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Militias and the Culture War

Terry H. Schwadron

June 16, 2022

With heightened attention on white nationalist group militias as major contributors to the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, there’s been less focus that these same groups remain as committed to culture wars as on political upheaval.

News of two militia-sponsored confrontations this week in Idaho and California – one stopped and one that dissipated after shouting – were noteworthy for their ordinariness as well as for their targeted venues.

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, police arrested 31 masked men wearing Patriot Front tags who were enroute to a gay pride even in a town park. Police found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields inside the truck in which the militia members were traveling to disrupt a peaceful gathering meant to express joy. The disrupters had traveled from 11 states, according to news accounts and were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to riot – and are out on bail, another normally conservative bugaboo. But then local police started getting angry calls even from faraway sympathizers about having made the arrests altogether.

In San Lorenzo in northern California, a handful of Proud Boys showed up at the public library to disrupt a children’s story hour called Drag Queen Story Time. Kyle Chu, also known as drag queen Panda Dulce, had been hosting a story hour meant for preschool-aged children in celebration of Pride Month. Before the gathering broke up, the disruption resulted only in a lot of yelling of “homophobic and transphobic remarks,” police said, with no violence.

One can only wonder what preschoolers made of all of it. We can only hope that any adults at the library joined in wondering why if the Proud Boys realty cared about the children, they didn’t volunteer their own time to read stories as a positive influence rather than offering a lesson about hate, yelling and confrontation.

Hate Crimes

OK, police thankfully intervened in these incidents, no one got hurt, and authorities are considering additional hate crime charges in both.

But isn’t the bigger issue here the very “ordinariness” of what prompted a response by militia members whose world view appears to eliminate Americans whose views, lifestyle choices, race and gender identification preferences don’t comport with their own. Haven’t we been through enough of this?

What happened to If-you-don’t-like-it, don’t go. Just go to another park or another story hour or sit by yourself. Why do our personal values have to mean squashing those of others?

Haven’t we been hearing for years now about a rise in anti-Asian-American hate, increases in anti-Semitic incidents, the constant, continuing pattern of issues arising for Black citizens who dare to walk in the wrong park or neighborhood.

Whether it is through militia confrontation or state-sponsored legislative prejudice as we have seen expressed in state book bans, curriculum overstatement and limitation, anti-teacher and “anti-elite” expression, we’ve landed quite firmly in an era in which hate is being celebrated.

Worse, Aldous Huxley-like, the offense in the culture wars is expressed and justified in language about the need to defend our students from preschool age through their university years.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to use the power of the state to harass parents who see drag performances as family entertainment, threatening to use child protection service powers against parents who bring children to a “Drag the Kids to Pride” show – even though a video he saw had been from an event in Texas.

Public pride events are decades old by now, and we have may have beclouded ourselves by seeing mayors and police chiefs joining colorful annual parades as well as seeing more gay life choices reflected in our entertainment, schools, and the law.

Since 2015, Drag Queen Story Hour has been just what it sounds like—volunteer drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores to capture imagination and expose kids to role models they may never otherwise meet. From young people in our own family, kids easily recognize costuming and a world of pretend rather than seeing it as indoctrination.

Just this week, a study based on federal health surveys, estimated that nearly 1.64 million people over the age of 13 in the United States identify themselves as transgender. Isn’t it time to stop the denial that transgender is an American identity choice reflecting fluidity about gender and lifestyle?

Hate as a Shield

Proud Boys describe themselves as a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and an “anti-white guilt” agenda. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies white nationalist groups, says the actions of The Proud Boys belie any disavowals of bigotry. Members and leaders regularly spout white nationalist slogans and have organized sizeable public gatherings to denounce Muslims, Jews, gays, and transgender people.

After Charlottesville and so many political progeny events, after the constant repetition of conspiracy theories about the need to constrain the non-teaching of Critical Race Theory in our schools and the insistence that Jews and elites are bringing about a Great Replacement in the country, it hardly seems worthwhile to have to talk about truth.

It is never too late to talk about hate, however, particularly in a time when there also are millions arming themselves and courts are allowing concealed carry laws. It is never too late to tackle the expressions of fear from Americans who perceive that a white, Christian nation should crush anyone who does not fit at a time when the Supreme Court is on a campaign to roll back rights to abortion and promote religion-over-all principles.

It is never too late to defend an America that some want to exist without Americans.


On Inflation, Where’s Ingenuity?

Terry H. Schwadron

June 15, 2022

OK, Americans are seeing more lemons than lemonade these days. And Joe Biden is getting the blame – apparently even to the point of spurring inside politics discussions about whether he should seek reelection.

Inflation, high gas and food prices, ever-spiraling prescription drug and medical costs and a perception that criminals increasingly are having their way on the streets have been setting Biden back quite a bit as a matter of politics – especially because steps he has taken is not stopping a more powerful set of economic trends.

The only problem here is that most of what ails us is beyond Biden to be able to fix unilaterally. Blame fixes nothing. Supply and demand might, but both are under serious pressure without intervention.

The politics of a split Congress, particularly in an election year that looks promising for the Republican opposition, the mindless war in Europe, the long, complicated supply chain foul-up left in the aftermath of covid and even the stubbornness of the disease to leave the stage have combined to make Biden look less in control that his words would offer.

Obviously, impatient Americans don’t care if economic fundamentals are in their best health in years if we can’t afford to fill the gas tank. And so, there is an incessant desire to blame in all on an overwhelmed and weakened Joe Biden as a statement of public anger.

If the Federal Reserve moves ahead this week with a sizable boost in borrowing rates, we’ll be complaining that money is too tight, and that layoffs are looming.

In any event, we’re talking only about the bluntest of monetary tools.

Are We Learning Anything?

But isn’t it apparent by now that the U.S. president, regardless of name and party, has little to no control over prices at the pump or at the supermarket?

The economic positives that Donald Trump’s claimed were the result of ten years of economic rebuilding, and largely a continuation, though spurred by a big corporate tax cut and a wholesale campaign to dump regulations.

By extension, an op-ed column in The New York Times argues, our current inflation rise and stock market uncertainty is the natural outcome of at least a decade of easy-money policies by the Federal Reserve. That bill is now coming due, exploded by the global combination of covid effects, war and high consumer demand that doesn’t quit even in the face of reduced supply.

We’ve seen gas and oil prices zoom in recent weeks, driving up the cost of transportation for goods of all sorts.

Even if you feel that Biden policies on drilling and a diminishing future for fossil fuels in general had contributed over his two years in office to sending the price of gas from $2.50 to $3.50, even $4 a gallon, he has done nothing new to prompt the almost daily changes pushing the price beyond $5 on average nationally and much more in California.

Biden’s ordered release of a million gallons a day of strategic reserves to keep prices from going up yet more, his appeal to the Saudis and U.S. drillers to produce more now, his aggressiveness in pushing alternative energies all is falling politically flat before an American public that wants lower prices right now.  Analyses underscore that oil companies see little incentive in adding new drilling sites with the prospect of electric cars starting to turn real. We don’t care about understanding the problem, just about getting it moved out of our way.

At the same time, oil companies are showing huge profits – on the scale of nearly doubling profits from 2021. I see no widespread public protest about corporate price-setting or decisions by refiners to favor jet fuel and diesel products over more refined gasoline. There has been relatively little discussion about corporations finding it safer to avoid production increases or starting new drilling on allowed lands.

But then, why should they, when people will blame someone other than them.

Where’s Our Ingenuity?

I’ve been curious to watch how more effort is put into blame than in creating carpools and extending work-at-home policies. I’ve wondered why consumers are not building on their communal power to stop spending to force a better price break from corporations.

What is interesting to me is that when faced with a problem, Americans who salute themselves constantly for adaptive ingenuity, refuse to want to make even changes about their summer vacation plans in the face of a bad situation. That refusal comports exactly with those Americans who found that public health measures were too much to ask because it might involve making personal and even uncomfortable adjustment.

Where exactly do we find this American Exceptionalism that we hear bandied about?

Instead, we hear loud complaints for someone to fix things and see people putting anti-Biden stickers on gas pumps; we see opposition Republicans making plenty of campaign ads about Democrats causing problems that are hitting worldwide.

The Federal Reserve, for whom managing the economy is the main function, has acknowledged that its slow-cooling policies are not proving effective, and now we’re hearing talk of faster rises in basic borrowing rates to gain control over inflation.

Certainly, we ought to be concerned about a White House that finds itself bumping from crisis to crises, from supply shortages in one critical line to the next, while preaching a long-term outlook for everything from transitioning to alternative energy sources to finding a new world diplomatic order. That the president is going hat in hand to the Saudis to plead for more oil production now is out of line with a slate of concerns that do not concern oil prices, yet the economic demand of the day is prevailing.

The constant demand for cheap gas in the face of limited world supply should be raising bigger questions about matching our expectations with reality.


The Monumental Ego

Terry H. Schwadron

June 14, 2022

Momentarily set aside the specific events surrounding the Jan. 6 rioting to focus instead on the judgment from former Attorney General Bill Barr about former President Donald Trump’s rejection of election truth:

“I thought, boy. . .  he has become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” Barr said in video testimony to the House special committee investigating the post-election whine about losing that led eventually and inexorably to the fateful January 2021 riot.

Unless you are a fully subscribed, deaf-to-fact Trump believer, the remark encapsulates why Trump’s own Cabinet came to circulate ideas about invoking the 25th Amendment to force Trump out, about why generals and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper felt they had to keep Trump away from nuclear weapons, about shunning facts about losing from family and advisers,  about why, in the end, Trump pointed the mob to the Capitol and refused to stop an insurrection attempt even at the risk of bodily harm to legislators and his own vice president.

The judgment is a damning condemnation of a dangerous character, a kind of mental health red-flag notice against holding the keys to the White House. 

And now, a year and a half later, consider that this same monumental, unchecked ego wants not only to run again for president, but to be assured of a win by dismantling election procedures to allow states whose majority of voters might oppose him to allow hand-picked state officials to throw out adverse results. That’s banana republic stuff.  

Monday’s resumption of hearings to report out the congressional committee’s investigative conclusions were simple: Trump cared more about keeping Trump in the White House than about your vote and mine. And in his own behalf, he launched simultaneous and apparently fraudulent legal, political and fund-raising efforts to get that job done at any cost.

That was the message spelled out in a hearing featuring only Republicans who tried telling him otherwise, that the numbers showed he lost with no election fraud. Even Fox News showed this hearing. On Wednesday, Trump’s plot to subvert the Justice Department to win legal approval for his scheming.

Importantly, that distillation shows Trump’s willfulness in denial of election fact to pursue avenues he repeatedly was told were dead ends – willfulness that can be read as legal intent towards committing the crimes reflected in the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

Legal accountability issues aside, why would this country let such a self-serving guy run again?


Listening for Legal Intent

Terry H. Schwadron

June 13, 2022

Jan. 6 Select House Committee hearings resume this morning focusing on whether Donald Trump knew that he had lost the 2020 election and that he moved on plans to remain in office despite an insincere belief that the presidential election had been stolen.

Anyone who has not been on a desert island since then has heard Trump make the repeated claims, so at first glance you might wonder why this is the focus. The logical deduction is because these hearings are not just about re-telling the full tale; they have become about taking sides right now on the question of fighting off a continuing attack overthrow of our government — sides that need not be politically partisan, but that have been adopted that way.

Showing the evidence that Trump had been told – repeatedly – that his claims were baseless would start to build a case about his legal “intent” to remain in office, a necessary component of willfulness towards any prospective criminal charges resulting from the eventual Jan. 6 rioting, interference in congressional certification of the election, and malfeasance to stop the violence.

So, we need to listen with an ear both based on common sense and common understanding of accountability before federal law – a reflection that these hearings have multiple audiences in Congress, before the public and at the Department of Justice.

As PressWatch puts it, the documented answers to such questions as to whether Trump and his inner circle knew for sure that Trump had lost the election and that there was no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud that he claimed thereafter in disputed public remarks, losing lawsuits and feckless legislative and election audits would establish a legal baseline for criminal intent questions.

Any fund-raising done based on such a “massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information,” as Cheney put it, might end up in criminal charges as well. And there appear to be a load of other potential crimes lined up in other aspects of the hearings – all awaiting action from a Justice Department that appears skittish about sinking into the morass of charges involving partisan politics.

Who Told Trump He Lost?

So, when a clip of Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesman, appeared at the opening hearing last week saying that the campaign data people had directly informed Trump that he was losing, that may well have legal ramifications. So, too, might the testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr who profanely rejected the substance of any fraud claims in his video clip reflecting what he told Trump prove legally important.

We should expect some examination of more such testimony in today’s hearing.

The panel’s leaders, Representatives Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) asserted that they have gathered testimony that Trump was told multiple times that he faced a loss. The result, they said, was an emerging seven-part plot that included political, legal, and finally physical confrontations to throw out the official voting record in a failed attempt to keep Donald Trump in office – a near coup.

The coming hearings will explore development and execution of these overlapping plots. If Trump and associates know that Vice President Mike Pence lacked authority to overturn the election, but proceeded to argue that anyway, that also would underscore intent, according to Jon Steinman, Protect Democracy communication director.

As The Week noted, the committee heads said multiple witnesses were able to prove that Trump was told — many times and by different people — that the election was not stolen from him, including Miller’s remarks “delivered to the president in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.

Cheney said that Trump ignored the courts, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and Republican state officials who told Trump the election was fair, choosing to invest “millions of dollars in campaign funds” so he could purposely spread false information in a campaign that resulted in provoked violence on Jan. 6.

Useful Resource on the Law

If you find the content of these hearings addicting, you may be interested in a ne Brookings Institution guide to the hearings and questions of criminality from Norman Eisen, Donald Ayer, Joshua Perry, Noah Bookbinder, and E. Danya Perry, who have been part of the government organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

The report, “Trump on Trial: A Guide to the January 6 Committee Hearings and the Question of Criminality” is a comprehensive review of the proceedings, the investigation to day, the key players in the attempt to overturn the election, the known facts regarding their conduct — and the criminal law applicable to their actions.

As a matter of legal exposure, prime is the evidence about whether Trump conspired with lawyer John Eastman, Justice’s Jeffrey Clark and others to defraud the United States in violation of federal law by scheming to block the electoral count and to subvert the Department of Justice’s election enforcement work.

The report’s authors believe that there is substantial evidence of all the essential elements of those federal and state offenses and suggests there is a substantial basis for prosecutors at Justice and at the Fulton County (Ga.) District Attorney’s office to proceed with criminal counts on the basis of law, politics aside.  Recent opinions from a federal court in Washington over enforcement of subpoenaed records agree.

Wednesday’s hearing will outline Trump’s alleged plot to install Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general to advance the efforts to overturn the election. Following hearings will focus on efforts to pressure Pence to overturn the election and on Trump’s attempts to pressure state officials, as well as how he “summoned a violent mob and directed them illegally to march on the United States Capitol.”

Generally, personal involvement by Trump and those acting on his behalf through each step could constitute legal basis for any Justice Department review.


That image shows George Washington surrendering his powers to Congress, launching the idea of peaceful transfer.

Pinning the Tail on the Donald

Terry H. Schwadron

June 11, 2022

In opening what it sees as a half-dozen historically important public hearings, the Jan. 6 Select Congressional Committee pinned the tail on the Donald right from the start.

In the first minutes, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) called it a coup attempt orchestrated by Trump.

But you’ll have to stick around to watch the series – or wait for the book — to get to what we want to see as evidence.  

As you could see for yourself everywhere but Fox News, or could read about in every media outlet, including Fox, we got a smorgasbord of tantalizing video clips and assertions to underscore that the insurrection riot that day was no accident. It was an important, violent attack on our most basic tenet of democracy, and it was planned.

With this introductory portion almost all reflecting previously reported events retold in suitably compelling fashion, what we saw clearly put Donald Trump in the center of a web of scheming, summoning, and pointing his Trump-clad mob towards the Capitol, even over objection of his own team. And then Trump did little to stop the violence, the hearing asserted.

In these accounts, the bad deeds of the day, the “carnage” of a “war zone,” were led by militia groups prepared for violence in Trump’s behalf who started towards the target earlier than was widely known, and the surprise was only the repeated ties talked about between militias and the Trump inner circle.

It all underscored the image of Trump as a loose cannon as a president fixated on denying realities in pursuit of proclaiming himself anything but a loser to remain in the White House despite election results. The hints of irrationality were broad and frequent, including from his own daughter Ivanka.

There were intriguing suggestions of more to come. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the committee vice chair, said the panel had found evidence in testimony from former White House officials that multiple House Republicans, including Rep, Scott Perry (R-Pa,) had sought presidential pardons after the Jan. 6 riot for their efforts to challenge and overturn the 2020 election.

Why would anyone seek blanket pardons in Trump’s last days unless believing that he or she had broken federal law? Perry’s spokesman said Perry never sought a pardon.

Indeed, the two big questions still hang in the air, unaddressed: Will the Justice Department turn this plotting evidence into criminal charges, and will Congress take any action to forego a replay in the next election?

A Buffet of Charges

Although Cheney and Thompson kept the talk about saving democracy and peaceful transfer of power, the hearing did seem to exude an inescapable political overtone by focusing right off the bat on Trump.

Their job was to find root causes for Jan. 6, and this opening hearing jumped right to the overall conclusion without outlining issues in securing the Capitol and anticipating problems, or failed communications among agencies or even describing the full role of members in any aide and comfort given to rioters.

On Fox, commentators spent their airtime undercutting the legitimacy of the committee makeup or on asserting the importance of issues that the opening hearing did not raise – including remarks by Trump a couple of days earlier asking about National Guard deployment to protect his rallygoers rather than the Capitol.

Most Republicans tried to ignore or distance themselves. Trump himself called into Sean Hannity’s show to disparage an investigation built on partisanship rather than on his own baseless claims about a stolen election.  There were plenty of talking heads raising whether clips were taken “out of context.”

It would be easy to conclude that the MAGA mob that heeded Trump’s call to come to Washington on Jan. 6 was following a deluded leader into lawlessness and violence. It would also be easy to conclude that without an attempt at accountability, there is an excellent chance that Jan. 6 was a rehearsal for the coup to come, this time supported by localized efforts around the country to put MAGA sympathizers in charge of elections and efforts by Republican-majority state legislatures to alter voting and counting rules.  

A Mixed Plate

The aftermath seems mixed:

As a presentation, this was an effective presentation with some emotional or informative moments, and a grateful omission of endless five-minute questioning by speechmaking congressmen.

As examination of case itself, this was an introduction, with the substance still to come. With as much video and documents as the committee has collected, the job at hand was to simplify the story for the public rather than to inundate us with the needed detail.

As a legal case, this was not a trial, but certainly would align with Justice Department efforts already underway involving militia members with the prospects of prosecution against a former president unclear. Meanwhile, criminal charges continue to be filed against rioters, militias, and just this week, a leading Republican candidate for governor in Michigan as a participant in damage at the Capitol. But we don’t know whether Justice, which is reported focused on the specific plots about alternate electoral college slates, will act and when.

As politics, whether immediate or long-term, this hearing is unlikely to have changed many minds about what happened that day, whom to blame or whether Trump should be eligible to run again for president. Among some surveyed voters, the events of Jan. 6 fall substantially behind concern about today’s gasoline prices as an issue for public concern.

As a chance for Congress to look at its own behaviors, we have no idea yet. Clearly, testimony, depositions and emails shared with the panel show various levels of involvement by particular Republican members in efforts to throw out electoral votes for Joe Biden in favor of alternate Trump slates. A bipartisan bill by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to address ambiguities about the vice-presidential role in certifying elections is said to be proceeding apace in Senate negotiations.

It is remarkable how upsetting the presentation is still proving to be.