THE LIST: June 14 Edition
June 14 | 2012
America’s newest secret war: more Africa.
Anthony Kennedy, fickle swing voter.
The worst anti-abortion bill in America. Thanks, Michigan.
America’s newest secret war: more Africa.
Anthony Kennedy, fickle swing voter.
The worst anti-abortion bill in America. Thanks, Michigan.
The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning
Ladies and gentlemen, please follow me to a corner of the American Freakshow tent where a group of tubby white guys who got into politics as family values Republicans hang their heads in shame. Faith-based to a thinning hair, while sipping Diet Cokes at local Trump campaign strategy meetings, or representing conservatives in Congress and state legislatures, they were apparently lining up sex with teens and children or -- eek -- flicking through child porn.
If you hang out in right-wing social media silos, you have no problem believing that the Democratic Party is teeming with baby-abusing demons and witches, fanged affiliates of the George Soros global elite pedophile cabal. You have seen Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shrieking about liberal groomers whenever a TV camera points her way. Perhaps you even belong to QAnon, the fascist movement/religion that holds Donald Trump was sent to Earth to rescue trafficked children. As of last year a majority -- 52 percent -- of Republicans believed in its central tenet, that top Democrats are involved in sex trafficking rings.
Out here, outside the silos, we find this obsession baffling. Why do our proto-fascists see pedophiles under every proverbial bed?
Quite possibly, it’s because they do see them all the time - in broad daylight, in their own ranks.
I’ve always believed that if you prick a rock-ribbed conservative, the kink oozes out. Bullwhips and dominatrices, shoe fetishes, latex, all of it, smashed back in the closet. But what I didn’t see coming was the simultaneous emergence of men whose craving for juvenile flesh is on display and sometimes leads them to prison, belonging to a political party devoted to fanning the flames of a moral panic about the other side trafficking children.
The recent news of Stop The Steal organizer Ali Alexander’s habit of grooming teenage boys for sex -- he solicited dick pics from a number of them by text — got me thinking about this crazy confluence of desire and denial among the hard right herd.
A casual search hauls up an astonishing number of rightist characters from Dixie to DC to the Dakotas who have quite recently, many within the last five years, resigned from office or political jobs, or pled guilty, or been convicted, and are in prison. I’ll flip thorough the rogue’s galley quickly and then discuss what this is. Details are lurid. If you really want more, links are in the resource list at the end.
In Washington, last April, a jury convicted anti-abortion activists and former Republican National Committee staff member, Ruben Verastigui, was caught in a federal sting of a ring of men that traded child porn, including of babies. He admitted to possession of 152 videos and 50 images of child pornography and to receiving and distributing sexual depictions of children. He is serving a 12 and a half year prison sentence.
Two months ago, in Minnesota, a jury convicted Republican political operative Anton Lazzaro of seven counts involving child sex trafficking of 15 and 16 year old girls. Lazzaro “conspired with others to recruit and solicit six people under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex” between May and December of 2020. Some of the victims testified that he would take them to his luxury Minneapolis condo and feed them Everclear, a 190 proof booze. Each of the seven counts carries a ten year mandatory sentence.
In Oklahoma, former Republican state senator Ralph Shortey was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2018, on a child sex trafficking charge. Shortey was a county campaign coordinator for Trump in 2016. He pled guilty to child sex trafficking after being accused of soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy in March. Shortey had voted for a measure the Oklahoma legislature passed that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people.
Clockwise from top left: Folmer, Neal, Lazzaro, Pressler, Moore, Verastigui, Shortey, Koskan. Center: Trump kissing a teen.Image from American Political Freakshow
In Pennsylvania in 2019, Republican state senator Mike Folmer resigned after being arrested and charged with possession of child porn for uploading images to a Tumblr account in 2019. He spent a year in prison and now must keep authorities apprised of his whereabouts.
In Tennessee last May, federal prosecutors charged Putnam County Commissioner Jimmy Ray Neal with possession and distribution of child pornography. He allegedly went by the handle “Tennesseemaster” on an app used to share pictures of pre-pubescent children.
Last November, Joel Koskan, running for the third time as a Republican candidate for the South Dakota legislature, was charged with felony child abuse, after a family member reported that he groomed, molested, and raped her for years, starting when she was 12.
One state closer to Canada, in North Dakota, last spring, the state’s longest serving state senator, Ray Holmberg, resigned after reports that he exchanged a stream of text messages with a man jailed on child porn charges. Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, who prosecutors say possessed several thousand images and videos depicting sexually abused children and took two children under the age of 10 from Minnesota to his Grand Forks home, with the intent of sexually abusing them. Holmberg said he couldn’t recall, but thought the texts exchanges were about a patio.
In Texas, anti-gay activist and one-time chairman of the Houston area Republican Party, Jared Woodfill, conceded in a deposition that he ignored complaints about the behavior of his law partner, the Baptist preacher Paul Pressler, with young men. A young man accused Pressler of repeatedly raping him in a church youth group. Woodfill had been informed that the preacher was a predator, who liked to tell young men lewd stories about men “naked on beaches” trying to lure them to skinny dip at his ranch.
In 2020, Trump campaign operative George Nader pled guilty to child porn and sex trafficking and was sentenced to ten years in prison. Prosecutors accused him of possessing pornographic images of children including some featuring toddler-age boys, baby goats, and other farm animals, and of arranging to transport a 14-year-old boy from the Czech Republic to his Washington home.
Trumpworld was creepy with men who had a thing for teens, starting with 45 himself. Alabama’s 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, was a notorious teen-girl harasser. Six women accused him of pursuing sex with them when they were as young as 14. Moore was so aggressive toward high school girls that a local mall actually banned him, according to the New York Times.
The revelations did not lose him Trump’s endorsement.
An Uncle Fester getting gnarled hands on a nubile is nothing new in conservative circles. The OG of Republican perviness was the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), whose sex with a 15-year-old produced a child when he was in his 20s, and who went on to marry women one half and one third his age. Former Rep. Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican House Speaker, pled guilty to trying to pay a almost a million dollars in hush money to a teen wrestler he sexually abused while a wrestling coach in Illinois between 1965 bands 1981. At least six Republican Congressmen pleaded with the judge to give him leniency.
Is it just a coincidence that the rash of recent arrests and revelations about Republicans came in the wake of the election of a man who has bragged about walking in on half-naked Miss Teen USA’s getting dressed when they were in his pageants? Might there be something in the MAGA water?
Fascist author and pseudonymous Twitter personality Bronze Age Pervert, intellectual leader of young rightists, in his book Bronze Age Mindset, classifies humanity into three categories: superior men who "desire one thing above all, ever-flowing eternal fame among mortals," natural “bugmen,” dullards and serfs who make up the majority of men, and an intermediate class who alternate between serving the natural aristocracy and enforcing the hierarchy. In the Bronze Age Mindset, women “drain” men of their vitality and are responsible for all the world’s problems.
In the actual Bronze Age, slavery was common, girls were marriageable at 12 and probably younger, first cousins married each other, and females had little agency about who they had sex with. BAP, as he’s known, doesn’t explicitly say it, but an element of the Bronze Age Mindset’s vital male is that he be free to do what he wants with and to the bodies of “lesser” people - usually women, but also, perhaps, children, male or female.
This fantasy appeals beyond incel circles. As feminism empowered adult women, it has become more difficult to carry them off into proverbial caves. Are these self-considered superior men - -the Matt Gaetzes of the world, say -- turning to younger and younger girls?
The right studiously ignores this flaw in their project of elevating the neolithic male model. They blame liberals for a supposed epidemic of child sexualization, while in their ranks, sex criminals are going to prison.
State and federal laws apparently haven’t caught up with the Neanderthal trend.
I am not the first to point out that moral panics, like QAnon’s about children, erupt regularly in response to threatening social change. I recommend terrific discussions about how women going to work gave rise to Satanic panic hysteria in day care centers during the 1980s on the Conspirituality podcast. There are also many great essays, including one in Mother Jones, from which I excerpt:
With Pizzagate and QAnon, the molesters have changed from day-care workers to the liberal elite, and the politics behind the theories now are more explicitly spelled out. But the general context is more or less the same: conservative retrenchment after a period of progressive social gains. If women’s entry into the workplace in the latter half of the 20th century triggered deep anxieties about the decay of traditional gender roles and the family unit, in the 21st century it was same-sex marriage, growing acceptance of transgender rights, and the seeming cultural hegemony of a social justice agenda.
The twisted reality of conservative attitudes toward sex, women and children means that even as their ranks are infiltrated with pervs, they consistently use supposed dangers to women and children as a political cudgel against the other side. “I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted before the Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court confirmation hearings. “Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker.”
In fact that was a lie.
Republicans are the strongest defenders of Lolita-loving state laws allowing child marriage. Between 2000 and 2018, 300,000 girls between age 15 and 17 were married in the U.S. A significant portion of them -- 60,000 -- were under the age of sexual consent in their states. “Run Josh Run” Hawley hails from the great state of Missouri, which just happens to be a “destination wedding spot for 15-year-old brides,” per the Kansas City Star.
Hawley’s Deliverance home state had such lax laws about girl-man marriage that between 2000 and 2014, thousands of children were legally married there, many of them impregnated teens. The state recently increased its legal marriage age to 16, against the objections of legislators who openly supported child marriage. During recent debate about anti-transgender care legislation, one of them, Sen. Mike Moon, doubled down again apropos of parents’ rights to marry off (heterosexually of course) their children, whenever they want. Moon, who had voted no on the bill to raise the marriage age from 15 to 16, asked the legislature, “Do you know any kids who have been married at age 12?” When one of his colleagues replied, “I don’t need to.,” Moon -- a Republican, of course -- replied: “I do, and guess what, they’re still married.”
Woodfill and Pressler
Jimmy Ray Neal
Rep. Mike Moon
Conspirituality podcast (I recommend the episodes on “Michelle Remembers” and recovered memory connections to Satanic panics.
Strom Thurmond’s Lolita
Mother Jonesessay on moral panics
Child marriage in America
Nina Burleigh is a a journalist, author, documentary producer, and publisher ofAmerican Political Freakshow, a Substack on politics. Her journalism has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Airmail, and New York. She is the author of seven books including most recently Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic and an adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Please consider subscribing to American Political Freakshow, from which this is reprinted with permission.
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.