Political Animal

Georgia Republicans To Send a Tax Cheat and a QAnon Supporter to Congress

With everyone justifiably focused on the announcement that Kamala Harris will be Joe Biden’s running mate, you may have missed that Georgians effectively elected a QAnon supporter to the United States Congress last night. Marjorie Taylor Greene won a Republican primary runoff against a neurosurgeon and will now in all likelihood coast to victory in November, since the 14th District is one of the most Republican districts in the country.

If you aren’t familiar with the QAnon phenomenon, it’s a crackpot theory that “says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.” And if you’re wondering how someone believing such nonsense could win a Republican primary, Media Matters can explain that for you:

As of July 7, 2020, President Donald Trump has amplified tweets from accounts promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory at least 185 times via at least 114 individual accounts, some of them more than once. (Since the novel coronavirus pandemic began in the United States, he has amplified QAnon Twitter accounts at least 90 times via 49 individual accounts.) Additionally, members of Trump’s family, his personal attorney, current and former campaign staffers, and even some current and former Trump administration officials have also repeatedly amplified QAnon supporters and their content.

Ms. Greene isn’t just a QAnon supporter, however. As Politico can tell you, she is so much more.

The candidate, Marjorie Taylor Greene, suggested that Muslims do not belong in government; thinks black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party”; called George Soros, a Jewish Democratic megadonor, a Nazi; and said she would feel “proud” to see a Confederate monument if she were black because it symbolizes progress made since the Civil War.

As for the president, he praised her victory and wrote that she is “strong on everything.”

The House leadership was hoping that her opponent John Cowan would prevail, but his main critique of Greene was that her construction business doesn’t do enough to prevent Latinos from finding employment in Georgia.

On Tuesday, there was also a Republican run-off in Georgia’s 9th congressional district. That contest was won by a gun shop owner named Andrew Clyde, “a first-time candidate who has emphasized his military career and his successful battle against the IRS after it seized close to $1 million from him in 2013.” The tax scofflaw prevailed against State Rep. Matt Gurtler who was supported by the Club for Growth despite being recently photographed at “an event hosted by a local white supremacist.”

With only tax-cheats, klan-sympathizers, anti-Semites, and crackpots to choose from, it was inevitable that we’d see some troubling results. The 9th congressional district is even more conservative than the 14th, and Mr. Clyde will be joining Ms. Greene in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021. They now represent the post-Trump future of the Republican Party.

They will be among many of the current president’s lasting gifts to the nation.

The Extremist Agenda of Establishment Republicans

Last Tuesday, Kansas held its Republican senate primary—a race that I suggested was the most bizarre of the season. In the end, the so-called “establishment” breathed a sign of relief that Kris Kobach lost to Representative Roger Marshall. That means that Kobach is now a two-time loser in state-wide races. In 2018, he lost the governorship to Democrat Laura Kelly, indicating that even for a deeply red state like Kansas, he is too extreme.

But with the current state of the Republican Party, it can be difficult to distinguish between candidates who are “establishment” and those who are “extreme.” For example, Marshall is touting the fact that he is “trusted by Trump” because he has voted for the president’s agenda 98 percent of the time. That includes support for the president’s wall and xenophobic immigration policies—a position that would make Kobach proud.

I’ve been to the border several times. I know it is a crisis, and President Trump is right: we must build a wall and fix our broken immigration system, and we have to turn off the magnets that attract, promote, encourage and allow migrants to enter our country under false pretenses.

One of the things that Marshall wants you to know about him is that he’s a doctor—going so far as to try and have his nickname “Doc” included on the primary ballot. Election officials said “no go.” But those credentials put him right in the center of efforts to repeal Obamacare and oppose Medicaid expansion in Kansas. Here’s how he explained his position on the latter.

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Pressed on that point, Marshall shrugged.

“Just, like, homeless people. … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care,” he said. “The Medicaid population, which is [on] a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. And I’m not judging, I’m just saying socially that’s where they are. So there’s a group of people that even with unlimited access to health care are only going to use the emergency room when their arm is chopped off or when their pneumonia is so bad they get brought [into] the ER.”

On access to health care, that is what passes for the “establishment” position in the GOP these days. Basically what Marshall is saying is that poor people are too lazy and slothful to take care of themselves and so they don’t deserve to have coverage.

To make matters even worse, Marshall quotes Jesus to back him up. I’ll forgo a sermon on that one and simply point out that the Bible contains over 300 verses on our responsibility to care for the poor and an additional 250 on the proper use of wealth.

There might have been a time when establishment Republicans would argue with Democrats over the role of government in making sure that Americans had access to health care. But Marshall demonstrates just how extremist the entire GOP has become. They’re no longer worried about denying health care to millions of Americans because poor people aren’t worthy of care. They also have no shame about misusing the Bible to justify that kind of soulless policy.

The 1996 Black Lesbian Film That Became Essential Viewing for 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has come with an odd paradox for the movie business. Efforts to stop the spread of the virus have shut down theaters across the country—putting to a sudden halt the way films are supposed to be experienced: on a big screen and in the company of others—just as Americans have been hungrier than ever for film and television entertainment to keep them occupied while physical distancing. Naturally, the new reality led to a surge in new subscriptions in streaming services.

Then, at the same time that people found themselves locked inside and tied to their screens, a Minneapolis police officer brutally killed George Floyd, igniting a worldwide social justice movement that demanded an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

That pivotal moment of national introspection has also led to an increased appetite for aesthetic representations of marginalized people. Netflix unleashed a Black Lives Matter collection. The Criterion Channel put out a retrospective of pioneering Black filmmakers. Their logic made sense: Art is perhaps the greatest instrument through which we can understand the human experience. No wonder, then, it is where Americans have turned to make sense of the nation’s social unrest.

That has come with an added benefit. Filmmakers who were once relatively obscure are now getting the attention they have long deserved.

Just ask Cheryl Dunye. More than two decades after its release, her groundbreaking arthouse film, The Watermelon Woman, has been making something of a mainstream comeback. News outlets like Vanity Fair and Complex are writing think pieces on the film’s significance. The Criterion Channel included her semi-autobiographical 1996 film in its Black cinema spotlight, as well as in its June 2020 Pride month lineup. That’s because the movie depicted intersectional struggle before “intersectionality” was even considered a thing: the story follows a Black lesbian filmmaker named Cheryl who works at a video rental store and who is making a documentary about a Black lesbian actress from the 1930s.

“Putting myself into my work is something that I was already doing even before The Watermelon Woman,” she told me in a recent interview. “I went to art school, got an MFA at Rutgers and that’s sort of where I started putting myself into my own pictures. I think that that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do with my own personal ideasAs a Black lesbian, being out and queer and doing a different thing, it was definitely a long time before I got to this point where I am now, but I was able to work more independently.”

The Watermelon Woman is widely recognized as the first film directed by a Black lesbian, with Dunye starring in its lead role.  It earned a cult-like status among cinephiles and Black and queer communities almost immediately after its release. The movie received critical praise and won a Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival and Audience Award for Outstanding Narrative Feature at L.A. Outfest. But it has never quite gotten as much attention as it is now.

That’s partly because, even in the years since its release, there hasn’t been a great surge in more movies portraying queer people of color. Most of the LGBTQ films of the last 10 years—Call Me By Your Name, Brokeback Mountain, The Favorite—feature white queer couples without any black or brown characters in sight. Director Clea Duvall’s upcoming holiday-themed lesbian romantic comedy, starring Kristen Stewart, features a similarly homogenous looking cast.

Television shows have done better. According to GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are in TV” report, 2018 was the first year that people of color made up more than half of the queer characters on TV—up from 24 percent 10 years ago. “You can see that Hollywood has changed a bit,” Dunye told me. “There are strides, and there is a big effort all over. But there aren’t a lot of people doing it at that level, there are just a few.”

The question now, however, is whether a newfound interest in Dunye’s work—and the demands of a growing societal awareness over the plight racial and sexual minorities—will make films about queer people of color more of a norm than an outlier.

That starts with who is given a chance to tell the stories that shape our culture. A 2015 study from the Director’s Guild of America revealed that only three percent of television episodes from 2014-2015 were directed by minority females. In other words, Black lesbian directors like Dunye aren’t as likely to receive opportunities as their white counterparts.

A Washington Post analysis of the 2015 Academy of Motion Pictures Awards found that among the 317 male directors, who “rank among Hollywood’s most powerful decision makers,” only 50 weren’t white. As the study notes, this group wields “unmistakable power behind the scenes, by deciding which projects get funded, which actors get cast–and which stories get ignored.” Even lists of the top gay and lesbian directors in the industry show white men are overrepresented compared to women and persons of color.

The good news is, people are  starting to recognize that. “There are conversations happening now about the lack of black and brown folks in queer culture production,” Dunye said. As the Black director Steve McQueen wrote in The Guardian, there is a need for more Black and Minority Experience (BAME) employees working behind the camera. “It felt like I had walked out of one environment, the London I was surrounded by, into another, a place that was alien to me,” McQueen wrote. “I could not believe the whiteness of the set.”

The critical resurrection of The Watermelon Woman should inspire Hollywood to fix this problem. The film’s lasting success proves that films about Black lesbians are not micro-targeted exclusively to Black lesbian audiences. In fact, they can touch on universally appealing themes that resonate with and interest broader audiences. The Watermelon Woman, after all, is about the struggle to understand one’s identity. Who doesn’t relate to that?

Today, Dunye is working on a TV pilot, which is slated to be released later this year but doesn’t yet have a premiere date. She is also trying to expand a previously made short film, Black is Blue—about a Black trans security guard—into a larger, full-length production.

And while she’s enjoying and appreciating the attention her first film is getting now, she’s not dwelling on it. Rather, she’s using it as an engine to spur future work. “[That’s something] I had to get over a long time ago, about this sense of what I am owed and what the universe has given me,” Dunye said. “To receive that visibility now, I’m not going say, ‘Oh, it’s been out there, people just haven’t seen the work.’ That’s what being an artist is about, ya know. It’s about inspiring a movement.” Lucky for us all, Dunye might just be doing that.

What Trump Doesn’t Want You to Know About Russia’s Election Interference

Last Friday, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.'” It also noted that both China and Iran prefer that Trump be defeated in the November election.

The timing of that wasn’t lost on New York Times reporter Robert Draper who was about to publish an article titled, “Unwanted Truths: Inside Trump’s Battle With U.S. Intelligence Agencies.”

Just as this article was going to press — and shortly after I submitted a list of questions to the O.D.N.I. relating to its struggle to avoid becoming politically compromised — Evanina put out a new statement. In it, the O.D.N.I. at last acknowledged publicly that Russia “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’” In the same statement, however, Evanina also asserted for the first time that both China and Iran were hoping to defeat Trump. As with the preceding statement, the O.D.N.I. made no distinction between Russia’s sophisticated election-disrupting capabilities and the less insidious influence campaigns of the two supposedly anti-Trump countries. Like its predecessor, the statement seemed to be tortured with political calculation — an implicit declaration of anguish rather than of independence.

The predecessor Draper referred to was at the heart of his reporting. According to his sources, the National Security Estimate was a document that caused controversy between Trump and the intelligence community in the summer and fall of 2017 and eventually led to the firing of DNI Dan Coates. Initially, it contained a finding that “in the 2020 election, Russia favored the current president: Donald Trump.” By the time Trump and his loyalists were through with the NSE, it read: “Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the U.S. will diminish under a different U.S. president.”

All of that is designed to once again hide what Trump has consistently denied: that Russian interference in the 2016 election was aimed at helping him. While the president has vacillated on whether or not it was Russia who interfered in the election, the facts about Putin’s motives for doing so are verboten among his loyalists.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t just Mueller who documented that Putin intervened to help Trump. A bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee came to the same conclusion.

Where the Intelligence Community assessed that the Russian government “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” the Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.

This controversy is important to keep in mind as Attorney General Barr prepares to release Durham’s findings on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. From the beginning, Barr has been unwilling to admit that Russia’s interference was focused on helping Trump—because that is what launched the entire Trump-Russia probe. Here is what the Washington Post reported back in 2017 (emphasis mine):

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

Our intelligence services would have been derelict in their duty if they had not investigated whether an adversarial power was interfering in an election to support one candidate in particular. So while the FBI eventually began its CrossFire Hurricane investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign was engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government, intelligence services went on to further investigate the activities and intentions of a foreign power’s attempt to interfere in our elections. In January 2017, they released their report, which included the following:

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

After Barr appointed Durham to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, this is what was reported by the New York Times.

Mr. Barr wants to know more about the C.I.A. sources who helped inform its understanding of the details of the Russian interference campaign, an official has said. He also wants to better understand the intelligence that flowed from the C.I.A. to the F.B.I. in the summer of 2016.

During the final weeks of the Obama administration, the intelligence community released a declassified assessment that concluded that Mr. Putin ordered an influence campaign that “aspired to help” Mr. Trump’s electoral chances by damaging Mrs. Clinton’s. The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. reported they had high confidence in the conclusion. The National Security Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance, had a moderate degree of confidence…

Conservative critics of the intelligence assessment and the Mueller report have questioned the conclusion that Mr. Putin actively favored Mr. Trump, as opposed to simply wanting to sow chaos and weaken Mrs. Clinton.

From the beginning, Trump’s enablers have been attempting to make this ridiculous distinction between Russian attempts to weaken Clinton and the necessary corollary that they were supporting Trump. That’s why it’s important to note that Evanina was able to report that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden,” but not that these efforts are designed to help Trump.

What our intelligence sources aren’t telling us is at the heart of Senator Richard Blumenthal’s concerns.

The warning lights are flashing red. America’s elections are under attack.

This week, I reviewed classified materials in the Senate’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility and received a similarly classified briefing on malign foreign threats to U.S. elections. I was shocked by what I learned — and appalled that, by swearing Congress to secrecy, the Trump administration is keeping the truth about a grave, looming threat to democracy hidden from the American people. On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement that only hints at the threats.

The facts are chilling. I believe the American public needs and deserves to know them. The information should be declassified immediately.

It is clear that, once again, Vladimir Putin is interfering in our elections to support Donald Trump. The president doesn’t want us to know that and has done nothing to stop him—much like he’s ignoring the fact that Putin put bounties on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The evidence of how far we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of Trump’s criminal presidency is that most of the media doesn’t seem to care that this is happening. Perhaps that is because this president is regularly committing impeachable offenses that would have led to the removal of any prior occupant of the Oval Office many times over. We can now add one more to the list: Trump’s refusal to stop Russian interference in our election—which is specifically aimed at helping him get re-elected.