PROOF OF CORRUPTION

BRIBERY, IMPEACHMENT, AND PANDEMIC IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

SETH ABRAMSON

PROOF OF CORRUPTION

THE FIFTH EXCERPT FROM PROOF OF CORRUPTION

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On June 1, Trump instigates one of the most distressing events in recent American history when—after days of being criticized for sheltering in the White House bunker during a protest event in D.C. on May 29—he seeks to project courage by risking a four-minute public walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square.51 In order for Trump to make the trip by foot without encountering protestors, the square and a portion of H Street NW must be cleared of a large crowd of civilians, who at the time are engaged in nonviolent protest; law enforcement does so, with dramatic force, following orders given by Bill Barr. As the Associated Press reports, the sizable force under Barr’s command—though it is unclear by what authority he commands them—uses “tear gas and rubber bullets [to] clear[] peaceful protestors from the park in front of the White House.”52

This attack on nonviolent demonstrators is captured on live television via a split-screen shot as the president is speaking from the White House Rose Garden. Several minutes before the president declares, “I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” one component of Barr’s forces—riot-gear-clad federal officers hailing from the Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, D.C. National Guard, and Bureau of Prisons Special Operations Response Team—begin gassing, shoving, and firing rubber-pellet grenades at protestors not far from where the president is addressing U.S. media and the nation.53 Once the protestors are cleared, Trump and a group of his top advisers walk to St. John’s, where the president stands silently for a three-minute photo op while holding up a Bible backward and upside-down; his only substantive comment to reporters while at the church has him clarifying that the Bible is not his.54

That the president’s awkwardly staged photo op had been preplanned, if only haphazardly, seems clear. Earlier in the day, on a conference call with the nation’s governors, Trump had harangued the state-level executives over their responses to the anti-police-brutality protests, saying, “Most of you are weak. It’s like a war. And we will end it fast. Be tough. You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time.”55 Barr will subsequently claim that there was “no correlation” between the photo op and his forces’ violent clearing of Lafayette Square; it is a claim so extraordinary, and seemingly disproven by major-media reporting of the two events’ tight synchronization, that Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California shortly thereafter tweets, “I invite Bill Barr to say this in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee—under oath.”56 Shortly thereafter, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, publicly calls for Barr’s resignation.57 Barr defends his actions by terming the June 1 protest in D.C. “very serious rioting,” a claim contradicted by hours of footage of the event.58

 

The methods Trump and his administration use to quell the protests in D.C. reveal an openness to the domestic deployment of excessive military and paramilitary force that should unnerve all Americans—especially as the nation heads into a historically contentious election season. The weapons the Trump administration brings to bear against the nonviolent demonstrators in Lafayette Square include body-armor-wearing officers with shields and batons, grenadiers, mounted cavalry, OC (oleoresin capsicum or pepper spray) gas canisters, CS (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile or tear gas) canisters, paint guns loaded with pepper balls, rubber bullets, sting-ball grenades, “flash-bangs,” and stun grenades.59 As troublingly, many of the troops used to disperse protestors are not wearing nameplates, badges, or insignias, and moreover refuse to identify themselves when queried by journalists.60 As pictures of armed but anonymous government agents on the streets of D.C. go viral, a Washington Post column calls “unidentified law enforcement officers” a “dangerous new factor in an uneasy moment” and HuffPost decries Barr’s “vast, nameless army.”61 In the past, the Post notes, DOJ’s civil rights division has called “wearing name plates while in uniform” a “basic component of transparency and accountability.”62

During the course of the protests, the president surrounds the White House with approximately 1.7 miles of what NBC News calls “towering black fencing.”63 The Washington Post reports that the fencing turns the People’s House into a place where “armed guards and sharpshooters and combat troops are omnipresent” and “the security perimeter . . . keeps expanding,” with “[new] fencing . . . going up seemingly by the hour.”64 The White House, writes the Post, is now a “veritable fortress—the physical manifestation of President Trump’s vision of law-and-order ‘domination’ over the millions of Americans who have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice.”65 The New York Times echoes the Post, writing that the White House “increasingly looks like a fortress under siege.”66

In early June, a leaked government document reveals that Trump has a “1,300-strong force . . . deployed to the south side of White House” that comprises agents and officers from ten federal agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Federal Protective Service, and Bureau of Prisons.67 Yahoo News reports that the White House has provided “scant information” on the scope of authority or chain of command of Trump’s massive assemblage of government forces, with the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, saying, per the digital media outlet, that “she doesn’t know which federal law enforcement agenc[ies]” have been “operating in her city.”68 On June 4, Mayor Bowser writes the White House to lodge a formal complaint about “unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets of Washington,” noting that they “pose both safety and national security risks” to the capital’s infrastructure and its residents.69

The situation beyond the White House grounds is just as dystopian as inside it. A comprehensive Washington Post analysis of the June 1 D.C. protest notes that Barr’s forces used weapons producing “large explosion[s]” and capable of causing “serious injury or even death,” adding that certain Park Police and Bureau of Prisons personnel were videotaped firing into “fleeing” civilians’ backs during the effort to move protestors.70 Also caught on videotape is an Australian cameraman being attacked with a riot shield and an Australian anchor being assaulted by an officer with a baton; the two attackers, both with the U.S. Park Police, are subsequently placed on leave.71 Even more strikingly, CNN reports that during the early June anti-police-brutality protests in D.C., Minneapolis, and Las Vegas, manned “U.S. government spy planes” were used to “track protesters and perhaps capture cell phone data.”72 On June 5, CNN further reveals that at least one unmanned drone from the Department of Homeland Security was deployed to Minneapolis to surveil protestors there.73

On June 1 in D.C., protestors are met, according to New York Times homeland security reporter Zolan Kanno-Youngs, by “military helicopters . . . positioned just above rooftops, sending gusts of dust into the air.”74 According to Kanno-Youngs, the result of this extraordinary intervention by U.S. military aircraft is that “a part of a tree fell, nearly hitting passerbys”; the Times subsequently reports that the “aggressive” posture of the aircraft—with the “downward blast from their rotor blades sending protesters scurrying for cover and ripping signs from the sides of buildings”—was directly ordered by the Pentagon.75 Associated Press reporter James LaPorta later reveals that in fact the “aircraft flying over [Washington] . . . in a show of force against George Floyd protesters were ordered by President Trump. U.S. forces in D.C. are operating under an official mission: Operation Themis—[in] Greek mythology, Themis [means] divine law and order.”76 LaPorta notes that many members of the U.S. armed forces were given standard-issue bayonets as part of Operation Themis.77

On June 3, BuzzFeed News reports that DOJ has given the Drug Enforcement Agency the authority to “‘conduct covert surveillance’ and collect intelligence on people participating in protests over the police killing of George Floyd,” as well as “to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of the protests over the death of George Floyd”; the move follows Barr’s repetition of his earlier claim, once again offered without evidence, that scattered violence and looting at several protests were the work of “anarchistic and far left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics.”78 An FBI review of the violence in D.C. during the same twenty-four-hour period as the publication of the BuzzFeed News report finds “no intel indicating antifa involvement [in the protests].”79 The Daily Beast does report, however, that “veteran law enforcement officials” are concerned about “the gulf between Barr’s treatment of the left-wing protesters and far more violent right-wing elements whom the Justice Department has not prioritized.”80 Barr’s seeming irresponsibility in ignoring the danger posed by far-right extremists hoping to use the George Floyd protests as cover for violent, terroristic political action is underscored when CNN reports, on June 3, that in Nevada and elsewhere “gun-toting members of the Boogaloo [pro-civil-war] movement are showing up at [anti-police-brutality] protests.”81

In all, the federal response in the nation’s capital on June 1 results in multiple injuries and fifty-four arrests in under 120 minutes.82 Several days after government forces’ attack on civilians in Lafayette Square, CNN reports that President Trump has “shared a letter on Twitter that refer[s] to the peaceful protesters who were forcibly dispersed from a park near the White House . . . as ‘terrorists.’”83 Consistent with this startling misnomer, Politico reports that at one point during the Floyd protests, secretary of defense Mark Esper referred to “domestic protest areas” as “battle space[s]”—a suggestion that U.S. soil either already is or could soon become a site for military engagements and in-theater scenario planning.84 According to Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs, when Esper, under fire for his comment, thereafter says at a news conference that “he opposes deploying active duty troops to contain protests,” Trump considers firing him, “privately ask[ing] advisers if they think Esper can still be an effective defense secretary.”85 Jacobs explains that Esper’s remarks about not using the U.S. military against American civilians “anger[ed] White House officials and Trump personally” and were perceived as the secretary “breaking rank . . . [because Trump] didn’t want Esper publicly ruling [out]” what by all accounts would be a historic domestic deployment of the U.S. military.86 Indeed, in order for the deployment to take place, Trump would have to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807; per the public statement by Esper that drew Trump’s ire, “the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now.”87 That the president would contemplate treating widespread anti-police-brutality protests as necessitating military force against Americans on U.S. soil is profoundly troubling.

But it is not merely unsettling militarism that marks the Trump administration’s response to the protests; another element is deceit, a longtime touchstone of Trump’s handling of both media and voters. After falsely claiming that it did not use capsicum spray (pepper spray) in Lafayette Square, the Secret Service admits that it did, and the U.S. Park Police is thereafter caught by Vox in a similar deception; after Trump tells media that federal personnel didn’t use either tear gas or rubber bullets on protestors on June 1, evidence uncovered by reporters reveals not only that they did so but also that the use of tear gas was personally ordered by Barr; and after Trump falsely claims that he descended into the White House’s underground bunker on May 29 merely to conduct an exceedingly brief daytime inspection of it, an Associated Press report reveals that he in fact went to the bunker for nearly an hour, at night, and (in the view of White House personnel) for his own safety—that is, as part of the Trump administration’s seeming overreaction to the largely peaceful demonstrations then happening outside the White House and across the country.88 Indeed, at one point during the protests the White House is forced to delete a tweet that falsely identifies a Los Angeles synagogue’s homemade “rock-filled anti-terrorism barrier” as the work of “Antifa and professional anarchists” who are purportedly “staging bricks” for subsequent looting or acts of violence; the Washington Post deems the “misleading” video in the administration’s original tweet a “whopper,” attaching to it “four Pinocchios”—the newspaper’s highest rating for dishonesty.89

On June 4, 2020, CNN reports that most of the crimes occurring in areas with large-scale anti-police-brutality protests are in fact being committed by “caravans” of “well-coordinated,” “sophisticated” burglars employing “messaging apps during [their] heists and using both the protests and other tactics to throw police off their trail.”90 Per CNN, police say that the “level of planning” behind the high-yield burglaries they encounter during the late May and early June protests suggests, if not the involvement of “mafia and organized crime,” at a minimum teams of professional criminals acting with premeditation and significant “organization.”91

Reporting from around the country will appear to confirm that much of the violence provoked by Floyd’s death emanates from individuals associated with the right wing of American politics. In North Carolina, a man threatens to burn down a black church on June 7, telling two churchgoers, “You n—— need to shut up.”92 In Maryland, a man is arrested for assaulting three people posting Black Lives Matter fliers on a bike path.93 In Virginia, Harry Rogers, according to local prosecutors an “admitted leader of [the] Ku Klux Klan and a propagandist for Confederate ideology,” is arrested and charged with “attempted malicious wounding, felony vandalism, and assault and battery” after he allegedly drives his car into a crowd of protestors.94

Disturbingly, many of the most violent and transgressive incidents attendant upon the protests are initiated by police officers. According to a CNN report, six Atlanta police officers are criminally charged after “allegedly using excessive force on two college students” who, while “picking up food” for dinner, “got caught in traffic caused by the protests over the killing of George Floyd.”95 In California, “at least seven Los Angeles police officers . . . [are] removed from field duties after using excessive force” during the protests, according to CNN.96 A sixteen-year-old in the Bronx is, per a New York Times report, “bruised,” “shocked with a stun gun,” and given a “bloody laceration from his cheek to his chin” while being arrested during a protest—a case the Times reports has become “the most recent focus for critics who charge that the New York police have used unnecessary force” during the protests.97 The Times also reports on a man doctors say may be permanently blind in one eye after being shot by a police-wielded, pepper-spray-loaded paintball gun at a protest in Nebraska.98 According to CNN, another civilian, journalist Linda Tirado, is permanently blinded by a police-fired foam bullet during the protests in Minneapolis.99 In California, per the Los Angeles Daily News, officers “fired rubber bullets as dozens entered an apartment building seeking refuge with the help of one of the residents . . . One of the hard rubber bullet rounds struck a homeless man in a wheelchair right above his left eye, drawing blood and a large welt.”100 USA Today reports on a viral video from Minneapolis in which a large patrol of officers enforcing the city’s curfew fired paintball rounds at a group of citizens sitting on their front porch in a residential neighborhood; ten seconds after officers screamed at the residents, “Go inside!” and “Get in your house now!,” an order was issued to “light [th]em up!” and the residents were fired upon.101 In Ohio, Republican governor Mike DeWine removes a member of the Ohio National Guard from his deployment in the nation’s capital after it is discovered, per Ana Cabrera of CNN, that he had “expressed white supremacist ideology on the internet . . . prior to [his] assignment.”102 In Philadelphia, a police officer is arrested and charged with aggravated assault “for allegedly beating a Temple University student” during the anti-police-brutality protests103 In Chicago, thirteen police officers break into Democratic congressman Bobby Rush’s campaign office during the protests, thereafter, according to Politico, “loung[ing] on chairs, drink[ing] coffee, and mak[ing] popcorn while looters vandalized nearby businesses.”104

Yet the most widely discussed incident involving police violence following Floyd’s death is assuredly the alleged assault of Martin Gugino by two officers of the Buffalo Police Department. Gugino, a seventy-five-year-old “longtime peace activist,” is at the time of his run-in with police unarmed, a cancer patient, and “affiliated with human-rights groups [the Western New York Peace Center and PUSH Buffalo, an affordable-housing advocacy group] and the Catholic Worker movement.”105 As a horrified nation shares images of a seemingly unconscious Gugino bleeding from a head wound on a Buffalo sidewalk while the officers who pushed him and a large number of their peers file past him unconcernedly, Trump takes to Twitter with what the Washington Post calls a “deranged” conspiracy theory, falsely suggesting that Gugino is “an ANTIFA provocateur” who “set up” police by deliberately falling and injuring himself.106 Trump adds, equally falsely, that before falling Gugino “appear[ed] to scan police communications in order to black out the[ir] equipment.”107 As the New York Times reports, Trump’s conspiracy theory is taken wholesale from the same OAN reporter, Kristian Rouz, who had previously accused Hillary Clinton of funding weapons purchases by antifa activists; according to the Times, Rouz “is a Russian native who has also worked for Sputnik, a Kremlin-controlled news outlet . . . [that] has been accused by [U.S.] intelligence services of contributing to Russia’s efforts to interfere in American elections.”108

Trump’s would-be defense of their actions notwithstanding, the two Buffalo officers who allegedly injured Gugino are shortly thereafter charged with second-degree assault.109 Prior to their arrest, RNC national spokeswoman Elizabeth Harrington, apparently seeking to support President Trump’s theorizing about Gugino—who now lies in a hospital in serious but stable condition with “a brain injury and a fractured skull”—links to an article claiming that the peace activist was in fact “trying to get punched in the face.”110 Harrington’s social media blunder echoes that of Mercedes Schlapp, a senior Trump 2020 campaign adviser, who, per reporting by Politico journalist Marc Caputo, during the protests “use[s] her Twitter account . . . to amplify an encouraging tweet of a video of a Texas man yelling about ‘fucking n——’ as he wield[s] a chainsaw to chase away anti-racism demonstrators.”111

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