This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
By Bernadette Demientieff, as told to Alyssa Giacobbe
I am part of a long line of people born into the Gwich’in Nation of Fort Yukon, Alaska. My mother was Gwich’in. So were my grandmother and my great grandmother. My five children, and five grandchildren, are Gwich’in, though it’s entirely possible there will be no native land left for them to inhabit by the time they are my age.
The Gwich’in are comprised of 14 different communities and about 9,000 people. For tens of thousands of years, we have lived off the land, relying primarily on the Porcupine caribou to survive. We still do. We have grocery stores, but some Gwich’in are hundreds of miles from the nearest town, and so store-bought food is very expensive. A jug of milk can cost us $15, a loaf of bread $10.
In 2017, Congress passed legislation authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is the biggest in the U.S., spanning 19 million acres — about the size of South Carolina — and has been protected from oil and gas drilling since 1980. That’s over. Now, the land has been opened up for drilling companies to lease. Sales have started; so has seismic testing. Vehicles weighing 90,000 pounds are rolling through.
We shouldn’t have to be fighting for our human rights this way in 2019. It’s just another form of colonizing. It’s just greed.
I’ve heard this land, my home, referred to as “tundra,” implying there’s nothing here but ice and snow. That’s incorrect. The refuge is much more than that. It’s the nesting place for several hundred species of migratory birds; it’s home to wolves, polar bears, caribou, and other mammals. Our land is the spawning grounds for Dolly Varden trout and other fish. It’s also home to people for whom this land not only provides food, but also very sacred meaning.
As the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, I’m responsible for speaking on behalf of the Gwich’in community — the people and the animals. I’ve written and delivered hundreds of thousands of letters. I’ve gone before Congress as well as the Department of the Interior to argue for protection of these grounds. Our human rights are upheld by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, “By no means shall a people be deprived of their own means of subsistence.” This principle must be respected. Oil and gas activities here are a direct attack on our ways of life and our human rights. We shouldn’t have to be fighting for our human rights this way in 2019. It’s just another form of colonizing. It’s just greed.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been heard. The drilling work is continuing.
I don’t consider myself an activist or an environmentalist. I’m just trying to protect my children’s birthright, their future, and their lives. The Gwich’in people are worried and some are angry. Some have even given up. But for me, giving up is not an option. My ancestors fought to survive so that I can be here. I owe that same dedication and respect to future generations.
By Eileen Guo
On the fourteenth floor of a high-rise in downtown Los Angeles, Judge Ashley Tabaddor, of the Los Angeles Immigration Court, averages three to four minutes per hearing — just enough time to swear in the respondent, hear updates from the lawyer on documents and case status, and, if all is in order, schedule a merit hearing to determine the respondent’s eventual fate.
As president of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), Tabaddor specializes in immigration cases involving juveniles, a docket that increased from less than 9,000 cases in each of the previous four years to over 51,500 cases in 2018 alone, a fraction of the 869,000 cases that are currently pending.
In an effort to cut down the backlog, the Department of Justice implemented a controversial new system last October that tied judges’ performance evaluations to their ability to meet certain quotas (for example, the completion of 700 cases per year). It’s an approach that Tabaddor and most immigration experts say incentivizes judges to sacrifice due process for speed.
Immigration courts are overseen by the U.S. Attorney General, an arrangement that threatens their judicial independence. As each administration shifts the court’s priorities to reflect its own political agenda, the courts “become a political messaging tool,” Tabbador said in an interview, speaking in her capacity as NAIJ president. As part of the Trump administration’s focus on what it has deemed a “border crisis,” for example, a third of the judges were temporarily reassigned to border courts “essentially as a show of force,” Tabaddor continued. Their own hearings, already scheduled years in advance, had to be rescheduled yet again.
These quotas also fail to distinguish between different types of cases. It “doesn’t matter if it’s a fifteen-minute hearing or a twenty-five-hour hearing,” Tabaddor said. She noted, however, that any resulting decrease in the backlog would likely be temporary, because rushed decisions leave room for error and a perception of bias, leading to appeals.
For some judges, the introduction of the quota system was their last straw. Tabaddor said that more judges have retired or resigned under the Trump administration, which has “deeply impacted both the morale and the role of being a judge.” Judges, she explained, are forced to “risk their jobs to ensure due process” a situation she called “indefensible.”
Six months into the fiscal year, Tabaddor estimates that she’s completed between 200 and 300 cases. At this rate, she won’t meet her quota. She’s considered leaving her job, as many of her colleagues already have. But she feels bound by duty — to NAIJ, which elected her, and to the country — so she’s staying. “It’s an important time to be mindful of civic duty,” she said, “and to hold our government accountable to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
By Don Dwyer, as told to Jeff Wise
I’m a managing partner of Guardian Jet, a high-end private aircraft broker serving clients around the world. The market has been on an upswing since Trump won. Normally an election slows things down, because it creates indecision, and I thought that it was going to be a nutjob of an election — nobody knew whether it was going to be Trump or Hillary. But it didn’t slow things down at all — in fact it spurred them on. I think it was about the confidence that people had. The economy was bumping along pretty well, companies were making money. Sales went up about 10%. But the Trump tax cut made a difference too. The new rules created a favorable tax loophole that clients are taking advantage of. That gave us another bump of around 7% or 8%.
We’re doing a big business out west now with the entrepreneurs who have made a lot of money in tech. A lot of our customers are first-time buyers, very sophisticated people who’ve had experience with fractional jet ownership and are stepping up to buy their own airplanes. They’re very savvy about flying because they’ve been Netjets or Flexjet customers for a long time. They’re buying big airplanes, too. It’s an incredibly active market for all models, but the segment with the biggest growth is ultra-long-range jets like the Gulfstream 550 and the Falcon 7X, and they’re hot as can be right now. [Note: such aircraft retail for around $50 million.]
Climate change never really comes up as an issue for buyers. We’re a growing business. We’re hiring salespeople, researchers, appraisers, technical people. Since the election, the number of employees in my company went from 24 to 30. We have offices in California, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, London, and Paris, and we’re about to open a new office in Chicago. There’s definitely a rising tide.
By Elena Gooray
Jarrod Thoma was still a fresh-faced college graduate when he saw the Facebook posts: harrowing stories of people who had been scammed and left penniless by greedy for-profit universities. As he read the accounts, he thought: This is me.
In 2015, Thoma graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from DeVry University, a for-profit college with satellite campuses in dozens of states. A four-year Army veteran, he was expecting a challenging and rewarding course load. What he got instead — specifically after he transferred from the school’s campus in Ohio to one in Colorado — was anything but that.
“It felt like classes were being dumbed down,” he said. “The academic rigor declined. Much of the staff didn’t have an engineering background.”
Worse yet, Thoma wasn’t able to transfer to a different college, as the engineering credits he’d accrued at DeVry wouldn’t transfer — a direct contradiction, he said, to what the school had promised him. Forced to continue on at DeVry, Thoma graduated with over $50,000 of debt and a degree that many employers felt was of dubious value. (In a statement to GEN, a spokesperson for DeVry said, “Course credits are not guaranteed to transfer to other schools. Acceptance of credits is subject to the receiving institution’s requirements. This is explicitly stated in our Academic Catalogs.”)
Jolted into action by the Facebook posts he read, Thoma found a loan forgiveness program aimed at students who had been misled by for-profit colleges. Immediately he applied.
But any chance Thoma had at recoupment went out the window the moment Donald Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, entered the White House. DeVos quickly halted the repayment rule, claiming it led to “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.” And, while a federal judge ruled a year later that the delay was unlawful, more than 100,000 student debt relief cases — including Thoma’s — remain backlogged.
“With all the evidence I have of being defrauded,” Thoma said, “I don’t understand why it’s taking more than three years.”
And so, Thoma is left burdened by crippling debt that, though he finally got a full-time engineering gig last year, still hangs over him.
“It affected my wife’s and my ability to get a house,” Thoma said. “Every time the interest goes up, my credit takes a hit. It’s still affecting me.”
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
As of March 26, 2019, owning a bump stock was a felony for everyone in the United States except for Clark Aposhian. The prominent Utah gun lobbyist is challenging the Trump administration’s ban on the device, which uses a semi-automatic gun’s recoil energy to bump the trigger, allowing for continuous firing. Days before the ban went into effect, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Aposhian a stay, allowing him to hold on to his bump stock. He spent the next month showing it off to reporters. Then, in early May, the court reversed itself, ruling that Aposhian had to turn in the bump stock until his case is resolved.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Clark Aposhian: I bought it maybe three years ago. It was in the clearance aisle at a gun store. I’d been interested, but I wasn’t going to spend $350, which is what they were asking. I just put it in my gun room and there it sat. It wasn’t until the local media called after the Vegas shooting. They said, “Do you have a bump stock?” I had to think about it for a second and I said, “Yeah, you know what, I think I do.” So I put it on because they wanted a picture.
I’m a tactical firearm instructor — we’re talking about the application of firearms for defense — and it really doesn’t do any good there. If a bump stock were good for that, you would see law enforcement or military using it. It’s range toy. I have other range toys too, but I would never bring it [to] one of my tactical classes. It’s not accurate.
It had nothing to with whether I thought bump stocks were a good idea. It’s because of the way they banned them. We have executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and we all learned back in grade school that they have different, very specific lanes. The executive got out of its lane. That’s what Donald Trump did through the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives].
It’s bigger. It’s about the process. I could argue it on the Second Amendment and it would be a good argument. But we’re using the bump stock for a placeholder for something much bigger — overreach of the government.
We’ve had somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 bumpstocks in use since 2010. Millions of rounds being fired out of them, with nobody even knowing what they were because there weren’t any crimes being committed with them. Then we had one person, albeit a quite obviously violently mentally ill person, use them. Then we’re going to ban an item that he used, when the other 499,999 people using them have never committed a crime?
I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t see the bigger picture. Every time this comes up, you’ll get gun owners who say, “I don’t care if bump stocks get banned, because they’re dumb.” And then you’ll get some folks that don’t like guns saying these are terrible, these are weapons of mass destruction, and they should be banned.
But what happens when this administration, or maybe the next administration, decides to bypass Congress and ban something that they care about? I think they’ll thank us. They’ll thank the New Civil Liberties Alliance. They’ll thank Clark Aposhian for putting ourselves out there and doing this. Or, if it doesn’t work, they can sit on the sidelines and lament the fact that their rights being usurped — that the Constitution isn’t working for them because it’s just an afterthought.
While he was working on an article for Politico last October, reporter Jim Higdon stood under the roof of a 100,000-square-foot building in western Kentucky just after the hemp harvest came in. Surrounded by 100 acres of plants drying out on the floor around him, Higdon saw an escape from the dying, depressing media industry that brought him there.
“I’d overheard in the midst of my reporting that you can grow 1,000 pounds an acre, and it sells for $40 a pound,” he said. “I got out my calculator app on my phone and did that quick math on 100 acres. I was like, ‘Son of a gun. This is real now. And if there’s an opportunity to do something, it’s right this second.’”
Nine months later, Higdon had launched his own hemp company and largely abandoned an acclaimed journalism career that culminated in The Cornbread Mafia, his 2013 book on the heartland drug trade. Higdon’s immersion in the world of cannabis had left him well positioned to pounce the moment President Trump made hemp legal.
That happened on December 20, when Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill. The $867 billion agricultural funding bill included a provision, pushed by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, to legalize hemp and the derivative cannabidiol, or CBD, the exhaustively hyped natural remedy for virtually any modern ailment, or so its biggest boosters will tell you.
Within a week, Higdon and his cousin had hatched a plan to bring a line of CBD products to market. Finding capital was easy. “CBD is the new bitcoin in the investor world,” Higdon said. “No one wants to miss out on it.” By New Year’s, the company had a logo and a name: Cornbread Hemp.
“The connotation is of wholesome goodness,” Higdon explained. “Cornbread means a lot of good things to a lot of people.”
Cornbread Hemp’s first products include CBD-infused lotions and tinctures. Higdon won’t make any claims about the benefits of the products, lest he incur the wrath of the FDA. “I cannot say that it’s an anti-inflammatory,” he noted. “I cannot say that it’s a sleeping aid. I cannot say that it promotes brain health and has neurogenerative qualities. I can’t say any of that stuff.”
Plenty of people believe it, though. It’s why CBD products are projected to hit $22 billion in sales by 2022. It’s why Kentucky farmers are going all in on this new cash crop. And it’s why a journalist who’d made a name for himself reporting on cannabis is now selling it. The current state of journalism, Higdon said, is “real fucking depressing. Finding an opportunity to gracefully transition from that struggle to an industry with giant upside and enormous growth is quite the switch.”
By Elena Gooray
It’s been a year since Arkansas became the first state in the nation to impose a work requirement for Medicaid — and thousands of poor residents are still without coverage.
Although a federal judge moved to block the work requirement in March, the Trump administration has appealed that ruling. As a result, Arkansas residents who have lost coverage under the rule are still expected to log 80 hours of work, school, or volunteering each month to qualify for insurance. Yet an early study of the work-requirement policy found no evidence that it’s pushing people to find jobs.
Worse yet, said Anita Hodges, a resource manager at Community Clinic, a health clinic serving Northwest Arkansas, many people simply don’t understand how to log their hours — and they’re losing access to health care because of it. Hodges spoke to GEN about how the work requirements have caused confusion for many patients, and why taking away Medicaid is never a good approach.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Anita Hodges: As expected, people were just losing their coverage left and right. The numbers were staggering: Over 18,000 people lost coverage.
The number one thing is, you’re not helping somebody go to work if you’re taking away their medical coverage, and then they get sick and can’t take care of themselves. The state also needs to do more upfront. You can’t have everything done online, when some people have no access to that.
They get a notice from the Department of Human Services. But a lot of the times there’s a mail issue. Then it’s when they actually go to use their Medicaid when they find out it was closed — at the pharmacy, or going to an appointment somewhere.
Patients just didn’t understand [the work requirement]. A lot of them didn’t even have an email address. So you’d have to get them an email address, and then teach them how to set up the account to log their activity online. Most of them were really confused about how to log in and report their hours.
Legal Aid reported that 57% of their recipients were already working. They thought, “Well, I’m already working, so I’m meeting the requirement.” But that’s not the case. You still had to log on and report.
One man shared his anxiety about losing his coverage, because he had worked so hard to get medical help. Some doctors thought he might have multiple sclerosis, but he never got an official diagnosis. He didn’t have the money for it. To keep getting money, the state said he had to work 80 hours a month. But, because of his disability, he couldn’t work. Twenty-three percent of our Medicaid recipients have a disability.
It’s never going to work to take away someone’s health insurance to teach them a lesson. It just makes no sense. People have to be healthy in order to work and live a full life.
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
A woman in the audience stood, pulled her sleeve up past the elbow, raised her arm. “Do you see this mark, Mr. Khan?” she asked.
He didn’t really, but Khizr Khan squinted and nodded from the stage anyway. “This is for my dialysis,” she said. “And I voted for Trump because I was worried about my health care. A lot of us did,” — she swept her other arm around the room, which Khan guessed was half-full of Republicans, veterans, or both — “because we were worried about our wages and our health care. And now they’re going to take away my health care. I don’t sleep. I’m worried to death. We’re all worried to death.”
This was in the spring of 2017, and probably in Iowa, as best he can remember among the hundreds of small towns and big cities in which he’s spoken. And Khan does remember, because that woman’s existential dread was, from the right perspective, a small and early glimmer of hope. “At the time, repeal-and-replace was the slogan of this huckster,” he says, meaning President Trump. “Republicans are just as patriotic as Democrats, and even then they were realizing they’d been had by this con man.”
Khan gave that woman the only practical advice he could. “Remain hopeful,” he said. “And vote better.”
That is the same basic message Khan has delivered to more than 250 audiences since Trump was sworn in — Monticello on the Fourth of July will be his 253rd appearance — a statistic that is both exhausting in its volume and wondrous that it is happening at all. Khan is neither a professional activist nor, before 2017, a particularly polished speaker. He is, rather, a completely accidental icon of the Trump resistance.
Before August 2016, he was a man of no particular public note. He practiced an obscure, data-sodden niche of law. He lived a quiet, anonymous life in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, Ghazala, their two grown children, and four grandchildren nearby. To the extent he stood out, it was only through tragedy: 12 years earlier, his middle son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed by a car bomb in Iraq.
Because of that, and because he is a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, he and Ghazala were invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention. His speech (Ghazala, afraid she would sob if she spoke, stood quietly at his side) was short, barely more than two minutes. Trump, he said, had “sacrificed nothing and no one” for his country. “Have you even read the United States Constitution?” he asked from the podium. “I will gladly lend you my copy,” which he pulled from his jacked pocket, where he typically keeps it.
It became an iconic moment, the patriotic Muslim immigrant and Gold Star father calling out a candidate running on explicitly anti-Islamic smears. It was also supposed to be the end of Khan’s reluctant turn in the public eye. The plan was to go home, vote for Hillary Clinton come November, then settle into retirement and play with his grandkids.
But he was in demand. He was asked to speak a few more times before the election — media interviews, rallies — but he expected the spotlight to dim after.
Except Trump won.
So the invitations kept coming. Fundraisers that needed a draw, symposia that needed a keynote, community groups and universities that wanted perspective. Khan rarely declines because he believes he is obligated. He goes because he is an American patriot, not by birth but by choice, which in some ways is a significantly purer form. He is not rabidly pro-Democrat; indeed, he admired Ronald Reagan, and he considered the late Sen. John McCain both a friend and a personal hero. But when he became a citizen, he stood before a magistrate and swore to defend the Constitution. Which is what he’s doing.
He speaks mainly of American ideals, of the promises laid out in the founding documents, which is anti-Trump only in that Trump is antithetical to all of them. Khan almost always tells of when he was a law student in Pakistan, where he’d grown up under intermittent spasms of martial law, and saw the Declaration of Independence for the first time. It was required reading for a class and, to the eyes of a young man reared in a former colony, revelatory. “They declared their independence,” he says. “For most of history, humanity was ruled by kings and priests, and the ordinary citizen’s job was to sit down, shut up, and take orders. But they declared their independence. They declared the dignity of each individual person. And that was a beacon of hope for the world.”
He sees that beacon rapidly losing its luster, scuffed and dulled by more than two years of Trump. And yet he is surprisingly hopeful, mainly because he sees so many other people just as concerned. He sees it in voter turnout, which set records in the 2018 midterms. He hears it from a woman worried about her dialysis, and he hears it from people all over the country who ask him if he thinks democracy will survive the Trump years.
Of course it will. He believes that fervently — the nation survived the Civil War, after all — and he is preaching a gospel of hope to whomever will listen. It is not always easy. He does not get paid, and the travel is wearying for a man of 69; after one event, he tumbled down an escalator, banged his head on a giant flower pot, gave himself a concussion, and did enough damage to his left eye that four surgeries haven’t been able to repair it. He misses his wife and his grandchildren. But he can’t stop now, not with the 2020 campaign already under way. “These last two years have revealed that Trump has been a tool, a useful tool, for our adversaries, adversaries of this union,” he says. “And they will continue to cause harm through him.”
So he continues to speak. And he does so not because he believes he is blessed with special insight or that he carries an exceptional moral authority, but precisely because he does not. “I am an ordinary citizen,” he says, embracing his patriotic obligations in extraordinary times.
For George Gatto, the owner of two Harley Davidson dealerships in the Pittsburgh suburbs, hell arrived in a tweet. Not any bombastic 140-character message of his own, mind you; Gatto can blame his misfortune on the social media habits of one Donald J. Trump.
Last August, Trump fired off a tweet that read, “Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great!” His claim came in response to the motorcycle giant’s announcement that it would be shifting some production overseas — a move that was meant to sidestep tariffs imposed by the EU on American exports following Trump’s own tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Gatto is not interested in politics — “That’s above my paygrade,” he said — but he did start receiving complaints after Trump’s tweet from would-be customers, upset that Harley Davidson was moving production offshore. “We were getting calls, we were getting people in the store, they were blowing up our social media pages,” he said. Gatto’s sales numbers have slid recently, a fact that can be attributed to both tariffs and an aging clientele. Harley Davidson itself appears to be in an overall state of decline, recording a 27% drop in profits in the first quarter of 2019.
And while Trump has changed his tune on Harley — in April, the president acknowledged that the company was suffering because of EU tariffs, and promised to retaliate — there is still quite a bit of misunderstanding on Gatto’s customers’ part. “I tell them, ‘Well, the good news is everything that Harley is selling in the United States is being produced in the United States,’” he said. Overseas goods are another story: Products sold in Asia and Europe are now manufactured outside the U.S. “They are building products in Asia and Europe to beat these new tariffs. No one is going to buy a Harley Davidson in Europe if there’s some crazy tariff on it because of politics.”
By Maya Bass, as told to Carey Dunne
I moved to a small town in Oklahoma from my hometown of Philadelphia two months before President Trump got elected. My husband is in the military and got stationed down there. When a family medicine clinic hired me as a physician, I made sure I was allowed to moonlight providing care outside town, but didn’t tell them I would be providing abortions at one of only three abortion clinics in the state. The CEO of the family medicine clinic was extremely anti-choice, and if he had found out, he might have tried to fire me.
When I got to the office the morning after Trump won, everyone was happy. A physician’s assistant said, “Hallelujah.” I’d started the day off crying, but couldn’t tell patients or co-workers how I felt, because I didn’t want to risk outing myself politically.
I ultimately stayed completely closeted about my side job as an abortion provider. In Philly, I’d been open about it, but this town in Oklahoma is very red, conservative Christian, and I didn’t want to jeopardize my ability to care for this underserved community. I especially didn’t want to attract attention from anti-choice protesters. I remember one woman whose abortion I’d provided said she’d protested outside an abortion clinic before and that she’d probably protest again.
I used a burner phone to communicate with my patients at the abortion clinic. My paychecks and other mail from the clinic got sent to my parents’ house in Philly. Protesters sometimes go through clinics’ garbage and I didn’t want anyone to know where I lived. I became friends with co-workers at my full-time job, but never told them about providing abortion care. We had security cameras in our house. The backup plan was that if any protesters ever came to our home, we’d move to the military base and be protected by giant tanks.
Feeling like I couldn’t be myself was very uncomfortable. After the election, I had stopped speaking out on social media, for my patients’ well-being.
Last September, I moved back to Philadelphia. I didn’t like having to stay silent about the care that I’m proud to provide. I’m still in the process of “coming out” as a provider. Because of the political climate under Trump, I keep wondering if I tweet about reproductive health, is this going to bring protesters to my house?
I still fly back to Oklahoma to provide abortions every couple of months. The recent onslaught of state abortion bans has not affected my practice there, but my patients still have to navigate so many hurdles to access care: raising hundreds of dollars because no Oklahoma insurance covers abortion, taking off work, traveling for hours. Many cry when they arrive, because so many people have told them how wrong this is, even though one in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Restrictions on this safe, routine medical procedure are out of touch with American values and people’s real experiences. And they obstruct the patient-provider relationship, the sanctity of which is the cornerstone of medical care in our country.
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
In the basement of the Upper East Side Equinox Fitness Club, Sam Nunberg was grunting in agony, lifting 55-pound dumbbells in each arm, dripping with sweat. His face — bloated and red as a MAGA hat — contorted into various expressions of deep pain. Somehow he was chewing gum at the same time.
Nunberg paused for a moment between reps and held the weights by this thighs. “I can’t,” he groaned. “I’m having an asthma attack. I’m dying.”
“Do I enjoy your suffering? Yes,” Joe, his personal trainer, replied.
Joe is not the only one. Chances are, if you’ve heard of Sam Nunberg at all, it’s because of his March 5, 2018, media meltdown, a day that will forever be remembered by politics nerds as “The Full Nunberg.” Approximately a week after being subpoenaed by the Special Counsel’s office, Nunberg — the preeminent “failson” of the MAGA coterie — owned the news cycle for a full day. After proclaiming to the Washington Post that he would defy the order to appear before a grand jury, he rang up MSNBC and informed anchor Katy Tur that he would also refuse to hand over his email correspondences with former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon and advisor Roger Stone. “Let him arrest me,” Nunberg said of Robert Mueller. Nunberg then proceeded to phone CNN multiple times — calling Trump “an idiot,” opining that the president “may have very well done something during the election with the Russians,” and repeatedly daring Mueller to take him into custody. When he later appeared on CNN in person, anchor Erin Burnett accused him of being drunk on TV, a charge he vehemently denies.
Nunberg also managed to squeeze in interviews with Spectrum NY1 News — in which he called Sarah Huckabee Sanders a “fat slob” — the New York Times, the Atlantic, Vox, POLITICO, and finally, New York magazine — wherein he elaborated, “She is a slob… [b]ecause she does Trump’s dirty business… I’m not making a judgment about her terrible appearance, because that would be very rude and not politically correct.” Nunberg ultimately reneged on his headline-grabbing threats, testifying in front of a grand jury days later. He told me he ultimately complied with the subpoena because not wanting to do would make him seem guilty.
Clearly enamored by his trainer’s military background, Nunberg eagerly informed me that Joe is a graduate of West Point. Before becoming a personal trainer, Joe was “in the army, wasting money,” Nunberg jabbed.
Without so much as cracking a smile, Joe reminded his client they were still working out. “Step back and spread your heels,” he commanded.
Nunberg grew up on the Upper East Side, the son of two attorneys. Both parents supported Jimmy Carter for president but became Republicans in the late 1980s, partly due to their dissatisfaction with David Dinkins’ tenure as the mayor of New York City. Ardent supporters of Rudy Giuliani, they were dismayed by Bill Clinton’s tax increases and viewed him as inherently corrupt.
“Don’t make people your heroes,” Nunberg told me. “You’ll get disappointed.”
Sam went his own way. When he was assigned an essay in sixth grade about which presidential candidate he supported, he chose Ross Perot. “I always had an affinity for outsiders,” he explained. “Even at a young age, I was always interested in non-politician type people, flashy businessmen.”
Nunberg’s interest in politics deepened during college (he attended McGill in Montreal) when he learned about Roy Cohn, the notorious political fixer and chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. “I used to put Cohn’s picture up on my Blackberry wallpaper… I didn’t realize Trump was one of his clients,” he said.
It was through researching Cohn that Nunberg first learned of his future mentor, Roger Stone, another long-time practitioner of the political dark arts, who got his start on the first Nixon campaign. “I was always attracted to Stone,” Nunberg told me, citing a 2007 Weekly Standard article about the “professional lord of mischief,” which adoringly chronicled his dirty political work and relationship with Trump. In 2008, Nunberg was volunteering for Romney’s presidential campaign — who he believed was the most viable conservative candidate at the time — when he ran into his idol for the first time, while on the campaign trail in Iowa.
He proved himself a good student, making his first splash in the culture wars during the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque (which as POLITICO’s David Freelander noted, was “neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque”). Nunberg was working for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice in 2010, when a Muslim real estate developer and an imam initiated an effort to build an Islamic community center several blocks away from Ground Zero. Inspired by Stone’s dirty tricks, Nunberg pounced.
After convincing ACLJ (helmed by Jay Sekulow, who now also serves as one of Trump’s personal attorneys) to get involved in the debate, Nunberg joined the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Newt Gingrich, and Pamela Geller in their efforts to drum up panic about the proposed building. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? This is going to be a national fucking issue! It is going to be an international issue!’” Nunberg said last year. He garnered some coveted media attention, even making it onto NPR, after bombastically proclaiming that building the community center “would be like removing the sunken ship in Pearl Harbor to erect a memorial to the Japanese kamikazes killed in the attack.”
Amid the ensuing fracas, Stone introduced Nunberg to a well-known real estate mogul. “Trump recognized me when I walked into his office,” Nunberg bragged, his voice characteristically booming and gleeful, due to the recent appearance he made on Fox News. Soon after, he joined Trump’s political team, back when the idea of President Trump was nothing more than a publicity stunt.
Nunberg has been hired and fired by Trump three times. He began working for him in 2011, and was first let go in 2014 after orchestrating an unflattering BuzzFeed profile of the candidate headlined, “36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump.” He was rehired in April 2014, fired again in February 2015, and rehired a couple months later, as a communications adviser, one of the first on the team. He was then let go six months later, right as the campaign was actually gaining traction, after some of his racist Facebook posts from 2007 — wherein he called Al Sharpton’s daughter the N-word and Obama a “Socialist Marxist Islamo Fascist Nazi Appeaser” — resurfaced.
Nunberg blames “piece of shit” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — whom he says made the campaign “a complete disaster,” despite its ultimate success — for the media getting wind of those Facebook posts.
In what Nunberg views as perhaps the greatest indignity, a Trump spokesperson later disparaged him — the man who championed a Donald Trump presidency when it was little more than a joke — as a “low-level staffer.”
“Don’t make people your heroes,” Nunberg told me. “You’ll get disappointed.” Trump subsequently sued him for $10 million for allegedly breaching a confidentiality agreement in July 2016; the suit was settled “amicably” two months later.
Depressed, humiliated, and cast out of Trump’s orbit, Nunberg’s political career seemed all but over; his finances in free fall. “The year Trump fired me, I made $50,000,” he lamented, “In 2016, I made 60, 65.” His March 5, 2018, media blitz changed everything, allowing him to finally regain the relevance he desperately craved.
Nunberg recalls that day in March fondly. “It was a coming out moment,” he told me. “I don’t think I’d be going on cable TV as frequently as I do now if I hadn’t done that.”
The one regret he has about his marathon of news hits seems to be his physical appearance; he got serious about working out, he said, because he wants to look “less fat on TV.”
A half hour later, his workout complete, Nunberg was nursing a Muscle Milk and smoking a long menthol cigarette on the balcony of his small one-bedroom apartment on the edge of Yorkville. His adoring dachshund Winston was running in circles around his feet, elated that his dad had finally returned home.
“He’s got a nice place,” Nunberg said of the perfect little pup. “Better than the pound, right? He was gonna be killed. He was a biter when he was younger.”
Given the President’s well-known aversion to dogs, Nunberg’s obsession with man’s best friend seems noteworthy. His home is virtually a shrine to them. A framed picture of his first dachshund, Frankie, hung on the wall of his living room; below it, he’d placed a poster that listed off a number of “Things we learn from a dog,” including: “greet everyone with enthusiasm,” “don’t hold grudges,” “loyalty is a virtue,” “accept treats,” and “love unconditionally.” On his couch lay a pillow with a silhouette of a dachshund and the embroidered legend, “It’s been a long day.” (Dachshund lovers will get it.) Across the room, a dog-themed calendar was affixed to his fridge with a “9/11 NEVER FORGET” magnet.
Nunberg’s newfound media attention not only inspired him to quit drinking, but propelled him to move out of his parents’ nearby duplex and into his own place.
A few items were non-canine-themed. A stray copy of the Mueller report lay on the corner of his coffee table, for instance, and a WWE championship belt rested atop the air conditioner.
A lifelong wrestling fan, Nunberg first encountered Trump at Wrestlemania V when he was six years old, but only began to recognize his political potential at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011, when he saw Trump walking down the hallway, flanked by paparazzi. “I ain’t never seen anything like that for a Republican,” he recalled. “I didn’t know necessarily if he could beat Obama. I don’t think anybody could have, but I thought this was the type of candidacy that could give the Republicans a chance.” Trump, Nunberg said, is the “WWE Smash Mouth”-version of Obama.
If Nunberg has learned anything from Trump, it’s a deep reverence for ratings. As he confirmed during the Full Nunberg, attention, whether positive or negative, has its uses. “It was good to dominate the day,” he said. “It’s always good to dominate media. If you get ratings, you get on TV.” He rattled off his viewership numbers on that fateful day in March, and bitterly remarked, “I’m not a ‘low-level part-time consultant’ anymore, after what I did.”
As for Burnett’s comment about smelling alcohol on his breath, he claimed it was a set-up: “She was getting texts from Michael Cohen and somebody from the White House telling her to ask me that.”
Though Nunberg fiercely maintained he hadn’t been drinking at all the night of the interview, he admitted that he has struggled with alcohol abuse throughout his life. A little less than a month after his viral moment, he decided to get sober again, and he said he hasn’t had a drink since April 1, 2018. It wasn’t his first attempt at sobriety, but it has been his longest.
“I bought that Clapton picture ’cause I went to Clapton’s rehab in Antigua,” he told me, pointing to an impressively tacky, pseudo-impressionist painting of the famed guitarist hanging above his bed, beside a map of the United States made of license plates. “It’s good to wake up every morning and have that as a reminder.”
As it turns out, going ape on TV after getting subpoenaed by Mueller is the best thing that’s happened to Sam Nunberg in a long time: His newfound media attention not only inspired him to quit drinking, but propelled him to move out of his parents’ nearby duplex and into his own place.
Meanwhile, Nunberg has also become a regular talking head on cable news — albeit unpaid. Still, he’s now back to making a midsix-figure salary, working as a media affairs consultant for two clients, including a major aerospace company.
These days, Nunberg doesn’t get a lot of love from Team Trump, but the affection he receives from the ever-adoring Winston more than makes up for it. All in all, Nunberg said his life has improved “on the margins, but not primarily” since Trump won the Presidency. “The publicity part is certainly better,” he told me. If Trump wasn’t president, he explained, “Would I be sitting here with you right now? No. But I don’t get the perks of what others get… I truly love politics, and that was something that was taken away from me by Trump.”
“My taxes have gone up under Donald Trump. That’s just the fucking fact. They didn’t go up under Obama.”
Despite Nunberg’s exile, his influence on policy endures. For instance, he took half the credit for getting Trump fixated on the idea of building a wall, something he and Roger Stone proposed to the president together. Inspired by a 2010 John McCain campaign ad, in which the self-styled maverick strolled along the border with an Arizona sheriff and declared, “Complete the dang fence,” Nunberg said he told Trump, “‘Why don’t you say you’re going to build a wall?’ Because nobody builds like Trump.”
Nunberg’s eagerness to place himself at the center of controversies like the Ground Zero Mosque and the wall suggest his politics are largely racially motivated. But even after the leaked Facebook messages, he insisted that he’s not a racist. “The Democrats get 95% of the African American vote,” he said. “Why can’t we also play resentment politics?”
Politically, Nunberg still considers himself a conservative. “I’m a Republican because I think that there should be less regulations on the small businesses,” he explained, noting that he also supports “a strong military” and believes Trump is doing “a great job on China.” When it comes to abortion, “it should be done as infrequently as possible,” he said. “I don’t think Roe v. Wade is good law, but I think we need to have [legal] abortion in the first trimester.”
As for the President himself, Nunberg gives him a mixed rating. “My taxes have gone up under Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s just the fucking fact. They didn’t go up under Obama.” But he still plans to vote for him again in 2020. “Here’s what these elections are really about: judges and three-thousand fucking appointments,” he explained. “The federal government, especially the way it is now, is a leviathan. Personnel is policy. That’s the reason why I go for any Republican.”
As for his personal life, it remains a work in progress. “Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked.
“No. No,” he replied with uncharacteristic terseness. “I just haven’t been interested.”
His professional background, it seems, presents one stumbling block. “They’ll just say, ‘Oh, I find your politics disgusting,’” he explained. But he doesn’t mind dating liberals, “As long as we don’t have to discuss it,” he told me. “That took maturity. I used to be obsessed with politics. I’m just not anymore.” As for what he’d like to be doing in the future, he said, he’d like to find another field he can be passionate about. “That’s one of the things I’m pissed about Trump,” he said. “From the way I was treated on the campaign, he just took that passion away from me.”
Nunberg seemed a little melancholy, but a moment later, he’d segued into an anecdote about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, gleefully calling the conservative stalwarts “disgusting.” The way he sees it, they’re lying to their audiences. “Just say, ‘I support Trump,’” he bemoaned, instead of falsely professing objectivity. “Limbaugh starts taking fucking dictation from the White House the day after my media blitz and saying Sam Nunberg was a drunk. He had nothing to do with the campaign. He’s just trying to take credit. He has like multiple things I’m saying I was drunk. Here’s a fucking guy who was doing Oxy before it was fashionable… and he’s lying.”
The wistfulness had passed. Nunberg was once again fired up. His eyes brightened. “I’ll give you some good stuff,” he promised me.
Update: An earlier version of this story misstated Nunberg’s work history with Donald Trump. He was hired and fired three times, not twice.
By Elena Gooray
It started one evening in 2016, when Stella Harper heard a knock at her front door. Harper, who works at a transportation company in Indianapolis, peeked into her yard to find a representative from the Sierra Club environmental group. The visitor had a simple but chilling question: Did Stella know about any coal ash pollution in her backyard?
Harper had no idea what coal ash pollution was, but the question wasn’t altogether surprising: Things had seemed off in her Sunshine Gardens neighborhood for quite some time. “For a while, it seemed like there was a lot of illness in the neighborhood,” Harper said. “We would smell sulfur from time to time.”
Sunshine Gardens lies about three miles north of the Harding Street Generating Station, a plant that burned coal until it converted to natural gas in 2016. When plants burn coal, they leave behind toxic ash that contains chemicals like arsenic, lead, mercury, and chlorine. Stored in large industrial pits known as ponds, the ash comes into contact with the aquifers below the pits, leeching its chemicals into groundwater that spreads to parts of the city, including Sunshine Gardens. Eating or drinking something contaminated by this water can put people at increased risk for cancer, heart damage, kidney failure, and nervous system deficits. The problem isn’t just specific to Indianapolis. Indiana currently has some 85 ash ponds — the most of any state in the nation.
“Of course it was alarming to hear about this,” Harper said. “I was like, ‘Great, another thing to add to what goes on in this neighborhood.’ We are just the forgotten little neighborhood no one cares about.”
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency released rules enforcing nationwide standards for coal ash cleanup. The Obama-era rules mandated that any ash ponds known to be a source of contamination or coming within five feet of groundwater close by April 2019. But in July 2018, the EPA under President Trump pushed back the rule, giving plant owners until fall 2020.
That means some plants continue to burn coal, and even the closed ones have left behind ash pits that need to be cleaned up. And while two major utility companies in Indiana admitted last year that they had violated federal coal ash standards, under current federal guidelines they are under no pressure to make remedies anytime in the immediate future.
“This isn’t going to be like an Erin Brockovich thing,” Harper said. “It’s something we have to stay on top of.”
Sarah Gundle has been a psychologist for some 20 years, but politics didn’t enter the room until Donald Trump won the White House.
“One of the sole drivers for many of my patients has been, for the first time, what’s happening in politics,” the soft-spoken and blonde mother of two said. “People are uncomfortable, they can’t sleep.” And they want to know where she stands. “I remember the first patient who flat out asked me who I voted for,” she recalled. “It was not long after the election. She told me she felt unsafe without knowing.”
Turns out they didn’t share the same beliefs — Gundle, co-clinical director of Octave, a “behavioral health studio” in New York City, voted for Hillary Clinton — but the honest exchange ended up being therapeutic for both of them. “She said she needed to know in order to establish trust, and I believed her,” Gundle, 48, recalled. “We turned it into a useful exercise about maintaining empathy and learning to be compassionate even amid discomfort. And we talked about it in the framework of, how do we keep this safe? It was not a conversation I would have had a few years ago.”
Last May, the Journal of Clinical Psychology devoted an entire issue to how mental health professionals can understand and deal with the dramatic increase in clients feeling politics-related anxiety. For some, Gundle has noticed, the political climate has acted as a trigger of sorts. “A lot of patients are questioning the very essence of what feels safe in America, and that’s made them probe other areas of their life,” she noted. “I’m doing a lot more therapy around past traumas and I ask why now? You’ve kept it buried all these years. But it’s because there’s all this fear and uncertainty and division in general — that’s why now.”
Gundle added that she’s had to face her “liberal bias in a way I’ve never really had to before. In many ways, I think working with someone with different political beliefs is more interesting for me than for them,” she says. “I’ve had patients say things that are actually very offensive, and I’ve had to try hard not to look disgusted. But that forces you to bypass the political opinions to find the humanity underneath.”
It was clear from the first Signal messages that popped up on my phone that the People’s Protection Units, or the YPG — America’s most important military allies in Syria — were nervous about discussing their relationship with the Trump administration. After the fall of the last pockets of Islamic State control this spring, they wanted to make sure they stayed in the White House’s good graces, even as the White House waffled on whether to continue support for their military operations.
It had been weeks since I submitted my media request asking to speak with Gen. Mazlum Abdi, a leader of the YPG, which is a mostly Syrian Kurdish force that served as the backbone of the U.S.’s multiyear anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. Abdi — known to most as Gen. Kobane after he led the defense of that Syrian Kurdish city during an ISIS siege in 2014 — is revered as great military commander. The message response to my interview request was unusually vague: “We will have to look at the questions.”
That was odd, especially for a reporter who’s been tapping officials from YPG and its Turkey-focused parent outfit, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as sources for years. But the YPG’s reluctance to discuss President Donald Trump wasn’t altogether surprising. While the group is supported by the U.S., its PKK counterparts are widely designated as a terrorist organization. Turkey has pressured its NATO allies to demand that the PKK be dismantled; presumably the YPG would go with it. And last fall, Trump impulsively announced a withdrawal of U.S. advisers from Syria, prompting his secretary of defense, James Mattis, to resign in protest and leaving YPG fighters uncertain about what — if any — support they might continue to expect.
Finally, after weeks of waiting, a new response came in. “The situation now is better because we do not face [ISIS] attacks in the same manner,” the unnamed official wrote. “But we have a terrible situation with refugees. More than 75,000 refugees and former [ISIS] members are in our camps or detention and the costs are very high — about $100 per person per day. It’s almost a million dollars a day for us to house and manage Iraqis, Syrians, and foreign fighters and their families from dozens of countries.”
The future of ISIS prisoners is indeed a critical issue: Hundreds, if not thousands, are citizens of foreign countries that have so far expressed little desire to pick up their captured jihadis from the YPG. There have been occasional whispers that the U.S. might fund a prison and trials inside Syria for the prisoners or that the YPG might transfer them to the Syrian government in Damascus. But so far, those plans have not come to fruition.
“There are many rumors and discussions and much of this is fake news,” the YPG official wrote. “We call upon all the countries with citizens captured with [ISIS] to take responsibility for their citizens. We need our allies to help manage the situation.”
Asked if these comments could be attributed to Gen. Kobane, the official refused to comment.
Not many sixth graders can say they’ve been dressed down by a U.S. Senator. In February, video of the contentious Green New Deal debate between Samantha’s environmental advocacy group, Youth vs Apocalypse, and Senator Dianne Feinstein spread through the Internet like an epidemic of black lung. As Feinstein defended herself, she took a shot at the kids: “I’ve been doing this for 30 years.” Then again, the fact that the problem has only gotten worse during that time is precisely why the kids were there.
It was, the tween said, “a weird event,” but it had been a weird year, one that began when her class in Oakland, Ca., learned that President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was planning to roll back pollution goals set in 2015 by the Clean Power Plan.
“Before that we had never really talked about how humans could possibly go extinct from climate change,” Samantha told me by phone in her disarmingly steady cadence (online harassment being what it is, we’re withholding her last name at her mother’s request). Her class had been researching the implications of melting ice for penguins, but now that the discussion was about how people might experience increased carbon dioxide emissions, Samantha said, “Something sparked inside of me.”
A first-generation American of Mexican-Cambodian heritage, Samantha was not one of those Bay Area kids whose parents had toted her to political rallies in a Baby Bjorn. Nevertheless, she and her classmates decided to accept the invitation to a February 2018 EPA hearing in San Francisco by an organizer with the clean air non-profit 350. “My own cousins have asthma,” said Samantha, who is a native of Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, where rates of pollution-induced asthma are some of the highest in the nation. “I can’t just ignore the effects of fossil fuels.”
At the EPA hearing, Samantha, then 11, had not planned to read the thoughts she’d written down about the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. But after watching some of her peers speak out, she decided to go for it. Later that day, with 300 people looking on, she read her statement again in front of City Hall at a press conference held by local politicians. It was a show-stopping performance that’s led to many other speeches — before Oakland Unified School District students, before Harvard graduate students and alumni, and this spring before 2,000 other kids at San Francisco’s Youth Climate Strike, where she also organized the attendance and transportation of a couple hundred schoolmates.
“I feel like the anger that comes with thinking about Trump’s climate change denial is really not worth it,” she said during our conversation. “For me, it gets washed away when my group is doing late night video calls and putting everything together, and there’s just this feeling that ‘Wow there are so many youth that care about climate change and what it’s doing to our planet, and that this is really worth fighting for.’”
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
On August 15, 2017, Tay Washington broke down and cried after hearing President Donald Trump blame the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on “both sides.”
“If Trump didn’t care about someone dying,” the now-29-year-old said recently, tearing up again as she referenced Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed almost two years ago when a white supremacist drove his car through a crowd of anti-racist protesters, “he didn’t give two cents about my injury.”
A black woman, Washington wasn’t in downtown Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, for the Unite the Right rally, nor was she part of the counterprotest. She was just stuck at a stop sign, sitting in her 2004 white Toyota Camry with the soft black top, her younger sister in the passenger seat, and marveling at the mostly white crowd holding up signs saying “Stand Against Racism” and “Black Lives Matter.”
“I’d been living in Charlottesville since 2009, but I’m from Mississippi,” Washington said. “I’d never seen so many white people getting together for a black cause. I’m like, ‘Wow, people love each other, you know?’”
It was then that James Alex Fields Jr. gunned his gray Dodge Charger down 4th Street and plowed through the throng before violently crashing directly into the back of her car, killing Heyer and injuring 19 others, including Washington.
“When it first happened all I heard was a big, big, loud noise — I thought somebody set off a bomb,” she recalled. “My eyes are blurry. I can’t see. But I can hear everybody screaming. By the time I had opened up my eyes, I see a woman’s body rolling down my front windshield and then I look to my left, and it’s just chaos.”
The moment upended her life. Her legs had been jammed under the steering wheel, and the pain was excruciating. The initial diagnosis was a fractured ankle that should heal without difficulty. But debilitating flare-ups of pain persisted. Six months later she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a condition that randomly sends messages of severe pain to the brain and has no sure effective treatment strategy.
At the time of the crash, Washington was on the verge of starting a career as an EMT, but her condition — which sidelines her multiple times a day for up to an hour at a time — has made it impossible to work, let alone sufficiently care for her 10-year-old daughter.
“My mom and my sister help out, and I have gotten some support from the Virginia Victims Fund [a state program created more than 40 years ago to help victims of violent crime with out-of-pocket expenses], but it’s not enough for someone who’s kind of disabled and just trying to survive,” said Washington, adding that she had received a total of only $8,000 from the fund to cover 18 months of lost wages.
Fields’ insurance hasn’t been helpful either. Though nobody denies Fields caused the crash, he did so intentionally, and his insurance would only be liable if it was an accident, she said.
Asked if she’d considered suing him, she told me there was no point. “He has nothing and he’s going to jail.”
Currently, the federal government administers the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, but no such federal aid for victims of domestic terrorism exists. In any event, Trump’s Justice Department declined to charge Fields as a domestic terrorist, despite his ties to the neo-Nazi hate group, Vanguard America.
In Washington’s estimation, Trump’s responsibility for Charlottesville predates his failure to properly respond to the tragedy.
“I do think after he got elected, people’s heads got bigger and they got more braver to do these things that they do,” she said. “Because he is standing behind them he is actually provoking it in a way.”
Rather than his infamous claim that there was violence on both sides in Charlottesville, I asked Washington, what would you have liked to have heard from the president?
“At least some acknowledgment, at least some compassion,” she said. “Some type of he’s sorry that these people got together, and at least some type of action so nobody would think that this was something good. Something, anything but what he said.”
Five times a day, Mohamed Emad crouches down on the floor of his tiny cell, just inches from the toilet, and starts to pray. Since March 2018, the Saudi immigrant, a former restaurant delivery worker, has been held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Dodge County Detention Facility. “It’s not good here,” he said. “We don’t have a room to pray in, and under my religion, you need to pray in a clean space.” A devout Muslim, Emad has had to make more than a few sacrifices during his time in the facility, which is located outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city that he called home for nearly three decades.
It was a bright morning late last winter when ICE agents knocked on Emad’s apartment door. “You know why we’re here,” Emad recalled the agents telling him as they took him into custody. At first, he thought it was because he had overstayed his visa, but later he’d learn that he was facing much more serious charges: He had been deemed a national security risk.
Two years prior, a co-worker of Emad’s at a Chinese restaurant was arrested after he bought guns from an FBI informant. Federal agents interviewed several employees at the restaurant, including Emad, but there was no indication that he was considered a suspect. Then, in early 2018, the FBI apparently opened a case on Emad. The agency labeled him a threat and started deportation proceedings.
As he awaits his trial in immigration court, Emad said he keeps his sanity by focusing on his religion, even if it is confined to a tiny cell. “When I first came to America, I believed in justice in this country,” Emad said. “After  months here, I’m not so sure.”
By Elena Gooray
As the executive director of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Jay Speer spends most of his days wrapped up in other people’s financial nightmares. Monthly payments that doubled to become weekly, interest as high as 300%, ballooning debt — it all conspires to prey upon low-income folks who, unable to secure reasonable loans from banks, have had to resort to so-called payday lenders.
And so Speer was pleased when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) introduced a rule pushing lenders to determine whether borrowers do in fact have the means to repay their debts. Consumers approach payday lenders asking for small loans — typically less than $1,000 — to cover bills and other short-term living expenses. But many end up trapped in payment cycles they can’t keep up with — making the CFPB rule a rare moment of accountability for lenders.
“The most important piece of the Obama rule was the concept of making sure your borrowers can repay their loans,” he said. “If you offer someone money, and don’t make sure the person can pay it back, you’re not a lender — you’re a loan shark.”
But under President Trump, that rule has been rolled back, and the CFPB has since fallen into its old ways, allowing lenders to dole out toxic loans with no consequences.
“New folks came in [to the CFPB] and only listened to predatory lenders, so they say they’re going to change the rule,” Speer said. “It’s pretty clear who’s in charge now: the lenders.”
I have always been an entrepreneur. I started my first company at 19. In 2014, I founded my current company, Crowdera, an online fundraising platform that works mainly with nonprofits. This was after more than 15 years working in both the U.S. and in India with companies like Xerox, eBay, and Pearson Education. We had offices in Silicon Valley and were close to opening one in Austin.
In July of 2017, I was invited to speak at a major event for entrepreneurs in India. I left California, and I haven’t been back. A few days before I was set to fly home, I was told that my visa had been denied. I was asked to submit documentation that I’d already submitted. This was after 10 years of being in the U.S. — 10 years of building my home, 10 years of paying Social Security. I had a beautiful house in Menlo Park, and my son loved his school and his friends. I had created so much employment and had mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs throughout Silicon Valley. I’d felt I’d done a lot for the country. But that’s when I realized it was not my country.
My wife and son had no choice but to leave the U.S. to join me; my wife’s visa depended on my own, and we didn’t want to be apart, regardless. Friends had to move my entire office to storage. The big question was what to do with Crowdera. Technically, I was no longer allowed to own it, nor was I allowed to earn money from it. I had to decide whether to continue to build Crowdera in the U.S., essentially as a volunteer, or start all over again in India.
I chose the latter. Some of my investors pulled out because they had been investing in a U.S.-based American company, and we were no longer that. But India has been very good to us. I was able to cut costs and didn’t have to fire anyone. I ran a small round of fundraising, enough to give us the push we needed. We’re now 19 employees and are about to double in size. Soon, we’ll expand to Singapore, a country that is very open to tech talent and startups. Being here also gives us access to China.
I don’t fault the United States. I believe in the system. Because of some illegal immigrants, there is an anger, and I get that, but the legal immigrants are also facing the brunt of it. Which is not fair. There are a lot of good people who are helping a lot, contributing a lot. I have a friend who was an illegal immigrant in the U.S. and he ended up building an amazing empire. He became rich. He was a good element of society. Not everyone with an Islamic name is a terrorist. Not everyone who’s a refugee or an illegal immigrant is a criminal. Not every legal immigrant should have to go through these things. We all have ideas. We have given back to society. In many cases, we have paid taxes for so many years. We deserve the opportunity to stay.
I haven’t given up on the dream of one day returning to the U.S. At the same time, my company is doing amazing, and my public image in India is great. People love me here, and that’s a great feeling.
When Greg Reilly heard the news that the American embassy in Israel would be moving to Jerusalem, his first thought was, “Let’s hope nothing happens over there.” Reilly has been leading spiritual tours in the holy city for more than twenty years as part of his family’s business, Maranatha Tours, which was founded by his missionary grandfather 45 years ago. “I’ve seen Israel through all the intifadas, 9/11, I’ve seen it all,” he said. Relocating the embassy, he worried, would inflame relations between Arabs and Israelis — and that could have big implications for his own bottom line.
Initially his fears were borne out. On the day the embassy opened, Israeli soldiers fired on a group of Palestinian protesters, killing 58 people and wounding nearly three thousand. But this didn’t seem to deter American Christians who wanted to visit the Holy Land. In fact, it seemed to encourage them.
“We’ve never seen it this busy, period,” Reilly said. “They’re breaking records every day.” He’s careful not to attribute the uptick directly to the embassy switch; an improved American economy and a $93 million marketing campaign by the Israeli tourism agency are surely helping, too. Still, Reilly feels Trump deserves a good deal of credit. “I think our people” — meaning the evangelical community — “feel a little stronger because of Trump and what he’s doing.”
Reilly is a sturdy, energetic man in his mid-forties who’s also trained as a chef. (He hosts a video series called “Cooking Through the Bible”.) He leads several pilgrimages to Jerusalem every year. On his most recent tour, two women on the trip told him they were determined to take a picture in front of the embassy. So he asked the driver to stop. “I pulled up, they jumped out, we all took pictures in front of the embassy, and they got back in,” he said. “And I’m telling you, from beginning to end, that was their highlight.”
By Elena Gooray
In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, Donald Trump expressed a surprisingly lefty goal: to dedicate an additional $291 million toward eradicating the HIV virus from the U.S. within 10 years.
The funding is promised for 48 counties where the illness continues to hit hard, along with D.C. and Puerto Rico. One of those counties is East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, where the health clinic CareSouth offers support for HIV/AIDS patients and offers to connect them to treatment options. Patricia Richard, a peer counselor with CareSouth, spoke to us about her work and the clinic’s planning for the proposed federal funding.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Patricia Richard: We work with patients who don’t have medications, who aren’t getting care, who are not familiar with all of the things they should do when diagnosed. We encounter a lot of patients who want treatment, but have barriers to getting it. Some may be homeless; others don’t have transportation.
I haven’t heard very much yet. The little I have heard — I don’t put a lot of faith into it. Seeing is believing.
Yes, I was pleasantly surprised.
Right now we have maybe 10 people in our department. We’ve got our hands full with patients. We need more resources to expand our hours. Some emergencies happen after we go home [at 5:30 p.m.], and there’s nothing we can do about it.
One of our clients got evicted and was too ashamed to tell us when she got notice. When the [landlords] physically put her out, it was after-hours and too late for us to do anything. She had to sneak back into her apartment to sleep. She didn’t have anyone to call.
About 30 [myself]. But our whole program can see over 150 a day, between HIV testing, social services, behavioral health, medical, or dental.
I don’t think people have forgotten. If people seem less sympathetic, I think they are probably aware of the success and improvements of all the new medicines for HIV and AIDS. People have moved on to the next current focus: cancer, autism, diabetes, etc.
By Joy Villa, as told to Eve Peyser
Before I was a Trump supporter, I was liberal. I even voted for Obama in his first term. I would’ve called myself a social justice warrior.
I didn’t grow up in a particularly political household, but my late father, who is Italian and Argentinian, watched a lot of Fox News. He was a member of the tea party and would say things like, “We need to abolish the IRS.” My mom, who’s Black-American and has also passed away, was largely apolitical.
I grew up in New York and Santa Barbara, doing artistic things, and just knowing that I wanted to make it in Hollywood. I started doing musical theater when I was 10 years old. I was always the girl who looked good, but also dressed kind of crazy. I would alienate a lot of the people around me. I was wearing sparkly Sketchers in fourth grade, and that was weird. People were like, “Why would you wear those?” I just loved it.
In 2011, I met this guy who’s a music producer, and we became friends. At the time I dressed very 80s, so I was wearing leg-warmers, purple eyeshadow, and had big flowers in my afro. He said, “I hear music when I see you.” We created my first single called “Cold Wind” together. I wrote it in 10 minutes. Everything took off from there. By 2014, I was touring — I went to 35 countries in two years. That’s where I met my husband, who’s from Denmark. I made a lot of music and amassed a fanbase, but I was still pretty underground.
Then Trump announced his campaign. At first, I was like, “Oh no, not this guy. He’s a racist,” because all I did was read the headlines. I still wasn’t very political — initially, I supported Bernie Sanders. But after I found out Bernie was a socialist — which I didn’t agree with — and he lost the primary, I was like, “Who the hell am I gonna vote for?” There’s no way in hell I’m voting for Hillary because in my family, we did not like the Clintons. They raised taxes. And I don’t like what Hillary does with the American Psychiatric Association because they want to drug kids.
A close friend told me I should look into Trump. I discovered he actually is who he says he is, that he really wants to make America better, and pull us out of this rut. He has a track record for economic success, so why wouldn’t we trust him? I got addicted to watching Trump’s speeches — he was very pro-America, pro-life, and wanted limited government. He sounded like my dad.
I was going to vote for him, but I decided to keep that quiet. I only told my husband at first, and even got him to start liking Trump. At first, I was very scared people would find out I was a Trump supporter. I thought my music career could be destroyed. Everyone around me hated Trump. Everyone in Hollywood was bad-mouthing him.
When Trump won the election, I cried because I was so happy. But the onslaught of Trump hate just got worse. Madonna said she wanted to blow up the White House at the Women’s March. It became really disgusting.
I got so upset about what they were doing, how everyone was attacking the President and changing his words so much. The headlines about Trump are a blatant lie. He’s not saying all Mexicans are rapists, or all this, or all that. I thought to myself, I gotta do something. I like to wear crazy cool outfits and I’m a member of the recording academy, so I worked with a designer to create a Make America Great Again dress to wear at the 2017 Grammys.
I knew they were going to attack me and do the same mudslinging they do against the president. So I covered my Trump outfit with a white dress, then did a big turn and reveal, and showed off the front of my dress, which said, “Make America Great Again.” The photographers cheered because they knew they were getting something different.
After the Grammys, my record sales blew up. My first EP, which was years old at the time, hit number one on iTunes and Amazon Music, and number 12 on the Billboard top 200. Getting on the Billboard charts was my ultimate dream as an artist, and I got there from one 20-minute appearance on the red carpet. It was mind-blowing.
I got to meet the first family and get invited to the White House regularly. I worked on his campaign in 2017, and he even tweeted at me. Now I regularly appear on Fox News. My music has skyrocketed, and it’s all because I came out as a Trump supporter. It’s streamlined my message because now I have an audience who really has nobody else. On July 4th, I’m releasing a new song called “Freedom Fight For It.” It’s very pro-America, but also unifying.
I also have a lot of fans who are liberals and I’m a huge ally to the LGBT. I call my fans the “Joy Tribe,” and the ones who don’t like Trump tell me, but they also say, “I love you. I love your positivity.”
On the flip side, I get tons of death threats and hate mail. I never got the kind of attacks for being black and Latina as I’ve gotten for being a conservative. Sure, I’ve rolled my eyes when people have asked to touch my hair, but I was never someone who was trying to be victimized or fixating on microaggressions. Now that everyone knows I’m a Trump supporter, I get straight-up aggression. So I have a love-hate relationship with my newfound celebrity. I’m incredibly grateful for it, but there’s just so much attention on me and what I say. People are just waiting for me to say the wrong thing.
There was a time where I was just like, “Does everybody hate me? Is this worth it?” I told myself, “Joy, you’re a fighter. This is what you were made for.” At this point, I’m like, screw it, I’m going to say what I want.
Collin Tuthill was about to lose a lot of money. As the president of Royal Food Import, a Boston-based company that acts as the go-between for overseas factories and U.S. retailers and restaurant chains looking for private-label food products, he’d been watching the trade battle with China closely. China was where he got a good quarter of the canned goods he imports; a major pear and peach production was just about to launch when the Trump administration announced it would be imposing a tariff of up to 25% on Chinese goods. The typical margin within the food import industry, meanwhile, is just south of 20%, Tuthill said. “So even a 10% tariff, which is what we wound up with — for now, at least — is half your margin,” he pointed out. “So if your customers don’t agree to pay for it, then you’re fucked.”
And many of them didn’t. Two-thirds agreed to the price increase. The other third was split. “Half of them said, ‘Cancel my order,’” he said. “The other half was a pain in the ass. They were like, prove the tariff to me. And I said, ‘What kind of fucking proof do you need? Do you not have a television?’”
In many cases, Royal Food paid the difference itself — eventually losing about 10% of its annual revenue — and started looking for alternatives. “We used to get all our peaches from China,” he said. “Now we’re going to Greece and Chile.”
The problem, he said, “is the ‘in or out’ crap. I actually think that what Donald Trump did is pretty smart. I don’t think the tariff is a bad thing. But at this point, we don’t know if the 10% is going to stay for very long or if it’s going to get raised to 25, and so we’re scared. Like, do we bring in more inventory because it could go to 25? Or should we bring in less inventory because it could go to zero? When you don’t tell people where the ground is, they get nervous. And then they panic. And that’s not good business for anyone.”
By Rebecca*, as told to Alyssa Giacobbe
In the fall of 2017, I was in the first semester of my sophomore year at Spelman College, an all-female liberal arts college in Georgia, when I was raped. He was older, and a student at Morehouse College. Morehouse is Spelman’s “brother school.” I ended up getting pregnant, and I decided to have an abortion.
That’s when the real harassment started. He didn’t like that I had made this choice — without him, or at all. He was threatening to call my parents, whom I was scared to tell; he threatened to call the clinic I went to, though I’m not sure why. I think he just liked to threaten. I started giving him money so he would stop. One day, he and his friends surrounded me on campus and yelled “murderer, murderer” at me as I walked through the quad. Finally, a friend suggested I see our school’s Title IX coordinator, the person responsible for overseeing student complaints regarding harassment and assault. I didn’t even know what that was, or that we had one.
In 2015, the Department of Education under President Obama recommended that schools appoint full-time Title IX coordinators. The new administration, however, rescinded the previous guidelines; its “interim guidance” has since removed certain Title IX requirements, including establishing dedicated coordinators and setting time limits to investigations. I requested a no-contact order and filed an official complaint against the man who raped me. The Title IX coordinator assigned to my case encouraged me not to file. She told me that my rapist was a first-generation college student and that he had a lot to lose, and that my case wouldn’t go anywhere anyway. When she finally did file, she appointed a close colleague — so, questionably objective — to investigate. Complicating things further was the fact that investigations would be done by Morehouse, since that was his school.
Under Obama, investigations lasted about 60 to 90 days. Mine has lasted nearly two years — it’s still ongoing. Hearings have been repeatedly delayed. I’ve been denied access to documents.
A couple of months into my Title IX investigation, my mother raised the point with the schools that I was supposed to have a prompt investigation. The Morehouse coordinator just kept saying, well, we’re not obligated to follow the three-month rule anymore. Now, it’s pretty much up to the institution. So they kind of do what they want.
Since the rape, I’ve barely gone to class in person because I am terrified of running into him. I do have accommodations that allow me to only go to campus if I feel up to it. If not, I can submit my assignments online and I’m allowed to take exams in the Title IX office instead of in class. So, right, I’m getting an education. But it’s certainly not the college experience I signed up for.
*Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
By Elena Gooray
In June, Donald Trump finally made good on his promise to extend a soot-covered olive branch to the coal industry: His administration did away with an Obama-era emissions policy that imposed federal limits on coal production. The Environmental Protection Agency will now allow coal plants to stay open longer and will authorize states to set their own carbon emission standards.
Many in the coal industry see the recent rollback as a good first step to protecting coal jobs (something Trump has so far been unable to do). But that doesn’t mean some people aren’t still skeptical of the president. Take Phil Smith, the director of governmental affairs for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a trade union that represents around 96,000 active and retired coal miners nationwide. Smith spoke to GEN at length about Trump’s relationship to the coal industry, the problem with transitioning to other energy forms, and why his union didn’t endorse a presidential candidate in 2016.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Phil Smith: He did not.
It was all in general terms. There weren’t real specifics. He’d say, “I’m gonna put coal miners back to work.” Well, how? The main thing you heard was, “I’m going to end a lot of these job-killing regulations.”
When he took office, two of the first things he did was pull the U.S. out of the Paris [Agreement] and pull the Clean Power Plan, both of which were slated to have significant impacts on the coal industry. However, those impacts were years away from being real. No coal miner had lost their jobs yet because of those things.
We did not make any endorsement for president in 2016. We wanted someone who would help our members maintain our jobs, and help our retirees maintain the retirement benefits they’ve earned. And we wanted someone who would make it safe to be in a union and stand up for workers’ rights. Neither candidate met those criteria.
I would guess the vast majority of our active voters voted for Trump, [but] among UMWA retirees, the majority probably voted for Clinton. She was the one out there who was talking about protecting their retiree health care and pensions. Trump never mentioned that.
At the same time, almost all of those communities in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky have Democrats in charge of county and municipal offices. They elect Democrats to state offices.
I think these communities are still waiting for more significant actions. Some of these counties have no police force or EMTs anymore, and their schools are crumbling without the money to fix them. While there’s a feel-good message out there, in terms of action, coal communities are still waiting.
Ivan Ramirez is thin, with dark brown hair and a shy grin. Now 13, he has spent nearly a quarter of his life in some form of confinement.
For the last two years, Ivan has been living, along with his mother, Hilda, in sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, outside of Austin, Texas. They share a bunk bed in an office that’s been turned into a bedroom. The room is cramped, with a small kitchenette and a few shelves filled with clothing and toys. A guitar is rested against a wall — a gift that a St. Andrew’s pastor gave to Ivan a few years ago.
Ivan and Hilda first came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2015, fleeing Ivan’s violent father. Once in Texas, Ivan and Hilda turned themselves in to Border Patrol officers. But their experience with the Customs and Border Protection (and later ICE) detention center proved to be little better than what they’d left behind. “We were put into the dog pound,” Ivan recalled. “These big cages.” They would spend a total of 11 months in detention, finally being released in early 2016. Although they lost their asylum case, they were not targets for deportation under Obama administration guidelines. Later that year, however, with the Trump campaign gaining steam, ICE had a change of heart, ordering Ivan and Hilda to present themselves for deportation.
Fearing they would be killed or kidnapped if they returned home, they took sanctuary in St. Andrew’s church. Two years later, as the Trump administration has stepped up its anti-immigration policies, they’re still there. Though Ivan is able to leave the church grounds to attend school and play on a soccer team, Hilda, ever fearful of ICE agents, never steps foot outside.
Ivan has plans for when the situation is finally resolved. He said he’d like to be “a soccer player, an actor, a designer, an architect, or a construction worker.” As we chatted, he stuck close to his mother, who kept a watchful eye on him. “I don’t like that immigration is trying to capture us,” he said. “I’d like to live in a normal house, like everybody.”
Kim Schrier was blindsided by the 2016 election. A pediatrician who’d treated families across Washington’s 8th Congressional District — a rural region east of Seattle — for over a decade, she felt sick as she tried to piece together what Donald Trump’s victory meant for her family and community. “I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said. “It felt like my country was slipping away like sand through my fingers.”
Although Schrier had always kept up with the issues, she’d done so at a distance, seeing the political arena as a world where she didn’t belong. All of that changed when she started attending meetings of Indivisible, an organization that quickly become the fulcrum of the anti-Trump resistance. Inspired by what she heard, Schrier began protesting outside the office of her congressman, Rep. David Reichert, a powerful Republican who’d been in office since 2004. For Schrier, Reichert’s initial support of “Trumpcare,” the President’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act that would’ve cut Medicaid funding and rolled back health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, had been the last straw.
Taking such an openly aggressive political stance marked a sharp turn for the normally mild-mannered doctor, whose calm demeanor contrasted sharply with the firebrands leading the Democrat’s “resistance.” And yet, months later, after some coaxing by friends and family, Schrier decided to run for Reichert’s seat. “As a doctor who’s served my community and as someone with a pre-existing condition [diabetes], I realized I could no longer sit still and wait for things to get better,” she said. “I had a simple message: Washington, D.C. is clearly out of touch, but I get it. I’m going to go to bat for our healthcare, our community.”
Unlike Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, two of the more prominent members of the Democrats’ 2018 freshman congressional class, Schrier ran in a distinctly purple district. Washington’s 8th backed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton but hadn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since it was created in 1980. Reichert won his 2016 reelection bid by over 20 points.To broaden her appeal, Schrier focused on bipartisan issues like health care and education while portraying herself as a centrist breaking from the partisan brinkmanship ruling national politics.
The voters liked what they heard: Schrier beat out Dino Rossi, a seasoned Washington State Senator who ran on the Republican ticket after Reichert bowed out, by nearly five points. “Probably 75–80% of the population lives somewhere in that middle political ground, so we’ve got to step away from the extremes,” she said. “People really bought into that message, the notion of coming together at a time when our country needs it most. The community really showed up and we took this on together.”
Though Schrier views her stunning win as a step in the right direction, the real challenge lies in legislating. In the six months she’s been on Capitol Hill, she’s sponsored five bills and several more amendments, including multiple related to the cost of insulin and children’s health. H.R. 2480, which aims to implement stronger safeguards against child abuse, was passed in the House but has yet to be voted on in the Senate.
As for what happens next, Schrier wants to build on her momentum to ensure that more Americans can follow in her footsteps. “We’ve got to remove the massive financial barriers that prevent the majority of Americans from even considering running for office. That’s how you pave the way for people from all income levels and backgrounds and help form a truly representative government.”
Bonnee Breese Bentum, a veteran high school English teacher in Philadelphia, received a strange postcard in the mail as the school year wrapped up. At first glance, it looked like something from her union, the American Federation of Teachers, but upon closer inspection she realized it was from an altogether different group: the Americans for Fair Treatment (AFFT). The AFFT is one of a number of organizations that have sprung up following the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2018’s Janus v. AFSCME, all of them hell-bent on convincing teachers to ditch their union memberships.
In Janus, the court’s new conservative bloc, bolstered by then-new Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, ruled that public sector unions can’t compel government employees to pay membership dues. Anti-union groups like the AFFT say that forcing those employees to pay dues violates their first amendment rights; unions argue that since all public employees benefit from the collective bargaining they do — everyone, whether they’re a member of the union or not — should be required to pay their fair share.
A veteran educator and union leader, Bentum weighed in on how Janus has affected educators in Philadelphia.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Bonnee Breese Bentum: I started teaching in 2001. I didn’t have lights in my classroom. I didn’t have a chair or a desk. I didn’t know how I was supposed to teach English in that environment. So I started getting active, not for me, but for the children.
We haven’t seen much effect of the Janus ruling yet. But we’re seeing new, younger teachers come in, and after a few paychecks, start asking, “Why am I paying this 1% deduction? Why do I need a union?”
I tell them, “Because you really wouldn’t be making this kind of money if you didn’t pay this fee. This allows us to stand together when we’re negotiating your working conditions and pay, making sure you have planning time and access to high quality of materials. They’re your voice when you’re busy in the classroom teaching.”
They’re just going to keep coming after us until we turn over. I doubt that the union-busting will ever work in the city of Philadelphia. We are a union town. The question is what else is coming down the pipeline; with this new Supreme Court and all the federal judges this president has appointed, we have to be ready for anything.
By Vincent*, as told to Jordan Heller
I grew up middle-class in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of D.C. I’m 38 years old, white, male, short, and stocky, but fairly strong. I work a lot in the gig economy doing odd jobs — tutoring, house- and pet-sitting, helping people move, furniture assembly. I go by Vincent.
I’ve been an anti-racist activist for a long time. Years before Trump announced he was running for president, there was this Ku Klux Klan march, and people were organizing against it. I remember thinking, “Well, the klan isn’t really that much of a presence anymore. Sure, go and protest them, but it’s not really what I want to be doing. There’s other stuff to do.” And then Trump came down that escalator talking about Mexicans being rapists and it was obvious that I had been wrong. More and more Nazis started appearing in public spaces, and Trump was echoing their politics, and he had an alarming amount of support. That’s when I started identifying as antifa. I have friends of color who were critical of “white allies” and calling for “accomplices” who were willing to put their bodies on the line and take real risks. With Trump, I understood I needed to step it up.
Antifa is decentralized. There is no organization to be a member of. Generally, if you have a leader and a top-down organization, it’s easier for opponents and cops to target people. The first anti-fascist action I helped organize was against Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute (NPI). They had an event in D.C. during the 2016 primaries. We were just a small group of white anti-racists, but it was the largest anti-Spencer action up to that point. Then after Trump won the general, Spencer came back. That’s when he did his Nazi salute, which went viral. They were in high spirits. We had a lot of people outside protesting, and this alt-right YouTuber who was part of the conference came out with a cameraman to make fun of antifa. The crowd surrounded her. Eventually her Nazi cameraman jumped on a guy and started strangling him. There was a scrum. I pushed the cameraman away, off of my friend. I got his blood on my shirt. I still have it. I call it my Nazi blood shirt.
I think the perception of antifa as ultraviolent is unfair. I don’t do violence. What I do is community defense. I’m good at de-escalation. I’ve broken up fights. I’m not afraid of getting hit or pepper sprayed or whatever. That said, I’m not gonna tell someone, “Don’t punch a Nazi.” This idea that both sides are the same is untrue. We never killed anybody. Neo-Nazis have. But antifa’s notoriety can be helpful. It magnifies the sense that you could be in trouble if you come to a fascist rally — that you could get hurt or get doxxed and lose your job. That drives down attendance and interferes with their ability to spread their hateful politics.
I was bullied as a kid. At some point I learned to stand up to them. A lot of my antifa actions feel like an extension of that. It’s about not letting jerks target and hurt people. And it’s about sticking up for ourselves. I was at the DeploraBall on the eve of the inauguration, organizing an anti-fascist protest. At one point, I was standing alone holding a “No Rapists” sign, and Gavin McInnes [the far-right co-founder of Vice Media] came up with a bunch of Proud Boys. He told me I make him sick. I looked around and saw I was alone, then I tried to match his energy. He slapped the side of my head, licked my nose, and then walked around the corner and punched someone else. I was like, “Yo, that was fricking weird.” It struck me as a very rapey way to respond to a “no rapist” sign.
I’ve been called on to do security for people who are concerned about Nazi violence. I was a bodyguard for a Black Lives Matter activist at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. It mostly entailed looking out for threats, giving advice, and keeping people away. My mom called me while I was there. I hadn’t told her I was going, but she guessed correctly. She doesn’t know the extent of what I’m involved in. Most people don’t know that I’ve masked up. I don’t really talk about it much with folks who aren’t involved.
I also did security at a book reading for Against the Fascist Creep by Alexander Reid Ross. These four guys in MAGA hats showed up to intimidate Ross and the audience. One of them we had previously seen calling himself a Nazi. We called in friends and filled the bookstore with anti-fascists. Then we followed them out and down the street to a park. They started panicking, looking like they might need to fight. We were calm. They ran for taxis. Two of those fascists were the Clark brothers, one of whom later committed suicide. The other ended up in jail on gun charges because his mother turned him in after he started boasting about being connected to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.
I feel proud of a lot of things that we’ve done. Overall I feel like this has been a very good thing to do. The Trump era is terrible. It’s also taught me a lot about who I am and what I’m capable of.
*His name has been changed to protect his identity.
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
By Lt. Col. B Fram, as told to Adam K. Raymond
I came out on the day the ban ended on June 30th, 2016. It was a long-anticipated moment, but still incredibly nerve-wracking. When Secretary Ash Carter finished speaking, I had a note ready to go to my colleagues in the office, and an email and a Facebook post to friends and family. I definitely hovered over that send and that post button for quite some time before I got the nerve to click. Once I did, I ran away wondering what the reaction was going to be. I went down to the gym in the bowels of the Pentagon and I think I burned the motor out on the elliptical machine that day with all the nervous energy I had.
When I sat down, my colleagues walked over to me one by one, shook my hand and said it was an honor to serve with me. It was beyond touching and certainly my honor to serve with them. From friends and family, it was nothing but love.
I was shocked and disappointed at the administration’s decision to put a ban back in place in 2017. We had shown — for a year at that point — nothing but honorable and effective service. The service chiefs testified to Congress that there had been zero issues related to transgender service. Up until those tweets, we were hopeful that we would just be left to serve and be able to defend the country that we love.
After the Supreme Court decision to allow the government to implement the ban while cases worked through the lower courts, I had to race and get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria into my military record. That would allow me and others to be considered exempt from this policy, and able to access medically necessary care as determined by our doctors. Without that, I could have been at risk for discharge. Now I’m protected, but I have to keep fighting so that no one is left behind. We know there are thousands of service members that can no longer come out and seek medically necessary care without fear of discharge.
We are now an endangered species. Without waivers, no one new can get in, and no one serving can come out of the closet.
The military today, and the military of the future rely on our nation’s best and brightest to win wars. Some of those best and brightest just happen to be trans. By implementing this policy we’re denying ourselves our future heroes.
Every day, Caitlin Bodamer waits for the precious few minutes when she can hear her husband’s voice across the phone line. “We talk about basically anything,” she said. “We’ve gotten desensitized to the fact that the calls are short and monitored.”
Caitlin has come to rely on the prison phone lines — a system that costs around $4 per each 15-minute call. That expense quickly adds up: Caitlin estimates she spends around $500 per month on her husband’s calls — a tall order on a customer service representative’s salary. “I pick up a lot of overtime, and I’ve even picked up odd jobs here and there,” she said. “I would prefer to use this money helping him further his education in there or helping him with legal aid.”
During the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission passed rules that would have capped the price of in-state prison phone calls at 13 cents per minute — or $1.65 for a 15-minute call. But one of the first decisions made by Ajit Pai, Trump’s new FCC chairman, was to refuse to defend those rules in a lawsuit brought by the country’s largest prison phone providers. And so, Caitlin continues to pay what she said is “basically another house payment” in order to speak regularly with her husband. Silence between the husband and wife is not an option. “Without those calls I don’t know what kind of person I would be today,” she said. “He gives me just as much hope as I give him.”
Six thousand miles from the Catoctin Creek headquarters in rural Virginia, at London’s Savoy Hotel, oil-rich oligarchs and blue-blooded aristocrats should have been sipping roundstone rye produced by the 10-year-old American distillery. But they weren’t.
That was not for the lack of effort on behalf of owner Scott Harris, who had a near-complete agreement with a U.K. distributor last summer when his efforts to expand to Europe exploded. The bomb? European tariffs on American whiskey.
In 2017, European sales accounted for 11% of Catoctin Creek’s business. In 2018, Harris expected to hit 25%. But last June, three months after the Trump administration slapped tariffs on steel imports, the EU responded with a 25% tariff on American whiskey and bourbon.
By the time the calendar turned to 2019, Catoctin Creek’s European business was “limping along,” Harris said, accounting for just 1% of the company’s sales.
To maintain that single percentage point, Harris began eating the extra cost created by tariffs to avoid passing it on to customers and losing money on European sales in the process. “The alternative is that we start to really lose market share while brands from Japan, from India, from France, from Germany, from Denmark, fill up the need for the cocktail renaissance that’s happening over there,” Harris said.
To compensate, Harris ramped up sales in the U.S. That allowed Catoctin Creek to hold on to its 20 employees, but fewer sales than expected had impacts on the company’s suppliers. “Our bottle producers out of Pennsylvania, our grape producers in Virginia, our label producers out of California — all the American manufacturing jobs that we support saw 30% less revenue from us, so there’s a cascading effect,” he explained. And while U.S. expansion helped prevent catastrophe immediately after the tariffs, that’s not a long-term strategy. “ I think [we] squeezed every ounce of blood out of that stone that we could get,” Harris said.
If the tariffs aren’t lifted, and Harris said his “optimism for that is very low,” American whiskey could get squeezed out of the European market entirely. “If a decade goes by, we’re going to have a lost generation over there.”
By Max Ufberg
Philip Cohen replied to the tweet just as he’d done so many times before. A sociology professor at the University of Maryland, Cohen is also an active Twitter user — especially when it comes to matters of politics. And so, one June day in 2017, Cohen navigated over to Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account. Seeing that the president had tweeted something about an air traffic control initiative, Cohen replied with his usual brand of heterodoxy: “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian,” he wrote. “And then there are the policies. Resist.”
Fifteen minutes later, Cohen tried again to access Trump’s Twitter feed, only this time he couldn’t. He had been blocked by the President of the United States.
Soon after, he saw a letter circulating on the internet by the nonprofit Knight First Amendment Institute, addressed to Donald Trump. The letter claimed that, as a public servant, Trump had no right to block individuals from accessing his feed — which they called a “designated public forum.” Cohen quickly contacted the folks at Knight; just one month later, he was among the seven plaintiffs filing suit against Trump.
Cohen and his co-plaintiffs went on to win their case, with a judge ruling that, “The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum… cannot be justified by the president’s personal First Amendment interests.”
Now, Cohen enjoys full access to Trump’s Twitter feed — and is free to reply to any of the President’s tweets with as much (nonthreatening) vitriol as he so chooses.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Philip Cohen: I was completely shocked when he blocked me. I know that Twitter gives the illusion of personal interaction between famous people and regular people, but I just assumed he didn’t care what was happening in the threads below his tweets. And then I felt powerless — like, who will I complain to? By blocking me, he excluded me from a platform, one I had been using to reach hundreds of thousands of people with my replies. He created that platform with his Twitter account, and by blocking me I felt my political efficacy was seriously damaged.
I didn’t know the legal theory and it didn’t occur to me at first, but I saw the letter that the Knight First Amendment Institute was circulating and it made sense immediately. Along with who knows how many other people, I contacted them and asked to be included.
Yes. Mostly this is related to just speaking up against Trump rather than the lawsuit specifically. But since Trump appeared, I have been subjected to a lot of anti-Semitic harassment and threats. As the most obviously Jewish person among the plaintiffs (I don’t know everyone’s religion), I have drawn some of that fire. This is the general pattern of Trump supporters employing vicious anti-Semitism — and other forms of nationalist harassment — which has been widely reported. I have reported the threats to law enforcement, and it’s just something we live with now.
Trump’s DOJ lawyers have argued that because Twitter is a private company, and because he had his account before he was president, he was acting as a private citizen when he blocked people. If that argument won out it would be terrible for democratic discourse, which is increasingly conducted on privately-owned social media platforms.
We need to preserve whatever public spaces we can, and the First Amendment gives us the necessary tool to prevent public officials from shutting that down under the illusion that their behavior is just like any other citizens’. Trump wants to create a phony world where everyone adores him and all he hears is cheering him and chanting his name. The First Amendment doesn’t allow him to do that, and it’s very gratifying that the courts so far have agreed with us on that.
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
On Friday, February 1, 2019, Katherine Toney was finishing a resume workshop when her name was called over the FCI Coleman prison intercom system. She was told to come to the administrative office — for what, she had no idea. Her confusion only increased when the prison’s secretary asked her a question she hadn’t considered in over a decade: “Ms. Toney, how do you feel about going home today?”
Six weeks before, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law. Aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system, the bill had bipartisan support from legislators and advocates across the political spectrum, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Kamala Harris, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Fraternal Order of Police, and the NAACP. Van Jones and #cut50 were especially instrumental in designing and pushing the legislation.
The Act’s reforms weren’t sweeping, but they were significant. Among its most prominent elements: an expansion of rehabilitative opportunities, a ban on shackling pregnant and postpartum women, and a promise to bring home 4,000 people immediately due to retroactive Good Time credits. It also sought to apply key components of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, retroactively reducing the mandatory minimum sentences for a range of drug-related crimes that disproportionately hurt communities of color.
As of April 8, the Justice Department reported that the First Step act reduced the sentences of 826 people. Another 643 drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences — including Toney, the first woman freed by the legislation — received early releases. While those numbers appeared meager at first glance, President Trump announced in June that another 3,000 federal inmates will be released on July 19. Of that group, roughly 750 non-citizens will likely be handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Back in 2003, Toney had been caught in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama with 54 grams of crack cocaine. She was charged with conspiracy to sell. She’d been selling crack for three years at that point and, while the work was dangerous, it helped her pay the bills and support her teenage daughter. “I didn’t have a high school education and I didn’t have a job, so at the time, it was my best option,” she said.
Toney was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Over the next 16 years, she was shuttled between a handful of penitentiaries, including a multiyear stint at a federal medical center in Texas after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Still, Toney said the hardest part was going years without seeing her daughter, who could rarely afford to travel from Alabama to the various prisons that housed her. To make up for the distance, they spoke over the phone and through webcams.
Since gaining her freedom, Toney has reunited with her daughter (now 30) and her 11-year-old granddaughter in Spanish Fort, Alabama, about 30 minutes outside of Mobile. In addition to speaking at the White House, she’s landed a full-time job at Walmart — Jared Kushner personally called the company to vouch for Toney — and has begun the transition to life outside prison. “I missed everyday living,” she said. “I missed not being able to go to a store, go to the movies. I just missed freedom, period.”
“Now, every day is just about my girls,” she added. “I love them to death.”
By Jared Keller
The photo of Seana Arrechaga holding the hand of her lifeless husband — an Army infantryman killed in Afghanistan in 2011 — captured the tragedy that can befall our country’s warriors and the grief felt by those left to carry their memory. But that is not what made it famous. In this era of misinterpretation and memes, the image has been weaponized and deployed in a very different kind of fight: the right-wing social media campaign against the NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
The picture, originally taken by a Washington Post photographer, started bouncing around Facebook in 2016, circulated by those who were offended by the players’ protests. Often, the picture was accompanied by captions like “To all the overpaid players in the NFL: Put on this uniform, then you might understand why we stand.”
Never mind that the photo depicts a soldier — Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga — not a cop. In the heat of the Trump campaign, that was close enough — especially when the candidate himself was launching his own war of words against those very NFL players. “People have just gotten louder since he came on the scene,” Arrechaga said. “People say things they wouldn’t have said before.”
Meanwhile, the photo that she once cherished as a tribute to her late husband has been twisted and exploited for an issue that’s totally unrelated. “My husband was a person,” Arrechaga said, “but they’re using his death to say someone shouldn’t stand up for what they believe in.”
Kelley Wayne’s long legal battle with the Berkley school district ended with a whimper.
In early March, she received a slim white envelope in the mail from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Inside was a letter informing Wayne that the government would be ending a four-year investigation against her 14-year-old son’s school district outside Detroit. Kelley’s son, Logan, is on the autism spectrum. For years, according to Kelley, public schools would send Logan home in the middle of the day, frustrated by his nonverbal communication and frequent temper tantrums.
But OCR was apparently not swayed. The agency’s reasoning: Kelley had filed a similar complaint with the state of Michigan, making the federal complaint superfluous. But Kelley’s story is a familiar one: Under the Trump administration, OCR has shuttered over 1,200 unresolved investigations into allegations of wrongdoing, all of them inherited from the previous administration. While it’s unclear how many of those cases the administration investigated, Candice Jackson, Trump’s OCR chief, issued a memo directing lawyers to close more cases to clear what she saw as a backlog hanging over from the Obama administration.
“I figured the Office for Civil Rights was our chance to get some acknowledgment that he’s a human being,” Kelley said. “He’s a child.”
Under federal special education law, every child is guaranteed a “free and appropriate public education.” Yet Kelley said the school seemed unable to understand that his disciplinary issues were tied to his disability. “He basically had no schooling all of elementary school,” Kelley said. “Three or four times a week, I would get a phone call within probably 15 minutes after him arriving at school, telling me to pick him up.”
By October 2015, Kelley was fed up and decided to file a complaint with OCR. In response, the agency sent a team of lawyers to Berkley to meet with Kelley and school officials in early 2016. Though it was clear she had a long fight ahead, Kelley was cautiously optimistic. But then, the agency went dark on the Waynes. Every six months or so, Kelley would check in with the OCR lawyer on her case. Each time, he assured her they were still pursuing the matter. But with no tangible results, Kelley felt “it was almost like dust was just collecting on his file.”
Finally, in March, Kelley received the letter, a final death knell for her hopes of winning her case. “I was blown away,” she said. “Not even a phone call.”
On the afternoon of March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — the president of Local 1112 of the United Auto Workers (UAW) was driving his Ohio-made Chevy Cruze on the outer edges of Youngstown when his cell phone started blowing up.
“President Trump just tweeted you out!” read the first text message of what soon became a barrage.
It had been less than five minutes since David Green had left the makeshift television studio in a small plaza in Boardman, where he just completed a live interview with Fox News. The topic of the segment was the recent idling of the General Motors plant in nearby Lordstown, which resulted in some 1,500 of Green’s members losing their jobs. And Green just happened to be speaking less than 15 miles due south of the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, where in July 2017 Trump famously declared to the Mahoning Valley, “[The jobs are] all coming back… Don’t sell your house.”
The plant’s closing was directly attributable to Trump’s rollback of regulations requiring U.S. auto manufacturers to produce a certain number of fuel-efficient cars (like the Lordstown-made Cruze) for every gas guzzler produced, as well as new steel tariffs, which threaten to increase the cost of making cars in the U.S. by as much as $300 per vehicle. In the Fox interview, Green had cited another factor: the GOP tax cut, which he said had incentivized GM to move jobs from Ohio to Mexico.
“I could picture Trump in the White House eatin’ a Big Mac in his underwear and sayin’, ‘Who’s this guy?’” Green recalled.
Trump’s tweet declaring that Green “ought to get his act together” and “stop complaining” didn’t really bother him much, he said, especially coming from a president he described as “ignorant” and an “asshole.” Green had more important things to worry about, such as the fate of one of his members, a sidelined GM worker named Russ, who’d recently shown up at Green’s UAW office.
“The guy has a letter from corporate, an involuntary offer saying he’s gotta go work in a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, or he pretty much loses everything,” remembered Green, who has graying spiky brown hair, a goatee that sits under a perpetual “we’re fucked” smirk, and 25 years on the floor at Lordstown, just like Russ does.
“I told him, ‘Dude, just fuckin’ go,’” Green said. “‘You got five more years and you can retire with a 30-and-out pension. Just go!’” But Russ is 59 years old, he’s made his life in Ohio, and a move to Missouri is just not something he’s willing to do.
Yesterday, Green added, Russ sent him an email asking if there were a chance Lordstown would go back online anytime soon. Green wasn’t sure. “If we do, it’s not going to be with the Chevy Cruze. I was just at the plant this morning taking the Cruze racks out to be shredded, and most of the supply chain is already down.”
Trump’s latest Lordstown fixation is Workhorse, a Cincinnati-based electric vehicle startup. On May 8, the president tweeted that the firm was on the verge of buying the Lordstown complex from GM. But it’s been reported that Workhorse, which employs just 100 workers, may be bankrupt before the end of the year.
Workhorse’s penny stock did surge 200% following Trump’s tweet. But in a blow to the electric car industry, the president’s 2020 budget proposes eliminating the plug-in vehicle tax credit.
By Beth Jones, as told to Max Ufberg
Jones, a fundraising coordinator for a K-12 school in the U.S. Virgin Islands, lost her home when Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.
We bought our house in 2003. It was in Great Cruz Bay on the south shore of St. John. It was wood-framed and we felt like it would go if we got hit by a Category 5.
When Hurricane Maria hit, we lost the house in the storm. If you have insurance, you didn’t qualify for FEMA, but I didn’t realize all that. You go through this whole mound of paperwork; I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but navigating it all is really difficult.
I filed for FEMA the second or third week in September. On Halloween, we got a letter from FEMA that said our losses were not substantial enough to qualify. We didn’t have anywhere to live, so we stayed with some friends. There were 12 of us living together with our dogs and children.
We can’t afford to rebuild our house, so we’re going to sell the property. And for us to rent something that would be big enough for a family, we can’t afford that either. So, I’m giving up my job with the school as of June 30th, at the end of the school year.
The housing market is still a huge issue right now. It’s pretty much one of the things that’s stymieing the recovery: There’s just nowhere for workers to live. I don’t understand why FEMA doesn’t have people stay on military ships or where they can have satellite connectivity, why they come inland and take up all the housing.
I think the territories have always been ignored. We are a non-voting delegate to Congress, which doesn’t wield a lot of power. I think we’re always going to be forgotten because we’re not a state.
By Aaron Gell
Mikaela Siegel has never been a victim of satanic ritual sex abuse.
So, despite the challenges she’s faced in the last few years — especially since learning about the diabolical high-level cabal working in concert to exploit the world’s most vulnerable children — she kept it together on the phone during a call with a reporter. “I might start crying,” she said, “but I can’t cry.”
Which isn’t to say it’s been easy being one of social media’s better-known “bakers” — as the collectors of the breadcrumbs strewn across 8chan by the anonymous poster Q are known. Siegel, a former improv comedy performer and designer of handcrafted Edison bulb lamps, currently living with her mother in Minnesota, has been mocked and threatened both online and IRL. She’s been suspended from various social media platforms and has seen family members and close acquaintances drift away. “My best friend cut me off,” she said. “I approached her and said, ‘Can I just tell you what’s coming?’ and she said no. She refused.”
What’s coming, according to Siegel and other Q devotees, is something they call the Storm: when Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, and other mostly liberal elites will supposedly be rounded up, tried for child sex trafficking, and put to death.
In her videos, Siegel usually sports a pair of overlarge glasses. Her hair is curly, her eyes pastel blue. Although she is in no way an expert on the deep state and doesn’t even go on 8chan, preferring to get her Q news from aggregation sites, she’s a powerful voice for the cause — perhaps because she’s such an anomaly within the community: a female millennial with a creative bent who was, until recently, a strident “SJW,” as she put it. Indeed, she said it was the media’s failure to properly cover the DNC’s mistreatment of Bernie Sanders during the primaries that led her to begin questioning the accepted narrative.
At the time, Siegel was running her Etsy business and contending with a looming bankruptcy, a failing marriage, and a host of chronic ailments, including a sometimes debilitating condition called myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). “I’m pretty sure Lady Gaga has it too,” she said, “although I don’t give a fuck about her because she hangs out with Marina Abramovic.”
When WikiLeaks released Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private emails shortly before the election, Siegel became obsessed with the curious references to pizza and other Italian dishes and ingredients — the basis of the so called “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. “That email stuff scared the fuck out of me,” she recalled.
In time, as Pizzagate morphed into QAnon, Siegel found herself digging deeper. She surmises that her willingness to take “the red pill” resulted in part from her personal challenges. “I live with chronic pain daily,” she explained. “I’m in [a] different mindset than many, thanks to what I’ve gone through. I’ve processed some of the harder stuff of life.”
As she began to post about Q’s hints, her Instagram follower count grew from around 500 to 16,000. Did her posts go too far sometimes? Maybe a little. Like the time she expressed the hope that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey would choke on his “morning milkshake of adrenochrome and adult diarrhea,” earning a weeklong suspension. Or the Instagram video in which she addressed the owner of Comet Ping Pong directly. “You’re going to get the death penalty, buddy,” she said with a malevolent smile, “and all of us are super excited to watch you die…”
“It was extremely passionate, and I own that,” she said, recalling the video.
Since deleted, the video was preserved in a tweet by Right Wing Watch, inviting a spate of internet vitriol, and with it, a flare-up of MPS. When Siegel then posted about her health issues, a fellow Q follower floated the theory that she was actually part of the grand conspiracy herself, a “deep state plant,” out to embarrass the movement.
These days, Siegel continues to grapple with her health issues while awaiting a decision on her disability application. When she’s not playing bingo with her grandmother (“my Jewish bubbe”), she spends most of her time parsing the latest Q drops and speaking her mind on Instagram, whatever the cost.
In a follow-up email, she raised a dark possibility: “If I’m taken out, I didn’t kill myself, so please know that.”
But even if the cabal spares her life, being a Q follower “hasn’t been an easy road,” she added. Awakening to the terrifying reality detailed on the message boards “is freeing as fuck but it’s also … difficult at first if you’re a person with empathy. THIS SHIT ALL IS SO INCREDIBLY LONELY… when you learn [the truth] and turn to those around you, and they look at you like you’re crazy.”
By following Q down the rabbit hole, “I blew up my life,” Siegel admitted, “but what’s done is done. This is my purpose on Earth.”
On a sweltering summer day outside of Mission, Texas, Fred Cavazos dabbed at his forehead and looked upward. Above him whirred a Border Patrol helicopter; it was the third he’d heard that hour. Angling his wheelchair south, toward the 100-acre plot of land he owns along the Rio Grande, Cavazos stared out and shook his head. “Someday,” he said with a sigh, “there’s going to be a giant wall sitting there.”
Back in 2016, Cavazos was unfazed by Donald Trump’s biting campaign promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.–Mexico border. But Cavazos’ passivity was given a sharp jolt last March, when Congress appropriated over $600 million for 33 miles of border barrier in the valley. Soon after, Cavazos received a flurry of letters from Customs & Border Protection (CBP) detailing the agency’s plans to erect a wall on his land. He was stunned. “This land has been in my family for generations. Now, the government wants to take it away from me,” he said.
Cavazos’ valley roots run as deep as it gets. His family has been in the area for over 250 years. As a child, Cavazos used the riverfront property as a springboard into the Rio Grande’s rushing waters, swimming and fishing for hours alongside his siblings and cousins. His father worked the land while they played, growing rows of watermelons to take to market. Eventually, Cavazos took the reins of the family business, running cattle and farming for decades. But after losing his ability to walk several years ago, he was forced to give up most of his livestock and pivot to tourism. These days, Cavazos’ 30 rental cottages are his sole source of income.
The letters, maps, and mock-ups CBP sent Cavazos show that the barrier’s proposed path will cut directly through his land. Should this happen, he could be marooned from the river — and the value of his rental properties will surely plummet.
For over a year now, Cavazos has received an avalanche of documents and recurring court summons from CBP, a constant reminder of his impending doom. And yet, he said, every time they arrange a court date to determine his fate, the government pushes it back. Through all of this, he’s tried to embrace the uncertainty. “Right now, we’re at a standstill. We want to prolong this thing as long as possible,” he said. “Who knows, maybe they’ll get frustrated and quit.”
Cavazos knows that may be wishful thinking. With building materials for a wall mounting in nearby Mission — including thousands of large steel poles he’s seen piled up — and an upcoming court date in mid-July, his days as an independent landowner could be numbered.
“It’s a waiting game for us,” he said. “We don’t have any choice in our own fate here.”
By Lux Alptraum
For years, N’jaila Rhee has had two careers: her job in corporate marketing — one she describes as being “vanilla” — and her phone sex and cam work. The supplementary gigs were born of necessity, she said. “As a black woman, as a fat woman, I am not getting paid my worth [in my corporate jobs]. For my first job in corporate marketing, they offered me $35,000 a year. I know my white counterparts were offered $70,000. I needed to make that up somehow.”
But since 2018, business has taken a turn for the worse. In April of that year, President Trump signed into law the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA), a bipartisan piece of legislation that gutted the Communications Decency Act, making it possible for online platforms to be held accountable for their users’ postings. As a result, classifieds websites like Backpage, where Rhee was able to advertise her work, were forced to shutter, making it more difficult for sex workers to promote their services online.
“There’s very few services like [Backpage] left,” Rhee said. “I can make a Model Central page, but nobody’s going to find it. The places that we would use to advertise — Tumblr is gone, Twitter is unreliable. I feel invisible now.”
While Rhee’s corporate salary was enough to cover her rent and utilities, her sex work income was essential for the rest of her expenses. “With sex work I was surviving,” she said. “I was in a position where I could pay my rent, I could help out family, I could pay doctors’ bills and stay afloat.” Without Backpage, she’s had to make some tough financial sacrifices, cutting her phone line and deferring on student loans.
“I don’t really see how people can champion SESTA saying that it’s helping,” she said. In fact, she believes that it’s having the opposite of its intended effect, at least in some cases. “It’s actually making it much more likely for people to be in the kind of desperate situation where you end up working for someone else who puts you in the position to be trafficked.”
When the 2016 Presidential election was called for Donald J. Trump, Seth Abramson did what millions of Americans incensed over the outcome did: “I took stock of my own skill set and tried to figure out what I might be able to do to register my alarm at-slash-rejection-of Trumpism in a productive way,” he said.
For Abramson, a college professor of post-internet cultural theory, an experimental poet, and a former criminal defense attorney, that meant taking to Twitter to spin elaborate theories, based on public reporting, demonstrating how our worst fears about Trump — that he’s a Manchurian candidate whose stance against Russian sanctions was part of a quid pro quo involving an array of business deals — might well be true.
Abramson’s “megathreads,” which breathlessly connect the dots between Trumpworld and the Kremlin, struck a nerve, growing the little-known college professor’s Twitter following from 5,000 on Inauguration Day to more than 676,000 now, helping land him on the New York Times bestseller list, and earning him regular appearances as a Russiagate commentator on CNN and the BBC.
Asked how the notoriety has impacted his life, Abramson demurs. “My autobiography does not matter,” said the 42-year-old professor-cum-#Resistance leader. “All I can say is that I know my family and friends would like me back in their lives as I was before, and I know that I’d like that, too. But any sense in which Trump has made my life worse pales in comparison to the ongoing threat he poses to all Americans and to people around the world.”
It’s a righteousness that has earned him detractors on both the right and the left, with numerous outlets accusing him of conspiracy mongering and #resistance grifting (though he has defenders as well).
Asked about the charge over email, Abramson replies that he’s simply engaging in “curatorial journalism,” using facts sourced from reliable media organizations; refers to his “major publisher” (St. Martin’s Press) and its army of professional fact checkers; and offers a sober and exhaustive outline of the 20-plus criminal investigations into Donald Trump that currently remain open.
Abramson predicts that regardless of whether his efforts help force Trump from office or lead to his eventual prosecution, “We will be living in the ‘Trump era’ even after Trump passes away.”
Indeed, he predicts it will last another 20 to 30 years, until “the beginning of an environmental crisis that threatens humankind not just in the current break-glass-now emergency sense, but the only sense many people seem to be willing to understand: with something you might see in the movies, like an impossibly destructive wall of water or a Midwest heat wave that kills hundreds and hundreds… ”
In view of which, “who the hell cares how this ends for me?” he added. “Hopefully with more peace in my heart than I have right now, that’s all I know.”
By Belén Sisa, as told to Alyssa Giacobbe
I was born in Argentina; my parents brought me to the United States when I was six. I went to elementary, junior high, and high school in Arizona, where I was an honors student, a varsity cheerleader, and homecoming queen. I graduated in 2012, the same year the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, which protects immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as kids from being deported.
I applied and was accepted.
As an undergrad at Arizona State University, I got involved in politics and started to organize marches and rallies about immigrant rights, including our right to pay in-state tuition, and founded an organization for undocumented students. In 2015, I worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign as a field organizer doing Latina outreach.
I was a senior in 2017 when President Trump ended DACA. That’s when I first realized, like really realized, that DACA was not something that would automatically give me a pathway to citizenship, and that it could be taken away at any moment. Every month, people like me wonder: How long do I have? Am I going to be able to renew my work permit? Am I going to be able to drive still?
That fall, I went to D.C. with a group of ASU students to stage a sit-in at the Senate Hart building in support of a Dream Act, which would grant permanent residency to qualifying DACA recipients. That’s when I was arrested for the first time. In December, a group of us went back to D.C., this time in support of a “clean” Dream Act, one that didn’t include building a wall or all the things that would save us but would throw the rest of our people and our families under the bus by criminalizing them. We staged sit-ins in the offices of congress people on both sides. I was arrested again and spent six days in jail, refusing to leave until we got a clean Act — that was the idea, anyway.
Jail was one of the most powerful and moving and scary and traumatic experiences I’ve ever had. But we inspired so many undocumented young people, who came from around the country to attend our court hearing. They were saying, what can we do? Can we get arrested, too? I don’t regret it. We looked at what we were supposed to be scared of the most in the eye and we said, we’re not scared. Instead of backing down, we got louder.
That was almost two years ago now. The Dream Act just passed in the House but it’s far from a done deal. The Senate may not even vote on it, and even if it does, and it passes, Trump has the power to veto it.
I graduated from ASU last May with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In March, I moved to D.C. to work for the Bernie Sanders campaign as Latino press secretary. 10 years ago, you’d never see an undocumented person in this position. I’ve gotten death threats for being so public about my immigration status, and because people have become so emboldened under Trump.
One of the questions I always get asked is, why didn’t you get the citizenship already, or, why don’t you just do it the “right way”? People think you just fill out a piece of paper and get in line and you can become a citizen. It’s not like that, which is why we have more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Right now, my DACA status will expire in two years, and then I’m not sure what will happen. Before I apply for citizenship, I want to help pass some kind of immigration reform that gives the dignity of human rights to all immigrants, and to help change the culture around how we talk about immigrants, too. To describe people as “illegals” or “aliens” is inhumane. It’s also ignorant: People come here because they’re running from disasters in their home countries, which they didn’t want to leave anyway.
My parents are both remarried, have gotten green cards, and resident status. This means they’re technically safer than I am. Sometimes, they’re like, “Belén, why?” But they understand I’m doing this for the right reasons, and that’s to show other immigrants that even though we won’t win every single battle, we have to continue fighting. Whether I’m working in the White House for President Bernie Sanders, or for an organization working for social justice, I just want to leave this country a better place than it was before I got here.
This story is part of The Trump 45, a special package about Trump’s impact on individual lives.
Two days after Hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico, Crystal Díaz expected to find impassable roads to the small bed and breakfast she’d recently opened in the mountains of Cayey. She feared the wood-frame house had been destroyed in the Category 4 cyclone, and she felt anxious to assess the damage.
Instead, her drive home was clear. Residents had pulled together whatever tools they had, from chainsaws to diggers, to clear the debris themselves. “They didn’t expect the municipality, the state government, much less the federal government to come help,” she said.
It turned out that they had reason to be skeptical. The federal relief effort was notoriously slow, even after Hurricane María wiped out much of an already fragile infrastructure. President Donald Trump drew criticism for failing to respond with troops and aid as rapidly as he had for similar disasters on the U.S. mainland. And as the death toll from María reached nearly 3,000 in Puerto Rico, crucial water and food supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took weeks to reach isolated communities.
Díaz, who also runs a local agriculture delivery service called PRoduce, saw her industry hit especially hard. Nearly 80% of Puerto Rico’s food supply was destroyed in the storm. While farmers struggled to get their harvests to market, closed ports prevented food imports from reaching the island. FEMA meals instead consisted largely of junk food including chips, candy, and sugary fruit cups.
Díaz estimates it will be five years before coffee is ready for harvest in Puerto Rico. Her company helps locals buy fruits and vegetables from the island’s farmers, but they couldn’t reach growers for three months thanks to downed cellphone towers and blocked roads. Electricity in Cayey wasn’t restored until May 30, 2018 — eight months after María made landfall. Díaz reopened El Pretexto, her bed and breakfast, last June shortly after service was restored.
“We had a very weak infrastructure when this happened,” she said. “I think our biggest fear is that we rebuild the same weak system that we had before María.”
El Pretexto now runs 85% on solar energy, so Díaz will likely never again be at the mercy of the power grid. The storm also laid bare how much the island depended on food imports, which increased public demand for local, seasonal food. Díaz’s PRoduce business currently works with more than 45 farmers to meet the weekly orders.
The certainty of another hurricane looms large, and Díaz said people remain traumatized by María’s destruction. But there’s also optimism that, despite mismanagement and economic strife, the island can get back on its feet.
“Puerto Ricans are strong and want to build a better system and infrastructure so that when something like this happens — because it will happen — it doesn’t happen as big as María,” she said.
By Joel Clement, as told to Max Ufberg
Clement, the former director of the Office of Policy Analysis within the U.S. Department of the Interior, left the agency in October 2017, leaking his resignation letter to the Washington Post.
The transition to the Trump administration was a little startling. I had a lot of people around me who’d been through multiple transitions into new administrations. In talking with them, it did sound like it was a pretty extraordinary process and unusual because they didn’t seem prepared to staff up an agency like Interior. They didn’t have staff. They couldn’t find people to work there. It was all very close to the vest. Everything was led and run by the political appointees that were temporarily in place. I called them rental political.
They took over, and it was just silence. Amongst the career staff, we were shrugging, wondering when they were going to tap into the 70,000 employees at the agency rather than trying to run the agency from the desks of about 30 political appointees. It was very different than previous transitions.
The huge pivot was to the mission of the agency: It is on one hand conservation, protecting biodiversity, protecting public land, managing public land. We went from an attempt at balance, to what they called energy dominance. Any staff that were involved in conservation or fish and wildlife were quickly sidelined. Scientists were told that they wouldn’t be needed, left to their own devices. They really just started focusing on getting permits out to drill. I think that was most telling during the shutdown: Who did they keep on, who did they consider essential? Historically, that’s the people who are there to keep the agency running. In this case, it was people who were processing permits to drill. That’s unprecedented. Why on earth is that essential during a shutdown?
We knew that their priorities were very different. All the staff knew that. After the reassignments that took place that affected many of the senior executives here, people were looking over their shoulders wondering who was next. It seemed as though if you were effective at your job during the previous administration, then you needed to be sidelined because they assumed you were somehow part of that political establishment, which is absolutely not true. With civil service, of course, neutral competence is important. They went ahead as true ideologues with the sole purpose of increasing fossil fuel extraction on public land.
They moved me [from the climate policy office] to the office that collects royalty checks from oil and gas and mining companies. Clearly, they intended for me to leave. I’m not an auditor, and they moved me to an accounting position. So, they were sending a very strong signal, saying I was not welcome there. It also is just bad management, right? They took a senior executive with some expertise in a number of areas and put him in one of the areas where he has zero expertise. You can’t possibly make the case that they were doing this to benefit the agency. At a certain point, I’d already lost my job, and I didn’t want to lose my voice. So, I resigned just a few months later because they clearly were not going to address climate change. They clearly were not concerned about taxpayer expenses. Out of respect for the office I’d been moved to, it didn’t make sense for me to take up their bandwidth either.