Stormy Daniels’ Arrest Is A Good Reminder Of The Disturbing Way Cops Often Arrest Sex Workers (Huffington Post)
‘Unmasking Antifa Act’ includes 15-year prison term proposal (The Hill via msn.com)
As the United States was racing towards marriage equality a few years ago, one of the news stories that was going on at the same time, that didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved, was the growing tide of open violence on the part of Russians against LGBT+/SAGA people. A recently-passed “anti-propaganda” law in Russia targeting its LGBT+/SAGA community led to a wave of attacks that were jarring not only because of how they took place in public spaces in broad daylight, but because the perpetrators of these attacks often walked away while the police arrested those who were attacked because of alleged violations of the new law. At a time when America was only starting to comprehend how the widespread availability of smartphone video was changing broader perceptions of officer-involved shootings, the fact that the violent videos coming out of Russia didn’t raise more eyebrows at the time seems strangely unexplainable, but also worryingly prescient.
On the one hand, America as a whole has always been culturally myopic, and even if ignorance about events in foreign countries wasn’t celebrated then as much as it is now, there were certainly lots of domestic news stories in the middle of this decade to crowd out what was happening to the LGBT+/SAGA community in Russia. Even when Russia was mentioned in the news, other events in the country were usually covered, like the international fallout from Russia’s invasion of the Crimean peninsula or the ongoing tribulations of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. More than that, given what felt like a growing likelihood that the Supreme Court was about to make marriage equality the law of the land in all fifty states, many Americans might have felt a sense that the struggle for LGBT+/SAGA rights was about to be “won,” and that the attacks happening in Russia would become as much a part of our past as lynchings of African-Americans.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, when Donald Trump began speaking of Putin in glowing terms, I couldn’t help thinking about those videos of Russian LGBT+/SAGA people being attacked, and how Russian police were arresting the survivors instead of the attackers. Trump had already displayed a predilection for language in his campaign rallies that was (at the very least) strongman-esque, talking about his opponents being taken out of venues “on a stretcher” and the like, and that made his public support for Putin all the more nauseating . Given how most Republicans at the time were openly critical of Putin (at least for his invasion of Crimea), I didn’t think that Trump’s presidential candidacy would be sustainable if he continued to be so uncritical of Putin.
Even after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, and then the electoral college, I still thought that the kind of open violence being seen on Russian streets would never happen here in America. Even when there were waves of violence and harassment against minorities in the days following Trump’s election, I wanted to believe that it was all just something that would “burn off” in a matter of days, and that law enforcement at all levels would soon make it clear that hate crimes are still crimes, and this country would not tolerate the kind of scenes that were coming out of Russia for the previous two years. As dire as everything seemed in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, I tried to hold on to a shred of hope that things would not turn out as badly as so many of us feared.
I was wrong, of course. If the recent plethora of videos showing acts of open violence by Americans against minorities hasn’t been enough to make your stomach churn, then the recent actions of Republican legislators including, in an action that has sickening parallels to what happened in Russia a few years ago, a House committee passing a resolution that could make it legal for adoption agencies that receive federal funding to refuse to allow LGBT+/SAGA people to adopt, should send chills down the spines of anyone even remotely aware of how Putin targeted the LGBT+/SAGA community in Russia and used it as a scapegoat and distraction to mask his own problems. America’s LGBT+/SAGA community is far from the only minority group enduring skyrocketing rates of violence and discrimination right now, but given Trump’s admiration and emulation of strongman leaders like Putin, the LGBT+/SAGA community perhaps has good reason to be even more wary of what has been happening to America these past few years.
The broader stifling of dissent (of which open discrimination against minorities is definitely a part) has become even more clear with the new law being proposed to criminalize leftist protests. At a time when hate crimes are rising meteorically, and Jeff Sessions’ “Justice” Department isn’t doing a thing about it, and President Trump is pardoning right-wing activists who deliberately broke federal laws, Republicans are targeting their opponents and criminalizing dissent against their right-wing regime. This is a prima facie attack on the First Amendment, and one of the biggest signs yet of how rapidly America is falling into totalitarianism.
Again, the parallels between right-wing actions here, and those of tyrannical dictators abroad, are all too apparent. Trump has professed support of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, whose family’s “three generations” policy has imprisoned not just dissenters, but also their families, for the rest of their lives. Trump has professed support of the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, who has allowed his country’s police officers to summarily execute drug users in a “crackdown” rife with human rights violations. Of course, Trump’s support of Putin, who regularly has his political opponents arrested to ensure that no credible opposition to his stranglehold on power can gain traction, can’t be ignored.
It is in this final context that the recent arrest of Stormy Daniels must be seen, because using the police to have political opponents intimidated (or worse) has been a tactic of the worst despots for centuries. Even though the Columbus Police Department has since stated that there was no political motivation behind Daniels’ arrest, it’s difficult to believe these claims not only because of my own experiences with Columbus police when I was a student at Antioch College in the 1990’s, but because the combination of statements and actions by the Trump Administration has created a climate where actions against any and all political dissenters must always be viewed through the lens of the culture of fear being visibly and demonstrably perpetuated by the administration and its supporters, including the demonization of America’s LGBT+/SAGA community. Particularly for people belonging to that community, or any other minority community being targeted right now, assuming the worst is a literal matter of life-or-death survival.
Particularly for sex workers like Stormy Daniels, who already existed on the margins of society (at best), the potential to be targeted by these efforts is even greater, due to the way that sex workers have been degraded and dehumanized for so long. With even police officers now saying that the passage of SESTA/FOSTA has hurt their ability to do their jobs, it’s becoming clearer that despite what its supporters claimed this legislation would do, there is no getting around how it is being used to attack both sex work and sex workers. What happened to Stormy Daniels last week is likely already happening to other, less-famous sex workers across the country, and will continue to happen largely unseen by an American public that’s been trained since birth to view sex workers as less worthy human beings than anyone else.
As today’s “summit” proves, Donald Trump’s admiration of Vladimir Putin may be nearly boundless. Judging by the tactics of Putin’s that Trump has already used in the first eighteen months of his presidency, and the inability (or unwillingness) of Democrats to mount a sustained challenge to those tactics, it may soon be far more than just sex workers, LGBT+/SAGA people, and other minority groups in America who have reason to fear Putin-esque tactics being used against them, both as groups and as individuals. Some would consider it cliché to reference that Martin Niemöller poem at a time like this, but when they’re already coming for some of us, being seen as cliché should be the least of our concerns. What should drive us now is stopping them from coming for any more of us.