So, Voters DO Care About the Death of Democracy - DMT NEWS

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So, Voters DO Care About the Death of Democracy

This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

For all the lunch-hurling, throat-lunging intrigue of the January 6 committee, the political conventional wisdom is that voters, in the aggregate, don’t care. Yes, they’re watching, and yes, the story of an unhinged, possibly witness-tampering president who knowingly sicced armed followers on the Capitol is breaking through. But most polls during the summer hearings showed little net impact on the public’s perception of a threat to democracy. 

But the snap judgment that those polls translated to zero impact at election time was always flawed. It doesn’t account for how ongoing reporting of the hearings and the coup change voters’ overall perceptions of the direction of the country. Nor does it account for how that coverage sensitizes voters to attend to all the other news out there about investigations, threats, and GOP efforts to install election deniers ready to do even more damage to the republic. 

And it doesn’t account for how hearing about coups and conspiracies can add to the unease of voters already uncomfortable with what they see as a conservative overreach on abortion. 

In other words, political polls ask about voters’ separate feelings about separate issues. But in reality, no one thinks that way. 

That’s why this week’s special election results in an upstate New York congressional district are so important. Democrat Pat Ryan, a 40-year-old combat veteran and local politician, defeated Republican Marc Molinaro to fill a vacated seat. No poll had Ryan ahead in the race, which was widely seen as Molinaro’s to lose, since a) Donald Trump won the district in 2016; b) Joe Biden barely won it in 2020; and c) Biden’s dismal approval ratings, combined with soaring inflation, make the climate just awful for a Democrat. 

But none of that panned out. Ryan won, and he branded it a win for democracy. “The foundation of our democracy was and remains under direct threat, and that is deadly serious,” Ryan said in his victory speech.

The recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a major factor in Ryan’s race. It drove Democrats’ urgency to get out and vote. What’s interesting is how Ryan’s framing melds abortion and GOP authoritarianism into one idea that motivated voters: There’s a real threat to the things I like about this country and I should make an effort to vote against it. 

Ryan might be onto something. Just this week, polls for the first time showed that voters rank “threats to democracy” as their No. 1 concern heading into the midterm elections. 

There’s no reason to believe voters were transfixed and motivated by January 6 hearings alone. But holding the hearings leads to lots of reporting on the hearings. Then more reporting on new characters and disturbing new facts revealed in the hearings. Then still more reporting on how all but a few Republicans, in the throes of Trumpist authoritarianism, attack credible witnesses and bleat “fake!” at damning revelations. 

Meanwhile, inflation, still bad, may be easing. Gas prices are dropping. January 6 committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney sacrificed her House seat for her principled stand against Trumpism and delivered a well-covered broadside defending democracy in her concession. 

Then, of course, Trump worked hard to remind voters that he, and his party, think he’s above the law. Trump trashed law enforcement after Mar-a-Lago was searched, and some of his supporters threatened them. He’s suspected of stealing, mishandling, and hiding classified documents in a way that would get any normal person jailed. 

Ideas and arguments most voters tune out during daily life have a way of moving front-of-mind as an election approaches. And voters who are already concerned about the abortion decision may all of a sudden have a sense that an extremist minority is making the rules, and trying to steal all the power for themselves.

By the way, Joe Biden—the same Joe Biden who spun stories about how he got along with old Southern racists like Jesse Helms and ran on the idea that Republicans in Washington were fundamentally good—last night used a Democratic fundraiser to label the “MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascist.” 

That tells you that it’s not just Pat Ryan in upstate New York who thinks that voters might now be watching the contemporary GOP and are ready to act on the stakes.  

We’re reporting on democracy all the way to 2024, here, online, and on TV. Sign up your friends for Breaking the Vote!

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Tina turner

BtV readers know they can always count on this newsletter for a dose of Tina Peters news. And we’ve got a doozy from Colorado today, folks. 

Belinda Knisley, who was Peters’ deputy in the Mesa County Clerk’s office, and who caught a bunch of charges behind the pair’s alleged scheme to steal identities and hack voting equipment, has struck a deal with prosecutors and is testifying against her former boss.  

You read that right: Knisley copped a plea and flipped. And that spells bad news for Peters’ eventual defense against the 10 felonies and misdemeanors she’s facing for fraud, election tampering, impersonation, and other charges. That’s because Knisley admits to a scheme involving “a series of deceptive acts and statements” “that was significantly directed by Peters.” Knisley also threw Peters under the bus for a pair of separate charges where Peters is accused of illegally recording a court proceeding on her iPad then lying to a judge about it.

For those who don’t know, Peters is still technically the clerk of Mesa County, though a court stripped her of her authority to run elections there. She ran for Colorado secretary of state and lost, then raised more than $200,000 for a recount, which changed nothing. 

Mesa County DA Dan Rubenstein, a Republican, announced yesterday that Knisley pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges and will face two years unsupervised probation, 150 hours of community service and a permanent ban from ever again running elections. 

Rubenstein also said Knisley was interviewed at length in June, when she provided valuable details about what she says was Peters’ intentional scheme to defraud the 2021 election. 

Peters released a statement saying she’s been targeted for harassment and financial ruin by “the government, the media, and the organized left.”

“We hold no ill will towards Chief Deputy Knisley, but Tina Peters will not back down and the truth will come out,” Peters said. 

T.W.I.S.™ Notes 

Late August is supposed to be slow for news. But “supposed to” doesn’t jibe with multiple investigations, classified documents, and wacky legal briefs. Let’s get Talkin’ Warrants, Investigations n’ Stuff! 

- Star of ’davit

A federal judge in Florida wants the world to know just what evidence justified the FBI’s recent search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. How much of that evidence we’ll ever get to see is very much in question. Prosecutors are worried that releasing the affidavit that backed up their search warrant could hurt their criminal investigation. On Thursday they gave the judge a list of suggested redactions to keep the meaty bits from revealing the identity of witnesses and other investigational clues. 

Judge Bruce E. Reinhart agreed with the government’s redactions and ordered the affidavit released later today, barring an appeal, which could delay this further. 

- Self-own signal

Meanwhile, Trump did a lot to let everyone know just how many documents he took and how sensitive some of them were (spoiler alert: the most sensitive). Trump ally John Solomon published correspondence between Trump’s lawyers and National Archivist Debra Wall. Solomon thought he was exposing evidence that the Biden White House meddled in the government’s attempts to get its secret documents back (there’s no evidence this is true). But instead, he wound up revealing that Trump had taken more than 700 pages of sensitive and highly classified material. 

Trump also basically flung a legal motion at a federal judge in Florida, asking for both a special master to review the classified documents he took and a review of the warrant the FBI used for its search. But the motion was so riddled with errors, spurious arguments, and procedural mistakes that even the judge seemed flummoxed by what exactly Trump was asking for. VICE News’ Greg Walters has a great explainer on the legal cringe of Trump’s potential self-own. 

Then came this story showing that the National Archives got back only half of the 300 or more classified documents in January when Team Trump handed over 15 boxes. Another 150 were retrieved in the search earlier this month, and Trump apparently went through the boxes… personally. (Pro tip: It’s hard to blame your box-packers and lawyers for taking and keeping government documents if you rifle through them yourself.) The government is still worried Trump may be holding onto more. 

- Summer quash 

To hear Sen. Lindsey Graham tell it, when he called up Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (twice) and inquired about tossing ballots in the days after the 2020 election, he was doing normal senator-investigating-election-issues things, not  loyalist-trying-to-overturn-the-results-for-Trump things. That’s the crux of Graham’s ongoing bid to avoid being questioned by the special grand jury investigating election interference in Fulton County. 

A federal judge ordered Graham to testify in front of the grand jury. But then a higher court paused that ruling, and sent it back down so the first judge can consider whether parts of Graham’s subpoena should be quashed because a) he’s a senator, and b) the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause prohibits lawmakers from being formally questioned about their legislative activities. 

So what’s Graham’s take on how many of DA Fani Willis’ questions should be off limits? All of ’em. So far Graham’s been advised he’s a witness in this investigation, not a target. 

- Mark, get set

No huge surprise, but former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has been subpoenaed and ordered to testify in front of the Fulton County grand jury. Meadows was deeply involved in many aspects of the coup plot, and also refused to appear in front of the January 6 committee. Meadows is supposed to appear Sept. 27th. The grand jury also subpoenaed Sidney Powell for September.

Second lowlife 

VICE News’ David Gilbert has the wild scoop on a Jan. 6 rioter who found a second life threatening the FBI online after the Mar-a-Lago search. And Brandon Lee Sanders isn’t alone: David found another rioter who’s also been threatening law enforcement and journalists (this one got caught). 

A well-prosecuted militia 

Two members of the infamous plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 were convicted this week and could be facing life in prison. Barry Croft Jr. and Adam Fox were tried in the spring along with two other associates of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group. Two others pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government. That case ended in acquittal for two of the men, and a hung jury and a mistrial for Croft and Fox. The latter two were convicted in a second trial.

Attack on Greene

Still more from the political violence beat, where there’s sadly never a shortage of news. GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was apparently targeted this week when someone called police to her home in Rome, Georgia. The attack appeared to be an instance of attempted “swatting,” where someone falsely reports an emergency to police so that they respond in force to the victim’s home. 

It’s easy to see how dangerous it can be when armed units respond to false reports of shootings or hostage situations. That appears not to have happened in this case, since officers realized it was Greene’s home while they were en route and were able to speak with her before the situation escalated. A computerized voice later called police and claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming to be part of an online harassment group.

Greene was apparently swatted a second time, on Thursday, in what could be part of a feud between the harassment group and trans rights activists. 

It is obviously wrong and bad that someone tried to intimidate Greene and put her in danger with this political violence. It’s also true that Greene, a specialist in intimidation herself, immediately took to TV to capitalize on the incident and proclaim herself a victim. In this case, she is one. But she’s also banking on the urge to cast political violence as a sin equally deployed on the left and right. Journalists and their audiences should avoid that conclusion, because it’s false. 

Download dirty shame

Last week we covered the Washington Post’s terrifying report on how Sidney Powell and a gang of Trumpist lawyers accessed voting equipment in Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada. It was described as a breach on a “mindblowing” scale. Don’t miss Part II, where the data from the clandestine effort was downloaded dozens of times by a menagerie of conspiracy goons, media personalities, and a podcaster who called for his political enemies to be put to death. 

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“I actually am the Congresswoman from Florida’s 11th District, and everyone knows it.” - Conspiracy theorist, white nationalist, and congressional candidate Laura Loomer, after losing this week’s GOP primary to incumbent Rep. Daniel Webster. The election for the seat, i.e., to become the Congresswoman if she hadn’t lost, is in November. 

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AG of chaos — County election officials in Texas are being flooded with requests to access ballots from past elections, even ones that are protected by state and federal laws requiring ballots be secured for 22 months after an election. It’s all thanks to a recent order from Texas GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton that has almost overnight thrown election officials into chaos and put them under threat of lawsuits and other legal exposure. 

Harris County, for one, isn’t playing along

But no one’s quite sure how Paxton’s order is going to play out. Officials from the Texas secretary of state’s office advised him not to issue it, but he did it anyway. Just as a reminder, Paxton himself was indicted in 2015 for securities fraud, is currently under FBI investigation for public corruption, is being sued for professional misconduct by the Texas state bar, and is up for reelection in November. 

Something’s rotten — Aides to the January 6 committee flew to Denmark last week to view dozens of hours of documentary footage from a film crew that was following Roger Stone just before the Jan. 6 insurrection. The crew was on hand as Stone appeared in Washington on Jan. 5, guarded by a security detail that included members of the Oath Keepers, some of whom were later charged with seditious conspiracy. 

Stone says the investigators will find no incriminating evidence against him. Recall that Stone, who was pardoned by Trump after being convicted of lying to Congress, took the Fifth in front of the committee earlier this year. 

Tragic Johnson — GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, trailing in his reelection bid in Wisconsin, was in the middle of arguing he had nothing to do with the coup attempt when he admitted he was involved in the coup attempt. 

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New breed of video sites thrive on misinformation and hate.  REUTERS

The Big Lie messengers who carry a badge and a gun. BOLTS

Inside the QAnon Queen’s cult: “The abuse was non-stop.” VICE NEWS



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Todd Zwillich, Khareem Sudlow