• With a New Criminal Complaint, Cuomo’s Legal Exposure Is Growing

    Seth Wenig/Pool/Getty

    A former staffer who says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo groped her breast without consent has filed a criminal complaint against the governor with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, according to reports in the New York Post and other outlets on Friday. The new filing significantly escalates Cuomo’s legal exposure; the sheriff’s office is now investigating. If the complaint is substantiated, Albany Sheriff Craig Apple told the Post, Cuomo could be arrested.

    The woman—known as “Executive Assistant #1” in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report—is one of 11 victims of sexual harassment or other misconduct whose claims have already been investigated and substantiated by lawyers contracted by James’ office. That report found that the governor’s behavior included “unwelcome and nonconsensual touching,” as well as “numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.” Not only did the governor break federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment, the report concluded, his response to allegations of sexual harassment from one woman, Lindsey Boylan, involved illegal retaliation.

    Up till now, none of the women victimized by Cuomo have opted to make a criminal complaint—instead seeking justice and accountability though other means, like speaking out publicly, calling for his impeachment, and preparing a civil lawsuit against him. The experience of Executive Assistant #1, who has not been publicly identified, was revealed in March after a supervisor noticed her becoming emotional while Cuomo gave a press conference denying some of the first sexual harassment allegations made against him.

    According to James’ report, Cuomo had been treating his assistant inappropriately since late 2019—hugging and kissing her, touching and grabbing her butt, and asking if she’d cheat on her husband or help find him a girlfriend. In November 2020, after the assistant was called to the Executive Mansion to help with a minor technical issue, Cuomo slammed the door, slid his hand up her shirt, and groped her without consent. “At that moment it was so quick and he didn’t say anything and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God,'” the assistant told investigators. “I feel like I was being taken advantage of and at that moment that’s when I thought to myself okay, I can’t tell anyone.”

    Legal experts interviewed by the New York Times said the Cuomo’s behavior constitutes forcible touching, a misdemeanor. 

    The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has reported the complaint to Albany County District Attorney David Soares, according to the Post. Soares is one of four district attorneys around the state who have opened criminal probes into Cuomo’s behavior in the wake of James’ report.

    Meanwhile, Cuomo could soon be in another legal battle, this one civil. A lawyer for Lindsey Boylan—whose confidential personnel files were leaked by Cuomo and his staff after she came forward about governor’s harassment—said Thursday that she would be pursuing a lawsuit against the Cuomo and his aides, claiming retaliation. Cuomo has denied all allegations of retaliation, as well as sexual harassment and misconduct.

    In a particularly gutting confluence of these women’s stories, Executive Assistant #1 was enlisted to search for Wite-Out to remove some names from Boylan’s personnel files. “I would be in the room when they were actively trying to discredit her,” she told investigators. “They were actively trying to portray a different story of it. Trying to make her seem like she was crazy.” Her fear of reprisal if she reported what Cuomo did to her only grew as she witnessed the campaign to smear Boylan. Seeing that, she told investigators, dissuaded her from reporting the governor’s misconduct. “I was going to take this to the grave,” she decided.

    Now, while Albany County authorities investigate her complaint and deliberate on whether to bring criminal charges against the governor, the New York State Assembly is wrapping up an impeachment probe. Cuomo’s legal team has a deadline of August 13 to provide additional evidence in his defense. In addition to the many former Cuomo allies—from President Joe Biden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who have called for the governor to resign, Cuomo has also lost support from perhaps the most crucial figure in his last-ditch attempt to hold on to power: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who controls the impeachment proceedings.

    “After our conference this afternoon to discuss the Attorney General’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office,” Heastie said in a statement on Tuesday. “Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the Attorney General, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.”

    This piece has been updated.

  • Hundreds of Thousands Are Expected at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Starting Today—Last Year’s COVID Spread Be Damned

    Michael Ciaglo/Getty

    While the Delta variant continues to drive new COVID outbreaks and hospital bed shortages around the country, an estimated 700,000 people are expected to pack into a small South Dakota town this week for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—a 10-day bacchanal of bikers from around the country and the world. 

    During last year’s rally—one of the largest public gatherings held in the first part of the pandemic—the virus spread from body to body as attendees expressed defiance at COVID restrictions by packing into bars, music venues, and restaurants. Almost none wore masks. The event, CDC researchers wrote in a study published this summer, had “many characteristics of a superspreading event: large crowds, high intensity of contact between people, potential for highly infectious individuals traveling from hotspots, and events in poorly ventilated indoor environments.” Contact tracers identified 463 attendees and 163 secondary and tertiary contacts who got COVID as a result of the rally—including 17 people hospitalized and one who died.

    But these numbers underestimate the rally’s true impact on viral spread nationally, CDC researchers concluded, because attendees with mild or asymptomatic illness may not have been tested. On the other hand, an analysis by a group of economists, while not peer reviewed, gives an idea of the upper limit of Sturgis’ impact. Their study, which analyzed anonymized cell phone location data and COVID case rates by county, estimated that last year’s rally was responsible for more than 266,000 new COVID cases nationwide. “The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” the economists wrote. (Read a critique of their conclusions here.) 

    The CDC researchers, meanwhile, implied in their recent paper that this year’s rally should be postponed. “Recent modeling suggests that interventions such as postponing voluntary, mass events may be the most viable option to maintain epidemic control in an unvaccinated population,” they wrote. If postponement was “not an option,” the researchers continued, they recommended public messaging on the risks the event posed for unvaccinated people; mitigation strategies like masking, distancing, and quarantining; and mass COVID testing during and after the event. 

    While rally organizers will reportedly offer free masks, coronavirus tests, and hand sanitizer, there will be not be a screening process to ensure attendees have been vaccinated or tested negative recently for the coronavirus. “There’s a risk associated with everything that we do in life,” tweeted the state’s Republican governor Kristi Noem, who will participate in a charity ride. “Bikers get that better than anyone.” 

    Over the past 14 days, the county that is home to Sturgis has seen an uptick in COVID cases and hospitalizations, while the vaccination rate remains far below the national average. 

    The rally starts Friday.

  • Andrew Cuomo Is Relying on an Old, Sexist Lie About Sexual Assault Survivors

    Brendan McDermid/Pool/Getty

    Tucked amid the nauseating revelations contained in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ 165-page report on sexual harassment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a particularly striking line. Defending himself against allegations from Charlotte Bennett—a former staffer who had previously disclosed to the governor that she had survived sexual violence—Cuomo argued that because of Bennett’s experience as a survivor, she “processed what she heard through her own filter” and that “it was often not what was said and not what was meant.”

    In other words, the governor was claiming that experiencing sexual violence made Bennett oversensitive and out of touch with reality, to the point that she heard things he never said.

    The idea that survivors of sexual violence are delusional or ill-equipped to identify boundary violations and abusive behavior—a permutation of the old sexist trope of the “hysterical woman”—crops up pretty regularly. In 2018, the Washington Post banned a national politics reporter, Felicia Sonmez, from reporting on sexual misconduct after she identified herself as a sexual assault survivor. According to a lawsuit Sonmez filed last month against the paper and its top editors, one of the reasons she was given for the ban was that her very decision to identify herself as a survivor made her an advocate, and thus an unreliable journalist, on the topic of sexual violence.

    In another recent example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faced ridicule from the right when she disclosed during a livestream in the wake of 1/6 that she was a survivor of sexual assault. Ocasio-Cortez had been tapping into her past experience to more fully describe her fear while rioters stormed the Capitol complex, and to explain how lawmakers who insisted on moving on after the riot were using “the tactics of abusers.” Yet critics accused her of gratuitously invoking trauma and fabricating parts of her experience with the Capitol riot.

    Ocasio-Cortez, in her disclosure, was making an implicit argument: That having experience with abuse makes her more competent at identifying it. In any other context, this is a no-brainer. But it’s an authority our culture denies to survivors of sexual violence.

    This inconsistency is not lost on Bennett, who on Tuesday night gave a point-by-point rebuttal of Cuomo’s defenses in an interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.

    “The governor admitted that he asked you questions that he doesn’t normally ask people because you told him you were a survivor of sexual assault,” O’Donnell said. “Do you think he’s gaslighting you?”

    “Absolutely,” Bennett replied. “He’s trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship.”

    Not only is it easy for the governor to justify his behavior to the public by citing generational and cultural differences, Bennett argued, it was also easy for Cuomo to use Bennett’s background as a survivor to claim that she had misinterpreted him.

    “I am not confused,” she said. “It is not confusing. I am living in reality.”

    That reality has now been meticulously documented by James, whose report relies not only on Bennett’s testimony but on contemporaneous text messages and interviews with other state employees who worked in proximity to the governor. According to James’ findings, Cuomo made numerous “inappropriate comments” to Bennett, including:

    (1) telling Ms. Bennett, in talking about potential girlfriends for him, that he would be willing to date someone who was as young as 22 years old (he knew Ms. Bennett was 25 at the time);

    (2) asking her whether she had been with older men;

    (3) saying to her during the pandemic that he was “lonely” and “wanted to be touched”;

    (4) asking whether Ms. Bennett was monogamous;

    (5) telling Ms. Bennett, after she told him that she was considering getting a tattoo for her birthday, that if she decided to get a tattoo, she should get it on her butt, where it could not be seen;

    (6) asking whether she had any piercings other than her ears; and

    (7) saying that he wanted to ride his motorcycle into the mountains with a woman.

    Now it’s up to the New York State Assembly, and its speaker, Carl Heastie, to respond to that reality.

    Watch Bennett’s interview here.

  • You Know Evictions Are Coming When Court Deputies Get Vaccinated En Masse

    Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) leads a protest against the eviction moratorium's expiration at the US Capitol.Jose Luis Magana/AP

    In New Orleans, court deputies are gearing up to evict tenants from their homes after the federal eviction moratorium expired over the weekend. Yesterday, local officials announced a new preparation requirement: All of the deputies tasked with enforcing these evictions must get vaccinated in the next two weeks.  

    Constable Edwin M. Shorty Jr, who oversees law enforcement for one of the city’s courts, told a local TV station that he expected the courts to be at capacity in the coming weeks. The vaccine mandate, he said, would ensure the safety of the deputies conducting evictions, while also reducing the risk of COVID transmission to members of the public.

    The nationwide eviction moratorium that expired over the weekend was put in place shortly after the start of the pandemic—when unemployment began to hit historic highs during COVID lockdowns that shuttered businesses, and poverty rates started to spike. The Centers for Disease Control enacted the moratorium specifically because mass evictions pushing families into homelessness or couch-surfing would pose a grave health risk, fueling further spread of COVID infections.

    Now it appears that New Orleans is trying to insulate its deputies from infection, while subjecting tenants to these exact health risks as the Delta variant is surging. And the evictions will take place as only 37 percent of Louisiana residents are fully vaccinated, and as COVID-19 cases in New Orleans are on the rise: Over the weekend, the city’s mayor restored the city’s mask mandate after emergency medical responders told her that the case numbers had gotten so high that EMS could not keep up with the volume of 911 calls.

    Meanwhile, several members of Congress have been camped out on the steps of the US Capitol since this weekend, pushing to reconvene the House, which is currently on recess, to pass eviction protections. The Biden administration has also called on Congress to enact a new eviction ban, saying that the administration doesn’t have the legal authority to enact an eviction ban on its own, after the Supreme Court signaled in a June decision that further extensions by the CDC would be unlawful.

    “We have to reconvene the House and vote to reinstate the eviction moratorium to put an end to the eviction emergency,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who is leading the action at the Capitol steps. “11 million lives and livelihoods are on the line.”

  • DOJ: Russian Hackers Had Access to Top US Prosecutors’ Emails

    AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

    Russian hackers broke into email accounts in 27 US attorneys’ offices over the course of seven months in 2020, the US Department of Justice announced Friday. It had been previously reported that multiple US federal government agencies had been breached through a third-party IT contractor called SolarWinds, including the Department of Justice. But on Friday the department offered more detail, including the districts where one or more employees’ email accounts were accessed.

    While every US attorney could make the case that their office handles sensitive case work, Friday’s update included offices that deal with some of the most complex financial and international criminal prosecutions, including the Southern District of New York, the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the Eastern District of Virginia. The Southern District of New York, for example, has handled past prosecutions related to former President Donald J. Trump, and is reportedly investigating Trump ally and former attorney Rudy Giuliani related to his efforts in Ukraine and his dealings with Russian figures to dig up dirt on President Biden and his family.

    “The Department is responding to this incident as if the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group responsible for the SolarWinds breach had access to all email communications and attachments” within the breached accounts between May 7, 2020, and December 27, 2020, the agency said in a statement. This includes “all sent, received, and stored emails and attachments found within those accounts during that time.” Especially hard hit were the Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of New York, where “at least 80 percent” of employees’ email accounts were breached, the agency said.

    “APT” is cybersecurity industry and intelligence jargon for a group or groups belonging to or backed by a nation state which gain access to and maintain a presence over a period of time and carry out reconnaissance, espionage, sabotage, or other missions. In this case, the US government has formally accused the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service of being behind the attacks, a charge the Russian government has denied. In April the Biden administration announced sanctions on the Russian government over the attack.

    Jennifer Rodgers, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York, told the Associated Press that these kinds of emails frequently contain all sorts of sensitive information such as case strategy discussions and names of confidential informants.

  • Brazil’s 13-Year-Old Skateboard Phenom Rayssa Leal Is Hands Down the Best Part of the Olympics So Far

    Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.Kyodonews/ZUMA

    Rayssa Leal was only 7 when she went viral. In early September 2015, millions of people watched the video of the then-7-year-old skateboarder, dressed in a bright blue fairy costume, fall twice before triumphantly landing a heelflip. One of them was skateboarding legend Tony Hawk: 

    Fast-forward to 2021 and the Olympics in Japan, and Leal, now 13, has just become Brazil’s youngest-ever Olympic medalist, winning second place in the women’s street skateboarding competition. 

    I grew up in Brazil and lived in Rio until recently and I can confirm that Leal, who was born in Imperatriz in the northeastern state of Maranhão, is an absolute sensation back home. The sport is making its Olympic debut this year, and in the early Monday hours, Brazilians tuned in to cheer “one of the stars at the Tokyo Games” as she won the country’s second silver—joining fellow Brazilian skater Kevin Hoefler—and third overall medal in Japan. Leal scored 14.64 points and finished just a spot behind another 13-year-old prodigy, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, who earned 15.26 points. The hug and fist bump between the two girls after the results came in might have been the best moment of these Olympics so far: 

    Despite her youth, Leal has quite an impressive resume. She started skating when she was 6. In 2019, at the age of 11, she became the youngest skater to win a women’s final at the Street Skateboarding League World Tour event in Los Angeles and made it to second place in the world ranking. A year later, she received a nomination for the Laureus Award, the equivalent of the Oscars for sports. 

    “I’m living a dream,” she wrote to her 4.6 million followers on Instagram just days before this week’s final. She also thanked Hawk for introducing her to the world of skateboarding. 

    Leal could be seen cheerfully performing viral TikTok dance challenges in between rounds of tricks, until her effortless execution in the final competitive round. After the final, she celebrated her victory with even more dancing alongside a fellow competitor, the equally charismatic Margie Didal from the Philippines.  

    Across social media in Brazil, the phrase “I believe in fairies” is trending. In a fractured country struggling to resurface from a ravaging pandemic amid a seemingly never-ending political crisis, Leal emerges as a rare source of consensus and pride. She has been hailed as someone all Brazilians can gather around, support, and be inspired by. She’s the best Brazil has and a much-needed reminder of everything the country can aspire to. One popular singer praised Leal for rescuing the country’s flag from a denier government. “‘Once upon a time there was a girl who loved her skateboard and had a dream.’ And so begins a true Fairy Tale that made all Brazilians smile today,” soccer legend Pelé wrote in a post. “You are truly a ‘Fairy’, which makes us believe that even the most difficult dreams can come true.” 

  • Cleveland’s Baseball Team Changes Name to Guardians

    The Guardians of Traffic sculptures at the east end of the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland Mark Duncan/AP

    Meet the new guardians of the Great Lakes.

    The Cleveland Indians announced on Friday they would become the Cleveland Guardians following the 2021 baseball season, after Native American groups decried their name and logo as racist.  

    The news was announced in a video narrated by none other than (California native) Tom Hanks.

    The new name refers to the famous Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River just outside the ballpark, which features eight giant figures representing the Guardians of Traffic.

    The Indians announced they were considering a name-change last summer during the public reckoning over racism following the murder of George Floyd.

    “Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them,” team owner Paul Dolan said in a statement in December. “We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”

    Cleveland was famous as the first team in the American League to integrate. In 1947, owner Bill Veeck hired Larry Doby, a Black player, only a few months after Jackie Robinson broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year, Cleveland won the league with Doby and the legendary Black pitcher Satchel Paige—who made his Major League debut at age 42 with Cleveland in 1948 after spending his career in the Negro Leagues. Cleveland still has not won a World Series since then.

    Some Republicans immediately tried to turn this name change into their latest front in the culture wars, with Sen. Ted Cruz tweeting “Why does MLB hate Indians,” seemingly missing the entire point of the name change, and then ludicrously suggesting that Boston would be forced to abandon being called the Celtics.

    The Washington Football Team has yet to choose a new name.

  • A Running List of the Petty Tyranny at the Olympics

    Beatrice Masilingi, Sha’Carri Richardson and Ona CarbonellMother Jones illustration; Getty; ZUMA Press

    As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the globe, and the cost of the Tokyo Olympics skyrockets, the International Olympic Committee and its satellite arms are busying themselves by cracking down on dress codes, recreational drug use, and peaceful protests—you know, the important stuff.

    We’re keeping track of its inane policing:

    • Namibia’s National Olympic Committee disqualifies 18-year-old athletes Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi from running the women’s 400-meter race due to testosterone levels that the committee said were too high to let them compete. (In sex-testing athletes, “people are overdetermining testosterone’s effects in ways that don’t fit with what we know scientifically,” Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis told us in 2016.)
    • Sha’Carri Richardson, a US favorite for the women’s 100-meter sprint, is caught with pot in her system and suspended for 30 days—meaning she won’t be able to compete in the event in Tokyo. Writes Mother Jones‘ Nathalie Baptiste: “Did smoking a little weed give her any kind of unfair advantage? No. Did she break the law? No. Richardson smoked in Oregon, where adults are legally allowed to partake. Simply put, it’s an archaic rule and, of course, it impacts vulnerable women.”
    • Soul Cap, a company that makes headwear specifically for more voluminous hair types, is rejected by the International Swimming Federation (FINA), meaning Black swimmers can’t use its caps at the Olympics. (FINA later said it is “reviewing” its decision.)
    • Spanish synchronized swimmer Ona Carbonell’s son Kai, who is still breastfeeding, is forbidden from staying in Tokyo’s Olympic Village with his mother (and source of critical sustenance) during the Games.

    • The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers ban their social media teams from posting photos of any athletes taking a knee in protest before an event, even though the IOC recently relaxed its rules to allow acts of protest inside  Olympic venues—except if it is targeted, disruptive, or happens on the podium.
    • Australian showjumper Jamie Kermond is banned from the country’s Olympic team after testing positive for cocaine. Kermond, who was set to make his Olympic debut, stated he’d indulged recreationally one time. Cocaine falls under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances, a sprawling and idiotic exercise in authoritarian control whose only virtue is that it introduced the world to the hilariously monikered Dick Pound.

    Top image credit: Mother Jones illustration; Joel Marklund/Bildbyran via ZUMA Press; Patrick Smith/Getty Images; Clive Rose/Getty Images

  • I Am Simply Asking if Ashton Kutcher Is a CIA Asset

    Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    John Krasinski, it gives me no pleasure to inform you that there is a new stereotypically attractive white guy in Hollywood who very publicly loves the Central Intelligence Agency. Ashton Kutcher is coming for you.

    You’re thinking, “the bonehead from ‘That ’70s Show‘ is a CIA asset? The guy who sat on a stool and scared the shit out of celebrities before popping out and cooly telling them ‘you’ve been Punk’d’?”

    The thought never crossed my mind about Kutcher’s relation to the security state until today when I stumbled onto an Instagram post of two screenshots from his Twitter. The tweets:

    From 2009: “spent the afternoon picking the brain of a former CIA guy. It really makes you wonder if anything you come in contact w/ is not manipulated.”

    From 2018: “Just sending out a morning shout to the men and woman of the intelligence community that keep us safe and protect our country. #gratitude #ty,” with a photo of a haggard pic of Kutcher drinking his morning joe out of a CIA mug.

    OK. What’s going on here? I went to Twitter and saw a separate Kutcher video had gone viral. In it, Kutcher explains how TikTok might actually (at least partially) be a Chinese psyop to influence the minds of Americans. (TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.) 

    “If I’m China and I want to think about a problem in that area of the world, specifically a naval problem in that area of the world, in the South China Sea, I would probably want to use TikTok to influence the minds of Americans in an anti-U.S. propaganda, anti-Taiwanese propaganda effort,” Kutcher said on American Optimist, the podcast of venture capitalist and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, “to make any kind of war from the United States extraordinarily unpopular in order to defend the South China Sea.”

    There is a tremendous meta-irony in Kutcher, a famous and well-liked celebrity, talking about the Chinese government using entertainment to influence American sentiment about geopolitics, as he talks about geopolitics.

    Maybe he just reads the Economist a lot and has become a hawkish foreign policy guy as a hobby. I don’t know, but it’s weird. So, as a professional journalist, I tried to ask him about it.

    “Does Ashton do any work with the CIA or other U.S. national security agencies/does he want to?” I wrote in one of the most stupid but justified emails I’ve ever sent in my life to the PR company that represents Kutcher, K21. I haven’t heard anything back yet, and I don’t think I will.

    Google was obviously not much more helpful than K21 but I still found an article that is in the weird matrix of Ashton Kutcher’s fascination with the CIA and American geopolitical interests.

    In 2018, on the red carpet for the premiere of “The Spy Who Dumped Me” an ET reporter asked Mila Kunis, whose ex-boyfriend ends up being a spy, about how she’d react if she found out Ashton Kutcher was a spy.

    “I’d be like, ‘I knew it!'” she responded. “I wouldn’t put it past him…He also has multiple jobs, like, not everything adds up where I’m like, ‘What do you really do? What is this office you claim to go to, and why is there many different locations of this office?”

    Maybe Kunis wanted to give an interesting answer as she promoted her new movie (this is likely), or maybe she was using a reverse psychology deflection (this is unlikely). Who’s to say?

    Maybe you’re wondering “If Kutcher was a CIA asset wouldn’t he want to be secretive about it?” You clearly haven’t lived in D.C. if you think that. People who probably work in the intelligence community in D.C. desperately want you to know that they do while being cagey about it. The “tell me you’re [x] without telling me you’re [x]” meme format was potentially accidentally created by some 26-year-old intelligence analyst in Arlington who was workshopping ways to get Tinder dates without getting in trouble at work.

    You know you’ve come across one when you meet and they, in a very practiced but somehow slightly giddy voice, tell you the work in “the government” with no further explanation when you ask. No one just says they work in “the government” without specifying unless they work in intel, which is the point.

    So yes, Kutcher would act like this if he was a CIA asset. If you think the CIA is cool enough to shill for, you’re going to think it’s cool enough to be associated with, even if you can’t officially be. You’re going to desperately want to be associated. The other explanation is that he just wants people to think this, which is just as (maybe more) likely.

    Either way, I don’t know. I’m just asking the questions—specifically about if Ashton Kutcher is an asset of the CIA.

  • I Can’t Stop Staring at This Siberian Mosquito Tornado

    Take a look, if you dare:

    Exceptionally heavy rains, the kind that are sometimes linked to human-created climate change, can create new wet areas where mosquitos lay eggs and bring about frightening swarms after hatching. But according to the Twitter account of the Siberian Times, a highly followable English-language content creator from Russia’s far east, what you’re seeing here—roughly 1 gazillion male insects circling and looking for females—is typical Siberian summer fare.

    And while I’m no entomologist, the size of the swarm suggests these bugs have a long, successful record of finding and mating with each other.

  • Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene Can’t Find Anyone Willing to Host Their California Rally

    Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene address a rally on May 7 in The Villages, Florida. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

    Two of the most controversial Republican members of Congress, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, were planning to hold a California rally this evening. The trouble is that venues keep canceling on them. 

    On Saturday, after two other venues had backed out, the M3 Live Anaheim Event Center also scrapped its plans to host the pair, hours before the “America First” rally was scheduled to start.

    The Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills and the Riverside Convention Center had already canceled the event after receiving a deluge of complaints. 

    Gaetz is currently under investigation for allegedly having sex with a minor and paying prostitutes. Greene was stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year following her promotion of conspiracy theories and apparently of violence against political opponents.

    Gaetz and Greene have been hosting “America First” rallies around the country for the past two months. Gaetz told Politico that the rallies would target the “radical left” and focus on “ending America’s forever-wars, fixing the border Joe Biden broke on day one, prioritizing Americans, not illegal migrants, reshoring industries sold to foreign adversaries, ensuring real election integrity, and taking on the threat of the Chinese Communist Party.” 

  • Chicago Banker Convicted of Paying Paul Manafort Bribes to Influence Trump

    AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

    A federal jury in Manhattan convicted Chicago banker Stephen Calk of bribing Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort by approving risky loans for Manafort in exchange for his assistance in getting Calk an administration job.

    Manafort oversaw Trump’s campaign from June to August 2016, stepping down after it was revealed he may have received off-the-books payments from a deposed Ukrainian president with close ties to Russia. But after being bounced from that position, Manafort remained on friendly terms with many Trump campaign officials—and maintained influence within Trump circles. Throughout the campaign, Manafort was struggling financially, but despite being arguably a bad risk, he was able to secure $16 million in loans from The Federal Savings Bank, which Calk ran. Prosecutors showed there was a quid pro quo: Manafort got those loans and lobbied Trump transition officials, including Anthony Scaramucci, to find Calk a job in the Trump administration.

    Calk’s attorneys argued that he had done nothing wrong and that it was the wheeling-and-dealing Manafort who had committed the crimes by lying to Calk’s bank about his finances. But Calk was convicted on one count of bribery and a related conspiracy charge. He faces up to 35 years in federal prison. Manafort himself was convicted on a number of money laundering and tax fraud charges in 2018. A jury hung on the question of whether he had committed bank fraud during his interactions with The Federal Savings Bank. Trump pardoned Manafort shortly before leaving office.

    During Calk’s trial, prosecutors demonstrated that Calk had pushed his bank to give Manafort the loans, while pressing Manafort to help him join Trump’s inner circle of advisers on the campaign and later the administration. Within days of the bank approving the first set of loans to Manafort, Manafort had Calk appointed to the Trump campaign’s council of economic advisers. On election night 2016, Calk texted Manafort about the status of another loan he had requested. Manafort subsequently leaned on Trump transition officials to consider Calk for a position.

    One of the prosecution’s star witnesses was New York City financier Anthony Scaramucci, who advised the Trump transition and briefly served in Trump’s White House in 2017. He described how Manafort had approached him after the election and promoted Calk as a good choice for an administration job. Scaramucci said Manafort never mentioned that there was a financial relationship between him and Calk. Scaramucci testified that Calk pestered him for weeks with text messages asking for updates on Calk’s status as potential presidential appointee. 

    Calk never was appointed to an administration job. He will be sentenced in January. 

  • Texas Dems to Biden, Congress: Show the Same Courage We’ve Shown to Protect Voting Rights

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP

    Texas House Democrats—who fled the state in a bold move to halt the advancement of a sweeping voter suppression bill—urged the White House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday to pass federal voting rights legislation. 

    At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, the group of Democrats specifically called on Biden and Congress to demonstrate “the same courage” they had shown by traveling to the nation’s capital during a special legislative session that had been called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has since threatened to arrest the more than 50 Democrats who fled. As they did in a statement confirming their plans to boycott the session before hopping aboard two private planes on Monday, the group once again hailed both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act as examples of model legislation for protecting voting rights at the federal level and implored Congress to pass them.

    “We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas,” Texas Rep. Rhetta Bowers said in a press conference flanked by some of her fellow state Democrats. “We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas. And we can’t stay here indefinitely, to run out the clock, to stop Republican anti-voter bills.” Bowers said that although Texas Democrats would use “everything in our power to fight back,” they ultimately needed Congress to act with the same urgency. 

    “We are not going to buckle to the ‘big lie’ in the state of Texas—the ‘big lie’ that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States,” Rep. Rafael Anchia added.

    Abbott on Monday vowed to arrest the Democrats that had walked out on the session, thus denying the state’s House of Representatives the two-thirds quorum required to conduct official state business. In recent weeks, Texas Republicans, led by Abbott, have aggressively pushed to enact a sweeping set of bills that seek to ban drive-through and 24-hour voting, add new ID requirements for mail voting, and prohibit election officials from proactively sending out absentee ballot request forms.

    “As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” Abbott threatened on Monday. Other Republicans in the state blasted their Democratic counterparts for staging a publicity stunt.

    Tuesday’s press conference came hours ahead of President Biden’s much-anticipated speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, where he’ll make a forceful condemnation of Republican efforts to enact voter suppression laws. His message, however, is not expected to include support for ending the Senate’s filibuster rules, which advocates say stand in the way of passing meaningful protections for voting rights. 

  • Days After a Threat From Biden, a Major Ransomware Group Goes Dark

    Hollandse-Hoogte/Zuma

    A prolific ransomware group that was behind some of the year’s most prominent online attacks has gone dark—at least for now.

    Websites used by REvil, whose software is thought to have been used to target meatpacker JBS in late May, and, more recently, software company Kaseya, were unaccessible on Tuesday, according to multiple information security researchers.

    Given that President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call just last week that the US might take action against ransomware groups operating from Russia if the Russian government didn’t, speculation quickly turned to some sort of American plot. Shortly after the presidents’ conversation, a Biden administration official told reporters that such actions were imminent, warning, according to the New York Times, that while some aspects of the response would “be manifest and visible…some of them may not be. But we expect that those take place in the days and weeks ahead.” 

    REvil has long been thought to be run out of Russia, targeting a range of large, small, prominent, and obscure entities. The outfit provides ransomware software to affiliates, splitting any eventual payout. In the JBS case, they reportedly netted $11 million. The attack on Kaseya, which emerged as the US headed into the July 4 weekend, affected thousands of companies in 17 countries that use its IT infrastructure services.

    Allan Liska, a ransomware expert at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, told Bloomberg that the group’s extortion page—where companies’ data was posted as proof—was unavailable on Tuesday, as were the group’s payment portals and chat functions.

    Brett Callow, a ransomware expert with cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, told Mother Jones Tuesday morning that, despite the administration’s threats, it was “far too early to read anything into this,” explaining that site has a history of outages. “This could be a temporary outage due to infrastructure upgrades or a disruption by law enforcement or REvil pulling the plug to sail off into the sunset,” Callow cautioned. Other researchers echoed the sentiment.

    The FBI and US Cyber Command declined requests for comment.

  • Twitter Finally Bans Nick Fuentes

    Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via AP

    For years, extremism experts have wondered why Nick Fuentes, a white-nationalist media figure, has been able to maintain a verified Twitter account. Even through denying the Holocaust, attending the 2017 violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, and frequently espousing overt racism, he kept his privileged access to the platform.

    That didn’t change when, the day before the January 6 insurrection, he floated the idea of killing state legislators who voted to certify election results. In fact, on January 5, when asked about those comments, the company admitted they didn’t see a reason to act, telling the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s Hannah Gais and Michael Edison Hayden that at “this point, our enforcement team has not seen enough violative content from @NickJFuentes on Twitter to ban him.” That apparently remained the case for six months after he attended the next day’s riots and egged on right-wing protestors—including his followers—as they stormed the building.

    But on Friday, long after a bevy of other platforms—among them YouTube, PayPal, and TikTok—had booted him, Twitter finally stripped his access for unclear reasons. Company spokesperson Trenton Kennedy declined to specify why they did so, telling Mother Jones only that he’d been “permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules.” He declined to share more information.

    Just before his Twitter ban, Fuentes spent Friday morning tweeting about his plans to crash a Conservative Political Action Conference event this weekend in Texas, boasting to his followers that “most likely, I’ll be getting physically removed from CPAC in Dallas on Saturday.” While some conservative voices and organizations like CPAC have distanced themselves from Fuentes over his history of pro-white power and racist statements, he’s been embraced by other prominent figures on the right, including Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar

  • Advocates Say the Biden Administration’s Execution Moratorium Doesn’t Go Far Enough

    Oliver Contreras/AP

    On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a moratorium on federal executions and ordered a review of the government’s execution protocols. The move from the Department of Justice comes after the Trump administration carried out an execution spree that lasted into the final days of his presidency. “The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said in a statement. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

    The moratorium is welcomed, but anti-death penalty advocates wonder what purpose it actually serves. The Biden administration has not scheduled any federal death row inmates for executions and has pledged to not do so. The DOJ order also doesn’t commute any death sentences nor does it bar federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. “A moratorium on federal executions is one step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Ruth Friedman, a federal defender, and director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, said in a statement. 

    If the new moratorium seems like a repetition of the past, that’s because in many ways it is. In 2014, former president Barack Obama ordered a review of the government’s death penalty execution protocol in the wake of a botched execution in Oklahoma, in which Clayton Lockett struggled violently on the gurney before his execution was halted. He subsequently died an hour after the procedure began. But because the Obama administration didn’t take any additional steps to end capital punishment, Trump was free to execute a record 13 federal inmates.

    As I wrote previously, Joe Biden became the first president to publicly oppose the death penalty: 

    In its criminal justice platform, the Biden campaign pledged to abolish the death penalty at the federal level and incentivize states to follow suit. In the past, candidates avoided taking this stance on capital punishment out of fear of appearing weak on crime and soft on criminals.

    But after assuming the presidency in January, Biden was slow to follow through on his pledge. In fact, last month, the DOJ urged the US Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston marathon bomber whose sentence was overturned by a circuit court last year. The push to re-sentence Tsarnaev to death ran counter to Biden’s anti-death penalty stance and his assurance that he would end capital punishment at the federal level. However, Tsarnaev’s case is still pending in the Supreme Court, as the moratorium only halts executions and no other parts of the death penalty.

    Meanwhile, following Garland’s announcement, advocates are urging Biden to go further. “We know the federal death penalty system is marred by racial bias, arbitrariness, over-reaching, and grievous mistakes by defense lawyers and prosecutors that make it broken beyond repair,” Marcus said. If Biden doesn’t commute the sentences of the 46 remaining death row inmates “this moratorium will just leave these intractable issues unremedied and pave the way for another unconscionable bloodbath like we saw last year.”

  • The Trump Team’s New Social Media Platform Is Already Flooded With Hentai

    Mother Jones screenshot

    “Welcome to GETTR and start a new journey!” So reads an introductory message on the home page of Gettr, a right-wing social media app recently launched by a team led by Jason Miller, an ex-spokesperson of former president Donald Trump.

    That “new journey,” thanks to spam comments left en masse below the message, involves encountering things like anime porn and repeated copies of an image depicting Hillary Clinton’s head photoshopped onto another woman’s nude body.

    Major social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and its image-sharing subsidiary platform Instagram, have automated filters that root out and remove or censor nude images. At the moment, the Trump-linked social media app apparently has nothing of the kind.

    While Gettr frames itself as an anti-censorship platform—in its terms of service, Gettr notes “hold[ing] freedom of speech” is a “core value”—the company reserves the right to “address content that comes to our attention that we believe is … pornographic” alongside material that may be “offensive, obscene, lewd, lavicious, filthy… violent, harassing, threatening, abusive, illegal, or otherwise objectionable or inappropriate.”

    The app was quietly launched in June, according to Politico, but received a rush of attention on Thursday after the publication broke a story on its ties to Miller.

    The website joins a crowded and growing pool of right-wing social media sites that aim to be places of refuge for users who fled online venues that took steps to stem racist speech. As an example, Gab’s CEO has actively courted well-known antisemites to come to his platform, while maintaining a strong anti-pornography line.

    So, if you want a conservative platform and the ability to post uncensored hentai, for now, Gettr might be the website for you.

  • Nikole Hannah-Jones Finally Has Been Granted Tenure. But the Damage Is Already Done.

    Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

    Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was granted tenure by the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Board of Trustees on Wednesday evening, the latest twist in a monthslong saga that has led to bitter debates about the influence of big donors on hiring decisions, the increasingly partisan boards that govern public universities, and the conservative freakout over critical race theory.

    It is still not clear, however, whether Hannah-Jones will join the faculty at UNC–Chapel Hill, where she received a master’s degree in 2003. Her start date was originally set to be Thursday; in a statement released Wednesday, Hannah-Jones said, “These last weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process all that has occurred and determine what is the best way forward.”

    On Thursday morning, the journalism school dean, Susan King, told me that Hannah-Jones hadn’t indicated to her whether she’d decided to accept the teaching position, and that she deserved some time to let everything sink in. “Nikole Hannah-Jones isn’t just a great journalist—she’s a once-in-a-generation journalist,” King said.

    In late April, the journalism school announced that the creator of the New York Times‘ award-winning and controversial 1619 Project would become the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, noting that Knight chair professorships “are designed to bring top professionals to classrooms to teach and mentor students.” Hannah-Jones, the winner of a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2017, had become increasingly involved with the school in recent years, culminating in her induction into the NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame earlier that month.

    But almost immediately, the announcement faced stiff criticism from conservative groups, with former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, now the president of the Young America’s Foundation, calling the appointment “shameful.” And when Hannah-Jones’ appointment came up for review in May before the Board of Trustees, it chose not to make a tenure decision—leaving the journalism school to offer Hannah-Jones a five-year fixed-term position with the opportunity for a future tenure review. “It’s disappointing, it’s not what we wanted, and I am afraid it will have a chilling effect,” King told NC Policy Watch at the time.

    According to the Washington Post, it was unclear how much conservative complaints about the 1619 Project affected the board’s choice to punt on Hannah-Jones’ tenure decision. The chair of the board, Richard Y. Stevens, said in May that it wasn’t out of the ordinary for trustees to scrutinize “candidates that don’t come from a traditional academic-type background,” even though the journalism school’s two previous Knight chairs, both of whom were white and didn’t come from traditional academic backgrounds, had had no problems receiving tenure. Four of the board’s 13 members are appointed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and another eight by the UNC system Board of Governors, an overwhelmingly conservative body that includes GOP megadonor Art Pope. (The final trustee is the UNC–Chapel Hill student body president.)

    But an investigation by The Assembly‘s John Drescher uncovered emails sent by Walter Hussman Jr.—the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a UNC–Chapel Hill alum, whose $25 million donation in 2019 got his name on the school and his journalistic core values posted in the building’s foyer—to university leaders about his specific concerns with the 1619 Project. As Drescher reported:

    “I worry about the controversy of tying the UNC journalism school to the 1619 project,” Hussman wrote in a late December email to King, copying in [Chancellor Kevin] Guskiewicz and [Vice Chancellor for University Development David] Routh. “I find myself more in agreement with Pulitzer prize winning historians like James McPherson and Gordon Wood than I do Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

    “These historians appear to me to be pushing to find the true historical facts. Based on her own words, many will conclude she is trying to push an agenda, and they will assume she is manipulating historical facts to support it. If asked about it, I will have to be honest in saying I agree with the historians.” 

    The Hussman emails added a new layer to an already complicated and ugly situation. And in a subsequent interview, the millionaire donor—whose career, as Slate‘s Julia Craven points out, isn’t exactly a lesson in playing it down the middle—poured fuel on the fire, saying, “If she’s in favor of [the core principles of journalism], maybe we could work together. But if she’s opposed to them, I’m going to wonder why did she want to go to work at a journalism school where she’s opposed to the core values of the school.” Journalism faculty were quick to push back in the name of academic freedom. (Hussman has denied trying to affect the hiring process, saying in an interview, “I haven’t said to Susan King, ‘Do not hire Nikole Hannah-Jones.’ I never said that. I never said, ‘If you hire Nikole Hannah-Jones it could affect our commitment to the university or our donation.’ I never said that.”)

    Last week, Hannah-Jones’ legal team notified the university that she would not teach at the school without tenure, citing the Hussman emails and interviews as reasons for the decision. “Since signing the fixed-term contract,” her lawyers wrote, “Ms. Hannah-Jones has come to learn that political interference and influence from a powerful donor contributed to the Board of Trustees’ failure to consider her tenure application. In light of this information, Ms. Hannah-Jones cannot trust that the University would consider her tenure application in good faith during the period of the fixed-term contract.”

    Students, alumni, celebrities, and faculty—including professors at other institutions across the country—have rallied in recent weeks in support of Hannah-Jones. Her drawn-out battle, though, has led a significant number of Black professors at UNC–Chapel Hill to consider leaving the school, with some of them noting their residual anger and frustration over the way the administration and the UNC system botched the removal of the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam. Lisa Jones, a Black professor heavily recruited by the university’s chemistry department, withdrew her candidacy to join the faculty, writing, “I cannot see myself accepting a position at a university where this decision stands.”

    In the end, Hannah-Jones and her supporters won out. At the same time, the reputational damage done to the university by the trustees’ machinations, Hussman’s meddling, and the administration’s relative silence will be felt for years. But it doesn’t seem like the Board of Governors is all that concerned: Just last week, it declined to reappoint law professor Eric Muller to the UNC Press board, even while green-lighting his two colleagues up for reappointment. Sources told NC Policy Watch that Muller was singled out for his public statements on the school’s handling of the Silent Sam fiasco and broader issues regarding UNC–Chapel Hill’s failure to properly reckon with its racial history.

    As one member of the Board of Governors said, “They’re standing in the way of the system and how it usually works.”

    This story has been updated.

    Note: Ian Gordon is a graduate of the UNC–Chapel Hill journalism school and a former member of its alumni board.

  • Federal Regulator Hits Robinhood With $70 Million Fine, Its Largest Ever

    Omar Marques/AP

    On Wednesday, a federal financial regulator announced the largest financial penalty it’s ever levied—a roughly $70 million settlement—against the trading app Robinhood.

    The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) said that it had found “widespread and significant harm suffered by customers” of Robinhood, thanks to “false and misleading” information provided by the app about customer cash balances and the risks associated with trading volatile financial instruments called options. FINRA also said that millions of Robinhood customers had suffered losses during outages of the app in early March 2020 that prevented customers from capitalizing on historic stock market gains. Robinhood agreed to the fine without admitting to or denying FINRA’s findings. The company agreed to pay $12.6 million of the overall $70 million fine to harmed investors as restitution.

    FINRA specifically called out Robinhood for displaying inaccurate cash balances for more than 4 million of its customers. The app, the regulator found, displayed “buying power” on accounts that was often inflated, either showing numbers that were too high or displaying exaggerated negative balances.

    The findings specifically cite the case of “Customer A,” who was erroneously shown a negative cash balance of $730,165.72. The customer that this is referring to is almost certainly Alex Kearns, a 20-year-old college sophomore who took his own life this past June after seeing this negative balance and thinking he’d lost this sum on a trade, and whose case I profiled in a feature for Mother Jones’ July/August issue.

    In that story, I dug into the claim that Robinhood is designed to be misleading for its users in order to spur more trading. More frequent trading is financially beneficial for both Robinhood and the high-frequency trading firms that it partners with to execute the trades of its users. As I explained:

    From founding, [Robinhood’s] business model was dependent on customers trading frequently, allowing the company the chance to earn a different kind of commission—known as PFOF, or “payment for order flow”—from every transaction. The payments are essentially a finder’s fee given to Robinhood by so-called market makers, the Wall Street firms who make money executing individual investors’ trades. Since launch, Robinhood has enthusiastically embraced PFOF, arranging favorable rates that eclipsed other brokerages’, making it the company’s single largest source of revenue. The money flows evoke a key lesson of the digital age: If something is free, then you’re not the customer—you’re the product being sold.

    FINRA’s findings on Wednesday about Robinhood’s inaccurate displays of negative cash balances reflected something that I heard from several experts I spoke to in the course of my reporting, who pointed to the way that Robinhood displays losses as one of the elements of the app’s presentation that lead users to execute more trades:

    Years of research in behavioral science have shown that people who see losses are motivated to chase them, notes Schüll, like roulette players doubling down after a bad spin. She calls it “the chasing effect, where you want to gamble more on other stocks to make that up, to race to get it back.”

    And investors who trade more usually do far worse than those who take a set-it-and-forget-it approach. By building in behavioral cues aimed at getting people to trade more heavily, Robinhood is ultimately encouraging users to act against their own financial interests by making frequent trades—while PFOF and its related profits pile up for the app and its superrich collaborators.

    Robinhood has faced added scrutiny in the last year, first as it attracted millions of new investors during the pandemic, and later when it froze trading on shares of GameStop, a brick-and-mortar video game store, just as crowds of investors were driving up its price by more than 1,700 percent this past January. Two federal agencies and a congressional committee have launched probes into Robinhood’s decision to freeze trading.

    FINRA’s fine is not the first for Robinhood. The trading app was fined $1.25 million by FINRA in 2019 for violations of the duty of “best execution”—rules that require brokerages to obtain the best possible share prices for their customers. The Securities and Exchange Commission fined Robinhood $65 million for similar best-execution violations in December 2020.

    Robinhood is expected to go public sometime this summer, at a valuation of more than $30 billion. The paperwork that Robinhood filed in order to offer shares in the company is expected to become public later this week, according to the New York Times. That paperwork is likely to shed light on previously unknown elements of the business, from historical financial statements to early investors.

  • Civil Rights Groups Held the First National Rally for DC Statehood

    Organizers erect a "51" sign during a rally for DC statehood before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs holds a hearing on the issue on June 22, 2021. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP

    Inspired by the Freedom Rides 60 years ago, civil rights advocates mobilized in Washington, DC, on Saturday against the backdrop of the US Capitol for the first-ever national rally in support of DC statehood.

    Holding signs that said “Protect our freedom to vote” and “DC statehood is racial justice,” civil rights activists linked the push for DC statehood to a broader effort to counter voter suppression, calling on the Senate to protect voting rights and pass the For the People Act, a sweeping democracy protection bill that offers support for DC statehood, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which does not address statehood but would restore provisions of the VRA that were gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

    “The suppression of Black votes is white supremacist violence,” Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush said to the crowd. Despite having more people than Wyoming and Vermont, states that are almost entirely white, the diverse population of Washington, DC, which is nearly half Black, has no voting representation in Congress. That lack of representation skews power in the Senate toward whiter and more rural states, making it easier for Republicans to block bills that would protect the rights of voters of color.

    The rally was the culmination of a nine-city bus tour by the civil rights group Black Voters Matter, which retraced the steps of the Freedom Riders in 1961 who were viciously attacked by white mobs when they sought to desegregate interstate bus travel. “Just like the Freedom Riders in 1961, we are at a crisis moment for our democracy,” said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

    In April, the House passed legislation for the second time to make DC the country’s 51st state, but like other voting rights bills, it has stalled in the Senate. (The Senate held its first hearing on DC statehood recently.) Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says he does not support the bill, but even if every Democrat did, they would still need to abolish the 60-vote requirement to pass it.

    Democrats could abolish the filibuster with just 51 votes—another strong argument for why they should want DC to become a state.