All the Snowflake King’s Men

On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, California US Senator Dianne Feinstein released a full transcript of Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson’s extensive 21-hour testimony before 3 Congressional committees. According to her, “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.” The move follows a decision by Republican Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, who after months of testimony, issued a criminal referral for Steele, alleging the committee had reason to believe the former spy has lied to the authorities about his conversations with the press regarding the dossier. His spokesman, Taylor Foy called it, “confounding” that Feinstein released the transcript “unilaterally” over the Republican majority’s objections. Well, of course, she did because she knew the Republicans were cover up that testimony to protect Trump’s ass. But according to Foy, “Feinstein’s unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner. Her action undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.” By releasing the transcripts against objections from Republican colleagues, Feinstein didn’t cause much harm. She broke no law. Though Simpson testified in a closed session, he wasn’t a government official. Nor did he discuss classified information or anything about anyone’s private life. Besides, Simpson had already called for his testimony’s full release. What Feinstein violated was the normal rules of Senate decorum, which Republicans had been using to cover up a key point that debunks some of their own talking points about this matter.

Simpson’s testimony contains many revelations. He touches upon how the Trump Organization handles taxes saying, Donald Trump’s relationship with gangster Felix Sater, how his country clubs aren’t making any money and that someone might’ve been killed as a result of the dossier. But most importantly, his testimony revealed that the FBI was already investigating potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government before they even heard anything about Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier on the matter. During the hearing, Simpson stated when Steele spoke to the FBI about his findings, the bureau, “believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization.” That along with a report from the New York Times suggests that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who during a night of heavy drinking in May 2016, accidentally kicked off the Trump-Russia investigation by telling an Australian diplomat that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We must not forget that Feinstein released this transcript over her Republican colleagues’ objections. Recently, conservatives had been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition document compiled at the Clinton campaign’s behest. On January 3, key House conservative Rep. Jim Jordan rolled out a tweetstorm of 18 questions about the FBI and Russia, many of which centered on the Steele dossier. Along with another leading House conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, Jordan is calling for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions and put in a new attorney general to oversee and possibly quash the Russia investigation. This is part of a broader effort to discredit the Robert Mueller investigation which in turn is part of the conservative counternarrative on the whole Russian scandal. The dossier plays a key role in this conspiracy theory. By putting the dossier on trial, they have tried to impeach the basic case that people in Trump’s circle may have coordinated with the Russians who attacked the election. Trump allies have also used the dossier to go on offense against the FBI and the Justice Department, charging that “biased” federal investigators used what Republicans call partisan, Democratic-funded propaganda as the basis for the whole Russian investigation. However, the reality is that while intelligence circles hold Steele in high regard, there’s no evidence that the FBI has ever used his work as the basis of its Russia investigation. Besides, the case for collusion goes beyond the dossier and includes outreach by Russian agents to the Trump campaign as well as meetings between Trump associates and Russians.

Now who is this Glenn Simpson and what is Fusion GPS? Simpson is one of the co-founders of Fusion GPS which is a “strategic influence” firm first hired by the conservative publication called the Washington Free Beacon in 2015 to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee contracted the firm once Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. In turn, Fusion hired former MI-6 Russian specialist Christopher Steele to specifically look at Trump and Russia. The former British agent used his Russian contacts to compile a dossier describing efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his entourage and to gather material to blackmail the candidate if necessary. He did not pay sources for the information. His investigation ended with a several allegations including that Russian security services are blackmailing Trump with a recording of him paying prostitutes to pee on his bed at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. And that Trump’s campaign was the beneficiary of a multifaceted Kremlin plot to interfere in the 2016 US election. Obviously, Steele felt his findings went beyond political campaign fodder and made him worry that there was a genuine threat to US national security. So he took the info to the FBI who was already getting tips and reports something was going on. Steele’s information just confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Buzzfeed published Steele’s dossier in January 2017 which set off a firestorm of controversy and intrigue which neither man intended to happen. But in recent months, it had taken new life as the centerpiece of a conservative counter-conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies cooked up the whole Trump-Russia investigation. Simpson’s testimony primarily debunks the conservative narrative placing the infamous dossier at the center of the story and confirms the Times account of a drunk Papadopoulos kickstarting the Trump-Russian investigation.

But how could a drunk Papadopoulos be the start of the Trump-Russian investigation? Let’s just say that it all boils Papadopoulos having a drunk conversation with Australia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton. Downer, of course, shared the details with other Australian officials who ultimately passed word of it to their American counterparts once the hacking of Democratic email accounts became a big deal. And thus the FBI investigation ensued that July. All because Papadopoulos said the wrong thing to the wrong guy while under the influence. They listened to Steele because they already had an investigation into the Trump-Russia question underway. While the investigation hasn’t yet proven the existence of anything like the vast conspiracy Steele alleges, it certainly has uncovered a real evidence of wrongdoing. This consists of a Papadopoulos guilty plea along with serious criminal charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that key Trumpworld figures like Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were at least eager to potentially collaborate with the Russian government into revealing anti-Clinton “dirt.” Rather than taking a cue from Downer in alerting the authorities to the existence of the of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. There also continues to be an ongoing investigation that might yet reveal other criminal activity. Or it might not. Either way, Simpson’s testimony is more evidence that law enforcement took the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Steele may have overreacted as well as got things wrong. Yet, fundamentally, it doesn’t matter since the investigation doesn’t rise or fall on his credibility. Even so, he turned the dossier to the FBI for no obvious reason other than his allegiance to our closest ally. Despite what the Republicans think, the Steele dossier was not a purely political document paid for by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump. Else Steele wouldn’t have reported such information to the FBI. In fact, the Democrats hardly made a concerted effort to hit Trump where it hurts during the 2016 election and they didn’t need a dossier suggesting treason to do it. For Trump’s history of corruption of dubious business practices is simply mindboggling. Also, he’s a narcissistic sociopath who has consistently abused any position of power he’s had to enrich himself. Besides, allegations of collusion with a foreign power to interfere in an election are far more serious than the traditional political punches.

While Republicans decry that Feinstein’s decision to make the Simpson testimony public undermines the congressional investigations, it was the their own efforts to obstruct inquiries that prompted to her to release the documents in the first place. Because they’d rather stick with Trump for their own selfish interests despite the damage he’s done to this country, how many norms he’s violated, and how he’s enriching himself. In an op-ed Fritsch and Simpson write, “We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed. [We] found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.” The House committee investigating Trump’s Russian connections was an utter joke while led by Rep. Devin Nunes who was on Trump’s transition team! Last year, the California Republican betrayed his oath of office on behalf of a faction within the Trump administration. Hell, he practically went to and from the White House telling Trump and his allies the House committee’s activities. In siding with Trump, Republicans have put their party over nation and principles. In essence, instead of pursuing what Fusion GPS found out about Trump, they’ve become enablers to a possible traitor who has no love for the country he’s supposed to lead, no respect for the democratic values he’s supposed to protect and promote, and no affinity for the rule of law he’s supposed to abide.

Nevertheless, the fact Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans didn’t want the Simpson testimony released to the public speaks volumes about their motives. As Simpson and Fusion GPS co-founder Peter Fritsch wrote in an op-ed that the committees have “known for months” of credible collusion allegations but have chosen instead to “chase rabbits.” And yet, Republicans tried pushing a conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies created the dossier to defame him and launch an FBI witch hunt. It’s clear conservatives in Congress have been misleading people about the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia with hopes in discrediting it. We all know that Republicans want to hold on to their power to enact policy they want no matter how unpopular it is. We know they’re willing to support Donald Trump so they can get their way. It is one thing for a major political party to unite behind a corrupt president. But it’s a very serious concern when the GOP unites behind a campaign of willful disinformation at the country’s expense. As Joshua Marshall wrote in Talking Points Memo, “What’s happened is that we’ve had a year tarnishing the reputation of a man who did right by the United States for no obvious reason other than his allegiance is to our closest ally and creating a comic, degenerate alternate reality in which the people who alerted us to the problems and those who first sought to understand them are the malefactors rather than the people who were at a minimum cozying up to a foreign power. It is actually quite like the cliched story of the whistleblower who speaks up and then becomes the scapegoat in the cover-up of the bad acts he was trying to bring to light. In fact that’s exactly what it is.” Now that Republicans have chosen to protect their Snowflake King, we must remember how their selfishness at Capitol Hill has disgraced the nation.

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The Fall of the Low Hanging Fruit

On Monday, October 30, 2017, Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates were indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The two men face a total of 12 charges mostly focused on alleged money laundering, failure to disclose financial assets, and false statements regarding their work for the Ukrainian government and a Ukrainian political party. Particularly, it’s about how Manafort and Gates hid their lobbying work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party and used elaborate schemes to funnel more than $75 million through offshore accounts to conceal their activities and avoid paying taxes on the proceeds. Manafort’s history of pro-Russian consulting work and experience with international skullduggery make him a prime suspect for potential collusion. But the indictment actually doesn’t have anything to do with possible Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and whether Trump associates played any role in it. Instead, it’s almost entirely related to Manafort’s work for foreign interests predating the 2016 campaign which were already under FBI investigation. For months Mueller seemed to have zeroing in on Manafort. In July, the FBI raided his house for documents and there was a report he’d been wiretapped. Emails then revealed he tried to set up private briefings for a Russian billionaire while Trump’s campaign chair. It’s long been speculated that if Mueller’s team finds damaging evidence, they’re reportedly hoping they can use charges to get Manafort to give them more information on the collusion matter. In other words, they want to flip him against Trump, other Trump associates, or potentially Russians.

Paul Manafort has had a decades long career as a Republican operative and lobbyist who’s worked on several GOP presidential campaigns and representing several controversial dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He’s also been a longtime business partner of Roger Stone, with whom he founded a famous lobbying firm. In the mid-2000s, Manafort began focusing on business activities in Eastern Europe. Initially, he mostly advised oligarchs such as Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov. In 2005, he advised the Ukrainian pro-Russian Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych. After Yanukovych lost a presidential election, Manafort’s team helped them formulate a comeback strategy. In 2010, Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidency. Manafort had other dealings with wealthy people in Ukraine as well. In one instance, he tried to develop a luxury apartment with energy oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who was later charged with money laundering and bribery. Yet, these business ventures fall apart in 2014. Protests and clashes with pro-Russian policies forced President Yanukovych to flee Ukraine. Meanwhile, Manafort had a large falling out with Deripaska who claimed he cheated him out of millions in a lawsuit.
So why would Donald Trump appoint an operative who’s done so much pro-Putin work as his campaign chair? Well, consider the situation in March 2016. Back then, despite Trump winning several flashy victories in early primary elections. But Ted Cruz proved adept at locking down delegates even in states Trump won. Since delegates technically determine the nominee, Trump became convinced he needed an expert who understood the byzantine party rules actually governing delegate selection and the convention, else he could lose. Since Manafort had helped Gerald Ford lock down delegates in 1976 and managed Bob Dole’s convention 20 years later, he fit the bill. Even better, Manafort was also the former business partner of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. Though Stone had been pushed out of the Trump campaign some time ago, he kept informally advising Trump and to intrigue against campaign manager Corey Lewandowski whom he loathed. At first, Manafort’s job was merely leading a delegate wrangling operation. But when Lewandowski became enmeshed in scandal over grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a campaign event, his portfolio gradually expanded until he was effectively running the campaign. In May 2016, he was officially made campaign chair and chief strategist while Lewandowski was fired. Manafort would remain in charge through the last through GOP primary elections and the Republican National Convention. By mid-August Trump had sunk in the polls while damaging news reports about foreign worked dogged Manafort. Thus, Trump brought in Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to take over while Manafort had to resign. Of course, the Trump administration has recently attempted to distance itself from the former campaign chairman with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer claiming, he “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” However, it widely understood that Manafort was a linchpin in the Trump campaign. As New Gingrich told Fox News in August 2016, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this [Trump] campaign to where it is right now.”

Paul Manafort’s time with the Trump campaign may have lasted less than 5 months but it was an eventful and crucial period for Trump/Russian activity. For one, the Trump campaign transitioned from the primary to the general election in which finding a way to defeat Hillary Clinton would be top priority. Second, there’s the e-mail exchange between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone who offered to set up a meeting in which he’d receive incriminating information on Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. forwarded the e-mail thread about the meeting to Manafort and Jared Kushner and invited them to it. That meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and potential spy Rinat Akhmetshin took place on June 9, 2016 with Manafort and Kushner in attendance. Though the parties involved claimed the meeting lead nowhere, NBC News states that Manafort’s notes on the meeting included a reference to donations, “near a reference to the Republican National Convention” though the full context remains unclear. In July, Manafort oversaw the Republican National Convention. But as the Republicans assembled their platform some controversy spilled over whether Trump staffers pushed to dilute an aggressive anti-Russian amendment calling for arming Ukraine. The controversy seems somewhat exaggerated and there hasn’t been any indication that Manafort was personally involved. The existing platform wasn’t changed but a Ted Cruz supporter’s proposed amendment was modified before being added to it. Later in that same month, Wikileaks posted hundreds of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee. The dumps showed certain DNC staffers saying unfriendly things about Bernie Sanders were perfectly timed to cause chaos at the Democratic National Convention the following week. US intelligence later claimed the Russian government orchestrated the DNC hack.
Nevertheless, Mueller’s indictment of Manafort was a long time coming. Even before the indictment, Manafort was already seen as astonishingly corrupt with longstanding interests in tilting the Trump campaign’s platform in a pro-Russian stance. The gist of the 12 charges against him and Gates is that they “acted as unregistered agents” of the Ukrainian government and politicians, generating “tens of millions of dollars in income” which they then “laundered” through “score of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.” In other words, taking a bunch of illegal Ukrainian money and actively lying about it to the federal government which is a criminal offense. On former front, Manafort and Gates are both charged with a “conspiracy to launder money” and separate specific charges on failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. Together to hide their Ukrainian work, both men laundered their Ukrainian payments through a complex network of companies and bank accounts they set up in both the United States and abroad which included tax havens in Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grendines, and Seychelles. More than $75 million is said to flow through their offshore bank accounts. The indictment then reads: “Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” It then alleges that Manafort laundered over $18 million through offshore accounts, making various payments to businesses including a home improvement company, a men’s clothing store, a landscaper, and an antique rug store. In 2012, he’s said to buy a Manhattan condo for $2.85 million he rented out using Airbnb to generate cash.

Thus, it’s obvious that Mueller wants to know whether there was any follow-up to the meeting Trump Jr. set up (despite Trump Jr. claiming there wasn’t). And whether Manafort had any knowledge about the email hackings which he’s denied. There are also questions about Manafort’s emails with his Ukrainian business associate Konstantin Kilimnik about his old client Oleg Deripaska. On July 7, 2016, he e-mailed Kilimnik about the Russian aluminum oligarch saying, “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate” according to the Washington Post. Kilimnik wrote back a few weeks later, seemingly cryptically about Deripaska, claiming he met the guy in person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago” and that it would take time to explain this “long caviar story.” He and Manafort then set up a meeting in New York that took place a few days later. By the way, he did this while chairing Trump’s campaign. And even though his Ukrainian baggage forced him to leave the Trump campaign, Manafort was known to be in contact with Trump. Mostly because investigators had been surveilling him thanks to a secret court order since September 2016.

As Mueller’s main goal is to investigate potential collusion between Trump associates and Russia, he can see charges against Manafort as a means to an end. The stronger the evidence the special counsel has against the former Trump campaign manager, the more pressure he can exert to get him to cooperate in the collusion probe. But the charges are serious enough to warrant prison time that Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the FBI to face those charges. Thus, the men turned themselves in. Then there’s the foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos who’s plead guilty of lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Joseph Mifsud, a professor with close ties to the Russian government who told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” Such disclosure confirms at least one Trump campaign adviser knew of Kremlin efforts to help Trump win the White House and was open to accepting that assistance. But whether Papadopoulos shared that information with others within the Trump campaign remains a mystery. Yet, Mueller’s team has said in a court filing that Papadopoulos “has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” This begs the question what kinds of information Papadopoulos has already provided to Mueller’s team. Did he wear a wire? Did he try to help the special prosecutor gather information on other Trump associates? Are other Trump team members quietly working with Mueller? Nonetheless, Mueller’s moves increase the likelihood that campaign advisers or administration staffers finding themselves in his crosshairs might want to strike plea bargains in which they trade damaging information on Trump in exchange for lesser charges. This who don’t cut a deal will be prosecuted.

Though the investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia has simmered for months, it’s wasn’t clear if, or when, it would move from a political scandal to a legal one. Thanks to Mueller’s indictments on Manafort and Gates, it has. Now the question is how far Trump will go to protect himself from an investigation that threatens the future of his presidency. And whether the Congress and the courts will be up for the challenge. The time may come when Donald Trump decides he has no choice but try to protect himself by firing Mueller or issuing preemptive pardons to Manafort or others ensnared in the investigation. Either move can trigger a legal and political crisis in Watergate level proportions such as breaking decades of if not centuries of precedent for how American presidents treat the criminal justice system. Federal courts may have to decide whether to overturn any Trump pardons. Republicans could face a moment of truth about their willingness to actually stand up to Trump instead of publicly bashing him. Though a handful of GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to protect Mueller from Trump firing him with bipartisan support. But such legislation has gone nowhere. So far, Robert Mueller has the upper hand but that could very literally change at a moment depending on what Trump does next. The US political and legal systems did their jobs during Watergate. But it’s profoundly depressing to ask whether they’ll do their jobs during the Trump presidency. It’s even more heart wrenching they might not.

So far the Republican Party has done nothing. Earlier in October, House Speaker Paul Ryan reputedly joked at the Al Smith Dinner, “Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn’t see later on.” Later, when a Wisconsin radio station asked his opinion on the Mueller indictments, he said, “I really don’t have anything to add other than nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.” There was nothing on his website even addressing the indictments. But there was a post summing up a busy month cheekily titled, “Not Another Tax Reform Post” and included photos of Ryan signing bills, handing out medals, and meeting interns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t even make himself available enough to dodge any questions. The top story on his website that time was “McConnell on IRS Targeting During Obama Administration.” There is no mention of Mueller whatsoever. Had Hillary Clinton been in this situation you’d bet Ryan and McConnell would be all over it. Instead, they’re mounting a defense of Congress’s priorities in the face of Trump and the media’s distractions. Yet, these near-daily acts of silence and cowardice abdicate Congress’s role to contain a clearly rogue, lawless, and undisciplined White House. The Founding Fathers could see Americans electing a demagogue to the White House to the White House despite that their mistrust of the popular will and Electoral College system enabled just that. But instead of ambition counteracting ambition as they intended, it’s ambition enabling ambition which wasn’t what the Founding Fathers had foreseen. Today, Ryan and McConnell’s ambition to pass tax cuts for the rich and hold the Republican base is enabling Trump’s ambition to act without proper sanction or oversight. Congress has plenty of power to check Trump, but its leaders are too nervous to use it, or even signal that they might use it in the future.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell could’ve said or done so much to protect both the process and the country. They could’ve remarked how troubling Mueller’s indictments are for anyone caring about the sanctity of elections. They could’ve assured that Mueller had their full support for the investigation to run its course as well as endorse one of the bipartisan bills to safeguard his job. Even if it just in the name of self-preservation. Because Donald Trump firing Mueller will ignite a major political crisis that will be far more of a distraction from tax reform. But the GOP has come to bind and blind so effectively that congressional Republicans have lost sight that they, too, have an interest in the political system’s fundamental stability and indicating what behavior will or will not be acceptable from the president. And it’s not Ryan and McConnell who could act to safeguard Mueller’s investigation in advance. Senators John McCain, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake have all decried Donald Trump as a threat in apocalyptic terms. They can join the Democrats to create a 51-vote majority blocking action on any bills until the protective legislation Republican Senator Tom Tillis introduced was passed. But so far, they too, have done nothing of the kind.

The Trump era is an extraordinary time in American politics that’s a test not just to our institutions but also our leaders. Republicans are failing that test. It’s well known they’re more despairing than liberals in the back rooms and background briefings. They know that Donald Trump is a dangerous and impulsive man in the White House. Those who take their conservatism seriously and believe the best for their party keenly feel the consequences of Trump’s behavior. But because they’re so afraid of his wrath, confused by their base, and somewhat hopeful that something good can arise from this crisis, they regularly talk themselves into small acts of cowardice and silence. Yet, these small acts lead to committing larger ones when the party is too invested and too culpable to change. Now like hungry gamblers deep in a losing streak, they need to win something to justify all they’ve done and excused. But like all hungry gamblers, more likely than not, they’ll just keep losing while making everything worse for themselves and the American people. For the sake of the country, Republicans need to start taking Trump as a serious threat now.

Don’t Tell Me It’s Now’s Not the Time To Talk About Guns

At around 10 pm on the night of Sunday, October 1, 2017 during a Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, a gunman from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened gunfire on the outdoor crowd of 22,000 people below while country singer Jason Aldean performed on stage. The firing lasted for 11 minutes resulting in 59 dead and over 500 injured in what became the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The shooter was a 64-year-old white man named Stephen Paddock who lived in a Mesquite, Nevada retirement community. By the time police reached his room, he was found dead, having shot himself in the head shortly before. Though he acted alone, Las Vegas police couldn’t find a motive. He had no criminal record or any investigative history showing he was dangerous. But what they did find was an arsenal of 23 guns and a large quantity of ammunition in his hotel room that he had occupied since September 28. The guns consisted of a handgun and 22 rifles including AR-15s, Kalasnikovs, AR 10s, and other .308 caliber rifles. Two of the rifles were mounted with bipods and equipped with telescopic sights. Over half of the guns were modified semi-automatic weapons with bump fire stocks which can simulate full automatic fire. As for the ammunition well, there were numerous high capacity magazines holding up to 100 rounds apiece. Paddock transported all this weapon stash to his hotel suite in over 10 suitcases during his stay and installed hidden cameras inside and out to monitor others’ arrival. Along with 24 other firearms found in Verde and Mesquite, Nevada, they were legally purchased from Nevada, Utah, California, and Texas as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined. Several pounds of fertilizer was found in his car. Though we don’t know why Paddock decided to fire upon concertgoers, all the evidence screams he had meticulously planned the whole thing in advance.

Yet, this is one of several major mass shootings the United States has experienced within my own lifetime. I’ve seen the whole scheme play out too many times in the same tragic and senseless song and dance routine. First, you have a gunman fire upon unsuspecting individuals at a public venue resulting in a high death and injury count and feelings of tear jerking shock and horror. What follows is the public in grips of mourning as further details of the shooter unfold along with tributes of victims such as thoughts and prayers. You might get plenty of public figures calling out for gun control. Only for those supporting gun rights decry how it’s inappropriate to debate about gun control in a tragedy’s aftermath. As time goes on, the story starts to fade and everyone moves on. Until the next shooting occurs to start the whole cycle over again. But whether it’s a black church, a movie theater, elementary school, workplace, nightclub, military base, college, or outdoor concert venue, too many Americans refuse to learn the harsh lessons of the costs lax gun laws. In fact, many states have enacted pro-gun legislation that make guns more readily available. Whenever it comes to causes of gun violence, gun rights advocates usually find some other excuse like mental health, violent video games, moral decay, sanctuary cities, and anything else. Anything but guns. Then they say how the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms which shouldn’t be infringed. And that gun control restricts freedom by giving the federal government license to seize firearms from law-abiding citizens. Such concepts are blatant lies. But they’ve resulted in devastating consequences. The Centers for Disease Control has been banned from researching gun violence since 1996. President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General received outcry for framing gun violence as a public health issue. Attempts to pass even the most minimal gun controls laws have gone nowhere in Congress.

Meanwhile, gun violence touches every segment of our society endangering Americans every day. There have been 1,500 mass shootings since the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre. On average the United States experiences more than one mass shooting a day. Gun violence claims 31 American deaths and 151 injuries every day. For every American who dies from a gunshot wound, two others are wounded. And for each American shot, people’s lives are forever changed by their loved ones’ deaths and injuries. Annual costs for gun violence amount to at least $229 billion including $8.6 billion in direct expenses like emergency medical care. Gun violence increases likelihood of deaths in domestic violence incidents. It raises the chances of fatalities by those intending to injure others and among those attempting suicide. It places children and young people at special risk. And like most of America’s social problems, it disproportionately affects communities of color. If gun violence isn’t a public health crisis in the US, I don’t know what is.

Too many times we’ve been told after a mass shooting that discussing gun control is taboo. Too many times “thoughts and prayers” has proven too insufficient for the real action to prevent mass shootings. Too many times has the Second Amendment been viewed as a sacred cow by gun advocates and the National Rifle Association. Too many times our leaders have done nothing to prevent future mass shootings that it’s only a matter a time when the next one takes place. It’s already been way past time to talk about gun violence, especially for the hundreds of Americans who died at the pull of the trigger. Or all those who struggle with disabilities, lingering injuries, and PTSD thanks to some guy with a gun he shouldn’t even have. Whenever there’s a national problem that’s put Americans at risk, our nation has done something about it. Politicians have worked tirelessly to instill regulations to protect people from further harm and make sure those deaths and injuries don’t happen again. But somehow whenever there’s a mass shooting it’s different when it shouldn’t be.

Regardless of what Bill O’Reilly said, gun violence shouldn’t be the cost of freedom in America. Even in a country as gun obsessed as the United States, our society should never accept or normalize mass murder as a price of freedom. We should never accept the meaningless slaughter of children, loved ones, friends, and other living their peaceful lives for those who want to possess military grade weapons in the name of their personal freedom. It’s not freedom when you can’t go to a public space without worrying about how some psycho can easily buy semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines showering bullets to kill scores of innocents within minutes. True freedom is knowing we’re reasonably safe from such nutcases with these weapons. If more guns resulted in less gun violence, then the United States would be one of the safest nations in the world and we wouldn’t need to worry about mass shootings. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work that way since the latest validated statistics confirms that more guns leads to more deadly violence. So the fact the US has one of the highest rates of gun violence and leads the world in mass shootings shouldn’t be a surprise. There is no legitimate reason why semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines and bump stocks should be available to the general public and carried around all over the place. If we want to ensure people’s true freedom and safety, we must work hard to make sure these killing machines are out of civilians’ hands. And ensure that those prone to violence don’t have access to a gun in the first place. We can prevent the next mass shooting and the tragic loss of life. The question is whether we’re willing to do so. But as far as I’m concerned, we need to discuss gun violence and implement common sense gun control measures now. Because if we don’t, then how many senseless tragedies must we have to bear before we do something?

A Pardon Worthy of Contempt

On the night of August 25, 2017, Donald Trump issued his first presidential pardon on former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for a contempt-of-court conviction over a federal court order violation meant to prevent racial profiling. The official statement from the White House read, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.” But we all know that Trump promised to pardon the former Arizona sheriff at his Phoenix rally early that week. After all, to Trump and his supporters, Arpaio was just a law enforcement official convicted of only “doing his job.” Nevertheless, this presidential pardon validates the idea that promising “law and order” and protection from social disorder in the form of undocumented immigration and street crime doesn’t require adhering to the rule of law. Not to mention, it sends a powerful message to sheriffs across the country worried that cooperating with federal immigration officials could get them in trouble with the courts.

 

However, we must understand that Sheriff Joe Arpaio wasn’t convicted for only “doing his job.” Back in the mid to late 2000s, the federal government started escalating immigration enforcement to an unprecedented degree by relying on local law enforcement. Along with the election of a hardline anti-immigration chief prosecutor Andrew Thomas, Arpaio became the face of local law enforcement of federal immigration law. Calling himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” he gave celebrity tours of his infamous “Tent City” for housing undocumented immigrants whom he forced to work on chain gangs in under the sweltering desert sun, which he proudly referred to as “concentration camps.” And he often gifted guests with commemorative pairs of pink underwear he made inmates wear under their black and white uniforms. He bragged about his “sweeps” results which were local late night immigration raids to round up undocumented immigrants and hand over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In addition, he maintained an immigrant smuggling squad to stop cars with Latino drivers and passengers in order to check their immigration status. Despite widespread criticism by human rights groups and political leaders, Arpaio was reelected Maricopa County Sheriff 5 times thanks to a bastion of conservatives and retirees who view him as a white knight and defender of the 1950s Shangri-La they’ve sought to preserve in the largely white suburbs around Phoenix while keeping the money and political power. Yet, many of the white owners employ the undocumented immigrants Arpaio targets but he doesn’t bust them for exploiting their labor. Meanwhile soaring number of Hispanic residents comprises of a third of the county’s population which rose 47% within the last decade. After all, Maricopa County is the 4th largest county in the US and 50 miles from the Mexican border while Phoenix is a destination for undocumented immigrants and drug dealers alike. By vocally targeting undocumented immigration, Arpaio became a regular on Fox News and a hero to the Tea Party as well as a go-to media prop for conservative politicians wanting to be seen as immigration hard liners. While traveling the country to endorse these right-wing candidate, he attracts millions of dollars from political allies outside Arizona who long gave him an advantage his opponents couldn’t match. As former Phoenix police chief George Gascon told Rolling Stone, “Arpaio knows how to move the needle when it comes to appealing to the base. What he did very artfully is piggy-back on this fear of illegal immigration that was becoming so prevalent in border states like Arizona. He was able to capitalize on that and he became the hero, the only guy who would single-handedly go after it.”

 

But these methods raised questions on how exactly Joe Arpaio and his deputies determined who to apprehend for immigration offenses or whether they were just arresting anyone living in Maricopa County who just happened to be Latino, even in cases where the “suspects” violated no state law. His rhetoric and tactics have spread fear in Arizona’s Latino community who very understandably loathe him. Though Arpaio communicated toughness through big, theatrical stunts, his practices often violated the rights of his targets. His roadblocks to detain drivers who merely looked like undocumented immigrants was a virtual license to profile Hispanics. Reports of pull-overs with little or no discernable traffic violations became so widespread that one study showed Latinos in the northeastern part of Maricopa County as 9 times more likely to be stopped for the same infractions as other drivers. The DOJ alleged that Arpaio’s men relied on factors “such as whether passengers look ‘disheveled’ or do not speak English.” Some were justified after the fact such as an incident involving a neatly dressed group of Latinos described in a police report as “dirty.” The sheriff himself acknowledged the crackdown a “pure program to go after the illegals and not the crime first.” To make matters worse, Arpaio has frequently arrested and detained Latino US citizens, legal residents, and tourists, including children, for hours at a time without a charge or warrant. Mostly because according to Arizona State’s Charles Katz, “Illegal immigrants make up less than 10 percent of those arrested. They’re involved in less criminal activity than native-born Americans.” According to retired police officer Bill Richardson, “He’s vilified Latinos in such a way that normal people, they’re scared to death.” Such terror only makes it more difficult for police to do their jobs since it makes Latinos more afraid of law enforcement.

 

Groups for years have criticized the Tent City and jails over notorious minimalistic conditions as violating human and constitutional rights since the 1990s. Federal investigations on Tent City date as far back as 1995. Joe Arpaio was proud of his prison experiments as an inexpensive solution to overcrowded jails and frequently invited the media to witness each new cohort being sent to the Tent City. But what the prisoners experienced was absolutely horrific. The DOJ reported that guards referred to Latino inmates as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “stupid Mexicans” and “fucking Mexicans.” In addition, female prisoners were forced to sleep in their own menstrual blood and were denied basic sanitary items. Officers refused to respond to inmates pleas if they made them in Spanish and sometimes put them in solitary confinement for extended periods of time if they didn’t understand English. One former inmate recounted his experience to the Washington post saying, “During the sweltering summer, the temperature could reach 115 or 120 degrees. I was in the tents when we hit 120. It was impossible to stay cool in the oppressive heat. Everyone would strip down to their underwear. There was no cold water, only water from vending machines; and eventually, the machines would run out. People would faint; some had heatstroke. That summer, ambulances came about three times. One man died in his bed. But the winter was even worse. During the winter, there were no heaters. Most jackets and heavily insulated pants weren’t allowed; they don’t want you to be comfortable.”  Holes torn into the tents let in wind and rain, drenching the beds. Prisoners would make ropes to hold tent canvases together out of black trash bags they were given as raincoats. Many inmates were forced to work in chain gangs and subjected to humiliating practices like public parades. Healthcare was substandard and often neglected as many inmates were subject to the point of extreme suffering, even death. Mentally ill detainees were especially victimized. Detention officers didn’t want to work there since it was dangerously overcrowded and understaffed. Prisoners often died with no explanation. According to attorney Michael Manning, “His entire jail operation was unconstitutionally inhumane and unconstitutionally dangerous.” To make matters worse, most of the inmates there were either low level crooks serving short sentences, suspected undocumented immigrants, or those awaiting trial. After Arpaio’s reelection defeat in 2016, the tent cities were ultimately shut down after being cited for violations against the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” and a unanimous vote by Maricopa’s Board of Supervisors.

 

Joe Arpaio’s “law and order” policies weren’t successful as anti-crime measures since Maricopa County 911 response times rose dramatically during the heyday of Arpaio’s sweeps. Mostly because Arpaio had been so obsessed with the often-illusory crimes of undocumented immigrants that he’s ignored more than 400 sexual abuse cases he was responsible for investigating including assaults on children. In another incident, Arpaio staged a massive prostitution round up involving 350 deputies resulting in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declining 80 cases for prosecution. Meanwhile, 12 execution style murders remained unsolved. As a Phoenix resident wrote to the Arizona Republic on the incident back in the early 2010s, “If Joe Arpaio continues to spend the county’s scarce law enforcement dollars on chasing consenting adults engaged in private sexual activity, while child murders and sexual assaults remain unsolved, he should be the one to explain to the next grieving mother why her child’s killer has not been caught, prosecuted and put in prison. And the taxpayers should send him a message by electing a new sheriff who doesn’t treat public funds as his private public relations piggybank.” In addition, Arpaio was responsible for a critical and dangerous shortage of personnel on both jails and patrol because he often assigned deputies as his bodyguards and detention officers for his labor intensive, publicity producing chain gangs for TV. But the worst of his “tough on crime” publicity stunt was when he staged an assassination attempt against himself in 1999 to boost his popularity which resulted in an innocent man spending 4 years in jail waiting to clear his name.

 

When local political leaders criticized Arpaio’s tactics, he simply used his power to go after them. Starting in the mid-2000s, his internal affairs office was more of a task force to pursue personal grudges than an effort to keep his deputies in line. Not to mention, Arpaio had been cited for systematic abuses of power for trying to get his enemies brought up on criminal charges including local judges like Snow, members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, local attorneys, county and state officials, former US Attorney General Eric Holder, municipal law enforcement, newspaper heads, and a former mayor of Phoenix. He famously investigated Barack Obama’s birth certificate which he wrote off as a forgery. In one instance, the sheriff’s office arrested a county board member who questioned the costs associated with Arpaio’s immigration crackdown and held him in jail for several hours. Another instance in 2007, led to arrests of the CEO and top editor of the Phoenix New Times for publishing an aggressive report on the sheriff’s real estate dealings and refused to comply with subpoenas for more than 2 years of the newspaper’s records on Arpaio and information on anyone who visited the website and read the stories. They were apprehended during a raid on their homes while their families looked on and were charged with violating grand-jury secrecy by reporting on the subpoenas. In 2008, Arpaio conducted a late-night raid on Mesa City Hall allegedly looking for undocumented immigrants after Police Chief George Gascon prevented him from sending officers to confront those protesting his crime sweeps over harassment and racial profiling. Gascon also hired free speech lawyers to represent the demonstrators as well. Arpaio arrested a handful of documented janitors and then raided Gascon’s police station for the workers’ computer files suspecting their papers were fake.

 

In the past decade hundreds of lawsuits were brought upon the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with charges ranging from deaths in Joe Arpaio’s jails to unlawful arrests. Far from saving money, Arpaio’s on-the-cheap Tent City has cost Maricopa County more than $50 million to defend itself against lawsuits from the sheriff’s victims. In 2007, a few Latino residents sued him for civil rights violations. The plaintiffs claimed deputies targeted them at traffic stops and sometimes detained them for hours on suspicion of being in the US without papers, apparently due to their ethnicity. The US Department of Justice investigated the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for 3 years and in 2011 reported that it had engaged in the worst pattern of racial profiling in US history. The DOJ subsequently filed suit against his MCSO of creating “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” that “reaches the highest levels of the agency.” As a result, Judge G. Murray Snow issued an injunction preventing Arpaio from apprehending or detaining anyone purely on a suspected undocumented status or turning such people over to ICE. That same year, the US Department of Homeland Security revoked MCSO’s authority to identify and detain undocumented immigrants.

 

Though Joe Arpaio officially lost the civil suit in 2013, it was obvious his department hadn’t complied to Judge Snow’s 2011 injunction. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office kept engaging in immigration “sweeps,” turning people over to ICE (or the Border Patrol when ICE stopped accepting detainees from Arpaio’s deputies), and holding suspected undocumented immigrants in jail after they’d otherwise be released for federal agents to pick them up. After several hearings about the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s failure to obey the 2011 order, Judge Snow cited Arpaio and some of his subordinates for civil contempt of court in 2015. The next year, Snow asked the US Attorney’s Office to charge Arpaio and 3 others with criminal contempt, which someone can only be convicted of if it’s shown that they willfully refused to obey the court order, not just failed to make sure it was obeyed. Of course, Arpaio denied deliberately disobeying Snow’s order, claiming he hadn’t properly understood it. He claimed the violations were his deputies’ fault not his. Judge Snow didn’t buy it for obvious reasons. First, witnesses testified that Arpaio and his underlings told them not to change internal policies after the court order.  Second, during his frequent media appearances, Arpaio often claimed his department was just doing what it had always done, arguing that he was simply doing the job the federal government had failed to do. He even told reporters he would “never give in to control by the federal government,” that he would not “back down” and “if they don’t like what I’m doing get the laws changed in Washington.” Third, Arpaio had attempted to dig dirt on Judge Snow himself (including having a detective investigate the federal judge’s wife). As US District Judge Susan Bolton wrote, “Not only did (Arpaio) abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise. The evidence at trial proves beyond a reasonable doubt and the Court finds that Judge Snow issued a clear and definite order enjoining Defendant from detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed; that Defendant knew of the order; and that Defendant willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates’ compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed.”

 

 Joe Arpaio’s July 2017 conviction for contempt of court was a predictable consequence of the way he ran his department guided by the idea that as long as law enforcement officials grabbed headlines by going after undesirable people, the public wouldn’t care how it was done. The evidence for his guilt was overwhelming and there was nothing improper about Arpaio’s trial and well-deserved conviction. Nobody contested that the former sheriff targeted and jailed Latinos in inhuman conditions on suspicion of undocumented immigration. There was no doubt he was guilty of contempt. Nobody questioned the fact he defied a court order so he could continue his race-based reign of terror that targeted innocent people on the basis of their ethnicity. He saw himself above the law and bragged about defying a court order in front of the cameras. You can’t find a clearer case of contempt of court than this. Arpaio was clearly not doing his job to enforce the law. Instead he broke it and openly disregarded it in broad daylight without a hint of remorse.

 

Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is essentially allows a government official to defy Constitutional rights with impunity. It is an endorsement of the corrupt former sheriff’s flagrant racism and birtherism. Furthermore, not only did Trump pardon Arpaio without any of the appropriate processes and procedures, but also reflects his appalling disrespect for democratic institutions. And from a moral standpoint, it is completely indefensible. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump would pardon such a despicable man since he shares the notorious ex-sheriff’s views such as little regard for civil rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The federal judiciary and legal system operates under the reasonable expectation that public officials like Arpaio will follow valid court orders whether they agree with them or not. Without this compliance there’s no law. Also, it reflects his priorities such as rewarding those he sees as loyal and punishing those like special prosecutor on the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller whom Trump has wanted to fire. It shouldn’t surprise no one that Arpaio is a loyal Trump supporter for years. Now in the Trump administration, when judicial norms or the rule of law threaten to limit Trump’s actions, they may be safely disregarded. As Slate’s Michael Joseph Stern writes: “Arpaio’s conviction was a test for how long and how willing Trump will be to abide judicial oversight. He flunked it. It now seems clear that many future beneficiaries of the president’s clemency will be his political allies—and that he might not wait to for them to be convicted or sentenced before issuing a pardon. Trump, in other words, may use his pardon power to stymie Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as other inquiries into the past misdeeds of his associates.” We’d expect a crime boss or a dictator to do this but it’s the last thing we’d want from a president. In fact, such abuse on a pardon could be grounds for impeachment as James Madison explained.

 

On the immigration front, Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio for aggressively enforcing immigration law in the worst way possible, it sends a very clear message to local sheriffs in public office worried about court liability. Particularly, as the administration ramps up immigration enforcement, when it comes to holding people after they’d otherwise be released from jail so ICE agents could pick them up. Since sheriffs could get in trouble with the courts for violating the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, Trump indicates that if they get aggressive and get in trouble with the law for it, the administration will have their back. But as Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualteri told the Daily Beast, “If we violate the law by doing what they ask us to do, we’re subjecting ourselves, no question, to civil liability and civil rights violations.” Some sheriffs like Gualteri feel that the Trump administration is oblivious to their concerns and for very good reason. He added that officials “are saying, ‘What are you sheriffs doing? Why aren’t you cooperating?’ when they don’t know that it is clearly a problem and that we can’t do it.” Unlike Arpaio, most local law enforcement officials aren’t interested in enforcing immigration laws since they have better things to do. As Arpaio’s case demonstrates, a local crackdown on undocumented immigration drains time and resources, hurt community relationships, and can keep law enforcement officials from doing their jobs. Maricopa County suffered an increase in violent crime because of Arpaio’s actions. Besides, Trump’s pardon power can’t shield these sheriffs from court costs and damages that their communities will have to cover. Then there are sheriffs like Arpaio who could use that pardon as an excuse to racially profile Latinos and violate their constitutional rights regardless of their immigration status and get away with abusing their power, neglecting their duties, and violating several laws. And like in Arpaio’s reign of terror, many of those victimized can’t effectively use the courts to fight back. At a time when there’s more awareness of widespread law enforcement abuse toward people of color, the Arpaios of this country are the last officials we need to enforce our laws.  

 

And finally, another reason why Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is how it emboldens white supremacists. In addition to his media savvy, Arpaio called himself a “constitutional” sheriff, emphasizing his lofty mandate to uphold the US Constitution, which is also a political dog whistle for states rights’ advocates and white supremacists with a deep-seated hatred of the federal government. And it surprised nobody that the Arizona white supremacist JT Ready had attended one of Arpaio’s rallies before shooting and killing his girlfriend, her family, and himself in 2012. Pardoning a government official who unjustly terrorized people of color could make white supremacy and white supremacist terror more acceptable. Trump has already refused to condemn white supremacists for Charlottesville for which he blamed the violence on “many sides.” In pardoning Arpaio, he essentially states that minorities’ civil rights don’t matter, especially if law enforcement is concerned. As former Justice Department Civil Rights Division head Vanita Gupta said, “If President Trump uses his power to pardon a discredited law enforcement official who persistently engaged in illegal racial profiling of the Latino community, it will not be a dog whistle to the so-called ‘alt right’ and white supremacists, but a bull horn. No amount of tweets or forced remarks read from a teleprompter could undo the damage.” Arizona Representative Raul Grjalva noted, “Pardoning Arpaio is a culmination and an added layer to what is already a very, very perilous and dangerous path in which this country is going under Trump. A path that calls for this country to marginalize some, to treat others different under the rule of law, and to essentially condone, comfort and coddle the racist and hateful organizations and individuals that are a significant part of his base.” White supremacists comprise of a key part of Trump’s base and have committed hate crimes in his name since his election. Pardoning Arpaio for just “doing his job” only empowers them further which in turn leads them to commit violence against people of color.

 

There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was indefensible at every imaginable standpoint. It’s a smack in the face for those who worked through the judicial system to hold this man accountable and robbed people hurt by hurt by his policies of justice. And before a judge could even sentence him. It’s an insult Maricopa County’s Latino community whom Arpaio constantly victimized in his sweeps as well as its residents who bore the financial and social costs. While it might be a get-out-of-jail-free-card for county sheriffs, it can also pressure them into going against what’s best for their communities. And worst of all, it will further empower white nationalists to victimize minorities in Trump’s name. In fact, this pardon reeks of pure contempt for every American believing in justice, human dignity, and the rule of law. Arpaio may be a profile in courage for Trump, his supporters, and white supremacists who see him as a fearless force of white supremacy fighting against the brown scourge of immigration. But the sheriff’s cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners and immigrants foreshadowed the policies Trump and his allies. And Arpaios racism mirror those in the Trump administration today along with the lack of respect for legal norms and the rule of law. Though Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio will earn him cheers from his supporters, it is a pardon worthy of contempt.

 

The Tiki Torches of White Supremacy in Charlottesville

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On Friday night August 11, 2017, a group of 100 white nationalists marched onto the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. The marchers carried tiki torches, chanted Nazi slogans like “Sieg heil” and “blood and soil,” and gave Nazi salutes. They also chanted other slogans like “White Lives Matter,” “You will not replace us,” and alluded to the white-nationalist idea that diversity as “white genocide.” This march was a vigil for the larger planned, “Unite the Right” rally for Saturday to protest a Robert E. Lee statue removal in a local park. Alt-Right leaders were scheduled to speak before an audience comprising hundreds of far-right activists. During the rally, a fight broke out when demonstrators (nearly all white and male) surrounded some counter-protestors peacefully grouped around a statue of Thomas Jefferson in the middle of the campus. A local activist told the Guardian, “They completely surrounded us and wouldn’t let us out.” Counter-protestors reported being pepper sprayed. The police eventually intervened, declaring an “unlawful assembly” and separating the groups. But the violence persisted well into the next morning with a series of confrontations. The groups beat each other with flagpoles and bats, chanted slogans, and used chemical sprays on each other. Some even reported being doused in raw sewage. At least two people were treated for serious but non-threatening emergencies from the fights by 10:30 a.m. Police deployed tear gas against the crowd shortly before 11:30. And by noon, the group of alt-right nationalists grew to include neo-Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, and a heavily armed militia. Police dispersed the rally minutes after its scheduled start at and were in full riot gear to clear the area. But the violence didn’t die down. As some counter-protestors started to leave, a silver Dodge Challenger plowed through them. A 32-year-old woman was killed while nine others were injured as the car fled the scene. A helicopter crash near the protests killed two police officers while twenty-five others were also treated for injuries.

As you can recall, the alt-right is a movement that strongly rejects “diversity,” “political correctness, and identity politics as well as disturbingly engages in white nationalist, fascist, and Nazi rhetoric and regalia. And I’m sure it’s clear that they’re not using white nationalist tropes just to be “ironic” as some alt-righters claim. Because you don’t just wear a swastika to a “Unite the Right” rally with irony. Nevertheless, the alt right is a key part of a broader cultural backlash that helped elect Donald Trump to the presidency. Many white Americans felt that they’re losing their ground to nonwhites or that America is losing its identity. And many believe that political, economic, and media elites are either uninterested in defending their heritage or actively trying to eradicate it. Of course, such concepts are the result of white people feeling nostalgic for an America that never existed. Members of the alt right number among Trump’s staunchest supporters with members of his administration among its ranks like Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and Steve Bannon. Thanks to Trump’s election, the alt right’s leaders have become increasingly willing to dabble in white nationalist rhetoric and tropes while trying to avoid being accused of white nationalism themselves. Sure they didn’t start out explicitly aligning themselves with white supremacists but racist rhetoric has always been a hallmark of the movement even during the 2016 Election. But Trump’s election has emboldened the alt right to come out of the white nationalist closet and show the world the kind of racist shits they actually are. Trump’s election has made racist rhetoric more acceptable among his supporters who feel they don’t need to conceal their contempt for the kinds of people they don’t like. Yet, it has also led to a resurgence of right-wing extremism with hate incidents on the rise.

But why Charlottesville? Well, many cities in the South still have public spaces and monuments celebrating key Confederate figures. Many of these weren’t erected until the 20th century with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws coming under attack. Thus, it is clear these landmarks weren’t created to celebrate Southern “heritage” but to remind black people of their subservience to whites. In other words, the Lee statue exists in the city as a symbol of white supremacy and racism. After all, Lee’s devotion to white supremacy outshone his loyalty to his country embodying the white nationalist ethos. Since the 2015 Emmanuel AME Church shooting, there’s been a renewed push to remove Confederate monuments and rename streets and squares named after them. But wherever these campaigns succeeded, there’s often been backlash from white Southern conservatives who consider the Confederacy as part of their “heritage” and outright white nationalists. In Charlottesville, the target was a statue of Robert E. Lee in a park called Lee Park. As City Council members pointed out, Lee had no connection to Charlottesville and his commemoration was just an indirect way to celebrate the Confederacy. The city council later voted to sell the statue and rename the park as Emancipation Park (even though it’s currently still in place). This decision made the Charlottesville a target for far-right activism and shows of strength along with those keen to stand up to them and demonstrate that their ideas weren’t welcome. On July 8, 30 Klu Klux Klan members held a small rally in the city though hundreds of counter-protestors outnumbered them.

Which brings us to today. “Alt-Right” luminaries planned a large “Unite the Right” rally for Saturday. While originally intended to attract a broad coalition of “patriot” groups, it had become increasingly Nazified, some refused to sign on. Instead, explicitly fascist and white supremacist groups like the National Socialist Movement, the Klu Klux Klan, and Neo-Nazis got on board, which reflected the march’s Nazified tone. Hundreds of protestors descended upon Charlottesville for the rally which Vox called, “a belated coming-out party for an emboldened white nationalist movement in the United States.” Speakers included some alt-right personalities who’ve flirted most openly with white nationalism and self-identified white nationalists like Richard Spencer. Yet, the arc of the “Unite the Right” rally from a demonstration to bring conservative groups together to protest a controversial statue removal to a “Nazified” rally for “the pro-white movement of America,” reflects what’s been happening to the alt right as a whole.

Numerous public officials of both parties have condemned the violence along with the white supremacists who perpetuated it. However, Donald Trump tweeted 14 hours after the clashes began with, “We ALL must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” He later released a statement condemning the violence “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He didn’t explicitly identify who was to blame and only used the vaguest possible terms. Trump’s response to Charlottesville is notable. After all, he didn’t wait for 14 hours to denounce Islamist terror outside the US. Nor did he let his vacation get in the way of threatening war with North Korea. Yet, Trump refused to actively condemn the white nationalists responsible for the initial violence, most of the violence and disorder, and the most serious violence in Charlottesville in the strongest possible terms. His refusal provides a misleading account of what happened as well as erroneously implies that both rally goers and counter-protestors were equally to blame. Such implication leaves it wide open for Trump supporters to assume “the left” started it. His remarks suggest that the “hate and division” are equally distributed and that the counter-protestors seeking to stand up to the rallygoers are every bit as hateful. His calling for the “swift restoration of law and order,” implies that the real problem is disrespect for police. But all Trumps statements regarding Charlottesville encourage his supporters to misinterpret the events as anyone else’s fault but the white nationalists themselves.

In context, Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville is an insult to Americans who’ve felt unsafe since his election and whose acknowledgement of their fears has been tepid at best. What he’s said that “many sides” must put aside their own prejudices just as much as anyone else and come together as Americans and everything will be all right. But Trump’s unwillingness to understand the rise of the “alt right,” overt racism, and street violence as anything other than a need for “both sides do it” leads him to say things that may signal white supremacists that he’s on their side, inadvertently or otherwise. When Trump calls for Americans to unite because “We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are,” he’s using the same language these people use to justify trying to “protect” American “identity” from their non-white and non-Christian countrymen. When he declares “we must cherish our history” in response to a rally initially convened to protest a Robert E. Lee statue removal, he sure sounds like he’s siding with the very white supremacists wanting to keep it. Such remarks would come across as deliberate dog whistles in a more deliberate president. We all know Trump loves his base that he’s very careful about doing anything that could upset them. He also acts as if there’s any connection between the “alt-right” and Nazis. Then there’s the fact he has known white nationalists in his administration like Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller. Any case where white supremacists engage in unprovoked violence against the left would do just that. Yet, it’s not clear whether Trump is deliberately sending signals to the alt-right that he’s still on their team or that thought that much about it. And that’s exactly the problem. In the last six months of his presidency, Trump has shown less concern for governing on behalf of “the haters and losers” who didn’t support him than any president in recent memory (which would include most Americans in general). Nor does he seem to care about the white supremacist threat to US citizens to understand or name it. It’s an ideology history buffs like myself are very familiar with in American history that has been used to justify slavery, segregation, lynching, hate crimes, and terrorism. And it’s one threatening not only extremist violence but American democracy as well.

It is precisely on moments like Charlottesville that an American president should speak directly on behalf of the American creed, Americans rejecting tribalism and seeking pluralism, and the idea that alt-right nationalism is antiethical to the American idea itself. At a moment when the US needs its leadership to take a unified stand against hatred, Trump’s refusal to call radical white terrorism for what it is might mark the lowest point of his presidency to date. Nevertheless, it’s not unexpected in a man like Donald Trump. Trump has a long history of racism and doesn’t see any problem with white nationalists openly supporting him or working in the White House. Nor does he see anything wrong with promoting inherently racist and xenophobic policies or running a racist, xenophobic campaign that energized the radical right. Whenever Trump has a chance to condemn white supremacists, he’s clearly and repeatedly refused to denounce them in terms that would alienate them. In fact, he continues pandering to them which very unlike what he does with nearly any people or group he dislikes (which he isn’t shy about condemning on Twitter to sabotaging their lives). His election further emboldened these white supremacists who see him as their champion. The day after Trump’s election, hate incidents soared with many carried out in his name. David Duke’s response to Charlottesville clearly reflects this noting, “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.” Seven months into his presidency, Trump has fostered an environment in which people who might’ve been ashamed of their shameful beliefs are now utterly unafraid to show their faces in broad daylight. And as long as white supremacists feel they can no longer hide their hate and bigotry, expect more domestic terror incidents like Charlottesville and other hate crimes.

While much of the country is confused on how the violence in Charlottesville came to be, the answer is blatantly obvious. What happened in Emancipation Park and the streets of Charlottesville didn’t just suddenly spring forth all by itself. White supremacy runs deeper than rogues in hooded robes and has always influenced politics and political violence. White supremacist policy and rhetoric is still being fostered and widely enabled. And it doesn’t take long for such mere sentiments erupt into of overt violence. When white supremacy turns violent America is less safe, especially for people of color and religious minorities. Now I know that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump is an unapologetic racist who’d gleefully march alongside fellow Neo-Nazis and Klansmen in the White Pride parade. But all Trump voters who saw him speak, heard his inflammatory rhetoric, believed in his vision for the future knew exactly what they were aligning themselves with. For millions of Americans, the fact their candidate unashamedly pandered to voters by appealing to the most despicable impulses among us wasn’t a deal-breaker. And the violence possibly resulting from Trump’s decision to give these white supremacists a voice was a risk they were willing to take. Yet, white supremacy can and will flourish when given fuel. History has shown from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement that such transformations can spread like wildfire relatively fast and destroy decades of progress in flashes. All that white racial resentment toward minorities that propelled Trump to the presidency was just that. It may be easier to see white supremacists as people wearing white robes with cone hoods and swastika arm bands then a group of white men (along with some white women) with tiki torches, bad haircuts, wrinkled khakis, and a love of memes camping out in a park. Yet, keep in mind that even the most feared white supremacists during Jim Crow were just regular white men transformed from their lives as politicians, farmers, mechanics, and layabouts by sheer ideological power. White supremacist movements could often considered as “fringe” and marginal until they weren’t. So if you think that a bunch of young white guys with tiki torches aren’t capable of blood-curdling horror that destroyed countless black families, I honestly urge you to reconsider.

The National Security Threat of Domestic Terrorism (Depicted by the News Media)

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When Americans think about terrorism, they usually imagine 9/11 and other attacks perpetuated by people who aren’t from this country and who aren’t like us. Groups like Al Qaida and ISIS usually come to mind. Yet, while foreign terrorist attacks like 9/11 are enough to make us frightened and willing to send troops to Afghanistan, there’s a national security threat more pressing that most people don’t pay much attention to. It’s called domestic terrorism which refer to terror acts carried out by US citizens or permanent residents on US soil. Domestic terrorists have committed 80% of attacks since 9/11 and killed more Americans on US soil than their foreign counterparts. Under current US law enforcement, the USA PATRIOT ACT defines acts as domestic terrorism those in which:

  • involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
  • appear to be intended –
    1. to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
    2. to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion;
    3. to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;
  • occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
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Accurately referred to as “America’s Favorite Domestic Terrorist,” legendary abolitionist John Brown has become a highly controversial figure both for his anti-slavery ideology as well as his violent tactics. But he perfectly illustrates why Americans may have a hard time recognizing domestic terror even in their American history books.

But when it comes to identifying domestic terrorism in contemporary culture, a lot of Americans struggled since the perpetrators may look like them and may share ideas that they kind of agree with. A good case in point is American abolitionist John Brown who’s known for participating in Bleeding Kansas and trying to overthrow the institution of slavery through staging an unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 that killed 7 and injured 10. Brown’s raid on a government arsenal in present day West Virginia clearly fit USA PATRIOT ACT’s definition of domestic terrorism. Brown’s raid involved acts dangerous to human life that violated US and state criminal laws, were clearly intended to intimidate civilians and influence government policy, and definitely occurred on US soil. The fact he believed himself an instrument of God’s wrath in punishing men for the sin of slavery certainly proves that his extremist beliefs had a religious dimension. But since Brown’s motivation behind his attack on Harper’s Ferry was to overthrow the institution of slavery, well, he’s rarely seen as such even by modern day academics. Mostly because Americans agree that slavery was a very terrible sin and the fact it divided the country as well as took 4 year civil war to outlaw it. So in hindsight, Brown’s idea of destroying the institution of slavery through violence isn’t really that crazy (though to a point). And it’s mainly because of Brown’s abolitionist views no matter how extreme they were that he’s often seen as a heroic martyr and visionary to many people. Nevertheless, Brown’s actions prior to the American Civil War and the tactics he chose still make him a very controversial figure today. But Brown’s life and our perception of him illustrate why a lot Americans have difficulty identifying acts of terror by our fellow countrymen in the nation. This is a problem as I explain in this post in FAQ and list format.

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This is a photoshopped picture that advocates gun control. However, it also illustrates the problem the media has with identifying domestic terrorist attacks.

If law enforcement has a clear definition on what domestic terrorism is, why is the term used so subjectively as a media and political term?

It’s mainly because when it comes to domestic terrorism, law enforcement and the mainstream media live in two different realities and have very different motivations for identifying what constitutes one. And the latter usually has more influence on the American people. Since American law enforcement’s main priority is ensuring public safety, their criteria for identifying terrorists acts is based on criteria defined in the USA PATRIOT ACT. So when it comes to defining domestic terrorism, all law enforcement care about is whether the act was criminal and endangered human lives, whether it was intended to promote a political agenda through coercion or intimidation, and whether it was committed by someone who lived in the US on US soil. That’s it. By contrast, the media defines domestic terrorism quite differently through the following criteria:

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One of the most significant factors in how the media determines whether a violent attack is domestic terrorism is the suspect’s identity. If they’re Muslim, chances are that they’ll be labeled as a terrorist is very high.

  1. Perpetrator’s Race and Cultural Identity – If the perpetrator is a Muslim American, their chances of being seen as a domestic terrorist are extremely high regardless of motivation. If it’s a non-Muslim white American with a conventional name, their chances of being seen as a domestic terrorist are usually dependent on other factors. As for the likelihood of non-Muslim blacks and Hispanics perpetrators, it’s very hard to say since both groups are often associated with criminal stereotypes though neither are widely perceived as terrorists.
  2. Perpetrator’s Motivation– Any American Muslim perpetrator who commits an act of terror in the name of Islam will be automatically be labeled a terrorist in the media as well as linked to foreign Islamic terrorist groups like Al-Qaida or the Islamic State. Black and Hispanic perpetrators will only be identified as such if they’re connected to known terrorist groups or embrace an extremist ideology. But when it comes to non-Muslim white terrorists, it can vary considerably depending on their motivation. White violence against women, racial and religious groups, LGBT people, disabled people, and immigrants will usually be seen as hate crimes at best but not always and not without controversy (if the incident is covered at all). Yet, many hate crimes usually qualify under the USA PATRIOT ACT’s definition of domestic terrorism anyway. Anti-abortion and ecological extremists are less likely to be seen as domestic terrorists since a lot of people hold anti-abortion and environmentalist views. So like John Brown, labeling them as such is controversial though they’ll certainly be seen as nuts regardless political ideology. Then you have the anti-government perpetrators whose acts of terror may cause controversy if ever labeled domestic terrorism. This is especially the case when you’re talking about right-wing extremists or the open carry crowd (though open carry may be legal in some states, carrying a gun in public is an act of intimidation and coercion so it qualifies).
  3. Nature of the Attack– In the media, the nature of the attack matters considerably such as the method and body count. Perpetrators who stage bombings that kill lots of people will most likely be seen as domestic terrorists. So would any attacks that involve hijacking, bioweapons, mass poisoning, hostage taking, chemical weapons, kidnapping, and property destruction. Shootings may depend on whether the perpetrator is either Muslim or clearly committing a hate crime. At any rate, they have to involve violence and/or fatalities. Despite causing hundreds of millions in property damage and having a sheer volume of crimes, eco-terrorists aren’t really seen as such since a lot of their crimes don’t get people killed. Same goes for left-wing Communist and anarchist terrorists. Merely using guns to intimidate people based on political ideology may not be labeled as domestic terrorism when it clearly is. Cyberterrorism may get some attention even though it’s not considered such while paper terrorism doesn’t get much attention at all.
  4. Location– Attacks that take place in major cities are more likely to be labeled as domestic terrorism than ones in less urban areas, especially if they take place near places of great significance. In some ways, this makes sense but also ignores a lot of other terror incidents that take place around the country.
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Meanwhile, if the perpetrators in question are white, right-wing, and stage a heavily armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon, you might expect headlines like this. Since AP is held to very high journalistic standards, this headline tweet is appalling. These guys aren’t peaceful protesters. They have guns with them and they took over a national wildlife refuge in order to intimidate people and influence government conduct. It’s domestic terrorism, plain and simple.

If you watch TV news, you might get the impression the media is more likely to label a violent incident as domestic terrorism based on a biased set of criteria which gives Americans the impression that terrorists tend to be Islamic extremists. When in reality, Muslim terrorist attacks aren’t a very big threat to national security, even after 9/11. Why the media decide does this:

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Contrary to what you might be accustomed to on the news, anti-government, racist, and other nonjihadist extremist killed nearly twice as many people as those by Islamic jihadist since 9/11. Many Americans don’t realize this, especially if they’re on a steady diet of Fox News. Maybe that’s because most nonjihadist terrorists are white.

  1. Desire to Avoid Controversy– Domestic terrorism is a loaded word. And while the mainstream media likes sensational news stories, they also take great aims to avoid offending people. This is particularly true when a terror incident involves right-wing extremists since a lot of mainstream media outlets are owned by large corporate conglomerates. Some like Fox News even have a right-wing ideology. That’s not to say leftist terrorists exist since they certainly do since Occupy Wall Street might qualify since they have a long list of property crimes, rampant drug use, rape, murder, and assaults. But when Janet Napolitano brought up the threat of right-wing domestic terrorism in 2009, Republicans were furious.
  2. Public’s Unwillingness to Identify with Terrorists– Like I said about terrorists, people are more comfortable to label a terrorist act as such if the perpetrator is different from them. And since a lot of people don’t know anyone who’s Muslim, Muslim perpetrators are more likely to be seen as terrorists than their non-Muslim counterparts. But when a terror incident involves white supremacists and other right-wing extremists, a lot of conservative politicians hesitate to declare it as such. Many of them even downplay dangers posed by right-wing extremism altogether. This is especially when Fox News glorifies a Nevada rancher who engaged in an armed standoff against the feds over grazing rights and a bunch of armed men for occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and the fact the current GOP presidential nominee has been endorsed by white supremacists. When it comes to right-wing domestic terrorism, most conservatives are like Draco Malfoy. Sure they may be totally comfortable having racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, and anti-government views. And yes, they may not be happy with the political and cultural landscape these days as well as nostalgize about a past that never was. But like Draco Malfoy on Muggle-borns, most of these conservatives are neither extreme in their viewpoints nor are willing to resort to violent terrorist acts for them. On the other end, I may believe that this country should do more to protect the environment and stop climate change but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to bomb an animal testing facility because that’s crazy. But when someone commits an act of violence on behalf of their political agenda, it makes a lot of people who may share that perpetrator’s view to some extent very uncomfortable and reluctant to address it as an act of terror. So they don’t.
  3. Sensationalism– We should understand that sensationalism sells and the media does everything it could to exploit violent terror incidents. The more violent it is and the nuttier the perpetrators seem, the more attention it will get and more ratings the media outlet will have. This is especially be the case if the perpetrator is Muslim.
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According to a local law enforcement survey the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, anti-government terrorism was seen as the top terrorist threat in their jurisdictions. And that percentage is far more than those who listed anything relating to Islamic terrorist threats. The media doesn’t really pay attention to this because most anti-government terrorists are white.

Unfortunately, the way the news covers domestic terror attacks has very negative repercussions in the country. Now it’s one thing to call a mass shooting in San Bernardino and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando as domestic terrorism. Same goes for the Boston Marathon bombings. But it’s another when both these attacks are seen as acts of domestic terrorism while the mass shootings at Pittsburgh, Tucson, and Charleston are not. Rather as far as the media was concerned, these were attacks made by violently mentally ill white men. Sure it was an accurate assessment, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. For one, the man who fired an AK-47 at 5 cops in Pittsburgh was a white supremacist who believed Jews secretly ran everything and that Obama wanted to take away his guns. But as far as the media is concerned, he was just a crazy nutjob who killed 3 cops after his mom called police over a domestic dispute concerning a dog peeing on the carpet. Second, the Tucson shooter who tried to assassinate Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was a conspiracy theorist who believed in a New World Order to brainwash people. Third, the shooter who killed 9 people at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston was a white supremacist who donned a pro-apartheid jacket on his Facebook page, had a Confederate flag license plate, told racist jokes, advocated segregation, and went on a racist rant on how blacks are raping white women and taking over the world. Furthermore, he specifically chose to fire upon blacks at the church due to its long association with civil rights activism. Yet, these terror incidents were reported. Most aren’t covered by major news outlets at all. Negative repercussions of inadequate and sloppy coverage of domestic terrorism include:

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The heavy attention on Islamic terrorism in the US media outlets had perpetuated rise and acceptability of Islamophobia as well as led to American Muslims being targets of everything from harassment to outright deadly violence. Featured here are American Muslims Yousef Abu-Salha, his brother-in-law Deah Barakat, and his sisters Yusor and Razan. Save for the Yousef, three people would later become victims of an anti-Muslim hate crime in a Chapel Hill condominium by one of their former white neighbors who was banned from the building. The man basically broke into Deah and Yusor’s condo and killed them and Razan in cold blood. Yousef would later say, “It’s a shame that you turn on a major news channel and you see a news story about ISIS and then they’ll cover our story and they do an okay job, but immediately after it will be another story about these radical groups. I think it sends US citizens a bad message that these Muslims are all the same.”

  1. Legitimizes Discrimination– The media’s coverage of Islamic terrorism since 9/11 in the US and abroad has contributed so much to Islamophobia that Muslims in American pop culture have been nastily stereotyped as fanatical Islamic terrorists who hate our country and our western values. Each terror attack since then have been filtered by the media and consumed by the public as wrongdoings of Muslims around the world. Muslims have been further vilified and dehumanized in Hollywood movies like American Sniper. Because of this, American Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians have become acceptable targets for profiling, oppression, and even terrorist attacks. For many Americans, just looking like a Muslim makes them an automatic terror suspect by default as well as someone to be feared. This is a major reason why welcoming Syrian refugees in the US has been so controversial even though it shouldn’t. Around the country, mosques have been fired on, defaced, or burned. Muslims have been shot and killed execution style in their living rooms, fatally stabbed on their way home as well as been beaten in their stores, schools, and on the streets. They’ve also been kicked out of planes, egged outside Walmart, scorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs, and punched while pushing their children in strollers. They’ve had clothes set on fired and their children bullied in school. They’ve been threatened by neighbors who’d burn down their house if they didn’t move away as well as had their cemeteries vandalized and Quran desecrated. They’ve been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. A Muslim congressman has received death threats. In Irving, Texas, heavily armed right-wing gunmen blocked entrance of a mosque and held banners reading, “we are the solution to Islamic terrorism.” Other armed anti-Islam demonstrations and “Muslim-free” businesses raise deep concerns. Civil and human rights advocates are challenging the use of “domestic terrorism” believing that it’s doled out in a racially-discriminatory manner that merely exacerbates hate they and law enforcement are trying to prevent. Exacerbating hate on a group of people who just happen to have the same religion as terrorists is not a solution to Islamic terrorism and just makes it worse. The fact that 55% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam makes Islamophobia not just the biggest threat to American religious freedom, but also a potential threat to national security since Muslim communities play a crucial role in alerting law enforcement to terrorist threats.
  2. Does Not Represent Reality– While the American public rightfully sees Islamic terrorists as a threat to safety, the reality of terrorism exists in all forms and that terrorists come from all racial and cultural backgrounds as well as embraced a wide range of extremist political and religious ideologies. For law enforcement officials, the biggest terrorist threats aren’t jihadists. Rather it’s far right wing extremists that have carried out well over half of the deadliest US terrorist attacks since 9/11, committing 93% of all extremist murders in the last 10 years. Most of their extremism is homegrown as well as pose a very real danger to this nation’s character such as pluralism, tolerance, and equality, which form the basis of a liberal democracy. Though jihadist terrorism is often reported on the news, the US has seen very little violent extremism by Muslims. On the other hand, white supremacists are among the most lethal since they’ve committed 83% of all right-wing extremist murders and 77% of all extremist killings in the past decade as well as were involved in 52% of shootings with police. They also regularly engage in various terrorist plots, acts, and conspiracies as well as other traditional forms of crime. Anti-government extremists, right-wing militias, and sovereign citizens are among the most common. But no matter what their ideology, right-wing extremists are also more numerous, cover a larger geographic range, and are more likely to live in your neighborhood. Not representing these groups in the media as the terrorists they are that we should condemn is very irresponsible, even if the station is Fox News.
  3. Promotes Cultural Profiling– How the media has reported domestic terrorism can also lead to real but ineffective policies that have resulted in cultural profiling, particularly of Muslims and people suspected of being one. Those charged with plotting terrorism for the Islamic State faced more severe charges than militia members, “sovereign citizens,” and other anti-government extremist who’ve been prosecuted for similar activity (even though many more terrorist attacks in the US are carried out by non-Muslims). After 9/11, many American Muslims, South Asians, and those of Middle Eastern descent found themselves being subject to harsher security checks as well as are more likely to be on a no fly list or subject to surveillance. As a result, trust between law enforcement and Muslims has been strained. In recent years, anti-Islam bills became laws in 10 states. Florida and Tennessee passed laws revising the way they approve textbooks for classroom use as a direct result of anti-Islam campaigns. Don’t get me wrong, Islamic terrorists do exist in this country and do pose a threat to national security. But profiling Muslims as suspected terrorists by default is never excusable since the vast majority of them are regular people like us who just want to live their lives in peace and mind their own business.
  4. Fails to Hold Public Figures Accountable for Their Rhetoric– The media is a huge influence in the American public but we should be aware what many public figures may say could be taken out of context by some nutjob who’d use it in a terror attack. It’s been widely suggested that political rhetoric may play a role in fueling hate crimes, especially since Donald Trump started running for president as well as said very hateful things about almost every demographic imaginable. But since he started running and calling on Muslim bans, anti-Muslim hate crimes dramatically increased to its highest levels since the aftermath of 9/11. It doesn’t help that Trump has been endorsed by white supremacist organizations whom he’s consistently failed to denounce. A lot of what’s said on Fox News has probably led to a lot of terror attacks and it doesn’t help that they have glorified anti-government terrorists like Cliven Bundy as heroes as well as inspired many nutcases to do horrible things that have killed people. Not to mention, a lot of conservative special interest groups have said similar things as well as many Republican politicians. I know there are liberal groups and Democrats who might inspire some degree of terror violence. But I single out conservatives since right-wing terrorism has become much more of a problem in recent years, according to terror experts and government organizations.And yes a lot of these radical right-wing extremists consume conservative media outlets like Fox News.
  5. Ignores Very Real Threats– While Muslim terrorism in the news stirs fear and hatred for even the most ordinary Muslim Americans, the far more serious threat of the radical right has received relatively little attention. But bring that fact up in front of Republican politicians, expect outrage and even offense as an attack to demonize the right. The media seems to be just as deft to these threats, especially if it’s Fox News. Such response leads to downplay to take such threats as seriously as they should be by the public. Radical Right-Wing terrorists present a more deadly threat given their affinity for hoarding weapons and explosives. Not paying attention to these terrorists has consequences such as emboldening these people to carry out mass casualty attacks. Americans are much more likely to live near a white supremacist or anti-government sovereign citizen than a jihadist (A nearby town in my area had its own Klu Klux Klan chapter). When we’re talking about racial and religious minorities, living near a radical right-wing terrorist can put them in very real danger.
  6. Compromises Public Safety for Vulnerable Populations– Whenever domestic terror incidents aren’t reported and treated as the heinous acts they are, people are left very vulnerable to attacks. This was very apparent in the South during segregation when countless African Americans were subject to lynchings as a way to control black communities and retain white supremacy. During the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans and other activists were frequent targets of white supremacist violence. Though white supremacy is no longer as acceptable as it was, the hateful ideology and violence hasn’t gone away. Recent incidents including a white supremacist firing on Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis, a NAACP building bombing in Colorado, and a black church shooting in Charleston. In every terror attack involving Muslims since 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims in America have become alarmingly high. A study from Georgetown University has reported 174 incidents of anti-Muslim violence from 2015 consisting of 12 murders, 29 physical assaults, 50 threats against people and institutions, 54 acts of vandalism, 8 arsons, and 9 shootings or bombings. Contrary to what the media might say, Muslims are far more likely to become terror victims than terror perpetrators. However, Muslims and blacks aren’t the only group in the country vulnerable to domestic terrorism in the nation even by white supremacists. White supremacist groups also target immigrants, minorities, Jews, LGBT people, and sometimes Christians. Targets for anti-government and sovereign citizens are law enforcement and other authority figures. Still, not recognizing clearly politically motivated attacks by non-Muslim perpetrators leaves many Americans especially vulnerable.
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It is no secret that now GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has been endorsed by the Klu Klux Klan over his racist remarks on Mexicans, blacks, immigrants, and Muslims. However, Trump hasn’t distanced himself from this white supremacist terrorist organization which has a long history of violence against blacks since its formation during Reconstruction. If a presidential candidate from a major party can’t denounce a terrorist endorsement, then that person isn’t fit to be president. Seriously, the KKK are beyond deplorable.

As you can see the state of how the news media depicts domestic terrorism is appalling. Excessive coverage of one group of terrorists has led to disproportionate fear, suspicion, and unjust discrimination against a religious minority and other others. But significant less attention of a far more serious homegrown terrorist threat has gone under the media radar and has neither been sufficiently challenged by our political culture nor law enforcement. Not only this disproportionate rate of media coverage lead to increased profiling and discrimination, it also makes the US less safe as a whole. Furthermore, it makes public figures less likely to take responsibility for their rhetoric that could inspire many of these nutjobs to commit heinous acts. Now while the government may be slow to act on domestic terrorism, the media doesn’t have to. In fact, if the media just got it together and report domestic terrorist attacks in a way they should, then it might actually encourage leaders to come up with policies combating it. After all, people didn’t take lynchings as serious acts of terrorism meant to intimidate black people during segregation in the South until Ida B. Wells investigated them in the 1890s and began an anti-lynching campaign to spread awareness about the atrocity. Today she is turning in her grave. If the news media should cover domestic terrorism correctly, then it must be depicted in a way that’s represents the reality. By that I mean showing that domestic terrorism can take many forms, be motivated by different ideologies, and committed by people of many different backgrounds. And that all these domestic terrorists should be treated as a national security threat to be taken seriously.

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Here we come to a bunch of heavily armed open-carry activists “protesting” at a mosque in Phoenix against “Islamic Radicalism.” In reality, they’re just a bunch of armed terrorists who are using their guns to intimidate the Muslims who worship there. This isn’t peaceful protesting, it’s domestic terrorism and should be treated that way. This should neither be tolerated nor encouraged by anyone. It’s utterly disgraceful anyone there with a gun wasn’t arrested. Because the country needs to know that armed protest rallies are never ever acceptable.

Stolen Pay: Why We Need to Know About Wage Theft

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump often likes to cast himself as a protector of workers and jobs as well as a great businessman. However, recently he’s come under considerable scrutiny as it’s been recently revealed that he’s been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past 3 decades. A large number of these pertain to ordinary Americans who say that Trump and his companies have refused to pay them for their work. According to USA Today, these include a Florida dishwasher, a New Jersey glass company, a plumber, a carpet company, painters, 48 waiters, dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs all over the country, real estate brokers who sold his properties, and even several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others. Trump and co. have also been cited for 24 violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to the US Department of Labor data. In addition to the lawsuits, there were more than 200 mechanic’s liens filed by contractors and employees against Trump, claiming that they were owed money for their work since the 1980s. These range from a $75,000 from a Plainview, NY, heating and air conditioning company to a $1 million claim from a New York City real estate banking firm. On his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, the New Jersey Casino Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, included workers who installed chandeliers, walls, and plumbing.

All of these actions described above paint Trump and his sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, Trump’s team financially overpowers and outlasts much smaller opponents, sometimes draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, settle for less, end up in bankruptcy, or out of business altogether. Such actions described above are well-known cases of wage theft. Donald Trump has been a long practitioner of this but he’s hardly the only one. In recent years, workers ranging from NFL cheerleaders, Senate cafeteria workers, fast food workers, retail workers, high tech engineers, nail salon workers, and computer animators have found themselves victimized by this very real and very heinous act by their employers. Often, employees find themselves powerless to do anything about it. And if they do, they often have to act through the court system and risk losing almost everything. But since people rely on their job so much to make a living, this is a very important issue with it becoming the fastest growing crime wave in the United States. But it’s not often reported and it’s tough to see how widespread this problem is. However, at any rate, wage theft is a problem we need to discuss and need to demand action on because it affects so many people’s lives. And here I have this handy FAQ guide to show you.

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Yes, this is what wage theft actually is. Unfortunately, Mr. Orange Nuclear Meltdown doesn’t understand this. Because he’s been a constant violator according to the lawsuits former employees subject him to.

What Is Wage Theft?

Wage theft is when an employer denies pay and/or benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee. Wage theft can be conducted through various means such as failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, employee misclassification, illegal deductions in pay, working off the clock, having tips stolen, or not being paid at all. In short, the boss is not paying workers for all of their work. Or not paying for the work at the rate they said they would or what the employees are entitled to by law.

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If you experience any of these at work, you might be a victim of wage theft. Because these are common signs like being paid under the table, kept working despite clocking out early, having tips stolen, and not receiving meal or rest breaks.

Types of Wage Theft:

Overtime– This is the most common form of wage theft. The US Fair Labor Standards Act dictates that employees are entitled to receive overtime pay calculated at least 1.5 the regular rate for all time worked past 40 hours a week. Some exemptions only apply to public service agencies or employees who meet certain requirements in accordance to their job duties along with no less than a $455 weekly salary (or $23,660 a year). So unless employees meet the exemption criteria, they’re usually entitled to overtime if they work over 40 hours a week period. Employers can’t change overtime laws and can’t avoid paying overtime by enacting a no-overtime policy or getting employees to agree on special deals. Unfortunately, it’s common for employers to treat overtime as a personal choice when it’s not. And despite regulations, many employees aren’t being paid overtime due to them. Common overtime violations include:

  • Improperly Calculated Overtime Pay– Employers must calculate overtime on the actual 40-hour workweek regardless of pay period whether it be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Many employers are said to average hours over 2 or more weeks, not including all payments in calculating overtime pay rate, not paying employees for all hours worked over a 40 hour work week, not including time spent preparing for work (donning and doffing), and requiring employees to wort through unpaid meal breaks. Such errors may not always be accidental.
  • Comp Time Instead of Overtime Pay– Compensatory time is paid time off for extra hours worked that’s generally granted to hourly employees instead of overtime wages. It can sometimes be legal (though it’s often not due to fear of employer abuse) but employers must pay it at 150%, the same rate as overtime wages. To give employees to take compensatory time or extra paid time off in lieu of overtime pay is illegal under federal law. Furthermore, those who do take the compensatory time option aren’t always guaranteed time off whether they want it or need it.
  • Employees Not Allowed to Report Work over 40 Hours Per Week– Many employers have rules that no overtime work will be permitted or paid for unless authorized in advance. Some employers choose to ignore when hourly employees work overtime or don’t allow employees to work overtime hours. This violates overtime rules.
  • Misclassification of Employees as Exempt Workers– Exempt employees are by law workers not entitled to receive overtime pay. Whether an employee is exempt or not can be confusing. However, it has nothing to do with one’s job or job description or whether one is paid a salary or hourly. It depends on what an employee actually does on their job on a daily basis that determines whether or not they’re legally entitled to overtime pay.

Not Paying for Meals and Rest Period Pay – Meals need not be counted as work time if they are at least 30 minutes long and the employee is relieved from active duty during the meal period even if they must remain available. An employee who works through lunch is working and that time must be counted. An employee who eats a sandwich at the desk or is required to monitor a machine is working through lunch. However, many employers who have their employees work through lunch are guilty of this.

Not Paying for Off the Clock Work– Many FLSA lawsuits involve employers failing to include time spent by employees performing work activities outside their normal shifts. Some may come early and start working before the official start time of their shifts. Such time is work time and must be included in FLSA pay computations, provided only that the employer knew or should’ve known that the employee was beginning work early (and to the extent that the employee spent pre-shift time performing work activities). Pre-shift roll calls are work time. Time spent setting up equipment before the official start of a shift is work time. Some employees may similarly stay late after shifts performing works which should be counted as work time as well. Travel time and on-call time is work time. Time spent by an employee cleaning equipment after the close of a shift is work time. Post shift work time can also include time spent by an employee performing job related activities on the way home like a secretary dropping off the day’s mail at the post office or delivering some paperwork to a customer or supplier. Some employees take work home. That time may well be work time. Similarly if an employee is contacted at home by phone for work related reasons, the time spent is work time (as well as when an employee is called back to work, the time counts as work time). This is a very common wage violation by employers.

Minimum Wage– The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. It’s a poverty wage that’s not able to support a family but that’s beside the point. For tipped workers, it’s $2.13 an hour as long as it’s fixed and the tips add up to be at the federal or above the federal minimum wage which I think is stupid. Some states also have legislation that sets a state minimum wage as well. Depending on the state, the employee is always entitled to the higher standard of compensation. A common form of wage theft for tipped employees is to receive no standard pay and stealing tips. The Wage and Hour Division is said to be generally contacted by 25,000 people a year in regards to concerns and violations of minimum wage pay. Paying employees less than minimum wage is a very common wage theft practice.

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Missclassification is a common method of wage theft in which employers try to pass their workers off as independent contractors. The difference between employee and independent contractor is in this infographic.

Misclassification– One of the more extensive and insidious forms of wage theft which leaves workers especially vulnerable. Under the FLSA, independent contractors aren’t covered by tax and wage laws that apply to regular employees. Nor do they receive the same protection as employees for certain benefits. Thus, independent contractors aren’t entitled to a minimum wage, overtime, insurance, protection, or other employee rights. Nor do employers pay Social Security, Medicare, payroll taxes, or federal unemployment insurance on contract employees. Independent contractors also have to pay payroll taxes to the IRS. The difference between the two classifications depends on the permanency of employment, opportunity for profit and loss, as well as the worker’s level of self-employment along with their degree of control. Nevertheless, employers are strongly motivated to classify regular employees as contract workers to save costs, a practice known as pay roll fraud. A 2007 study in New York state found that 704,785 workers or 10.3% of the state’s private sector workforce was misclassified each year. For industries covered in this study, average unemployment insurance taxable wages underreported due to misclassification was on average $4.3 billion for the year while the unemployment insurance tax underreported in these industries was $176 million.

Illegal Deductions– Employees are subject to forms of wage theft through this method. Trivial to sometimes fabricated workplace violations are used to validate deductions. Any deduction that brings an employee to a level of compensation less than the minimum wage is also illegal. In many states, employers are required to issue employees documentation of deductions along with earnings. Failure to issue such documentation is generally prevalent in workplaces subject to wage theft.

Full Wage Theft– Employers are legally obligated to pay employees. However, this doesn’t always happen and is the most blatant and extreme form of wage theft.

Other– These may include putting pressure on injured workers not to file for workers’ compensation, being denied time off or vacation time they have required, being denied pay for sick leave or vacation time, not paying final paycheck to workers who’ve left, delaying payments (not paying on scheduled paydays or on a timely basis), bounced paychecks, stealing and pooling tips, unpaid internships, not reimbursing expenses, not keeping or fabricating records of hours worked, not paying for training, and under staffing. These could depend on state and local jurisdictions.

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According to the FBI, more money is lost to wage theft than in any other property crimes including robbery, auto theft, burglary, and larceny. And money number is only from the reported cases.

How Common Is Wage Theft?

Wage theft is widespread in the United States existing in all professions and affecting all workers regardless of race, gender, or legal status. When it comes to ripping employees off, employers don’t discriminate. But low-income workers and immigrants tend to be the most vulnerable. Yet, this could happen to higher income employees as well such as in high tech companies. So don’t think you can’t become a victim of wage theft because you can. While no one knows exactly how big this problem is, federal and state agencies have recovered $933 million for wage theft victims in 2012 while property taken in all thefts and robberies amounted to under $341 million. Research suggests that American workers are getting screwed out of $20 billion to $50 billion annually. The odds of you becoming a victim of wage theft are likely but some workers are more vulnerable than others.

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Undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable to wage theft due to their precarious legal status that leaves them unable to speak up without risking deportation. Many employers take full advantage of this by paying them under the table and threatening to call immigration on them if they get out of line.

Who Are Most Vulnerable to Wage Theft?

Low income workers are the most vulnerable to wage theft, particularly in fields that employ women, people of color, and foreign born populations. Foreign-born women are at a much greater risk for wage violations than their male counterparts. Undocumented immigrants stood at the highest risk levels. Education, longer tenured employment, union membership, and English proficiency proved to be influential factors in reducing wage theft for the aforementioned demographics. Wage theft is more common in small businesses with less than 100 employees than larger companies. Workplaces with flat rate compensation or cash under the table payments also reported a higher instance in wage theft. We should also take into account that while low income workers are most vulnerable to wage theft, they’re the least likely to report it as well as suffer the most devastating consequences. When a worker only earns a minimum wage ($290 for a 40 hour workweek), shaving a mere half hour of the day from the paycheck could mean a loss of more than $1,400 a year, including overtime premiums. That could be nearly 10% of a minimum wage employee’s earnings which could be the difference between paying the rent and utilities or risking eviction and the loss of gas, water, or electric service.

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This infographic illustrates the real costs of wage theft which consist of less income, time poverty, and a poor workplace environment. Wage theft is wrong, it hurts families, it hurts people’s well being, and leads to further worker abuse.

Why Is Wage Theft Bad?

Think of it this way, if you spend several hours working your ass off and your boss doesn’t pay you the money or benefits you should be receiving, you would surely feel very upset about it. After all, you worked for it, you earned it. Therefore, your employer is required to pay you for all the work you did for them. This is how the employer-employee relationship is supposed to work. If your boss doesn’t pay what you deserve, then it’s obviously unfair. Your boss is ripping you off. Wage theft costs workers billions of dollars a year, a transfer from low income employees to business owners that worsens income inequality, hurts workers and their families, and damages the sense of fairness and justice that a democracy needs to survive. And when low wage workers are underpaid, taxpayers face the burden of supporting workers whose employers haven’t paid into Social Security taxes and other funds. Plus the millions of dollars lost in tax revenue. Not only that, but the money your average low income worker loses in unpaid wages is not reinvested in the economy. Meanwhile businesses who do pay their employees without resorting to wage theft find it hard to compete in a market with their additional employee-related expenses.

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Employers resort to wage theft because it keeps their costs down, saves them money, and easily get away with it. In other words, when it comes to profit margins, wage theft is good business despite being illegal.

Why Would Employers Commit Wage Theft?

Many businesses violate wage and hour laws for 3 reasons. First, paying employees less gives them a competitive advantage or higher profit and have little fear of getting caught or punished. If a business can get away with illegally pay its employees a salary with no overtime, it will be able to sell its products more cheaply than one who complies with the laws and pays their workers time-and-a-half for overtime work. If a business pays its “interns” nothing while its competitors all pay interns the minimum wage, it will be able to charge clients less and steal business away from its competitors. Second, even if a business doesn’t lower prices to undercut competitors, it still pockets the difference between the wage owed and the wage paid. Thus, the employee’s loss is the owner’s extra point. Third, there’s a very low chance the employer will be caught cheating on wages so most don’t usually think twice about the consequences. After all, employers usually can afford the better legal defense and the fact wage theft laws are typically weak and insufficiently enforced. As of 2014, there are only 1,000 to 1,100 federal Wage and Hour Division investigators for the whole country who are responsible for investigating over 7 million businesses and protecting over 100-135 million employees. In 2012, they only conducted fewer than 35,000 investigations and recovered about $280 million in unpaid wages to 308,000 workers. State labor departments and attorneys general combined recovered even less. Not to mention, many federal wage theft cases are thrown out because the Department of Labor couldn’t resolve them within two years. At the state and local level, it’s often even worse since few local governments have the resources to combat wage theft and several states have cut their labor department’s. Even if businesses do get caught, they’re rarely punished. Consequences for violations found are often no more than an order to pay back the wages owed or even a fraction of the total amount. This despite that the FLSA makes the employer liable for the full amount as well as additional equal amount for liquidated damages. But at any rate, the FLSA’s civil penalties for willful and repeat violations are too small to deter offenders from engaging in similar violations in the future. For instance the maximum penalty for failure to pay overtime and minimum wage being $1,100 whether the culprit be some local ice cream shop or a giant multinational corporation like Walmart. Yet, Wage and Hour failed even to seek a penalty in most of its cases for many years. And despite that the FLSA makes repeated willful pay violations a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail, criminal penalties are rarely if ever used. At state and local levels, wage theft laws can be even weaker while enforcement is even more insufficient.

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Wage theft often goes underreported mostly because the party with the power and resources is often the perpetrator or the employer. Victims who decide to take action often face uphill battles, lost savings, lost careers, and possibly very little back pay and justice if they win. It’s a very sad situation.

Why Does No One Talk About Wage Theft?

Because unlike your typical property crimes, wage theft usually happens behind closed doors and is not easily detectable. It’s also conducted by more powerful people typically stealing from those with few resources to do anything about it. In fact, many workers may not realize their employers are stealing from them for years into their job. Or may not know that their boss may be doing anything illegal or violating their rights under the law. But if they do, they may not report the incident anyway if calling out their employer means losing their job or other forms of retaliation like shorter hours, less pay, or increased workloads. Many immigrants are often confronted with threats of calls to immigration services if they complain or seek to redress, especially if they’re undocumented. Some employees in white collar professions are even threatened with criminal prosecution or possibly blackmail to keep them from leaving. Even if they do sue and win, they often end up losing their careers and possibly their life savings to litigation fees. As for settlement, most workers who win their wage theft case usually don’t see a dime. Not to mention, it rarely makes front page news unless the case pertains to a class action lawsuit against a large corporation. So wage theft remains vastly under reported though cases filed in federal court have been on the rise.

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In 2009-2011, warehouse workers sued Walmart for paying them less than minimum wage as well as denying the paid vacations they were promised. Walmart denied this because wage theft is one of the ways the retail giant does to ensure you save more, live better, and contribute to their profits.

What Are Effective Measures to Deter Wage Theft?

The US FSLA requires employers to keep detailed records regarding workers’ identities and hours worked for all who are protected under the minimum wage law. Most states require that employers also provide each worker with documentation every paid period detailing that worker’s hours, wages, and deductions. As of 2011, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia didn’t require such documentation. A 2008 survey of wage theft from workers in Illinois, New York, and California found that 57% of low wage workers didn’t receive this required documentation and that workers who were paid in cash or on a weekly rate were more likely to experience wage theft. So making employer documentation legally mandatory is an effective measure though not so much when it comes to tip theft. As for other enforcement measures, while willful violators can fines up to $10,000 upon their first conviction to jail time resulting from repeat offenses. However, since the WHD is so underfunded and so understaffed (which isn’t an accident), very few wage theft cases are investigated and fewer employers are brought to justice.

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Most of the wage theft awareness campaigns usually tend to be localized and statewide. But wage theft is so widespread that Americans need to have a nationwide conversation about this. Wage theft is a very insidious crime that’s happening everywhere. We need to demand action to deter this behavior. We need to show that wage theft is an unacceptable way of doing business.

What Steps Can Be Done to Prevent and Stop Wage Theft?

First, wage theft needs to be addressed as a national issue in the national spotlight because there are stories that are barely heard on TV unless they pertain to Trump’s business shenanigans or NFL cheerleaders. Second, raise funding for the WHD so they could hire more staff to investigate (which should be doubled) as well as better laws that put stiffer penalties on employers. Third, protect victims filing complaints with government agencies from retaliation and allow them to access the back pay they’ve been so long denied if they decide to sue.There must be ways for wage theft victims to complain and stick up to their employers so they won’t have to worry about losing their jobs or their life savings. Fourth, fix the statute of limitations on wage claims for more than two years. Fifth, mandate that employers give workers pay stubs so they could accurately calculate their hours and have a record to prove they were cheated, which most states do anyway as well has been a proven deterrent. Sixth, have the DOL engage in targeted investigations of industries and employers where wage theft is rampant in partnership with community organizations workers trust and know who the criminal employers are. Seventh, instill stiffer penalties on wage theft violators which includes creating mandatory minimums for employers repeatedly breaking the law as well as make sure that wage theft judgments are enforced so workers could collect what they’ve been denied for years. And finally, provide resources to community organizations with the Department of Labor to eliminate wage theft and win back wages.

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Remember, wage theft can be prevented and stopped. The time is now to make unscrupulous employers pay. And I hope the Burger King goes directly to jail and isn’t allowed to collect $200.