Yellowhammer Files: Inside Alabama's Crumbling, Inhumane Prison System
Lice so severe that even kerosene couldn’t kill them. Shoeless feet padding aimlessly. Gross malnourishment.
That’s how people described the Yellow Hammers, a semi-isolated colony of the ostracized and downtrodden in Illinois that developed during the Reconstruction Era.
The history of the Yellow Hammers is murky. As the legend goes, a Colonel Brodie of the Civil War — it doesn’t include a first name — came home to Alabama, the Yellowhammer State, and relocated to Wilmington, Illinois where he purchased several acres of wooded land and invited anyone from his home state to come live on it, creating essentially an encampment people called “Brodie’s Woods.” Those people who relocated to Wilmington from Alabama were impoverished, almost permanently, and made pariahs in the community as they huddled on Brodie’s land.
The pariahs’ poverty prevented those among them who were employed from purchasing their own equipment so they used company tools — when they were able to work — whose handles were painted yellow.
These stories, reported by a high school student, can’t be confirmed. First, the only nineteenth century colonel named Brodie was about 12 years old when the Civil War started. One William Brodie from Alabama fought in the Civil War but there’s no record of his being a colonel. A now defunct local Chicago newspaper, the Surburbanite Economist, reported in 1970 that an area of Wilmington, Illinois was known as Brodie’s Woods, but that’s one of very few verifiable mentions of the area.
The more likely story of the root of Yellowhammer is that a cavalry of soldiers from Huntsville went to Kentucky during the Civil War to aid Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s — history will call him both a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and an innovative warrior — Company A of the Confederate Army. They wore new sharp gray uniforms adorned with brilliant yellow trim. A Confederate soldier in tatters said they looked like the bird the yellowhammer, a type of woodpecker, which was made Alabama’s state bird in 1927. The Yellowhammers ended up becoming valuable team members; they supported several of Gen. Forrest’s victories, one of which frustrated Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.
That the history of the Yellow Hammers is so hard to pin down says quite a bit about the state today; tracing what really happens proves difficult. Even though Alabama media tries to cover events inside the prisons, the state of news in 2023 dictates that coverage isn’t as complete as anyone would like.
Just as the history of the Yellowhammers is unclear, the view into Alabama’s prisons is muddied by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and its commitment to opacity. The officials who run that system do not like looksies. Early this year, ADOC stopped releasing the number of in-custody deaths on a monthly basis, ostensibly because there were so many that they either couldn’t keep up or didn’t want to be embarrassed by their inability to protect the state's wards.
Nevertheless, the reports of carnage that keep dripping out — two men were murdered on May 15, 2023, an additional pair added to a list of over 60 since January 1, 2023 — have contributed to a narrative that men and women in Alabama prison are incorrigible, even feral, when all they’re doing is adapting to the environment that the state has established for them.
The truth is that a good number of them are quite high-minded. When they staged a strike last fall, they didn’t even protest the squalid conditions they live in, which happen to be deplorable. Instead they sought policy reform on sentencing and parole which will ultimately benefit people beyond them.
Their strike demands were imminently reasonable, despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s disagreement. But the demands were really only part of the story of the strike. My sources tell me that — under the guidance of some dedicated leaders who I won’t name now — rival gangs and sworn enemies convened in good faith to hammer out what they needed to ask for. In that respect, they’re behaving better than many of us on the outside if they can display that type of comity. They came together despite the fact that they worry every day — along with family and friends — that they’ll be killed or starved. They’re fighting back non-violently. Bravely.
And even effectively. Because of the strike demands, lawmakers introduced two bills poised to pass the Alabama legislature. First is a bill that would mandate the right to attend one’s own parole hearings by video (they can’t attend these crucial proceedings now) and second is a bill that would allow people serving life sentences to petition to have their punishment reduced. Most prison work stoppages achieve nothing. This group of men and women convinced people to listen and act. Do not count these people out.
That doesn’t mean the wind is under their yellowhammer wings. Gov. Ivey just signed a bill into law that reforms the so-called “good time” statute by making it harder to earn time off one’s sentence because ADOC failed to take the good time of someone who attempted escape. Their resilience doesn’t mean they’re safe now or being treated justly. It’s just the opposite.
Alabama’s prison population reflects a lot of their yellowhammer history. Like woodpeckers, they’re tenacious fighters. Much like the Yellowhammer Cavalry in 1862, they're nimble, capable of putting up a few wins, but then ultimately forgotten.
And they aren't living much differently than Brodie’s Yellow Hammers. Some aren’t supplied shoes and therefore aren’t allowed in the chow hall. As I have reported before, the ADOC intentionally starves them when they assert their rights. They wander, often squatting in dorms where they’re not assigned because they want to avoid being raped. The violence doesn’t cease; I hear reports of outright beatings that all too often result in lost “good time” but no medical treatment. And they huddle, displaced and ostracized, in one of Alabama’s 15 state-sanctioned colonies of fear and panic.
But unlike the legend of Brodie’s Woods, these tales are true and verifiable. There’s no fiction here. It’s traceable. It tracks, all too well.
That’s why today The National Memo announces an unflinching series that goes inside Alabama’s criminal legal crisis: the Yellowhammer Files. We’re going to trace and track data and stories until something changes. Check these files as they are published and you will be stunned by what you read.
Chandra Bozelko served more than six years in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent. Her work has earned several professional awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, The National Federation of Press Women and more.Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.
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- Yellowhammer File 1: How Alabama's Vindictive 'Discipline' Mocks Justice - National Memo ›
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Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) praised a town hall event where expletives were shouted at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
At an event in New York last week, Ocasio-Cortez was confronted by an angry man waving American flags.
"Where are you on the migrant issue?" the man said as he tried to rush the stage. "You're a piece of s--t!"
"OK," Ocasio-Cortez replied.
On Sunday, Boebert tweeted a link to the confrontation.
"It's nice to see that some sanity still lives on in New York's 14th District," Boebert wrote. "In case you've yet to see Sandy get absolutely destroyed by her own constituents, just take a look."
\u201cIt\u2019s nice to see that some sanity still lives on in New York\u2019s 14th District.\n\nIn case you\u2019ve yet to see Sandy get absolutely destroyed by her own constituents, just take a look.\n\nhttps://t.co/SzQVtZvVDS\u201d— Lauren Boebert (@Lauren Boebert) 1685289802
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
McCarthy Bluntly Dispels Right-Wing Chatter About Biden 'Dementia'
By Sarah K. Burris
"He's got dementia," claims radio host Joe Rogan about President Joe Biden.
Donald Trump joined in the attacks, crafting a whole new conspiracy theory: "Joe Biden's second bout of Covid, sometimes referred to as the China Virus, was sadly misdiagnosed by his doctors. He instead has Dementia, but is happily recovering well," Trump wrote. "Joe is thinking of moving, part time, to one of those beautiful Wisconsin Nursing Homes, where almost 100% of the residents miraculously, and for the first time in history, had the strength and energy to vote — even if those votes were cast illegally."
For years, Trump called Biden "sleepy Joe."
Trump aide Stephen Miller said Biden should be in “assisted living” and “is not cognitively present.”
But it seems Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) isn't on message.
Asked about Biden, McCarthy said: "I thought his team was very professional, very smart, very tough, at the same time, so...." The fact that McCarthy said "team" threw reporters off. They asked again, specifically about Biden. "What I was referring to was the president. I was talking about President Biden, yes."
Listening to a few Biden speeches, namely his big Warsaw speech in February 2023, Desert News columnist Jacob Hess, said that there's evidence of Biden's stutter and some slurred words. Folks are forgetting Biden's decades of gaffes. It became an ongoing joke during Barack Obama's administration, where Biden would tell a crowd "The problem isn't I mean what I say, it's that sometimes I say what I mean." It's a joke about politicians holding back their thoughts or being calculated. Biden, Hess explained, could never be that guy.
"Often catches himself and turns it into a joke, like when he said'saloon' instead of salon, or offered $100K for citizens to get vaccinated. You might have also missed how the president handled hecklers with notable grace and patience at the recent State of the Union," Hess said.
See the McCarthy comments in the video below or at the link here.
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
The True Story Behind Ken Paxton's Historic Texas Impeachment
Suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, impeached by the Texas House yesterday and currently awaiting trial in the Senate, has been awaiting trial on another charge for felony securities fraud since 2015. Paxton, who was elected as Attorney General in 2014, was charged the following year with conning people into investing in a technology company called Severgy without telling them that he had an interest in the company and would profit from their investments.
The charges allege that while Paxton was serving in the Texas House of Representatives in 2011, he sold $840,000 worth of stock in the company to a Florida businessman and a fellow state representative with whom he roomed while the two men served in the House in Austin. In return, Paxton received 100,000 shares in the technology company. It wasn’t a small amount of money, and the complainants in the case were upstanding members of their communities.
So, it wasn’t a case like the hundreds that would doubtlessly churn through the justice system over the eight years Paxton has been able to keep his felony charges bouncing around from court to court, county to county. You know the kind of cases I’m talking about – kids charged with stealing beer from a 7-11, or adults charged with holding up a 7-11 with a firearm; or the thousands of multiple-offender felony DWI’s that would send the perpetrators to jail during the time Paxton was under indictment.
Of course, none of those charged in 7-11 robberies or with felony DWI’s who ended up in jail were former members of the Texas legislature or the state Attorney General like Paxton was. Which is the point. There were two systems of justice in operation in Texas between 2015 and 2023: one for the ordinary citizens of the state and one for Ken Paxton, and I’ll give you one guess which justice system produced trials and convictions and jail time.
The Texas Tribune has done an excellent job over the years explaining how the Ken Paxton system of justice worked. In a 2019 story, the Tribune spent more than 15 paragraphs describing the steps the Paxton felony case went through during just the first four years of the delays Paxton and his lawyers engineered to keep the Attorney General out of court as a defendant, and Paxton himself in office.
According to the Tribune, in August of 2015, Paxton was indicted by a grand jury in Collin County. Because the case involves the state Attorney General, special prosecutors are assigned to handle the charges.
In December of that year, a Paxton friend and campaign donor sued Collin County alleging that the special prosecutors were being overpaid. That case began to make its way through the courts.
In the early months of 2016, Paxton was barred by the Texas Ethics Commission – yes, they have one of those in the Lone Star State – from raising money out of state and from using campaign funds for his defense.
Also in 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission got involved, filing civil charges against Paxton in federal court charging him with misleading investors. Paxton immediately tried to get those charges dismissed, but by mid-summer, he lost the case in an appeals court.
Paxton also filed a motion to get the felony charges dismissed. He was unsuccessful. But he was successful in raising money for his defense, more than $300,000 from political donors and “family friends,” according to financial statements seen by the Tribune.
After SEC federal civil charges were dismissed in early 2017, somehow the Collin County Commissioners voted to stop paying the special prosecutors in the Paxton case. Withholding money from the prosecution became a refrain. Later that year, a Dallas appeals court upheld not paying the special prosecutors. By the fall of 2017, not one, not two, but three delays were granted in the Paxton case, the latest one because the special prosecutors told a judge they couldn’t go to court and work for free.
The state court case filed by the special prosecutors to get paid went to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, effectively speaking, the state’s supreme court, and the Paxton trial was put off until that court could decide the special prosecutor’s case on payments.
By then it was 2018, and with all the felony charges still standing, Paxton won reelection, because Texas.
Meanwhile, the state’s highest court had ruled against the special prosecutors, who had now not been paid for more than a year. The prosecutors asked the high court to reconsider. The court took nearly a year to make up their minds to deny the prosecutor’s motion.
In 2019 Paxton filed a motion in Dallas to have the case moved back to his home county, Collin, where the county commissioners first refused to pay the special prosecutors the county had appointed to oversee the Paxton prosecution. The special prosecutors had now gone two years without being paid.
By 2020, in a complicated bouncing-around of judges and counties, the Paxton case was first sent back to Collin County, then a Houston judge sent it back to Harris County, but the case got put on hold because the judge, a guy named Robert Johnson, had to recuse himself because Paxton’s own office of the Attorney General was representing him and twenty other Harris County judges in a case against the county’s bail policies.
Later in 2020, seven employees in the office of the Attorney General reported Paxton to the FBI for conspiring with his pal, Nate Paul, to use state funds and other materials to assist Paul in real estate deals. They became whistleblowers and were fired by Paxton, setting the stage for the charges that got Paxton impeached.
But…but…but…it was only 2020! It couldn’t be over yet! In 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Attorney in West Texas where Paxton was charged and where the whistleblower charges were being investigated is an appointee of Donald Trump and William Barr, the former puppet-Attorney General. The Biden U.S. Attorney wasn’t confirmed until December of 2022, and then…wait for it…NBC News reported that the West Texas U.S. Attorney’s office recused itself, and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. took over the case.
So the case went from Paxton’s home county, to Houston, to Dallas, back to Paxton’s home county, to the feds in West Texas to the Justice Department in Washington D.C.
Did it end there? It’s Texas, right? Of course not. The very next month, Paxton attempted to “settle” with the whistleblowers from his own office, offering them $3 million to drop their case. Then Paxton tried to get the state of Texas to pick up the bill for the entire mess he had created. He wanted the Texas taxpayers to pay off the people accusing him of running a corrupt office with a hostile environment.
Suddenly, the Texas House committee on investigations convened itself and announced this past week that it had heard “stunning testimony” about “a years long pattern of misconduct” by Paxton and voted to recommend that Paxton be impeached.
On Saturday, the Texas House took up the recommendation and voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton.
And so eight years and many judges and several unpaid special prosecutors later, Paxton will stand in the dock of the Texas Senate and face trial for impeachment on no less than 20 charges, many of which he had been moving around the state like chips on a checkerboard, jumping over one legal hurdle after another until even his own party, the Texas Republican Party, got tired of getting beat.
Last week, Paxton is said to have personally called members of the Texas House and threatened them with political retribution if they voted against him, and his friend Donald Trump joined him, calling those who are attempting to oust his favorite state Attorney General “liberals.”
Paxton’s own wife Angela is a state Senator and will sit in judgement at the trial of her husband. Paxton may be having second thoughts about the day he convinced his pal Nate Paul to give his mistress a job while Paul did the renovations on the house Paxton and his state Senator wife lived in.
Or maybe not. It’s Texas, folks, where anything goes unless you hold up a 7-11. In that case, you will go to court where the prosecutors will be paid to prosecute you, and you will go to jail.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.
Yellowhammer File 1: How Alabama's Vindictive 'Discipline' Mocks Justice
William Phelps has done everything right since he was incarcerated in 2019. He’s a GED tutor. He’s taught multiple classes in prison like personal finance.
“It’s not like I’ve just been in here marking time, doing drugs. That’s not my scene and I don’t do that,” Phelps said.
Trouble arose when Phelps wore khaki shorts. He’s allowed to wear them. Indeed they’re part of the uniform. But these shorts were from the outside. “Free world clothing” is what authorities called it, shorts that any one else might have worn to garden or conduct a Zoom meeting. Even though they matched what the state of Alabama issues to men, these weren’t actually issued to him by the state.
Other men around him wear black shorts, blue shorts, clothing that doesn’t even attempt to match the state uniform. Still, an officer issued him a disciplinary report for low-level contraband for the shorts and some medication that belonged to him — Vitamin B — that someone had pulled the name label from.
On May 4, 2023, a hearing officer revoked 1080 days or 2.95 years of Phelps’ earned good time — Alabama calls it Correctional Incentive Time but it’s time earned off his sentence for good behavior — for the shorts.
“It’s like receiving an entirely new prison sentence,” Phelps said.
Phelps' disciplinary dustup happened during a sea change in how Alabama handles misconduct. Last year, a man named Austin Hall allegedly shot and killed a Bibb County, Alabama sheriff’s deputy after he had been released from custody. Because Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) had failed to claw back 2000 days of Hall’s earned good time for an escape attempt from a work release program, state officials blamed the incentive program for Hall’s alleged mistake — Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement assailing Alabama’s good time law, rather than the state’s own failure to rehabilitate him.
After that, changes came to the disciplinary system within Alabama prisons. First, just this January, ADOC updated its disciplinary Administrative Regulation for the first time in 20 years. To give the new rules special force and gild the disciplinary lily, Gov. Kay Ivey signed Executive Order 725 for the regulations’ implementation.
Then good time policies underwent legislative change.
Good time isn’t for everyone in Alabama’s prisons. In fact, it’s for very few — about 10 percent of Alabama’s approximately 26,000 confined souls are eligible — and even then the state is pretty picky about who gets it. The state divides eligible inmates into three classes. At one time, Class I inmates (the lowest risk calculation) could reduce their sentences by 75 days for every 30 days served. Class II inmates could shave 40 days for 30 days served and, for Class III, 20 days for 30 days served.
Now, because of the new law, prisoners earn less than half of what they would have before this year. For Phelps to earn back the 1080 days, it will take him 36 months rather than 14 months.
According to the updated regulation, it’s clear that Phelps could have lost “at least one day” of his good time for the disciplinary report; his maximum penalty should have been 30 days lost. The rules are also explicit about losing 1080 days; it’s reserved for high level violations and Phelps wasn’t even accused of that level of misconduct. And, because of the new law, now it’s even harder for Phelps to earn that back.
It looks like a case of picayune punitivity but lasting consequences await people who aren’t even incarcerated.
“You’re literally dramatically changing not only my life but my family’s life. I have a family, a daughter [who’s] waiting on me.” Phelps could be home as soon as November if his good time were restored.
Phelps’ story is important for two reasons. First, the way prison discipline is wielded impacts the length of someone’s sentence; that means the gross mismanagement of these facilities becomes a de facto adjudication of criminal penalties. A system as dysfunctional as the ADOC should have no say over how long a person remains in custody.
Not only can a person lose years of earned good time for a disciplinary action, but these reports affect parole decisions, which rarely go in favor of the person seeking release in Alabama regardless of their rehabilitative status. Besides, discipline is applied unevenly and illegally anyway. Considering that between 40-50 percent of all disciplinary reports are bogus, according to Daniel E. Manville, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law, it’s a scene fraught with unfairness.
Second, Phelps’ shorts expose the tension between policy and action in the Yellowhammer State. Lawmaking is little more than performance; it doesn’t even matter what the law requires because officials ignore it. Even if a member of the Alabama legislature supports the new good time law, it and the Administrative Regulation are clear that Phelps should have lost no more than 30 days for this minor — some might even say inconsequential — offense. Instead an official imposed 36 times that penalty.
And ADOC is doing nothing to bring this penalty into line with its own regulation and has declined to comment on the record.
The way officials are unbound by law and rules in the Yellowhammer State isn’t limited to what people are wearing. I’m hearing reports of illegal detention (holding people past their end of sentence date), imposing sentences that aren’t authorized by law, wrongly convicting defendants under an incorrect statute.
The law is designed to be a shield not a sword, but that’s exactly how Alabama officials use it. They swing the blade however they want, indifferent to where and how it lands.
Chandra Bozelko served more than six years in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent. Her work has earned several professional awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, The National Federation of Press Women and more.Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.
The Racial Cynicism Driving Tim Scott's Presidential Campaign
Watching Tim Scott's announcement speech, I was struck by how differently I would have responded to his message 10 years ago. In 2013 I wrote: "It's to their credit that Republicans are obsessed with getting the government to address its unconscionable and unmanageable debt, freeing up the productive private sector to create economic growth and maintaining the nation's military preeminence."
Ten years on, I'm sadder and (hopefully) wiser. As the intervening years have shown, the GOP has abandoned good faith altogether. Kevin McCarthy and his band of nihilists wouldn't recognize good faith if it hit them on the fanny. The Republicans who are beating their chests for "fiscal discipline" were obedient lapdogs when Trump increased deficits by 50% — and that was before COVID. In total, they grinned along to an additional $7.8 trillion in national indebtedness. Did I mention that they quietly raised the debt ceiling three times during Trump's term?
Sen. Tim Scott was along for the ride on all of this, so when he objected on Monday in his presidential campaign announcement that we have "spent decades getting deeper and deeper into debt to the Chinese Communist Party," it rings a little hollow.
It's not that there is nothing to like or admire about Scott. He did rise from poverty. His grandfather picked cotton. When he says, "My family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime," he has every right to be proud. And while he wasn't exactly a profile in courage in calling Trump out, he wasn't a total sniveling coward either. After the Charlottesville "fine people on both sides" disaster, he said: "What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. And that moral authority is compromised. ... There's no question about that."
When asked about raging inequality, Scott talks about education, praising the work of entrepreneurs like Eva Moskowitz, whose Success Academy schools have made such a dramatic difference in the lives of poor kids. "The quality of your education shouldn't depend upon the accident of your ZIP code," he declares. Even after years of bitter disillusionment with conservatives and (especially) Republicans, I still believe that our schools are a disgrace and reforming education is the best route to reducing poverty and hopelessness. Maybe I wouldn't use the expression "less CRT and more ABCs," but OK, it's politics. Let that pass. One cheer on policy.
I would also offer one cheer on message. During his announcement speech, Scott insisted that "We must show compassion for those who disagree with us," arguably not the most congenial sentiment for the perpetually roiled GOP base that has moved from laughing at cruelty to cheering on brutality.
Scott's boosters hope that his message of patriotic optimism (he even used Reagan's "city on a hill" cliche) will be an implicit rebuke to the dark turn the party has taken with Trump, to which one can only say, lots of luck. A party that makes Kyle Rittenhouse a pin up, dangles pardons for convicted murderers of Black Lives Matter protesters, and describes the January 6 rioters as citizens engaging in "legitimate political discourse" doesn't seem to be pining for a return to sunny optimism.
Does Scott have one unique advantage here? Sure. Republicans do love Black conservatives. I used to think Republicans lavished so much love on Black candidates and others (like Condoleezza Rice) because they were keen to prove that they harbored no racism in their souls. But since 2015, it looks different. The mask has slipped so often: Trump's Charlottesville outrage. The "s—-hole countries." The smearing of immigrants. A senator said Democrats favor reparations for "the people who do the crime." Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson mainstreamed the "great replacement" theory.
So Scott's pitch that his life is proof of America's virtue and lack of racism seems discordant. It seems less an affirmation of patriotism than a cynical play for Republican votes: "I'm the candidate the left fears the most." Translation: I'm the Black candidate who affirms your racial innocence. "We can choose victimhood or victory," Scott intones. "Grievance or greatness." Sure, there are people on the left who wallow in grievance, but what fair-minded person can fail to notice the victimhood and grievance that billows from every GOP outlet? "I will be the president," Scott promises, "who destroys the liberal lie that America is an evil country." Seriously? It's more like he will be the candidate who erects the biggest straw man to attack.
Is this unjust to Scott? Perhaps, though someone once said, "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up." Here is Scott, the breath of fresh air, the neo-Reaganite, on the events of January 6: "The one person I don't blame is President Trump." And here is his 2022 response to Maria Bartiromo on whether he'd be open to the VP spot with Trump: "I think everybody wants to be on President Trump's bandwagon, without any question."
If you're keen to prove that America is not an evil country, maybe start by ruling out running with or even voting for a truly evil figure.
Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
How Fox News Promoted Homeless Vets Hoax To Smear Asylum Seekers
Fox News and Fox Business relentlessly promoted a false New York Post story claiming that homeless veterans were displaced from hotels to make room for newly-arrived migrants for several days last week, devoting more than an hour of airtime to claims that seemed tailor-made for Fox’s anti-immigrant hysteria. The networks’ coverage even included interviews with local government officials who said they had met with the displaced veterans.
But the story told by the Post, and promoted by Fox, unraveled less than a week later, when local news outlets investigated the claims and determined that it was a hoax.
The Mid Hudson News was the first outlet to debunk the story. According to their reporting, there were never any veterans at the main hotel in question, the Crossroads Hotel, and nobody was kicked out to make room for migrants. The Mid Hudson Newsalso reported that the veterans that local politicians claimed to have met to verify the story were actually homeless men who were recruited from a shelter and paid “to act as veterans that had been displaced from a Newburgh hotel in order for a non-profit organization to perpetrate a fraud on the public.”
Another local newspaper, the Times Union, reported that an attorney for the Crossroads Hotel stated that staff at the hotel “are receiving serious threats — including death threats — from all over the county as a result of” the false accusation, and that staff one day “were forced to call 911 to seek protection against someone who was menacing the staff at the hotel, claiming he was looking for the veterans.”
Once this story was debunked by local news outlets, and nearly two weeks after Fox began promoting the story, Fox News and Fox Business began airing extremely short “updates,” which admitted that the entire story was false. On May 24, Fox rolled out an obviously scripted statement on several programs specifically mentioning the Crossroads Hotel, which had featured prominently in Fox’s coverage, possibly to avoid yet anotherdefamation lawsuit similar to those brought by Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic in response to Fox’s political smear campaigns against them.
Key events in Fox’s promotion of this hoax:
May 12Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post published an “exclusive” evening report headlined: “Homeless vets are being booted from NY hotels to make room for migrants: advocates.” The report cited Sharon Toney-Finch, CEO of a nonprofit organization that the Post claimed “works with the vets.” According to the article, “Nearly two dozen struggling homeless veterans … were told by the hotels at the beginning of the week that their temporary housing was getting pulled out from under them at the establishments and that they’d have to move on to another spot.” The Post claimed that the Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh, New York, booted the majority of the veterans, and that they were relocated to another hotel “about 20 minutes away.”
May 13Fox & Friends Weekend kicked off Fox News’ coverage of this fake story the day after it was published by introducing it in the context of the expiration of Title 42 and prominently displaying the Post’s front page, with the cover stating: “Vets kicked out for migrants: Outrage as upstate hotels tell 20 homeless veterans to leave.” The co-hosts quoted from the Post as Pete Hegseth held up the front page to the camera.Later, Neil Cavuto interviewed Orange County (New York) Executive Steven Neuhaus, whom the Post reported had filed a lawsuit against the hotels, which supposedly kicked out the veterans. Neuhaus would be the first of several New York state government officials Fox would interview about the story. During the interview, Neuhaus attacked the owners of these hotels and urged the New York Civil Liberties Union to sue them, and claimed he talked to one of the displaced veterans, saying: “The girl I talked to today, she’s got three Purple Hearts, and a Bronze Star with valor. She was in tears.” (It’s unclear which woman Neuhaus claims to have spoken to; the homeless people recruited by Toney-Finch for this hoax were all men. However, Toney-Finch herself now faces scrutiny for potentially lying about her service in the Army, including her receipt of a Purple Heart.)
May 14A day after Fox began promoting the fake story, Fox News weekend anchor Arthel Neville explicitly claimed, “Fox News confirms 20 homeless vets just got kicked out of several hotels in the suburbs north of Manhattan to make room for those migrants getting bussed in from the city.” Fox correspondent CB Cotton then quoted Toney-Finch’s nonprofit organization (which had fabricated the entire thing) to substantiate the false claim.
May 15After the weekend, Fox News and Fox Business began promoting the hoax in earnest. Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said it was “astonishing that some of these hotels are getting migrants” and canceling other reservations, adding, “There are two couples that booked rooms for their wedding … and 20 vets also were in that hotel, they all had to move out because these migrants moved in.” Later on Fox & Friends, guest co-host Will Cain claimed that a “flood of illegal immigrants” are taking up hotel rooms and other resources in New York. Cain went on to remind viewers “about homeless veterans booted from a hotel so that rooms could be given to illegal immigrants,” with Earhardt adding, “Eric Adams says they’re gonna stay there for four months, so 20 veterans had to move to another hotel.”Fox anchor Harris Faulkner claimed the story showed “the disgraceful treatment of our military veterans played out in Orange County, New York,” as the nonexistent group of “at least 20 homeless veterans, some reportedly suffering from PTSD, had to give up their hotel rooms for illegals.” Fox contributor Johnny “Joey” Jones added a jab at the Biden administration, stating, “A president that would leave Americans stranded in Afghanistan probably doesn't see the onus to take care of 20 veterans in a hotel. And I hate to say it, but that's just the absolute truth of it.”
- Outnumbered co-hosts Emily Compagno and Kayleigh McEnany expressed outrage over the Post story, with Compagno claiming “America's heroes are now paying the price” for the “Southern border crisis.” McEnany lamented, “I can't help but notice the contrast when you have a 24-year-old — a veteran, had been in Afghanistan — kicked out of his hotel room as an Afghan national on the terror watchlist is crossing the border in San Diego.”Fox anchor Martha MacCallum complained, “You’ve got the hotels in New York that are having to take folks in. You had one in Newburgh, New York, where they had to cancel a wedding and kick out some homeless veterans to make room for incoming migrants.” (Unlike the homeless veterans hoax, other outlets have confirmed the reported wedding cancellations.) Fox host Sean Hannity said, “Let’s get some facts out so Joe Biden can understand what is really going on,” before proclaiming: “This is pretty infuriating, homeless vets who served our great country, they’re being put out on the street and replaced by illegal immigrants.” As he said this, Hannity displayed the headline of a FoxNews.com article which stated: “Biden admin, NY officials slammed after homeless veterans booted from migrant hotels: ‘Slap in the face.’” (After local news outlets debunked the false story, this FoxNews.com article was completely changed to reflect the debunk, with an editor’s note added to the bottom).Fox Business anchor and noted election conspiracy theorist Maria Bartiromo introduced this fake story to Fox’s sister network during an interview with Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY). During the segment, Bartiromo slipped and said: “It's incredible that the vets are being killed — kicked out, so that there's room for illegals.”
May 16On May 16, another Fox correspondent, this time Nate Foy, said that Fox had “confirmed” that the fake story was true: “I can confirm those 20 veterans are staying at a different hotel, and a handful of them are on their way to permanent housing.”Later on The Ingraham Angle, David Riley, an American Legion representative in New York, joined host Laura Ingraham in expressing outrage over the fake Post story. Ingraham claimed homeless veterans were being treated as “second-class citizens” by supposedly being kicked out of hotels. During Riley’s angry ranting about the fake story, Fox aired b-roll video prominently showing the front of the Crossroads Hotel.Cavuto also continued to feature the fake story on his Fox Business program, where on-air graphics claimed, “Homeless vets booted from hotels to house migrants,” and, “Nearly two dozen homeless vets removed from hotels.”
May 17The hoax story continued to be told on several Fox programs on May 17, including for the first time on the network’s flagship “news” show, Special Report. On the program, Foy said that the office of New York City Mayor Eric Adams “denies removing homeless U.S. veterans from an Orange County hotel to accommodate migrants.”That night, the Mid Hudson Newspublished its first report debunking the New York Post’s story. Toney-Finch, who was the Post’s source for its story, had provided a credit card receipt for room charges at the Crossroads Hotel as proof that her organization paid for homeless veterans to stay there before they were supposedly displaced. But the Mid Hudson News determined that the receipt was a forgery, and a manager at the hotel said there was no record of that transaction. The newspaper further reported that “the manager said there were no veterans at the hotel, none were kicked out and no other guests were told to vacate. The hotel does have a group of asylum seekers there, but the seven-year general manager noted that the hotel is not even booked to capacity and rooms are available.”
May 18The day after the Mid Hudson News debunked this story, and hours after the newspaper published follow-up reporting on the hoax, Fox continued to air the fake story as if it was true. On Fox News Tonight, Riverhead, New York, Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said: “In particular, what’s really, really disturbing … was that in the Crossroads Hotel in Orange County, he [Mayor Eric Adams] made a deal with the hotel. They took 25 local area residents who were homeless, who needed this shelter, put them out on the street to house people that have come in over our borders.” Cain, who was hosting the show, did not correct her.
May 19On May 19, Mid Hudson Newspublished another story further debunking this hoax, reporting that a group of 15 local homeless men were recruited by Toney-Finch “to pretend they were veterans that had been kicked out of the Crossroads Hotel in the Town of Newburgh last Friday, in advance of the arrival of migrants brought up from New York City.” The newspaper reported that “they were each promised $200 along with food and alcohol” by Toney-Finch, who “appear[s] to have fabricated the entire story.”
- Hours later, Fox began to admit that the story it promoted was fake. Fox correspondent Nate Foy, who previously claimed to have “confirmed” the story, offered what he described as a “quick update,” stating: “We’re now looking into new reports that a veterans advocate misled lawmakers, and media outlets, about a story that some homeless men may have been hired to pose as veterans.” Anchor John Roberts responded: “There’s enough chaos without potentially false stories running around out there.” Indeed.
- Later that night, Ingraham offered her own “little update” on the hoax she had been promoting: “Before we go, a little update on a story we brought you this week about homeless vets being displaced from hotels so that illegals could move in. Turns out, the group behind the claim made it up. We have no clue as to why anyone would do such a thing.”
- A Media Matters review determined that Fox News and Fox Business had devoted more than an hour of combined airtime to the promotion of this hoax prior to starting these corrections.The same night, The Daily Beast also published an exposé of Sharon Toney-Finch, the veteran and advocate who fabricated the story, which she fed to the New York Post and other media outlets. The Beast reported that she may have lied about her own military record and decorations:
The woman at the center of the maelstrom is Sharon Toney-Finch, who was inducted last July into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame after a special salute by lawmakers for her service. She is listed in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, has been the subject of glowing profiles about her heroism under fire, and once appeared on Fox & Friends to unveil a set of Purple Heart commemorative coins. On May 16, New York State Sen. Rob Rolison, a former police officer, honored Toney-Finch as a “woman of distinction,” making special note of her Purple Heart.[...]However, U.S. Army spokesman Bryce Dubee told The Daily Beast on Friday that the Department of Defense does not know anything about Toney-Finch and a Purple Heart.[...]Officials with the Army’s Human Resources Command told the Times-Union on Friday that they, too, were “unable to verify (from our records) that Sharon Toney received a Purple Heart.”
May 20On May 20, one week after Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth, who is himself a decorated U.S. Army veteran, kicked off Fox’s promotion of this hoax by holding up the front page of the New York Post, he made a seemingly sincere apology and used the word “correction”: “We do have a quick correction on a story we brought you last weekend. The source who told the New York Post, get this one, that the homeless veterans in New York were displaced to make room for illegals at another New York hotel, made the story up. It was a made-up story. And our apologies for reporting it as such.”
May 21New York Mayor Eric Adams called out the hoax during an appearance on CBS’ Face The Nation on May 21, saying: “We have witnessed in some municipalities where they lied and stated that veterans were being forced out of hotels, which was untrue and found out to be fabricated. So, these types of tactics are just anti-American and anti-New York City.”And on CNN, anchor Jim Acosta and national correspondent Gloria Pazmino highlighted the “very disturbing story” of the homeless men hired to pose as displaced veterans, describing the allegations as “a complete scam.”
May 22On May 22, MSNBC host Chris Hayes ran a comprehensive segment calling out Fox News for claiming it had “confirmed” the false story, in the context of its recent $787.5 million defamation settlement in the Dominion case, as well as the long line of Republican politicians ranging from the local to national levels who pushed the hoax. He ended by mocking Ingraham’s contention that “we have no clue as to why anyone would do such a thing” like making up a story.“Why would anyone want to make up a story that’s too good to check, but plays directly into the most deranged bias of your conservative audience?” Hayes opined. “I can’t imagine Fox News airing those kinds of lies, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
May 24Multiple Fox News anchors and other on-air personalities, including Cavuto, Bartiromo, Faulkner, and others read a nearly-identical script, again described as an “update” rather than a correction or retraction, specifically naming the Crossroads Hotel and acknowledging that the story was false. They also gave a disingenuous promise to provide viewers more information “as we get it,” ignoring the extensive information already uncovered in the last week by both local and national news outlets. This script also ignored that they smeared migrants by pushing this fake story in the previous week.
TODD PIRO (CO-HOST): We want to update you on reports last week claiming that upstate hotels in Orange and Rockland counties, including the Crossroads Hotel, evicted a group of homeless veterans. We've since learned that veterans advocates misled local officials, and it now turns out those eviction claims were false. We wanted to update you on this story and make sure the record was set straight. More as we get it.
It turns out that the Crossroads Hotel that Fox repeatedly attacked in its promotion of this hoax, and which is prominently mentioned in the weirdly scripted corrections on May 24, is owned by Choice Hotels, which is an advertiser on Fox.
Fox News was effectively smearing one of its own advertisers by promoting a hoax that was reportedly followed by death threats.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
Trump Blasts Plutocratic 'Club For No Growth' Over Backing Of DeSantis
Donald Trump late Saturday leveled an attack against the "Club for Growth," a conservative advocacy group that recently criticized the former president in an ad, for supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Trump posted on Truth Social, his own social media platform that he created after being banned from most other platforms in the wake of his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection attempt, that the group is attempting to counter DeSantis' own policy decisions.
"The very stupid, China loving 'Club for No Growth,' which has been backing Ron De Sanctimonious as his poll numbers have been absolutely CRASHING, has just spent some of the RINO money they have accumulated on an ad campaign hoping to counter the fact that Desanctus, just off the worst Presidential 'Launch' in history, opted three times to cut & destroy Social Security, even lifting the minimum age to 70," Trump wrote. "He also voted to cut Medicare & institute a 23% National Sales Tax. Ron is a loser!"
It was previously reported that the war between Trump and the Club for Growth was threatening to undermine the Republican Party's plans for the 2024 election and that could blow up endorsement plans.
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
'Utter Capitulation': How Will McCarthy Sell Debt Deal To Angry Far Right?
By Moira Warburton, Katharine Jackson and Gram Slattery
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After tough negotiations to reach a tentative deal with the White House on the U.S. borrowing limit, the next challenge for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is pushing it through the House, where it may be opposed by both hardline Republicans and progressive Democrats.
As Democratic and Republican negotiators iron out the final details of an agreement to suspend the federal government's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling in coming days, McCarthy may be forced to do some behind-the-scenes wrangling.
A failure by Congress to deal with its self-imposed debt ceiling before June 5 could trigger a default that would shake financial markets and send the United States into a deep recession.
Republicans control the House by 222-213, while Democrats control the Senate by 51-49. These margins mean that moderates from both sides will have to support the bill, as any compromise will almost definitely lose the support of the far left and far right wings of each party.
To win the speaker's gavel, McCarthy agreed to enable any single member to call for a vote to unseat him, which could lead to his ouster if he seeks to work with Democrats.
Hours before the deal was announced, some hardline Republicans balked at McCarthy cooperating with the White House.
"If Speaker's negotiators bring back in substance a clean debt limit increase ... one so large that it even protects Biden from the issue in the presidential ..., it's war," Representative Dan Bishop, a Freedom Caucus member, tweeted.
The deal does just that, sources briefed on it say: it suspends the debt ceiling until January 2025, after the November 2024 presidential election, in exchange for caps on spending and cuts in government programs.
Bishop and other hardline Republicans were sharply critical of early deal details that suggest Biden has pushed back successfully on several cost-cutting demands on Saturday, signaling McCarthy may have an issue getting votes.
"Utter capitulation in progress. By the side holding the cards," Bishop said.
Progressive Democrats in both chambers have said they would not support any deal that has additional work requirements. This deal does, sources say, adding work requirements to food aid for people aged 50 to 54.
The deal would boost spending on the military and veterans' care, and cap it for many discretionary domestic programs, according to sources familiar with the talks. But Republicans and Democrats will need to battle over which ones in the months to come, as the deal doesn't specify them.
Republicans have rejected Biden's proposed tax increases, and neither side has shown a willingness to take on the fast-growing health and retirement programs that will drive up debt sharply in the coming years.
Several credit-rating agencies have said they have put the United States on review for a possible downgrade, which would push up borrowing costs and undercut its standing as the backbone of the global financial system.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Kim Coghill)
- Biden Cuts Asian Trip Short To Deal With Republicans On Debt And Budget ›
- Polling Shows Big Majority Of Voters Rejecting GOP Budget Cuts ›
- McCarthy Lies Repeatedly About GOP Debt Limit Votes Under Trump (VIDEO) ›
- With Debt Ceiling Blackmail, McCarthy Again Betrays America ›
- Polls Show Strong Public Support For Biden To Increase Debt Ceiling ›
Texas House Votes To Impeach Election-Denier Attorney General Paxton
By Brad Brooks and Maria Caspani
LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) -The Texas House on Saturday voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, a conservative firebrand and ally of former President Donald Trump who has been accused by his fellow Republicans of abuse of office.
In historic proceedings, the 149-member House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton after hours of debate during which the chamber heard speeches from supporters and opponents of impeachment. Two members were present but not voting while three were absent.
Paxton will now be temporarily removed from office pending a trial in the Senate, where his wife, Angela Paxton, is a senator. The Texas Senate is in recess until 1 p.m. CDT (1800 GMT) on Sunday, according to its website.
Paxton has denied the accusations and denounced the proceedings as "illegal, unethical, and profoundly unjust" in a statement on Twitter after Saturday's vote.
"I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just," he said.
In a message on his social media channel Truth Social ahead of the vote, Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2024, vowed to "fight" Texas House Republicans if Paxton were to be impeached.
The 20 articles of impeachment presented by a Republican-led House committee accuse Paxton of improperly aiding a wealthy political donor, conducting a sham investigation against whistleblowers in his office whom he fired, and covering up his wrongdoing in a separate federal securities fraud case against him, among other offenses.
Paxton's impeachment proceedings laid bare the rift among Texas Republicans. Some spoke passionately in support of impeaching the state's top law enforcement official.
"Attorney General Paxton continuously and blatantly violated laws, rules, policies and procedures," Representative David Spiller said ahead of the vote.
Others vehemently opposed it. John Smithee, a long-serving conservative member of the chamber, said he was not speaking in Paxton's defense but criticized the process and said there was insufficient evidence.
"There is not a word, not one sentence in the testimony before you that would be admissible in any Texas court of law," Smithee said. "It is hearsay within hearsay within hearsay."
Paxton has staked out a position on the far right on divisive cultural issues. He has sued the Biden administration nearly 50 times attempting to halt what has he labeled as "unlawful tyrannical policies" on issues including immigration, gun rights and business regulation.
The five-member Texas House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend that Paxton be impeached and removed from office.
Paxton easily won re-election last year after fending off a Republican primary challenge from George P. Bush, a scion of two former presidents.
The committee has heard testimony from its investigators about several years of alleged abuse of office by Paxton, including that he provided friend and donor Nate Paul, a Texas real estate developer, with FBI files related to the bureau's investigation into Paul.
The impeachment articles also allege Paxton engaged in bribery when Paul hired a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Tom Hogue, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis)
Whining Over Public Protests, Roberts Dismisses Supreme Court's Decline (VIDEO)
Get ready for this one: The Supreme Court doesn’t have a legitimacy problem, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed in a speech this week. No, the most serious threat to the institution as far as he’s concerned is an American public that demands accountability from the courts.
Speaking at the American Law Institute on Tuesday, Roberts said that the “hardest decision” he has had to make while helming the court wasn’t about any core constitutional question—the First Amendment or the death penalty or the separation of powers—but how to protect the justices from a public that’s exercising free speech against the court.
\u201cJohn Roberts weighs in on Kyle Duncan\u2019s temper tantrum at Stanford last year to chastise the student protestors\n\nhttps://t.co/21NASDmgNc\u201d— Nicholas Wallace (@Nicholas Wallace) 1684953982
“Judges heckled and shouted down at a law school, protesters outside the homes of justices to the extent that martial protection is needed 24/7,” Roberts bemoaned. That law school heckling? The judge was Stuart Kyle Duncan, an ultraconservative Donald Trump appointee brought to campus by the Federalist Society chapter of Stanford University Law School. The whole event was apparently set up just to create this conflict.
Duncan came prepared, striding into the room with his camera out to film the event so he could “make a record” of their demonstration. After an administrator and a student leader quieted the protesters, the judge skipped his speech and moved directly to Q&A. He then insulted various students (“you are an appalling idiot,” the judge told one) while refusing to engage with their questions. After departing, the judge embarked upon a conservative mediatour, declaring that the “coddled law students” behaved like “dogshit” and urging Stanford to discipline them.
Despite all his talk of protecting his court’s “legacy,” Roberts happily leans into that bit of theater because conservatives are always the victims. Just like Justice Samuel Alito, who earlier this month whined about the rabble-rousing public being angry with him for taking basic bodily autonomy away from half of us. “[T]his type of concerted attack on the court and on individual justices is new during my lifetime,” Alito complained. “We are being hammered daily, and I think quite unfairly in a lot of instances. And nobody, practically nobody, is defending us.” Devastatingly tragic, isn’t it?
Clearly, the courts and the individual judges making life and death decisions about all of us are supposed to be above all that. Never mind that whole “coequal branch of government” business for these guys—they don’t have to worry about being reelected and have their jobs for life, so accountability isn’t their problem.
Roberts made that abundantly clear in his speech, brushing away the mounting ethics problems on the high court. He’s got it all under control. “I want to assure people I am committed to make certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct,” Roberts said. “We are continuing to look at things we can do practically to that effect.”
That’s totally believable. That’s why he refused the invitation of the Senate Judiciary Committee to come discuss what the court was doing about the questions of accountability swirling around the court. “I am confident there are ways to do that that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government under the Constitution’s separation of powers,” Roberts added. Got that? The branch of government that literally tells the legislative and executive branches what they can or can’t do now claims that Congress, the branch that appropriates the money that pays their salary and funds their operations, lacks similar oversight over their business.
That’s certainly the message Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is sending. Van Hollen chairs the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, the one in charge of the Supreme Court budget. He said earlier this month that he’s looking “at all the options” for imposing reforms on the court.
Roberts isn’t going to step up here, that much is clear. Congress is going to have to do it. Voters gave Democrats a Senate majority in 2022 and it’s time to fully wield that power. Roberts’ arrogant and smug dismissal of the Senate gives them all the ammunition they need to do it.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos