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On this week's unseasonably humid weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson examines the word "treason"; The K Chronicles envies another couple; This Modern World ponders the Trump-Russia story; Apoca Clips finds parallels between the Trumps and another famous TV family; and Red Meat gears up for a haircut.

Published in Comics

Hundreds of people were lined up in the marble hallways of a Senate office building, hoping to get one of the 88 public seats in Room 216, where James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired over the Russia investigation, was scheduled to testify at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 8.

That was at 8:30 a.m. More came. Some of the people waiting in the winding line said they’d arrived at 4 a.m. Bars were opening early, and for once, it seemed like reporters and senators were the only people in Washington, D.C., not day-drinking.

Yes, this was serious shit.

Comey said that Trump asked him for loyalty. It freaked the then-director out—because if the FBI is not independent of political factions, it becomes a secret police force abetting tyranny or totalitarian control.

At one point, Comey tried to explain why he had assured Trump that he wasn’t personally under an investigation on several occasions.

Comey also said he told the president about salacious material—the Russian sex workers pissing on the bed the Obamas slept in, I guess—in a dossier gathered by a former intelligence official and later published by BuzzFeed; he didn’t want Trump to think the FBI would use the material against him.

“I was worried very much of being in kind of a—kind of a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation,” Comey said, referring to the legendary director—you might say dictator—of the FBI for half a century.

It was remarkable to hear Comey talk this way about the man more associated with the bureau than anyone else—but he had good reason: It helps us contextualize what is happening now, because things were even more fucked-up a century ago. That should make us feel a little better.

Hoover—a powerful, paranoid and proud eccentric—crafted the modern FBI. He started working for the Department of Justice in 1917. The country had finally entered World War I in April of that year. Two years earlier, in 1915, as the war in Europe escalated, Germany feared U.S. involvement and began a propaganda campaign (or “active measures,” as we’re calling it). As Tim Weiner writes in his book Enemies: A History of the FBI, a German official “began to build a propaganda machine in the United States; the Germans secretly gained control of a major New York newspaper, the Evening Mail; their front men negotiated to buy The Washington Post and the New York Sun. Political fixers, corrupt Germans and crooked detectives served the German cause.”

The U.S. eventually entered the war, and the government—especially the bureau, which worked under the Department of Justice—began to arrest and surveil German immigrants.

“The bureau launched its first nationwide domestic surveillance programs under the Espionage Act of 1917, rounding up radicals, wiretapping conversations, and opening mail,” Weiner writes, noting that more than 1,000 people were convicted under the act.

In 1920, a few years later, Hoover orchestrated the “biggest mass arrest in U.S. history,” according to Weiner’s research in unclassified documents, when the bureau “broke into political meetings, private homes, social clubs, dance halls and saloons across America,” arresting more than 6,000 people, for many of whom there were no warrants.

Back in the modern day, 200 people, including a reporter, were charged with felony rioting after protests on inauguration day; the reporter was arraigned the day after Comey’s testimony. Reality Winner, the federal contractor who leaked secrets about Russian attempts to hack voting machines in 2016, was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act a couple of days earlier.

It’s still hard to imagine the scope of those 1920 raids. It shouldn’t be.

Hoover later distanced himself from the raids and denied involvement. But rather than backing off as outrage grew over the violations of civil liberties, Hoover started to collect secret files on his political enemies. That’s what Comey was referring to when he referred to a Hoover-type situation.

David Grann’s stunning new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, shows how valuable a centralized investigative force can be in its detailing of the early FBI’s role in solving at least some of the murders of the indigenous Osage people in Oklahoma in the early 20th century, committed as a means to steal their money. The entire white power structure—from businesspeople to police to doctors—were in on the conspiracy to kill the Osage. But the FBI was outside of that local structure and was able to solve and prosecute some of the crimes as a result.

But much of the bureau’s history is shameful, reactionary and racist, as in COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program, which targeted civil rights and peace activists in the 1960s. In a 2015 talk, Comey said he kept Hoover’s application for a warrant to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr., which cited “Communist influence in the racial situation,” on his desk. He said he required agents to study the Bureau’s MLK files and other instances of injustice, “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.”

The idea of remembering our mistakes and learning from them is about as far as you can get from the whitewashed view of history implicit in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Trump doesn’t seem like a person who is capable of admitting, much less learning from, a mistake, so the Senate needs to be particularly vigilant in their confirmation of Christopher Wray, Chris Christie’s Bridgegate lawyer, whose appointment as Comey’s replacement was announced over Twitter the day before Comey testified.

Things may seem bad now, but the bureau’s previous political persecution of the left, immigrants and minorities should remind us that they can always get worse.

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 National/International

Not far from the White House, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Yayoi Kusama’s blockbuster retrospective show Infinity Mirrors has been attracting insanely large crowds of people who stand in line, eager for the 20-second stretches of disorientation inside Kusama’s infinity rooms.

The rooms use facing mirrors, hanging lights and polka dots to create vistas of infinite regress. As art, it is perhaps underwhelming—an empty spectacle with no real depth. But as I stood in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” I snapped a picture and realized it was far more compelling on my screen than in life—perfect art for the age of the selfie.

On my phone, I saw myself in a Blade Runner-like world of “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” as the lights created towering psychedelic spires surrounded by replicants of myself. It was impossible to tell which one was real—because none of them were. They were all reflections on the screen.

I felt a similar sense of vertigo a few days earlier at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding Russian active measures—or propaganda—intended to use the refracting mirrors of the Internet to disrupt our election.

“What’s hard to distinguish sometimes is: Did the Russians put it out first, or did Trump say it and the Russians amplify it?” said Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, to reporters after his testimony on Trump’s embrace of propaganda conspiracies. “He actually repeats propaganda put out by RT or Russian sources and, vice versa, they parrot him.”

Reflections reflecting reflections again and again so that nothing is true.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Russia’s propaganda strategy was designed and perfected by Vladislav Surkov, who brought postmodern theory to the Kremlin, creating and managing Russian political reality like performance art. When he was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which he largely orchestrated, he said he didn’t mind. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

In Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, he writes that “Surkov’s genius has been … to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.”

Pomerantsev says that Surkov turned Russian politics into a reality show.

Then, as if in a new kind of arms race, we elected a real reality-show star as president.


I wrote that just before I heard that Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase after pictures of gassed children in that country changed the president’s mind about intervention. He explained the strike to the nation in a statement recorded at his country club.

Our country is making one of the most serious decisions possible, and yet, locked in our mirror rooms of constant conspiracy, we have no way to know what is actually happening. We don’t know whether Trump is trying to show that he is independent of the Kremlin, or whether this is another one of Putin’s ploys as he manipulates Trump. Trump himself has told us not to trust the intelligence community, and no one has any reason to trust Trump.

In “Without Sky,” a pseudonymous short story generally attributed to Surkov and set after the “fifth world war,” he describes the “the first non-linear war,” a war “of all against all.”

“A few provinces would join one side,” he writes. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”

This sounds precisely like the situation we are getting into—Assad, ISIS, Russia, American-backed rebels, Iran, and now Trump’s Tomahawks. All sides shifting. Regardless of the aims of this attack, the spectacle and confusion are good for Trump and Putin. And bad for the Syrian people who will continue to die. Those who escape will be denied entry into the U.S. as refugees.

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” NBC’s noted fabulist Brian Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

Surkov couldn’t have scripted it better. It is so disorienting, but it all feels somehow familiar.

I was 18 the night we went into the Gulf War in 1991. Those missile launches were prompted in part by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which collaborated with one of the chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to present fabricated testimony to the caucus about atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. But we were all mesmerized by the night-vision green missiles flying through doors.

In 2003, we went back to Iraq on the basis of another massive PR campaign.

Perhaps the best way now to know if something is propaganda is when they say it is not. Marco Rubio—who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the way—went on CNN to praise Trump and call the attack “an important decisive step ... not a message.”

But a step toward what? Do we want to take out Assad? At this moment, nobody knows. But people are lining up behind Trump. He will realize war, the ultimate image enhancer, is good for him.

“Trump became president of the United States (last night),” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said the next morning.

It’s like we’re all trapped in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, waiting for the missile to burst through the door. But we don’t know where the door is. We have lost all orientation.

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 National/International

On this week's potentially filibustered weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World takes a peek inside Donald Trump's diary; Jen Sorenson replaces "government" with "democracy"; The K Chronicles celebrates a life landmark; and Red Meat offers comfort to the children.

Published in Comics

On this week's nearer-to-the-end-times weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World asks some lingering political questions; Jen Sorenson looks at some oddly familiar soundbites; The K Chronicles celebrates Kwanzaa; and Red Meat invents a new cologne.

Published in Comics