Silverglate: How Robert Mueller Tried To Entrap Me news.wgbh.org
Is special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, appointed in mid-May to lead the investigation into suspected ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and various shady (aren’t they all?) Russian officials, the choirboy that he’s being touted to be, or is he more akin to a modern-day Tomas de Torquemada, the Castilian Dominican friar who was the first Grand Inquisitor in the 15th Century Spanish Inquisition?
Given the rampant media partisanship since the election, one would think that Mueller’s appointment would lend credibility to the hunt for violations of law by candidate, now President Trump and his minions.
But I have known Mueller during key moments of his career as a federal prosecutor. My experience has taught me to approach whatever he does in the Trump investigation with a requisite degree of skepticism or, at the very least, extreme caution.
When Mueller was the acting United States Attorney in Boston, I was defense counsel in a federal criminal case in which a rather odd fellow contacted me to tell me that he had information that could assist my client. He asked to see me, and I agreed to meet. He walked into my office wearing a striking, flowing white gauze-like shirt and sat down across from me at the conference table. He was prepared, he said, to give me an affidavit to the effect that certain real estate owned by my client was purchased with lawful currency rather than, as Mueller’s office was claiming, the proceeds of illegal drug activities.
My secretary typed up the affidavit that the witness was going to sign. Just as he picked up the pen, he looked at me and said something like: “You know, all of this is actually false, but your client is an old friend of mine and I want to help him.” As I threw the putative witness out of my office, I noticed, under the flowing white shirt, a lump on his back – he was obviously wired and recording every word between us.
Years later I ran into Mueller, and I told him of my disappointment in being the target of a sting where there was no reason to think that I would knowingly present perjured evidence to a court. Mueller, half-apologetically, told me that he never really thought that I would suborn perjury, but that he had a duty to pursue the lead given to him. (That “lead,” of course, was provided by a fellow that we lawyers, among ourselves, would indelicately refer to as a “scumbag.”)
This experience made me realize that Mueller was capable of believing, at least preliminarily, any tale of criminal wrongdoing and acting upon it, despite the palpable bad character and obviously questionable motivations of his informants and witnesses. (The lesson was particularly vivid because Mueller and I overlapped at Princeton, he in the Class of 1966 and me graduating in 1964.)
Years later, my wariness toward Mueller was bolstered in an even more revelatory way. When he led the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice, I arranged in December 1990 to meet with him in Washington. I was then lead defense counsel for Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald, who had been convicted in federal court in North Carolina in 1979 of murdering his wife and two young children while stationed at Fort Bragg. Years after the trial, MacDonald (also at Princeton when Mueller and I were there) hired me and my colleagues to represent him and obtain a new trial based on shocking newly discovered evidence that demonstrated MacDonald had been framed in part by the connivance of military investigators and FBI agents. Over the years, MacDonald and his various lawyers and investigators had collected a large trove of such evidence.
The day of the meeting, I walked into the DOJ conference room, where around the table sat a phalanx of FBI agents. My three colleagues joined me. Mueller walked into the room, went to the head of the table, and opened the meeting with this admonition, reconstructed from my vivid and chilling memory: “Gentlemen: Criticism of the Bureau is a non-starter.” (Another lawyer attendee of the meeting remembered Mueller’s words slightly differently: “Prosecutorial misconduct is a non-starter.” Either version makes clear Mueller’s intent – he did not want to hear evidence that either the prosecutors or the FBI agents on the case misbehaved and framed an innocent man.)
Special counsel Mueller’s background indicates zealousness that we might expect in the Grand Inquisitor, not the choirboy.
Why Special Prosecutors Are A Bad Idea
The history of special counsels (called at different times either “independent counsel” or “special prosecutor”) is checkered and troubled, resulting in considerable Supreme Court litigation around the concept of a prosecutor acting outside of the normal DOJ chain of command.
The Supreme Court in 1988 approved, with a single dissent (Justice Antonin Scalia), the concept of an independent prosecutor. Still, all subsequent efforts to appoint such a prosecutor have led to enormous disagreements over whether justice was done. Consider Kenneth Starr’s obsessive four-year, $40-million pursuit of President Bill Clinton for having sex with a White House intern and then lying about it. Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s 2006 pursuit of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby is not as infamous, but it should be. Fitzgerald indicted and a jury later convicted Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, for lying about leaking to the New York Times the covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Subsequent revelations that there were multiple leaks and that Wilson’s CIA identity was not a secret served to discredit Libby’s indictment. Libby’s sentence was commuted. Libby’s relatively speedy reinstatement into the bar is seen by many as evidence of his unfair conviction. Considered in tandem, the campaigns against Democrat Clinton and Republican Libby raise disturbing questions about the use of special or independent prosecutors.
Yet despite the constitutional issues, the most serious problem with a special counsel is that when a prosecutor is appointed to examine closely the lives and affairs of a pre-selected group of targets, that prosecutor is almost certain to stumble across multiple actions that might be deemed criminal under the sprawling and incredibly vague federal criminal code.
In Mueller’s case, one can have a very high degree of confidence that he will uncover alleged felonies within the ranks of the inner circle of the President’s men (there are very few women to investigate in this administration). This could well include Trump himself.
I described this phenomenon long before Trump began his improbable rise, in my 2009 book “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent” (Encounter Books, updated edition, 2011). I explained how federal “fraud” statutes were so vague that just about any action in the daily life of a typically busy professional might be squeezed into the elastic definition of some kind of federal felony. Harvard Law Professor (and, I should note, my former professor and subsequent longtime friend and colleague) Alan Dershowitz has beaten me to the punch, making the case in a raft of articles and on TV and radio that none of the evidence thus far leaked to or adduced by investigative reporters constitute federal crimes.
But Mueller’s demonstrated zeal and ample resources virtually assure that indictments will come, even in the absence of actual crimes rather than behavior that is simply “politics as usual”. If Mueller claims that Trump or members of his entourage committed crimes, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily so. We should take Mueller and his prosecutorial team with a grain of salt. But a grain of salt seems an outmoded concept in an age when both sides – Trump and his critics – seem impervious to inconvenient facts. The most appropriate slogan for all the combatants on both sides of the Trump wars (including, alas, the reporters and their editors) might well be: “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up.”
Harvey Silverglate, a criminal defense and First Amendment lawyer and writer, is WGBH/News’ “Freedom Watch” columnist. He practices law in an “of counsel” capacity in the Boston law firm Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP. He is the author, most recently, of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (New York: Encounter Books, updated edition 2011). The author thanks his research assistant, Nathan McGuire, for his invaluable work on this series.
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 45% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump’s job performance. Fifty-four percent (54%) disapprove.
The latest figures include 29% who Strongly Approve of the way Trump is performing and 46% who Strongly Disapprove. This gives him a Presidential Approval Index rating of -17. (see trends).
Most Americans continue to say their families regularly display the U.S. flag on holidays, and as in the previous survey, 85% of adults consider themselves, to be patriotic Americans.
Also, voters do not see chanting “USA” as an intolerant expression.
Yet respect for the flag and the national anthem remains a contentious issue. Hundreds of NFL players have knelt, sat or avoided the National Anthem since President Trump said last Friday that players who disrespect it should be fired. Thirty-four percent (34%) of Americans say they are less likely to watch an NFL game because of the growing number of protests by players on the field.
Protests erupted in St. Louis following the acquittal of a white former police officer who fatally shot a black man in 2011. But Americans believe those protests are primarily fueled by criminals taking advantage of the situation and are not an expression of legitimate outrage.
Seventy-two percent (72%) of Likely U.S. Voters believe most politicians raise racial issues to get elected.
Voters still see a lot more corruption in the federal government than in its state and local counterparts, but there’s doubt about government honesty at every level.
As in prior years, voters remain strongly convinced that their fellow countrymen are not informed voters.
Some readers wonder how we come up with our job approval ratings for the presidentsince they often don’t show as dramatic a change as some other pollsters do. It depends on how you ask the question and whom you ask.
To get a sense of longer-term job approval trends for the president, Rasmussen Reports compiles our tracking data on a full month-by-month basis.
Rasmussen Reports has been a pioneer in the use of automated telephone polling techniques, but many other firms still utilize their own operator-assisted technology (see methodology).
Daily tracking results are collected via telephone surveys of 500 likely voters per night and reported on a three-day rolling average basis. To reach those who have abandoned traditional landline telephones, Rasmussen Reports uses an online survey tool to interview randomly selected participants from a demographically diverse panel. The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 1,500 Likely Voters is +/- 2.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Results are also compiled on a full-week basis and crosstabs for full-week results are available for Platinum Members.
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Elizabeth Warren scrambles when confronted about wealth, attacks on 1% – The American MirrorThe American Mirror
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was recently confronted with a simple question, and her reaction speaks volumes.
WRKO radio host Jeff Kuhner caught up with Warren the other day and recorded his brief encounter, during which he asked the Massachusetts senator an easy question.
“You often say, and I agree with you, that the 99 percent are getting shafted by the 1 percent,” Kuhner told Warren as she shook her head in agreement. “Let me ask you this. A lot of people, especially my listeners, say you live in Cambridge. You have a $2 million mansion, plus you’re a multi-millionaire yourself. So how can you rail against the 1 percent, when you are and live like the 1 percent?”
The senator launched into a oral history of her family and the “opportunities” that landed her in the upper-upper class.
“I wasn’t born in Cambridge,” Warren said, “I was born into a family where my daddy worked one job after another and ended up as a janitor.”
Her mother worked for minimum wage, and her brothers were in the military, and she wanted to be a school teacher and didn’t even have money to pay for the college application, she said. Eventually she graduated from a “commuter college that cost $50 a semester” to become a special needs teacher. After that, she was a mom and attended a state law school, Warren said, avoiding Kuhner’s original question.
“But you are part of the 1 percent?” the radio host persisted. “You are a multi-millionare and have a mansion in Cambridge, do you not? It’s worth north of $2 million.”
“I had opportunities because America invested in kids like me,” Warren said. “And that’s the reason I’m in public office, so I can make sure the next kid …”
“Ya, I know,” Kuhner cut her off. “But you are part of the 1 percent and you’re railing on the 1 percent. You don’t see the hypocrisy there?”
“This is whether you believe in opportunity or not, and I believe in opportunity,” Warren said as her handler suddenly remembered the senator had a pressing engagement.
“You mean the $350,000 for one course?” Kuhner shot back as Warren dashed down the hallway. “Is that what you mean by opportunity, senator?”
Kuhner’s parting shot refers to the big money Warren raked in as a Native American faculty member at Harvard.
The exorbitant salary is often cited in response to Warren’s hypocritical criticism about the high cost of higher education in America.
Folks online seemed to enjoy watching Warren squirm.
“I love this! Thank you for calling her out on it,” Rick Scherer posted. “College is too expensive … bu she gets paid 350k to teach one class!”
“She was willing to answer the questions but the minute she was confronted with something she didn’t like she couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” Susan Woods wrote.
“So you pulled up the boot straps and got out on your own and became part of the 1%,” Richard Rizza pointed out. “Why can’t everyone else do the same? Why do they need so much help, when you were able to do it?”
Trump: ‘The Problem in Venezuela Is Not that Socialism Has Been Poorly Implemented’ but ‘Faithfully Implemented’
‘All people deserve a government that cares for their safety, their interests and their well-being, including their prosperity’
Sep 19, 2017
TRUMP: “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. (Applause) From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.
“Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems. America stands with every person living under a brutal regime. Our respect for sovereignty is also a call for action. All people deserve a government that cares for their safety, their interests and their well-being, including their prosperity.”
Food Stamp Usage Has Fallen Every Month of Trump Presidency – Breitbart
Food stamp usage has declined every month since President Trump took office in January, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics on food stamp enrollment.
Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dropped to 41,310,785 in June 2017, the latest data available from the USDA, from 42,691,363 in January 2017.
Food stamp usage has been on a steady decline since Donald Trump began his presidency in January 2017, with the latest data showing that SNAP enrollment decreased by more than 1.3 million, or 3.23 percent, since the beginning of his term in office.
A closer look at the data shows that food stamp usage has been consistently decreasing each month since January 2017.
Here is the breakdown of how many people dropped off the food stamp rolls each month of 2017:
January to February- 408,956
February to March- 95,152
March to April- 521,295
April to May- 176,527
May to June- 178,648
The most significant drops in enrollment took place from January to February and March to April.
The two months where SNAP participation dropped the most can be attributed to states that started reimplementing work requirements to receive food stamps around that time.
Georgia, for example, expanded work requirements in 21 more counties that went into effect starting April 1, 2017. The state began implementing work requirements in a handful of counties in January 2016.
Alabama fully implemented work requirements in all of its counties by January 2017.
Many policies at the federal level have also contributed to the decline in food stamp enrollment overall.
Trump’s 2018 budget proposal proposed cuts to SNAP, and suggested that states match up to 20 percent of federal money allotted for the food stamp program.
The president also called for states to expand work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving food stamps if they have not already done so. Some federal lawmakers are crafting legislation to implement this policy nationwide, along with time limits on how long food stamp recipients can receive benefits.
Trump’s illegal immigration crackdown has also indirectly affected food stamp enrollment. Many immigrants, both legal and illegal, canceled their food stamps over fears they might be denied citizenship or deported.
Food stamp participation on average in 2017 has dropped to its lowest level since 2010, and the steady decrease in SNAP enrollment shows this trend has no signs of stopping.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that this downward trend will continue through the next decade, with food stamp enrollment dropping 1 to 2 percent each year. By 2027, CBO estimates that 32.5 million people would be receiving food stamps.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued a waiver to waive certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers in the vicinity of the international border near Calexico, California. The waiver was published in the Federal Register today. This waiver is pursuant to authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security by Congress and covers a variety of environmental, natural resource, and land management laws.
The Department has exercised the waiver authority in Section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), as amended, on five previous occasions from 2005 to 2008, as well as exercising this waiver authority earlier this year for a project in the San Diego area, which was announced in August. This current waiver covers certain border infrastructure projects in the United States Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector, a critical sector for border security. In fiscal year 2016 alone, the United States Border Patrol apprehended more than 19,400 undocumented immigrants and seized approximately 2,899 pounds of marijuana and approximately 126 pounds of cocaine in the El Centro Sector. The El Centro Sector remains an area of high illegal entry, and replacing the existing fencing, which was built in the 1990s and no longer meets the Border Patrol’s operational needs, is a high priority.
To begin to meet the need for additional border infrastructure in this area, DHS will implement a border fence replacement project. This project will focus on an approximately three-mile segment of the border within the El Centro Sector that starts at the Calexico West port of entry and extends westward, replacing approximately two miles of the existing primary pedestrian fence with a new bollard wall. Congress funded the project in the FY 2017 DHS Appropriations Act. Congress provided the Secretary of Homeland Security with a number of authorities necessary to carry out DHS’s border security mission. One of these authorities is found at section 102 of the IIRIRA. Section 102(a) of IIRIRA provides that the Secretary of Homeland Security shall take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States. In section 102(b) of IIRIRA, Congress has called for the installation of additional fencing, barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors on the southwest border. Finally, in section 102(c) of IIRIRA, Congress granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all legal requirements that the Secretary, in his sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure the expeditious construction of the barriers and roads authorized by section 102 of IIRIRA. The Department is implementing President Trump’s Executive Order 13767, Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements, and continues to take steps to immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border. While the waiver eliminates DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, the Department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects. DHS has been coordinating and consulting — and intends to continue doing so — with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.
LGBT group to clap for Obama, laments ‘bulleting’ of youth – The American MirrorThe American Mirror
That question is coming up again as the House Minority Leader was seen on Saturday repeatedly telling the GLAAD audience to clap and botching simple words.
Speaking of San Francisco, Pelosi said, “Our city is blessed with a large LGBTQ community, and a strong history of legacy— of advocacy…”
A painfully awkward moment came when she had to tell the gay rights group to applaud for President Obama.
“And we were very proud of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and President Obama was so very much a part of that,” Pelosi said, inserting an applause line for Obama.
“Let’s hear it for President Obama,” Pelosi said after the silence.
“That’s an applause line,” she continued, “I’ll tell you when it’s an applause line if we’re not kind of in sync.”
Pelosi told the crowd to applaud for her efforts to “end discrimination.”
She went on to say we should “stop the bullying of LGBT youth in our schools.”
When some in the audience shouted approval, Pelosi flubbed her response, saying, “Stop the bulleting of our kids!”
“Innovation must be about inclusion,” she said, adding, “Alright, applause line!” and breaking into laughs.
Public school teachers are behind a leading far-left militant group that is part of the Antifa network that federal officials say is committing “domestic terrorist violence.”
By Any Means Necessary, which has played a key role in riots in Berkeley, Sacramento and elsewhere, has dozens of public school teachers among its members, including among its most prominent leaders.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security began paying closer attention to Antifa groups in general after BAMN and other extremists started a riot and attacked marchers at a white nationalist rally in Sacramento last July, Politico reported on Friday. The Sacramento violence left at least 10 people hospitalized, several of whom had knife wounds.
One of BAMN’s most prominent organizers is Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley middle school teacher and pro-violence militant. Felarca currently faces charges of inciting a riot for her role in the Sacramento violence.
After BAMN and other antifa groups staged violent protests in Berkeley to keep right-wing author Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking, Felarca defended her group’s acts of violence. BAMN was able to cancel another event, this time an April speech by pro-Trump author Ann Coulter, by promising a repeat performance of the Milo riots. (RELATED: ‘INFERNO’ — Milo Speech Cancelled After Rioters Set Campus Ablaze [VIDEO])
The FBI and DHS say Antifa groups like BAMN are engaging in “domestic terrorist violence,” according to the Politico report.
Just last weekend, Felarca helped organize BAMN’s mass demonstrations that “shut down” an anti-Marxism rally in Berkeley. As with BAMN’s other organized actions, left-wing actors at Saturday’s demonstrations violently attacked peaceful protesters. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi condemned the Antifa violence in Berkeley, while Felarca called BAMN’s actions a “resounding success.”
BAMN’s members appear to be mixing their far-left activism with their roles as teachers. (RELATED: Documents Tie Berkeley Riot Organizers To Pro-Pedophilia Group)
BAMN organizer and high school teacher Nicole Conaway organized a “sickout” at her school in 2015, leading other teachers in calling in sick to protest the policies of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The sickout forced six Detroit-area schools to cancel classes, affecting nearly 4,000 students.
One month later, Conaway led students in a school walkout protesting poor building conditions. She was one of three BAMN organizers arrested in connection with the protest. Other BAMN members have led similar protests at the schools where they teach.
In Berkeley, Felarca and other BAMN members repeatedly abused their positions of influence over students in service of their own radical goals, Berkeley’s public school district charged in court filings obtained by local news organization Berkeleyside.
Despite repeated warnings, the district said Felarca continued to try to recruit students into her radical organization, including during work hours. The leftist teacher frequently tried to bring students on school-sponsored trips to BAMN-related activities, the district said, describing the trips as attempts to “indoctrinate” the students.
The school district accused Felarca and other BAMN members of weaponizing students to derail disciplinary hearings for Felarca, after student protesters repeatedly swarmed into the disciplinary hearings. The school district claimed that Felarca and other BAMN members “were actively trying to brainwash and manipulate” students to serve her “own selfish interests,” calling her conduct “particularly reprehensible.” Felarca continues teaching today.
Oakland Technical High School teacher and BAMN member Tania Kappner worked with Felarca this past January to organize students and teachers in a walkout in protesting Trump. Kappner was identified in the media as a BAMN member as early as 2011.
BAMN is active within both the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teacher’s union — as well as with local and regional teacher’s unions in Michigan and California.
Last year, 17 different BAMN members ran for elected positions on the Detroit Federation of Teachers, according to a newsletter sent out by the DFT. BAMN also ran five candidates for different national leadership positions with the NEA in 2017.
When the Berkeley school district suspended Felarca for her violent activism in 2016 (for which she was charged with inciting a riot), the local teacher’s union sued the school on Felarca’s behalf.
In January 2015, BAMN organizer Steve Conn was elected president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The DFT’s executive board charged Conn with misconduct later that year and removed him from office.
Conn and his wife, former teacher Heather Miller, were fired back in 2007 after leading a student protest that resulted in students being pepper sprayed. The couple sued and got their jobs back, in addition to a $300,000 settlement. Conn continues teaching today at Western High School.
BAMN was founded by the Revolutionary Workers League, an openly Marxist organization, in 1995.
As TheDC first reported in April, internal documents from the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) tie BAMN to NAMBLA., reveal the RWL — BAMN’s parent organization — worked with NAMBLA in the years just before the communist group founded BAMN.
One of BAMN’s founding members is on record identifying as a NAMBLA member, calling the pro-pedophilia group the victim of a “witch-hunt.” (Read TheDC’s full story on the ties between NAMBLA and BAMN here.)
As white supremacists go, Joey Gibson makes for a lousy one. For starters, he’s half Japanese. “I don’t feel like I’m Caucasian at all,” he says. Not to be a stickler for the rules, but this kind of talk could get you sent to Master Race remedial school.
And it gets worse. The founder of Patriot Prayer—a Vancouver, Wash.-based operation that sponsors rallies and marches promoting freedom and First Amendment rights along with all-purpose unity—also spews hippie-dippie rhetoric like “moderates have to come together” and “love and peace [are] the only way to heal this country.” Joey tends to sound less like an alt-right bully boy than a conflict-resolution facilitator or a Unitarian Sunday school teacher.
For his late August “Liberty Weekend” in the Bay Area, which was to include a free speech rally in San Francisco followed by a “No to Marxism” rally in Berkeley (headed by a local “transsexual patriot”), Joey advertised that “no extremists will be allowed in. No Nazis, Communists, KKK, Antifa, white supremacists . . . or white nationalists.” (So much for free speech.) Likewise, the advertised docket of speakers was to include “three blacks, two Hispanics, one Asian, one Samoan, one Muslim, two women, and one white male.” If becoming a liberty movement fixture doesn’t work out for Gibson, he has a promising future as a UC Berkeley admissions officer.
Despite all this, you’d have thought from the avalanche of alarmist walk-up stories that Gibson and friends would be dancing in a “Springtime for Hitler” kick line. Donald Trump, of course, who draws frequent Hitler comparisons in some quarters, has already set nerves on edge with his nativist rhetoric, perpetually divisive style, and what’s widely perceived as his winks ’n’ nods to white nationalists. But in the wake of the recent white supremacist hoedown in Charlottesville—a cesspool of racial hatred that resulted in the death of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer when a Nazi fanboy drove his Dodge Challenger into her and 19 others—opportunistic leftists/Democrats have been on the prowl to paint everyone to the right of Angela Davis as a dangerous racist lunatic.
They seem to have forgotten that the far right hardly has a monopoly on political violence. Just a couple of months before Charlottesville, a Bernie Sanders supporter opened fire on a baseball-field full of Republican congressmen, almost killing Rep. Steve Scalise. And this, of course, has been the year of antifa, the masked anarchists in black ISIS pajamas, who advocate violence while battling “fascists,” defined loosely as anyone they don’t like (including run-of-the-mill Trump supporters).
Antifa have shown up at one right-leaning gathering after another this year to administer random beat-downs with everything from metal poles to bike locks to bear spray, causing multitudinous injuries and large-scale property damage. Back in February, they literally set fires on the Berkeley campus, smashing windows as they rampaged through the city streets, to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from appearing, even though the professional provocateur frequently speaks about his penchant for sex with black men, which used to count as a social-justice twofer during less polarized times.
But when it came to Joey Gibson’s Liberty Weekend, enter Nancy Pelosi, who seems to be pining for girlhood activism days, as she’s billed this “Resistance Summer.” Gibson secured a permit for his free speech rally to be held at Crissy Field, a former Army airfield next to the Golden Gate Bridge. But Pelosi loudly suggested the permit be pulled, saying the National Park Service should reflect on its “capacity to protect the public during such a toxic” event, which she termed a “white supremacist rally.” The fact that over two-thirds of the event’s scheduled speakers were minorities, that race wasn’t being discussed, and that the event was billed a “day of freedom, spirituality, unity, peace, and patriotism” didn’t seem to cut much ice with her.
No matter, Pelosi had lots of company. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to the Park Service, expressing her dismay that Crissy Field “will be used as a venue for Patriot Prayer’s incitement, hate and intimidation.” The mayors of San Francisco and Berkeley denounced the group, too. Conservative news outlets subsequently revealed that Berkeley’s mayor, Jesse Arreguin, was a Facebook member of BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), one of the antifa affinity groups that had helped trash his own city during the Milo riots. Yet this didn’t stop him from announcing that the city had printed up 20,000 “Berkeley Stands United Against Hate” posters for its citizens, not in anticipation of antifa’s next vandalizing, sucker-punching Viking raid, but to put everyone on notice about the Patriot Prayer rally. Perhaps Arreguin was worried antifa would unfriend him on Facebook.
Properly whipped into an anti-racism frenzy, the Bay Area did what the Bay Area loves doing most. Or second most, after driving low-income minorities out of hopelessly expensive neighborhoods so that tech millionaires can live in them. They planned counterprotests! Lots of them. The events list ran to multiple pages.
There would be “empathy tents” and “mobile dance” counter rallies. They slated candlelight vigils and Michael Franti concerts, “anti-hate” marches and “Flowers Against Fascism.” One event was titled “Calling All Clowns”—a “call for anti-racist, anti-fascist clowns to descend upon Crissy Field to mercilessly ridicule any neo-nazis, white supremacists, or alt-right trolls who dare show their face.” Then there was the invitation for concerned citizens to deposit “your dog poop on Crissy Field” in order to “leave a gift for our alt-right friends.” A Guardian headline-writer billed this the “Turd Reich.”
Joey, for his part, wasn’t worried about menacing clowns or dog droppings. He was worried that his rallies would come to resemble Altamont, a hellscape of dark and eruptive violence. Since rally-goers would likely be outnumbered by hecklers and antifa ninjas by about 10-to-1 in one of the most aggressively liberal enclaves in the world, Joey was growing increasingly uneasy with the security arrangements, or lack thereof, by Park Service and law-enforcement officials.
Convinced the security situation would resemble an antifa turkey shoot for his attendees, Joey canceled Liberty Weekend. I heard the news on TV during my flight. But when I landed, he told me there was no need to board a return flight home. He was still going to pop up around town, and “there will be craziness—they will still come after me.” He wasn’t kidding.
Joey and ‘Tiny’
I meet up with Joey and his ever-present sidekick, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, in front of their budget hotel on San Francisco’s Lombard Street. Joey doesn’t look so much half-Japanese as like a Latino gang-banger, in head-to-toe black (including his Patriot Prayer T-shirt), with generous arm ink. Tiny, you might have guessed, is named ironically. He’s a 6′6″, 345-lb. Samoan. His favorite food, he says, “is food.” Grabbing a bear-paw’s worth of his own flesh, he says, “I ain’t fat, I’m stab-resistant.”
We pack into a compact rental Toyota so small that the steering wheel crushes Tiny’s crotch. Joey always buys the full-insurance package, since antifa has done everything from slash his tires to douse his car in degreaser to strip the paint job. He has been punched, pepper-sprayed, hit in the head with silly-string cans, and choked (“he looked like a dolphin,” Tiny mocks, making limp flipper motions with his hands). Tiny shows me a slash wound on his arm, courtesy of an earlier antifa encounter at one of their rallies, and a gnarled bruise on the bridge of his nose, where he caught an axe-handle from a nominal ally who thought Tiny was antifa and whacked him by mistake.
All of this sounds like the Crips versus the Bloods for white people (or for Japanese and Samoans, as the case may be). Joey is fully aware of the ridiculousness. Never particularly political—he detests labels, but allows that he’s a moderate libertarian with a strong taste for freedom—Joey came to activism through anger, as most people do these days. “I’m surrounded by anger all the time, and I really struggle with that,” he says of the often unsavory people he crosses paths with, both on his side and the other. Joey himself, though, rarely loses his cool, and even in high-pressure situations appears as calm as a Zen monk.
A Washington state house-flipper who has also spent the past decade coaching high school football (he was a starting high school quarterback himself), Joey counted himself a vague Trump supporter. Like many people, he enjoyed watching someone upset the establishment. But he was radicalized after watching online the aftermath of the June 2, 2016, Trump rally in San Jose, where departing rally-goers were hunted down, egged, and beaten like dogs in the street by vicious mobs. For those who thought Trump rallies got violent—and they occasionally did, with hecklers getting decked and candidate Trump sometimes rooting on the deckers—there are hours and hours of online footage of Trump supporters catching sustained abuse from “liberals,” assuming that term any longer applies.
Joey believed that a person should be able to attend the political rally of his choice in America, or to wear a MAGA hat in a place like Portland, Ore., without worrying about getting hit in the face. So he started Patriot Prayer in 2016—it has no employees, and he takes no money from it. He began throwing rallies and marches in liberal cities on the West Coast. In the early days, his rallies had overtly pro-Trump themes. These days, mentions of Trump have mostly been scrubbed from his own rhetoric, as he knows even invoking the name can be alienating. (Plenty of those who show up at his events are ardent Trumpers, with whom he maintains an easy rapport.) Instead, his emphasis is on freedom and unity. When I ask him to distill his message, he says, “Unity, peace, love, truth—these simple things,” sounding not at all like your average Trumpkin. “People get mad when I say that, because they say that’s not good enough. They want more specifics, like ‘What’s your view on abortion?’ They want all these political messages.”
But politics, as the last several years have evidenced, are by definition divisive. They have both amped up and divided us as a people. “We have to focus on the division, first,” Joey says. “The division is allowing extremists to be involved.” He learned that lesson the hard way earlier this year when Jeremy Christian showed up in the crowd at one of his rallies in Portland, spewing hatred and Nazi talk. Joey and his cohorts were wigged out by him and showed him the door. A month later, Christian stabbed three people on a Portland commuter train, killing two of them, after they came to the defense of two girls at whom Christian was barking anti-Muslim slurs. Proving that people are never simple—especially insane ones—Christian was largely portrayed as a Trumpkin/far-right tool, although he’d written on his Facebook page: “Bernie Sanders was the President I wanted.”
Tiny, 21, also came to politics through anger. Convinced all Trumpkins were racists, “I’d drive around and beat them up,” he says nonchalantly. When he couldn’t find any to sass him back in street encounters after he’d provoked them, he’d go home and watch other Trump supporters get pounded online. “It made me happy. F—in’ racists getting beaten up,” he said. While looking for more anti-Trumpkin-violence to enjoy, he clicked one day on video from one of Joey’s rallies. “He gave a speech” about love and unity, says Tiny. “Everything he said made me confused. I thought all these f—ers were violent and racist. So I kind of had a change of heart and reached out to Joey. If I had found out about antifa before finding out about him, I’d have been antifa, too.”
Here, Joey chants a favorite antifa chant: “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
Together, Joey and Tiny represent a sort of yin and yang of antifa foes. Joey doesn’t begrudge any of his comrades defending themselves if they’re attacked, which plenty, along with Tiny, lustily do. For instance, there’s Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman. Stickman gained Internet folk-hero status, along with his nickname, by breaking a wooden signpost over some antifa ninja’s head after they’d invaded a Trump rally in March in one of this year’s Battles of Berkeley. We head over to Stickman’s house just south of San Francisco for a strategy session and then again later to watch the Mayweather/McGregor fight.
Providing Krispy Kremes and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer as he chain-smokes American Spirits, Stickman, a squared-off salvage diver who looks like the fifth Baldwin brother, tells me that he faces eight years in the pen for some of his Braveheart exploits—all captured on YouTube, of course. Perhaps even worse, the judge said he’s not allowed to go anywhere near sticks, putting a crimp in the trademark. While Stickman admits he’s a “Western chauvinist” (his antifa adversaries love to portray him as a supremacist), he’s called the participants in Charlottesville “racist alt-right f—in’ Nazis.” His Asian wife and child appear while I’m there, once again complicating assumed narratives.
At Crissy Field, the originally scheduled Patriot Prayer rally site, a counterprotester, left, argues with a Patriot Prayer supporter, at right, August 26. (Photo credit: Helena Zemanek)
Tiny, a former youth pastor and now a strip-club bouncer, will proudly show you Internet footage of himself dropping an antifa combatant like a sack of wet cement when he foolishly chopped at the mighty Samoan. But he says Joey never, ever fights back. While Joey’s years on the gridiron suggest he can both take a hit and deliver one, Tiny says his strategy seems to be “making people feel badly about beating him up.” He’s never seen Joey throw a punch, no matter how much he’s assaulted. For the sometimes-violent racket that he’s in, it’s a very Gandhi/Jesus approach. I point out to the 33-year-old that he’s the same age J. C. was when He died. It seems to bother Joey for a second. “Well, my birthday is in November,” the married father of two says.
Joey admits he’s not some perfectly pure-of-heart missionary, that he’s also a bit of a provocateur. Though how provocative should it be, he wonders, to attend your own free-speech rallies in liberal enclaves in a free country without wishing to be physically attacked? Media types frequently charge that violence follows his rallies, and indeed it does. Precisely because antifa brings it. Blaming Patriot Prayer for provoking antifa into attacking them at their own events is a bit like blaming black marchers for provoking racist Alabama policemen into creasing their skulls with billy clubs for traversing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It’s both a denial of basic human freedoms and victim-blaming of the highest order.
When Joey draws antifa out to show themselves, it’s not really conservatives he’s trying to reach. Conservatives already loathe antifa, he says. Rather, Joey’s interested in appealing to good, honest middle-of-the-road liberals. He likes them and believes there are plenty of them still out there. They’re just not terribly vocal at the moment when it comes to suppressing their own extremists, who seem hellbent on suppressing everyone else. As with some of the rancid elements of the right, when the moderates are quiet, extremist voices become amplified. “I’m also trying to help conservatives understand that they have a warped perception of liberals, because the good liberals are keeping quiet.” Joey says. “You go on YouTube and see thousands of videos of social justice warriors acting like crazy Batman because that’s what gets the views. You’re not going to see a video of a normal liberal making sense, you know?”
Joey holds the door open for liberals in his freedom-loving unity movement, and some, including liberals of color, have joined. One African-American liberal I meet, Ryoga Vee, signed on after having an antifa member call him a Nazi and then try to set him on fire with a road flare when Vee attempted to attend Milo’s Berkeley speech out of curiosity. “I don’t care who you vote for,” Joey says, so long as you’re pro-freedom.
When Joey first started protesting, and was still operating with a lot of anger, he headed to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. He saw an “anarchist and his stupid little buddy” holding a “f— the police” sign. Joey snapped, and ripped the sign in half. “His buddy came up to the other guy and said, ‘You need to tell the police!’ ” (Presumably, not the same police referred to in the sign.) “But I felt bad,” he says. “People just need to express what they believe. You think if I tear his sign in half, all of the sudden he’s gonna be like, ‘Oh, you’re right. I shouldn’t say f— the police’? So I gave him 20 bucks for his sign. He was just shocked. He thought I was going to beat them up. He was like, ‘Do you want change?’ I said no. He said, ‘Thanks, man, I appreciate that.’ ”
It’s a lesson he has to learn over and over again: Treat people like they’re human, and they’ll cease merely to be one-dimensional objects of scorn. Joey tells me he used to be a bad person. After high school, he had a wild, self-destructive streak. He dropped out for a time, willingly going homeless, though he came from a decent, stable family. He tramped around for three years, backpacking everywhere from Hawaii to Mexico, camping in the woods and sponging off girlfriends. He used people. He used a lot of drugs, whatever was available. He even did a short stint in jail for breaking into a restaurant and “stealing 1,200 bucks just for the fun of it.”
But Joey came back. People helped him. He remembered who he was and got his heart straight again. Maybe because of his own time in darkness, he thinks everyone’s redeemable and anyone can be helped, including those we think are bad guys who don’t even know they need it. This is a truth that he thinks we’ve all but forgotten.
With Patriot Prayer’s rallies canceled at the last minute, the Patriots who made it to town anyway decide to have a press conference. They slate it for Alamo Square, across from San Francisco’s Painted Ladies. But the cops, still fearing violence, fence it off before they can get there. Unable to find a secure indoor venue, the Patriots notify some reporters, tell them not to announce the particulars so that antifa doesn’t disrupt them, and have a hurried presser in a pasture at a far-flung community center down the peninsula in Pacifica.
An ethnically diverse group of Patriots address the assembled reporters. One of them, Will Johnson, announces that he is a black American and a Christian. “This is not a neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally,” he says. “I don’t know where they got that from. I actually called Nancy Pelosi’s office and asked her to change that. There’s no way I am a white supremacist.” Looking at this black man with dreads, reporters laugh, but press on anyway with skeptical questions about the Patriots being potentially violent, forgetting that the entire reason we’re in this out-of-the-way place is to stay one step ahead of antifa, whose stated goal is shutting down “white supremacists” like an African-American man saying “we’ve got to stop this fighting in America.”
When a cop informs the Patriots that their whereabouts have leaked on social media, the press conference is hastily concluded, and Joey, Tiny, and I beat it back to the Toyota. With many of the counterprotests proceeding despite Liberty Weekend being canceled, Joey wants to pop up all over the city anyway in order to have “dialogues,” reasoning that if people can just talk to him, some of their anger and fear will recede. It does and doesn’t.
We hit Crissy Field, the originally scheduled rally site. There are just a few protesters, scattered antifa, and an overwhelming police presence. Everyone is still nervous violence will go off. Whatever dialogue could occur is mostly drowned out by a screaming woman in a shirt that reads “F— you, f— you, f— you, f— you, have a nice day.” Further dialogue is obscured by an antifa member holding two eardrum-shattering horn sirens. The cops hustle us off, suggesting we have to leave, as though the Patriots are the disturbers of the peace. On the way out of the park, another group of Patriots get their car stoned by antifa.
We stop by a restaurant, where I see a multi-generational family sitting. They are clearly protesters, as one has a “Stop Trump/Pence Fascist Regime” sign sticking out of a stroller. Another wears a Cuban revolutionary hat. Two have “Indivisible” T-shirts on. A gray-haired woman literally has flowers in her hair. I walk over to their table and ask if they’d like to meet the man they are protesting, who is sitting at the bar, nursing a Patrón while Tiny has a Sprite. Their faces grow pinched. They look uneasy. “No, thank you,” one of them says sternly. “Have a nice day.”
Afterwards, we walk down to Civic Center, where an all-day protest wrapped up about 30 minutes earlier. Joey’s presence there causes an immediate stir among the stragglers. A panicked woman in a “Resist” shirt closes a security gate, as though he might crash the stage and boost the sound system. She films him with her iPhone, as though Joey’s a dangerous wild animal she spotted on safari.
Others end up forming a circle around him, with spirited exchanges taking place as bike cops press in on all sides. A demented Indian guy wants Joey to reclaim the symbol of the swastika, which the Nazis appropriated from his people. “That’s your battle,” Joey says. There’s a Black Panther who wants to kick Stickman’s ass for allegedly pepper-spraying him at a rally, and he’s hoping Joey will give him his address. Joey won’t, but the Panther says he respects him anyway for coming down and facing the people. There’s a huffy white beardo in a rainbow “Orlando” shirt who keeps interrupting Joey accusatorily, while trying to give the floor to people of color, who he deems worthy of listening to. A masked-up antifa blasts a horn siren a foot away from Joey’s ear for a good 10 minutes, while a man dressed in a Super Girl costume, complete with red boots and cape, yells at him to stop.
A forceful black surgical nurse who calls herself a liberal ends up fiercely defending Joey and Tiny against all comers, turning the tables on liberal hypocrisy. “They’re so progressive, but they go home in their BMWs back to Glen Park, where they don’t have to walk through Tenderloin shit.” She shames people for slandering these black men as white supremacists when “we’re missing one vital element, which is whiteness.” Joey sheepishly points out that he’s not black, he’s Japanese. “You’re a person of color,” the woman barks. “I’ll take that,” he says.
The exchanges last for an hour. Though Joey stays serene throughout, the conversation rages around him like a whirlwind. It is raucous and rude but occasionally affirming and generous. It’s untidy, but there’s something beautiful about it, as there often is when people just stand in front of each other and interact, instead of regarding each other from a distance with mutual suspicion. Close your eyes and shut off the antifa horn siren, and free speech can sound a lot like music.
Mayhem in the park
The next day in Berkeley, a different tune is played. A small band of Patriots decide to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where the “No to Marxism” rally was to be held. It has now been appropriated by thousands of impromptu protesters. The Patriots will make a stand for free speech, without actually expecting to be able to talk. I ask Joey what the objective is today. “Not dying,” he says.
From the jump, it’s a goat rodeo. Our four-car caravan gets separated coming out of the hotel parking lot. When the Patriots try to rendezvous, their radios aren’t working. “Why do we need radios?” wonders Joey. “Couldn’t we just use phones like everyone else? The veterans like to have their fun.” When we get to Berkeley, nobody can find parking near each other, while staying 10 or so blocks away from the action in order to protect the cars. As the ex-military types among them seem to take a half an hour to kit up (pads, tear-gas goggles, GoPro cameras, etc.), Joey and I both have to take a leak. We do so stealthily in a nearby park. Joey doesn’t want to get caught on camera literally pissing on Berkeley. Bad optics.
While the preparations continue, I grow impatient. “Let’s go! This is Berkeley, not Somalia,” I say. Joey agrees and isn’t sure it’s wise to come in with a large contingent anyway. It makes it look like you’re spoiling for combat, and fighting is not his intention. So he stalks off towards the demonstration with me, Tiny (now in goggles and football shoulder pads), and a political rapper who plays Patriots events named Pete V, aka Political Muscle. Pete looks like a pirate with a stars’n’stripes do-rag, which in these parts doubles as a bull’s-eye on your head.
On the walk up to the square, Joey’s several paces ahead, seemingly in another zone, not even noticing the protester in the “Nasty Woman” shirt who starts filming him, as though she’s doing surveillance. After all the hype, he is now so infamous in Berkeley his face is instantly recognizable, and people act like it’s Jesse James walking into a bank. They elbow each other, scandalized.
From the moment we hit the square, the “Nazi” catcalls start. Whatever’s happening on the stage seems to cease to exist, and the energy around us turns very dark, very fast. Joey, Tiny, and Pete start walking with greater purpose, on the balls of their feet, almost like fighters entering a ring or Christians entering the Coliseum, except instead of facing one lion, they’re facing thousands. As the chants rain down (“Nazis are here! . . . F— you! . . . F—ing fascists!”), we near the stage thinking we might find some kind of buffer zone, since the police knew that some of Joey’s original rally-goers would show up. But there isn’t one. Our progress is halted when we run up into a small clearing snug up against a barrier. And behind that barrier, near the park’s “Peace Wall,” is a wall of human blackness.
A hundred or so masked-up antifa ninjas and affiliated protesters seem to simultaneously turn. It looks like we’ve interrupted al Qaeda tryouts. Joey, Tiny, and Pete all raise their hands high in the air, and flash peace signs, a conciliatory gesture. But nobody here wants peace. Not with fascists on the scene. As Joey nears the barrier, one of the ninjas swings and misses. Then the barrier topples, and they pour over, chanting, “Fascists go home!”
As I’m reading the action into my recorder, antifa slides around me on all sides, nearly carrying me off like a breaking wave. The boys are about 20 yards off and walk backwards. Pete catches a shot right on his stars’n’stripes dome from a two-by-four and goes down, blacking out for a second. Tiny, trying to protect everybody, pulls him up with his massive Samoan hand and pushes him out of the scrum. The mob ignores Pete, as he’s just an appetizer. Joey is the entree.
First he catches a slap in the head, then someone gashes him with something in his ribs. He keeps his hands up, as though that will save him, while he keeps getting dragged backwards by his shirt, Tiny trying to pull him away from the bloodthirsty ninjas. Someone crashes a flagpole smack on Joey’s head, which will leave a welt so big that Tiny later calls him “the Unicorn.” Not wishing to turn his back on the crowd, a half-speed backwards chase ensues, as Joey and Tiny are blasted with shots of bear spray and pepper spray. They hurdle a jersey barrier, crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Way while antifa continue throwing bottles at them. The mob stalks Joey and Tiny all the way to an Alameda County police line, which the two bull their way through, though the cops initially look like they’re going to play Red Rover and keep them out. No arrests are made. Except for Joey and Tiny, who are cuffed.
A crack reporter for the Los Angeles Times will later write that they were arrested for charging the police, which couldn’t be less true. A Berkeley cop tells me they were arrested for their own safety (and weren’t charged). When I catch up and reach the police line, the cops won’t let me past to follow my subjects. My reportorial dispassion has worn thin. I yell at the police for doing nothing, for standing by while two men could’ve been killed. One cop tells me there’s a thin line between solving one problem and being the cause of more, as though they’re afraid to offend antifa. I am sick at what I just witnessed. Angry, even. I wheel around on some protesters, asking them if they think it’s right to beat people down in the street. “Hell yeah,” says one. I ask them to cite anything Joey has said that offends them, as though being offended justifies this. A coward in a black mask says: “They’re f—ing Nazis. There’s nothing they have to say to offend us.”
All around me, good non-antifa liberals go about their business, pretending none of this has happened, carrying “Stand Against Hate” signs. There’s the sound truck with preachers in clerical garb, leading a “Whose streets/our streets” chant. There’s the gray-haired interdenominational “Choral Majority” singing peace songs: “There’s no hatred in my land / Where I’m bound.” I want to vomit on the Berkeley Peace Wall.
I’m made even more sick when I look down the road and see a punching, kicking mob form a circle around a new victim. By the time I roll up on them, an older man in camo-wear spits out from the maelstrom. As he runs to safety, an antifa thug runs up behind him, sucker-punching him as hard as he can in the back. I will go home that night and watch several more cold-blooded beatdowns on YouTube that I didn’t personally witness.
A squad car rolls up on the mob, but the black masks block it. The cop throws his car into slow reverse, inching backwards, as if to say “please don’t hurt me,” while an antifa member yells “F— you, pig!” Finally, I start hearing whistling smoke grenades fired by the otherwise useless police, dispersing the crowd. I watch antifa retreat in every direction, some jumping fences and cutting through residential yards. As I run down the street, getting out of range, I’m joined by a middle-aged man I saw witnessing what I just witnessed, filming it on his phone.
His name is Bobby Hutton, or at least that’s the name he gives me. He’s not antifa. He looks and talks like a surfer dude, with long hair and aviator shades, and identifies himself as a political activist. He’s smiling, seemingly entertained by the spectacle. I ask him how he can smile, as if what we’ve just witnessed is all okay. “It’s politics,” he says, shrugging. “Politics is in the street. Always has been, and always will be.” I tell him I’m profiling Joey. “Oh, that’s fun,” he says. I add that I haven’t heard one disturbing, racist thing come out of Joey’s mouth. “I’m familiar with Joey’s presence,” Hutton says. “And you’re right that he stays on this side of white supremacy. But he’s a shit disturber. And if you wanna disturb shit, Berkeley’s always been a good place for that. There aren’t a lot of places in America where you can get this kind of opposition, and Joey knows that. Which is why Joey’s here.”
Hutton claims antifa has “legitimate political beliefs.” I tell him beating people down in the street to suppress their speech doesn’t sound very legitimate or American to me, and that eventually, if this nonsense continues, somebody’s going to get killed, just as someone was in Charlottesville. Violence, he says, still smiling, is “as American as apple pie. Berkeley pie.”
“You can’t like this,” I tell him.
“If you like the horseshoe theory of American politics,” he rejoins, “the far right and the far left are closer than either believe.”
‘We can’t just shut up’
My phone rings, showing Joey’s number, but it’s Tiny, telling me Joey’s been taken to the hospital. Tiny’s about to be released from police custody. He’ll pick me up on a side street behind the station, so as not to attract more antifa attention. When I get into the Toyota, I suggest that Tiny maybe ought to change out of his American flag shirt if he wants to be stealthy. A red-white-and-blue 6′6″ Samoan doesn’t exactly whisper, “Ignore me.” But Tiny is obstinate: “They wanna rip off this shirt? Kill me. Because it ain’t comin’ off.”
We head to the hospital. Joey is discharged, wearing doctor scrubs and socks, holding his clothes and shoes in a plastic bag, completely saturated with bear and pepper spray. They had to scrub him down in the shower for an hour to get it off, his skin burning all the while. I’ve taken the wheel of the Toyota, with Tiny sleeping in the cramped back seat after injuring his ribs. He insists they’re not broken, but his forehead is clammy, and he’s cold sweating.
Tiny and Joey, post-release. (Photo credit: Helena Zemanek)
I tell my battle-weary subjects I’ll treat them to dinner and drinks after their ordeal, but we’re getting the hell out of Berkeley, as I honestly don’t trust that they won’t be attacked again, here in the cradle of the Free Speech Movement, if somebody spots them. As we drive over the San Mateo Bridge, I ask Joey how he feels about what happened today. “I’m starting to love this town,” he deadpans. “It’s starting to be my playground.”
Then he gets serious. “We can’t just shut up, just be quiet, and let this evil continue. The darkness continues to get bigger and bigger in our country, and it will be gone. The country will burn, I’m telling you, if we don’t do things to stand up against it. We all take it for granted. We take for granted everything that we have. That’s why we have to wake up and understand. Goddamn, we have too much to lose.” His eyes well as he takes a long pause, looking out on the shimmering San Francisco Bay. “We can’t stand by, we’ve gotta stand up. And we’ve got to do it together, or it’s gonna be gone.”
Chuck Schumer is in a spirited mood. “This is going to be one of the biggest fights of the next three, four months,” the Senate minority leader said recently of the coming debate over tax cuts. “And Democrats are ready for it.”
No doubt they are. But the relevant question is: Does their readiness even matter? Last month Mitch McConnell said he planned to bring taxes to the Senate floor under the budget reconciliation procedure. That would bypass the filibuster. The bill could pass by majority vote. No Democrats required.
And Republicans are unlikely to experience the defections over taxes that doomed them on health care. The health bill was a mess, a product of Republican confusion and infighting. There is no such uncertainty toward cutting taxes.
This is not to say that a cut is a done deal. Congressional Republicans may find a way to screw up. Fumbling the ball at the one-yard line is a specialty of theirs. But the prospect that GOP incompetence may rob the Trump administration of another legislative victory only underscores the fundamental point: Chuck Schumer’s big words to the contrary notwithstanding, the Democrats are irrelevant to the power equation in Donald Trump’s Washington.
That equation consists of five variables. None is called (D).
The president, through sheer cultural weight, is the dominant figure on the world stage. Brian Stelter of CNN remarked on Thursday that Hurricane Harvey was the first story in months, perhaps years, to displace Donald Trump from the top headlines. If it takes an act of God to upstage you, you know you are famous. Trump’s every word, every gesture, becomes the subject of controversy, discussion, analysis, rebuke, approval. He sets the agenda through social media and executive power. His wounds are largely self-inflicted. But he has also to rely on allies who are not entirely reliable.
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have helped the president with deregulation and reform of the Veterans Health Administration. But they have had difficulty with the larger questions of taxes, health care, immigration, and the budget. That is because Ryan and McConnell are traditional members of the Grand Old Party, whereas the president is the founding member of the Party of Trump. The two parties disagree over strategy, tactics, priorities, and policy.
Moreover, as Ramesh Ponnuru observes in the September 11, 2017, issue of National Review, the Grand Old Party is itself divided into 1) pro-business moderates like Ryan and McConnell, 2) Tea Party conservatives like Mark Meadows and Ted Cruz, and 3) working-class populists like Tom Cotton and Lou Barletta. For these groups to agree on a plan of action, in a way that satisfies President Trump, is a Herculean task.
The debate within the Grand Old Party, and between the GOP and the Party of Trump, is where the action is. Democrats are bystanders.
Whatever name they go by—antifa, cultural Marxists, social justice warriors, Black Lives Matter—it is the left, not the liberals, who are the most active and energetic counter-Trump force in America today. Marxists would say Trump and the left-wingers relate to one another in dialectical terms. He is the thesis, they the anti-thesis. The synthesis? Your guess is as good as mine.
Do not overlook the fact that the left is as opposed to the corporate liberals within the Democrat Party as it is to Trump. The Democrats denied the presidential nomination to Bernie Sanders and the party chairmanship to Keith Ellison. The Democrats worry about a backlash to the iconoclasm that would knock down statues of Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington in the name of anti-racism. The Democrats cavil over whether to support the single-payer health care system embraced by Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and the left. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi denounces the violence of antifa, and Dianne Feinstein is booed in San Francisco when she says that she hopes President Trump learns from his mistakes.
Reduced to its weakest position in decades, under heavy fire from its left flank, the Democratic Party has limited tools with which to respond to President Trump and the Republican majority. Its leaders Pelosi and Schumer have relied on legislative chicanery to slow down the Republicans in the Senate and verbal criticism from the sidelines. Increasingly the fight is not between Republicans and Democrats, but between the “right” symbolized by Trump and the “left” symbolized by black-shirted masked hooligans. And that is a fight Trump wins. Every time.
It is not a condemnation of journalists or journalism to say that most of the damage done to the Trump administration has come from negative press coverage. The media amplify Trump’s mistakes, highlight every criticism, publicize the tiniest details of the Russia investigations, dog him with tenacity not witnessed since Nixon. Of course he repays the favor. The media are not as powerful as they were during Watergate when there were only four television channels, three major papers, no Internet, and no social media. Do not doubt, though, the capacity of the press to shape public opinion and, in particular, shame elites of both parties into behaving like good liberals.
The fifth variable in our set is the most opaque, since it operates largely outside public scrutiny. It is also the most unpredictable, because its motives and objectives are unknown. And it is potentially the most important, because it has the power to reduce the strength of, if not remove altogether, one or two of the other variables. Its name is Robert Mueller.