The murk and dirt of the White House

At last, the everyday corruption of the Bush administration is gradually being brought out into the

It's now the cardinal rule of 21st-century politics: don't send even the most innocuous emails, to absolutely anyone, if you are a remotely important politician or government official. A very senior FBI man told me the other day not to send an email to his office: "Remember," he warned me, "emails never disappear if you know where to look for them."

He knows a thing or two about tracing emails. Because the FBI was able to retrieve thousands of them sent to and from the crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff (see the NS of 12 December 2005), Abramoff, a colleague and a congressman are now in the clink (with more heading there, too). But the Bush administration has still not learned that lesson, and was blithely sending potentially incriminatory emails to each other even after last November, when it had lost the midterm congressional elections and should have realised that in future a Democratic-controlled Congress would be able to subpoena past and present inter-office memos and emails.

Which, of course, is exactly what the Democrats have immediately set about doing. A few days ago, the Democrats got their hands on 143 pages of memos and emails sent from the justice department office of Bush's stunningly mediocre attorney general, 51-year-old Alberto Gonzales (hitherto best known for pronouncing that the regulations on POWs in the Geneva Conventions are "obsolete").

His chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, a lawyer himself, has already resigned and hired his own lawyer. It's only a matter of time before Gonzales goes: all that is saving him so far is that Dubbya cannot bear to think the media or the Democrats have forced him to sack anybody. Bush says he has "full confidence" in Gonzales, which places him in a minority of one in Washington.

It's hard to know which is more dangerous: the Bush administration's arrogance, or its ignorance. I will start explaining Attorneygate with an email sent by Sampson. It is about Carol Lam, the attorney who successfully prosecuted the Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, whose egregiously flagrant corruption I outlined in that 12 December article.

Lam, a ferociously determined 47-year-old who specialises in fraud investigations, subsequently put Cunningham behind bars for eight years and had him fined $1.8m - but was not content to leave it there. She knew that Cunningham's corruption was only the tip of an iceberg which had myriad interconnections between politicians and lobbyists - and involved huge Pentagon contracts for the purchase of military equipment from various defence contractors, represented, inevitably, by lobbyists.

All of which meant that she was also actively investigating links between the Republican representative Jerry Lewis - chairman of the hugely powerful House appropriations committee until the party switchover in January - and his close friend Bill Lowery, a former Republican congressman who became a Washington lobbyist after leaving Congress amid rumours of corruption in 1992. Lam, was at the same time investigating the connections between Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, then the CIA's third most important officer, but who is now under criminal indictment for fraud and other corruption - and his close friend, a military contractor called Brent Wilkes. Lam believed that Foggo was using his position to push large contracts the way of Wilkes - in return for which he would be given, among other things, a lucrative post in Wilkes's firm after his retirement from the CIA.

With me so far? I have to say here in passing, alas, that the main reason the corruption which is so rife in Washington is not unearthed more frequently is that the trails are normally tortuously complex. But back to the emails: on 10 May last year, Lam notified the US justice department (of which Gonzales is head) that she intended to issue search warrants in the Foggo/Wilkes/ Lowery/Lewis investigations.

The very next day, Sampson emailed Gonzales's deputy: "The real problem we have right now is with Carol Lam." To cut a long story short, Lam then found herself one of seven US attorneys who were summarily told in phone calls last 7 December that they were being dismissed for "underperformance".

Let us examine briefly, too, the case of David Iglesias, 49, the US attorney for New Mexico, who was appointed by the administration in 2001 and subsequently rated by it as a "top performer". Republican Senator Pete Domenici got a bee in his bonnet that Democrats had been fiddling voter registrations in his state, and Iglesias was asked to investigate. Last October, Domenici phoned Iglesias, apparently to exert pressure on him to prosecute Democrats. When Iglesias told him he had no evidence to bring charges, Domenici abruptly hung up.

The following month, the senator (who, it has to be said, is not the brightest bulb on the planet) took his complaint straight to Bush. Then, although Iglesias was one of two of the 93 US attorneys who had set up task forces to investigate possible voter registration fraud, he too found himself dismissed last December, on orders from "on high", he now says with a knowing wink. Harriet Miers - the president's woefully underqualified counsel until her departure last January whom, ludicrously, he tried to appoint to the Supreme Court in 2005 - was told that the Domenici camp was "happy as a clam" over the sacking of Iglesias.

A third, last, example: Harry "Bud" Cummins, US attorney in Arkansas, was summarily sacked along with Lam and Iglesias to make way for an inexperienced lawyer named Tim Griffin, a former Republican speechwriter and protégé of Karl Rove. Getting him appointed was "important to Harriet, Karl [Rove] etc", Sampson explained in an email. In a chilling aside, Cummins was meantime being told that the department would "somehow pull their gloves off" if he made a fuss about his dismissal.

Sampson, by this time, was telling a colleague in an email that 80-85 per cent of US attorneys "exhibited loyalty to the president and the attorney general" and that the "vast majority" of them were "loyal Bushies". The problem was the remaining 15-20 per cent - all Bush appointees - who had turned out not to be the partisan prosecutors the administration had confidently expected them to be.

There are 93 US attorneys and all are political appointees, but once appointed their duty is to uphold the law and be strictly unbiased politically. Reagan, Clinton and Dubbya ended up in effect sacking all previously appointed US attorneys after they came into office - which they were fully entitled to do - but what is unprecedented is for an administration to fire its own appointees, not only for political disloyalty, but in the middle of a presidential term.

Rove, however, has perfected a modus operandi, dating back to 1986, of using US attorneys for political ends. Typically, a few weeks before a close state or national election, there will be mysterious leaks that the Democratic candidate is being investigated for something or other by a (covertly co-operative) US attorney - which inevitably, when confirmed by the obliging US attorney's office, results in adverse publicity for the Democratic candidate. Following the elections, of course, the "investigations" vanish into thin air. A study by Illinois State University found that between 2001 and 2006 - which is to say, the time Bush has been in power - 18 per cent of US attorney investigations of politicians have involved Republicans, but nearly 80 per cent were of Democrats. Far more Republicans ended up being charged, however.

The problem for the administration now, as ever, is that it simply can't get its stories straight. America's political scandals - from Watergate to the involvement of Scooter Libby in Plamegate - have gathered steam not from the original bad deed, but from the ensuing cover-ups and lies. What is now terrifying Rove et al is that the Democrats have already discovered that the administration has been lying here, there and everywhere - which it found it could do with impunity while there was a rubber-stamping Republican Congress that chose not to exercise oversight.

Thus, on 18 January, Gonzales told the Senate judiciary committee a blatant whopper under oath when he said the sackings were due to the "performance of individuals". The boneheaded Gonzales had apparently not woken up to the crucial fact that the Democratic majority now in Congress could get hold of documents showing that nearly all the individual attorneys had, in fact, received high job performance ratings from his very own department.

Three weeks later, his deputy, Paul McNulty, testified (also under oath) that politics had not been involved in the dismissals - and a fortnight later yet another official in the department of justice said that the White House had been consulted about the dismissals only "eventually". It then emerged that the entire plan had actually been hatched 22 months earlier by Miers, with Rove's knowledge, right from the very heart of the White House.

Bush himself happened to be visiting Latin America when the furore broke, and the White House panicked so much that his director of communications, Dan Bartlett, hastily convened a press conference in Mérino, Mexico. Back in Washington, Tony Snow, the hapless White House spokesman, was left flailing around helplessly.

Senior Republicans are now jumping ship left, right and centre - particularly those senators who face re-election next year and for whom Bush has become a huge liability. "Mistakes were made," is the nearest Gonzales has so far come to a mea culpa, a weaselly lawyeresque statement if ever there was one. Bush himself says that he is "not happy" with what has emerged. Hundreds of pages of more emails are expected to be released as I write, and I am told they make Gonzales's position even more untenable - if not a candidate for the clink himself.

The truth is that the murk and dirt of George W Bush's White House are, at last, beginning to be brought out into the daylight.

Andrew Stephen was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998. He is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times Op-Ed pages. He came to the US in 1989 to be Washington Bureau Chief of The Observer and in 1992 was made Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the American Overseas Press Club for his coverage.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: Time to break free?

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We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white women

Alt-right women are less visible than their tiki torch-carrying male counterparts - but they still exist. 

In November 2016, the writer and TED speaker Siyanda Mohutsiwa tweeted a ground-breaking observation. “When we talk about online radicalisation we always talk about Muslims. But the radicalisation of white men online is at astronomical levels,” she wrote, inspiring a series of mainstream articles on the topic (“We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men,” wrote Abi Wilkinson in The Guardian). It is now commonly accepted that online radicalisation is not limited to the work of Isis, which uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. Young, white men frequently form alt-right and neo-Nazi beliefs online.

But this narrative, too, is missing something. When it comes to online radicalisation into extreme right-wing, white supremacist, or racist views, women are far from immune.

“It’s a really slow process to be brainwashed really,” says Alexandra*, a 22-year-old former-racist who adopted extreme views during the United States presidential election of 2016. In particular, she believed white people to be more intelligent than people of colour. “It definitely felt like being indoctrinated into a cult.”

Alexandra was “indoctrinated” on 4Chan, the imageboard site where openly racist views flourish, especially on boards such as /pol/. It is a common misconception that 4Chan is only used by loser, basement-dwelling men. In actuality, 4Chan’s official figures acknowledge 30 percent of its users are female. More women may frequent 4Chan and /pol/ than it first appears, as many do not announce their gender on the site because of its “Tits or GTFO” culture. Even when women do reveal themselves, they are often believed to be men who are lying for attention.

“There are actually a lot of females on 4chan, they just don't really say. Most of the time it just isn't relevant,” says Alexandra. Her experiences on the site are similar to male users who are radicalised by /pol/’s far-right rhetoric. “They sowed the seeds of doubt with memes,” she laughs apprehensively. “Dumb memes and stuff and jokes…

“[Then] I was shown really bullshit studies that stated that some races were inferior to others like… I know now that that’s bogus science, it was bad statistics, but I never bothered to actually look into the truth myself, I just believed what was told to me.”

To be clear, online alt-right radicalisation still skews majority male (and men make up most of the extreme far-right, though women have always played a role in white supremacist movements). The alt-right frequently recruits from misogynistic forums where they prey on sexually-frustrated males and feed them increasingly extreme beliefs. But Alexandra’s story reveals that more women are part of radical right-wing online spaces than might first be apparent.

“You’d think that it would never happen to you, that you would never hold such horrible views," says Alexandra. "But it just happened really slowly and I didn't even notice it until too late."

***

We are less inclined to talk about radical alt-right and neo-Nazi women because they are less inclined to carry out radical acts. Photographs that emerged from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this weekend revealed that it was mostly polo shirt-wearing young, white men picking up tiki torches, shouting racial slurs, and fighting with counter-protestors. The white supremacist and alt-right terror attacks of the last year have also been committed by men, not women. But just because women aren’t as visible doesn’t mean they are not culpable.  

“Even when people are alt-right or sympathisers with Isis, it’s a tiny percentage of people who are willing or eager to die for those reasons and those people typically have significant personal problems and mental health issues, or suicidal motives,” explains Adam Lankford, author of The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers.

“Both men and women can play a huge role in terms of shaping the radicalised rhetoric that then influences those rare people who commit a crime.”

Prominent alt-right women often publicly admit that their role is more behind-the-scenes. Ayla Stewart runs the blog Wife With a Purpose, where she writes about “white culture” and traditional values. She was scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally before dropping out due to safety concerns. In a blog post entitled “#Charlottesville May Have Redefined Women’s Roles in the Alt Right”, she writes:

“I’ve decided that the growth of the movement has necessitated that I pick and choose my involvement as a woman more carefully and that I’m more mindful to chose [sic] women’s roles only.”

These roles include public speaking (only when her husband is present), gaining medical skills, and “listening to our men” in order to provide moral support. Stewart declined to be interviewed for this piece.

It is clear, therefore, that alt-right women do not have to carry out violence to be radical or radicalised. In some cases, they are complicit in the violence that does occur. Lankford gives the example of the Camp Chapman attack, committed by a male Jordanian suicide bomber against a CIA base in Afghanistan.

“What the research suggests in that case was the guy who ultimately committed the suicide bombing may have been less radical than his wife,” he explains. “His wife was actually pushing him to be more radical and shaming him for his lack of courage.” 

***

Just because women are less likely to be violent doesn’t mean they are incapable of it.

Angela King is a former neo-Nazi who went to prison for her part in the armed robbery and assault of a Jewish shop owner. She now runs Life After Hate, a non-profit that aims to help former right-wing extremists. While part of a skinhead gang, it was her job to recruit other women to the cause.

King's 1999 mugshot

“I was well known for the violence I was willing to inflict on others… often times the men would come up to me and say we don’t want to physically hurt a woman so can you take care of this,” King explains. “When I brought other woman in I looked for the same qualities in them that I thought I had in myself.”

These traits, King explains, were anger and a previous history of violence. She was 15 when she became involved with neo-Nazis, and explains that struggles with her sexuality and bullying had made her into a violent teenager.

“I was bullied verbally for years. I didn't fit in, I was socially awkward,” she says. One incident in particular stands out. Aged 12, King was physically bullied for the first time.

“I was humiliated in a way that even today I still am humiliated by this experience,” she says. One day, King made the mistake of sitting at a desk that “belonged” to a bully. “She started a fight with me in front of the entire class… I’ve always struggled with weight so I was a little bit pudgy, I had my little training bra on, and during the fight she ripped my shirt open in front of the entire class.

“At that age, having absolutely no self-confidence, I made the decision that if I became the bully, and took her place, I could never be humiliated like that again.”

Angela King, aged 18

King’s story is important because when it comes to online radicalisation, the cliché is that bullied, “loser” men are drawn to these alt-right and neo-Nazi communities. The most prominent women in the far-right (such as Stewart, and Lauren Southern, a YouTuber) are traditionally attractive and successful, with long blonde hair and flashing smiles. In actuality, women that are drawn to the movement online might be struggling, like King, to be socially accepted. This in no way justifies or excuses extreme behaviour, but can go some way to explaining how and why certain young women are radicalised. 

“At the age of 15 I had been bullied, raped. I had started down a negative path you know, experimenting with drugs, drinking, theft. And I was dealing with what I would call an acute identity crisis and essentially I was a very, very angry young woman who was socially awkward who did not feel like I had a place in the world, that I fit in anywhere. And I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I hated everything about myself.”

King explains that Life After Hate’s research reveals that there are often non-ideological based precursors that lead people to far right groups. “Individuals don’t go to hate groups because they already hate everyone, they go seeking something. They go to fill some type of void in their lives that they’re not getting.”

None of this, of course, excuses the actions and beliefs of far-right extremists, but it does go some way to explaining how “normal” young people can be radicalised online. I ask Alexandra, the former 4Chan racist, if anything else was going on in her life when she was drawn towards extreme beliefs.

“Yes, I was lonely,” she admits.                                                       

***

That lonely men and women can both be radicalised in the insidious corners of the internet shouldn’t be surprising. For years, Isis has recruited vulnerable young women online, with children as young as 15 becoming "jihadi brides". We have now acknowledged that the cliché of virginal, spotty men being driven to far-right hate excludes the college-educated, clean-cut white men who made up much of the Unite the Right rally last weekend. We now must realise that right-wing women, too, are radicalised online, and they, too, are culpable for radical acts.  

It is often assumed that extremist women are radicalised by their husbands or fathers, which is aided by statements by far-right women themselves. The YouTuber, Southern, for example, once said:  

“Anytime they [the left] talk about the alt-right, they make it sound like it’s just about a bunch of guys in basements. They don’t mention that these guys have wives – supportive wives, who go to these meet-ups and these conferences – who are there – so I think it’s great for right-wing women to show themselves. We are here. You’re wrong.”

Although there is truth in this statement, women don’t have to have far-right husbands, brothers, or fathers in order to be drawn to white supremacist or alt-right movements. Although it doesn’t seem the alt-right are actively preying on young white women the same way they prey on young white men, many women are involved in online spaces that we wrongly assume are male-only. There are other spaces, such as Reddit's r/Hawtschwitz, where neo-Nazi women upload nude and naked selfies, carving a specific space for themselves in the online far-right. 

When we speak of women radicalised by husbands and fathers, we misallocate blame. Alexandra deeply regrets her choices, but she accepts they were her own. “I’m not going to deny that what I did was bad because I have to take responsibility for my actions,” she says.

Alexandra, who was “historically left-wing”, was first drawn to 4Chan when she became frustrated with the “self-righteousness” of the website Tumblr, favoured by liberal teens. Although she frequented the site's board for talking about anime, /a/, not /pol/, she found neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs were spread there too. 

“I was just like really fed up with the far left,” she says, “There was a lot of stuff I didn't like, like blaming like males for everything.” From this, Alexandra became anti-feminist and this is how she was incrementally exposed to anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. This parallels the story of many radicalised males on 4Chan, who turn to the site from hatred of feminists or indeed, all women. 

 “What I was doing was racist, like I – deep down I didn't really fully believe it in my heart, but the seeds of doubt were sowed again and it was a way to fit in. Like, if you don't regurgitate their opinions exactly they’ll just bully you and run you off.”

King’s life changed in prison, where Jamaican inmates befriended her and she was forced to reassess her worldview. Alexandra now considers herself “basically” free from prejudices, but says trying to rid herself of extreme beliefs is like “detoxing from drugs”. She began questioning 4Chan when she first realised that they genuinely wanted Donald Trump to become president. “I thought that supporting Trump was just a dumb meme on the internet,” she says.

Nowadays, King dedicates her life to helping young people escape from far-right extremism. "Those of us who were involved a few decades ago we did not have this type of technology, cell phones were not the slim white phones we have today, they were giant boxes," she says. "With the younger individuals who contact us who grew up with this technology, we're definitely seeing people who initially stumbled across the violent far-right online and the same holds for men and women.

"Instead of having to be out in public in a giant rally or Klan meeting, individuals find hate online."

* Name has been changed

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: Time to break free?