The Conversation

Here's the truth about what the Founding Father would have said about COVID vaccinations

by J.M. Opal, McGill University

With the United States Capitol overrun by Trump's deplorables, it was easy to miss the other calamity that hit America last week: the pace of COVID-19 deaths hit a frightful new high. In Los Angeles County, a victim now dies every six minutes.

The only way out of this carnage is rapid vaccination on a vast scale. Unfortunately, many Americans see vaccination as another threat to their personal liberty, another overreach by a distant yet hostile government.

They can feel that way. But they can't say that the Founding Fathers would be on their side in this regard, because as men of the Enlightenment, the Founders were pro-vaccination.

Washington inoculates the troops

In the summer of 1775, George Washington took charge of the newly formed Continental Army. Setting out to liberate Boston from British occupation, he learned that smallpox — a highly contagious disease that killed about 25 per cent of victims and permanently disfigured many survivors — had broken out in that city.

Washington was preternaturally brave, but this news terrified him.

As a young man, he had nearly died of smallpox while visiting the Caribbean island of Barbados. His bout with the “speckled monster" left him pockmarked and possibly infertile. Most British soldiers were also immune to smallpox due to prior exposure, but most Americans had no such protection.

“If we escape the smallpox," Washington told Congress that December, “it will be miraculous."

A miraculous — but dangerous — remedy already existed. This was inoculation, the forerunner to vaccination. Long practised in West Africa and the Ottoman Empire, it meant rubbing a small amount of pus from a smallpox victim's rash into the shoulder of a healthy person. About 95 per cent of the time, the result was a mild case and then immunity. But inoculation patients sometimes came down with the full-blown disease, and for a week or two they were highly contagious.

No wonder that many doctors and pastors condemned the practice as a violation of God's will, or that furious crowds sometimes sacked and burned inoculation hospitals.

In 1776, however, Washington learned that a massive outbreak had decimated patriot forces in Québec and that the fear of smallpox kept new recruits from enlisting in the Continental ranks. John Adams, one of the patriot leaders of Massachusetts, called smallpox “10 times more terrible" than any human foe.

And so, in early 1777, Washington ordered all Continental soldiers to undergo inoculation, followed by a period of strict isolation. Within a year, smallpox had all but disappeared from his camp, saving the army and probably the Revolution.

The General trusted that even the “most rigid opposers" of inoculation would change their minds in the face of its “amazing" success.

Jefferson versus smallpox

Twenty years later, as the new United States struggled to survive in what remained a British-dominated world, the English physician Edward Jenner showed that vaccinia, which caused a harmless case of cowpox, also protected people against smallpox (hence, vaccination).

Even though his method was far safer than inoculation, many accused Jenner of treating people like livestock; in 1802, one cartoonist imagined cow parts growing out of the arms and faces of the vaccinated.

But Jenner found an unusual ally in the man who succeeded Washington and Adams as U.S. President: Thomas Jefferson.

More than any other Founder, Jefferson feared and despised British power. This is what made him radical: He dreamed of a world beyond the shadows cast by Royal Navy vessels and mechanized factories. He also celebrated scientific progress in general and medical advances in particular, once helping to draft a new, pro-inoculation law in Virginia in 1777.

And so Jefferson, the anti-British President, wrote to Edward Jenner in 1806, thanking the doctor on behalf of “the whole human family." Jefferson also boasted that he was “among the early converts" to the technique. (Jefferson didn't mention that he had tested the new technique on the enslaved members of his “family.")

Against an enemy like smallpox, Jefferson believed, international conflicts were foolish. All nations were allies.

Madison and public health

Jefferson's successor as president, James Madison, was a true believer in the limited powers that the U.S. Constitution — of which he was a principal author — granted the president, even in times of war.

Of course, the constitution did not specify a public health role for the federal government, either. In the early months of the war, however, Congress passed a bill to create a National Vaccine Institute, which would send vaccinia free of charge across the vast new country.

As the physician in charge of the institute argued, “every citizen should have the right secured to him of a free access" to this lifesaving material.

For Madison, this was not a constitutional issue but rather a common sense measure on behalf of what the constitution called the “general welfare," a good deed that no good government could fail to do.

Foundations of public health

Washington was more of a soldier than a philanthropist. Jefferson was a racist philosophe whose dreams for white Americans were nightmares for all the others. Madison was better at designing governments than running one. They argued constantly about the proper role of government, the optimal pace of progress and the inherent tension between liberty and equality.

For all their failures and divisions, however, they all supported inoculation or vaccination. They did so because they embraced the basic arguments of the Enlightenment: people were not sentenced to the shadows and sorrows of the past, but rather made to live, to learn and ultimately to lift each other out of darkness and despair.The Conversation

J.M. Opal, Associate Professor of History and Chair, History and Classical Studies, McGill University

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

Linguists break down how Trump’s language shifted in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot

Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis and Leah Cathryn Windsor, University of Memphis

On Jan. 6, the world witnessed how language can incite violence.

One after another, a series of speakers at the “Save America" rally at the Ellipse in Washington redoubled the messages of anger and outrage.

This rhetoric culminated with a directive by the president to go to the Capitol building to embolden Republicans in Congress to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“Fight like hell," President Donald Trump implored his supporters. “And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

Shortly thereafter, some of Trump's supporters breached the Capitol.

Throughout his presidency, Trump's unorthodox use of language has fascinated linguists and social scientists. But it wasn't just his words that day that led to the violence.

Starting with a speech he made on Dec. 2 – in which he made his case for election fraud – we analyzed six public addresses Trump made before and after the riot at the Capitol building. The others were the campaign rally ahead of the runoff elections in Georgia, the speech he made at the “Save America" rally on Jan. 6, the videotaped message that aired later that same day, his denouncement of the violence on Jan. 7 and his speech en route to Texas on Jan. 12.

Together, they reveal how the president's language escalated in intensity in the weeks and days leading up to the riots.

Finding patterns in language

Textual analysis – converting words into numbers that can be analyzed as data – can identify patterns in the types of words people use, including their syntax, semantics and vocabulary choice. Linguistic analysis can reveal latent trends in the speaker's psychological, emotional and physical states beneath the surface of what's being heard or read.

This sort of analysis has led to a number of discoveries.

For example, researchers have used it to identify the authors of The Federalist Papers, the Unabomber manifesto and a novel written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym.

Textual analysis continues to offer fresh political insights, such as its use to advance the theory that social media posts attributed to QAnon are actually written by two different people.

The 'official' sounding Trump

Contrary to popular thinking, Trump does not universally use inflammatory rhetoric. While he is well known for his unique speaking style and his once-frequent social media posts, in official settings his language has been quite similar to that of other presidents.

Researchers have noted how people routinely alter their speaking and writing depending on whether a setting is formal or informal. In formal venues, like the State of the Union speeches, textual analysis has found Trump to use language in ways that echo his predecessors.

In addition, a recent study analyzed 10,000 words from Trump's and President-elect Joe Biden's campaign speeches. It concluded – perhaps surprisingly – that Trump and Biden's language was similar.

Both men used ample emotional language – the kind that aims to persuade people to vote – at roughly the same rates. They also used comparable rates of positive language, as well as language related to trust, anticipation and surprise. One possible reason for this could be the audience, and the persuasive and evocative nature of campaign speeches themselves, rather than individual differences between speakers.

The road to incitement

Of course, Trump has, at times, used overtly dire and violent language.

After studying Trump's speeches before the storming of the Capitol building, we found some underlying patterns. If it seemed there was a growing sense of momentum and action in his speeches, it's because there was.

From early December to early January, there was an increase in the use of words that convey movement and motion – terms like “change," “follow" and “lead."

This is important, because it signals that the undertone of the speeches, beyond the overt directives, was goading his supporters to take action. By contrast, passive voice is often used to distance oneself from something or someone. In addition, research on linguistic indicators of deception has found that people who are lying often use more motion words.

We also looked at Trump's use of presidential language during the same time frame. Researchers have identified the hallmark features of presidential language. These include using more articles – “the," “an," “a" – prepositions, positive emotion, long words and, interestingly, swear words.

Trump used the most presidential language in the video recorded the day after the riots, in which he denounced the violence, and in his Dec. 2 election fraud speech. His other four speeches more closely match the level of presidential language reflected in his State of the Union speeches.

The violence at the Capitol building and impeachment of the president have only added fuel to a contentious period marked by a pandemic, an economic crisis, widespread protests over racial inequality, a heated presidential election and citizens divided over real and fake news.

In this context, the role of language to calm, reassure and unify is more important than ever – and in this task, Biden has a steep challenge ahead of him.

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Roger J. Kreuz, Associate Dean and Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis and Leah Cathryn Windsor, Research Assistant Professor, University of Memphis

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

Democrats have a shortcut to start undoing parts of Trump's legacy

by Daniel Farber, University of California, Berkeley

The Trump administration dedicated itself to deregulation with unprecedented fervor. It rolled back scores of regulations across government agencies, including more than 80 environmental rules.

The Biden administration can reverse some of those actions quickly – for instance, as president, Joe Biden can undo Donald Trump's executive orders with a stroke of the pen. He plans to restore U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement that way on his first day in office.

Undoing most regulatory rollbacks, however, will require a review process that can take years, often followed by further delays during litigation.

There is an alternative, but it comes with risks.

Biden could take a leaf from the Republicans' 2017 playbook, when congressional Republicans used a shortcut based on an obscure federal law called the Congressional Review Act to wipe out several Obama administration regulations. Some scholars have called these 2017 repeals arguably “the Trump administration's chief domestic policy accomplishment of its first 100 days."

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of interest in having the new Democratic-controlled Congress turn the tables and use the same procedure against Trump's regulatory rollbacks.

However, this procedure is far from a panacea for undoing Trump's legacy. Its arcane rules can tie the hands of future administrations without providing clear standards for how it applies, and it offers little time for deliberation.

How Congress could cancel Trump's rollbacks

The 1996 Congressional Review Act provides a way of undoing new rules issued by executive branch agencies without being mired in agency and court proceedings. Democrats could use it to cancel rollbacks by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and others.

The Congressional Review Act applies equally whether a rule expands regulation or rolls it back. Within 60 legislative days after a new rule comes out, Congress can disapprove it using streamlined procedures. Senate filibusters are not allowed, and Senate debate is limited to 10 hours. Since only days Congress is in session are counted, the act can apply to regulations that go back several months.

Once a rule is disapproved, it's dead forever. It can't be reissued.

But that isn't all. The act says no rule can be issued in “substantially the same form" without additional authorization from Congress.

How similar does a future rule have to be before it becomes “substantially the same"? There is no definitive answer, so there's some risk that an unfriendly judge might invalidate a Biden rule dealing with the same subject as a repealed Trump rule. Assuming the Biden rule goes in the opposite direction from the Trump rule, this might not be a major risk. But we can't really be sure.

Time and numbers

Democrats may find some appealing targets for the Congressional Review Act. Just in the past few weeks, the Trump administration has adopted rules limiting consideration of public health studies to set air pollution limits, requiring banks to make loans to the firearms and oil industries, and protecting industries other than electric utilities from climate change regulations. These are only some of the last-minute efforts by Trump to sabotage regulations favored by Democrats.

The number of congressional votes needed to succeed, particularly in the Senate, will likely narrow the list, however.

The Democrats have only 50 senators, and they will need 50 votes plus Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote to use the act. Unless they can find a moderate Republican like Susan Collins of Maine to cross the aisle, they will need every single one of their own senators. That includes Joe Manchin of West Virginia, often their most conservative senator, particularly on fossil fuel issues.

Congressional Review Act repeals also take time. Each takes up to 10 hours on the Senate floor. Senate floor time is limited and desperately needed to confirm Biden's nominees and consider Trump's impeachment. That's not to mention a coronavirus relief bill and other priorities. This a strong reason to be selective.

Is it time to repeal the act?

Progressives view the Congressional Review Act as a remnant of Newt Gingrich's “Contract with America," designed as a conservative tool for deregulation.

They also point out that the Congressional Review Act's time limits on repealing a regulation and procedural shortcuts mean that there's very little opportunity for congressional deliberation.

As a law professor specializing in energy and the environment, I have studied Republicans' use of the Congressional Review Act in 2017. My research shows that their selection of targets was haphazard at best, having little to do with the burdens created by individual regulations. Democrats may find that their selection of Congressional Review Act targets will be driven less by major policy concerns and more by the vagaries of swing voters such as Sen. Manchin.

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Given reservations by some parts of the party about the Congressional Review Act and how much else Democrats now have on their agenda, it seems unlikely that Democrats will use the act to the same extent as the Republicans did in 2017.

Maybe if the Congressional Review Act is now turned against Republican policies after being turned against Democratic policies, we may start to have a healthy debate on whether this mechanism for congressional oversight is worth keeping.The Conversation

Daniel Farber, Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley

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

Here's what you need to know about the new COVID-19 variants

David Kennedy, Penn State

Editor's note: Two new strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 called B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 have been found in the U.K. and South Africa and are thought to be more transmissible. In this interview, David Kennedy, a biologist who studies the evolution of infectious diseases at Penn State, explains how these new strains are different, what “more transmissible" means, what that means for the public and whether the vaccines will be effective against them.

David Kennedy explains the two new COVID-19 strains B117 and B1351, which were detected in December.

What are the two new variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus?

There are actually a few different variants that are emerging that you've probably been hearing about recently. Two of the most common ones that people are talking about and are most concerned about are the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants. They were first detected in the U.K. and South Africa. It seems that they have been circulating since October at least but were only noticed in December. The concern about these variants is that they might have some differences in how transmissible they are and how the immune system sees them.

What does 'more transmissible' mean when it comes to these variants?

The data suggests that both of these variants are more transmissible. Most of the data that's available is for the U.K. variant in particular. It's still not clear exactly how much more transmissible it is, but current estimates are that it's somewhere between 30% and 80% more transmissible than the original strains that were out there.

How did scientists arrive at those numbers? When spikes in cases in the U.K. raised concerns, they sequenced the virus from the cases during the spikes. They saw that there was this novel variant. They looked at the frequency of this variant farther back in time and saw that it was increasing in frequency over time. So it went from being very rare to very common. And based on the rate of increase, they estimate that it was around 70% or so more transmissible than the original virus.

The second way they determined it was more transmissible is through something called the “ secondary attack rate." What they do is, if they know that somebody is infected, they can look and see how many of their contacts got infected. And so they can do that for people who are infected with the original strain of the virus, and they can do that for people who are infected with this novel variant. What they saw was that people who had this novel variant were more likely to infect their contacts, and that increase was about 30% to 40%. So that means that this novel variant is more likely to get passed on to other individuals.

How does a more transmissible variant translate into risk? How does it affect people's day-to-day risk levels?

The first thing that I should say is that there's no evidence that there's increased disease severity as a result of these variants. So it doesn't seem like it is now more harmful. But the concern is that more people are going to get infected, and so in total, more people are going to get sick.

But the reason this is so concerning is that you get hit with the increase in transmissibility twice. First, more people will be infected, so it is more likely that you will be interacting with someone who is infectious. And second, the virus is more infectious, so each infected person is more likely to transmit it to you.

With that said, the basics of how we're supposed to live our lives and how we're supposed to control this are essentially unchanged. The mitigation measures that we have in place, things like social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding indoor shared spaces, reducing any unnecessary risks, are still the best measures that we have to try to control this. At least until we all have access to vaccines.

What does this new variant mean for vaccine effectiveness?

If we look at the smallpox vaccine, we never saw resistance evolve to it. It's the same for measles, polio and the majority of vaccines that we have. We never have to update them, and they just keep working.

But there have been vaccines where we do have to update them because resistance evolved. And so part of the concern about these new variants is that there might be evolution of resistance to the vaccines that are currently being developed.

The reason people are concerned is that a lot of the mutations in these new variants are in the site targeted by the vaccines, something called the spike protein. But just because we're seeing changes in the spike protein of these variants doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to undermine the vaccine.

What researchers have seen is that one of the mutations found on both the U.K. and South Africa variants doesn't seem to have any effect on how our immune system sees the virus, so that's good news. But another mutation found on the South Africa variant does seem to impact how our immune response sees the virus.

We've learned that if you take blood serum from somebody who was previously infected with the old version of the virus, and you try to use that serum to stop the virus containing this new mutation, you need a higher concentration of the blood serum to neutralize the virus. That means that there's a difference in the way that our immune system is seeing the virus. It doesn't necessarily mean that the vaccine is going to be less effective. But it's certainly something that needs to be studied more.

These are two of the mutations. There are many more mutations in these variants, which scientists need to continue to study.

The summary here is that at least one of the mutations seems like it could be relevant, but there isn't good evidence to suggest that means the vaccines are not going to be effective. Vaccines tend to be robust against evolutionary change. And so my hope and my expectation is that the vaccine protection will be robust. The Conversation

David Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Biology, Penn State

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

How a growing Christian movement of self-proclaimed 'prophets' gave religious motivation for the US Capitol riot

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Brad Christerson, Biola University

In addition to symbols of white supremacy, many of the rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 carried signs bearing religious messages, such as “Jesus Saves" and “In God We Trust" while others chanted “Jesus is my savior and Trump is my president." In a video interview, one of those who breached the Senate floor describes holding a prayer to “consecrate it to Jesus" soon after entering.

Many white evangelical leaders have provided religious justification and undying support for Trump's presidency, including his most racially incendiary rhetoric and policies. But as a scholar of religion, I argue that a particular segment of white evangelicalism that my colleague Richard Flory and I call Independent Network Charismatic, or INC, has played a unique role in providing a spiritual justification for the movement to overturn the election which resulted in the storming of the Capitol.

INC Christianity is a group of high-profile independent leaders who are detached from any formal denomination and cooperate with one another in loose networks.

Prayer marches

In the days and hours leading up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 the group Jericho March organized marches around the Capitol and Supreme Court building praying for God to defeat the “dark and corrupt" forces that they claimed, without evidence, had stolen the election from God's anointed president – Donald Trump.

Jericho March is a loose coalition of Christian nationalists formed after the 2020 presidential election with the goal of overturning its results. Leading up to and following the Capitol violence, their website stated: “We are proud of the American system of governance established by our Founding Fathers and we will not let globalists, socialists, and communists destroy our beautiful nation by sidestepping our laws and suppressing the will of the American people through their fraudulent and illegal activities in this election." This statement as well as others were removed some time after the Capitol riot.

Jericho March's main activity has been organizing prayer marches around Capitol buildings around the nation after the election, imitating the “battle of Jericho" in the Bible. In this biblical battle God commanded the army of his chosen people, the nation of Israel, to blow trumpets and then march around the city walls until God brought the walls down and allowed Israel to invade and conquer the city. According to the Bible, this was the first battle that the nation won in its conquest of Canaan, the “promised land" that it occupied afterward.

Jericho March's activities culminated in a large prayer rally on Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C., that included prayer marches and speeches on the mall by convicted and pardoned former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Trump-supporting founder of MyPillow Mike Lindell and far-right Oathkeepers militia founder Stewart Rhodes.

Michael Flynn among other speakers at a Jericho March rally.

They also held prayer marches and vigils around the Supreme Court and Capitol surrounding the Jan. 6 election certification. Jericho March members believe that their prayer marches will help defeat the corrupt forces they claim, without the basis of any evidence, “stole" the election and that God will install Trump in his rightful place as president on Jan. 20.

Their strategy is peaceful prayer marches, however. After the Capitol violence they released this statement: “Jericho March denounces any and all acts of violence and destruction, including any that took place at the U.S. Capitol."

There is no evidence that anyone affiliated with the Jericho March organization took part in the Capitol breach. However, their leaders, I argue, are providing the religious motivation for the fight to overturn the election. Here's why.

'Prophets' and Charismatic Christianity

A key part of the Jericho March events has been a group of INC Christians who claim to be modern-day “prophets," including Lance Wallnau, Cindy Jacobs and Jonathan Cahn.
Charismatic Christianity, similar to Pentecostal Christianity, emphasizes the “gifts of the Holy Spirit," which include healing, exorcism, speaking in spiritual languages, and prophecy – defined as hearing direct words from God that reveal his plans for the future and directions for his people to follow.

Scholars use the term Charismatic to describe Christians in mainline or independent churches that emphasize the gifts of the spirit as opposed to Pentecostal Christians, who are affiliated with official Pentecostal denominations. Independent Charismatic Christians tend to be more unorthodox in their practices, as they are less tied to formal organizations.

In our research, we found that in most Charismatic churches, those who receive visions or direct words from God that make predictions that later correspond to events or have uncanny insights into people's lives are seen to have the “gift of prophecy." Some particularly gifted “prophets" are seen as being able to predict world events and get directions from God regarding entire nations.

While most Charismatic churches do not engage in this world-event predicting type of prophecy, some independent, high-profile leaders that do have become increasingly important in INC Christianity.

'Seven mountains of culture'

Before the 2016 election a group of INC “prophets" proclaimed Trump to be God's chosen candidate, similar to King Cyrus in the Bible, whom God used to restore the nation of Israel. After their prophesies of Trump's winning the election came true, these “prophets" became enormously popular in INC Christianity.

In our book, we showed that INC Christianity is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and the nation's politics – by providing an unorthodox theology to promote conservative Christians rising to power in all realms of society. It is the fastest-growing Christian group in America.

Between 1970 to 2010, the number of regular attenders of U.S. Protestant churches as a whole shrank by an average of .05% per year. At the same time, independent Charismatic churches, a category in which INC groups reside, grew in attendance by an average of 3.24% per year. According to the World Christian Database there are over 36 million people attending U.S. independent Charismatic churches – that is, those not affiliated with denominations.

INC beliefs are different from those of most traditional Christian groups, including those affiliated with official Pentecostal denominations. INC promotes a form of Christian nationalism the primary goal of which is not to build congregations or to convert individuals, but to bring heaven or God's intended perfect society to Earth by placing “kingdom-minded people" in powerful positions at the top of all sectors of society, the so-called “seven mountains of culture" comprising government, business, family, religion, media, education and arts/entertainment.

One INC leader we interviewed in 2015 explained, “If Christians permeate each mountain and rise to the top of all seven mountains … society would have biblical morality, people would live in harmony, there would be peace and not war, there would be no poverty." They see Trump as fulfilling God's plan to place “kingdom-minded" leaders in top government positions, including Cabinet members and Supreme Court appointments.

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Trump as God's chosen president

Many of those referred to as prophets in INC Christianity predicted another Trump victory in 2020. After his Nov. 3 loss, many we have studied have not recanted their prophecies, and have adopted Trump's conspiratorial rhetoric that the election was fraudulent. Many believe that the demonic forces that have stolen the election can still be defeated through prayer.

For INC Christianity's “prophets," Trump is God's chosen candidate to advance the kingdom of God in America, so any other candidate, no matter what the vote totals show, is illegitimate.The Conversation

Brad Christerson, Professor of Sociology, Biola University

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

The failure to confront the white supremacist invasion of police forces has had deadly consequences

by Vida Johnson, Georgetown University

The apparent participation of off-duty officers in the rally that morphed into a siege on the U.S. Capitol building Jan. 6 has revived fears about white supremacists within police departments.

These concerns are not new. White supremacy, the belief that white people are superior to other races, has long tainted elements within law enforcement. As I testified before Congress just months before this assault, there is a long history of racism in U.S. policing – and this legacy may have contributed to the violence in the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Reports of officers involved in an attack in which the symbols and language of white supremacy were clearly on display are concerning.

But so too, I believe, is a policing culture that may have contributed to the downplaying of the risk of attack before it began and the apparent sympathetic response to attackers displayed by some police officers – they too hint at a wider problem.

As someone who has researched and written about the chilling problem of white supremacists in law enforcement, I believe the failure to confront the problem has had deadly consequences.

Blue, but white first?

Racism and white supremacy are problems in society, not just the police. Just after the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, 9% of Americans responding to an ABC News/Washington News poll said that it was acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views.

Meanwhile, a Reuters poll after the insurrection at the Capitol found that 12% of Americans supported the actions of those who took part in the attack.

But the percentage of police officers who hold views in support of white identity extremism may be at least as high or higher – white people are overrepresented on police forces cross the country. And surveys have found that police officers – especially white ones – diverge from the wider public on issues of race. A 2017 Pew poll found that 92% of white officers believe that the U.S. had made the reforms necessary for equal rights for Black Americans. This compared with just 29% of Black officers and 48% of the general public, including 57% of white Americans. This leads some to wonder whether police are more sympathetic to the rhetoric of Trump and others.

With their enormous power, department-issued weapons and access to sensitive information, police departments must be rid of officers with racist views for America's security. But for the same reasons, police departments have become attractive recruiting grounds for white supremacist groups.

The FBI warned of the problem in 2006, noting: “Having personnel within law enforcement agencies has historically been and will continue to be a desired asset for white supremacist groups."

Because of the secretive nature of such groups, it is hard to say how many officers are involved. But since 2009 police officers in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana have been identified as members of white supremacist groups. Meanwhile, more than 100 police departments in 49 different states have had to deal with scandals involving racist emails, texts or online comments sent or made by department staff. Just this week a high-ranking officer in the New York Police Department was found to be behind a string of racist posts online.

Misplaced sympathies

When it comes to the events of Jan. 6, there appear to be three main areas of concern about the action – or inaction – of police. First, there appears little doubt that Capitol Police did not prepare in a way to protect the Capitol for the threat lawmakers and the vice president faced. The U.S. Capitol Police Department is one of the best-funded police forces in the country; with a budget of more than $500 million and approximately 2,000 police officers, it is larger than the police force of the city of San Diego, yet the Capitol Police's mission is to guard a few buildings and the members of Congress.

The rally and plan to attack the Capitol were discussed on public social media platforms such as Twitter, Parler, Reddit, Instagram and Facebook for law enforcement who cared to be prepared. Enrique Tarrio, a member of the far-right Proud Boys, was arrested a few days before the attack for the destruction of a Black Lives Matter flag belonging to a Black church in Washington, D.C. Tarrio had traveled to the District of Columbia for the Jan. 6 rally and was allegedly in possession of high-capacity magazines. This should have been an indication that the protesters planned violence.

Both the NYPD and FBI warned the Capitol police of the threats they were seeing online, with an FBI office in Virginia telling Capitol police that extremists were planning violence and “war" just one day before the attack.

Yet there were no phalanxes of heavily armed police officers as had been the case in protests in the capital against racism, in which many more Black Americans were involved.

As such, many are legitimately asking: Was the threat posed by the rioters on Jan. 6 underestimated by police because of their race?

There are also questions to be asked over whether Capitol police officers were more sympathetic to Trump supporters during the attack itself. One officer tasked with protecting the Capitol put on a red Make America Great Again cap during the attack, according to the Tim Ryan, the Democratic chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees funding for Capitol police. Another Capitol police officer was seen being friendly and taking photographs with rioters. Two Capitol police officers have been suspended and at least 10 others are under investigation for their behavior in the uprising.

Off duty, in crowd

Finally, there is concern that off-duty officers holding extreme views traveled from across the country to be part of the day's events. Reports from Capitol police officers describe cops flashing their badges while attempting to enter the Capitol.

At least 28 sworn law enforcement officers attended the Jan. 6 rally, according to a tally kept by the publication The Appeal. They represent police departments from at least 12 different states. This number could grow.

Obviously there is a difference between merely attending the rally and taking part in the siege.

But domestic terrorism from far-right groups is a significant threat to America's safety and security. And the actions of police on Jan. 6 – both as individuals and as a force – raise concerns. For all Americans to be truly safe, it is important to weed out far-right extremism, especially in the institution sworn to protect us all.

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Vida Johnson, Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University

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

Behind the targeting of Nancy Pelosi by the Capitol insurrectionists

by Mona Lena Krook, Rutgers University

Among the various forms of violence on display during the U.S. Capitol insurrection, one has been largely overlooked: misogyny, or hatred toward women. Yet behaviors and symbols of white male power were striking and persistent features of the riots.

Members of the overwhelmingly male crowds defending a president well-known for his sexist attacks, embraced male supremacist ideologies, wore military gear and bared their chests in shows of masculine bravado. They even destroyed display cabinets holding historical books on women in politics.

Actions targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi give the clearest illustration. Members of the mob broke into her office and vandalized it. Items like mail, signs and even her lectern proved to be particularly popular trophies – symbolizing an attack on Democrats and the House Speaker, but also against one of the most powerful women in American politics.

'Nancy, Bigo was here you bitch'

While partisan differences often drive political violence, misogyny can play an underappreciated role, especially when directed at women in prominent leadership positions. Misogyny punishes women who fail to live up to patriarchal standards, like those who dare to participate in the supposedly “male world" of politics.

In my new book, “Violence against Women in Politics," I illustrate what this problem looks like around the world. In addition to physical harm, such violence can include threats, property damage and sexist rhetoric and imagery intended to intimidate women and delegitimize their political participation.

Attacks on Pelosi, while partisan in nature, also contained many elements of misogyny.

Pelosi was in physical danger as pro-Trump rioters roamed the Capitol building hunting down elected officials. News cameras filmed a man carrying zip-tie handcuffs entering and then exiting the speaker's office, where members of her staff remained barricaded in a room for more than two hours.

Acts of vandalism and theft were accompanied by speech disparaging and belittling Pelosi as a woman. In the hallway outside her suite of offices, angry rioters tore the leadership nameplate off the wall as crowds chanted, “Get her out!"

In a video, a woman claimed she helped break down the door to Pelosi's office. Once inside, “somebody stole her gavel and I took a picture sitting in the chair flipping off the camera." She proudly announced “and that was for Fox News" – a station notorious not just for its far-right politics, but also for its on- and off-camera sexism.

A photo of Richard “Bigo" Barnett, sitting with his feet up on a desk in Pelosi's office, solicited perhaps the strongest reaction. One feminist writer asked, “Have you ever seen a clearer photo of arrogant male entitlement? The legs apart, the foot on the desk, the smile … this guy isn't just happy he's broken into the Capitol building. He feels like he's putting a woman in her place by violating and defiling her space."

Consistent with this interpretation, Barnett later told a reporter: “I wrote her a nasty note, put my feet up on her desk, and scratched my balls." The message read: “Nancy, Bigo was here you bitch."

Another paper left on the desk amplified this message, warning in red ink: “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN."

Violent restoration of a retrograde world

Gendered slurs similarly appear in one of the first cases pursued by the FBI stemming from the riot.

Cleveland Meredith was charged with unregistered possession of firearms and unlawful possession of ammunition. FBI agents also discovered misogynistic text messages on his mobile phone threatening violence against Pelosi, like “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi C**T's speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on live TV," “I'm gonna run that C**T Pelosi over," and “Dead Bitch Walking."

Misogyny in the Capitol attacks indicates that rioters, both male and female, did not simply wage an assault on democratic institutions. They also sought to violently restore a retrograde world in which men, especially white men, hold all the power.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation's newsletter.]The Conversation

Mona Lena Krook, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Women & Politics Ph.D. Program, Rutgers University

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

This is just the beginning of Trump's legal woes

by Thomas Klassen, York University, Canada

By becoming the first president to be impeached twice, Donald Trump's controversial and divisive term as president is reaching a surreal ending. Although he will likely remain in office and finish his term on Jan. 20, the impeachment is the opening salvo of investigations and allegations of wrongdoing that will define his legacy.

After Joe Biden assumes the presidency, Trump may face criminal and civil charges at both the federal and state levels for actions before and during his tenure as president. He's reportedly so nervous about ongoing investigations that his discussions with advisers about pardoning himself and his children have intensified since he incited the raid on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Some of them have warned against it.

Criminal cases are the most serious, involving offences against the state and prosecuted by government agencies. In contrast, civil cases are disputes between two parties that typically result in monetary payments.

The federal scene

As president, Trump was protected from prosecution because of a longstanding Justice Department policy that sitting presidents cannot be charged with unlawful behaviour that occurs while in office. Rather, Congress, via impeachment, has the power to punish a president for wrongdoing.

But with the end of Trump's presidency, the U.S. attorney general in the Biden administration could charge him for criminal wrongdoing that occurred while he was in office. The federal government could begin to investigate Trump for income tax evasion while he was in office and prior to his election in 2016.

There is a long tradition in the United States of using tax evasion charges when other means to prosecute fail. Another flamboyant entrepreneur born in New York learned this the hard way: Al Capone.

Before Trump incited the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, it seemed improbable that Biden's administration would consider seeking criminal charges. Biden stated in August 2020:

“I think it is a very, very unusual thing and probably not very … how can I say it? … good for democracy to be talking about prosecuting former presidents.

Even after Trump's outrageous behaviour during the last weeks of his presidency and his impeachment, and even if there is evidence of tax evasion, it remains unlikely that Biden will authorize the unprecedented step of the federal government taking a former president to court on criminal charges.

An enormous investment in political capital by the new administration would be required, and a ferocious backlash from Republicans would ensue while placing Trump firmly back in the stoplight.

At the same time, failing to charge Trump if there's sufficient evidence uncovered to warrant charges creates a situation in which presidents solidify their immunity. As Biden himself noted in August: "I don't think anyone's above the law."

Regardless of rhetoric about justice being blind, any decision to charge Trump with a federal criminal offence is at least partly political, and will rest with Biden. At the moment, it continues to be improbable that Trump will face federal charges.

The state of New York

State charges, however, are another story.

Distinct and separate from the federal government, the state of New York is conducting criminal investigations into Trump and his businesses. They include probes into potential bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as the falsification of business records.

The state also has a separate civil investigation of tax fraud by Trump and his company.

Although these investigations and potential charges are the responsibility of a Democratic state government, ultimately Biden could call the shots. Regardless of the constitutional independence of state governments, the decision to charge Trump in New York could be made from the Oval Office given the political ramifications and the precedent-setting nature of charging a former president.

However, the calculus might be different than for federal crimes in that charges laid in New York provide a degree of cover and distance for the Democrats in Washington. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that Biden will see much advantage for his administration in seeing Trump charged in New York.

The civil landscape

Two women are suing Trump for defamation for calling them liars after they accused him of sexually assaulting them before he was elected. These civil lawsuits have been slowly proceeding while Trump served his term, since sitting presidents don't have immunity from civil lawsuits for acts committed before taking office.

These are the weakest the legal cases Trump will face given he's merely accused of lying rather than having engaged in unlawful behaviour despite 26 women accusing him of sexually assaulting them. At the moment, it's probable that these cases against Trump will result in a monetary payment or an apology.

Some might hope Trump's second impeachment and the legal proceedings that could be about to begin against him will bring a measure of censure and closure to his term in office and redress some of his excesses in the White House.

But this isn't likely to happen as the political cost to prosecute an ex-president is extraordinarily high and also runs the risk of making him a martyr to his base.The Conversation

Thomas Klassen, Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, York University, Canada

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

Trump is impeached again — but we've already tipped into the abyss

by Henry Giroux, McMaster University

Just a week after the U.S. Capitol was attacked by his supporters, Donald Trump has become the first president of the United States to be impeached twice. But regardless of how Trump leaves the White House — the Senate won't act on the impeachment before Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20 — the domestic terrorism he has inspired will not end there.

Democrats in the House of Representatives — as did 10 brave Republicans, none of whom voted in favour of Trump's first impeachment a year ago — made a compelling case for removing the president in the final days of his administration.

During Trump's four years in office, lies, ignorance and a thirst for violence have desensitized America to the point where a right-wing mob could attack police in broad daylight, break into the U.S. Capitol and occupy the Senate chamber.

America no longer lives in the shadow of authoritarianism. It has tipped into the abyss.

The domestic terrorism of Jan. 6 will not end there. This was Trumpism in full bloom, in all its ignorance and lawlessness, proving again that fascism begins with language and ends with violence.

Trumpism is a new political formation, blending white supremacy, voter suppression, market fundamentalism and authoritarianism, and it will survive long after Trump leaves the White House.

The travesty in Washington had been building for years in the dark recesses of conspiracy theories, lies, the dark web, white rage and hatred of those its adherents consider “enemies of the people."

The mob on Capitol Hill was reminiscent of thugs roaming the streets of Germany in the 1930s brutalizing dissenters and “others" in the deranged Nazi notion of racial and political cleansing.

Fanning the flames

Trump has fanned fascist impulses consistently through the language of violence and division, aided by right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart.

The storming of the Capitol reaches far beyond Trump's toxic personal politics, incompetency and corruption. Such violence —rooted in ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, white supremacy, systemic police violence and anti-immigration bigotry — has a long history in the U.S. It has lately been normalized as a right-wing populist movement, which Trump brought to the surface of American politics and has worn like a badge.

He came to power by seizing upon the fears of whites and white supremacists who imagined themselves under siege. Since then, he has deliberately energized those followers.

Trumpism refers less to a person than to a dangerous movement and social base.

As a new cultural and political construct, it merges a ruthless capitalist rationality, growing inequality and commitment to white nationalism. These forces have deep historical roots.

They have congealed under Trump into an emotionally charged, spectacularized and updated form of authoritarianism. He has merged it with the apparatus and regressive values of a cruel capitalism to undermine democratic institutions and values.

Political chasm

As an anti-democratic ethos, it has opened a political chasm in which any attempt to unify the nation appears almost impossible, creating a toxic breeding ground for violence, cruelty, exclusion and racial cleansing.

In plain view, Trump flouted, ignored and destroyed institutions of accountability. He degraded political speech. He openly used his office to enrich himself. He publicly courted dictators.

His extremist supporters, like the Proud Boys, seethe with racism. They value violence as the only remedy that can provide relief and gratification.

Trumpism is intent not only on capturing institutions of the state for personal and political gain, but also controlling language, media and popular culture as a way of emptying politics of substance and reducing it to spectacle.

Criticism has become “fake news" unworthy of serious reflection or analysis. Trumpism shreds shared values and national unity into distrust and fear. It disdainfully views the common good and democratic values as registers of weakness and resentment.

Molded in the crucible of populist, racist, and authoritarian nationalism, Trumpism produced a tsunami of repressive political, economic, and social policies.

Children caged

Children of undocumented immigrants were caged. Military forces were deployed to attack peaceful demonstrators in cities like Portland.

Trumpism pollinated politics, culture and everyday life with authoritarian impulses. Self-appointed militiamen patrolled the southern border and state governments waged wars on people of colour through voter suppression laws.

Near the end of Trump's term, many Republicans boldly attempted to use fabricated allegations of fraud to overthrow the election.

Trumpism emerged from the wider crisis of neoliberalism, which could no longer lay claim to democratic values while accelerating wars and fostering an unprecedented degree of inequality of wealth and power.

Trumpism is more of a cult than an ideology. Trump's egregious bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic had profoundly lethal consequences, yet his actions did little to undermine his support, especially under the moral and political blackout legitimated by a Vichy-like Republican Party.

Trumpism is a giant disinformation machine that aims to colonize culture and public consciousness by emptying them of democratic values and destroying institutions that nurture critical thought and civic courage.

Lessons of history vanish

Making use of modern cultural constructs such as Twitter and Facebook and friendly media outlets such as Fox News, Newsmax and Breitbart, his efforts married power and civic illiteracy. The public sphere has become a barrage of bomb-like daily events that obliterate the space and time for contemplating the past, while freezing the present into a fragmented display of shock. Under such circumstances, the lessons of history disappear.

The logical outcome is a rush to the comfort of strongmen who offer the swindle of fulfilment.

Trumpism defines power as immunity from the law. How else to explain the pardoning of grifters, political cronies and war criminals?

Until it is understood as a broad cultural crisis rather than simply as an economic and political crisis, Trumpism will continue to undermine the ability of individuals and institutions to think critically.

There is no democracy without an educated citizenry and no democracy can survive this glut of ignorance, fear, precarity, commercialization, concentration of power and illusion of freedom.

If Trumpism is to be resisted, America needs a new language, politics and sense of purpose.

In the aftermath of Trump's second impeachment, Joe Biden's administration must establish a national effort — criminal investigations, hearings, trials and public assemblies — to hold accountable those who committed crimes under the Trump regime and to educate the public.

The time has come for America to reclaim its utopian ideals of justice, compassion, freedom and equality.The Conversation

Henry Giroux, Chaired professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University

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

Social media giants finally confront Trump’s lies. But why wait until there was a riot in the Capitol?

Timothy Graham, Queensland University of Technology

After the chaos in the US Capitol, stoked largely by rhetoric from President Donald Trump, Twitter has permanently suspended his account, which had 88.7 million followers, citing “risk of further incitement of violence".

Facebook and Instagram had earlier locked Trump's accounts — with 35.2 million followers and 24.5 million, respectively — for at least two weeks, the remainder of his presidency. This ban was extended from 24 hours.

The locks are the latest effort by social media platforms to clamp down on Trump's misinformation and baseless claims of election fraud.

They came after Twitter labelled a video posted by Trump and said it posed a “risk of violence". Twitter removed users' ability to retweet, like or comment on the post — the first time this has been done.

In the video, Trump told the agitators at the Capitol to go home, but at the same time called them “very special" and said he loved them for disrupting the Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden's win.

That tweet has since been taken down for “repeated and severe violations" of Twitter's civic integrity policy. YouTube and Facebook have also removed copies of the video.

But as people across the world scramble to make sense of what's going on, one thing stands out: the events that transpired today were not unexpected.

Given the lack of regulation and responsibility shown by platforms over the past few years, it's fair to say the writing was on the wall.

The real, violent consequences of misinformation

While Trump is no stranger to contentious and even racist remarks on social media, Twitter's action to lock the president's account is a first.

The line was arguably crossed by Trump's implicit incitement of violence and disorder within the halls of the US Capitol itself.

Nevertheless, it would have been a difficult decision for Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram), with several factors at play. Some of these are short-term, such as the immediate potential for further violence.

Then there's the question of whether tighter regulation could further incite rioting Trump supporters, by feeding into their theories claiming there's a large-scale “deep state" plot against the president. It's possible.

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