BOB GARFIELD From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. On this week's show, the media struggle to find drama in an impeachment trial that is all but a foregone conclusion.
MITCH MCCONNELL If it were today, I don't think there's any question it would not lead to a removal.
BOB GARFIELD Fearing restrictive laws from the new Democratic majority in Virginia, gun owners demonstrate and whisper about armed rebellion.
LOIS BECKETT And they were using a different term, “boogaloo”, which is this semi ironic online term for civil war. And talking about does the boogaloo begin in Virginia?
BOB GARFIELD And as Puerto Rico is shocked by more earthquakes and revelations of official incompetence, people are demanding accountability, but from whom?
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL The local government blames the federal government and the federal government blames the local government and stuck in between are three million Puerto Ricans all the time.
BOB GARFIELD It's all coming up after this.
From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is away this week. I'm Bob Garfield. Maybe it would have been more dramatic if it had come as a surprise. The Pacific Standard advertised, “The case for Trump impeachment,” on October 4th, 2016, a month before Election Day. The day after Trump was elected, Google searches for how to impeach the president jumped 4,850%. And a mere week later, American University history professor Allan Lichtman was on CBS, predicting why Trump's conduct would lead to trial in the U.S. Senate.
ALLAN LICHTMAN Donald Trump throughout his career has played fast and loose with the law… [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Of such prescience, anticlimax is made.
ADAM SCHIFF President Trump solicited foreign interference in our democratic elections, abusing the power of his office to seek help from abroad to improve his reelection prospects at home. And when he was caught, he used the powers of that office to obstruct the investigation into his own misconduct. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD That's House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff this week prosecuting his case for President Trump's removal from office. As rich as this historic moment was with Schiff's clarity and eloquence, was also strangely devoid of drama. That's partly because it was so long anticipated, and it's partly because even Trump's Republican defenders have ceased disputing what took place. Hell, Trump himself has confessed to everything, as have his acting chief of staff and the henchmen who did the dirty work.
GORDON SONDLAND Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting. The answer is yes.
LEV PARNAS President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Not to mention the White House memo recounting Trump's perfect shakedown call and the Government Accounting Office ruling that withholding Ukrainian aid was illegal. It's an open and shut case or would be if Senate Republicans hadn't long ago decided to acquit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:
MITCH MCCONNELL If it were today, I don't think there's any question it would not lead to a removal. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Not much spectacle in a predetermined outcome, especially when and this is the third reason for ennui, the whole thing is engineered by the majority for maximum boredom, a he said, he said marathon running at all hours with the jurors crowded together in forced silence with only milk and water, allowed as sustenance, and because the White House has blocked all witnesses, no life testimony to break the monotony.
RICK SCOTT First off, it's boring me and they're not saying anything new.
JOHN BARRASSO I didn't hear anything new at all. We were here all day yesterday for about 13 hours. No new material presented. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD That was Senators Rick Scott and John Barrasso, who were among the Republicans who quashed motions for new witnesses and subpoenaed evidence now complaining about enduring the torture of enhanced non interrogation. Thanks to McConnell's moribund staging, the media have been forced to look beyond the proceedings for drama befitting the gravity of the moment. But it's like that big foot photo that was circulated this week or setting a leprechaun trap, an exercise in magical thinking.
NEWS REPORT Tonight, two moderate Republican senators indicating that they are open to hearing from witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial.
SUSAN COLLINS I am very likely to vote for additional information.
LISA MURKOWSKI: If I determine that I do not have enough, I will vote to accept additional information for three years. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The press has fantasized about such magic moderates. Maybe this time they will step forward to protect the Constitution and the country. Maybe they'll throw water on the Wicked Witch. Maybe they will vote for witnesses.
MITT ROMNEY I've already indicated I am interested to hear from John Bolton, perhaps among others, but I'm not going to be making that vote today. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The supposed moderates tease us, and so the drama ratchets up. And I suppose. Never say never. The tragedy is that the actual trial in front of our eyes, glazes our eyes over. History is played out as farce, leprechauns may be the best narrative we've got. Coming up, gun owners swarm to Virginia. Locked and loaded. This is On the Media.
This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. On Monday, 22,000 people descended on Richmond, Virginia, to protest strong gun control bills making their way through the state's legislature. Lobby Day is an annual event in Virginia, where all kinds of groups lobby for their interests. But this year, it turned into a massive rally focused on the Second Amendment. The Guardian's Lois Beckett wrote how the story of the demonstration on MLK Day began in the fall, with Election Day in Virginia, it was a momentous one.
LOIS BECKETT So a traditionally red state had now gone blue and Democrats were excited to make the most of that.
NEWS REPORT Democrats had enough numbers on the committee to advance four bills to the full Senate. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT Democrats had a slate of gun control policies that they wanted to implement.
NEWS REPORT One restores Virginia's one handgun a month law. Another expands background checks, a version of a red flag law passed and a bill allowing local governments to ban guns in certain public places passed as well. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT The assault weapons ban was most controversial because an early draft of the bill suggested it would be a ban on the possession of military style guns, which raised the question of what would happen to citizens who already own to them.
BOB GARFIELD So this legislative program was not a secret to anybody, but it was, I gather, treated as the first stage of tyranny. What was the rhetoric? What did the social media traffic have to say on the ascension of the Democrats?
LOIS BECKETT So one thing that happened right after the election is that Gov. Ralph Northam was asked if the assault weapon ban he supported would involve confiscation of firearms that Virginians already owned. And Northam said that he couldn't answer that question right away, that he would have to talk to his adviser and to get back on the day after in a different interview. He was like, no, this is not a ban with confiscation, but it was too late by that point. And that tiny little bit of suggestion that this fear might be realistic was enough really to fuel tremendous anxiety and anger among gun owners in Virginia. And the concerning rhetoric wasn't just about guns or confiscation. There was also this strain of discussion which suggested that Democrats hadn't really won the election or they hadn't won the election of real Virginians. That the people in northern Virginia, the Democrats would push the state blue, didn't really count, weren't real Virginians. And sometimes that rhetoric was explicitly about immigration. I heard somebody the night before Lobby Day saying that gun rights would not be preserved unless immigration was changed. And then another gun rights advocate pushing back and say, don't talk about that. We're just talking about the Second Amendment. I don't want to get into immigration today.
BOB GARFIELD And then there were the Jews, the Jews.
LOIS BECKETT It's true that Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who's now running for president, also funds the largest gun control group in the United States. And that group poured a lot of money into Virginia's local elections with the goal of passing gun violence prevention laws. But there's been a lot of focus in gun rights about the billionaires like Michael Bloomberg coming in. And that is very close to and sometimes identical to an anti-Semitic trope. The idea that someone who is Jewish is working behind the scenes to steal the election from the real people. That's very concerning, too.
BOB GARFIELD So there was an organization that seemed to have been particularly at the heart of lobby day and this convergence of gun owners, certainly from Virginia, but around the country. Who are they?
LOIS BECKETT So the Virginia Citizens Defense League is a longtime gun rights focused organization in Virginia, led by Philip Van Cleave, who has gone to defend gun rights very uncompromisingly in big media interviews, on the Jon Stewart show.
PHILIP VAN CLEAVE Well, let me put it this way. There are more drownings in backyards where they have pools. They don't have a pool, there are no drownings in backyards. Okay. So the U.S. has a very high number of guns. Therefore, there is going to be more chances for somebody to be killed with a gun.
JOHN OLIVER Right. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT He got pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen to sort of defending children's ability to have guns.
SACHA BARON COHEN To get deadly weapons into the hands of America's schoolchildren. I needed the help of gun rights hero, Philip Van Cleave. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT But it's true that this is a gun rights group that pretty much opposes all gun control laws and see themselves as very uncompromising on the Second Amendment and has views that lots of Americans would not share when it comes to what gun laws they support or don't support.
BOB GARFIELD There was talk about literal insurrection. If they come to take our guns, be careful. It could be the start of something very, very frightening.
LOIS BECKETT After November's election, gun rights advocates started showing up at local government meetings across the state.
NEWS REPORT We are not extremists. We are citizens who believe in the Second Amendment, as well as the rest of the Constitution. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT Talking angrily about these proposed gun bills that Democrats wanted to pass.
NEWS REPORT That we could have guns to protect ourselves from the very government officials who are trying to take our guns away from us. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT And you can see that the words like tyranny and treason are popping up. And in talking to Philip Van Cleave, the head of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, he said he had been hearing talk about civil war, too. And it wasn't, he said people who were excited about engaging in a civil war, it was people who were anxious and nervous and said, listen, if people are actually trying to confiscate guns that Virginians already own, that could lead to insurrection, that could lead to war, because this is the foundational principle of gun rights in America. From my cold, dead hands, come and take it. Then the news of this very powerful grassroots movement in Virginia pushing back against Democrats, trying to pass gun control laws really resonated. And people were also talking about civil war and they were using a different term boogaloo. Which is this semi ironic online term for civil war. And talking about like, does the boogaloo begin in Virginia?
BOB GARFIELD And what's the reference to?
LOIS BECKETT The reference is to a really bad like dance movie... that involve the term boogaloo that turned into the meme like Civil War 2 Electric Boogaloo.
LOIS BECKETT And there is an acknowledgement in this term for civil war that like civil war part two might be like a really bad sequel that nobody really wants to see. But it also is being used quite sincerely by white supremacist accelerationists, people who want there to be a civil war so society breaks down and they can form a white ethno state.
BOB GARFIELD At some point it was beginning, I guess, to resemble what happened a couple of years earlier in Charlottesville, a day of protest that ended in violence.
LOIS BECKETT The real anxiety around this probably peaked on Wednesday of last week were when Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, declared a state of emergency--
NEWS REPORT After learning armed militias and hate groups planned to join the protest.
RALPH NORTHAM We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plan-- [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT And suggested that what had been a local event was really being co-opted by some extremists. We don't know exactly what that law enforcement intelligence was, but we do know that on Saturday, even a House Republican leader, after getting a private security briefing for lawmakers, came out with a statement condemning hate groups and saying that the Republicans would stand with Democrats against disorder. We also know that--
NEWS REPORT Police arrested three more members of a violent white supremacist group in Georgia on Friday after making similar arrests in Maryland and Delaware. [END CLIP]
LOIS BECKETT Three members of an alleged neo-Nazi group, the base, were reportedly discussing going with firearms to this Richmond event and opening fire with the intent of causing chaos. And law enforcement then went on to arrest four more people allegedly connected with this neo-Nazi group. All of this happening as everyone is getting ready to head to this protest and everyone is on edge.
BOB GARFIELD Lois was in the middle of the rally on Monday. We also sent our producer, Micah Loewinger down to Richmond. Hey Micah.
MICAH LOEWINGER Hi, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD You spent a few hours not at the state capital building, but sort of in the belly of the beast.
MICAH LOEWINGER I wanted to experience this event through the eyes and ears of the militias who are on the ground.
BOB GARFIELD Whose eyes and ears, exactly?
MICAH LOEWINGER A guy named AJ Andrews, a militiaman who I met on the Internet while I was trying to make sense of how the far right was organizing for the rally. He's a former federal security employee and now he spends most of his time, from what I can tell, talking with other militias online. He was invited to participate in Richmond as a “peacekeeper” by the organizers of the event, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. He drove down south in his RV from his home in western New York. It's a faded blue and white RV with all the comforts of home, but he calls it his mobile command center because it's incredibly decked out.
AJ ANDREWS 450 watts of solar on the roof goes down to 690 amp hour battery into a 6,000 watt pure sine wave inverter to give me full power sitting here in the camper.
MICAH LOEWINGER A satellite set up so that he can broadcast Wi-Fi to other militias that want to come and hang out.
AJ ANDREWS Twenty USB hook ups, a CB with a built in police scanner to it. I've got ham radio that becomes a mobile repeater.
MICAH LOEWINGER Enough food for six months.
AJ ANDREWS Full medical in here, I've got security in here if I need to pull it out of the cupboard.
MICAH LOEWINGER He is preparing for the apocalypse, or as he would put it for shtf, which stands for when s*** hits the fan.
AJ ANDREWS I've got a team of folks from all over the country watching different cameras this, that and the other, and I'm in contact with them all the time.
MICAH LOEWINGER He met up with his militia here. Most of his guys I only saw five or six of them, but I heard that there were more, were headed down to the rally, but he's set back in the parking lot watching a Breitbart live stream...And simultaneously monitoring his own men. He's not just the eyes and ears of his operation, he's the commander. And if he so chooses. If he thinks there's a credible threat against his guys.
AJ ANDREWS I make a call. I got everybody from 20 miles to 100 miles ready to be here in a second.
BOB GARFIELD And who are these guys? I mean, are they activists? Are they insurrectionists survivalists? Are they live action role players just playing army? What's the profile?
MICAH LOEWINGER He identifies as a 3 percenter and the 3 percenters are a primary force in the American militia movement. That name 3 percent refers to a myth, disputed historical statistic about the Revolutionary War.
AJ ANDREWS 3 percent of the first 13 colonies fought for, died for, and bled for our constitution, then they helped write that constitution put it into play for everybody to have their rights and their freedoms in this country. Britain wanted to take our rights away, just like a lot of Democrats and liberals and a lot of socialists want to take the rights now and trade everybody's rights for just their freedoms. Just like you're seeing it on Breitbart, if people are watching the live feeds on that, they're saying they're sick of their rights being trampled on.
MICAH LOEWINGER The idea that we're actually ready to fight tyrants for our rights.
BOB GARFIELD This is the rhetoric Lois Beckett told us about that we've heard from some of the most violent corners of the far right from anti-government terrorists, including the Oklahoma City bombers, Klansmen. I mean, locked and loaded is one thing, but that's different from itching to open fire and start helter skelter. Are they itching to do that?
MICAH LOEWINGER A.J. told me that some of the more hardcore members of the 3 percenters have trained for urban and all kinds of warfare. One of A.J. social media profiles that I found shows him wearing a Confederate flag hat and 3 percenters and their ties to Islamophobic and white supremacist activity have been featured in the press over the past few years.
NEWS REPORT You saw the first participants in today's Unite the Right rally arrive about 40 men and women in camouflage gear, some with militia markings. Virginia is an open carry state. [END CLIP]
MICAH LOEWINGER There were a few of them that were recruited by the white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, protecting the white supremacists from the counter protesters. The Oregon Bundy standoff from 2016--some of those guys were 3 percenters.
NEWS REPORT Armed protesters have taken over a federal wildlife refuge determined to stay as long as it takes and prepared to use violence. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD This is the group who objected to federal grazing regulations with federal agents trying to enforce the law.
MICAH LOEWINGER Yeah, and then there were three militia men connected to a local 3 percent group.
NEWS REPORT Authorities say the three suspects are part of a Kansas militia group that calls itself the Crusaders. [END CLIP]
MICAH LOEWINGER Who were convicted of plotting to bomb a mosque in Garden City, Kansas, which is part of the reason why AJ is here leading this operation in Richmond on lobby day, because he wants to rehabilitate the image of 3 percenters and also of the militia movement.
AJ ANDREWS There's nothing wrong with the name militia if you carry a 3 percent sticker. Oh, you got to be a racist. You've got to be a nationalist. You've got to be--no, we're not. We're human. We're American. There's nothing racist about us.
MICAH LOEWINGER I got the sense that he feels victimized by the label racist. But he doesn't seem to acknowledge that his movement, his militia, has this history of dangerous white supremacist, Islamophobic and anti-government acts.
AJ ANDREWS We're trying to show everybody that we are adults, responsible adults, where Northam’s trying to say, oh, the guns shoot people. No, it's the trigger that pulls it by the person. It's not the gun.
MICAH LOEWINGER So we're sitting here in the camper and he's waiting for something to happen. Maybe it's going to boil over. Maybe the counter protesters are going to show up and someone's going to throw a punch or someone's going to pull a trigger.
AJ ANDREWS There's a few people that are ready to get stupid. It could be an extremist that's sick of the B.S. that left's trying to put on us. You got your Nazis, you got your New Black Panthers, you got your Black Lives Matter. You got your Antifa. You got some Muslims that are against the Constitution.
BOB GARFIELD He just got on disclaiming racism, but that's the old Sharia law trope with nothing behind it. Not to mention equating Nazis with counter protesters from the left.
MICAH LOEWINGER That's right. It's a false equivalency. But what he's thinking about right now is media optics. He thinks that if the armed men at this event end up shooting people, it's gonna make him and his ilk look bad. So he and the organizers of the event, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, are very purposefully telling the militias, act professionally. Keep your cool. Do not lose it.
AJ ANDREWS I've been telling everybody you got four cheeks that God gave you for a reason. Use all four of you before you go and do something. Lord always said, if you get slapped in one cheek, turn the other.
MICAH LOEWINGER But if he gets wind, that one of his guys is starting the ruckus.
AJ ANDREWS I'm not going to turn for cheeks when somebody on my side of the fence is getting stupid. I'm going to give you two chances of me talking to you calmly then I'm a knockout and have two people drag you away from everybody so number one you don't get trampled on. And number two, you need to take the cameras off of you before we start looking bad.
BOB GARFIELD So the zealous side of him, the 3 percent side of him, the SHTF side of him is prepared for an all out bloodbath in the capital of Virginia, but the PR side of him is worried about the optics of being blamed for violence?
MICAH LOEWINGER The whole time that I'm interviewing him and we're watching the Breitbart live stream, he also has his earbuds in and he's listening to his militiamen chatting away on an app called Zello.
BOB GARFIELD It's a phone app, but it works like a walkie talkie, right?
MICAH LOEWINGER That's right. It's like if you took Whatsapp, which is like for groups and text chat and you just prioritize the walkie talkie function. That's what it sounds like.
[ZELLO WALKIE TALKIE]
Turning point in our country right here.
This is it, man. This governor we got.
Yeah, it’s pretty bad.
He’s the worst person in the world.
AJ ANDREWS Everybody's on a channel on Zello, on phones, on comms, working with each other. And it's one giant network. Every single person with boots on ground is in the network together.
MICAH LOEWINGER About how many people are in your Zello group?
AJ ANDREWS Close to a thousand right now. And they're involved with their own little groups and it networks out from there. Kind of like a spidered out pyramid.
MICAH LOEWINGER AJ kicked me out of his Zello group a couple weeks before Richmond when we first started talking, so I wasn't ever able to listen in on him and his friends, which I think reveals something important. He's down to talk to me. He's giving me this access, but he does not want me to know what he and his militia are really thinking and planning.
BOB GARFIELD Or just the kind of rhetoric that goes back and forth when they think nobody's listening.
MICAH LOEWINGER Yeah. So I signed up for a bunch of Zello groups while I was in Richmond and had those recording throughout the day just so I could understand the kind of intel that was bouncing between militiamen, activists all around Richmond.
[ZELLO WALKIE TALKIE]
Is everybody at the rally already or they on their way?
MICAH LOEWINGER On the ground--
[ZELLO WALKIE TALKIE]
We're still en route
MICAH LOEWINGER and at home--
[ZELLO WALKIE TALKIE]
Yeah from what I’m watching online, there’s a lot of people there.
This is not a time to go in there and be congenial and polite. It’s time to go in there and kick their [BLEEP]. If the state troopers get your way, so be it. Complete the mission, [BLEEP] their world up.
MICAH LOEWINGER So AJ claims that he's on the lookout for this kind of rhetoric. He told me that he will pull these kinds of guys out of the chat room, bring them into a separate Zello chat room where he and other militia leaders will try to talk these people down or kick them out of the crew altogether. Right now, he's sifting through a ton of Zello chatter.
AJ ANDREWS Somebody just tried jamming him.
MICAH LOEWINGER I heard him responding to people who are saying stuff like someone jamming our radio?
AJ ANDREWS What did I just say?
[ZELLO WALKIE TALKIE] Does anyone have any intel on drones?
AJ ANDREWS Yeah, copy that. They got drones being controlled by folks sitting in helicopters a little more than 2,000 feet up.
MICAH LOEWINGER And why is there a sniper in the tower?
[ZELLO WALKIE TALKIE] Tyrants show on their face or sh** sitting on top of the roofs with sniper rifles.
AJ ANDREWS Militarized sniper sitting in the bell tower. I saw part of a barrel sticking off and you saw part of the head, but they didn't see what kind of uniform the officer was wearing.
Hang on. Okay. That's it. It’s just a defense.They're not taking guns from anybody. Exactly. Chat trolls being stupid. More false information, false flag bullsh**. And this is what we do. We find the bullsh**, we knock it out.
BOB GARFIELD So is he sort of truth squatting, nipping paranoia in the bud?
MICAH LOEWINGER Yes and no. Yes he was able to call out something that might be a provocation for somebody to start a fight, like the gun confiscation thing. But no, because he's fact checking against his version of reality. In a world that includes all kinds of conspiracy theories, blatant lies like this idea that was sort of percolating online before the event that Antifa or other leftist agitators had hired crisis actors to play as militiamen or patriots and start a funk from the inside.
BOB GARFIELD There's a lot going on that your eye and ear witness to. What was there a single moment that struck you as the most revealing, most poignant, most frightening, most anything?
MICAH LOEWINGER While I was sitting with AJ in this parking lot, there were some of his fellow 3 percenters in their own cars getting suited up--full camo military grade helmets, bulletproof vests, long guns slung from their backs. And before the event, he told me that he didn't want his guys carrying those guns because he didn't want a hot headed dude losing his cool, firing a single bullet and starting the bloodbath. But we're sitting in his RV and we're just watching his buddies get ready and he didn't say a word about what they were doing. And it made me question the veracity of some of these precautions and de-escalation techniques that he had told me about. While we were having our conversation, one of the wives of the militiamen came over, knocked on the door and AJ got out to speak with her. When he came back in, I asked what their conversation had been about and he said--
AJ ANDREWS just one of my buddies wife's who's concerned about him being downtown.
MICAH LOEWINGER I noticed that when a bunch of the men left, some of the wives stayed back. Is that pretty common?
AJ ANDREWS Yeah.
MICAH LOEWINGER Is your wife at home really worried about you, too?
AJ ANDREWS Oh, yeah. But she knows there's some things you just gotta do.
MICAH LOEWINGER He said she's at home caring for our son who suffers from a developmental disease and needs constant care. And she is worried for me.
AJ ANDREWS She just asked me not to. She's scared. I just tell her, I said, this ain't my first rodeo. I always come back home. If God says it’s my time to go, it's my time to go. I've been shot, stabbed, burned, born with cancer, diagnosed at four, still got it throughout my body and nothing's in my organs. I got my sight when I was 1, got hearing when I was 3, and I shouldn't have been born. So if I'm alive and there's still a reason, so I'm still going to do something, there's certain things you gotta step up for, people in America gotta step up for the rights and the freedoms to keep it alive for the next generation. Because without that, we ain’t got s***.
BOB GARFIELD So even if it's murky what the actual cause is, he's prepared to die for it.
MICAH LOEWINGER Yeah, he is. And I just wanna say one more thing. No one was hurt on Monday. No bullets were fired. But spending time with AJ really freaked me out. He and his guys want it both ways. They're ready to go to war and they have a history of participating in violent and racist acts. But at the same time, they want to be seen as a normal part of American life, patriotic American Life.
BOB GARFIELD OTM producer Micah Loewinger. So the protest went off without casualties. Charlottesville, it was not. I asked Guardian reporter Lois Beckett to reflect on what it all meant.
LOIS BECKETT I think one of the biggest takeaways from Monday is that law enforcement behavior is so crucial to whether a protest becomes violent or not, to whether a gathering is seen as peaceful or complete chaos. If law enforcement had shown up in a different way, had escalated tensions. Perhaps if law enforcement had actually enforced the Virginia law against masking and arrested a bunch of extremists in masks. It might have escalated tensions. But by stepping back and giving protesters the space to do what they wanted peacefully, everything stayed calm. And in some ways that's good. That's a lesson learned from Charlottesville, where failures of law enforcement were very essential in the violence that ended up taking place. But in some ways, that's also quite concerning to many viewers who saw a real distinction between how white right wing pro-gun protesters were treated versus unarmed left wing protesters of color. And that reflects the broader tensions in the gun debate, which has caught up with policing and criminal justice, caught up with broader racial tensions in the United States.
BOB GARFIELD The various organizers of Lobby Day have been crowing on social media and in press interviews that you see we're not crazies, we managed to have a very large, some say 22,000 protesters, marching in support of gun rights and against the Virginia government without any violence, so the fears of the left are completely unfounded.
NEWS REPORT Griff Jenkins was at the rally yesterday. We heard it could be very troublesome. He joins us from Richmond this morning. And Griff, not so bad.
GRIFF JENKINS No trouble whatsoever, Steve. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD But on the other hand, hold on. It is 22,000 people, some large percentage of them carrying guns, including long guns, including styling themselves and these militia outfits. I'd argue that that is itself an act of violence. And if not violence, intimidation. Is it fair for them to claim victory because the mayhem did not take place?
LOIS BECKETT You've hit on exactly the debate. Is it fair to call this rally peaceful? Gun rights activists would say absolutely. And it's true that nobody got hurt. And it's true that the feeling at the rally was quite calm and quite relaxed. But it's also true that there were a lot of other Virginia citizens who had events or protests planned for Lobby D ay, who canceled them because they were too concerned about the security situation of so many people showing up armed who were concerned about the threats of extremism. Two of the protesters I saw at the rally were wearing these red T-shirts that said “Make politicians afraid again” with a big rifle underneath. And that was certainly one of the deliberate messages of what happened on Monday.
BOB GARFIELD Based on a false narrative of onerous confiscatory gun legislation, 22,000 people met bearing arms and in protest to the elected government. And for that to happen, an infrastructure was built. And that infrastructure brings in people who are not merely gun rights activists, but right wingers of every stripe, including those who espouse violence. And I wonder if this will inevitably lead to exploiting those networks for a subsequent show of force that is just not so peaceful.
LOIS BECKETT Bob, I have to say, I really disagree with you there. I think what the rally in Virginia showed was not something fundamentally new, but showed what has been the case for decades. One of the things that drives me crazy about the gun debate in America is when folks on the left suggest that the gun rights movement is all about the NRA and all about the gun lobby and all about money and that it’s not really a grassroots movement. And what we saw in Virginia is that's false. There are thousands of Americans who are very willing to show up in person even to an event where there were a lot of legitimate fears that it could turn violent to make it clear that they do not support gun laws. What I also saw on Monday was a really disciplined attempt to keep the event truly focused narrowly on guns, not on overt white supremacy, not on immigration, not on a host of other right wing issues that could have been glommed on but just to say, this is just focused on gun laws. And there are several really interesting moments when speakers would tell the crowd it is so great to see Americans of all races and colors and backgrounds here, that's what gun rights is about. And that was strange because there really wasn't overwhelmingly white crowd there were very, very few people of color here. But there was a nominal acknowledgment that some people wanted to believe that this was a multiracial movement, wanted to assert that this was not a white identity movement, that this was an issue of civil rights that apply to all Americans.
BOB GARFIELD Lois, thank you so much.
LOIS BECKETT Thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD Lois Beckett is a senior reporter for The Guardian covering gun policy, criminal justice and the far right. Coming up, are Puerto Rico's travails self inflicted or the inevitability of colonial subjugation? This is On the Media.
This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. The ground is shifting in Puerto Rico in more ways than one. First, literally, the island has been suffering what experts call an earthquake swarm. More than a thousand quakes since December 28, centered mainly in the southeast.
NEWS REPORT Cars crushed under collapsed garages, churches reduced to rubble.
NEWS REPORT Sick patients are being moved from their hospital rooms into the street because there is a worry that the hospital itself could collapse.
NEWS REPORT We are seeing several thousand people living in tents because they are too afraid to go back inside their homes. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The other seismic shift is from the people themselves who've taken more than once to the streets this week in the wake of yet another revelation of government incompetence. This summer, two weeks of protests ousted then governor Ricardo Roselló and now there are fresh demands for accountability and for a responsive government. But does exposing political corruption make the island vulnerable to criticism from the mainland? That Puerto Ricans cannot be trusted to manage their own affairs? Alana Casanova-Burgess has the story.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Last Saturday, a Puerto Rican blogger approached a warehouse in the city of Ponce in the south of the island. He was walking quickly with urgency. He was on Facebook Live, asking viewers to share the video right away. He wanted as many eyeballs as possible. His real name is Lorenzo Delgado, but he goes by the name “El León Fiscalizador” roughly translated: the lion investigator or the lion of accountability. Inside the massive building, his camera catches pallets of water bottles, packaged food and boxes and boxes neatly stacked of aid supplies. Off camera, someone tells him this is all from Hurricane Maria from two years ago.The people have to know the truth, he says. The livestream starts ticking up viewers by the thousands. People want to see what's in this warehouse in the earthquake zone near where thousands have been sleeping outside in camps.
YARIMAR BONILLA I watch the livestream for about four or five hours. I was just transfixed.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Yarimar Bonilla is an anthropologist and co editor of Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm. Eventually people started showing up to see the warehouse in person.
YARIMAR BONILLA And so they started going through the warehouse and bringing item by item to the crowd to show them what was there.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS The expired bottled water was particularly egregious because after Hurricane Maria, people died from leptospirosis, a bacterial illness known to spread through contaminated drinking water. But it didn't end there.
YARIMAR BONILLA And then they would bring a package of baby formula. And people would say, oh, my God, baby formula. That's what everyone is asking for in the camps right now, the earthquake survivors. And they would be incredibly appalled.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS There were cots and batteries and portable showers and baby bottles and tarps. It just kept coming.
YARIMAR BONILLA They showed a camping stove and people would say, oh, my God, you can't find those anywhere right now and people had to eat beans out of the can because they have nothing to cook on. And so each of these items became a kind of symbol of a form of cruelty and in some cases, especially with the bottles of water, they became a kind of symbol of death. And so it was like he had uncovered not just a warehouse of goods, but almost like he had uncovered cadavers.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS The livestream became a kind of trial once the evidence had been presented, it was time for testimony.
YARIMAR BONILLA And so they started calling mayors, putting them on the speaker phone to ask them about this and to see who would take responsibility for it.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS So far, nobody has.
LORENZO DELGADO And I was like, wow, I mean, you see my camera moving everywhere, because I can't believe it. I can't believe it. You know, that was so close and nobody knows.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS I spoke to El León Fiscalizador, the blogger on a poor phone line. He said the whole thing, the mismanaged emergency response, the people in need close by. It felt all too familiar.
LORENZO DELGADO Now it happens again in another emergency, it’s like, you don't learn from the first one?
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Outside the warehouse, the crowd divided up the supplies, but it's just a temporary fix. More pressing is the need for a full accounting of what happened, not only with the lingering questions over this warehouse, but with the government response overall.
BENJAMÍN TORRES GOTAY One of the main problems that we have in Puerto Rico in terms of our government is that there is no accountability at any point.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Benjamín Torres Gotay is a senior writer and columnist for El Nuevo Dia, a Puerto Rican newspaper.
BENJAMÍN TORRES GOTAY There is a very grave problem of impunity. There were many situations of mismanagement of aid during media and no one paid for that. No one has been accused, no one has been on trial. No one has going to jail ,we are on the suspicion that nobody is going to pay for these neither.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS The problem, he says, is that so many agency chiefs aren't qualified for their posts and are merely appointed for political reasons. Even the current governor Wanda Vázquez, was not elected. She took office after the previous governor stepped down. Vázquez demanded a report about the Ponce warehouse within 48 hours, but then didn't make it public and has instead referred it to Puerto Rico's Department of Justice.
BENJAMÍN TORRES GOTAY We are in January, at some point, maybe summer, there will be a Friday afternoon press release saying that they didn't find anything in that situation. And that has been our history for some time.
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL You wish there would be some quick and strong actions to correct something so risky for most of the population.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Omaya Sosa Pascual with the Center for Investigative Journalism, the team that revealed how the government was severely undercounting the dead after Maria. There's still no final number, although the figure that gets cited in protests is 4,645, an estimate from a Harvard study. Last week, Omaya reported on how the island's only trauma center is in a hospital building that has a high risk of collapse in an earthquake.
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL And if that's not bad enough, we found out that the trauma center director had not been even contacted by the secretary of Health of Puerto Rico for their response plan to the earthquake. And we're talking about more than a week after the first earthquake started.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS And even in the course of your reporting, you reached out to the governor's office, you got a statement from her, which was essentially that she hopes she prays that--
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL She trusts in God and the Virgin Mary that we will not get a stronger earthquake. That's a very irresponsible response to our three million citizens in Puerto Rico. Really. A lot of people are suffering from what they call extreme chronic trauma from stress. They are everyday in the middle of these smaller earthquakes. And, you know, it's unbearable.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS The fear and distrust is not abstract. The secretary of health, who was in the job during the undercount after Maria, he's still in his post.
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL I think that people, you know, have taken matters into their own hands.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS And they're also taking to the streets.
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL It's a good sign, actually, that people after the summer are more open and aware and eager to react to things, to ask for accountability from the government.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS We can see it in the protests this past week. In the weekend after two particularly strong earthquakes shook towns in the southwest of Puerto Rico, roads were clogged with people, not government officials, going to deliver emergency aid themselves.
BENJAMÍN TORRES GOTAY The people of Puerto Rico understand at this point that they cannot trust government and they are taking care of themselves and taking care of the people affected by the situation without waiting for the government. We suffer the government in Puerto Rico and we suffer the discrimination of their U.S. government.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS In August, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that hurricane recovery aid for nine states would be made available, but that the U.S., Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico would have to wait longer and be subject to conditions. The official line was that Puerto Rico's government couldn't be trusted.
BENJAMÍN TORRES GOTAY We understand that we have a problem of corruption. Nobody can deny that in Puerto Rico, as we say here, “no se puede tapar el sol con las manos” We have a really big problem with corruption, with government incompetence, with politicking in government, etc. That should not be an excuse for the U.S. to fulfill its responsibility with their colony. And it's ironic that President Trump has accused Puerto Rican politicians of being corrupt. The only corruption accusations up to this point related to funds of Hurricane Maria, have been a FEMA official, director of FEMA in Puerto Rico and an American contractor.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS In other words, federal officials, not local ones. A FEMA report from 2017 showed that the agency was aware that public school buildings were vulnerable to earthquake damage, but they still cut funds for repairs last year. A school collapsed during an earthquake earlier this month. President Trump was slow to sign emergency declarations after the earthquakes. And as Omaya Sosa Pascual notes, 90 percent of disaster response contracts for Puerto Rico are in the hands of companies from the 50 states. Whose fault is this really? Who's in charge and who is responsible?
OMAYA SOSA PASCUAL In the day to day, I would say that the fault is 50-50 divided at the local government and the federal government, but really in the grand scope of things, the fault is the United States government and Congress fault for more than 120 years now, you know, it's ridiculous that Puerto Rico is still a colony in the 21st century, and it is easy for President Trump to blame the local government whenever he wants to make up excuses when the fact is he and all the presidents that came before him are holding undemocratic regime here and decide over budget and over issues whenever they please without being elected by us. The problem is the local government blames the federal government and the federal government blames the local government and stuck in between our 3 million Puerto Ricans all the time.
YARIMAR BONILLA You know, some folks are saying, let's not protest. Let's not make things worse. You know, Trump already has called us corrupt. We're just proving him right. And he's going to withhold the aid.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Yarimar Bonilla
YARIMAR BONILLA But that aid is already being withheld. In the United States, they already think that Puerto Ricans can't govern themselves. And that's why we've never been given that ability and that right. Puerto Ricans are caught in this double bind where they're denied democratic rights, denied aid, you know, but then they're also told to not deal with and not take care of these corrupt politicians and government mismanagement issues that are being used as reason for holding the aid.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Is there a way to route out corruption and ineptitude while not fueling the cruel and offensive narrative that the island doesn't deserve aid and that it can't manage itself? Yarimar says that for residents of a colony, the double bind also applies to the issue of perception.
YARIMAR BONILLA W. E. B. Du Bois talked about this idea of double consciousness that was held by African-Americans in the United States, where on the one hand they have their kind of internal perceptions of self that we all do, but they're also always thinking of how they're being viewed by others, measuring themselves by the means of what he described as a nation that looked back upon them with contempt. You know, that also works on a societal level where the entirety of Puerto Rico is, on the one hand, developing its own ideas of self, developing projects and new political programs of what we want to see here. But at the same time, as we develop them, we're constantly thinking about, well, how is this going to look like from the outside? How is this going to look like to the United States or to the federal government or to U.S. taxpayers who then might or might not tell their representatives to support certain legislation that might favor us? So, no, we have no say. We have no representatives in government. The only way that we can achieve these things is by worrying about the projections that we make in the US public sphere.
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS So is the answer then just to ignore that that narrative that gets built, that Puerto Rico doesn't deserve aid or that it can't govern itself?
YARIMAR BONILLA I don't think it's to be ignored, though. I think that that's something that is more important for people in the 50 states to worry about and to hold their government representatives accountable for what they're doing. You know, here in Puerto Rico, we're cleaning up our government. We're holding our politicians accountable. In some ways, it can be seen as a kind of further indictment on the government, but it also is further proof of how committed Puerto Ricans are to holding their politicians accountable within one electoral term we’re on the second governor that we're trying to get rid of. And meanwhile, in the United States there, these long, drawn out process of impeachment, etc. that aren't really giving people any satisfaction, whereas here folks are in a position of reinventing what democracy looks like, which is something very hard to do in a colony, because after all, how democratic could a colony be?
ALANA CASANOVA-BURGESS Hundreds of people protested on Thursday afternoon and that night police fired multiple rounds of teargas on a small group outside the governor's mansion. Riot police ordered protesters in old San Juan to disperse. The footage was streamed on Facebook live. For On the Media, I'm Alana Casanova-Burgess.
BOB GARFIELD That's it for this week's show. On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan, and Asthaa Chaturvedi. We had more help from Anthony Bansie and Eloise Blondiau. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. Brooke Gladstone will be back next week. I'm Bob Garfield.
UNDERWRITING On the Media is supported by the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the listeners of WNYC Radio.