‘A republic, if you can keep it’—Why we can’t let 2022 be our last election

Voters at the polls, 2018. (Photo: Author)

July 4, 2022 by David Silverberg

Some things just seem to happen as decreed by nature: the planets in their orbits, the moon in its phases, the sunrise and sunset.

Americans in particular have come to expect their calendar to be comfortingly predictable: Independence Day every July 4th, presidential elections every four years, and elections for congressional representatives every two years.

However, as hard as humans try, human events are not dictated by the same forces that make the planets turn.

The fragility of human ritual was shown on Jan. 6, 2021. No matter how many times it had happened since ratification of the Constitution, that day proved the counting of Electoral College votes could be disrupted and that acceptance of the results of a fairly conducted and meticulously counted election could be disputed. It also proved the peaceful, orderly transition of power could nearly be destroyed.

As disastrous as the Jan. 6th insurrection was, it could have been even worse. But despite the defeat of rioters incited by a narcissistic, megalomaniacal president, the worst could still happen. Indeed, the possibility exists that the 2022 election could be America’s last—if the forces of fanaticism get the power to snuff out democracy and the Constitution.

This has happened before in history. The worst example was that of the Nazis, who turned to electoral politics after their violent putsch failed in 1923. It took them nine years before Adolf Hitler attained power and began dismantling a representative democracy. But it’s not the only instance. For example, in 1948 an election in Czechoslovakia brought communists to power and once in power, they simply got rid of democracy and imposed one-party rule. For the next 41 years the country did not have another free election until after its “Velvet Revolution” of 1989.

There is no sugar-coating the reality that this year a political party that has surrendered to mass delusion and the cult of personality looks positioned to take over the US House of Representatives. Bolstered by gerrymandered districts and a wave of new laws intended to restrict voting access and enable the invalidation of the popular will as expressed in elections, there is a very real possibility that America could lose its democracy and that the 2022 election could be its last.

The website FiveThirtyEight.com is now tracking upcoming elections for the House, Senate and governorships. While the odds change hourly as new polling comes in, as of this writing it was giving Republicans a 54 percent chance of winning the Senate and an 87 percent chance of winning the House.

It is the prospect of a Trumpist House that is most dangerous for America. As the 1948 Republican Congress was characterized as the “do-nothing” Congress, a Republican 2023-24 Congress would likely be the “revenge” Congress, dedicated to dismantling and destroying as many democratic safeguards and mechanisms as possible in pursuit of an autocratic dictatorship.

To see proof of this, one need look no further than Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

In an interview on the Patriot Talk show held at the Seed to Table market last Tuesday, June 28, Donalds, who voted to invalidate the 2020 election, told his hosts that the January 6th Committee’s inquiry “is an atrocity for a country like ours. So you have my word, in the next Congress, we will be investigating the January 6th Committee.”

Sentiments like these in the rest of a Republican House means there would be no will to pursue truth or defend the Constitution in the next, 118th Congress. Rather, the House majority will officially propagate Donald Trump’s big lie and do everything possible to undermine popular democracy.

In such an instance there will likely be further efforts at the national level to shrink voting rights, ballot accessibility and exclude the franchise from all but favored people who rubberstamp preordained results. Combined with similar efforts at the state level, this raises the possibility of state officials like governors invalidating elections whose outcomes they don’t like.

Nowhere is this possibility greater than in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has created a state election police force to use against unfavorable outcomes and a state defense force answerable to him alone, all ratified by a completely supine state legislature.

As with all human events, nothing is inevitable so this does not have to be the outcome. But it is undeniable that events are trending in this direction.

True patriotism on the 4th

The Fourth of July has devolved from a celebration of America’s determination to “assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” to a day to get drunk, chow down and blast off fireworks without thinking of any higher meaning.

This year it’s worth pausing a moment to ponder, not the past, but the future and to rededicate ourselves to preserving democracy and democratic outcomes.

As the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has shown and continues to show, America came breathtakingly close to losing its democracy, its Constitution and its legitimate government on Jan. 6.

What prevented that outcome were patriots—not long-ago patriots in powdered wigs and knee breeches and not loud, beer-swilling, MAGA “patriots,” but real, living, boots-on-the-ground patriots who took their oaths of office seriously and had the courage to stand against a would-be tyrant.

We have seen them on our television screens. They were officials in state offices who wouldn’t fabricate or “find” votes that weren’t there. They were poll workers who did their jobs despite verbal attacks and threats that drove them underground. They were government staffers willing to go before Congress to tell the whole truth about what actually happened that day. They were Capitol Police officers who tried to do their jobs despite a tsunami of crazed rioters wielding spears and clubs and chemical weapons. They were Secret Service agents who wouldn’t indulge presidential rage or obey an order resulting in a constitutional apocalypse. They were members of Congress who put country above party and fearlessly pursued the truth. And one was a Vice President of the United States who, after four years of subservience and abasement, simply upheld his oath of office and followed the law despite blandishments, threats and ultimately a mob intent on lynching him.

These are the real patriots to inspire us this July 4th. While they put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line to preserve America and the Constitution, the rest of us, in more peaceful circumstances, have only one thing we must do—and that is, vote.

Starting with early voting on Aug. 13 and culminating on Aug. 23 with the primary election and then, beginning on Oct. 27 and continuing to Election Day, November 8, every citizen has to show the same courage and commitment as the patriots of Jan. 6. But the everyday citizen has the great good fortune of being able to do this non-violently and without the cost and danger they faced.

On Sept. 18, 1787 when he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether America was to be a monarchy or a republic. He famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

On Jan. 6, 2021, Americans proved they wanted to keep it.

On Nov. 8, they have to prove that they want to keep it again.

If they do, if the forces of fanaticism can be defeated at the ballot box, maybe—just maybe— the 2022 election won’t be America’s last.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Proud Boys, the insurrection and Southwest Florida — Updated

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio and current Republican congressional candidate Christy McLaughlin (center) pose at The Mercato in Naples, Fla., on Dec. 3, 2020. Surrounding them are other Proud Boys including Christopher Worrell (back row, to the right of McLaughlin). (Photo: Facebook)

June 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

—Updated June 17 with Tarrio’s Seed to Table speech and photo and newly revealed congressional occupation plans. Also explanation of t-shirt in photo caption.

The Proud Boys have gotten a lot of publicity and are getting more right now as the January 6th insurrection conspiracy comes to light. They’ve been active in Southwest Florida for some time. But how much political influence do they currently have and what is their potential future impact on the region?

Events like the hearings of the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, an indictment of the organization’s leader for seditious conspiracy and the prosecution of East Naples resident, Christopher Worrell, are putting the organization in the spotlight.

The Proud Boys were literally at the forefront of the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the US Capitol, according to the Committee. The Committee’s first hearing on Thursday, June 9, revealed that it was members of the Proud Boys who deliberately and according to a pre-set plan, first breached Capitol Police barriers, leading to the general assault on the Capitol Building.

The hearing also revealed that the Proud Boys and the similarly extreme Oath Keepers organization coordinated their efforts on Jan. 6 to deliberately stop the peaceful transfer of power. The leaders of both organizations, Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys, and Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, met in a parking garage to discuss their plans.

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes meet in a Washington, DC parking garage to coordinate plans prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection. (Image: January 6th Committee (J6C))

Rhodes was arrested on Jan. 13, 2021 and charged with seditious conspiracy. His trial is scheduled for this September, tentatively the 19th or 26th. On June 6, Tarrio was also charged with seditious conspiracy.

Court filings have also revealed the existence of a detailed plan given to Tarrio, called “1776 Returns,” for Proud Boys to occupy congressional office buildings and the Supreme Court to stop the election certification.

In the past Proud Boys recruitment and activity found some favorable response in Southwest Florida. Even at recent events like a pro-choice march in Fort Myers on May 14, Proud Boys were present.

A Proud Boys primer

The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, one of the founders of VICE News. McInnes decided on the name based on the song, “Proud of Your Boy” from the 2011 Disney musical Aladdin. He despised the song and its sentiment as Aladdin tries to win his mother’s approval but couldn’t stop playing or thinking about it.

McInnes did not stay at the helm of the organization for long, leaving in 2017 in large part because he was advised by his lawyers that his quitting might help Proud Boys indicted in a street brawl. By that time the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had characterized the organization as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”

Enrique Tarrio, a Miami native, was made leader in 2018. Although another Proud Boy, Kyle Chapman, claimed to be president in 2020, his presidency never seems to have been recognized by the organization.

The Proud Boys gained media attention for their extremism, racism and propensity for violence and apparent endorsement of President Donald Trump’s policies and positions. By the time of the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, they had achieved national prominence.

Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would urge white supremacist groups that inflamed violence at nationwide protests to “stand down.”

“Give me a name,” said Trump and the first name supplied by candidate Joe Biden was Proud Boys.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem,” Trump said.

The mention on national television catapulted the Proud Boys to the forefront of media attention and Tarrio said it prompted a tripling of memberships.

Enter Naples and Southwest Florida

After the election, Tarrio was in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020 to address a fundraising dinner for the Republican candidates in the Georgia Senate runoff elections. The dinner was at The Counter in the Mercato in Naples and was organized by Christine “Christy” McLaughlin, a Republican candidate for Congress who was defeated in the party primary that August (and is now running for the Republican nomination in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District).

Although John DiLemme, founder of the Conservative Business Journal, was the featured speaker, Tarrio was the unannounced speaker. Pre-event publicity for the gathering never mentioned that Tarrio or the Proud Boys would be present.

Wearing a t-shirt that stated: “Kyle Rittenhouse did nothing wrong,” Tarrio spoke to the gathering for about five minutes.

Enrique Tarrio addresses an audience in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo: Facebook)

Tarrio’s speech did not call for violence and simply explained the public aspect of the Proud Boys philosophy and went some way toward explaining their appeal, which makes it worth reprinting in its entirety:

“There is something good that has come out of the contested—in air quotes, contested—election.

“There was obvious voter fraud. They’ve practically stolen this election. But we’re not going to let them. We’re not going to go quietly.

“But there is something good that has come out of this contested—to use air quotes, contested—election and it’s shown us what’s important.

“Something beautiful that has happened…But before that, it’s so frustrating when we’re putting together events for the past four years. It takes me months of planning, months of marketing to get 500 conservatives out on the street when they could put together four to five thousand people at a moment’s notice. But the beauty of this contested election is that we’ve been able to put thousands of angry Americans on the streets. (Applause) And why are they angry?

“Because how far the Left has gone. Put together in DC with over 750,000 people on the street, we made some noise. And we’re going to do it again on December 12th. And where they mess up, where the Democrats mess up, is not that they’re attacking the President, they’re attacking the people. They’re attacking our constitutional values and that is something that we are passionate about.

“Proud Boys is just a regular group of guys. There’s nothing special about regular men. But there is something when those men have, this passion and this love for this country. Because we don’t get in the front lines because …it really pains me that it takes something like this to unite us. But they’re probably the bravest men that I’ve ever met in my life.

“One thing that we can’t forget is that we can never let evil take root. We can never give up and we can never give up on the president.

“We’re together here, today and we should continue to do this and we should continue to take the inspiration that we’ve been given to continue going out on the streets, not maintain this from the couch. We cannot maintain this from our phones. It’s unrealistic. We need to make noise, we need to be …If you can make it, if you can get to DC on Dec. 12th I ask you guys, I beg you to please come out. Because there’s so much to fight for. There’s so much work to do.

“I’ve been an activist for about 18 years and I never, I never thought that I would ever see an election as electric as 2016, or as important as 2016. But here we are in 2020 and boy, was I wrong.

“1776 will commence again. We need, we need as many people as active as possible and it’s beautiful that we’re here today at a bar because this country was started—a lot of people forget—this country was started at a tavern called the Green Dragon Tavern by a regular group of people who drew a blueprint of what our country is today.

“Our forefathers didn’t envision all this view, this is not what they wanted, this is all just a plus. All they wanted was to create a country where they could practice their religion freely, be free from tyranny and a place to raise their kids with their own values and not be bothered. And I’m thankful for that, thankful for that every day. Those ideas are under attack right now.

“So one thing that people tell me is what does it take to be a Proud Boy? So in the past I would give them the West Side, I’d tell them where to go but I think this has become more than an organization, this has become a movement.

“When does standing up for your country become something wrong? So we, right now, regardless of anything, I want you guys to repeat after me. I’m going to induct you guys right now.

“I’m a western chauvinist. And I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world. We’re all Proud Boys. Thank you so much.”

(At the time The Paradise Progressive reached out to the management of The Counter, Kahala Management in Scottsdale, Ariz., to determine whether it was aware of Tarrio’s attendance and had any involvement in it. No answer has ever been received.)

Following the speech and the campaign event, Tarrio and McLaughlin posed for a group photograph (seen above). There are six Proud Boys in the photo, with Tarrio and McLaughlin in the center. Three of the Proud Boys are making a “white power” gesture with their hands. (The pinky, ring finger and middle finger up to signify a “w” and the thumb and forefinger meeting to signify a “p” in what used to be the “OK” gesture.)

In the back row on the right was Proud Boy Christopher “Chris” Worrell (more about him later).

An unidentified man, Tarrio and Worrell converse at the Dec. 3, 2020 event in Naples. (Photo: FBI)

The following night, Dec. 4, Tarrio addressed a crowd at Seed to Table, the market owned by outspoken conservative Alfie Oakes, and a frequent venue for far-right personalities.

Enrique Tarrio at Seed to Table. (Image: Anonymous)

Tarrio was introduced by McLaughlin, who said she had met him and the Proud Boys during the Million MAGA March on Nov. 15, 2020 when, she said, the Proud Boys had protected marchers from Antifa, the anti-fascist movement.

In this speech Tarrio revealed some personal history when he said that relatives of his in Cuba had been killed during the Cuban revolution by Communist guerrillas on the orders of Che Guevara when they refused to allow their farm to be used as forward position. Tarrio accused Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) and President Joe Biden of concealing their socialist and Marxist intentions as Guevara did in Cuba.

“In order to save the West we must replicate the minds of those who have its best interests at heart,” he said. “We must inspire more. We must inspire more people to follow us, inspire more people to lead us, inspire more people to do the things that are necessary to save this country. To make America great again.”

This speech was also more explicitly pro-Trump than in his Mercato appearance. In a foreshadowing of what would come, he said the Proud Boys were not going to allow the theft of the election.

“The most important thing we can do is stand by him,” Tarrio said of Trump. “So when he said ‘stand back and stand by,’ we didn’t take it as ‘stand by at the ready,’ we took it as ‘stand by me’ and we have. We’ve stood by the president since day one.”

Welcoming Roger Stone

Proud Boys were next in evidence locally on Jan. 3, 2021 when Roger Stone was welcomed to Naples in an event organized by McLaughlin.

Roger Stone is a far right activist and political operative whose political involvement goes back to the 1970s. He was an ardent supporter of Trump’s candidacy.

In 2018 Stone approached the Proud Boys for personal security and announced in a Facebook video: “Hi, I’m Roger Stone. I’m a Western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” making him a “first-degree” member, according to some Proud Boys, although he subsequently announced he was not a member.

Stone was arrested by the FBI in January 2019 on seven counts connected with the investigation of Russian election interference by Robert Mueller. He was convicted in November. His 40-month sentence was commuted by Trump in July 2020 and he was fully pardoned on Dec. 23, 2020  

Stone had lived in Florida since 2014, first in Miami, then in Fort Lauderdale but he traveled across the state, first in August 2020 after his commutation and then on Jan. 3, 2021 when, post-pardon, he was welcomed with a street corner rally organized by McLaughlin that took place at the corner of Rt. 41 and Pine Ridge Rd.

Roger Stone and the Proud Boys in Naples on Jan. 3, 2021. Worrell is to Stone’s right, making the “white power” sign. (Photo: Twitter)

One of the purposes of Stone’s visit was to encourage a demonstration at the Naples home of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to demand he oppose the certification of “fraudulent electors” who would certify Joe Biden’s election as president on Jan. 6.

Christy McLaughlin on a ladder welcomes Roger Stone to Naples on Jan. 3, 2021. Note the Proud Boys flag to her left. (Photo: Facebook)

Another purpose of the Stone event was to exhort people to attend the big “Stop the Steal” rally scheduled for Jan. 6 in Washington, DC. As Trump so notoriously told his followers: “Be there. Will be wild!”

Chris Worrell

Proud Boy Chris Worrell, 53, a resident of East Naples, may have been in the back row when he attended the Tarrio speech in Naples but he was very much on the front line of the rioters when they attacked the Capitol.

As revealed by the Jan. 6 Committee, about 200 to 300 Proud Boys left the rally on the Ellipse before Trump spoke to march to the Capitol, where, as they had planned, they breached the first police barriers at the Peace Circle, opening the way for the general assault.

In the newly released video from the Committee, Worrell plays a prominent role at the Capitol grounds. As police equip themselves in a staging area, Worrell, in a heavily equipped combat vest, screams at them: “Don’t make us go against you!” and “These are our streets!”

On Jan. 6 in Washington, DC, Christopher Worrell tells police “These are our streets!” (Image: J6C)
On Jan. 6 in Washington, DC, Christopher Worrell tells police : “Don’t make us go against you!” (Image: J6C)

Worrell’s alleged involvement in the riot was extensively documented in a 2021 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warrant for his arrest on charges of illegally entering a government building, impeding and interfering with government business, carrying “a deadly or dangerous weapon” (chemical spray) while committing acts of violence, for “willfully and knowingly utter loud, threatening, or abusive language” in the Capitol building to disrupt or impede congressional business and using or carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon in the Capitol.

Chris Worrell allegedly uses a chemical spray against police during the Capitol riot. (Photo: FBI)

On June 1, a new, superseding indictment was filed against Worrell by a grand jury in Washington, DC. It added charges of obstructing, impeding and interfering with a law enforcement officer in the conduct of his duties, using the spray against government officials, and added charges against another rioter, Daniel Scott.

Worrell’s lawyer, Alex Stavrou, the third to handle the case, told the Naples Daily News that “The video showing Mr. Worrell is an untruth and incomplete edit purposely done for the purposes of spreading misstatements and falsehoods and trying to control public opinion about Mr. Worrell and others who were at January 6 so as to portray them in a false light.” He added: “He has not been charged with sedition, nor is there any expectation he will.”

Worrell was arrested by the FBI on March 12, 2021 and was initially jailed in Washington, DC, in part due to threats he issued on Facebook against potential witnesses against him. However, he pleaded that his medical conditions, including an alleged case of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, major dental problems and a broken hand he said was improperly treated while in federal custody, merited his release. After some dispute he was placed under house arrest in Naples under a variety of restrictions.

On April 26, he appeared before the Collier County Commission at one of its regular meetings to ask commissioners’ assistance.

“Good morning, Commissioners,” he began. “I am Christopher Worrell, Political Prisoner 377183.”

Christopher Worrell addresses the Collier County Board of Commissioners. (Image: CCBC)

Worrell emotionally recounted the arrest: “They deployed flash-bang grenades, parked a SWAT tank at the front of my entrance to my door, and held my wife at gunpoint for hours and I wasn’t even home,” he said.

Several times he choked up and wept.

“Due to my blatant civil rights violations I am now not just fighting for my rights and the rights of others, I am fighting for my life,” he said.

When he finished, Commissioner Rick LoCastro, District 1, applauded and said he would meet with Worrell and direct him to the proper officials, since his was a federal indictment beyond the scope of the county commission’s authority.

Worrell is scheduled to be arraigned on the superseding indictment charges on Friday, June 17.

Analysis: Past their peak?

In Southwest Florida, the most recent public appearance of Proud Boys as a group came on May 14 when several Proud Boys came to counter a pro-choice Bans Off Our Bodies demonstration in Fort Myers.

Proud Boys counter-protest at a pro-choice demonstration in Fort Myers, Fla., on May 14, 2022. The acronym FAFO on the t-shirt stands for “fuck around and find out.” (Photo: Alathea Shapiro)

That spasm of protest notwithstanding, overall, it appears that the Proud Boys movement and organization may have peaked and be in decline—for the moment.

A Proud Boy at Patriot Fest in Naples, Fla., on March 19, 2022. (Photo: Author)

It appeared most formidable after its founding in 2016 when it was a shock troop on the leading edge of President Donald Trump’s cult of personality. The fact that it was mentioned by name during a presidential debate and essentially endorsed by Trump himself established its place in the media firmament. There seemed no limit or restraint on its activities—or the threat it presented.

But the group no longer has the sanction and support of a president of the United States. Its top five members have been indicted for seditious conspiracy. The Jan. 6 Committee is exposing its leading—literally—role in the Capitol attack and other activities, violence and even sedition. In Canada it has been designated a terrorist group.

Despite its claims of racial inclusion its members keep putting up those “white power” hand signs, revealing their racism.

A Proud Boy gives the “white power” sign at a counter-demonstration in Fort Myers, Fla., May 14, 2022. (Photo: Alathea Shapiro)

In general, the Proud Boys now appear to be outside the cultural zeitgeist and their positions and attitudes seem outmoded and obsolete.

They’re even being mocked on late-night comedy shows. (Stephen Colbert: “I gotta tell you: seeing those guys arrested makes this boy proud,” he said in a monologue on June 8. As for a Proud Boys rule limiting masturbation to once a month, “that’s going to make those 20 years in prison seem pretty long. But I do understand why they’re so angry.”)

To be an overt Proud Boy now is to invite public mockery, law enforcement monitoring and potential arrest rather than inspiring the fear and respect they crave—both nationally and locally.

In a local context, the weeping, self-pitying performance of Christopher Worrell before the Collier County Commission hardly exemplified the masculinity and strength the Proud Boys attempt to project. (And it is worth noting that Worrell’s desire for clemency based on his health concerns hardly extended to his concern for the health or well-being of the police he allegedly attacked on Jan. 6.)

Nor were the current Proud Boys who appeared in Fort Myers on May 14 exactly the most impressive specimens of the species.

What usually happens to extreme ideological movements during periods of decline or eclipse is that they fracture and factionalize. In its short history, the Proud Boys went through multiple chairmen and even its founder has disavowed it. Now this very small group will likely engage in blame and recrimination and fragment around competing extremist would-be leaders as it faces new challenges.

Could it revive? Certainly. But that revival appears far off. If Trump runs for president in 2024 Proud Boys could mobilize again. They may even revivify if there’s a conservative wave at the polls this year. Even then, though, establishment politicians are unlikely to identify with them the way Trump did in 2020. The media will be merciless in exposing and condemning them. They’ve become an electoral liability rather than an asset.

If anything, the Proud Boys resemble the Nazis who were disgraced and demoralized after their failed 1923 putsch. Though the subsequent Nazi movement built the undisciplined, street-brawling Brown Shirts organization in the years afterwards, they became inconvenient and even threatening to Adolf Hitler’s leadership. As a result, they were eliminated in the purge that became known as the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

Such is often the fate of violent, extremist, fringe organizations. Once they’re no longer useful they’re discarded by the people who use them for their own ends. Further, if past is any prologue, no one discards those who proved loyal in the past but are inconvenient in the present more than Donald Trump.

Perhaps the truest verdict on the Proud Boys is best contained in the biblical proverb: “Pride goeth before a fall.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL Democratic and Republican politicos react to Jan. 6 hearing

The Jan. 6 Committee hearing last night, June 9. (Photo: AP pool)

June 10, 2022 by David Silverberg

The first hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, held last night, June 9, evoked starkly different reactions—though hardly surprising ones—among Southwest Florida Democrats and Republicans.

“This hearing was shocking. We knew so much, but the details are amazing,” tweeted Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District. “My heart is aching and I am so angry at those who deny the severity of this clearly planned attack.”

Banyai maintained a real time Twitter commentary on the hearing as it unfolded.

“These hearings are a microcosm of the division in our country – some define what happened as seditious conspiracy, some as legitimate political discourse,” stated Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party in a message to The Paradise Progressive.

Despite Republican characterization of the attack on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” Karim pointed out that such discourse doesn’t include members of Congress fleeing for their lives, nooses displayed, or incitement to violence.

“We need to take our partisan hats off and watch these hearings as Americans to understand that our Democracy is fragile and it needs to be protected and defended against all enemies foreign and domestic,” she wrote.

On the Republican side, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) agreed in a tweet with Republican colleague Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY) that the hearings were a “witch hunt” but “I’ll add something else—[Americans] aren’t going to watch.”

Why wouldn’t Americans watch? “1. Tonight is Game 5 of the NHL playoffs. 2. Most Americans are more concerned with $5+ gas prices & skyrocketing grocery prices. 1/6 is for the history books, not an MSM [mainstream media]-sponsored DNC [Democratic National Committee] ad.

Rep. Mario Diaz (R-25-Fla.) was similarly dismissive. “Tonight’s J6 committee hearing is the most blatant attempt to distract the American people from the disastrous and failed policies of the Democratic Party,” he tweeted.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) also followed the Party line, tweeting: “Rather than addressing all of the crises that Biden created for the American people, House Democrats will be putting on a professionally produced show tonight. This is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the real issues.”

To come: More on the Jan. 6 committee investigation and Southwest Florida

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Exclusive: YouTube video in error; Alfie Oakes denies participating in Capitol riot

Alfie Oakes and friends at the Jan. 5, 2021 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC. (Image: Alfie Oakes)

Feb. 10, 2022 by David Silverberg

A YouTube video purporting to show local farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes inciting rioters to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 is not, in fact, him, he said.

“That is absolutely not me,” Oakes said in an in-person interview with The Paradise Progressive.

In the Feb. 8 interview, Oakes clarified his role in the “Stop the Steal” rally and subsequent attack on the Capitol.

During that day, he said “I was all over” the area but he did not violate the Capitol grounds, police barriers or enter the Capitol building. He said he subsequently cooperated with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigating the day’s events.

A photo he supplied of himself at the rally shows him wearing a different hat than the person in the video. He also claims that the person in the video is speaking with a Boston accent, which he does not use.

When it came to the police barriers around the building, Oakes said “I watched the police let people in.”

He also stated, “I also watched these characters who looked totally different than everyone else and they let them in first.” In the immediate wake of the insurrection, Oakes stated in a Jan. 10 Facebook post that: “Leading the group was the obvious six or eight paid actors (used in other events such as BLM riots, hard to believe they would be that blatant and sloppy) … followed by a small group of aggressive Trump supporters caught up in the moment, these paid actors led the charge.”

Oakes also said he took the time to peacefully text his wife from the rally at 2:26 pm, which was the height of the assault on the Capitol.

Oakes took issue with characterizations of the gathering as a protest or a demonstration. Rather, its purpose was to support the president.

“99.9 percent of the people there weren’t protesters; they were supporters of President Trump,” he said. “I didn’t go up there to protest. I went up to support Donald Trump.”

(To come: A full account of the interview with Alfie Oakes)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Oakes, Donalds, Rooney and Gingrich: Four Floridians and the attack on America’s Capitol–Updated

On Jan. 6 a mob attacks the US Capitol.

Jan. 6, 2022 by David Silverberg

–Updated Feb. 9, 2022 with with input from Alfie Oakes and corrections

If Dec. 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, Jan. 6, 2021 is a day that will live in disgrace.

It was the day that democracy almost died.

It was a day when Americans, incited by a delusional and dictatorial president, went on a rampage that came close to destroying the Constitution, Congress and government by, for, and of the people.

On this, the first anniversary of the insurrection and attack on the United States Capitol and Congress, the words and actions of four Floridians—all residents of Naples—bears remembrance, as well as their words and actions in the days afterward. They illustrate a range of characters and reactions to what was one of the most horrific events of the early 21st century.

Outside the Capitol

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III both protested the election, one from inside the Capitol, the other from outside.

Oakes, a Naples farmer, grocer and deep and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump, had chartered two buses to carry about a hundred Trumpers to the “Stop the Steal” rally. He traveled to Washington to participate in the rally.

According to Oakes, he participated in the rally and then flew home directly that night. He never breached police barriers, the Capitol grounds or entered the building itself.

With My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and former national security director Michael Flynn in the foreground, Rep. Byron Donalds looks out on the “Stop the Steal” rally before going to the Capitol. (Photo: Twitter)

On the morning of Jan. 6, Byron Donalds, who had sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution three days before, attended the rally on the Ellipse outside the White House.

He left the rally before it ended and went to the Capitol to register his objection to certifying the vote of the Electoral College.

“I’m walking into the Capitol to sign the objection to the Electoral College certification. It’s important we always uphold our laws and our Constitution, no matter what,” he tweeted at 11:17 am that morning.

Rep. Byron Donalds signs a paper registering his objection to certifying the election. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Donalds was inside the Capitol attending the certification when rioters breached police barriers and began attacking the building. He and the other members were evacuated from the House chamber.

“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” Donalds recounted in a statement on the events.

At 2:49 pm, the height of the attack, Donalds tweeted: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy.”

At 10:09 pm, after the riot was over and the rioters had been evicted from the building, Donalds issued a lengthy statement, calling the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and condemning their actions as “thuggery.”  Despite this, he voted against certification.

The defenders

Then-Rep. Francis Rooney (center) discusses Lake Okeechobee with President Donald Trump during the latter’s visit in March, 2019. (Image: C-Span)

For two former Republican members of Congress the attack on the Capitol was unacceptable, outrageous and enraging.

Francis Rooney of Naples had just retired from two terms representing the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

As the violence peaked at 3:49 pm that day he stated on Facebook: “All of America should be saddened and sickened by today’s events at the US Capitol. President Trump is complicit in inciting violence to contest an election that is over and adjudicated. This must stop now.”

Newt Gingrich appears on Fox News the day after the attack. To the right is the scene inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. (Image: Fox News)

Newton “Newt” Gingrich served as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. He and his wife Callista quietly moved to Naples in September 2021.

When rioters invaded the Office of the Speaker on Jan. 6th, they weren’t vandalizing one individual’s office; they were attacking the chamber of the highest ranking official in the House of Representatives. That room wasn’t just the personal office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), it was the sanctum that Gingrich had also inhabited for four years. Every Speaker had occupied it, regardless of party, since the current House wing of the Capitol was completed in 1857.

For Gingrich the riot hit close to home and he responded with fury.

“I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” he said in a Fox News interview the day after the riot. “This is the center of freedom on the whole planet. It’s a symbol for everybody. And what happened yesterday was utterly, totally inexcusable. People should be locked up and punished. And I’m delighted that they’re increasing the preparations for the inaugural because we have to make absolutely certain nothing like this happens again. But as a former House member as well, as you point out, former Speaker, I found it enraging that people who clearly are not patriots — these are people are destructive barbarians and they are frankly criminals, and they should be treated that way and locked up. And I’m very proud of the Capitol Police, that they clearly needed a lot more reinforcements yesterday.”

In the year since

Gingrich may have been angry over the insurrection but it wasn’t sufficient to permanently turn him from Donald Trump. A mere five months after the insurrection he made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to craft a new, Trumpist “Contract with America,” the political device that brought a Republican Congress to power and him to the Speakership in 1995.

Details are sparse but the new contract may be unveiled this year in time for the midterms.

“It should be positive,” Gingrich was quoted as saying about it in the publication Politico in May. “School choice, teaching American history for real, abolishing the ‘1619 Project,’ eliminating critical race theory and what the Texas legislature is doing. We should say, ‘Bring it on.’”

He made no mention of preserving democracy or punishing insurrection.

Over the past year Francis Rooney continued to post on Facebook and do the occasional op-ed, concentrating on his real passions of foreign affairs and environmental stewardship.

Four days after Alfie Oakes returned from Washington he gave a lengthy account of the riot on Facebook on Jan. 10. In it he argued that the assault on the Capitol was “an incredibly clever tactic orchestrated by those that will stop at nothing to ensure the Globalist take over of our United States.”

According to Oakes, “Leading the group was the obvious six or eight paid actors(used in other events such as BLM riots, hard to believe they would be that blatant and sloppy) … followed by a small group of aggressive Trump supporters caught up in the moment.”

Nonetheless, he did acknowledge in his Jan. 10 post that “I have now found ONE thing that I completely agree on with the ever corrupt main stream media on…..This is truly one of the lowest days in our country’s history!”

When it came to Byron Donalds, after denouncing the riot, he watered down his tweet condemning the rioters to say that they “do not embody my constituents’ values and heart.” Their actions, he tweeted at the time, “will not alter my decision to object to the Electoral College certification” and he indeed voted against certifying the election when the roll call was taken.

Nonetheless, at 3:26 am on the morning of Jan. 7, Vice President Mike Pence, who had been threatened with lynching by the mob, certified the vote of the Electoral College that confirmed Joseph Robinette Biden as president of the United States.

During the rest of 2021 Donalds proved a reliable right wing megaphone, following Republican talking points in denouncing Biden and Democrats, promoting a MAGA agenda and never condemning or acknowledging Donald Trump’s role in the “anarchy” of Jan. 6.

On Dec. 13 Donald Trump endorsed Donalds for re-election.

Rep. Byron Donalds, Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Erika Donalds in Naples, Dec. 13. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

SWFL reps vote to let Meadows dodge Congress, allow US default–but contempt charge, debt ceiling bills both pass

The United States Capitol.

Dec. 15, 2021 by David Silverberg

In a pair of momentous votes last night and in the early hours of this morning, the US House of Representatives voted to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress and to raise the debt ceiling, keeping the United States from default.

Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against both measures, which passed on largely party-line votes.

House Resolution (HR) 851, which held Meadows in contempt for refusing to respond to a congressional subpoena, passed at 11:03 pm by a vote of 222 to 208. Republican Reps. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) voted for the measure.

Senate Joint Resolution 33 raising the US debt ceiling to $2.5 trillion, passed at 12:20 am by a vote of 221 to 209. Kinzinger was the lone Republican to approve the measure.

The Meadows matter

Meadows had initially agreed to cooperate with the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, turning over e-mails and documents related to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. He then changed his mind and refused to testify before the committee despite a subpoena compelling his testimony.

The congressional contempt resolution passed last night will now be referred to the Department of Justice for enforcement.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took Meadows’ side against the House of Representatives, in which he serves.

“Everyone supporting the political witch-hunt, known as the House Select Cmte on 1/6, amplifies a charade intended to subject Trump-supporting Americans to a kangaroo court of injustice & political theater. Unfortunately, Mark Meadows is another American on the Dems’ hit list,” he tweeted yesterday, Dec. 14. He added in a further statement: “Holding the former White House Chief of Staff in contempt is a disgrace to the rule of law and Congressional oversight credibility.”

Former President Donald Trump Donalds formally endorsed Donalds the same day.

On the day of the attack, Donalds characterized the rioters rampaging through the Capitol Building as “lawless vigilantes” and the attack itself as “thuggery.”

As of this writing, neither Reps. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) nor Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) had commented on the Meadows resolution.

Debt ceiling

The vote raising the US debt ceiling averts a default on US financial obligations. With the House approving the already-passed bill from the Senate, it now goes to President Joe Biden for signature. It will extend the nation’s borrowing capability into 2023.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Nov. 29, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned: “I cannot overstate how critical it is that Congress address this issue. America must pay its bills on time and in full. If we do not, we will eviscerate our current recovery.”

Donalds expressed opposition to raising the debt ceiling in a Dec. 9 interview with Jan Jeffcoat of The National Desk, a television program carried by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. “We’re just blowing trillions of dollars out the back door, then running to the bond market to say give us more money. If we’re going to increase the debt limit on the nation’s credit card, I think that what we’re doing is highly irresponsible.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida reps vote to let Bannon off the hook

Stephen Bannon (Caricature: Donkey Hotey via Wikimedia Commons)

Oct. 21, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives voted today, by 229 to 202, to hold Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to obey a congressional subpoena requiring him to testify about his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and attack on the US Capitol.

All of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives—Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.)—voted against the resolution, thereby allowing Bannon to flout the law.

Bannon was former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior advisor for 210 days from January 20 to August 18, 2017. Prior to and on Jan. 6, 2021 he is believed to have played a key role in orchestrating the riot, insurrection and attempted coup. He was subpoenaed to testify by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol but refused to obey the subpoena. Now that he has been found in contempt he may be prosecuted by attorneys from the Department of Justice.

“While [former White House Chief of Staff Mark] Meadows and [former chief of staff to the then-acting Secretary of Defense Kash] Patel are, so far, engaging with the Select Committee, Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former President. The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony,” stated the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-2-Miss.), and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), on Oct. 8.

“Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” they stated. 

As of this writing none of Southwest Florida’s congressmen had issued statements or explanations for their votes, although they actively tweeted on unrelated matters. They joined 199 of their Republican colleagues in voting against House Resolution 730. Nine Republicans voted for the resolution including Cheney. The House Republican leadership urged all Republican members to oppose the resolution.

The charges against Bannon were contained in House Report 117-152 from the Select Committee, which stated in its operative paragraphs:

Resolved, That Stephen K. Bannon shall be found to be in

contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional

subpoena.

    Resolved, That pursuant to 2 U.S.C. Sec. Sec.  192 and 194,

the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall certify the

report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th

Attack on the United States Capitol, detailing the refusal of

Stephen K. Bannon to produce documents or appear for a

deposition before the Select Committee to Investigate the

January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol as directed by

subpoena, to the United States Attorney for the District of

Columbia, to the end that Mr. Bannon be proceeded against in

the manner and form provided by law.

    Resolved, That the Speaker of the House shall otherwise

take all appropriate action to enforce the subpoena.

SWFL congressmen on insurrection day

At the time of the insurrection all of Southwest Florida’s congressmen were shaken and appalled by the violence and threats to themselves and the institution.

“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” recounted Donalds in a statement issued at 10:09 pm the night of the insurrection, after the rioters had been evicted from the building. He called the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and denounced their actions as “thuggery.”

During the worst moments of the protest Donalds condemned the violence: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy,” he tweeted at 2:49 pm in the midst of the attack.

“I witnessed our law enforcement officers being injured, gassed from their own tear gas and afraid for their lives as they attempted to hold the line,” recalled Steube in his own statement. “I and three other Members were barricaded in a room surrounded by demonstrators until the hallway was clear for us to get out.” At 5:39 pm he decried the actions and called them “completely unacceptable.”

On Jan. 6 Diaz-Balart issued a statement in both English and Spanish at 5:23 pm saying that the violence undermined the nation’s values and principles and lawbreakers should face the full consequences of their actions.

The House report and resolution now goes to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Sept. 18: Another sleepy Saturday or Insurrection 2.0 in DC and Southwest Florida?

The US Capitol and grounds in May 2021. Authorities are considering restoring the fencing in anticipation of a rally on Sept. 18. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 9, 2021 by David Silverberg

For most Americans, Saturday, Sept. 18 is just another date on the calendar, one more day in one more weekend.

In Washington, DC, however, authorities are bracing for a demonstration that could be a replay of the Jan. 6 rally and riot that nearly overturned the government of the United States. In Southwest Florida that protest will have an echo on a smaller scale but one that bears watching.

Washington, DC

The “Justice for J6 Rally” is intended to call for an end to prosecutions and the release of those who have been prosecuted and jailed as a result of the January 6 insurrection.

It was first announced by a group called Look Ahead America on July 30th. The group states on its website that its mission is to speak for disenfranchised Americans and “register, educate, and enfranchise these disaffected citizens.”

The group’s executive director is Matt Braynard, who previously served as the Donald Trump campaign’s director of data and strategy.

Matt Braynard (Image: LAA)

In a Jan. 29, 2021 letter to the US Justice Department in the immediate wake of the Capitol insurrection, Braynard argued that “Many of the protesters who entered the Capitol reasonably believed they had permission” and “we should not further compound the tragedy through vindictive and selective political prosecutions.”

Braynard is trying to overcome the images and opprobrium of the insurrection. He wants the Sept. 18 rally to be “laser-focused” on the issue of Capitol prosecutions and avoid the symbolism and disorder of the riot.

“Be respectful and kind to all law enforcement officers” Braynard urged would-be demonstrators in a 4-minute, 46-second video on the group’s website. “If they ask you to do something, please, do so.” He also urged rally-goers to stay in groups, notify the organization volunteers if there’s any trouble and not wear attire other than that related to the specific goals of the rally.

Nonetheless, extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are planning to attend the Washington rally, according to media reports. Capitol Police and security officials are already on alert and have been weighing whether to reconstruct the fence that surrounded Capitol Hill after the insurrection.

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told the Associated Press on Sept. 1 that his department was “closely monitoring September 18 and we are planning accordingly.”

According to Manger: “After January 6, we made Department-wide changes to the way we gather and share intelligence, internally and externally. I am confident the work we are doing now will make sure our officers have what they need to keep everyone safe.”

Despite Braynard’s efforts at non-violence and lawfulness, security experts are wary. Andrew McCabe, former Federal Bureau of Investigation acting director, warned in a CNN interview on Sept. 7 that the rally should be treated as a potentially violent threat.

“I think they should take it very seriously,” McCabe, a CNN contributor, told interviewer Poppy Harlow. “In fact, they should take it more seriously than they took the same sort of intelligence that they likely saw on January 5.”

But for law enforcement officers there are “a few factors leaning in their favor” this time, said McCabe. “You don’t have a sitting president actively fanning the flames and trying to get people to attend the rally. And on the other hand, it looks like, from all indications, our law enforcement partners are well prepared for this one. They seem to be taking the intelligence very seriously, which raises a question as to whether or not they did on January 6, but that’s another issue.”

Southwest Florida

Alfie Oakes takes aim. (Photo: Facebook)

Southwest Florida will be marking Sept. 18 with its own “Patriot Fest” at the rural North Naples farm of Francis Alfred Oakes III, known to the world as “Alfie,” owner and operator of Oakes Farms and Seed to Table market.

Oakes’ Patriot Fest is scheduled to feature a number of speakers including Rogan O’Handley, a conservative commentator who goes by the stage name “DC Draino;” Jack Prosobiec, a One America News Network commentator; and Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican congressional candidate in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where she lost in 2020 to Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.).

According to its announcement, Patriot Fest will feature food trucks and entertainment by politically conservative musician Jason Beale. It costs $20 to attend and $200 for deluxe tickets—although Eventbrite, which initially took reservations, decided to drop the event, refused to handle arrangements and refunded all the tickets it had taken.

As a committeeman in the Collier County Republican Party and a prominent conservative activist, not to mention a farmer and grocer promoting his businesses, Oakes is very much a local public figure. However, Oakes, who has become famous—or infamous, depending on one’s perspective—for his far right, Trumpist politics, fierce opposition to anti-COVID masking and vaccinations and pronouncements on social media, has gone to a level that merits special attention.

Starting in early August, Oakes openly called for rebellion against the US government and did not mince words: “I think the time has come for us to revolt against our tyrannical government,” he stated on Aug. 6 on Facebook.

Then, on Aug. 8 he posted a photo of himself firing an automatic weapon, writing: “I pray we have election integrity in 2022…. if we don’t we must prepare for the worst! Our second amendment right is specifically to revolt against a a tyrannical government! Prepare for the worst and pray for the best” [sic, no punctuation at the end of that sentence].

On Aug. 14 the thread continued: “Ivermectin beats Covid hands down! Anyone with the slightest bit of Critical thinking knows the government is screwing over the people! And nearly every crooked politician in DC is guilty of letting this happen! Time for the Revolution !!!”

Then, on Aug. 16, the threat became direct, aimed at civilian teachers: “These corrupt teachers unions are the enemy of our country and our citizens! We need to take them down by force!! ALL enemies foreign and domestic !!! Time for a revolution!”

As extreme as these expressions are, they can arguably count as free speech under the First Amendment. They can also be regarded as inflated by passion and hyperbole—except that on Aug. 20 Oakes dialed the volume up to 11.

The “We the People Fight Back” event in Naples, Aug. 20. (Photo: Facebook)

On Aug. 20 and 21, like-minded conservatives gathered, unmasked and undistanced, at the Naples Hilton to hold the “We the People Fight Back” event, an activist workshop and conference.

Among the speakers was Oakes, who posted elements of his speech on Facebook.

In a rambling address that veered from COVID to the nation’s founders, Oakes told his audience: “I’m telling you that my threshold of where this goes to, like, the next level is getting close for me.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be ‘before’ but if they try to steal the next election, the ’22 elections, I’m all in. We don’t want to talk about what that is but we have to be all in,” he said to cheers from the audience.

But it was his next sentence that merits particular attention: “I have enough guns to put in every single employee’s hands.”

Analysis: Evaluating the force

In a July 22 dialogue with a reader on Facebook, Oakes gave his employee workforce as 3,200 people. This no doubt includes farm laborers.

If his statements are taken at face value that would mean that Oakes is saying he owns the weaponry to arm 3,200 people. That’s the equivalent of three US Army battalions and two companies, a formidable force that could give any local—or even state—law enforcement agency a serious challenge. If true, it is by any measure a massive arsenal to be held in private, civilian hands.

When combined with his previous statements calling for revolution and the use of force against teachers, he is now talking about an unregulated militia that could threaten the security of the state.

Of course, that’s only if Oakes’ words are taken on their face as true.

In the past, numbers and accuracy have not been Oakes’ strong suit. For example, in a Jan. 10 Facebook posting, he put the size of the crowd at the Jan. 6 insurrection at “well over one million people” and then “1 1/2 million” and the number of leading rioters as “six or eight paid actors.”

Presumably he would be more accurate when it comes to accounting related to his business.

It sounds like he can command an imposing force. But even if, as he states, that he can put guns in the hands of all 3,200 employees it cannot be presumed that all employees, already facing the daily risk of working in an unmasked, anti-protective, COVID-denying workplace, would want to take on the additional danger of using lethal force against the United States in a rebellion led by Alfie Oakes.

Also, his comments don’t make clear whether he could mount a sustained operation. Nor does it make clear the quality or caliber of his weapons. Nor is it clear that he has the command, control, communications, logistics or support to make such a force effective in achieving its mission—whatever that mission might be.

Still, in an era when a single active shooter with a single magazine can tie down a town, a shopping mall or a public intersection, any armed rebellion can prove, to put it mildly, extremely problematic, as witness the siege of Waco, Texas in 1993.

At the very least, the situation bears monitoring.

A case of the maybes

At this point, nothing is foreordained for Sept. 18.

In Washington, DC, Braynard is calling for an orderly, disciplined and focused demonstration. In Naples, Oakes is throwing a party at his house.

So maybe all the fears are just alarmist. Maybe on Sept. 18, protesters in the nation’s capital will peaceably assemble to petition government for a redress of grievances. Maybe there will be no violence or insurrection.

And in Naples, maybe Patriot Fest will consist of good times, good food and speechifying. Maybe there will be no calls for armed revolt or acts of insurrection.

Maybe Sept. 18 will be just another Saturday in September.

Then again, maybe not.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier commentary: Rhetoric, reality and law enforcement

Rep. Byron Donalds addresses the US House on the occasion of National Police Week. (Image: C-Span)

May 21, 2021 by David Silverberg

Two recent votes by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) belie his purported support for the nation’s law enforcement officers.

Donalds voted against both creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6 and against supplemental appropriations to improve Capitol security.

On May 12, Donalds joined other members of Congress to acknowledge National Police Week and honor the men and women of law enforcement.

Recalling a time when he was robbed at gunpoint at the age of 16 and the police responded to his call, Donalds made a 2-minute, 19-second floor speech acknowledging the importance of their role in society.

“The police are the ones in our communities. They patrol the streets. They try to keep our neighborhoods safe. They are the ones who put their lives on the line every single day, who may not go home. They are the ones who are the pillars of every community in our great country,” he said.

“So on National Police Week, the number one thing we need to learn not just on this specific week, but in every week, is that we need to show them the necessary honor and respect that they deserve.”

Donalds then had the opportunity to demonstrate that honor and respect with two subsequent votes.

The first was a vote to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, an attack by what Donalds called at the time “lawless vigilantes” engaged in “thuggery.” He later characterized the rioters as “a bunch of lunatics.”

While some Republican members of Congress downplayed the severity of the attack, an anonymous letter by Capitol Police officers was sent to House members stating that “It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th. Member safety was dependent upon the heroic actions of USCP [US Capitol Police]. It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘It wasn’t that bad,’” the letter stated. “That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members.”

Though allegedly supported by 40 members of the Capitol Police, their support could not be independently verified. The Capitol Police disavowed the letter as an official communication.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, May 19, the House voted by 252 to 175 to establish the commission.

Donalds, however, voted against the bill. (Also voting against it were Southwest Florida’s two other representatives, Reps. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.).

Yesterday, May 20, Donalds had another opportunity to show his support for law enforcement by voting for a $1.9 billion bill to improve security around the Capitol. The vote on that was 213 to 212.

Donalds voted against that bill too, along with the rest of the Southwest Florida delegation.

Commentary: Putting the money where your mouth is

“Mr. Speaker,” Donalds said in his May 12 floor statement, “we have all seen the videos that get thrown in front of us. We have seen the handful of acts that all Americans find distasteful”—his reference, apparently, to the wholesale assault on the Capitol in which he was speaking and the attempt to kill the lawmakers inside and lynch the Vice President of the United States.

He continued: “But the uniform, that badge, the officers that serve every day, they serve our communities with honor and with distinction. So it is really my pleasure and my honor to honor all those officers, including the ones in this very Capitol, who protect us every single day.”

Apparently Donalds’ rhetorical support did not extend enough to honor them by investigating the past attack upon them and giving them the resources and funding they need to prevent a similar attack again.

Nonetheless, the men and women of law enforcement continue protect Donalds, his fellow lawmakers and the public in general from the “thugs” and “lunatics”—Donalds’ terms—who remain at large.

Both bills have now gone to the Senate where they face uncertain futures.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

A riot, a putsch and the long fight ahead for American democracy

Rioters in the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Roberto Schmidt)
Nazi stormtroopers in Munich during the 1923 putsch.

March 12, 2021 by David Silverberg

The date Nov. 9, 1923 doesn’t hold much meaning for most of the world, especially for Americans, but it’s a date that may gain a new infamy.

It was on that date that an attempt to overthrow the government of Germany failed when authorities and police stood up against Nazi radicals marching on Munich’s government building. That attempted coup, or “putsch” in German, was led by a ranting but charismatic former army corporal named Adolf Hitler.

On that November day in Munich, 16 Nazis and four police died when the police opened fire. Hitler and his closest compatriots were arrested. It all seemed like the end of Hitler and the Nazi movement.

But it was not. Instead, Hitler and the Nazis gave up the idea of a sudden, violent takeover and began playing a long game for power through legal means, which they ultimately achieved, with catastrophic results for the world.

This bit of history raises some disturbing questions for the United States today.

What if the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol was the not the end of the Trumpist menace to the United States and democracy but its beginning, as Nov. 9, 1923 was the beginning of the Nazi menace to Germany?

This is what Trump effectively said in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando on Feb. 28. As he put it in his usual scrambled and disjointed syntax: “Our movement of proud, hardworking, and you know what? This is the hardest working people, hardworking American Patriots, is just getting started. And in the end we will win. We will win.”

What can Americans who believe in democracy, justice, diversity, free thought and constitutional government do to ensure that America in the 21st century doesn’t go the way of Germany in the 20th century?

And to bring it to particulars: what can people who care about this country do about it here in Florida?

History repeating

Today, there are extremely disturbing parallels between Adolf Hitler after his failed putsch and Donald J. Trump after his failed insurrection.

Some of these are:

Turning to electoral politics

Hitler: After his failed putsch, Hitler gave up sudden, violent revolution for conventional, legal, electoral politics to take power. While not eschewing violence altogether, he and the Nazi Party commenced a long-term, nationwide effort to win elections at all levels and gain a majority in the Reichstag. Their aim was not to continue and maintain democracy once they achieved power but to end it.

Trump: In what may be a more important development than anything Trump said at CPAC, his followers are choosing to pursue elected office at all levels to enact the Trumpist (or as some prefer to call it, Trascist) program.

The Trumpiest Republicans Are At The State And Local Levels — Not In D.C.,”as Perry Bacon Jr. pointed out in an article on the FiveThirtyEight.com website. Another example is Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys chairman and FBI informant, who told CNN in a Feb. 25 interview: “I think right now is the time to go ahead and overthrow the government by becoming the new government and running for office.” Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor pardoned by Trump, told followers and QAnon adherents in a Telegram message on March 10: “As I recently said, we need to get involved in our communities & ensure our system functions the way it is supposed to BECAUSE it broke down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves with shoulda-woulda-coulda-and instead get involved in our communities.”

Equally striking are the already serving officials in Congress and in state and local governments who are attempting to advance Trumpism through voter suppression and election manipulation. (Much more about this later.)

Punishment—or non-punishment

Hitler: When Hitler’s ill-organized, chaotic and violent would-be revolution failed, he was jailed for nine months (out of a five-year sentence). He spent the time with his fellow prisoners writing his manifesto, Mein Kampf, which he would use to spread his message in the years that followed.

Trump: Today, Trump has retreated to the lavish cocoon of Mar-a-Lago—not exactly prison. He emerged at CPAC to announce that he might run for president again in 2024, that he will maintain his grip on the Republican Party and that he will purge, persecute and destroy any dissenters or heretics who doubt his infallibility.

Impunity

Hitler: After the putsch Hitler was threatened with long imprisonment and, worse, deportation to his native Austria. Full punishment might have ended the Nazi movement right then. Instead, Hitler was given a gentle sentence in a vacation-like setting thanks to the right-wing sympathies of judges and elements of the public. Ultimately, his sentence was commuted to nine months.

Trump: After being impeached for incitement to insurrection, Trump was acquitted by his subservient supporters in the US Senate. He remains free to plot a return to power and find ways to broadcast his message, feeling exonerated and immune from the consequences of his actions.

A foundation of lies

Hitler: Following the putsch, Hitler and the Nazis built a foundation of giant myths and fantastic conspiracy theories: that a Jewish cabal manipulated the world to its advantage and against Germany; that Germany had lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back; that Germans needed “lebensraum,” or “living room” they could only get by conquering other nations; and that Germans were a superior race to all others.

Trump: Trump’s big lie ever since the election is that he won by a landslide; that the election was “stolen” from him; and that the presidency of Joe Biden is illegitimate. Even before the election he was lying that the election was “rigged” against him and that mail-in ballots were fraudulent. And the absurd QAnon conspiracy theory spins even more bizarre delusions for those who believe it.

Trump lied about race in his very first speech as candidate when he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals” and then became progressively worse as his presidency wore on. Today, as columnist Dana Milbank pointed out in The Washington Post: “Trump’s overt racism turned the GOP into, essentially, a white-nationalist party, in which racial animus is the main motivator of Republican votes.”

Fake news and the “lying press”

Capitol rioters attack media equipment. (Photo: AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Hitler: The Nazis used the term “Lügenpresse”—“lying press” to characterize all the media coverage they disliked and discredit all objective journalism. It actually had its origins during World War I when it was used to characterize foreign propaganda.

“At that time, the word was used more descriptively,” wrote reporter Nick Nolack in a 2016 Washington Post article. “The ugly history of ‘Lügenpresse,’ a Nazi slur shouted at a Trump rally.”

After World War I, he wrote, “it had turned into an explosive and stigmatizing propaganda slogan, used to stir hatred against Jews and communists. Critics of Adolf Hitler’s regime were frequently referred to as members of the ‘Lügenpresse apparatus.’”

From the time of the putsch to the time the Nazis joined the government in 1933, the Nazis built their own media ecosystem and started newspapers to propagate their message. They received a huge boost with the spread of the new medium of radio, which allowed Hitler to directly address the public.

Trump: Trump’s antipathy toward a free media is well known. The very first press conference of his presidency tried to promote the clearly absurd fiction that his inauguration crowds were the largest in history despite all evidence. He called journalists “enemies of the people,” tried to discredit independent reporting and promote subservient media outlets that would follow his dictates. Over the four years of his presidency the Trumpist mediasphere expanded considerably on Internet, cable television and social media.

Today, with Trump himself banned from Twitter and the social media outlets he most favored, the future of his media access and that of his followers remains an open question. However, it’s worth remembering that Hitler was banned from public speaking from the time of the putsch until 1927, leading to a decline in the Nazi Party’s fortunes. But that didn’t last.

Big smears

Hitler: Hitler had no small enemies and he had plenty of words to describe them. The Jews were “a parasite in the body of other nations,” the communists were “the scum of humanity,” non-Nazi Germans were “subhumans.”

Trump: As he put it in his CPAC speech, Trump says he is facing an “onslaught of radicalism, socialism, and indeed it all leads to communism once and for all.” All Democrats are “radical.” Anti-Trump, or even non-Trump Republicans are “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only). His history of personal insults and invective needs no recounting.

(For further reading: An excellent book about the early period in Nazi history is 1924: The Year that made Hitler, by Peter Ross Range. For a detailed account of how Hitler came to be named chancellor, see The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic by Rüdiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs.)

Vowing a comeback

Donald Trump addresses CPAC. (Image: C-SPAN)

After four years of a Trump presidency, it’s easy to draw these parallels. But the beat continues since his attempted insurrection and fall from power.

“With your help, we will take back the House,” Trump vowed at CPAC. “We will win the Senate. And then, a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. And I wonder who that will be? I wonder who that will be? Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.” 

It needs to be remembered that this is not politics as usual. It is not competition in a constitutional spirit. Trump and his movement are devoted to imposing a totalitarian, one-man rule that will admit no independent thought, political activity or disagreement. It is not just Trumpism that threatens the future, it is absolutism.

That kind of absolutism was explicitly rejected by the Founders of the United States. When they declared independence and wrote the Constitution, they were not only rebelling against a distant king, they were making a clean break from 250 previous years of religious warfare, massacre and bloodshed. From the time of Martin Luther, Catholic and Protestant monarchs had sought to impose their visions of one true, absolute faith on the populations—and minds—of Europe and Britain.

Americans rejected the kind of absolutism that would not admit or tolerate dissent or free thought or reasoned argument. It’s why the very first clause of the First Amendment prohibits establishment of a national religion and allows free worship—and by extension free thought—for all.

Trumpism is a throwback to dark days of dogma and doctrine. It admits no other way, no loyal opposition and no reasoned discussion. It is absolute in its demand for loyalty and obedience, as evidenced by the censure and condemnation of Republican lawmakers who voiced dissenting opinions and followed their consciences in dealing with Trump. In its fascistic universe, only the gospel of Trump can be admitted and even if Trump himself steps down from leadership or passes from this earth, those who seek to carry forth this creed in his name are promoting a rigid authoritarianism.

In the years to come, as shown, Trumpists will try to carry out this program through the electoral and constitutional system. They will run for office at all levels of government, from dogcatcher to the presidency. They will introduce restrictive and anti-democratic laws and regulations. They will seek to impose their will on everything from school boards to county councils to Congress.

Suppressing votes

Under new Florida proposals, the number of ballot boxes would be reduced. (Photo: Author)

Voter suppression is an integral part of this effort. It is an attempt to end democracy.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of late February, Republican lawmakers in 33 states had introduced, filed or carried over more than 165 bills to restrict voting through various devices. This was well over four times the number of such bills last year. These include limiting mail-in voting, imposing stricter identification requirements, slashing voter registration opportunities and more aggressively purging voter rolls.

But it even goes beyond voter suppression. In his article on state and local Trumpism, Bacon points out that Trumpers have more power in state legislatures, face less scrutiny, and are stronger than traditional establishment Republicans based in Washington, DC. They can gerrymander at will, censure or recall heretical officials and crush non-Trumper challengers at the state level.

Anti-Democratic voter suppression efforts are not just aimed at winning the 2022 elections by reducing Democratic or minority turnout. Nor are they just a response to Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was tainted or fraudulent or improper. They are part of a holistic movement aimed at ending democracy and imposing authoritarian autocracy over the United States.

“A Republican Party that seems increasingly unwilling to abide by democratic norms could install officials in key swing states who basically won’t allow a Democrat to win any election. That possibility is real, and would present an incredible threat to American democracy,” wrote Bacon.


When winning just isn’t enough

Rep. Byron Donalds adjusts his mask while denouncing HR 1, a bill to prevent voter suppression. (Image: C-SPAN)

Florida, by all accounts, had perhaps the smoothest and most trouble-free election of all states in 2020. Mail-in ballots were counted early, in-person voting ran efficiently, and results were reported swiftly and accepted as accurate. There were no reports of voter fraud. It is a point of pride for the governor and the state.

What is more, Republicans swept virtually every office they contested. The entire state government—executive, legislative and judicial—is in Republican hands.

But winning is not enough; Republicans, and especially Trumper Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in particular, want to ensure that there is absolutely no chance of losing power in 2022—or ever.

In the state Senate Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-12-Sumter County) introduced Senate Bill 90 in February to reduce the time Floridians would have to apply for mail-in ballots. The bill is currently under consideration.

DeSantis, while lauding the state’s successful 2020 election, has called for a variety of measures to restrict voting, like outlawing ballot “harvesting” (collecting numerous mail-in or absentee ballots by an outside party to submit them in one batch) by volunteers (collection by paid professionals is currently illegal), reducing the number of ballot collection boxes, and restricting mail-in ballots only to voters who specifically request them rather than sending them to all voters in a jurisdiction (which does not happen anyway in Florida).

For all this, Florida is not the most voter-suppressive state. According to the Brennan Center, “Arizona leads the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021, with 19 restrictive bills. Pennsylvania comes in second with 14 restrictive policy proposals, followed by Georgia (11 bills), and New Hampshire (10 bills).”

As if the onslaught on voting in Florida was insufficient, in the US Congress one Florida member, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the Southwest corner of the state, fought the For the People Act, (House Resolution  (HR) 1), which seeks to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy.”

Donalds, whose congressional campaign was heavily funded by right-wing super political action committees like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, took to the House floor and in a one-minute speech (with an added 15 seconds because his mask kept slipping off his face), called HR 1, “really just a takeover of elections by Washington, DC.”

While lauding Florida’s voting system as “the very best election laws in these United States,” Donalds concluded: “the people of the State of Florida definitely do not want the things that are in this bill. Our system is the best. Frankly, leave Florida alone.”

Donalds’ speech raises the question: If Florida’s voting system is the best in the country, why are the governor and Republican state legislators trying so hard to change it—and in a restrictive, suppressive manner, no less?

Perhaps the best answer came from Manny Diaz, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party: “This is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, but instead an issue of Republicans versus democracy. Florida Republicans keep showing us that when given a choice between defending the rights of voters, or suppressing voter access, disturbingly they will all too gladly suppress, harm and sacrifice our most sacred constitutional right on the altar of preserving power for the sake of power.”


Recognizing the danger

Attendants wheel a golden idol of Donald Trump into CPAC. (Image: William Turton/Twitter)

Fortunately, the danger to American democracy is well recognized and countermeasures are starting up.

On Saturday, March 7, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the federal government “to promote and defend the right to vote for all Americans who are legally entitled to participate in elections.” The federal government, states the order, will “expand access to, and education about, voter registration and election information, and…combat misinformation, in order to enable all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.”

The order was issued in light of the likelihood that HR 1 would fail in the Senate without a two-thirds majority to pass.

Elsewhere, lawmakers are introducing voter expansion bills in their state legislatures. But in states like Florida where Trumpers dominate, they are unlikely to succeed.

Nonetheless, those who favor democracy—democrats with a small “d” of whatever political allegiance—can take action. They can:

  • Fight voter suppression at the state and local levels by lobbying, pressuring their legislators and protesting against any anti-democratic measures;
  • Immediately challenge such measures in court if they pass in the legislature;
  • Run for all available elected offices at all levels;
  • Stay alert to Trumpist efforts to undermine democracy, promote authoritarian conspiracy theories and spread big lies and expose them to the light of day by whatever means available;
  • Report illegal, seditious or criminal activities to relevant law enforcement agencies;
  • Volunteer to aid voter registration efforts and serve in local election offices and at polling stations;
  • Organize to actively assist candidates who support democracy and voting access.

Most of all, people need to be aware that the struggle to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and democracy is now a long game. It’s been going on since the Constitution was ratified but currently it’s in a new, domestic, post-Trump, post-insurrection phase. It is going to play out over many election cycles and decades.

People should not be lulled into thinking that because Trump and his cultists are in remission at the moment, that they are finished. That’s what Germans thought after the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch. Instead, the Nazi movement entered a new phase of steady effort until it achieved a breakthrough 10 years later (and, by the way, Nazis never actually won over a majority of Germans prior to 1933).

This is not to minimize the major differences between Germany in 1923 and America in 2021. There are also significant differences between Hitler and Trump (not least that Hitler was 34 years old at the time of the putsch with a full career ahead of him and Trump is 74). But still, the similarities are worrisome.

However, being aware of history can give true patriots the tools to determine a better course for the United States.

People are fond of quoting the aphorism, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

The phrase, though, holds within it the solution to the problem it poses—because those who do know history can keep it from happening again.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg