The October surprise that wasn’t… The failed Republican attempt to frame Robert Mueller for rape one week before the midterms

With momentum slowing for Republican candidates after the racist killings in Louisville, the anti-Semitic mass murder in Pittsburgh, and the attempted assassination of several prominent Democrats by a Trump supporter, the leaders of the far-right are doing everything in their power to turn things around before next Tuesday’s midterm election. They’re telling lies about protections for people with pre-existing conditions and middle class tax cuts that don’t exist. And, of course, they’re still sounding the racist dog whistle, although they seem to be playing down the big lie about the so-called caravan of refugees heading north from Central American for the time being, and instead talking about eliminating the 14th amendment to the Constitution, thereby ending what’s known as birthright citizenship. [By doing so, Trump can still excite the racist base, but in a way that doesn’t give them specific targets to go after with their assault weapons and pipe bombs.]

The most interesting thing to happen today, though, was that several right-wing media organizations ran stories about women coming forward to make serious sexual misconduct claims against special counsel Robert Mueller… stories which, for reasons that we’ll get into in a minute, would later have to be pulled.

Before we get into how the whole thing fell apart, here are a few social media posts from the two men most closely associated with the fake news story, pro-Trump conspiracy theorists Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl.

If Burkman’s name sounds familiar, it might be from back in 2017, when he publicly defended Roy Moore, claiming that the sexual misconduct charges against the judge were manufactured by Democrats. Burkman, at the time, said that, if he’d wanted to, he could frame anyone for sex crimes. “I can produce three women to say anything about anybody,” he said. And it looks as though that might be exactly what he did here… but we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, though, we should talk about how all of this played out. Burkman and Wohl, as you can see above, came out this morning, stating that women would be coming forward to accuse Robert Mueller of sexual misconduct, and even rape. And, this, as you might imagine, was quickly picked up by multiple right-wing websites. Shortly thereafter, however, news not only broke that a woman had come forward to the media stating that she’d been offered over $20,000 by Burkman to lie and swear that Mueller had sexually abused her, but that Mueller, having heard of this last week, had already requested that the FBI investigate the claims.

Here, by way of background, is an excerpt from a story that just ran in The Atlantic.

…The special counsel’s office confirmed that the scheme was brought to its attention by several journalists who were told about it by a woman alleging that she herself had been offered roughly $20,000 by a man claiming to work for a GOP activist named Jack Burkman “to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.” The woman told journalists in an email, a copy of which I obtained, that she had worked for Mueller as a paralegal at the Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro law firm in 1974, but that she “didn’t see” him much. “When I did see him, he was always very polite to me, and was never inappropriate,” the woman wrote. The firm has not returned a request for comment about whether the woman actually worked there.

The woman explained that she was contacted by a man “with a British accent” who wanted to ask her “a couple questions about Robert Mueller, whom I worked with when I was a paralegal for Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro in 1974. I asked him who he was working for, and he told me his boss was some sort of politics guy in Washington named Jack Burkman. I reluctantly told [him] that I had only worked with Mr. Mueller for a short period of time, before leaving that firm to have my first son.”

She continued: “In more of an effort to get him to go away than anything else, I asked him what in the hell he wanted me to do. He said that we could not talk about it on the phone, and he asked me to download an app on my phone called Signal, which he said was more secure. Reluctantly, I downloaded the app and he called me on that app a few minutes later. He said (and I will never forget exactly what it was) ‘I want you to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller, and I want you to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect.’” The man “offered to pay off all of my credit card debt, plus bring me a check for $20,000 if I would do” it, she wrote. “He knew exactly how much credit card debt I had, right down to the dollar, which sort of freaked me out.”

The woman was not willing to speak to the reporters by phone, according to Scott Stedman, one of the reporters who received the letter. So portions of her story have gone uncorroborated, and her identity has not been independently confirmed. Around the time that the journalists began receiving the email, however, Burkman released a video on his Facebook page claiming, without evidence, that Mueller “has a whole lifetime history of harassing women.” On Tuesday, the day the special counsel’s office revealed that it had referred the woman’s claims to the FBI, Burkman tweeted a similar allegation.

In an emailed statement, Burkman denied knowing the woman who originally alerted journalists to the alleged scheme and called the FBI referral “a joke, mueller wants to deflect attention from his sex assault troubles by attacking me.” He added in a separate email that “on Thursday 1200 NOON ROSSYLN HOLIDAY INN we will present a very credible witness who will allege that Mr. Mueller committed against her a sexual assault.” Mueller’s spokesman reiterated that the claims are false.

Burkman, a conservative radio host, is known for spreading conspiracy theories. He launched his own private investigation into the murder of the DNC staffer Seth Rich, dangled uncorroborated claims of sexual harassment against a sitting member of Congress, and earlier this year offered $25,000 to FBI whistle-blowers for any information exposing wrongdoing during the 2016 election. He also promoted legislation that he authored—despite not being a member of Congress—that would ban gays from playing in the National Football League, and has hosted two fundraisers for Rick Gates—the former Trump campaign official who was indicted by Mueller late last year…

When confronted about his role in this earlier today, Wohl denied that he had anything to do with attempts to pay women in exchange for their perjured testimony. He told NBC News that he had nothing whatsoever to do with Surefire Intelligence, the organization that these efforts had been tracked back to. Unfortunately for Wohl, though, when he set up the Surefire website, he used his mother’s telephone number.

And there we are. Wohl and Burkman are being questioned by the FBI, and even the right-wing “news” agencies like Gateway Pundit are running away from the story. The only question that remains, I think, is to what extent, if any, this poorly executed “rat fucking” campaign was orchestrated by Trump administration insiders like Roger Stone. And I guess we’ll have that answer soon enough.

As for why all of this is happen now, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because they can sense taht the tide is turning against them, and they know, if the Democrats retake either house of Congress, they’re going to finally be held accountable for their actions. So this is it for them. If they’ve got a half-assed plan in the works, we’re going to see it this week. Nothing will be held back… God help us all.

Oh, and speaking of Wohl, he’s also the guy who said this.

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Let’s go over this ballot together, OK?

Today, Donald Trump declared the legitimate news media “the true enemy of the people,” called the Democratic candidate for Governor in Florida a “thief,” and ordered that nearly 5,000 additional active-duty troops be sent to the southern border to protect us from an imaginary threat in hopes of driving his more racist supporters to the polls… and it’s taking ounce of strength that I can not to write about it… but I know that it’s more important that we discuss next Tuesday’s election. [Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Please put it on your calendar.]

If you haven’t already, make some time to find your sample ballot. If you live it Michigan, you can find it on the Secretary of State’s website. And, if you don’t, you can find it at either Vote Save America or Ballotpedia. [For what it’s worth, neither Vote Save America or Ballotpedia seem be list local races, so be aware of that. Vote Save America does, however, have a cool feature which allows you to choose who you want to vote for in each race, and then send yourself an email with all of your choices, so that you can have something to refer back to on Election Day. If you’re a first-time voter, you can also find the location of your polling place on any one of those sites.]

Here, for those of you who might happen to be local, is my ballot for the third ward of Ypsilanti. [It was so long that I had to cut it into several pieces, but hopefully you can still make your way through it without too much trouble.] So, let’s talk about it. I think I know how I’m going to vote on everything up until the judges, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if there are particular races and ballot initiatives you feel passionately about… or if there are write-in candidates that you want people to know about… or whatever. And do leave comments about the judges. I’d appreciate it.

Oh, and I found this breakdown of the three ballot initiatives from Ballotpedia to be useful, and though that I’d pass it along. [It’s also worth pointing out that the Vote Save America site tells you which people and groups support and oppose each ballot measure, which is where I just learned that Ted Nugent has come out against the legalization of marijuana in Michigan.]

And, if you’re a first-time voter, and have any questions, don’t be shy about asking. If I don’t have an answer for you, there’s a pretty good chance that I can find someone who does.

Posted in Michigan, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 136 Comments

11 are dead in the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history

Remember how, not so long ago, we were talking about how the Republicans, in a desperate attempt to remain in power and avoid being held responsible for their actions, had made a conscious decision to spread a false story about a bloodthirsty gang of would-be terrorists, funded by “globalists” (code word for Jews), making their way for our southern border? Well, yesterday morning, we saw how that decision on the part of Trump and the Republicans played out in the real world, when a 46 year old white supremacist by the name of Robert Bowers walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and gunned down 11 people.

Before murdering these innocent people, Bowers posted the following to, a social media platform popular among right wing extremists. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Bowers said. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” [HIAS is a global Jewish nonprofit that, for 130 years, has sought to protect refugees, and, should you wish, you can donate to them here. If you’re so inclined, you can also give to the Tree of Life Synagogue, where these 11 people were murdered.]

So, after declaring, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” this right-wing extremist took his assault weapon into the Tree of Life synagogue and slaughtered 11 innocent people… 11 people, who, you can be certain, had nothing whatsoever to do with this imagined threat massing along our border with Mexico.

Just to recap, this so-called “caravan” of people fleeing the violence and poverty of South America is still roughly 1,000 miles away, which means that they’d arrive at our border in approximately two months time, given that they’re traveling on foot. And, you can be sure that not all of the approximately 5,000 people in this group will reach our border. As you may recall, a similar, albeit smaller, group traveled by foot from South America this past April, and only about 350 individuals made it so far as the U.S. border, where they applied for asylum… So, when you hear that Donald Trump has moved 800 active-duty troops to the border to confront these people, it’s just pre-election theater. Sadly, though, as we saw yesterday morning, some people actually believe it.

Here, to give you a sense of just how amped-up the fear mongering on the right has gotten, is four minutes of video from Fox News.

Bowers, it would seem, was obsessed with this caravan… a caravan which he apparently felt certain was being funded and directed by George Soros and other “globalist” Jews. [Or, as Henry Ford might have referred to them, “The International Jew.”] And, this, I should add, is a conspiracy theory that one doesn’t have to be on to know about. Following is a clip from Fox News, in which Lou Dobbs discusses the “Soros-occupied State Department,” and the role of the Jews in the directing of this caravan, with Chris Farrell, the head of the far-right group Judicial Watch. [The idea that the Jews are secretly running our government — ZOG, or “Zionist Occupied Government” — is apparently a popular talking point among neo-Nazis.]

And this is something that Bowers, it would seem, swallowed hook, line and sinker, going so far as to repeatedly share still images like the following from Fox News, showing a truck with a Jewish star painted on its door assisting migrants.

I’m sure some will argue, yet again, that Trump and the Republicans bear no responsibility. They’ll point out, I’m sure, that Bowers, in recent social media post, criticized Donald Trump for claiming to be a “nationalist”, while actually being a “globalist.” Clearly, though, Bowers bought the narrative that Donald Trump and members of his party put out pertaining to the so-called caravan. I think that’s undeniable. Sure, he may have wanted Trump to embrace the tenants of white nationalism more fervently, especially as they relate to the threat posed by globalist Jews, but I don’t think there’s any case to be made that they aren’t completely aligned when it comes to the threat posed by this group of George Soros-funded terrorists coming to rape and kill our loved ones. You could argue that Trump doesn’t actually believe any of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that he and his people put forward an outlandish conspiracy theory in which powerful Jews were sending an invasion force into America, and that conspiracy theory led to the murder of 11 U.S. citizens.

For what it’s worth, Donald Trump, true to form, is still refusing to accept even a hint of responsibility for his role in any of this. Just a few minutes ago, he doubled down on his earlier claim that all of this violence is due to the lying media… or, as Hitler would have called them, the “Lügenpresse“.

With all of that said, I’d like to once again remind you that we have an opportunity to change things in about one week’s time, when we go to the polls. Please, if you haven’t done so already, find your polling place, read your sample ballot, make your voting plan, and call every last one of your friends. The future of our democracy, if not humanity itself, depends on it.

correction: This post originally identified one of the victims of this attack, the 97 year old Rose Mallinger, as a holocaust survivor. It turns out, however, that this was reported incorrectly in the press. As someone just pointed out to me, while 7 of the 11 victims were alive during the holocaust, none were actively survivors. One of the congregants who was sent to Bergen-Belsen at age 8, however, was on her way into the building when the attack took place.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Trump says he wants the story of Cesar Sayoc to “disappear rapidly.” We cannot allow that to happen.

This is Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc. He was arrested yesterday in Florida and charged with sending at least 13 explosive devices to prominent Democrats and others who have been critical of the President. While there are still some on the far right who are maintaining that this was a “false flag” operation perpetrated by Democrats in order to change the course of the midterm elections, the evidence seems pretty clear that Sayoc is actually what he appears to be… a far right conspiracy theorist with thousands of dollars in Trump branded clothing, a history of attending MAGA rallies, and a van plastered with images of the president’s critics, shown with targets over their faces. And, of course, there’s a social media trail going back years, showing numerous Qanon-esque conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and other people known to have received explosive devices in the mail this week.

As for when Sayoc went off the deep end, his cousin, Lenny Altieri, had the following to say to the Washington Post. “He didn’t discuss politics (previously),” he said. “This had to be when Trump got in, very recently, that he lost his mind.” In the same article, Sayoc’s former employer had this to say of him; “He would categorize himself as a white supremacist,” she said. “He would just say, ‘Take back the world.’ That’s what he would always say, ‘Take back the world.’”

Here’s a closeup of one of the windows on Sayoc’s van. [Rush Limbaugh, by the way, went on the air yesterday saying that the stickers look too pristine to be real, implying that the whole thing is fake. “This van, every window has stickers, decals, bumper stickers. There’s so many of ’em you can’t see out of these windows… How in the world does a van like that in South Florida not get defaced?,” he asked his listeners.]

Donald Trump, who, as you’ll recall, earlier suggested that these bombs were the result of the “purposely false and inaccurate reporting” of the news media, was asked last night if he felt at all responsible for Sayoc’s actions. He responded, “Not at all, no. There is no blame. There is no anything.” He was also asked if he had any plans to reach out to any of those people who were targeted for assassination, to which he responded, “They wanted me to, but we’ll pass.

And this is the world that we now inhabit. It wasn’t too long ago that the President of the United States was called “unpresidential” for wearing a tan suit. And here were are, just a short four years later, living under the rule of a President who not only refuses to call those individuals who were marked for assassination by one of his supporters, but actually continues to attack them in front of a mob chanting “lock her up”.

Trump said earlier yesterday that he’d like for this story about Sayoc to “disappear rapidly,” as it might very well impact the midterms. Well, we cannot allow that to happen. Donald Trump, you can be sure, would not be saying the same thing had it been a Democrat that had sent out these bombs, and we cannot allow him, and his party, to just move on from this unchallenged. The truth is, this was a serious attempt to take out Democratic leadership, and it was carried out by a man who, by all accounts, was radicalized by our President. This should be alarming to every American. And we can’t just ignore it, like they want for us to. We can’t just let Fox News move on to their coverage of the new McRib sandwich, like this never happened. Because, you can be sure, this will happen again. And next time, the people targeted may not be so lucky.

We have to stop this on Election Day. We’ve seen where this is going to lead if we don’t put a decisive end to it. This really is our last chance… So, please, find your polling place. Read your sample ballot. Make your voting plan. And call your friends. The future of our democracy, if not humanity itself, depends on it.

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Trump says it’s not his violent rhetoric, but the press that’s responsible for political violence

When I last left you, we were discussing the fact that an explosive device had been discovered in the mailbox of George Soros, a man who Trump and his allies on the far right have been spinning wild conspiracy theories about for years. [Just today there’s a new conspiracy theory about how the billionaire philanthropist is financing the so-called “caravan” of terrorist immigrants heading to our southern border from Central America.] Well, it would appear that Soros wasn’t the only one targeted for execution in this manner. Over the past 48 hours, a total of ten bombs have been discovered, sent to the offices and homes of not only Soros, but Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director John Brennan, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Robert De Niro. All of these bombs were apparently packaged in the same fashion and sent with the same return address… that of Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. [Waters and Biden both had two bombs sent to them. The bomb addressed to Brennan was sent in care of CNN. And the bomb sent to Holder, deemed undeliverable by the Postal Service, was “returned” to the office of Wasserman Schultz.] All of these people, of course, have one thing in common. They are people who have been criticized and ridiculed relentlessly by our President.

There was some hope yesterday that Donald Trump, who has, since becoming President, not only continued to engage in violent rhetoric, but aligned himself more closely with white nationalist figures, might take the opportunity to come out aggressively against this most recent escalation in political violence, and attempt to calm the waters, urging respect and understanding. That, however, wasn’t what happened. At a rally last night in Wisconsin, Donald Trump, after condemning the sending of these explosive devices, attempted to shift the blame onto the press. This environment we find ourselves in, he said, is in large part due to those in the media who “carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains.” Journalists, he then added, need to “stop treating their opponents as morally defective.” And he then went even further this morning, saying that, “the anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting… (which) has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description.”

So, to sum up, the problem, at least as Donald Trump sees it, isn’t that he’s been holding rallies where he talks about the American press being “the enemy of the people,” and ranting about how protesters should be “roughed up,” and his adversaries should be “locked up” in order to be stopped from harming our nation, but those of us who criticize him for saying such things, and attempt to hold him accountable… If only we didn’t complain about his supporters throwing white power hand signs and chanting “lock her up” about innocent people, I guess, all of this might have been avoided. If only we’d told them that they were heroic, maybe these bombs never would have been sent.

This should have been a relatively easy thing for him to navigate as our President. Had this happened under any other administration, the President would have cancelled his rally, called together members of both parties, and made a joint statement urging calm, reminding the American people that, although we may have different ideas as to how we should move forward as a nation, we all love this country, and want the best for our families, and those of our neighbors. Instead, however, he essentially justified the attempted assassination of these eight American citizens by saying that the media is to blame for painting his supporters as “villains.”

And, apparently, it’s finally becoming obvious to some members of the Republican establishment what they’re dealing with in Donald Trump. As Ohio Governor John Kasich said today, “I gave him every chance, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is simply incapable of being a unifier or accepting any personal responsibility.”

Sadly, though, we’re moving so fast down the slippery slope of authoritarianism, I doubt this will make much of a difference, at least not to those who form the MAGA base. One would have hoped that, as Trump blamed the press for the sending of these ten bombs, we might have shared some kind of collective moment of clarity… like during the 1954 Senate hearing in which Joseph McCarthy was asked, “Have you no sense of decency, Sir?,” laying bare the charade of McCarthyism once and for all. But, no, we just keep right on sliding on to the next fleeting outrage.

I should add a this point that we don’t yet know who sent the above-mentioned bombs. For all we know, it could have been a deranged liberal who felt as though this might somehow help the party’s chances in the midterms. I think that’s unlikely, but I suppose it’s possible. What I know for certain to be true, however, is that this President’s rhetoric is not helping anything. When Donald Trump urges his supporters to “rough up” those who would criticize him, praises those who beat up journalists, infers that all Mexicans are murderers, rapists and drug dealers, and says that his critics were “born fucked up,” it shouldn’t surprise anyone that political violence follows. When you consistently dehumanize your opponents, and demonize them, this is exactly what happens. When you tell people that an army of bloodthirsty criminal terrorists are heading for our border, as Donald Trump just did, and then say that the Democrats want to allow them in, so that they can kill our families, we really shouldn’t be all surprised when some small percentage of people, who don’t understand what’s really going on, turn to domestic terrorism.

We know from history that this is what happens in fascist regimes. We’ve seen it happen before.

While, as I said above, I have no idea who might be responsible for the mailing of these bombs, some people seem very certain that they know exactly what happened. Here are three quotes from prominent conservatives. 1) Ann Coulter: “Bombs are a liberal tactic.” 2) Lou Dobbs: “Fake News, Fake Bombs.” 3) Geraldo Rivera: “I believe that this whole thing was an elaborate hoax.”

And, meanwhile, of course, they’re aggressively playing the victim card, as they’re known to do… Yesterday on Fox, they were talking about the incivility of Democratic “mobs” when news broke about these eight Democratic leaders being targeted with explosive devices. If you have a moment, I’d encourage you to watch the footage, as it really puts into sharp relief what we’re dealing with here. On one hand, you have Republicans complaining that, just because they’re rolling back protections for people with preexisting conditions, “Democratic mobs” are keeping them from enjoying their taxpayer-funded dinners out on the town. And, on the other, you have actual bombs being sent to the homes of our most recognizable Democratic leaders… Just think about that for a minute.

According to the folks at Fox, though, it’s the press that’s playing the victim here. “It’s the victim mentality all over again,” said Fox anchor Trish Regan. “The media refusing to take any responsibility for themselves.”

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with these words from CNN President Jeff Zucker, who had to evacuate his staff yesterday, when one of these ten bombs was found in their mail room. “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker said. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.” And that, of course, is a generous interpretation. Another, perhaps more plausible interpretation, is that they know exactly what they’re doing, and either do not care, or actually desire this violence to escalate.

Either way, we would be foolish to think that this is the end, and not just the beginning.

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