Saturday, June 17, 2017



I'm sharing a booth with best-selling crime novelist Don Winslow at a diner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, right before the toniest part of the neighborhood bleeds into Morningside Heights, home to Columbia University and public housing projects. He lived a few blocks from here in the 1970s and ’80s, in a ninth-floor apartment with a bathtub he'd hide in when gunfire popped outside.

“Back then, there was small-arms fire,” says Winslow, who’s tan, slight and dapper in a crisp white shirt and navy blazer. “That was the nadir of the city. Summer of Sam. Freeze to death in the dark. Go to hell. It was bad, and we were all poor, but I have a certain nostalgia for it.”

He speaks just as he writes, in short, sturdy sentences, rife with repetition, that bring you inside a literary world you can easily imagine on the big screen. Winslow is page-turner royalty. He’s written 20 novels that have been published in 28 counties. Two have been made into movies: Oliver Stone’s Savages and John Herzfeld’s The Death and Life of Bobby Z. Ridley Scott optioned The Cartel, Winslow’s international best-seller about the Mexican drug wars that The New York Times and Amazon had named a top book in 2015. (When I ask where in California he lives, he won’t say: “Because of The Cartel, I now get death threats and all that kind of happy crap.”) But he calls his latest novel, The Force, “the book I’ve wanted to write my whole life.”

Part The Godfather, part The Wire, The Force is a Molotov cocktail of cops and corruption, where good guys are also bad guys, and police malfeasance isn’t just about skimming money off drug busts—it’s about something far more insidious: the corruption that comes when trying to do the right thing. Denny Malone is “the king of Manhattan North,” a veteran New York Police Department detective sergeant who’s been keeping the streets safe for 18 years. He’s a lapsed Irish Catholic from Staten Island with tattoo sleeves, a Deedrine addiction, an ex-wife and a girlfriend.

Malone and his elite special unit, “Da Force,” are “the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, the best, the baddest.” He operates at the edge of the racial tensions and drug wars exploding across New York, and he’s driven by a desire to save the city—and, in the process, possibly even to save himself.

That’s because Malone and his crew are dirty. They stole millions in dollars and drugs when Da Force made the biggest heroin bust in New York history. The book opens with an extraordinary predicament: Malone, hero cop, is in federal lockup. Over the next 480 pages, we find out exactly how he got there, how far he’ll go to be free and what it really means to be a “good cop.”

Winslow grew up around cops. His godfather was a police officer, and as a young man, Winslow spent years as a private investigator, working murder cases, arsons and wrongful-death suits. But his fascination with cops—their lives, their families, the people they saved, screwed over and killed—began when he saw The French Connection. He was 13. “It seemed like such a different way to tell a story. It was about cops, but their inner lives, and grittier and more real.”

Once, a cop in Greenwich Village sat across from him talking about murdered children, tears streaming down his cheeks. “For some reason, over two to three months, he caught six child homicides, all unrelated. Bang, bang, bang, bang. I don’t think he’s ever recovered,” Winslow says.

To write The Force, Winslow spent five years interviewing “scores” of police officers—courageous cops, legendary homicide detectives, “overt racists.” He’d tell them, “‘I don’t need the facts. I know the facts. I’ve read the court records. I know your cases. I want the feeling,’” he says. “Drug traffickers are much easier to get to know than cops. They are less insular. They are less suspicious…. But once a cop [lets you in], he totally trusts you.”

At times, Winslow was frightened. “I’m not an easy guy to scare. It’s not bravado; I’m just telling you, I’m not,” he says. “But riding around some of the hoods at 2 a.m., you feel scared because the hostility level is so high. It wasn’t this incident or that, it was the overall zeitgeist of absolute hatred coming your way.”

Winslow wrote The Force during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, with names like Freddie Gray, Philando Castile and Michael Brown echoing in his ears. The book’s first few pages reveal another side of this tragic political environment. Winslow writes, “During the time that I was writing this novel, the following law enforcement personnel were murdered in the line of duty. This book is dedicated to them.” Next comes a gut-wrenching two-and-a-half-page list of names—178 fallen officers, one after another, separated only by commas.

“You keenly felt it,” Winslow says about writing a cop epic in this atmosphere. “There would be times when I would pick up a newspaper and know that I had to make a phone call. You know, a sympathy call.” He trails off, clears his throat and mutters “sorry” as he jerks back into the booth. It takes me a moment to realize that his eyes are filling with tears.

He is thinking about “a couple of particular cops,” he says, taking a sip of water. “One thing I wanted to explore is cops killing young African-Americans, and what’s that about? And knowing that there are two sides to this…. You’re looking at people who’ve become adversaries and enemies that should be friends and allies. Most cops truly, and at times desperately, want to protect the people.”

The Force is not only a bleak commentary on race in America. It also paints a version of New York City (or any city, really) that none of us would choose to live in if we knew what actually went down in police stations, backrooms and courtrooms. And that’s why it’s delicious—Winslow’s world is so corrupt, it feels more like fantasy than reality, even though it’s probably happening all around us.

Winslow is the kind of guy who could riff for hours about the militarization of the police, the catastrophe of the criminal justice system, the benefits of old-school policing (prevention, not reaction) and the importance of Black Lives Matter. “It has a point—it’s unquestionable. And most cops, when they’re being really honest with you, will say the same thing.”

The Force is not only a bleak commentary on race in America. It also paints a version of New York City (or any city, really) that none of us would choose to live in if we knew what actually went down in police stations, backrooms and courtrooms. And that’s why it’s delicious—Winslow’s world is so corrupt, it feels more like fantasy than reality, even though it’s probably happening all around us.

'The Force' author Don Winslow explores the evil that even good men do

The Cartel novelist has no fear of death threats. He’s had many lives already. What scares him is ceasing to be shocked at what humans do to each other.

June 15, 2017

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Everyone in this small mountain town in Southern California knows Don Winslow — unless you show up asking about him. Then you’re more likely to find blank stares, shrugged shoulders, shaking heads. Don who? Never heard of him.

The novelist, whose new book The Force comes out next week, has lived here for decades, but has lately asked to keep the exact location out of the press. His fiction is so densely layered with fact that he has attracted a few death threats from criminals, thugs, and lowlifes who resent their stories turning up within his.

We’re sitting in a small farming warehouse that has been converted into local shops, having lunch at Winslow’s favorite taco place, and he knows everyone by name — even the little kids running around. So he’s not hiding, but that doesn’t mean he’s easy to find.

“You don’t see armed guards surrounding me,” says Winslow, a lean 60-something with steely eyes and a quick, disarming smile. “But at the same time, if you came in here and asked any of these people where I lived, they wouldn’t tell you.”

A few menacing calls started rolling in from Mexican drug traffickers who didn’t like his depiction of their world in his 2015 best-seller The Cartel, but even more threats followed his August 2016 non-fiction article in Esquire: “El Chapo and the Secret History of the Heroin Crisis,” which detailed how legalized marijuana led those in the narcotics business to push an even deadlier product on their consumers.

“One time, my wife and kid were out of town, and I got a ‘We’re-going-to-come-f—king-kill-you’ call, and I heard myself say, ‘Well, come in an ambulance, because that’s how you’re leaving,’” Winslow says, with a disbelieving laugh.

Then the smile fades and he adds matter-of-factly: “F–k you, you’re going to come and kill me. I’m a small, old guy, but I can take care of myself.”

The Force shifts focus from the drug battlefields of Mexico and the American southwest to the concrete and steel canyons of New York City, specifically the neighborhoods of Manhattan North, where a dangerously charismatic cop named Denny Malone leads a special NYPD unit that has begun bending the law to brutalize bad guys — which works pretty well until they lose sight of where the breaking point is.

It’s one of the most daring and explosive books of summer, grabbing readers by the front of the shirt and dragging them into a world where honor and wrongdoing are mismatched partners. It’s written in the third person, but this is no impassive narrator; it’s a sardonic, streetwise voice — like a pissed off conscience, telling a cautionary tale. On the cover, Stephen King supplies the vouch: “The Force is mesmerizing, a triumph. Think The Godfather, only with cops. It’s that good.”

The book opens with a flash-forward: Detective Malone behind bars. The mystery isn’t how he got there — it’s which of his myriad felonies finally caught up with him? And what line will he cross to get out? He’s an anti-hero for sure, but that “hero cop” title isn’t necessarily wrong.

He has a history of valor and does what he does to protect people who manage to live inside the law, making The Force a tragedy about going wrong while trying to do right. Like Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men, maybe we need him on that wall.

As he did with The Cartel, Winslow takes a journalistic approach to this novel, filling it with true-life stories from people who actually do that job, including tales that might make trouble for them if they ever came to light.

“These guys are not na├»ve. I use the line, ‘Look, I’m here to get it right, and I’m here to listen. So talk to me,’” Winslow says. “I think, on some level, most people want to tell their stories. Cops feel very misunderstood. Increasingly so, and increasingly unappreciated.”

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We’re in Winslow’s office now — an old gas station at the top of a gravel road, which he has converted into a writing den. The front window looks out at one of the main thoroughfares through town, but out back it’s nothing but horse meadows. Peaceful in the extreme.

Off to the side of his desk, there’s a coffee machine, which supplies Winslow’s only drug of choice — caffeine — and the walls are adorned with surfing photos. More tranquil surroundings. That helps. From dawn until late afternoon, he sits at his computer, researching the evil that men do (and it is mostly men, except for when it’s kids pulling the trigger) and turning those hard truths into fiction.

“Don does several things better than most,” says Gone Baby Gone and Since We Fell author Dennis Lehane, Winslow’s brother in the literary thriller genre. “He connects dots in terms of the history of our war on drugs better than anyone. He also humanizes characters who, in a lesser author’s hands, would be cardboard monsters. His authorial voice is very sly and bemused. It’s crystal clear in the early books like The Death and Life of Bobby Z, but it’s just as present in the darker, more ‘serious’ work like Power of the Dog and The Cartel.”

The Force attempts to link the good along with the bad. Police trying to do the right thing find it isn’t enough. And some of them break.

“People don’t see these connections,” Winslow says. “When you stop and cut community police funds and then you watch violence go up. When you slash social services and then you watch violence go up. And you can track it virtually with the dates. Well, gee, you know, maybe we should look at this.”

One subplot in The Force explores how police lives are threatened by the proliferation of guns — not just Saturday Night Specials anymore, but military-grade assault weapons. (The book is dedicated to three pages of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty during the time Winslow wrote it.) States and cities plagued by this gun epidemic can’t do much to stop it because black-market firepower flows out of the south via a network of traffickers.

“Yeah, the Iron Pipeline,” Winslow says, scowling as talk turns to the Department of Justice and half-hearted (or dishonest) attempts to fix the problem. “They’re going send the Feds in and they’re going do this and that in Chicago. They don’t care where the guns come from, you see. The guns come from Alabama and Virginia and Texas.”

He leans back in his chair, coiled for a fight. “It’s so infuriating. And when you talk to cops, that’s their huge concern: Guns. I had a cop call me the other day. I can’t tell you from where. It’s a high ranking cop in a big city. But he just said ‘Man, I’m so sick and tired of having to go out to these scenes and see people with their sneakers up. It’s just constant.’”

Then there’s the way the job of crime fighting warps even well-meaning souls. It leads to racism, hostility, authoritarianism and a general cops-against-the-world mentality that can eat away at the heart beneath a badge.

“It’s a mortal danger of that kind of work. You want to protect people and you know that most of the people are good people and yet you’re always dealing with the sh-t,” Winslow says. “And cops can start hating the general public, you know, on one level or another. I was talking to a guy, and he was saying, ‘I spend my whole day with animals.’”

Winslow adds a line straight from the mouth of a character in The Force: “Nobody ever calls you when things are good.”

His novel may be the story of a cop gone wrong, but that’s a contrast to the police Winslow admires: those who resist such pressures and continue to walk the line. He started writing his drug trafficking booksThe Cartel and its predecessor Power of the Dog (published in 2005) because of an age-old question: “How does this happen? How can people do this sort of thing?”

A similar question inspired The Force. What makes a good person stay good? And what makes another fall into the abyss?

“I call it The Macbeth Syndrome,” Winslow says. “You know, you meet Macbeth and he’s this nice loyal guy. And then he kills the King. And then he kills his best friend. And then he kills innocent children and… step by step.”

Simple questions don’t always have easy answers. Sometimes conscience overrules the law. But still, it’s a step that leads to another step. Denny Malone thinks he has this under control. He’s certain he knows where his lines are. And he’s totally wrong.

“There is the corruption of taking money or taking bribes or whatever. That’s one thing,” Winslow says. “But there’s another kind of corruption that is the shortcut. ‘I wanna put that bad guy away, but I can’t do it playing by the rules.’ Then the little shortcuts become big shortcuts. So you have [police] — I’ve talked to them — that really do start out to do good. And they are highly motivated. And they see a lot of filthy sh-t and they see a lot of sorrow, and they see a lot of pain, and they see who’s causing it.”

So maybe instead of getting a warrant, an officer claims to hear a scream from inside the house. The next thing they know, they’re lying in court about that. Or they question the abused wife who has just blown her husband’s brains out in a way meant to support a self-defense plea. Or maybe in the search for a runaway, it becomes clear that kid wouldn’t be better off at home, and so it becomes a “search-and-avoid” mission.

Other times, it might take doing something slightly wrong to put someone far worse behind bars, literally for good. “I gotta tell you, I understand it,” Winslow says. “I’ve worked for prosecutors. I’ve done civil cases. I spent an awful two years doing child sexual abuse cases. There are some temptations there.”

This brings up just one of Winslow’s many past lives: private investigator. That job involved helping attorneys probe arson cases, insurance fraud, and civil litigation relating to murders and other criminal cases.

Born on Staten Island, he grew up in Rhode Island and one of his early writing gigs was penning a burlesque stage show in his home state. When he got older and moved to New York, he worked for a security company as “bait,” luring would-be muggers into Time Square sting operations.

After getting his masters degree in military history , he went to work in the mid-80s as a State Department analyst in Africa. “I was in South Africa. What was then Rhodesia. Angola. Mozambique. Then I left all that and became a safari guide in a relatively peaceful Kenya,” he says.

He’s still an avid bird watcher. In the field behind his house, he points out a pair of rare white-tailed kites — raptors who swirl their black-tipped wings to hover over fields like mini-helicopters, searching for prey. Winslow is a little chagrined by his hobby. At a writer’s conference, he says was reluctant to tell his hard-boiled fellow scribes that the reason he disappeared for a while was to scan for shore birds. (We joke that he should just use the excuse: “Cartel business. You don’t want to know.”)

In the late-‘80s, Winslow left Africa and came back to the states to work as a P.I., which he did for years while dabbling in writing. Eventually, the darkness of his day-job overtook him.

“Not to turn this into a confessional or, you know, The Dr. Phil Show or something, but I knew I had to get out of the investigative business one day when I was on a homicide case,” Winslow says.

“I was looking at a file: a woman who’s husband had burned her to death. Strangled her and then lit her on fire. And our job was to show that he had killed her before the fire broke out. So, I’m sitting there looking at the photos. A busy day. Didn’t have much time to go out for lunch. So, I’m looking at the photos of this half burned woman with one hand and eating a ham sandwich with the other and realized I felt absolutely nothing.”

He pauses, staring. “I mean nothing,” he says finally. “All I was doing was getting technical information. I was looking at the blistering. I was looking at the way her hands were.” His fingers make claws. “I was taking notes and checking those against other peoples’ reports and opinions to get ready for trial. And it meant nothing to me.”

In other words, he was horrified not to be horrified. Writing seemed like a good way to escape, while still putting his expertise as an investigator and researcher to good use.

Later, a walk around the home he shares with his wife, Jean, reveals other surprises. The author is also an alto saxophone player, and his son, now grown, worked in logistics for President Obama. There’s a framed picture of 44 and his boy in the living room.

If Winslow didn’t really exist, you’d swear Elmore Leonard made him up.

Now he’s adding film work to his resume. He co-wrote, with longtime collaborator Shane Salerno, the adaptation of his novel Savages for Oliver Stone’s 2014 film, and now Ridley Scott is developing an adaptation of The Cartel and producing a movie version of The Force, which Logan and Cop Land filmmaker James Mangold plans to direct.

“In an age of gimmick novels, where each hit book tries to out twist the previous, Don is a classicist,” Mangold tells EW. The filmmaker said he was drawn to adapt the book because “it is utterly contemporary but reminds me of great cop books of the ‘70’s, a character piece with a thumping pulse, acutely observed, and sexy. I think the fractured world of Don’s dark hero, Denny Malone, is a reflection of the times and the fractured morality of modern big-city policing.”

The filmmaker describes the author this way: “Don is a cat. A cool cat. Poised, dapper, clear eyed, listening, always listening, very still, wheels turning, tail swinging to some jazz tune.”

And Lehane agrees, saying Winslow’s personality is the opposite of what most people would expect from a guy whose art focuses so much on the grim side of human nature. “[He’s] very So Cal sunny, laid back, not the kind of guy you’d suspect could come up with some of the scenes in Power of the Dog or Savages,” Lehane says. “But then people are usually surprised when they meet me and discover I tell jokes and have a generally optimistic outlook. Creating art isn’t about what’s in the personality, it’s about what’s in the person.”

Maybe that’s why those death threats don’t bother him. He says he looks twice at unfamiliar cars parked for too long on the dirt road leading to his home, but otherwise he’s determined not to be cowed. His whole career as a writer and investigator is about staring down the worst and not blinking.

“I think they’re pranks. I think they’re some idiot,” he says of the “we’re-going-to-come-f—king-kill-you” calls. Also, he points out he has gotten unexpectedly positive messages from the people he writes about, too. Like anyone, they want their story to be told. Some are simply better at acknowledging the truth than others.

“I get calls from cartel people who tell me, ‘Yeah, man you got this right. You nailed it,’” Winslow says with a laugh. “So I get fan calls from drug traffickers! But I also get hate mail and the occasional threat.”

He shrugs. It comes with the territory.

Friday, June 16, 2017


They’re dirty and crooked as hell.

June 16, 2017
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Maxine Waters Poverty Pimp Posters in front of iconic Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood - which is part of her district. The “T.O.S.” on her lapel makes reference to the time she called herself “this old socialist.” Note the dollar signs in her eyes and the common rap-lyric “Nig*as Better have my money" in the background.
The rush to impeach President Trump is on by an opposition party that lacks the votes, evidence or legal basis for such a move. But since when did an illegal left-wing coup need any of those things?
No Dem has been more honest about the real motive for impeachment than Congressman Ted Lieu.
“We should not give him a chance to govern,” Lieu had declared after Trump had been in office for ten days. And he predicted that, “I do believe that if we win back the House of Representatives, impeachment proceedings will be started.”
What was the basis for impeaching President Trump after ten days in office? Lieu made it clear that if the Democrats won, they would try to impeach Trump no matter what.
That’s not how things work in the United States. But the left is running America like a banana republic.
More recently Lieu had mused that, "A recent poll came out saying that 46 percent of Americans want the president impeached, and certainly members of Congress take notice."
And what better basis could there be for impeachment than popular Dem support for the move?
The latest poll from PPP, the notorious left-wing troll pollsters Lieu was relying on, shows 75% of Democrats support impeaching President Trump. PPP did not provide any justification. Nor was any needed. President Trump had to be forced out of office to reverse the results of the 2016 election.
The legal basis for such proceedings was as irrelevant as any coup in a banana republic.
Congressman Lieu is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He’s indicated recently that he’s “researching” impeachment. His statement on being appointed to the Committee claimed that Trump had “lost the popular vote” and that he would “fight like hell on the Judiciary Committee” against him.
Since Lieu has made it clear that his pursuit of impeachment is based on partisan opposition, not evidence, any such action would be an unethical abuse of power whose goal is not justice, but a conspiracy to prevent the President of the United States from even having the “chance to govern”.
This could lead to censure and even expulsion; the Congressional alternative to impeachment.
Congressman Brad Sherman has drafted articles of impeachment for President Trump. The claims in Sherman’s draft contradict, in part, Comey’s testimony even as it claims to be based on it. But it still puts the California politician ahead as the first to put forward a written legislative call for impeachment. 
But that’s only because most of his rivals can’t write.
Congressman Al Green (not the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who crooned "Put a Little Love in Your Heart") called for the impeachment of President Trump on the House floor in the name of “liberty and justice for all” and also “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.
And how better to stand for “government by the people” than with a shameless attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election and for “liberty and justice for all” than to undertake it baselessly?
“No one is above the law,” Al Green declared. Except maybe Green who was accused of sexual assault by a former aide. Green in turn accused her of blackmail. Put a little love in your heart indeed.
This isn’t Green’s first call for impeachment. A previous Green statement, which read like it was written by a high school dropout who had been watching too many legal dramas, (“A bedrock premise upon which respect for, and obedience to, our societal norms is ‘No one is above the law’”) concluded with “Our mantra should be I. T. N. – Impeach Trump Now.” That’s been the mantra ever since Trump won.
Sherman and Green are far behind Congresswoman Maxine Waters who has been calling for the impeachment of every Republican since Ulysses S. Grant. Last month, she complained that the public was “weary” that Trump still hadn’t been impeached. "I believe that this man has done enough for us to determine that we can connect the dots, that we can get the facts that will lead to impeachment."
If anyone ought to be impeached, it’s Waters who funneled $750,000 to her daughter and used her influence to help arrange for the taxpayer bailout of a bank linked to her husband.
But Waters has made it obvious that it’s not about the law, it’s about undoing the election results.
At the Center for American Progress, Waters rejected waiting until the next election. "We can’t wait that long. We don’t need to wait that long." Pointing to left-wing polls backing impeachment, she screeched. "What more do we need in the Congress of the United States of America?"
Maybe evidence?
Waters had already admitted that there was no actual evidence, but impeachment should move forward anyway. There isn’t any evidence for impeachment, but there is documented evidence that Waters can’t tell Crimea from Korea. Much as there is evidence that Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who also called for Trump’s impeachment, can’t tell Wikileaks from Wikipedia.
Sheila Jackson Lee insisted that Trump should be impeached if he doesn’t prove Obama’s eavesdropping.
"If you do not have any proof," she rambled, "then you are clearly on the edge of the question of public trust and those actions can be associated with high crimes and misdemeanors for which articles of impeachment can be drawn."
The only high crimes belong to Sheila Jackson Lee, who had once declared on CNN, “I represent Enron.” She should have gone to jail along with its top bosses.
Lee had also claimed that the Constitution is 400 years old and that she was a freed slave.
“I’m concerned about what happened when we get that call about North Korea in the middle of the night,” she blathered. “You have in office an individual that is unread and unlearned.”
And this is coming from a woman who had confused North Korea and Vietnam.
Meanwhile Sheila Jackson Lee had been investigated by the House Ethics Committee for a trip to Azerbaijan paid for by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. SOCAR has a joint venture with Rosneft. Back then that meant Vladimir Putin. Maybe Sheila Jackson Lee ought to impeach herself.
"I think about impeachment every single day,” Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said.
And well she should.
Johnson pushed Congressional Black Caucus scholarships that were supposed to go to “deserving students” to her relatives. She even sent letters directing that the money be paid to them, not the colleges, in violation of the foundation rules.  And then she went on CNN and lied about it.
The loudest voices in Congress calling for impeachment don’t belong in Congress. That’s typical enough.
This was the second presidential election this century whose outcome Democrats decided to reject because it was won by a Republican. And they played the same exact game then too.
Eleven years ago, Maxine Waters had called for President Bush’s impeachment.
House Resolution 635 pushing for impeachment was sponsored by Congressman Conyers whose wife would be convicted of bribery charges. Congressional co-sponsors included Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jesse Jackson Jr., who was sent to prison for mail fraud, Charlie Rangel, who was found guilty of 11 ethics violations, Bernie Sanders, whose wife is under FBI investigation for the Burlington College fraud and Bob Filner, who was convicted of false imprisonment and battery.
The only consistent thing about Democrat calls for impeachment is that it’s the impeachers who are dirty and crooked as hell.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Incitement to Violence

The Left has raised America’s political temperature to the boiling point.
June 14, 2017
Lawmaker Steve Scalise Injured In GOP Baseball Shooting; Suspect James T. Hodgkinson Dies In Custody
Shooting in Virginia: Top Republican Steve Scalise and many others were wounded.
Democrats may be horrified by today’s attempted massacre of the GOP House baseball team by an avowed progressive, but their incendiary demands for “massive resistance” since November have been an open plea for the escalation of words into violent action. The daily repetition that President Trump is an illegitimate usurper who stole the election through collusion with foreign powers has been a hypnotic incantation in search of an Oswald: a siren call for an assassin.
We don’t have to look too hard to find extremist rhetoric from influential people whose appeals for violence are only partially veiled. In March, former attorney general Loretta Lynch made a brief video in which she called for people “who see our rights being assailed, being trampled on and even being rolled back” to follow the example of freedom fighters of the past. “They’ve marched, they’ve bled and yes, some of them died. This is hard. Every good thing is. We have done this before. We can do this again.” The Senate Democrats shared Lynch’s call for street action leading to bloody sacrifice on their Facebook page.
At the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration, Angela Davis’s appeal for militancy was met with cheers. “Over the next months and years we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations,” announced Davis, who in 1970 bought the shotgun used two days later to murder a judge. “Those who still defend the supremacy of white male hetero-patriarchy had better watch out,” she concluded. At the same event, pop legend Madonna spoke about her fantasies of “blowing up the White House.”
Liberals frequently complain that conservatives disseminate propaganda to their secretly racist supporters via “dog whistle” tactics, which send the desired message in coded language or gestures. The same liberals have dispensed with high-frequency whistles in favor of a simpler message: “Treason!” Following the now-debunked February 14 New York Times report that Trump’s campaign had been in direct contact with Russian agents before the election, a late-night host commented, “It’s funny because it’s treason.” Comedian Rosie O’Donnell led an anti-Trump rally outside the White House, declaring, “He is going down and so will all of his administration. The charge is treason.”
Joy Behar, host of The View, has claimed that the president’s allegiance to the Kremlin is treasonous, but she is also concerned about his work on behalf of Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Do you think,” mused Behar, “that because he is the recruiter-in-chief, and by his words he’s getting more people to go on the side of ISIS, that he could be considered treasonous? I mean, that is against the Constitution, that is against America. That’s a treasonous act in my opinion.” Treason, of course, is a capital crime; the constant reiteration of the charge that Trump is a traitor has supplied the groundwork of justification for political violence.
Reputable figures in the media have normalized radical, violent discourse. Popular television writer/producer David Simon tweeted this week, “If Donald Trump fires Robert Mueller and is allowed to do so, pick up a goddamn brick. That's all that’s left to you.” Writing in The Nation, Natasha Lennard praised street violence as “kinetic beauty,” and Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, exhorted, “Don’t play footsie with proto-fascism. Fucking smash it.” A protestor at a rally in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park held a sign reading, “Hug a refugee (with permission); Punch a Nazi (with precision.)”
Every policy difference, no matter how trivial, has been cast as a matter of life and death. Proposed changes in federal Medicaid reimbursement practices will consign “tens of thousands of people” to early death, according to Senator Bernie Sanders, while rolling back federal guidelines on transgender bathroom signage will cause more teenagers to kill themselves, according to ThinkProgress. Abandonment of the non-enforceable and voluntary Paris Accord on Climate Change will doom the world to “catastrophe” and imminent mass extinction, according to Jill Stein.
In the last few weeks, the violent rhetoric crossed a fever line. CNN personality Kathy Griffin posed deadpan holding a severed and bloody head resembling Donald Trump; on television the next day, she tearfully denounced the many “old white men” who have supposedly bullied her. New York’s venerable Shakespeare in the Park is currently performing a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, in which a Trump-qua-Caesar character is murdered every night in a particularly bloody and graphic staging.
Following the shooting, liberal Twitter erupted in cynical snark. Op-ed writer Malcolm Harris wondered if the shooter could plead self-defense, in the event he had a pre-existing condition. Sonia Gupta, a Louisiana former prosecutor, counseled her followers not to be too sad about the wounding of Representative Steve Scalise, because “he’s a racist piece of shit and hateful bigot.” David Frum, though not a liberal, reminded us that “the president is the country's noisiest inciter of political violence,” though the violence he has supposedly incited appears to be mostly from the other side.
Trump’s opponents in the media, academia, and politics can pretend that their calls for radical action were meant metaphorically or in a nonviolent sense. But they are the ones who opened this box of fear, panic, and rage. Let them take responsibility for the climate that now exists.
Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal and project director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute.