This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.
Keeping up with the hard fash-ians
More Oath Keepers are being sentenced this week. Yesterday Roberto Minuta and Ed Vallego, both convicted of seditious conspiracy, received 4-and-a-half years and three years, respectively. Vallejo got an additional one year home confinement. Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins got 8-and-a-half years. More militia members are set to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta today.
Micah Loewinger has done some stellar reporting for On the Media from WNYC (which also happens to be a former employer of mine). He also unintentionally became part of the story when prosecutors subpoenaed him to testify about recordings he made of Oath Keeper conversations on Jan. 6. I called up Micah to talk about his reporting, his recent conversation with Tasha Adams, who was married to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for nearly three decades, and more.
We’re in the middle of sentencing. Robert Minuta is being sentenced as we speak. After three years covering this movement, what are you thinking about?
Jan. 6 was a culmination of a lot of conspiratorial rhetoric from the Oath Keepers and the militia movement, much of which either explicitly or implicitly pointed to a violent standoff with the government. And so, in some ways Jan. 6 was shocking, and in other ways, it was very predictable. It’s been fascinating to watch people who played a role in fomenting the paranoia and the violent rhetoric in the militia movement face consequences.
Oath Keepers are being sentenced now. Proud Boys will be sentenced in August. Do you have a sense of what this moment means for people in the movement?
I don’t think this will have one single effect. It’s become a little harder for me to monitor militia activity because I was so focused on Zello, and those networks are gone from the app post-Jan. 6. I do think there’s been something of a chilling effect. Some of these militia groups have gone underground. I think they’re being a bit more discreet with their organizing and their recruitment. And, I’m wary of predicting what will happen but I do think that the volume and the temperature will rise as we approach 2024.
You recently sat down with Tasha Adams, Stewart Rhodes’ ex wife. It was a very moving and revelatory interview about his intelligence, paranoia, and dysfunction. What did you come away with?
Tasha’s story is largely about domestic abuse. We have seen some research into the relationship between gun violence and domestic abuse. And her story indicated to me that there’s more to learn about the relationship between this kind of radicalization and domestic abuse, and that we have much to learn about the relationships between families and friends and public violence.
Anything that surprised you about the experience?
She struck me as a very optimistic and open person. Some of the details that she described were haunting and deeply disturbing. They kept me up at night. And somebody who’s experienced the kind of trauma that she did in her marriage with Stewart, and her attempt to keep her family safe and sane, might cause another person to shut down. And I’m just very struck by this mission that she’s on to both understand the 27 years that she shared with Stewart Rhodes, and also build a new life to try and move on.
You got pulled into the Oath Keepers trial, and people can listen and read about that. But one thing that jumped out is that they gave you a toy when you were in the witness greenroom waiting to testify. It’s such an odd little detail!
Yeah, they gave me a fidget toy. It was a finger trap with a marble in it. And it was very effective at helping me because I was quite nervous. For me, that kind of illustrated the absurd undercurrent in this very serious situation.
There’s a glaring banality to it. The most mundane thing you can imagine an adult doing in a very grave and serious setting. Like, when the Oath Keepers finished up the insurrection on Jan. 6, they went to Olive Garden.
It does speak to the fact that you can be a deeply radicalized person with some dangerous, violent tendencies. You know, go to DC and participate in something truly, truly alarming, and then just seek creature comforts two hours later.
What’s something about this movement that most people still don’t understand?
I would just point to the fact that when I listened to countless hours of militia chatter and recruitment interviews, the story that the groups would tell themselves and their recruits is that they are defending the country. Everything is framed in terms of protection, which is another way of saying, “We don’t start fights. We just stand up to the bad guys.” And I think that is a very dangerous way of cloaking and rationalizing the type of political violence that they were participating in.
Don’t forget to sign your friends up for Breaking the Vote!
Have you noticed how many pearls of evidence have been dropping from the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation lately? Last week it was the revelations that prosecutors subpoenaed the Trump Org. for its business records in seven foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia; and that Mar-a-Lago staffers moved boxes right before investigators arrived to retrieve them; and that Trump held a “dress rehearsal” with aides on what to do if the feds showed up.
Now this week: Trump’s attorney Evan Corcoran told associates (and presumably the grand jury, since he was forced to testify) that he was waved off including Trump’s office in his search for classified documents. More than a hundred were later found there. And the big one: Prosecutors have Trump on tape, post presidency in July 2021, acknowledging that a highly sensitive document he took is still classified and too secret to share.
That last one directly undercuts Trump’s argument that he declassified everything he took. The tape was also made at Trump’s Bedminster Club, raising the question of how, when, and especially why highly sensitive information on a potential U.S. strike against Iran was transported 1200 miles from one Trump residence in Florida to another in New Jersey.
Federal grand juries are secret, so it’s impossible to know exactly what prosecutors have presented, what jurors have seen, or what Special Counsel Jack Smith will do. But one function of this torrent of evidence coming out of the investigation is to prepare the public (and the news media) for what looks increasingly likely to come.
If Smith moves to charge Trump later this summer with mishandling documents under the Espionage Act and/or obstruction, the non-right-wing-media-viewing public will have an idea who much evidence backs that up. They’ll know Trump’s lawyers may have been misled and the documents may have been moved around. And it’ll be that much harder for Trump and his backers to lie.
It’s Sol bad, man
Remember the Republican midterm candidate in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who lost his congressional race by 48 points then allegedly recruited a bunch of other guys to shoot up the houses of local Democrats who refused to overturn his loss? His name was Solomon Peña, and he’s just been charged with enough federal crimes to send him away for decades.
Peña, who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, was arrested in January after a series of drive-bys spanning about a month. No one was injured in the shootings, though bullets pierced the bedroom of the 10-year-old daughter of a Democratic state senator.
MAGA conspiracists tried to cast Peña’s terrorism as a “false flag” designed to make their movement look bad.
Now the feds have charged Peña and his accomplices with conspiracy, election interference, and a host of firearms offenses including the use of a machine gun. Since he’s a convicted felon (he did seven years for “smash-and-grab” larceny), he faces a mandatory 60 years if convicted.
On the coup-attempt end of the Special Counsel probe, Jack Smith and his prosecutors are showing interest in how Trump’s aides used “loyalty tests” and firings to enforce fealty before and after Jan. 6. They’ve been issuing subpoenas around the firing of Christopher Krebs, who headed up the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division… that is until his office issued a statement that compromised voting machines didn’t steal the 2021 election from Trump.
They’re also interested in how the White House personnel office interacted with DOJ before Trump tried to leverage the department to help him hold onto power.
Former Trump trade rep and alt-coup booster Peter Navarro is finally going on trial. Navarro stiff-armed the Jan. 6 committee, refusing to provide testimony or documents pursuant to a subpoena. For that he’s charged with two counts of contempt, the same charges that got Steve Bannon a four-month sentence (which Bannon’s currently appealing). His trial starts Sept. 5.
Navarro unsuccessfully tried to claim executive privilege to avoid his subpoenas. In more recent “but his emails!” news, Navarro also refused to hand over hundreds of emails from his time as a White House aide. The DOJ sued Navarro, alleging that he used a private email account for government business. Judge Amit Mehta is running Navarro’s case.
Time to go inside
Speaking of Steve Bannon, he’s under criminal heat in multiple jurisdictions: DOJ’s response to his appeal of his contempt conviction and four-month sentence is due today. Bannon is hoping to avoid becoming just the latest Trump aide to go to prison.
Foundered and sanctioned
An Arizona judge ordered MAGA wishcaster and conspiracy theorist Mark Finchem and his lawyer to pay more than $48,000 in attorneys fees and other costs after they were sanctioned for abusing the court system with phony lawsuits.
Finchem, memorialized forever on VICE News Tonight (RIP) for his MAGA run for Ariz. Secretary of State, was sanctioned back in March for his suit against actual SoS Adrian Fontes. This week Finchem was ordered to pay Fontes’ $40,000-plus legal bill along with other costs, while his attorney was ordered to cough up more than $7,000.
It’s not just Oath Keepers getting sentenced this week. A woman who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and called for then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be hanged was ordered to prison for more than two years. Pauline Bauer, of Kane, Pa., was convicted in a bench trial in January, and sentenced this week to two years and three months with credit for time she’s already served. DOJ prosecutors had asked the judge to put Bauer away for more than six years.
“If this reporting is true… this is game over. There is no way that he will not be charged.”
— Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissman, on the news that prosecutors have Donald Trump on tape acknowledging possession of classified documents.
The grift of the MAGA-guy
Could it be that “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley’s heartfelt remorse for participating in the propaganda-fueled Jan. 6 insurrection was… total bullshit? VICE News’ David Gilbert has the story on the Q-adjacent junk and conspiracy-soaked merch Chansley was selling within hours of exiting a post-prison halfway house in Phoenix last week. Just $500 gets you a personal “Forbidden Truth” sesh with the shaman. He’s even doing right-wing media interviews where he’s still spouting Q-crap about child sex trafficking and the global elite. Yep, he’s definitely sorry!
Let’s get ready to become Rumble
Elon Musk’s Twitter is failing to remove almost all hate speech generated by its paid subscriber “blue check” accounts, according to a report out this week. Musk, who fired much of the content-moderation staff after buying Twitter (for a LOT more than it’s worth, apparently) implemented a policy that boosts blue check tweets. But now those accounts aren’t just free to spread racist, antisemitic, and homophobic content in violation of Twitter’s terms of service, they’re also getting an algorithmic helping hand to boost that content. Good stuff, Twitter!
Bill comes due
Maricopa County GOP Supervisor Bill Gates, who was targeted and threatened for resisting Trumpist calls to help overturn the 2020 election in Arizona, isn’t running again in 2024. Gates suffered PTSD after being targeted by election deniers. VICE News’ Liz Landers talked to him for this newsletter a few weeks ago.
FROM THE BULWARK