CVIndependent

Mon02242020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

In light of the recent uproar over Donald Trump’s blast at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—about “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” after she asked him a question he didn’t like—I want to announce that I am not only the Lovable Liberal; I am also the Goddess of Political Correctness.

My history includes Russian and Polish ancestors. I have exes who are Irish, Mexican-Indian (Mestizo), British, African American and Canadian. I was born Jewish; chose Unitarian, Baha’i and Buddhist; and married a lapsed Catholic. I’m a pro-choice feminist with a gay son and a lesbian cousin, was born in New Jersey, and was raised in California. I lived in the South. And, yes, I am blonde.

There is almost no group you can insult where I won’t take offense. I am hypersensitive to jokes, comments, observations or judgments based on anyone’s color, religion, nationality, region, accent, sexual orientation, gender, physical disability, appearance or size.

Yes, I can laugh at genuinely funny jokes if they’re told by someone who speaks from an insider’s experience: Italian family stories told by Italians, Jewish jokes from Jewish comedians, stereotypes about low-riders told by those who have driven them, gay dating disasters when told by gays, insider observations on women by women—if the jokes are funny, I’ll laugh.

By contrast, jokes that denigrate others based on stereotypes and that come from an assumption of superiority … not funny.

Political correctness is very much in the news as Trump, accused of misogynistic statements, responded with, “I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness.” Trump claims his comments about Kelly don’t require an apology, because the audience laughed and applauded when he inserted a joke saying that Rosie O’Donnell was “a fat pig” while Kelly questioned his other comments about women. Kelly was asking whether he felt his previous statements reflected “the temperament of a man we should elect as president”—a serious question, by the way.

Trump said he couldn’t recall specifics of insulting women—although he published disparaging comments about his ex-wives and others in his books, specifically about their roles as women. I don’t think he considers those comments insulting, merely descriptive. When he was subsequently disinvited to a conservative forum because of his remarks about Kelly, he said, “This is just another example of weakness through being politically correct.”

That use of the term “politically correct” is merely a shield. While it’s bad enough that a “politically correct” comment may be offensive to those being disparaged, it also reflects badly on the person saying it. It’s like my non-Jewish friend who emails jokes about Jews that are really offensive, and then says, “A Jewish guy sent it to me,” as if that makes it OK that he’s sending it on to others. It’s not unlike Trump’s re-tweeting of comments describing Kelly as a whore and worse, and then being unwilling to take any personal responsibility for the sentiments.

So what exactly is “political correctness? Merriam-Webster defines it as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.” Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The Free Dictionary says it is “conforming to a particular sociopolitical ideology or point of view, especially to a liberal point of view concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” Does that mean promoting tolerance and avoiding offense is somehow confined to liberals? I hope not.

People who align with the political right often say political correctness is intended to stifle free thought. In other words, people shouldn’t have to self-censor before saying things that demean or insult others. Really?

When did “political correctness” even become an issue and part of our politics? It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when conservative author Dinesh D’Souza used the term to condemn efforts to promote multiculturalism in society, through policy efforts such as affirmative action, designations of hate speech, and a focus in school curricula on all aspects of American history and culture (i.e., black history and women’s studies).

In 1991, at a commencement ceremony for a graduating class of the University of Michigan, then-President George H.W. Bush spoke out against what he called “a movement (that would) declare certain topics ‘off-limits,’ certain expressions ‘off-limits,’ even certain gestures ‘off-limits.’” So I guess it was just political correctness when the Germans outlawed all public references to Nazism or displays of Nazi symbols.

Those on the right quickly adopted the term to criticize any individual reactions or public policies that they felt attempted to limit language or actions that might offend or disadvantage any group of people. Liberals responded by claiming conservatives were merely attempting to divert public attention from issues of discrimination and the need to respond with public policy. Both are right.

The best weapon we have for combating discrimination and moving toward an equal, inclusive, and tolerant civil society—the hallmark of what America stands for, if it stands for anything—is through the one weapon that has always worked to hold people accountable for their prejudices: social disapproval.

So does political correctness mean you can’t say what you think? Frankly, I hope not. I want to know how ignorant you are, and how insecure you are that you’re willing to diminish others to make yourself feel superior, and how unevolved you are in matters of race or religion or acceptance of others.

Donald Trump’s behavior reflects a boorish disregard for the reactions of others, a compulsion to take everything personally, and a willingness to appeal to “spit-in-their-eye” malcontents who don’t care about issues, but only want to feel less disempowered. In the words of Palm Springs radio host Chad Benson, “Trump says things that people think, and they don’t want to feel bad about it.”

Every woman ought to know that Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly were implicitly “on the rag” in nature. Many other instances of his denigration of women are well-documented in his writings, tweets and public statements. Look it up!

This is not about political correctness; it’s about small-mindedness and the reality that no one can say out loud what they don’t already think. You can’t possibly use the “N” word to describe someone if that word, and its traditional meaning, isn’t already in your head. You can’t put down women if you don’t already think of them as a lesser category of human beings in your head; saying “I love women” doesn’t change that. You can’t stereotype behaviors as “gay” if you’re not afraid of being associated with such behaviors yourself.

As the Goddess of Political Correctness, I want you to get conscious about the characterizations and assumptions you actually hold about others whom you see as unlike yourself. When someone reacts negatively to something you think you said innocently, instead of getting defensive, why not ask them why they are offended and learn something? You can't self-censor until you're aware of what ought to be censored and why.

Finally, with regard to that “on the rag” nonsense—rather than being insulted, just remember what feminist icon Gloria Steinem said: “Why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”

The best defense is a legitimate offense—especially if it’s not only funny, but true!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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