Investigative reporter Juan González: 'This country is edging closer to neofascist authoritarianism'
We get an update from Democracy Now! co-host Juan González about his mother and wife, who were infected with COVID-19, and discuss how right-wing Trump supporters are brandishing automatic weapons at protests to demand an end to coronavirus shutdowns and are being egged on by the president. “We should make no mistake, that this country is edging closer and closer to neo-fascist authoritarianism,” says González, expressing concern these actions will become normalized in the lead-up to a bitter national election in November.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, with my co-host Juan González joining from his home in New Jersey, second only to New York with infections and death from COVID-19 with at least 88,000 cases and nearly 4,500 deaths. Juan, welcome.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thank you, Amy. And welcome to all of our listeners and viewers across the country and around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Juan, before we continue with the show, we spoke on air last Tuesday. Your mother had just gone into the hospital, 92 years old, in New Jersey, and she tested positive for COVID-19. Can you give us an update on your mom and also your wife, Lilia Fernández?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Amy. Well, thanks for asking. Yes, my mother was in the hospital for several days, but, thankfully, she was released late last week and was sent to a rehabilitation center, where she’s getting some therapy now to get her strength back. But it seems that she’s out of danger.
Likewise with my wife Lilia, we had a rough time last week. She was in really bad shape for several days but now seems to be in the clear. She’s eating well. She has no fever. She’s still in isolation, and she’s going to be in isolation in our house for at least another week to 10 days, but at least the worst appears to be over for our family.
And luckily, I haven’t shown any symptoms until now, so, please, keep your fingers crossed. And I want to thank all of the fans of Democracy Now! who tweeted or emailed to us their hopes for the recovery of my family members.
AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, Juan, I think the things that have happened with your family are so instructive. When you called the ambulance for Lilia, the ambulance — the EMT heroes are not talked about enough, but who came in, and those kind of recommendations, like proning, like laying on your stomach to open up your lungs.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. Yeah, we did have to call on Thursday the ambulance, because she was really not only incredibly weak — she didn’t have a fever — but she was having a lot of trouble breathing, and she was also delirious. She couldn’t recall where she was, what was happening, what had happened the day before. And so I really got quite frightened. I called 911. The ambulance came.
And these EMTs were fantastic. I mean, they’ve been dealing with this, day in and day out. They took all her vital signs, and they said she was getting enough oxygen. And the head EMT said, “Look, I know this all sucks. You’re feeling worse than you’ve ever felt in your life. But I’m telling you, if I take you to the hospital right now — I’m ready to do it, but if I take you to the hospital, they’re likely just to have you there for several hours and send you back home, because there are so many other people that are even more sick.”
So he did give us a bunch of instructions about ways to get through it as best as possible. And then he said, “Look, any moment, anytime she gets worse, if it’s five minutes from now, half an hour from now, or tomorrow, just call us, and we’ll take her to the hospital right away.” So, I think that they calmed her quite a bit. They calmed me quite a bit. And then, within a couple of days, she was doing much better.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, again, with your mother, I mean, this whole issue of testing in this country and the severe lack of access to testing, and yet Trump’s push to open the country to, quote, “liberate” the states. Your 92-year-old mother, who had been taking care of, you learned, a COVID-positive cousin and was expressing all the symptoms, you take her even to the emergency room of one of the best hospitals in New Jersey, and they wouldn’t test her.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, right. They said that she — initially, they said she likely had COVID, but they were not going to admit her or even to test her, until I kept pressing them on the issues of the enormous, the unbearable pain that she had in her abdomen. At that point, they took another look, and they said, “Yes, we’re going to admit her, but we have to test her first.” And when they tested her and she turned out COVID-positive, then they realized that they had initially made a mistake in just trying to send her home.
So, yes, you’re not getting admitted — you’re not getting tested even at the hospitals, even at the best hospitals, unless they are planning to admit you. And so, the testing issue is still a huge issue, as many in the commercial or corporate media have said, and the alternative media, that the testing issue remains primary for dealing with what’s going to happen after the country begins to reopen.
AMY GOODMAN: And the fact that they offered your mother hydroxychloroquine, when the studies have not been done yet, when some of the studies that are being done, like one in Brazil, were stopped because of the number of cardiac arrests and deaths in those studies, and yet you were being offered hydroxychloroquine, when lupus patients, who need it, can’t get it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wasn’t being offered it.
AMY GOODMAN: For her.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: They were going to be — they were planning to begin to give my mother treatment for her when I asked about it. And when the doctor said, “Yes, well, we’re giving hydroxychloroquine to all the patients here,” and I said, “Is this part of a test, a research test?” And he said, “Yes, we are conducting research tests, but your mother, being over 90, would not qualify for that test, but we’re routinely giving it.” And I said, “Do you have to give it?” And he said, “Well, no, we don’t really have to. If you don’t want to, I’m perfectly fine with not giving it to her.” So I said, “Well, no, thank you. Don’t give it to her. If she doesn’t have a severe case and her life is not threatened right now, I’d rather not take the chance.” And so, the doctor pretty much left it up to me, only when I asked about it, not — because, otherwise, he was just going to administer it to her anyway.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Juan, in the midst of all of this, you, as well as your wife Lilia, have been working on raising money, doing mutual aid for immigrants in New Jersey. Talk about that work and the organizations that are desperately now trying to get support to people who will not get money from the stimulus package, who have been hard-working people all of their lives but are losing their jobs now one by one.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. Well, we managed to actually — a week ago, last Sunday, just before my mother went into the hospital and before Lilia got sick, we started with — together with a bunch of grassroots organizations here in New Brunswick. Of course, this is a city of 55,000 people, the majority of whom are Latino, and most of them from Mexico, from the Oaxaca state of Mexico. So there’s a large immigrant and large undocumented population here in New Brunswick. They don’t qualify for the stimulus. So we started a Mutual Aid of New Brunswick GoFundMe page with various groups from the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex.
In less than a week, we managed to raise $17,000 in donations for cash — direct cash grants to these hard-hit families. And we’ve already managed to put $5,000 of that out right away, even before the GoFundMe money has come in, because it takes a while for this stuff to be processed, but other people fronted the money to be able to start the grants out the door to get to these families. And so, we have been able to already get at least $5,000 out the door, and we’ll be getting more out in the rest of this week.
But, Amy, I wanted to talk about something else which I think is very important. We’re seeing a lot of it now, which is these protests around the country of people demanding an end to the shutdowns that were aimed to stop the spread of the pandemic. And what troubles me most about this is how right-wing extremists are brandishing automatic weapons, and they’ve become regular features of these protests, and with the man in the White House saying nothing to condemn this form of intimidation. And obviously, most of them are Trump supporters.
And I’d like our viewers and listeners to ask themselves a question: If hundreds of African Americans or Latinos showed up in cities around the country brandishing automatic weapons, what would be the response of the country to this? Why is this being almost accepted and normalized now as a method of protest? And my fear is that this will become normalized over the next few months as we head toward a bitter national election. And we should make no mistake, that this country is edging closer and closer to neo-fascist authoritarianism.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Juan, you say the issue of it being almost accepted. It’s not almost. The president, from the bully pulpit of the White House, is encouraging it — right? — saying these are his people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, he’s encouraging the protests.
AMY GOODMAN: And he’s saying “liberate” these states with these protests.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, he’s encouraging the protests. He hasn’t directly, to my knowledge, encouraged the armed — the brandishing of weapons. But he’s accepting it and praising these folks as wonderful Americans. And I don’t think we should discount the possibility that this president will declare an election that he loses as a fraud and illegitimate, and attempt to stay in power. You know, some people may say this is far-fetched. I hope it is. But I think that we shouldn’t delude ourselves that we are living in extraordinary times in the United States right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, I am so thankful that you’re OK. And all the best to your wife Lilia, Lilia Fernández, an extremely important professor at Rutgers University, very popular, so beloved by her students. And your mom, all the best, as well as the communities not only in New Jersey and New York, but all over this country. We are going to continue to look at this issue of mutual aid.