The Conversation

Why this trial was different: Experts react to the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin

by Alexis Karteron, Rutgers University - Newark ; Jeannine Bell, Indiana University, and Ric Simmons, The Ohio State University

Scholars analyze the guilty verdicts handed down to former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the 2020 murder of George Floyd. Outside the courthouse, crowds cheered and church bells sounded – a collective release in a city scarred by police killings. Minnesota's attorney general, whose office led the prosecution, said he would not call the verdict “justice, however" because “justice implies restoration" – but he would call it “accountability."

Race was not an issue in trial

Alexis Karteron, Rutgers University - Newark

Derek Chauvin's criminal trial is over, but the work to ensure that no one endures a tragic death like George Floyd's is just getting started.

It is fair to say that race was on the minds of millions of protesters who took to the streets last year to express their outrage and pain in response to the killing. Many felt it was impossible for someone who wasn't Black to imagine Chauvin's brutal treatment of George Floyd.

But race went practically unmentioned during the Chauvin trial.

This should not be surprising, because the criminal legal system writes race out at virtually every turn. When I led a lawsuit as a civil rights attorney challenging the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program as racist, the department's primary defense was that it complied with Fourth Amendment standards, under which police officers need only “reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity to stop someone. Presence in what police say is a “high-crime area" is relevant to developing reasonable suspicion, as is a would-be subject taking flight when being approached by a police officer. But the correlation with race, for a host of reasons, is obvious to any keen observer.

American policing's most pressing problems are racial ones. For some, the evolution of slave patrols into police forces and the failure of decadeslong reform efforts are proof that American policing is irredeemable and must be defunded. For others, changes to use-of-force policies and improved accountability measures, like those in the proposed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, are enough.

Different communities across the country will follow different paths in their efforts to prevent another tragic death like George Floyd's. Some will do nothing at all. But progress will be made only when America as a whole gets real about the role of race – something the legal system routinely fails to do.

Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd for 9 minutes, 29 seconds.

Why this trial was different

Ric Simmons, The Ohio State University

The guilty verdicts in the Chauvin trial are extraordinary, if unsurprising, because past incidents of police lethal use of force against unarmed civilians, particularly Black civilians, have generally not resulted in criminal convictions.

In many cases, the prosecuting office has been reluctant or halfhearted in pursuing the case. Prosecutors and police officers work together daily; that can make prosecutors sympathetic to the work of law enforcement. In the Chauvin case, the attorney general's office invested an overwhelming amount of resources in preparing for and conducting the trial, bringing in two outside lawyers, including a prominent civil rights attorney, to assist its many state prosecutors.

Usually, too, a police officer defendant can count on the support of other police officers to testify on his behalf and explain why his or her actions were justified. Not in this case. Every police officer witness testified for the prosecution against Chauvin.

Finally, convictions after police killings are rare because, evidence shows, jurors are historically reluctant to substitute their own judgment for the split-second decisions made by trained officers when their lives may be on the line. Despite the past year's protests decrying police violence, U.S. support for law enforcement remains very high: A recent poll showed that only 18% of Americans support the “defund the police" movement.

But Chauvin had no feasible argument that he feared for his life or made an instinctive response to a threat. George Floyd did nothing to justify the defendant's brutal actions, and the overwhelming evidence presented by the prosecutors convinced 12 jurors of that fact.

The 'thin blue line' kills

Jeannine Bell, Indiana University

Like other high-profile police killings of African Americans, the murder of George Floyd revealed a lot about police culture – and how it makes interactions with communities of color fraught.

Derek Chauvin used prohibited tactics – keeping his knee on Floyd's neck when he had already been subdued – to suffocate a man, an act the jury recognized as murder. Three fellow Minneapolis Police Department officers watched as Chauvin killed Floyd. Rather than intervene themselves, they helped him resist the intervention of upset bystanders and a medical professional. They have been charged with aiding and abetting a murder.

The police brotherhood – that intense and protective “thin blue line" – enabled a public murder. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, unusually, broke this code of silence when he testified against Chauvin.

Research shows that even if officers see a fellow officer mistreating a suspect and want to intervene, they need training to teach them how to do so effectively. The city of New Orleans is now training officers to intervene. Once training is in place, police departments could also make intervention in such situations mandatory.

When some officers stand by as other officers ignore their training, the consequences can be dangerous – and potentially lethal – for civilians.

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Alexis Karteron, Associate Professor of Law, Rutgers University - Newark ; Jeannine Bell, Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University, and Ric Simmons, Professor of Law, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

George Floyd’s legacy: Derek Chauvin guilty verdicts could spell the end of police immunity

by Kent Roach, University of Toronto

The police killing of George Floyd begs for effective remedies that respond both to past harms while also preventing future harm.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of three counts in the killing of Floyd after he kneeled on the Black man's neck for more than nine minutes as he pleaded for his life in May 2020. But what will be done now to ensure no one else dies a similar death at the hands of police, especially given there have been several police killings following Floyd's murder?

As legal theorist William Blackstone famously wrote, “every right when withheld must have a remedy."

But American federal courts have never recognized Blackstone's truism because of a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity, which protects police or government officials from lawsuits by requiring plaintiffs to establish not only that their rights have been violated, but that state officials did so with a high level of fault.

Given the egregious nature of Floyd's killing, qualified immunity was not an issue in Floyd's case. This helps explain why Minneapolis City Council agreed to pay the family US$27 million in damages.

But courts and legislatures are increasingly finding fault with qualified immunity.

Decision overturned

The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that lower courts had erred when they dismissed damage claims by a Texas prisoner on qualified immunity grounds. It ruled that he can sue six prison officers who allegedly forced him to sleep naked in a cell covered with feces and sewage for days.

The court indicated that some violations are so egregious that they might merit damages even in the absence of clearly established law. Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.

The court also recently decided that damages can be sought for free speech violations even when the violation does not cause calculable harm. And in another recent case, the court ruled that a woman shot by the police when fleeing was subject to an unreasonable seizure.

City councils and legislatures are also chipping away at qualified immunity measures that often prevent damages from being awarded to plaintiffs. New York City Council recently repealed qualified immunity provisions that have sheltered police officers from lawsuits.

The U.S. House of Representatives has also passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. If enacted, it would repeal qualified immunity. That means damages could be awarded even if the police acted in good faith or violated rights that were not clearly established.

Damages are important. They serve as a visible and reportable symbol that the state has violated rights. But they are not enough. Effective remedies must also prevent future violations.

Consent decrees

How? Consent decrees require some police departments to collect data about police practices that harm racialized people. Some require police to intervene when there are warning signs of officers abusing their powers.

The Minneapolis Police Department was not under such a consent decree. It should have been.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has indicated that it will seek more consent decrees to monitor police departments.

But more ambitious systemic remedies won't necessarily prevent police killings and brutality. There's no way of knowing whether a consent decree would have stopped Chauvin from killing Floyd.

In recent weeks there have been two fatal police shootings of unarmed Black young men in the United States, 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Minnesota and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, where a consent decree is in place.

More substantial systemic reform could be achieved by a two-track approach that combines individual remedies for the past and systemic remedies for the future.

Signs of change afoot?

The ultimate remedy for a police department that cannot or will not respect rights would be to disband it. Failing that, the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions are promising. They may allow courts to compensate the victims of the most egregious forms of police abuse.

But that alone will be inadequate.

The courts and, if not the courts, the people must demand governments take reasonable and measurable steps to prevent future rights violations. The damages paid to Floyd's family are an important step in remedying a searing injustice. But much more needs to be done to prevent similar violations in the future.

There are no easy or guaranteed victories when it comes to legal remedies. But that doesn't mean they aren't important or should not be vigorously pursued.The Conversation

Kent Roach, Professor & Prichard Wilson Chair in Law and Public Policy, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Professor of religious studies: Here's the problem with calls to 'deprogram' QAnon followers

Paul Thomas, Radford University

Recent calls to deprogram QAnon conspiracy followers are steeped in discredited notions about brainwashing. As popularly imagined, brainwashing is a coercive procedure that programs new long-term personality changes. Deprogramming, also coercive, is thought to undo brainwashing.

As a professor of religious studies who has written and taught about alternative religious movements, I believe such deprogramming conversations do little to help us understand why people adopt QAnon beliefs. A deprogramming discourse fails to understand religious recruitment and conversion and excuses those spreading QAnon beliefs from accountability.

A brief brainwashing history

Deprogramming, a method thought to reverse extreme psychological manipulation, can't be understood apart from the concept of brainwashing.

The modern concept of brainwashing has its origin in Chinese experiments with American prisoners of war during the Korean War. Coercive physical and psychological methods were employed in an attempt to plant Communist beliefs in the minds of American POWs. To determine whether brainwashing was possible, the CIA then launched its own secret mind-control program in the 1950s called MK-ULTRA.

By the late 1950s researchers were already casting doubt on brainwashing theory. The anti-American behavior of captured Americans was best explained by temporary compliance owing to torture. This is akin to false confessions made under extreme duress.

Still, books like “The Manchurian Candidate," released in 1959, and “A Clockwork Orange," released in 1962 – both of which were turned into movies and heavily featured themes of brainwashing – reinforced the concept in popular culture. To this day, the language of brainwashing and deprogramming is applied to groups holding controversial beliefs – from fundamentalist Mormons to passionate Trump supporters.

In the 1970s and 1980s, brainwashing was used to explain why people would join new religious movements like Jim Jones' Peoples Temple or the Unification Church.

Seeking guardianship of adult children in these groups, parents cited the belief that members were brainwashed to justify court-ordered conservatorship. With guardianship orders in hand, they sought help from cult deprogrammers like Ted Patrick. Deprogrammers were notorious for kidnapping, isolating and harassing adults in an effort to reverse perceived cult brainwashing.

For a time, U.S. courts accepted brainwashing testimony despite the pseudo-scientific nature of the theory. It turns out that research on coercive conversion failed to support brainwashing theory. Several professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have filed legal briefs against brainwashing testimony. Others argued that deprogramming practices violated civil rights.

In 1995 the coercive deprogramming method was litigated again in Scott vs. Ross. The jury awarded the plaintiff nearly US$5 million in total damages. This bankrupted the co-defending Cult Awareness Network, a popular resource at the time for those seeking deprogramming services.

'Exit counseling'

Given this tarnished history, coercive deprogramming evolved into “exit counseling." Unlike deprogramming, exit counseling is voluntary and resembles an intervention or talk therapy.

One of the most visible self-styled exit counselors is former deprogrammer Rick Alan Ross, the executive director of the Cult Education Institute and defendant in Scott v. Ross. Through frequent media appearances, people including Ross and Steve Hassan, founder of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, continue to contribute to the mind-control and deprogramming discourse in popular culture.

These “cult-recovery experts," some of whom were involved with the old deprogramming model, are now being used for QAnon deprogramming advice.

Some, like Ross advocate for a more aggressive intervention approach. Others, like Hassan, offer a gentler approach that includes active listening. Cult specialist Pat Ryan says he only recommends intervention after a thorough assessment in conjunction with a mental health professional.

Choice vs. coercion

Despite the pivot to exit counseling, the language of deprogramming persists. The concept of deprogramming rests on the idea that people do not choose alternative beliefs. Instead, beliefs that are deemed too deviant for mainstream culture are thought to result from coercive manipulation by nefarious entities like cult leaders. When people call for QAnon believers to be deprogrammed, they are implicitly denying that followers exercised choice in accepting QAnon beliefs.

This denies the personal agency and free will of those who became QAnon enthusiasts, and shifts the focus to the programmer. It can also relieve followers of responsibility for perpetuating QAnon beliefs.

As I suggested in an earlier article, and as evident in the QAnon influence on the Jan. 6, 2021, capital insurrection, QAnon beliefs can be dangerous. I believe those who adopt and perpetuate these beliefs ought to be held responsible for the consequences.

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This isn't to say that people are not subject to social influence. However, social influence is a far cry from the systematic, mind-swiping, coercive, robotic imagery conjured up by brainwashing.

Admittedly, what we choose to believe is constrained by the types of influences we face. Those restraints emerge from our social and economic circumstances. In the age of social media, we are also constrained by algorithms that influence the media we consume. Further examination of these issues in relation to the development of QAnon would prove fruitful.

But applying a brainwashing and deprogramming discourse limits our potential to understand the grievances of the QAnon community. To suggest “they were temporarily out of their minds" relieves followers of the conspiracy of responsibility and shelters the rest of society from grappling with uncomfortable social realities.

To understand the QAnon phenomenon, I believe analysts must dig deeply into the social, economic and political factors that influence the adoption of QAnon beliefs.

Editor's note: This article was amended on April 15 to clarify Pat Ryan's approach to interventionThe Conversation

Paul Thomas, Chair and Professor of Religious Studies, Radford University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is magic immoral? Here's the role it played in the development of early Christianity

Shaily Shashikant Patel, Virginia Tech

Americans are fascinated by magic. TV shows like “WandaVision" and “The Witcher," books like the Harry Potter series, plus comics, movies and games about people with powers that can't be explained by God, science or technology, have all been wildly popular for years. Modern pop culture is a testament to how enchanted people are by the thought of gaining special control over an uncertain world.

“Magic" is often defined in the West as evil or separate from “civilized" religions like Christianity and also from the scientific observation and study of the world. But the irony is that magic was integral to the development of Christianity and other religions – and it informed the evolution of the sciences, too.

As an expert in ancient magic and early Christianity, I study how magic helped early adherents develop a Christian identity. One part of this identity was morality: the inner sense of right and wrong that guides life decisions. Of course, the darker side of this development is the slide into supremacy: seeing one's own tradition as morally superior and rightfully dominant.

My work tries to return magic to its proper place as a part of the Christian tradition. I show how false distinctions between magic and Christianity were created to elevate ancient Christianity and how they continue to advance Christian supremacy today.

The origins of magic

In Western culture, magic is often defined in opposition to religion and science. This is problematic because all three concepts are rooted in colonialism. For centuries, many European scholars based their definitions of religion on Christianity, while at the same time describing the practices and beliefs of non-Christians as “primitive," “superstitious" or “magical."

This sense of superiority helped Europe's Christian monarchies justify conquering and exploiting Indigenous peoples around the world in a bid to “civilize" them, often through extreme brutality. Imperialist legacies still color how some people think about non-Christians as “others," and how they label others' rituals and religions as “magic."

But this modern understanding of magic doesn't map neatly onto the world of the first Christians. “Magic" has always had many meanings. From what scholars can gather, the word itself was imported from the Persian word “maguš," which may have described a class of priests with royal connections. Sometimes, these “magi" were depicted as performing divination, ritual activities or educating young boys who would take the throne.

Greek texts retained this earlier meaning and also added new ones. The famous ancient Greek historian Herodotus writes that the Persian magi interpreted dreams, read the skies and performed sacrifices. Herodotus uses the Greek word “magos." Sophocles, a Greek playwright, uses the same term in his tragedy “Oedipus the King," when Oedipus berates the seer Tiresias for scheming to overthrow him.

Although these two Greek texts both date from roughly the early 400s B.C., “magician" has different connotations in each.

Starting in the first century B.C., Latin authors also adapted the Persian term into “magus."

While defending himself at trial for performing “evil deeds of magic," the second-century philosopher Apuleius claimed he both was and was not a “magician." He insisted he was like a high priest or a natural philosopher rather than someone who uses unsavory means to get what they want. What's interesting here is that Apuleius uses one idea of high philosophical magic to combat another idea of crude, self-interested magic.

Christianity and magic

The first Christians inherited these varied ideas of magic alongside their Roman neighbors. In their world, people who did “magical" deeds like exorcisms and healings were common. Such people sometimes explained religious or philosophical texts and ideas, as well.

This presented a problem for early Christian authors: If wondrous deeds were fairly commonplace, how could a group looking to attract followers compete with “magicians"? After all, Jesus and the Apostles did extraordinary deeds, too. So Christian writers made distinctions in order to elevate their heroes.

Take the biblical story of Simon the magician. In Acts 8, Simon's magical deeds entice the Samaritans and convince them to follow him until the evangelist Philip performs even more amazing miracles, converting all the Samaritans and Simon, too. But Simon relapses when he tries to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, prompting the Apostle Peter to rebuke him. This story is where we get the sin of simony: the purchase of religious office.

As I've discussed elsewhere, texts like this do not depict real events. They are teaching tools aimed at showing new adherents the differences between good Christian miracle workers and evil magicians. The earliest converts needed such stories because wonder workers looked a lot alike.

Christianity and morality

To some ancient people, stories of Jesus' miracles probably didn't seem far removed from the deeds magicians performed for money in the marketplace. In fact, the church fathers had to shield Jesus and the Apostles against accusations of practicing magic. They include Origen of Alexandria, who in the middle of the third century A.D. defended Christianity against Celsus, a pagan philosopher who charged Jesus with being a magician.

Celsus argued that the miracles of Jesus were no different from the magic performed by marketplace sorcerers. Origen agreed the two shared superficial similarities, but claimed they were fundamentally different because magicians cavorted with demons while Jesus' wonders led to moral reformation. Like the story of Simon the magician, Origen's disagreement with Celsus was a means of teaching his audience how to tell the difference between morally suspect magicians who sought personal gain and miracle workers who acted for the benefit of others.

Ancient authors invented the idea that the miracles of Christians possessed inherent moral superiority over non-Christian magic because ancient audiences were as enticed by magic as modern ones. But in elevating Christianity above magic, these writers created false distinctions that linger even today.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Jesus's role in early Christianity.The Conversation

Shaily Shashikant Patel, Assistant Professor of Early Christianity, Virginia Tech

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Are mass shootings an American epidemic?

by Lacey Wallace, Penn State

The U.S. has suffered yet another mass shooting, with a deadly attack in a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. This was the fifth mass shooting in five weeks, including a shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado that took the lives of 10 people on March 22 and just days earlier, eight people were killed in a series of shootings at spas in Atlanta, Georgia. Public outcry about gun violence, gun rights and racism and what to do about these issues is high.

As a criminal justice researcher, I study gun purchasing and mass shootings, and it's clear to me that these events are traumatic for victims, families, communities and the nation as a whole. But despite the despair about their slightly growing frequency, they are actually uncommon incidents that account for just 0.2% of firearm deaths in the U.S. each year.

Mass shootings are rare

Killings are not the only kind of gun violence, and are in fact a relative rarity when compared with other forms of gun violence in the U.S. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 470,840 people were victims of crimes that involved a firearm in 2018, and 481,950 in 2019. Each person is counted separately, even if several of them were part of the same incident, and this tally does not require the gun to be fired or anyone to be killed.

When it comes to people killed by firearms, police data reported to the FBI estimates that guns were used in 10,258 of the 13,927 homicides that occurred in 2019.

That's much higher than even the uppermost count of mass shootings in 2019, the 417 recorded by the Gun Violence Archive. That group counts all incidents in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter, regardless of whether the shooter is killed or injured. It also includes events that involve gang violence or armed robbery, as well as shootings that occurred in public or in private homes, as many domestic violence shootings do.

A Mother Jones magazine database that defines mass shootings more restrictively lists only 10 for 2019.

Even the FBI's own data – which uses yet another set of criteria focused on people who continue to shoot more people over the course of an incident – records just 28 active shooter incidents in 2019.

The most recent research on frequency of mass shootings indicates they are becoming more common, though the exact number each year can vary widely.

But not all experts agree. Some argue that mass shootings have not increased and that reports of an increase are due to differences in research methods, such as determining which events are appropriate to count in the first place.

Speaking about school shootings specifically in a 2018 interview, two gun violence researchers said that those events have not become more common – but rather, people have become more aware of them.

The same may be true of mass shootings more generally. In any case, some researchers have found that mass shootings are becoming more deadly, with more victims in recent attacks.

Suicide is the leading form of gun death

In 2019, the 417 mass shootings tallied by the Gun Violence Archive resulted in 465 deaths.

By contrast, 14,414 people were killed by someone else with a gun in 2019. And 23,941 people intentionally killed themselves with a gun in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every year, homicides – one person killing another – make up about 35% of gun deaths. More than 60% of gun deaths are suicides.

Mass shootings can get more attention than these other, more common, types of firearm deaths both because of human nature and the news media. People are naturally curious about violent events that appear random, with no clear explanation. Those incidents often spark fears about whether similar things could happen to them, and a resulting desire to know more in an effort to understand.

In addition, cases with higher death counts or unusual characteristics, such as a shooter manifesto or video footage, are more likely to get press attention and extended coverage.

Americans' opinions are split on whether mass shootings are isolated incidents or part of a broader societal problem.

And Americans are divided about how to reduce their frequency. A 2017 poll found that 47% of adults believed that reducing the number of guns in the U.S. would reduce the number of mass shootings. But a follow-up question revealed that 75% of American adults believe that someone who wants to hurt or kill others will find a way to do it whether they have access to a firearm or not.

With those diverging views, it will be hard to develop solutions that will be effective nationwide. That doesn't mean nothing will change, but it does mean the political debates will likely continue.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 29, 2021.

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Lacey Wallace, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I’m a pediatrician who cares for transgender kids — here's the truth about their treatment

by Mandy Coles, Boston University

When Charlie, a 10-year-old boy, came in for his first visit, he didn't look at me or my colleague. Angry and crying, he insisted to us that he was cisgender – that he was a boy and had been born male.

A few months before Charlie came into our office, he handed a note to his mother with four simple words, “I am a boy." Up until that point Charlie had been living in the world as female – the sex he was assigned at birth – though that was not how he felt inside. Charlie was suffering from severe gender dysphoria – a sense of distress someone feels when their gender identity doesn't match up with their assigned gender.

I am a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist who has been caring for transgender youth for over a decade using what is called a gender-affirmative approach. In this type of care, medical and mental health providers work side by side to provide education to the patient and family, guide people to social support, address mental health issues and discuss medical interventions.

Getting on the same page

The first thing our team does is make sure our patients and families understand what gender care is. We always begin initial visits in the same way. “Our goal is to support you and your family on this journey, whatever that may look like for you. My name is Mandy and I am one of the doctors at CATCH – the Child and Adolescent Trans/Gender Center for Health program. I use she/her pronouns." Sharing pronouns helps transgender people feel seen and validated.

We then ask patients and families to share their gender journey so we can better understand where they are coming from and where they hope to go. Charlie's story is one we often hear. A kid may not think much about gender until puberty but begins to experience worsening gender dysphoria when their body starts changing in what feels like the wrong way.

Social transitions with family help

Transgender and gender-diverse youth (those whose gender identity doesn't conform to the norms expected of their assigned sex) may face transphobia and discrimination, and experience alarmingly higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide than their cisgender peers. One option can be to socially transition to their identified gender, both at home and in the outside world.

An important first step is to help parents become allies and advocates. Connecting parents with one-to-one as well as group support can help facilitate education and acceptance, while helping families process their own experience. Charlie's parents had been attending a local parent group that helped them better understand gender dysphoria.

In addition to being accepted at home, young people often want to live in the world in their identified gender. This could include changing their name and pronouns and coming out to friends and family. It can also include using public spaces like schools and bathrooms, participating on single-gender sports teams and dressing or doing other things like binding breasts or tucking back male genitalia to present more in line with their gender identity. Though more research needs to be done, studies show that youth who socially transition have rates of depression similar to cisgender peers.

Many young people find that making a social transition can be an important step in affirming identity. For those that still struggle with depression, anxiety and managing societal transphobia, seeing a therapist who has knowledge of and experience with gender-diverse identities and gender dysphoria can also be helpful.

However, most young people also need to make physical changes to their bodies as well to feel truly comfortable.

Gender-affirming medical interventions

When I first met Charlie, he had already socially transitioned but was still experiencing dysphoria. Charlie, like many people, wanted his physical body to match his gender identity, and this can be achieved only through medical interventions – namely, puberty blockers, hormonal medications or surgery.

For patients like Charlie who have started experiencing early female or male puberty, hormone blockers are typically the first option. These medications work like a pause button on the physical changes caused by puberty. They are well studied, safe and completely reversible. If a person stops taking hormone blockers, their body will resume going through puberty as it would have. Blockers give people time to further explore gender and to develop social supports. Studies demonstrate that hormone blockers reduce depression, anxiety and risk of suicide among transgender youth.

Once a person has started or completed puberty, taking prescribed hormones can help people match their bodies with their gender identities. One of my patients, Zoe, is an 18-year-old transgender woman who has already completed male puberty. She is taking estrogen and a medication to block the effects of testosterone. Together, these will help Zoe's body develop breasts, reduce hair growth and have an overall more female shape.

Leo, another one of my patients, is a 16-year-old transgender man who is using testosterone. Testosterone will deepen Leo's voice, help him grow facial hair and lead to a more male body shape. In addition to testosterone, transgender men can use an additional short-term medication to stop menstruation. For nonbinary people like my 15-year-old patient Ty, who is not exclusively masculine or feminine, my colleagues and I personalize their treatments to meet their specific need.

The health risks from taking hormones are incredibly small – not significantly different, in fact, than the risks a cisgender person faces from the hormones in their body. Some prescribed hormone effects are partially reversible, but others are more permanent, like voice deepening and growth of facial hair or breasts. Hormones can also impact fertility, so I always make sure that my patients and their families understand the process thoroughly.

The most permanent medical options available are gender-affirming surgeries. These operations can include changes to genitals, chest or breasts and facial structure. Surgeries are not easily reversible, so my colleagues and I always make sure that patients fully understand this decision. Some people think gender-affirming surgeries go too far and that minors are too young to make such a big decision. But based on available research and my own experience, patients who get these surgeries experience improvements in their quality of life through a reduction in dysphoria. I have been told by patients that gender-affirming surgery “literally saved my life. I was free [from dysphoria]."

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Ongoing gender care

In March 2021, nearly five years after our first visit, Charlie walked into my exam room. When we first met, he was struggling with his gender, anxiety and depression. This time, he immediately started talking about playing hockey, hanging out with friends and making the honor roll. He has been on hormone blockers for five years and testosterone for almost a year. With the help of a supportive family and a gender-competent therapist, Charlie is now thriving.

Being transgender is not something that goes away. It is something my patients live with for their entire lives. Our multidisciplinary care team continues to see patients like Charlie on a regular basis, often following them into young adulthood.

While more research is always needed, a gender-affirmative approach and evidence-based medicine allows young transgender people to live in the world as their authentic selves. This improves quality of life and saves lives, as one of our transgender patients said about his experience receiving gender-affirming care. “I honestly don't think I would be here had I not been allowed to transition at that point. I'm not always 100%. But I have hope. I am happy to see tomorrow and I know I will achieve my dreams."The Conversation

Mandy Coles, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump is refusing to hand over key records — leaving a big gap in the historical record

by Shannon Bow O'Brien, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

Public figures live on within the words they are remembered by. To understand the effect they had on history, their words need to be documented. No one is absolutely sure of exactly what Abraham Lincoln said in his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. Five known manuscripts exist, but all of them are slightly different. Every newspaper story from the day contains a different account.

In the case of modern presidents, for the official record, we rely upon transcriptions of all their speeches collected by the national government.

But in the case of Donald Trump, that historical record is likely to have a big gap. Almost 10% of the president's total public speeches are excluded from the official record. And that means a false picture of the Trump presidency is being created in the official record for posterity.

Saving the records

In 1957, the National Historical Publications Commission, a part of the National Archives that works to “preserve, publish, and encourage the use of documentary sources … relating to the history of the United States," recommended developing a uniform system so all materials from presidencies could be archived. They did this to literally save presidential records from the flames: President Warren G. Harding's wife claimed to have burned all his records, and Robert Todd Lincoln burned all his father's war correspondence. Other presidents have had their records intentionally destroyed, such as Chester A. Arthur and Martin Van Buren.

So the government collects and retains all presidential communications, including executive orders, announcements, nominations, statements and speeches. This includes any public verbal communications by presidents, which are also placed as public documents in the Compilation of Presidential Documents.

These are part of the official record of any administration, published by the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration on a weekly basis by the White House press secretary. In most presidencies, the document or transcript is available a few days to a couple of weeks after any event. At the conclusion of an administration, these documents form the basis for the formal collections of the Public Papers of the President.

As a political scientist, I'm interested in where presidents give speeches. What can be learned about their priorities based on their choice of location? What do these patterns tell us about administrations?

For example, Barack Obama primarily focused on large media markets in states that strongly supported him. Trump went to supportive places as well, including small media markets like Mankato, Minnesota, where the airport was not even large enough to fly into with the regular Air Force One.

Presidential speeches often give a very different perception of an administration. Without all the pageantry, you can quickly get to the point of the visit in the text.

In speeches that President George W. Bush gave in the 2002 midterm election period, he made the same joke more than 50 times as his icebreaker. He would apologize that audiences had drawn the “short straw" and gotten him instead of Laura. His commitment to that joke gave a glimpse of his desire to try to connect to an audience through self-deprecating humor.

I found something odd when I began to pull items from the compilation and organize my own database of locations for the Donald Trump administration. I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and I pay attention to my home state. I knew that on March 20, 2017, Donald Trump held a public rally in Louisville, where in a meandering speech he touched on everything from Kentucky coal miners to the Supreme Court, China, building a border wall and “illegal immigrants" who were, he said, robbing and murdering Americans.

But when I looked in the compilation in mid-2017, I couldn't find the Louisville speech. No problem, I thought. They are just running behind and they will put it in later.

A year later, I noticed the Louisville speech was still not there. Furthermore, other speeches were missing. These were not any speeches, but just Trump's rallies. By my count, 147 separate transcripts for public speaking events are missing from Trump's official presidential speech records. That's just over 8% of his presidential speeches.

What's in, what's out

The Presidential Records Act, first passed in 1978, says administrations have to retain “any documentary materials relating to the political activities of the President or members of the President's staff, but only if such activities relate to or have a direct effect upon the carrying out of constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President."

An administration is allowed to exclude personal records that are purely private or don't have an effect on the duties of a president. All public events are included, such as quick comments on the South Lawn, short exchanges with reporters and all public speeches, radio addresses and even public telephone calls to astronauts on the space shuttles.

But Trump's large public rallies, and what he said at them, have so far been omitted from the public record his administration supplied to the Compilation of Presidential Documents. And while historians and the public could get transcripts off of publicly available videos, that still does not address the need to have a complete official collection of these statements.

Federal law says that presidents are allowed to exclude “materials directly relating to the election of a particular individual or individuals to Federal, State, or local office, which have no relation to or direct effect upon the carrying out of … duties of the President."

The law has been interpreted to mean an administration could omit notes, emails or other documentation from what it sends to the compilation. While many presidents do not provide transcripts for speeches at private party fundraising events, rallies covered by America's press corps likely do not fall under these exclusions.

Why does it matter?

Government documents are among the primary records of who we are as a people.

These primary records speak to Americans directly; they are not what others tell us or interpret to us about our history. The government compiles and preserves these records to give an accurate accounting of the leaders the country has chosen. They provide a shared history in full instead of an excerpt or quick clip shown in a news report.

Since 1981, the public has legally owned all presidential records. As soon as a president leaves office, the National Archivist gets legal custody of all of them. Presidents are generally on their honor to be good stewards of history. There is no real penalty for noncompliance.

But these public documents, which I work with constantly, have so far always been available to the public – and they've been available quickly. Internal presidential documents like memos or email have a rigorous archival procedure that lasts years before they are even accessible. I have a record of every presidential speech from 1945 to 2021 – every president since Clinton has all their public speeches available online. Until President Trump, there have been no missing public speeches in the permanent collection. By removing these speeches, Trump is creating a false perception of his presidency, making it look more serious and traditional.

And by the way: That 2017 Louisville speech is still missing from the records in 2021.The Conversation

Shannon Bow O'Brien, Assistant Professor of Instruction, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The problem with 'deprogramming' QAnon supporters

by Paul Thomas, Radford University

Recent calls to deprogram QAnon conspiracy followers are steeped in discredited notions about brainwashing. As popularly imagined, brainwashing is a coercive procedure that programs new long-term personality changes. Deprogramming, also coercive, is thought to undo brainwashing.

As a professor of religious studies who has written and taught about alternative religious movements, I believe such deprogramming conversations do little to help us understand why people adopt QAnon beliefs. A deprogramming discourse fails to understand religious recruitment and conversion and excuses those spreading QAnon beliefs from accountability.

A brief brainwashing history

Deprogramming, a method thought to reverse extreme psychological manipulation, can't be understood apart from the concept of brainwashing.

The modern concept of brainwashing has its origin in Chinese experiments with American prisoners of war during the Korean War. Coercive physical and psychological methods were employed in an attempt to plant Communist beliefs in the minds of American POWs. To determine whether brainwashing was possible, the CIA then launched its own secret mind-control program in the 1950s called MK-ULTRA.

By the late 1950s researchers were already casting doubt on brainwashing theory. The anti-American behavior of captured Americans was best explained by temporary compliance owing to torture. This is akin to false confessions made under extreme duress.

Still, books like “The Manchurian Candidate," released in 1959, and “A Clockwork Orange," released in 1962 – both of which were turned into movies and heavily featured themes of brainwashing – reinforced the concept in popular culture. To this day, the language of brainwashing and deprogramming is applied to groups holding controversial beliefs – from fundamentalist Mormons to passionate Trump supporters.

In the 1970s and 1980s, brainwashing was used to explain why people would join new religious movements like Jim Jones' Peoples Temple or the Unification Church.

Seeking guardianship of adult children in these groups, parents cited the belief that members were brainwashed to justify court-ordered conservatorship. With guardianship orders in hand, they sought help from cult deprogrammers like Ted Patrick. Deprogrammers were notorious for kidnapping, isolating and harassing adults in an effort to reverse perceived cult brainwashing.

For a time, U.S. courts accepted brainwashing testimony despite the pseudo-scientific nature of the theory. It turns out that research on coercive conversion failed to support brainwashing theory. Several professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have filed legal briefs against brainwashing testimony. Others argued that deprogramming practices violated civil rights.

In 1995 the coercive deprogramming method was litigated again in Scott vs. Ross. The jury awarded the plaintiff nearly US$5 million in total damages. This bankrupted the co-defending Cult Awareness Network, a popular resource at the time for those seeking deprogramming services.

'Exit counseling'

Given this tarnished history, coercive deprogramming evolved into “exit counseling." Unlike deprogramming, exit counseling is voluntary and resembles an intervention or talk therapy.

One of the most visible self-styled exit counselors is former deprogrammer Rick Alan Ross, the executive director of the Cult Education Institute and defendant in Scott v. Ross. Through frequent media appearances, people including Ross and Steve Hassan, founder of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, continue to contribute to the mind-control and deprogramming discourse in popular culture.

These “cult-recovery experts," some of whom were involved with the old deprogramming model, are now being used for QAnon deprogramming advice. Some, like Ross advocate for a more aggressive intervention approach. Others, like Hassan, offer a gentler approach that includes active listening. Cult specialist Pat Ryan says he only recommends intervention after a thorough assessment in conjunction with a mental health professional.

Choice vs. coercion

Despite the pivot to exit counseling, the language of deprogramming persists. The concept of deprogramming rests on the idea that people do not choose alternative beliefs. Instead, beliefs that are deemed too deviant for mainstream culture are thought to result from coercive manipulation by nefarious entities like cult leaders. When people call for QAnon believers to be deprogrammed, they are implicitly denying that followers exercised choice in accepting QAnon beliefs.

This denies the personal agency and free will of those who became QAnon enthusiasts, and shifts the focus to the programmer. It can also relieve followers of responsibility for perpetuating QAnon beliefs.

As I suggested in an earlier article, and as evident in the QAnon influence on the Jan. 6, 2021, capital insurrection, QAnon beliefs can be dangerous. I believe those who adopt and perpetuate these beliefs ought to be held responsible for the consequences.

This isn't to say that people are not subject to social influence. However, social influence is a far cry from the systematic, mind-swiping, coercive, robotic imagery conjured up by brainwashing.

Admittedly, what we choose to believe is constrained by the types of influences we face. Those restraints emerge from our social and economic circumstances. In the age of social media, we are also constrained by algorithms that influence the media we consume. Further examination of these issues in relation to the development of QAnon would prove fruitful.

But applying a brainwashing and deprogramming discourse limits our potential to understand the grievances of the QAnon community. To suggest “they were temporarily out of their minds" relieves followers of the conspiracy of responsibility and shelters the rest of society from grappling with uncomfortable social realities.

To understand the QAnon phenomenon, I believe analysts must dig deeply into the social, economic and political factors that influence the adoption of QAnon beliefs.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]The Conversation

Paul Thomas, Chair and Professor of Religious Studies, Radford University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Editor's note: This article was amended on April 16 to clarify Pat Ryan's approach to intervention

The discovery of a lost city offers vital clues about the mysteries of Ancient Egypt

by Anna M. Kotarba-Morley, Flinders University

An almost 3,400-year-old industrial, royal metropolis, “the Dazzling Aten", has been found on the west bank of the Nile near the modern day city of Luxor.

Announced last week by the famed Egyptian archaeologist Dr Zahi Hawass, the find has been compared in importance to the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb almost a century earlier.

Built by Amenhotep III and then used by his grandson Tutankhamen, the ruins of the city were an accidental discovery. In September last year, Hawass and his team were searching for a mortuary temple of Tutankhamen.

Instead, hidden under the sands for almost three and a half millennia, they found the Dazzling Aten, believed to be the largest city discovered in Egypt and, importantly, dated to the height of Egyptian civilisation. So far, Hawass' excavations have unearthed rooms filled with tools and objects of daily life such as pottery and jewellery, a large bakery, kitchens and a cemetery.

The city also includes workshops and industrial, administrative and residential areas, as well as, to date, three palaces.

Ancient Egypt has been called the “civilisation without cities". What we know about it comes mostly from tombs and temples, whilst other great civilisations of the Bronze Age, such as Mesopotamia, are famous for their great cities.

The Dazzling Aten is extraordinary not only for its size and level of prosperity but also its excellent state of preservation, leading many to call it the “Pompeii of Ancient Egypt".

The rule of Amenhotep III was one of the wealthiest periods in Egyptian history. This city will be of immeasurable importance to the scholarship of archaeologists and Egyptologists, who for centuries have struggled with understanding the specifics of urban, domestic life in the Pharaonic period.

Foundations of urban life

I teach a university subject on the foundations of urban life, and it always comes as a surprise to my students how little we know about urbanism in ancient Egypt.

The first great cities, and with them the first great civilisations, emerged along the fertile valleys of great rivers in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), the Indus Valley (modern day India and Pakistan) and China at the beginning of the Bronze Age, at least 5,000 years ago.

Just like cities today, they provided public infrastructure and roads, and often access to sanitation, education, health care and welfare. Their residents specialised in particular professions, paid taxes and had to obey laws.

But the Nile did not support the urban lifestyle in the same way as the rivers of other great civilisations. It had a reliable flood pattern and thus the second longest river in the world could be easily tamed, allowing for simple methods of irrigation that did not require complex engineering and large groups of workers to maintain. This meant the population didn't necessarily need to cluster in organised cities.

Excavations of Early Dynastic (c. 3150-2680 BCE) Egyptian cities such as Nagada and Hierakonpolis have provided us with a plethora of information regarding urban life in the early Bronze Age . But they are separated from the Dazzling Aten by some 1,600 years — as long as separates us from the Huns of Attila attacking ancient Rome.

One city closer in age to the Dazzling Aten we do know a little more about is the short-lived capital of Amenhotep's III son, Akhenaten, known as the “Horizon of the Aten", or Tell el-Amarna. Amarna was functional for only 14 years (1346-1332 BCE) before being abandoned forever. It was first described by a travelling Jesuit monk in 1714 and has been excavated on and off for the last 100 years.

Very few other Egyptian cities from the Early Dynastic Period (3150 BCE) to the Hellenistic period (following Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt in 332 BCE), have been excavated. This means that domestic urban life and urban planning have long been contentious research areas in the study of Pharaonic Egypt.

The scientific community is impatiently waiting for more information to draw comparisons between Akhenaten's city and the newly discovered capital founded by his father.

The magnificent pharaoh

Amenhotep III, also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent, ruled between 1386 and 1349 BCE and was one of the most prosperous rulers in the Egyptian history.

During his reign as the ninth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, Egypt achieved the height of its international power, climbing to an unprecedented level of economic prosperity and artistic splendour. His vision of greatness was immortalised in his great capital, which is believed to have been later used by at least Tutankhamen and Ay.

In 2008, for the first time in history, the majority of world's inhabitants lived in the cities. Yet, with globalisation, the differences between the “liveability" of modern cities are striking.

As a society we need to understand where cities come from, how have they formed and how they shaped the development of past urban communities to learn lessons for the future. We look forward to research and findings being published from the ancient city of Amenhotep III to enlighten us about the daily lives of ancient Egyptians at their height.The Conversation

Anna M. Kotarba-Morley, Lecturer, Archaeology, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Supreme Court is pushing a skewed view of religious freedom — as a major Church-state case looms

by Steven K. Green, Willamette University

The Supreme Court's current term is winding down, but there are still several cases to be decided – and, as with most terms, a controversy over church-state matters looms.

Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia is among the cases still to be decided. It centers on a requirement that private agencies that receive city funding – in this case an adoption agency – do not discriminate against any community they serve, including members of the LGBTQ community. This nondiscrimination requirement applies to both religious and nonreligious organizations. But the adoption service at the heart of the case – Catholic Social Services – refused to comply, asserting that not being allowed to discriminate against gay couples infringed upon its religious beliefs.

It would appear on first glance that the city's position is strong – after all, it provides the money and has a legitimate interest in ensuring that funding does not perpetuate discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Yet, Catholic Social Services and its counsel, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, believe that they have the wind at their back regarding their claim. From my perspective as a professor of law who has closely monitored such religious liberty cases, they could be right. Religious claimants have been on a winning streak before the Supreme Court in recent years. They notched up their latest victory on April 9 when justices ruled that California could not impose COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings at private homes.

A noticeable shift

The Supreme Court has become increasingly conservative over the past two decades, with five of the last seven justices appointed by Republicans. As a result, it has become increasingly sympathetic to claims by religious conservatives that mandatory nondiscrimination laws violate their ability to practice their beliefs, as protected by the Constitution and federal law.

Two recent studies have confirmed this trend. One found that since the George W. Bush-appointed John Roberts assumed the role of chief justice in 2005, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of religious claimants 81% of the time. This compares with a rate of about 50% for the 20th century.

Some of the recent cases are familiar; others, less so. In 2014, the justices relieved the craft store chain Hobby Lobby from having to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraception, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby had objected to the requirement on religious grounds.

And in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that teachers employed by religious schools were not entitled to protection against age and disability discrimination as a result of the “ministerial exception" – which allows religious entities to ignore anti-bias legislation if they can assert that staff perform even minimal religious duties.

Meanwhile, in 2018, a majority of justices suggested that a small business – here, a baker – could refuse to serve gay customers because of the owner's religious objections to same-sex marriage. The court has also held that states have to give the same grants and tax breaks to churches and religious schools that they do to nonreligious entities.

This trend has extended into the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, a sharply divided court refused to overturn state restrictions – which for the most part classified houses of worship alongside restaurants and movie theaters as “nonessential," distinguishing them from “essential" services such as medical offices, pharmacies and grocery stores. But in late fall and again in February, a majority including the newly appointed religiously conservative Justice Amy Barrett struck down such orders. In so doing, they ruled that states must treat houses of worship no worse than the most favored category of essential services.

Redefining religious freedom

In prioritizing religious liberty claims over health and anti-bias concerns, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has, to my mind, promoted a skewed conception of what religious freedom is.

Religious freedom has traditionally meant more than simply the ability to practice one's beliefs unencumbered, free from state interference. It is a condition that lives alongside other important democratic values – such as equal rights and a separation of church and state.

But the Supreme Court's conservative majority has come down on the side of a narrower interpretation of religious liberty to mean the right of individuals or groups to practice their faith as they see fit.

The court's new emphasis on protecting religious liberty has redefined the conventional understanding of the free exercise clause. Traditionally, that has meant the government could not impose a substantial burden on one's ability to practice religion, but that lesser restrictions on that practice – such as adhering to health or safety regulations – were not unconstitutional.

But under the current Supreme Court, the degree of burden is less important than whether the state is treating religion differently from secular counterparts. Furthermore, in the view of another Trump appointee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, religion deserves most-favored-nation status.

In this way, religious entities cannot be treated any differently in the pandemic from the most essential service – but they would be able to discriminate against customers or employees in a way the essential services cannot. It is, I believe the legal equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.

[Explore the intersection of faith, politics, arts and culture. Sign up for This Week in Religion.]The Conversation

Steven K. Green, Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy, Willamette University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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