The Secret History of the Five Eyes by Richard Kerbaj review – secrets and spies A murky alliance between intelligence agencies, among them the UK and US, is revealed in a scandalous tale of mistrust and misjudgment, including British teenager Shamima Begum being smuggled into Syria by a Canadian spy On the same spring day in 1946 that Winston Churchill made a speech coining the phrases “special relationship” and “iron curtain”, another historic event that would help to shape the next 75 years took place. A secret pact was signed between the UK and the US, a formal agreement to share intelligence in order to combat the Soviet threat.In time, as Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed on, too, that agreement would become known as Five Eyes – although it was not until 2010 that the alliance was made public. Five Eyes, much like the UK’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council and its leadership role in Nato, has allowed Britain to feel, post-Brexit, like it still has a seat at the top table. But, perhaps understandably for a secret alliance of intelligence agencies, little about its inner workings have ever been known.Richard Kerbaj, a former security correspondent for the Sunday Times and documentary-maker, has made a decent stab at lifting the curtain. He has persuaded many of those involved in Five Eyes to speak to him, and delved into national archives of all five nations to piece together an understandably partial history.It is a tale that reveals an alliance marred by mistrust, mistakes and misjudgments, one that likes to see itself as responsible for keeping its nations safe but has, at times, not only failed in that endeavour but has also contributed to global insecurity.Until the end of the cold war, the five nations were united in their attempts to defeat the Soviet Union. Part of that involved rooting out Soviet spies or turning Russian diplomats. This is the work that the Five Eyes has been happy to reveal. It has been less keen on shining a light on the darker role it has played.Intelligence agencies may like to see themselves as defensive outfits – preventing attacks, not carrying them out themselves. But over the past 70 years, British and American intelligence agencies have been responsible for a series of aggressive moves that have destabilised the Middle East, contributing to many of the geopolitical problems that still exist today.In the late 1950s, CIA chief Allen Dulles orchestrated the overthrow of a series of democratically elected governments from Iran to Guatemala. In Syria he oversaw “a series of conspiracies” to overthrow the government for committing the crime of refusing to join a western-led military alliance. As Kerbaj points out, “the CIA’s botched operation magnified the already growing anti-western sentiment in the Middle East”.In the early 1980s, the CIA and MI6 worked together to fund, support and arm the mujahideen in Afghanistan in order to help them defeat the Soviet Union. One of the CIA’s “greatest recipients of funding and arms”, Kerbaj notes, was the leader of the Haqqani network, a group the director of national intelligence now deems to be a terrorist network whose leaders are on the US’s most wanted list.And then there is Iraq. This was a war supposedly based on intelligence, namely that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that he was prepared to use them, and that he was willing to share them with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. None of these theories were true. George W Bush and Tony Blair may have sold the war, but the material they used was created by members of Five Eyes.Not only that, those intelligence agencies were also responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses carried out by western powers. Torture was technically illegal, so they instead kidnapped suspected terrorists, flew them to countries with less stringent rules, allowed them to carry out the torture and even provided lists of questions to be asked once the suspects were deemed malleable. It was an American-led operation – Canadian, British and Australian citizens were sometimes the victims – but all members of Five Eyes knew it was happening. Indeed, there were numerous cases where British officials were accused of involvement.The programme, named “extraordinary rendition” rather than the more accurate “kidnap and torture”, would, as Kerbaj notes, “ultimately haunt the legacy of the Five Eyes”.The mistrust that has dogged the alliance from the start still exists today. Seventeen British nationals and citizens were held at Guantánamo but it was two years before the US agreed to release just five of them. Kerbaj reveals that Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, was urged by the US to imprison them on their return, something Clarke immediately dismissed. “None of the material they provided us with would have been admissible in court,” Clarke told Kerbaj.Arguably worse is the case of Shamima Begum, who left London in 2015, aged 15, to join Islamic State, and who has now been stripped of her British citizenship. Kerbaj reveals that Begum was smuggled into Syria by a Canadian spy, a fact the Canadians initially withheld from their supposed ally. Both the Canadian and British governments decided to keep this a secret. Begum’s lawyers hope this revelation will help her win the appeal against the decision to remove her citizenship, which takes place next month.Intelligence agencies tell us they keep us safe. And perhaps they do. But the stories Kerbaj tells reveal a different truth. From 2001 onwards, this is a story of failure – of missing warnings that could have prevented atrocities, of misusing intelligence to start a war, and of using its almost untrammelled power to terrorise its own citizens.Spot a problem in the Middle East and Five Eyes either didn’t see it coming, or inadvertently gave it a helping hand.And yet Kerbaj, oddly, comes to a different conclusion. After 15 chapters outlining the disasters and revealing the outrages, he ends with a parade of 14 former spy chiefs and prime ministers explaining why Five Eyes matters. No critics are quoted, nor does Kerbaj himself offer any alternative view. What he has gained in access he has lost in analysis.After 300 plus pages of scandal, Kerbaj blandly concludes: “The alliance remains vital in attempting to foresee and combat future threats.” It is a bizarre end to an, at times, brilliant book.TopicsPolitics booksThe ObserverHistory booksEspionageUS politicsreviewsReuse this content More
Confidence Man review: Maggie Haberman takes down Trump The New York Times reporter presents a forensic account of the damage he has done to AmericaMaggie Haberman, the New York Times’ Trump whisperer, delivers. Her latest book is much more than 600 pages of context, scoop and drama. It is a political epic, tracing Donald Trump’s journey from the streets of Queens to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, his Elba. There, the 45th president holds court – and broods and plots his return.Kushner camping tale one of many bizarre scenes in latest Trump bookRead moreHaberman gives Trump and those close to him plenty of voice – and rope. The result is a cacophonous symphony. Confidence Man informs and entertains but is simultaneously absolutely not funny. Trumpworld presents a reptilian tableau – reality TV does Lord of the Flies.For just one example, Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff, is depicted as erratic and detestable. Then there’s the family. Haberman reports how, after the 2016 election, Melania Trump won a renegotiated pre-nuptial agreement. Haberman also describes Trump repeatedly dumping on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. If only he looked like Tom Brady and spoke in a deeper register. If only Ivanka had not converted to Judaism.The abuse gets absurd – even a kind of baroque. According to Haberman, at one 2020 campaign strategy meeting Trump implied Kushner might be brutally attacked, even raped, if he ever went camping: “Can you imagine Jared and his skinny ass camping? It’d be like something out of Deliverance.”The reader, however, should not weep for Jared. In Haberman’s telling, he is the kid who was born on third base and mistakes his good fortune with hitting a triple. For his part, Kushner is shown trashing Steve Bannon, the far-right ideologue who was campaign chair and chief White House strategist but was forced out within months.Haberman catches Kushner gleefully asking a White House visitor: “Did you see I cut Bannon’s balls off?”To quote Peter Navarro, like Bannon now a former Trump official under indictment, “nepotism and excrement roll downhill”.As it happens, Bannon’s testicles grew back. Like Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, he received a Trump pardon. Bannon also helped propagate the big lie that Trump won the election, stoking the Capitol attack.These days, Bannon awaits sentencing, convicted of contempt of Congress. He also faces felony fraud charges arising from an alleged border-wall charity scam. In Trump’s universe, there is always a grift.For Confidence Man, Haberman interviewed Trump three times. He confesses that he is drawn to her, like a moth to a flame.“I love being with her,” he says. “She’s like my psychiatrist”.The daughter of Clyde Haberman, a legendary New York Times reporter, is not flattered or amused. She sees through her subject.“The reality is that he treats everyone like they are his psychiatrists,” Haberman writes. “All present a chance for him to vent or test reactions or gauge how his statements are playing or discover how he is feeling.”Also, Trump and Haberman have not always had a rapport. When he was president, she would interview him and he would attack her. In April 2018, Trump tweeted that Haberman was a Clinton “flunkie” he didn’t know or speak with, a “third-rate reporter” at that. He called her “Maggot Haberman” and even contemplated obtaining her phone records to identify her sources.Trump is 76 but he remains the envious boy from a New York outer borough, face pressed against the Midtown glass. Haberman is not the only Manhattan reporter he has courted and attacked. In 2018, he threatened Michael Wolff for writing Fire and Fury, the Trump book that started it all. Later, he welcomed Wolff to Mar-a-Lago.Haberman vividly captures Trump’s lack of couth. For just one example, according to Haberman the president chose to enrich his first meeting with a foreign leader, Theresa May, by asking the British prime minister to “imagine if some animals with tattoos raped your daughter and she got pregnant”.Each of Trump’s three supreme court justices voted to overturn Roe v Wade. One might wonder how the young woman in Trump’s hypothetical would feel about that.Haberman also pierces Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. All that talk about an “audit” was a simple dodge, birthed on a campaign plane.In the run-up to Super Tuesday, the crucial day of primaries in March 2016, aides confronted Trump about his taxes. The candidate, Haberman writes, “thought for a second about how to ‘get myself out of this’, as he said. He leaned back, before snapping up to a sudden thought.01:13“‘Well, you know my taxes are under audit. I always get audited … So what I mean is, well I could just say, ‘I’ll release them when I’m no longer under audit. ‘Cause I’ll never not be under audit.’”These days, the Trump Organization faces criminal tax fraud charges. Together with Ivanka, Don Jr and Eric, his children from his first marriage, Trump is also being sued for fraud by Letitia James, the New York attorney general.As a younger reporter, Haberman did two stints at the New York Post, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship US tabloid. Murdoch’s succession plans – it’s Lachlan, he told Trump – appear in Confidence Man. So does Tucker Carlson, the headline-making Fox News host and kindred spirit to Vladimir Putin.Trump made up audit excuse for not releasing tax returns on the fly, new book saysRead moreAccording to Haberman, Carlson met Kushner and demanded Trump commute Roger Stone’s conviction for perjury.“What happened to Roger Stone should never happen to anyone in this country of any political party,” Carlson reportedly thundered, threatening to go public.Stone has since emerged as a central figure in the January 6 insurrection. Apparently, he has a thing for violence. For some Republicans, a commitment to “law and order” is elastic.When it comes to the attempt to overturn the election and the Capitol attack it fueled, Trump’s fate rests with prosecutors in Washington DC and Fulton county, Georgia.That old campaign chant from 2016, “Lock her up”? It carries its own irony.
Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America is published in the US by Penguin Random House
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What’s Prison For? Concise diagnosis of a huge American problem Bill Keller, once editor of the New York Times, now with the Marshall Project, shows how the US came to imprison so many of its citizens, disproportionately Black and brown, and how such a gross injustice might yet be addressedThe statistics are familiar but remain startling: America’s incarceration rate per 100,000 is “roughly twice that of Russia’s and Iran’s, four times that of Mexico’s, five times of England’s, six times Canada’s” and nine times that of Germany. In addition, “parole and probation regulate the lives of 4.5 million Americans” – more than twice as many as are confined in prison.We Are Proud Boys review: chilling exposé illuminates Republicans’ fascist turnRead moreThese numbers come at the beginning of Bill Keller’s smart, short new book, in which he tries to explain how America became so addicted to mass incarceration, and how we might finally reform a system which houses a disproportionally Black and brown population.Keller is a veteran journalist who won a Pulitzer for his first New York Times posting as a foreign correspondent, in Moscow as the Soviet Union collapsed. He went on to be executive editor and then a columnist, but in 30 years, criminal justice was never one of his specialties. That all changed when Neil Barsky, a journalist turned investor turned philanthropist, tapped Keller to be founding editor of The Marshall Project, an ambitious effort to produce great journalism about the “causes and consequences” of mass incarceration.Keller’s book highlights many of the best pieces by Marshall Project reporters, but he also uses plenty of his own reporting to illuminate this particularly dark side of American democracy.The “good news”: the incarcerated population has actually been in slow and steady decline, from a peak of 2.3 million in 2008 to 1.8 million in 2020, including an unprecedented drop of 14% spurred by early releases because of Covid.America’s unfortunate exceptionalism on this subject is actually a fairly recent development. From the 1920s through the 1970s, the rate of incarceration mostly held steady at around 110 out of every 100,000 Americans. But it is nearly 500 today.Liberals and conservatives were equally responsible. A Democratic House speaker, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, sharply overreacted to the crack cocaine overdose of Len Bias, a Boston Celtics draftee, pushing through the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, “which imposed mandatory sentences, asset forfeitures and outlandishly severe sanctions on crack cocaine” favored by Black ghetto residents, while white consumers of powdered cocaine faced much more lenient penalties.As Keller writes, “Rehabilitation was denigrated on the right as coddling”. But a Democratic Senate judiciary committee chairman, Joseph R Biden of Delaware, made everything much worse by championing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which not only spurred a prison-building boom but also eliminated Pell Grants for prisoners enrolled in college courses. President Biden has acknowledged his mistake.It was President Reagan who inserted the profit motive into the prison business, allowing the Corrections Corporation of America to pioneer “the idea of privately run, for-profit prisons”. As Keller explains, “Since the new prison owners were paid the same way as hotel proprietors, by occupancy, they had no incentive to prepare prisoners for release.” Private prisons now house about 7% of state inmates and 17% of federal.Keller makes an unintentional argument for sending more Republicans to jail, by pointing out that three of the more unlikely advocates of prison reform are Republican officials who ended up in prison.Patrick Nolan was the minority leader of the California assembly when, in 1993, he was indicted on charges of racketeering and extortion. He served 25 months in a federal prison near San Francisco. When he was paroled, he was recruited by Charles Colson, a famous Watergate felon from Nixon’s White House who found religion “shortly before serving seven months himself in a federal prison”.Colson campaigned for more humane treatment of prisoners. Nolan became director of a new Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation. Meanwhile, Bernard Kerik, Rudy Giuliani’s police commissioner who then did three years in federal prison for tax fraud and other crimes, became an advocate for voting rights for ex-felons.It’s not all good news. By the end of Trump administration, Nolan had succumbed to a rightwing conspiracy theory that “billionaire George Soros was masterminding a ‘Trojan horse’ strategy to elect soft-on-crime prosecutors and bring down the entire criminal justice system”.Keller points to Norway and Germany as providing the best examples for systemic reform. While American prison guards rarely get more than a few weeks of training, Germans get two years of college courses in psychology, ethics and communication. American visitors to German jails are amazed to see unarmed guards “shooting baskets, playing chess, sharing lunch” and having conversations with prisoners.One reason Europe is so far ahead is its depoliticization of the criminal justice system: judges and district attorneys are appointed, not elected.A Fordham University professor, John Pfaff, has pointed out that in the US, during the 1990s and 2000s, “as violent crime and arrests for violent crime both declined, the number of felony cases in state courts” suddenly shot up. Because of political pressures, “tens of thousands more prosecutors” were hired, “even after the rising crime of the 1980s had stalled out”.A Question of Standing review: how the CIA undermined American authorityRead morePfaff attributed the racial inequality in numbers of prisoners to “an imbalance of political power – tough-on-crime prosecutors elected by suburban whites who see the community destruction of mass incarceration from a distance”.Keller reports the most effective ways to reduce the prison population are also the most obvious ones:
Make low-level drug crimes “non-crimes”.
Divert people into “mental health and addiction programs, or probation or community service”.
“Abolish mandatory minimum sentences and encourage” judges to “apply the least severe punishment appropriate under the circumstances”.
Give “compassionate release to old and infirm inmates” who don’t pose a real threat to the general population.
The challenge is to get these common-sense ideas to prevail over the rhetoric of politicians who still rail against anyone who is “soft on crime” – the knee-jerk ideology which got us into this catastrophe in the first place.
What’s Prison For? Punishment and Rehabilitation in the Age of Mass Incarceration is published in the US by Columbia Global Reports
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Trump asked May at debut meeting why Boris Johnson was not PM, book saysFormer president reportedly asked indelicate question at White House in January 2017 when Johnson was foreign secretary In his first White House meeting with a major foreign leader, Donald Trump asked Theresa May: “Why isn’t Boris Johnson the prime minister? Didn’t he want the job?”Kushner camping tale one of many bizarre scenes in latest Trump bookRead moreAt the time, the notoriously ambitious Johnson was foreign secretary. He became prime minister two years later, in 2019, after May was forced to resign.May’s response to the undiplomatic question is not recorded in Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, a new book by the New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman which will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.Eagerly awaited, Haberman’s book has been extensively trailed. Sensational stories revealed include startling instances of Trump’s racism and transphobia and his attempt to order the bombing of drug labs in Mexico.Trump’s presidency would begin, proceed and end in chaos but in January 2017, Britain’s May was seen to have achieved an important diplomatic success by being the first foreign leader to visit Trump in the White House.Describing the meeting, Haberman cites “extensive notes of the discussion” as she reports that “for May, getting Trump to focus on any issue was impossible”.The new president, Haberman writes, bragged about the White House and talked about both the size of the crowd for his inauguration and the Women’s March, a huge national protest against him.Trump also treated May to a discourse on abortion, a hugely divisive issue in the US but less so in Britain.“Abortion is such a tough issue,” Trump said, unprompted. “Some people are pro-life, some people are pro-choice. Imagine if some animals with tattoos raped your daughter and she got pregnant?”Haberman says Trump pointed to his vice-president, Mike Pence, saying “He’s the really tough one on abortion”, then asked May “whether she was pro-life”.Again, May’s response is not reported.Trump then asked about Johnson. The former London mayor’s ambition to be prime minister was well-known, the defection of a key ally, Michael Gove, having torpedoed his hopes of succeeding David Cameron after the Brexit vote in 2016, effectively handing the job to May.Trump, Haberman writes, told the prime minister it sounded like she had a “team of rivals” – the title of a famous book about Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet – but said he could not pursue such a course.“John Kasich wanted to work for me after the election, but I couldn’t do that,” Trump said, referring to the former Ohio governor who opposed him in 2016 and after.Haberman says Northern Ireland was also discussed, though Trump “appeared to get bored” and instead talked about an offshore wind farm near one of his Scottish golf courses.He also reportedly asked if immigration had been a major factor in the Brexit vote and criticised European leaders.Telling May “crime is way up in Germany”, Trump brought up rape a second time, claiming “women are getting raped all over the place” and predicting Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, would lose an election that year.In this instance May’s response is reported: Haberman says the prime minister “contradicted” Trump, “saying that Merkel, in fact, was Europe’s best politician”.Elsewhere, Haberman reports that Trump called Merkel “that bitch”.How Donald Trump’s hand-holding led to panicky call home by Theresa MayRead moreIn the Oval Office, Haberman says, May pivoted to “one of her primary interests for the conversation – sanctions against Russia and whether Trump planned to discuss them with [Vladimir] Putin”.Told by aides he was scheduled to speak to the Russian president the next day, Trump complained that he had not yet done so, cited Russia’s nuclear arsenal and said: “I need to talk to this guy … this isn’t the Congo.”Haberman also reports what happened when president and prime minister left the Oval Office and took the steps to the White House colonnade: “appearing to need to steady himself”, Trump took May by the hand.The move caused controversy. Citing Guardian reporting, Haberman recounts the prime minister’s “bewilderment” and a call to her husband to “explain why she was holding another man’s hand”.“He just grabbed it,” May told aides. “What can I do?”TopicsBooksDonald TrumpUS politicsTheresa MayBoris JohnsonnewsReuse this content More
‘I want a president who has been gaybashed’: America’s underground anthem Zoe Leonard wanted a leader who had been on welfare, lost a lover to Aids, and much more. Sadly her plea, penned in 1992 and later displayed beneath New York’s High Line, is just as relevant today‘I want a dyke for president,” reads the opening of Zoe Leonard’s I Want a President. “I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice-president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.”Originally intended to be published as “a statement” in an underground LGBT magazine, I Want a President was written in the run-up to the 1992 US presidential race. This took place at the height of the Aids epidemic, a medical issue turned political crisis that was, in the previous decade, catastrophically silenced by Ronald Reagan. President from 1981 to 89, Reagan failed to acknowledge Aids until thousands had died. The queer community was in turmoil, in the grip of a disease that took the lives of so many, and stigmatised even more.TopicsArtThe great women’s art bulletinUS politicsLGBTQ+ rightsfeaturesReuse this content More
We Are Proud Boys review: chilling exposé illuminates Republicans’ fascist turn Andy Campbell has delivered a smart, well-written and brilliantly reported book about the street gang allied to Donald Trump and the GOP he commandsAndy Campbell has produced a smart, well-written and brilliantly reported book about another loathsome progeny of the most dangerous union of our time, the horror couple responsible for so many of the burgeoning threats to American democracy: Donald Trump and the internet.Proud Boys memo reveals meticulous planning for ‘street-level violence’Read moreIts subject is the Proud Boys, racist, beer-addled and violence-addicted street fighters who have become best friends with many of Trump’s warmest supporters, from Ann Coulter to Roger Stone.Coulter and Stone have both bragged about using these modern Brown Shirts as bodyguards. Stone even allowed himself to be filmed for a video in which he took the Proud Boys oath: “I’m a western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”Coulter credited the group with saving her life when “2,000 antifa”, leftwing protesters, tried to shut down a speech at UC Berkeley. If she hadn’t invited 20 Proud Boys, she said, she “might not have made it to the campus at all”.The Proud Boys are “brawny, tattooed brutes”, Coulter cooed.As Campbell puts it, the Proud Boys have “proven that you can make it as a fascist gang of hooligans in this country, as long as you make the right friends”.The organization’s father is Gavin McInnes, 52, a child of Scots who moved to Canada. In Montreal in the early 1990s McInnes founded a magazine called Pervert, which in 1999 he and two others rebranded as Vice. He moved the magazine to New York a couple of years later, then left in 2008.In spring 2016, on his own talkshow, he declared his main priority: “I want violence. I want punching in the face. I’m disappointed in Trump supporters for not punching enough.”Not long after that, he “announced that he’d turned his audience into a gang”. He called them the Proud Boys.McInnes’s alliance with the GOP warmed up after he was invited to speak at the headquarters of the New York state Republican party in October 2018.Members were undaunted when their intended guest announced on Instagram that he planned to reenact an “inspiring moment … the political assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, the former leader of the Japan Socialist party, who was killed during a debate on live TV when a far-right ultranationalist rushed the stage and pushed a sword between his ribs”.Then he photoshopped an image of himself “with the eyes and clothing of the Japanese assassin”.Republicans loved it. On Facebook, they responded: “This Godfather of the Hipster Movement has taken on and exposed the Deep State Socialists and stood up for Western Values. Join us for an unforgettable evening with one of Liberty’s Loudest Voices.”After his speech, McInnes left the club with his sword. But Proud Boys “and their skinhead pals” attacked a handful of antifascist protesters after one knocked a MAGA hat from one of their heads.“They turned it into a pummeling,” a Huffington Post reporter remembered. “This was three people on the ground and people just kicking the shit out of them.”The two most violent attackers were each sentenced to four years in prison. The judge didn’t hesitate to draw the appropriate parallel to 1930s Germany. Mark Dwyer, of the New York state supreme court, said he knew what had happened then, “when political street brawls were allowed to go ahead without any type of check from the criminal justice system. We don’t want that to happen in New York”.Regardless, the New York brawl became another opportunity for the Republican establishment to normalize fascist behavior. Immediately after the attack, Fox News quoted Ed Cox, the Republican state chairman (and son-in-law of Richard Nixon) as “calling on Democrats to cease inciting these attacks”.As Campbell writes, the event at the Republican club was “a jumping-off point for the GOP into what would eventually become a full embrace of domestic extremist violence”.Kelly Weill, a reporter who covers domestic extremism, explained, the Proud Boys “really embody the political violence the GOP needs just a little bit of a proxy for. They can’t personally be out there doing it, so they have the Proud Boys”.It only took two more years for the Proud Boys to get an official, nationally televised presidential imprimatur, after Joe Biden suggested during a 2020 debate that they were one of the groups Trump should have denounced long ago. Trump said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”01:16Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, a former FBI informant and convicted felon who had become the Proud Boys chairman, described the effect of Trump’s declaration.“We got mentioned, and my life has not been the same since,” Tarrio told Campbell. “My phone started blowing up off the hook. I had 10 fucking news trucks at my house the next morning. I didn’t sleep for … two days.”The Divider review: riveting narrative of Trump’s plot against AmericaRead moreTrump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, who turned on his former boss after pleading guilty to charges related to tax evasion and lying to Congress, was sure the president made his statement on purpose.“If you look at who the Proud Boys really are,” said Cohen, “they’re an army. This is Trump’s army … and when he loses he’s going to use them to try and keep control of power.”Which of course is what happened. Proud Boys were some of the most active players when Trump urged the crowd in front of him on 6 January 2021 to march on the US Capitol.Thirteen months after the deadly attack, the Republican endorsement of fascist violence became official: the Republican National Committee unanimously approved a resolution which memorialized the Capitol attack as nothing more than “legitimate political discourse.”Campbell’s book provides an indispensable account of exactly how the Grand Old Party reached that disgraceful destination.
We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism is published in the US by Hachette
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The Long Alliance review: sure guide to Biden and Obama’s imperfect union Gabriel Debenedetti masters the crosscurrents of the Democratic party as well as relations between two presidentsGabriel Debenedetti is the national correspondent for New York magazine. His first book brings depth and context to the near-two-decade relationship between the 44th and 46th presidents. Under a telling subtitle, The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama, Debenedetti captures the two men’s closeness – and distance.The Divider review: riveting narrative of Trump’s plot against AmericaRead moreThe Long Alliance emphasizes that the pair’s time in power together was not a buddy movie. Obama was the star. Biden played a supporting role until he too seized the brass ring, to send Donald Trump into exile.Obama was a first-term senator, just 47 years old, when he vanquished the Clintons, bulldozed John McCain and entered the White House. Biden’s trajectory was markedly different. Late in life, on his third quest for the presidency, he took down another septuagenarian amid a deadly pandemic.The union of Obama and Biden was always moored in intergenerational convenience. Obama was the agent of change, Biden a relic of an older time. Obama’s aides cast a wary eye toward the senator from Delaware. To Biden, politics was tactile. He did not readily inspire.Walloped by Obama in Iowa in 2008, Biden immediately withdrew. Over time, the two men bonded. There was greater warmth between them than between Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, let alone Bush and Dan Quayle. Obama always heard Biden out. On the other hand, the Obamas never invited the Bidens to the White House residence. Barack and Joe shared lunches, not dinners and movies with popcorn.Hiccups and speed bumps left marks. Biden got ahead of Obama on gay marriage. Hunter Biden made headlines with his schemes and hustles. Confronted with the younger Biden boy’s foray into Ukraine and the energy business, Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, expressed discomfort. Like Trump, Hunter’s fate now rests with federal prosecutors.Obama empathized with his vice-president. When Beau Biden, Biden’s older son, was dying, Obama offered a shoulder to lean on. He delivered a stirring eulogy. In their final days in office, Obama gave Biden the presidential medal of freedom. The honor, suffused with affection and tenderness, surprised its recipient. Biden’s successor as vice-president, Mike Pence, met a very different fate.Yet for all Obama’s smarts, he could get things terribly wrong. He failed to anticipate the magnitude of the backlash to the Affordable Care Act, the resonance of birtherism, abhorrent as it was, and the depth and breadth of the emerging national chasm beneath him. Democratic losses in the 2010 and 2014 midterms and the Tea Party with its tricorn hats presaged a sustained demand for a return to the past, the rise of Trump and a tolerance for autocracy within the Republican party.Obama also messed up by viewing Hillary Clinton as his rightful successor, if not his political heir. In 2008, competing against her for the nomination, he derided her as “likable enough”. In 2016, in hindsight, little had changed.Clinton lacked her husband’s capacity to emote and connect. Like Ted Cruz, the Republican Texas senator, there was something awkward, off-putting, which she could not shake. Her comments on Trump’s “deplorables” hurt her much as Mitt Romney’s take on the “47%” did him in 2012. Looking back, Obama miscalculated – much as his brain trust would do in 2020 with Biden.Under Trump, Romney showed a deeper appreciation of where the US stood. It wanted a president not named Trump. A shot at normalcy. Nothing else.On the night of the 2018 midterms, Romney urged Biden to wage one more campaign. “You have to run,” Romney said in a call. Anti-Trump sentiment cost the Republicans the House but at the same moment Utah was sending Romney to the Senate.During the 2020 primaries, Obama and Biden stayed in touch. But until the former vice-president emerged as the presumptive nominee, his president’s endorsement was not forthcoming. Biden lost Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada. Heading to South Carolina, he was low on cash and short on delegates. There, the backing of James Clyburn, the House whip, together with the state’s Black voters, righted Biden’s ship. Debenedetti shows mastery of the tugs and crosscurrents that shape the Democrats’ upstairs-downstairs coalition.African Americans could be among the most socially conservative components of the party. They were not clamoring for open borders or Medicare for All. Obamacare stood as the legacy of the first Black president. Their patrimony was the cruel lash of slavery, not the Harvard faculty lounge or the yoke of the tsar. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders did not speak to them or for them.Obama aides badmouthed Biden in print and on TV. David Axelrod, a senior Obama campaign and White House hand, never cottoned to Biden, and Biden knew it. And yet, behind the scenes, Obama helped clear the field.In the end, Covid and the need for national leadership put Biden over the top. No other Democrat could have beaten Trump.The Destructionists review: brilliant study of Republican rage pre-TrumpRead moreAs president, Biden’s record is uneven. The withdrawal from Afghanistan put a dent in his standing from which he has not recovered. In contrast, US support for Ukraine appears the product of thoughtful conviction. As for the economy, Biden’s efforts to placate his base may well have heightened inflation. Gas prices are coming down but the rest remains stubbornly up.Biden competes with Obama’s legacy and the ghost of FDR. The Democrats hold only 50 Senate seats, control on a knife-edge as the November election looms.“I am confident that Barack is not happy with the coverage of this administration as more transformative than his,” Biden reportedly told one adviser, according to another big political book, This Will Not Pass by Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, of the New York Times and CNN respectively.The two men still talk, though.
The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama is published in the US by Macmillan
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Taking Back Trump’s America review: Peter Navarro’s venomous Maga sagaSeeking to raise money to fight contempt of Congress charges, the former trade adviser shows contempt for his rivals Peter Navarro’s new book won’t win him many new friends. For just one example of the former Trump trade adviser’s frequently, uh, pungent turns of phrase, he compares Jared Kushner to human excrement.The Divider review: riveting narrative of Trump’s plot against AmericaRead moreNor does his disdain for the aspirant dauphin end there. Kushner, Navarro writes, is “nothing if more than a young and rich, run-of-the-mill liberal New York Democrat-cum-slum lord”.In November, Navarro will go on trial for contempt of Congress. He refused to cooperate with the January 6 committee. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison. On that note, his new book is both a not-so-subtle jab at the Department of Justice under Merrick Garland and a vehicle for crowdsourcing his criminal defense.“Help finance legal effort AND put Trump back in” the White House, Navarro tweeted in June. “Order Taking Back Trump’s America today.” This month, he passed the plate again: “Buy the book today! We need our country back from these stooges and oppressors.”Pro-Trump Trump books, however, are often full of inadvertent self-owns. Thanks to the work of other authors, we know Trump didn’t like aides who took notes, once berating Donald McGahn, his White House counsel, for such a misstep. And yet here comes Navarro, eager to tell the reader he kept lots of notes himself.Page 240 contains a 25 June 2020 journal entry about a meeting of major donors who wanted “Kushner and Brad Parscale out the door” of the Trump campaign. Trump agreed but, Navarro writes, didn’t want to sack his son-in-law himself. One of the donors tried to do it – and failed.Showing his notes, Navarro adds to a pile of evidence that Trump, the supposedly ruthless titan who fired people on TV, actually doesn’t dare fire people. Whoops. Just as well the boss doesn’t read.On the one hand, Taking Back Trump’s America is a hurriedly written laundry list of Navarro’s many grievances. On the other hand, it is rollicking and filled with venom.Navarro has substance, holding a Harvard PhD in economics and having taught at UC Irvine. But intellectual firepower should not be conflated with prudence or restraint. In the past, Navarro has liberally quoted a China expert who turned out not to exist, other than as an anagram of Navarro’s own name.Between 1992 and 2001, Navarro mounted five campaigns for public office – each one unsuccessful. As a candidate, he derided Republicans for being wedded to “every man for himself” and argued that America “ought to progressively tax the rich to help everybody else”. Time passed. Positions shifted.But Navarro is still a bomb-thrower. In his new book, Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, Gary Cohn, Trump’s first economic adviser, and Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff, all get it in the neck.Navarro recalls an argument in the Oval Office with Mnuchin over China policy. The words “Neville Chamberlain” and “Nazis” appear. Mnuchin is Jewish.Navarro quotes himself: “Hey, Neville, knowing what you know about what the Nazis did to the Jews, how is it that you don’t give a flying puck” – bowdlerization the author’s own – “about what the Chinese communists are doing to two million Uyghurs in the concentration camps of Xinjiang Province … What do you say about that, Stevie?”What does Navarro say about Trump’s adoration for Robert E Lee, Trump’s both-sides-ism over the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville or even Trump reportedly having kept Hitler’s speeches on his nightstand? Nothing.Navarro also advises us that his “favorite Roger Ailes quote” is “Truth is whatever people believe”. As Navarro’s book comes out, Fox News is being sued for billions, for hyping nonsense about voting machines and election interference. Elsewhere, even Trump’s lawyers are lawyering up.Back to Kushner. Purportedly, Navarro came to Trumpworld via the boss’s son-in-law. If so, he demonstrates a marked gratitude deficit. He has even suggested Kushner faked a cancer diagnosis to help sell his own memoir, Breaking History.“That thyroid thing, that came out of nowhere,” Navarro shared. “I saw the guy every day. There’s no sign that he was in any pain or danger or whatever. I think it’s just sympathy to try to sell his book now.”Navarro’s renderings of Trump White House politics do make for engrossing reading. He writes that Kushner told him he wanted to “crush [Steve] Bannon like a bug” – and that Trump resented Bannon, his former campaign manager and White House strategist, for taking “too much credit for the 2016 win”.And yet, when writing about that abortive coup against Kushner during the 2020 campaign, Navarro says the plotters wanted to replace Kushner with … yes, you guessed it, Bannon.Navarro chooses not to examine the fact that had the coup succeeded, the campaign would have confronted a different set of problems. In August 2020, Bannon was arrested and charged with fraud. He denied it, took a pardon from Trump and now faces similar charges in New York state. He has pleaded not guilty again.Servants of the Damned review: Trump and the giant law firm he actually paidRead moreLegal jeopardy is in Trumpworld’s DNA. Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer during the Russia investigation, points out that it comes from the top down.Speaking after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, seeking confidential documents, Cobb said: “I think the president is in serious legal water, not so much because of the search, but because of the obstructive activity he took in connection with the January 6 proceeding. That was the first time in American history that a president unconstitutionally attempted to remain in power illegally.”Navarro can inveigh against Garland and the DoJ all he wants. His book does not alter a fundamental reality. His trial is set for 17 November – just in time for Thanksgiving.
Taking Back Trump’s America: Why We Lost the White House and How We’ll Win It Back, is published in the US by Post Hill Press
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Proud Boys memo reveals meticulous planning for ‘street-level violence’ Document of 23 pages shows the lengths to which the far-right group goes to prepare for potentially violent encounters and exposes the militaristic structure and language it has adoptedThe document is so dowdy and formal it resembles the annual minutes of a society of tax accountants. Its index lists sections on “objectives” and “rules of engagement” and carries an “addendum” that provides recommendations for hotels and parking.On the cover, two words give a clue to the notoriety of the group that produced it: “MAGA” and “WARNING”. That and the date: 5 January 2021, the day before the US Capitol attack.Proud Boys developed plans to take over government buildings in Washington DCRead moreWhat goes unsaid on the cover and is barely mentioned throughout the 23 pages is that this is the work of one of the most violent political gangs in America, the far-right street fighters who Donald Trump told to “stand back and stand by”: the Proud Boys.The document, published by the Guardian for the first time, gives a very rare insight into the meticulous planning that goes into events staged by the far-right club.The Proud Boys have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and are alleged to have acted as key organizers of the violent assault on the Capitol.In the wake of January 6, which has been linked to the deaths of nine people, the New York march featured in the document was called off and the strategy so fastidiously laid out was never implemented. But the document remains sharply revealing.It shows the lengths to which the Proud Boys go to prepare for potentially violent encounters and then to cover their tracks – something prosecutors have stressed but that has never been seen in the group’s own words. It exposes the militaristic structure and language the Proud Boys have adopted, and their aspiration to become the frontline vigilante force in a Trump-led America.It also provides clues as to how the group continues to spread its tentacles throughout the US despite the fact that many of its top leaders, including its national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, are behind bars awaiting trial on charges of seditious conspiracy.The purpose of the document is to provide a “strategic security plan” and call to action, summoning Proud Boys members to a pro-Trump Maga march that was scheduled for New York City on 10 January 2021. That was four days after Congress was to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election – the occasion that would be targeted by the fatal insurrection.The document was obtained from a Proud Boys member by the extremism reporter Andy Campbell as he researched his new book, We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism. The book will be published on Tuesday. Campbell shared the document with the Guardian.The author of the document is Randy Ireland, who as president of the group’s New York branch, the Hell’s Gate Bridge Chapter, is one of the most prominent Proud Boys in the US north-east. The paper was circulated through Telegram, the encrypted chat app widely used by the Proud Boys as an organizing tool, to at least nine other chapters in New York and beyond.Campbell told the Guardian the decentralized structure of the group, into what it claims are 157 active chapters in all but three states, is one of the Proud Boys’ greatest strengths, as reflected in the autonomous nature of the New York planning.“Chapter leaders like Randy can create their own events, run independently of each other,” Campbell said. “Enrique Tarrio and other leaders are in prison, but these guys are going to continue what they are doing.”‘We will not disappoint’The language in the planning paper is overtly militaristic. Ireland designates himself “General of Security Detail”, while his underlings in the chain of command are “VPs” of “Recruiting”, “Scout Security” and “Team Leads”.The plan is for 60 or so Proud Boys at the 10 January event in Manhattan to be corralled into seven “tactical teams” of five to eight men each (they are all men, as one of the overriding values of the group is misogyny). Members are told to bring protective gear, including “knife/stab protection, helmets, gloves, boots etc” and to make use of radio channels, walkie-talkies or Telegram to communicate with each other.They are to stick together in groups and under no circumstances allow “Normies” – ordinary Trump supporters who are not Proud Boys – or “Females” into their ranks.“Their presence will jeopardise the health and safety of all those involved with Security, and simply cannot be allowed to happen!” Ireland writes.Maps reproduced at the back of the document show positions “scouts” and “tactical teams” should adopt at key points along the route of the march, which was planned to start at Columbus Circle and pass Trump Tower.“That spot is understood in a very public way to hold special meaning for us,” the paper says, referring to Trump’s home on Fifth Avenue. “WE WILL NOT DISAPPOINT!”Campbell, who has been reporting on the Proud Boys since they started turning up at Trump rallies in early 2017, describes them as America’s most notorious political fight club. In the planning paper, he sees equal parts fantasy and danger.“These guys see themselves as super soldiers, like some sort of military outfit,” he said. “On one level it’s funny, as nothing is in fact going to pan out the way they say it will. But on another level, it’s alarming because it shows how much thought they put into this stuff.”In We Are Proud Boys, Campbell traces the group from its birth in 2015-16 through to its central role on January 6 when a member, Dominic Pezzola, became the first person to breach the US Capitol. At least 30 Proud Boys have been charged in relation to the insurrection, including Tarrio and four others accused of seditious conspiracy – among the most serious indictments yet handed down.The group was invented by the British-born founder of Vice magazine, Gavin McInnes, who branded himself a “western chauvinist” and peddled in bigotry. McInnes floated the Proud Boys name on his online chatshow in May 2016, introducing them as a “gang” and inventing a uniform, a black Fred Perry polo shirt with yellow trim.McInnes was careful to brand his creation as harmless fun, a satirical male-only patriotic drinking club that later attached itself to all things Trump. But Campbell argues that from the outset political violence was baked in.A Proud Boy was an organizer of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which an anti-fascist protester was murdered. The group has held violent gatherings in Portland, Oregon. Outside a Republican event in New York in 2018, several members were arrested and charged with felonious assault.‘Street-level violence’Proud Boys membership is structured into four ranks, known as “degrees”, the fourth granted once you “get arrested or get in a serious violent fight for the cause”, as McInnes himself explained. In an interview with Campbell for the book, McInnes denied promoting violence and insisted the Proud Boys were never proactively aggressive, only reacting to leftwing attacks.That official line is reiterated in the document published by the Guardian. Ireland is careful to portray the Proud Boys as a defensive group.He writes: “If any violence does spout off, all Proud Boys are expected to respond immediately – only so far as to eliminate and end that threat to them or others. VERY IMPORTANT: Once the threat has been neutralized, WE STOP!”But there is a glaring contradiction: Ireland presents his chapter as a non-violent organization yet it goes out seeking violence. He assigns the group, uninvited, the role of a vigilante police force.“We are there as the first line of defense for all event attendees,” he writes, then contradicts himself by saying the only role of the Proud Boys is to play a “back-up role” to law enforcement and to “force them to do their jobs”.That speaks volumes. It carries the implication that if the police will not assail anti-fascist protesters, Proud Boys will.“I’ve reported at Proud Boys events where they stood back and relaxed as police lobbed teargas and other munitions into the crowd of counter-protesters,” Campbell said. “Then the Proud Boys didn’t have to do what Randy Ireland is hinting at here – step in and do the fighting themselves.”For Campbell, the most disturbing aspect of the document is that, with its soft-lensed double-talk and contradictory meanings, it falls into arguably the main ambition of the Proud Boys: the normalization of political violence. Despite having so many leaders behind bars, the group is prospering.As new chapters pop up, Americans are increasingly inured to the idea of heavily armed gangs in public settings. Proud Boys have posed as “security details” at anti-abortion rallies, anti-vaccination demonstrations, pro-gun protests and of course Trump rallies.“The street-level violence the Proud Boys helped to create is now being carried out by regular people,” Campbell said. “You saw it on January 6, you see it at Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ+ events where people are harassed and attacked by everyday Americans.”TopicsThe far rightUS politicsPolitics booksfeaturesReuse this content More