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.

Freedom’s Notes from the US (which has been published without interruption since 2005) doesn’t normally concern itself with ‘moods’ or ‘atmospheres’. And while it is impossible to gauge the extent of the negativity generated and amplified by the fascist president, and his willing accomplices, foreboding and frustration in many quarters are at new levels these last few weeks.

These supporters are both official (almost the entire Republican party) and at large (Trump’s ‘base’ and those who will vote for him no matter what). As well as being ill-informed, bigoted, wilfully ignorant, and relentless in pushing destructive, unhealthy, racist and selfish ideas, they are increasingly vocal, loud, insistent.

And so increasingly dangerous.

The big picture

It’s hard to disentangle the improbable from the probable. Much of the west of the country is burning with out-of-control wildfires whose unusual severity and unusually early onset in the year are clearly the result of the climate-catastrophe. The media, thriving on sensation, suggests thousands of miles of inferno, which is an exaggeration.

But records are being broken; one statistic has the fires in California, Oregon and Washington now consuming 1,000 acres every 30 seconds; that is an area the size of Wigan every hour! Lives are being lost, property destroyed – and worst of all perhaps – little or nothing done to remove the root causes.

The Covid-19 pandemic still claims many hundreds of lives a day – a number which seems set to grow as the rate of new cases shows no sign of consistently decreasing.

In response to both these circumstances strong currents of fervent denial and selfishness by the brainwashed are louder, and more vitriolic, than ever.

There is a clear case for permanently removing and disabling Trump and those who insist on enabling him. But there are more and more signs suggest that Trump could well still be exercising power in six months’ time. (In theory a defeated incumbent has from the date of an election’s result being certified (usually a formality) until noon on the following 20 January.

Several ‘tell-all’ books and articles published this month are being bracketed with appearances on TV by former aids and members of his régime explaining not only just how chaotic and authoritarian Trump’s presidency now is. While alluding to his mental sickness, a host of ‘exposés’ is pressing the point almost daily now that Trump himself has successfully removed and/or suppressed many of the ‘checks and balances’ which Americans are so fond of referring to as the instrument in the US constitution which – in the Eighteenth Century – was intended to prevent exactly what is happening now.

Indeed, most commentators and analysts (from the calm to the alarmed) in the United States are describing ways in which this situation is – at the very least – the most worrying one that many generations of people can remember or have written about.

And at the same time, it’s obvious that those who applaud Trumps supremacist, anti-science, misogynist, racist, destructive, belligerent thrust seem as aggressively active as has been the case for many decades. But now they have sophisticated weapons and instant communications.

Violence and oppression in the United States are increasing as protests grow and the elections get closer. But we should also remember that the worst (whatever that may be) may not happen; and that things can suddenly ‘flip inside out’ very quickly when crises pile up – as they are doing worldwide.

Whichever way you look at it, though, there are more and more instances of open and armed Fascist activity in the United States. More and more threats against individuals, their lifestyles and right to hold progressive views. More and more actual instances of state, individual and organised group repression, violence and murder.

At times these are clearly ‘spontaneous’ reactions and seem to be unplanned. But many are equally-obviously organised and co-ordinated. And they do have one thing in common: they are all (implicitly) endorsed, justified and even encouraged by Trump and his coterie; they are also handled with approval by the far right propaganda outlets online and in the media.

The ‘targets’ of these attacks are increasingly protesters, movements like Black Lives Matter and individuals without such stated allegiances. For instance, a high school teacher in Los Angeles was forced to leave her home lat month after she received several death threats because she wore a T-shirt with the logo/image, ‘I can’t breathe’ in solidarity with the numerous (young black) men suffocated to death by police.

Protesters have been shot and killed in at least three cities this last month – seemingly with impunity. When Trump doesn’t ignore the murders – which amounts to implicit approval – he welcomes the perpetrators to his (mask-less) events. There they either receive applause (from Trump and his crowds at his rallies and ‘press conferences’); or they are specifically invited to these events as celebrities and righteous promoters of good in the face of ‘the evil demonstrators’.

For example, the white couple, Patricia and Mark McCloskey from St Louis (Missouri), threatened passing Black Lives Matter protesters with guns in July; the BLM members had no intention of engaging with the couple. As a result  the couple is being prosecuted in St Louis by the (first African American) circuit attorney, Kim Gardner. So of course she too now receives death threats. The McCloskeys were welcomed by Trump to his rally at the Republican National Convention last month.

Elections

Anarchists don’t really get excited about elections. The ‘democratic’ process was elegantly described in the US recently as a colourful display between two nearly identical sock puppets of a contest over who should dominate their little stage. This election is somewhat different in that the stakes are higher than usual: there is obviously a dire need to remove Donald Trump at (almost) all costs – regardless of the long and undistinguished record of his opponent, former Vice-President Biden.

Trump is personally and directly responsible for many of what one model calculates could well see more than 400,000 people in the United States dead of Covid-19 by the end of the year, which could correspond to ten million cases and the highest trade deficit for the country in 12 years with a massive loss in jobs. So he has made the decision to mischaracterise a period with one of the lowest crime rates nationwide for three decades as ‘anarchy’ (Yes, that rankles particularly!). He has made the good old right wing saw, ‘law and order’, his main election issue.

Add to this the now unusually widespread doubt expressed by many that Trump will accept the results of the election (“He’ll see what happens” is now the official position of the White House) and his effective degrading of the postal service in the United States (many sorting offices have had perfectly efficient machinery disabled or removed) and even the most sceptical of observers would have to concede that there is (at least a sense of) significant instability and uncertainty about the immediate future.

Trump was in North Carolina recently, where the law states that it’s a crime “…for any person with intent to commit a fraud to register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time, or to induce another to do so, in the same primary or election, or to vote illegally at any primary or election”.

Trump feels that can safely be ignored: “…Well, they’ll go out and they’ll go vote, and they’re going to have to go and check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way, because if it tabulates, then they won’t be able to do that. So, let them send it in, and let them go vote, and if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they won’t be able to vote. So that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do.”

To be clear, despite the fact that most election specialists discount the chances of fraud or even irregularities when mail-in voting is employed, the US President told people to vote twice: “Send them [their ballots] in strong, whether it’s solicited or unsolicited. And you send them in, but you go to vote. And if they haven’t counted it, you can vote. So that’s the way I feel”.

Yes, one interpretation of what Trump said is that he is now encouraging his supporters to vote more than once. Easily deniable when he can claim – if challenged – that what he meant was “Double check”. But it’s unlikely that that roughly 30% of the adult population who reveres Trump as the greatest US president in US history will interpret it that way.

Nor has anyone challenged this apparent incitement to break the law.

Trump is guilty of more and more bare-faced acts of illegality – such as the way he took over federal property (the White House) in contravention of the Hatch Act to hold what was effectively a family- and narcissist fascist rally on the last night of the Republican convention last month.

There are of course many who have been brainwashed into thinking that selfishness, abuse of power and the destruction of others and our environment based entirely, and aggressively, on the belief that any old view of the world, regardless of facts, will do. They must be hoping now that, if the law, established practices and conventions are being successfully eroded (as they appear to be… it’s hard to notice growth in a child whom you see every day grow; but look after four years…), they may be about to have their day.

When taken with his constant barrage of lies, mocking tweets, inventions and distortions, insults, slanderous accusations – given that he has the open ear of the fascist media – this sense of “anything goes” serves only to embolden far right activists and militias, and presumably augment their numbers and the likelihood of their being responsible for an increasing number of atrocities. This interview on CNN ends with one supporter saying when asked if he would take up arms if Trump loses: “Absolutely I would”.

Portland (Oregon), for instance, has been the scene for several months of sustained street protests against racism and oppression in the United States. Although the scope of the action has not so far been anywhere near so wide as lied about by Trump and his élite, there have been several incidents involving firearms – but in a relatively small portion of the city. With scattered talk of civil war – especially if Trump loses the election in just over six weeks’ time – it’s hard to gauge the numbers of possible fascist agitators and the likely support of the police and military standing by.

On 4 September, however, we may have had some indication of what could happen. Further north in Lacey (Washington State) US marshals shot and killed 48-year-old Michael Reinoehl, an anti-fascist activist who was suspected (but not arrested and neither tried nor convicted) of killing a member of a far right group during a recent protest in Portland.

The previous day Reinoehl had told Vice News: “I felt that my life and other people around me’s lives were in danger, and I felt like I had no choice but to do what I did… They want to paint a picture of antifa having major involvement. A lot of people don’t understand what antifa represents. And if you just look at the basic definition of it, it’s just anti-fascist. And I am 100% anti-fascist. I’m not a member of antifa. I’m not a member of anything. Honestly, I hate to say it, but I see a civil war right around the corner. That shot felt like the beginning of a war.”

Oppression

Other forms of official state repression too are becoming more pronounced. More and more ‘special’ paramilitary units seem to have been deployed recently to prevent protests. Freedom reported on this last month. Things seem to have become more aggressive even in that short time. Displays of fire, smoke and crowds running in fear and anger allow Trump to fashion his bid for re-election not around how he plans to work towards tackling the climate catastrophe and eradicating Covid-19 (other than to let it run rampant and kill off the weakest) but on a completely spurious platform criticising the Democrats for allowing and/or promoting ‘anarchy’ and unrest in a few of the cities which they have been elected to ‘run’.

Examples of national lawmakers siding with the state repression are growing: Clay Higgins is an elected congressperson who has ‘represented’ Louisiana since 2016. A recent Facebook post which Higgins illustrated with an image of a black man contained this cheery message: ‘Look, fair warning. If this shows up, we’ll consider the armed presence a real threat. We being, We, the people of Louisiana… I wouldn’t even spill my beer. I’d drop any 10 of you where you stand. Because some of we, like me… We, are SWAT. Nothing personal. We just eliminate the threat… Welcome to the front lines, Ladies and Gentlemen. I suggest you get your mind right. I’ll advise when it’s time to gear up, mount up, and roll out’. Facebook removed the post (the kind of thing which has Donald Trump junior frothing about ‘Liberal media censorship’ on Fox at the next opportunity he gets). But, remember, this was a public threat (if ‘eliminate’ and ‘drop’ by an ex-SWAT policeperson mean what they seem to mean) by a sitting member of the US Congress – however drunk he may have been when he made that post.

The most effective oppression of the majority is coming more than ever from the president, his team, Congress (the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate – where they are the minority and majority parties respectively) and the police. The fact that the Democrats have been such an ineffective counter to these changes is no surprise, though.

There is also increased oppressive corruption in the Civil Service. Trump has abolished and/or neutered the majority of those agencies whose ostensible purpose was to oversee government and its functions. He is working on removing the remainder of what’s left.

Last month for example, the acting Inspector of the State Department (overseas affairs, the equivalent of the Foreign Office in the UK) General Stephen Akard, suddenly ‘resigned’ fewer than three months after his predecessor, Steve Linick, was sacked by Trump. Linick was sacked because he had begun to investigate the alleged employment by Secretary of State Pompeo of a political appointee to carry out personal tasks for himself and his wife… walking his dog and having his dry cleaning done as well as using an emergency declaration to circumvent Congress over a multi-billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In the interests of pushing his rather silly narrative that (only) cities and states whose most prominent elected officials (mayors, governors) are Democrats, Trump announced at the beginning of September that he would – yet again single-handedly – withhold federal funding from those areas, thus potentially further dramatically depriving the poor, homeless, (economically) disadvantaged and otherwise under-privileged working families, and those inadequately resourced to receive healthcare of what they most need… “It is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities” [Portland, Washington, D.C., Seattle, New York etc]. Trump’s memo also instructs the Justice Department to draw up a list of ‘anarchist jurisdictions’. One hopes that is yet another example of Trump’s floating an idea to see how much outrage it provokes before risking carrying it out – in case it makes him look bad to his ‘base’.

Corruption

Examples of illegal, unethical, corrupt and otherwise improper conduct by the élite are now surfacing in ever increasing quantities.

Last month far right former ‘adviser’ to Trump, Steve Bannon, was charged by New York federal prosecutors with defrauding (stealing money from) those many people who had donated their money to build a wall along the United States southern border (with Mexico) to keep families without white skins out.

As if Trump’s attempt deliberately to degrade the US postal service in order to be able to claim that mail-in ballots make the election invalid were not bad enough, a scandal has come to light involving the Postal Service’s Board of Governors. Recent filings with Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (an independent regulatory agency to oversee Political Action Committees, or ‘PACs’) suggest that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has deep and long-standing ties to the chair of that Board, one Robert Duncan. Duncan is one of three directors of the Senate Leadership Fund, which is a huge and powerful super PAC. In theory a PAC is permitted to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals. But it must not contribute to or co-ordinate directly with political parties or candidates. Yet so far in the 2020 election cycle the Senate Leadership Fund is now alleged to have spent nearly US$18 (£16) million in support of Senate Republicans.

Last month the Institute for Policy Studies published a statistic indicating that the richest dozen billionaires in the United States jointly own more than 1 trillion US dollars or nearly £800 million – the annual GDP of Indonesia.

It emerged last month that Fox anchor and Neo-fascist ‘commentator’ Tucker Carlson (he who called Iraqis ‘monkeys’ and tried to justify on air the murder of protesters in Kenosha by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse) is now that outlet’s highest paid public member of staff… US$10m a year – or £21,000 a day, 365 days a year.

And Carlson has influence: it seems as though it was a monologue on his primetime show expressing the idea that racism is OK and that anti-racist work is anti-American that caused Trump to move to cancel racial awareness training in Federal bodies earlier this month, calling such ideas “divisive, anti-American propaganda” and a “waste of money” and to threaten to remove funding from schools working with the 1619 Project, on which Freedom reported last month.

Racism

On Tuesday 18 August, several electoral primaries took place.

President Donald Trump congratulated the winner of at least one of those elections. First, he tweeted, “Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!” He was congratulating – and endorsing – Laura Loomer, who had won the Republican nomination in the solidly Democrat 21st District in Florida. Despite actually being a lost cause for the Republicans, a couple of weeks later Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, personally went to campaign for Laura Loomer.

Again, Trump retweeted several congratulatory posts – including one by Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is the Republican nominee in Georgia’s 14th district (see last month’s Notes from the US). Taylor Greene is almost certain to win her election now that the sitting member, Tom Graves, has announced that he is standing down (allegedly to spend more time with his family; but there are unsubstantiated rumours of threats to Graves as well); so occasioning an early election in which there is no nominated (Democrat) opponent.

At the start of this month Taylor Greene suggested Republicans “…go on the offense…” against progressives in Congress. A fair political point for someone of strong opinions to make – until you look at the image posted with this her official Facebook page. The official party candidate is holding an AR-15 rifle; that’s the same weapon as Kyle Rittenhouse used late last month to shoot three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two of them. Next to her are images of three high profile ‘progressive’ congresspeople: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.

Back to ‘Laura’; who is she? Freedom has reported on her before. Laura Loomer is one of the most prominent figures of the far right and has been banned from Twitter (with a quarter of a million followers), Facebook, Instagram – and Uber and Lyft (“…someone needs to create a non-Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver… I am a proud Islamophobe…”).

Among the ‘sayings’ of Ms Loomer – of whom Trump approves, whose views he applauds, and whose sentiment he vigorously endorses – are: “Islam is a ‘cancer on humanity'”; that Muslim candidates should not be allowed to hold office in the United States. She celebrated the deaths by drowning of hundreds of refugees fleeing violence (largely created and fomented by the United States), tweeting (before her ban) “Here’s to 2,000 more”. Other supporters include the founder of the violent white supremacist ‘Proud Boys’, and assorted spokespeople for paedophile organisations.

Again, Donald Trump, the sitting President of the USA, personally, unequivocally and publicly congratulated Loomer on winning a six-way primary for Congressional office. With openly Fascist and/or far right victories in primaries also in Oregon and Colorado, the real news here is not that Trump is openly and officially endorsing pure racism, white supremacy and calling for the deaths of thousands of refugees. Nor, really, that the mainstream media has paid relatively little attention to Loomer and her ‘opinions’. But that this is a distinct trend, the speed and spread of which are definitely growing.

It’s hard to estimate how strong the Fascist movement is in the USA. There is really only anecdotal evidence. But a lot of such evidence.

The murder by the police of black people continues: on 31 August in Los Angeles, for instance, Dijon Kizzee, a 29-year-old black bicyclist, was pulled over for an alleged bike violation. As he understandably attempted to remove himself from danger at the hands of the police, he was shot several times in the back by Los Angeles sheriff deputies. During the ensuing protests, community activist, Najee Ali, criticised the police killing, saying: “The deputies essentially executed a man riding his bicycle”.

Meanwhile President Trump campaign’s press secretary, Hogan Gidley, appeared on CNN and justified the recent fatal shooting of two protesters by Trump-supporter Kyle Rittenhouse: “The problem is, so many Democrat governors, so many Democrat mayors have now said, ‘Don’t do your job. Stand down. Let these riots, let these looters continue to criminalize our communities’. And the president doesn’t want that. He wants them to be able to stand up. But it does make sense, just logically, if you don’t allow police to do their job, then the American people have to defend themselves some way”.

In response to the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s investigation of US war crimes in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month imposed sanctions on the chief prosecutor and other officials of the ICC.

Also sanctioned – but this time for the better – was Radio host Dianna Ploss. She lost her place on station WSMN in New Hampshire after she live-streamed on Facebook one of her racist attacks on Spanish-speaking workers.

Trump has also announced that his administration will start charging fees for anyone applying for asylum – to which (despite what Trump says) those who are fleeing violence and threats in their own countries are entitled under international law. The US will charge US$50 (£39) for such applications. The only other countries to do this – and so to force people to pay for legally seeking (usually emergency) refuge – are Fiji, Iran and Australia. In the words of an anonymous asylum officer after the announcement, “This is a penalty against asylum applicants”.

Other costs charged for immigration and citizenship applications are also to rise in the government’s anti-immigrant moves. These follow the defiance by the Trump administration earlier this year of a Supreme Court ruling outlawing his plans to reject all new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) scheme; DACA was introduced by Obama to lessen the impact on families of immigration bureaucracy.

Just when you thought Trump’s record on immigration couldn’t get any more appalling, reports emerged at the end of August strongly suggesting that in 2018 senior officials with the Department of Homeland Security proposed to use a so-called heat ray at the US-Mexico border. This is a weapon designed by the military to make people’s skin feel as if it’s burning when they are within range of the weapon’s invisible beams. The deployment would have (or maybe did) happen just a fortnight before the 2018 midterm election. At that time Trump was ‘warning’ of a non-existent caravan of ‘thousands of violent refugees’ – mostly from Central America intent on ‘swamping’ the United States.

Environment

Denying science in the ecological sphere, Trump and his mob continue to wreck, destroy and otherwise degrade the planet. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently announced plans significantly to relax rules and regulations on the emissions of methane (a greenhouse gas which traps 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide). The EPA itself has acknowledged that the gas is linked to premature death, stroke, chronic bronchitis, and low birth weight as well as the warming of the Earth.

On August 17 2020 probably the highest known temperature ever recorded on the Earth (130°F or over 54°C in Death Valley, California) was announced. As the knowledgeable and the concerned were taking this fact in, Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, confirmed plans to continue the administration’s moves towards making such records more likely than ever from now on: they now have a new greenhouse gas leasing programme in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This will wreck the entire 1.5 million acre Coastal Plain itself and pour many millions of tons of petroleum gases into the air.

In the air so in the water: on 1st September Trump rolled back regulations tightened under Obama to protect waterways near coal-fired power plants from being flooded with toxic coal ash. Responding immediately, Earthjustice said: “The Trump administration is once again jeopardising people’s health to give coal power industry lobbyists what they want. The Trump administration’s rollback will be responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants contaminating sources of drinking water, lakes, rivers and streams every year.”

Many Green groups also expressed alarm and disgust when it emerged that a US-based trade group for several large, leading chemical and fossil fuel companies has been lobbying the Trump administration during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have been asking him to use a new trade agreement as a pretext for dumping plastics throughout the African continent. Members of the ecocidal American Chemistry Council (ACC) include Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Dow and DuPont. They want to make more money. They could do so by dumping plastics in countries such as Kenya, where – they hope – Trump will strong-arm trade representatives to relax their currently relatively tough regulations so that production of the environment-destroying substances can have wider markets and be easier to dispose of.

Pandemic

As predicted, and because Trump is denying the virus, its causes, severity and the need to do everything possible to mitigate its effects. There are still over 50,000 cases a day; almost 200,000 people in the US have died as a result. So Trump is still actively subverting attempts to deal with it.

Now it’s in the rural areas of the United States and the Midwest that the numbers of cases are rising. In fact Iowa is the latest ‘hotspot’ with the number of new cases there doubling in the past three weeks. Iowa Senator Jodi Ernst, however, prefers to promote and broadcast a conspiracy theory. For Ernst – an elected representative, remember, whose job is supposed to be to work for the people in her constituency – the pandemic is a hoax: far fewer people are dying from COVID-19 than the ‘fake news’ is claiming; and doctors are misclassifying COVID cases so as to make more money.

Over 250 cases (including deaths) across nine states have been linked to the recent super-spreader event, a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. And Trump recently held a rally in Michigan where practically no-one worse a mask.

Denial is still very much with the population of the US. The University of Alabama, for example, ordered its staff not to acknowledge, pass comment on or inform families of students who test positive for the virus. An email to teaching staff read, ‘Do not tell the rest of the class’ with the word ‘not’ underlined. In parts of Florida (the management in some) schools has similarly been asked not to divulge cases to parents.

It’s vital, of course, for big business to continue to make money from the pandemic, though: the non profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen accused pharmaceutical giant Gilead – one of the companies developing a treatment for SARS-CoV-2 – of promoting its remdesivir drug as a possible treatment. The patent which Gilead owns on remdesivir lasts for five years longer than patents on related drugs which would be likely to be more effective. Dr. Michael Abrams of Public Citizen said, “It is sadly predictable that Big Pharma responds to a global pandemic by trying to bring to market only those drugs that maximize its profits.” Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson has reached a $1 billion deal with the US to make 100 million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine while it’s still being tested.

At the end of August Trump actually suggested that the best way to deal with Covid-19 would be to hope as may people as possible became infected so that there would be – in his foggy ‘understanding’ of epidemiology – less resultant spread. This is the so-called ‘herd immunity’ outcome. Outcome – note. Herd immunity is something which can result from massive community spread; not something to be aimed for. It was in large part this failed approach which proved so disastrous in Sweden. If actively promoted in the United States (by Trump), it would amount to mass murder.

We began by drawing attention to impressions and some speculation about the future. Ending the same way, it’s clear that most people in the US who abhor the vein of prejudice, deception, violence, racism and selfishness which Trump has struck in the last four years are apprehensive about the future. But something is missing: what to do if it does continue.

Louis Further

Photo by Christopher Michel, published under CC BY 2.0.