The DeSantis Advanced Placement Stunt – posted 1/29/2023

January 29, 2023 2 comments

One of the more blatant publicity-seeking stunts pulled by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been his effort to kill an Advanced Placement course in African-American studies. Following DeSantis’s lead, the Florida Department of Education rejected the AP African-American studies course as “woke indoctrination” and not “historically accurate”.

Florida’s Department of Education cited the inclusion of readings from many African-American scholars, activists and writers who discuss reparations, Black feminism, Black queer theory and intersectionality (how racism, sexism and other forms of oppression work together and build on one another). They singled out Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw and bell hooks as unacceptable. They stated the AP studies class “lacks educational value”.

I have some familiarity with advanced placement courses. Back in 1967-1968, I was in an AP class in American history in high school. A benefit of AP courses is that they allow high school students to obtain college credit. For me it meant not having to take required college courses I otherwise would have had to take.

My high school had no minority students. The American history we learned was entirely devoid of the African-American experience. I do recall a racist take on the lessons in Reconstruction but mostly the history featured exclusion of any Black voices, including the most prominent.

It is peculiar to be banning this AP course in a context where the norm is still minimal offerings in any African-American history. The assumption that teaching AP African American history is “woke indoctrination” is pure speculation and something made up by DeSantis. It is a right wing talking point and it has no reality.

Likely equally pernicious is the chilling effect on teachers. All Florida teachers must make a calculation about what is allowable to teach. What will cross the line and get them reported? Safety would dictate a sanitized history.

In looking at what Florida is doing now, I see a continuation of the erasure of historical memory. Our national deeper problem is a white blind spot where we refuse to look at the real history. Black experience in America has never been given its due and that is true not only in Florida.

Florida has a particularly rancid history though that can match Mississippi and Alabama history. Business leaders have evoked the image of the sunshine state to cover a virulently racist past. Certainly it is not the whole history but there is a nasty underbelly that is typically overlooked.

In the 1830’s, the Florida territory passed a law that stated that a free black person who left the territory could not return and that any white person could detain any Negro, slave or free, for any reason. In 1832, the Florida territory enacted another law prohibiting “Negroes to congregate for any purpose except to work or attend divine worship”.

Between 1880 and 1930, Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of all former Confederate and border states. 282 black people were lynched in Florida during these years. White supremacy was about keeping black people in their place through extra-legal violence and intimidation.

The largest known mass lynching in Florida happened in Newberry, near Gainesville, in 1916. At least six black people were murdered for alleged hog-stealing. They were dragged from the local jail by an uncontrollable mob and hung from a large oak tree. Hordes came to view the dangling, lynched bodies. No arrests were ever made for the six murders even though the lynchings were viewed by deputy sheriffs and a state senator.

One hundred years ago in 1923, a racist mob destroyed the black Florida town of Rosewood. Possibly readers saw the John Singleton film Rosewood which was inspired by that event. The massacre happened after a white woman claimed she was assaulted by a Rosewood resident. Six were murdered and black residents had to run for their lives, hiding in swamps and woods. No law enforcement agency ever investigated or charged crimes for these events.

I would note two other lynchings. In 1934, a black man, 23 year old Claude Neal, was arrested for allegedly raping and killing a white woman. News media advertised the lynching in advance. A huge crowd gathered for the spectacle. A small group in the mob tortured, mutilated and murdered Neal in secret. They then tied his body to the back of a truck and dragged him to another location where a white crowd estimated at 2000 attacked the corpse with sticks and knives.

The mob then again hung Neal’s body from a tree. The sheriff cut his body down. The next day another mob formed demanding that the body be hanged again so they could view it. When the sheriff refused, the mob rioted, injuring 200 and attempting to drive black people from the county. The Neal lynching was legendary for its brutality. It demonstrated the failure of local, state and federal authorities to curtail the practice of lynching and it propelled federal anti-lynching legislation.

Then there is the story of Willie Howard, a 15 year old who lived in Live Oaks. He was lynched for giving a Christmas card to a white girl. Two white men took Willie and his father to the Suwannee River at gunpoint.They bound Willie’s hands and feet and gave him a choice between getting shot and being drowned in the river. Willie was drowned. No murder charges were ever filed in the case. The case is often compared to Emmett Till’s but it has been lesser known.

Up until the civil rights movement, Florida maintained segregation. Separate water fountains, bathrooms, public accommodations, beaches, and segregated schools and universities were the norm defended by legal authorities. Until the 1950’s blacks were not allowed on juries. In his books, The Beast in Florida and Florida Through Black Eyes, the African-American Professor Marvin Dunn lays it all out and it’s not pretty.

This is a history white supremacists will never acknowledge so they bury it.

As DeSantis prepares for a 2024 presidential run, banning the AP course is just another performative stunt designed to outflank Trump on the far right. It is part of his effort to win over the MAGA base. The damage is in how much his anti-woke law will intimidate teachers.

Should DeSantis win the nomination and get elected in 2024, we can expect a nation-wide rollout of a plan like this. You have to ask: what makes DeSantis an authority to decide what is acceptable for America’s students about black history?

As they should, three Florida high school students are challenging the DeSantis action in court and it will be litigated. The AP stunt is a serious threat to academic freedom.

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The Supreme Court stands poised to undermine the right to strike – posted 1/22/2023

January 23, 2023 1 comment

After stripping women of their reproductive rights, the far right majority of the U.S. Supreme Court is now on the verge of weakening workers’ rights and the whole labor union movement. The Court just heard oral arguments in the case of Glacier Northwest Inc. v International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, a case that threatens workers’ right to strike.

Back in 2017, the drivers of cement-mixing trucks went on strike after they were frustrated by the failure of collective bargaining negotiations with their employer. Glacier Northwest, a Seattle-based ready-mix concrete company. Eighty five truck drivers walked off the job and went on strike. Sixteen of the drivers had trucks filled with concrete that had not yet been delivered. These workers drove their trucks back to company headquarters and left the trucks running.

The workers took the precaution of leaving their trucks running with their drums rotating so the cement would not harden and spoil. However, Glacier lacked the personnel to deliver all the concrete. The wet cement hardened and the company had to dispose of it. There was no damage to any truck. The strike settled a week later.

Afterward, Glacier sued the union in Washington state court for the intentional destruction of company property even though the ruined concrete was incidental to the strike and the workers took steps to avoid damage. The case made its way through Washington state courts. Ultimately, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Glacier’s case on the grounds it lacked jurisdiction.

The Washington Supreme Court said the case had to be heard by the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB. State court tort claims like Glacier’s are usually superseded by federal law. For a long time, the NLRB has had almost exclusive jurisdiction of strikes. The NLRB has a wealth of background, expertise and experience in labor disputes like Glacier’s.

The NLRB is a federal agency set up during the New Deal after huge strike waves in the 1930’s. The right to strike is federally protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The statute was s response to violent suppression of workers’ organizing by employers and the government. The NLRB was intended to equalize the power imbalance where workers were outgunned by corporate power.

The history of strikes in America has been an untold story and it is largely forgotten. In his classic book, Strike!, Jeremy Brecher writes:

“This book is the story of repeated, massive and often violent revolts by ordinary working people in America…The story includes virtual nation-wide general strikes, the seizure of vast industrial establishments, guerrilla warfare and armed battles with artillery and aircraft.”

To appreciate the reasons for the NLRB, it is essential to understand our labor history with its many violent episodes. In the Glacier situation, the Teamsters filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company and the NLRB issued a complaint charging the company with that unfair labor practice. Rather than accepting the NLRB’s jurisdiction, the company did an end run and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There has been a narrow exception to NLRB’s jurisdiction if a union intended to damage or vandalize property. In this instance, Glacier is saying the union intended to destroy property and they intentionally sabotaged company operations. The Court appears eager to use the case to further its anti-union agenda.

I believe the Court has two goals in taking the case. First, it wants to narrow the NLRB’s jurisdiction. Second, it wants to expose the Teamsters (and all unions) to the possibility of having to pay damages for engaging in strikes. To quote Cathy Creighton:

“Who’s going to go on strike when you know that if your strike is successful, you’ll be sued.”

The threat of being sued and sustaining damages could be a significant disincentive for any strike option. It would certainly add to any calculation. It is no accident that this is happening at a time of increased worker organizing and union resurgence. There were 316 strikes in America in 2022, up from 257 in 2021. 240 Starbucks locations unionized in the past year as well as the large Amazon warehouse in New York.

Faced with a newly invigorated labor movement, the Supreme Court is out to hobble workers’ right to strike. Withholding labor by going on strike is labor’s most powerful tool. Based on the track record of the far right Supreme Court majority, clipping labor’s wings is part of their agenda. Any Supreme Court observer can look back over the last 50 years and have a hard time finding even a single case where the justices ruled on the side of workers and against corporations.

It is a plutocrats’ court. By always siding with the rich and corporations against working people, the Court has discredited itself. Law and justice have often had a tenuous relationship but this Court is an outlier devoted to worsening economic inequality.

Back in 1971, not-yet-Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, then a corporate attorney, wrote a very influential secret memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce titled “Attack on America’s Free Enterprise System”. It embodied the long-range conservative political and legal vision. The present Court is the realization of Powell’s plan to reassert corporate power in the policy arena.

The goal of the far right conservative legal movement remains the destruction of New Deal programs created under the Franklin Roosevelt administration including a federal right to unionize. Far right conservatives have never believed the government had the legal authority to create the administrative state that has been with us for almost 100 years. They long to return to a pre-1937 view of the Constitution.

The Glacier case looks to be a step in that direction. A decision is expected later this spring or early summer.

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Defunding the IRS is a bonanza for rich tax cheats – posted 1/15/2023

January 15, 2023 2 comments

One of the first acts of the new Congress was a House Republican effort to rescind Internal Revenue Service funding. Under President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats directed almost $80 billion to the IRS over ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that this investment would net $200 billion additional revenue through the decade.

Republicans have demagogued the tax issue by making entirely false claims about the IRS funding. To quote House Speaker Kevin McCarthy: “Do you make $75,000 or less? Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents will be coming for you”. The message has been endlessly repeated by the FOX echo chamber.

All I can say is that as with so much in life, it depends what you look at. The charge that there will be 87,000 IRS agents running amok is entirely wrong. Over the last decade, the IRS lost 17,000 workers, The agency is desperately in need of IT technicians and improved technology. It also needs more taxpayer services support staff just to answer questions from the public as well as experienced auditors for corporate and high income tax evaders.

With the new funding, the great majority of IRS hires won’t be IRS agents. The unleashed 87,000 IRS agents scare is false framing. Former IRS Commissioner, Charles Rettig, a Trump appointee, has said that our country is losing a trillion dollars a year because the IRS has lacked needed resources. By far the most unpaid taxes are a result of tax evasion by the super-wealthy and large corporations.

Natasha Sarin of the Treasury Department, describing the new IRS funding, told Time Magazine:

“It is wholly inaccurate to describe any of these resources as being about increasing audit scrutiny of the middle class or small business.”

The image of an out-of-control federal agency menacing everyday Americans is another fake conspiracy theory that has long been peddled by the far right. The Republicans adopted it.

In truth, the IRS over the last decade has been reduced to a toothless tiger. Propublica has described a gutted IRS. Understaffed and working with outdated equipment, the IRS has not even gone after many wealthy tax cheaters who failed to file returns or who consciously or unintentionally misreport. The process of IRS weakening has been a death by thousand cuts rather than one dramatic layoff.

Particularly worrisome is the likely retirement of a significant percentage of experienced IRS workers in the next five years. Contrary to any image Republicans have tried to create is the reality of a demoralized and understaffed federal agency. The real danger we face is an epidemic of tax cheating and a further collapse in tax compliance that would result in tens of billions in lost government revenue.

Between 2010-2018, audits of corporations with assets over $20 billion fell from 98% to 49.3%. During the same period, audits of people with annual income over $10 million fell from 18.4% to 6.7%. The super wealthy have almost entirely escaped scrutiny.

Part of the problem has been an IRS focus on lower wage earners allegedly cheating on the Earned Income Tax Credit. The other part is the reality the IRS has lacked and still lacks the resources to handle sophisticated and complex returns of high wealth filers and businesses. The IRS may be simply outgunned by the most expensive lawyers and tax experts the rich can buy to shelter their income. That makes it easier to focus on poor earners where you can seemingly show success.

In 2019, not more than 500 of the 25,000 households reporting income over $10 million were audited. That is 2%. Talk about a scandal. As David Cay Johnston has written people can cheat like crazy with no fear of consequence. The IRS crazily spent far more money auditing the working poor than the super-rich.

The American judiciary has a soft spot for white collar crime. Tax cheating by the super-rich is almost a national pastime and tax fraud prosecutions are rare. Take the example of Donald Trump . As the New York Times reported, Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. He paid zero income taxes in 10 of the 15 years from 2000- 2015 as well as in 2020.

According to the U.S. Bureau on Labor Statistics, the average American household paid $9,302 in federal income tax in 2018, on an average earnings figure of $78,635.

Does anyone smell a rat? How is it possible that self-described billionaire Trump pays far less taxes than the average American household ? Even if entirely fabricated, Trump said he is worth $10 billion. He has intimated that the fact he pays so little in taxes makes him a smart guy but as a former president, he sets a horrible example. If he were a mafia boss living by an ethic of plausible deniability his behavior would be understandable but his example only encourages more people to cheat on their taxes.

David Cay Johnston says that the IRS rarely audits someone like Trump because the audit won’t raise revenue immediately and that looks bad on IRS performance reports. Johnston notes until 1924 all income tax returns were public. Whether or not that is a good idea now, just that fact highlights the current lack of transparency.

The new GOP effort to defund the IRS is about throwing a bone to their super-rich donor class. Professor Jennifer Mercieca says Republican messaging is meant to obscure their taxation objectives. Mercieca says:

“Since they can’t come out and say that they want low taxes for the wealthy and corporations – or, relatedly they don’t want to fund the IRS – they instead claim that average Americans’ rights are in danger.”

Although the system was supposed to tax the rich at a higher rate that is not the way it has worked out. The highest earners, on average, pay far lower tax rates than everyday earners. The tax system worsens the gross economic inequality that screws the working class. The Republican ploy to defund the IRS serves only their super-rich masters.

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Leonard Peltier’s back story – posted 1/8/2023

January 8, 2023 2 comments

Leonard Peltier remains in federal prison in Florida. He is now in his 47th year of confinement. So far, all efforts for clemency have failed. Very disappointingly, President Biden has not yet granted clemency.

I previously wrote about Peltier’s situation in 2016 and 2021. A leader in the American Indian Movement, Peltier is the foremost (and longest-serving) political prisoner in America. Among others, Amnesty International, Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, the National Congress of American Indians, James Reynolds ( a former federal prosecutor on his case) and 7 current U.S. senators have called for clemency for Peltier.

The facts in Peltier’s case are egregious. Those who are unfamiliar might assume that with such a long sentence Peltier is in prison for murder. That is not the case. Peltier was convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of two FBI agents. The government has acknowledged that they don’t know who shot the agents. Peltier was one of 40 armed Native Americans at the scene and the rap was pinned on him. Two other Native American men were also tried separately for the crime and found not guilty.

Peltier is now 78 years old and he has grossly over-served any sentence. As Native American artist Ricardo Cate has said, “It doesn’t take a prisoner swap to free Leonard Peltier”.

Most articles about the case focus on things like fabricated evidence, perjured testimony, threatened witnesses, a biased juror, the hidden exculpatory ballistics test and an array of constitutional violations. I want to tell a different part of Peltier’s history. Last June, he wrote an article about his early life. It adds an important background dimension.

When Leonard was 9 years old, he was forcibly taken to an Indian boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota. This didn’t happen in the bad old days. It was in 1952. Many Native Americans, including other leaders of the American Indian Movement like Dennis Banks, had the same experience.

Leonard was a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe in North Dakota. His grandfather played a very important role in raising him. Leonard described his grandfather as a mentor and as a person who taught him how to live off the land. Tragically, from the foot of his bed, Leonard witnessed his grandfather die from pneumonia. This led to a family crisis.

His grandmother was left in a financially desperate situation. It was so desperate she asked for help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and that turned out to be a big mistake. Instead of providing assistance, government agents came to take Leonard, his sister, and cousin away. Leonard’s grandmother cried and pleaded with the agents not to take the children. Leonard writes:

“She cried out, but he told her she would be jailed if she tried to interfere. That was it. I said nothing. I was 9 years old but I was afraid if I said anything or tried to run, the government man would take my grandmother and put her in jail.”

Leonard’s grandmother only had time to pack the few clothes they had. She asked Leonard to protect his sister and cousin. Leonard described a picture of helplessness and trauma. He went on:

“Maybe that day was my introduction to this destiny I did not choose. Little did I know that those school years would condition me well. I was treated very badly by the people in that school, but it made me stronger. I found out in boarding school I had no rights. So I guess I am not surprised that at 77 and still locked up it is the same for me now.”

Leonard describes how they were taken to a parking lot where many Native children were also being forcibly removed from their families. Leonard presents a stark picture of cultural genocide. When they got to Wahpeton, the authorities separated boys and girls and lined them up in military formation, smallest to tallest. To Leonard, it was very scary.

The children were marched to a basement where their hair was buzz-cut off. Then they had to strip and take scalding hot showers. When they left the showers, their custodians put DDT (the insecticide used in agriculture) all over their bodies. The children were told it was to kill lice. The custodians then lined the children up naked close together and spread Vaseline all over them. Then they used a towel to rub the Vaseline off. If any dead skin came off a child, that child was hit hard with a fat ruler. Leonard writes:

“They made it clear we were hated. With every look, with every cruel word, they continued a war our ancestors had fought since their ancestors landed here back in 1492.”

Leonard recalled crying and whimpering in his dorm every night. The sound of a ruler smacking boys is a traumatic memory still affecting him. Leonard wrote that the Native children at Wahpeton secretly spoke their language, sang their Native songs and prayed. Some of the kids called themselves “the Resisters”, after the French Resistance.

After three years at Wahpeton, Leonard was able to leave but he wrote that the violent and harsh memories remain. He had heard about children who committed suicide and were buried on the boarding school grounds. Some children claimed to hear phantom crying in the night. Leonard wrote “we survived with our hearts intact”. He concluded:

“You don’t treat people badly like that. I rise only when I help you rise. Despite all the beatings, I still believe it. It’s a law, like physics, and it’s true. You get nowhere being mean and disrespecting the feelings of others, especially the most vulnerable. I have seen both kinds of people and more than my share of evil ones, and I know I’m right. I rise only when I help you rise.”

In considering why President Biden has failed to grant clemency to Peltier, I am struck by the political cowardice. This is no longer the days of J. Edgar Hoover. All the FBI agents involved with the case are long gone. There is no good excuse. With Trump, you would expect he would grant clemency to the worst people, his criminal loyalists and cronies. We have a right to expect far better from Biden.

The experience of Brittney Griner shows there is no substitute for popular force President Biden to grant clemency. Leonard Peltier should not be paying the price for the still broken relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government.

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Why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/31/2022

December 31, 2022 Leave a comment

Most stories about the increase in antisemitism now focus on events like Donald Trump’s infamous Mar-a-Lago dinner with Kanye West and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. I certainly would not underestimate Ye’s influence but I would look to other places in explaining why antisemitism is worse now.

The writer Yair Rosenberg is onto something when he writes that antisemitism isn’t just anti-Jewish bigotry. It is a conspiracy theory about how the world works. We live in a time when conspiracy theories are running wild. From QAnon to 5G causing COVID-19, there is no shortage of such theories. They replace genuine critical thinking.

When ruling classes fail to address critical economic needs and leave masses of working people feeling bypassed and grossly dissatisfied with their lot in life, one technique that has been frequently resorted to by rulers is blaming ‘the Other”. Since the presidency of Donald Trump, a part of the MAGA movement has been pointing their finger at Jews as “the Other” to blame. Of course, Jews are not the only group villainized. LGBTQ people, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, immigrants, Asian-Americans and Muslims also get their share of blame.

Still, the sheer amount of blame currently directed at Jews through conspiracy theories on social media is unprecedented. There was a reason far right demonstrators at Charlottesville were chanting “Jews will not replace us”. The Great Replacement theory touted by the far right and white supremacists like Tucker Carlson places Jews centrally in their mythology. Allegedly behind minority groups are the Jewish puppet masters, promoting mass immigration, intermarriage and the extinction of white people.

Far right shooters in their manifestos invariably invoke the Great Replacement. The 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooter who killed 11 people had posted that George Soros, a liberal Jewish billionaire, was secretly controlling a Honduran migrant caravan headed for the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is anything but a new story. Antisemitism is the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories. August Bebel called it “the socialism of fools”. To grasp the depth of antisemitism as a conspiracy theory, a deeper appreciation of history is required. Jews being blamed as “the Other” has a very long history.

By the fourth century, once the church assumed state power, the intensification of the persecution of the Jews picked up steam. Jewish proselytism was outlawed in 329 by the Roman Empire. An early Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, denounced Jews as “inveterate murderers, destroyers” and “lustful, rapacious, greedy perfidious bandits” whose synagogues were “the house of the devil”.

The popular hatred toward Jews in the Christian world has had an over 1,500 year run. No doubt Jews’ alleged role in the death of Jesus played an important role even though Jesus was a Jew and it was the Romans who actually killed Jesus. The Jews were tagged with responsibility for the deicide. A stiff-necked people, Jews largely refused to convert to Christianity.

Jew-hating led to many legal restrictions on the Jews in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. Rabbi Michael Lerner writes:

“Stories of Jews killing Christian children and using their blood to make matzoh, Jews poisoning wells or Jews engaging in rapacious sexual behavior were all part of of the attempts of the Christian laity to explain to themselves why they were justified in holding these culturally sanctioned and inherited antisemitic angers.”

These stories are like early day QAnon blood libel conspiracy theories. There is a sameness to the mythology even hundreds of years later.

In 1492, the Jews in Spain were given a choice: expulsion or conversion. This followed the Massacre of 1391 which was one of the worst pogroms in the Middle Ages.

European overlords carefully circumscribed what occupations Jews could enter. The Shylock image was a reflection of economic relations where Jews were excluded from many occupations but were allowed into trade and moneylending. That way Jews were often used by rulers to appear as the public face of the oppressor.

Over the last 200 years, antisemitism has, with some interludes of peace, been a constant. Pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, the Dreyfuss affair in France and ultimately the Holocaust all testify to that.

How this European history affects antisemitism in America is a complicated question. Just as America’s treatment of Jews presents a mixed bag. America was both savior and gate-closer. America opened its doors to many but it could have done far more to save the millions of Jews who were mercilessly exterminated by the Nazis. Knowledge of the Holocaust existed in America but political will to act was lacking.

In the early 20th century, virulent antisemitism was widespread across America. Prominent elite intellectuals like Madison Grant promoted eugenics and ideas of racial purity and white nationalism. Grant had particular animosity toward Jews. Grant argued Nordic racial and male superiority and he saw Jews as racially inferior. Hitler considered Grant’s book The Passing of the Great Race his “bible’. Other famous Americans like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin further entrenched American antisemitism.

I look at the historic antisemitism as like a nest upon which newer manifestations of the same rot rest. All the antisemitic conspiracy theories are rooted in an anti-intellectual, blame-the-other mentality. The combination of MAGA fascism and social media disinformation has propelled the antisemitism forward in our era. A dark side of social media has been its ability to connect haters and to help their organization.

Because of the well-off economic circumstances of many American Jews, antisemitism has been seen as a less serious problem. A not insignificant percentage of German Jews were economically secure before the Holocaust. The danger of antisemitism must be understood and not minimized. Antisemitic hate crimes have trended higher in several major cities with higher concentrations of Jews in 2021-2022, not to mention a jump in racist and antisemitic social media posts.

Whether it is racism or antisemitism, America has not exactly embraced any Truth and Reconciliation Commission about our history. Too many remain caught in a web of denial. Conspiracy theories that blame Jews for every problem under the sun reek of what the Nazis did. That page of history must get turned.

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The Roberts court is an ethical embarrassment – posted 12/24/2022

December 24, 2022 4 comments

As a court watcher, I have long thought the U.S. Supreme Court has escaped the type of critical scrutiny it deserves. Most media coverage focuses on wins and losses without going too under the surface. But maybe that has begun to change.

2022 turned out to be the Court’s perfect storm. The Dobbs decision destroying abortion rights played a key role because of its massive unpopularity but other darker dimensions were also at play.

The Supreme Court has no written code of ethics. This glaring weakness has been repeatedly on display. The spectacle of Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni is Exhibit A. Justice Thomas has refused to recuse himself from January 6-related cases.

At first he said he had no knowledge of his wife’s insurrectionary activities. Thomas ruled on quite a few January 6 cases. He was the sole dissenter in an unsigned opinion in January that required the Trump administration to release documents related to the attack on the Capitol to a congressional committee. He also dissented in Texas and Pennsylvania challenges to election results.

More recently, he participated in Moore v Harper, the North Carolina case that raises the independent state legislative theory argued by John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark and other Trump lawyers. However preposterous the idea that Thomas was unaware of his wife’s activities, that assertion is no longer operative. All of America knew about her texts to Mark Meadows as well as her calling state legislative officials to try and change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Yet, Thomas refuses to recuse in Moore v Harper even though the appearance of impropriety could not be more blatant and in your face. Unlike the Dobbs leak, Chief Justice Roberts conducted no investigation into the factual accuracy of whether Justice Thomas had knowledge of his wife’s political activities. Roberts certainly could have investigated but he gave Thomas a pass. Hofstra Law School Professor James Sample commented:

“Never in a zillion years did I imagine a scenario where a Supreme Court justice would be ruling in a situation that could shield his or her spouse from criminal liability. And the particular crime here isn’t your minor offense – not shoplifting or jaywalking. It’s potentially a conspiracy to overturn an election for the first time in American history.”

Supposedly Supreme Court justices are self-policing. They each decide for themselves the propriety of their own ethics violations. Written codes of conduct only govern judges in the lower federal district courts and the federal appeals courts.

The Thomas debacle was complemented by the story of the former anti-abortion leader, Rev. Rob Schenck, who claimed he was told the outcome of the 2014 Hobby Lobby case weeks before it was announced publicly. The New York Times reported this story. Rev. Schenck broke with the religious right in 2018.

Rev. Schenck founded the Christian evangelical organization Faith and Action (later Faith and Liberty) in 1995. They set up their headquarters across the street from the Supreme Court. Rev. Schenck ran a covert operation called Operation Higher Court. He recruited right wing Christian millionaires to try and influence the Court. Over the years, he arranged for about 20 couples to fly to Washington DC to wine and dine justices.

The millionaires used generous gifts to the Supreme Court Historical Society, private dinners and vacations as their vehicles for access to the justices. Schenck described much success in connecting with Justices Thomas, Alito and the now-deceased Scalia. The three justices were in close touch with Donald and Gayle Wright, real estate millionaires who made big contributions to the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Steve Green, the President of Hobby Lobby, attended the Court’s holiday party in 2011. He was later a lead plaintiff in the Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores case. Schenck told the Times he received advance word of the result on June 4, 2014 and his personal emails support that. The opinion was released on June 30 with Justice Alito’s sympathy for the Green family’s religious convictions shining through. Alito has since denied providing any advance notice of the Hobby Lobby decision.

Rev. Schenck’’s agents gained special seats at oral arguments, participated in prayer sessions at the Court, and had private dinners with justices. Schenck describes rehearsing lines with the agents to make the judges feel more comfortable. They used prayer sessions with the most conservative justices in the judges’ chambers as a way to build rapport. Some of the “prayers” filed amicus briefs in cases being litigated before the Court.

There is a big “personal hospitality” exemption in Supreme Court gift reporting. It has given the justices a way around reporting luxuries they have received. Before he died in 2016, over a period of many years, Justice Scalia took 80 expensive hunting vacations where he seldom paid. He was often accompanied by Republican Party officials and individuals with interests before the Court. These trips were not reported under Supreme Court disclosure rules.

In his new book, The Scheme, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D.-R.I.) details the way it has worked. He wrote:

“..big donors could go to the owners of the fanciest resorts in the world – private islands in the Caribbean, charter yachts in the Med, ski chalets in the Rockies – and ask the owner to invite a friendly justice and give him a wonderful free undisclosed vacation.”

The donors picked up the tab. They also arranged for the justice to give a speech before an audience of his admirers like the local Federalist Society chapter. The speech could typically cover any transportation costs.

Sen. Whitehouse says that before he rewrote the Second Amendment in the case of District of Columbia v Heller, Justice Scalia was entertained at the most luxurious hunting resorts in the company of senior NRA leaders and wealthy conservative donors, including those who funded briefs in the Heller case.

The ethics issues are only one aspect of what has gone wrong with the Court. Sen. Whitehouse says the Court has been captured. He says it is captured in the same way Railroad Commissions in the 19th century were captured by railroad barons. The Court’s overwhelmingly consistent record of siding with big corporations and against workers is powerful evidence of that proposition.

Our Supreme Court is the best court dark money could engineer and buy. Never before have judicial selections been turned over to a partisan private organization like the Federalist Society. Special interests have spent more than a half billion dollars to get control over the Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, Sen. Whitehouse and Congressman Hank Johnson (D.-Ga.) introduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act. The bill would enact stronger recusal standards, would require the Court to adopt a binding code of conduct and it would mandate that the Court adopt tougher rules about disclosure of gifts and travel paid for by outside parties. It would require disclosure of the identity of funders of amicus briefs and it would block amicus filers from making gifts or providing travel to federal court of appeals judges or Supreme Court justices.

It should be clear by now that the lack of any written code of ethics for the Supreme Court is a huge embarrassment for that institution. Lawyers and judges are about process and procedure. Whatever Chief Justice Roberts might say, there is now no process for even filing an ethics complaint. Fundamental accountability is at stake. Everyday that goes by with no written code of ethics is a dagger blow to the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

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The amazing heroism of Leon Lewis – posted 12/18/2022

December 18, 2022 3 comments

While the great battle against fascism in World War 2 was fought in Europe, there was also a fight against fascism inside the United States in the 1930’s-1940’s. There is little recollection now that there was a burgeoning movement inside America that was sympathetic to the German Nazis.

The Jewish response to our American fascism during this period has been little explored. One stereotype that exists is the idea that Jews did not fight back. The stereotype is related to the European theater and the false notion that Jews went passively to their deaths in the Nazi gas chambers.

However, contrary to the stereotype, there is an amazing story of Jewish fight back against American Nazis and their sympathizers here in America. The story is wonderfully told in Steven J. Ross’s book, Hitler in Los Angeles. Ross centers the story around the anti-fascist efforts of Leon Lewis, a little-known Jewish attorney who lived in Los Angeles.

Lewis grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1913. He got an early job as the Executive Director of the newly-formed Anti-Defamation League. Lewis was a veteran and he served in army intelligence in England, France and Germany during World War 1.

After the war, Lewis moved to Los Angeles. With a background in intelligence, he started tracking the growth of anti-semitism on the west coast. As the Nazi movement advanced, the Jewish community was divided about how to respond. Some Jews favored quiet diplomacy, worrying that direct action would stir up more anti-semitism. Others pursued a much more activist path.

Lewis was in the activist camp. With close ties to the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans, he tried to interest federal and local government officials in countering the Nazi threat but, to his dismay, he found much sympathy for the Nazis within the government and law enforcement. Law enforcement, both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, were much more focused on the communists than the fascists.

From 1933 until the end of World War 2, Lewis independently initiated and ran a spy ring where he organized operatives he recruited to disrupt and counter the Nazi movement. Lewis found Aryan types with blond hair and blue eyes to be his agents. Most were German-Americans who were either anti-Nazi or financially needy. Lewis had a budget and he paid his agents.

The Nazis had a variety of front groups and Lewis’s spies were successful in penetrating inside the groups. Some of the spies rose into leadership positions in the pro-Nazi front groups. They accelerated splits and discord where they could inside the Nazi ranks.

Lewis gathered a wealth of information about what the Nazis and their front groups were up to. American intelligence agencies had no comparable operation. They came to rely on the information Lewis provided.

Money was always an issue for Lewis because he never had enough to expand as he might have liked. Later he was able to get financial support from Hollywood moguls. The Nazis had plans to assassinate Jews who were connected to the motion picture industry. They planned to kidnap and hang twenty prominent Angelenos. Among others, they wanted to murder Louis Mayer, Jack Benny, James Cagney, Eddie Cantor, Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson.

With his able associate Joseph Roos, Lewis disrupted this plot and others. Lewis learned early that the Nazis planned to sabotage the American defense industry on the west coast. His spies fed the Nazis bad information about the defense installations. Lewis tried to warn the U.S. government about this threat but he was not taken seriously.

The Nazis did shockingly blow up the Hercules powder plant, an armaments factory, in Kenvil, New Jersey. No explosion happened on the west coast largely because Lewis and his agents were monitoring defense industries for saboteurs.

The Nazis saw Los Angeles as a great place to develop a beachhead for their assault on America. In 1937 Hitler sent his personal deputy, Captain Fritz Wiedeman, to Los Angeles to assess the level of pro-Nazi sympathy on the west coast.

Wiedeman found strong sympathy for the Nazis among leading businessmen and in the west coast financial elite. The American Nazis were trying to recreate the success their German compatriots had in places in Europe. They were forming hundreds of “Hitler cells” in the Los Angeles area as a prelude to their conquest of power.

At the same time, after a six month underground investigation, a former FBI agent, James Metcalfe, reported in the Chicago Times that “an army of 20,000 American Nazis is preparing to seize control of the United States”. Ross quotes Hitler:

“ We will undermine the morale of the people of America…Once there is confusion and after we have succeeded in undermining the faith of the American people in their own government, a new group will take over. This will be the German-American group and we will help them assume power.”

It is hard to recreate how desperate and scary a time the 1930’s were in America. The depression fed hunger, mass poverty and a complete loss of faith in capitalism. It also led many to be attracted to demagogues and there was no shortage of those.

Far right extremists like Father Charles Coughlin, Gerald Winrod and William Dudley Pelley emerged. Pelley’s Silver Shirts and the German-American Bund aimed to create a fascist alternative in America. In this period, anti-semitism was almost normal and was widely accepted. Tens of millions listened to Father Coughlin’s radio broadcasts where he preached virulent anti-semitism. Coughlin was one of the most influential public figures in the United States.

Lewis and Roos gathered the information that ultimately put many American Nazi leaders behind bars. The Nazis were well aware of Lewis’s activities and for years, Lewis and his family lived under great stress. The Nazis constantly threatened his life and that of his family. Lewis died at age 65 in 1954 after suffering a fatal heart attack.

For those concerned about the spread of fascism now, Lewis provides an important positive example and lesson. He got almost no help from any official source. He relied on himself and his closest colleagues. Independently, he figured his own creative strategy of self-reliance for intervening to stop the fascists.

His accomplishments were remarkable and courageous. He showed it was a mistake to rely on governments for help that never came. His story should be far better known.

The Nazis called Lewis “the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles”. I expect he would have liked that.

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January 6 has historical precedent – posted 12/11/2022

December 11, 2022 5 comments

The sedition convictions of Oathkeepers’ leaders, Elmer Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, returned focus to the events of January 6. While the January 6 Committee has done an excellent job ferreting out facts, there remain unexplored areas of inquiry.

One area of possible inquiry is the role of Congress members in the planning of the January 6 insurrection and the effort to object to Biden’s electoral cerification. Rolling Stone has reported that multiple members of Congress participated in “dozens” of planning meetings ahead of the Capitol insurrection. Based on reports by two people who organized “Stop the Steal” rallies, Rolling Stone identified Republican Reps. Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo), Mo Brooks (Ala), Madison Cawthorne (N.C.)Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Tx) as activists in these events.

Rep. Gosar dangled “blanket pardons” to participants, implying he had spoken to Trump. He left the impression that Trump was on board with granting a wide range of pardons. That ultimately did not happen. On the morning of January 6, Rep. Gosar tweeted:
“Biden should concede. I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there.#Stop the Steal 2021@ali.”

Many Democrats raised concerns about reconnaissance tours of congressional offices led by Republican Congress members before January 6. Republicans deny the tours. Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the January 6 Committee sent Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk a letter requesting information and cooperation. Thompson’s letter said that Loudermilk gave a tour on January 5. Loudermilk denied the tour and refused to advance the discussion.

Congress members have commented on how January 6 rioters appeared to know the layout of the Capitol complex in advance. The Capitol is a maze to the uninitiated. Rioters knew the location of both hideaway offices and the underground tunnel network beneath the Capitol. The question of how the rioters knew so much remains open. As does the question of whether Congress people who aided the insurrectionists should face some discipline or criminal charges.

Of course, so much remains murky. Republicans have maintained a veil of silence. Possibly the January 6 Committee’s final report will reveal more or possibly there was a decision made not to stir up a hornet’s nest about Congress members’ January 6 participation.

Readers might think January 6 was unprecedented historically but that is not true. American history is a vast tableau and historical episodes have been excised from popular memory. Such is the case with the American fascist movement from the 1930’s-1940’s. Truly shocking parallels and stories have been forgotten.

Members of Congress who hated President Franklin Roosevelt and far right wingers were connected to a Nazi plot to overthrow the U.S. Government. The plot involved killing prominent political leaders and influential Jews. A mass movement of far right Catholics, the Christian Front, who were sympathetic to Nazism, and the Silver Shirts, homegrown fascists, spread virulent antisemitism across America. The government responded with sedition trials against many of the far right leaders.

This story is told in Rachel Maddow’s new podcast, Ultra. The podcast shows how the American fascists of the New Deal era were predecessors of our modern-day Trump-led MAGA movement. They laid the groundwork for the current incarnation of Christian nationalism and right wing extremism.

In the late 1930’s many Americans opposed any involvement in the war that was shaping up in Europe. Fascism was advancing in Germany and Italy but the America First movement and the Christian Front opposed American engagement on the side of Britain. They wanted to keep the U.S. out of the war and they also sought to soften up Americans toward Nazi Germany.

Maddow shows how an agent of Hitler’s government, George Sylvester Viereck, paid many Congressmen to distribute Nazi propaganda. The German Nazis saw Viereck as a key operative in America and they gave him a big bankroll.

The scheme Viereck devised was quite ingenious. He began by compromising Sen. Ernest Lundeen (R.-Minn), who was an isolationist. Viereck became Lundeen’s ghostwriter. In exchange for cash (Lundeen was financially strapped and desperate for money), Sen. Lundeen allowed Viereck to write his speeches and articles. Although crafted by Viereck, both speeches (including national radio addresses) and articles appeared under Lundeen’s name.

When Sen. Lundeen gave speeches on the floor of Congress, he had them inserted into the Congressional Record. Then Sen. Lundeen ordered his staff to print off millions of copies to be paid for by the U.S. government under Congressional franking privileges. Viereck literally set up shop in Lundeen’s office. He had the U.S. government covering the cost of spreading Nazi propaganda to millions of American citizens.

Sen. Lundeen died in a mysterious plane crash in 1940 but Viereck expanded his operation to include many other members of Congress including Rep. Hamilton Fish (R.-NY) and Sen. Burton K. Wheeler (R.-Mont). Viereck expanded his franking scam with them and others.

PM, a New York newspaper published an expose of Viereck two weeks before Lundeen died. Drew Pearson, a prominent reporter, also helped expose the Nazi congressional scam. Viereck was later indicted and convicted for failing to register as a foreign agent.

Federal prosecutors in the early 1940’s brought two major sedition cases against the far right extremists. Both ended unsuccessfully. The Great Sedition trial of 1944 was a circus with 29 pro-Nazi defendants. The judge totally lost control of the proceedings. The case ended in a mistrial when the trial judge died.

The federal prosecutor who tried that case, O. John Rogge, was quite an interesting figure. He came into possession of important evidence from Germany that corroborated his case and showed the extent of the Nazi penetration of Congress. Rogge wanted to publicize his findings after the mistrial but he was blocked by both the Attorney General and President Truman. Rogge had to struggle mightily to share what he had learned about the American fascists because of American government opposition.

Maddow shows how it was ordinary citizens who played the central role in advancing the fight against fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s in America. Activist citizens, lawyers and writers did more to oppose the fascists than officials in the government. In comparing then to now, that lesson still resonates. January 6 was not the first insurrection and history demands continued vigilance about the ongoing fascist threat.

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In the rail strike, both political parties failed the workers – posted 12/4/2022

December 4, 2022 2 comments

When Congress passed a bill to pre-empt a national railroad strike by imposing an agreement 55% of national railroad workers voted to reject, it was a sad object lesson. Ultimately, neither political party, Democrats or Republicans, represented or cared about worker interests.

At issue in the dispute was scheduling and guaranteed paid sick leave. The railroad workers have zero paid sick leave now. The expectation is apparently that workers should work when sick or use vacation leave if they get sick or if they have a medical appointment. If workers get sick unexpectedly they can face disciplinary action for taking time off. Scheduling pressures have been brutal and have led to many workers quitting.

President Biden, who has touted himself as a pro-labor President, failed workers here. He is forcing an agreement down workers’ throats when the majority voted “no”. Under the 1926 Railway Labor Act, the federal government has the authority to impose labor settlements on the rail industry. That industry is outside the National Labor Relations Board. Biden had campaigned in 2020 on the promise to guarantee at least 7 paid sick days.

Paid sick leave is a matter of great consequence to workers. It is a benefit 33 million American workers don’t have. About one in five civilian sector workers don’t have it. Who gets the benefit is an interesting story, CNN reports:

“Public sector workers, management and professional employees and higher-earning staffers are more likely to have access to paid sick days.”

Low-wage and part-time workers are often the ones who have no paid sick leave. Also, roughly one-third of workers in service, construction and farming occupations don’t have paid sick leave.

Congress members get unlimited sick days. They are not using vacation time when they get sick.

Having just lived through a pandemic, you might think railroad owners would reconsider paid sick leave but they hate the idea. To understand why the railroad barons are unwilling to negotiate around paid sick leave, the recent history of that industry is relevant. The writer Eric Levitz provides the best explanation I have seen. He says the bosses are fine with giving generous raises (24% over 5 years and $1000 bonuses) but paid sick leave runs afoul of P.S.R. or precision scheduled railroading. Levitz says:

“P.S.R. is an operational strategy that aims to minimize the ratio between railroad’s operating costs and their revenues through various cost-cutting and (ostensibly) efficiency-increasing measures. The basic idea is to transport more freight using fewer workers and railcars.”

Over the last six years America’s freight carriers have gotten rid of 30% of their employees. So the railroads compensate for the lost staffing by forcing workers into irregular schedules with little time off. The railroads don’t want to pay for more workers. The result is a short staffing that makes for more dangerous working conditions.

Levitz says the owners are making trains longer. Instead of two 50-car trains, they are more likely to use one 100-car train since one very long train will necessitate fewer crew members.

The railroad industry has become remarkably profitable. Last year, the seven dominant North American railway companies had a combined net income of $27 billion. This margin is double what it was 10 years earlier.

The railroad barons are treating workers like they are machines. P.S.R. has worked so well for the bosses that they want to keep it going as is even though the unions had reduced their paid sick day request from 14 days to 7 days. In this day and age, it should be clear that life can throw curve balls. Like everybody, workers may need a day off for things like a sick kid or a parent who is hospitalized or dying.

It is wrong to impose a rejected contract. Willie Adam, President of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union tweeted:

“Congress talks about saving democracy at the ballot box but they just totally undermined workplace democracy by imposing a contract that workers voted to reject.”

President Biden was obviously concerned about the cost of a potential strike and what it would mean for the economy but his actions are taking away workers’ collective bargaining rights. Only workers should be able to decide when and under what conditions they withhold their labor. Also the actions show that Democrats’ alleged concern and support for labor is mostly lip service. At a crunch time, the Democrats side with the railroad bosses and acted as strikebusters.

It must be remembered that back in 2020 Democrats also promised to pass a law that would strengthen collective bargaining, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. What exactly have the Democrats delivered for labor? Around paid sick leave, they folded, demonstrating loyalty to their rail industry donors – not workers.

As for the Republicans, their claim about being a working class party could not be more laughable. The overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House and Senate voted against labor on paid sick leave. It is not clear how you represent the working class when you oppose organized labor at every turn. The Republicans are about creating a fake pro-labor facade. They remain the big tent for MAGA fascists, QAnon believers, Christian evangelicals, libertarians and the 1%.

You have to ask: why is it that the workers are always the ones who have to sacrifice? How come workers’ sick leave is so much less important than the owners’ profits? In this era of massive income inequality, where billionaires make out like bandits, railroad workers get zero sick days.

The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer any guaranteed paid sick leave.

The Republicans may have become a horror show but the Democrats often sell out too. There is no pro-labor party in America. When he was running for president Biden rightly called the lack of paid sick leave “a national disgrace”. It is a national disgrace corporate Democrats can apparently abide.

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The campaign of hatred directed against LGBTQ people – posted 11/27/2022

November 27, 2022 1 comment

The Club Q shootings in Colorado Springs that left 5 dead and 17 injured were horrifying but not that surprising. For the last few years, there has been a campaign of hatred directed against LGBTQ people. In 2016 when the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando happened that was genuinely unexpected. Q Club felt more in the category of a likely event.

The best take I have seen on the Q Club shootings comes from the writer Jay Kuo. He said the Q Club attack was an “extremely foreseeable and statistically predictable result of hateful and dangerous rhetoric spewed by politicians and right wing pundits against the LGBTQ community”. Kuo used a term “stochastic terrorism”. He defined it as:

“..the public démonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.”

The Q Club shootings did not come from nowhere. They precisely fit the category of stochastic terrorism. There has been an escalation in the campaign to dehumanize LGBTQ people. Particularly over the last year, an organized effort of far right influencers have pushed the idea that LGBTQ people are “groomers” and pedophiles. A connection is asserted between queer and trans people and the exploitation of children.

I would describe what is a QAnon-type conspiracy logic. QAnon says Democrats are pedophiles and blood drinkers. There is no proof ever presented. An unsupported charge is repeated over and over. In spite of an absolute paucity of evidence, some people are won over to the QAnon world view by the repetition of the allegation. A similar dynamic is at play in the anti-gay, anti-trans campaign.

Just the use of the term “groomer” is an incitement against LGBTQ people. A groomer is a term for someone who attempts to sexually abuse children. Grooming is a set of manipulative behaviors sexual predators use to gain access to potential victims to coerce them to agree to the abuse and to reduce the risk of getting caught. Since there is no evidence of grooming, I would suggest that the goal of the far right is to intimidate and to erase any queer or trans presence from schools, libraries and public places.

The far right is objecting to the existence of LGBTQ people.

Many Republican candidates in the last election cycle ran on a platform that characterized queer and transgender people as groomers and many of their candidates won. Prominent politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov Greg Abbott have played to these prejudices as have notable influencers like FOX host Tucker Carlson. The accumulated prejudiced comments and actions of these bigots lead crazies to act.

2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Also, nationally, the number of legislative bills targeting LGBTQ people is at an all time high. You see nutty things going on like Boston Children’s Hospital facing bomb scares for its work with transgender youth. None of this is an accident.

The stochastic terrorism directed against LGBTQ people is not that different from the racist hate attacks on Asian-Americans or the antisemitic attacks on Jewish Americans. Xenophobia produced the massacre at the Young’s Asian Massage spa outside Atlanta. Antisemitism produced the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Repetition of homophobic, xenophobic and antisemitic memes and tropes on social media embolden the unhinged to act. It has been well-demonstrated that there is no shortage of mentally unstable individuals who are armed with AR-15-type semi-automatic rifles out there. Some are working on their manifestos and are ready to pull the trigger.

I place responsibility for the increase in hate crimes on the MAGA Republican movement. There is a causal link between their dehumanizing rhetoric and the rise in hate crimes. At this point, the MAGA movement should be recognized as the fascist movement it is. Fascism always creates an “us” and a “them”. MAGA divides the world into the good white Christians and “the other”, comprising minorities, immigrants, non-Christians and LGBTQ people.

Fascist politics are a politics of hierarchy. Making America Great Again is about restoring the power of white Christian men. Any progress by a minority, women, or LGBTQ people stokes feelings of victimhood among the MAGA faithful.

Sexual anxiety plays a big role in the MAGA fascist movement. There is much concern about declining white birthrates and the need for more white babies. Fascism thrives on the fantasy of a mythic past where everyone was assigned a place in the hierarchy. Men remain in charge and women are subordinate, tasked with the job of procreation Gender equity and women’s rights are taboo as they threaten patriarchal dominance.

LGBTQ people fall outside the stereotyped roles. Their existence poses a theological challenge to the MAGA evangelical Christian base.

Ironically, MAGA worships a leader who faces multiple allegations of sexual wrongdoing. If anyone was serious about an evidence-based view of sexual abuse and domestic violence, the largest group of perpetrators are clearly heterosexual men.

Behind the campaign of hatred directed against LGBTQ people is the most cynical calculation by Republican politicians. In the pursuit of absolute power, they will go very low. They made a coordinated decision to vilify a group despised by at least part of their evangelical base.

Dark money is financing much of the anti-LGBTQ advocacy. Christian Right billionaires with close links to MAGA have fueled the hate campaign. This dark money story has been very inadequately explored.

The historian of fascism, Ruth Ben-Ghiat has written that “the persecution of LGBTQ individuals is a constant of authoritarian governments around the world”. The fascist narrative in America is anything but “live and let live”. Positive values like tolerance and empathy have been replaced by a theology of hate.

All who support democracy and oppose autocracy must stand against the disgusting and dangerous campaign of hate MAGA Republicans have unleashed..

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