Freedom News

Notes from the US: OAN out

We can start with some good news this month.

As reported previously in Notes, far-right channel One America News has finally been dropped from telecom giant AT&T’s line-up of available channels via its subsidiary Direct TV. 

AT&T’s share of the cable providers is less than a quarter of that broadcast by market leader Comcast, but it is still estimated to reach over a quarter of homes in the US. So OAN was always potentially been able to influence an alarmingly high number of viewers. Trump and the MAGA cultists have often praised OAN for its overtly racist, homophobic, anti-science, mendacious, disinformation-filled content; there were rumours that the ex-president wanted to buy the network.

Indeed, OAN’s aggressively fascist stance on virtually every concern – from the environment to anti-Semitism often makes Fox seem like a ‘wet liberal’ outlet. One of OAN’s leading front-people famously advocated executing those who failed to vote for Trump in 2020 – the election which OAN still wrongly proclaims he won. Its presenters go out of their way to invite would-be military guests to berate ‘wokeness’. For OAN Covid 19 is a ‘scamdemic’. The channel has sponsored madcap ‘audits’ of election results – most notably in Arizona, where the final tally showed a greater share of the votes for Biden. Racist, homophobic and misogynistic parents are often featured uncritically, their opinions applauded and appeals for money to advance regressive causes endorsed.

The real reason, despite a lawsuit from OAN’s owners, does seem to have more to do with the ailing revenue stream which OAN’s presence represents to Direct TV than with any political motivation. It is to be hoped now that – deprived of funds from advertising via Direct TV – OAN will be forced to close altogether.

Ukraine and US

Support for Putin, implicit or otherwise, continues in (far) right circles. Madison Cawthorn is a neo-fascist congressperson from North Carolina, whose support for the attempted coup of January 6, 2021, and whose adherence to the notion that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ from Trump (of whose cult Cawthorn is a prominent addict) have drawn criticism even from Republicans. As Putin’s war on the Ukrainian people began, Cawthorn described Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a ‘thug’, whose government and nation don’t deserve support because it is “…incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
‘Notes from the US’ drew attention last month to a meeting at which far right congresspeople Taylor Greene and Gosar spoke. It was organised by Nicholas Fuentes, who has recently said, posted, and been quoted as holding such views as: “I wish Putin was president of America… I am totally rooting for Russia… This is the coolest thing to happen since 1/6… UKRAINE WILL BE DESTROYED… I never doubted you [Putin], my Czar.”

Yes, some of this is to grab attention and sound provocative. But Fuentes is not alone. Gab’s CEO, Andrew Torba, for instance, wrote, ‘Lol Putin is brilliant. Western Media, which is obsessed with “muh Nazis” will have a tough time spinning this one… What he really means is Ukraine needs to be liberated and cleansed from the degeneracy of the secular western globalist empire.’

It’s hard to judge whether, how quickly and how much, the ‘Putin wing’ of the Republican Party may grow. But growing it certainly is: after Ukraine president Zelenskyy addressed members of the US Congress on 16 March, at least two far right representatives showed their objections. You may be able to guess it was Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. This time they were joined by Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who voted against a largely symbolic resolution in support of Ukraine and repeated false Russian claims about Ukrainian biological labs. “When people are struggling to pay for gas, our borders are over run daily, young people are dying from fentanyl, inflation is rising out of control, high crime is terrifying, and our children’s future looks bleak, the only decisions Congress should make are #AmericaFirst”, tweeted Taylor Greene.

Russia’s state-run media eagerly picks all of this up and apparently frequently rebroadcasts it. 
Indeed, memos circulating in the liberal press in the US strongly suggest that The Kremlin has asked Russian propagandists and journalists to use as much material from Fox fascist commentator Tucker Carlson as possible: he will help make the case for the Russian invasion.

However much the Biden administration’s approach to violence and war in Ukraine may be attracting approval or criticism, few (none in the mainstream media) are remembering the ongoing war in Yemen, fuelled largely by the US, which is supplying arms to the aggressor, Saudi Arabia. Figures gathered by organisations such as the Council on Foreign Relations credibly suggest that in the seven years since it began almost 111,000 people have been killed, nearly 21 million are in need of ‘humanitarian’ assistance and over four million are internally displayed. Similarly, Brown University’s Costs of War project puts the death toll of US aggression in the Middle East after 9/11 at 900,000 people and the financial cost $8 trillion (or over half a million pounds sterling every hour around the clock).

Encouraging Oppression

If you wanted to take steps to increase gun violence in the United States, to promote more mass shootings, have more people die as a result of the availability of firearms, what would you do?
One thing would be to pass legislation to encourage the legality of carrying hidden guns: the so-called ‘CCW’ (Concealed Carry Weapons) permit. In recent months, while other news has understandably dominated public attention, more and more states have passed such laws; and have arranged for reciprocity between states so that the potential for violence and death can be respected in as many areas as possible.

This is all in the name of individual ‘freedom’ to assert a privilege – at others’ expense … as enshrined in the constitution of the United States (the famous Second Amendment). Largely a rallying cry of the right, the rationale behind the ‘right to kill’ is actually out of date on two counts: weaponry available in the last quarter of the eighteenth century was a lot less powerful than it is now. Being armed in the decades of a ‘new’ country (the 1780s and 1790s) meant being able to fend off wild animals with rifles – and members of the native population, whose numbers white Europeans felt they had to ‘control and reduce’ in order to prosper in a less densely-populated, arguably ‘wilder’ environment than now. Nevertheless, fully 35 states now legally allow concealed guns to be carried in public. More will follow.
In the middle of March Lia Thomas became the first (known) transgender athlete to win the highest US national college swimming title – the 500-yards freestyle. Thomas swims for the University of Pennsylvania and gained the win in four minutes thirty-three seconds, in Atlanta. But because Thomas is transgender, Florida governor Ron DeSantis issued a ‘proclamation’ awarding first place to the runner-up, Emma Weyant.

While the main news on the mainstream media is mostly Putin’s war on Ukraine, oppressive and repressive measures are being passed in the states. At the end of March in Utah, for instance, HB 11, which discriminates against transgender athletes by forbidding them to participate in women’s and girls’ teams, became law. Republican legislators overturned the veto of the governor, Spencer Cox.
More widespread hatred and intolerance is beginning to be felt as a result of these repressive and regressive acts of legislation. Teachers are losing their jobs or having to choose to leave them after being told not to support transgender students. A teacher in St. John’s County, Florida, for example, was ordered to change out of a shirt with the message, ‘Protect trans kids’ after a parent complained. A gay supply teacher in Ohio was sacked in late March for offering Pride bracelets to pupils… “If a kid has questions, if a kid wants honesty, I don’t think I should be forbidden from providing that,” the teacher, Jay Bowman, said.

These are almost unnoticed moves: (Republican-controlled) states are quickly passing repressive and misogynistic legislation almost weekly now. Last week the legislature in Oklahoma approved (70-14 with no debate or questions on the floor) Senate Bill 612 [pdf], which will make performing an abortion illegal in the state – except for rare medical emergencies. To contravene exercising this basic right attracts a (maximum) fine of US$100,000 (£76,000) or (maximum) 10 years in state prison – or both.

New Hampshire is trying to take misogyny even further. If legislation currently under consideration (and which cannot be effectively vetoed by the governor in that state) passes, any man in that state can claim to be the father of a child in utero and oblige the woman to prove that he is not the father. If she cannot, she would be forced to act according to the claimant man’s wishes: abort or otherwise. The woman would have no say in the outcome herself.

It’s mostly the southern, Trumpy, states that are pushing the intolerance, though. For instance, the Republican governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, signed two bills into law this week which stigmatise and oppress trans people and criminalise anyone who helps or supports them. The first makes gender-affirming medicine for transgender youth illegal; it also makes it a felony to provide such care. The second bill obliges students to use toilets and locker rooms according not to how they see themselves now but according to the sex assigned to them at birth. This second bill also prohibits discussions in schools for younger children – up to age ten – around gender identity and sexual orientation.
This brings the number of states enshrining intolerance and such interference by the élite in the personal lives of residents to nearly 20.

A convoy of racism

After the truckers’ performance in Canada, a similar ‘protest’ (you’ve guessed it: against public health measures to save lives in the Covid 19 pandemic) set off from California in February and made it to Washington DC in early March, though with much reduced numbers. Few – except the far right propaganda outlets (OAN featured the convoy most evenings) – paid much attention to its progress. Once in the capital, those left made it plain that they are part of a the wider fascist wave polluting public life in the United States.

“What’s gonna happen up here in D.C., Black Lives Matter Street, we’re gonna take it back. All that paint is coming off that street. Before I get put in my grave, it’s gonna get tarred and feathered,” said one protester. He was trying to allude to the two-block stretch of 16th Street in Washington D.C where ‘Black Lives Matter’ was painted in yellow on the road after the murder by police of George Floyd in May 2020 and the plaza was officially renamed ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’ by Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2020.

Instructive, of course, was his use of the words, “take it back“: the premise on which the right now openly operates is that the United States is (or ‘should’ be) white, largely male and as intolerant of change and diversity as they are; that anything else is deviant, unnatural, illegitimate and deserves to be suppressed.

Now that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed (most Republicans opposed her nomination – along race lines) as the Supreme Court Judge who will fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Stephen Breyer, one of the first cases which the newly constituted Supreme Court will sit on is the right to abortion, Roe v Wade.

Several states aren’t waiting to overturn the law themselves, though. Last month Idaho became the first state to pass legislation modelled on the new law [pdf] in Texas, which is a near-total ban on abortions. Idaho continues the practice of encouraging bounty-hunting on which ‘Notes from the US’ has reported before in the contexts of school books as well as abortion patients and providers. The law prohibits abortion after six weeks; anyone related to the foetus can sue abortion providers if they defy the law.

The Supreme Court as currently constituted, meanwhile, rejected redistricting maps in Wisconsin that would have reflected more accurately the proportion of votes given to Black voters. Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan called the majority’s decision (effectively to continue the nationwide process of voter suppression) “unprecedented”.

Last week Pen America reported that in the nine months to 31 March this year nearly 1,600 book titles have been banned in over half (26) of the states in the US. The bans have taken place in 86 school districts (the equivalent of LEAs in the UK) affecting nearly 3,000 schools catering for more than two million pupils.

The specifics of PEN’s report make it clear that a disproportionate number of titles centre on same-sex relationships and (the experiences and achievements of) black people. Typically censored are biographies of such prominent figures as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Duke Ellington, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor and Nelson Mandela.

Significantly, nearly 60% of the titles censored (from libraries, classrooms, and both) have young adult and adult readers as their intended readership. Surely readers in such age-groups are more likely to be capable of critical and discriminating responses.

Opponents of and those resisting the trend (which PEN says has seen a dramatic increase in quantity) suggest that it’s hard not to see this both as depriving pupils of worthwhile material which broadens their understanding of the world while equipping them to function in it; and as potentially rejecting pluralism in the United States, urging intolerance and hatred on young people while also going against individual states’ apparent policies of inclusion and celebration of rights and diversity.

On April Fools Day the senate in Georgia passed a bill to limit discussion of race at all levels in its schools. House Bill 1084 (‘Protect Students First Act’) bans discussions suggesting, for example, that the US is ‘fundamentally racist’. The interim president of Georgia’s senate Butch Miller said “We must teach patriotism and that America is good, though not perfect, that America is good.”

~ Louis Further