CPAC Seems Very Confused About Whether or Not It Wants to Embrace the Alt-Right
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—Early on the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference—the country’s largest annual gathering of the political right—Dan Schneider delivered an almost paternalistic lecture about dark, seductive forces afoot at his event. The executive director of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes CPAC, started as parents often do by telling a story. A friend of his who worked in the Treasury Department had one time illuminated for him how to spot phony money.
“My friend explained to me that the way to identify a counterfeit is by looking only at the real deal,” Schneider explained. The training agents went through consisted of being shown, over a period of weeks, an endless stream of real currency. “When that counterfeit bill is slipped in it’s like a slap in the face,” he said. “It’s just so obvious and apparent.”
At that point, Schneider’s voice dropped ominously. “CPAC, we have been slapped in the face,” he said. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks. And we must not be duped and we must not be deceived. This is serious business.”
The “organization” Schneider was describing was the “alt-right”—a name stolen, he claimed, by “left-wing fascists” from bona fide conservatives who had used the label for a long time. “They did it intentionally because they wanted to deceive the media and they wanted to deceive you all about what they stand for, so they can try to become normalized,” he said. “Hateful, left-wing fascists are not like anyone here,” he concluded. Who exactly these left-wing fascists were was left unclear. Presumably he did not mean the president’s top adviser and aide, Steve Bannon, who was invited to speak at CPAC later on Thursday and has proudly described his site, Breitbart, as "the platform for the alt-right."
Maybe he meant another avatar of that movement. As it happens, one of the people sitting not too far from the stage during Schneider’s speech was alt-right leader and white supremacist icon Richard Spencer. During the speech, Spencer tweeted indignantly that he had invented the term alt-right, a contention he would take to what started as a small gaggle of reporters just outside of the conference’s main ballroom. He told these reporters he wished there’d been a question and answer section with Schneider. “Do they grant a white person the moral legitimacy to stand up for himself? To have an identity?” I would ask that,” Spencer said. “Are you morally opposed to white people understanding themselves?
“What the alt-right is doing is clearly resonating with people,” he continued. “It’s clearly resonating with young people. And so you can basically call it names or you can ask what’s going on. Like why does a young white person feel alienated in the modern world?”
Not long after Spencer stepped out of the ballroom, he was spotted by two young white people, one of whom jumped and nearly squealed to his friend with glee.
“It’s him!” the fan exclaimed. This was J.P. Sheehan, a College Republicans president at an undisclosed New England school. “He’s, like, the coolest guy.” Out of nowhere, Sheehan, in a black Make America Great Again cap, produced a T-shirt sold by Spencer’s Radix Journal and waved it in front of Spencer to get his attention.
A few other young attendees then quickly recognized Spencer and approached him for photos, and the gaggle of reporters quickly and exponentially grew. Within minutes, Spencer was the center of a press mob that blocked passage through the hallway. As security tried to keep the crowd under control, puzzled attendees peered to get a glimpse at who’d stolen the show from the four Republican governors who had by then taken the stage. Perhaps a senator. Maybe Trump. A few caught a glimpse of Spencer, recognized him, and rendered diverging assessments to their companions.
That’s my boy, Ricky Spence!
What a scumbag.
Hang on, I want a picture.
You’re a joke, Spencer!
Spencer took questions from the press for nearly an hour and a half. At one point, Matt Schlapp, the president of the ACU who would later moderate that panel with Bannon, came out to try to draw the press’ attention away from Spencer. He largely failed. I asked Schlapp, who came under fire over the weekend for initially standing by his invitation of then Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos to the conference, whether Spencer would be asked to leave. Schlapp would not say. “Look, this is America, and we have to deal with the laws,” he replied obliquely. “All I can tell you is that if he had comments that we’d agree with, he’d be on our stage. And he’s not on our stage.”
At around 11:20 a.m., though, Spencer—still surrounded by reporters—was asked to give up his credentials and leave. Security told New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi—with clarity that had eluded Schlapp—that Spencer’s views denied him a place at CPAC even though he had bought a ticket.* Shortly after this, a speaker took the main stage to explain how Muslim student organizations were working to import jihadist ideology to the United States—highlighting, almost comically, the xenophobia that has drawn some from the right wing into Spencer's movement.
Not long before being booted, Spencer remarked on the reception he’d received.
"I feel very welcome here,” he told a reporter. “Nobody's punching me yet."
*Correction, Feb. 24, 2017: This article originally misstated that Olivia Nuzzi is employed at the Daily Beast. She is now Washington correspondent for New York magazine.
The Unintended Consequences of Deporting Criminals
Wednesday, in a meeting with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, U.S. Homeland Security chief John Kelly appeared to contradict the prevalent understanding of Donald Trump’s recent deportation directives, assuring the Guatemalans that rather than deporting people en masse, the administration would simply step up deportations of people with criminal records.
Deporting undocumented people who commit crimes in the United States is the kind of policy that tends to get wide bipartisan support, even from people who are relatively sympathetic to immigration reform. The Obama administration deported such people at a record clip. But while the optics are certainly better than deporting hard-working families who are law-abiding aside from their immigration status, deporting “bad hombres,” as Trump memorably put it, is not without consequences. In fact, past rounds of this kind of deportation are in part driving much of the migration into the U.S. today.
Take the transnational mara criminal gangs, notably MS-18 and Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which originated in Los Angeles and grew during the 1980s as a result of an influx of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees. Many of those refugees had come to the United States as children, fleeing their home countries’ long-running civil wars, in which the U.S. provided aid to anti-leftist forces. After the Rodney King riots of the early 1990s, California passed tough anti-gang laws. Congress also passed legislation making it easier to deport illegal immigrants with criminal records around that time. Between 1998 and 2005, the United States deported nearly 46,000 convicts to Central America, according to a 2009 report by the Small Arms Survey. The report describes what happened next:
Three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—received more than 90 per cent of the deportations from the United States (USAID, 2006, pp. 18–19). Many of these deportees were members of the 18th Street and Salvatrucha gangs who had arrived in the United States as toddlers but had never secured legal residency or citizenship; they had joined the gangs as a way to feel included in a receiving country that often actively impeded their integration. On being sent back to countries of origin that they barely knew, deportees reproduced the structures and behaviour patterns that had provided them with support and security in the United States. They swiftly founded local clikas, or chapters, of their gang in their communities of origin; in turn, these clikas rapidly attracted local youths and either supplanted or absorbed pandillas [local gangs].
Driven largely by gang violence, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, El Salvador is second, and Guatemala is ninth. And the problem doesn’t stay in Central America. As Matthew Quirk wrote for the Atlantic in 2008, “Salvadoran police report that 90 percent of deported gang members return to the U.S. After several spins through the deportation-and-return cycle, MS-13 members now control many of the ‘coyote’ services that bring aliens up from Central America.”
They also create the violence that causes their law-abiding neighbors to flee. Unauthorized immigration from Central America has been steadily growing in recent years as immigration from Mexico has declined, including thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence and poverty.
The U.S. contributed and prolonged Central America’s violence during the Cold War by arming and funding anti-communist governments and rebels, including those involved in vicious human rights abuses, prompting Central Americans to flee to the United States. Then in the 1990s, the U.S. deported criminals back to these countries, while simultaneously supporting government crackdowns on gangs and drug smugglers, essentially feeding both sides of increasingly deadly conflicts and driving a new round of migration.
Trump may believe that with deportations and a big beautiful wall he can cut the United States off from Central America’s problems, but he’s more likely just kicking off the next phase of the deadly cycle.
Good Morning From CPAC: Richard Spencer Was Here, Has Been Kicked Out
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—Alt-right leader Richard Spencer was spotted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative movement activists and leaders, on Thursday morning.* Spencer, has made at least one other appearance at CPAC as reported in Slate by David Weigel in 2014. The latest visit comes just days after the rescinding of an invitation to Milo Yiannopoulos to deliver the conference’s keynote address.
Spencer makes a habit of attending political events to court controversy. He was in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention in 2016 and was booted out of a libertarian gathering on Saturday.
At least one other leader of the alt-right has made a previous appearance at CPAC. In 2013, Matthew Heimbach of the white nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network came to CPAC with a companion who infamously suggested that slavery benefited slaves during a Q&A session at a panel on race.
Update Feb. 23, 2017, at 9:24 a.m.: Spencer is tweeting from the crowd of the conference, where White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is currently being interviewed.
Update Feb. 23, 2017, at 11:51 a.m.: And Spencer has now reportedly been kicked out of CPAC.
While I was interviewing Richard Spencer, security came to escort him off the property— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) February 23, 2017
*Correction, Feb. 23, 2017: This post originally misstated when Spencer was seen at CPAC. It was Thursday, not Friday.
Republican Senator Says Subpoenaing Trump’s Tax Returns a Possibility in Russia Investigation
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, unlike many of her Republican colleagues, indicated during an interview Wednesday on Maine Public Radio that she might just be serious about investigating the president and his administration’s shadowy relationship with Russia. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Collins is involved in the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and said Wednesday she is open to the possibility of subpoenaing President Trump’s tax returns, as part of the investigation, to ensure he doesn’t have any untoward dealings with Russia.
“I don’t know whether we will need to do that,” Collins said. “If it is necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect that we would.” Collins also indicated members of the Intelligence Committee will be requesting former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn appear before the committee. It was not clear if those hearings would be held in private or in public. Collins’ comments indicate an increasing interest in probing the Trump team’s Russian ties although the Maine Republican’s willingness to compel the president to release, at least hypothetically, his taxes as part of a broader investigation goes farther than her Republican colleagues in the Senate. “All of us are determined to get the answers,” Collins said. “In some ways, this is a counterintelligence cooperation—in many ways—and that’s what our committee specializes in.”
Trump Administration Revokes Federal Protections for Transgender Students
The Trump administration removed federal protections for transgender students Wednesday evening, effectively rolling back Obama administration legal guidelines that allowed students in public schools to use the bathroom and locker room aligned with their chosen gender, not their sex at birth. The Trump administration cited states’ rights as the primary motivation for the change and kicked the contentious issue back to individual states and local school districts to draw up bathroom policies for transgender students that do not violate federal anti-discrimination law.
“Officials with the federal Education and Justice departments notified the U.S. Supreme Court that it was ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Obama administration issued during the past two years that said prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws,” the Washington Post reports.
The two-page ‘dear colleague’ letter included in a Supreme Court filing late Wednesday does not offer schools any new guidance, instead saying that the earlier directive needed to be withdrawn because it lacked extensive legal analysis, did not go through a public vetting process and sowed confusion and legal challenges. The administration said that it would not rely on the prior interpretation of the law going forward.
“Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Wednesday. “The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”
“The question of how to address bathroom access, which the Obama White House clarified last year, had opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general,” the New York Times reports. “The new policy overruled the advice of President Trump’s education secretary and placed his administration firmly in the middle of the culture wars that many Republicans have tried to leave behind.”
Today in Conservative Media: “A New Era of Immigration Policy”
A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.
On Wednesday, several conservative sites focused on an online survey whose results show, in the words of a TownHall headline, that “Americans Still Overwhelmingly Oppose Sanctuary Cities.” The online survey was conducted by Harris Poll, an organization that Breitbart identifies as “co-managed by Democratic pollster Mark Penn.”
InfoWars, like many other conservative outlets, focused on one result from the poll, framing it with the headline: “Shock Poll: 80% of Americans Oppose Sanctuary Cities.” (Breitbart also featured this number on its home page.) The 80 percent figure derives from a question that proposes, “Cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to immigration authorities.”
TownHall suggested that the survey indicated “that Americans are sympathetic to” the story of “ ‘angel mom’ Laura Wilkerson [who] offered an emotional explanation of how her child was murdered at the hands of an illegal immigrant.” InfoWars, meanwhile, wrote, “The results show clearly Americans want these aliens deported and do not believe ‘they’re enriching our culture’ and ‘helping our economy,’” quotations that do not appear to derive from the survey.
The immigration issue in general was widely covered by right-wing sites. The Daily Caller looked at two memos signed on Monday by the Department of Homeland Security, saying that they “ushered in a new era of immigration policy,” while focusing on how they diverge from Obama-era approaches. Covering the same news, National Review wrote, “The lesson here is that apologists for illegal aliens will come to rue the end of the dishonest Obama approach to immigration enforcement.”
LifeZette, meanwhile, ran an article focusing on GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s objection to the inclusion of Iraq in Trump’s travel ban. Criticizing Kinzinger for this, LifeZette pointed out that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had clarified that “Iraqi’s aiding the United States would be allowed to board their flights, are eligible for a special immigrant visa ‘and will be processed for a waiver upon arrival.’” And Breitbart, consistent with its coverage of Sweden, ran articles on asylum fraud in Germany and other Eurocentric immigration topics.
Posts about Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski were widely shared from conservative Facebook pages:
Kelly Appears to Contradict Rest of Administration, Self in New Statement About Deportation Priorities
In both an executive order and in a Department of Homeland Security implementation memo issued by DHS chief John Kelly Tuesday, the Trump administration has made clear that it considers all undocumented immigrants in the U.S.—not just the recent arrivals and individuals convicted of serious crimes that the Obama administration targeted—to be fair game for deportation. From the Jan. 25 order:
In executing faithfully the immigration laws of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) shall prioritize for removal ... removable aliens who:
(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;
(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;
(e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
(f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
(g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
Items C and G give immigration officers broad authority to prioritize the deportation not just of convicted criminals but of anyone they deem suspicious, while item D would seemingly cover almost all undocumented immigrants, most of whom have likely engaged in some sort of minor misrepresentation of their status in the course of living and working in the U.S. Language in other sections of both the executive order and Tuesday's memo makes clear, meanwhile, that all “removable aliens” should consider themselves subject to ejection from the U.S. And DHS says it is planning to hire thousands more agents and deputize thousands of other law enforcement officials to act as collaborators.
All this would seemingly add up to a drastic escalation in the pace and scope of deportations, right? Well, per the AP, here’s what John Kelly told Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales about that on Wednesday (translation via Google Translate with my own tweaks):
In a joint statement with Kelly, foreign minister Carlos Raúl Morales stressed “a very important issue that unfortunately has been interpreted in different ways: [Kelly] has expressed to us that there will be no massive deportations. The United States is to focus on those migrants who have a criminal record.”
So, maybe there will be large-scale deportations of generally law-abiding undocumented immigrants, or maybe there won’t be! It will be fun, for those immigrants, to wait and see how it all plays out.
(I’ve inquired with DHS about the apparent contradiction and will update this post if I hear back.)
15 Metal Albums Whose Titles Are Less Dark Than the Washington Post’s New Motto
The Washington Post unveiled a cheery new motto this week: “Democracy dies in darkness.” The phrase now appears beneath the newspaper’s name on its website and Snapchat Discover page, although it has yet to make its way into the print edition.
If it sounds like a catchphrase more befitting a doomsday prophet than a daily newspaper, that doesn’t seem to be the intent. While its precise origins are unclear, it’s a favorite saying of Bob Woodward, the famous Post reporter and editor, who has deployed it in speeches and interviews since at least 2007 as an earnest criticism of government secrecy. The Post’s owner, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, repurposed it as a rallying cry in a 2016 interview about why he bought the paper:
I think a lot of us believe this: that democracy dies in darkness, that certain institutions have a very important role in making sure that there is light. And I think the Washington Post has a seat, an important seat, to do that, because we happen to be located here in the capital city of the United States of America.
In Bezos’ mind, then, the motto is really about “making sure there is light.” Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that we’re reading dispatches from the end times with those three D-words looming atop the paper’s home page. The grim action verb, the present tense, the dunh-dunh-dunh alliteration, the foreboding final word: Cormac McCarthy, take notes!
Far be it for us at Slate to chide fellow journalists for apocalyptic responses to our present political predicament. That said, we can imagine that the backlash and mockery might give the Post’s executives pause as they ponder putting the motto on their subscribers’ doorsteps every morning, and we’re here to help. Should Washington’s paper of record decide at some point that it wants to strike a slightly gentler tone, here are 15 classic metal album titles that might fit the bill.
Welcome to Hell, Venom (1981)
Screaming for Vengeance, Judas Priest (1982)
Reign in Blood, Slayer (1986)
The Erosion of Sanity, Gorguts (1993)
Altars of Madness, Morbid Angel (1989)
Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera (1992)
Seasons in the Abyss, Slayer (1990)
Slowly We Rot, Obituary (1989)
Bonded by Blood, Exodus (1984)
Storm of the Light’s Bane, Dissection (1995)
Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche (1988)
The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails (1994)
All Hope Is Gone, Slipknot (2008)
Kill ’Em All, Metallica (1983)
Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying?, Megadeth (1986)
Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Black Man Whose Lawyer Called Racist “Expert” to the Stand
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a black death row inmate, Duane Buck, whose own attorney called an “expert” to the stand who told the jury Buck’s race made him a danger to society. Chief Justice John Roberts penned the 6-2 decision holding that Buck received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and allowing him to appeal his capital sentence. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Buck was convicted of capital murder in Texas, a conviction which carries with it the possibility of a death sentence. At the penalty phase of the trial, which took place in 1997, the jury was told it could impose the death penalty if it found “a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.” Buck’s attorney called an expert, Dr. Walter Quijano, to testify—with the knowledge that Quijano believed Buck’s race increased his probability of future violence. Sure enough, on the stand, Quijano testified that Buck’s race was “know[n] to predict future dangerousness.” He added, “It’s a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics, and black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.”
The Trump Administration Is Set to Reverse Transgender Bathroom Protections
The Trump administration is set to repeal protections put in place by the Obama administration that allow transgender students to use restrooms and other single-gender facilities that match their gender identities. From the Washington Post:
In a letter to the nation’s schools, administration officials plan to say they are withdrawing guidance issued by the Obama administration that found that denying transgender students the right to use the restroom of their choice violates federal prohibitions against sex discrimination, according to a draft of the letter obtained by The Washington Post.
“This interpretation has given rise to significant litigation,” states the two-page draft, which indicates that the Education and Justice departments plan to issue it jointly. The draft says administrators, parents and students have “struggled to understand and apply the statements of policy” in the Obama-era guidance.
The Post goes on to report that the letter says the reversal has no bearing on bullying and harassment protections available to transgender students. The letter will evidently be released on Wednesday, according to the Post’s source, who also says Education Secretary Betsy DeVos does not want to rescind the guidance.
The Obama administration’s policy was part of Title IX guidelines released last May, which stated that transgender students were protected by existing regulations that bar discrimination by sex for schools receiving federal funding. “The Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations,” a joint letter to schools from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice read. “This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”
On restrooms and locker rooms, the departments wrote that schools “may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity” and also that transgender students could not be forced to use single-user restrooms.
The Obama administration’s guidance is not currently in effect—a Texas U.S. district judge issued a nationwide hold on the new regulations in the fall after 13 states challenged them. Asked about the potential for a change in the guidance on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that President Trump believes the use of restrooms by transgender students is “a states’ rights issue.”
USA Today reported on potential reaction from the states:
Fifteen states have explicit protections for transgender students, and many individual school districts in other states have adopted policies that recognize students on the basis of their gender identity, Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) told The Associated Press. Just one state, North Carolina, has enacted a law restricting students' bathroom access to their sex at birth. But so far this year, lawmakers in more than 10 states are considering similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
On Feb. 13, Scott Skinner-Thompson of NYU’s School of Law wrote in Slate that the impact of a repeal of the Obama administration’s guidance may be more limited than the Trump administration realizes. “As numerous cases have already recognized,” he wrote, “the prohibitions on sex discrimination contained within federal civil rights statutes do extend to protect transgender individuals—irrespective of what the Trump administration may say about it.” This is partly because courts have found defining sex by asserted gender identity to be more legally and practically tenable than the alternatives:
[A]s the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in its decision to, in effect, permit Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy, to use the boys’ restrooms (a decision that is now being considered by the Supreme Court), the alternative interpretation of sex as “biological sex” offered by those opposing transgender access creates more ambiguity than it resolves. As the 4th Circuit reasoned: “For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident?” An interpretation of sex that looks to an individual’s gender identity “resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.” In other words, defining sex in terms of gender identity is the only interpretation that actually avoids inconsistencies and creates a uniform rule.