Skip to main content

Breaking

Mueller is done. Trump is about to go nuclear. Listen to a special Mother Jones podcast. »

X

  • Trump Warns of “Dangerous Fruit” in Sworn Deposition

    Brian Cahn/ZUMA

    A looming recession, rising Covid cases, war in Ukraine.

    It can certainly feel as though anxiety is baked into every bit of life these days. But our collective uneasiness seems to have missed a more mundane source of true danger: evil fruit. The stuff is downright lethal, according to Donald J. Trump, particularly when hurled at you. 

    “You can get killed with those things,” Trump said in a sworn deposition responding to protesters who allege that Trump’s security team had assaulted them outside of Trump Tower in 2015.

    When a lawyer representing the protesters asked if Trump recalled once instructing his supporters to “knock the crap” out of anyone they spotted “getting ready to throw a tomato,” the former president said that yes he did, but was only partially serious. (You can  imagine the relief from Trump’s lawyers here.) But when it came down to it, Trump insisted that a flying tomato does indeed justify the use of physical force: “To stop somebody from throwing pineapples, tomatoes, bananas, stuff like that, yeah,” he said.

    More from Trump on killer fruit from the deposition’s transcript, which was made public on Tuesday:

    “It’s very dangerous stuff. You can get killed with those things… I wanted to have people be ready because we were put on alert that they were going to do fruit. And some fruit is a lot worse than—tomatoes are bad by the way. But it’s very dangerous… they were going to hit—they were going to hit very hard.

    A fear of fruit isn’t exactly a surprise from a man who identifies germs, sharks, windmills, and stairs as sources of trouble. It’s the stuff he isn’t worried about—climate change, hydroxychloroquine, Vladimir Putin, the future of democracy itself—that give me real pause.

  • Oklahoma Just Passed a Bill Banning Abortion After Six Weeks

    Sean Murphy/AP

    On Thursday, the Oklahoma House passed a bill that would ban abortions after six weeks. The bill, which was already approved by the state Senate, would take effect immediately after being signed by the governor. 

    The legislation is just the latest attack on abortion rights in Oklahoma, which also recently passed a bill that would make it a felony to perform an abortion starting in August. But abortion providers in the state say they’re even more concerned about this new legislation—both because it would take effect immediately and because it will be more likely to survive a legal challenge. In an interview before the bill passed, Dr. Christina Bourne, the medical director of Trust Women, which operates abortion clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas, described it as “truly terrifying.” 

    The Oklahoma Heartbeat Act is a copycat version of the Texas Heartbeat Act, which allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion after six weeks. Like the Texas Heartbeat Act, the Oklahoma version allows anyone to bring a suit against any person who “performs or induces an abortion” or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” The Texas bill, which went into effect last September, has so far stood up to legal challenges and drastically curtailed abortion access in the state. (At the six-week mark, many patients aren’t even aware that they are pregnant.) 

    Since last fall, as many as 45 percent of the patients who have been unable to seek abortions in Texas have been coming to Oklahoma, according to the University of Texas at Austin. Trust Women, one of only four abortion clinics in the state, has been fielding more than 100 calls an hour since September. 

    That surge has caused wait times at Trust Women to go up from a few days to four weeks, and the clinic has even had to turn away some patients. Trust Women has also had to eliminate services like STI testing and gender-affirming care due to the high demand. But Bourne emphasized that, just as abortion providers have adapted to the influx of patients from Texas, they will do their best to adapt to the Oklahoma bill. Trust Women’s Kansas clinic is already doing construction to expand its capacity for an anticipated influx of patients from Oklahoma and other states in the region that may continue to restrict access. The clinics are “not letting these restrictions win,” Bourne said. “I feel like that’s what makes folks in abortion so unique, is our deep flexibility and creativity, and we’re in this to keep doing this work.”

    The Oklahoma Heartbeat Act is part of a wave of new anti-abortion legislation that has passed this year in anticipation of a major Supreme Court decision that could gut or overturn Roe v. Wade. But even with Roe still in place, the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act will be devastating to access in Oklahoma—and, because Oklahoma has been a hub for people from Texas seeking abortions, the entire region. “In these areas, Roe is no longer offering us protection,” Bourne said. “We’re essentially working in a post-Roe era here.”

  • Here’s How DeSantis and Florida Republicans Just Violated Disney’s Civil Rights

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks moments before signing the Parental Rights in Education bill on March 28, 2022, in Shady Hills, Florida. Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/TNS/ZUMA

    On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies revoked Disney’s longstanding tax privileges in the state in retaliation for the company’s opposition to the right’s anti-LGBTQ culture war. In doing so, Florida Republicans have violated Disney’s civil rights.

    This collision of conservative policies—anti-LGBTQ panic and tax breaks—came after Disney criticized Florida’s new anti-LGBTQ education law. Its critics know it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

    The law prohibits teaching about sexual identity and sexual orientation in some Florida classrooms. In response, Disney called for the law’s repeal and paused its political donations in Florida. Next, DeSantis rushed through a measure to deprive Disney World of its designation as special tax district, which has allowed Disney to self-govern its massive Florida theme park for 55 years. DeSantis said Disney’s opposition to the bill “crossed a line.” 

    “Once upon a time Disney was a great partner with the state of Florida,” Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo said. “Shamefully, Disney betrayed us.”

    But retaliating against someone for exercising their First Amendment rights is a violation of that person’s civil rights. Even if that “person” is Disney.

    “It is a violation of the First Amendment for the government to punish a corporation because of the company’s expressed viewpoints on political issues,” says Adam Winkler, a constitutional law specialist at UCLA School of Law and the author of We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. “I think that we will see legal challenges to this. And I think there will be constitutional challenges to it.”

    Florida might argue that Disney doesn’t have a right to a special tax privilege that other companies don’t receive. But under Supreme Court precedent from 1972, the government cannot rescind a privilege once granted for improper reasons such as retaliation for political speech. And Disney’s actions—both its statements and its decision to pause its donations—are protected First Amendment activity.

    Over the last century, the Supreme Court has extended civil rights to corporations, insulating them from government reprisal for exercising those rights. It wasn’t long ago that Republicans were cheering this trend. “Corporations are people,” Mitt Romney famously said as a presidential candidate in 2012. The party also helped usher in the era of massive corporate political giving with the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which secured corporations’ rights as political donors under the First Amendment, and backed the Hobby Lobby decision, which recognized some corporations’ religious beliefs. These rulings had significant downsides for American democracy. 

    “There is the irony that conservatives for the last 20 years have been emphasizing that corporations have rights too and should be able to spend money to influence electoral politics,” notes Winkler. “And yet, now they’re trying to punish a company for trying to influence politics.”

    Interestingly, it shows something progressives have often not discussed, too. Other Supreme Court rulings on corporate rights, including the landmark press freedom case New York Times Company v. Sullivan, have helped maintain democratic norms. Autocrats use their control over the private sector to wield power, erode democracy, and stifle protest. But because of rulings like Citizens United Disney at least has the option to fight back on constitutional grounds.

    “This whole situation highlights one of the hidden benefits of recognizing corporations to have rights, that corporate rights also serve as a check on government tyranny,” says Winkler. “If corporations did not have rights, then the government could run roughshod over corporations, and restrict their freedom of speech and profoundly hurt and harm democracy.” 

    Disney may have crossed DeSantis. But it’s DeSantis who crossed the line.

  • Yes, Our Video Shown at Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Hearing Was Accurate

    John Bazemore/AP

    Today, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had to testify at an administrative hearing in Atlanta about her alleged involvement in the Capitol riot—and even answer for a video we unearthed of her endorsing political violence.

    When Mother Jones’ video of MTG was played during the hearing as evidence, Greene’s lawyer said incredulously, “Mother Jones? I’m sorry, I’m not going to rely upon them to give an accurate depiction.” (That lawyer, by the way, is the guy responsible for Citizens United.)

    Anyway, here’s an “accurate description” of what brought Greene to the stand: A small group of voters in her district has argued that she should be ineligible for reelection because of a section of the 14th Amendment that forbids members of Congress who have taken part in an insurrection to run for office.

    It’s a legal long shot. But the hearing makes Greene the first Republican member of Congress to testify under oath about January 6.

    Greene asserted, “My words never ever mean anything for violence.” Still, one illustrative moment came when Greene was asked, “Did you advocate to President Trump to impose martial law as a way to remain in power?” She responded, “I don’t recall.”

    A version of this article first appeared in the Mother Jones Daily, our newsletter that cuts through the noise to help you make sense of the most important stories of the day. Sign up for free here!
  • I Hoped the Low-Rise Jeans Trend Would Die Fast. I was Wrong.

    Getty

    If I were a naive 22-year-old in the early aughts, looking at pictures of Paris Hilton wearing pants with a two-inch inseam I would think, “That’s hot.” For those who are around that age now, who were infants at the time and eager to replicate the iconic look that appears to be making a significant comeback, a few words of warning: You don’t know the misery of those trousers. Your upper derriere, exposed to the cold winds of a middle-school math class, just waiting to be poked from behind by Tyler with a pencil. Wilton could not make a pan that created a muffin top more perfect than the one enforced by a low-rise jean. And then there are the physical demands. I believe that my repetitive musculoskeletal injuries are from tugging my shirt down to meet that low-rise all day long. (Now that I think of it,  if you were a teenager back then, you may deserve some type of hardship compensation.) 

    And now, despite all the obvious discomfort, once more the low-rise trend seems to be returning. It’s happened before as a 2018 article in The Cut warned, describing them as “the masochistic trouser of choice.” Fast forward to earlier this month, Refinery29 reported that second-hand retailer thredUP tracked a 50% increase in searches for low-rise jeans at the beginning of 2021. Now the runways are making that official. From the comfort of my home in February—Black History Month and Fashion Month—I scrolled TikTok and the runway looks made it clear: model after model came by with pants slung across the hips and a cute little crop on top.

    Early Y2K is back. 

    Usually every twenty years, a trend gets recycled so we are overdue for a return to the early aughts. The nostalgia urge has been exacerbated by the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, not to mention the crisis of democracy at home and abroad—all conspiring to make this time feel so turbulent.

    Researchers say nostalgia is a dynamic that demonstrates people are looking for peace and refuge. Gen Z has been hit the hardest by all these forces, just as their lives were supposed to take off, the pandemic shut them down. Their already media-heavy lives were forced into being almost completely virtual as they finished school and started jobs online during the pandemic. “While we love the internet, the pandemic’s grave effect on in-person interaction has made the digital world basically all we have,” Michael Pandowski of Gen Z marketing firm Crimson Connection told Insider. “So we feel nostalgic for a time before the internet had become so omnipresent.

    Paris Hilton could be considered the Queen of the Y2K Low-Rise jean.

    Jean-Paul Aussenard/ Getty Images.

    But nostalgia for some can be a trigger for many, especially hip-huggers for us Millennial gals. These pants are not just another pair of jeans, but signifiers of the fraught messages of sexuality and body image that were so pervasive at the time. The pant was hypersexualized and threatened to “reveal-all” while at the same time, defying and embodying the cult of purity culture. Remember, this was the time of the Bush administration pushing abstinence-only sex education.

    Journalist and digital expert Gabrielle Korn put it much better than I ever could in InStyle, “These mixed messages of chasteness and performative sexiness set the stage for low-rise jeans,” she writes, “they weren’t just trendy, they were ubiquitous.” She recalls that the boys in her class—and in mine, and probably in the classes of most other girls who were in middle and high school at the time—would try to throw pennies down the pants. The pants seem to represent a time when there was an invitation for boys (and men) to do anything they wanted to with girls (and women) with no consequences. (Remember Justin Timberlake at the Superbowl?) 

    These pants were popular before the body positivity movement went mainstream, when Supersize Me scolded everyone about their eating habits, and when the nightly news showed B-roll of fat people walking down the streets in an effort to drum up fear over the “Obesity Epidemic”—not to mention some cheap and degrading laughs. And well, these pants were holding onto nothing if you were blessed with even modest amounts of flesh. 

    In some ways it makes perfect sense that low-rise jeans are yet again making a comeback; it might be a way of announcing someone is “done” with the extreme comfort of pandemic anti-fashion fashion. We are ready to discard our sweatpants, damnit, and maybe even vulnerable enough to show our more zaftig bodies. The waistlines on today’s runways are more inclusive of different proportions. Does this mean these jeans are for absolutely everyone, no matter what the BMI? Maybe. And maybe all the “Tylers from math class” have learned that the jeans are not an invitation for inappropriate contact. If that’s the case, maybe they aren’t so bad after all. 

  • The Week It Became Obvious: The Biden Admin Is Over Making Covid Decisions

    AP

    What the hell am I supposed to do now?

    In a pandemic defined by more than two years of cascading public health failures and egregiously botched messaging, the past week has managed to outflank previous moments of Covid confusion.

    On Monday, a Trump-appointed judge—who legal experts now say has a fundamental misunderstanding of public health laws—struck down the CDC’s rule mandating masks on public transportation, instantly setting cellphones aglow in notifications. Nearly all carried some variation of the same caveat: “It is not immediately clear when the order will go into effect or what this means for people currently traveling.” Still, videos of cheering passengers shouting “finally!” quickly started circulating.

    As airlines and local municipalities struggled to move forward, it initially appeared as though the White House would welcome the decision and move on. That seemed understandable given that the administration had been set to lift the mandate early next month. (Did you even know that was the plan, by the way?)

    But, then, in the next 48 hours, the Justice Department reversed course, announcing that they intended to appeal Mizelle’s ruling—if the CDC wanted it to. (It did.) Somewhere in between, President Biden effectively told reporters that we’ve entered the choose-your-own-adventure phase of the pandemic. The Covid policy for the US—as it has been for many states for over a year—is simple: Figure it out yourself.

    Locally, the confusion continued to spill out.

    In the wake of Monday’s ruling, Uber and Lyft announced that masks would no longer be required, which prompted some cities, including New York, to remind passengers that they make the rules—not Silicon Valley. As of Friday, New York subways are still requiring masks as well. In the Bay Area, BART initially announced that face coverings would still be required though safety officials would no longer enforce the rule. Actually, scratch that. A whole new mandate will be introduced next week. Elsewhere on Caltrain and Muni, go ahead and run mask-free.

    One would like to believe that more than two years into the pandemic, we’d be a helluva lot better at this public health messaging thing. But this isn’t to necessarily lament the latest evidence that nope we still very much suck at this. What’s emerged in the past week is the sinking feeling that the Biden administration has surrendered to bad faith decisions that fly in the face of a society that cares for people in different circumstances from their own. Sure, the DOJ is now taking steps to appeal. But it took nearly two days for the administration to signal that a fight was even worth having. Meanwhile, the emerging Covid policy appears to be one that’s abandoning its responsibility to make it easier to avoid exposure.

    Cases are down—by a lot. But a whole swath of the population remains unvaccinated, many not by choice, and in some of the most populated areas of the country, cases are indeed ticking back up. And who will pay the most when for our collective capitulation? In line with every phase of this disaster, underserved communities. As public health experts Lucky Tran and Oni Blackstock wrote for the Washington Post in the wake of Mizelle’s ruling:

    Many workers do not have paid sick leave, making lost days of work because of covid more burdensome for low-income Americans. Moreover, suspending all precautions risks exacerbating existing covid inequities by race and income.

    Pundits and even the CDC itself are emphasizing that it’s up to individuals to make their own choices about how to protect themselves depending on their risk tolerance. But this narrative goes against the foundation of public health. When a virus capable of serious illness is so widespread and not everyone has equal access to tools to protect themselves, the best way to keep everyone safe is through collective policies.

    As I’m sure you can tell by now, I’m supportive of keeping mandates in place. (I have an unvaccinated roommate, my 7-month-old son.) But even my pro-mask stance struggles under the weight of confusing rule-making and the impression that the government is making consequential decisions on the fly. Then again, I guess that’s been a pretty consistent theme after all.

    The issue, the one we’ve known for years, is that, of course, every person thinks differently about how they have to balance their needs (and desires) with the collective. The question now is: Whose freedom matters more? It’s complicated and difficult. Now I just wish I had more than a mask to protect myself from the freedom-loving asshole who’ll be sure to remind me that masks are over—didn’t I know that?

  • Report: Bernie Might Run Again in 2024 if Biden Drops Out

    Sanders supporting striking Kellogg workers in December 2021.Carlin Stiehl/AP

    In case you missed it, a memo given to the Washington Post says Sen. Bernie Sanders might run again for president, but only if Joe Biden decides not to himself.

    According to the documentwritten by Faiz Shakir, manager of Bernie’s Sanders 2020 campaign—Sanders “has not ruled out another run for president” if Biden forgoes a reelection bid. Sanders’ spokespeople did not deny the veracity of the document or shoot down the plan (for now). After the election, Sanders had said it was unlikely he’d launch another bid.

    Perhaps this is coming out because Biden is not doing so great in the polls. As you might have heard in every national publication, it is expected the Democrats will be drubbed in the 2022 midterm elections. But it’s even worse for Biden, it seems. Currently, only about 41 percent of Americans approve of him, according to an average calculated by FiveThirtyEight. Back in February, just 21 percent of Democrat-leaning voters in one poll said they would choose the incumbent to be the party’s 2024 nominee. (Sanders, in the same survey, was down at 14 percent.)

    Sanders in recent months has cheered the historic unionization of a Staten Island Amazon warehouse. He’s proposing a big fat tax on corporate profits to rein in inflation. And, yes, he’s going after the monopolization of baseball!

    For some, this all seems ridiculous. Why the affection for Bernie? If that’s you, here’s a great profile from my colleague Tim Murphy titled, simply, “Frontrunner,” from when it looked like Sanders could win the nomination. Here’s Tim in February 2020:

    [Sanders has] engendered real loyalty in his supporters that has helped him weather an up-and-down campaign. No one raises more money from more people, and in the first two states, no one has been able to summon more people to do the work on the ground of getting out the vote for him. Their work meant that while Sanders didn’t realize all the gains he’d envisioned, he didn’t fall off either like some of his colleagues [in the primary]

    Sanders set out to build and consolidate his coalition by ‘centering,’ as Ocasio-Cortez likes to put it, the kinds of working people who stand to benefit from his economic agenda. In October [2020], I caught Sanders at a youth enrichment center outside Charles City, Iowa, the same weekend he’d led a series of high-profile rallies with Ocasio-Cortez—big flashy events at an arena, a college campus, and a conference center. The man who introduced him, to a crowd of a few dozen people off a two-lane road, wasn’t a nationally prominent politico or a state rep or even a county commissioner. His name was Steven Zimmer, he told the room. And he was a gas station clerk at Hy-Vee.

    That’s basically it. The Sanders campaign felt like it lifted people up. Maybe he won’t run in 2024. Perhaps Biden will run again. And overall it’s probably not great that so many old people are still the totems of the party. But we’ll have to see.

    Either way, as law, I have to remind you: Bernie ran a 4:37 mile in high school. Sick.

  • A New List of Crazy Shit Trump Did, According to Fiona Hill

    Trump being normal with other world leaders.Michael Kappeler/DPA/Zuma

    Last weekend, we were graced with a whole new batch of foibles of the Trump administration, this time from the perspective of onetime adviser Fiona Hill and couched in a New York Times Magazine article titled “This Was Trump Pulling a Putin.”

    You might remember Hill’s emergence on the national scene during the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump. An expert on Russia, she had worked under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and testified on Trump’s plan to use foreign policy to try to get dirt on his political opponents (namely, the Bidens).

    A good chunk of Draper’s story is about how Hill believes January 6 was presaged by Trump’s policies toward Putin. It recounts Hill’s belief that not only Trump’s but Bush’s and Obama’s policies toward Putin set the stage for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    I have my doubts on these fronts, which seem both Trump and US-centric. Still, it’s worth reading Draper’s piece to get a glimpse at just how ridiculous former President Trump’s dealings with Vladimir Putin actually were—and all the other wacky shit Hill says she witnessed during Trump’s tenure.

    A few choice tidbits, all according to Hill:

    • Upon meeting Hill for the first time, she says Trump mistook her for a secretary (she was the senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council) and “became angry that she did not immediately agree to retype a news release for him.”
    • Trump informed Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that most Americans’ idea of Turkey comes from the prisons in Midnight Express: “Bad image—you need to make a different film.”
    • Trump would ask to send magazine articles to the likes of Erdogan and French president Emmanuel Macron if the stories included flattering pictures of the leaders. Often, the text of the article was anything but. That didn’t matter: Trump wanted to make sure that his peers on the world stage knew when they were “looking strong.”
    • In a conversation with former German chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Senator Pocahontas.” Merkel was aghast.
    • Trump did his shtick about hating windmills—to the prime minister of Norway.
    • Trump didn’t see why Crimea shouldn’t be a part of Russia. They speak Russian there, after all.

    A lot of the wild things that happened during the Trump administration do not get much attention because many find the discussion of the Russia investigation, and connections with Russia, overplayed and boring. I get it. But sometimes that means you miss out on Trump telling a Turkish president to make a movie.

  • Wimbledon’s Russia Ban Is a Huge Net Loss

    A spectator holds a Russian flag during a tennis match between Russia's Daniil Medvedev and Croatia's Marin Cilic during the 2021 Wimbledon.Alberto Pezzali/AP

    Wimbledon, England’s historic tennis competition, announced Wednesday it would ban players from Russia and Belarus. The ban had been foreshadowed last month when British sports minister Nigel Huddleston suggested that Russians be barred from the tournament unless they provide “some potential assurance that they are not supporters of Putin.” 

    The announcement followed several other sporting bans put in place since Russia invaded Ukraine in February: FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, suspended Russia from all international competitions, while the Boston Marathon barred runners from Russia and Belarus, which Russian leader Vladimir Putin has used as a staging ground for his attack on Ukraine.  

    Now, I can understand the impulse to show solidarity with Ukraine and, certainly, to target punishment at Putin and his cronies—people like Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. But there is something almost dystopian about assigning collective guilt to all Russians. Only hours after the invasion started, antiwar protests broke out across Russia, including in Putin’s hometown of Saint Petersburg. In just one day of protests, roughly 5,000 Russians were arrested

    Among those challenging Putin’s war: the same athletes Wimbledon plans to ban. Take Russian tennis star Andrey Rublev, who wrote “No War Please” on a television camera after a competition. His countryman Daniil Medvedev, formerly the No. 1 ranked player in the world, called for “peace all over the world” after the invasion. Do those statements meet Wimbledon’s standard? What does?

    Even if Rublev and Medvedev had kept silent, is it really fair for Wimbledon to assign them blame? Any person with loved ones in an authoritarian country understands the risks of speaking out. It takes bravery to resist an autocratic thug like Putin, but most people aren’t in a position to compromise their family’s safety. When I reported on protests against the Chinese government during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, I was surprised to hear some debate among activists over the wisdom of speaking out. Not all protesters expected athletes to risk their personal safety to challenge China’s increasingly repressive state. 

    The best way to deny legitimacy to authoritarian rulers is not to demand loyalty tests from their residents, but to demand that corporations stop whitewashing the regime’s excesses. When Olympic sponsors trip over themselves to not condemn China’s human rights abuses or FIFA grants a World Cup bid to a petrostate using slave labor, it does far more harm than a single Russian athlete staying quiet about Putin.

    The sporting world is awash with corruption and skullduggery. The way to change that isn’t through blanket bans, but in denying the financial benefits and prestige that come from giving authoritarian governments a spot at the table in the first place.

  • Tesla to Racism Lawsuit: You’re Acting Like Elon Musk

    Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

    As Elon Musk engages in a very public and increasingly combative effort to take over Twitter—a battle that has produced endless headlines and annoying tweets—the problems at his other little venture, Tesla, have escalated. On Monday, the multi-billion dollar electric cars company blasted a lawsuit accusing Tesla of ignoring years of rampant racism at its primary factory as being merely a “quick publicity stunt.”

    California’s Department of Fair and Equal Housing, the state agency suing Tesla, “conducted a bare-bones ‘investigation’ without interviewing key witnesses, requesting key documents, or ever stepping foot in the Fremont facility,” Tesla wrote in a new filing, Bloomberg reports. The company is also accusing DFEH of “abandoning its founding purpose” in order to score headlines.

    As my colleague Edwin Rios reported in February, California’s lawsuit came after a lengthy, three-year investigation—and the allegations are astounding. They include Black workers getting harassed with racist slurs such as the n-word and “porch monkey.” On a daily basis, Black workers were also allegedly forced to confront racist writing left on factory walls.

    Nonetheless, on Monday, Tesla went on the offensive, claiming in effect, that DFEH was acting like Tesla’s founder—a man whose career is littered with attention-seeking, headline-making, and ultimately unsubstantiated trolls.

    Meanwhile, Tesla and Musk are fighting another thorny lawsuit from shareholders over Musk’s 2018 tweets about taking Tesla private. According to a court filing on Friday, a judge ruled that Musk tweeted this despite knowing this was in fact not true. 

  • Alex Jones’ InfoWars Files for Bankruptcy Amid Sandy Hook Lawsuits

    Jose Luis Magana/AP

    Companies affiliated with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, including right-wing outlet InfoWars, filed for bankruptcy protections on Sunday. The move comes after Jones lost numerous defamation lawsuits for falsely claiming that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. 

    The bankruptcy filing could pause civil cases against the companies, which include not only InfoWars, but Infowars Health (a store that sells nutritional supplements) and Prison Planet, an outlet for British YouTuber and proponent of “new right” (read: nativist) ideology, Paul Joseph Watson.

    After the 2012 mass shooting claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 first graders, Jones falsely described the victims and their parents as “crisis actors” participating in a conspiracy to allow the government to seize guns. Due to Jones’ lies, the parents of the victims were inundated with harassment and death threats. According to the New York Times, the family of Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner currently lives in hiding due to the persistent harassment they’ve experienced since the shooting. 

    Jones later walked back his claims after multiple parents filed defamation lawsuits against him, blaming his earlier beliefs on a “form of psychosis.” 

    In September 2021, Jones lost two defamation lawsuits in Texas after a judge ruled that he had engaged in “persistent discovery abuses” by failing to turn over important documents related to the case, noting that “an escalating series of judicial admonishments, monetary penalties, and non-dispositive sanctions have all been ineffective at deterring the abuse.” In November, Jones lost an additional lawsuit in Connecticut for failing to turn over documents.

    It’s unclear what ultimate effect the bankruptcy filing will have, but according to CNN, it could allow the companies to stay in business by giving them a path to offload debts they can’t afford. The Sandy Hook families and their lawyers have previously accused Jones of siphoning off $18 million to shell companies to avoid having to pay damages. 

    “Alex Jones is just delaying the inevitable: a public trial in which he will be held accountable for his profit-driven campaign of lies against the Sandy Hook families who have brought this lawsuit,” said Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the Connecticut plaintiffs, in a statement to CNN.

    Texas jurors were scheduled to meet this month to determine how much Jones owes the plaintiffs. An additional trial in Connecticut is scheduled to begin in September.

  • Now We’re Getting Rid of Masks on Planes—Just as Covid Is Spiking Again

    Nam Y. Huh/AP

    Gear up for another round of mass pandemic chaos.

    Not even a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its masks mandate for public travel—a move that reflected rising Covid trends from the BA.2 subvariant—a federal judge in Florida has struck down the order, sending airlines and other public transportation hubs into confusion.

    It wasn’t immediately clear on Monday how soon masks would no longer be required or whether the Biden administration would seek to appeal. (My colleague Jeremy Schulman happened to be boarding a plane when he was alerted to the court ruling and has promised to keep us abreast of how the surprise change will affect compliance!)  In her ruling, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote that the CDC’s order exceeded the statutory authority and violated administrative law.

    The CDC had previously extended the federal mask mandate to stay in effect until May 3 in order to monitor how the omicron subvariant BA.2 would transpire across the country. (Coincidentally, the requirement had been set to expire today.) The Northeast in particular has seen cases tick up significantly, with New York and New Jersey seeing average daily cases climb by an alarming 64 percent over the past week.

    For transportation workers concerned about the rising numbers Monday order is likely to come as a distressing development. But it could also be welcomed by some, particularly airline staff, who have been under immense pressure since the start of the pandemic to get anti-mask passengers to comply with CDC rules. Personally, I see this as potentially setting the stage for a whole new wave of conflicts, with those opposed to masks confronting those who still choose to wear them.

    Either way, don’t say I didn’t warn you. More chaos ahead. Beep beep!

  • Leaked Texts Show Senator Mike Lee Pathetic

    Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to vote on Nominee for Associate Justice to the Supreme Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.Graeme Sloan/Sipa/AP

    Utah Senator Mike Lee, the son of legendary US solicitor general Rex E. Lee, has long referred to himself as a “constitutional conservative.” He’s authored no less than three books on the Founders, and received plaudits from conservatives for introducing bills that aim to limit executive power. 

    But newly released texts between Lee and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in the aftermath of the 2020 election reveal just how fair-weather Lee’s loyalty to the constitution really is. 

    The texts, published by CNN, come from the goldmine of correspondence that Meadows handed over to the select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot (before he suddenly decided to stop cooperating). They show an increasingly desperate Lee pressing Meadows for proof to back up Trump’s lies that massive voter fraud swung the 2020 election to Biden.

    On November 22, 2020, Lee texted Meadows:

    Please give me something to work with. I just need to know what I should be saying.

    And two days later:

    Please tell me what I should be saying.

    Throughout the exchange, Lee seems less worried about the potential danger of, you know, overturning the will of the American electorate than the frenzied way in which the so-called “Kraken” team—composed of Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell—went about it. He’s down with subverting democracy, he just wants to do it legally.

    Beyond illustrating Lee’s tenuous loyalty to democratic principles, the texts also underscore just how pathetic the effort to overturn the election actually was. Republican senators knew that Trump’s claims of voter fraud were based on flimsy evidence, even as they played footsie with his election lies to avoid becoming the targets of his ire.  

    In fact, Lee (presciently) urges Meadows to stop the Trump team from indulging in potentially libelous conspiracy theory. Instead, he repeatedly asserts, the team should focus on having state legislatures appoint alternate slates of electors to give the Senate pretext to throw out the legitimate electoral votes. “We simply have no authority to reject a state’s certified electoral votes in the absence of a (sic) dueling slates.” 

    CNN also leaked texts between Meadows and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who seemed similarly distressed by Powell and Giuliani’s antics. 

    “Frigging Rudy needs to hush…” the ellipsis-addled representative texted Meadows on November 22. 

    Instead of Powell and Giuliani, both Roy and Lee point Meadows toward more-respectable-but-no-less-crazy law professor John Eastman, who authored several memos detailing a far-fetched scheme to toss out legitimately cast electoral votes on the day of the count. 

    But all Lee’s efforts to ingratiate himself with Trump proved for nought on January 4, 2021, when Donald Trump repeatedly ad-libbed that he was “a little angry” at Lee for declining to endorse the whackiest claims about the election. 

    “I’ve been spending 14 hours a day for the last week trying to unravel this for him,” Lee whined to Meadows. “To have him take a shot at me like that in such a public setting without even asking me about it is pretty discouraging.”

    On January 3, 2021, Lee texted Meadows, “I don’t think the president is grasping the distinction between what we can do and what he would like us to do.” He continued, three days before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, in an attempt to disrupt the electoral vote count, “Nor do I think he’s grasping the distinction between what certain members are saying that sound like they could help him, but would really hurt him.”

    Lee added: “I know only that this will end badly for the president unless we have the Constitution on our side.”

  • Report: Senators and Former Staffers Say Dianne Feinstein Cannot Fulfill Her Duties

    Stefani Reynolds/Pool/CNP/Zuma

    For years, concerns have been mounting in the press and among Senate staffers about California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s cognitive abilities. A report published in the San Francisco Chronicle today—featuring interviews with four US senators, three former Feinstein staffers, and a Democratic congressperson from California—reveals more about the 88-year-old’s potential inability to legislate.

    The sources interviewed by the Chronicle said that Feinstein’s deteriorating memory made it impossible for her to do her job without heavily relying on staff. “It’s bad, and it’s getting worse,” one Democratic senator told the Chronicle. The sources recounted instances of Feinstein forgetting recent conversations or failing to recognize people she had known for years. At a memorial address for Port of San Francisco Commissioner Anne Halsted, Feinstein reportedly forgot to mention the woman who had died. When staffers told her that she needed to speak again, she referred to Halsted in the present tense.

    Feinstein rose to prominence as mayor of San Francisco after George Moscone’s assassination in 1978. She was elected to the Senate in 1992, and in 2021 became the longest serving senator from California. At 88, she is the oldest member of the Senate. As a member of several committees, including the Judiciary, she also holds quite a bit of power. If Democrats hold onto control of the Senate after the midterms, she will replace the retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) as president pro tempore, the third in line for the presidency. Her term is not set to end until 2024.

    This is a tragic situation for the senator, who in February lost her husband of more than 40 years. Still, it raises serious questions about the practicality of a Senate with no term or age limits, where staffers may work to keep knowledge of a legislator’s deteriorating mental state hidden from constituents. As the Chronicle notes, the very doggedness that made Feinstein an effective legislator now factors into her refusal to resign. “My biggest concern,” one staffer said, “is that it’s a real disservice to the people of California.”

  • The 10,000 Ukrainians Just Processed at the Border Show the US Government Can Do Better

    Ukrainian refugees wait near the US border in Tijuana, Mexico. Gregory Bull/AP

    In the last two months, US border officials have processed about 10,000 undocumented Ukrainians at the US-Mexico border. This is pretty far from typical for asylum seekers taken in at the southern border in the last couple years—but the Biden administration made an exemption for asylum seekers fleeing war-torn Ukraine, allowing them to enter the country. The discussion around their entry has also been pretty far from typical—no screams of a “border crisis” or a “surge.” But, then again, the border narrative was never really about people like them. The border narrative is rather one that continues, again and again, to incite panic about an expected “flood” or “wave” of Black, indigenous, and brown asylum seekers.

    CBS News first reported that US Customs and Border Protection “encountered” 9,926 Ukrainians in two months, with more than 750 migrants processed on April 6 alone. About 150 to 200 Ukrainian asylum seekers were allowed to enter each day earlier this month, according to reports. Most of them have presented themselves at ports of entry knowing that they will be admitted.

    Now, consider the context: “Here’s what’s staggering,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy council at the American Immigration Council, in a tweet. “The overwhelming majority” have been processed through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego “in numbers larger than we’ve seen that port of entry process in nearly 6 years.” 

    “This proves that we *can* process asylum seekers in large numbers,” said Reichlin-Melnick.

    So it looks like we could. We just don’t.

    Last month, the Biden administration announced it would accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. But, as CBS News reported, “the administration has yet to announce any concrete steps to achieve the ambitious plan and expedite a visa and refugee process that typically takes months and years to complete.” So Ukrainian refugees are fleeing by plane to Mexico because they don’t need visas to enter the country, and waiting in Ukraine is simply too dangerous. Once in Mexico, they make their way to the US border to present themselves and request asylum. Ukrainians are having to wait in border cities like Tijuana and add their names to unofficial waiting lists similar to the waitlists that were formed for Central Americans starting in 2018. They have arrived in such large groups that Tijuana’s local government has set up a shelter for the 1,200 Ukrainian asylum seekers estimated to be in the city—also reminiscent of other Mexican-government shelters for Central American migrants in 2019. But because US border officials are not turning them away, Ukrainians are not having to risk their lives crossing in remote or dangerous areas of the border, like so many others have felt forced to do. 

    While the circumstances are clearly different, over the years I have reported on horrific stories from families who have fled Central America, Haiti, Venezuela, and Mexico, and who also have had to leave their homes to stay alive. They landed in situations at the border where there was no real path for them to follow. There have often been no lines to get in, though they are told to “get in line,” and there are no exceptions once they got to the border. And while not all people seeking asylum at the border will end up being granted asylum in a US court, they too would like a fair shot at seeking refuge. After all, asking for asylum is legal under US and international law.

    Instead, it seems like every time there is an increase in the number of Black, brown, and indigenous migrants and asylum seekers at the border, it’s painted as an invasion and turned into a “border crisis” for the sake of politics and point scoring, rather than a logistical challenge and humanitarian crisis. Back in 2018, when migrant caravans from Central America brought the total number of migrants seeking asylum at the border to more than 5,000, the Trump administration sent National Guard troops to stop the “invasion.” Fox News and anti-immigrant pundits and politicians sparked fear in Americans by using images of hundreds of Guatemalan or Honduran migrants waiting for their chance at petitioning for asylum to show an urgent “border crisis.”

    And that didn’t stop then. Remember how the country responded to thousands of Haitian migrants at the border last year? And just two weeks ago, the screaming started all over again when the Biden administration announced it would put an end to a temporary Trump-era policy from 2020 that was supposedly meant to stop the spread of Covid at the border and turn migrants back without screening or processing them, leaving most asylum seekers without an opportunity (and their legal right) to seek protection. Now, again, anti-immigration politicians and commentators are sharing images of large groups of mostly Latin American migrants and warning of “complete anarchy” at the border ahead of the end of Title 42—a “crisis without precedent in the recorded history of the modern nation-state.” Border Patrol Union leaders have gone on national TV to say that by ending Title 42 the Biden administration wants open borders because “they’re trying to change the demographics of the electorate” by bringing in immigrants of color. And, crucially, that there aren’t enough resources to process people at the border.  

    Of course, the number of Ukrainians at the border is still way smaller than what we’ll likely see when Title 42 is repealed; in comparison, US Customs and Border Protection data shows an average of about 80,000 Title 42 expulsions in a recent two-month period. 

    But the difference in numbers simply cannot justify the difference in treatment. How the Ukrainians have been received means that when the government says there is no way to safely process tens of thousands of asylum seekers in a short time period, it just doesn’t really hold. “The expressed fears about a ‘rush at the border’ are more about optics than numbers,” Michael Paarlberg, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, tweeted. When governments devote personnel to process people in an orderly way, “it’s not an issue.”

    “There are clearly double standards in public perception and press coverage of refugees, driven by race, nationality and religion,” Paarlberg added. A lot of the double standards, he explained, has to do with “the language being used by media and politicians painting them as an undifferentiated mass showing up at the border for no particular reason…But a lot has to do with how narrowly we imagine conflict and persecution. Violence from interstate war, however rare, is conflict. Somehow gang violence, cartel violence, domestic violence, is less real.” (Similarly, my colleague Isabela Dias has written about how this double standard has manifested in Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine.)

    Throughout the last two decades, no matter who is in the White House, there have been numerous “border crises,” and no matter the messaging from whichever administration is in power, migration will continue. In fact, it will likely increase as climate refugees, economic collapse, and political unrest explode across the globe.

    To be clear, the argument is not that Ukrainians should not be allowed in. I believe they absolutely should—and the US government should increase and expedite refugee claims from Ukraine so refugees don’t have to travel halfway around the world to the US-Mexico border to escape a deadly, unprovoked invasion of their homeland. The issue here is that just like the Department of Homeland Security managed to process 10,000 asylum seekers from Ukraine in the last two months, it should also make more humane pathways to process asylum seekers from the rest of the world—some of whom have been waiting at the border for months or years.

  • Three Republican Governors Actually Vetoed Anti-Trans Bills. Here’s Why.

    Bob Daemmrich/Zuma

    As the moral panic about trans youth spreads, a dozen states have passed laws, mostly driven by Republican legislators, which prevent trans students from participating on girls’ sports teams. But in some states, these bills are facing unexpected opponents: Republican governors.

    Thus far, only one Republican governor has successfully thwarted his state’s efforts to bring state law into high school sports. But three Republicans have joined Democrats in Kentucky, Kansas, and Louisiana in taking a stand against laws that target nonexistent problems. Here are their reasons.

    Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

    Last month, Holcomb took a pragmatic approach in vetoing a bill that would have banned trans girls from participating in girls’ sports, arguing that the vague language of the legislation would open schools up to lawsuits. He further added that at no point in the past 10 years had a trans girl sought to compete on a girls’ team in Indiana.

    “The presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention,” he wrote. “It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal.”

    Because a veto override in Indiana requires only a simple majority in the state House and Senate, HEA 1041 might still become law. 

    Utah Gov. Spencer Cox

    The most compelling and compassionate rebuke of anti-trans athletics legislation came from Cox, who issued a five-page statement last month outlining the logistical and moral downsides of the state’s proposed anti-trans sports bill.

    “I must admit, I am not an expert on transgenderism,” Cox wrote. “I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy, and compassion.”

    He went on to state that among the 75,000 kids participating in high school sports in Utah, four are trans, and only one plays girls’ sports. He also noted the high rates of suicidality and attempted suicide among trans youth in general:

    Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way.

    But the state legislature did not share Cox’s concern about those four kids. Three days after Cox vetoed the bill, the state legislature voted to override it.

    North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum

    In 2021, Burgum vetoed a bill that would ban trans participation in school sports, on the grounds that it was legislating a nonexistent problem.

    “To date there has not been a single recorded incident of a transgender girl attempting to play on a North Dakota girls’ team,” Burgum wrote in a statement, adding that the state’s High School Activities Association already had regulations regarding when and how trans kids could compete in sex-separated sports. He concluded, “This bill would unnecessarily inject the state into a local issue by creating a ban with myriad unforeseen consequences.”

    The state Senate then failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto, and the bill was laid to rest.

  • Amazon Wants to Redo Historic Union Election They Lost

    Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto/Zuma

    Earlier this month, in one of the biggest labor wins in recent memory, workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse voted to unionize. Organizers celebrated; Sen. Bernie Sanders congratulated; and President Joe Biden warned, “Amazon, here we come.”

    But the retail behemoth is pushing back. The company is seeking an election do-over, according to a legal filing obtained by the Associated Press.

    Amazon outlined 25 objections against the union. They say that organizers intimidated workers to vote for the union, inappropriately distributed cannabis to workers, and failed to control media presence at the polls, among other objections. An attorney for the Amazon Labor Union called the claims “patently absurd.”

    The move is part of a general push by Amazon to delegitimize the union victory. The company also has said the National Labor Relations Board had “inappropriate and undue influence” on the result for bringing a lawsuit against the company in March for an illegal labor practice.

    Amazon’s own behavior during the union drive wasn’t exactly beyond reproach. As my colleague Noah Lanard wrote earlier this month, the company required workers to attend anti-union propaganda sessions and shelled out $3,200 per day for professional union-busters. Early on in the pandemic, Amazon fired worker Christian Smalls for helping lead a walk-out over Covid safety precautions. Smalls went on the lead the union fight—and win.

    The results of an Amazon union vote in Bessemer, Alabama, has also been disputed, but this time by the NLRB. The union drive in Alabama initially failed, but the NLRB argued last year that the location of a voting box inside an Amazon-branded tent tainted the election. Workers voted again earlier this year, but the results are still too close to call.

    A second Staten Island warehouse is set to vote on unionization on April 25.

  • The Gridiron Club Superspreader Event Shows We Can’t Just Go Back to Normal

    Chris Kleponis/CNP via ZUMA

    At his State of the Union address on March 1, as the coronavirus’ Omicron variant was cresting, President Joe Biden laid out his strategy for managing the pandemic. “Covid-19 need no longer control our lives,” he declared. “If you’re immunocompromised or have some other vulnerability, we have treatments and free high-quality masks,” he said. Overall, though, “it’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again. People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.”

    Since then, a new Omicron subvariant, called BA.2, has emerged, and infection rates are showing signs of rebounding, especially in the Northeast. On cue, Washington, DC, has just endured one of its biggest superspreader events since then-President Donald Trump’s infamous mask-free party celebrating the ascension of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, back in September 2020, months before the emergence of vaccines. Here’s the New York Times:

    At least 53 people have tested positive for the coronavirus since attending The Gridiron Club and Foundation’s annual dinner last Saturday in Washington, the group’s president confirmed on Friday.

    The Gridiron Club dinner, an annual white-tie roast between journalists and presidential administrations, was held at the Renaissance Hotel. But a night of good-natured ribbing has devolved into an outbreak of cases among Washington’s elite, including members of Congress, members of the president’s cabinet and journalists.

    Biden didn’t attend the event, but several people in his circle did, including some who have since tested positive: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Valerie Biden Owens, the president’s sister. Another Cabinet member who was present, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, announced on Twitter on April 9 that come down with Covid, adding that “thankfully my symptoms are mild.”

    Whether or not anyone falls seriously ill from a Covid case picked up at the soiree, the incident is a reminder that the coronavirus is still very much with us. As Times opinion writer Sarah Wildman noted in a Saturday column, “estimates suggest about 3 percent to 4 percent of Americans are immunosuppressed,” and thus remain vulnerable to serious illness from an exposure to the virus.  Their number includes Wildman’s teenage daughter, a cancer survivor. 

    Maybe Biden was right that Covid should no longer dominate our lives. But that shouldn’t mean reestablishing the pre-pandemic status quo. “Returning to what once was is not possible for all; we need, instead, a new normal, one that recognizes that everyone deserves the chance to participate in daily life,” Wildman wrote. “In practical terms that could mean, say, that the family of a child undergoing chemotherapy might ask her classmates and teachers to don masks to protect her against Covid (and other diseases like flu), without having to sue the school to comply.” 

  • A Texas Woman Has Been Charged With Murder for an Alleged Self-Induced Abortion

    Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA

    On Friday, police in South Texas’ Starr County charged a 26-year-old woman with murder and are holding her on a $500,000 bond, reports the McAllen-based Monitor. The crime, according to her accusers: She “knowingly cause[d] the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.”

    It’s unclear whether the woman, identified as Lizelle Herrera, is being charged under Texas Senate Bill 8, which went into effect on September 1, 2021. The law banned abortion after cardiac activity can be detected, at around six weeks’ gestation, and added a new enforcement mechanism: It encouraged private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion, and allows them to collect cash judgments of $10,000 from those they sue if successful. Many observers, including University of Chicago Law School professor Aziz Huq, have compared this aspect of SB 8 to Fugitive Slave Acts passed by Congress in 1793 and 1850, which empowered plantation owners to use freelance bounty hunters to capture escapees and terrorize free Black people. 

    Since Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 8 into law last May, it has repeatedly fended off legal challenge from pro-choice advocates. In December 2021, the US Supreme Court upheld the law, but allowed other federal lawsuits against it to proceed, providing a narrow path for rescinding it in the future. In March, a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court effectively shut down that route, meaning that it will likely remain in place. 

    The law immediately began “causing very real harm to pregnant Texans,” as my colleague Becca Andrews documented last November:

    I have spent the past couple months reporting out of reproductive health clinics for a book project I’m working on, and I’ve seen Texans seeking care in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee. The one that sticks with me was a young woman who came to Huntsville, Alabama, after traveling to Jackson, Mississippi, where she was told she was barely over that clinic’s gestational limit. She had been traveling for almost a week and was exhausted. She told me it was only the second time in her life that she had ever left Texas.

    Zaena Zamora, executive director of the Frontera Fund, a nonprofit that works to help pregnant people in deep southern Texas to get abortion care, was unsurprised by this anecdote. “The day after SB 8 went into effect, we had a caller who had to travel 15 hours overnight [by car] to Wichita, Kansas—she was seven weeks pregnant,” Zamora says. She is seeing unprecedented demand for help with travel and logistics. She told me that the group spent more on travel support just in the month of October than it did in the entire year of 2020.  

    Zamora said that the barriers facing Texans who live in the Rio Grande Valley, a region of the state that is close to the border, are especially great. “We’re the furthest away from any state border,” she says. “Typically, the people that we help have to travel the furthest than any other person would typically have to travel in Texas…we’re looking at 12-plus hours to get to your appointment.” Many of the people the fund seeks to help don’t have paid time off, and that’s just the beginning—there’s childcare to consider, along with money for food, lodging, transportation. Sometimes the support of the fund isn’t enough. 

    The Texas bill is novel because was purposely structured not to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established the right to an abortion without excessive government restriction. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is currently mulling a case involving a Mississippi abortion law that could lead to the overturning of Roe. Its ruling is expected in June. According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, if the conservative-dominated Supreme Court does move in that direction, “21 states have laws or constitutional amendments already in place that would make them certain to attempt to ban abortion as quickly as possible.”  

    Lizelle Herrera, confined on a murder charge for exercising control over her own body, is now making headlines and trending on social media. Her case may soon be the rule, not the exception. 

  • He Raised Millions for a Crowdsourced Border Wall. Now He’s Pleading Guilty to Federal Crimes.

    Jim West/ZUMA

    The right-wing grift, long a staple of the US political scene, reached a kind of apotheosis under Donald Trump, the reality TV mogul who built an empire licensing his name to various dodgy enterprises. Fittingly, the trope he rode to the presidency—that the United States needed to build a wall along our 2,000-mile southern border to keep out undesirables—also anchored a money-making scheme for some of Trump’s political allies, according to a 2020 federal indictment. Last week, one of the principles in the case, Brian Kolfage, agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and three tax charges after raising $25 million in a GoFundMe campaign called We Build the Wall.  

    The most high-profile figure associated with the scheme, one-time Trump Svengali and “stop the steal” stalwart Steve Bannon, won’t deal with legal consequences for the alleged crime. That’s because on his last day in office—two weeks after the January 6, 2020, Capital riot—Trump pardoned Bannon

    Even by the standards of right-wing griftery, We Build the Wall was bold stuff. According to the Justice Department’s 2020 press release, “to induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised…will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization.'” 

    In reality, however, Kolfage “covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000,” while Bannon grabbed enough to “cover hundreds of thousands of dollars” in personal expenses. At a 2019 telethon to raise funds for the project, Bannon infamously joked that “we’re on the million-dollar yacht of Brian Kolfage. Brian Kolfage—who took all that money from Build the Wall.”

    According to the indictment, the defendants actually did funnel We Build the Wall Funds into purchasing a yacht—a big 40-foot beauty they deemed “WarFighter.” It even appeared at one of those infamous “boat parades” to support Trump’s presidential campaign in 2020. 

    And in case you were wondering, yes, Donald Trump Jr. praised Kolfage and We Build the Wall as “private enterprise at its finest” in 2018.

    Kolfage is expected to enter his plea on April 21. He could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

We Noticed You Have An Ad Blocker On.

Can you pitch in a few bucks to help fund Mother Jones' investigative journalism? We're a nonprofit (so it's tax-deductible), and reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget.

We noticed you have an ad blocker on. Can you pitch in a few bucks to help fund Mother Jones' investigative journalism?