Freedom News

Notes from the US

Freedom’s long-running US correspondent Louis Further does his monthly roundup of some of the lesser-known stories that have emerged over the last few weeks.

The grip of the Trump cult continues to grow in many areas of political (and social) life in the United States. Also growing are the number of states abandoning mask mandates and the number of deaths from Covid in the country – to over 900,000. The far right and fascist propaganda outlets continue to deny the pandemic’s severity, encourage people to disobey public health measures, advance supremacist dogma and push the Big Lie that Trump won the last election.

Oppression

As we always say here, anarchists don’t set a lot of store by elections, which almost always replace one segment of the élite with another. So it’s with less alarm than most voters in the US will have that we note just how involved, thorough and far-reaching were Trump’s attempts to steal the last election in 2020. It is now known and being steadily documented that he and his addicts arranged for ballot boxes to be swapped and their contents replaced; for fake electors to return fake ‘results’ to be counted; and for fake and lying officials – including sitting lawmakers – to comply. Testimony given since the start of 2022 to the January 6 Select Committee has revealed just how widespread and far-reaching were the Trump gang’s plans to overturn the election. The Putsch on 6 January, it seems, was but a last ditch episode after everything else failed.

Trump cultists and their addicts – because of, not despite, this attempted and rolling coup – still meet with the approval of huge swathes of Republican voters; and the majority of the Republican party. At the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) winter meeting on 4 February, the official position of the party became that the violent insurrection on 6 January 2021 was “legitimate political discourse”. It saw several deaths, many injuries and much damage, and – had succeeded, would have (in theory) meant the return of Trump. Typical of right wing media outlets’ and prominent Republicans’ responses to the RNC’s assertion was that of a Texas Republican: Michael Cloud. He said, “It was mostly a peaceful protest” rejecting the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell’s comment that the events of January 6 were a riot. To this Trump in turn responded: “Mitch McConnell does not speak for the Republican Party, and does not represent the views of the vast majority of its voters”.

To spell it out: the Republican Party in the United States now officially believes in overturning elections using armed insurrection, murder, destruction and deceit in order to retain power.

On the weekend immediately after the public holiday in the United States celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Trump held a supremacist rally in Oklahoma at which the main speakers all shouted the lie: that Trump won the last election. Kari Lake, Trump’s pick for governor, for instance did. So did Mark Finchem, already an Arizona state representative, Qanon supporter and member of the paramilitary fascist Oath Keepers. Trump has endorsed Fincham to be the state’s top election official as secretary of state – on of the most senior and powerful offices in a US state.

Just before the rally, Trump posted a video echoing the tenet of Stalin that “sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate”. Anarchists see party politics as little more than a reformist distraction to real change. Yet if such people as these – and many thousands like them – gain any sort of power in this year’s mid term elections in November, it seems possible that ‘democracy’ in the United States – at least as it has existed so far – will cease to exist. It would be replaced by a fascist party espousing white supremacy, illicit dogma and selfishness. The destruction (of lives, of the environment, of healthcare, of any kind of aspiration towards even token equality of opportunity, towards any sort of imaginative education) would increase as its perpetrators remained in permanent office.

Much of this seems likely to be achieved not only because Republican states continue to appoint election officials who will not hesitate to overturn election results which returned their opponents on spurious grounds of what they call ‘election integrity’. But also because they are redrawing the polling districts in their favour. Although the US Supreme Court has pushed back on some states’ restrictive voting measures – as in South Carolina – the Court seems likely to side with the states in the long run and effectively gut the Voting Rights Act which was passed after the Civil War in the C19th specifically to make illegal those same discriminatory voting practices that are now being re-adopted in many (southern) trumpy states.

Last month, for example, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis began to push a new congressional map which would significantly skew election outcomes for the Republicans. It would scoop up, and hence limit, seats likely to be won by Democrats into just three urban areas: Tampa, Orlando and Miami. Republicans would consequently be almost sure to win more seats in at least 18 (and maybe as many as 20) of the remaining 28 districts in the state.

DeSantis’ administration is also moving ahead with what it calls the ‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill, which its opponents call the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. It tries to prevent any curriculum in the state from dealing with, mentioning – let alone looking intelligently at acceptance of – anything to do with LGBTQ world, culture and rights. The bill in Florida seeks to ‘…prohibit […] a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity … or in a specified manner’, whatever that means: probably a way to gain more catchall control.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation held a show last month (‘Shot Show’) at which a company called ‘WEE1 Tactical’ marketed the ‘Tactical JR-15’ gun – for children. The murder weapon “…operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun… and functions like a modern sporting rifle… [but its] …lightweight and rugged polymer construction and ergonomics are geared towards children…”. Finding appropriate responses to such a development is not hard. Perhaps those of Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, sum it up as well as any: “At first glance, this comes across as a grotesque joke. On second look, it’s just grotesque. That a gun-maker has embraced imagery of dead children to promote gun ownership by youth surreally illustrates how detached this industry is from the death and injury that result from its products, especially among the young.”

Racism

We reported last month how the fetish against anti-racism and respect for any other culture except the one approved of by Republican governors and legislators is leading to book-burning and the exclusion in schools of topics dealing with racism. This is still gaining momentum; as are some states’ attempts to ban information which isn’t actually even being used in schools. So wild has the push for white supremacy become that legislators in Virginia, for instance, recently introduced a bill to ban the teaching of what it calls ‘divisive concepts’ in the state’s schools. These include ‘the debate’ between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Yes, Lincoln did cross swords with a ‘Douglas’ in 1858, during a campaign in Illinois. But this incident was with one Stephen Douglas, not the abolitionist! Facts and accuracy often take a back seat with bigots – as our old friend Marjorie Taylor-Greene illustrated when she likened Democrats’ actions in Congress (where she sits, remember) to the Gazpacho [sic] police.

More and more cases are coming to light of school boards (schools’ local governing bodies) and districts (the equivalent of LEAs in the UK) banning and burning books of which (some of) their members disapprove. For instance ‘Maus: A Survivor’s Tale’ is Pulitzer prize-winning Art Spiegelman’s novel about how his parents survived the Holocaust. Banned in McMinn County Schools Tennessee. (But now at the top of several best seller lists.)

The 1619 Project from the New York Times seeks to include the parts played by African Americans in the founding of the USA (and of course the role of slavery). It also won a Pulitzer prize. Banned from curricula and classrooms in over a dozen states. In some cases educators who mention or advocate the teaching of racism and black history can now be sacked.

Once again – despite the fact that Critical Race Theory is not taught in Virginia’s schools – the state’s governor, Glenn Youngkin still tried – yet again last month – to take steps to stop… Critical Race Theory from being taught in Virginia’s schools.

It’s not just schools: Pastor Greg Locke is the head of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Earlier this month he led his congregation out of his church to a bonfire… not Guy Fawkes (of course); nor yet July 4. No, this was a bonfire of books of which he disapproved – and, presumably, of which his congregation disapproved. Examples included the ‘Harry Potter’ series and ‘Twilight’ books and films.

Locke represents a disturbing trend among evangelical Christians. He has all the right credentials: a Trump addict; a supporter of the fascist militia, the Proud Boys; a member of the Christian nationalist Black Robe Regiment, a group of pastors prepared to go to war to return Christianity to the centre to American life; Locke espouses QAnon conspiracy theories… child sex trafficking tunnels under the White House and so on. Of course he is an anti-vaxxer and COVID denier; he has defied lockdown restrictions; dismissed COVID-19 as a ‘fake pandemic’ and promoted deaths in his congregation by urging its members not to get vaccinated. There are many more like Greg Locke.

Members of the administration (Governor Ron DeSantis included) in Florida have led the way for some time in pro-death, supremacist, anti-gay, racist stances, measures and legislation. At the very end of January an openly fascist march was allowed to go ahead in Orlando.

This was made worse, though, by DeSantis himself. When asked to condemn the event, he decided instead to criticise the critics for appearing (to him) to blame him. They were not. Anti-fascists knew who organised the provocative demonstration; rather than pretending it wasn’t happening, they invited the governor of the state to put his weight behind the condemnation. DeSantis said: “So what I’m going to say is these people, these Democrats who are trying to use this as some type of political issue to try to smear me as if I had something to do with it, we’re not playing their game”.

Such a refusal by the governor should come as no surprise, though: for a sense of the levels of political sophistication and maturity which he and is operation are able to reach, look at his campaign website – in particular look at the merchandise he sells – ostensibly adult to adult. Then just remember that DeSantis is a leading figure in a political party, one of whose members – Mike Detmer, a candidate for Michigan state Senate – on the same day as that fascist rally publicly told voters that they should “show up armed” at elections. Trump later bellowed similar incendiary exhortations at a rally of his own.

Pandemic

Last month the US Supreme Court voted six to three to overturn the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for workers contributing to the profits of organisations with 100 or more employees. The Court routinely protects and advances the interests and privileges of the ruling élite. This time the Court put spurious dogma (‘overreach’, ‘freedoms’) ahead of workers’ own rights, livelihoods, health and lives. This seems almost certain to prolong the duration and effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.

In the week when the rate of hospitalisations for Covid patients in the United States had increased by more than 80% in the previous fortnight to top 150,000 – more than those of all other countries in the world put together – the chances of the US reaching a million dead in the next few weeks seem high. So it is now legal and possible for – not to say likely that – the roughly 85 million employees in businesses comprising more than 100 workers may go to work without masks, vaccines or tests for Covid. If they should happen to be infectious, they may freely infect as many people as they come into contact with.

“The direct result of this decision will be thousands of needless deaths and preventable illnesses”, said the government watchdog, Public Citizen.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the US equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive in the UK, had estimated that the mandate would have resulted in 22 million more people getting vaccinated and in a period of just six months would have saved over 6,500 workers’ lives and prevented more than 250,000 hospitalisations.

Indeed, the three dissenting judges pointed out that this decision “…undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger.”

But then with behaviour like that exhibited by Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch, such decisions should come as no surprise. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of those three who voted against that latest decision, has diabetes. She sits next to Gorsuch on the bench; and asked that her colleagues wear masks. Gorsuch refused.

A judge in Texas last month also promoted the death cult by blocking the Biden administration’s attempt to save lives by declaring his national vaccine mandate for federal employees illegal. With the US’s hospitalisation rate as high, and vaccination rate as low, as they are, this move – if not reversed – is sure to join the Supreme Court’s ruling in accelerating sickness and death rates for potentially everyone throughout the United States – particularly the elderly – as no-one can now be obliged to act in the interests of anyone else. But at least they will be ‘free’ when they splutter, gasp for air and die.

Nor is it surprising that the niceties of public health are hard for the cultists to grasp: Thomas Massie is a far right Republican congressperson from Kentucky. In attempting to criticise the plan to provide healthcare for everyone, ‘Medicare for All’, as opposed to the current ‘insurance’-based system, he ‘argued’ thus in a tweet in support of his denigration: “Over 70% of Americans who died with COVID, died on Medicare, and some people want #MedicareForAll?”

Glenn Youngkin is the first Republican governor of Virginia since 2014. In his first week in office last month, saying “The work is only beginning”, he issued a dozen destructive, deadly executive orders. Schools in the state can no longer require their pupils to wear masks – so that (the Omicron variant of) Covid 19 can spread more rapidly, place a greater strain on healthcare there and potentially cause more children to become ill and die. By the start of this month, however, more than half of the state’s Districts – representing nearly 70% of the school population – were defying the order and attempting to keep their pupils safe. The division is broadly along party lines.

Youngkin has support: on 21 January 42 year-old Amelia King from Luray, Virginia, was charged with making an oral threat after she said that she would “turn up at the school with loaded guns” if her children were required to wear masks at school.

Florida continues to lead the way in extreme and extremely deleterious pro death measures. Dr. Raul Pino is the head of Orange County’s Health Department. In line with best practices and common sense, he has continued to urge employees in his department to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The consequence? Pino was placed on administrative leave. At around the same time DeSantis was publicly implying that the Covid vaccines cause infertility.

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, prominent Republican Trump addict, destroyer of wildlife, ex vice-Presidential candidate and a promoter of death, seems to want to outdo Boris Johnson. At the end of January, a few days after testing positive for Covid, Palin was seen at various restaurants in New York chewing and swallowing murdered animals indoors with fellow trump addicts, all unmasked. So she was able to spread her infection to others – starting, presumably, with restaurant workers.

In the same week as the number of people in the United States dying each day from Covid-19 reached a level as high as when the Delta variant was at its peak, in New York a judge struck down the state’s mask mandate, arguing that its Department of Health was wrong – to try and save lives.

The state of Wisconsin has seen about 12,000 of its residents (one almost every hour around the clock) die from SARS-CoV-2 since the start of the pandemic. This is over 1,000% more than died in road traffic accidents and 2,000% of the number of deaths due to influenza there in the same two year period combined.

When 65 year-old Ron Johnson (who recently suggested that mouthwash can cure Covid-19) was last elected to the Wisconsin senate, it was with nearly a million and a half, or about 50%, of the votes cast. Last month Johnson staged a ‘discussion’ which lasted five hours and consisted largely of deliberate disinformation, denial and downplaying of the severity, causes and treatments of the pandemic. Quacks, stooges and Trump cultists delivered the lies and pseudo-science.

The hopefully soon-to-be-silenced fascist propaganda disinformation network, One America News, (OAN) carried the event live and keeps repeating it for viewers in its somewhat impoverished schedule.

Lastly: the Canadian Truckers. Thoughtful and well informed commentators in the US have been a little slow to throw light on what’s really going on. More and more are now pointing out that support in Canada itself for the ‘Freedom Convoy’ is very low. That a majority of Canadians understand the need for good public health measures. That the truckers’ own union, the Teamsters, is also against the blockade. Some 85% of truckers in Canada are reported to be vaccinated anyway. It’s also becoming clearer that much of the impetus of the protests comes from the international fascist movement; and – significantly – that far right media outlets in the United States (Fox in particular) are providing the majority of support and incitement (also by Trump) for the truckers’ anti-social behaviour without good cause.

Environment

Lest Biden and the Democrats be thought anywhere near faultless, just look at plans by the administration – as hinted at in previous ‘Notes from the US’ – to proceed with a huge auction of over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction. The plan amounts to the largest-ever sale of drilling leases in the area and was confirmed less than a week after the disappointing close of COP26, the UN global climate summit. “It’s hard to imagine a more hypocritical and dangerous thing for the administration to do. It’s incredibly reckless and we think unlawful too,” said a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity.

At the same time, a $US778 billion (£65 million every hour of the year) budget (the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act) for the Pentagon was announced – a 5% increase.

Louis Further

Image: Covid Memorial Project, Washington, DC. By Ted Eytan, published under CC BY-SA 2.0.