David Nir

Did you know Kyrsten Sinema did a paid internship at a California winery during the pandemic?

Yeah, I couldn't believe it either. My girlfriend, a political junkie just like me, charged into the kitchen just the other day to ask me, "Did you know that Kyrsten Sinema spent two weeks doing an internship at a winery in California during the pandemic—and got paid for it?"

My response: "What. What!" Yes, said Kaili. She'd just heard about it during a comedy sketch on Jon Lovett's podcast. "How," I asked with extreme incredulity, "could we not have heard about this before?" She wondered the same thing. We're media professionals who follow the news obsessively, and it's not like we've had a whole lot else going on lately, what with COVID-19 and all. So W, we both marveled, TF?

Now at this point I'm guessing the story is probably news to you as well—and that in and of itself is a story. The gossipy D.C. media really has no lower bar when it comes to elevating stories about politicians behaving bizarrely, and a sitting U.S. senator taking time off in the middle of a global pandemic to make wine surely rates. But there has been virtually no coverage.

Credit to reporter Dave Levinthal at Insider for breaking the story … all the way back in May. (Again, I'm gobsmacked that I only learned of it in October, but that's the whole genesis of this piece.) Levinthal cracked the case thanks to a single line item in a new financial disclosure statement Sinema filed that month showing she'd earned $1,117.40 at Three Sticks Winery in Sonoma County.

Insider put the piece behind its paywall, so that may have slowed its uptake, but newsrooms all have subscriptions to one another's sites, and anyhow, there's always Twitter. How did this not light Twitter on fire?

Friend, it didn't. The next time anyone wrote about Sinema's wine country moonlighting wasn't until two and a half months later, when Paul Bomberger at the Press Democrat—the local paper in Sonoma—picked up on Insider's story. Bomberger's calls to Sinema's offices were ignored, but he did narrow down the timeframe of her internship to August of 2020 and was able to score a few quotes from a winemaker at Three Sticks, Ryan Prichard. ("She was full-in and a great asset to the team.")

After that, basically nothing. Politico's Playbook, which normally loves these sorts of tales, gave Bomberger's piece a one-sentence aside in a parenthetical a couple of days later. Perhaps that offhand treatment is why the many reporters who read Playbook each day somehow were not piqued, but come on. The story is as juicy as the grapes Sinema supposedly spent her days sorting.

A few smaller sites rehashed the original story, but John Gorgola at The Nation was just about the only person to really pick up the thread, wondering last month why Sinema chose this winery out of the 8,000 or 9,000 across the country. As Insider's Levinthal noted, one of the destinations listed on an invitation for a $5,000-a-person Sinema-headlined fundraiser the same month as her vineyard gig was Three Sticks.

And as Gorgola in turn pointed out, Three Sticks is owned by private equity titan William Price III. (His generational suffix—those triple vertical lines—is also how the hyper-exclusive winery, with a product that's seldom available for purchase, earned its name.) The investment firm Price founded, TPG Capital, has spent more than $10 million on lobbyists over the past decade. What's an extra $1,117.40 for another friendly ear to a man like that, especially for the target of a last-ditch persuasion campaign aimed at preserving a tax loophole beloved by Wall Street?

There, though, the trail more or less goes cold. Even the notoriously gabby Maureen Dowd only tucked in a brief reference to the story at the very end of her most recent column. But Kaili has many, many questions, and so do I—questions that reporters might like to start asking. Consider this a collaborative list from two political fiends burning with a need to know:

  1. A Sinema spokesperson told Insider "that the Senate Ethics Committee preapproved Sinema's work." Could we please see a copy of that letter?
  2. If Sinema, who makes a fetish of her love of wine (a fawning Axios piece recently described her as a "wine-drinking triathlete," as though quaffing vino were some unique trademark), were proud of her work, why didn't she announce her internship at the time?
  3. Relatedly, Sinema's a pretty regular Instagram user but didn't post a single photo from Three Sticks last summer. Beautiful wineries are inherently Instagrammable, so why no pics?
  4. There were extremely important races for president and Senate in her swingy home state last year. Why did she hie off to another (deep blue) state for two weeks not long before Election Day when Democrats were killing themselves to get out the vote in Arizona?
  5. Related to that, did Sinema spend any time during the August congressional recess meeting with constituents? That's what members of Congress claim they do, anyway, during their totally-not-a-vacation breaks.
  6. Did Sinema skip the Democratic National Convention to play winemaker? We don't know the exact dates of her internship, but the DNC was from Aug. 17-20 last year, and her high-dollar fundraiser in Sonoma was a three-day extravaganza running from August 21st through August 23rd. Did she wrap up work at the winery and then go mingle with rich donors?
  7. Did someone flag Sinema's financial disclosure for Insider, and if so who—and why?
  8. How many people applied for this internship? Did Sinema take a slot from someone else without her income ($174,000/year)? Someone who might actually be interested in a career in wine-making?
  9. Did she keep the money she made?
  10. This all went down during a pandemic (let's not forget), and before vaccines were available. What safety precautions did Sinema take? Did she think that risking exposure to COVID-19 while working a completely unnecessary side-hustle was worth it?

And above all else: How in the hell has this not been a bigger story? Every technicolor wig, every empty pronouncement, and every snide dig at fellow Democrats from Sinema merit endless attention from the Beltway press corps. But, somehow, not this—the story of the plucky senator doing a jus' reg'lar folks internship at a salt-of-the-earth winery.

Is this a Watergate-level scandal, just waiting to be blown open by a 21st century Deep Throat skulking down in the wine cellar? Of course not. But it's a really, really weird story, and given the outsize power Sinema holds as a highly disagreeable member of an evenly divided Senate, something this far out of the ordinary merits greater scrutiny. Now, let's see some.

Here's the cynical reason Ohio Republicans punted on drawing a new congressional map

In a very strange development, Ohio's Republican-run legislature has ceded control of congressional redistricting to a so-called "backup" commission by missing a Sept. 30 deadline to pass new maps set in the state constitution.

Given how jealously lawmakers everywhere protect their power, it's necessary to ask why Buckeye Republicans have voluntarily relinquished it in this case. And while state Senate President Matt Huffman claimed that staffers had been too preoccupied with legislative remapping to draw up new congressional lines, there's a likelier explanation that's far more cynical.

Under state law, if lawmakers fail to approve a congressional plan, responsibility is handed over to a panel comprising the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, and four legislative appointees, one from each chamber's party leader. That commission, which has exclusive jurisdiction over legislative redistricting, has a 5-2 Republican majority, which already passed an extreme set of gerrymanders for the state House and Senate.

So why punt to the backup commission when Republicans are already in charge of the legislature? Under a feeble reform passed in 2018, congressional maps passed by legislators require a three-fifths supermajority and the support of at least half the members of each party. There's a way around this, though. The commission must also muster bipartisan support for any such maps, but if it fails to do so by Oct. 31, the task reverts to lawmakers, who can then pass a map that's good for a full 10 years with the backing of just one-third of Democrats—or they can approve one without any Democratic support that will last for four years.

That final option may be the most desirable. It would allow Republicans to fine-tune their gerrymanders after just two elections. In fact, that's exactly what transpired when the commission drew up legislative maps: The GOP majority failed to win the votes of the two Democratic members, likewise leading to a four-year map under a similar provision of the constitution.

And even if Republicans don't exercise the chance to go it alone, the mere fact that they can gives them leverage over Democrats to pressure them into accepting a slightly more modest but still durable 10-year gerrymander. Whatever winds up happening, it's advisable to be very skeptical of the GOP's motives.

Florida's Republican governor will make majority-Black district wait 280 days for new representation

A month after Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings' death on April 6, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Tuesday that the special election for Florida's 20th Congressional District would not take place until Jan. 11 of next year, meaning the seat will remain without representation for 280 days. That's almost twice as long as the gap that proceeded the state's two most recent special elections: In 2014, specials were held in the 13th District just 144 days after Rep. Bill Young died and in the 19th District just 148 days after Rep. Trey Radel resigned. Both were Republicans.

Local election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties initially proposed the dates that DeSantis wound up choosing, including a primary on Nov. 2. Soon after, however, they suggested the primary take place on Sept. 14 and the general on Nov. 9, with one official saying, "People would like it to be earlier."

DeSantis disregarded that advice in a move that Democrats are certain to attack as motivated by a partisan interest in depriving the party's narrow congressional majority of a key vote. (The governor's long delay in waiting to schedule the election was also hotly criticized, with one candidate, Democrat Elvin Dowling, filing a lawsuit late last week demanding a date be set.) The decision further means that the majority-Black 20th District will have no voice in the House for the better part of a year.

It's not yet clear when the filing deadline will be, but in a press conference announcing the dates, DeSantis said, "I think that puts qualifying towards the end of the first week of September."

New York's Conservative Party threatens to spurn GOP congressman who voted to impeach Trump

he Conservative Party in Onondaga County, which makes up most of New York's 24th Congressional District, says it won't endorse Republican Rep. John Katko next year, putting the congressman at risk of losing a ballot line that's played a key role in sustaining his political career. Katko had previously lost the support of Conservatives in the other three counties in the district—Oswego, Cayuga, and Wayne—though the ultimate decision will fall to state party chair Jerry Kassar, who previously said Katko is "in trouble" and reportedly plans to defer to local leaders.

Katko has received a great deal of attention—and, from Donald Trump loyalists, scorn—for his vote to impeach Trump in January, but that's not the only issue putting him at odds with the Conservative Party. Die-hards are also pissed that he backed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ rights, and that voted to boot Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments due to her violent rhetoric. However, Katko also voted for the Equality Act in 2019 and still retained the Conservative Party's support the next year, so there may be time to repair the relationship.

Katko will certainly hope so: In 2018, he defeated Democrat Dana Balter by 13,694 votes—fewer than the 16,972 he received on the Conservative line. While his victory wasn't dependent on that line in his 2020 rematch with Balter, Katko might not be so lucky next year, especially if Democrats target him in redistricting.

Onondoga Conservatives say they'll ask Kassar to either leave the party's line blank or endorse someone else in 2022. The latter option could prove particularly self-defeating, but it's a tack not unfamiliar to right-wing extremists in New York: Republicans lost a special election in 2009 in what was then the 23rd Congressional District after the GOP and the Conservative Party nominated different candidates, allowing Democrat Bill Owens to flip a seat that had been red since the 19th century.

Here's how Senate Democrats can pass almost anything — without nuking the filibuster

Astute politics observers well know that the Senate filibuster—the Jim Crow relic that requires supermajority support to pass most legislation—is a major obstacle for any hopes that Democrats have of enacting Joe Biden's agenda and righting the country after four years of wicked misrule. But because a handful of Democratic senators (as well as all Republicans) oppose curtailing the rule—for now, at least—party leaders are pursuing an alternative route that will allow them to bypass the filibuster and pass major bills with just a simple majority.

It's called reconciliation, and it's a complicated beast. If you've heard about it, you may have read that it can only be used in a limited fashion. But that's simply not so. Democrats can actually use the reconciliation process for almost anything, including an increase to the minimum wage, a current topic of contention. What's more, in contrast with filibuster reform, they don't need unanimity from their caucus to proceed. A mere 41 votes will do the trick.

Congressional experts usually say that the person who decides what can and can't be included in a reconciliation package is the Senate parliamentarian, an appointed official who advises the chamber on matters of procedure. The key word there, though, is "advises": The presiding officer—that person who occupies the big chair atop the central dais you've seen on C-SPAN, either the vice president or a sitting senator—is free to reject that advice.

So what happens if Kamala Harris (or, if you like, Jon Ossoff) does exactly that? A Republican could object, but in order to sustain that objection—that is to say, in order to override the presiding officer's decision to rebuff the parliamentarian—it would take 60 votes. In other words, all 50 Republicans would need 10 Democrats to join them. There's little chance that would happen.

And it's been done before, in the service of promoting majority rule in the Senate. The last occasion arose in 1975, when a bipartisan coalition, led by Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale, sought to reduce the threshold for ending a filibuster from two-thirds to three-fifths. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, paved the way for the proposal to move forward by declining the parliamentarian's advice in order to allow a key vote that would buttress reformers' arguments. While pro-filibuster senators staged a revolt after the vote succeeded, the dispute ultimately ended with the filibuster requirement getting lowered to today's familiar 60-vote benchmark.

The same approach can be deployed when dealing with constraining guidance from the parliamentarian regarding reconciliation, and Democrats have no reason to fear doing so. While Republicans will inevitably complain, voters don't care about procedure—they care about results. That's especially so when we're talking about popular legislation like a $15 minimum wage, which poll after poll has shown Americans support in massive numbers.

Some have in fact already called for the Senate to take this tack. "You don't have to override the parliamentarian or get a new parliamentarian," noted one expert on Senate procedure, a likely reference to the occasion when then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott fired parliamentarian Bob Dove in 2001 after Republicans grew frustrated with him. "Under the statute, it is the vice president who rules. It is the presiding officer who makes the decision. The parliamentarian advises on that question."

That's precisely right, and it's precisely the approach Democrats should take. And when Republicans howl, Democrats need only point out that the expert who advocated for a robust use of reconciliation was none other than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Biden has called for unity, not bipartisanship. There's a big difference

During his inaugural address, Joe Biden returned to the central theme of his campaign—the message that earned him millions more votes than any other presidential candidate in history: unity. In his speech, Biden invoked the word no fewer than eight separate times. "With unity," he said "we can do great things. Important things."

Just as notable, there was one phrase Biden didn't utter even once: bipartisanship. It's easy to conflate the two, and Republicans have done so in bad faith, seeking to weaponize Biden's own mantra against him. But there's a very good reason why Biden has emphasized "unity" rather than "bipartisanship," because the two mean very different things.

So what exactly does unity mean? Biden and his team have defined it very simply: It's the act of coming together to do what the American people want. In this way, it lays out a future guided not by whatever the largest number of politicians are able to agree on but instead by the desires of the people those politicians were elected to represent. It reroots our democracy in the very soil that gives it life in the first place.

It's no surprise that Republicans resent this. Biden's priorities are very popular, while, to the extent Republicans even have any sort of affirmative agenda, their proposals are anything but. This is why they don't want to see Biden succeed, lest a president who passes popular initiatives grow more popular still.

To prevent such an outcome, Republicans are pretending that unity is indeed an interchangeable synonym for bipartisanship and using it as a bludgeon to cow Democrats. By demanding that Biden only pass legislation acceptable to them, only the most watered-down measures could ever become law. More likely, nothing ever would. If Democrats were so weak-willed as to be fooled by this bullying, it would leave the party with no accomplishments to show to voters in two or four years' time—precisely what Republicans dream of.

But today's Democrats, Joe Biden included, are far tougher and savvier than their easily intimidated forebears. They know precisely what game Republicans want to play and refuse to participate. As White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted, if Republicans want bills to pass with bipartisan support, then they can vote in favor of what Democrats are proposing. Republicans have agency, after all. Democrats are not the only party with the power to make bipartisanship happen.

Of course, Republicans won't do any such thing. They'd rather falsely complain that Biden isn't living up to his campaign promises. Such claims have gotten some traction in the traditional press and probably will continue to. But incomparably more important for Democrats is that they succeed in bringing about the change voters elected them to achieve. Those are the only campaign promises that matter, and if Democrats can live up to those, then they'll also stay true to the true meaning of unity.

Democrats are on track to win both Georgia runoffs and retake the Senate

In an historic election with consequences that will reverberate for years, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are poised to flip two Republican-held Senate seats in Georgia and hand control of the chamber to Democrats for the first time since 2014.

With most votes tallied, Warnock held a small but insurmountable lead on his Republican opponent, Kelly Loeffler, and declared victory. Ossoff trailed Republican David Perdue by the narrowest of margins but is all but assured of taking the lead when the remaining ballots are counted, since they are almost all in blue counties.

Warnock, a pastor who holds the pulpit at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, would not only become Georgia's first-ever Black senator but also the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from a state of the old Confederacy. Meanwhile, Ossoff, an investigative journalist who shot to prominence in a 2017 special election for the House, would be the first Jewish senator elected from the Deep South, and, at just 33, the youngest Democrat in the Senate since none other than Joe Biden.

The likely victories cap off a remarkable election cycle that saw Biden become the first Democrat to carry Georgia's electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992. They would also see Democrats reverse a long history of desultory turnout in runoff elections, which were originally put in place precisely to prevent Black candidates from winning office, making Warnock's impending win all the more extraordinary.

This unlikely turn of events was powered by major shifts in Georgia's electorate, which has both grown more diverse in recent years and seen many once-loyal Republican voters abandon their party out of disgust with Donald Trump. When Democrats last won a Senate seat in Georgia 20 years ago, the victor was the notoriously conservative Zell Miller, who later went on to serve as a keynote speaker for George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Warnock and Ossoff, by contrast, ran campaigns that reflected a newer South and affirmed mainstream progressive values, including support for $2,000 COVID relief checks—an issue that became central in the final days of the race and put both Republicans at odds with Trump.

Most consequentially, if Warnock and Ossoff's victories hold up, Democrats will find themselves in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. While many challenges will await, this alone will remove the biggest obstacle to Democratic priorities—including Biden's cabinet appointments and judicial nominations—by deposing Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader.

The durability of Georgia's political transformation will be tested again soon: Because the Warnock-Loeffler race was a special election for the final two years of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, Warnock would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022. Ossoff, by contrast, would not go before voters again until 2026.

P.S. The last time a state's entire Senate delegation changed hands on the same night was in November of 1994, when Republicans won a pair of elections in Tennessee, including a special election for the seat that had previously been held by Al Gore.

Analysts create AI tool that can distinguish between conspiracy theories and real conspiracies

Researchers compared data from a real conspiracy—the "Bridgegate" political payback scheme in which New Jersey political operatives closed down lanes on the George Washington Bridge—with those from "Pizzagate" conspiracy theories to create an artificial intelligence tool.

The eternal problem with conspiracy theories is that we know from both history and current events that there are very real conspiracies at work in the world. How can we distinguish them from the utterly fabricated fantasies that comprise the entirety of the conspiracy-theory universe?

There are some simple ways to distinguish them, but they are also fairly crude and generalized rules, and the distinctions can sometimes be nuanced. So researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have devised an artificial intelligence tool that can help people figure out whether they're tapping into an actual conspiracy or just participating in a cockamamie fantasy.

Cal Berkeley cultural analyst Timothy Tangherlini and his team "developed an automated approach to determining when conversations on social media reflect the telltale signs of conspiracy theorizing," using machine learning tools capable of identifying narratives "based on sets of people, places, and things and their relationships," with the hope of forming "the basis of an early warning system to alert authorities to online narratives that pose a threat in the real world."

Once the layers of the narrative are identified, the model determines how they come together to form the narrative as a whole. It can then map all this data out into charts that show utterly distinct shapes for actual conspiracies and conspiracy theories—indeed, showing that they have little in common.

There are some useful rules of thumb already available for distinguishing between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, beyond recognizing that the former has a reasonable likelihood of being real, while the latter is almost certainly a falsehood intended to scapegoat other people. As I explain in my book Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us, we're already capable of distinguishing them based on the basic parameters imposed by reality upon conspiracies:

Real conspiracies, by their very nature (including their dependence on secrecy), have three major limitations:
  • Scope. Their purpose is usually to achieve only one or two ends, often narrow in nature.
  • Time. Their actions necessarily occur within a relatively short time frame.
  • Number of participants. All successful conspiracies are the product of only a tiny handful of people.
As the boundaries of all three of these limits increase, however, the likelihood of the conspiracy failing or being exposed rises exponentially. The broader the reach—if it attempts too much—the more likely it is to meet failure simply as a matter of raw odds and the nature of institutional inertia. The longer it takes, the greater the risk of exposure, not to mention for components of the conspiracy to go awry. Similar issues arise when increasing numbers of people are involved in the conspiracy, both the likelihood that they will fail to complete their part of the conspiracy as well as the growing chances of exposure. And exposure is fatal to every conspiracy: once the secret is out, it's no longer a viable plan of action.
Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, almost universally feature qualities that contrast sharply with these limits.
  • They are broad-ranging in nature, and frequently boil down to (or play key roles in) a massive plot to enslave, murder, or politically oppress all of mankind or at least large numbers of people.
  • They are believed to have existed for long periods of time, in some cases for hundreds of years.
  • They involve large numbers of people, notably significant numbers of participants in high positions in government or the bureaucracy.
  • The long-term success of these conspiracies is always credited to willing dupes in the media and elsewhere.

The Cal Berkeley AI model largely reflects these same parameters when it goes to work. The team studied three primary and sometimes overlapping zones of the conspiracy-theory universe: Pizzagate, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the anti-vaccination movement. (It's currently applying to the tool to the QAnon conspiracy cult; the results should be interesting.)

The Pizzagate world (which is closely related to the QAnon phenomenon) was particularly rich with data:

We analyzed 17,498 posts from April 2016 through February 2018 on the Reddit and 4chan forums where Pizzagate was discussed. The model treats each post as a fragment of a hidden story and sets about to uncover the narrative. The software identifies the people, places and things in the posts and determines which are major elements, which are minor elements and how they're all connected.

The analysts then also examined the same kinds of data regarding the so-called "Bridgegate" conspiracy—a very real political payback operation in which New Jersey public officials, mainly members of then-Gov. Chris Christie's staff, deliberately created traffic jams by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The results show the unmistakable differences in basic structure of the respective narratives, and how the facile appearance of similarities between conspiracy theories and the real thing falls apart in ways similar to the theories themselves.

Conspiracy theories, the researchers found, are collaboratively constructed and form quickly. "Actual conspiracies are deliberately hidden, real-life actions of people working together for their own malign purposes," Tangherlini explains. "In contrast, conspiracy theories are collaboratively constructed and develop in the open."

Conspiracy theories are deliberately complex and reflect an all-encompassing worldview. Instead of trying to explain one thing, a conspiracy theory tries to explain everything, discovering connections across domains of human interaction that are otherwise hidden — mostly because they do not exist.
While the popular image of the conspiracy theorist is of a lone wolf piecing together puzzling connections with photographs and red string, that image no longer applies in the age of social media. Conspiracy theorizing has moved online and is now the end product of a collective storytelling. The participants work out the parameters of a narrative framework: the people, places and things of a story and their relationships.

By mapping out how these conspiracy theories originate and spread—and particularly the networks through which they are generated—analysts may be able to anticipate when they explode into their inevitable real-world violence. More to the point, it can help researchers identify the wellsprings of misinformation on social media and elsewhere so that those spigots can be shut off.

As I explain in Red Pill, Blue Pill:

Conspiracy theories are a problem for healthy democracies not only because they encourage people to disengage from their communities and abjure their political franchise by discarding it all as useless, but also because they represent serious pollution of the information stream. Democracies rely on robust debate, but that "marketplace of ideas" cannot function if the debate is founded on falsehoods, smears, and the wild speculations that all combine to take the place of established facts in any discourse with conspiracy theorists.

No longer ‘standing by,’ Proud Boys bring politics of intimidation to streets in defense of Trump

The violence following the November 14 'Million MAGA March' in Washington, D.C., helped establish a pattern for Proud Boys violence that's now expanded to other American cities.

It's become apparent that, even as Donald Trump tries to deny reality and continue claiming he won the election, the hate group that he ordered, on national television, to "stand back and stand by" now considers (per leadership's statements that "standby order has been rescinded," as well as other threatening statements on social media) those orders null and void: The Proud Boys are now playing the role of Trump's goon-squad defenders in the streets—and appear unlikely to stop anytime soon.

Following the initial burst of Proud Boy violence in Washington, D.C., during and after the "Million MAGA March" of November 14, the familiar black-and-yellow polos, red MAGA hats and thug tactics have been showing up on the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; and Staten Island, New York. At each event, brawls broke out amid overheated rhetoric, much of it in Trump's defense.

The violence follows the pattern established over the previous four years—right-wing extremists organizing gangs of out-of-town thugs from rural and exurban areas to invade liberal urban centers on vague political pretexts in order to engage in threatening acts of intimidation and provoke violence that they can then blame on "antifa" and "left." And as with all those events, the Proud Boys' presence has been to act as street enforcers for a variety of far-right causes: Denouncing the election results, protesting about COVID-19 public-health measures, or whatever else might be the right-wing grievance du jour.

Mostly, it's about creating fear and violence on behalf of a white-nationalist agenda. That's what the Proud Boys exist for, and it's why the Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as a "general" hate group.

All during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Proud Boys have been whipping up a sense of public intimidation at the liberal cities where they hold rallies while spreading conspiracist misinformation about the virus, its spread, and the government orders to intended to fight it. These appearances have been part of the Proud Boys' steady drumbeat of bringing the politics of thuggery to American cities throughout 2020, as the Institute for Education and Research on Human Rights has mapped out in detail, for a variety of ostensible causes.

In Raleigh last weekend, Proud Boys came out to protest North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's pandemic-related business restrictions, particularly those on indoor gatherings. Calling it a "Pilgrims and Patriots Thanksgiving in Raleigh" event, organizers with Reopen Carolina joined arms with the Proud Boys and a Latinos for Trump group at the state Capitol. Then, as usual, they proceeded to provoke brawls with counterprotesters who held an event called "Racists Out Of Raleigh."

There were no fights, since police kept the two sides separated assiduously. So the Proud Boys turned their thug tactics to the press who came to cover the event, including a reporter for the Indy who they harassed. Their report describes it:

A man in a Proud Boys bandana kept the INDY reporter from recording speeches by putting his hand in front of the camera, while others around pretended to sneeze. A woman in a white tank top and MAGA hat also told the reporter to leave. This happened a second time once the group was back at the Jones Street corner; this time, the man who had been blocking the camera told the reporter, "we can ask you to leave, or we can make you leave."

Proud Boys also showed up at another COVID-related protest in Staten Island—this time outside Mac's Public House, a tavern that had recently been busted for offering food and drinks beyond a 10 p.m. cutoff time mandated by New York City officials. A large, entirely maskless crowd gathered outside the pub on Wednesday night to protest the charges.

Inside the pub, there were chants of "Proud Boys in the house." According to the New York Post, a speaker also led a Proud Boys chant: "I am a proud Western Chauvinist." Afterwards, they segued into singing Queen's "We Will Rock You."

According to The Sun, protesters blamed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for the pandemic measures, with signs reading "Dictator Cuomo." One protester shouted at cops through a megaphone: "Where is your backbone? Where is your morality?"

The event in Sacramento had nothing to do with COVID, but instead was entirely a protest of the election results, and an insistence that Trump won the election—and heavily populated by Proud Boys and their militia cohort. One of the Proud Boys told the crowd that the organization's role was to defend "people like you that come out to rallies."

As Capital Radio reporter Scott Rodd observed, those were hollow words:

But the Proud Boys also played the aggressor. CapRadio observed one Proud Boy take a swing at a member of the press for filming him. Other members, after the demonstrators returned to the barricaded area near the Capitol, remained outside the perimeter and instigated counter-protesters and passersby. Several chased after one counter-protester. Some also followed and taunted observers from the National Lawyers Guild.

By day's end, multiple brawls had broken out, and police—who declared an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order—reported one arrest on "assault-related charges."

Reporter Gabe Stutman of Jewish Weekly was also present, and watched as, after their rally speeches ended, "they spilled into the streets of downtown Sacramento, chanting 'Whose streets? Our streets!' and 'F*ck antifa!' while butting up against police cordons that blocked their path. The demonstrators exchanged insults and threats with roughly a dozen people identified as part of antifa ..."

Stutman notes that "each protest has followed a similar pattern," one familiar to reporters covering Proud Boys events elsewhere: First, a peaceful demonstration with speeches in a public space, followed by a march into downtown or other urban areas with the intent of brawling with counterprotesters—or, for that matter, anyone who shouts at them or protests them.

The San Francisco-based office of the ADL for the Central Pacific region issued a statement decrying the event: "First, they bring attention and possibly attract new adherents to extremist agendas and groups like the Proud Boys," it read. "Second, their provocative and divisive rhetoric can and does lead to violence, as we saw in Sacramento and elsewhere."

Stutman also described getting the intimidation treatment from a right-wing protester, who shouted insults and blocked his cell-phone-camera lens. When Stutman asked if he was a Proud Boy, the man responded: "I'm a white boy, motherf*cker."

Veterans swung heavily toward Joe Biden this year. Democrats must keep that forward momentum

While the 2020 exit polls have not yet been finalized, we can already say with certainty that Americans who have served in the military shifted their political preferences dramatically over the last four years. In 2016, voters who served in the armed forces supported Donald Trump by a wide 60-34 margin, but preliminary data from this year shows that this same group gave Trump a much narrower 54-44 edge. In all, that's a 16-point swing—far wider than the national shift in the popular vote over the same timespan.

The reasons for this surge are many. One preelection poll found, for instance, that active-duty service members took dim views of Trump's dismissive approach to reports that the Russian government placed bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan. These same respondents disagreed even more sharply with Trump's desire to send the military into American cities during protests against police violence targeting Black people this summer.

Trump's animosity toward those who've served in uniform, of course, is longstanding. From obtaining a bogus draft deferment for alleged "bone spurs" to calling his effort to avoid sexually transmitted diseases "my personal Vietnam" to smearing the late Sen. John McCain by saying "I like people who weren't captured," he has never tried to hide his disgust for those who would sacrifice for this country. That he's engendered a hostile response is no surprise.

But it's not only about Trump. Our military is more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before—more diverse, in fact, than the country as a whole—and the share of women serving has soared. Service members are all too often stereotyped and misunderstood as uniformly hawkish and conservative, but this election should shatter those preconceptions.

What matters most now is that the Democratic Party capitalize on this success. Organizations like VoteVets and National Security Leaders for Biden have played a crucial role in this transformation, but Democrats can't declare "mission accomplished" and move on. Veterans, according to the exit polling, made up 15% of the electorate this year. They're a group too large and too important to only court every four years.

Politically, Democrats will benefit if more and more members of the armed forces and their families trust the party. But the country would benefit, too, if our military also reflected our nation's political diversity, which is why this work must continue.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.