Lindsay Beyerstein

The Republicans are taking their terror campaign to the next level

Republicans in Wisconsin have upped the operational tempo in their ongoing war on free and fair elections. Trump stalwart United States Senator Ron Johnson is exhorting state GOP legislators in his home state to illegally seize control of federal election administration over the objections of the governor. Johnson's plan is contravened not only by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, but also by a ruling of the US Supreme Court. But who's counting?

Johnson is buoyed by a fringe constitutional theory popularized by Trump lawyer John Eastman in his notorious coup memos. Eastman asserted that state legislatures had ultimate power over election administration, including the right to cast aside the popular vote for Biden and choose Trump electors instead, provided a Republican yells "fraud" loudly enough.

A long-awaited report commissioned by the Republican state legislature found no evidence of election fraud in 2020. Instead of reflecting on the life choices that have led their state to the brink of one-party rule, the Wisconsin GOP has redirected its rage towards the non-partisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. These legislators are looking for a pretext to abolish the WEC and usurp its powers.

The report alleged a handful of picayune violations of election law by the WEC, including sending absentee ballots to nursing homes. WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe defended her commission's work and said the report contains errors. These errors could have been resolved if the WEC had been allowed to review the report before publication, as audited agencies typically are. But the first rule of endlessly re-litigating the 2020 election is never to let the facts get in the way of a good smear.

READ: Charlottesville defendants found liable for civil conspiracy and ordered to pay millions in damages

Republican vindictiveness knows no bounds. It's not enough to slander Wolfe and her colleagues, and demand their resignations. Earlier this month, the Republican sheriff of Racine County asked the Republican district attorney to file felony charges against five of the WEC's six members. Their alleged crime? Helping little old ladies vote in nursing homes while protecting them from Covid.

If Racine County DA Patricia Hanson agrees to go along with this charade, these dedicated public servants could each be charged with two Class 1 felonies, which, in the vanishingly unlikely event they are convicted, could carry up to three and a half years in prison apiece.

Wisconsin law requires pairs of officials known as "special voting deputies" to visit every nursing home in the state twice to help residents vote. However, during that phase of the pandemic, most nursing homes banned all visitors, including the deputies. And for good reason. It didn't seem very safe to send these officials and their various hangers-on traipsing from one nursing home to the next, interacting with patients, and possibly spreading the virus.

Therefore, the WEC voted to stop trying to send deputies to nursing homes (where they were already banned) and instead to send absentee ballots to nursing homes. The sheriff alleges that illegal votes were cast because cognitively impaired residents were assisted in voting. This despite the fact that people with cognitive disabilities retain their right to vote in Wisconsin unless a judge determines that they are incompetent. A family member's gut feeling that Mom is too senile to vote is legally worthless.

READ: The dark Trumptopia we inhabit is the world science fiction warned us about

Wolfe insists the decision to send absentee ballots was not only legal but required by state law: "The law says if you cannot accomplish those two visits by special voting deputies, if a voter cannot vote during those two visits, that you have to send the ballots to the voters in those care facilities," Wolfe explained. She also noted that if they hadn't sent absentee ballots, these elderly and disabled voters would have been disenfranchised.

Elections officials across the country have been subjected to death threats from voters who have been duped by the Big Lie of election fraud. The threat of felony charges is taking the terror campaign to the next level.

The evidence we have now about the blueprint for Trump’s coup attempt is utterly damning

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On January 2, Trump lawyer John Eastman called into Steve Bannon's War Room podcast to explain how to steal the election. Eastman told Bannon that Vice President Mike Pence could still overturn Biden's victory. The interview was part of an extremely public campaign by Trump and his closest allies to lobby Pence to steal the election during the certification ceremony.

One of Eastman's crackpot theories was that the vice president has the unilateral power to accept or reject electoral votes at his whim, or failing that, to somehow "send the election back" to Republican-controlled swing state legislatures that would disregard the will of their people and replace Biden's electors with Trump's.

Eastman was Trump's master of self-serving constitutional bafflegab. His job was to spin elaborate pseudo-legal theories to justify Trump's assault on democracy. It was Eastman who wrote the notorious memos outlining his fanciful legal arguments for why the vice president has the power to unilaterally reelect himself. Eastman also co-wrote a blueprint for how Trump could use the military, the police, and criminal gangs to hold onto power after a disputed election. Eastman even spoke at Trump's rally on the Ellipse, making wild allegations of election fraud before Trump set the mob on the Capitol.

To understand January 6, you have to think in terms of an inside game and an outside game. The inside game was to steal the election procedurally. The outside game was to gather a mob to terrorize officials into going along with it. Eastman was a conceptual architect of both the paper coup attempt and of the plan for the political repression that Trumpists expected to follow in the wake of the theft.

It all comes back to the Big Lie of massive Democratic voter fraud in the swing states. Trump used the fantasy of a stolen election to gather his supporters in Washington for a "wild protest" on January 6, whip them into a rage and set them on the Capitol. Eastman used the same lie to justify his schemes to overturn the election procedurally.

In his various memos and public appearances, Eastman presented several paths to overrule the will of the people, but his ultimate justification was always the same: Democratic "fraud" in the swing states invalidated their certified slates of Biden electors.

Therefore, he maintained, Mike Pence was entitled to unilaterally cast aside the electoral votes and count alternate slates of fake electors in their place or discard the votes from those states altogether, denying either candidate the necessary 270 votes and throwing the election to the state delegations in the House.

As Eastman wrote in his second memo, Trump would prevail, "if the Republicans in the State Delegations stand firm." At the time, the GOP caucus was deeply divided over whether to back Trump's paper coup, and Pence was signalling he was not willing to play his assigned role.

Hence the need for extra muscle on the outside.

This fits with what another key conspirator has said about his reason for gathering a mob on January 6. "We […] schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," said Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander, regarding his motives. He wanted to "change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

After an extended rant about the cowardice of Mike Pence, the last order Trump gave the mob before sending them down Pennsylvania Avenue was that they must give "boldness" to "weak Republicans."

Trump's command echoed Eastman's language in the longer of the two memos in which he described his own scheme as "BOLD, certainly."

The label "coup" conjures up images of a military takeover, but a procedural coup under the threat of violence is still a coup.

Denialists try to mislead by pointing to the insurgents' relatively light weaponry and saying: "You don't think they meant to overthrow the US government with that, do you?" But the plan was never to physically seize control of the government. Insurgents just had to bully Pence and House Republicans into reversing the election for Trump.

Trump's advisors were well aware that reversing a free and fair election would provoke national outrage and widespread protests. Eastman's blueprint for leveraging the military, the police, and criminal gangs to hold onto power would work as well or better after a procedural coup as it would after an uncertain Election Night (the scenario nominally entertained in the report). A stolen election would put Biden supporters in the streets where the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would be waiting for them, prepared to start or escalate violence wherever they could. This kind of unrest was exactly what Eastman warned local officials to be prepared to suppress.

We eagerly await what Bannon and Eastman will tell the January 6 committee, but what they've already said is utterly damning.

Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she's a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.

The evidence we have now about the blueprint for Trump's coup attempt is utterly damning

On January 2, Trump lawyer John Eastman called into Steve Bannon's War Room podcast to explain how to steal the election. Eastman told Bannon that Vice President Mike Pence could still overturn Biden's victory. The interview was part of an extremely public campaign by Trump and his closest allies to lobby Pence to steal the election during the certification ceremony.

One of Eastman's crackpot theories was that the vice president has the unilateral power to accept or reject electoral votes at his whim, or failing that, to somehow "send the election back" to Republican-controlled swing state legislatures that would disregard the will of their people and replace Biden's electors with Trump's.

Eastman was Trump's master of self-serving constitutional bafflegab. His job was to spin elaborate pseudo-legal theories to justify Trump's assault on democracy. It was Eastman who wrote the notorious memos outlining his fanciful legal arguments for why the vice president has the power to unilaterally reelect himself. Eastman also co-wrote a blueprint for how Trump could use the military, the police, and criminal gangs to hold onto power after a disputed election. Eastman even spoke at Trump's rally on the Ellipse, making wild allegations of election fraud before Trump set the mob on the Capitol.

To understand January 6, you have to think in terms of an inside game and an outside game. The inside game was to steal the election procedurally. The outside game was to gather a mob to terrorize officials into going along with it. Eastman was a conceptual architect of both the paper coup attempt and of the plan for the political repression that Trumpists expected to follow in the wake of the theft.

READ: A growing threat is emerging from the theocratic wing of the GOP — but many liberals are missing it

It all comes back to the Big Lie of massive Democratic voter fraud in the swing states. Trump used the fantasy of a stolen election to gather his supporters in Washington for a "wild protest" on January 6, whip them into a rage and set them on the Capitol. Eastman used the same lie to justify his schemes to overturn the election procedurally.

In his various memos and public appearances, Eastman presented several paths to overrule the will of the people, but his ultimate justification was always the same: Democratic "fraud" in the swing states invalidated their certified slates of Biden electors.

Therefore, he maintained, Mike Pence was entitled to unilaterally cast aside the electoral votes and count alternate slates of fake electors in their place or discard the votes from those states altogether, denying either candidate the necessary 270 votes and throwing the election to the state delegations in the House.

As Eastman wrote in his second memo, Trump would prevail, "if the Republicans in the State Delegations stand firm." At the time, the GOP caucus was deeply divided over whether to back Trump's paper coup, and Pence was signalling he was not willing to play his assigned role.

READ: 'Whole case is a mess': Internet stunned as judge lets Rittenhouse choose final jurors in raffle system

Hence the need for extra muscle on the outside.

This fits with what another key conspirator has said about his reason for gathering a mob on January 6. "We […] schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," said Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander, regarding his motives. He wanted to "change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

After an extended rant about the cowardice of Mike Pence, the last order Trump gave the mob before sending them down Pennsylvania Avenue was that they must give "boldness" to "weak Republicans."

Trump's command echoed Eastman's language in the longer of the two memos in which he described his own scheme as "BOLD, certainly."

Read: 'Conspiracy nuts': DeSantis is in the hot seat after his aide gets caught pushing anti-Semitic theory

The label "coup" conjures up images of a military takeover, but a procedural coup under the threat of violence is still a coup.

Denialists try to mislead by pointing to the insurgents' relatively light weaponry and saying: "You don't think they meant to overthrow the US government with that, do you?" But the plan was never to physically seize control of the government. Insurgents just had to bully Pence and House Republicans into reversing the election for Trump.

Trump's advisors were well aware that reversing a free and fair election would provoke national outrage and widespread protests. Eastman's blueprint for leveraging the military, the police, and criminal gangs to hold onto power would work as well or better after a procedural coup as it would after an uncertain Election Night (the scenario nominally entertained in the report). A stolen election would put Biden supporters in the streets where the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would be waiting for them, prepared to start or escalate violence wherever they could. This kind of unrest was exactly what Eastman warned local officials to be prepared to suppress.

We eagerly await what Bannon and Eastman will tell the January 6 committee, but what they've already said is utterly damning.

READ: Ocasio-Cortez gives an impassioned speech blasting Kevin McCarthy after Gosar's 'incitement of violence'

A Trump-aligned think tank's pre-election war game gets exposed — and it's not a pretty picture

The Trump advisor who wrote the infamous pseudo-legal justification for overturning the 2020 election also helped to create a blueprint for what Donald Trump could do to hang onto power by force.

John Eastman joined a couple dozen right-wing operatives in simulating the aftermath of a closely contested election. The report was published in mid-October 2020 and co-sponsored by the Claremont Institute, the think tank where Eastman works.

The authors of the report are clear their simulation had a very serious purpose: to prepare real public officials for real violence in the event of a disputed election. The authors say they fully expected the necessary preparations to crush dissent would be perceived as the run-up to a military coup. But in their view, that couldn't be helped. It was important to come up with legal justifications for overwhelming political violence before the election, they said.

The report is a blueprint for how Donald Trump could fuse federal power, local police and criminal gangs like the Proud Boys to hang onto power. It seems to foreshadow Eastman's plan for a procedural coup on January 6, except projected onto Biden supporters.

The Claremont simulation started from the assumption that left wing violence was a "near-certainty" and that Trump's Defense Department, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security must be prepared to crush Biden supporters in the event of a contested election.

The simulation starts from the following half-baked premise: All the networks call the contest for Biden on Election Night, because he appears to have won Texas, bringing his electoral vote total to 270.

Somehow, all the networks fail to notice that Russia had taken the entire electoral apparatus of Texas offline before all the votes came in. (This wouldn't get past Steve Kornacki, let me tell you.) Texas goes back in the "too close to call" column. Biden is still two electoral votes ahead, but the nation explodes with rioting and arson by "antifa" and Black Lives Matter. Fourteen police officers are shot on election night.

Thus begins Choose Your Own Adventure: Death Squads. There's an elaborate procedural and legal backstory about how an uncertain Election Night metastasizes into a constitutional crisis to be worked out probably by the Supreme Court, but I won't bore you with it because it's obviously a figleaf. This is a manual for state violence.

With the nation in flames, the players have Trump's Department of Defense deploy military personnel carriers to multiple states, which local mayors rudely call "tanks." These pesky mayors aren't cooperating with the Trump administration's desire to clamp down on dissent.

So, their police departments go completely rogue and join forces with the Trump administration. The NYPD seems to have overthrown Bill De Blasio. The Chicago Police Union refuses to protect Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Federal law enforcement with no identifying insignias encircle the White House to defend it with heat rays. The Proud Boys, Three Percenters and Oath Keepers form posses to "assist."

Tellingly, Eastman and his fellow players assume that pro-Biden forces will try to gather at the Capitol on January 6. So they thwart their political adversaries by tracking their phones, setting up police checkpoints and using Trump's Homeland Security fusion centers to identify and detain their leaders. The players protect the Capitol with an army of federal agents, snipers and of course more heat rays. Trump's FBI hunts down more antifa leaders in the DC suburbs.

War games often reveal more about the players than they do about the future, and this exercise is no exception. The report shows that John Eastman and his confederates expected a disputed election would set off a wave of civil unrest that would culminate in the US Capitol on January 6, supported by insurrections at key state houses that same day. The report projected this strategy onto Biden supporters, but that's exactly what Trump confederates did on January 6.

A showdown on January 6 might feel inevitable in retrospect, given the horrific events of that day. But it wasn't an obvious choice. January 6 was the date of the certification of the presidential election, which has historically been a pro-forma affair. Results have already been decided.

The states have certified their election results, the Electoral College already has voted and all that's left to be done is the little ceremony during which the Congress counts the electoral votes. It doesn't make sense to have your last stand to win a contested election after the results are already set in stone, unless you think you can change them.

John Eastman did in fact come up with a crackpot legal excuse for how Mike Pence could throw the election to Trump. His argument was to the law as creationism is to biology, but it was good enough for Trump. We know Trump pressured Pence to act on Eastman's advice. Eastman shared a dais with Trump as well as Rudy Giuliani at the rally immediately before the siege. The crowd was chanting "Hang Mike Pence," because Pence had refused to comply with Eastman's scheme.

Eastman later claimed he wasn't serious about the memo, but the results of this simulation suggests he and fellow right-wingers had sized up the certification of the presidential election as their moment to stage a procedural coup with physical reinforcements waiting.

Here's what the GOP's new cutesy catchphrase reveals about MAGA violence

Republicans are snickering like third graders over a new catchphrase, "Let's Go Brandon!" Due to a miscommunication too banal to relate, but involving NASCAR, the phrase has become a cutesy euphemism for "Fuck Joe Biden!" Ted Cruz posed with it, Mitch McConnell's spokesman retweeted it and gunsmiths are etching it on their wares.

It was all harmless cringe until the pilot of a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Albuquerque signed off with "Remember: Let's Go Brandon," eliciting audible gasps from some passengers.

The phrase itself is goofy, but it's totally unacceptable for a pilot of a major airline to repeat MAGA catchphrases from the cockpit during an epidemic of right-wing air rage. That's nothing less than a wink and a nod to the anti-mask MAGA violence that has gripped the industry.

According to the latest data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the agency has received over 5,000 reports of unruly passengers in 2021, of which 3,600 involved disputes over masks. If current trends continue, air rage incidents in 2021 will outnumber all previous years combined. In an attempt to get through to the public, the FAA put out a PSA featuring real audio of flight crews wrangling violent passengers, showing how unruly passengers endanger everyone on board.

In May, a passenger knocked out a Southwest flight attendant's teeth in a masking dispute, which was just one of 477 cases of passenger misconduct on Southwest Airlines in a little over a month.

The official statistics may not reflect the full scope of the problem. Eighty-five percent of flight attendants said they encountered unruly passengers during the first half of 2021 — and 85 percent of unruly incidents were related to masks, according to a survey of 5,000 members of the Association of Flight Attendants. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they have had at least five incidents, and 17 percent said they have endured physical violence from passengers.

"Many respondents recounted aggressive incidents, including shoving, kicking seats, throwing trash at flight crew, defiling the restroom in response to crewmember instructions, and following flight crew through the airport to continue yelling and harassment," Sarah Nelson, the union's international president, testified before Congress.

The larger context is that Biden's vaccine mandate has turned Southwest Airlines into a flashpoint for pandemic culture war. In October, Southwest employees chanted "Let's Go Brandon" at a protest against the requirement that they get vaccinated.

Tempers are running so high at Southwest that the pilots' union sent its members a memo warning them not to let vaccine debates become in-flight distractions. "We are seeing distractions in the flight deck that can create dangerous situations," union spokesman Dennis Tajer said. Recently, a Southwest pilot was even cited for assault and battery against a flight attendant during an off-duty dispute over masks.

A dissident faction of Southwest pilots has been fighting the vaccine mandate in court and Republican leaders have hailed them as "freedom fighters" in the battle against Biden's immunological tyranny. Even before L'Affaire Brandon, TikTok was full of right wingers proclaiming their solidarity with the vaccine-resistant pilots.

Of course, it's against Southwest's policy for pilots to air divisive or offensive views in flight. So here we have authority figure flouting that rule to say "fuck the president," which sends a message that rule-breaking, particularly MAGA rule-breaking, is tolerated.

The fact that the phrase is coded arguably makes it even more powerful. By defiantly speaking MAGA jargon, the pilot is winking and nodding at right-wing disorder. Put another way, the coded language tells us violence isn't a result of MAGA politics. It is MAGA politics.

Attacks on flight attendants are part of a much larger pattern of violence against service workers, health care workers, and teachers by people who refuse to comply with pandemic regulations.

This is paradigmatically political violence.

People who don't agree with the law are resisting it by force.

There's literature on how authority figures signal that violence is acceptable without explicitly calling for it. It's often in the form of coded language, jokes and asides to communicate that the people in charge approve of violence and will take care of those who use it.

It's irrelevant whether the pilot intended to encourage stewardess-punching with his little dig. If he didn't anticipate the consequences, that's just as bad. His job is to think ahead.

If there's one thing you can count on, it's that you get more of what you tolerate. A pilot should not be winking at rebellion and Southwest should not tolerate a pilot deliberately riling up passengers in-flight. It would be foolish to fire the pilot, because that would just make him into a crowdfunded martyr. But he should face consequences.

The evidence is mounting that top Trumpworld figures had foreknowledge of potential Jan. 6 violence

Hunter Walker of Rolling Stone interviewed two anonymous Republican activists who helped organize the January 6 rally at the Ellipse where President Trump ordered his supporters to "take back their country" just before the mob assaulted the Capitol. Legislators had gathered there to certify Joe Biden's victory. Trump was impeached largely based on the statements he made at that rally.

These two anonymous sources, identified as "an organizer" and "a planner," say they are in contact with the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection and both expect to be called to testify. MAGAland is a hive of deceit and vainglory, so proceed with caution.

The Rolling Stone piece has gotten a lot of attention based on Planner and Organizer's vague assertion that various extremist Republican members of Congress were involved in planning the rally on the Ellipse in some capacity. Some, like Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, spoke at the rally, which implies at least some level of cooperation. Another explosive claim is that Rep. Paul Gosar promised blanket pardons, which he said had been approved by Trump. Maybe, maybe not. If Walker inquired as to why pardons would be an incentive for an event conceived as a peaceful protest, the piece makes no mention of it.

But here's where the story really gets interesting: "The two sources also claim they interacted with members of Trump's team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence."

This sentence reminded me of a June 25 story by Josh Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica entitled "New Details Suggest Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic." Their story delves into a power struggle within MAGAland in the run-up to January 6. The story makes a strong case, backed by named sources and text messages, that the White House was warned by their own organizers that Stop the Steal was planning a potentially violent march on the Capitol.

On December 19, Donald Trump issued a Twitter invitation to his followers: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" Thus began a bitter intra-MAGA power struggle over which faction was going to organize the protest and what would take place.

One faction included Tea Party co-founder Amy Kremer, the head of the anti-feminist organization Women for America First, and Steve Bannon associate Dustin Stockman. This faction allegedly wanted to hold an "extended oral argument" on January 6 detailing their (non-existent) evidence of systemic election fraud. Kremer and her allies got the upper hand and secured the permit for the main rally on the Ellipse, at which the soon-to-be-ex president spoke on January 6.

The more extreme faction was Stop the Steal, led by Ali Alexander, and featuring conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, dirty trickster Roger Stone, anti-feminist Kimberly Fletcher and retired reki practitioner turned right wing organizer Cindy Chafian. Alexander openly embraced paramilitary groups like Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and racists like Nick Fuentes and the groypers. Stop the Steal favored a confrontational approach.

So much so that they doubted they could get a permit to rally under their real name, given the violence and intimidation that had marred previous Stop the Steal events across the country. A Stop the Steal organizer confirmed to ProPublica that "One Nation Under God" was a front name used to get their permit to rally on Capitol grounds. Alexander later bragged in a livestream that Reps. Gosar, Brooks and Andy Biggs helped him come up with the idea for a march to put maximum pressure on lawmakers gathered to certify the election.

Ellipse organizers told ProPublica that as January 6 approached, they worried Stop the Steal was planning an unauthorized march that would arrive at the Capitol just as election results were being certified.

Bannon associate Dustin Stockton told ProPublica that he and Amy Kremer, the Tea Party co-founder, tried warning former White House employee Katrina Pierson about the danger posed by Stop the Steal's march. When that didn't work, Stockman said, they took their concerns up the chain of command to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Kremer now denies doing so, but the record says otherwise.

"The WH and team Trump are aware of the situation with Ali and Cindy," Kremer wrote in a text message obtained by ProPublica.

Rolling Stone appears to describe a dynamic very similar to the one laid out in the ProPublica piece: Ellipse organizers getting nervous about Stop the Steal's capacity for violence, reaching out to Katrina Pierson with their concerns and finally to Mark Meadows.

"Katrina was like our go-to girl," Organizer told Rolling Stone. "She was like our primary advocate." Rolling Stone continues:

Both sources also describe Trump's White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests on Jan. 6. Among other things, they both say concerns were raised to Meadows about Alexander's protest at the Capitol and the potential that it could spark violence.

Amy Kremer has been subpoenaed to testify, as of October 25.

Dustin Stockman has not.

It really is time for Thomas Jefferson to go

The plaster statue of Thomas Jefferson that looms over the New York City Council Chamber will be removed by year's end, following a vote by a city commission Monday. The council did the right thing after a 20-year campaign by its Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. This decision is an opportunity to commission a sculpture that celebrates the Jeffersonian ideals of liberty and democracy without idolizing the slaveholder himself.

Throughout the meeting to decide the statue's fate, its defenders kept returning to a theme: The statue doesn't honor Jefferson the man, it honors his great ideas, like universal human equality, religious freedom and a democracy free of autocrats, aristocrats and theocrats. As historian Sean Wilentz pointed out in a written statement opposing removal, these ideas are still radical today and continue to inspire liberation movements, including civil rights and feminism.

One of the greatest contributions of Jefferson and his fellow Enlightenment thinkers was discrediting monarchy, the ridiculous notion that some people are chosen by God to rule because they have magic blood. Idolizing a monarch with a statue makes sense if you believe in the divine right of kings. It makes a lot less sense to build statues of leaders whom we know are flawed citizens like ourselves.

There's no rule saying that public statuary must consist of the stony likenesses of dead heroes. Lots of great art uses idealized figures and abstract motifs to educate and inspire. History has to deal with people in full. Art has no such limitations. It can abstract away the flawed figure to express the higher ideals they ultimately failed to embody.

The council members who want to relocate the statue believe passionately in liberty and democracy. They argue, persuasively, that the likeness of a slaveholder is an inappropriate symbol of those ideals.

Even the statue's most ardent champions scarcely tried to defend the man. How could they? Jefferson owned over 600 people and consigned some of his own children to slavery, children he conceived with his wife's enslaved half-sister, whom he started raping when she was just 14. The man knew slavery was wrong, but kept on owning people and selling children, despite his contemporaries, including the Marquis de Lafayette, urging him to free the people he held in bondage.

Four council members of color testified. They said they felt degraded and dispirited by the enormous plaster statue. It has grown even more imposing over the years. Its 7-foot likeness on a 5-foot pedestal casts a pall over the chamber. Its pedestal was actually raised several years ago when art restorers warned that he was vulnerable to damage. Co-chair of the Black Latino and Asian Caucus — I. Daneek Miller — testified that Jefferson's "domineering presence" feels like "psychological warfare" to legislators of color, who comprise the council' majority.

If the purpose of public art is to inspire, it matters whether it is having the desired effect on its audience. If a supposed monument to liberty is making legislators feel less-than, it has outlived its usefulness.

Pro-statue speakers said they found it ironic that a democratic government is now using the tools that Jefferson helped to create to remove his likeness. That's exactly what's happening, and that's great.

We have outgrown Jefferson's likeness, just as we've outgrown the idea that kings and white people have magic blood entitling them to rule.

Let's replace the statue of the flawed man with a statue that celebrates the brilliant and radical ideas he promoted: Democracy, equality and religious freedom. Let's talk about how we want to express them artistically in 2021. Let's install a plaque explaining to future generations why replaced Jefferson's likeness with something new.

'Playing the long game': A slow-motion coup by death-threat squad is happening underneath all of our noses

Michele Carew is the latest casualty in the Trumpist war on voting. The veteran elections administrator tendered her resignation to officials in Hood County, Texas, on Friday after a brutal campaign by Trump loyalists to oust her. Trump won 81 percent of the vote there, but Carew still found herself in the crosshairs of those seeking to entrench the GOP's control over election administration. They want to see Carew's duties reassigned to a county clerk, who is notorious for (what else?) sharing electoral conspiracy theories on social media.

Carew is one of many local election officials across the country who have chosen to quit rather than absorb right-wing abuse. Among 14 southwestern Ohio counties, one in four of election officials has already called it quits. Pennsylvania is grappling with a similar exodus.

"These conspiracy theorists are in it for the long haul," county clerk Barb Byrum told the Associated Press. "They're in it to completely crumble our republic, and they're looking at these election administrator positions. They're playing the long game."

It all keeps coming back to the Big Lie. The Big Lie of voter fraud is a classic stabbed-in-the-back narrative. These fantasies crop up whenever fascists need to reconcile their conviction that they're strong and special with the reality that they've been shut out of power. They convince themselves that they would have won, if it hadn't been for the treacherous Other who denied them their glorious birthright.

In the most famous stabbed-in-the-back narrative, it was the German Army of World War I that supposedly could have triumphed had the craven politicians not betrayed them. Today, Donald Trump's supporters console themselves with the fantasy that they won the 2020 election, but Democrats, unions, Black people and the Chinese Communist Party cheated them out of power.

A good stabbed-in-the-back narrative also suggests a target at which to direct resentment and even violence. "Stop the Steal" was the rallying cry that Trump used to sic a mob on the Capitol on Jan 6.

Local elections officials are still bearing the brunt of Trumpist fury. A special investigation by Reuters documented 102 threats of death or violence against 40 local election officials. Those are a fraction of the true number of threats. Milwaukee election official Claire Woodall-Vogg estimated she'd received 150 threats since a Gateway Pundit, a massively popular conspiracy blog, published lies about her.

Election administration skews disproportionately female, like education and public health — two other spheres where GOP radicals have directed their ire. The California Voter Foundation, a watchdog group, estimates that 75 percent of local election officials are women.

"The common thread is that no one has any respect from women […]," Milwaukee elections official Woodall-Vogg said in an interview with CNN in which the mother of two small children recounted how her harassers delight in calling her a cunt and a whore.

In Georgia, Republicans are using a new state law to purge Democrats of color from local elections boards. At least 10 board members have been removed under the new state law or by local ordinances. Of these, at least 5 of the ousted members are people of color.

"I speak out and I know the laws," Ms. Lonnie Hollis, an ousted Black board member told the Times. "The bottom line is they don't like people that have some type of intelligence and know what they're doing, because they know they can't influence them."

Michigan Republicans are busily replacing local election board members with pliant functionaries who, they hope, will refuse to certify future Democratic victories. The state's former elections director warned that it would create "a mess" if 10 or 15 counties refused to certify the election. It would be more than "a mess." It would be yet another procedural coup attempt. The GOP is organizing to steal the next election in plain sight, but the Department of Justice has done little more than convene a task force to study the problem. The Big Lie must not be allowed to cast a shadow over our democracy.

Mini-insurrections: Right wingers cynically declare war on teachers and nurses after one big failed coup

This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland convened a task force to combat the recent spike in violence and intimidation against school board members, school administrators and teachers. Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced a structurally similar initiative to investigate violence against election officials. These task forces are desperately needed as the Republican Party's strategy to retake power shifts from one big insurrection to many mini-insurrections.

But what's really needed is a holistic approach. Threats against school board members, election workers and public health officials are the same threat in different guises: The right-wing assault on democracy.

School board meetings are being systematically and sometimes violently disrupted by right-wing activists with shifting grievances, from critical race theory to trans bathrooms to mask mandates.

A school board in Vail, Arizona, was forced to call the police and flee its meeting room after an unmasked mob forced its way into the building. Having forced the elected officials to depart for their own safety, in a move that echoed the January 6 insurrection, the mob proceeded to hold its own fake "election" of school board candidates.

Last month, men with military-grade zip ties burst into an Arizona elementary school principal's office and threatened to kidnap her over the school's mask and quarantine policies. A few days earlier, a Florida man attacked a student who criticized him for not wearing a mask.

In late September, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden begging for help with what it called the "immediate threat" posed to the nation's public education system.

The violence against school board members is reminiscent of the intimidation campaigns that are being waged against election overseers and public health officials. Reuters uncovered hundreds of incidents of threats and harassment against election workers and officials nationwide. Since the start of the pandemic, public health officials have been subjected to a range of tactics, from death threats to armed protests at their homes, prompting a wave of resignations.

The chaos is the point. The Republican Party is hoping to sweep back into power by stoking and exploiting grassroots rage. They are trying to replicate the model of the Tea Party where local cells propelled the Republicans to big wins in the midterm elections.

This strategy is being implemented by big names in GOP politics. According to its website, Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA "is helping parents and students engage the American Culture War head-on at their local school boards." The Koch-funded Independent Women's Network is organizing parents to resist mask mandates in schools.

Right-wing pundits are freaking and accusing Garland of attacking their entire movement. Which says a lot about how they conceive their movement. They are afraid the Justice Department will expose the links between violent protests and national Republican groups. The probe is threatening their most valuable asset: plausible deniability.

The National Review denounced the probe as "an appalling crackdown" and accused the AG of trying to send a message to "one side of the debate." It's funny how only one side of the debate needs reminding not to threaten local officials. Debates over covid safety, election integrity, anti-racism and trans rights are all hugely contentious. Passions run high on the left and the right, but only the right is engaged in a concerted bid to intimidate and threaten local officials. Having failed at one big coup on January 6, the Republicans have regrouped to launch countless mini-insurrections on softer targets.

The local officials who run our schools, our elections and our health departments are doing the hard work of administering a functional democracy. They don't have bodyguards and they open their own mail. They are easy targets, because they are our neighbors. The right wing has cynically declared war on them in the hopes that they will quit out of fear or frustration. The Attorney General is right to muster the power of the federal government to defend them, because these harassment campaigns are an attack on democracy itself.

Republicans' Arizona fiasco was a frontal assault on democracy — and it must be stopped

The Cyber Ninjas' sham review of Maricopa County's presidential election has drawn to a close. The self-styled investigators found no evidence of fraud and their hand recount was within spitting distance of the official result. Still, the grift rolls on: Arizona Republicans announced a busy schedule of hearings and investigations to rehash the report's non-findings. Unchastened by utter failure, Republicans are keen to replicate the Arizona debacle in other states, and similar efforts are already underway in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas.

"This is a situation of states' rights," said Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers as she unveiled a manifesto signed by dozens of Republican state legislators calling for audits in all 50 states. "No matter what the left says, we will keep this in the narrative."

It's gotta be about the narrative. It's not about the facts. Rogers and her allies went straight from fundraising on dire predictions of what the review would find to fundraising off lies that the "audit" proved everything they wanted to hear. Anything to keep the Big Lie of voter fraud alive.

Biden's win had already been upheld by two certified auditors and several courts of law when the Republicans in the Arizona State Senate hired Republican cranks to prove that Republicans won. What followed was not an audit but a fiasco.

The Arizona State Senate subpoenaed the 2.1 million ballots and handed them over to Cyber Ninjas, an obscure firm run by an avowed conspiracy theorist with no experience in auditing or elections. Even their name was a tell: Ninjas are assassins who forgo honor to fight for the highest bidder. They rejected the samurai code of benevolence, sincerity and loyalty – the very virtues needed to walk the Path of the Audit.

The ballot review cost at least $6.7 million, the vast majority of which came from far-right groups linked to the January 6 insurgency.

The Cyber Ninjas used worthless methods in a desperate bid to validate florid conspiracy theories. They scanned ballots for bamboo fibers and bombarded them with UV light in search of phantom watermarks.

Arizona has strict laws for transporting, storing and counting ballots, and the Ninjas blew off the few election laws they knew of. The count was marred by lax security, including unattended metal detectors and lapses in the chain of custody. The Ninjas' UV lights, which had no valid forensic purpose, may have damaged the ballots. Professional election auditors were shocked to learn that Cyber Ninjas mounted the ballots on merry-go-rounds so that they could whiz past the judges, a bizarre system that seemed designed to magnify errors.

The Ninjas wanted to go door-to-door, harassing voters under the guise of "canvassing," but that plan was shelved after the feds flagged the plan as possible voter intimidation. But failed Republican state lege candidate Liz Harris launched a "private canvass," which did the same thing. The Cyber Ninjas' draft report even claimed that Harris's canvassers were part of the official audit, a claim that was mysteriously absent from the final version.

And they're not just harassing voters. The Big Lie is also used to incite harassment of experienced, competent election officials in the hopes that they will quit and make way for GOP flunkies. Even if your audit fails to uncover evidence of fraud, you can still use it to undermine public confidence in the electoral system. And to be fair, any system that lets itself be inspected by the Cyber Ninjas has problems. Many experts are concerned that unethical and unaccountable Republican-allied contractors are casing election systems in search of weaknesses they can exploit.

These sham audits are intimately coordinated with Trump and his national Republican allies. Trump's "Stop the Steal" movement weaponized false allegations of voter fraud in swing states to recruit shock troops to intimidate legislators on January 6.

The Republican campaign to rifle through the people's ballots to sustain the Big Lie is a frontal assault on democracy, we cannot afford to let it spread any further.

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