Archive for category: Fascism
Former President Donald Trump announced he will run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, on November 15. | Alon Skuy/AFP via Getty Images
Trump is running for president again. If he wins, he wouldn’t hold back anymore.
Besieged by legal problems and facing blame for Republicans’ disappointing midterm performance, Donald Trump finally made official what he’s been signaling for months: He’s running for president again.
“In order to make America great and glorious again I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump said, in an announcement at his Florida club Tuesday night. He officially filed paperwork for his campaign with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday as well.
The announcement sets up an enormously consequential campaign, one that may decide the future of the United States, its government, and its electoral system. Trump has never accepted his defeat by Joe Biden in 2020, and abused his powers to an unprecedented degree in his effort to overturn that election result and in stay in office. The effort failed, but he has made clear he regrets none of it.
President Biden has not yet said for certain whether he will run for reelection, but he has indicated he intends to do so. A Biden-Trump rematch, then, is quite possible, even likely.
But before the general election, Trump has to make it through the Republican primary process. There’s been much speculation about whether he’ll face a challenge, perhaps from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won in a landslide last week while many high-profile Trump-endorsed candidates went down to defeat. It is unclear whether DeSantis will take the risk of trying to defeat Trump, though. (Before the midterms, national polls showed that about 50 percent of GOP voters said they’d vote for Trump in a 2024 primary, which you can interpret either as a commanding lead over a split field or as a surprisingly weak showing for a recent president.)
If Trump makes it to the general election, the question becomes, can he win? With Biden’s and Trump’s approval ratings both hovering around 40 percent, that certainly isn’t out of the question. And despite Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in the midterms and against Trump-friendly candidates in swing states, they did likely lose the House popular vote to the GOP. More to the point, the general election is still two years away; much can happen before then, and Trump will have ample time to attack Biden — as he did extensively in his speech, mocking some of the president’s verbal misstatements and arguing that he “is leading us to the brink of nuclear war.”
Should Trump win, it would be a mistake to assume a second Trump term would roughly resemble the first. In that first term, Trump heavily relied for his appointments on the “Republican establishment,” including many officials who did try at least somewhat to rein in his most extreme or corrupt impulses. Since, he’s become more reliant on extreme advisers who have little interest in the norms of liberal democracy. That means a second-term Trump could well be far more successful at actually doing the corrupt things he always wanted to do.
Trump has been politically wounded and is facing many threats
Many in politics feared or hoped that Trump would exit politics for good following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. And he could have been banned from holding federal office again had he been convicted in a Senate impeachment trial. But most Senate Republicans instead voted to acquit him in his February 2021 trial, meaning he is perfectly free to run again. (Trump mentioned his stolen election claims obliquely in his speech, claiming that he would eliminate “cheating” and speed up counting by requiring same-day voting and paper ballots.)
Since then, Trump has regained influence in the GOP, and his endorsements appeared to help swing many contested Republican primaries in 2022. Yet many of his most-hyped candidates subsequently went down to defeat last week. This has surfaced a GOP conversation that Trump previously tried to stave off with his stolen election lies — a conversation about whether Trump is, well, a loser.
Trump’s appeal to Republicans in the 2016 primary was based in large part on his claim that he’d be tough enough to win, unlike their previous party leaders. Then he actually did win the presidency, suggesting he had some electoral magic that kept propelling him to upset victories when the political establishment kept declaring him dead. Now, the magic may be gone, and Republicans frustrated at their party’s failure to retake the Senate are openly blaming Trump (while he, of course, points fingers elsewhere, including at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell).
“Much criticism is being placed on the fact that the Republican Party should have done better. Frankly, much of this blame is correct,” Trump said in his speech. “But the citizens of our country haven’t realized the full gravity of the pain our nation is going through and the total effect of the suffering is just starting to take hold.”
“I have no doubt that by 2024, it will sadly be much worse. They will see more clearly what happened and what is happening to our country and the voting will be much different,” Trump continued — in a rare acknowledgment that public opinion does not seem to be on his side.
Trump’s critics in both parties had also hoped he’d be taken off the board by his escalating legal problems. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether his attempt to stay in power broke any laws, and a separate probe into whether he mishandled classified information after leaving office looks quite serious. Prosecutors in Georgia are also investigating his attempt to flip the state’s electoral votes in his favor, while a civil lawsuit from New York’s attorney general may present a serious threat to his business as well.
Yet none of this was sufficient to deter Trump from running again, and may have even heightened his desire to do so.
If he’s indicted while campaigning, he can claim the charges are political and whip his supporters into a frenzy, as he did on January 6. Then, if he wins, he’d likely avoid federal prosecution while he’s in office (due to a longstanding Justice Department opinion that the sitting president should not be charged) and would gain the power to pardon federal crimes (even, perhaps, his own).
A second Trump term would hit different
Trump’s partially prewritten, partially ad-libbed speech hit a litany of familiar notes and themes from his first campaign and first term — trade, immigration, crime, complaints about investigations into him and his family, anecdotes about his interactions with world leaders. The central theme was that the country was purportedly doing wonderfully in his first term (until Covid-19, which he says is China’s fault), but that now things are terrible, and that he would bring things back to the way they were.
So it might be tempting to expect Trump’s second term would resemble the early years of his first — one in which he was frequently erratic and chaotic but hemmed in by the GOP establishment and unable to follow through on many of his most extreme or dictatorial impulses. But that won’t necessarily be the case.
For example, during Trump’s first term he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents, but the department refused. He wanted to withdraw from NATO but didn’t follow through on it. And as far as Trump did go in trying to overturn Biden’s win, he considered going even further — discussing, for instance, imposing martial law and commandeering the DOJ in his election-stealing effort — but was convinced to back down.
Now Trump would likely return to office with a different mindset and different incentives. He would no longer need to constrain himself with reelection in mind. And after January 6, he’s embittered against traditional Republican establishment forces he believes abandoned him.
He’d also return to power with a different party. Since Trump’s initial rise to power, the GOP has gradually been remaking itself in his image. Many of his most outspoken critics have since retired, lost primary challenges, or even become his staunch supporters. Most Republicans who were appalled at Trump’s disrespect for the norms of liberal democracy are either no longer in the party or no longer so outspoken.
And he could staff up a very different government. In contrast to the post-2016 transition, when Trump really had no idea what he was doing and had to rely on many traditional Republican elites to staff his administration, his team has gotten more obsessed with identifying reliable loyalists who would work to carry out his agenda and defend him personally next time. People close to Trump are reportedly exploring proposals to fire tens of thousands of civil servants in the federal government, replacing them with loyalists.
“We will dismantle the deep state and restore government by the people,” Trump said in his speech.
So Trump and his team may well become more skilled at identifying, appointing, and empowering officials who would act in Trump’s personal interests, even if it means defying law or tradition. Indeed, his recent legal peril will make that of paramount personal importance to him.
There’s every reason, then, to expect a second Trump term would be far more tumultuous than the first — and that it could lead the country, and our democracy, to some totally unprecedented places. The stakes are high, and the battle for America’s future has begun.
Update, November 15, 10:30 pm: This story has been updated with additional comments from Trump’s announcement speech.
The post Donald Trump Knows How to Win the Republican Presidential Nomination appeared first on The Nation.
By most metrics, the midterm elections were good for
Democrats and for American democracy in general. With the reelection of Senator
Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Democrats will retain
control of the Senate. They can also break the 50-50 deadlock there if Senator Raphael
Warnock wins his runoff against Herschel Walker, allowing Democrats to control
committees and end the need for discharge petitions. Democrats also avoided the
traditional huge midterm losses in the House. Republicans are projected to end up with about 219 seats,
giving them a narrow three-seat advantage.
At a state level, the news was also generally good. For the
first time since 1934, the party in the White House did not lose any state
legislative chambers during the midterms. Democrats made gains in the
Minnesota, Vermont, Maryland, and Massachusetts legislatures. They also flipped
three governors’ seats and lost one (Nevada).
But all this doesn’t change the fact that the situation continues to
deteriorate, albeit at a slower pace than might otherwise be the case. Behind
Democrats outperforming incredibly low expectations by preventing a red wave,
there’s another story: Our government remains dysfunctional, the Republican Party
is putting increasingly unqualified authoritarian candidates in office, and
more states have fallen into near permanent single-party autocratic rule. We
also see that those permanent single-party GOP states intend to make cruelty
and culture war the centerpiece of their policy decisions.
However you want to spin it, losing the House is still a
loss. Whether Republicans control the House by three votes or 50, it is
effectively the end of the Biden legislative agenda. It is also effectively the
end of any hope of securing voting rights, limiting gerrymandering, or
preventing electoral shenanigans before the 2024 election. The irony is that
gerrymandering made the GOP takeover possible. While Democrats in New York acceded to rulings by the state
Supreme Court striking down gerrymandered districts favoring Democrats,
Republicans in Ohio, North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana went to the election with maps
struck down by state courts still in place.
The results of House elections will bring America’s
dysfunctional government into sharp focus over the next two years. For the GOP,
a three-seat majority is far too small to manage the fractious Freedom Caucus.
These Republican hard-liners aren’t interested in governance; they will insist
on making everything a life-or-death showdown with no room for compromise. This
includes funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. Whoever the speaker is will face
the same ugly choices that John Boehner and Paul Ryan did: Cater to the
radicals, or work with Democrats to pass needed legislation and be labeled a
Republican in Name Only. Former Republican insiders assure me that they will choose the former.
Instead of keeping the government running or servicing the
national debt, the GOP-led House will make investigations and potential
impeachment of President Biden the centerpiece of their reign.
Imagine the repetitive overkill of Benghazi with the conspiracy-laden nuttiness
of anti-vaccine diatribes against Anthony Fauci, and obsession with Hunter Biden’s laptop.
While there is some debate whether Republicans in the House
will have the stomach for impeachment hearings, it seems likely that the
Freedom Caucus will be larger, louder, and more powerful than a tiny handful of
new representatives elected from tight districts. This is another side effect
of partisan gerrymandering, which causes less than 14 percent of congressional districts to be
competitive. Hesitant Republicans will also be pushed hard by Fox News and
other conservative media outlets to go along with aggressive investigations in
order to avoid the “RINO” label and a potential primary challenge.
The quality of Republicans going to Congress isn’t improving
either. It appears Lauren Boebert is going to squeak out a win in Colorado.
Soon-to-be Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, who embraced Donald Trump when he saw
him as a ticket to power, is both openly Christian nationalist and completely unqualified. While
prominent election deniers such as Mark Finchem in Arizona and Marchant in
Nevada lost their races, on the whole they did well nationally. The Washington Post notes that about 60 percent of
election-denying Republicans nominees on the November ballot won their races. On top of that, about 70 percent of Republicans in the
House are election deniers who will happily work to overturn the 2024 election
given the chance.
At the same time, voters in Ohio and North Carolina have decided they’ve had enough of
democracy, and put partisan supreme courts in place. These courts will allow
gerrymandered borders and voter suppression in those states to ensure that elections
there hold all the suspense and drama of finding out whether Putin’s United
Russia Party retains control of the Duma.
The consequences of this can be seen in Wisconsin, where
Republicans won control of the legislature in 2010, and promptly gerrymandered
democracy out of existence. Despite Democratic incumbent Tony Evers winning the
governor’s race in Wisconsin by 3.6 percent, voters in Wisconsin barely
prevented the GOP from having veto-proof supermajorities in the Wisconsin
House and Senate. There is no conceivable way for the people of Wisconsin to
put Democrats in charge of the legislature. As a consequence, there is no way
for them to repeal an 1849 law banning abortion, since there is no mechanism
for a statewide ballot initiative, despite strong voter support for it.
It is also highly concerning that the big winners in the
election were the red state politicians who have gerrymandered, suppressed, and
run their campaigns on culture-war issues such as abortion, race, and LGBTQ issues. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won his reelection by a wide margin, and
Florida Republicans expanded their control of both houses of the legislature
despite running on poll taxes, “don’t say gay” laws, and a promise of a near-total ban on abortion.
Likewise in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton won handily after making culture war issues like abortion,
book bans, and transgender children their top legislative, legal, and policy
issues.* There is every reason to believe that Republicans, particularly in
red to deep-red states, will take away the message that there is no penalty to
be paid for targeting vulnerable people in the name of battling “wokeness.” Nor
was there any consequence in Texas for governing poorly in the wake of a
collapsing electrical grid or the botched handing of another mass school
shooting in Uvalde.
So while Tuesday’s election result were better than expected,
the slow decline into neofascism continues, just perhaps a bit less quickly.
The House is gone, now run by ideologues uninterested in governing. Two states
voted in supreme courts for themselves that cut off the last possible escape
from single-party Christian nationalist rule. Wisconsin demonstrated the
hopelessness of recovering from autocracy, as it does every two years. And in
supposedly “moderate” red-leaning states, voters have had a chance to experience
both the incompetence and hatred of neofascism and found that they like it.
Texas has had decades of Republican rule. Its electrical
grid is falling apart, and people died en masse during a cold snap two
years ago. Nothing has been done to fix it. The attorney general is under
indictment, and no one seems to care. Police stood around for an hour during
one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, and the governor didn’t
bother with either funerals for the children or calls to do something to
prevent future mass murders. Instead of addressing real problems, the state’s
leaders focused on tax breaks for the wealthy, making guns more readily available, and calling three special sessions of the
legislature to ban mostly nonexistent transgender
from competing in sports.
And Texans overwhelmingly rewarded them all with another four
years in power. Because the cruelty was always the point. Some election deniers
lost, and Donald Trump took a whipping, and that’s great. But
it didn’t reverse the overall democratic decline that has been happening since
the 2010 elections.
* This article originally misidentified Paxton’s office.
Demographic trends are working against Republicans — witness what happened in the midterm elections.
As I watched Dave Chappelle’s much-discussed Saturday Night Live monologue poking fun at recent anti-Semitic incidents involving Black celebrities, I finally figured out why I no longer felt comfortable cracking jokes about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
In his 15-minute appearance, Chappelle, a habitual line-stepper, deliberately mocked the presumptions of both anti-Semites and their critics, with little concern for where the chips fell. He closed his potent performance with a pronouncement: “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk about anything. It’s making my job incredibly difficult, and to be honest with you, I’m getting sick of talking to a crowd like this. I love you to death, and I thank you for your support, and I hope they don’t take anything away from me—whoever they are.” In context, this felt like a cheap but clever attempt to immunize himself against criticism—say nothing, and his comedic choices go unchallenged; say something, and you’ve proved him right.
That said, Chappelle is correct that it’s become more difficult to poke fun at anti-Semitism in front of an audience, but not because some censorious Jewish cabal is looking over the shoulder of Netflix’s multimillion-dollar man. The problem, I realized, is that as anti-Semitism and related conspiracy theories become more normalized in our discourse, laughing about them becomes harder, because you never know who might not get the joke.
From sources as varied as Tucker Carlson, Kyrie Irving, Elon Musk, and Kanye West, our culture faces a flood of conspiracism. And inevitably, with the rise of conspiratorial thinking comes a surge in anti-Semitism. As another comedian famously said, “That train is never late.”
The progression is as dependable as it is depressing. Conspiracy theorists begin by rejecting mainstream explanations for social and political events in favor of supposedly suppressed knowledge and hidden hands. These individuals may not start out as anti-Semites. But anti-Semitism has a multi-thousand-year head start on their crooked conception of the world, and has produced centuries of material casting the Jews as its chief culprit. Once a person has convinced themselves that an invisible hand is manipulating the masses, they are just a couple of Google searches away from discovering that it belongs to an invisible Jew.
Take Irving, the Brooklyn Nets basketball star who shared a cartoonishly anti-Jewish film with his social-media following. As the Yahoo Sports columnist Ben Rohrbach noted at the time, this was far from the first conspiracy theory that Irving had promoted. In the past, the point guard had suggested that the Earth was flat, that the CIA killed the musician Bob Marley, that the Federal Reserve helped assassinate President John F. Kennedy, and that 9/11 might have been an inside job. “People will be like, Who’s ‘they’?” Irving said in a 2018 podcast, before answering his own question: “Everyone who has basically controlled us.” Seen in this perspective, it’s less surprising that Irving landed on anti-Semitic ideas, and more surprising that it took him this long.
Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, the host of the most popular political show on television, has produced an entire propaganda series pushing the fevered fantasy that the U.S. government manufactured the January 6 insurrection in order to ensnare and persecute innocent patriots. Carlson has also celebrated Alex Jones, the far-right radio host recently hit with a $965 million libel judgment for repeatedly claiming that no children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and that their grieving parents were in fact paid actors.
It is no surprise, then, that Carlson has also taken to promoting a lightly sanitized version of the “Great Replacement” theory, which posits that shadowy elites are plotting to replace the country’s white majority with brown minorities—a claim that has motivated multiple anti-Semitic massacres on American soil. Carlson is careful never to explicitly implicate Jews in this supposed scheme, as white nationalists do, but the far-right members of his audience can fill in the blanks after he hits all their preferred beats.
The conveyor belt from all-purpose conspiracy to anti-Jewish specificity doesn’t stop there. It’s how Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene went from claiming that Democratic leaders were running a pedophile ring out of a pizza store and that no plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11 to fulminating about Jewish-run space lasers and seconding accusations that Israel’s Mossad killed JFK. This is how QAnon became JewAnon. And it’s why the rise of conspiracism should concern us all.
Earlier this month, the entrepreneur Elon Musk posted and then deleted a conspiracy theory on Twitter about the recent attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The site he linked to had previously claimed that Hillary Clinton had died during the 2016 presidential campaign and been replaced with a body double. This foray of the world’s richest man into casual conspiracism is frightening not because he is unique, but because he is entirely representative of our moment, a reflection of just how much erratic thinking has seeped into the mainstream. Indeed, Twitter, the platform Musk recently acquired, is filled with hoaxes and conspiracy theories, an accelerant of the breakdown of our society’s shared frame of reference.
And this is what I realized as I watched Chappelle’s monologue: When so many people have proved so susceptible to the conspiracism that animates anti-Semitism, it becomes harder and harder to laugh about it. Comedy cannot be divorced from its context. Jokes assume a shared set of presuppositions between the comedian and the audience, which are subverted for ironic effect. But when that collective context is called into question, and one no longer knows whether everyone in the room is operating from the same premises, what was once satire becomes suspect. After all, the best parody is often indistinguishable from the thing itself—the perfect impressionist is the one who sounds exactly like Donald Trump. But when the performance is anti-Semitism, and so much of society seems in thrall to its essential elements, it’s not clear whether the bit is setting up a punch line—or just a punch.
Warning: This article contains graphic accounts of force-feeding.
Ajay Kumar set out from India in June 2018, eventually ending up at the U.S. border in California, where he declared his intention to seek political asylum. He was then taken into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, expecting to be released as he awaited his hearings. Instead, he languished in detention for nearly a year.
So he began a protest. In July 2019, along with three other Indian asylum-seekers, Kumar undertook a hunger strike, demanding release from ICE detention. The agency responded by transferring him to the El Paso Service Processing Center in Texas, an ICE jail operated by the firm Global Precision Systems.
With Kumar more than a month into the hunger strike, the government, using Justice Department lawyers, sought a judge’s order to force-feed him and the other three men. With the judge’s approval, contractors working at the detention center on ICE’s behalf began the process of involuntarily feeding Kumar in August 2019, 37 days since his last meal. The process was captured on video.
“I asked them to give me my freedom. If they had granted it at that time, there would have been no need for all of this.”
“I asked them to give me my freedom. If they had granted it at that time, there would have been no need for all of this,” Kumar said. “This is not humanity. This is totally against humanity.”
Historically, the federal government’s force-feeding procedures have been mired in secrecy, with even the court orders to carry it out frequently issued under seal. Video, court records, and medical records reviewed by The Intercept in the case of the El Paso detention center provide a firsthand look at how the procedure is approved and executed — including the first publicly released video of force-feeding done under the auspices of the federal government. National and international medical organizations consider force-feeding hunger strikers a transgression of medical ethics; the process has been criticized as torture by international human rights organizations.
The video, nearly one hour long, shows five detention guards in riot gear, employed by Global Precision Systems, introduce themselves to the camera in preparation for their “calculated use of force” on Kumar. The guards enter the facility infirmary, where medical personnel explain the procedure to the asylum-seeker through a translator and begin their attempts to insert a nasogastric tube. Medical officials failed to correctly insert the tube two times before successfully beginning the force-feeding.
According to ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards, whenever there is a “calculated use of force,” staff are required to use a handheld camera to record the incident. The Intercept, with Kumar’s consent, requested the video through the Freedom of Information Act. After ICE refused to turn over the footage, The Intercept filed a lawsuit and ICE subsequently agreed to turn over the footage, but the agency redacted the faces and names of everyone who appears in it, aside from Kumar. (ICE declined to comment for this story and Global Precision Systems did not respond to a request for comment.)
Kumar watched the video for the first time with The Intercept, which also showed the footage to four experts from universities and advocacy organizations, who work on medicine and immigration detention.
“The process of watching this hourlong video was excruciating, knowing what Ajay was going through,” said Joanna Naples-Mitchell, research adviser for the U.S. at Physicians for Human Rights. “That was, perhaps, the most chilling thing about it: this kind of quiet, pernicious nature of the violence that was present throughout this video — and having these officers standing around him, and just this tremendous power imbalance and asymmetry between him and them.”
Ajay Kumar stands on a balcony in California on June 1, 2022.
Still: Stuart Harmon
Kumar fled from India after receiving threats related to his political activism. The threats were very real: Later, as Kumar was in ICE detention, his father was killed in India, his immigration attorney said in court. From India, Kumar took a plane to Ethiopia and then another flight to Brazil and traveled north by car, bus, and foot, before ending up at the California border, according to records from an interview he gave to the U.S. border guards. After making his intention to declare asylum known, Kumar was placed in ICE custody and taken to the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico — another privately run facility, in this case operated by Management and Training Corporation. (Management and Training Corporation did not provide a comment for this story.)
Asylum-seekers, when placed in ICE custody, are fighting civil immigration cases. Their legal right to request asylum, however, does not preclude detention. They are frequently placed in immigration detention centers. They sometimes stay under lock and key until their cases conclude, but in other instances they can argue for release to pursue their claim from the outside. Despite being placed in detention facilities while awaiting civil — not criminal — cases, conditions for asylum-seekers are identical to jails and prisons.
For Kumar, days passed, then weeks, without any indication of when he would be released from detention. The conditions and treatment, he said, were abysmal. It was “the worst experience I had over there, the worst,” he told The Intercept. “I did not expect that these people would treat us like this.” Kumar said he would speak up for himself and others. The complaints Kumar said he lodged included a request for the staff to respect Hindi detainees’ religious observations, including a request that their food not be cross-contaminated with beef, which is prohibited in the Hindu religion. In response, he said, Otero correctional staff would send him to solitary confinement. (In some cases, records indicate he was segregated for “insolence.” In one case, the documents say the segregation order was related to claims of a hunger strike.)
Advocates for migrants have lodged a raft of complaints against the Otero County Processing Center, including over its use of solitary confinement. In 2021, Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention, or AVID, and Innovation Law Lab, released a report co-written by Nathan Craig, a professor at New Mexico State University who has worked on Kumar’s case, that drew on more than 200 complaints of alleged abuse at the facility. They included claims of unsanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, harassment by staff, and prolonged use of solitary confinement. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties wrote a recommendations memo to ICE highlighting concerns and best practices to be improved in terms of detainee treatment.
“The private contractors’ aim is to cut costs and try to extract profit out of this situation. These lead to dangerously bad conditions,” Craig said. “There’s poor sanitation, poor medical care. The conditions are very unpleasant, partly by design, partly by the extraction of profit.”
“The private contractors’ aim is to cut costs and try to extract profit out of this situation. These lead to dangerously bad conditions.”
Even as he fought for better conditions, Kumar requested to be released on bond. ICE, though, kept him confined. He decided something drastic needed to be done: After nearly a year in ICE detention, Kumar ate his last meal on July 8, 2019, and began his hunger strike.
“For the first few days my body was demanding food all the time, all the time. But after 10 to 12 days, my hunger stopped permanently,” Kumar said. “And as the days passed, the weakness increased gradually.”
Other men in the facility also began hunger strikes. Kumar said they were all threatened with force-feeding: “The guards who were there before the transfer were threatening me: ‘Now you will go to El Paso and tubes will be inserted inside you. You will be force-fed.’”
The El Paso Service Processing Center is a hub of federal government force-feeding. Kumar was far from the first detainee to be force-fed there. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union and Physicians for Human Rights shows that as early as 2016, there was a court order for a forced hydration in the facility.
Additional ICE records reviewed by The Intercept show that, in 2018, there were a total of 25 hunger strikes, six of which were met by “involuntary administration of fluids.” One ICE detainee was flown from New Jersey to El Paso to be force-fed in November 2018. In early 2019, the Associated Press reported that nine men were simultaneously being force-fed at the facility. That year there were 40 hunger strikes in the facility, according to an ICE facility report, with Kumar’s case brining the reported total to 13 known force-feedings.
The practice of force-feeding incarcerated hunger strikers is widespread in federal facilities, spanning Democratic and Republican administrations alike. While the Pentagon’s force-feedings of Guantánamo Bay detainees by the Department of Defense made global headlines in 2013, other government agencies — both at the federal and state levels — also engage in the practice, albeit with less fanfare.
As in Kumar’s case, the Department of Homeland Security force-feeds detainees at several immigration jails. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons has also conducted force-feedings, which typically require an order by a judge. Though contractors running and working at detention facilities do not typically initiate the court proceedings that result in judicial orders for force-feedings — in Kumar’s case, the government was itself the sole petitioner — contractors do, as in Kumar’s case, sometimes carry out the procedure.
Though advocates, journalists, and lawyers have continually fought to get videos of federal force-feedings, none had been made public. In 2014, a judge ordered the release of the Guantánamo Bay videos, but after the Obama administration appealed, a panel of three federal judges overturned the previous ruling.
What is likely the first video of a force-feeding being carried out by authorities was published in 2016 by Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit investigative news organization. The state government in Wisconsin carried out the procedure: The video shows a person incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution, a state prison, being force-fed by Department of Corrections staff. The man, Cesar DeLeon, was on hunger strike to protest prolonged solitary confinement.
“If someone has capacity — they’re legally competent to make their own medical decisions — you cannot force-feed them.”
The practice has been condemned by medical experts and ethicists. The American Medical Association says force-feeding violates the “core ethical values of the medical profession.” The World Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross have also condemned the practice. And, before Kumar ever arrived in El Paso, the United Nations said that ICE’s force-feeding of previous detainees could be violating the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
“If someone has capacity — they’re legally competent to make their own medical decisions — you cannot force-feed them,” said Dr. Matt Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado and the former head of the American Medical Association’s Institute for Ethics. “It’s a law enforcement intervention, and doctors do not have a place to use their skills and knowledge to be agents of the state for purposes of law enforcement, or for purposes of maintaining control of the prison population, or to try and break the hunger strike.”
Last year, the ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights released a report about hunger strikers and ICE’s response in immigration detention. The authors, Eunice Cho of the ACLU and Naples-Mitchell of Physicians for Human Rights, relied on over 10,000 pages of documents, studying the cases of nearly 1,400 people.
“Although some detained people, on occasion, are able to bring outside attention to their hunger strikes,” the report reads, “very little is known of ICE’s systemic response to hunger striking detainees.”
The report found that ICE began seeking and executing judicial orders for involuntary medical procedures since 2012, including a previously unknown force-feeding case from 2016 under the Obama administration. It also found that in many cases, ICE failed to consider alternatives to force-feeding, including addressing the conditions the hunger strikes were protesting. In multiple cases, the report found, documents and internal emails revealed ICE officials attempted to hide or manipulate information about in-custody hunger strikes in order to avoid public pressure.
“We have to remember how coercive and how abusive the detention system actually is in the first place,” said Cho, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “In the context of that, it may be that people have tried to do everything else possible, but it sometimes becomes an option of last resort because there is simply nothing else to do in terms of controlling one’s own bodily autonomy.”
Force-feedings have taken place at other jails, not just the El Paso facility. In 2020, immigrants detained at two separate Louisiana detention centers were subjected to force-feeding. Just this year, in February, ICE force-fed a Yemeni man detained in Arizona. That process went so badly that “one of the guards in the room thought the man was having a stroke,” according to a report from the Daily Beast.
“This is a practice that has clearly been accepted by multiple administrations, regardless of political party,” said Naples-Mitchell from Physicians for Human Rights. “It’s routinized within ICE policies and practices. And even though it’s clearly accepted, there’s also this veil of secrecy around how often it’s being used.”
About a week after he had started the hunger strike, the transfer order that guards had threatened him with was issued; Kumar was taken to the El Paso Service Processing Center. Government lawyers then sought a court order from a federal district judge for ICE to force-feed him. Kumar had lost just over 20 pounds during the hunger strike, dropping from 139 pounds to 118.
After the federal judge’s order came, a social worker concluded Kumar was “fully competent” to make decisions over his own medical care, according to court records reviewed by The Intercept.
On August 14 at 3:45 p.m., the U.S. government began the process of force-feeding Kumar. The video obtained by The Intercept shows the infirmary, where the three other hunger strikers are seen in the beds, also with their faces blurred, watching Kumar be force-fed.
“If they wanted, they could have taken me to another room,” Kumar said. He alleged that officials force-fed him in front of the others to encourage them to break their own strikes after watching him undergo the procedure. (A news report suggests that one of those three men was taken to the hospital the following day and diagnosed with ileus, a lack of muscle contractions of the intestines that can lead to a life-threatening blockage. That man was later returned to ICE custody and force-fed.)
“Our responsibilities are to pin the detainee, control the head, and if a weapon is produced, secure the weapon,” says one of the correctional officers dressed in riot gear, whose face was blurred in ICE’s video.
As correctional officers began to tighten the restraints on Kumar, someone behind the camera instructs the lead security officer to remove the restraints and use their hands.
“He was obviously so weak and so thin,” said Dr. Parveen Parmar, an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at the University of Southern California, who reviewed the video. In 2019, Parmar filed an affidavit after reviewing hundreds of Kumar’s medical records during the court process to force-feed him. “As a physician, it was really viscerally hard to watch the use of force,” she told The Intercept. “I can clearly state it was medically unnecessary.”
Michelle Iglesias, a doctor with whom ICE contracts, oversaw Kumar’s force-feeding to verify the tube’s placement, according to medical records and court testimony reviewed by The Intercept. When Kumar’s attorneys attempted to stop the procedure from continuing, Iglesias defended the practice in federal court, though the doctor did concede that that force-feeding violates medical standards “in the private world.” The doctor suggested that “because this is a detainee in custody,” there is “a different policy.” (Iglesias declined to comment.)
“In our history, we have seen that is a very dark path to go down, where doctors are using their medical knowledge and skills to serve the interests of the state and of the court system.”
Experts that spoke with The Intercept rejected Iglesias’s argument. “In medicine, we fight against that pretty regularly, for, I think, obvious reasons,” said Wynia, the former American Medical Association ethicist. “In our history, we have seen that is a very dark path to go down, where doctors are using their medical knowledge and skills to serve the interests of the state and of the court system.”
Private prison firms running ICE detention centers sometimes require doctors to declare that they are aligned with ICE’s mission. In a 2019 posting for a $400,000-a-year job as lead physician at an ICE facility in Louisiana, unrelated to the Texas facility, the private prison firm GEO Group said candidates must be “philosophically committed to the objectives of the facility.”
In the video, before the force-feeding begins, a woman who identifies herself as a “doctor” is present to oversee the procedure. Kumar identified her to The Intercept as Iglesias.
A screenshot from footage obtained from ICE shows Ajay Kumar after two failed attempts by medical staff to insert a nasogastric tube at the El Paso Service Processing Center on Aug. 14, 2019.
Kumar is given one last chance to avert the force-feeding. In the video, the doctor tells a translator to deliver a message to Kumar: “Up until this point, he still has the opportunity to drink the protein supplement, as opposed to using the tube in his nose.”
Kumar refuses, saying through the translator: “You guys know the only thing I want: my freedom.” The guards dressed in riot gear then hold Kumar down.
In the video, two nurses wearing U.S. Public Health Service uniforms perform the force-feeding. Health care in the facility is overseen by ICE’s Health Service Corps, which includes Public Health Service employees, but in ICE’s sprawling network of detention centers, the ground-level providers can also be contracted private providers. At times, medical personnel from multiple organizations are in the same facility.
In the video, one nurse begins inserting the tube through his left nostril, having Kumar sip water to facilitate the insertion. Kumar complies with instructions.
“At first I got scared seeing that tube — the tube that was almost as thick as my pinky finger, which they were going to put in my nose,” Kumar later said. The tube was about 6 millimeters thick, according to notes written by a nurse involved in the procedure. By comparison, the tubes used to force-feed Guantánamo detainees were between 3.3 and 4 millimeters, according to Guantánamo force-feeding documents obtained by Al Jazeera in 2013.
As the tube is inserted, Kumar is in visible pain, his back arching as the officers hold him in position.
“Right then, my mind stopped working,” Kumar said. “I was only thinking that I wish this tube would flip and go into my brain and the story ended there. I felt as if it was going through the throat, tearing the flesh. And blood started coming from the mouth and nose.”
Kumar is then guided to a wheelchair and taken for an X-ray to verify the tube’s correct placement, though he has trouble standing up. The insertion was found to be “unsuccessful,” according to the medical notes and video. The doctor overseeing the procedure later testified in court that the tube had coiled in Kumar’s esophagus. Kumar then returns to the bed, where a nurse removes the tube.
“When they dragged the tube out, it seemed like everything in the stomach was going to come out along with the tube,” Kumar said. “It was just as painful as inserting the tube.”
A nurse and then a doctor asks if Kumar would like to break his hunger strike and drink the protein supplement. He refuses.
A second nurse begins to perform the same procedure, inserting the tube.
“As soon as they started the second time, it was more painful than the first time, because my nose was already injured and the tube was going inside, tearing it again,” Kumar said. “So the second time was more painful than the first.”
Once again, the X-ray showed the tube coiled in his esophagus, according to the doctor’s court testimony. After nurses remove the tube for the second time, Kumar can be seen on the video bending over a container.
“When they took it out, I had a lot of blood in my throat, which is why I had to vomit, and they brought the trash can for me to spit out the blood,” Kumar said.
“It does not seem like an accident that ICE intended to show in full view this remarkably invasive and torturous medical procedure to other people who are also participating in this hunger strike with him.”
It wasn’t until the third attempt — in his right nostril this time, since, according to Kumar, the doctors told him his left nostril was too swollen from the previous attempts — that the second nurse was able to reach his stomach with the tube.
“If you use a thinner, more flexible tube, you’re lubricating adequately, or providing adequate anesthesia, you’re much more likely to get it right the first time and not result in having to do it three different times,” said Parmar, the University of Southern California professor. “It’s incredibly painful. I’m not surprised he was vomiting blood because it’s traumatic. It is traumatic to the nares and to the esophagus when you put in the tube, particularly multiple times — particularly if it’s a larger, more rigid tube.”
One of the nurses then begins the drip of nutritional shake through the tube.
“The other thing that was very disturbing was the fact that this was happening in full view of other people who had also participated in a hunger strike,” said Cho, the ACLU attorney, who reviewed the video. “It does not seem like an accident that ICE intended to show in full view this remarkably invasive and torturous medical procedure to other people who are also participating in this hunger strike with him. It was, frankly, very disturbing.”
Ajay Kumar in his apartment in California on June 1, 2022.
Still: Stuart Harmon
As ICE was trying to quietly continue force-feeding Kumar and the three other Indian asylum-seekers through sealed court filings and closed proceedings, public pressure began to mount. On September 5, with his health condition improving, ICE paused Kumar’s force-feeding and removed the tube, according to court records.
Kumar, though, kept up his hunger strike and his health declined. Once again, ICE and U.S. Attorneys sought a judge’s approval to reinsert the tube and commence force-feeding.
“We tried to work with Ajay and other men to have the opportunity of some legal representation to oppose this order, because the hunger strike is a protest, it’s not a medical condition — it is a political protest,” said Craig, the New Mexico-based professor and immigration advocate. “The orders are temporary. So, if they want to continue force feeding this person, they have to return to the court a second time.”
During the court battles between Kumar’s attorneys and the government, Parmar filed a court affidavit after reviewing nearly 500 pages of records. In the affidavit, she reported that his health was declining and warned that the medical care he was receiving in ICE custody was “putting his life at risk.”
“I was so disturbed by the instability of his vital signs and how clearly he was getting progressively much more ill. I was very concerned he was going to lose his life,” Parmar told The Intercept. “He wasn’t getting a basic standard of care for somebody as ill as he was. This just wasn’t the setting for somebody this ill.”
The federal judge, though, once again approved the procedure on September 12. Kumar was taken to a hospital, where medical personnel inserted another tube — this time a much thinner one — and began to force-feed him.
After continued protests and complaints by Kumar, his attorneys, and migrant advocates, ICE reached a deal with Kumar a week later and finally released him on September 26. Kumar’s hunger strike had lasted 76 days. In total, he lost 45 pounds.
In the first few months after his release, Kumar had recurring nightmares about solitary confinement, the hunger strike, and being subjected to force-feeding.
“I asked them just for freedom, from the first day until the date they released me,” Kumar told The Intercept. “I didn’t have any other demand.”
The post The Public Has Never Seen the U.S. Government Force-Feed Someone — Until Now appeared first on The Intercept.
For two days in late October, I attended Clay Clarke’s MAGA-driven ReAwaken America Tour near…
Political experts are warning about a group of nearly 60 far-right wing politicos including Ginni Thomas, Matt Schlapp, and Cleta Mitchell who reportedly will issue a letter calling for the House and Senate to delay votes on leadership positions including Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader.
Axios’ Jonathan first reported the news, posting at least part of the letter and the list of signatories (below).
Some of the other more recognizable names on the letter include Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff; Cleta Mitchell, the attorney who The New York Times calls the “architect of Donald J. Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election”; former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis; former U.S. Senator and former Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint (R-SC); former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, the right wing activist and head of the organization responsible for the Citizens United Supreme Court lawsuit that made countless billions of dark money in political elections legal.
Also, white supremacist and disgraced former U.S. Congressman Steve King (R-IA); convicted felon and disgraced former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX), right-wing religious extremist Kenneth Blackwell of the Family Research Council, which is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups, and others.
“The Republican Party needs leaders who will confidently and skillfully present a persuasive coherent vision of who we are, what we stand for, and what we will do,” the letter reads. “Many current elections are still undecided. There should be no rushed leadership elections.”
“Conservative Members of the House and Senate have called for the leadership elections to be delayed,” it adds, not naming which ones. “We strongly urge both Houses of Congress to postpone the formal Leadership elections until after the December 6 runoff in Georgia and all election results are fully decided.”
Experts are weighing in and issuing warnings.
“Note at least 3 people on this letter–Mark Meadows, Jenna Ellis, and Cleta Mitchell–are almost certainly subjects of the Jan6 investigation,” observed civil rights and national security journalist Marcy Wheeler. “So this is partly a crime-protection racket, signed by Clarence Thomas’ spouse.”
Politico Senior legal affairs reporter Kyle Cheney, who has done extensive reporting on the January 6 insurrection, commented, “some of these people are experts at seeking delays of elections.”
Investigative journalist and columnist Dave Troy, who has done extensive reporting on Vladimir Putin, noted: “All this makes me ask is what these clowns (Ginni Thomas, Cleta Mitchell, Mark Meadows et al) are planning between now and December 6, and how to stop whatever it is. Are they planning to poison someone? What is it this time?”
“Why aren’t these people in jail, anyway?” he also asked.
The American Independent’s senior political reporter Emily C. Singer simply called it a “who’s who of insurrection supporting Republicans.”
“So you’re telling me that Ginni Thomas, Mark Meadows and Matt Schlapp want to interfere in an ANOTHER election,” wrote Attorney Adam Cohen of Lawyers for Good Government. “Folks, even if the Democrats retain the House, we cannot rest. Because these people won’t.”
Read the letter below or at this link.