This week's Sunday Long Read is Emily Bazelton's piece in NYT Magazine on Steve Bannon, Steve Miller and Jeff Sessions, white supremacist brothers-in-arms who now have the power to all but destroy decades of civil rights advancements and return America to de facto Jim Crow. The goal is nothing less than the end of immigration, legal or otherwise, and to install a permanent advantage for white voters in America.
They may very well pull it off.
Crime — especially urban crime — lies at the heart of the new nationalist message, in part as an argument for why liberal-run cities, with their dense, diverse, polyglot communities, shouldn’t serve as a model for the nation as a whole. Since the outset of his campaign, Trump has exaggerated the violence and poverty of “inner cities,” painting them as war zones and blaming Democrats for the destruction. The politics behind this sort of language are not new: For 50 years, Republican candidates for president have won by stoking fear of crime, promising to “restore order and respect for law in this country,” as Richard Nixon put it in 1968. But Trump has been fixated on the issue, ignoring actual crime statistics to inaccurately blame African-Americans for most white homicides and falsely claim that the murder rate is at its highest point in 47 years.
While many conservative figures kept their distance from Trump during the campaign, one group embraced him wholeheartedly: law-enforcement unions. The rank and file did, too. A survey before the election by Police Magazine found that 84 percent of officers who planned to vote backed him, while just 8 percent supported Hillary Clinton. Trump’s views on the Black Lives Matter movement, which many cops have seen as unfair and a danger to policing minority neighborhoods, no doubt played a part. Last summer, Trump called the movement a “threat,” blaming it for the deaths of officers and adding, “We are going to have to perhaps talk with the attorney general about it.”
Today the test is how Trump’s new attorney general will view the Justice Department’s responsibility, conferred by Congress in 1994 after the beating of Rodney King, to investigate local police departments for a “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations. With more than 12,000 police departments across the country, the division couldn’t exercise anything approaching true national oversight even if it wanted to. (Perez and Gupta’s total of 25 investigations was equal to that of the Clinton Justice Department over eight years; the Bush administration initiated 21.) But the Obama Justice Department’s willingness to enter cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., after high-profile encounters between the police and African-Americans meant that officers everywhere had to reckon with the possibility of federal investigation — at a time when many of them already felt under siege.
Consider Chicago, which throughout the campaign was Trump’s exemplar of a city rife with “carnage.” Chicago has been reeling from a major spike in gun violence and killings, but it is also a city with a sordid history of police abuses. Under Gupta, the civil rights division opened an investigation into the city’s police department in 2015, after the release of a video of the killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old who was shot 16 times by an officer while the teenager was walking away. After hundreds of hours of interviews with police officers, residents and city officials, the civil rights division issued an unsparing set of findings in January, faulting the police department for routinely using excessive force (especially against African-Americans and Latinos), a deficient system for investigating police misconduct and a poor structure of supervision, promotion and training. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police welcomed the parts of the report about training and promotion. But the union objected to the Justice Department’s implication that race affects police decision-making, arguing that officers are simply targeting criminal behavior in high-crime areas, not African-Americans and Latinos.
Now the police have an attorney general who has been unwilling to give credence to their critics. Confronting Gupta in November 2015 at a Senate hearing called the War on Police, Sessions suggested that the civil rights division was going “beyond fair and balanced treatment” of law enforcement. Sessions has also called court-monitored consent decrees, which the Justice Department has used to settle school desegregation cases in addition to police investigations, “one of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power.” The problem, in other words, isn’t what the police are doing. It’s that the federal government is interfering.
An unfettered law enforcement community, bolstered by tens of thousands of contractors, a private army designed to be used against Latinos, blacks, Asians, Muslims, LGBTQ, and anyone who isn't a white Christian, all in the name of stopping "murderous immigrants" and "black criminals". This is Bannon and Sessions, this is who they are, and this is what they want: second-class citizens too scared to stand up to their white masters.
Massive, brutal, and deadly force will be unleashed against the black and the brown in this country. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of bodies will be in the streets. Millions more will be rounded up for deportation. If you're white, you're alright. If you're not, you're shot.
I know this sounds like a nightmare of hyperbole, the bad old days of Southern lynchings and Japanese internment, Operation Wetback and the worst days of the civil rights fight all combined into one Armageddon. But so help me, this is what these guys want, and they are very, very close to getting it now.
I spent years warning people about what was coming, and instead I was told "well it won't be that bad, and besides, Clinton is corrupt and could never have won anyway."
So here we are, one event away from the federal government being used against people who look like me.
Don't ask me not to be scared.