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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's Dodger-blue weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles breaks down GOP fear tactics; This Modern World brings us the latest case from Donald Trump, detective-in-chief; Jen Sorenson sighs at history repeating; Apoca Clips reveals where Li'l Trumpy is getting some of his recent ideas; and Red Meat wants to leave work early.

Published in Comics

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

Emilio Gutierrez Soto had to flee Mexico a decade ago to seek asylum in the United States—because people there took his journalism too seriously.

He may get sent back because an American judge does not take it seriously enough.

In 2005, on page 10 of El Diario, a Juarez daily, Gutierrez published a story with the headline: “Military personnel rob hotel in Palomas.”

“Six members of the Army, and one civilian who have been positively identified, robbed the guests at a motel in this town on Friday night, taking from them their money, jewelry and other personal belongings,” the story read, according to the translation of Molly Molloy. “The robbers then fled, but not before threatening their victims with death. Yesterday, the victims gave up their right to file formal complaints about the events to denounce the crimes against them, facing the possibility that the threats they had received would be carried out.”

Gutierrez later told Charles Bowden, a great chronicler of the border, that army officials were angry about his story and summoned him to a hotel in the center of the town of Ascension, near Chihuahua Ciudad. He was told: “If you don’t come, we’ll come looking for you at home or wherever you are.”

When he got to the hotel, he was surrounded by soldiers. “You have no sources for that information,” the general said. He asked Gutierrez why he didn’t ever write about the narcotraficantes. Gutierrez confessed that he was frightened of them.

“You should fear us, for we fuck the fucking drug traffickers, you son of a whore. I feel like putting you in the van and taking you to the mountains so you can see how we fuck over the drug traffickers, asshole,” a general said. 

“You’ve written idiocies three times, and there shall be no fourth. You’d better not mention this meeting, or you’ll be sent to hell, asshole,” another officer said in a final sendoff.

Gutierrez knew they were serious.

In April 2007, he shared a byline with a reporter named Armando Rodriguez. The story was about a third reporter, Saul Noe Martinez Ortega, who “was found wrapped in a blanket and appeared to have been dead for several days, possibly after his kidnapping that took place last Monday, April 16, in the city of Agua Prieta, Sonora.”

The penultimate line is a gut punch: “It appears that an agent of the Municipal Police was present at the abduction of the journalist, but he did nothing to hinder the kidnappers.”

Molloy added a brutal translator’s note about Gutierrez’s co-writer: “Armando Rodriguez was a well-known crime reporter for El Diario de Juárez. He was shot to death at point-blank range on his way to work in Ciudad Juarez on Nov. 13, 2008.”

Rodriguez had been threatened, but ignored the threats.

“I can't live in my house like a prisoner,” he told the Committee to Protect Journalists. “I refuse to live in fear." Then he was gunned down in his driveway, with his 8-year-old daughter in the back seat.

Gutierrez had left for the United States in June 2008, a few months before the murder of Rodriguez.

Molloy, a border and Latin America specialist at the New Mexico State University Library, hit on the insane logic of the infernal machine that governs the asylum process.

“He received a death threat and he fled rather than waiting around,” Molloy said when I called her up to talk about Gutierrez. “Emilio is seen as in less danger because he is still alive. If you take a threat seriously and flee for your life and seek asylum, people aren’t going to believe your story because you’re not tortured and you’re not dead.”

Gutierrez and his son were separated and held in custody for seven months. Shortly after Obama took office, they were freed. Although Obama was often called the Deporter-in-Chief by immigration activists, Gutierrez attributed his release to the American president.

When he was finally released, Gutierrez and his son went to live in Las Cruces, N.M., in the house of some friends. Bowden had also recently moved to Las Cruces to live with Molloy. Bowden published Gutierrez’s story in Mother Jones, while Gutierrez had a hard time adjusting to life in the U.S.

“He was sort of at a loss for what he was going to do,” Molloy said. “He wanted to write newspaper stories, but he really couldn’t, because he’s living in the U.S. and couldn’t write in English.”

Like so many immigrants, he had to piece together a living, working in landscaping and food service as his request for asylum dragged on. The request was finally denied last December, and Gutierrez and his son Oscar were locked up once again.

Among the reasons that Judge Robert S. Hough gave for denying his request for asylum was a claim that Gutierrez wasn’t really a journalist.

“He didn’t really believe that Emilio was a journalist, because he didn’t produce many articles he had written,” Molloy said, noting that Gutierrez’s house had been ransacked before he left—and that Mexican papers weren’t as fastidious as, say, The New York Times at keeping clips. Nevertheless, she compiled well more than 100 stories bearing his byline—and translated a few of them.

Still, Gutierrez and his son were put in a van and driven toward the border—and what he thinks would be certain death. A last-minute stay halted the van and bought Gutierrez a little more time and another shot at asylum. The Association of Alternative Newsmedia (of which the Independent is a member), the National Press Club and other journalistic organizations have come out in support of Gutierrez.

But the Trump administration’s deep hostility to those seeking asylum from Mexico, along with his hatred of the press, does not bode well for him.

Charles Bowden often wrote that Juarez was the city of the future. Trump’s attacks on the press sound an awful lot like the Mexican general who threatened Gutierrez a decade ago. Trump hasn’t started to actually kill journalists—but sending Gutierrez back to Mexico would be a start.

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