CVIndependent

Tue08212018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Editor’s note: When Aaron Cantú arrived at his new job at the Santa Fe Reporter—an alternative newspaper like the Independent—last year, he came with the baggage of a recent arrest. Two months earlier, he spent a night in jail with hundreds of others detained during protests on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. His actions consisted of walking, wearing black and being a witness to history as a freelance journalist. Yet a few months later, federal prosecutors slammed him with eight felony charges, including conspiracy to riot and property damage—despite no clear evidence of such crimes.

After nearly 18 months, the feds dropped the charges. Cantú (right; photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen) is finally able to publicly reflect on the ordeal. Read the full timeline of events at the bottom of this story.

For more than a year, federal prosecutors and agents have perused my digital communications, tried to hack my cell phone, and possibly collected my social media records. The chill of seeing the state in possession of your private political discussions is difficult to convey.

I’m not being paranoid; this really happened. The feds invaded my life in pursuit of their own conspiracy theory about a raucous protest in Washington, D.C., that resulted in eight felony charges against hundreds, myself included.

The overwhelming sense of being watched has abated some since the charges were dropped, but I’m sure people within the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia—the local arm of the Trump Administration’s Justice Department—will read every word of this essay, with an eye for anything they can use to re-file criminal charges against me or the 186 people still living under a five-year statute of limitations.

A few weeks after my arrest in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2017 (aka J20), I accepted some painful advice: Don’t criticize the Trump administration publicly. At that point, I was hoping for my charges to get dropped before my eventual indictment in May. The inability to speak freely on social media and in the publications for which I wrote drained my confidence; I still reflexively self-censor, often deleting tweets for no real reason. Even though my charges have gone away, writing this is hard. This pounding in my chest, this trembling hand, this sour stomach and sweaty tunnel vision are what it feels like to have your freedom of speech curtailed by the state.

I went to D.C. with several other journalists to report on Trump’s ascent, following a year of bubbling anti-fascism protests against his campaign. I currently enjoy the haven of a newspaper willing to hire lawyers who bite back, but last January, I was a freelancer using vacation days from my full-time job to go witness history. This was a completely uncharted assignment: How violent could this get? Would American jackboots try to stomp me in the streets? In the end, it didn’t matter whether I presented myself as a journalist on J20, or that I only carried a sandwich and a notebook; white supremacists wound up messing with me anyway for more than a year afterward by working with authorities to prosecute and harass me. I pitched a dispatch soon after getting released from jail, but pulled it for legal concerns.

After 18 months, the actual memories of the half-hour march leading up to my arrest have mixed with dreams and nightmares of the day, as well as descriptions in multiple indictments, trial transcripts and media reports. My mind’s eye remembers a dark funhouse of corporate buildings and unusually waifish, Jack Skellington-esque riot cops hemming me into a larger group. Everything looks gray and morose; it may have rained a bit. Police relentlessly deployed sting-ball grenades and pepper spray; the final tally was at least 70 grenades thrown at people blocks away from where Donald John Trump was sworn in as the 45th U.S. president.

Creaks and shatters created by objects smashing glass, including the insured windows of a Bank of America branch and a Starbucks, are more memorable than any destruction my eyes may have seen. Very, very loud police sirens, punctuated by grenade explosions and screaming, overwhelm everything else. “The inappropriate and extensive use of less lethal munitions suggests the need for increased supervision of officers during mass demonstrations,” said a recent report from the staid Police Foundation, a nonprofit which evaluated the Metropolitan Police Department’s conduct at Inauguration Day protests.

Impossible to forget are the feelings throughout the march: The whole-body nerve rush when I first saw a huge mass of marching people extending at least a whole city block; the panic run as the sting-ball grenades burst near my feet; the euphoria of an ungovernable moment, however frightening and unpredictable, that disrupted the lawful monotony binding our violently unequal social system together; and the shock when I checked my phone from inside the mass arrest and saw that protests in D.C. had overtaken Trump’s inaugural speech as the top headline on CNN.com. If protesters weren’t able to stop the actual inauguration, they still marred it in history.

When the first six of more than 200 defendants went to trial last November, prosecutors used expressions of apparent excitement, wonder or awe during the march as evidence of a conspiracy to riot. “I’m fucking blissed out,” photojournalist and acquitted defendant Alexei Wood announced in a stream from the march that day. The feds later tried to use it against him in court. In an identical indictment filed against all defendants, prosecutors also used randomly shouted phrases like, “Fuck it up,” “Fuck capitalism,” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” to transform an adrenal impulse into a criminal agreement among riotous co-conspirators.

The thought that I might be seriously screwed first occurred to me inside the police wagon transporting us to be processed. I sat cramped and bound, along with nine other people, in one of a half-mile’s worth of law enforcement vehicles flashing various hues of light, as if carrying high-priority enemies of the state. I knew then we weren’t going to get off with a simple citation, and that I was probably going to have to tell my mom. I didn’t expect, however, that I would be charged with eight felonies for the act of attending and reporting on a confrontational protest, or that I would be facing a combined 80 years in prison for these charges.


Months later, I not only considered my own future, but the far-reaching political implications of these cases: Why did the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia find it appropriate to hang virtual life sentences over the heads of 214 people after an indiscriminate mass arrest? How could they have so shamelessly gleaned evidence from far-right groups like Project Veritas, a discredited organization known for making deceptive gotcha videos, as well as the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, and still feel like they had a legitimate case? Where was the motivation—the conspiracy—to pursue these cases coming from?

Mass arrests at protests have happened plenty of times in cities across the country, including D.C. in 2002, when hundreds at a World Bank protest were arrested and later lavished with civil settlement money. What appeared new in the J20 case was the attempt to color protesters’ actions as part of a pre-planned conspiracy between strangers to cause mayhem.

By wrapping up distinct actions like allegedly breaking windows, chanting and lighting fireworks at a protest into a single conspiracy, it all became one threatening, anti-social act against society, apparently menacing enough to warrant decades in prison. The motive to bust a conspiracy also explains the Justice Department’s initial demand last summer to review 1.3 million IP addresses of people who visited DisruptJ20.org, a website used to organize loosely affiliated masses of protests that took place at the inauguration. Despite an outcry from the media and civil rights groups, the court eventually granted much of the prosecutors’ request—yet they could find no actual conspiracy.

This data-vacuuming extended to the cellphones that all arrestees were carrying that day. The Metropolitan Police Department used technology from an Israeli security firm called Cellebrite to extract information from all confiscated phones that weren’t sufficiently encrypted. After one anonymous defendant’s phone was raided, the defendant received an 8,000-page dossier containing years of personal data, including “intimate emails to and from my friends and lovers through more than a decade, (late) night political debates over chat apps that helped shape my values and convictions,” and more. The horror of a hostile state downloading a record of your developing identity reaching back into your early teen years is a possibility unique to millennials and later generations that grew up on the internet.

To my knowledge, the feds were never able to crack into my phone, thanks to strong encryption—though they made clear that they were specifically interested in me, declaring in one motion last October that they were undertaking “additional efforts” to get my data. But I was sufficiently terrified by other fishing expeditions, including subpoenas issued to Apple, Facebook and possibly Twitter for communications between and among co-defendants. I never received a notice from any of these companies that my accounts had been subpoenaed—though apparently, they do not have to notify you or can be gagged from doing so—but others did, and I still treat my online presence as if it’s bugged.

All this reaching by the prosecutor’s office turned out to be for naught. Although Assistant U.S. Attorney Rizwan Qureshi mumbled to an unbelieving D.C. jury at the second trial of defendants that there had been a conspiracy to “destroy your city,” this was never proven. That trial in May ended in acquittals and mistrials, after the first resulted in total acquittals last December. The pair of failures set the stage for the eventual collapse of the case in its entirety, letting the few dozen remaining defendants go free.

The second trial took place at the D.C. Superior Court, where, in another room, a chief judge determined that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff had intentionally misled the court about the existence of nearly 70 videos recorded by Project Veritas operatives at protest-planning meetings ahead of the inauguration. The operatives handed over the surreptitiously recorded videos to a DC police detective, Greggory Pemberton, who would spend an entire year investigating the J20 case. Defense counsel later discovered personal tweets sent out by Pemberton indicating his sympathies with the racist pro-Trump digital underbelly, and used them to undermine his testimony at trial.

According to a recent filing from former defendants, the withheld videos “cut against the theory that the … meeting was an exclusive, secretive meeting to plan unlawful conduct.” The ’60s-era stereotype of violent leftists whispering clandestine plans was part of the narrative prosecutors tried to create, and they went as far as lying in open court to preserve it.

This isn’t the first time authorities in D.C. have hunted for clues of a conspiracy post-riot. After the city’s black residents rose up following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, resulting in $27 million ($193.4 million today) in damages, the feds wanted to know who, if anybody, had orchestrated the chaos, and whether similar uprisings in more than 100 cities had been part of a revolutionary conspiracy to overthrow the white American system.

Stokely Carmichael, then the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, emerged as a primary suspect. Shortly after King’s murder, Carmichael told a radio host from Havana, Cuba, that it was “crystal clear the United States of America must fall in order for humanity to live, and we are going to give our lives for that cause.” But no conspiracy indictment was ever filed against Carmichael, or anybody else.

The fact that conspiracy charges were filed for so many in the J20 case after a mere $100,000 in damage illustrates how much prosecutorial aggression has advanced in the last half-century.


Some in radical circles have called attention to the white privilege of the J20 defendants, arguing that by virtue of their whiteness (or, for the minority of nonwhite defendants, their proximity to that pool of privilege), defendants had access to platforms, sympathy, support networks and resources that most low-income and non-white defendants lack, and that these advantages were hugely responsible for our success. I mostly agree with this analysis.

It is also true that the entire legal premise underpinning the multiple felony charges filed against each of us was steeped in the United States’ centuries-long defense of white supremacy. The anti-rioting statute under which we were charged—which calls for a maximum sentence of 10 years if convicted for rioting where serious injury or at least $5,000 in property damage occurs—was passed in 1967 by Congress in the wake of black urban uprisings in that decade. Prosecutors used the new statute against black D.C. residents the following year.

But the connection goes deeper.

The unifying legal theory of our prosecution was that we engaged in a conspiracy, and were therefore each equally liable for all property destruction or injury that occurred that day. This theory of liability stems from a mid-20th-century Supreme Court decision in a moonshining and tax-evasion case, but conspiracy law’s modern origins extend to the founding of this country and beyond as a legal weapon of colonialism and counterinsurgency, primarily against black revolt in the founding of the American state.

At the end of the 1600s, as the population of enslaved Africans in America grew, “the more encompassing category of ‘whiteness’ ascended,” writes Gerald Horne in Counter-Revolution of 1776, where Horne argues that the Anglo-Saxon settlers’ war for independence entrenched slavery. By 1680, one colonial legislature had drafted a bill “to prevent Negroes’ insurrection,” and this was followed by a torrent of similar anti-conspiracy legislation in the colonies over the next several decades in response to planned and executed rebellions by African people and their sometimes-allies: European servants and Native Americans resisting invasion.

One of the most famous pre-1776 conspiracies was the New York Conspiracy of 1741, in which prosecutors accused black enslaved people and poor whites of conspiring to burn the city and overthrow the colonial governor. The colony’s narrative, as established by a fire-breathing judge named Daniel Horsmanden, was that a multiracial group held secret meetings at a white-owned tavern for months before setting fire to the governor’s home, a church and horse stables in wealthy white neighborhoods. Four white and 30 black people were sentenced to death for their alleged role in the plot, and an additional 70 enslaved Africans were exiled from the colony.

At the New York Conspiracy trial, which took on the sort of puritanical zeal legible in the J20 case, the prosecution coerced witnesses into affirming the judge’s racist belief that the “conspiracy was of deeper design” and “more dangerous (a) Contrivance than the Salves (sic) themselves were capable of.” The most serious transgression, in the law’s eyes, was the conspiracy of comradeship between whites and blacks against colonial rule. After all, it had only been a few decades since “whites had achieved a sense of race solidarity at the expense of blacks” in some of the colonies around 1700, according to contemporary historian T.H. Breen.

Elite settlers threatened by the growing population of Africans saw the creation of pan-European solidarity (i.e., “whiteness”) in the colonies as necessary to gird against constant rebellions. Key to the eventual supremacy of the concept of whiteness, Horne writes, was that it not be interrogated too hard, lest “the loose threads of class hierarchy that this racial category otherwise obscured” unravel and ruin the entire colonial project.

This gets to the heart of the matter: In order for the colonies to overcome endless conspiracies to revolt by people they kidnapped, enslaved, exploited and colonized, its ruling elite had to create their own conspiracy—the institutionalization of “whiteness”—in defense of its power.

The Bill of Rights would later implicitly enshrine the three points of power in the new nation, including whiteness, property ownership (wealth) and cis-hetero maleness, consolidating ruling class power through the law. Writing for the Harvard Law Review nearly a century ago, Francis B. Sayre wrote that American courts often use conspiracy law as a cudgel, “especially during times of reaction, to punish, as criminal, associations for which the time being are unpopular or stir up prejudices of the social class in which the judges have for the most part been bred.”

It’s more than just prejudice: Today, the U.S. elite reaffirms its power through law, war, trade and politics daily, in a coordinated effort to preserve the status quo in all its structural inequality. This extreme and concentrated power is its own kind of conspiracy, one which allows the state to persecute others it considers illegal. There isn’t enough room here to chronicle the ways in which conspiracy law has been used since the 17th century to criminalize associations of nonwhite people, laborers, immigrants, protesters, revolutionaries and others, nor consider nuanced exceptions, such as mafia prosecutions that rope police and politicians into criminal rackets.

But fundamentally, the difference between a legitimate and illegitimate conspiracy comes down to power.

It’s ironic that some top Trump cronies involved in the J20 conspiracy prosecution are themselves caught up in their own high-profile conspiracy cases, though not necessarily as defendants.

For example, Roger Stone, the long-ago Nixon ratfucker and more recently a top campaign adviser to his friend Trump, sent far-right spies to inauguration protesters’ planning meetings as far back as December 2016. Stone was referenced in a July federal indictment against a dozen Russian intelligence military officials as a “senior member of (Trump’s) campaign” in direct contact with Russian hackers targeting the 2016 presidential election.

Another is Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the top official overseeing the J20 conspiracy prosecution. In March 2016, Sessions was beckoned in an email sent to Trump campaign advisor Rick Dearborn from Republican activist Paul Erickson, who wanted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. A criminal complaint unsealed in July claims Erickson was manipulated by a Russian state operative named Maria Butina to gain access to top Republicans. In another twist, the J20 defendants may have been saved by prosecutors out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. turning their attention to Butina’s conspiracy prosecution.

To this day, neither Sessions nor any prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. have spoken publicly about J20. While prosecutors don’t often comment publicly on their cases, especially when they lose, this could have been the perfect chance for this Justice Department to trumpet its law-and-order bona fides, which makes its silence striking. Instead, prosecutors showed their asses in court, just as the authoritarian-leaning Trump presidency—which includes the Russia meddling cases, the overt embrace of white supremacy, the attacks on the press, the ultranationalism and everything else—is showing the country’s ass to the world right now.

The power structures animating U.S. life are themselves the result of long-running conspiracies, and to update Horne’s analysis, the American project is being intensely interrogated in this moment. History shows that when a state’s ability to present itself as a stable force for social order wanes, illegal conspiracies begin to sprout. That’s not what happened at the J20 protests, but it would be ahistorical to think it wouldn’t happen somewhere else—or that a journalist wouldn’t be there to cover it.

Thank you to my legal team, the tireless J20 defendant support network, my family, my partner and the Santa Fe Reporter for their support.


Timeline

Nov. 8, 2016: Donald John Trump is elected president.

Nov. 11: The Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary organization, begins to infiltrate anti-Trump protest meetings in Philadelphia, Baltimore and possibly elsewhere.

Dec. 12: Alt-right media personality Jack Posobiec emails Trump presidential adviser Roger Stone a report after spying on inauguration-protest-planning meetings.

Dec. 21: Roger Stone appears on Alex Jones’ conspiracy show InfoWars to discuss protest meetings.

Jan. 8, 2017: Operatives from the far-right organization Project Veritas make secret recordings at a D.C. inauguration-protest-planning meeting. D.C. police are also present.

Jan. 11: Oath Keepers turn over some of their recordings from inauguration protest planning meetings to D.C. police.

Jan. 14: A meeting about logistics at inauguration protests takes place in New York City. Project Veritas operative Allison Maass is present and records part of the meeting.

Before Jan. 20: Project Veritas meets with D.C. Metropolitan Police, the FBI and Secret Service before Inauguration Day to discuss protests.

January 20 (J20): About 240 people are mass-arrested during protests at Trump’s Inauguration Day in Washington D.C., and jailed for nearly 36 hours. (Right: Aaron Cantú was the 223rd person arrested in during the Inauguration Day protesters; photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen.)

Feb. 4: White nationalist Richard Spencer threatens on Twitter to dox all Inauguration Day arrestees after receiving their personal information from D.C. police.

Feb. 21: The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. indicts 214 people for felony rioting at the inauguration. The charge carries a 10-year maximum sentence.

March: Aaron Cantú is hired by the Santa Fe Reporter.

April 27: The U.S. Attorney’s Office returns a superseding indictment, which includes felony rioting, conspiracy and destruction charges, for all defendants except Cantú.

May 30: Cantú is indicted for the same felonies as the rest of the J20 defendants.

July 27: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff tells a judge all defendants are equally liable for damage that occurred at the protests.

Summer 2017: Clashes between fascists and anti-fascists grow more intense, culminating in a deadly confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12.

Aug. 22: The U.S. Department of Justice backs off its request for 1.3 million IP addresses of those who visited an anti-Trump protest website.

Nov. 15: The first six J20 defendants go to trial, including photo journalist Alexei Wood.

November-December: U.S. prosecutors use video obtained from Project Veritas and Oath Keepers as evidence at the first J20 trial.

Dec. 21: Six J20 defendants acquitted on all charges at trial.

Jan. 19, 2018: Prosecutors drop charges for 129 defendants. Charges remain against Cantú and 58 others, alleged to be part of a “core group.”

May 16: The second group of J20 defendants goes to trial, with prosecutors using near-identical arguments as the first trial.

May 31: A D.C. court sanctions prosecutors for misrepresenting the existence of more than 60 additional Project Veritas videos.

June 11: The trial for the second group of defendants ends in acquittals and mistrials.

July 6: Prosecutors drop all charges for all remaining defendants.

July 10: Alt-right media personality Mike Cernovich encourages his Twitter followers to support the Unmasking Antifa Act, which punishes wearing masks at raucous protests by up to 15 years in prison.

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

Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels used pseudonyms in the non-disclosure agreement worked out by the now-president’s seemingly suicidal lawyer Michael Cohen. They called themselves David Dennison and Peggy Peterson—but Trump still didn’t sign it, which has gotten him into a fresh pile of shit.

Stormy Daniels is already a nom-de-porn, but even people like Trump and Daniels, whose livelihoods require an extreme level of visibility, crave privacy almost as much as they demand a spotlight.

But privacy is contradictory in our half-online lives. We can post without anyone knowing who we are, but we also broadcast the details of our lives on numerous platforms and essentially carry tracking devices in our pockets. Our emails damn us, even in their absence—just ask Hillary—and our texts can be turned against us, as FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page can surely attest to, as theirs were blasted around the world. Our dumb Facebook posts and tweets follow us as we try to move into more respectable environs—see whatever Nazi-sympathizer The New York Times op-ed page hired and fired this week.

In this context, law-enforcement officers are demanding a kind of privacy not afforded ordinary citizens. This is particularly clear in a recent filing in the case against protesters and bystanders caught up in the Disrupt J20 protests against Trump’s inauguration.

After losing the first trial against six defendants late last year and dropping charges against more than 100 others—who needlessly spent months fighting against what were ultimately unsustainable charges—prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff is gearing up to try the remaining 58 defendants. She found an undercover agent who has been infiltrating “the anarchist extremist movement” to testify as an expert witness on the “black bloc” technique—wearing black clothes, covering up identifying features and moving as a “bloc.”

The government is charging numerous people who—even prosecutors admit—did not physically break any of the windows that were smashed during the inauguration, and who engaged in no other violence. But if they covered their faces or wore black clothes, they abetted the anonymity of those who did, and are therefore guilty of the crimes, the government claims.

But the government doesn’t want to reveal the name of its witness, who is allegedly an expert on these same techniques—which are intended to protect privacy. Kerkhoff moved that she be called by a pseudonym “Julie McMahon”—with a possible nod to the McMahons of professional wrestling fame, or maybe to a tabloid divorcee who allegedly pursued Bill Clinton and was named “The Energizer” by the Secret Service. However they came up with the name, the government argues that she won’t be able to continue her undercover activity if her identity is known.

“Given the repeated efforts to publicly disseminate identifying information about the prosecutor and law enforcement officers involved in this case (to include an MPD officer who acted in an undercover capacity), the government submits there is a reason to believe that the expert will be targeted in the same manner,” Kerkhoff argues.

Kerkhoff argues that when an undercover police officer testified in the first trials, people identified him. That’s not the fault of the press or the public; don’t call an undercover officer to testify if you don’t want to blow their cover. Or should they get to testify wearing black masks?

“Further, when the MPD officer stepped outside of the courthouse during his testimony, his photograph was taken and was disseminated on multiple social media accounts and in various media outlets,” the motion reads.

When he is outside of the courthouse, it is neither illegal nor illegitimate to take his photograph. Kerkhoff complains again that “as the prosecutors and lead detective left the courthouse, their photograph was taken and published in media outlets.”

So, the black bloc is bad for not wanting to be surveilled and identified—not to mention tear-gassed and hit with chemical grenades—by the state, but the agents of the state deserve anonymity, even in what used to be called “open court.”

The government also went to great lengths to prohibit the public from seeing police body-cam footage—while Det. Gregg Pemberton spent a year combing through all of the personal data on the cellphones of those who were arrested. He has personally told me that he saw me all over the videos he had scoured, and that he was looking for evidence of an illegal action. He is armed. And he is afraid of a photograph?

The department, meanwhile, denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Unicorn Riot to see his overtime slips during that period, despite allegations that he had falsely charged the city overtime while defending himself against a DUI charge in a previous case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and the MPD fought to protect the identity not only of their undercover officers, but also of the far-right slime-ball Project Veritas operative who infiltrated an alleged planning meeting.

Meanwhile, a list of the names of everyone arrested during the J20 protest was leaked to far-right site Got News from the official police computer of Metropolitan Police Department employee Rachel Schaerr, according to the metadata on the spreadsheet. The names are still on the site which calls them “LEFT-WING ANARCHISTS AND ANTIFA TERRORISTS.”

This is part of a trend in which law-enforcement officials want ever-greater access to information about individual citizens, while seeking to further shield themselves. The Maryland judiciary recently removed the names of police officers from its public database. If I were arrested and cleared of all charges, my name, address and birthdate would have remained public unless I made the effort to expunge it. But the officer who arrested me would have remained unknown to the public. The move occurred amid one of the craziest police-corruption scandals in modern history—and stoked a serious uproar that caused the court to reverse its decision and put the officers’ names back.

“It’s disgusting, and it’s dishonorable,” said David Simon, creator of The Wire, about the attempt to hide police officers’ names in Maryland. “And generations of police officers who were capable of standing by their police work, publicly standing by their use of force, their use of lethal force, and their powers of arrest—those generations are ashamed right now because this present one is pretending they are incapable of that level of responsibility.”

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

Donald Trump’s second year in office is beginning like every new Star Wars movie: The Resistance is in tatters, trying to rebuild.

Yes, there is plenty of Internet #Resistance, ranging from insane conspiracy theories to serious commentary and organizing—but this online profusion has resulted in confusion in real life.

The divide is mirrored in the Bernie/Hillary split—but it is also something deeper and something that moves further to the fringes. The divide, in many ways, mirrors the increasing divisions within the far right, where the alt-lite litigiously differentiates itself from the more openly racist alt-right.

Last year, there was the Disrupt J20 protest on Inauguration Day, which led to the prosecution of nearly 200 individuals, identified by the police and the prosecution as anarchists. The next day, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets for the women’s march.

There is little sympathy or support between these groups, with many anarchists and hardcore organizers mocking feel-good liberals who #Resist while supporting the FBI, intelligence agencies and Robert Mueller. More mainstream liberals, on the other hand, attempt to distance themselves from anyone further to the left than they are for fear of being tainted by the anarchist stench of “hippies.” As a result, these liberals have been far more concerned about Putin’s abuse of reporters than they have about the prosecution of journalists who were covering the J20 protests. Though these J20 cases have been largely ignored by the mainstream press, they have had an immeasurable effect on the state of protest—creating fear, distrust, and division on the left.

Over the last couple of weeks, some of these tensions have bubbled up, largely in online debates about a real-life rally slated for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. The “People’s March on Washington,” also called the “The Impeachment March,” has gained a lot of online support—25,000 are “interested” on Facebook, and more than 2,000 say they are going. It has also gotten a lot of pushback.

The rally was organized by a group called People Demand Action, headed up by a 24-year-old man named Lawrence Nathaniel, who is a big-thinking, marketing-minded millennial leftist who says he worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign and then, after he got over his disappointment following the primary loss, for Hillary Clinton. When Trump won, he began to think about what he could do.

Nathaniel has a long list of sometimes improbable plans and goals, including opening a free, private school in Bamberg, S.C. However, the march calling for the impeachment of the president indeed gained traction. But as interest in the march grew—and organizers began trying to raise money—so did the questions surrounding it.

I first heard questions about the march when Dave Troy, a technologist and writer in Baltimore, wrote to me. Troy is deeply concerned about Russian trolls and “active measures.” When he saw confusion surrounding the event, he initially thought it might be the result of some Kremlin campaign. But after he started to look into it, he attributed the perceived failings of the organizers to inexperience rather than malfeasance.

Nathaniel has set up a number of organizations to promote the march and his various other endeavors. People have been calling them “shell organizations” or “false fronts,” but that seems a little too harsh. The one organization that has filed official papers is called the Presidential House, and it proposes some sort of weird shadow government in Charleston, S.C., with Nathaniel as president. Troy called it “unhinged, fantastical nonsense.”

I called Nathaniel and asked for an explanation.

“When I started the Presidential House I started volunteering for the Obama campaign,” Nathaniel said. He acknowledged that the original scheme was kind of goofy, but said it came from his enthusiasm for Obama. “I was 16 or 17 and was very excited, and so I started something called the Presidential House to get out in my community.”

For Nathaniel, inexperience is part of the point of protest.

“Many of us, especially young people in the political realm, don’t really get our voices heard, because it’s mostly a ‘who has more experience’ type thing versus a protest where we’re able to organize it, either locally or nationally, and our voices can be heard much easier there than working with politics,” Nathaniel said.

However, he said he is still interested in electoral politics and local issues. “My goal was to run for United States Congress this year, but I decided not to because Annabelle Robertson, who is way more qualified than I am, decided to run (against Republican South Carolina Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson). So I decided to put my action behind her and get out and protest.”

Critics point to the “Rally at the Border,” in San Ysidro, Calif., the only other rally Nathaniel has organized. It failed amid concerns of top-down organizing that didn’t take the needs of the community into consideration, and could have put a lot of people at risk.

Once news of the failed border rally became public, people began demanding to see the permit for the march on Washington. Nathaniel says he has a permit and has met with D.C. police, Park Police, the Secret Service and the FBI.

But for local organizers in San Ysidro and D.C., working with the authorities is precisely the problem: Washington, D.C.’s police department threw more than 70 grenades and emptied hundreds of canisters of pepper spray at the Disrupt J20 protest during the inauguration. At a right-wing rally recently, Park Police claimed to be working with right-wing militias.

“In D.C., we do not like interfacing with police,” Brendan Orsinger, an organizer in D.C., told me. “We don’t like the idea of the state giving permission for us to march. And we don’t need it. … It’s actually much safer not to have police involved in the planning of the march.”

Orsinger has been vociferous in his criticism of the march. But like Troy, he doesn’t see a conspiracy: “There are good intentions here. But one of the things that I learned over the last year is that good intentions are not good enough to make change happen in this country.”

This raises the larger question: What are protests for? The prosecution of the nearly 200 people charged with rioting charges after the inauguration may have had a chilling effect, but it has also shown the effectiveness of protest—if the U.S. Attorney’s office works that hard to shut them down, then they must have some power.

So, the question becomes: How can a larger movement bring together Russiagaters like Troy, local grassroots organizers like Orsinger, and enthusiastic young people like Nathaniel? If people really want to resist and not just #Resist, they need to answer this question while embracing a diversity of tactics and figuring out how to form coalitions.

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

Dozens of defendants, each sitting with their own lawyer, fill a Washington, D.C., courtroom, looking like college students wearing their nicest clothes for a job interview.

However, the situation here is far more serious: They are all facing charges of felony rioting, conspiracy to riot and destruction of property on the morning of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when they were scooped up en masse by police with a controversial crowd-control technique which corrals protesters in a “kettle.”

This is only one of the four groups among the 215 defendants who have been indicted on nearly identical charges. Many had to travel back to the District of Columbia to be arraigned on this Friday, June 9.

One man who traveled here from Santa Fe, N.M., is sitting with his lawyer off to the side. He wears a black suit, has a black goatee and identifies himself as Tejano. He looks around the room like he is taking notes. Everyone else has already been arraigned before Judge Lynn Leibovitz. But this man, Aaron Cantú, wasn’t indicted until May 30, just a week before the hearing. He is a journalist, who has written about policing, propaganda, drugs and politics for The Intercept, Al Jazeera, The Baffler, and many other publications. Reporting from the Republican National Convention on the possibility of a Trump presidency, Cantú wrote, “dream darker.”

Like the others being charged, he’s now facing up to 70 years in prison.

As various protests spread through the city on the morning of the inauguration, one group used “black bloc” techniques—wearing all black and acting in concert to attack symbols of multinational capitalism in a semi-anonymous fashion—in an attempt to disrupt the spectacle of the event, breaking windows of businesses like Starbucks and Bank of America.

“Individuals participating in the Black Bloc broke the windows of a limousine parked on the north side of K Street NW, and assaulted the limousine driver as he stood near the vehicle,” the indictment reads, “as Aaron Cantu and others moved west on K Street NW.”

These black blocs have received widespread media attention in America since 1999, beginning with the Battle of Seattle at the World Trade Organization summit. A black bloc action is newsworthy—and yet, according to the indictment, Cantú is being charged for moving in proximity to the group he was covering.

The indictment alleges that Cantú wore black and discarded a backpack as evidence of his part in the conspiracy. Because members of a conspiracy to riot wore black, anyone wearing black, it seems, is a member of the conspiracy.

It is a crazy, complicated, sprawling case involving evidence from somewhere around 200 cell phones and various cameras. The discovery process will take months.

In Washington, D.C., criminal cases that elsewhere would be handled by the state are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office—so each prosecutor here ultimately answers to the president of the United States. Although most of the charges were first brought by an Obama appointee, this is a perfect example of what justice may look like in the Trump era. Like the travel ban, it is a grand draconian gesture followed by a lot of confusion.

During the arraignment, prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff expressed concerns about finding herself in a “Brady trick bag,” referring to the law that requires the prosecution to turn over all relevant evidence in discovery. How does she know what material on someone’s phone might be relevant to another’s case? And how does the prosecution protect the privacy of co-defendants with data that is not relevant?

“Can I just stop you?” Judge Leibovitz says to Kerkhoff as she talks about efficiency. “You brought charges against 215 people.”

The judge does not have to finish.

Leibovitz set most of the trial dates for October 2018, so that all evidence can be properly dealt with.

“It’s concerning and confusing,” says Christopher Gowen, an American University law professor and partner at his own firm who was appointed to the case. “The fact that we are already here and the amount of resources being spent to get to where we are now leads me to believe we are going to have to sit through all these trials. All this taxpayer money is going to be wasted.”

Gowen says that his client, Cabal Bhatt, was charged on the basis of wearing a bandana on his face to protect himself from police pepper spray.

As the names of each of the defendants are called—Cantú and his co-defendants all plead not guilty—I think about how I was almost arrested reporting on the same events that day. I watched as the black bloc came around the corner, flanked by police. Trash cans rolled through the street. Pepper spray came out. An officer ran at me with her stick. I held up the media credentials hanging around my neck and yelled, “Press!” She went around me. I was lucky.

At the advice of his lawyers, Cantú isn’t talking to the press. I ask Julie Ann Grimm, his editor at the Santa Fe Reporter, which hired him in April, if the charges make her more reluctant to assign him to certain stories.

“His arrest was scary. The threat of being imprisoned for the rest of your life for just doing your job and observing a protest is … I don’t even know how to finish that sentence,” she says over the phone. “I think Aaron is nervous about covering protests. I’m slightly nervous about sending him out to them. But we’re really not going to let this action by the federal government or by the prosecutors in Washington, D.C., slow him down or to put a muzzle on his voice as a journalist.”

Still, she says, he might do a couple things differently now. “He will probably try to stay very separate from the people who are a part of the news event, and he will probably wear something like a tie.”

But Grimm is quick to stress that Cantú is not the only one in this case whose rights are being violated.

“We’re all standing up for Aaron, and this affects our industry and our identity as journalists,” Grimm says. “But the larger sort of corralling, the kettling, the mass-arresting is also troubling.”

As Cantú wrote from the RNC: “Imagining the worst possible future your mind can conjure is an essential step to avoiding a world you do not want to live in. Things are bad, very bad, and we will fuck them up even worse if we can’t acknowledge how very bad they are.”

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com. Below: The black bloc in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day. Photo by Baynard Woods.

Published in National/International

FBI Director James Comey was speaking to federal agents when news of his firing flashed across the television behind him.

The regime blamed new Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and cited Comey’s treatment of the Clinton email investigation—as if daring us to pretend they are telling the truth.


More than 200 people arrested en masse on Inauguration Day are now facing decades in jail. Authorities issued search warrants and slapped others, like Dylan Petrohilos, with conspiracy charges after the fact. “Prosecuting people based on participation in a public protest,” Petrohilos said, “seems like something that would happen in an authoritarian society.”


Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything having to do with the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign after he was caught lying to the Senate about his meetings with Sergey Kislyak, a Russian ambassador widely considered to be a spy. But Sessions still wrote a letter recommending Comey’s canning. He is also involved in hiring the new FBI director, who will be expected to lead the investigation of the Trump campaign.


Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina congressman best known for heading up the endless Benghazi hearings, has been floated as a candidate for FBI chief.

If you can’t get Rudy Giuliani or Joe Arpaio, Gowdy is perfect. Not only did he direct the 11-hour grilling of the ever-hated Hillary, but when the House Intelligence Committee questioned Comey in March, Gowdy demonstrated no interest in finding out how Russia had influenced the election. He was, however, quite interested in prosecuting journalists who publish leaked materials.


The rest of the Republicans, meanwhile, have been busy stripping healthcare from people with pre-existing conditions.

When Dan Heyman, a reporter in West Virginia, repeatedly asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price if domestic violence would count as a pre-existing condition, he was arrested. He faces up to six months in jail for disrupting the work of government. Price commended the police on the arrest.


Desiree Fairooz, an activist with Code Pink, was found guilty of disorderly and disruptive conduct and parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds—for laughing when Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, said that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.”

Sessions sent a memo ordering federal prosecutors to seek the stiffest possible penalties in all of their cases, reversing an Obama-era policy that steered away from “enhanced” penalties and mandatory minimums for minor or nonviolent drug crimes.


Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired when she refused to enforce Trump’s Muslim ban. She was supposed to testify to the House Intelligence Committee about Russia back before its chair, Devin Nunes, flipped out and jumped out of an Uber at midnight to go to a mysterious White House meeting. Finally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, no fan of Trump or Russia, called her to testify before the Senate, where she said that she had warned the Trump team that then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn had been compromised by Russia—a whole 18 days before he was fired. During that time, Flynn sat in on a call with Putin.


Back in July, a week before Trump asked the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, he gave out Lindsey Graham’s phone number and told his supporters to call the senator.

Graham later recorded a video called “How to Destroy Your Cell Phone With Sen. Lindsey Graham,” where he chops, stabs, sets fire to, blends, toasts, bats and drops bricks on his phone.

But now it seems like the punch line is the fact Graham was using a Samsung flip phone—maybe digital illiteracy saved him from being hacked.


While dismissing concerns about Russia, Trump created a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” to investigate virtually non-existent voter fraud, putting the presidential seal on his false claims that illegal voters cost him the popular vote.

Again, he dares us to believe him.


Shortly after Comey’s firing, the initial story of Rosenstein’s concern over the treatment of Clinton started to fall apart, and it soon became clear Trump himself had initiated the action. But Trump’s story about the decision continues to change. Now Comey is a “showboat,” says the preening reality star.

When you lie constantly, it is no longer a problem to be caught in a lie. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???” Trump tweeted when the press asked about the contradictory stories.


The day after Comey got canned, Trump met with Sergey Kislyak, the same ambassador both Flynn and Sessions lied about meeting with.

The U.S. press was kept out of the meeting, but Russian state media covered it and sent out pictures of Trump and Kislyak shaking hands—with big, arrogant smiles, on the faces of men who could have been celebrating something.

Later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer hid from reporters in the dark, between two bushes.


Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, another cabinet member with long-term business ties to Russia, also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov—at Putin’s request.

When a reporter asked about the firing of Comey, Lavrov laughed.

“Was he fired? You’re kidding,” Lavrov said sarcastically as Tillerson stood by. Then the two men left the room without answering any further questions.

Later, a reporter asked Putin about Comey. He was wearing a hockey uniform in a tunnel that created an icon-like halo around his head on the television screen.

Putin, too, said the question was funny.

“President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence and in accordance with his law and Constitution,” Putin said. “You see, I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans. And I invite you to do the same.”

The team was made up of world-class athletes. Putin scored six goals.


Later, the administration claimed Russia tricked them into the state-media photo op. Donald Trump recently called himself a “nationalist and a globalist.” Since contradiction doesn’t seem to bother him, perhaps he is also a weak strongman.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in Politics

On this week's liberal-elite-media weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson looks at how President Trump's cabinet picks are sticking it to the elites; The K Chronicles pays tribute to the participants in the women's marches; This Modern World examines our new political reality; and Red Meat learns about God's arsenal.

Published in Comics

I’d like to share some of my reactions to the inauguration—rough notes I took while watching wall-to-wall coverage from Thursday through Sunday.

Think of it as a sacrifice made on your behalf.

TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

I’m a sucker for tradition and ceremonial continuity. Even parades make me cry. So when President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Pence visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to place a wreath on Thursday, my first tears of the weekend began to flow.

When representatives of the armed services marched out—holding the flags of their service, along with the American flag—and then executed the perfect turn and dipped the service flags just the right amount to highlight the national flag for the playing of the national anthem, I was moved. The solemnity of the event and the significance of what that location represents cannot be minimized.

INAUGURAL CONCERT

I didn’t cry at all watching this event. In fact, I must admit I occasionally laughed. Aside from the fact that the Trump inaugural committee had trouble booking any major talent … did you notice that whenever Donald Trump puts his hand over his heart during the playing of the anthem, he occasionally pats his chest, apparently attempting to keep the beat with the music? What made me laugh was the realization that the president has no rhythm at all. And who pats their heart during the playing of the national anthem?

THE INAUGURATION

Again, this is a solemn rite of passage in our democratic history—opposing members of Congress greeting each other; four past presidents attending to acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power; and a crowd of well-wishers (along with some protests that included burning trash cans—I’m still not sure what the political significance of that is).

The lasting impressions for me are the appearance and demeanor of our new first lady, and the poise and grit of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Both women did themselves, and us, proud.

The inauguration speech was unfortunate, painting a picture of a dystopian America and playing directly to the president’s election base—with little regard to the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

There was one fantastic statement made by President Trump—if only it had been indicative of the overall tone, which, alas, it was not: “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

He should have stopped there.

At lunch after he was sworn in, President Trump made a gracious statement acknowledging the Clintons for attending, and saying how much he respected them. This is the same man who only a couple of weeks ago said that Secretary Clinton was “guilty as hell” and should not have even been allowed to run for president.

I guess it’s easier to trash people when they’re not right in front of you.

THE INAUGURATION BALLS

Let’s start with how truly stunning Melania Trump looked, and give her credit for having the good sense, at the third ball—honoring the Armed Services—to thank the veterans for their service and to say how proud she is to be their first lady. If only President Trump had shown that much grace—all he talked about was his crowd numbers and the assumption that those attending the ball had voted for him. His absolute favorite word is “me.”

Let’s also give a nod to Ivanka Trump, whose ball gown, hair style and demeanor was exquisite. However, watch for criticism of the way she attempts to identify with average women and their policy issues when she has never faced any of the same situations. Time will tell what influence she may be able to have on her father, but it’s somewhat telling that it’s her husband who got hired for an important job, not her.

The most glaring reality of the balls was that men can’t dance—regardless of age. Neither Trump nor Pence have any sense of rhythm, and they come from a generation when ballroom dancing was actually taught in school. The younger men in both families are hopeless, too. It did make me miss President Obama—remember his first dance with Michelle?

Also, have you noticed that Donald Trump seems to have no sense of intimacy toward his wife? She often reaches for his hand, but he almost never reaches for hers. While “dancing” with her on inauguration night, Trump could barely keep his attention on her, constantly waving to others in the crowd or doing his signature “thumbs up” gesture. Even during the playing of a romantic song, he wasn’t into her—he was into the adoring crowd. He’s the guy you meet who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more important in the room. There was maybe one moment of affection, and it came from her toward him.

The catty side of me thought: I don’t care how much money or power he has … can you imagine sleeping with that man? Petty, I know, but I’m just sayin’ …

THE DAY AFTER

At the prayer service the morning after the inauguration, the president seemed to have trouble staying awake and engaged. During a prayer, he was looking around the crowd in the church, occasionally with his signature “thumbs up.” He can’t sit still or stay focused for very long. His grandchildren were better-behaved.

Then there was the visit to the hallowed wall honoring lives lost at the CIA—Trump’s first official stop, to assure the intelligence community of his support. He began by saying how much he respects them, then spent two-thirds of his time defending the inauguration attendance, bragging about having the most appearances on Time’s cover (which is not true, by the way), and blaming the media for inventing a rift between him and the intelligence community after he had compared them to Nazis.  

WOMEN’S MARCH

What can one say when millions of women, children and men take to the streets in solidarity across the world?

“What are they marching for?” asked some. As someone who has marched in the past, against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and women’s rights, here’s what: They marched to show that women’s rights cannot and must not be rolled back, and to show their lack of confidence in a president who has publicly disrespected women and the real-life issues that are important to them.

Whatever the differences in individual issues among the marchers, they all stood up for equality without exception.

Marches took place in more than 600 cities across the country, with total estimates now topping 3 million marchers throughout the U.S. More than 1,500 women marched in Palm Desert, and locals Carlynne McDonnell, of Strong Women Advocacy Group; Dori Smith, of Moms Demand Action; Amalia deAztlan, of Democratic Women of the Desert; and Palm Springs resident Eileen Stern made a trip to Los Angeles or D.C., along with many others.

Women and their supporters also showed up by the tens of thousands around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to Rome, London, Austria, Mexico City, Paris, Barcelona and even Kosovo—concerned about not only women’s rights, but also international security, which they believe is threatened under a Trump presidency. Watching this amazing outpouring of support worldwide once again brought tears.

I thought the best sign at the marches was: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I loved the guy from Long Beach who said, “I’m marching for my 91-year-old mother and my 30-year-old daughter, who both taught me how to be a man.”

Meanwhile, amidst this historic outpouring of solidarity and concern, the new president could only talk about how big his crowd was and how he was being disrespected by “the media” in their mostly accurate reporting.

By the way, in case you didn’t understand the pink-knitted caps with pussycat ears, I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself.

If you are blasé about the changing of the guard, or disgusted with everything political, I want to remind you that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will study the current period in their history classes. We’ve seen the election of the first private-sector president—with absolutely no political experience and no apparent interest in history or traditions or self-restraint. There is much to make fun of in this unfolding reality show; in truth, when you’re worried or afraid or angry, humor can help.

It’s important to remember we’re living in unfolding history. That’s worth paying attention to, regardless of who gets the biggest crowds or who gives the better speech or whether you believe the political process works to your advantage.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but the bottom line for me is that the peaceful transfer of power transcends all else. It endures as the epitome of what we stand for as a nation.

And that makes me cry.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors