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This is the final Democracy in Crisis column that I will be writing.

I remember the urgency with which it started. I was super-stoned in a Denver hotel room just days after Trump was elected. Editors at various alternative newspapers had been wringing their hands about how to deal with Trump. Many of these papers had been militantly local during the Obama era—when I was managing editor of Baltimore City Paper, my unofficial motto was “militantly Baltimorean.” But now it seemed that whenever someone picked up their local paper, they would want to see some news from the “alternative” angle—the independent, insouciant and fiercely opinionated alternative press.

Now, more than 70 weekly columns later (the Independent ran the column once or twice per month), either that has changed, or I was wrong-headed from the start. The Trump regime has taken up so much air from every other story that, while it is wildly important and has implications everywhere, each of these papers is better served covering the ways in which Trump’s policies affect their local communities.

If it were like the old days, when papers were fat and had money, a national column would be great. But this is a time of crisis for the press as much as it is for democracy. David Simon, creator of The Wire, has said the death of newspapers will usher in—or has already started ushering in—a golden age of corruption, because there is no one left to watch City Hall. Except for the wretches who work for the paper you’re reading right now.

Support them now, or you will miss them when they are gone. Since the beginning of this column in January 2017, my own home paper, the Baltimore City Paper, was shut down. We immediately responded with an attempt to start a new paper. We partnered with the nonprofit Real News Network and the Washington Blade and founded the Baltimore Beat. It lasted for four months before the people with the money pulled out.

Now, in Baltimore—where we will have more than 300 murders again this year, where we had a major police corruption scandal that will overturn nearly 2,000 cases, where the police commissioner was federally charged and resigned after only months in office—we have no outlet like the paper you are holding. There is no single place where you can mourn for those murdered, mock the bullshit politicians, and celebrate some artistic or culinary innovation or creature comfort. There is nowhere for this voice. And our city sorely misses it.

The art and music scenes are less cohesive, hardly scenes at all anymore. New writers aren’t following their passions and learning their chops. People aren’t doing insane experiments—like when I once listened to only local music for an entire year. (Music writers, take note.)

The Washington City Paper, one of the other early sponsors of this column, came dangerously close to death during the last year; an execution was stayed only by the intervention of a billionaire, a local rich dude. The Bezos model seems to work in Washington, but we can’t all count on that.

I’ve gotten countless emails from other editors saying something like, “Hey, man, we love the column but can’t afford it anymore.” I was once in the same boat myself as a managing editor. It is brutal.

Between the first draft of this column and this final version, five of my fellow reporters were murdered in their newsroom, an hour away from my own. Every reporter I have ever known has been threatened or maligned at some point, and this has gotten so much worse under Trump. We don’t need the CNNs and MSNBCs. We need the Annapolis Capital Gazettes and all the small, struggling papers that carried this column. Fuck you, Milo, and fuck you, Trump.

I learned from Spy Magazine that every good column has heroes and villains. Donald Trump was one of Spy’s main villains back in the 1980s, and he was the overarching villain of this column. But there were also all of those who enabled him, and whom he enabled, especially Michael Flynn, the alt-right goons of Charlottesville and the dark corners of the web—Project Veritas, and the ever-so-silly and sad “Western chauvinist”™ frat of the Proud Boys, whose litigious western chauvinist™ lawyer threatened legal action against the papers carrying this column.

Foremost among the heroes are the 230 people arrested during the inauguration protests. The very first column detailed those protests, after I was gassed and pepper-sprayed and almost arrested by the mobs of cops with covered faces who ultimately kettled a large group of protesters. The protesters were all charged with the few windows that were broken on the theory that because they wore black and were part of a “black bloc” protest, they all conspired to damage the property. They were facing more than 60 years each.

After a year and a half of the government paying two U.S. attorneys to prosecute the case, and a full-time detective and part-time Trump lover Gregg Pemberton to work it, several defendants have been acquitted on all counts, and the charges against many others have dropped. This includes the charges against Elizabeth Lagesse, one of the real heroes of this column, who taught herself everything possible about the case and went to nearly every proceeding, and filed suit with the ACLU against Washington, D.C.’s police department.

Aaron Cantú, a journalist at the Santa Fe Reporter, is still facing charges. Over the last year and a half, the #Resistance has half-heartedly fallen in love with the “free press,” railing against Trump’s tweets while still lying to us if they are politicians—and ignoring Cantú’s plight if they are Beltway journalists. He has been living under serious criminal charges for a year and a half because he covered a protest. And he’s a hell of a good reporter.

But the real heroes of the column are the alternative papers that ran it and the readers who followed along. I am so grateful to have been able to have a home in each of your cities and towns. And I learned so much from having editors in Colorado Springs or Jackson Hole, and so many others.

Mary Finn spent countless hours filing FOIA requests—some of which we are still waiting on (fingers crossed)—and editing the column. Brandon Soderberg was a tireless editor and a great friend and collaborator through this.

Brandon and I will be writing a book over the next year, so if you enjoyed the column at all, keep an eye out for it.

Published in National/International

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia—which has spent the last year and a half prosecuting people who protested the president’s inauguration—has been sanctioned by a judge for failing to hand over evidence to the defense, a major breach in court procedure that endangers the justice system itself.

On Jan. 20, 2017—aka J20—Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department threw more than 70 “non-lethal” grenades, sometimes hitting innocent bystanders in the head, and emptied dozens of canisters of tear gas against protesters, before cordoning off more than 200 people and charging them all with a conspiracy to riot. Relying on a theory that anyone in black conspired to destroy property, the federal government charged more than 200 people with breaking just a few windows.

The government was forced to drop the charges against all but 58 of the defendants after losing the first case this January.

Elizabeth Lagesse, one of the 58 remaining defendants, argued in a motion that the government continued to press charges against her not because she committed any crime, but because she talked to the press—including Democracy in Crisis—and filed a civil suit against the police in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff is leading the case against the protesters.

“Ms. Kerkhoff’s May 11 email also highlights the government’s ongoing fixation with Ms. Lagesse’s media presence and her pending lawsuit—protected conduct that has no relevance to the case,” Lagesse’s motion argues, making reference to an email from the prosecutor, which, it argues, “is filled with derisive asides about Ms. Lagesse’s public statements, which go as far as accusing Ms. Lagesse of spreading ‘misinformation.’”

In that email cited in Lagesse’s motion, Kerkhoff seems to be following Trump’s playbook—”misinformation” is her more legalistic version of “fake news.” (The main detective in the case, Greggory Pemberton, regularly calls me “Fake News Woods.”)

This prosecution has engaged with the seediest parts of the alt-right. In this case, the prosecution relied heavily on a video surreptitiously filmed by Project Veritas, the far-right outfit that brought down ACORN and regularly tries to “sting” media outlets like The Washington Post. Project Veritas is notorious for selectively editing and publishing video, but in this case, the organization looks downright honest in comparison with the U.S. government.

The Project Veritas video shows a group of people planning a march and mentioning an “anti-capitalist, anti-fascist” action. This provides the basis for the conspiracy-to-riot charges—which otherwise hinge on wearing black. It has been central to the government’s case against the protesters, because they claim it proves that defendants planned to destroy property and shut the city down.

But in court last week, it came out that the government did not give the defense attorneys all of the video—three minutes were cut off. During those three minutes, the Veritas operative said: “I don’t think they know anything.” There was also evidence that the Jan. 8, 2017, planning meeting included a session on how to de-escalate a violent situation.

The prosecution further failed to disclose that it had received 69 other recordings from Project Veritas. One of the trial groups had an interview with the operative who said that he didn’t “think anyone was planning violence especially.”

“There were a lot of things that were captured by Veritas. We gave them what was relevant in the case,” said Ahmed Baset, an assistant U.S. Attorney working the case with Kerkhoff, to the judge—as if it is up to the prosecution to determine what is relevant.

The proceedings also revealed that Project Veritas visited the FBI before the inauguration to talk about the protest—and the government revealed nothing about that meeting to the defense, either. While court still did not dismiss all of the charges against all of the defendants, it did sanction Kerkhoff and dismiss the conspiracy charges.

“The evidence concerning the conspiracy and the conspiracy charge … because the government did not disclose those videos and allow proper investigation, I’m sanctioning the government from proceeding on that count or on that theory,” the judge said.

For Dylan Petrohilos, who had been tagged as a key conspirator by the feds, that meant his charges would be dropped altogether, since he was not even arrested at the protest—but was picked up months later when police officers raided his home and took an Antifa flag and copies of The Nation magazine as “evidence” of the conspiracy.

For others, despite the dropped conspiracy charges, the weight of a long prosecution and the potential of a long sentence were still there to bludgeon them. As one defendant, Ella Fassler, tweeted: “It’s starting to look like my co-defendants and I will only be facing up to (about) 10-20 years in prison now.”

After testifying in last week’s trial, one officer named William Chatman wore a shirt with a slogan that condoned police brutality in the courthouse. It said: “Police Brutality...Or Doing What Their Parents Should Have!”

It is a clear message.

This prosecution bears all the hallmarks of Trump’s sense of justice. At virtually the same time all of this was going down in D.C. Superior Court, across town, Trump was underlining the capricious nature of justice in his regime with his pardon of Dinesh D’Souza. Instead of going through the DOJ’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, Trump seems to randomly pick friends, political allies or celebrities. His last big pardon was of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his racism and his hatred of the media.

In ancient Greek political thought, the mark of tyranny was the desire to help one’s friends and to harm one’s enemies—and both the pardon of D’Souza and the prosecution of the J20 protesters are motivated by such a desire.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International