Concerned about President Trump's promise to drastically roll back legal access to abortion, an international feminist group launched a project on Thursday that aims to help women in the US safely end their own pregnancies.
Since 2014, Women Help Women has responded to over 100,000 emails from women around the world seeking abortions in countries where the procedure is highly restricted or outright banned. Among other services, the group sometimes arranges to have the abortion-inducing drugs misoprostol and mifepristone sent internationally and then counsels the recipient on their safe usage.
"We know there are different barriers that prevent people from being able to access the abortion care that they need," says Jessica Shaw, a professor at the University of Calgary in Canada and a Women Help Women board member. "This is already going on, and we're stepping up in anticipation that things likely will get worse with new laws coming in over the next few years."
Women Help Women—whose new American project is called Self-Managed Abortion, Safe and Legal (SASS)—won't be sending misoprostol or mifepristone to women in the United States for fear, says Shaw, of litigation. Instead counselors will advise the small but significant number of women in the US who manage to obtain the drugs without the assistance of a health care provider on how to successfully administer them. For added protection, WHW counselors responding to queries from American women will be working abroad, including from Canada.
Misoprostol and mifepristone are both prescription-only in the United States and are only used early-on in pregnancy. But as state legislatures continue to make it harder to access abortions—over 300 state-level anti-abortion laws have been enacted since 2010—advocates and medical experts expect that more women will look underground for ways to self-induce. Several surveys studying the approximately 900,000 women in the US who get clinical abortions in a given year indicate that many are already using misoprostol, as well as other methods, to end their pregnancies without medical supervision. In one, 2.6 percent of patients surveyed said they'd taken drugs, herbs, or vitamins in an attempt to end their pregnancy before seeking an in-clinic abortion. In another, researchers at the University of Texas estimated that as many as 240,000 women in the state had tried to self-induce at some point in their life.
Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States, more than a dozen women have faced prosecution or jail time after self-inducing an abortion, sometimes after taking misoprostol. Shaw says that most women who call WHW from know what the legal risks are where they live. "That's how the end up on our website in the first place," she says. "But for many people, the legal risk is far less than the risk of having a pregnancy and carrying it to term."
A video of Nathan Damigo (top) and Emily Rose Marshall (below) during the street fighting in Berkeley on April 15 went viral. Stephen Lam/Reuters via ZUMA Press)
On Saturday, April 15, Emily Rose Marshall drove up to Berkeley, California, from Los Angeles with a group of friends who were part of the anarchist Oak Roots Collective. They had heard about the "free speech" rally being held in Berkeley by an array of Donald Trump supporters, militiamen, and white supremacists. "We saw this was a rally meant to uplift neo-Nazis and the alt-right," Marshall says. "We wanted to be bodies yelling and screaming in the street, adding to the number of people letting neo-Nazis know they couldn't just show up for racism."
By the time Marshall and her friends arrived in downtown Berkeley, the scene had devolved into street skirmishes between the right-wing side and "antifascist" counterprotesters. She and her friends were dressed in black like their "antifa" comrades, masking their faces to protect their identities. They went near the front line where people were facing off. An antifa activist lobbed a tear gas canister, but the wind blew the cloud back and right wingers rushed the antifa side, swinging.
When the short melee was over, Marshall wasn't entirely sure what had just happened. Marshall, a 95-pound, 20-year-old white woman with dreadlocks who also goes by the alias Louise Rosealma, had been punched at least twice. The crew of right wingers who Marshall, her boyfriend, and others had tussled with for a minute ran up the street in pursuit of other antifa. She didn't know it yet, but the man who had hit her was Nathan Damigo, a 30-year-old ex-Marine and head of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa. Within minutes, a video of her getting punched was on its way to going viral.
Blood was streaming from Marshall's boyfriend's nose, which looked like it might be broken. They left the rally and went to a hospital. After she got in the car, she checked her phone. Hate emails started streaming in. "Would you be interested in doing a role play photoshoot," read one she later forwarded to me, "where you are being beaten and raped (simulated), by a group of white nationalists?" "I absolutely love watching you get punched in your ugly ass face on YouTube. I can watch it over and over," another read. "Might I suggest leaping your ugly, hairy ass from a tall building? Or, perhaps, swallow a bottle of sleeping pills? How's it feel to finally be treated like a man? Haha." Since then, she says she's received more than 1,500 harassing or threatening messages via email, Facebook, and Instagram.
How did they know who Marshall was, and so quickly? One emailer signed off, "Praise Kek and Hail Victory," hinting at the source of the storm. "Kek" is the god of a satirical religion that originated in the meme-driven world of 4chan, the online message board popular among the so-called alt-right.
Archived 4chan threads provide a glimpse into workings of the alt-right hive mind on the day of the Berkeley showdown. "Looks like a rat faced kike," one commenter wrote shortly after the punching video was posted. Threads discussing the video became interspersed with memes of cartoon Jews with oversized noses. "That Jew whore thought she was the Jew bear," one poster wrote. (Marshall is not Jewish.) Within hours of her getting punched, people on 4chan and other message boards publicized Marshall's home address and contact information for her parents, grandmother, and 15-year-old brother. They discovered that she'd appeared in pornography. They turned explicit images of her into memes and posted links to her sex videos on her grandmother's Facebook page. Before Marshall got back to Los Angeles that Saturday night, her mom had received so many calls that she'd unplugged the phone.
Memes of Damigo punching Marshall spread on 4chan 4chan
Some on 4chan went to work building a case justifying Damigo's decision to punch Marshall. Before arriving at the rally, she'd posted on Facebook that she was "determined to bring back 100 nazi [sic] scalps," a reference to the Quentin Tarantino movie Inglourious Basterds. This was presented as evidence that she'd come to fight and was therefore a fair target. Posters also found a Reuters photo and a video showing Marshall holding a glass bottle as Damigo rushed toward her. Some online posters claimed she had been throwing bottles at them. A military gear site called Tactical Shit claimed Marshall was putting powerful M80 firecrackers inside bottles and throwing them at rally attendees: "She was literally making IEDs. This makes her no better than the Boston Marathon bomber." Damigo, the site claimed, was eliminating a bomb threat.
Marshall insists none of this is true. She says she picked the bottle off the ground to stave off attackers when the fight began. There is no evidence to corroborate her account or the alt-right's. All that is clear based on video of the incident is that Marshall was holding a bottle as Damigo rushed in and hit her. She fell to the ground, dropped the bottle, got up, and stumbled away. A moment later, Damigo found her again and punched her in the face. (Asked for a comment from Damigo, Identity Evropa responded, "The video footage and photographs of the event as well as Miss Rosealma's social media speak for themselves. Other than that we have no further comment.")
The alt-right is aware that the new fight with its anti-fascist opponents is as much a clash of brawn on the streets as a culture war online. During the lead up to the April 15 rally, one 4chan commenter described it as "a battle on the front lines and the lefties help us make fun memes for the ages." At the rally, some right-wing attendees carried signs referencing obscure 4chan memes. Even as people were fighting in the streets, the 4chan meme factory was already churning out content.
Meme warfare is uniquely suited to the far right. Unlike the antifa's culture of anonymity, the far-right rallies around visible strongmen. Outlandish costumes like Spartan helmets and outrageous acts like Damigo's "Falcon Punch" create excellent hero memes, which galvanize supporters and refute critics. Where a man punching a woman in the face would have previously been seen as an act of cowardice, it is now quickly recast as an act of heroism against terrorism, of moralism over hedonism, or of the master race against Jewish globalists.
The alt-right tried to identify others at the Berkeley rally as well. Message boards posted pictures and purported names of various antifa activists who'd shown up in Berkeley. One antifa man who hit someone in the head with a bike lock was allegedly identified through a meticulous effort of combing through images of the rally and matching the sunglasses and facial hair of an unmasked man with the masked bike lock wielder's.
Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Andrew Frankel says the BPD is aware of the video, but he declined to state whether it is pursuing charges against Damigo. Marshall says she has avoided pressing assault charges against Damigo because she is afraid that if "they take action against him, I'll have actual Nazis at my door instead of the trolls."
On the eve of what was shaping up to be the latest in a string of violent clashes in Berkeley, California, between militant far-right and far-left activists, Mayor Jesse Arreguín vowed that police would act aggressively to quash illegal behavior. "Berkeley is about the free exchange of ideas, but that's not what's happening," he said in an interview at City Hall late Wednesday. "So I think going forward we are going to need to have a more visible police presence at these incidents and intervene." Protesters who engage in violence or vandalism, Arreguín warned, will be arrested and prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law."
Ever since a planned speech at the University of California-Berkeley in February by far-right media provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled amid a rash of violence and property destruction, Berkeley has become a prime target for right-wing groups mobilizing under the banner of "free speech" and trolling political opponents with bigoted rhetoric. Alt-right and other far-right demonstrators have repeatedly scuffled with antifa counterprotesters in the city, most recently on April 15, when protracted brawls led to the arrest of 20 people. A demonstration scheduled at a park near City Hall on Thursday is expected to yield more of the same, despite the cancellation due to safety concerns of what was supposed to have been the day's main event: an appearance on the university campus by Ann Coulter. The right-wing pundit has waffled conspicuously about her intentions for coming to Berkeley as she has fanned the controversy since last week, and alt-right agitators have vowed to cause mayhem whether she shows or not.
A son of farmworkers who last year became Berkeley's first Latino mayor at the age of 32, Arreguín has been pilloried by conservative media for allegedly supporting a militant faction of anti-Trump protesters; Breitbart Newsclaimed last week that he is a member of the radical anti-fascist group By Any Means Necessary, citing as evidence the fact that he'd "liked" their Facebook page. Arreguín says he is not a member of the group and does not support their views or "violent actions."
In his City Hall office, which is decorated with a large Cesar Chavez street sign, Arreguín expressed frustration with the way the far left and far right have created a climate of violence in his city. "Its completely unacceptable," he said. "We absolutely oppose the use of violence in any way. And I think both sides are responsible. I hold as much frustration and blame for antifa as I do for some of the right-wing groups."
Berkeley voters have long been known for their support of leftist political demonstrations and skepticism of harsh police interventions. Before his election, Arreguín was a critic of the way Berkeley police used tear gas and other harsh crowd-control measures to respond to Black Lives Matter protests. Yet there is little precedent for the ideologically driven street battles seen here in recent weeks. "This is different," Arreguín said. "We are seeing people that are coming into our city to commit violence and vandalism, and I think it does require us to take a look at our practices and to evaluate using force if necessary to protect public safety. It's challenging because things can escalate and a lot more people can get hurt."
Arreguín affirmed Coulter's right to speak in Berkeley—but he also said she has had a hand in stoking possible violence around the issue. "I think she also needs to bear some responsibility for that too," he said. He scoffed at the idea that UC-Berkeley is violating Coulter's First Amendment rights by negotiating a different date for her speech. "To say that putting in place policies around when or where controversial speakers can speak is censorship is absurd," he said. "The university fundamentally has to protect the safety of their students, and while they are very committed to freedom of speech, that is a top priority. They have offered Ms. Coulter May 2. She is very welcome to come then."
We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and cancer researcher Dr.Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Latest book:The Gene: An Intimate History Also known for: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Reading recommendations: How could one not choose the timeless Henrik Ibsen play An Enemy of the People? A Norwegian doctor suspects that the municipal water in a town has been contaminated with toxins. He hesitates but ultimately follows his moral instincts to release the news to the public. He is dubbed an enemy of the people and publicly flayed. Perhaps the president forgot the irony of that title in using the phrase to describe the press.
Oh, and I am reading George Orwell'sAnimal Farm. (Same reasons apply: "Four legs bad, two legs good.") Finally, for pleasure, I have started reading poetry—Ben Lerner, Kay Ryan—to prevent my poor brain from rotting slowly.
In a recent op-ed in USA Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated that his Department of Justice will move away from federal oversight of local police departments plagued by abuses and officer-involved killings. In doing so, Sessions will undermine a key policy stemming from the beating of black motorist Rodney King in March 1991 by Los Angeles police officers. The subsequent LA riots, sparked by acquittals of the officers accused in King's beating, began 25 years ago this Saturday.
After those riots ripped through LA, Congress went on to pass legislation granting federal oversight authority for police departments. Since then, the Justice Department has launched 70 investigations into state and local law enforcement agencies and has negotiated 40 reform agreements, half of which are court-enforced consent decrees. The Obama administration was particularly active with this policy, enforcing 14 consent decrees for troubled police agencies, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore. Sessions now threatens to undo that work, downplaying any systematic problems with American policing.
Notably, it all began with a video. The shocking footage of King's beating, taken from a nearby apartment balcony by an onlooker, was broadcast on national television and soon prompted a congressional committee to hold hearings on police brutality. The House committee heard from nine witnesses in total, including the head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, John Dunne. Under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups, Dunne launchedreviews of thousands of police brutality complaints filed with the DOJ and 100 lawsuits filed against the LAPD. The FBI also launched a criminal investigation into whether the LAPD officers had violated King's civil rights.
Dunne testified that federal intervention had gone through various false starts: In 1980, after Congress passed legislation allowing the Justice Department to sue jails and prisons for patterns of constitutional violations, the Carter administration tried to sue the Philadelphia Police Department for a pattern of abuses including excessive force and illegal searches and seizures. But a federal appeals court ruled the administration didn't have that authority under existing federal law. (Congress had considered legislation granting the DOJ such authority as far back as the civil rights era, Dunne noted, but had failed to act.)
The former director of the ACLU of Southern California, Paul Hoffman, also testified to the subcommittee, recommending that Congress give the DOJ oversight authority. "There really wasn't any effort at that time to" pass that kind of legislation, Hoffman told me recently. "But it seemed like an appropriate response to what people had seen" in the King video.
After the hearings, the House Judiciary Committee proposed the Police Accountability Act of 1991. The bill never made it out of committee, but similar language resurfaced in a failed 1993 crime bill and then became law as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, signed by President Bill Clinton.
By then, the nation's attention had focused again on police abuse by further unrest in the wake of a high-profile police killing in Manhattan, says Hoffman. Debate was also brewing over racial profiling in inner cities as police sought to crack down on drug and gang violence amid soaring crime rates, says Jeffrey Fagan, a police accountability expert at Columbia University.
The 1994 crime bill provided billions of dollars in federal funding to hire more police officers and build more prisons, introduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and expanded the number of federal offenses eligible for the death penalty—part of a regime that troubled members of the Congressional Black Caucus. (Those pieces of the bill haunted Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign, as critics highlighted her support for the legislation.) The bill nearly died in the House after lawmakers including members of the CBC voted narrowly to block the chamber from taking up a full vote. In negotiations to revive the bill, Republicans won billions of dollars in cuts to social programs aimed at crime prevention, while Congressional Black Caucus members gained a measure granting the DOJ authority to investigate police departments for patterns of constitutional violations and to mandate a court-enforced plan for reform.
"It was the one-sided nature of the 1994 crime bill that was so punitive and really quite draconian in many ways," says Fagan. "There was an interest certainly by the Congressional Black Caucus to come up with some kind of a balance to the harshness of the sentencing provisions in the 1994 act." The first "pattern and practice" investigation was opened into the Pittsburgh Police Department in 1997, and the DOJ turned its sights on the LAPD in 2000 after a major scandal involving officers who had framed and robbed gang members made headlines the year before. The LAPD was finally released from federal oversight by a judge in 2013—12 years after the DOJ first reached an agreement with the department on reforms.
Since 1994, many other police departments around the country have been cleaned up thanks to federal oversight. A report published in February by Samuel Walker, a police reform expert at Ohio State University, found that most consent decrees enforced by the federal government have been "successful in transforming seriously troubled law enforcement agencies."
This March, a federal judge approved a consent decree reached between the Baltimore Police Department and the Obama administration in the waning days of Obama's presidency. Sessions slammed the agreement, saying the mandated reforms could stymie officers and cause crime to increase. Moves by Trump's new attorney general have also thrown into doubt the possibility that the DOJ will pursue a consent decree with the Chicago Police Department, where the DOJ documented systemic problems in a scathing report released in January. Those included subpar use-of-force training and supervision so lax that officers culled information from gang members by dumping them in rival territory if they didn't cooperate. The lack of a federal consent decree would leave city officials and community activists in Chicago with the daunting challenge of ensuring that the Chicago PD follows through on correcting these problems on its own.
In a memo to DOJ staff earlier in April ordering a review of all consent decrees with police departments, Sessions attributed abuses to a few "bad actors." But "that's an excuse," says Hoffman. "In many places there are systematic problems. And that's why this [oversight] authority makes sense."
The senator from California looked like someone had punched the wind out of her. On an unseasonably cold January 10, the tense first day of hearings about President Donald Trump's nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Dianne Feinstein was pallid, with deeper than usual divots beneath her eyes. Instead of one of her trademark colorful jackets, she wore all black. Privately and politically, the previous year had been tough. Her husband had been diagnosed with lung cancer and her onetime Senate colleague Hillary Clinton had lost the battle for the White House to a man Feinstein considered beneath contempt.
That morning, after protesters dressed as Ku Klux Klan members were dragged out of the hearing room, Feinstein first signaled her allegiance to Senate tradition, saying it wasn't easy to criticize a fellow member of the chamber. But then she laid out a formidable case against the Alabama senator and his history of abetting racism, approving torture, and battling abortion rights. "I am old enough to remember what it was like before" Roe v. Wade, she said, recalling how, as a member of the California Women's Parole Board in the 1960s, she had sent women to prison for 10-year sentences for terminating pregnancies. "And they still went back to it because the need was so great." (Sessions, for his part, coldly affirmed that he saw Roe as "one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time.")
Feinstein's committee chair was empty by the time the hearing moved on to questions about the potential connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. She had slipped away for surgery to install a pacemaker—a matter of "some urgency," she told me. "I had to get it done quickly."
But it wasn't just the device in her chest that marked a change of heart for Feinstein when she returned two days later. For decades, the Senate's most senior member had styled herself as the ultimate pragmatist, a veteran deal-maker willing to collaborate with Republicans to get things done. As she assured me in February, in one of half a dozen conversations we had over the past year, ideologically she saw herself as neither right nor left, but focused merely on "whether it's right or wrong. That's all."
Now she faced a different challenge—a president whose election was, she had come to believe, in itself wrong. During the campaign, Feinstein, as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was one of the Gang of Eight members of Congress who receive classified national security briefings. In September, that group was told that the intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia was trying to interfere with the election in order to help Trump. Feinstein and her House counterpart, Rep. Adam Schiff, issued a startling joint public statement demanding that Vladimir Putin "immediately order a halt to this activity."
In our conversations, Feinstein fumed that the Obama administration had been too cautious in keeping vital information on this interference—which she still cannot legally disclose—under wraps. They "should have been more forward-leaning and let people know what was going on before the election," she told me. Had the public known what she knew, Feinstein insists, it would have changed the outcome. "I deeply do believe it." Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee she once led is in charge of investigating the Russia connection—but, she warns, with insufficient resources and focus. Only 7 Senate staffers are assigned to the Russia probe; the 2014 Benghazi investigation in the House had 46. The committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), has reportedly refused to sign key requests for information, such as documents from the Trump campaign.
Feinstein turned 83 last summer. Her hair is still thick, her blue eyes penetrating, the toll of the years apparent in just a bit of unsteadiness in the knees. She is charming enough to often get people to say "yes" without asking. But, says one of her admirers, former CIA Director Leon Panetta, "if she suspects you're not telling her the whole story, then she'll become your enemy."
People who know Feinstein say the election has been transformative for her. "Trump injects an entirely new level of outrage," Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society and a longtime Feinstein friend, told me. With the president going after institutions that Feinstein has historically been aligned with—chief among them the intelligence establishment—Schell believes she will find a middle-of-the-road position increasingly untenable.
"Dianne is like the canary in the mine shaft," he says. "The last bastion of bridge building in the Senate may be giving up."
But burning a few bridges may also be the only way for Feinstein to survive politically. Nearly a quarter century into her Senate career, she has remained popular with voters, who reelected her in 2012 with a 62.5 percent majority. But progressive Democrats have been frustrated with her old-school style and steadfast defense of the security state. David Talbot, the founder of Salon and a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle, told me he sees Feinstein as part of a Washington establishment that kept the nation in the permanent grip of a "war-surveillance state and at the service of the 1 percent." (The senator calls this "nonsense.")
More recently, Feinstein has found herself in the sights of a resistance movement with little patience for the status quo. Amid the chaos unleashed by Trump's January travel ban, protesters picketed her Santa Monica field office and her San Francisco mansion. They demanded she vote no on Sessions, with some carrying signs: "Primary Feinstein if she's not more aggressive!" At a San Francisco town hall in April, she faced both cheers and boos.
Initially, she brushed it off. "These are very small demonstrations," she told me. "I've lived through big riots. I've lived through the torching of 12 squad cars. I've lived through assassinations. These have been very polite and not a problem."
But the criticism grew louder. In February, activists from the Indivisible movement held an "empty-chair town hall meeting" in Oakland, where a portrait of Feinstein sat onstage as constituents lined up at a microphone to ask questions. Some 700 people attended, and many of the questions dealt with how strong a stand Feinstein would take to resist Trump. "What kind of a legacy do you want to leave?" asked a young woman as the crowd roared approval.
"This is a different Republican Party," said Amelia Cass, the 34-year-old main organizer of the event. "We see no reason to compromise with these people." A similar sentiment was in evidence in April at the town hall in San Francisco, where Feinstein herself took questions from enraged constituents.
The roots of the tension in Feinstein's career—the fighter versus the compromiser—may lie in her childhood on a cul-de-sac of mansions in San Francisco's exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood. Feinstein describes her mother, Betty Goldman, in glowing terms. She was a beautiful Russian immigrant whose family had fled St. Petersburg during the revolution. By the time she met Dianne's father, Dr. Leon Goldman, the first Jewish full professor at the University of California-San Francisco medical school, she was a model for a couture store. "She looked very Garboesque," Feinstein says.
But Feinstein's middle sister, Yvonne Banks, told me their mother was given to unpredictable moods. "If she was braiding our hair and the rubber band broke or the ribbons weren't found, then it was like a major explosion—a total loss of control. She would hit you, pull your hair…There's one picture where Dianne and I both have tears in our eyes. It was a really formal portrait." Betty would occasionally lock Dianne out of the house, forcing her to sleep in the family car.
It was only in the late 1970s, when CT scans became available, that Betty Goldman's brain could be studied. Parts of it, it turned out, had atrophied, possibly because of complications from a severe illness as a child. "Judgment, reason—those were the facilities that she lost," Feinstein says. "She could always put herself together into a very beautiful woman and play the role, but you couldn't reason with her."
In '70s San Francisco, Feinstein's bids for mayor were rebuffed twice. Michael Rougier/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Feinstein had her own struggles. In elementary school, "my lowest grade was self-control." Her eighth-grade teacher directed her to a private Catholic high school, Convent of the Sacred Heart, where she finally felt at home "because I learned discipline," she said. She sat through doctrinal classes and felt they helped answer the big questions. Today, while she is not a formally observant Jew, she told me, "I am religious in my thinking."
A year after graduating from Stanford in 1955, the 23-year-old Dianne eloped with attorney Jack Berman. "This was Dianne's way out," said her sister, laughing. When the telegram announcing their marriage came from—was it Reno or Mexico?—there was "a firestorm" in the Goldman home. It turned out to be an ill-fated match. Dianne's husband expected her to devote herself to the household once their daughter, Katherine, was born in 1957. The marriage ended three years later.
After a year and a half as a single mother, Feinstein was not easily won over when Dr. Bert Feinstein asked her out in late 1961. He picked her up for their first dinner in a battered Chevrolet with holes in the upholstery. (It turned out he owned a Rolls, a Bugatti, and an Aston Martin, but the Chevy was the car he'd park on the street.) Nineteen years her senior, the neurosurgeon was so smitten he proposed marriage over coffee. "You're all I need!" she said sarcastically before walking out of the restaurant alone. It took another year for Feinstein to convince Dianne to marry him. But after that, "my mother and Bert were rarely ever in separate rooms," recalls Katherine Feinstein, a former San Francisco Superior Court judge.
In 1969, Feinstein won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She ran for mayor twice and was twice rebuffed, sometimes ridiculed as too prim and proper for what had become the capital of the counterculture. Still, in 1978 she was chosen as president of the Board of Supervisors, accumulating power and setting her own agenda.
But in a life that seemed finally secure, crisis would again invade. After 13 years of marriage, Bert Feinstein one day dropped the news that he had colon cancer, which he fought for two years before his death in 1978.
And Feinstein came to know terrorism up close when a bomb was placed in a flower box at her home. "My husband was sick," she recalls. "My daughter was in the bedroom right above the street." The house, under renovation, was wrapped in wood scaffolding. The bomb was set to detonate at 1:30 a.m. Had the night been mild as usual, flames would have engulfed the building in minutes. But a freak drop in temperature caused the explosive to freeze and pop off the detonator. The next morning, Katherine found a package of green gel wrapped in torn plastic with the letters EXPL.
The bombers, thought to be affiliated with the left-wing New World Liberation Front, weren't caught. But the attack changed Feinstein. "She'd always been law and order," says Charlotte Shultz, the wife of former Secretary of State George Shultz and a friend of Feinstein's. Being a target of terrorists, Shultz says, turned her into a full-blown hawk.
In the spring of 2016, with the presidential primaries well underway, I met Feinstein and her third husband, the investor Richard Blum, at Villa Taverna, a private lunch club near Feinstein's office off Market Street in San Francisco. On the ride over, the senator was incensed by heavy traffic and directed an aide to call the Board of Supervisors. The aide informed her, gently, that this particular road was under the state's authority, not the city's, and she grudgingly relented. "That's why we still call her Mayor Feinstein," Supervisor Aaron Peskin told me when I related the incident to him. "She takes San Francisco's day-to-day management about as seriously as her work on the Intelligence Committee."
Blum is a tall, taut, self-made multimillionaire investor and philanthropist. (It's in part thanks to their marriage that Feinstein is the Senate's second-wealthiest member, with an estimated net worth of at least $49 million; his many investments, including in defense contractors, have led critics to charge Feinstein with conflicts of interest.) They met over a business lunch a year before the death of Bert Feinstein—an encounter that impressed neither of them. But after Bert's death, Blum, recently divorced, asked Dianne to go to dinner during a break from a tedious supervisors meeting.
Blum drove her to Sausalito, he told me, and when their conversation lingered beyond dessert, he drove her on to the No Name Club. She interrupts: "It was the No Name Bar." Blum, an outdoorsman who routinely ran 50 miles a week, mentioned that he was about to go trekking in the Himalayas, and would she like to come? Feinstein stunned him by saying yes.
The trip turned out to be a disaster for Feinstein, who came down with dysentery. "I went out on the back of a yak, and I said to Dick, 'Get me out of here and we never have to see each other again.'"
Mayor Feinstein and singer Tony Bennett celebrate the reopening of San Francisco's cable cars in 1984. Eric Risberg/AP
On their return to San Francisco, together, Feinstein took to her bed for a week of recovery. She had been preparing for another mayoral run the following year, but her confidence was weakened from being sick and isolated. Then, on November 27, 1978, she told a reporter she was getting ready to drop out and give up politics for good. Blum drove her to City Hall. Less than two hours later, his phone rang. It was Feinstein. "The mayor has been shot and killed," she said. "Supervisor Milk has been shot and killed. We think Dan White did it. Please come quickly."
It was Feinstein who first heard the gunshots and rushed into the office just feet from hers to find Harvey Milk, the popular, openly gay city supervisor, with five bullet wounds in his head, chest, and wrist. Feinstein pressed her finger to the bullet hole on his wrist. There was no pulse. "When someone's dead," the doctor's daughter says, "you know right away."
Two hours later, Feinstein stepped before a gaggle of reporters in a City Hall corridor and said, "As president of the Board of Supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement: Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed." She paused a good 10 seconds before the shouting subsided. "The suspect is Supervisor Dan White." Within a week, Feinstein was appointed mayor of a city shaken to its core. Through all of it, Blum says, "I never sensed her being terrorized. Ever. In fact, she often does her best when the times get the toughest." (When I told Blum that I'd heard one of Feinstein's congressional colleagues refer to her as the "Mother Lion," he laughed: "Well, it wouldn't be Mother Pussycat.")
This past August, I was on the phone talking to Feinstein about Clinton's presidential bid when we were interrupted by a call from Blum. "He's all agitated," she whispered when she got back on the line. "Do you know what Trump said today? 'If she wins, take up arms. It'll be civil war.'"
Her communications director jumped in. "That's not exactly what he said. It basically was, 'If Hillary wins, there's nothing we can do to prevent her from appointing Supreme Court judges.' Then he said, 'Oh, but maybe there's something that Second Amendment supporters can do.'"
"It may be code," Feinstein said slowly. "It may be subject to different interpretations. But those that want to interpret it as urging them to do something [violent] will interpret it that way. That's why people cannot talk this way in the public arena. That's what I learned."
After a failed 1990 bid for governor, Feinstein set her sights on the US Senate. As she campaigned in November 1991, an African American law professor named Anita Hill endured a show trial before the Senate Judiciary Committee—then helmed by Joe Biden—over her sexual-harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill was publicly humiliated for testifying against Thomas, with Biden forcing her to repeat over and over the most lurid elements of Thomas' alleged abuse, including his nickname for his penis.
Feinstein watched those hearings on television, noting that all the committee members were men. "I remember thinking how a woman would never belittle someone brave enough to step forward and testify like Anita Hill did," she has said. "It was a shameful episode." When Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, five Democratic women were swept into the Senate, including Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, California's first female senators. Bill Carrick, a political consultant who has long worked with Feinstein, remembers an elderly man who burst into a polling place saying, "I want to vote for the two girls and the bubba."
Barely two years into her tenure, Feinstein scored a legislative coup. When she introduced a measure to ban assault weapons, Biden—still chairman of the Judiciary Committee—laughed at her: "'You're a freshman. Wait until you see the gunners here.'" But Feinstein managed to get her amendment attached to Biden's crime bill, and it narrowly passed in 1994. (Ten years later, when the law expired, Feinstein's attempts to secure reauthorization were blocked by the gun lobby.)
In 2003, Feinstein had a watershed moment of a different sort: She bought into the CIA's false claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When I asked her how she feels about that today, there was a long pause. "Nobody's asked me that question," she said. "I don't know how to answer it. It just happened that the intelligence was bad."
Feinstein and Blum shortly after their wedding in San Francisco City Hall, in January 1980 AP
The Bush administration had failed to provide conclusive evidence for the WMD claim. But, she told me with a tinge of bitterness, "I took the CIA's view" and chose to believe them. "That was wrong, and that was an outstanding example to me that you can't do things always based on intelligence."
She paused. "It is the decision I regret most," she said, "and I have to live with it."
Perhaps fittingly, the single biggest project of Feinstein's Senate career would turn out to be a massive investigation she pursued from 2009 to 2014 of the CIA's use of torture. It concluded that the agency, under President George W. Bush, had illegally approved "enhanced interrogation" methods including deprivation of food, drink, and medical care, as well as waterboarding, sexual humiliation, and confinement in coffinlike boxes. Her report, based on 6 million pages of documents, found that none of this succeeded in extracting information that could avert future terrorist attacks.
The torture investigation put Feinstein at odds, sometimes dramatically, with the allies she had cultivated in the national security establishment. CIA chief John Brennan tried to shut down her investigation and threatened her with criminal charges. The agency penetrated her staff's computer network and accused them of stealing copies of the CIA's own torture investigation. When Feinstein's report was done, President Barack Obama handed it to the CIA to be redacted—ignoring her appeals about the obvious conflict of interest.
Feinstein sent copies of her report to several government agencies. But when she lost the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee following the 2014 midterms, the committee's new chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), requested that members and agencies return the report so that it would not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests from the public. Feinstein published an unclassified version on her Senate website, where it can still be found.
Feinstein wasn't just pursuing the Bush administration's intelligence failings. She also battled the Obama White House, which in her view mischaracterized and underplayed intelligence about the threat posed by ISIS. In 2015, she boldly contradicted Obama's claim that the Islamic State was "contained," telling MSNBC that she had "never been more concerned" about a national security threat.
A few months after that statement, she invited me to lunch in the Senate dining room. The space was nearly empty, it being a Monday and Feinstein being one of the few lawmakers who still spends five days a week in Washington. She ordered Arnold Palmers for both of us. I asked if she had heard from the president about her critique.
"No, I did not," she replied sharply. "I don't really believe the White House wanted to know." She had spoken to a Pentagon whistleblower who had signed a formal complaint and was leading a group of more than 40 intelligence analysts from the US Central Command arguing that their reports on the rise of ISIS were being watered down by superiors. "I found him credible and passed on his complaint to the inspector general of the Pentagon," she told me, adding that congressional committees were promised a report—but it never came.
"The tradecraft is deception," Feinstein said wearily when I asked if she believed the intelligence agencies could be held accountable. "The code is brotherhood."
Karen Greenberg, a law professor at Fordham University and the author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, says the fights over torture and ISIS were extremely significant for Feinstein. "If you're in her position and you don't trust the CIA," Greenberg says, "it's destructive on a level that is hard to imagine."
Two days after her pacemaker surgery, Feinstein turned up for Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing at 9 a.m.
As a congressman, Pompeo had been among the Republicans who brutally attacked Feinstein's torture investigation. "Senator Feinstein has put American lives at risk," he said at the time. "Our military and our intelligence warriors are heroes, not pawns in some liberal game being played by the ACLU and Senator Feinstein…Her release of the report is the result of a narcissistic self-cleansing."
In open session, Feinstein pointedly noted that Pompeo had apologized before the hearing, and she was unctuous in her forgiveness. "I really do appreciate your apology. I take it with the sincerity with which you gave it."
When it was time to vote on Pompeo, she smilingly narrated into the record the concessions she had extracted from the nominee. "I want to make clear that Congressman Pompeo has committed to following the law with respect to torture. He committed…to refuse any orders to restart the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual." Those Army rules, rewritten by Feinstein and Sen. John McCain, specifically prohibit waterboarding and other forms of torture.
While Feinstein's "yes" vote on Pompeo drew attacks from progressives, her defenders say she extracted what concessions she could. "He has given me his absolute word, on torture, that he will never permit it to happen again," she told me later. "And I will be here, and I will hold him to that."
The following week, Feinstein was back in a committee room considering the Sessions nomination and remembering the Anita Hill hearings. Women, she announced when it came her turn to speak, "have had to fight for everything we have won throughout history."
A few days earlier, millions of women had taken to the streets around the country—a moment that had made a deep impression on Feinstein, who met with several delegations that day. "They shared an elation and commitment that I've never seen before," Feinstein said. "It was really palpable."
Had the demonstrators inspired Feinstein to stiffen her own spine? She didn't respond when I asked her that. But a week later, she was a "no" on Sessions—a highly uncharacteristic vote against the nomination of a fellow senator.
But if Trump has awakened the lioness of the Senate, her roar at first was subdued. As the new administration was roiled by scandal after scandal, Feinstein's California constituents were blowing up her Twitter feed, demanding that she do everything in her power to push the Russia investigation and block Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Yet Feinstein remained guarded. She rarely talked to the press and, despite our numerous conversations over the prior year, refused to answer my written questions.
Feinstein speaks to the press after a meeting on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in May 2016. Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/AP
Behind the scenes, though, she buckled down. Ahead of the Gorsuch hearings, Feinstein spent her weekend poring over the judge's record with the help of her daughter, the retired judge, and in her opening statement she pulled no punches. "This is personal," she said, her voice thickening with emotion as she pointed out that Gorsuch has argued that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was understood in 1789, "but I find this originalist judicial philosophy really troubling. At the time of our founding, African Americans were enslaved. It was not so long after women had been burned at the stake for witchcraft. The idea of an automobile, let alone the internet, was unfathomable."
By this time, in March, Feinstein had revived her proposal for "an independent criminal investigation into Russian influence"—i.e., a special prosecutor to look into the political and financial interconnections between Trump, his associates, and Russian officials, oligarchs, and cyberwarriors. She had once indicated to me that she felt compelled to be cautious in what she said on national security because the intelligence community was looking to "get back" at her for the torture report. But after months of stonewalling from the FBI, she and the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, sent what she described as a "tough" letter to FBI Director James Comey, demanding that he stop ducking their requests for a briefing on the Trump-Russia question.
They finally got their briefing on March 15, in a secure Senate basement room. When Feinstein emerged after several hours, she looked shaken. The FBI, as the public would learn a few days later when Comey testified before a House committee, had been investigating since July whether the president and his associates had colluded with Russia to influence the US election.
Feinstein was stopped by reporters. Lips tightly retracted, she said, "This briefing was all on sensitive matters and highly classified," emphasizing the words with a raise of her eyebrows as Grassley looked on. "It's really not anything that we can answer questions about." She looked as determined, to those who knew her, as she had decades earlier in San Francisco, when she stepped up to announce the worst to a city in chaos.
Feinstein was in a lighter mood a couple of days later when activists confronted her outside a Los Angeles fundraiser. She cheerfully stepped into the group as they peppered her with questions, including one about Trump: "There are so many things he is doing that are unconstitutional. How are we going to get him out?"
Feinstein gave a slight smile. "We have a lot of people looking at this," she said, referring to conflict-of-interest legislation in the works. "I think he's going to get himself out."
For comparison, the animation above shows all of the last four presidents visited at least one country within their first 100 days in office. President Barack Obama made an appearance in nine countries, and George H.W. Bush went to four, according to the Office of the Historian, a government office within the State Department.
Donald Trump hasn't done much in his young presidency to delight high-powered Democratic lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But last week, Trump did just that when he picked a fight with Canada's dairy farmers, after receiving a letter urging him to do so from Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
Trump's beef with Canadian dairy played well with Republicans, too. At a speech in dairy-heavy Wisconsin last week (video here), Trump fulminated against our northern neighbor's milk policy and vowed to organize what sounds like a dramatically awkward group phone call involving the state's most prominent politicians: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). "We're going to get together and we're going to call Canada, and we're going to say, 'What happened?'" he thundered. "And they might give us an answer, but we're going to get the solution, not just the answer, okay?"
If you're wondering what the hell Trump is babbling about—and why Canadian milk generates such strange, and angry, bedfellows south of its border—here's a primer.
• US dairy producers are churning out way too much milk, and they have been for a while. "Farmers in the U.S. are pouring out tens of millions of gallons of excess milk, amid a massive glut that has slashed prices and has filled warehouses with cheese," the Wall Street Journalreported last October. In the first eight months of 2016, the paper added, US dairy farmers dumped out 66 Olympic swimming pools worth of milk, the "most wasted in at least 16 years." In 2015, too, there was "so much milk flowing out of US cows…that some is ending up in dirt pits because dairies can't find buyers," Bloomberg reported at the time.
US agriculture programs give dairy farmers incentive to produce as much as possible, embroiling them in boom-and-bust cycles like the current one, driving small farms out of business and forcing survivors to scale up. As recently as 1950, around 3.5 million US farms kept dairy cows; by 2012, that number had dwindled to 58,000, even as overall production surged. The shakeout continues. "In 2010, Vermont had more than 1,000 dairy farms, but by the end of last year there were just more than 800," NPR recently reported.
Canada's dairy program, known as "supply management," might sound crazy to US ears, but it has advantages. In an excellent 2010 Gastronomica article, Barry Estabrook noted that, while decades of booms and busts had hollowed out dairy farming in New England and upstate New York, small and mid-sized dairy farms just over the border in Ontario—farming the "same gently rolling tapestry of field and forest"—are thriving.
• But there's a hole in Canada's dairy-tariff wall. So-called ultra-filtered milk—made with a process that concentrates milk proteins, separating out the fat—is a relatively new invention, designed to make dairy products that are highly concentrated and shelf-stable, and thus easy to export. Because of a loophole in trade law, Canada's dairy tariffs don't apply to it, and so the US dairy industry has been exporting ultra-filtered milk into Canada for years, where it competes with less processed domestic skim milk in cheese making. Major production plants have "been built in recent years along the Canada-US border in states like New York and Wisconsin to service Canadian demand," reports the Canadian news site iPolitics.com; and it has grown into a $150 million market for US producers.
• The Canadian dairy industry just slammed shut that loophole—enraging the US industry and capturing Trump's attention. Triggered by an agreement between Canadian farmers and processors announced in February and put into effect recently, the price of processed dairy products has dropped in Canada, essentially pricing US ultra-filtered milk out of its market. * Two US dairy companies geared to the Canadian market—one in Wisconsin, one in New York—immediately complained of lost sales; the Wisconsin one, Grassland Dairy products, delivered bad news to 75 farms: It would no longer buy their milk. The development inflamed politicians in Democratic Party-dominated New York and and GOP-heavy Wisconsin, and eventually in the White House.
• Canada aside, though, US dairy farmers clearly can't export their way out of the dairy glut. As Chris Holman, a Wisconsin farmer who is active in the Wisconsin Farmers Union, noted in a recent blog post, the underlying problem is a "vicious cycle" that leads to oversupply: "When markets are up, farms often expand and production increases to take advantage of better prices. When the milk supply goes up and markets are down, farms often expand and production increases as they try to keep their heads above water." Holman recently told me that "if every dairy farm in Wisconsin culled one cow out of production, it would more than make up for the milk lost to Canada, and everyone can keep farming."
But organizing such a move would essentially require supply management—something anathema to big US dairy processors, which enjoy all the cheap milk encouraged by a lack of production controls. Ferd Hoefner, former policy director and current senior strategic adviser for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told me that the 2014 farm bill included a supply management program for dairy, but it was struck down at the last minute.
• Wisconsin is a dairy-heavy state—and one that Trump barely won. And also the home of Ryan, with whom Trump needs to be friendly if he is going to get anything done in Congress. Moreover, his anti-trade tirades have not been popular with US Big Ag interests, which rely heavily on exports. Applying his fierce trade rhetoric to pry open Canada's domestic dairy market may be a way for him to appease those interests.
Meanwhile, this week, Trump added more fuel to his trade war with Canada, imposing hefty duties on lumber imports from there. As the Los Angeles Timesnoted, "Dairy and lumber are sensitive industries in the heartland and rural parts of America, and any moves to strengthen those domestic constituents could help the administration garner congressional support for its broader trade policy objectives." And picking on Canada is less risky than picking on his usual targets, China and Mexico. "It's not like Canada is going to open up the border and let a whole bunch of Central Americans into the United States. So Canada is a pretty safe target," Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, toldPolitico.
*Clarification: This piece originally suggested that a change initiated by the Canadian government caused the price drop that priced US ultra-filtered milk out of the Canadian market. In fact, the price changed emerged from an agreement between farmers and processors. “The government was not involved in these negotiations,” a Canadian government spokesman said in a statement.
The Trump administration officially launched an office on Wednesday dedicated to the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants—an effort that immigrant advocates say does not align with actual crime data and appears designed to demonize immigrants.
The Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which will provide aid to people affected by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. According to DHS and officials with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement—which will house the office—this assistance will include a hotline to answer questions about the immigration enforcement process and a notification system to provide updates to registered victims about the custody status of immigrant perpetrators.
The services provide by VOICE are not new: Most are already offered by ICE's community engagement office, and the office draws upon personnel and resources that the agency already has. But administration officials have shifted the tone of the conversation by focusing on victims of crimes committed by immigrants.
"All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored," Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said during the Wednesday launch event in Washington. "They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place, because the people who victimized them oftentimes should not have been in the country in the first place."
In reports and statements leading up to the launch, VOICE has been described as focusing exclusively on people affected by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. But DHS officials on Wednesday said that the office would provide services to victims of "crimes with an immigration nexus," suggesting that the scope of the agency could expand beyond the undocumented. DHS officials told reporters that VOICE will focus on crimes committed by anyone who could potentially face deportation, a grouping that could include immigrants with legal status.
The office has been in the works for several months and was developed with input from victims and their families, many of whom attended the launch event. It was first mentioned in the president's January executive order addressing illegal immigration, and its purpose was further clarified in a memo published by Kelly in February. President Donald Trump first spoke publicly about it in his February address to Congress, when he said, "We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests."
The launch drew immediate criticism from immigration advocates. "The goal of this program is to instill fear of non-white immigrants," the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said in a statement. "It is another deliberate step taken by the Trump administration towards creating institutions that legitimize racist propaganda. That's what this is about, instilling fear in order to subject people to double suspicion, double punishment, and deprivation of due process." Others have argued that while the administration focuses on crimes committed by immigrants, it has pulled back from assisting immigrant crime victims, leaving many immigrants fearful of reporting crimes to police.
"I think it is absurd to highlight the crimes committed by a small group of people without reporting on the crimes committed by everybody," Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said in an interview before the Wednesday launch. With the establishment of VOICE, he added, the administration appears to be "trying to show how dangerous a group of people is when they have no statistical evidence towards that claim." Crime data suggests that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.
At Wednesday's event, DHS officials argued that VOICE is not about demonizing immigrants, but instead will focus on assisting victims and families who are confused about how immigration enforcement works. "The immigration system is so complicated, there wasn't anyone there to tell [victims] what has been happening on the immigration side," said DHS spokesman David Lapan. "This office can help victims' families understand the immigration elements of the crimes committed."
But that mission has been complicated by the president's rhetoric on immigration and the undocumented. Trump has frequently highlighted the immigration records of violent offenders. One of his central campaign promises was to build a wall between Mexico and the United States, and he has pledged to ramp up deportations.
Launching just days before Trump's 100th day in office, VOICE comes at a difficult moment for the administration. On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked part of the president's order that would have withheld funding from so-called sanctuary cities, which refuse to comply with Trump's call to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals, published in 1971 at the height of the counterculture movement, has long been required reading for community organizers on the left. It inspired activists with the labor movement, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. A young Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky and fawningly corresponded with him. But recently Alinsky has drawn a less likely group of devotees: the white nationalists and other bigots who make up the so-called alt-right.
After the white nationalist figure Nathan Damigo was filmed punching a female counterprotester at a provocative "free speech" rally this month in Berkeley, California, fueling a backlash online, his fans on the fringe message board 4chan/pol/ turned to Alinsky's playbook. "Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is like Antifa's Quran," one 4channer wrote. "They follow his rules explicitly and inflexibly. Why not turn them back against them?" Everyone agreed that at the next scuffle they should spray female counterprotesters with silly string—an idea inspired by Alinsky's Rule 5: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon."
"The Left is getting massively out-Alinskyed, and the hilarious thing is that this band of withered hippies, unemployable millennial safe-space cases, and unlovable + unshaven libfeminists don't even know it," wrote right-wing columnist Kurt Schlichter recently in TownHall. "Thank you, Andrew Breitbart. You yelled 'Follow me!' and led a movement that had previously been dominated by doofy wonks and bow-tied geeks over the top in a glorious bayonet charge against the paper tiger liberal elite."
Begrudging respect for Alinsky and the leftist protest tactics he inspired is nothing new on the right; FreedomWorks, the Koch-funded political organization, reportedly handed outRules for Radicals to tea party activists. But the alt-right appears to have really taken Alinsky's strategic thinking to heart—or at least when they are not just straight-up hyping their next opportunity to beat the hell out of some antifa.
"A lot of the strategy of this site is based on it," Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, wrote in September, urging his followers to read the book. In November, another neo-Nazi site, The Right Stuff, published a detailed analysis of Alinsky's rules, concluding that "the Alt-Right is already in something of an unholy alliance with (((Alinsky)))." (The "echo" parenthesis are used by white supremacists to single out Jews.)
Far-right provocateur Gavin McInnes, whose "Western chauvinist" Proud Boys were among those who waged bloody fights with antifa in Berkeley, described Alinsky to me as "an immoral human being"—but nevertheless professed to be a student of his writings. "This isn't us taking on a brilliant book because we admire the guy," he told me. "It's us seeing what your tactics are and using them against you."
Nowhere has that strategy more clearly been on display than in Berkeley, where supporters of Trump-boosting media provocateurs Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter have gleefully taken their cue from the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. Although the University of California-Berkeley canceled each of their planned speeches over mounting security concerns—exacerbated by the mayhem around Yiannopoulos' scheduled appearance in March—officials worked to reschedule Coulter's speech. She declined.On Monday, conservative student groups filed suit against the university, arguing that canceling Coulter's talk violated their free-speech rights. Then Coulter vowed to show up anyway. Then she vowed not to come—on Wednesday the New York Times reported she was out. "Everyone who should believe in free speech fought against it or ran away," Coulter declared. (Alinsky's Rule 4: "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.") Then she told Fox News that she might still come: "I think I am still going to Berkeley, but there will be no speech."
Though most of Alinsky's devotees on the left eschew violence and laud, as he did, the passive resistance techniques of Mahatma Gandhi and the civil rights movement, his writings are not necessarily inconsistent with the alt-right's and antifa's embrace of street battles. "[T]he future does not argue for making a special religion of nonviolence," he wrote. "It will be remembered for what it was, the best tactic for its time and place."
The alt-right's repeated physical clashes with counterprotesters in Berkeley and elsewhere represent an evolution in tactics for what had been mostly an online movement. They also dovetail with the alt-right's penchant for generating viral memes: An image of Kyle Chapman (a.k.a. Based Stick Man) pummeling an antifa counterprotester in Berkeley made him an alt-right celebrity and led to the birth of his own anti-antifa Proud Boys militia group, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights. (Chapman was arrested in Berkeley in mid April on an outstanding warrant for battery.) Thanks to additional publicity whipped up by Coulter, discussion and planning for the next Berkeley showdown has consumed 4chan since last week, with more than 100 recent posts dedicated to the subject, including talk of busing people in from around the country. No one seems deterred by Coulter's waffling. "Folks are still going to Berkeley as a protest against the Domestic Terrorist Organization known as BAMN," began one 4chan thread on Wednesday. "Spread the word. This changes nothing."
"She's apparently still going," said another 4channer, "so we're still on to bash some Antifa."
"Regardless of Ann Couture's (sic) decision," Chapman wrote on Facebook, "we will have our rally. We will go back to MLK Civic Center Park and stand against these demons."
"The whole idea of having Trump/free speech rallies in Berkeley is the historic nature of it," a 4channer wrote earlier this month. "In 1968 the free speech movement happened in Berkeley to support communism. Now it is happening again in 2017 to support anti-communism, in hostile territory. It's a battle on the front lines and the lefties help us make fun memes for the ages." (Alinsky's Rule 6: "A good tactic is one your people enjoy.")
Activists on the right have much less experience than leftists with turning street protests into media tools. The civil rights, anti-war, and Occupy movements rose to prominence with the spread of photographs and videos documenting police brutality against protesters, from the use of fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, to pepper spray by a police officer at the University of California-Davis. The viral video of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer getting punched is a relatively rare example of the radical left celebrating violence. Yet for the meme-makers of the far right, humiliating their rivals by presenting their street brawlers as physically dominant is the preferred theme: "We're just braver, and that makes for better jokes," says McInnes. "The left are the new Church ladies. They've been sheltered in their own bubble for so long, they don't know fun."
An alt-right meme based on the Damigo punching video
Few people on the far-right have done more to turn the ideas of the left against it than Yiannopoulos, who enjoyed a rising career of co-opting "identity politics" in the interest of white males, before a pedophilia scandal knocked him from his perch. On Friday, he doubled down on the strategy of appropriating leftist concepts, announcing that he will host a "free speech week" this year that may include "a tent city on [UC-Berkeley's] Sproul Plaza." The idea repurposes an approach last seen on a large scale in 2011 at UC Berkeley and other university campuses in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street—but this time, in service of the right to say nasty things about women, people of color, and Muslims.
Which points directly to another Alinskyism that the alt-right is now testing: "If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive." As one proponent of the idea explained on the neo-Nazi site The Right Stuff: "We want to get to the point where being labeled by the establishment as a racist, sexist, or antisemite (sic) is a sign of having done something correct."