Mother Jones Magazine

“I Don’t Wanna Drop Dead Out Here”

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

It was mid-afternoon when first responders found David Spell slumped and unresponsive under a bus shelter. The temperature outside was nearing 110F (43C)—the hottest day of the year so far in Phoenix, and 50-year-old Spell was disorientated, dizzy and dehydrated.

Spell had felt hot and weary during his shift at a car auction after driving an old Buick without air conditioning, but couldn’t take a break. After finishing work he bought three cans of spiked blue razz, an 8 percent alcopop, and sat on the bus shelter bench to drink under the partial shade. He remembers eating some canned mackerel and opening the third alcopop, and then nothing until being roused by the EMTs. He had passed out with heat exhaustion.

Spell, who describes himself as a functioning alcoholic, was taken to an air conditioned emergency homeless shelter to cool down. By nightfall, he was still lightheaded but cycled back to his usual resting spot—a quiet sheltered church doorway with cool air seeping out through the Perspex mailbox and an electric socket to charge his phone.

It was an uncomfortable night, with the temperature only dropping to 84F (29C), and no breeze or running water to cool down.

“It’s getting so hot, if I don’t keep cool and hydrated I will die out here,” said Spell, a self-taught mechanic and keen gamer originally from Buffalo, New York, who gets around on a trailer bike to transport spare parts, a mini ice chest and a plastic white pail that doubles as a seat and emergency toilet.

In this sweltering heat, keeping cool is the hardest thing for Spell and the rapidly rising unsheltered population in Phoenix—one of America’s fastest growing cities which has an extreme heat and affordable housing problem.

Since 2016, heat deaths have more than doubled in Maricopa county, which includes Phoenix, with unsheltered homeless people accounting for 40 percent of the death toll.

“We’re on the frontline of climate change and the housing crisis, but people aren’t connecting the dots,” said Patricia Soils from Arizona State University. “Exposure to extreme heat is a housing issue, and we’re the canary in the coal mine.”

Clients get sustenance and refuge from the extreme heat at the Justa Center in Phoenix.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Phoenix is accustomed to a hot desert climate, but the heat season has expanded and the number of perilously hot days and nights is rising due to global heating and unchecked urban development which has converted Arizona’s capital into a sprawling concrete heat island.

America’s fifth biggest city is the deadliest for heat fatalities with more than 650 heat deaths over the last two years.

According to the county’s annual count, 9,026 people were homeless on 24 January—3,997 sheltered in hostels or hotels and 5,029 on the streets, which is triple the number of unsheltered people compared to 2016. Heat related deaths are preventable, but being outside without adequate shade and water increases the risk of medical complications and deadly heat exposure.

As the extreme heat season gets underway, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many people are currently homeless but the crisis has visibly gotten worse over recent months as rents and eviction rates have soared.

At 4 a.m. one day last week, the Guardian accompanied an outreach team to the downtown zone where many of the city’s shelters and homeless services are concentrated, for their weekly count. Drugs like fentanyl and meth are common, so are gunshots.

It was a relatively cool 86F at 4 a.m. after a week of record-breaking highs, though likely much warmer on the ground where people slept.

An elderly white man with a bushy white beard and a history of mental illness screamed at the outreach staff, accusing them of stealing his money. A middle-aged Black lady with unkempt hair and three shopping bags containing clothes asked for help getting home to Dallas, Texas. “I’m tired of this place, it’s too hot,” she said.

This stretch of unshaded concrete and asphalt, known simply as the zone, is crammed with a hotchpotch of battered tents and makeshift shelters constructed with shopping carts, tarpaulin, crates, wooden pallets and old clothes. The encampment has doubled in size since the Guardian’s visit in February. A few burnt out tents have been abandoned.

It was relatively cool at 4 a.m. (86F) after a week of record-breaking highs, though undoubtedly much warmer on the ground where 96 people lay in rows without any shelter at all.

During the day, the sun is punishing and the heat radiating off the asphalt scorches the skin. There’s a handful of porta-potties and taps, but only one cold water spigot. City workers, NGOs and concerned residents hand out cold drinks and cooling blankets on very hot days when the temperature on the asphalt can hit 160F.

Last week’s count was 806, compared to 320 in July 2021 and 476 in December 2021. This is despite two government-funded shelters sleeping 300 people opening in the past month.

The weekly snapshot of the zone provides a glimpse into a much bigger crisis. There are men and women sleeping rough all over the city—in parks, near the rail tracks, on sidewalks, behind dumpsters, in parking lots and along the canals. None are included in the weekly count, nor are the people sleeping in cars or on sofas whom advocates believe are often self-evictors—people who left unaffordable apartments voluntarily after the Covid eviction moratorium and federal rental assistance ended.

Evictions are back to pre-pandemic levels with 4,000 to 5,000 a month so far this year as the affordable housing stock continues to shrink and the city’s 11 percent inflation rate is the highest in the country—in large because of house prices.

Only 12 percent of properties in the county had monthly rents under $1,000, vs 68 percent five years earlier.

“We were already at crisis levels, now it feels like we’re on fire,” said Marisol Saldivar, a spokesperson for the housing nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul. “This is a transplant town, but it doesn’t work out for everyone who comes looking for opportunities.”

Maricopa is the country’s fastest growing county with 5,000 people (mostly internal migrants) arriving on average each month. In just one week on the streets of Phoenix, the Guardian met unsheltered people from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Michigan, Idaho, California, Oregon, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Nevada, and the Navajo Nation.

For years, advocates have warned about a looming housing crisis but there’s been little joined up action and affordable housing is now almost impossible to find. The cost of an average home in Phoenix has almost doubled in the past six years

In 2021, only 6 percent of the housing stock in Maricopa county was valued under $200,000 compared to 38 percent five years earlier. The Phoenix housing market is overpriced by 56 percent, according to researchers at Florida Atlantic university, as the US housing market goes through another historic boom.

For renters, the situation is even more dire: In 2021, only 12 percent of properties had monthly rents under $1,000 compared to 68 percent five years earlier.

On the hottest day so far this year (114F), 69-year-old Clayton Hatfield watched a documentary on the second world war while recharging his fan at the Justa Center—an air conditioned space for older homeless people in the zone.

Hatfield has been living in a tent since arriving from Idaho six months ago for a job at a cousin’s glass company that didn’t pan out. His social security isn’t enough to cover rent; his ribs protrude through his scrawny frame and his health is failing. “Bad breaks and poor decisions, that’s why I’ve ended up here,” said Hatfield, who has asthma, COPD, and arthritis in both knees, and needs surgery on his left foot.

One in four of the city’s unsheltered population are over the age of 55, according to annual point-in-time count. In this heat, some seniors ride the bus all day to keep cool.

Nationwide, seniors are the fastest growing group in the homeless population, with many finding themselves on streets for the first time due to unaffordable rents, medical debts, job insecurity and family rifts. According to a 2019 study, the elderly homeless population could triple by 2030. “It’s a shock at my age, I’ve never experienced heat like this,” said Hatfield, who can just about manage walking to the convenience store for ice once a day.

Some seniors will ride the bus all day to stay cool: “It’s a shock at my age, I’ve never experienced heat like this.”

It’s hard for anyone to acclimatize to this heat, but for seniors on the streets it’s especially risky. “Too many people are aging into poverty, it makes me sick to my stomach,” said Wendy Johnson, director of the Justa Center.

Spell, who’s been sleeping in the church doorway on and off for 17 years, worries that he’s getting too old for the streets.

Every day is hard, but the summer is especially grueling. The Guardian shadowed Spell during the season’s first extreme heatwave, and saw firsthand how hard it is for unhoused people to survive.

Spell’s first stop is always his storage unit to pick up what he needs for the day, which takes more than an hour cycling over uneven roads and railway tracks. The morning after he passed out, it was 107F by the time he arrived. He was exhausted, and pretended to search for a lost item so that he could cool down for an hour without being asked to leave.

On days off, his go-to spot is then the midtown public library next to Hance Park, where cool air escapes through the floor to ceiling windows. The deep window ledge is partially shaded by sloping concrete slabs and a line of young oak trees. Police often patrol the park, so he never stays for too long.

In the afternoon, he goes to an air conditioned Taco Bell to recharge his phone and sip cold fountain sodas for as long as the staff let him. It’s a constant battle between keeping cool and staying out of trouble.

Spell is burnt out and recently applied for social housing. He qualifies, but waiting lists are long as the pool of landlords accepting people with housing vouchers has shrunk as there’s far more money to be made in the private sector. “I’m tired of the streets,” he said. “My body’s too old for this. I don’t want to drop dead out here.”

State Republicans Resisted Trump’s Subversion in 2020. We Got Lucky.

Donald Trump badgered and bullied Republican state officials, threatened them, lied to them, and lied to others about them. He had his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, blow up their phones trying to coerce those officials into nullifying Joe Biden’s wins in their states. When they refused, he demonized them and sic’ed his supporters on them, which led to death threats, protests at people’s homes, instances of physical intimidation and vile verbal and written attacks on them and their families. That’s according to witness testimony and other evidence presented on Tuesday by the Select Committee investigating attempts by Trump and his cronies to subvert a legitimate election. 

To their credit, none of those officials—Arizona’s House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his deputy, Gabriel Sterling, and other officials from closely contested states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada—ceded to the president’s demands.

“You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath,” Bowers said he told Trump, during one portion of the day’s gripping testimony.

Arizona Speaker of the House Russell Bowers (R) on phone call with President Trump: "You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath." pic.twitter.com/2gp3dsF911

— CSPAN (@cspan) June 21, 2022

“Our institutions held,” said committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), crediting the witnesses. But as several lawmakers pointed out, we might not get so lucky next time.

Tuesday’s hearing focused on a scheme by Trump and his advisers, most notably Giuliani, Meadows, and John Eastman, the lawyer who helped concoct the plan to push false, debunked claims of election fraud at the state level. They would assert that Biden had lost in key states where the results were close, or initially seemed close. (Biden won Michigan by 155,000 votes.) This plan may have been formulated even before the election. In a deposition clip the committee showed on Tuesday, Cleta Mitchell, one of the lawyers advising Trump after the election, said she learned of the plot “right after” or maybe “before the election.” 

As vote counts showed Biden ahead in key states, Trump and his advisers first pushed state Republicans not to certify Biden as the winner. When that failed, they urged the same leaders and officials to flex their power and send to Congress slates of alternative electors who would claim Trump won their states.

When the officials rejected that too, Trump and his underlings encouraged far-right supporters to simply show up and declare themselves as alternative electors. (Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel admitted in a deposition video that the RNC had “helped” with outreach for this scheme.) The idea was that these fake electors would give Vice President Mike Pence cover to refuse to certify Biden’s win, thus giving states another chance to send pro-Trump electors and throwing the election to the House—or the Supreme Court. Anything to retain power.

In one piece of fresh news, the committee revealed texts showing that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had sought to personally deliver fake elector slates from Michigan and Wisconsin to Pence on January 6, in an apparent effort to lend them authenticity. (An aide to Pence nixed the suggestion.) A Johnson spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that the senator had sought to take such a step, but insisted that Johnson “had no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors.”

It was Trump’s criticism of Pence for failing to play along with his illegal scheme that sparked the deadly Capitol assault.

Trump pursued this strategy despite being repeatedly told that it was illegal. And Giuliani, Eastman, and Meadows helped him, despite privately admitting that it was against the law, according to last week’s committee testimony. When Pence refused to play along, Trump urged his backers to gather in Washington on January 6 to pressure the VP. Indeed, it was Trump’s criticism of Pence for failing to comply with his wishes that sparked the deadly Capitol assault, which for hours Trump refused to try to stop.

On Tuesday, Bowers, Raffensperger, and Sterling testified about the pressure they faced as Giuliani, Meadows, Eastman, and Trump himself worked to sway them. Meadows, Raffensberger confirmed, called his office 18 times to get him to take the now-infamous January 2 phone call in which Trump, for more than an hour, badgered Raffensperger to deliver Georgia to him: “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said. 

Bowers described multiple calls in which Trump and Giuliani promised to produce evidence that voter fraud had allowed Biden to win Arizona. But they never did. In a meeting with Arizona lawmakers, Bowers testified, Giuliani conceded, “We’ve got lots of theories. We just don’t have the evidence.”

Bowers said he repeatedly turned Trump down, since what the president was asking violated his oath to uphold the constitutions of Arizona and the United States. “It is a tenant of my faith the Constitution is divinely inspired,” he said.

Because he didn’t do what Trump wanted, Bowers said, he got thousands of calls and texts. Right-wing protesters showed up at his home, where he lives with his wife and daughter, who Bowers, choking up, described as “gravely ill.” Trump’s backers had “video panel trucks with video of me, proclaiming me to be a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician,” Bowers said. An armed extremist also threatened one of neighbors, he said. 

Raffensperger testified that his email and phone numbers were made public, and he got texts from all over the country. His wife was targeted with “sexualized attacks,” and someone broke into the home of his late son’s widow, he said.

The committee also heard from Shaye Moss, a Fulton County, Georgia, elections worker, who was personally targeted by both Trump and Giuliani. According to their false—and racist—claims, Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, had orchestrated a scheme to steal votes for Biden. Giuliani claimed an election night video showed Freeman, Moss, and another election worker “surreptitiously passing around USB ports” like “vials of heroin or cocaine.” In reality, Freeman had handed her “a ginger mint,” Moss testified.

Here's the clip. “Passing around USB ports like they were vials of heroin or cocaine.” pic.twitter.com/9xN6aexjlJ

— Brendan Keefe (@BrendanKeefe) December 10, 2020

As a result of Trump and Giuliani’s public attacks, Moss said, she, her mother, and even her grandmother faced death threats and racist attacks. “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920,” she said, summarizing one message—a not-so-subtle reference to lynching. 

Trump encouraged the threats. He attacked Freeman by name during his call with Raffensperger. On December 15, he also retweeted a post in which Lin Wood, a prominent far-right lawyer, said Raffensperger and Georgia governor Brian Kemp would “soon be going to jail.” (Weeks earlier Steve Bannon had arranged for Wood’s nonprofit to receive $100,000 for fugitive Chinese mogul, Guo Wengui, to support Trump’s efforts to steal the election, Mother Jones has reported.)

Kemp and Raffensperger refused to embrace Trump’s election-fraud lies. But they later appeased his fans by backing a bill aggressively restricting voting rights in Georgia. That’s part of a trend. Around the country, GOP lawmakers are not only making it harder to vote, they are stripping power from independent local election authorities and giving legislators more power to control whom state electors support.

Meanwhile, most Republican lawmakers, unlike the officials who testified Tuesday, have been cowed by Trump into embracing or at least tolerating his lies. The Washington Post reported last week that more than 1,000 GOP candidates around the country have questioned Biden’s victory, backed efforts to challenge it, or downplayed the significance of January 6. 

Others, like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are working to undermine the committee and change the subject. McCarthy has indicated he will eliminate the panel if the Republicans take over the House this fall.

Trump is still actively trying to demonize and ruin officials who dared to defy him. On Tuesday, he issued a statement calling Arizona Speaker Bowers a “RINO” and claiming Bowers had agreed with his election-fraud claims in 2020. This was a lie, Bowers insisted. And though Trump failed badly in his efforts to oust Kemp and Raffensperger in this month’s elections, he may fare better against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the committee’s outspoken vice chair. Cheney trails in polls to a primary challenger. Because she challenged Trump’s lies, she looks likely to lose her seat.

The groundwork Trump and his minions have laid in various states since 2020 raises the likelihood that the next coup attempt, by him or someone else, could succeed. “The system held, but barely,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday. “And the questions remains, will it hold again?”

The “Animal Spirits of Capitalism” Are Devouring Us

The first tip didn’t sound like that much of a story—they often don’t. “There’s something going on at my friend Alfonso’s building,” an acquaintance told Mother Jones reporter Hannah Levintova about a year ago. “It’s something to do with private equity. You should talk to him.” Hannah was finishing up an MBA program at the time because she wanted to understand the darker corners of the financial industry. As she dug into the saga of 70 Prospect Park West, she found one of those corners.

“This isn’t just a story about housing,” she realized. “It’s about turning social goods, needs, and pleasures into a vehicle for maximizing value for wealthy investors. We should write something big about it.”

That was the start of one of the most sweeping reporting packages Mother Jones has done in some time, a newsroom-wide effort nearly six months in the making, culminating with more than a dozen stories, videos, data visualizations, and a full issue of our print magazine. All to explore what has become one of the most powerful—but mostly hidden—forces in the global economy: private equity.

You can read the entire package here, and I’ll let Hannah take you on a guided tour of the reporting itself. But putting it together also gave us a window into the relationship between journalism and capitalism, and that’s something I wanted to dig into a little. Full disclosure: We also need to close a considerable $225,000 gap in our online fundraising budget by June 30, so I’ll be asking for donations as I go—because Mother Jones is one thing private equity will never own any piece of.  

It’s called “private” equity for a reason

Unless you closely read the finance pages, private equity is mostly hidden from view, but its effect on our lives can be more dramatic than what Congress does. Nearly 1 in 14 Americans now works for a company controlled by private equity. PE investors might own the building where you live, the daycare your toddler attends, the nursing home that cares for your mother, the pet store where you pick up kibble. And they are squeezing the lifeblood out of all of them. As Hannah reports,

“In the last decade, private equity has taken control of more than 80 retailers, leading to the loss of 1.3 million jobs. Private equity incursions into real estate have left no form of housing unscathed, driving up the costs of both owning and renting… They’ve bought up for-profit colleges, driving down graduation rates while increasing student debt. They’ve sought gains in the obscure crevices of our existence, from contact lenses to port-a-potties to ketchup. And they’ve enveloped the health care sector, including hospitals, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, veterinarians, hospice care, and nursing homes, often leading to increased medical costs for patients and a drop in the quality of care. A 2021 study found that private equity ownership of nursing homes increased their Medicare billing and upped the mortality of patients by 10 percent—about 20,000 lives across the 12-year period they studied.”

The Bushmaster rifle that a 20-year-old used to murder 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary? Brought to you by private equity. Countless familiar names in publishing (Field & Stream, Popular Science, Yahoo News, all owned by private equity; Vox Media, New York magazine, BuzzFeed, HuffPost, all financed in part by venture capital, its close cousin. Lots of local TV stations, the nation’s biggest radio and podcasting company, and (until recently) America’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett? Private equity. Fertility clinics? The Democratic Party’s voter database? Billions propping up oil and gas companies? You guessed it.

They buy up politicians too: A Reagan-era tax loophole for their profits costs taxpayers as much as $18 billion each year. Democrats have promised to eliminate it for decades. Why has it not happened? As MoJo’s Tim Murphy reports,

“Large private equity firms and hedge funds have filled Democrats’ coffers for years and served as a comfy landing pad for ex-politicos. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner—who once urged Congress to tax private equity ‘the same way we tax the income of teachers and firefighters’—left the Obama administration for a job in PE. Bill Clinton’s first post–White House job was with a PE firm run by a billionaire donor. In 2014, Joe Biden spent Thanksgiving at a 13-acre Nantucket estate belonging to the co-chair of the Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein.”

(Most recently, it was Senator Kyrsten Sinema who killed her Democratic colleagues’ attempt to reform carried interest.)

Republicans, for their part, picked a private equity billionaire as their presidential candidate in 2012; in 2016, Trump bashed private equity moguls for “paying nothing” in taxes (he would know) and then stuffed his administration with them. (Both Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his Treasury Secretary, Stephen Mnuchin, have since launched their very own private equity firms, both funded with billions from the Saudi government.)

Shorter version: Private equity spends a few million dollars on lobbying, keeps its mega-loophole, rinse and repeat. So the next time you see headlines about how the government can’t pay for an ambitious climate program, or fighting COVID, or universal preschool, think of that special tax dodge for private equity executives, whose average earnings run around $1.3 million a year. (And the next time you curse at inflation, save a bit of outrage for “pricing transformation,” which is finance-ese for charging more for something while making the product worse—a key tool for the kinds of investors who look to “extract value” from the companies they buy before discarding them.)  

Journalism for fun and profit

“How do we extract the most value from the patient we’re killing?” That seemed to be the key issue for the private-equity backed investment firm that bought the paper where Evan Brandt worked as a reporter. “We were working harder and harder for people who didn’t care who you were, didn’t care what you were doing, didn’t care what you were trying to do for the community,” Brandt told my colleague Noah Lanard. “They were only interested in the number next to your name: your salary.”

The Pottstown (Pennsylvania) Mercury wasn’t the only paper Brandt’s new bosses at Alden Global Capital were squeezing. Back in 2018, Julie Reynolds, a tenacious local reporter in California, revealed that Alden had extracted at least $241 million in profits from Digital First Media, another newspaper chain it bought up. During this time, the company’s then 38-year-old president, Heath Freeman, bought a $4.8-million mansion in East Hampton and proceeded to expand it by a third, because you can’t really spread out in just five bedrooms and five bathrooms.

When Brandt made his way to Freeman’s front door to ask a question (“What value does local news have?” is the one he chose), the boss walked away, Dave Matthews blasting in the background, before Brandt could get a word out. But the one time Freeman gave a newspaper interview, he claimed that Alden’s goal was to be “remembered as the team that saved newspapers” by putting them “on a path to sustainability.”

Snort.

Let’s take Freeman at his word for a minute, though, because Alden only takes to the extreme an idea that has been pretty pervasive in the news business—so much so that even people who should know better take it for granted: That if news doesn’t maximize profit for investors, it doesn’t deserve to exist.

“Capitalism and journalism are just always going to have competing interests. The need to make money and to please investors—it just comes directly into conflict with what journalists do.”

Follow me for a moment to a recent conference put on by one of the most important journalism funders in America, the Knight Foundation. We’ll tune in at the point where Alberto Ibargüen, its president, is interviewing Jim VandeHei, co-founder of the news sites Politico and Axios. Right out of the gate, VandeHei announces that “I happen to really believe in the animal spirits of capitalism.”

What kind of animal, you might wonder: A vulture like Alden? A predator, like Sinclair Broadcasting, which bought up local television stations and forced anchors to mouth scripted right-wing propaganda? A bottom feeder like the content farms whose gross photos and headlines try to lure you in on nearly every news site? A parasite like the dark money-funded propaganda shops that sling fake headlines all over Facebook?

VandeHei didn’t specify his zoological reference before Ibargüen launched into his next question: What makes his company different from the nonprofit newsrooms springing up in many communities?

“A not-for-profit works beautifully as long as you have a constant flow of money, when you don’t have a profit that can sustain it,” VandeHei said. “But what happens when that money goes away?”

Huh? I’m used to shade from for-profit publishers—MoJo would have a fat endowment if I had a nickel for every time someone equated “nonprofit” with “amateur.” And like everyone trying to sustain an organization, I’m used to worrying about what happens if the money goes away. Like right now, when we’re hoping for $225,000 in support from readers to come in this month so we can stay the course doing the fearless journalism you rely on.  

But VandeHei was talking about… something else, though it was hard for me to figure out what exactly. A “profit that can sustain it”? Isn’t a profit what’s left over after you “sustain it”—what you can pay your investors or shareholders, once you’ve paid the bills? The key to a nonprofit enterprise like Mother Jones is that we can put all the revenue into “sustaining it”—the journalism, that is. At a company like Axios, the investors also want to get paid.  

“In a clear-eyed business, in a for-profit atmosphere,” VandeHei went on, “I have to make a thing that lasts forever. I have to make every single piece of it both excellent and scaleable. I happen to be of the belief that to get the animal spirits of capitalism unleashed…”

Animal spirits! Drink!

Some factchecking

VandeHei is a smart businessman who deserves a ton of credit for building two successful media companies. (Whether they are “things that last forever” we don’t know yet: Politico is 15 years old, Axios 5, compared to 46-year-old Mother Jones.) That’s why he deserves a bit of factchecking.

Fact # 1 almost goes without saying: There’s zero evidence that profit guarantees excellence. When was the last time you looked at your bank or your insurance company and thought “thank you, animal spirits of capitalism, for making every piece of this excellent”?

Fact # 2: Every business, obviously, needs a “constant stream of money”: That’s called revenue, whether it comes from donations, magazine subscriptions, or selling T-shirts, and us nonprofits have to fight for it just like everyone else. We compete for audience, attention, and support, and we hustle like hell. No “constant stream of money” that magically flows in.

Fact #3: Unlike a for-profit startup, a nonprofit generally doesn’t have the option of raising round after round of capital from big-money investors on the promise of turning a profit one day. (And unlike a private for-profit, we have to be accountable by disclosing a thorough set of financials. You can find them here.) We have to balance our budget, year after year, and we can only do it because so many of you invest in our work with a donation.

So here’s the simple answer to Ibargüen’s question: The difference between a for-profit newsroom and a nonprofit one is that a nonprofit has to bring in exactly enough money to do the work. A for-profit has to bring in money to do the work, and generate profit. And when there are choices to be made between journalism and profit, profit often wins.

I doubt the animal spirits of capitalism would have said, “Yeah, Hannah, we should write something big about this.”

Which is exactly what we’ve seen play out over and over with the high-flying media startups of the past decade or two. “There was seltzer on tap, an endless enthusiasm for trying new things, and a sense of delight that we were—as many disgruntled commenters noted over the years—getting paid to do this,” BuzzFeed alum Rachel Sanders recalled in The Nation after BuzzFeed announced a round of layoffs this spring. “For a few years, there was a weightless feeling to all of it, as if we could do or be anything, as if we had figured out how to speak a language that no one else in the media business understood.”

That sense—that BuzzFeed (or HuffPost, or Mic, or Vice) had figured out something that no one else could—was prevalent everywhere. Look, I remember being told, how fast they’re growing, how many people they’re hiring, the salaries they’re paying! Why can they make money producing news and you can’t? If some of these investors claiming to know how news can make a profit had chosen to support nonprofit journalism instead, I wouldn’t be on pins and needles about that $225,000 we need in donations this month.

The truth was that no one makes money producing the journalism that a democracy needs to function—and no one ever has. That’s all there is to it.

Every time an American newsroom does quality public service reporting, it is subsidized by something. In the old days the sports and lifestyle sections in your newspaper paid for the it; at BuzzFeed the fun, viral content and the Walmart partnership subsidized the investigative and in-depth work. But as soon as the market gets a little harder edged, the purse string-holders’ first question is: Who needs a newsroom anyway? Don’t get me started on the depressing tale of CNN+, the news subscription service killed off by new CNN owner Discovery Media/Warner Bros. after a $300 million investment and just 32 days online. “Those who like to assail corporate owners that don’t have the backs of their journalists just got a fresh and compelling case in point,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple.

The only surprise, really, is that the animal spirits of capitalism are so gullible.

At MoJo, you won’t find a paywall keeping you from our reporting, because we believe—and more importantly, you believe—that everyone should have access to the facts.

Over and over again, investor money flows to the same handful of ideas to “save journalism”—millennial audiences! Pivot to video! True-crime podcasts! Substack! The latest flavor is “posh news for posh people,” as one British executive called it. Politico and Axios have their “Pro” versions that cost thousands to access (easy for a lobbyist to expense, less so for us mortals), and a whole string of pluckily named startups (Punchbowl, Grid, Airmail, Protocol, Puck) are similarly taking aim at elite news junkies. Most recently “the Smiths”— former BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, and former Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith—have gotten buzz for their breakthrough idea of news for the “200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience.”

“No one,” except for literally everyone. 

On the one hand, of course, this makes sense: News costs money, so you ask people to pay for it, and whom better to ask than those who have the money? According to a 2019 study,  more than three-quarters of American newspapers had thrown up a paywall by then, up from 60 percent in 2017, with digital news sites close behind—and that number has only kept rising.  

What happens when so much news is only for those who can pay—ideally, pay a lot—while propaganda is plentiful and free? You can bet Fox News, Newsmax, and Breitbart are not putting up paywalls.

There’s another way

At MoJo, you won’t find a paywall keeping you from our reporting, because we believe—and more importantly, you believe—that everyone should have access to the facts and context behind the day’s headlines and the big investigations that are too often overlooked by other outlets. So we hope that instead of locking you out, we can bring you in. Animal spirits of capitalism? I’d rather bet (with all respect for our fellow animals) on the human spirit.

Investigating the “great unelected power wielders of our time,” as one of MoJo’s cofounders, Adam Hochschild, put it a long time ago, is not easy. There’s a reason why business sections often don’t cover corporate corruption until it’s too late. (“How Could 9,000 Business Reporters Blow It?” was the title of the Mother Jones investigation that looked at how the press performed before the 2008 crash.) Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is still celebrated as a business genius basically for cutting jobs, manipulating financial tools, and cheering on his pal Donald Trump. So is Elon Musk, who has the gall to rail against government after building much of his wealth on tax subsidies, and then—in perfect Jack Welch style—cuts 10 percent of his salaried workforce because he has a “super bad feeling.” (I’ll save my thoughts on Musk’s cat-and-mouse game with Twitter, and his “free speech for me but not for thee” hypocrisy, for another day.)

Investigating companies like GE and CEOs like Musk will often get you get slammed as an “extremist” or a lobbyist, threatened with lawsuits, or swarmed by online mobs (more so if you’re a woman or a journalist of color). It also takes a lot of work: The private equity project we just completed involved some 20 reporters and editors, half a dozen fact-checkers, two video producers, not to mention the art, web, and social media experts who made the reporting sing in our print magazine, and on platforms from Instagram and TikTok to Twitter and YouTube. Ian Gordon, another one of our brilliant editors, describes all that went into it in an epic thread here. I doubt the animal spirits of capitalism would have said, “Yeah, Hannah, we should write something big about this.”

The cost to make all that happen runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you can see the fruits of that investment (and why I hope you’ll support our team’s reporting if you can right now) in Clara’s 29-message Twitter thread, which highlights each of the stories we published. As she writes, “We knew PE was a behemoth, but it wasn’t until we were deep into it that we really understood just how much it was warping…everything.” And if you like your news in moving images, check out our video team’s incredibly on point, hilarious-yet-dystopian, overview: 

I’m always a little reluctant to toot our own horn, but we so often hear from folks who want to know what goes into the work we do, and what impact it can have. And I’m just so damn proud of what Clara, Hannah, and the whole team have produced here, and how they took the risk of tackling a big, unsexy, not-in-the-headlines, but critical topic.

The morning we published the project, Hannah shared that she was nervous if anyone would care. But then the responses flooded in. “Mother Jones has been right, and way ahead of the curve, about a lot of stuff exactly like this so imma listen,” one reader tweeted—the highest compliment. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tweeted the part of the package that focuses on how private equity lets Putin’s cronies hide their wealth and warned that “Wall Street needs to step up and consider national security.” Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett called it “really amazing reporting,” that “we should all be talking more about” and hosted Hannah on his Lovett or Leave It podcast. David Cay Johnston, who has covered corporate welfare for the New York Times and others for decades, had this to say: 

Stunning @MotherJones expose.

Package shows how private equity is making investors huge profits by ravaging successful businesses, selling enterprises off for parts, leaving wreckage – debt, lost jobs and tax losses. https://t.co/6to5e1mOCg

— David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) May 10, 2022

This is the kind of investment that newsrooms across the country used to make regularly—in-depth reporting that shines a light on who’s pulling levers behind the scenes. Fewer and fewer can do it, because owners are too busy squeezing them for quarterly profits. Mother Jones can, because donations from readers like you fund our work.

“It feels to me like there are no good options in terms of funding journalism,” former BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray said after the company announced layoffs this spring. “Because on some level, capitalism and journalism are just always going to have competing interests, always going to be at loggerheads. The need to make money, as a for-profit company, and to please investors and so on and so forth—it just comes directly into conflict with what journalists do.” 

Gray is right—except that there is a better option. You are part of it.

A Republican Stood Up to Trump. So Right-Wingers Smeared Him as a “Pedophile.”

If you didn’t know any better, you could be forgiven for assuming that the far right was waging a campaign to get Merriam-Webster to add “my political enemies” to its list of definitions of “pedophile.”

For years, “pedophile” (often shortened to “pedo”) was used as semi-ironic 4chan shorthand for anyone internet trolls thought was a weirdo. More recently, QAnon’s misplaced “save the children” paranoia has helped this sentiment germinate among the non-4chan normie masses. For a bit, the pedophile accusations were reserved for elite, liberal gatekeepers—the high-profile Democrats featured in John Podesta’s hacked emails, for example. But now, literally anyone who stands even slightly in the way of the right’s agenda might be called a pedophile. 

Testifying Tuesday before the January 6 committee, Rusty Bowers—the Republican speaker of the Arizona statehouse—somberly explained how this happened to him after he refused to help Donald Trump overturn Joe Biden’s victory in that state. In response, right-wing protesters began showing up at his home, where he lives with his wife and daughter. 

“It is the new pattern…in our lives to worry what will happen on Saturdays because we have various groups come by,” Bowers said. “They had video panel trucks with video of me, proclaiming me to be a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician.”

These kinds of often-unfounded accusations have become increasingly common weapons wielded by conspiratorial right-wingers who believe the election was stolen from Trump. But they also fit into a long-standing framework of weaponizing children as a part of far-right political projects. 

In 2019, while QAnon was gaining steam but had not yet gone fully mainstream, I wrote about the history of political movements baselessly portraying children as being in grave danger, as in the moral and Satanic panics of the 1980s:

Pedophile conspiracies act as a sort of propaganda of the counterrevolution, a fun-house reflection of the real threats to the social order. This is what connects QAnon and Pizzagate to [the] McMartin [preschool scandal] to the witch hunts of the Middle Ages to the dawn of major religions. The demons may take different forms, but the conspiracy is basically the same: Our house is under attack.

More recently, I interviewed Paul Renfro, an assistant professor of history at Florida State University and author of Stranger Danger: Family Values, Childhood, and the American Carceral State, during Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) attempts to smear Biden’s Supreme Court Justice nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, as a pedophile sympathizer. Renfro explained the function and potency of pedo accusations in the history of American politics:

Notions of white innocence and victimhood—which oftentimes but not always concentrate on the idealized child and family—are incredibly potent…Those ideas helped propel the (bipartisan) war on drugs and mass incarceration, the Second Red Scare, the opposition to busing and school desegregation, the global war on terror, and beyond. Moral/sex panics concerning children flow from these powerful ideas and help shape rhetoric and policy on a whole range of issues in US political culture.

QAnon, and the 80s moral panics that preceded it, established a more elaborate and convoluted mythos. Children were being kept in tunnels for a sprawling child sex trafficking ring run by elite pedophiles, and the proof was sitting in plain sight for anyone willing to do the research. This has become so normalized that people attacking Bowers might not even waste their time concocting fabulous stories. They just cut straight to the chase and call him a pedophile. They don’t explain any further, because they don’t need to. 

“There Is Nowhere I Feel Safe”

The January 6 committee heard live testimony today from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a Georgia election worker who became the target of a vicious harassment campaign fanned by Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and right-wing media outlets in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential campaign. 

“It’s turned my life upside down,” Moss said. “I no longer give out my business card. I don’t transfer calls. I don’t want anyone knowing my name…I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I’ve gained about 60 pounds…I second-guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a major way, in every way. All because of lies, for me doing my job, the same thing I’ve been doing forever.”

In December 2020, Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani began to elevate a misleadingly cropped video of Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, claiming that they were pulling “suitcases” of “illegal” ballots from under a table at a Georgia vote-counting center. Giuliani referenced the video in press conferences and on social media, tweeting that it proved “beyond doubt” that Fulton County Democrats had stolen the election.

At one point, Giuliani claimed that Freeman, Moss, and another election worker had been “surreptitiously passing around USB ports” like “vials of heroin or cocaine.” According to Moss, she and her mother were really exchanging a ginger mint. 

Even after subsequent investigations revealed that the “suitcases” were actually just standard ballot containers, both women—who are Black—were subjected to death threats, racist taunts, and doxxing. According to Moss, people attempted to force their way into her grandmother’s house to make a “citizen’s arrest.” Around the week of January 6, 2021, Freeman fled her home of 21 years after the FBI warned her that she was in danger.

I described that harassment in an article last year, citing reporting by Reuters and a complaint Freeman and Moss’s lawyers filed as part of a lawsuit against the Gateway Pundit, a right-wing blog:

According to a Reuters investigation that detailed the harassment, Freeman’s home address was posted on social media platforms, and Trump supporters publicly called for her execution. Strangers camped outside Freeman’s home and ordered pizza for delivery to lure her outside. Photos of Moss’ car and license plate were posted online… One particularly graphic comment underneath a Gateway Pundit article called for the two Black women to be “strung up from the nearest lamppost and set on fire.”

The committee also played video testimony from Freeman, who described the horrific consequences of being targeted by the most powerful elected official in the country. 

“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” Freeman stated. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not target one. But he targeted me—lady Ruby, a small business owner…who stood up to help Fulton County run an election during the middle of a pandemic.”

Uvalde Police Response Was an “Abject Failure,” Texas Public Safety Director Says

One month after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, damning new details about the police response continue to emerge. Based on reporting from the Texas Tribune and testimony from Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw in a hearing before the state Senate, we now know that police armed with rifles were at the scene just three minutes after the shooter entered the building. Police never attempted to open the door to the classroom where the shooter had been “barricaded”—at least until the final moments before killing him, more than an hour after officers first arrived on the scene. In fact, it’s yet to be settled whether the door was even locked.

As details continue to be contested and new information emerges, it’s clear that a tragic confluence of factors—from faulty door locks to a disjointed police response—allowed the shooter’s rampage to continue for 77 minutes. Here’s a list of some of the things that went wrong, based on what we know so far.

  • An apparently faulty lock on a school door allowed the shooter to enter the building with ease. While it was previously reported that a teacher had propped the door open, officials have since explained that the teacher shut the door when she saw the gunman approaching the school. As McCraw pointed out during his testimony today, even if the door had been locked, the shooter would have been able to enter the school by shooting through an adjacent glass panel, reaching inside, and pulling the door open.
  • The classroom apparently could only be locked from the outside, and there is no indication that the door was ever locked. The Texas Tribune reports that the shooter easily entered and exited the classroom at least three times. Surveillance footage does not show police attempting to open the door to the classroom. Even if the door had been locked, police appear to have had the means to open it: Just eight minutes after the shooter entered the building, an officer reported that police had a Halligan bar, a firefighting tool used to break down doors, according to AP. Instead of trying the door, Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo waited to obtain a master key he might not have even needed.
  • Arredondo did not bring his police radio into the school. Furthermore, police radios tended not to function inside the school, according to Arredondo.
  • Some of the diagrams of the school that the police were using were incorrect, according to McCraw.
  • Officers had access to ballistic shields 58 minutes before authorities stormed the classroom. The only thing preventing them from entering the classroom, according to McCraw, was Chief Arredondo. 

McCraw summed up the tragedy like this:

Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there was sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract, and neutralize this subject. The only thing stopping the hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and room 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children. The officers had weapons. The children had none. The officers had body armor. The children had none. The officers had training. The subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes, and eight seconds. That’s how long the children waited and the teachers waited…to be rescued. And while they waited, the on-scene commander waited for a radio and rifles. Then he waited for shields. Then he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed. The post-Columbine doctrine is clear and compelling and unambiguous: Stop the killing, the stop the dying. You can’t do the latter unless you do the former.

“There is compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure,” he said, “and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”

This article first appeared in the Mother Jones Daily, our newsletter that cuts through the noise to help you make sense of the most important stories of the day. Sign up for free here!

Mike Pence Is Still a Mealymouthed Trump Stooge

One of the more curious themes to emerge from the January 6 hearings is the notion that Mike Pence is an American hero, one who honorably rebuffed Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure him into using non-existent powers to subvert Joe Biden’s unequivocal victory. Others have pushed back against this characterization of Pence’s behavior, including Bret Stephens, who ponders today:

Where was Pence in November when Trump started lying about the election the moment their defeat became clear? Where was he when the president enlisted the likes of Sidney Powell and John Eastman to peddle insane conspiracy theories about voting machines and preposterous interpretations of the Electoral Count Act? Where was he on invoking the 25th Amendment after the assault on the Capitol, or at least on supporting impeachment? Pence was a worm who, for a few hours on Jan. 6, turned into a glowworm.

I’m firmly in the camp that Pence is not a good boy. But for anyone who finds themselves in the former—whether it be out of sincere gratitude that Pence resisted Trump’s coup fever dreams or apparent acceptance for men doing the absolute minimum—let his recent media appearances guide you to more reasonable waters. Let’s roll the tape.

Referring to the January 6 insurrection, the former vice president appeared on Fox News Digital Monday and characterized the current hearings as a Democratic political plot intended to “use that tragic day to distract attention from their failed agenda or to demean the intentions of 74 million Americans who rallied behind our cause.” Pence also flirted with Trump’s election lies, claiming that he had been concerned over the “voting irregularities” that supposedly arose in the election. As for his relationship with Trump, Pence said that they’re essentially simpatico. “In the aftermath of that tragic day, we sat down, and we talked through it,” Pence said of the man who allegedly expressed approval of rioters calling for him to be hanged.

But perhaps the most damning moment, one that succinctly captures Pence as the mealymouthed Trump stooge he’s always been came when Pence, during a separate Fox Business interview with Larry Kudlow, asserted that Biden tells lies more than any president he’s ever witnessed.

“Have you ever seen a president who refuses to accept blame and I want to add to that, commits so many falsehoods?” Kudlow asked, referring to Biden. “On any given day, he’s out there saying stuff that just ain’t true. You ever seen anything like that?”

“Never in my lifetime,” Pence said with a straight face. “There’s never been a time in my life where a president was more disconnected from the American people.”

Larry Kudlow asks Mike Pence if he's ever seen a president say as many falsehoods as Biden. Pence says "never in my lifetime." Not a single shred of self-awareness between these two guys. pic.twitter.com/lqf9SLlCSa

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 20, 2022

Taken together, Pence’s recent media appearances, which, of course, come amid more chatter of his own potential presidential run, seem to make the pretty compelling case that he’s far from the stand-up conservative some are so eager to lavish praise on these days.

How a Former Transcendental Meditation Devotee Ended Up Funding America’s Wildest Right-Wing Spy Op

Nate Martin always thought there was something a little off about the new couple in town. Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca had shown up in Wyoming in 2019 with thin resumes and few references and quickly began immersing themselves in the state’s small but dedicated community of progressive activists. Maier, a burly Army veteran, expressed interest in a cannabis legalization effort supported by Better Wyoming, the advocacy group where Martin served as executive director. LaRocca, the new executive director of a group called Wyoming Progress, which sought to flip the nation’s reddest state, hoped to land a job with Martin’s then-fiancée, Karlee Provenza, who was running for a seat in the state legislature.

There was the way Maier and LaRocca seemed to mimic them—claiming to own a Belgian Malinois, just like them; getting engaged, just like them. And there were their wild ideas, schemes that seemed more at home in the world of black ops than grassroots organizing. In private, Martin and Provenza joked that their new acquaintances were moles. But they were friendly enough. And besides, who would want to spy on Wyoming Democrats?

“I just kind of thought they smoked a lot of weed,” Martin told me.

Then one afternoon in the spring of 2021, Provenza, now a state representative, was walking down Grand Avenue in downtown Laramie when she got a call from her husband.

“Do you remember Beau and Sofia?” Martin asked. It had been months since they had heard from the couple, who had disappeared from Wyoming’s Democratic scene just before the 2020 election.

“You mean the spies?” Provenza replied.

“Yeah,” Martin said. “They’re actually spies.”

Gore’s transition from dark money to dark arts was, in part, the story of the Trump era: As the party grew increasingly unmoored from democratic processes and ethical norms, and ensconced in its own paranoia, it was not enough to rely on the familiar tools of political advocacy. 

Martin had called because he’d just heard that the New York Times wanted to get in touch about a big scoop. Yes, Maier and LaRocca really had gotten engaged (they have since gotten married). And they really were dog owners. But they weren’t trying to turn Wyoming blue. They were undercover conservative operatives, the paper discovered, who had been trained at a ranch belonging to Blackwater founder Erik Prince by a former MI6 officer with ties to the right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe. Maier’s mother worked for Prince. His uncle was Glenn Beck. Alongside other moles, Maier and LaRocca had been attempting to collect dirt on Wyoming’s Democrats—and certain Republicans—for a couple years.

While the news jolted Martin and other activists who’d once welcomed Maier and LaRocca into their homes, the identity of the woman who had allegedly financed much of the operation was less surprising.

Susan Walton Gore, an 83-year-old scion of the Gore-Tex waterproof-fabric fortune, was both a ubiquitous and reclusive presence in her adopted home state—a prolific donor whose network of political organizations picked big fights, but who shirked the spotlight herself. For more than a decade, Gore had embodied a familiar genus of American power: the big fish in a small pond who had learned just how far a dollar can go the farther you get from Washington. An effort to block Common Core science standards from being implemented in state schools? Gore, a onetime backer of the Libertarian Party, led the fight. Stopping tax increases, blocking Medicaid expansion, and reforming the state’s asset-forfeiture laws? Gore’s think tank, the Wyoming Liberty Group, led the way. The legislature’s rightward creep? Gore helped bankroll dozens of candidates.

The espionage operation, reportedly targeting liberals and the so-called “Republicans in Name Only” who certain conservatives believed were allied, marked a jarring departure—one that challenged values long espoused by both Democrats and Republicans in the state. But Gore’s transition from dark money to dark arts was, in part, the story of the Trump era: As the party grew increasingly unmoored from democratic processes and ethical norms, and ensconced in its own paranoia, it was not enough to rely on the familiar tools of political advocacy. The opposition had to be exposed and defeated by any means necessary. Donors—some wealthy, many not—poured tens of millions of dollars into shadowy and unorthodox projects, and such schemes took on increasing prominence in conservative circles.

No place was safe from these impulses—not even America’s least-populated and least-competitive state. For a long time, politicians in deep-red Wyoming had been happy to keep their distance from Washington’s daily dramas. But recently the state GOP has come to mirror the party’s national crack-up—a tense and volatile climate of censure, threats, and purges, where the dominant Trump faction is on the warpath against anyone perceived as stepping out of line. It’s become the kind of place where Dick Cheney’s own daughter could find herself run out of the party. Gore’s efforts to target those RINOs have left lingering aftershocks. For years, she had shown how much influence one committed, wealthy individual could have on a state’s civic institutions; now she was demonstrating just how much damage someone red-pilled by Trump could do to a state’s political culture.

There is something both tragic and familiar about a think-tank founder turning to the guy from Blackwater to help save the democratic process. This was the underlying delusion of the Trump era: that people with the most power in American life acted as if they had the least, and that the absence of evidence was taken as proof that something was being covered up. Trump’s movement was full of people whose worst fears drove them to empty their wallets for lost causes—from the Publix heir who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the January 6 rally, to the supporters of the fraudulent GoFundMe border wall, to the people still desperately giving money to a billionaire so he can spend it at his private club. There was never a better time in conservative politics to be a hustler, and never an easier time to be a mark.

Gore was in many ways a natural conduit for an effort such as this—someone with a lifelong penchant for misadventure. A onetime Transcendental Meditation activist, she spent millions on businesses and philanthropic ventures that drained her inheritance and left her on the brink of bankruptcy. In a scheme too strange for Succession, she had once legally adopted her ex-husband in a bid to gain advantage in an estate dispute. Underpinning this new scandal was an echo of a more personal story. Wyoming, it turned out, was not the first state Susan Gore tried to transform. And it was not the first time her plans had gone wildly awry.

The product that made the Gores one of America’s wealthiest families was invented almost by accident. Wilbert L. “Bill” Gore, a chemical engineer and avid outdoorsman, left DuPont in 1958 to experiment on polymers in the Delaware home where he and his wife, Vieve, raised their five children. It was a “slipshod operation,” Susan later told students at Liberty University, with kitchen appliances standing in for lab equipment. Then one night in 1969, her older brother, Bob, was tinkering when he yanked a piece of Teflon. Instead of tearing, the substance transformed into a new, breathable, and waterproof material—Gore-Tex. By 1986, W.L. Gore & Associates was doing $300 million in annual sales, with factories on three continents.

But in the eyes of the family, the company’s biggest breakthrough was ideological. W.L. Gore eschewed the traditional organizational pyramid for a “lattice” system. Employees, known as “associates” no matter their salary, owned company stock and operated with near-total autonomy. Instead of bosses, they had “sponsors”—senior colleagues who acted as mentors. “We don’t manage people here,” Bill Gore said in 1982. “People manage themselves.”

The family patriarch wasn’t simply disrupting corporate bureaucracy. What Inc.magazine called “un-management” was an entire way of living—a philosophy of deconcentrated power and individual responsibility. In one early manifesto, Bill traced the lattice system to tribal societies. He gave talks about rejecting “authoritarian hierarchy” and doubling the capacity of the brain. It was possible to see in the company’s style a vaguely lefty notion of worker power, but while the Gores could be crunchy in their ways, the vibe was more libertarian. Bill described himself as a “radical progressive conservative.” He was a free-enterprise evangelist and fierce critic of welfare who counted Ayn Rand as a friend. He believed smaller was better and that the best decision-making existed far from centralized power. That extended to the ownership of the company itself; in a book-length history of W.L. Gore, Bob emphasized his parents’ belief in the importance of using trusts to circumvent “death taxes”—allowing the family to stay in control, free from outside interference.

Susan never matched Bob’s involvement in the lab, but her father’s ethos shaped her in its own way. At Middlebury College, she studied the psychological behavior of rats and married a classmate named Jan Charles Otto, who would briefly work for W.L. Gore. They eventually bought a farmhouse outside Montpelier, Vermont, where Susan taught special education at a school they founded with other parents. She sold shares of W.L. Gore stock to pay the bills, while Jan held a series of odd jobs and collected motorcycles—until finally, after three kids and one bitter divorce, she decided it was time to do for human consciousness what her family had done for the raincoat.

Gore first began meditating in the spring of 1973, after returning from a life-altering trip to Nepal. “I had seen that just as there are millions of shades of color, so there are millions of shades of human perception,” she later wrote, “and that all humanity, no matter of what perception, moves toward expansion of life.”

Transcendental Meditation, originally a destination for counterculture seekers after its founding by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, took on a more professional hue in the ’70s, as studies touting the benefits of the relaxation ritual found their way into sources as mainstream as The Merv Griffin Show. In a 1975 letter to the editor of her local newspaper, Gore wrote that she was “something of a closet meditator.” But she wanted readers to know it wasn’t a “religious” undertaking, as detractors alleged. She compared the practice to getting a good night’s sleep, and said it sharpened her guitar playing.

As her marriage frayed, Gore grew more invested in TM’s potential. “It offers the ultimate in terms of versatility of application,” she wrote in an essay. Using W.L. Gore’s culture of experimentation as a “reference point,” she looked for “a way to use the TM technology to improve the quality of life in my home state.” In California, a TM practitioner named George Ellis was running a pilot program at San Quentin Prison. Early results suggested that the technique might reduce inmates’ stress levels. Gore invited him to Montpelier, and with the support of the movement and promises to bankroll the program, persuaded the state to let her teach TM to a trial group of 310 inmates and 100 corrections staffers.

Gore pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the effort and produced a documentary that she hoped would convince other states to copy Vermont’s model. “Anyone with vision can change society for the better,” she says in the film. “It doesn’t matter where he or she is located in society. One single person who comprehends the usefulness of certain actions can improve society.”

 

Lively Scout

But of course, it helps if that person owns a fortune in W.L. Gore stock. As Gore’s involvement deepened, she offered to build a TM halfway house and spend as much as $6 million on a 150-bed prison in Vermont to be operated by a team of TM teachers. The state balked. (So did the Maharishi’s organization, which believed meditators should empty jails, not build them.) But Gore found other opportunities. In the early 1980s, a few years after the Maharishi issued a call for practitioners to move to Fairfield, Iowa, the home of his new university and meditation center, Gore packed her things, and eventually bought a million-­dollar home outside of town.

Rick Archer, who moved to Fairfield around this time, and who remembers Gore as “kind of a star” in the movement, said the thinking was that “if large numbers meditated together as a group, it would generate an influence on the collective consciousness” of the region. Meditators flocked to nations plagued by conflict or political upheaval, like Israel, South Africa, and Iran; Gore herself began spending heavily on programs in Central America.

Not long before Bill’s death in 1986, he and Vieve flew to Guatemala to see what she was up to. Susan rented out the top floor of the Camino Real Hotel and chartered helicopters with private security to show off her operations in the countryside, Ellis recalls. There was an agricultural initiative, a training program for TM instructors, and another jail project. In a government filing, Gore’s new philanthropic organization—S.W. Gore & Associates—explained that it was in the business of “enlivening the full potential of the human mind.”

“She really had a lot of integrity, and she was extremely intelligent and very compassionate,” says Ellis, a close friend and adviser during these years. But Ellis also feared she was “easily influenced” and that she needed protection “from her own generosity.”

And TM could entice a lot of generosity. The Maharishi encouraged wealthy benefactors, dubbed “the om percent” by one ex-member, to devote more resources to various TM programs. When meditators started their own political movement, the Natural Law Party, and began nominating candidates for federal office, Gore made a large donation. The party’s platform envisioned a strike force of “Yogic Flyers” who would solve systemic problems through meditation—and the elimination of the Electoral College.

But by the mid-1990s, Gore would later say, she was “in very, very bad shape.” She had developed a serious long-term illness that she blamed on TM, according to court records from her family’s estate dispute, and she came to believe that if she didn’t get out, she would die. Gore quit the movement and hunkered down at a Franciscan retreat center and a Cistercian monastery. For three years, she did almost nothing.

Wyoming was a natural place for Gore to start over. Her mother had grown up there, and members of the family would go on long hiking trips in the Wind River Range. She arrived in Cheyenne in 1996, and not long after, two of her sons followed, using a holding company named for their mother to purchase a horse-and-cattle ranch outside Lander.

As Gore recuperated, one of the first things she had to figure out was her finances. In addition to what she’d spent on TM projects, she had also burned millions on her sons’ businesses. By 1999, according to court records, she was nearly bankrupt.

Gore wrote to her mother and asked for a bailout from a family trust so she could enjoy, as she put it, her “rightful abundance.” Her mother acquiesced. Soon, Susan was back to living comfortably—summering in Europe and paying upward of $12,000 a month to a woman who worked as her spiritual adviser. But there was still the matter of her children. When Susan hired her youngest son, Nathan Otto, to analyze her estate, he discovered that he and his brothers were set to inherit a lot less money than their cousins.

Bill and Vieve’s estate divided a key trust by the number of grandchildren in each family, with larger families getting more shares per grandchild. Susan had three children. Each of her siblings had four. The assumption had been that grandchildren with fewer siblings would each inherit more stock from their parents—except that Susan had already disposed of most of hers. Susan and Nathan approached Vieve at her 90th birthday party, hoping to persuade her to change the formula. Instead, her mother threw a “demonic tantrum,” as Susan recounted to her spiritual adviser. Unable to change Vieve’s mind, Susan decided to adopt a fourth son.

According to court records, she first tried to pay one of her sons’ friends $30,000 to serve as a “space filler” in the trust, with the understanding that he would be de-adopted once a new agreement was struck. But when she got to the courthouse she called the adoption off. When Jan Charles Otto heard about the predicament, he emailed Nathan.

“You might as well adopt me,” he wrote.

It was a joke. Susan and Jan had barely spoken in decades. He’d remarried. And there was the complication that adopting one’s ex-husband would be, as Susan put it, a “mind blaster.” But lots of things that will blast your mind are still legal in Wyoming. Nathan wrote back within hours to tease the idea out.

“I have to say that this all has an Alice-­in-Wonderland quality to it,” Jan replied. He was willing to go forward but offered a bit of fatherly advice: “I worry that it might backfire against the three of you, and just make a bad situation worse. I am not concerned for myself—but just be damned sure there aren’t any serious unintended consequences.”

“P.S.,” he added. “Does this mean I will become your step-brother?”

Susan had reservations about the adoption, telling Jan that she feared the “tainted karma” of playing “the grasping game” for money. But in the summer of 2003, she went ahead and signed the papers in Cheyenne. Rather than informing her siblings about her big news, she decided to keep the adoption secret until after Vieve’s death. While Jan had given his word that he would redistribute his inheritance to his sons and their cousins, Susan decided against putting anything in writing. Jan, anxious about his finances, fantasized in his journal about what he could buy if he kept his share. After Vieve died in 2005, Susan, panicking, asked her actual sons if she should “unadopt” their father. But before they could decide, the secret spilled out. Susan’s brother Bob, then chair of W.L. Gore, tried to push her off the company’s board of directors, and Susan took the issue of Jan’s adoption to Delaware court.

The case was ugly and dragged on for years. One grandchild testified that Vieve had said that the “vultures” were trying to get her to alter the family trust.

At the 2011 trial, Gore was soft-spoken and had a habit of contesting what she had already said under oath. While her sons bristled on the stand, Susan projected a mild amusement that made her sound more like an audience member invited onstage at a magic show than a witness under cross-examination. When an opposing lawyer pointed out one of her many inconsistencies, she replied, “You’re an amazing deposer!”

The adoption gambit failed. A judge ruled in 2011 that Jan Charles Otto (who died a few years later) was not a grandchild for the purposes of the trust. Bob, amid the estate drama, finally succeeded in jettisoning his sister from W.L. Gore’s board. But by then, she had found a new preoccupation. At the trial, one of the attorneys asked about her work history.

“I founded the Wyoming Liberty Group about a year ago,” Gore replied. “We are very proud of ourselves. We just were cited in a Supreme Court majority opinion. Citizens United.”

Aside from her dalliance with the Natural Law Party and writing a few checks to the Libertarian Party, Gore had never shown much interest in politics. Her primary contribution to the discourse during her first decade in Wyoming was a 1999 letter to the editor of a Cheyenne newspaper condemning the Pokémon movie. The “joyless” film was a form of “addictive indoctrination,” she wrote, that “features willful domination, the group as a source of meaning in life, the conformity to the group, darkness, imprisonment, machines, psychic warfare, and confusion.”

Gore’s gateway to deeper political engagement was Ron Paul. The Texas congressman’s 2008 presidential bid brought many formerly unaffiliated or third-party voters into the Republican fold—homeschoolers, gun nuts, goldbugs, Austrian economics devotees, and raw-milk enthusiasts—under the aegis of what they called the Liberty Movement.

Bill and Vieve had supported Republicans, though not in particularly extravagant ways. But Susan’s younger brother, David, had been more assertive; in the early 1990s, he’d started a libertarian-leaning nonprofit in Oregon called the Cascade Policy Institute, part of a constellation of conservative think tanks called the State Policy Network. With her brother’s outfit as a model, Gore launched the Wyoming Liberty Group in 2008. Because of the state’s size and proclivities, she would later tell a local paper, “Wyoming offers a real opportunity to be a real center of liberty.”

At her new think tank, Gore’s management style often reflected her father’s “people manage themselves” ethos. “She was a good boss, in the sense that she wanted the talent she brought on board to stretch their wings and work,” says Sven Larson, a longtime economist at the organization. Though the institution’s views naturally aligned with conservatives and libertarians, “it was an independent organization, in good part thanks to the fact that Susan Gore wanted to use this lattice principle.”

In the early years, Susan and other WLG staffers and board members participated in an annual gathering at her sons’ ranch called Liberty Fest, where attendees convened to shoot guns, talk policy, and rant about the government from atop a soapbox. Her middle son, Joel Otto, who ran for US Senate in 2012 as the nominee of Wyoming’s right-wing Country Party, and whose views had been hardened by his experience with regulators (secession was not a “terrible idea,” he said in a soapbox rant, before complaining about bureaucrats who wouldn’t let him sell goat milk), sat on the group’s board.

The Wyoming Liberty Group was emblematic of the way conservative donors influenced the democratic process in the Obama era—by organizing nationally to stretch dollars at the state and local levels. Corporations and rich Republicans showered organizations like the State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council with cash, while simultaneously funneling record amounts to local candidates who’d give them an audience. In a state like Wyoming, where 1,500 votes get a seat in the legislature and part-time lawmakers earn a few thousand dollars a year, a little went a long way. Gore’s group, which received funding from the Koch brothers-linked Donors Trust, hired lobbyists, published white papers, hosted forums, and filed lawsuits. To draft WLG’s brief in support of Citizens United, she enlisted an attorney named Benjamin Barr. Gore and Barr would eventually launch a spinoff legal organization called the Pillar of Law Institute, with another attorney, Steve Klein, that focused on challenging campaign finance rules they considered onerous. Klein and Barr also took on another client during this time: Project Veritas, the organization formed by James O’Keefe that conducts hidden-camera stings on journalists and campaigns.

But Gore wasn’t content with just winning the war of ideas; she wanted to clean house. Politics in Wyoming had, for a long time, been less nationalized than in states with competitive partisan elections. With party affiliation more or less moot—just nine of 90 state legislators are Democrats—coalitions and fault lines formed largely around local interests such as minerals or ranching. But the line of polarization has increasingly hardened, not between red and blue, but between competing Republican factions. When Gore spoke at a tea party rally in Cheyenne in 2013, she did so behind a lectern featuring an image of a rhino with a red line through it. WLG produced a “Liberty Index” to rate legislators. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, she launched an affiliated group that attacked Republican candidates who didn’t fill out her questionnaire or got low scores. She was a “zealot,” complained Alan Simpson, the state’s former Republican senator, who typified the old Wyoming GOP—not exactly moderate, but less absolutist.

And Gore was mingling with some true believers. Now devoted to Catholicism, in 2014 she spoke by video to a conference put on by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a conservative Catholic organization based in Italy. (A few years later, the outfit would join forces with Steve Bannon to establish a training academy for right-wing European politicians at a converted 13th-century monastery near Rome—the Italian equivalent of a ranch outside Cody.) The institute credited the Wyoming Liberty Group with providing “generous support” for its Vatican City conference. In her speech, Gore warned that “collectivism” and government attacks on private property rights would ultimately “maim the mystical body of Christ, so as to destroy the very possibility of the salvation of man.” She was developing a worldview in which political adversaries were existential threats.

Gore and a small group of other right-wing donors, including investor Foster Friess, pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into races to swing Wyoming’s legislature away from the RINOs. In 2016, Gore supported Rand Paul in the presidential primary, and later Ted Cruz, but like most Republicans, she ultimately embraced Trump. After he took office, his demand of loyalty began to ripple back to Wyoming. Erik Prince, another wealthy donor whose family owned property in the state, flirted with a primary challenge to Sen. John Barrasso, whom Trump supporters such as Bannon had identified as a squish. Friess (who died in 2021) ran for governor himself in 2018 as an “unapologetically” conservative Trump backer. During the primary, some Democrats, including Better Wyoming’s Nate Martin, talked openly about changing their registration to vote for one of the more moderate Republicans, such as Mark Gordon, whom they believed would be easier to work with on issues like renewable energy. Gordon won, and his opponents cried foul. “Democrats have been able to control our elections [by] putting on a Republican coat,” Friess alleged.

The Liberty Group’s budget had grown fivefold since its founding, and its experts continued to churn out papers and lobby the legislature against tax increases and government spending. But after Gordon’s victory, one ex-staffer recalled that Gore would talk openly about going after “liberal Republicans and Democrats.” The public-facing advocacy and activism work began to take a lower profile. One day in the fall of 2019, Sven Larson learned he was being laid off. “I didn’t really understand why she did it at the time,” he says. “Before the end of the year the entire policy department was gone.”

By that point, according to records obtained by the New York Times, the secret operation Gore was funding to spy on elected officials, organizers, and donors in Wyoming had been underway for months. Prince, whose company was banned from doing business in Iraq after its contractors killed 17 civilians in Nisour Square (one security guard was convicted of first-­degree murder, and three others were convicted of voluntary manslaughter), had grown deeply involved in domestic politics during the Trump era. His sister, Betsy DeVos, served as Trump’s education secretary, while he forged a close relationship with Bannon, the president’s chief strategist. The evolving Republican Party had use for someone with his particular set of skills and connections.

In a memo to Bannon during the 2016 election, which federal investigators obtained as part of Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, Prince urged the next administration to embrace the “dark arts,” including “covert action, sabotage, [and] information war,” in its dealings with foreign adversaries. Stateside, a new Watergatization of the conservative movement was well underway. Trump won the presidency with the help of a Russian government hacking operation and was later impeached for pressuring the government of Ukraine to launch investigations to kneecap Joe Biden. According to the Mueller report, Prince back-channeled with Roger Stone in the runup to WikiLeaks’ release of the stolen Democratic National Committee trove. Investigators detailed how he paid to test the provenance of another batch of emails that, falsely, purported to be Hillary Clinton’s State Department missives. Trump’s GOP embraced such work as a mainstream function of national politics, as legitimate as casting votes—and depending on who was casting those votes, more legitimate. The people operating in this murky realm were cultural icons. Stone, who cut his teeth working for Richard Nixon and has a large portrait of the disgraced ex-president tattooed on his back, wore a shirt that said “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong” when he was arrested for lying to Congress; you could find people wearing the same shirt outside MAGA gatherings. Project Veritas’ funding jumped fourfold during the Trump era, according to the group’s IRS filings. The dark arts weren’t so dark anymore; they were celebrated by the White House itself.

“We had this strong suspicion that they were moles, but we could never figure out why,” Martin says. “Like, why would anyone go to the trouble of this elaborate program targeting Better Wyoming? It seemed frankly too absurd to be real.”

In 2017, Prince invited O’Keefe and a group of Project Veritas trainees to his family’s ranch, where they were joined by an acquaintance from Prince’s Blackwater days—a former MI6 officer named Richard Seddon. Aspiring operatives piled onto the property near Yellowstone National Park to learn basic undercover work. With an actual spy on board—Seddon eventually served as Project Veritas’ interim field director, according to court records—Project Veritas took on more ambitious projects in Washington, including an operation to collect dirt on “deep state” officials. Seddon left the group in 2018, and that summer, according to the Times, he and Prince pitched Gore on a new undercover project based in her home state, to be funded by her and other donors. (Neither Prince nor Seddon responded to requests for comment.)

Seddon, who had worked for Project Veritas as an independent contractor, is something of a ghost. A Project Veritas official said in a deposition that he did not know Seddon’s age, nationality, or even where he lived. Nor did anyone else. A researcher with the American Federation of Teachers, tasked with tracking Seddon down so he could be served a subpoena, said in an affidavit that he searched for three years before turning up an address; Seddon had masked his location with mail-forwarding services and trusts. Even his car was owned through an anonymous LLC. And good luck trying to find a photo. The people he’d trained, however, were less proficient. When conservative operatives Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca began infiltrating Wyoming’s small circle of Democrats in 2019, their behavior often raised eyebrows.

LaRocca networked her way into an unpaid gig running a tiny PAC called Wyoming Progress, which was founded by Olaus Linn, a graphic designer from Teton County who publishes a snowboarding magazine. One of the group’s projects was a voter-registration drive called Flip Wyoming. Aware of the long odds but caught up in Resistance fervor, Linn hoped to gain traction among the growing population of Democrats and transplants clustered around Jackson Hole. The PAC had no money, and LaRocca was brought on to try to raise some. She didn’t, Linn told me. And he remembered being confused about why the first email she gave him used a different name entirely—Cat Deabreu. She offered the true but not entirely satisfying explanation that it was a family name. She left the job after less than a year. By then, she had leveraged the role into a spot in Martin’s Better Wyoming Grassroots Institute, an eight-week organizing school for activists. Sofia Deabreu, as her new bio identified her, used the program to network with more activists and candidates, including Marcie Kindred, whose campaign for the state legislature she volunteered on. (When she met Provenza in the fall of 2019, she was finally using her real surname of LaRocca.) While Democrats were happy to talk, they were sometimes perplexed by what LaRocca and her fiancé wanted to talk about.

One day, when Provenza and Martin had gotten to know the couple a bit better, Maier requested a meeting with them at a co-working space in Laramie. Maier wouldn’t say what it was about. When they arrived, he told them to turn off their phones.

“He kind of pitched us on this operation where what he was describing was what he was actually doing to us,” Martin says. “He and his military friends would target up-and-coming Republicans and kind of do deep background intelligence work on them so that they could hold onto it and expose it when the time was right.”

Later, he suggested that the two couples spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods to hash out this plan. Martin and Provenza declined both offers, and their suspicions flared again when a group calling itself “Wyo RINO Hunters” posted a secretly recorded video of a Better Wyoming meeting, which, according to the Times, had been filmed by yet another operative.

Former state Rep. Sara Burlingame, the executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Wyoming Equality, got a similar pitch from LaRocca where she “skirted around the idea of ‘We need to take a page from their playbook, we have to fight back hard, and we should infiltrate their meetings and we should record them,’” Burlingame recalls. “I was sort of like, ‘Ohhhh, no we shouldn’t.’”

She found it strange when she learned that LaRocca was still living in Fort Collins, Colorado, while running a group called Wyoming Progress. (LaRocca claimed she couldn’t find a place that would allow her dog.) Burlingame says she offered the young activist a bit of political advice: “You have to be the thing you say you are.”

“Which is really ironic, in hindsight,” she says. “I don’t know if the Germans have a word for it when you don’t know when you’re being prescient. Maybe it’s called ‘being a dupe.’”

This wasn’t exactly John le Carré. If the undercover work of LaRocca and Maier, neither of whom responded to requests for comment, had anything going for it, it was that it was such an obviously bad idea that people would assume it had to be something else. Eventually, after enough of this awkward networking, people just stop asking why your bio reads like it was written by AI, or why you live in another state, or why you keep using different names. They think maybe you’re just a little weird and pass you on to the next person.

“We had this strong suspicion that they were moles, but we could never figure out why,” Martin says. “Like, why would anyone go to the trouble of this elaborate program targeting Better Wyoming? It seemed frankly too absurd to be real.”

The answer, in some ways, was that Democratic candidates and cannabis activists weren’t the only targets—they were also a means to get to even bigger prizes. One reported conceit of the operation was to smoke out a hidden connection between liberal donors and voters, and more moderate Republicans—the alliance that conservative activists had blamed for Gordon’s victory in 2018. Gordon was reportedly a target too. So was at least one Republican legislator. There were plans to expand the spy operation beyond Wyoming. LaRocca and Maier—whose campaign contributions and networking got them access to a Democratic presidential debate in Nevada—were just two spokes of an operation that could, in theory, uncover damaging documentation about all sorts of people.

To the project’s defenders, the duplicity of Democrats—what Friess described as Democrats “putting on a Republican coat”—offered a twisted justification: If they’re allowed to influence our campaigns, why can’t we secretly interfere with theirs? But even then, the gambit didn’t make a ton of sense. For one thing, the stakes were comically low: Republicans hold a seemingly unbreakable supermajority in the Wyoming legislature, in a state with little national electoral significance.

If Wyoming Progress’ “Flip Wyoming” drive put a name to Gore’s and Friess’ fears, it also clarified how secure they were; Linn’s PAC had so little help that he unwittingly hired a spy. Some Democrats did try to help elect Gordon, but it is not unusual or especially nefarious for outnumbered constituencies to cross the aisle to advance their cause; “voting” is the foundation of the democratic process, not a corruption of it.

“It’s kind of funny—not funny ‘haha,’ but funny ‘sad,’” one Wyoming-based Republican lobbyist told me. “There’s so much fear, there’s so much concern about maintaining their power, that it shows up as paranoia and anger. And it doesn’t need to be this way—not in a state this small.”

“We have to live and work with each other all the time,” says Tom Lubnau, a former Republican speaker of the House. “There’s not a lot of room for subterfuge or lying. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing. You’ll lose your credibility very, very quickly.” His judgment of the operation Gore funded: “I just thought it was a fundamental misunderstanding about the state of Wyoming.”

Indeed, at various points in her life, Gore has struggled to vet such investments and to anticipate how they might go bad. She gave away a fortune in stock to a husband who, she testified in court, had already been planning to leave her. She blew through her own fortune on Transcendental Meditation and shaky investments.

At the Wyoming Liberty Group, a former staffer recalled, people asked her to write checks for their cause, tailoring their pitches to what they thought she wanted to hear. She was prone to “creative spurts,” the staffer said, but her ability to evaluate the merits of projects and stay on top of them could vary: “There were times where it was like she was super sharp on things, and then there were other times where she just lost interest…I’m still wondering if they preyed on her on this one.”

Ellis, her collaborator on the prison programs, believes people “would just take advantage of her because of her money.” The Gore fortune, he says, was also “a curse.”

Lively Scout

In early 2021, a few months after LaRocca and Maier ghosted on their new friends, but before their photos appeared in the Times, Gore showed up to a committee hearing in Cheyenne to testify against two proposals to legalize medical marijuana—one of which was co-sponsored by Provenza, one of the Democrats she’d been paying the couple to spy on.

After confessing that in the 1970s she’d “had the experience of inhaling and experiencing the dopamine rush,” Gore said that she was there “to plead for the brains of the children of Wyoming.” She told a story about a friend who had recently needed to find a babysitter at the last minute. “She called 30 mothers in the area,” Gore said. “Every single one said she was using marijuana.” She said it “rewired” children’s brains and warned that edibles were being marketed to kids. The chair, a Republican whose campaign Gore had supported, told her he was surprised she hadn’t sent a lobbyist. Eventually, he cut her off.

It would be Gore’s last public appearance for some time. Her patronage of the dark arts coincided with an almost complete disappearance from public view. The Wyoming Liberty Group, which did not respond to requests for comment, has produced little in the last two years beyond a few blog posts and a podcast series featuring still another son, Jan Peter Otto, co-founder of a Miami luxury rental car company, about election security. On the day the Times story broke, one of the group’s last lobbyists quit. The Pillar of Law Institute, the organization Gore founded with O’Keefe’s attorneys, has also gone dormant.

“It’s kind of funny—not funny ‘haha,’ but funny ‘sad,’” one Wyoming-based Republican lobbyist told me. “There’s so much fear, there’s so much concern about maintaining their power, that it shows up as paranoia and anger. And it doesn’t need to be this way—not in a state this small.”

Weeks after the scandal broke, Gore finally released a statement saying that she was a victim of “disinformation.” The story was “much ado about nothing—like a hamburger that makes your mouth water, but when you pick it up for a bite, you discover that the bun is empty,” she wrote. “It’s a nothingburger. And as we all know, anything without substance doesn’t exist.” She did not elaborate on what, if anything, the story got wrong. She also did not respond to Mother Jones requests for comment.

Her son Joel Otto, a founding Wyoming Liberty Group board member, publicly defended the operation. “So what are the Democrats and other ‘targets’ really worried about?” he wrote in a comment at WyoFile, a nonprofit news organization. “Is there something they want to hide? I get that the ‘spies’ were misrepresenting their views to gain access. Not the first time we’ve heard about lies in politics. It’s a dirty business.” He noted that WyoFile itself received funding from a prominent Democratic donor—an open fact, but one he cited with an air of conspiracy.

This was a common refrain among conservatives in response to the scandal: Politics is messy, deal with it. But it’s not what spies might have unearthed that has their targets freaking out. Progressives in Wyoming, after all, don’t exactly feel pressured to self-censor. What’s shaken them is the invasiveness of it all, the projection behind the premise—that an increasingly paranoid notion of what politics is supposed to be has caused some irreparable fracture to what politics in their state actually is.

“I’m confident I don’t have anything to worry about—and it was still a violation. It was still an erosion of trust. If you don’t call it out, it’s an erosion of democracy,” says Burlingame, the former state representative. “There’s no such thing as a society or system that can have that much craven duplicity built into it and normalized. It just can’t. And the idea that that would be normal in Wyoming? We literally adopted the ‘Code of the West’ as our state official code. Other states don’t have codes!”

Burlingame isn’t exaggerating. Wyoming’s state code shares its name with a Zane Grey novel. The Code of the West came up again and again in response to the scandal. It is deeply ingrained in the state’s political culture—even the Wyoming Liberty Group’s lawyers exalted it. The last line of the code is “know where to draw the line,” and for decades, even as Wyoming Republicans ran up the score, election after election, there were still some lines they didn’t cross.

As Burlingame points out, the last time anti-LGBTQ legislation was signed into law was 1977—not because of some progressive notion of equality, but because the reflexive aversion to government intrusion was just that strong. “We’re conservative, but we’re kind of ‘leave-each-­other-alone’ conservative,” as Lubnau, the former House speaker, puts it. It was an intimate political culture—the kind of place where you could knock on the governor’s door and he might answer himself.

Meanwhile, Wyoming Republicans are in the midst of a public and volatile crack-up. An effort, started by Friess and backed by Trump, to end crossover voting failed in the legislature, but the state party has leaned into Trump’s rhetoric and become a major battleground in the fight for the future of his movement. After being censured by local officials last year for voting to impeach Trump, Rep. Liz Cheney faces a bitter primary challenge, with much of the state’s conservative movement mobilized against her. The state GOP voted to rescind her status as a Republican. The party chair was on the Mall on January 6, and his name appeared on a leaked Oath Keepers membership roster. A county Republican official told a Republican state senator she should kill herself, because she voted against a measure that would have banned vaccine mandates. The state GOP recently passed a resolution opposing the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote,” and stripped Wyoming’s two largest counties of almost all of their representation at the party convention.

For years, Wyoming conservatives have feared that what makes the state’s political culture unique is under threat from the insidious liberal forces of the Outside. The Wyoming Liberty Group warned that legal weed would turn the state into Colorado. Not far from the Prince ranch, you can find a billboard telling liberal transplants, “Don’t California Our Cody.” But the challenge to the state’s values right now isn’t coming from the left. Gore, who got into GOP politics to promote a new age of liberty, who exalted privacy and the autonomy of the home and local control and transparency as her group’s core principles, managed, by backing one keystone-cops operation, to challenge all those things. “Everything that we had done was sort of shattered at that point,” says Larson, adding he felt “betrayed” when he read about the operation. In the process, Gore accomplished something more profound than any of her previous political work has: She was so afraid of a plot to change her state that she didn’t stop until she’d funded one herself.

One Monday in March, Gore finally reemerged in Cheyenne, first at a town hall for Cheney’s Trump-endorsed opponent, Harriet Hageman, and later in the day to testify at the Capitol against a proposed nuclear power plant—her first speaking appearance since the scandal. When Provenza heard that Gore was in the building, she decided to drop by the committee room. After the meeting, the legislators mingled by the dais, and a Republican lawmaker who knew them both introduced Provenza to Gore.

“You paid over a million dollars to have spies sent to my home,” Provenza told her. (Gore’s actual contribution to the undercover operation has not been reported.)

“I know,” Gore replied, according to Provenza, shaking her hand. “I made you famous.”

With that curt admission, Gore turned and left.

The next day, the Wyoming Republican Party unveiled the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention—an activist who had embraced the state as a political training ground, and in turn been embraced by it. Tickets started at just $20, the party announced, for an afternoon with James O’Keefe.

US Climate Action Could Save Millions of Lives

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

The rapidly shrinking window of opportunity for the US to pass significant climate legislation will have mortal, as well as political, stakes. Millions of lives around the world will be saved, or lost, depending on whether America manages to propel itself towards a future without planet-heating emissions.

For the first time, researchers have calculated exactly how many people the US could save by acting on the climate crisis. A total of 7.4 million lives around the world will be saved over this century if the US manages to cut its emissions to net zero by 2050, according to the analysis.

The financial savings would be enormous, too, with a net zero America able to save the world $3.7 trillion in costs to adapt to the rising heat. As the world’s second largest polluter of greenhouse gases, the US and its political vagaries will in large part decide how many people in faraway countries will be subjected to deadly heat, as well as endure punishing storms, floods, drought and other consequences of the climate emergency.

“Each additional ton of carbon has these global impacts—there is a tangible difference in terms of death rates.”

“Each additional ton of carbon has these global impacts—there is a tangible difference in terms of death rates,” said Hannah Hess, associate director at the research group Rhodium, which is part of the Climate Impact Lab consortium that conducted the study. “There’s a sense of frustration over the lack of progress at the national level on climate but every action at state or local level makes a difference in terms of lives.”

The lab’s new “lives saved calculator” uses a model of historical death records and localized temperature projections to come up with an estimate for the number of lives saved if emissions are eliminated. The analysis just looks at lives at risk from extreme heat, meaning the true climate toll would be higher due to other growing threats such as flooding and strong storms.

Just 10 US states could save 3.7 million lives worldwide by cutting their emissions to net zero, largely due to their high consumption of fossil fuels. Texas alone could save 1.1 million lives. But even action in less populous states would have a benefit: Idaho is capable of saving about 68,000 lives, Kansas could save 126,000 lives and Hawaii could save about 16,000 lives.

Hess said that rising heat this century will cause an uneven distribution of deaths around the world, mainly focused on areas such as north and west Africa, as well as south Asia. India and Pakistan recently endured a brutal heatwave of temperatures reaching 122F in some places, which killed several hundred people and was made 30 times more likely by the climate crisis.

“People have different abilities to adapt depending on the resources they have to protect themselves from extreme heat,” said Hess. “The hottest places don’t all face equally elevated risk of death; it’s closely tied to economic growth. Within the US there are impacts in places like southern California and Texas, but the US is really eclipsed by poorer regions of the world when it comes to these sort of deaths.”

The US has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to tackle the climate crisis. Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which contained about $550 billion in climate spending, was killed off in the Senate earlier this year by Republican opposition and the intransigence of Joe Manchin, a pro-coal centrist Democrat who has opposed any measures to phase out a fossil fuel industry that kills 9 million people a year globally through air pollution alone.

Democrats still hope about $300 billion of this spending, mainly in the form of tax incentives to expand solar, wind and other renewable energy, could be salvaged in a separate bill and that Manchin, a crucial swing vote, may be amenable to passing this.

Time appears to be running out, with Democrats expected to lose their tenuous hold on Congress in November’s midterm elections.

But time appears to be running out, with Democrats expected to lose their tenuous hold on Congress in November’s midterm elections. “The bottom line is we got some tight windows here we have to work in, but we’ll see,” Manchin told reporters last week. “We’ve just got to make some decisions here.”

Fears over inflation and the impact of the war in Ukraine have overshadowed the increasingly urgent need for some sort of climate legislation, but these concerns could be abated by more domestic clean energy production, according to Paul Bledsoe, who was a science adviser to Bill Clinton’s administration and is now strategic adviser to the Progressive Policy Institute.

“Ironically these crises may have increased the likelihood that Congress will act on clean energy legislation,” said Bledsoe. “If you don’t want these oil shocks from things that happen overseas, you’ve got to reduce demand for oil at home. The imperatives of inflation and security are solved by the same clean energy technology and I think that factor will be enough to get this over the line.”

Failure to pass any legislation would leave the US, and the world, far short in the effort to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. It would also severely wound Biden, who has made climate action central to his administration.

“If the Democrats don’t act and their majorities are lost in the fall, it will leave the United States without an effective climate policy at this moment of crisis,” said Bledsoe. “It’s hard to imagine a more devastating outcome for both the party and the world. It’s unthinkable that it won’t get done. It would be devastating to Biden’s legacy.”

On This Juneteenth, Watch Toni Morrison Talk About the Meaning of Freedom

June 19 marks the day that Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, in 1865 and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. It had taken two and a half years for news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed enslaved people, to reach Galveston; it took 156 additional years for the US government to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday in this country, even though Black communities had celebrated the day for a century and a half.

Today, Juneteenth parades and festivals are taking place across the country; tomorrow, federal employees and those who work for 17 states will have a paid day off; and, yes, corporations are doing their damnedest to commercialize the holiday. In lieu of stocking up on Walmart’s Juneteenth-themed ice cream, I’d like to offer this 1978 recording of legendary author Toni Morrison, who at the time was a single mom who had just published her third novel, Song of Solomon.

In it, Morrison begins to describe what freedom means to her, as she talks about her second novel, Sula—the story of the friendship between two Black women in a racist midwest town, one of whom takes on the responsibilities of society and her community, and the other, Sula, who rejects them.

“I suppose The Bluest Eye was about one’s dependence on the world for identification, self-value, feelings of worth,” Morrison tells the interviewer, speaking slowly and softly. “Whereas I wanted to explore something quite different in Sula, where you have a woman who is whimsical, who depends on her own instincts. Both exaggerations I find deplorable, but my way is to push anything out to the edge, to see of what it is really made, so that Sula would be ‘a free woman.'”

“There’s a lot of danger in that, you know,” Morrison continues. “Because you don’t have commitments, and you don’t feel that connection.” Then she pauses, and delivers the line I’ll be thinking about the rest of the day: “I think freedom, ideally, is being able to choose your responsibilities. Not not having any responsibilities, but being able to choose which things you want to be responsible for.”

Watch the full recording, rebroadcast on the series “All Arts Vault” in 2019, here.

Texas Republican Party Enshrines Anti-LGBTQ Hate in Extreme Right-Wing Party Platform

New Poll Finds 6 in 10 US Adults Support Prosecuting Trump for January 6 Capitol Attack

Since the formation of the House select committee to investigate the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, a question has loomed large over its proceedings: Will the panel issue a criminal referral of President Donald Trump for his pressure campaign to overthrow the 2020 election results? While the panel doesn’t have the power to itself pursue criminal charges against Trump, it could recommend that the Justice Department investigate him for his actions to subvert the peaceful transfer of power. The issue has divided panel members, who are in agreement that Trump’s actions amounted to a criminal conspiracy but conflicted over the potential political consequences of making a criminal referral for the former president, CNN has reported

Yet public support for such a move is rising as the committee continues to hold hearings revealing the findings of its 11-month investigation. According to a new poll from ABC News/Ipsos, 58 percent of US adults support prosecuting Trump for the riot—including 91 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of Republicans. (About 60 percent of independents believe Trump should be charged.) 

That’s an increase from late April, when the same pollsters found that barely over half of US adults supported charging Trump. The results may indicate the persuasive effect of the committee’s first three hearings, which have so far spun a compelling narrative about how Trump and his cronies attempted to undermine the election. About 60 percent of US adults believe the committee’s investigation has been fair and impartial, according to the new poll. 

Of course, it’s not up to the American public whether to charge Trump—it will be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland. So far, Garland’s Justice Department has declined to act on two of the four criminal referrals the committee has already sent to the department, against former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and aide Dan Savino, while pursuing charges against two other Trump associates, Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, for not complying with the Congressional investigation. DOJ could also choose to charge Trump without a referral from the House select committee. But the move to make a criminal referral would carry heavy symbolic weight, putting Garland in a tight spot. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), the chair of the committee, said last week said that it is “not our job” to issue a criminal referral for Trump. It didn’t take long for other committee members to make their own public statements clarifying that no decision had yet been made. And Thompson soon walked back his comments: “We’ve not actually discussed criminal referrals as a committee,” he told CNN. “Individuals have talked about it, but our primary mission is to get all of the facts and circumstances that brought about January 6, and that’s what we’re doing.” 

The CDC Just Recommended the Covid Vaccine for Children Under Five

Update, 6/18 4:30 p.m. ET: Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has endorsed the decision of a CDC expert panel to recommend the Covid vaccine for young children, meaning everyone in the United States six months and older is now eligible to receive the vaccine.

For parents waiting to vaccinate their toddlers against Covid, I have good news: A panel of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has voted unanimously to recommend the vaccine for children under age five. 

Following approval from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna will be available for children down to six months old, as soon as Tuesday. The Food and Drug Administration authorized both vaccines for emergency use on Friday. 

Until now, Pfizer’s Covid vaccine had been available to anyone five years of age or older, and Moderna’s had been available to people ages 18 and older. The authorization from the FDA expanded which age groups were eligible—down to six months in both cases.

The vaccines will be administered in slightly different ways: Moderna’s vaccine, the FDA notes, should be given in a two-dose series, one month apart for healthy children. (A third dose has been approved for immunocompromised children.) Pfizer’s vaccine, on the other hand, should be given in a three-dose series for children under five, with the first two shots given three weeks apart, and a third shot eight weeks later. In February, the FDA decided to postpone its approval of the vaccine for children under five until data on all three doses was available.

“The Pfizer is a three-dose series, but as a three-dose series, it’s quite effective,” Dr. William Towner, who led vaccine trials for both companies, told the New York Times, adding that either vaccine would be better than none.

Both vaccines have shown to be safe and effective in randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. A full breakdown of the results of the trials is available on the FDA’s website.

90 Percent of Florida, the Only State to Not Order Vaccines for Young Kids, Is At “High” Covid Risk

Florida, a state famous for its oranges, is now in the orange. According to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most counties in the Sunshine State are seeing “high” Covid community levels, a metric based on hospital capacity, hospital admissions, and new case numbers. With an average of about 10,618 new cases reported per day in the state and climbing hospitalization rates this week, more than 90 percent of Floridians fall into the “high” risk category, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Here’s the graphic of Covid community levels by county in Florida:

Covid Community Level by county in Florida, according to the CDC. Counties with “low” risk appear in green, “medium” risk in yellow, and “high” in orange.

CDC

And here is the rest of the country: 

Covid Community Levels of all counties in the United States.

CDC

The report comes at a particularly bad time for Florida. This week, the Florida Department of Health announced it would not be preordering vaccines for children under five years old, making it the only state in the country to do so. “States do not need to be involved in the convoluted vaccine distribution process, especially when the federal government has a track record of developing inconsistent and unsustainable COVID-19 policies,” the department said in a statement, according to Politico. “It is also no surprise we chose not to participate in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine when the Department does not recommend it for all children.” (It’s worth noting that Florida’s recommendations against vaccination for healthy children, including those older than five, have received harsh criticism from health experts and pediatricians.)

“There’s not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to, you know, get Covid jabs to infants and toddlers and newborns,” said Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, at a news conference Thursday. “That’s not something that we think is appropriate, and so that’s not where we’re going to be utilizing our resources in that regard.” In response, Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Kobie Christian said DeSantis was “using children’s safety as a political prop,” CNN reported.

The CDC is expected to follow the Food and Drug Administration and recommend the vaccine for children under five years old (and older than six months) on Saturday.

On Friday, after reports of Florida’s decision circulated, Florida’s Department of Health issued another statement clarifying that vaccines can be ordered by health care providers and will be available “as early as next week” at pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Publix, a Florida grocery store chain. “Florida’s decision to not participate in the cumbersome vaccine pre-ordering process never prohibited vaccine supply from being ordered or from being available in Florida,” it reads.

Simon & Schuster Will Distribute Jan. 6 Report With Forward by Conspiracy Theorist

With the January 6 hearings dominating the headlines, publishing giant Simon & Schuster has announced that it will distribute the final report of the congressional committee investigating the insurrection. But there is something odd about the Simon & Schuster announcement: This edition of the report will come with a foreword from Darren Beattie—a former Trump speechwriter who was fired from the White House for attending a conference that is popular with white nationalists. More recently, Beattie has spread pro-Trump, far-right conspiracy theories about the attack on the US Capitol.

This version of the committee’s final report will actually be published by a company called Skyhorse Publishing, an independent publisher that has a distribution agreement with Simon & Schuster. Though the report and this forward do not yet exist, the announcement raises the possibility that Simon & Schuster, one of the top publishing houses in the United States, will be disseminating disinformation about the assault on Congress.

Simon & Schuster, which is currently promoting this version of the January 6 report on its website, says it will simply being distributing the book and won’t be exercising any control over its content. “Skyhorse is a distribution client of Simon & Schuster, not an imprint owned by us,” said Adam Rothberg, a senior vice president at Simon & Schuster, in an email Thursday. “All their editorial decisions, publicity and marketing are made independent of S&S.”

“We do this in the interest of allowing both sides in any controversy to express their views,” Skyhorse’s president told Mother Jones.

In the last year, Beattie—who did not respond to requests for comment—has spread assorted conspiracy theories about the January 6 insurrection. His website, Revolver News, has run stories alleging that far-right extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys included undercover federal agents who conspired with the government to orchestrate the insurrection. Trump praised the website in a January 2022 statement. “Because of Darren’s work,” the former president said, “Americans aren’t buying into the Unselect Committee’s attempts to smear 75 million (plus!) Americans.”

In June 2021, Revolver wrote, “If it turns out that an extraordinary percentage of the members of these groups…were federal informants or undercover operatives, the implications would be nothing short of staggering.” There was reportedly at least one government informant present in the mob, but to date there is no evidence that the January 6 insurrection was a false flag operation. In a November 2021 interview with Chris Wallace, Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the committee, denounced the theory, saying “It’s un-American to be spreading those kinds of lies, and they are lies.” PolitiFact named this conspiracy theory and others like it 2021’s “Lie of the Year.”

Another theory pushed by Revolver and Beattie involved Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who, Beattie claimed, had not been indicted for his alleged role in the January 6 riot because he had the protection of the US government. “Is it possible,” said one article on the site, “that the Oath Keepers…has been run, in effect, by the United States government itself?” After Rhodes was indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy in January of this year, Beattie appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast, where he argued that Rhodes’ arrest did not debunk his questions, but rather, lent them more credence.

“I don’t want the regime”—Beattie’s preferred term for the Biden administration—“to trot out this headline of an arrest as some kind of ostensible debunking of the possibility that Rhodes had been protected up to this point on the basis of a relation with the government as a kind of asset or informant,” he said. “The arrest only intensifies those questions.”

One of Revolver and Beattie’s conspiratorial obsessions is former Arizona Oath Keepers leader Ray Epps, who they claim worked with the FBI to instigate the riot. This theory is based on a brief video from January 6 in which Epps whispers something to accused rioter Ryan Samsel, after which Samsel confronts the Capitol police. Revolver and Beattie also point to the fact that Epps was briefly added to—and then removed from—the FBI’s Capitol Riot Most Wanted List without being arrested or charged.

Like other Beattie allegations, this seems to be completely false. On January 8, two days after the insurrection, Epps told the FBI that he had only tried to calm Samsel down and prevent him from antagonizing the cops. Samsel confirmed Epps’ claims later that month. Still, this has not stopped the far right from spreading conspiracy theories about Epps.

Earlier this month, as the rest of the major news networks aired the January 6 committee’s first primetime hearing, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson promoted the discredited Epps conspiracy theory and featured Beattie as a guest. Beattie once more suggested that January 6 was an inside job. “We need to expose the feds for what they’ve done,” he said. He told viewers to go to Revolver, “read our report, and challenge others to do so as well, and tell them to look you in the eye and say that the feds weren’t involved in this.”

“Tell them to look you in the eye and say that the feds weren’t involved in this.”

In August 2018, CNN’s KFile reported that Beattie had been fired from the White House after it was revealed that he had attended the H.L. Mencken Club Conference, an annual gathering frequented by white nationalists, the weekend before Trump’s election in November 2016. Beattie gave a speech at the conference entitled “Intelligentsia and the Far Right,” which argued that a new, far-right intelligentsia would replace the movement conservatism that dominated much of 20th century conservative thought. Other attendees at that year’s conference included John Derbyshire, a deeply racist English writer who was fired from National Review for an essay he wrote telling white and Asian parents to warn their children that Black people posed a danger to them; Peter Brimelow, an English writer described by the SPLC as a white nationalist (a label Brimelow disputes) who found the anti-immigrant website VDare; and Robert Weissberg, a former National Review contributor. In 2012, National Review announced it would no longer publish Weissberg after discovering that he had “delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism.”

After Beattie left the White House, he worked as a speechwriter for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). In November 2020, after he lost the presidential election, Trump appointed Beattie to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, a body that identifies and preserves historic sites in Europe, including ones related to the Holocaust. He was fired by the Biden Administration in January 2022.

Skyhorse Publishing has published books on everything from jewelry-making to communing with deceased pets. It has also established itself as a major peddler of books alleging conspiracy theories. Last year, it published Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s The Real Anthony Fauci, a book that accused Fauci of “cracking down on HCQ [hydrochloroquine] to keep COVID-19 fatalities high” and of “deliberately derail[ing] America’s access to lifesaving drugs and medicines that might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.” It has also published several works by various Trump associates, including Roger Stone, who claimed in his book The Man Who Killed Kennedy (co-authored with Mike Colapietro) that Lyndon Baines Johnson arranged the murder of JFK. This summer, Skyhorse will publish Paul Manafort’s Political Prisoner, in which the former Trump campaign chief paints himself as a victim of a far-reaching government conspiracy.

Reached by email, Skyhorse president Tony Lyons defended the company’s decision to commission Beattie for its introduction to the January 6 report.

“We do this in the interest of allowing both sides in any controversy to express their views,” Lyons said. “This is consistent with our desire to support freedom of speech. We published The Case Against Impeaching Trump by Alan Dershowitz and The Case for Impeaching Trump by Elizabeth Holtzman. Readers are intelligent and will make their own determinations as to which argument is stronger.”

UN Chief: Fossil Fuel Companies “Have Humanity by the Throat”

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

Fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them “have humanity by the throat,” the UN secretary general has said, in a “blistering” attack on the industry and its backers, who are pulling in record profits amid energy prices sent soaring by the Ukraine war.

António Guterres compared fossil fuel companies to the tobacco companies that continued to push their addictive products while concealing or attacking health advice that showed clear links between smoking and cancer, the first time he has drawn such a parallel.

He said: “We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in pseudoscience and public relations—with a false narrative to minimize their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies.”

“They exploited precisely the same scandalous tactics as big tobacco decades before. Like tobacco interests, fossil fuel interests and their financial accomplices must not escape responsibility.”

Speaking to the Major Economies Forum, a climate conference organized by the White House, Guterres also castigated governments that are failing to rein in fossil fuels, and in many cases seeking increased production of gas, oil, and even coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. He said: “Nothing could be more clear or present than the danger of fossil fuel expansion. Even in the short-term, fossil fuels don’t make political or economic sense.”

US president, Joe Biden, is traveling to Saudi Arabia to push for more oil production, some EU countries are seeking to source gas from Africa and developing countries around the world, and the UK is licensing new gas fields in the North Sea.

Governments are concerned about soaring energy prices and rising food bills. Energy experts have advised more renewable energy and improvements to energy efficiency as better alternatives, but much of their advice has been ignored.

Bumper profits resulting from war in Ukraine are likely to be invested in fresh exploration and expansion of fossil fuel resources.

The Guardian understands Guterres has been incensed by the recent behavior of fossil fuel companies, which have been reaping a bonanza from energy prices sent soaring by the Ukraine war. Much of these bumper profits are likely to be invested in fresh exploration and expansion of fossil fuel resources. The Guardian recently uncovered nearly 200 new projects—”carbon bombs”—that if completed would put paid to the world’s chances of limiting global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Guterres is understood to be furious that, six months after the Cop26 climate summit, and after three dire reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the “starkest warning yet” from climate scientists—countries and businesses are ignoring the science and squandering opportunities to put the world on a greener path, when renewable energy is cheaper and safer than fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency warned last year that all new exploration and development of oil, gas and coal must cease this year to hold to the 1.5C threshold.

A senior UN official told the Guardian: “Even given the secretary general’s impressive track record of speaking truth to power, this is a blistering intervention, to the leaders of the world’s largest economies. The fossil fuel industry is taking a page out of big tobacco’s playbook, and that is utterly unacceptable to the secretary general. He’s determined to call out the fossil fuel industry and its financiers, and he won’t be constrained by any diplomatic niceties.”

The official added: “For the secretary general, this is the fight of our lives, and he won’t take a backwards step.”

The latest round of UN talks on the climate crisis, intended to pave the way for the next major summit, Cop27 this November in Egypt, ended without much progress in Bonn on Thursday evening. The outgoing UN climate chief, Patricia Espinosa, warned there was “still a lot to do” before Cop27, where countries are supposed to make good on promises made at Cop26 to strengthen their emissions-cutting plans in line with the 1.5C limit.

These Cities Decided That Paying to Host the World Cup Just Wasn’t Worth It

On Thursday FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, unveiled the 16 host cities for the 2026 men’s World Cup, which will be played in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Cities had been jockeying for a chance to be selected ever since FIFA awarded the tournament to the three nations in 2018.

There were a couple of particularly notable snubs. Washington, DC, which submitted a joint bid with Baltimore, was rejected. That’s pretty embarrassing, considering that capital cities are almost always part of a World Cup and DC is built for international tourists and corrupt bureaucrats. (Unfortunately for DC, Dan Snyder’s stadium is barely even built for football, which is why the city ended up attaching its name to Baltimore’s bid.) Edmonton’s bid was also rejected, leaving Canada with just two host cities. Why? One reason, according to journalist Grant Wahl, is that FIFA execs just weren’t especially interested in traveling to Alberta. 

It is sort of funny, in a grim way, to read about FIFA’s sudden pickiness. After all, the 2022 edition of the tournament is set in Qatar. The Gulf nation, which won the chance to host after a corrupt bidding process, doesn’t have enough hotels to house the influx of visitors, and fans literally won’t even be admitted to the country without a match ticket. It had to build its stadiums from scratch, at the cost of thousands of workers’ lives. It is also, notably, very hot. It’s so hot that the event had to be moved from its traditional summer window to a November/December timeline, disrupting the entire global soccer schedule at every level for several years—all so they can hold the tournament in a country where homosexuality is illegal. What the hell did Edmonton ever do to anyone?

As The Guardian has detailed, American cities went to great lengths to push their names into contention. Missouri legislators voted to suspend sales taxes on World Cup tickets to help Kansas City’s chances. It worked. Florida and Georgia, which did the same, will also be hosting games. Philadelphia has floated turning public parkland into professional-grade practice fields. We’re accustomed to this race to the bottom when it comes to state and local authorities trying to land sporting events (or corporate headquarters), so while it’s not ideal to see officials grovel for the attention of what a senator once called “a mafia-style crime syndicate,” it’s not unexpected.

But to me what was most interesting about this whole process was who didn’t pony up. Neither Chicago nor Montreal—two of the continent’s marquee cities, and the former a host city in 1994—participated in the final rounds of bidding. Quebec’s government complained that the projected cost had doubled in the three years since it had first entered discussions, and would cost some $103 million (Canadian)—just to host a handful of games in a stadium that already exists! Chicago cited FIFA’s opacity about the financial consequences in announcing it was dropping out. “The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn’t in Chicago’s best interests,” a spokesperson for the city said at the time. Arizona, which likewise dropped out of the bidding, complained about FIFA’s long list of demands, which include that all contracts for the event be written under Swiss law. The message from those cities and states was clear: This just isn’t going to be worth it.

As we get closer to the tournament (we’ve still got another one to play first), expect to see the usual trickle of stories touting the financial benefits of hosting a major international event. But it’s not just economists and community members speaking out about the hidden costs of hosting major sporting events this time around; it’s all the other cities who did the math and decided that the best way to watch this World Cup was on the couch.

I’ll Say It: Netflix’s “Is It Cake?” Is a Fucking Delight

When it comes to reality television, my bar is pretty low. Love Island? Great. Dancing With the Stars? Fantastic. Antiques Roadshow? Mesmerizing. Too Hot to Handle? Gold. Almost nothing is too stupid for me to enjoy. So if I have time after a long day of doing journalist stuff to settle in for some television, chances are, it’s going to be trashy.

I understand, however, that these shows aren’t for everyone. And for the most part, I keep my love of reality TV to myself. It’s sort of like cheap wine: While I will happily dip into an opened, week-old bottle of Two Buck Chuck alone on a Tuesday night, I most certainly wouldn’t bring that to, say, a dinner party with friends. Other people have standards.

But there is one show that I’ve found myself talking about to anyone who will listen: The gripping—and surprisingly wholesome—Netflix baking competition Is It Cake? (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from this show. At its most basic level, Is It Cake?, which premiered in March, is a contest between nine bakers to make hyper-realistic cakes that look like things that are not cake: designer bags, bowling pins, shoes, luggage, steak, sea shells, etcetera. If a panel of celebrity judges can’t pick the cakes out of a lineup of real objects, the bakers win some cash—and increase their odds of winning the Grand Prize of $50,000.

If you’ve spent any time on social media during the pandemic, the show’s premise may sound familiar. As Slate‘s Cleo Levin wrote shortly after Is It Cake? aired, it’s basically a rip-off of an internet trend: “[T]he show’s source material is a meme, developed from the mega-viral series of realistic cake videos of the last couple years.” In short, someone saw one of those viral videos and thought, Let’s make it into a Netflix show. It’s absurd.

@netflix

Spoiler: it’s all cake! #isitcake #netflix

♬ original sound – Netflix

The writers of the show, to some extent, seem to be aware of this. Is It Cake? knows it’s a show about items made out of cake—and leans into the ridiculousness. This is best exemplified by the self-deprecating humor of the show’s host, comedian Mikey Day, “one of the white guys on SNL,” as he puts it, whose primary job responsibilities include making (at times, cringey) jokes and slicing open cakes with a really big knife. “That’s right,” he says in one of the episodes. “They gave an idiot a machete.”

But what makes Is It Cake? great isn’t the cake art or the cake jokes or even the tension of who is going to win. It’s the cast members themselves, who, even as they compete, root for each other. In the first episode, for instance, after fooling the judges with a taco cake, TikTok-er Jonny Manganello is given the opportunity to win $5,000 if he can distinguish between a sack of cash and a cake that looks a heck of a lot like a sack of cash. He guesses correctly, and his competitors burst into applause. “You guys are so nice!” he says. In episode five, Day holds a brief “graduation ceremony,” complete with a cap and tassel for 18-year-old Justin Ellen, who missed his high school graduation to appear on the show. And when finalist Hemu Basu is asked which of the eliminated bakers she would like to bring back into the competition to assist with a final cake, she chooses Dessiree Salaverria, because “[Salaverria] wanted one more chance to show her skill to her daughter.” Then, there’s Andrew Fuller aka “Sugar Freakshow” who becomes emotional after securing a spot in the finale: “I’m always, like, the weirdo and the oddball who people don’t take seriously,” he says, his eyes filled with tears. “And I’m just not used to being the one that people consider the best. And it’s crazy ’cause these are incredibly talented people and I just feel incredibly honored…I love you guys.” Is It Cake? may be the most wholesome reality television show I’ve seen since the Queer Eye reboot aired in 2018.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that a show like Is It Cake? would resonate with audiences—it ranked in Netflix’s top 10 most popular shows in English for four weeks—at a time of so much conflict and uncertainty (see: Covid, Ukraine, abortion rights, gun violence, the economy, [insert latest crisis here]). When normalcy has dissolved, a bizarre show about cake just…makes sense. Or maybe, after the last two bitter years, we all just needed something sweet. Either way, I’m pleased to report, Is It Cake? has been renewed for another season.

Americans Grapple With a Week of Scorching Heat, Floods, and Wildfires

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

More than 100 million Americans were advised to stay indoors amid record-breaking heat, with experts warning that such temperatures could become the norm amid the climate crisis.

By Wednesday as many as 107.5 million people, more than a third of the US population, had been warned to stay inside, as a potentially lethal combination of extreme heat and humidity settled over much of the country.

The heatwave stretched from parts of the Gulf coast in the south to the Great Lakes in the Midwest, the National Weather Service (NWS) Prediction Center said.

More than 125 million people were also under heat alerts, including heat advisories and excessive heat warnings, CNN reported. “This is a day where not only folks who are susceptible to heat-related illnesses, but really just about anybody that’s going to be outside for an extended period of time is at risk for heat-related illnesses,” Matt Beitscher, a NWS meteorologist based in St Louis, told CNN.

Record high temperatures were set throughout the US, particularly in the south-west, prompting cities to try to find ways to cope with potentially lethal heat.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, temperatures reached a high of 109F (43C), tying a record set in 1956. The NWS warned that temperatures could rise higher.

In Denver, Colorado, temperatures passed 100F (38C), tying records set in 2013 for the highest temperature and the earliest day to reach 100F.

Temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona, hit 110F for four consecutive days, and night-time temperatures never dipped below 80F.

In Phoenix, Arizona, where residents increasingly struggle to cope with sweltering heat, temperatures reached 110F (43C) for four consecutive days. In that spell, night-time temperatures never dipped below 80F (27C).

Cities in the Midwest have also struggled, with government officials racing to provide cooling options for vulnerable people.

Chicago, where three women died during a heatwave last month, opened cooling centers throughout much of the city as temperatures reached 100F (38C) on Tuesday.

City officials said the city’s 75 public libraries were available to residents needing to cool down, amid concerns about a failure to properly protect civilians during dangerous temperatures.

Officials in Detroit, Michigan, advertised cooling centers for residents as high temperatures, expected to reach 100F and humidity were expected to exacerbate heat-related illnesses.

In Minneapolis, at least 14 schools without air conditioning were forced to give lessons remotely, as the city prepared for temperatures in the high 90s.

“We’ve had some prior heatwaves this year but not as intense as this one or as long,” said NWS meteorologist Alex Tardy in a video briefing.

Warning that hotter weather will continue into mid-June, Tardy said: “These are significant temperatures and temperatures that are dangerous to everyone, if you don’t take precautions.”

Scientists have repeatedly warned that recurring and intense heatwaves could become the norm as the climate crisis intensifies. Other symptoms of increasing temperatures, including wildfires and extreme flooding, have occurred in recent weeks.

Wildfires, predicted to increase by a third by 2050, have erupted across south-western states. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 2.5 million acres of land has burned this year, more than double the total last year.

In Arizona, officials have estimated that more than 24,000 acres of land had been blackened by wildfires burning in the northern part of the state. Amid a series of fires that ignited on Sunday, around 2,500 homes were evacuated and two structures damaged, said Aaron Graeser, incident commander for the blaze.

About 300 people were evacuated in California as wildfires sparked over the weekend swept a mountainous area north-east of Los Angeles, the biggest city in the state. Blazes throughout the dry region covered more than 990 acres. Fire officials from municipal, county and state agencies gathered in Los Angeles on Friday to warn about the increasing threat of wildfires amid record temperatures and ongoing drought.

In Montana, record rain caused flooding and mudslides forcing Yellowstone national park, in a rare move, to temporarily close and evacuate more than 10,000 visitors.

The park, which covers parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, closed on Monday until at least Wednesday as unprecedented flooding and rockslides knocked out electricity and damaged several parts of the park.

The most severely affected area of the national park, its northern section, may remain closed for the rest of the summer, officials said.

Trump Sycophants Advanced a Coup Plot They Knew Was Illegal

Beware the yes men. Donald Trump couldn’t have caused January 6 alone. The defeated president’s attempted putsch would not have gone as far it did, and the January 6 attack on Congress might have been avoided, if sycophantic Trump aides had not helped Trump further plans that they privately admitted were illegal and dangerous. And Trump’s coup attempt would have gone further had VP Mike Pence and his staff not finally stood up to the boss.

The select committee investigating the January 6 attack on Congress revealed Thursday that John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who helped concoct the unsupported notion that Pence could unilaterally reject electors and hand Trump another term, had begun discussing the plot before Election Day.

Eastman knew even then that the plan was unlawful: “Nowhere does it suggest the President of the Senate gets to make the determination on his own,” he wrote in comments on a draft letter to Trump that the committee revealed on Thursday. The letter, whose authorship is unclear, described how Pence could reject state electors. Eastman’s note referred to the 12th Amendment, which lays out the process for confirming electoral votes.

Even as Eastman curried favor with Trump by pushing the coup plan, he consistently admitted that it was illegal.

According to Thursday’s testimony, even as Eastman curried favor with Trump by pushing this coup plan, he consistently admitted that it was illegal. Greg Jacob, Pence’s former top lawyer, testified that Eastman had “acknowledged” in a January 4, 2021 meeting that his plan violated the Electoral Count Act. That means it was against the law.

Although Eastman asserted the law was unconstitutional, he admitted his argument wouldn’t fly. He said, according to Jacob, that no court would agree with him, and that the Supreme Court would reject his argument unanimously.

Even so, Eastman pushed his theory on Trump, who relentlessly—in public and private—pressured Pence to either reject the electors outright, handing the contest to Trump, or to announce a delay in certification. Such a delay would let states where Trump had alleged fraud send new slates of electors. In a speech at the Ellipse on January 6, Eastman called for Pence to follow the plan. Minutes later, Trump addressed the crowd, repeatedly demanding that Pence show the “courage” to declare Trump the winner of the election.

Trump later incited the mob with a tweet denouncing Pence after he refused to do the president’s bidding. Insurrectionists stormed the Capitol. Even then, Eastman continued to push his unlawful plan. In an email sent just before midnight on January 6, he claimed—ridiculously—that the holdup in vote-counting caused by the riot had violated the Electoral Count Act, and he urged Jacob to tell Pence to “consider one more relatively minor violation” of the law by announcing a delay in the vote certification.

Further evidence that Eastman knew his plan was illegal: He emailed Rudy Giuliani later, saying, “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list.” And when subpoenaed to testify by the committee, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 100 times—despite having discussed the same issues with media outlets.

Eastman wasn’t alone in pushing tactics he knew were unlawful. White House attorney Eric Herschmann, in a deposition played during Thursday’s hearing, testified that he’d spoken with Giuliani by phone the morning of January 6, and Giuliani had agreed with his argument that Pence did not have the authority to reject electors. “He said, ‘I believe that you’re probably right,'” Herschmann recounted. A few hours later, Giuliani told the Ellipse crowd that Eastman’s plan was “perfectly legal.”

Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, also aided in the plot to keep Trump in power,  even though, according to a deposition by Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, Meadows had told Short he “agreed” that Pence did not have the authority that Trump and Eastman publicly claimed.

Former Trump spokesman Jason Miller testified that Trump advisers considered Eastman “crazy” and his plan “nutty,” though Miller, too, pressured Pence to comply. 

In his own videotaped deposition, then Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Trump advisers considered Eastman “crazy” and his plan “nutty,” and acknowledged that Biden had won fairly. But in a Fox News clip the committee showed on Thursday, Miller, just before January 6, had pushed for Pence to overturn the results—Trump supporters, he warned, would remember any lawmakers who defied their man.

Miller also helped Trump pressure Pence on January 5, helping him craft a tweet that falsely claimed Trump and Pence were “in total agreement” that the vice president had “the power” to block certification of electors. 

But that was a flat-out lie. Pence had never agreed to Trump’s scheme, as Thursday’s hearing made clear, and he held firm even as Trump endangered his life on January 6. Pence and his aides spent hours on January 6 hidden in a secure location in the Capitol as insurrectionists chanting “hang Mike Pence” (with Trump’s apparent approval) roamed the halls outside. He refused to leave the Capitol and stayed around to fulfill his duty, certifying Biden’s victory and his own defeat during the wee hours of January 7.

Jacob testified that while hiding with Pence that day, he read the Bible passage Daniel 6, in which Daniel, second in command of Babylon, refuses an order from the king that he cannot carry out, and “does his duty consistent his oath to God.”

Rep. Aguilar: "How did your faith guide you on January 6th?"

Pence former counsel Greg Jacob: "My faith really sustained me through it. Down in secure location pulled out my bible, read through it, took great comfort. Daniel 6 was where I went."

#January6thCommitteeHearings pic.twitter.com/SPORxHUON6

— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) June 16, 2022

This was a surprisingly affecting moment. It’s just too bad so many of Trump minions lacked the same faith.

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