Reports from the Dystopian, Disinformation Beat

Ben Collins is a reporter for NBC News. He says he works the “dystopian beat”. By that, he means he follows the crazies, I assume mostly the radical right. This afternoon, he shared some of what he’s found:

Over the last few years, I kept in touch with some QAnon supporters through DMs [Twitter direct messages], checking in on them to see if they’d ever come out of it when their next doomsday came and went.

They’d typically first message me calling me a Satanic pedophile. I’d ignore it and ask questions.

Usually they would draw hard lines. A big one was D5, which everyone thought would be mass arrests on December 5th two years ago. Didn’t happen, didn’t matter.

It’s about belief, anticipation, an advent calendar. One day soon, their problems would be fixed.

I would check in the week after the failed doomsdays. They’d point to a Q post like scripture, and say some ridiculous event proved it was still happening. An earthquake somewhere, a service interruption on Gmail.

I learned something: these people don’t want to be humiliated.

So many Q people have staked their entire identities on this. There are no real-life happy endings with QAnon, especially true believers. Just constant embarrassment and almost surgical extrication from friends or family.

So they retreat back to Q forums and pray for executions [executions of Q followers to confirm their fears?].

There are a lot of QAnon influencers saying the 20th is their last stand, that if Biden is inaugurated they’ll admit they’ve been conned. But they won’t. They’ll equivocate and buck-pass. They’ll find secret patterns in his speech and say he was secretly arrested [what???]. It’ll continue.

QAnon is a deeply pathetic and embarrassing thing to believe. For believers, there is safety from that embarrassment in increasingly volatile and toxic online communities. Getting people out of it safely is going to be very hard, but important.

I’d reach back out to some of those Q people, but they’re banned from this site now.

They grew to like me. I wasn’t a Satanic, blood-drinking pedophile . . . they wanted to save me.

Because, remember, they think they’re the good guys.

Unquote. Meanwhile:

Online misinformation about election fraud plunged 73 percent after several social media sites suspended President Txxxx and key allies last week, research firm Zignal Labs has found, underscoring the power of tech companies to limit the falsehoods poisoning public debate when they act aggressively.

The new research by the San Francisco-based analytics firm reported that conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across several social media sites in the week after Txxxx was banned from Twitter. . . . 

The research by Zignal and other groups suggests that a powerful, integrated disinformation ecosystem — composed of high-profile influencers, rank-and-file followers and Txxxx himself — was central to pushing millions of Americans to reject the election results and may have trouble surviving without his social media accounts.

Researchers have found that Txxxx’s tweets were retweeted by supporters at a remarkable rate, no matter the subject, giving him a virtually unmatched ability to shape conversation online. . . . [The] disinformation researchers consistently have found that relatively few accounts acted as “superspreaders” during the election, with their tweets and posts generating a disproportionate share of the falsehoods and misleading narratives that spread about election fraud, mail-in ballots and other topics related to the vote [The Washington Post].

When Seeing Is Not Believing

In case we were thinking that a violent insurrection encouraged by the president to overturn the results of an election he lost might serve as a wakeup call for our Republican friends, here are the opening paragraphs of “How Republicans Are Warping Reality Around the Capitol Attack” (New York Times):

Immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, all corners of the political spectrum repudiated the mob of President Txxxx’s supporters. Yet within days, prominent Republicans, party officials, conservative media voices and rank-and-file voters began making a rhetorical shift to try to downplay the group’s violent actions.

In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Txxxx era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like Antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.

The shift is revealing about how conspiracy theories, deflection and political incentives play off one another in Mr. Txxxx’s G.O.P. For a brief time, Republican officials seemed perhaps open to grappling with what their party’s leader had wrought — violence in the name of their Electoral College fight. But any window of reflection now seems to be closing as Republicans try to pass blame and to compare last summer’s lawlessness, which was condemned by Democrats, to an attack on Congress, which was inspired by Mr. Txxxx.

This Is Almost Unbelievable

From The Washington Post (MY EMPHASIS ADDED):

When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, NO SUCH RESERVE EXISTED, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans. The Txxxx administration had already begun shipping out what was available beginning at the end of December, taking second doses directly off the manufacturing line.

Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will not immediately increase, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding eligibility for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions. Health officials in some cities and states were informed in recent days about the reality of the situation, while others are still in the dark.

Unquote.

A message from our local doctors:

Untitled

Dear SMG Patient,

Recent eligibility changes for the COVID-19 vaccine have created a massive spike in demand for the vaccine. AT THIS TIME WE ARE NOT ABLE TO ACCOMMODATE ADDITIONAL VACCINE APPOINTMENT REQUESTS.

The volume of appointment requests via phone and through our patient portal is limiting our ability to care for patients who need both sick and well visits. 

We will contact eligible patients as soon as we are able to vaccinate you.

Unquote.

One reasonable theory: These bastards want millions of people to be disappointed that they can’t get a vaccination and blame the president — who will be Joe Biden five days from now.

I hope Biden puts a paragraph in his inaugural address (a “by the way, folks”) explaining that the outgoing administration claimed they’d have many millions of us already vaccinated, but they totally screwed up and then lied about it on their way out the door.

A Republican Explains Her Vote to the People Back Home

Jaime Herrera Beutler is one of the ten Republicans in the House of Representatives with enough integrity, courage or patriotism (or disgust) to vote to impeach the president. Some of her constituents weren’t too clear on why she voted that way, so she offered a brief summary of the case against him on Twitter:

In conversations w/residents about this week’s impeachment vote, some are unclear on what transpired before & during that involved President Txxxx.

Here are the indisputable and publicly available facts

The president helped organize the January 6 rally. Example: 

Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump https://t.co/D8KrMHnFdK. A great report by Peter. Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020

For months, he insisted the election had been stolen and consistently urged people to “fight” in order to change the results: “WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” (Tweet, Dec. 12)

“@ senatemajldr and Republican Senators have to get tougher, or you won’t have a Republican Party anymore. We won the Presidential Election, by a lot. FIGHT FOR IT. Don’t let them take it away!” (Dec. 18)

“The ‘Justice’ Department& the FBI have done nothing about the 2020 Presidential Election Voter Fraud, the biggest SCAM in our nation’s history despite overwhelming evidence. They should be ashamed. History will remember. Never give up. See everyone in DC on January 6th”(Dec. 26)

He led Americans to believe that Mike Pence could overturn the Electoral College results, even though the VP does not have that power. On Jan. 5 he tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”

He told supporters at Georgia rally that day, “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you. I hope that our great Vice President, our great Vice President, comes through for us. He’s a great guy. Of course if he doesn’t come through I won’t like him quite as much.”

During the president’s rally on January 6, he repeated phrases like “fight like hell,” and “we’re going to have to fight much harder.”

Many coming to the rally did intend to fight, with physical violence. Leading up to the rally, specific threats were numerous. Hundreds of TikTok videos promoted violence. Thousands of used hashtags promoting a second civil war.

One said, “Take your motherf—ing guns. That’s the whole point of going.” Another online comment said: “travel in packs and do not let them disarm someone without stacking bodies.”

Rather than take any action to curb the threats, the president at his rally said, “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules.” He said “You’ll never take our country back with weakness.”

While the riot was in full swing & a mob was in the Capitol hunting Mike Pence, the president tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, …. not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.”

The mob at the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Trump supporters threaten to hang Mike Pence at Capitol – YouTube

This one of the mob attacking a Capitol Police officer. As we know, many were beaten and one died because of his injuries.

Mob beating Capitol Police officer – YouTube

The commander in chief’s primary job is to protect U.S. citizens. While this mob hunted for Pence, who had fled to a secure location, the only action we know the president took was calling GOP Senators, seeking their support to delay the Electoral College certification.

Hours after the Capitol was breached, the president released a pathetic video denouncing the violence but telling the perpetrators “I love you,” and “you are special.”

Unquote.

Those are some of the indisputable, publicly available facts. One I hadn’t heard before is how the president exploded the prices at his Washington hotel for inauguration week. This report was published by the Independent on January 1st:

The rooms initially opened at higher prices than usual, ranging from doubles for $886 to suites at $2,225. 

However, the prices seem to have been hiked further, as the hotel’s website now says a two-night minimum is required for guests visiting during the week of inauguration, with even the cheapest rooms priced at $2,225 a night for 19 and 20 January.

Make a buck. Make a coup. It’s all the same to him.

Yeah, the Senate Can and Should Convict Him After He’s Gone

There’s a bit of a disagreement about whether the Senate can vote to convict our impeached president after he toddles off on January 20th. The legal experts who say the Senate can do it and should do it have by far the best argument.

Yesterday, Prof. Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law explained why the Senate can act.

Prof. Stephen Vladeck of the University of Texas law school explains it below:

Yesterday’s vote by the House of Representatives to impeach President Txxxx (again) came notwithstanding objections from Republicans that such a move is unnecessary. Because Mr. Txxxx’s term ends at noon on Jan. 20, the argument goes, there is little point in expending energy to reinforce what is already, despite Mr. Txxxx’s best efforts, a legal inevitability.

But some commentators have gone further — arguing not only that Congress should not impeach and remove Mr. Txxxx but also that come Jan. 20, it cannot do so, because the Constitution doesn’t allow for the impeachment and removal of “former” officers. This argument is wrong as a matter of text, structure, historical practice and common sense. And Mr. Txxxx is the poster child for why, even after he leaves office, such accountability is not just constitutionally permissible but necessary.

With the Senate not expected to reconvene until next Tuesday, Mr. Txxxx’s impeachment trial could not begin until Wednesday afternoon at the earliest — after the inauguration of his successor. Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that the “President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” If that were all that the Constitution said about impeachment, there might be something to the argument that once the individual no longer holds the office, the impeachment power becomes defunct.

But Article I, Section 3 says more. In describing the powers of the Senate to conduct an impeachment trial, it provides that “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States” (emphasis added).

That latter clause is the key, because it drives home that the Senate has two decisions to make in impeachment cases: First, it must decide whether an officer should be removed. Then it must decide whether this person should be disqualified from holding any future federal office. Indeed, of the eight officers the Senate has ever voted to remove, it subsequently voted to disqualify only three of them — reinforcing that removal and disqualification are separate inquiries. And as this procedure and historical practice make clear, by the time the Senate votes on disqualification, the officer has already been removed. In other words, disqualification, at least, is itself necessarily a vote about a former (as opposed to current) officer.

More than that, the disqualification power is both the primary evidence of and the central reason the Constitution allows for the impeachment of former officers. Were it otherwise, an officer facing impeachment, or an officer who has already been impeached and is about to be removed, could also avoid disqualification simply by resigning. In 1876, disgraced Secretary of War William Belknap tried exactly that — resigning minutes before the House vote on his impeachment. The House impeached him anyway, concluding that his resignation did not defeat Congress’s impeachment power. And although some senators ultimately voted to acquit Belknap (who narrowly escaped a guilty verdict) because he was no longer in office, the Senate as a body first concluded that it had the power to try former officers, adopting a resolution that Belknap could be tried “for acts done as Secretary of War, notwithstanding his resignation of said office” before he was impeached.

The Belknap case cemented two precedents: Congress can impeach and remove former officers, but the fact that the defendant is no longer in office is one factor that senators may take into account in deciding whether to vote to convict. So, when President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 in an effort to forestall his seemingly inevitable impeachment and removal, that act did not deprive Congress of the constitutional power to still impeach, remove and disqualify him; it merely mitigated the perceived political expediency of doing so. By resigning, Mr. Nixon took at least some responsibility for his conduct. And the circumstances of his resignation left no reason to believe that he would ever again be a candidate for federal office.

But there is no indication that Mr. Txxxx plans to resign. His term ends next Wednesday only because Section 1 of the 20th Amendment says so. He is not going willingly. And he has made no secret of his interest in running for president again in 2024. What’s more, under the Former Presidents Act of 1958, he stands to receive significant financial and other tangible benefits, including a handsome annual stipend, funds for offices and a staff, and a pension. But that same statute denies such benefits to a former president who was removed “pursuant to Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution.” So whether Mr. Txxxx is impeached, convicted and disqualified determines not only whether he could ever again hold federal office but may also bear upon the extent to which federal taxpayers will be subsidizing his activities in the years to come.

The conservative argument would say that the Constitution leaves Congress powerless to deal with such a case — or with any scenario in which a president commits grossly impeachable acts in his final days in office. Not so. Whether he should be convicted and disqualified remains, under the Constitution, in the sole purview of the Senate.

And whereas the conservative argument against a post-Jan. 20 impeachment presupposes that the matter will inevitably end up in the courts (which may be sympathetic to Mr. Txxxx), that claim, too, is erroneous. In 1993, the Supreme Court held that it’s not for the courts to review the propriety of impeachments. As Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, neither any extrinsic evidence from the Constitutional Convention nor contemporaneous commentary suggested that the founders even contemplated “the possibility of judicial review in the context of the impeachment powers.” It’s ultimately Congress’s call — for former officers as much as current ones.

Unquote.

If the authors of the Constitution had been a bit more careful, they would have written “removal or disqualification”, not “removal and”. Damn founding fathers! That blemish seems to be the only reason to say the Senate can’t act after the 20th. As the professors explain, it’s not a good reason and not how impeachment has worked in the past.

I don’t know if there are 17 Republican senators who will agree to convict DJT (that plus the 50 Democrats will be enough). There are excellent reasons to do so. For one thing, he deserves to be convicted. Another reason is it will permit the Republicans to free themselves from the threat that he will run again in 2024 (actually, it will stop him running again and seeking campaign contributions as of January 20th, which he will no doubt do if given the chance). Any Republican senator who wants to run for president has a motive to remove competition.

A third reason is that we shouldn’t have to subsidize this guy’s gilded lifestyle after he leaves office. He’s supposed to be a billionaire. Let him uses his own resources, assuming he stays out of prison. In particular, he can afford to hire his own security detail, especially now that it’s been revealed that Ivanka and Jared wouldn’t let the Secret Service use the bathrooms in their D.C. mansion.

PS: I don’t know if it’s true, but former presidents are supposedly eligible for top secret briefings from the government. We shouldn’t trust one more secret to the Lord of the Lies and his extremely big mouth.