Even federal judges are referencing far-right conspiracy theories to overturn our laws

It should be noted, yet again, that being an actual, bonafide judge in the United States of America requires no qualifications whatsoever. You either are appointed as a judge or win an election to become one, and the rest is filler to be worked out by whoever's been tasked with updating the webpages. They say anybody in America can grow up to be president, but that is obviously a lie. But anyone can grow up to be a judge in America. Louie Gohmert was a judge.

Being a judge is in fact one of the few occupations in America that does not require you to even have a head. Unfortunate roller coaster accident? Got too close to Dick Cheney during a hunting trip? No problem. You can still write opinions. Years before his untimely death, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia outsourced all his important opinions to a family of grumpy squirrels that had taken up residence in his attic and nobody noticed or said a damn thing about it.

In a Friday night news dump, a California judge issued a ruling announcing that the state's assault weapon ban, in place since 1989, was unconstitutional because reasons. It caused a stir primarily for using language that sounded conspicuously like what the National Rifle Association and American militia groups have long been spouting in their newsletters and pamphlets, and mostly for Judge Roger Benitez's comparison of weapons designed explicitly for mass murder to a "Swiss Army Knife." An AR-15 rifle "is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment," Benitez said in his ruling. Whether he had his pants on while writing that sentence is unknown; whether he cribbed it exactly from a gun manufacturer's ad is ... probably worth exploring.

That is not, however, the only bit of bizarre editorializing in the ruling. Judge HasAHead also took it upon himself to opine that assault weapons actually are far less dangerous than ... the COVID-19 vaccine. "The evidence described so far proves that the 'harm' of an assault rifle being used in a mass shooting is an infinitesimally rare event. More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California."

If I were head dictator of judgeships this one would be off the bench in five seconds flat for putting the "harm" of assault-rifle-assisted mass shootings in scare quotes, but I ain't and he's not. The part that's getting more heat is that U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez appears to be flat-out lying in that second sentence, and that’s us saying it nicely.

The Washington Post fact-checks Benitez on this one, but to anyone who does not live entirely inside Tucker Carlson's inflamed colon the problem here should be obvious. The number of people who are believed to have died from the COVID-19 vaccine is, at this time, approximately zero. There has been some very public speculation as to whether some of the vaccines might cause an extremely rare form of blood clot, one that may have killed three people in this country after millions and millions of doses, but the data is not conclusive and the clots seem to appear in the unvaccinated general population at roughly similar rates.

Meanwhile, mass shootings continue to be a regular occurrence in California, just as they are elsewhere. Even if you presume all three deaths suspected of being vaccine linked were indeed caused by a vaccine, it's not even close.

All we can assume here is that this particular judge is referring to far-right conspiracy theories about the vaccine from the dark nether regions of the American political psyche. It's possible we can attribute the blatant factual error to Fox News and to Tucker Carlson's white nationalist conspiracy show, but the suggestion that lifesaving, normality-saving vaccines are killing people in greater numbers than AR-15s does feels more like something plucked more directly from the Q crowd, from frothing far-right militias, or both.

Unfortunately, there's no particular recourse for this sort of judicial conspiracy peddling. For particularly grotesque behavior on the bench, the House and Senate can remove a federal judge via impeachment, but that is reserved for only the most egregious of cases and "is factually wrong when issuing weirdly premised opinions" isn't it. This is why, in fact, the Republican-held Senate was so obsessive in filling as many judicial vacancies as possible with hard-right ideologues while blocking nominees from a Democratic administration: stuff the benches with hard-right conspiracy theorists, hard-right conspiracy theories become the stuff that governs us. The judge's ruling is absolutely certain to be appealed, but the Supreme Court is itching to undo a century of laws itself and will probably not let the unending goofiness of this written opinion stop it from writing a more dignified goofy version that scrubs out the most embarrassing parts.

So far, though, there's been no ruling from hard-right judges declaring that making fun of bad judicial opinions kills more people each year than AR-15 "freedom bringers" do, so we can at least point and shake our heads here. Maybe it's cathartic. Maybe it's whistling past the graveyard.

Gordon Sondland sues government, Mike Pompeo for impeachment-related legal fees

Remember when it was conclusively proven that Donald Trump did a crime? No, not that one, the other one. No, between those two. We're talking about the confirmation, by multiple witnesses called before the House to testify on presidential acts, that Donald Trump slow-walked both military and diplomatic aid to Ukraine, which was fighting off a Russia-backed insurrection after Russian troops invaded and proclaimed ownership of Crimea, because Donald Trump was demanding the Ukrainian government do him specific favors to aid his upcoming campaign.

In a move eerily similar to the Trump campaign's 2016 dalliances with Russian espionage and propaganda campaigns, this time it was Rudy Giuliani, not Paul Manafort, who acted as courier looking to boost the effectiveness of Russian disinformation campaigns looking to damage Trump's most-feared Democratic election opponent. Pro-Russian Ukrainians laundered anti-Biden materials through Giuliani, who broadcast even the weirdest and most ridiculous ones (Secret servers! Russia was unfairly blamed for 2016 election hacking when actually it was Democrats hacking themselves the whole time!) into Donald Trump's own incomprehensibly hollow head; Donald Trump then insisted that Ukrainian government officials announce that they were investigating these very stupid claims, lending them official credence, in exchange for Trump (1) meeting with the Ukrainian president as show of support for the nation's battle against Russian occupation and (2) agreeing to release his hold on congressionally mandated military aid that Trump and his top officials had no legal authority to block in the first place.

During House impeachment investigations, Trump ally, donor, and ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified through only a little flopsweat that yes, there was a "quid pro quo" demand from the White House that the Ukrainian government promote the Trump-backed anti-Biden hoax before Trump would agree to meet with the Ukrainian president—a clear abuse of governmental powers to gain something of value to Trump personally. Sondland was one of the few pro-Trump witnesses to even agree to appear before Congress; other key witnesses to the events, including William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, refused to testify or to produce subpoenaed documents.

Trump and his allies faced no repercussions, however. Senate Republicans near-unanimously refused to hear testimony or evidence in the resulting impeachment trial, because they are corrupt. Only days after those Republicans dismissed the impeachment trial against Trump, Trump fired Sondland and other witnesses who testified to his actions, beginning a large-scale purge of any government officials deemed to be unwilling to cover up future Trump corruption. It was a fascist act from a fascist administration backed, then and now, by a fascist party.

Trump once-ally Gordon Sondland is now suing both the U.S. government and Mike Pompeo. His claim? That Pompeo assured him that the U.S. State Department would cover the legal expenses he incurred in preparing for his congressional testimony, back when Pompeo (himself hiding from Congress) and other Trump allies still believed Sondland would refuse to acknowledge Trump's extortive would-be deal. When he came back from testifying, however, Pompeo demanded his immediate resignation, Trump fired him after he refused to give it, and Pompeo's State Department stiffed him, leaving him with $1.8 million in legal bills.

Or, in other words, the same thing happened to him that has happened to everyone else who ever tried to attach themselves to Trump. Who would have thunk it.

Pompeo, for his part, is scoffing at the lawsuit. Democrats have for some reason declined to enforce Pompeo's testimony now that Pompeo no longer has the whole of Trump's government stonewalling that testimony on his behalf, and Pompeo is currently preparing to jet off to Israel to attend a party honoring an Israeli intelligence official and, presumably, commit another crime or two while he has the chance. He remains of the belief that he is still a force to be reckoned with in Republican politics, despite being made to look like a chump throughout Trump's incompetent reign and despite newer-generation fascist blowhards like Ron DeSantis running circles around him when it comes to kissing Trump's ass and getting Americans pointlessly killed.

Will Sondland get his money back? Who knows. Not from Pompeo, that's for sure. We'll see whether the new Biden administration decides that a Pompeo promise ought to be honored even when Pompeo himself never intended to do so, or whether maybe all involved believe that if you staked nearly $2 million on a promise from Trump's crooked inner circle than maybe that's your problem and not ours.

Republican leadership unanimously opposes probe of Jan. 6 insurrection

After House Democrats negotiated approximately forever with Republican lawmakers to come up with some version of an independent commission to investigate an insurrection attempt that caused the evacuation of the House and Senate, eventually settling on a version that gives Republicans most of what they demanded, Republican leadership ever so briefly suggested that while they were still opposed to the creation of the committee, they wouldn't tell their membership to vote against it.

That lasted less than a day, of course. By Tuesday evening Republican leadership had sent out messages asking their members to do just that, and while Minority Whip Steve Scalise asserted they were only recommending a no vote, not whipping members against it, his office soon made moves to do that, too. It seems that the compromises giving Republicans equal membership on the committee and shared subpoena power in addition to a hard deadline requiring the commission to finish their report before next January would not accomplish much: On the day of the vote, Republican House and Senate leadership are united in rejecting an independent investigation into the causes of a violent coup attempt aiming to nullify the November elections and install a leader by fiat.

Sen. Mitch McConnell wasted little time in rejecting the commission as well: After similar mumblings purporting to be undecided on the matter, by this morning the Senate Republican leader had—surprise!—also decided that even this commission makeup was too "unbalanced" towards Democrats to be supported.

The swiftness with which both House and Senate leadership reversed their initial Tuesday positions could have something to do with Donald Trump, the insurrection's leader, angrily denouncing the "unfairness" of the proposed investigation later in the day. While McConnell was willing to pin the blame for the insurrection directly on Trump even while crafting blowhard excuses for why the Senate should not impeach Trump over the violence, he has been as consistent as the seditionists themselves in rejecting calls for a commission tasked with reporting on the details.

The reason House and Senate Republicans continue to demand that Congress launch no independent investigation of an act of insurrection that nearly succeeded in capturing or assassinating Trump's declared enemies remains the same as always: A majority of those Republican lawmakers themselves promoted the false propaganda Trump and his team used to attack the integrity of the election, claiming it was "stolen" and therefore must be nullified. Their own actions caused deaths. It was their words that convinced—and continue to convince—the most radicalized members of their base that overturning an American election based on provable hoaxes was both patriotic and necessary.

The commission will find that blame for the violence rests squarely on Donald Trump and his top allies. Trump promoted the Jan. 6 "march" to the Capitol; the intent of the march was to stop Congress from carrying out the final electoral certification that would declare Trump the loser; the goal of the marchers who broke into the Capitol after his speech, scheduled so as to coincide exactly with the congressional count, stated in no uncertain terms that their goal was to end the count, force Congress into rejecting the election's outcome, and reinstate Trump as unconstitutional national leader.

Republican lawmakers were themselves both witnesses to those events and, in many cases, accessories. Rep. Kevin McCarthy is in particular danger if the commission is allowed to summon him to give testimony, as his conversation with Trump on that day—a conversation in which Trump expressed support for the rioters and rejected McCarthy's own pleas for intervention—is significant evidence of Trump's true intent as the violence was unfolding. Numerous Republican lawmakers and Trump appointees have similar testimony on Trump's actions and intent; all of it, put together into an official record of the event, will make clear that the Republican Party allied itself with seditionists that day, and that continued propaganda intended to discredit the outcome of the November election continues to threaten our nation's safety in the aftermath.

To a patriotic party, a full accounting of an attempted violent coup against American democracy would be a necessity. It would result in a far deeper investigation than any other terrorist act, such as the one in Benghazi. But to a party that has slipped into Dear Leaderism, an obsessive distribution of party-backed hoaxes and propaganda claims, condemnations of widespread voting, a near-total rejection of the notion that nonmovement governance is legitimate, and new insistence that crimes in service to Republican goals—Trump himself, Flynn, Manafort, Bannon, Arpaio—are both legitimate and to be celebrated, an accounting for the coup would predictably end in a devastating indictment of their party's corruption.

Not only are party leaders demanding their members withhold their support for such investigations, those leaders will work to sabotage and discredit the probe at every possible opportunity. They will demonize those appointed to the committee as traitors; they will spread new hoaxes claiming testimony against party members is a conspiracy against them.

The commission cannot come to any conclusion other than Trump himself gathered the marchers, painted rebellion as patriotic, and turned them loose to stop the transfer of power. For a Republican Party still stuck to the bottom of his shoe, that is something the public cannot be allowed to hear.

Rep. Matt Gaetz is out of friends, drugs, and pimps. Might be time to cut your losses, pal

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has long been a terrible, terrible person, which for the past 10 years has been a near-requirement for Republican officeholders in general. He made a name for himself as a rabid partisan of no particular values other than devoted sucking-up; his main contribution to his nation has been a vocal defending of Donald Trump each and every time Trump was caught in some new crookedness. That's it. He's known for that, for launching retaliatory strikes against Trump's enemies, for near-obsessive attempts to ingratiate himself with Dear Golfing Leader, and oh, would you look at that, living a not-so-secret life as a House Republican ultraperv now under investigation for drug-fueled sex trafficking. What are the odds: A man who fetishizes Donald Trump and is joined at the hip to Jim Jordan turned out to be a child rapist? Wow, go figure.

So we are absolutely allowed to enjoy his downfall, and if the man wants to drag this out in order to tarnish or implicate as many of his fellow House Republican sedition-backers as possible then by all means he should knock himself out with that. Do a backflip on the way down, buddy.

The latest humiliation, just so we are all gloriously up to date, is an expected one. Matt Gaetz evidently sought an urgent meeting with Donald Trump "after it was first revealed he was being investigated," says CNN, but was turned down by Trump's aides. Yes, the man who polished Dear Crooked Leader's boots to a shine in multiple impeachment investigations is being cut loose by the Mar-a-Lago crowd.

Now, just to put the proper emphasis on this: If there is any group in Florida that has their pulse on everything corrupt or worth corrupting, it is the denizens of Dear Golfing Leader's For-Profit Living Room and Covid Dispensarium, home of the all-you-can-eat Crime Buffet. The rapist and tax dodger Trump was carried into office by an assembly of small-time and mid-ranking conservative griftologists able to ingratiate themselves because they spoke the same two-bit language; once in office, he was treated as the Jesus of Petty Extortions. This crowd thinks the brown-nosing Matt Gaetz is cooked. This is the crowd that's cutting him loose.

Yeah, he's toast. Already, there's a robo-poll going around Gaetz's district testing names for who in Republicandom should run to replace him. Nobody's fessing up to paying for it, though.

The New York Times has our latest look at Joel Greenberg, the Florida Republican minor officeholder whose goings-on turned his friend Gaetz into a subject of a federal sex trafficking investigation, and the sheer scope of the man's seemingly compulsive crime-doing is ... yeesh. He may be the perfect Florida Republican, a lifetime screwup who spent just enough money to land himself a smalltime elected position in a state that doesn't give a damn about governing to begin with, a belligerent little hack who campaigned on swamp-draining but after taking office immediately seemed to fill his scorecard with every crime he could think of, both petty-ass and prison-worthy. As with every other crook in Florida, he latched onto the Gaetz and Trump crowd because go figure, it turns out sex crimes are one of the key Republican means of bonding, and now it seems he is a bit of a wreck because after f--king up everything else in his life he has a sudden fear of going to Big Boy Jail.

This is a child who would willingly burn every other conservative in Florida if it got him an extra pudding cup in prison lunchlines. He's going to cling to Gaetz's ankles so tenaciously Matt won't be able to board a plane without declaring him luggage.

Here's where things stand: House Republican Matt Gaetz is being probed for the possible sex trafficking of a 17-year-old. Along the way to answering that one last (?) question, people "familiar" with What Gaetz Was Doing have already confirmed to reporters that Gaetz has been openly bragging to his fellow House Republicans about his "conquests" (complete with videotapes); at least once accompanied Greenberg to Greenberg's fake-ID procurement office; "repeatedly" boasted to others about his antics with Greenberg; made at least one apparent sex trip to the Bahamas involving "female escorts" provided by another ally; appears to have assisted in procuring sex for other Republicans; and there are literally Venmo records of Gaetz paying at least three of the women through Greenberg. There's alleged drug use throughout, of course.

Oh, and he sought a "blanket" Trump pardon after he learned, in the last bits of Trump's time in office, that the feds were on to him. Oh, and his (other?) actions while in Congress were so continually grotesque his own staffers were sending videos to other Republicans.

That's not even all of it. That's just the highlights. And House Republicans knew about quite a bit of this, because Matt liked to "brag," and they did nothing because the party is a fascist cult now premised on letting their members get away with crimes.

Unfortunately for Matt Gaetz, he has failed to learn any of the basic lessons of Washington, D.C. Polishing Dear Leader's boots will get you absolutely nothing in return; there is no quid or quo among sociopaths and narcissists. When doing crimes, only do crimes that your associates can keep covered up. Attempt, if at all possible, not to be so universally hated in the nation that every last one of your Not Jim Jordan associates is putting out the popcorn and sitting themselves down on a couch to watch rigor mortis set in on your career.

If the man had an ounce of common sense he'd resign now, if only to make it not quite so spectacularly rewarding for national journalists to squeeze out new detail after new detail while he squirms. Instead, he's promoting seditionist conspiracies and being publicly dim. In times of trouble, some people retrench. Matt here is retrenching.

But Matt Gaetz has been a garbage human being ever since he first slithered out of the Florida swamps like an invasive python, he deserves every bit of it, everyone around him is a garbage human being for not ditching him long before this, and the sooner the Republican base figures out their party is just a crime-fueled sex cult with an advertising budget the better.

Caught vacationing in Cancun during a pandemic as Texas voters froze, Ted Cruz blames his kids

All right, we have to do it. We have to spend a few moments celebrating these new accomplishments by the forever hapless but somehow still-sociopathic Sen. Ted Cruz, a man who once had presidential aspirations but who now spends his days humiliating himself and those around him, chipping away at his own integrity in what appears to be a spirited game of Dog Turd Jenga.

Oh, Ted. What are you, even?

As we all now know, Ted Cruz was caught taking a flight to the resort town of Cancun, Mexico, during (1) a massive natural disaster in his home state that caused much of the state to lose power and is now resulting in citizens dying in their homes and (2) a global pandemic that has killed 500,000 Americans, closed schools, shuttered businesses, and prevented many Americans from seeing their friends or loved ones for something approaching a full year now.

When caught, Ted blamed his young children. "Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too," says Ted. "With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon."

You've heard of the general edict between politicians and press to "leave the children out of it." This is the other edict: When in political danger, throw your youngest daughter at reporters and bolt.

Now, there are sev-er-al problems with Cruz's statement up there, and that's being generous. Cruz previously said that his home did not lose power, suggesting he was selflessly hosting the neighbor children who were not so fortunate. The airport pictures show Cruz with a rather significant amount of luggage for a supposed one-night stay, but we will be good sports and presume that he is merely moonlighting as a Texas drug mule or that he never, ever leaves the country without a two week supply of his favorite canned soups.

Fine. But then there's the rather bigger problem of Ted Cruz, a United States senator, willingly declaring that despite a deadly global pandemic, his kids got bored during a school break and insisted daddy spirit them off to Mexico for funsies, which he of course did, but of course he had to shepherd them there himself before, um, turning right around and coming back. Really now? Really? The rest of us are conducting half our lives over Zoom to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe during a plague while the senators ostensibly in charge of these things are letting their daughters organize their own international superspreader events? Outstanding. Just outstanding.

By far the biggest flaw with Ted's claims here, however—and it is a doozy—is that an airline-knowledgable reporter was quickly able to check with a source and reports that Cruz's original United Airlines tickets originally had him booked to return Saturday. Ted Cruz is, apparently, just brazenly lying his confederate beard off on this one.

I realize that does not really come as a surprise to anyone, given that the current crop of propaganda-spewing Republicans quite literally uses lying as means of governance and therefore lies about absolutely everything, all the time, but it still needs to be said that this yellowbellied Texas lungfish blamed a weekend Cancun vacation on his kids, then lied to everyone in his state about how Actually he was just tagging along to show them how to work the hotel vending machines.

Nope. It seems Cruz had, among senators, a very particular reason for being outraged at the notion that the Senate might have to hear evidence in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump for longer than a few days. Cruz had an international beach trip planned for the Senate break, and didn't intend to let a probe of whether a former president attempted to have his vice president and a good chunk of the presidential line of succession killed in a coup attempt interfere with that.

Oh, and apparently he didn't even tell his staff where he was going, which was the reason his staff had no immediate response when pictures began flowing in of their boss leaving the damn country. The last time that happened we learned that a certain Republican governor had an Argentinian mistress, but not before his staff had piped up with a cover story claiming he was off hiking the Appalachian Trail on—shoulda done a little research on that one, kids—National Nude Hiking Day.

You may, at this point, be almost close to maybe having a microscopic bit of sympathy for Ted Cruz in the form of at least being embarrassed on his behalf for being such an amazingly craven little sea squirt. Don't bother. Once the Jan. 6 seditionist had been caught and had to book a quick flight back to Texas in order to pretend that he gave two biscuits about his voters freezing to death in their homes, one of the things his staff quickly made sure of was to contact the Houston Police Department to arrange for their "assistance" at the airport when he got back.

Sure, it's not like anyone in Texas has anything better to do right now. Surely there're some spare officers available to guide Cruz through an airport terminal and fend off anyone who wants to ask for more details about his international pandemic superspreader sleepover.

Cruz has managed to be a truly amazing human being these last few years, and that should not be taken as praise. He has managed to throw every member of his family, from his father to his wife to his children, under ye olde tour bus in his various attempts to slither through a political career. He has both Trump's sociopathic unwillingness to stick to the truth and a personality so magnificently awful that he could save 10 orphans from a burning orphanage and still somehow come out of it more hated than he was when he went inside. Above all, he somehow managed to maneuver himself into playing a central role in the biggest seditious anti-government conspiracy since the actual Civil War, all in service to an incompetent blowhard and gasbag, under the apparent impression that what the nation really needs these days is to just nix elections outright and put tax-dodging rapists in charge.

Did he support the nullification of an election because his kids and their friends were bored and wanted to play insurrection, or was that one on him? If any of us could still stomach even hearing this mulletfaced Gulf treasonfish bubble at us any longer it might make for a fascinating story, but if Texas voters still have a drop of dignity left maybe they'll run Ted out of town—the roads are slick, so a pair of skates and a little push is probably all it would take—and appoint a particularly irritable rat snake to fill out his term.

In acquitting Trump, Republicans formalize their embrace of American fascism

The full malevolence of this new Republican Party nullification of consequences for political corruption—this time, in the form of a president sending a mob to block the certification of the U.S. election that would remove him from power, a president responding to the resulting violence by singling out to the mob his own specific enemies, then sitting back to watch the violence unfold on his television while taking no action to either contain the mob or protect the Congress, is difficult to even grasp.

The ultimate irony of the Republican sabotage, however, is that impeachment was unquestionably the most appropriate remedy for Trump's actions. It was an absolute necessity, and now the entire nation will suffer the consequences. Yet again.

Whether or not what Trump did was criminal is as yet undetermined, but even Sen. Mitch McConnell himself honed in on the central sin of Trump's actions. It was, at the very least, an unforgivable dereliction of duty. When faced with a clear and present need to defend the country, Trump did not. He betrayed his oath. He proved himself not just unfit for office, but a malevolent figure willing to use even violence against lawmakers as avenue for further political power.

Even if it could be argued that Trump did not intend for violence or threats to transpire, in the minutes after a speech in which he urged the crowd to march to the Capitol and intimidate the assembled Congress, it was unquestionable that Trump sought to use the violence for his advantage as it unfolded. He singled out Mike Pence after learning that Pence was still present in the building, upon which the mob went hunting for Mike Pence. He mocked Rep. Kevin McCarthy, as rioters attempted to break through McCarthy's office door.

Trump knew that violence was occurring, and still used that violence to intimidate his enemies rather than swiftly demand reinforcements to protect Congress.

There is no question of this. It is not in dispute. To say it was dereliction of duty is, to be sure, an understatement.

The only remedy requested through impeachment, however, was one both practical and essential. Trump may have left office the two weeks between coup and inauguration of his successor, but his dereliction was so severe that Congress was asked to offer up its only available constitutional remedy: barring him from future office. That was all. The Senate was not debating whether to jail Trump, or to exile him. The Senate was debating whether or not to bar Donald Trump, proven to be incompetent or malicious, from ever returning to an office he in all probability will never again inhabit. After multiple deaths inside the U.S. Capitol, it was a political wrist slap.

But by refusing to do it, Republican senators offered up a technicality-laced defense of insurrection as political act. By immunizing him from the only credible consequence for his dereliction, Republican lawmakers have granted him an authority to try again. They have asserted to his base, their own Republican base, a white supremacist froth of the conspiracy-riddled far-right, that Trump did no wrong in asking them to block the certification of an American election. Oh, it may have been wrong. But, according to the speeches and declarations of those who have protected Trump's most malevolent acts time and time again, not consequences-worthy wrong.

Trump's rally that day, and his months of hoax-based propaganda before it, were all premised around a demand to nullify a United States presidential election he did not win. It was called Stop the Steal, and Trump and his allies demanded as remedy the overturning of the election, either by individual states that voted for the opposition candidate or through the United States Congress erasing those electoral votes outright.

It was, from the outset, an attempted coup. The very premise was to nullify an election so that he might be reappointed leader despite losing it. It was an insurrection before the crowd on January 6 ever turned violent; it was an insurrection when Trump asked the assembled crowd, in the precise minutes timed to coincide with the counting of electoral votes, to march to the Capitol building to demand the Senate overturn the elections results.

It had help. Multiple Republican senators were themselves eager to support Trump's attempted coup using their own tools of office. Even the supposed institutionalists, if the word even has meaning at this point, kept their silence and refrained from acknowledging the Democratic opponent as the election's winner. It was a tactical silence, meant to measure out whether Trump's team of bumbling lawyers and organized propaganda could produce results before coming down cleanly on the side of democracy or of insurrection. While Trump's most fervent allies embraced his claims and poked away at the election, looking for weaknesses, the party at large remained silent. Trump's actions may have been deplorable, but they were not out of party bounds. There were precious few condemnations, and elections officials in Georgia and elsewhere were left to defend themselves against outrageous lies to whatever extent they were able.

Among those they had to defend themselves to: Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, themselves inquiring as to the possible methods of simply erasing enough votes as to find Donald Trump the “true” winner.

Trump intended to overturn an election. Trump went so far as to finance and schedule a mass rally of supporters to appear at the Capitol with instructions to let those inside know that the election must be overturned. Trump sat back and watched as violence quickly followed, and responded by goading the crowd to go after an enemy, by refusing congressional pleas for intervention, and by sneering at lawmakers fearing for their lives.

By evading the question before them, Trump's Republican allies have established the toppling of democratic government and the nullification of American elections as, along with using elected office as profit center and extorting an at-war foreign nation into falsely smearing an election opponent, political tools allowed to those that would pursue political power. Demanding the nullification of an election may be unseemly, when done by movement leaders. But it is allowed. It will be backed by Republican lawmakers, and those same Republican lawmakers will brush aside whatever consequences the attempter may face if the attempt ends in failure.

This weekend saw what is perhaps the most consequential new recognition of the American fascist movement as quasi-legitimized political entity. Perhaps Trump’s Republican protectors intended such, and perhaps they did not, but the outcome will be the same.

The contrary position here was, by comparison, effortless. Republican senators could have detached Trump from his position as would-be autocratic "leader" with a simple acknowledgement that his actions, during a time of true national crisis, were so horrific as to render him unfit for future office. That is all. Trump could fume, Trump could raise money against enemies, Trump could grift his pissant little life away all he likes, but he, personally, could never take office again. His authoritarian cult would be deprived of the precise and only goal of its insurrection: re-installing him as leader.

The message would have been clear: Violence as political tool is disqualifying. Forever.

Not violence as political tool is unfortunate. Not violence as political tool is unseemly, but due to various technicalities and the current schedule cannot be responded to. Violence as political tool is an unforgivable act, whether such support is tacit or explicit, whether it was planned or it was spontaneous, and we will all stand united to declare that no matter what your political ambitions may be you are not allowed to do that. You are not allowed to incite an already-violent crowd with a new message singling out a specific fleeing enemy. You are not allowed to respond to multiple calls for urgent assistance by telling a lawmaker that perhaps the rioting crowd were right to be angry, rather than sending that help. You are not allowed to spend months propagating fraudulent, malevolent hoaxes intended to delegitimize democracy itself rather than accept an election loss, culminating in a financed and organized effort to threaten the United States Congress with a mob of now-unhinged supporters demanding your reinstallation by force.

If that was a bridge too far, on the part of the same Republican senators who coddled Trump's attempts to nullify an American election and spread democracy-eroding hoaxes in their own speeches, we can all imagine why.

Mitch McConnell protected Trump from consequences, then tried to distance himself from the damage

Here in the new millennium, two district species of Americans have evolved. There are the Americans who, from many years of having it demonstrated to them, know Sen. Mitch McConnell to be dishonest, power-obsessed, and eager to sabotage both nation itself and the lives of its citizens in service of Republican Party power.

And then there's the press, which cannot stomach the thought that the most powerful political figure of recent times is singularly corrupt and dishonest, a man who through relentlessly false claims and rhetorical psychopathies worked diligently to turn the Senate into little more than an exceptionally pompous Fox News show.

On Saturday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a rousing speech blasting Donald Trump for a "disgraceful dereliction of duty," among other offenses, agreeing that there was "no question, none," that Trump is "practically and morally responsible" for an insurrection attempt that killed a police officer, injured around 140 others, caused multiple other deaths, and came close to capturing or killing Trump's own vice president and others specifically targeted by Trump as political enemies. As is rote for all McConnell speeches, as anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the body knows, it came immediately after McConnell voted to himself sabotage action against Trump—a sabotage that was deliberate, had taken place over the course of many weeks, and could likely not have succeeded if it were not for McConnell's own dereliction.

McConnell's argument was that a former president cannot be impeached—a theory deemed nonsensical by historians, scholars, and other experts not accessories to Trump's modern fascist movement, and one that the Senate had already explicitly rejected. McConnell's argument was that Democrats—because every single speech in which McConnell defends his party's embrace of a new corrupt, counterfactual, or plainly malevolent act comes with an explanation that Democrats caused it to happen—did not move swiftly enough to impeach Trump after the January 6 insurrection, allowed Trump to leave office, and now his party's bloodstained hands are tied.

But it was McConnell who blocked action while Trump was in office. It was McConnell who refused to call the Senate back to conduct the trial, and who justified the refusal by calling the House's impeachment a "light-speed sham process." Once he had lost the majority and with it, the powers to control the Senate clock, McConnell voted at every turn to block the Senate from hearing the case against Trump. It is McConnell himself inventing yet another New Rule that he now claims stands in the way of impeaching a Republican for violent insurrection; it comes after countless similar New Rules about the Constitution and the Senate that McConnell claimed to have discovered, both small and large.

McConnell declared that a sitting Democratic president could not appoint new Supreme Court justices during the last full year of his term; McConnell declared that a sitting Republican president could do so during his last weeks in office. It is all a farce. We have been here a dozen times before.

McConnell agrees that Trump was responsible for a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. But he did so too close to the end of his term, and so falls into a new loophole in which presidents are allowed to sit back and watch as a mob hunts his enemies in the U.S. Capitol so long as he gets the timing right.

Like the apocryphal man who murdered his parents, then begged the courts for leniency because he was an orphan, McConnell protected Trump through his last weeks in office, and now says that the delay he himself engineered now prevents the Senate from imposing consequences. Trump is culpable, he is fully willing to declare.

And with that declaration, McConnell singled himself out as willing collaborator.

This is the part of the well-worn program where Sen. Mitch McConnell knows a member of his party has done an unforgivable and evil thing, and thus prepares his dual defenses. To preserve party power and cultivate a base that has grown ever more willing to accept any crime in service to their cause, McConnell maneuvers to sabotage whatever accountability is being attempted. To preserve the money flow from donors horrified that the party would go so far—but who still count tax breaks and corporate deregulation as more urgent needs than flushing out white supremacist-laced, propaganda-fueled fascism—McConnell seeds stories about his personal frustration with the behavior, assures the donor class that he is absolutely not on board with the new horror he himself worked to protect.

It seems when a violent mob comes close to assassinating Sen. Mitch McConnell personally, that will be enough to stir an actual condemnation directly from the man himself. But it will still not, once the heat of the moment has died down and the mob has been dispersed, rouse him to support his country over his party. It is seemingly not in his nature, or in the nature of anyone left in his now-purged party.

Trump campaign paid at least $3.5 million to planners of the Jan. 6 rally

The insurrection on Jan. 6 was planned by Donald Trump and his allies. It did not occur in a vacuum. Trump broadcast long before the election that if he lost he was going to claim the election was stolen from him. Trump's allies were quoted after his loss, anonymously and not, describing what the "plan" was each step of the way, as they alleged invisible fraud in each swing state Trump lost and came up with each new rationale why the votes from those states should be nullified.

After each state certified its vote totals and electors, the Trump team's game plan was, openly, to demand that Congress itself throw out non-Trump electors in sufficient numbers as to nullify the election itself. A large part of this effort consisted of gathering as many far-far-right Trump supporters as possible in Washington on Jan. 6, the date Congress would formally count the electors, explicitly to pressure Congress into throwing out those electors. Trump himself promoted the effort, as House managers in his second impeachment trial laid out tweet-by-tweet, and the event was explicitly timed to turn the assembled crowd, worked into a froth by multiple speakers and finally Trump himself, toward the U.S. Capitol precisely as Congress began counting those votes.

All of this is known and incontestable. It was reported in real time, over the course of months; we all witnessed it.

Though Trump's team has gone to considerably more effort to hide it, we now know that the Jan. 6 event timed to interfere with the counting of electors in Congress was not just promoted by Trump and his campaign, but financed by it as well. New research by OpenSecrets shows that Trump's 2020 campaign and joint fundraising committees made at least $3.5 million in direct payments to those organizing the Jan. 6 event.

This includes a payment to event planners Event Strategies Inc. on Dec. 15, three weeks before the event.

The point is significant because it demonstrates, yet again, two plain facts about the Jan. 6 "rally." First, that the effort to assemble a mass crowd of demonstrators intent on opposing Congress' formalization of the election results, at exactly the point Congress would be doing that formalization, was planned well in advance—including the attendance of the Trump-supporting violent far right. Second, that the effort was heavily financed by the Trump campaign itself, pouring at least millions into a strategy they hoped would nullify the United States election at the very last opportunity to do so, after all their other attempts had failed. This was not Donald Trump, delusional, ranting in the darkness. This was a planned and organized attempt to nullify the election, carried out by his staff, allies, and complicit Republican lawmakers.

It may have been based on brazen lies and propaganda, but it was a real attempt. The crowd was not in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 to merely voice their displeasure over the election results. They had been gathered there to interfere with those results.

The "at least millions" part is because, OpenSecrets says, we may never know exactly how much money Trump's campaign and fundraisers channelled into the staging of the Jan. 6 rally and riot. We know that at least $50 million was spent to promote the "Stop the Steal" campaign itself, in the weeks before Jan. 6, but OpenSecrets reports that Trump's campaign used shell companies to hide "hundreds of millions of dollars" in campaign spending. We know they spent it, but we don't know who they paid those hundreds of millions to.

Because this is the Trump family we are talking about, and because they have surrounded themselves with a collection of the seediest grifters the conservative movement has to offer, it is widely speculated that those shell companies are hiding the straight-up theft of campaign money by Trump and others. But it also looks like the companies were used to intentionally hide the full extent of the campaign's financial support for an attempted insurrection.

Which is no more surprising than any of the rest of it, to be sure. Trump and his allies fully intended to overthrow the government if they could, on Jan. 6. They planned it, they provided financing to make it happen, and they used the gathered crowd as the weapon they intended it to be. It was all pre-planned, and just because it failed—as it was almost certain to—does not erase the intent or the harm. There were multiple deaths inside the U.S. Capitol that day. As they were occurring, Trump and Rudy Giuliani were calling senators, using the violence as a tool to help block certification of Joe Biden as the winner, even as Trump refused to intervene to help send rescue teams to the Capitol.

"The call was cut off," reported CNN of a mid-riot call from Trump to Sen. Tommy Tuberville, "because senators were asked to move to a secure location."

Censuring Trump for fomenting a violent insurrection would be ‘unity’ rooted in cowardice

Yeah, how about no. Multiple news reports have Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine taking the lead on feeling out whether or not Republicans would be willing to respond to Donald Trump's attempted overthrow of U.S. government by "censuring" him, rather than holding an impeachment trial. It is a terrible, ridiculous idea and hopefully it has already died a quiet death by the time you reach the end of this sentence.

The thinking appears to be that since the near-unanimous majority of Senate Republicans continue to stand behind Trump even after he demanded a mob march on the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes that would confirm Joe Biden's presidential win—a demand that the mob acted on, resulting in multiple deaths inside the building and the near-assassination of lawmakers—perhaps the party of outright treason would be willing to compromise by giving their would-be authoritarian strongman a stern finger-wagging letter.

It's a given that Senate Republicans will vote to acquit Trump, as they did when Trump got caught brazenly extorting the leader of a foreign nation with personal demands intended to help boost his own reelection chances. But, the thinking apparently goes, maybe we can make a nice show of "unity" by having both parties agree that rallying a mob intent on attacking and possibly killing members of the political opposition is somewhat bad—not bad enough to do anything concrete about or to prohibit a person from re-taking office, but certainly bad enough for a note to be dropped into their permanent record.

Screw that. Screw all of that, very much and sincerely.

What Donald Trump attempted, even before the crowd turned violent, was a coup against democracy. He, his allies, and the majority of Republican lawmakers all demanded that the results of a United States election be overturned, based on nothing but nonsensical and provably false claims, and that the will of American voters simply be ignored because the Republican Party did not like the results. It was an act of sedition before the crowd marched over. It was an act of sedition when prominent Republicans peddled hoaxes relentlessly, claiming the election results to be invalid because of conspiracies that not one damn person in America could prove.

Donald Trump may have been acting purely out of malignant narcissism, and may indeed be living inside delusions layered upon delusions in which any and every failure on his part, during his entire adult life, has only happened due to the secret machinations of invisible enemies, but the action he took was unambiguous. He intended to overturn the election results. His allies intended to help him overturn the election results. The House and Senate Republicans who voted to throw out the election results intended to help him overturn the election results.

It was an insurrection against the government, and if there is no stomach among Republican lawmakers for punishing it as such, it is because they were themselves allied with those efforts. They remain allied in a unified attempt to dodge repercussions for attempting to overturn an election that did not go their way.

To be sure, those who acted with treasonous intent against this country are not eager to vote for consequences. That is to be expected. Attempting to compromise with them, finding some common ground where violent insurrection is still acknowledged to be bad so long as the insurrection's chief beneficiary and provocateur is able to skate by without the presentation of evidence against him, is attempting to compromise with those who sought to end the fabled "peaceful transition of power" by party fiat.

The streak is broken. There was no peaceful transition of power. Among a majority inside the party now fully enmeshed in fascist propaganda and plots, there is only begrudging acknowledgement even now that our democracy remains legitimate; on Fox News and in evasive lawmaker interviews, the same hoax theories are still sniffled about, and Republican officials and leaders are taking not making even the barest effort to clarify to their still-addled base voters that Joe Biden won the most votes and electors, that there was no conspiratorial and secret fraud, and that the new Democratic administration is, indeed, a legitimate one.

If Republican senators are going to vote to immunize Trump even from an attempt to overthrow the government, oblige them to cast that vote. There needs to be a list. There needs to be a record.

Fortunately, there appears to be little to no support for allowing Republicans to dodge a trial; this "censure" nonsense is likely to be over before it begins. We're going to get a list of which top Republicans truly believe, even now, that Donald Trump's actions were within the bounds of what America should allow. It will be a long list, and everyone on it will be senators who have betrayed their nation countless times before in their bid to normalize abject corruption in service to Republican power.

Rep. Brian Mast is a craven, repulsive liar, but we can still answer his question

Trump loyalist Florida Rep. Brian Mast is now a traitor to his country, but more to the point he is also dishonest, politically craven, and a garbage human being. So let's dispense with this quickly.

During the impeachment vote, Mast was one of many House Republicans attempting to straddle the thin line of claiming to be outraged by last week's armed insurrection against Congress while still insisting that Donald Trump's role in inciting attempted murders was not impeachable because reasons. The argument was insincere, lie-based, and about what you would expect from one of the traitors who himself egged on violence with hoax claims of election flaws that did not exist.

Indeed, Mast was one of those lawmakers to rise in challenge to the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6 immediately before a mob entered the building with the intent of capturing or murdering those who would not sign on to the same Trump-promoted false claims. There is a direct line between Mast's lies and multiple deaths, and between Mast's lies and the now-broken chain of "peaceful transition of power" that lasted from the Civil War until the time Brian Mast was elected to Congress. He is a seditionist, and was before the violence began.

One of Mast's pillars of argument was that you could not pin the armed insurrection on Trump because there was no evidence Trump did the thing everyone in the nation saw him doing: "Has any one of those individuals who brought violence to this Capitol been brought here to answer if they did that because of our president?" He said this very smugly, like a stupid person believing themselves to be the first in history to notice that the sun and moon looked to be approximately the same size, and waited for a response that he knew would not come because speeches on the floor of Congress do not generally follow a call-and-response format.

Here ya go, sport. Video of the insurrectionists asserting that they were "invited" into the building by Donald Trump.

Florida Rep. Brian Mast making what seems, to him, to be a dramatic point: Standing silently after asking if any rioters have said that they acted bc of the president. Well. https://t.co/WfPqWB8BUM

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 13, 2021

We done here? Yeah, probably.

There's not going to be the wholesale expulsion of seditionists and traitors responsible for these deaths because the House Republican caucus is a collection of criminals who fully intend to immunize each other even for insurrection—they will purge the non-seditionists like (shudder) Liz Cheney and elevate the most vocal promotors of the party's democracy-attacking lies to ever-higher positions. That’s too bad, but it does not absolve them of the provably false claims that led to murders and now to law enforcement warnings of a new possible era of conservative-stoked terrorism. They are still the insurrection's ringleaders, and it falls on all the rest of us to treat them with the appropriate amount of contempt and disgust for the rest of their lives.

Rep. Brian Mast, your hoaxes and lies led to an attempt on your colleagues' lives. You are a traitor to your nation. And you are in crowded company.