 2.0: Monkey King. But, as it turns out, the experience is more like chatting up a pair of Dockers: monotone and unrevealing. He declines to divulge the destiny of the flying monkeys in question, or the identity of the client, or any information about the cargo, citing “confidentiality agreements.” When I ask to verify some details mentioned in court hearings, he points me to news clips about the case.

He is, however, a bit more forthcoming about his own colorful history. Block got his start in animal sales as a teenager in the ’70s, selling his first parrot in the newspaper classifieds, and eventually dropping out of high school to pursue bird importation. The bird business was “extremely competitive,” he tells me. Monkeys, which were being imported in the US by the tens of thousands each year, offered an exit route. At the time, few regulations governed the industry: You could become a primate importer by filling out a two-to-three-page form, he tells me. So, in the early 1980s, at age 19, Block left the bird business to import primates and other, more lucrative animals. He founded a company called Worldwide Primates, which specialized in importing animals to be placed at zoos or used for research.

A few years after its founding, things at Worldwide Primates took a dark turn: In 1984, a buyer stopped by Block’s Miami facility to pick up an elephant. After the man entered the animal’s paddock, it pinned him to the wall, impaling him with its tusk, ultimately killing him. The man’s widow sued Block's insurance company, reportedly settling outside of court for $150,000. (The elephant was later sold to a Mexican circus as part of a pair, where its luck only worsened: A truck holding the elephants fell off a cliff in Central America, killing them and the owners.)

But Block’s lowest professional moment is arguably what has become known as “The Bangkok Six” case: In 1992, Block was indicted for trying to smuggle six young orangutans into Russia. The animals were discovered in Thailand in a shipment marked “birds.” After their discovery, some of the animals died, according to media reports. In 1993, Block worked with prosecutors to bring indictments against other people he said were responsible for the deaths, according to the Miami Herald. But he wasn’t let off entirely: Block ultimately served about half a year in prison and paid a $30,000 fine for violating US and foreign wildlife laws. After the conviction, the Fish and Wildlife Service revoked his license to import. He retired from the business, eventually passing ownership of Worldwide Primates to his son. Today, Block maintains that he had “no knowledge of how the animals would be shipped or moved” and characterizes the attention on the incident as “political”: “Those animals became a combination of a political ping pong ball and fundraising ping pong ball for animal rights activists,” he tells me.

The note said, “STOP THE KILLING!...INHALE AND GO VIVISECT IN HELL.” It appeared to be a threat from animal rights groups. But investigators found Block’s DNA on the package—and determined that he sent it himself.

And for two decades, Block more or less faded from public view. That is, until 2018, when the details of another unfortunate incident went public: According to court documents, in 2014, a package containing white powder arrived at Block’s mother’s house—along with a note containing the text, “STOP THE KILLING! WE'LL BE BACK AND YOU WON'T KNOW WHEN[.] YOU ARE THE LOWEST PIECE OF CRAP WALKING THE EARTH AND YOU DESERVE WHAT YOU DO TO HELP[L]ESS MONKEYS EVERY DAY! INHALE AND GO VIVISECT IN HELL.” It appeared to be a threat from animal rights groups. But investigators found Block’s DNA on the package—and determined that he sent it himself. He accepted five years of probation and paid $14,872 in fines. (Block declined to comment on this case.)

With the Skybus fiasco, however, there is some evidence Block’s business may have been affected by (real) animal advocates’ activity. As the court documents show, Skybus canceled its flight for Block’s company shortly before its scheduled departure in May 2020. In lieu of this flight, the air carrier planned to make two other trips for Block, one in June and another in July that year, both of which also ended up getting canceled. According to court documents, the final July flight, Skybus claimed, was derailed by “a campaign of harassment and intimidation” from “certain special interest activist organizations.” Animal rights groups Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Action for Primates, and the French organization One Voice have issued public statements celebrating Block’s misfortune and claiming to have pressured Skybus to stop transporting research monkeys.

Block largely disputes the role of animal rights groups, claiming that the air carrier had a history of canceling flights and alleging this was simply “the way Skybus conducts business.” He points to a 2021 lawsuit, in which another company alleges that repeatedly rescheduling flights appears to be Skybus’ “modus operandi.” (Skybus did not respond to requests for comment.)

With Skybus out of the picture, there weren’t a lot of other options for Block. Most mainstream airlines already do not transport research animals as a result of pressure from animal rights groups. So Block and International Logistics Support were forced to go elsewhere for their monkey delivery needs—ultimately paying another air carrier (which I haven’t been able to identify) $700,000, according to a court transcript. That’s when his company sued Skybus, prompting a Miami judge to authorize the seizure of two Skybus planes, documents show. (In the interest of full disclosure: The existence of the court documents was brought to my attention by a family friend and open-government advocate in Florida who challenged the sealing of the Skybus case, and won. He is a paralegal who works closely with my mom, a lawyer practicing in Florida.)

Law enforcement seizes a Skybus plane in Miami.

Courtesy Matt Block

Worldwide Primates is still in operation today, importing for, among other clients, the US government and more specifically the NIH. And while Block says his logistics business hasn’t been directly impacted by the monkey shortage (sourcing animals is “up to the individual client,” he notes), those clients are feeling the pressure: Every country that’s a major player in primate research has felt the impact on some level, Block tells me.

Today’s primate shortage has been years in the making. According to a 2018 NIH report on the country’s nonhuman primate usage, the number of monkeys expected to participate in experiments grew from about 4,500 in 2013 to about 8,200 in 2016, and 6,400 in 2017, based on grants awarded for those years. (A big reason for the increase, the report notes, was funding for HIV/AIDS research.) But the report also looked to the future, estimating that demand—even before Covid—would increase in the coming years, particularly for rhesus macaques. For that species alone, scientists planned to use about 8,000 animals per year from 2018 to 2022.

But as the number of primates to be used for science vastly expanded, funding to actually breed and house animals at the seven primate centers remained flat, multiple directors tell me. “Most years,” says Wisconsin primate center director Jon Levine, “I can say with confidence that the [National Primate Research Centers] barely meet, or are unable to meet in a timely manner, all requests” for primate research. “We have been chronically receiving no increases in our budgets, or very modest increases in our budgets, for over 20 years.”

As a result, according to the 2018 report, about half of researchers working with monkeys said they were experiencing problems with obtaining animals or “related research services” that caused them to delay or change the design of their studies, or influenced how those studies were performed. Due to “infrastructure limitations” and the amount of time it takes to grow colonies, the report said, “the current NIH-funded centers and colonies may not be able to satisfy the predicted increase in demand for rhesus macaques and marmosets for at least the near term.” (There is “a long lead time,” the report noted, between when a monkey is born and when it’s ready to be studied, meaning that even if the government increased domestic breeding, it’d still take years for researchers to see the benefit of it.)

A baby monkey interacts with a laboratory employee in the breeding center for cynomolgus macaques, also known as long-tailed macaques, at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty

Then, in late 2019, ignoring its own report, the Trump administration imposed a 15 percent tax on many Chinese goods, including monkeys, as part of the former president’s trade war. At the time, China was the United States’ biggest supplier of primates, and advocates for animal testing warned the tariff could “severely damage” medical research in the US. “The proposed tariff would hand China an even greater cost advantage, which will incentivize many researchers to conduct studies in China instead of the United States,” Bailey, of NABR, reportedly wrote in a letter to then–US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Their fears didn’t take much time to bear out. As the Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang has reported, shortly after the pandemic hit in early 2020, what was already a strained and expensive supply line effectively ceased to exist: China stopped exporting monkeys altogether, opting to conserve them for its own research, experts speculated at the time. Between December 2019 and February 2020, total US imports dropped from about 3,400 monkeys per month to 1,400 in January, and about 870 monkeys in February—just as the pandemic was setting in.

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By the fall of 2020, monthly monkey imports had returned to their 2019 levels, thanks to large increases in supply from Cambodia and Mauritius—and since have largely stabilized. And last year, despite zero monkeys coming from China, the US managed to import more than 31,000 monkeys in total, just 8 percent less than imports in 2019. But this has hardly meant a return to normalcy in the US. Keep in mind that while the total number of imports may have recovered, the entire world is fighting a pandemic. On top of the demand for studying HIV, or malaria, or cancer, or an endless number of other research areas, two years ago a never-before-seen virus swept across the planet. And we needed monkeys to fight it.

For the national primate centers, the pivot to Covid research didn’t happen overnight. “We weren't planning to do any experiments for SARS-CoV-2 because we didn't know about it,” Haigwood, from the Oregon primate center, tells me from across a conference table in her large, glassy office. “And we have ongoing research. We have demands for monkeys, and we had planned carefully, exactly what we would do.”

What the Oregon center could do to quickly fight the coronavirus, however, was supply monkeys. When Covid hit, Haigwood’s center sent 100 monkeys to NIH labs that were conducting the most immediate studies into the then-novel coronavirus. But it came at a cost: “That hurt us,” she says. “Those are 100 monkeys that we'd love to have right now. But they all got used for Covid research.”

"We're telling people, core scientists, myself included, that you can't get animals assigned to your projects because they're just not high priority enough."

Eventually, Oregon got in the Covid game, too. During my visit last August, for instance, Haigwood had plans to test an aerosol-based spray that would administer monoclonal antibodies, which have been shown to help prevent hospitalizations in high-risk Covid patients. But at the time, her center still didn’t have any monkeys to spare for the experiments. “I need animals in December,” she tells me then. “And I don't know whether I'm going to get them…People are waiting six months or longer to start their studies, because we’re waiting for animals literally to grow.” (When I follow up in June, I am told that the Oregon center was able to assign animals “in a timely manner” to the study, and "lab analyses" are still ongoing.)

The California primate center, located in Davis, has been facing similar pressures. Since the onset of the pandemic, associate director of primate services Jeffrey Roberts tells me the center has seen more requests for monkeys from outside researchers than they can meet: “We don't have animals available for them.” For fields outside of Covid, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and heart disease, the low monkey supply has been “devastating,” Roberts adds. Similarly, the Southwest center, which is affiliated with the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, houses “one of the smallest colonies of rhesus macaques,” leaving its researchers “extraordinarily impacted” by the shortage, says Kaushal, its director. “We're telling people, core scientists, myself included, that you can't get animals assigned to your projects because they're just not high priority enough.” Kaushal’s work on tuberculosis, for instance, is one of the areas that hasn’t made the cut.

Researchers at smaller academic institutions, without direct access to the national primate centers, have felt the shortage on a different, arguably deeper level. Take the work of Sally Bernardina Seraphin, a primate behavioral neuroscientist at Trinity College: When she was a graduate student at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University about 20 years ago, she studied how stress in early life may be related to brain function, including addiction and motivation. “If there continues to be a shortage, I will never be able to go back and address those questions,” she tells me, hypothetically speaking. That's a problem not just because the research is valuable, she says: “It's a problem because I'm one of the first people of color who are addressing these kinds of questions.” A Haitian American and daughter of immigrants, Seraphin says her work isn’t “arbitrary exercises”; it’s personal. “I come from a family where there is a legacy of trauma that has impacted mental health and well-being over several generations,” she says. “That is the burden that I bring, and the urgency that I bring to questions about early life experience.” She notes that researchers who are people of color, queer, or earlier in their careers are already less likely to receive large government grants, and are potentially most vulnerable to the shortage.

Private companies have also been hard hit. One researcher at a pharmaceutical company tells me that more and more often, scientists are having to make difficult decisions about which drugs get tested. (She asked to remain anonymous due to a concern that her company wouldn’t allow her to talk to the media.) As she explains, her company might see 10 promising compounds in its pipeline but must limit monkey studies to treatments with the highest chances of success. And if a given condition already has some treatments available, new drugs for that condition may get put on the backburner. “Nobody has enough resources to do all the stuff they would ever want to do,” she says. “But it’s becoming much more challenging.” She declined to share specifics, citing the desire to protect “proprietary company information,” but notes that drugs that may help treat cancers, including brain cancer, and “some neurologic conditions” have been put on hold.

(Covid vaccine makers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson did not respond to my interview requests, and Pfizer declined, pointing me to the National Association for Biomedical Research.)

“As we’re increasing the amount of wild capture of these macaques, we’re radically increasing the chances for more viral jumps and pathogen instances.”

Beyond the hit to research, experts also warn that the lives of animals have been impacted by the shortage—bringing to the fore increasingly thorny ethical questions. Animals arriving from overseas, the private pharmaceutical researcher observes, are not as “robust” as they were in previous years. “I believe animals are being shipped that probably would not have been sold in the past,” she says. “They're perhaps a bit weaker, a bit more fragile animals.” They’re also arriving younger, forcing researchers to decide between delaying their studies—or experimenting on adolescent animals.

According to Mark Lewis, the president and CEO of Bioqual, Inc., an organization that performs research on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, it’s become common practice to “repurpose” animals from previous studies. “It's a finite resource,” he says. “And to get new animals—they're quite expensive.” This was particularly true at the beginning of the pandemic: Lewis, whose company has conducted Covid research with Moderna, AstraZeneca, Regeneron, and Johnson & Johnson, estimates that in the first nine months of 2020, the majority of coronavirus-related research on primates in the US relied on recycled animals. (Bioqual, for instance, tapped into its supply of rhesus macaques that were not challenged with virus in HIV trials.) But, he says, even those monkeys disappeared quickly.

Lewis’ company was then forced to look elsewhere: It connected with a primate broker who could supply another species, long-tailed macaques, from Southeast Asia and—like with International Logistics Support—Mauritius. “We've been lucky,” he says. But those monkeys didn’t come cheap: As demand increased under Covid, “the costs probably went up at least 50 percent,” he says. “And it's been creeping up ever since.” And now, he says, rhesus macaques are “virtually impossible to get, except for HIV research.”

Long-tailed macaques sit with their babies in their cage in the breeding center at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty

As the supply chain has tightened, some experts suspect the global demand for primates has contributed to the illegal capture and sale of wild monkeys, too. According to a 2021 study from an international coalition of researchers, between 2008 and 2019, at least 450,000 long-tailed macaques and more than 700,000 “specimens” (that is, samples from monkey tissue or blood) were traded globally. Of that, 50,000 were reported to be caught from the wild. This is likely an undercount, according to the authors, in part because it doesn’t account for wild animals that have been laundered as captive-bred. The pandemic isn’t helping: With China closing off exports, “the US, the UK are scrambling globally to Indonesia, Vietnam, a variety of places to try to get [monkeys],” says Agustín Fuentes, an anthropologist at Princeton University and an author on the study. “And those places have a long history of, let’s say, fudging the reality of captive versus wild-caught.” With just 3 million long-tailed macaques estimated to live in Southeast Asia in the early 2000s, the level of trade we’ve seen in recent years is “likely not sustainable,” the study’s authors conclude.

It gets worse: As Fuentes points out, the more that humans tap into wild primate populations, the more we put ourselves at risk of another virus jumping from mammals to humans: “As we’re increasing the amount of wild capture of these macaques,” he warns, “we’re radically increasing the chances for more viral jumps and pathogen instances.”

It only took a year of reporting, but it’s with this context that Block’s failed flight finally started to make sense to me. For years, the entire industry had been tasked with answering crucial scientific questions, with limited tools to do so. Then the pandemic hit, which, as Bioqual’s Lewis tells me, “changed everything.” With demand as high as it is, the entire field isn’t operating as it should. And the canceled flight is just one telling scene in a sprawling shitshow.

In some cases, technology has indeed reduced the need for animal models. Consider, for instance, that before the vehicle crash dummy, scientists often relied on animals in crash testing. But in many cases, experts say, these substitutes still don’t come close to the real deal.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need research monkeys to begin with, let alone more of them. Over the years, there have been some propositions of alternatives, including computer modeling or lab-grown organs. These technologies are out there, and in some cases have indeed reduced the need for animal models. Consider, for instance, that before the vehicle crash dummy, scientists often relied on animals, including pigs and dogs, in crash testing. Or, in 2016, researchers were able to model the effect of Zika on fetal brain development by exposing lab-grown mini-brains to the virus. They found that these organoids, as they’re called, were about 40 percent smaller after being exposed to the virus—an observation that otherwise may have required testing in animals. Similarly, scientists have grown in labs tiny lungs, kidneys, and livers, among other organs, and infected them with Covid in an effort to understand how the virus infects our bodies.

But in many cases, experts say, these substitutes are rudimentary, and still don’t come close to the real deal. And some research, say, gene-editing embryos or performing brain cell grafts, can’t always be tested in humans, at least not ethically. “If there was a way to do [pharmaceutical studies] without animals,” the private pharmaceutical researcher says, “it would be very cost effective for us to not do that. The fact is, we do this because it's necessary for the science.”

With few alternatives, primate researchers say the best way to dig out of the shortage, at least for now, is to increase domestic monkey supply. If we can build out our monkey colonies in the US, they say, there’d be less of a need to import animals from abroad. But to totally revamp infrastructure and breeding capacity at the NIH-funded primate centers will take cash, to around the tune of $50 million, estimates Kaushal, director of the Southwest primate center. That’s on top of the “base grants” provided annually by the NIH to “to maintain the buildings and the facilities, keep the lights on, keep the water running,” he explains.

Biden’s 2022 spending bill, which Congress approved in March, originally included $30 million in NIH funding for expanding infrastructure at the national primate centers, but for reasons unknown to the people I spoke with, those funds were cut from the budget. “We were very disappointed to see that it was not included in the end,” Kaushal says. (In an email, the NIH notes that it was granted $70 million by Congress to support biomedical research and infrastructure, some of which could be used for the primate centers. “We are currently in the process of reviewing grant applications to make awards using these funds,” the NIH says.)

If researchers want to see more cash, it might help to speak up. Several experts I interviewed for this story agree that educating the public—especially leaders in Congress—about primate research may help with their funding issue. As NABR’s Bailey puts it, “I think raising awareness about the nonhuman primate shortage increases the odds that support will gather for providing either funding or other policy solutions to address the problem.” The trouble is, many researchers remain reluctant to do so—and the idea of a shadowy research underworld persists.

As we approach, the monkeys turn to face us. Some jump up and cling to the side of the enclosure, others line up to look at us from a perch. 

Haigwood is a notable exception. Despite death threats, harassment, and vandalism targeting Haigwood and her Oregon center colleagues, she remains a leading voice in favor of primate research. Her work, which she is open about, focuses on preventing AIDS infections in children born to HIV-positive mothers. It often involves infecting monkeys with an HIV-like virus, a practice that is unlikely to ever be approved for human trials. But it can be done in monkeys—and only monkeys; HIV doesn’t replicate in other animal models, she tells me.

During my visit, there is one area with live animals that Haigwood does agree to show me: the “corn cribs,” a line of gazebo-shaped breeding pens, nicknamed for their resemblance to the agricultural storage bins. Each of the cages hold about 15 rhesus macaques, typically a “harem” consisting of one male adult, a handful of adult females, and their offspring.

As we approach, the monkeys turn to face us. Some jump up and cling to the side of the enclosure, others line up to look at us from a perch. As we stand and observe from a safe distance of what I estimate is about 20 feet, many of the monkeys snack on strawberries scattered on the floor of their cages. (Among options of strawberries, blueberries, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts, I am told blueberries are the favorite.) Some of the monkeys have names.

After the visit, I can't stop thinking that it felt a lot like a zoo, minus the tourists and the greasy café food. There is no giftshop. And instead of dying in their outdoor enclosures, old and wrinkled, many of these animals would eventually move to a lab to die. Maybe their tissues would be preserved in freezers for future research. Maybe they’d help cure Alzheimer’s, or AIDS, or fight the next pandemic. Maybe their offspring would. In any case, their deaths would be in service to science—to us. As long as we keep dying, for the foreseeable future at least, they would, too.

Title IX Built Women’s Sports. Now, It’s Time for it to Change.

The law that transformed sports for women and girls is turning 50. 

On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX, prohibiting sex-based discrimination in schools, as part of sweeping reforms to the education system. When the law passed, just over 300,000 young women played college and high school sports. Forty years later, six times as many women and girls were competing at the high school and college level. By 2016, one in every five girls in the United States played sports. The law essentially created women’s professional sports as we know it by building a pipeline of athletic opportunities.

But five decades later, the limits of Title IX have come into full focus. In the last two years, at least 18 states have introduced or passed laws to ban transgender and nonbinary students from competing in sports that align with their gender. Backers of the measures say that trans girls are a threat to women’s sports, and some of them are using Title IX to argue for that exclusion. As it currently exists, Title IX is a barrier to full trans inclusion in sports. 

When it was first passed, Title IX, which was modeled on parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, didn’t actually say anything about athletics. It was designed to address women being denied entry into educational institutions—as students, scholarship recipients, and faculty. To force schools to abide, Title IX barrs federal funding for institutions that discriminate on the basis of sex. 

But athletics soon became a focus, as Congress directed the equivalent of today’s Department of Education to fill in the gaps in Title IX and issue regulations on women and girls in sports. Early on, some feminist groups and lawmakers were concerned that the regulations might create a “separate but equal” system, in contradiction to the principles of the Civil Rights Act. As Elizabeth A. Sharrow, an associate professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, writes in an article on the legacy of Title IX, such a system, these groups worried, would further entrench ideas about women’s inferiority and the need to protect them from harm.

“NOW is opposed to any regulation which precludes eventual integration.”

Instead, feminists wanted boys and girls to play on the same teams and compete in the same leagues. In a 1974 “Legislative Alert,” the National Organization for Women wrote: “NOW is opposed to any regulation which precludes eventual integration. Regulations that ‘protect’ girls and/or women are against NOW goals and are contradictory to our stand on the ERA.” 

On the other side were conservative lawmakers, like Senator Peter Dominick (R-CO) and Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), who saw traditional gender roles as incredibly important, as well as the leaders of institutions like the NCAA, who felt Title IX would lead to cutbacks in men’s sports and, therefore, their revenue streams.

Those concerned with “separate but equal” programs and facilities for men and women athletes due to the perceived differences in the sexes when it came to strength and athletic put aside their concerns in order to move forward with regulations that would secure funding of women’s sports. By assuring lawmakers who were skittish about the idea of full integration of sports, athletic facilities, and locker rooms that the sex binary would remain in place in the application of Title IX, proponents were able to shut down criticism.

And even women’s rights advocates recognized that due to women’s systemic exclusion from athletic training programs and lack of access to coaching and resources, they could not compete with male athletes in an immediate sense. Their hope was that, over time, as the access gap closed, integration would be a more feasible reality.

“There were debates and tension around the question of segregation from the start, yet because policymakers settled on separate, sex-segregated sports, we have actually forgotten that history and have imagined that the solution of segregation has managed to solve all of those problems of exclusion,” Sharrow tells me. “That, to me, when you think about the 50th anniversary moment, is a real tension point.” 

Policy has political and cultural impacts that shape our accepted ideas about the world. Today, it’s hard to imagine any other system of organizing sports—on any competitive level—besides gender segregation. Because Title IX made athletic sex-segregation the law of the land, it actually reinforced “strict ideas about fundamental sex difference into the archive of policy,” Sharrow writes. By focusing on the body as a means of determining categorization, and therefore protection, Title IX inadvertently codified the idea of binary sex categories—and binary sex difference—into law.

Yet there are unresolved questions around Title IX and its application that were never fully settled. Among them, Sharrow says: What defines a “woman athlete,” and where does biology fit into these categories?

Over the years, athletes have bumped up against those questions, and that’s especially true as more young people come out as transgender and seek to play on teams in line with their gender identities. 

To name a few examples: In 2021, 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson was prohibited from trying out for the girls’ cross-country team in West Virginia because of a law barring trans girls from competing against their cisgender counterparts—even though, as the ACLU pointed out in a lawsuit, Pepper-Jackson was on puberty blockers and had never started testosterone-driven puberty. And this past year, Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer on the University of Pennsylvania’s Divison 1 team, made national headlines after winning an NCAA swimming title in the women’s division.

What defines a “woman athlete,” and where does biology fit into these categories?

Thomas was allowed to compete against cisgender women under NCAA policy, which required transgender women to undergo 12 months of hormone therapy to become eligible for competition. Going forward, however, the NCAA has said it will defer to national and international bodies governing each sport. Earlier this year, USA Swimming updated its policy to require 36 months of hormone therapy and evaluation by a three-person panel. Last week the International Swimming Federation (FINA) passed a total ban on trans women’s participation in women’s events. (FINA also hinted at the possibility of an “open competition” category.) 

Across the country, Thomas’ name has been used by legislators and anti-trans lobbyists seeking to ban transgender people’s participation in sports. And proponents of restrictive laws are also using Title IX as a cudgel. “This legislation is just a way to honor those people who worked hard to get Title IX,” Wendy Schuler, a lawmaker in Wyoming who sponsored an anti-trans bill, told the Los Angeles Times. “For 50 years we’ve had the opportunity to compete as females and I just would hope we continue that fight.”

And then there’s the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, an anti-trans advocacy group that includes several former Olympians, including Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimmer and Title IX attorney who argues that Title IX is designed to protect cisgender girls only from discrimination in sports. Groups like the WSPWG claim that kids assigned male at birth and who have gone through any part of a testosterone-driven puberty have an unfair advantage and potentially endanger cisgender girls, an argument that relies on the fact that at the time Title IX was passed, lawmakers maintained that there were biological sex differences which necessitated the separate divisions for men and women athletes. 

Language from these groups leans heavily on the idea of “protecting” women or “saving”, the same framework that ushered in the version of Title IX feminists were concerned about 50 years ago: that, as a result of their biology, women and girls need protection, and that they don’t stand a chance to compete against people that aren’t cisgender women. It positions anyone not assigned female at birth as a threat to the women and girls who need protection, nevermind that trans women and girls are just that: women and girls.

Last week, the Department of Education issued a “notice of interpretation” stating that Title IX protects LGBTQ students from discrimination. The notice doesn’t say anything about sports directly, though it does mention “education programs and activities that receive funding from the Department.” And they’ve announced a formal review of the way the policy is enforced in order to support that interpretation. That process, however, can take time, according to Sharrow, and will do little to stop the wave of state-level anti-trans laws in the short term.

Instead, says Sharrow, Biden should proactively draw up protections that explicitly protect trans athletes in sports. “The political battle around [anti-trans bills] can only happen in the absence of federal-level laws that would set a higher bar of protection for trans people and trans students, in particular,” she says

The barriers Title IX creates for trans kids matters not just because it impacts openly transgender students—though that should be reason enough—but because it endangers gender nonconforming students, intersex students, and any student whose femininity does not conform to white, western ideals. Because Title IX relies on the cisgender girls’ body to establish categories for protection, it also requires students to declare what their embodied sex is if they are to be protected from discrimination. “So long as Title IX continues to rely on policy design that invokes binary sex as a category in athletics, public policy will fail to afford non-discrimination protections to some of the most vulnerable populations,” Sharrow writes. 

Not only that, so many kids are still discovering who they are. For students who don’t yet know they are trans, or for whom it is not safe to be out, sporting environments that allow for more integration, and do not force sex segregation onto people who don’t want it, have the capacity to be affirming spaces.

And the application and reinforcement of a false sex binary in the interpretation of Title IX allows the dichotomy to exist in other places, as well, as we have seen every time a school bathroom bill is introduced. Those bills rely on some of the same logic: that people who are assigned male at birth are threats to those who are not, and that threat is a result of their body.

“Even the things that Title IX has done, we have fallen short in realizing the full potential that is loaded inside that law,” Sharrow says. “And that’s becoming most excruciatingly visible because of the forms of exclusion that are now being visited on gender diverse people in particular. So long as we strictly believe that segregation is the only way that we can achieve non-discrimination in sports, that’s driving all sorts of different problems that that we need to acknowledge.”

A Simple, Well-Tested Method for Staving Off World Hunger

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, the economic fallout could be felt thousands of miles away. Syrians saw prices for bulgur rise by as much as 44 percent within weeks; by April, in the Horn of Africa, heavily reliant on wheat imports from the Black Sea region, the cost of food staples leapt by 66 percent in Ethiopia and 36 percent in Somalia. The conflict propelled global food prices to their highest level since the United Nations started keeping track in 1961.

Add in climate chaos—more frequent droughts and megastorms in the world’s key farming regions—and you have a recipe for growing volatility in global food markets, at a time when up to 811 million people face chronic hunger.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an elegant, well-tested method for buffering against these kinds of shocks. Simply put, societies can hold back a portion of durable food staples like wheat, rice, and corn during bumper harvest years, and release it when times are lean.

The Han dynasty developed the “ever-normal granary,” designed to stabilize prices and stave off famine.

This rainy day strategy has a long history. In first-century BC China, the Han dynasty developed the “ever-normal granary,” a government-run reserve designed to stabilize prices for farmers and stave off famine for city dwellers. The institution has more or less functioned ever since—the 20th-century Great Chinese Famine was partially driven by the government’s failure to release stored grain—and unlike most other nations, China today has at its disposal robust reserves of wheat, corn, rice, and other crops, protecting its populace from the effects of the current price spikes.

In other places, the practice has been less formal. Before British rule, India had a “traditional system of household and village grain reserves” that tended to keep occasional crop failures from transforming into widespread crises, argues the historian Mike Davis in his book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. But then imperial British rulers pushed merchants to instead sell off the surplus grain and subjected Indian farmers to the fluctuations of the global market, leading to famines that killed millions when drought hit.

The US government once kept reserves, too. In 1938, Henry A. Wallace, an Iowa farmer and the secretary of agriculture under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spearheaded the passage of a bill that created our own version of an ever-normal granary. Wallace pitched the idea as a way to smooth out extremes in food prices for farmers and eaters. The previous years, he argued, saw two brutal Midwestern droughts that decimated crop yields and inflated food prices, as well as a bumper year that made “corn so super-abundant” as to be “almost worthless,” he noted in a 1937 New York Times essay. “We want to make it impossible for either a 1932 abundance or a 1936 drought to do us great harm.”

Wallace’s granary lasted for decades, but as the rise of hybrid seeds, mechanized tractors, and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides jacked up the productivity of US farming, overproduction became a chronic problem. US policymakers decided to sell off the reserves and focus on finding foreign markets for any excess crops that farmers would generate in the future.

“There’s no resilience in the system, because we don’t have the mechanisms that should help buffer us.”

The pivot from government-managed reserves to the “magic of the market” has helped create a world where many poor nations rely on imports from agricultural powerhouses like the United States, Russia, and Brazil for their sustenance, says Sophia Murphy, the executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “There’s no resilience in the system, because we don’t have the mechanisms that should help buffer us” from shocks, she says. Wealthy exporting nations should band together to create reserves of key staple crops, she argues, that can be released in coordinated fashion in times of crisis, which will help prices drift lower. This tactic would reduce global hunger and spook investors from speculating in food commodities in times of scarcity. The idea was floated in global policy circles during two recent world hunger spikes, starting in 2007 and 2011, but quickly faded when crop prices plunged and stayed low for nearly a decade. Now, global hunger is spiraling again.

The idea of saving grain for lean times should come back, too. In the Old Testament, Joseph doled out a bit of sage advice: He counseled Egypt’s pharaoh to set aside a fifth of Egypt’s harvest during abundant years. “This food should be held in reserve,” he declared, “so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

Red Flag Laws May Have Helped Prevent Dozens of Mass Shootings, New Research Shows

After high-profile mass shootings, Republican officials and gun lobbyists always point to mental illness as the cause and call for keeping firearms away from dangerous people. “We as a society need to do a better job with mental health,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference in late May after a teen used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to murder 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Abbott also emphasized that 18-year-olds have been allowed to buy “long guns” in Texas “for more than 60 years.”

Blame on mental illness as the fundamental cause of mass shootings is unsupported by evidence and highly misleading. Extensive case research shows that, despite popular myth, mass shooters are not insane people who suddenly “snap.” But such rhetoric has long served as a way for politicians to distract from strong bipartisan support among Americans for more stringent gun laws, including comprehensive background checks for gun buyers.

Still, a range of behavioral and mental health problems factor into mass shootings and other forms of gun violence, and that speaks to the potential of a specific policy for restricting access to firearms: extreme risk protection orders, known as red flag laws. Federal funding for states to implement these laws is a significant component of the bipartisan gun bill now moving through the Senate.

A civil procedure currently used in 19 states and the District of Columbia, red flag laws allow police, family members, and in some cases other individuals to seek a court order to temporarily prohibit guns for people deemed by a judge to pose significant danger to themselves or others. Most of the 19 states adopted this policy in the past five years. Now, new research shows that California’s red flag law has been effective in helping to prevent gun violence—including 58 threatened mass shootings.

A study from the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Injury Prevention, examined a total of 201 cases in California during a three-year period beginning in January 2016, when the state’s policy went into effect. None of the 58 individuals who threatened mass shootings went on to commit such attacks after they were subjected to what California calls “gun violence restraining orders.” Nor did any of them later commit suicide using a gun, which is both a major factor in mass shootings and the leading type of gun death annually in the United States. Red flag laws appear to help prevent suicide in general; 40 percent of the 201 total cases involved threats of self-harm, and a quarter of the cases involved threats of harm both to self and others.

The study further included 12 cases involving school shooting threats. None of those individuals went on to commit such attacks.

As with the broader prevention work of behavioral threat assessment, it’s difficult to attribute the absence of violence to any particular intervention. The study’s authors are careful not to claim that the court orders were the cause of nonviolent outcomes. But their deeper study of 21 of the 58 cases involving mass shooting threats further suggests that the red flag policy is effective: The researchers found no subsequent gun homicide of any kind in those 21 cases. (The authors told me that they are currently pursuing the same deeper examination of the other 37 cases involving mass shooting threats.)

“Policymakers should being thinking of extreme risk protect orders as important life-saving tools that [have] widespread support among the general public,” says Veronica Pear, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UC Davis Health and the lead author of the new study. “Residents of all states deserve to have this option available to them so that they can help prevent firearm violence from occurring in their communities.”

The policy has consistently seen broad bipartisan support among Americans, including gun owners. Its popularity was reconfirmed in mid-June by a Fox News poll.

GOP criticisms fly in the face of mounting evidence that red flag laws could help prevent mass shootings on a broad scale.

The UC-Davis analysis points out explicitly that the protection orders from judges are based on behavioral warning signs—communicated threats of violence and other behaviors indicating danger—and that psychiatric diagnoses are not a recommended focus for making the determination. That’s borne out by the study: a clinical diagnosis of mental illness was present in only a fifth of the total cases—a risk factor primarily for suicide—and only 11 percent of cases involved psychosis or hallucination.

This aligns with previous study of rampage shooters. It’s possible that some mass shooters and those who threatened attacks may not have been adequately screened for mental health conditions. But a groundbreaking study of shooters by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, whose investigators had unparalleled access to case information, revealed that many perpetrators clearly did not qualify for a clinical diagnosis of mental illness, as a leader of the FBI team told me during my reporting for my new book, Trigger Points.

The funding for red flag laws in the Senate gun bill was a point of contention in hammering out the legislative text. As with the enduring issue of comprehensive background checks, that tension underscored the stark disconnect between what most Americans say they want and the legislative stalemate over guns, long beholden to far-right demagoguery. The bill’s lead Republican negotiator, Sen. John Cornyn, was roundly booed during a speech at the Texas GOP convention last weekend, including jeers of “No red flags.” His fellow senator Ted Cruz characterized red flag laws as “a vehicle to disarm law-abiding citizens without protecting due process.” John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-highest-ranking Senate Republican, said earlier this month that “there is no role of the federal government for red flag laws,” adding, “Wyoming is never going to pass one.” The National Rifle Association rejects the policy outright, calling such measures a “mortal danger” to gun rights.

But these criticisms fly in the face of mounting evidence that red flag laws could help prevent mass shootings on a broad scale. The California research team is now also part of an ongoing six-state study, whose authors have found 626 cases since 2013 in which extreme risk protection orders were issued by judges in response to credible threats of mass shootings.

Whereas initial research into the policy indicated that suicide could be the most promising area for prevention, the prevalence of mass shooting threats has also stood out. “That caught us by surprise,” Garen Wintemute, a longtime leader of the UC-Davis research program and a coauthor of the new study, told me.

The more recent findings, Wintemute said, have prompted plans for further research into the potential that red flags laws hold for reducing mass shootings. Lawmakers who are authentically focused on preventing the next Uvalde, Buffalo, Oxford High, or myriad other scenes of devastation would do well to pay attention to the growing results.

Justice Department Questions Sidney Powell’s Funding for January 6 Defendants

The US Justice Department on Wednesday questioned payments to high-profile January 6 defendants from a nonprofit run by Sidney Powell, the infamous “Kraken” lawyer who helped promote Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. The DOJ asked if those payments create a conflict of interest.

In a motion filed on Wednesday, federal prosecutors cited reporting by Mother Jones as well as from Buzzfeed that Powell’s organization, Defending the Republic, has funded legal defenses for at least four Oath Keepers facing charges related to the January 6 attack on Congress. That includes the group’s founder Stewart Rhodes, and Florida Oath Keepers Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson, who face seditious conspiracy charges, as well as Meggs’ wife, Connie Meggs, who faces other conspiracy charges.

“Defending the Republic may have interests that diverge from these defendants,” prosecutors said in a June 16 letter to defense lawyers in the case. 

Powell’s group also agreed to pay for the defense of one member of the violent far-right group Proud Boys, Zachery Rehl, according to John Moseley, who previously served as Rehl’s lawyer. It’s not clear, however, if the organization ever made payments for Rehl’s defense, and DOJ did not mention him Wednesday. Powell and another lawyer who works with Defending the Republic did not respond to inquires from Mother Jones.

Prosecutors say in their motion that they want to ensure that lawyers receiving payments from the group are not violating local conflict of interest rules, which require that defendants are informed of any payments to their attorneys by outside parties. The rules also say lawyers must make sure such payments do not cause “interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship.”

Powell famously helped concoct and disseminate phony conspiracy theories asserting that election fraud caused Trump’s 2020 defeat. By promoting those bogus claims, she raised more than $14 million from Trump supporters. She is now using some of that money to fund January 6 defenses, according to lawyers involved in the cases, even as she herself faces scrutiny from the House committee investigating January 6, and reportedly from a federal prosecutors in Washington. She also faces potential disbarment for filing baseless lawsuits aimed at overturning Biden’s win in swing states.

I reported last month that Powell, given her involvement in January 6, may have interests at odds with those of clients whose defense she is funding.

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.

In their June 16 letter, prosecutors cited Moseley’s statement that Powell’s payments could discourage plea deals. “This fact could be against the interest of a particular defendant,” they said in a footnote.

Prosecutors also cited a 1981 Supreme Court ruling in a case where a third-party paying legal bills for criminal defendants was the “operator of the alleged criminal enterprise.” That gave the defense lawyer “an interest in the clients not testifying against the third-party payer or taking other actions contrary to the payer’s interest.” 

In their letter, prosecutors asked lawyers for defendants in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy case if they were receiving payments from Defending the Republic. Several said they were not. Rhodes’ lawyers did not respond to the DOJ. Lawyers for Kelly and Connie Meggs and for Harrelson declined to say if Powell’s group was paying their fees, but told the DOJ they were complying with conflict rules.

William Shipley, a lawyer for Oath Keeper Roberto Minuta, who is also charged with sedition, and who reports have not identified as receiving money from Defending the Republic, declined to say if the group is paying his fees, the government said. “Should Judge [Amit] Mehta wish for my client or me to explain the arrangement for funding my client’s legal defense in order to confirm that my client’s Sixth Amendment right to conflict free counsel are being afforded—or waived—we will provide him with whatever information he requests,” Shipley wrote. Shipley did not respond to inquiries from Mother Jones Wednesday.

Bradford Geyer, who represents Harrelson, told me he would only disclose an outside source of funds if the presiding judge “wants me to.” Geyer also said he took exception to the suggestion he lacks independence: “The idea anybody could influence me to do something that was contrary to the interest of my clients—there may be there is people out there that do that—but I could never do that,” he said. “I’m all they have.”

Of Course Rusty Bowers Would Vote for Trump Again

In an effort to unsettle the GOP’s apparently unflappable loyalty to Donald Trump, the January 6 committee has spotlighted a slew of Republican witnesses, many of them self-professed Trump voters, who stood up to the former president as he and his aides attempted to overturn the election.

The problem, though, is that many of those very witnesses seem unwilling to quit Trump themselves. 

Take, for example, Rusty Bowers, the speaker for the Arizona House of Representatives. In the months following the 2020 election, Bowers steadfastly refused to go along with Trump’s diktats to toss out the vote in Arizona on the basis of nonexistent evidence of fraud. During yesterday’s hearing, he was one of the committee’s marquee witnesses, grimly describing the smears and harassment he experienced after refusing to violate the constitution at Trump’s behest. 

“I do not want to be a winner by cheating,” Bowers said. “I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.” 

Nevertheless, Bowers told the Associated Press on Monday, he’d still vote for Trump in the 2024 presidential election if he were once again the GOP standard-bearer.

“If (Trump) is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again,” Bowers said. “Simply because what he did the first time, before COVID, was so good for the county. In my view it was great.”

By affirming that he’d still support Trump over Biden, Bowers joined the likes of former Attorney General Bill Barr and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom have repeatedly condemned Trump’s election lies and coup attempt—only to state that they’d still support him in a general election.

Bowers may have upheld his oath after the 2020 election. He may have agreed to testify live before the January 6 committee. But if people like him maintain their willingness to back Trump in the face of clear and convincing evidence that he poses an unprecedented threat to democracy, they’re just increasing the likelihood that the coup attempt that horrified them in 2020 will be repeated, with more success, in the near future. 

Why Red States Will Rebel Against the Gun Bill’s Most Important Measure

The 18-year-old gunman who shot and killed 21 people and wounded 17 others at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school last month was, according to his friends and family, a lonely guy who experimented with self-harm, was bullied for a speech impediment, and engaged in physical fights with his peers. He had asked his sister for help buying a gun. And he had posted vague threats on social media: “Kids,” he said on TikTok, “be scared.”

In other words, he presented the exact kind of behaviors that so-called “red flag” laws are intended to catch before a disturbed person engages in gun violence. Such measures, which provide a legal mechanism to seize weapons from people showing signs of mental duress, are at the core of the bipartisan gun control legislation advancing in the US Senate, which would provide states with funding to enact red flag laws and strengthen existing ones. The bill cleared a procedural hurdle Tuesday night with the support of 14 Republican senators; a cloture vote to limit debate on the bill should occur Thursday.

But even if it passes, federal funding for the bill’s most-discussed provision is unlikely to persuade many of the 30 states that don’t have red flag laws—most of them Republican-led—to adopt them. Some of these states have repeatedly voted down red flag legislation; at least one has formally outlawed their implementation. This means the federal gun control bill, aimed at reining in the epidemic of mass shootings, could have limited impact in a large swath of the country.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have red flag laws. They generally allow community members to report a gun owner displaying concerning conduct to the state’s judicial system, which can then issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) if a judge decides the individual is a risk to themself or others. This allows police officers to temporarily remove guns and ammunition from the gun owner, in the hopes of preventing mass shootings and suicide by firearms.

ERPOs have been effective in preventing both mass shootings and gun-involved suicides in the states that have adopted them: A 2019 case study of California found at least 21 instances in which the orders were invoked to remove guns from people who had threatened mass shootings, including from a high school student who threatened to shoot up a school assembly. Similarly, a 2018 analysis of Indiana’s ERPO law found a 7.5 percent decrease in gun-related suicides in the decade following its passage.

“If we’re not willing to take tremendous amounts of federal money, at no expense to us, in order to insure our uninsured residents, then I don’t see any daylight for financial incentives to get us to adopt a red flag law.”

A bipartisan group of 20 senators think such laws could have also been effective in preventing the shooting rampage at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, too. “That is the kind of law that could have made a difference in this case,” Maine Republican Susan Collins said on May 25.

It’s why she and nine other Republican senators joined with 10 Democratic colleagues to come up with a framework for a bipartisan gun control bill that would incentivize states to create red flag laws, provide funds to help states increase access to mental health and suicide prevention programs, ban relationship partners convicted of domestic violence from purchasing guns for five years, expand the background check process for gun buyers aged 18 to 20, and require more types of gun purveyors to officially register as sellers and to require background checks from purchasers.

If the proposed package becomes law, the red flag incentive component would be one of the most significant federal gun violence prevention measures aimed at preventing mass shootings to pass both chambers of Congress in more than 25 years. Over the last few decades, Republican lawmakers and the gun lobby have repeatedly blocked gun control legislation while simultaneously striving to loosen the nation’s gun laws: Case in point is the series of Senate votes after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, when a bill requiring states recognize other states’ concealed carry rights got more votes than a bill to expand background checks. (Both bills ultimately failed).

In a deadlocked Congress that has struggled to pass bills to keep kids fed and local governments running, the Uvalde shooting spurred momentum for this package to come together, though it falls short of many Democrats’ goals. The House, with its stronger Democratic majority, was able to pass a slate of gun control measures immediately after the Texas shooting that would have blocked semiautomatic rifle sales to people under the age of 21, created stricter gun storage regulations, and outlawed the sale of magazines holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition. That package stood no chance in the evenly divided Senate, where most bills have to garner the support of at least 60 senators because of the filibuster. An idea to create a national red flag law emerged in the hours immediately following the Uvalde shooting, but Democratic lawmakers saw both logistical challenges to that proposal and political ones.

Thus, optional funding for states to create their own red flag laws seemed like the safest bet to get anything across the finish line with Republicans wary of taking any action on guns, lest they lose their re-elections. Tellingly, several of the GOP senators in the bipartisan Uvalde-response contingent are retiring.

But while the incentive money could be used to help states that already have red flag laws, half a dozen state lawmakers and experts tell Mother Jones it is unlikely federal funding will persuade states that don’t already have red flag laws to create them.

This includes the state where tragedy prompted the bipartisan legislative framework in the first place: Texas. “I don’t believe any federal requirements or incentive would get Texas to move on this,” says Texas state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat in favor of stricter gun control.

He draws a comparison to Texas, joined by 11 other historically red states, opting not to take federal funds in order to expand Medicaid healthcare access to more poor residents: “If we’re not willing to take tremendous amounts of federal money, at no expense to us, in order to insure our uninsured residents, then I don’t see any daylight for financial incentives to get us to adopt a red flag law.”

There is a sharp political divide over red flag laws. Blue states tend to have them. Most red states don’t.

This money isn’t likely to change that map.

Oklahoma, for example, enacted an “anti–red flag law” in 2020 that prohibits the state from enacting such measures or accepting grant money to enact them.

Arizona, Missouri, and Texas have adopted “Second Amendment sanctuary” laws that, in theory, prevent the state from using its resources to comply with federal gun control laws that those states deem unconstitutional. These laws don’t stop the federal government from enforcing its own gun control laws, though a state that has successfully passed a sanctuary city law would be highly unlikely—and perhaps even legally blocked—from passing a red flag law with federal funds.

Texas, for example, passed its Second Amendment sanctuary law after a shooter killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019. “It essentially says that any state agency or state actor that attempts to enforce or aid in the enforcement of federal gun control laws will lose their state funding,” explains Bernal. “Not only are you not going to adopt the red flag laws and take the [federal] money, but you’re also essentially prohibited from doing it.”

That doesn’t mean federal funding to support statewide red flag laws would be totally ineffective.

“Regardless if [red states] would or would not be moved by money, this money will help for a number of states who have already enacted these laws to help improve implementation of those laws,” says Allison Anderman, senior counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Several lawmakers who tried to pass red flag laws in majority-Republican states say the proposed federal funding—plus the nonstop mass shootings—motivates them to keep pushing to enact red-flag laws, despite the unlikely odds. Some have learned from previous attempts.

Alaska state Rep. Geran Tarr, a Democrat, for example, introduced a red flag bill after a military veteran from Anchorage with a history of mental illness flew from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with only a checked gun as baggage and proceeded to shoot and kill five people at an airport terminal in 2017.

Tarr says she wouldn’t include a provision allowing “warrantless seizure” of firearms, which is something Indiana’s red flag law permits but the gun lobby decries as unconstitutional, if she introduced a red flag bill again. Tarr also says including a provision that criminalizes filing for an ERPO against an ex-partner purely for revenge may make the legislation more palatable to her pro-gun-rights colleagues.

“We had passed a gun-free school zone, and that was also vetoed. We passed a [bill for] waiting periods between gun purchase and delivery that was also vetoed. We passed [a bill requiring] background checks for commercial firearm sales that was vetoed.” 

Former Colorado state lawmaker Cole Wist, then a Republican, also tried to pass a red flag law bill in 2018, after a sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed by a man suffering from mental illness. His bill failed and he was voted out of office, as the gun lobby painted him as a “gun grabber.” (Colorado successfully passed a different red flag law in 2019, when Democrats controlled both chambers of the state legislature again.)

Wist doesn’t think federal incentives will move the needle in Republican-heavy states. “I never heard [costs] as a criticism as to why red flag laws are infeasible. It’s sort of the more traditional argument: that removal of guns from somebody who hasn’t committed a crime is a violation of their constitutional rights,” he says. “I’m not sure how more money really advances the ball on that discussion.”

However, Wist does think red flag laws could be marketed better by gun-control advocates, by depicting them as a tool that can keep police officers protected from disturbed gun owners. “We put law enforcement on the front line of very delicate, very difficult situations,” he says. “I think if law enforcement has a tool like a red flag law to make themselves more safe, they would be supportive of that.”

In Kentucky, state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat, has also tried to introduce red flag laws several times. While he says it would be an uphill battle to pass a red flag law in Kentucky, he argues that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s verbal support of the bipartisan gun control framework advancing in the Senate indicates progress is possible.

The state ERPO legislation that McGarvey advocates would not only provide affected gun owners with due process to argue before a judge that they are not a threat, but it would also provide people free legal representation to make their case. “This is where federal funds would be hugely helpful,” says McGarvey, who is running for Congress, “because we could use federal funds toward that right to counsel.”

New Hampshire state Rep. Debra Altschiller, a Democrat who introduced a red flag bill in 2019 that passed in both of New Hampshire’s legislature chambers but was ultimately vetoed by the state’s GOP governor, is less optimistic that lawmakers with ardent gun rights beliefs will change their mind. “We had passed a gun-free school zone, and that was also vetoed,” she says. “We passed a [bill for] waiting periods between gun purchase and delivery that was also vetoed. We passed [a bill requiring] background checks for commercial firearm sales that was vetoed.”

Her advice for individuals who want stricter gun control laws in their states is to vote out the politicians who routinely block them.

“We have more mass shootings in America than we have had days on the calendar,” Altschiller says. “If that alone—just for 2022—hasn’t inspired or motivated or moved someone’s heart and mind to recognize the danger in front of them and their constituents, then they have to be voted out.”

Beyoncé Is Bringing Back House Music—and Not a Moment Too Soon

We’re only a day into the season, and we already have the song of the summer. On Tuesday, Beyoncé dropped  “Break My Soul,” the lead single of her new album, Renaissance. In true Beyoncé fashion, it completely shook the world: By Wednesday morning, the official lyric video on YouTube had surpassed 5 million views, and “Break My Soul” appeared in Apple Music’s top five. People are loving this song. 

With Beyoncé’s heavenly vocals and a bouncy sample from the rapper Big Freedia, it’s easy to see why. But a huge part of the song’s success is due to its brilliant sampling of Robin S.’s 1993 hit “Show Me Your Love.” The song’s pulsing beat makes you wanna grind, bump, and shake that rump. And along with Drake’s house-influenced new album Honestly, Nevermind, it has sparked a newfound appreciation of house music, and its roots in queer Black culture.

Most sources trace the creation of house musican upbeat form of electronic dance music that’s basically techno with some seasoning—back to the late 1970s, to an underground Chicago dance club called the Warehouse. (That’s right: “house” as in “Warehouse.”) At that point in history, thanks to a combination of homophobia and racism, people’s love for disco music was at an all time low. In 1979, a local radio DJ named Steve Dahl, who’d crusaded against the genre for years, led Disco Demolition Night at the Chicago White Sox’s Comiskey Park, where 50,000 people, mostly white men, burned disco albums created by Black and queer artists. 

House music was born from the ashes of disco music and was created to uplift and celebrate marginalized communities. 

However, disco remained still popular in pockets of Chicago, particularly the gay nightclub scene. At clubs like the Warehouse, DJs and producers like house pioneer DJ Frankie Knuckles would often sample bits of popular disco songs and pair them with a thumping, electronic beat. In other words, house music was born from the ashes of disco music and was created to uplift and celebrate marginalized communities. 

In an All 4 documentary on the subject, musician Nile Rodgers describes house music as “just a reflection of the culture. It’s a microcosm of what is happening in the world.” 

“People started to ask for their voices to be heard,” he added. “The women’s movement. The gay movement. The Black Power Movement. All of those movements started to cross-pollinate with each other and we became comrades. And it played itself out in nightclubs.” 

The genre really skyrocketed in the late 1980s and early ’90s, with songs like “Pump Up the Jam,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” and “Percolater” taking the world by storm. Black female artists like Robin S., Crystal Waters, and CeCe Peniston combined their rich, soulful voices to those thumping beats—and the public couldn’t get enough. 

And while they haven’t been on the Top 40 charts, there are still plenty of Black musicians who’ve been creating house music ever since. Rapper, singer, and controversy creator Azealia Banks has been rapping over house beats for a little over a decade now, with her single “212” going viral back in 2011. Rolling Stone ranked it among its 100 top music videos of all time and put the song on its revised 500 greatest songs of all time list. Other artists like Black Coffee, Chip E, and DJ Lady D. have been pumping out house music for decades. 

As we party our way through a Pride Month during which LGBTQ people have increasingly come under attack by right-wing extremists and conservative legislators alike, it feels like a small blessing for two of the world’s biggest stars to pay tribute to music born of the oppression faced by the queer Black community. And the songs being absolute bops is icing on the cake. 

Ivanka Trump Wanted Dad to Pursue Every Unhinged Challenge to the Election as Possible

Ivanka Trump’s piss poor relationship with the truth—one of the most enduring storylines of the Trump era—has once again come into focus after the New York Times got a glimpse of the former first daughter, a month after the November presidential election, privately telling a film crew that her father should “continue to fight” the election results “until every legal remedy is exhausted.”

In the same interview, Ivanka was also reportedly recorded questioning the “sanctity of our elections”—a more polished version of the same unhinged, baseless claims about a stolen election that flowed through the former president’s inner circle.

The remarks, as they seem to always do, fly in the face of Ivanka’s testimony before the January 6 committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol, during which she told investigators that she had accepted Bill Barr’s assessment that no fraud had taken place during the election. They also contradict the narrative that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, knew that Dad was a loser before it became official, and eagerly absconded to Miami while Trump marinaded in increasingly desperate conspiracy theories.

Ivanka’s coup-friendly remarks are now in the hands of the committee after it subpoenaed Alex Holder, the British filmmaker who had sought to create a “legacy project” for the Trump presidency. To that end, it does seem as though Holder successfully captured one prominent theme of the Trump White House: Ivanka’s ruthless self-interest.

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