This essay appeared for free on Substack last Monday. I have added an extensive update at the end.
Impunity feeds on itself. The more a transgressor gets away with the more he feels emboldened to transgress again. And the more he transgresses without punishment the more others in the same mold feel free to transgress.
It Still Walks Free
Take the cases of the orange-hued fascist maniac and QAnon backer Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump and Florida’s mini-Trump governor Ron DeSantis.
A remotely functioning democracy would have jailed Trump for fraud and/or sexual assault years ago, long before he tried to subvert and cancel the 2020 presidential election and absconded to his private Florida estate with boxes of classified government documents.
After decades of epic transgression, the orange-hued ogre has yet to be indicted once. Far from rotting in a jail cell where he belongs, he’s the Republican Party’s intraparty kingmaker and 2024 presidential front-runner.
Three-fourths of the Trump his party’s base believes his preposterous Big Hitlerian Lie about the 2020 election. He has fraudulently raised tens of millions of dollars through this grand deception.
He has Republican election-deniers running for office in the coming general election in 27 states. This rogue roster includes people vying for state-level positions in charge of election supervision and certification, candidates ready to use those offices (governor, attorney general, secretary of state) to nullify statewide popular votes if necessary to ensure Trump’s victory in battleground states in 2024-25.
Trump has recently openly identified with the neo-Nazi QAnon cult and joined his fellow white supremacist Lindsey Graham in warning that prosecuting Trump would cause civil unrest. The claim is intended to send the following message to the Department of Justice and the Fulton County District Attorney: “Try to impose the rule of law on our Demented Dear Leader and our thugs will act to impose the rule of force on you!” That’s pretty damn…well, fascist.
A young and inexperienced right-wing (Federalist Society) District Court judge Trump and his party cynically installed after the 2020 election (Aileen Cannon) has just issued two preposterous orders that have thrown a significant monkey wrench into the federal investigation of his document theft crime(s). The Appeals Court to which the Department of Justice is appealing this openly ridiculous, partisan ruling is stocked with Trump appointees. So is the next and last judicial body up – the US Supreme Court. (See my update below)
The Department of Justice is about to stand own from aggressively investigating Trump’s mind-boggling transgressions to honor its absurd “60-day rule” rule of avoiding activities that might seem political for sixty days before the mid-term elections.
The dismal Dems, lacking a seriously positive and progressive program for the people, seem to want Trump to run against in 2024. What could go wrong with “Pied Piper” II? (The Democrats bear huge responsibility for the creation and appeasement of this unspeakable and monster, as I have shown on numerous occasions. See this, for one example among many.)
It all feeds the deadly Q-ish story of Trump as a “chosen one” above the rule of law – a special Dear Leader who can “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and lose no support.
Among the many problems with Trump’s continuing unindicted status and epic impunity – no small part of his super-hero status among his base – is the green light it gives to prodigiously indecent wrongdoing by others within and beyond his base.
Speaking of orange-tinted fascism, let’s turn to the “political stunt” that Florida’s Mussolini-esque chief executive Ron DeSantis pulled last week. DeSantis used Florida taxpayer money to hire two private charter jets to fly 50 asylum-seeking Venezuelan migrants from Texas to a small town on the affluent Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis’s goal was to “expose liberal hypocrisy” for supposedly backing weak border policies and supposedly being unwilling to take care of immigrants.
A woman hired by the great orange-producing state of Florida lured the migrants onto the planes with free food and promises that they would get “expedited work papers” when they arrived. The desperate newcomers were told that good housing and employment awaited them in “Boston.”
“Many don’t know where they are,” Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted after the migrants landed, “they were told they would be given housing and jobs. Islanders were given no notice…” Martha’s Vineyard government officials and service providers quickly used their emergency hurricane protocols to welcome, feed and shelter the frightened and disoriented newcomers.
DeSantis’s spokesman Jeremy Redfern responded to criticism of his failure to give Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard officials advance warning by Tweeting this: “Do the cartels that smuggle humans call Florida or Texas before illegal immigrants wash up on our shores or cross over the border?” Redfern’s defense was that Mexican human trafficking gangs do the same thing – a revealing identification of his thuggish boss with criminal enterprises south of the US border.
“Faci(ist)nating,” I thought to myself as I watched this story unfold in Chicago. My home city had just received busloads of Mexican and Central American migrants of uncertain legal status sent without warning by Texas’s far right governor woman-hating governor Greg Abbott, with whom DeSantis must have collaborated in executing his sickening deed. It was much the same story: many of the men, women, and children getting off the buses did not know where they were but had been told that good jobs and housing awaited them. Chicago officials and service providers rushed to give assistance.
In pretending to justify this crass act, Abbot made the same false claims that his fellow nativist DeSantis did – that “radical Left Democrats” (a ludicrous description of the corporate-imperialist Democrats, as any actual radical Leftist knows) advocate weak border policies and that it is therefore justified to send frightened migrants of unknown legal status up to “Democratic sanctuary cities” and states to “deal with the problem.”
Reverse Freedom Rides
It turns out that this was anything but a late breaking news story. Abbott issued a press release boasting that his “Operation Lone Star initiative” had bused in excess of 10,000 migrants to Democratic cities. His fellow nativist Arizona governor Doug Ducey has been runnng a similar noxious program, busing migrants to Washington, D.C. Two Ducey Expresses recently unloaded near the Washington home of Vice President Kamala Harris in an obvious attempt to hang the dubious charge of border weakness on the Democrats and the Biden administration.
Might this have been inspired by an ugly tactic employed by southern white supremacists during the days of the Civil Rights Movement? Daily Beast columnist Kali Holloway provides some relevant historical context, recalling Jim Crow bigots’ “Reverse Freedom Rides” during the presidency of John F. Kennedy:
“In the early 1960s, another group of white supremacists, relying on the same racism-and-spite blueprint, and peddling the same lies about housing and opportunity, bussed vulnerable people — Black Americans living in the Jim Crow-era South—across the Mason-Dixon line to get back at Northern liberals involved in the civil rights movement. The Reverse Freedom Rides were a racist prank in the same mean-spirited, pitiless vein we’re seeing from MAGA immigration hardliners.”
Holloway notes that Abbott is an advocate of “the Republican Party’s version of the Great Replacement Theory [GRT], a racist and xenophobia-steeped conspiracy theory which holds that global elites (which is often meant to invoke ‘the Jews’) are attempting to wipe out white Americans with Democrat-voting non-whites.”
Holloway connects DeSantis and Abbot’s heartless human rafficking to an old-time “playbook for racists, xenophobes, and white supremacists… From the banning of books to the refusal to acknowledge Black history—to, incredibly, the bussing of migrants,” Holloway writes, “the cycles just repeat.”
Racist Political Stunt or Fascist Kidnapping?
This is thoughtful commentary, but I differ from Holloway in two ways. First, what we are seeing today is worse than nasty old racist right-wing history repeating itself. As I have demonstrated in numerous publications, including two books – see this and this – the current “cycle” reflects one of the nation’s two major parties’ (the Republicans’) qualitative cross-over into full-on (and not just “semi-“) fascism in a time when the United States’ longstanding previously ruling class-normative bourgeois electoral and rule-of-law democracy may well be on the verge of collapse. GRT needs to be understood as “FRT,” that is fascist replacement theory, a recycling and update not just of longstanding racism but of classic fascist narratives on the purported ruination, weakening, and pollution of great white nations by swarthy and supposedly inferior outsiders nefariously brought into imperial homelands by backstabbing globalist elites.
Second, the migrants caught up in DeSantis’s current-day “Reverse Freedom Rides” are victims of an act that deserves investigation for the breaking of federal law. The flight to Martha’s Vineyard was more than what Holloway terms “a political stunt masquerading as immigration policy.” Yes, the migrants were used as what Holloway calls “‘political pawns’ in a sick game,” what she downplays as “shenanigans.” But let’s get more serious on the matter: they are victims of actual criminal conduct. The federal kidnapping statue (18 U.S. Code § 1201 – Kidnapping) reads as follows:
“(a)Whoever unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away and holds for ransom or reward or otherwise any person, except in the case of a minor by the parent thereof, when—
(1) the person is willfully transported in interstate or foreign commerce, regardless of whether the person was alive when transported across a State boundary, or the offender travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses the mail or any means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the commission of the offense;
(2) any such act against the person is done within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States;
(3) any such act against the person is done within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States as defined in section 46501 of title 49;…
…shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life and, if the death of any person results, shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.”
Numerous legal experts interviewed on cable news since DeSantis’ crime came to light have agreed with something I suggested on social media the minute the first reports came out: the governor committed “kidnapping by inveiglement” and “decoy,” involving deception to trap, hold, abduct human beings for a perceived “reward” – a political reward in this case.
The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines “Inveigle” as “to persuade someone to do something by means of deception or flattery.”
Holloway’s fellow Daily Beast writer Davie Bier is on to something in a reflection titled “DeSantis’s Stunt is Kidnapping by Another Name.”
“This isn’t a legal analysis, but kidnapping is really the only word that works to describe it. The state used deception to transport someone to a place they wouldn’t otherwise go for the purpose of harming them and depriving them of the ability to move freely (especially to Florida)…Beyond the deception, the intent to injure the immigrants is further confirmed by the fact that though he apparently tipped off Fox News, Gov. DeSantis intentionally gave the little town no advance notice about the flight. Clearly, the plan was to trick the immigrants into leaving their shelter in Texas and strand them on the island homeless, jobless, and starving…Gov. DeSantis might think he’s standing up for America’s laws, but he’s not” (emphasis added).
Yes, but why not do “a legal analysis”? Look at the federal statute I pasted in above. DeSantis is a kidnapper – and a mass one – by any reasonable reading of 18 U.S. Code § 1201. He should be looking at a long stint behind bars. (But again, as with Trump, don’t hold your breath. It’s unlikely that the Department of Justice has the energy or guts to go after him for mass kidnapping and/or the potential violation of other federal laws against human smuggling and trafficking.)
Claiming to “stand up for America’s law, but he’s not,” Biele writes. Yes, of course, but what does Bier think “MAGA Republicans” are all about? The Yale philosopher Jason Stanley observed years ago that embracing lawlessness in the name of “law and order” (very much at the heart of Trump’s rhetoric during and since his 2016 campaign) is one of fascism’s longstanding calling cards.
Afterword (s) and a Caveat
Let me add two afterwords (the second darkly amusing) and one caveat to this horrific story.
Afterword 1: DeSadist is out on the trail boasting that his Martha’s Vineyard gambit has brought welcome attention to the Democrats’ supposed weak border policies. He’s proud of his hideous transgression. That’s how frightened he is of DOJ prosecution for his crime(s).
Afterword 2: Rolling Stone reports that Trump is angry about DeSantis’s “stunt”: the insufficiently disgraced former president is fuming that the Florida governor is hogging up the news cycle and “stole” one of Trump’s great “ideas.” Sorry, Donald, there’s no plagiarism rules in the world of fascist criminality.
The caveat: all through the mainstream reporting and commentary on the DeSantis crime and of nativist US politics in general, a standard rule holds: there can be no serious discussion of the central and longstanding roles that US capitalist-imperialist policy (including trade/investment, military, “security,” and climate policy) have long played in creating the mass Latin American misery that leads millions south of the US border to seek entry to the USA.
+ Since I published this depressing story, the sadistic and soulless Florida governor Ron DeSantis has come under criminal investigation. Bexar County Sheriff, Javier Salazar, said last Monday that his office was looking into DeSantis’ “stunt.” Salazar did not mention specific laws broken but said that asylum seekers were “lured under false pretenses,” with an agent paid a “bird dog fee” for recruiting people at a San Antonio migrant center. “They were promised work, they were promised the solution to several of their problems.”
+ Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based group representing 30 of the Venezuelans flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas, has called for US attorney Rachael Rollins and the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healy, to launch a criminal investigation. LCR has a filed in federal Boston court a lawsuit against DeSantis on behalf of the Venezuelans. The suit charges DeSantis and other Florida officials with “a fraudulent and discriminatory scheme.”
+ It remains to be seen if the federal Department of Justice will investigate and charge DeSantis with crimes. Beyond kidnapping, some legal observers wonder if DeSantis broke about federal criminal human trafficking or smuggling charges.
+ It turns out that Trump’s legal Special Master victory (courtesy of the ridiculous, transparently MAGA judge Aileen Cannon) was incredibly short-lived and quite militantly shot down at the US Court of Appeals. As Ian Millhiser reports on VOX:
“The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit’s decision in Trump v. United States utterly savages former President Donald Trump’s efforts to slow down a criminal investigation into classified documents that the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence. It is equally dismissive of Cannon, the Trump-appointed federal district judge in Florida who ordered the Justice Department to halt this criminal investigation, at least temporarily… Notably, the appeals panel includes two other judges who, like Cannon, were appointed by Trump. But these two Trump judges give Cannon no quarter. Their opinion identifies more than a dozen legal errors in Cannon’s decisions, some of them quite obvious and egregious.”
The FBI is free to resume its investigation, unhindered.
+ It turns out that the “60 Day rule” mentioned above in this essay’s first sub-section is complete bullshit. As the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu reports, “the rule that supposedly would forbid bringing potential criminal charges against former President Trump within 60 days of the upcoming midterms doesn’t even exist.” Further:
“Garland and the DOJ need to tell the American public that no such rule exists. That’s right—the rule doesn’t exist. It’s the DOJ’s equivalent of an urban myth. No actual law or written policy at the DOJ mentions anything about not doing anything within 60 days of anything vis-à-vis criminal charges, involving elections…This is no secret. Commentators including Just Security, Lawfare, and Jeffrey Toobin, plus the DOJ Office of Inspector General have all confirmed the absence of any such written rule and agreed that it’s actually more like an informal policy of prosecutorial best practices that includes avoiding actions such as ‘public indictments or other overt disclosures that could affect [elections].”
The very notion of giving political criminals a two month “buffer zone” protecting them from prosecution leading up to elections is of course absurd. It is especially preposterous in a case like Trump’s document theft, which could involve espionage and treason in the misuse of highly classified material. “Fear of being accused of corrupt political motivations,” Wu writes, “cannot be DOJ’s guiding star in the midst of unprecedented twin threats to national security and our elections. The possible dangers posed to our country by such threats is so grave that every delay may cause irreparable harm and the DOJ needs to understand that trying to avoid the appearance of looking political by doing nothing can end up being political” (emphasis added). I’m not much on US “national security,” but the ruling bourgeois and imperial legal authorities most certainly are and it’s hard to imagine how Garland can justify not soon charging Trump for his egregious document crimes.