Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
May 16, 2023
On Saturday, May 13th, President Joe Biden spoke to the graduating class at Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C. In his speech about “excellence, leadership, and truth and service,” Biden singled out white supremacy “as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”
Biden called for Americans to reject political extremism and violence, and to protect fundamental rights and freedoms for women to choose and for transgender children to be free. He called for affordable healthcare and housing and the right to raise your family and retire with dignity. He urged the graduates to “stand with leaders of your generation who give voice to the people, demanding action on gun violence,” and to stand “against books being banned and Black history being erased…. To stand up for the best in us.”
While Biden based his remarks on former president Trump’s declaration after the August 2017 Unite the Right Rally that “there are very fine people on both sides,” there were plenty of examples from just this week that he could have used.
Last night, Hunter Walker of Talking Points Memo broke the story that the digital director for right-wing representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) appears to be Wade Searle, a devoted follower of white supremacist leader Nick Fuentes. Fuentes has openly embraced Nazism and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism, and he is one of those to whom the alt-right Groypers look up.
Although Fuentes calls the Groypers “Christian conservatives,” historian of the far right in the U.S. Nicole Hemmer told Walker: “The Groypers are essentially the equivalent of neo-Nazis…. They are attached to violent events like Jan. 6. Nick Fuentes, as sort of the organizer of the Groypers, expresses Holocaust denialism, white supremacy, white nationalism, pretty strong anti-women bigotry, he calls for a kind of return to Twelfth Century Catholicism. They’re an extremist group that is OK with violence.”
Walker has also identified an intern in Gosar’s office as another Fuentes follower.
A February study by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research on religion, culture, and public policy, found that the so-called Christian nationalism at the heart of those like Fuentes is closely linked with a willingness to commit violence to make the U.S. a white Christian nation. The PRRI poll showed that nearly 20% of those who sympathize with Christian nationalism agreed they were “willing to fight” to take the nation back to what they incorrectly believe it always was.
Maria Cramer of the New York Times noted yesterday that while no one actually knows much about Daniel Penny, a white man who was recently charged with choking Jordan Neely, a homeless Black man, to death on a subway in New York, right-wing politicians and supporters have rallied around Penny. They seem to see him as a symbol of a powerful man who took matters into his own hands to restore order—although the events that led to the choking are still unclear—much as they lionized Kyle Rittenhouse after he killed two people and wounded another at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020. Florida governor Ron DeSantis tweeted: “We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens.”
Historian Thomas Zimmer explained the danger: “All strands of the Right—leading Republicans, the media machine, the reactionary intellectual sphere, the conservative base, the donor class—are openly and aggressively embracing rightwing vigilante violence,” he wrote. “This sends a clear message: It encourages white militants to use whatever force they please to “fight back” against anything and anyone associated with ‘the Left’ by protecting and glorifying those who have engaged in vigilante violence—call it the Kyle Rittenhouse dogma.”
In Washington this weekend, about 150 masked members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched toward the U.S. Capitol, chanting, “life, liberty, victory.”
Professor of journalism at New York University Jay Rosen noted on MSNBC on May 11, the day after CNN gave Trump the space to hold what amounted to a political rally, that journalists could better cover this moment in our history by focusing not on the horse race strategy, but on the consequences for the country if Trump wins again. How will American life change? Who will benefit? Who will suffer? He says the question should be “not the odds, but the stakes” as a principle for better campaign coverage.
A lawsuit filed today in New York by Noelle Dunphy, a woman who says Trump ally Rudy Giuliani hired her in January 2019 to manage his media presence, documents the sordid world she observed in her two years working for Giuliani. He promised her a salary of $1 million a year but said he couldn’t pay her until his divorce was final and, ultimately, paid her only small amounts of cash. In her account, he seemed to become obsessed with her, forcing her into sex and trying to dominate her. She is suing Giuliani, his companies, and 10 unidentified individuals over “unlawful abuses of power, wide-ranging sexual assault and harassment, wage theft, and other misconduct” and is asking for $10 million in compensation and damages.
The story of her time with Giuliani, whom she describes as a chronically alcoholic sexual abuser prone to racist and sexist outbursts, is bad enough—and she claims to have recordings—but her other allegations are politically incendiary. She claims to have heard Giuliani say that he was selling presidential pardons for $2 million a pop, splitting the proceeds with Trump, and that Giuliani told her on February 7, 2019, “about a plan that had been prepared for if Trump lost the 2020 election.” Specifically, Giuliani told Ms. Dunphy that Trump’s team would claim that there was ‘voter fraud’ and that Trump had actually won the election…. That same day, Giuliani had Ms. Dunphy sit in on a speakerphone conversation about a potential business opportunity involving a $72 billion dollar gas deal in China.”
Also of note is her claim that, since part of her job was managing emails, Giuliani gave her access to his email account. The system stored at least 23,000 emails on her own personal computer, including “privileged, confidential, and highly sensitive” emails from, to, or concerning Trump, his children Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump; Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; Trump’s lawyers and advisors; media figures including Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson; and so on.
There are a number of stories in the news today that wrap up long-standing issues. John Durham, the special counsel picked by Trump loyalist attorney general William Barr to undermine the FBI investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, released a report today finding fault with the categorization of the FBI’s initial investigation into the Russia attempt to swing the 2016 election to Trump.
Representative George Santos (R-NY) has pleaded guilty to charges of theft in Brazil, but insists he is not guilty of the federal charges against him for financial crimes. He says he will not resign from Congress.
As predicted by everyone who correctly attributed the high cost of eggs late last year to the deadly avian flu and price gouging, there are now so many eggs on the market that the wholesale price is $0.94 a dozen, down from $5.46 a dozen six months ago.
The number of migrants at the southern border has dropped 50% since the end of the pandemic restriction known as Title 42 on May 11.
And finally, Representative James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, yesterday told Fox News Channel personality Maria Bartiromo that the committee has lost track of a top witness to alleged wrongdoing by the Biden family. “Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer said. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”