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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Francois LeFranc, 45, lingers over breakfast in the dining room of the NAV Centre, an Ontario hotel and conference center on the banks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, he displays only one sign that he had been detained by the Canadian immigration authorities five days earlier: a plastic, hospital-style turquoise bracelet he wears with his I.D. number on it.

He slipped across the border in upstate New York and into Quebec with his wife and four kids, leaving his oldest daughter, 20, behind.

Although it has not gotten as much attention as the repeal of DACA, the promised repeal of another protection to immigrants—the temporary protected status offered by Barack Obama to Haitian immigrants following the 2010 earthquake—has led LeFranc and more than 5,000 others to seek asylum in Canada since Aug.1.

More than 50,000 Haitian immigrants qualified to live legally in the U.S. after the earthquake, which killed more than 220,000, injured more than 300,000, displaced 1.5 million, and damaged 4,992 schools—23 percent of the total, according to the Haitian government.

It took LeFranc until 2012 to finally reach the U.S. “We are looking for a better life,” he says. “I was looking for a better education for my children.”

Now, fearful of being deported back to Haiti, he is one of 294 Haitian immigrants wandering the halls and grounds of this conference center in the sleepy city of Cornwall, population 50,000. He is part of a mass exodus of Haitian asylum-seekers, fleeing the U.S. on the heels of a letter that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent to the approximately 58,000 Haitian refugees resettled in the U.S. since the 2010 earthquake. The letter informs them that their TPS will likely be revoked in January, and warns them to arrange their departure from the U.S. It seems the Trump administration has declared Haiti’s earthquake recovery complete; its refugees must go back.

The announcement was made the same day the U.S. government updated its travel warning for those considering a trip to Haiti. “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Haiti due to its current security environment and lack of adequate medical facilities and response,” the State Department website warns. It goes on to state that “medical care infrastructure, ambulances, and other emergency services are limited throughout Haiti.”

The Miami Herald reports that panic raced through Florida’s large Haitian community when they learned they would be sent back to their still-troubled homeland—and many of them have turned to Canada for help. The migrants are pouring over the border near the small Quebec town of Hemmingford and then turning themselves in for arrest by Canadian border officials, who bring them to a series of temporary holding centers as they begin processing the paperwork, with the Haitians pleading their asylum cases.

The French-speaking Haitians are attracted to Quebec, which also has a sizeable Haitian community—but with immigration processing centers there bursting at the seams, the federal government moved this group of nearly 300 to the neighboring province of Ontario over the course of two days in Augus. Within a week, they had a tent city prepared to accommodate 800 refugees here.

It’s a curious scene.

On one section of the conference center’s vast green lawn, musicians are making their way to a massive white event tent where hundreds of locals will soon pour in for the annual MusicFest, “The Barley and Hops Tour,” with $40 tickets at the door.

Within sight of concert-goers are 50 black Army tents, erected by the Royal Canadian Dragoons (soldiers) in the last 24 hours to house the anticipated influx of 500 more Haitian migrants, according to Lt. Karyn Mazurek, an Army public affairs officer.

A heavy metal band warm-up is punctuated by the sounds of rapid-fire nail guns as five carpenters build tent platforms for the migrants in a garage bay nestled between the refugees’ tent city and the music tent. Inside the upscale NAV Centre (overnight golf packages run $170), patrons get wedding-planning tours; a Christian group coalesces in the lobby; soldiers in fatigues stride the halls; and migrants use the glass-encased miniature model of the hotel to both get their geographical bearings and pepper an official with questions about the worn documents they pull from purses and pockets to press on the glass for inspection. Soldiers share a smoke with a few refugees near an exit; one migrant asks directions to the local pharmacy. The asylum seekers are free to roam.

It’s a far cry from U.S. detention centers.

Still, the efficiency and kindness Canadians are displaying should not be misconstrued as welcoming the asylum seekers with open arms. Over dinner tables, at border crossings, and in the press, Canadians are having many of the same debates over immigration that Americans have been having.

Back in January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. by tweeting, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcomeToCanada.”

But by Aug. 5, with Montreal’s Olympic Stadium temporarily housing hundreds of the arriving Haitians, Trudeau cautioned, "We remain an open and compassionate country, but part of remaining that way is reassuring Canadians that we are processing properly all of these new arrivals," he said. At the same time, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, in an interview with the CBC, warned against what Canadians politely refer to as “irregular” border crossings.

Back in the NAV Center’s Propeller Dining Room, LeFranc finishes his breakfast. Since arriving in the U.S., he says, he has worked construction jobs to support his family. His kids have spent their formative years in America, with his oldest daughter attending college until recently, when her immigration status rendered her unable to qualify for student loans.

“I am waiting to see if I can find a way for the children to go to school and to find work to help my family. The children does not know nothing about Haiti,” he says.

He doesn’t know how things will turn out for his family in Canada. “I’m just taking a chance,” he says.

“We live a life of struggle,” he says with a shrug. “If your eyes are open, you will see struggle all around you. That’s the way life is.”

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. 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

Two middle-aged men, one black and one white, were walking up a street in downtown Charlottesville, Va., yelling at each other. It was a moment of relative normalcy in a day otherwise defined by mayhem.

Both men use the phrase “born and bred” to define their relationship to the smallish Southern college town, nestled in the hills in the politically contested state of Virginia.

The white man, Ed Knight, was wearing a Confederate flag bandana around his head.

“You, with that stupid Confederate flag, talking about history,” the black man, George Steppe, said. “You don’t know nothing about no history. Only thing you know is hate.”

“This is our history, and it should not be destroyed,” Knight said about the statue of Robert E. Lee in the park—which the Charlottesville City Council has voted to remove—where an alt-right Unite the Right rally had been scheduled.

Knight supported the rally that brought hundreds of armed racists and fascists to his home city on Saturday, Aug. 12. It also brought hundreds of anti-fascists—some of them armed with sticks and shields as well—pledging to defend the city from right-wing terror. Now, after hours of bloody battle during which they remained largely passive, riot police were breaking things up, pushing Steppe back, inching forward behind their shields. Knight walked alongside with a sign: “Make C-Ville Great Again.”

The chaos started the night before, as the Nazis and other racists gathered for the 21st-century version of a Klan rally—a Klanclave of khaki and tiki torches. At one point, a group of white supremacists surrounded a group of counter-protesters, throwing punches and torches.

Within minutes of arriving in town on Saturday morning, we saw the first of many fights. White supremacists had helmets—some German, World War II-era—as well as white polos, sticks, an assortment of flags and homemade shields marked with the insignia of the racist group Vanguard America. They chanted at a smaller crowd of counter-protesters.

“You can’t run; you can’t hide; you get helicopter rides,” they said, a reference to far-right governments in Argentina and Chile in the ’70s and ’80s that threw leftists from helicopters to “disappear” them.

The racists began to march forward, and the anti-racists tried to block them. After a swirl of violence and swinging sticks, three of the counter-protesters were left with bloody faces—the racists seemed to target women’s faces with their sticks—and the racists, who also took some heavy blows, ran away as the cops rolled in and began setting up a barricade.

Over the next several hours, this same pattern continued to play out: Another fight broke out every few minutes as a new faction of the right marched in its crazed armor toward the park.

The park was filled with every variety of racist you can imagine, from the Nazi biker to the fashy computer programmer. They were almost exclusively white and male. The anti-fascist activists who packed the streets were predominantly white as well, but there were far more women and people of color opposing the Nazis. The two opposing armies seemed to be of roughly equal size. The fights were swift, chaotic and brutal.

The two sides launched bottles and tear-gas canisters back and forth as state troopers stood and watched, slack-jawed. At one point, as a few bottles whizzed by him in quick succession, a trooper perked up enough to pull out his phone and record some of the mayhem.

When the police declared the assembly illegal before it even began and told everyone to leave, it forced these groups together. Right-wing militia types wielding assault rifles and wearing “Make America Great Again” patches on paramilitary uniforms roamed through the crowd. Guys with pistols seemed to keep their hands on them, ready to draw at any moment. It felt like something horrible would happen.

Then, as the various groups became separated, it seemed like the rumble was largely over.

“I’m glad no serious gunshots rang out. I was threatened with a gun, though. Police wasn’t around when a guy pulled up his gun up on me,” Steppe said, around 12:30 p.m.

Steppe and Knight both seemed to think that it was the end of the day. The racists, who had not been able to hold their rally, were trying to regroup at another park a little farther from downtown. Eventually, as a state of emergency was declared, most of them decided to leave. Some of them even suggested hiding in the woods.

Antifa—an anti-fascist group—burned right-wing flags in a park and then marched through the city; two groups converged on Water Street around 1:35 p.m. It felt triumphant. They had driven the racists out of town—at least those who were from out of town.

The feeling would not last. About five minutes later, it sounded like a bomb exploded as a muscle car—which police say was driven by alt-right member James Alex Fields—sped down the street and plowed through the march and into other cars. Fields then threw the weaponized car into reverse, fleeing from the scene of terror.

Bodies were strewn through the road. Street medics, marked by red tape, delivered first aid while waiting on ambulances to arrive. Activists held Antifa banners to block camera views of the injured.

The other alt-righters were nowhere to be found.

The same day, Trump meandered through a speech in New Jersey in which he condemned violence on "many sides." He did not use the words “white supremacy” or “terrorism.” He did not say the name of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in the terror attack. He did not offer support to the 19 others who were hospitalized or prayers for those who were still in critical condition.

Fields, who was photographed earlier in the day with the same Vanguard America shield we saw when we first arrived in town, was later arrested and charged with murder.

I won’t to pretend to know what this all means for our country. The racism is not new. The argument Steppe and Knight were having in their hometown could have happened any time within the last 50 years. But the way the battle over white supremacy was being waged around them was new. Charlottesville was not ready for it. None of us are.

When that gray car slammed into those people, it shattered a part of America, or at least the illusion of it. I don’t know what that means yet, because it shattered something in me, too.

Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg. 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. 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: Counter-protesters just moments before police say James Alex Fields drove his car through the crowd.

Published in National/International

In the early years of the Obama era, then-Sen. Jim DeMint embodied a series of contradictions in the American character.

The hard-jawed and bitter-faced South Carolinian was simultaneously a theocrat, a cynic and a salesman. What he sold, as salvation, was hate and fear. He realized before the rest of us that it does not matter what politicians say or do, as long as they can demonize their enemies, turning them into villains that the American people can love to hate.

DeMint came from the fundamentalist, mill-village town of Greenville, nestled in the piedmont at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, not far from the North Carolina border. BMW and Michelin have recently turned the town into a somewhat more cosmopolitan place. But 20 years ago—when I finally escaped—it was a town that produced dire, dour and yet grimly visionary people, a severe, joyless place whose preachers obsessed over hell fire and the enjoyable things other people may be doing to hasten it.

DeMint galvanized the Tea Party with this shtick, but he could only take it so far: It was a little too grim for the American Sucker. DeMint played the part like a great character actor—Harry Dean Stanton playing Ronald Reagan. Trump came along and brought a little P.T. Barnum to the act, taking DeMint’s gruesome view of America at war with itself and carnivalizing the carnage, in the same way televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart made the hell-fire sermons they heard in small Southern churches palatable to the masses on television.

“The bigger government gets, the smaller God gets,” DeMint said in a radio appearance in 2011. Trump echoed this in May when he told a crowd at the fundamentalist Liberty University, “In America, we don’t worship government; we worship God.”

Perhaps DeMint was savvy enough to know he would do better as a vicar or an éminence grise, providing ideas to the crown rather than being the front man: The Greenville in him was still a little too mirthless to break through to the next level. He left the Senate on Jan. 1, 2013, to take over the ultra-conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

During last year’s presidential election, the foundation remained largely silent on Trump, putting DeMint in a perfect position to help guide the seemingly shocked and ill-prepared transition team. It provided policy papers, personnel and a list of Supreme Court nominees, deeply influencing the beginning of the Trump era.

So it was a shocker—and sort of admirable—when the Heritage board ousted DeMint in May, with influential members arguing he had dulled the intellectual edge of the foundation by making it too activist.

After his Heritage ouster, the former senator went to work for the Convention of States Project. This is a group that wants to invoke Article V of the Constitution to call for a convention to amend the Constitution.

Article V outlines two ways to add an amendment to the Constitution—and one of them has never been successfully employed before. Each of the 27 existing amendments has been proposed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states. In the other way, two-thirds of the legislatures of the states can “call a convention for proposing amendments.”

The conventional, previously used way is politically impossible at present, and to a man like DeMint, undesirable. But the alternate way, relying on the states as it does, is almost too perfect an ideological vehicle. DeMint calls the Convention of States the next stage of the Tea Party, which wanted to limit federal power. It makes ideological sense for him to latch onto state legislatures’ ability to change the Constitution to limit federal power.

But the crazy thing: It might actually be possible. Two-thirds of 50 is 34. That’s how many state legislatures would have to request a convention. Republicans hold both houses in 32 states. If a convention relying on state legislatures would ever work for the right, it would now.

Twelve states have already requested a convention to amend the Constitution. Over the last few weeks, DeMint was lobbying hard in North Carolina to make it the 13th. It passed the Senate, and failed in the House, which later voted to reconsider it.

One of the big problems is the possibility of a “runaway convention.” The Convention of States argues that such a convention could be limited to a single topic: limiting federal control. But because a constitutional convention has never happened, no one knows how it will go.

As for the desire of DeMint and his crew to limit federal control: They want to institute congressional and Supreme Court term limits; mandate a balanced budget; and eliminate federal regulations. While it seems like such a focus may be opposed to the Trump regime, it fits in perfectly with its stated goal of the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” as Steve Bannon put it.

And Trump’s new voter commission—headed up by Kris Kobach, a dour Kansas extremist who is the perfect DeMint counterpart—might make the possibility of a new states-driven, conservative-leaning constitutional convention even more likely. The Trump/Kobach commission is requiring states to give voter data to the federal government (although many have refused), claiming, sans any evidence, that widespread voter fraud cost Trump the popular vote. Many fear there is an alternative motive to this data collection—namely, that it will be used to further restrict voting.

The state-level dominance that Republicans presently enjoy is due in large part to gerrymandering, and successful attempts to limit the votes of minorities and others who might vote Democrat. (The pusillanimous posturing of the Democrats doesn’t help.) If they are further able to control the turnout, Republicans will be more likely to gain even more states, increasing the likelihood of a constitutional convention.

The contradiction gives yet another glimpse into today’s so-called conservative movement, and is reminiscent of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own hypocrisy—he claims to be pro-states’ rights, but is rejecting state decisions to legalize cannabis and is trying to force states to comply with big-government mandatory minimum sentencing. Conservatives are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, saying they want to strip power from the federal government, but using the federal government’s power to do so, by first attacking citizens’ voting rights.

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. 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

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

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

We are living in unprecedented times, as far as national politics is concerned.

This thought kept coming to mind as I read the latest installment of Democracy in Crisis published by the Independent. Writer Baynard Woods, simply and briefly, lays out 13 anecdotes that show how authoritarianism is on the rise in our country.

Reporters arrested. Protesters arrested. Conflicts of interest being flouted and going unchecked. Sigh.

However, there’s at least one silver lining I’m finding in all the chaos: It’s clear that great journalism is alive and well in the United States.

Some of the reporting we’ve seen from The New York Times and the Washington Post, just for starters, has been amazing. In recent weeks, these papers exposed the fact that our president apparently revealed classified information to the Russians—jeopardizing, at the very least, relationships with countries with whom we partner on intelligence. They reported that our president apparently asked our FBI director to lay off of an investigation of him—before the president would go on to fire that very FBI director.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Times in April published an unprecedented six-part editorial series titled “Our Dishonest President,” which made the clear case that Donald Trump is unfit for office.

As always, smaller news outlets are doing great work, too. Take Democracy in Crisis as an example; it’s a joint project of alternative papers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent.

While it’s inspiring and amazing to see all of this great journalism, it’s important to point out that these aforementioned newspapers are operating with a fraction of the resources they had, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

That’s why it’s vital that you support great journalism: Buy a newspaper subscription, or two, or three. Advertise. Pay for online articles. It costs money to do well-reported, well-written, well-edited stories.

In that vein, if you like what the Independent is doing, consider throwing a few bucks our way. Both our print version and CVIndependent.com have always been and always will be free to all—but you can join our Supporters of the Independent program for just $10, or even less. Find details at CVindependent.com/supporters.

By the way, pick up the June 2017 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting streets this week and early next week. As always, thanks for reading—and if you have thoughts or feedback, email me anytime.

Published in Editor's Note

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

One of the biggest issues of the Palm Springs city election back in 2015 was the ever-increasing amount of homelessness in downtown Palm Springs.

While I think the Palm Springs City Council has done an admirable job, more or less, since that November 2015 election, the City Council has done a flat-out awful job of addressing homelessness.

Make sure you read Brian Blueskye’s excellent piece on the state of the homelessness problem in the Coachella Valley. As Brian notes, the problem is getting worse—especially on the west side of the valley—and it’s going to become a full-blown crisis when Roy’s Resource Center, the only west side shelter for the homeless, closes its doors at the end of June.

That means 90 people are going to lose their only shelter—in the midst of the summer heat.

In other news: I also recommend you read Baynard Woods’ recent “Democracy in Crisis” dispatch. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and one point that Baynard makes has haunted me ever since I first read it: Many critics of President Trump heaped effusive praise on him—for the first time—after he ordered an April 7 missile strike in Syria, following the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Shaykhun three days prior. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria even went so far as to say that the missile strike marked the moment when “Trump became president of the United States.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not the missile strikes were the right thing to do: What does it say about our country when a violent act of war, justified or not, is the ONE thing that made Donald Trump suddenly become “presidential”?

I’ve been pondering that question now for almost three weeks. I am not at all happy about any of the answers I’ve been able to come up with.

Anyway … for those of you dismayed by the troubling nature of the aforementioned stories, never fear: As always, the Independent has plenty of happy, positive arts, food and music coverage that’ll make you feel a bit better about things.

As always, thanks for reading the Coachella Valley Independent. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and be sure to pick up the May 2017 print edition, being distributed valley-wide this week

Published in Editor's Note

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

It is snowing in Washington, D.C.—strange in early March after an insanely warm winter, but nothing compared to the cold many of the activists and tribal members gathered here endured in North Dakota while fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Kristen Tuske, a 39-year-old woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, stands with several other women in front of the White House, her back to it, fist raised in the air. She has pink hair, sculpted arches for eyebrows and tattoos on the side of her face. She lived at the camp where thousands of “water protectors” gathered to fight the pipeline for seven months.

“The last couple weeks at the camp were sad, and everyone was a little angry,” she said. “A lot of feelings are hurt. ... That was our home, and we got kicked out.”

The last protesters left the camp on Feb. 23.

The struggle started last summer when the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the oil pipeline, claiming it could contaminate their water supply and destroy significant archeological sites. That kicked off months of protests, often pitting camps of indigenous people—and the environmentalists and veterans that had come to fight with them—against an increasingly militarized police presence. President Obama twice ordered construction stopped, but, after taking office, Trump gave the go-ahead to the pipeline, insisting publicly that it must be constructed of American steel (a stance he quietly reversed this month).

The evacuation of the camp may be a defeat for Standing Rock, but, in the eyes of those gathered in front of the White House, it may also signal the beginning of something greater—the possibility of a real environmental movement in America.

“The reason I am here is to represent our future generations and be their voice, part of the resistance in decolonizing our minds,” said JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana. “Protecting our waters should be our No. 1 priority, and that’s why we’re all here is to unite and protect tribal sovereignty and to protect indigenous people and their waters. People need to realize indigenous people are doing this for all people, not just indigenous people. We’re here to protect the water for all people.”

As I talk to people at the rally, I hear that sentiment again and again. It is not just about the water at Standing Rock. It is a symbolic battle, a turning point. Indigenous people are stepping forward to save the planet—and to save us from ourselves.

Little Thunder, an elder from South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, is standing apart from the crowd in full ceremonial regalia: a feathered headdress, a circular feather shield, and some mirrored sunglasses. He came all the way to Washington to “let people know and let Trump know that this is not just a Standing Rock or a Washington, D.C., or a politics issue. This is for the whole Earth. We’re trying to save the water, because water is life.”

Little Thunder says he is a single father of six children, four of them living at Standing Rock. His voice is high and pinched; he’s almost singing as he speaks.

“Once he let (Standing Rock) go through, they think they can destroy the water, which is life every place else on this Earth, not just Standing Rock,” he says.

David Kenny, a member of the Seneca Nation, is standing with a sign that reads “Water Is Life.”

“It’s not just about Native Americans anymore. It’s about everyone,” he says. “Because if you keep poisoning the water, you’re going to start paying for it, and they’re going to shoot that price up. You’re going to be paying $20 for a bottle of it. It’s not just about the tribes anymore.”

He turns his attention toward the White House and the white man inside it. “Can you stop this pipeline, please?” he asks, his voice soft. “It’s not about business anymore. It’s not just us that’s going to fall—it’s you, too. Everybody is going to die if this continues. The Earth is dying.”

There is no indication that Trump or anyone else in the White House hears this, despite the fact that native nations have spent the last four days with teepees set up on the mall, raising awareness of indigenous and environmental issues. On March 9, the day before the gathering across from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would not agree that climate change caused by human activity is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

But as the Native Nations Rise rally went down, thousands more people were calling the EPA to complain about Pruitt’s disavowal of accepted science.

On the very same day as the rally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study reporting that carbon dioxide levels rose at a “record pace for second straight year.”

“The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record,” the report read.

Trump’s budget proposal, released a week after the rally, slashed the EPA by more than 30 percent. NOAA is not included in the final proposal, but a leaked draft showed a 17 percent decrease in funding.

Back at the rally, the snow falls on the demonstrators, as well as the dancers and the speakers on the stage. Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas takes the stage. He is part Shoshone and organized the release of a song recorded by a collection of mostly native artists to bring attention to Native American issues.

It is a strange moment, watching the snow fall as this pop star in a floppy hat sings over a recording of his band’s song “I Gotta Feeling,” and people sway and dance and sing along, making it feel, for a moment, more like spring break than a deadly serious fight for the fate of the world.

Looking over at the White House, I have a feeling that tonight’s probably not gonna be a good night. But if we listen to the water protectors, we may still have some good nights left.

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 Environment

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