The Signal: Trump’s unrelenting march toward cruelty-as-policy.
This week, immigration-rights lawyers with Project South, along with other groups, filed a lawsuit against ICE citing a whistleblower’s allegations that several women at the privately run immigration detention facility in Irwin County, Ga., were subjected to hysterectomies and other operations on their reproductive systems without their informed consent. The Intercept reported that the doctor involved in these procedures routinely performed hysterectomies without telling the women why they needed them. The suit also alleges medical neglect at the facility regarding Covid-19 testing and safety procedures.
ICE has stated that only two women had been referred for hysterectomies there, and that both were medically necessary procedures; but the lawsuit details far more cases, conjuring up images of America’s eugenicist past, when patients were routinely sterilized against their will. In fact, Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South, says they estimate that more than a dozen women, possibly as many as 17, underwent such operations. The whistleblower has claimed that staff at the facility shredded detainees’ medical records, making an exact reckoning difficult to calculate.
“Our understanding is that these are women who had reproductive issues, minor issues; they were taken to the doctor and the next thing they know, they have a hysterectomy,” Shahshahani told me. “The context is disturbing: women in prison, very vulnerable, not necessarily fluent in English. They have little control over their bodies.”
Meanwhile, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Trump administration can end Temporary Protected Status for upwards of 400,000 people. This opens the door to another round of family-shattering mass deportations, possibly starting as soon as next spring, back to impoverished countries, mainly in Central America, that won’t be able to absorb the returnees. There’s a cruel irony in this decision’s being handed down by the historically liberal Ninth Circuit—a stark reminder that Trump’s wholesale reshaping of the judiciary will affect society for decades to come.
Talking of cruelty, on Wednesday evening a whistleblower testified to Congress that the feds sought to use a secretive “heat ray” weapon to clear protesters from DC’s Lafayette Park in June, before Trump’s infamous march to wave a Bible outside a church and display his law-and-order and Second Amendment credentials. The weapon, which makes victims feel like their skin is burning off, is, presumably, the same one that Trump hoped to deploy against migrants on the US-Mexico border a couple years back, prompting then–DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to recoil in horror and order her underlings to never broach the topic with her again. According to the whistleblower, those requests to unleash heat-ray weapons against Black Lives Matters protesters were also accompanied by a request for thousands of rounds of live ammunition.
But in Attorney General Bill Barr’s twisted interpretation of these protests, there’s not a whiff of federal overreach; in his view, demonstrators are so devious, so skilled at fostering civic unrest, and so determined to overthrow the government that they merit sedition charges. Yes, you read that right: On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Barr—fresh off his campaign to get the US government to pick up the tab for Trump’s defense in the defamation suit brought by a woman who alleges he raped her—is suggesting sedition charges, which can carry a 20-year prison term, against anti-police-brutality protesters. He also reportedly asked prosecutors to find a way to bring criminal charges against the Seattle mayor for her creation of “police-free” protest zones in the wake of the George Floyd killing.
Proposing that demonstrators be charged with sedition and that political opponents be jailed is, apparently, the flavor of the week, since political hatchet man Michael Caputo, in a now-viral Facebook Live rant, said that CDC scientists were also guilty of sedition for talking about the pandemic and time lines for vaccination development in ways that undermined Trump.
It’s hard to stay focused in these moments of frenzied politicking, when a new lie, slander, or authoritarian hallucination is pushed into the spotlight every few minutes. But that focus is more important now than ever. After all, there’s more than enough Noise out there to swamp the entire political system.
When the president can retweet QAnon lies about Joe Biden’s being a pedophile, or can share a doctored video to make it look like Biden is playing N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” rap at one of his virtual events, or can stand up in front of the American people and erroneously say that if one discounts “blue state” deaths, America is doing just fine when it comes to coronavirus fatalities, he is thumbing his nose at the entire democratic project. He is saying, in effect, that all that matters is the Noise, facts be damned; that he’s going to continue to deflect blame, pit state against state, and doctor imagery to secure partisan advantage. It’s a strategy of political vandalism and undiluted hubris, deeply damaging both to the country’s democratic fabric and its global image.