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A YEAR OF LYING ABOUT NORD STREAM Seymour Hersh

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A screen grab from Danish Defense shows the gas leak from the exploded Nord Stream pipelines causing bubbles on the surface of the Baltic Sea on September 30, 2022. / Photo by Swedish Coast Guard Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

I do not know much about covert CIA operations—no outsider can—but I do understand that the essential component of all successful missions is total deniability. The American men and women who moved, under cover, in and out of Norway in the months it took to plan and carry out the destruction of three of the four Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea a year ago left no traces—not a hint of the team’s existence—other than the success of their mission. 

Deniability, as an option for President Joe Biden and his foreign policy advisers, was paramount. No significant information about the mission was put on a computer, but instead typed on a Royal or perhaps a Smith Corona typewriter with a carbon copy or two, as if the Internet and the rest of the online world had yet to be invented. The White House was isolated from the goings-on near Oslo; various reports and updates from the field were directly provided to CIA Director Bill Burns, who was the only link between the planners and the president who authorized the mission to take place on September 26, 2022. Once the mission was completed, the typed papers and carbons were destroyed, thus leaving no physical trace—no evidence to be dug up later by a special prosecutor or a presidential historian. You could call it the perfect crime.

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There was a flaw—a gap in understanding between those who carried out the mission and President Biden, as to why he ordered the destruction of the pipelines when he did. My initial 5,200-word report, published in early February, ended cryptically by quoting an official with knowledge of the mission telling me: “It was a beautiful cover story.” The official added: “The only flaw was the decision to do it.” 

This is the first account of that flaw, on the one-year anniversary of the explosions, and it is one President Biden and his national security team will not like.

Inevitably, my initial story caused a sensation, but the major media emphasized the White House denials and relied on an old canard—my reliance on an unnamed source—to join the administration in debunking the notion that Joe Biden could have had anything to do with such an attack. I must note here that I’ve won literally scores of prizes in my career for stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker that relied on not a single named source. In the past year we’ve seen a series of contrary newspaper stories, with no named first-hand sources, claiming that a dissident Ukrainian group carried out the technical diving operation attack in the Baltic Sea via a 49-foot rented yacht called the Andromeda

I am now able to write about the unexplained flaw cited by the unnamed official. It goes once again to the classic issue of what the Central Intelligence Agency is all about: an issue raised by Richard Helms, who headed the agency during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War and the CIA’s secret spying on Americans, as ordered by President Lyndon Johnson and sustained by Richard Nixon. I published an exposé in the Times about that spying in December 1974 that led to unprecedented hearings by the Senate into the role of the agency in its unsuccessful attempts, authorized by President John F. Kennedy, to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Helms told the senators that the issue was whether he, as CIA director, worked for the Constitution or for the Crown, in the person of presidents Johnson and Nixon. The Church Committee left the issue unresolved, but Helms made it clear he and his agency worked for the top man in the White House. 

Back to the Nord Stream pipelines: It is important to understand that no Russian gas was flowing to Germany through the Nord Stream pipelines when Joe Biden ordered them blown up last September 26. Nord Stream 1 had been supplying vast amounts of low-cost natural gas to Germany since 2011 and helped bolster Germany’s status as a manufacturing and industrial colossus. But it was shut down by Putin by the end of August 2022, as the Ukraine war was, at best, in a stalemate. Nord Stream 2 was completed in September 2021 but was blocked from delivering gas by the German government headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz two days prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Given Russia’s vast stores of natural gas and oil, American presidents since John F. Kennedy have been alert to the potential weaponization of these natural resources for political purposes. That view remains dominant among Biden and his hawkish foreign policy advisers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Victoria Nuland, now the acting deputy to Blinken.

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Sullivan convened a series of high-level national security meetings late in 2021, as Russia was building up its forces along the border of Ukraine, with an invasion seen as almost inevitable. The group, which included representatives from the CIA, was urged to come up with a proposal for action that could serve as a deterrent to Putin. The mission to destroy the pipelines was motivated by the White House’s determination to support Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Sullivan’s goal seemed clear. “The White House’s policy was to deter Russia from an attack,” the official told me. “The challenge it gave to the intelligence community was to come up with a way that was powerful enough to do that, and to make a strong statement of American capability.”

The major gas pipelines from Russia to Europe. / Map by Samuel Bailey / Wikimedia Commons.

I now know what I did not know then: the real reason why the Biden administration “brought up taking out the Nord Stream pipeline.” The official recently explained to me that at the time Russia was supplying gas and oil throughout the world via more than a dozen pipelines, but Nord Stream 1 and 2 ran directly from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. “The administration put Nord Stream on the table because it was the only one we could access and it would be totally deniable,” the official said. “We solved the problem within a few weeks—by early January—and told the White House. Our assumption was that the president would use the threat against Nord Stream as a deterrent to avoid the war.”

It was no surprise to the agency’s secret planning group when on January 27, 2022, the assured and confident Nuland, then undersecretary of state for political affairs, stridently warned Putin that if he invaded Ukraine, as he clearly was planning to, that “one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” The line attracted enormous attention, but the words preceding the threat did not. The official State Department transcript shows that she preceded her threat by saying that with regard to the pipeline: “We continue to have very strong and clear conversations with our German allies.”

Asked by a reporter how she could say with certainty that the Germans would go along “because what the Germans have said publicly doesn’t match what you’re saying,” Nuland responded with an astonishing bit of doubletalk: “I would say go back and read the document that we signed in July [of 2021] that made very clear about the consequences for the pipeline if there is further aggression on Ukraine by Russia.” But that agreement, which was briefed to journalists, did not specify threats or consequences, according to reports in the Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters. At the time of the agreement, on July 21, 2021, Biden told the press corps that since the pipeline was 99 percent finished, “the idea that anything was going to be said or done was going to stop it was not possible.” At the time, Republicans, led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, depicted Biden’s decision to permit the Russian gas to flow as a “generational geopolitical win” for Putin and “a catastrophe” for the United States and its allies. 

But two weeks after Nuland’s statement, on February 7, 2022, at a joint White House press conference with the visiting Scholz, Biden signaled that he had changed his mind and was joining Nuland and other equally hawkish foreign policy aides in talking about stopping the pipeline. “If Russia invades—that means tanks and troops crossing . . . the border of Ukraine again,” he said, “there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” Asked how he could do so since the pipeline was under Germany’s control, he said: “We will, I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.”

Scholz, asked the same question, said: “We are acting together. We are absolutely united, and we will not be taking different steps. We will do the same steps, and they will be very very hard to Russia, and they should understand.” The German leader was considered then—and now—by some members of the CIA team to be fully aware of the secret planning underway to destroy the pipelines. 

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By this point, the CIA team had made the necessary contacts in Norway, whose navy and special forces commands have a long history of sharing covert-operation duties with the agency. Norwegian sailors and Nasty-class patrol boats helped smuggle American sabotage operatives into North Vietnam in the early 1960s when America, in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was running an undeclared American war there. With Norway’s help, the CIA did its job and found a way to do what the Biden White House wanted done to the pipelines. 

At the time, the challenge to the intelligence community was to come up with a plan that would be forceful enough to deter Putin from the attack on Ukraine. The official told me: “We did it. We found an extraordinary deterrent because of its economic impact on Russia. And Putin did it despite the threat.” It took months of research and practice in the churning waters of the Baltic Sea by the two expert US Navy deep sea divers recruited for the mission before it was deemed a go. Norway’s superb seamen found the right spot for planting the bombs that would blow up the pipelines. Senior officials in Sweden and Denmark, who still insist they had no idea what was going on in their shared territorial waters, turned a blind eye to the activities of the American and Norwegian operatives. The American team of divers and support staff on the mission’s mother ship—a Norwegian minesweeper—would be hard to hide while the divers were doing their work. The team would not learn until after the bombing that Nord Stream 2 had been shut down with 750 miles of natural gas in it.

What I did not know then, but was told recently, was that after Biden’s extraordinary public threat to blow up Nord Stream 2, with Scholz standing next to him, the CIA planning group was told by the White House that there would be no immediate attack on the two pipelines, but the group should arrange to plant the necessary bombs and be ready to trigger them “on demand”—after the war began. “It was then that we”—the small planning group that was working in Oslo with the Royal Norwegian Navy and special services on the project—“understood that the attack on the pipelines was not a deterrent because as the war went on we never got the command.”

After Biden’s order to trigger the explosives planted on the pipelines, it took only a short flight with a Norwegian fighter and the dropping of an altered off-the-shelf sonar device at the right spot in the Baltic Sea to get it done. By then the CIA group had long disbanded. By then, too, the official told me: “We realized that the destruction of the two Russian pipelines was not related to the Ukrainian war”—Putin was in the process of annexing the four Ukrainian oblasts he wanted—“but was part of a neocon political agenda to keep Scholz and Germany, with winter coming up and the pipelines shut down, from getting cold feet and opening up” the shuttered Nord Stream 2. “The White House fear was that Putin would get Germany under his thumb and then he was going to get Poland.”

The White House said nothing as the world wondered who committed the sabotage. “So the president struck a blow against the economy of Germany and Western Europe,” the official told me. “He could have done it in June and told Putin: We told you what we would do.” The White House’s silence and denials were, he said, “a betrayal of what we were doing. If you are going to do it, do it when it would have made a difference.”

The leadership of the CIA team viewed Biden’s misleading guidance for its order to destroy the pipelines, the official told me, “as taking a strategic step toward World War III. What if Russia had responded by saying: You blew up our pipelines and I’m going to blow up your pipelines and your communication cables. Nord Stream was not a strategic issue for Putin—it was an economic issue. He wanted to sell gas. He’d already lost his pipelines” when the Nord Stream I and 2 were shut down before the Ukraine war began. 

Within days of the bombing, officials in Denmark and Sweden announced they would conduct an investigation. They reported two months later that there had indeed been an explosion and said there would be further inquiries. None has emerged. The German government conducted an inquiry but announced that major parts of its findings would be classified. Last winter German authorities allocated $286 billion in subsidies to major corporations and homeowners who faced higher energy bills to run their business and warm their homes. The impact is still being felt today, with a colder winter expected in Europe.

President Biden waited four days before calling the pipeline bombing “a deliberate act of sabotage.” He said: “now the Russians are pumping out disinformation about it.” Sullivan, who chaired the meetings that led to the proposal to covertly destroy the pipelines, was asked at a later press conference whether the Biden administration “now believes that Russia was likely responsible for the act of sabotage?” 

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Sullivan’s answer, undoubtedly practiced, was: “Well, first, Russia has done what it frequently does when it is responsible for something, which is make accusations that it was really someone else who did it. We’ve seen this repeatedly over time.

“But the president was also clear today that there is more work to do on the investigation before the United States government is prepared to make an attribution in this case.” He continued: “We will continue to work with our allies and partners to gather all of the facts, and then we will make a determination about where we go from there.”

I could find no instances when Sullivan was subsequently asked by someone in the American press about the results of his “determination.” Nor could I find any evidence that Sullivan, or the president, has been queried since then about the results of the “determination” about where to go. 

There is also no evidence that President Biden has required the American intelligence community to conduct a major all-source inquiry into the pipeline bombing. Such requests are known as “Taskings” and are taken seriously inside the government.

All of this explains why a routine question I posed a month or so after the bombings to someone with many years in the American intelligence community led me to a truth that no one in America or Germany seems to want to pursue. My question was simple: “Who did it?” 

The Biden administration blew up the pipelines but the action had little to do with winning or stopping the war in Ukraine. It resulted from fears in the White House that Germany would waver and turn on the flow of Russia gas—and that Germany and then NATO, for economic reasons, would fall under the sway of Russia and its extensive and inexpensive natural resources. And thus followed the ultimate fear: that America would lose its long-standing primacy in Western Europe.

Seymour Hersh is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

 

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May 24, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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On Wednesday, May 22, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who had been the candidate for anti-Trump Republicans, said she will vote for Trump. Haley ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination and maintained a steady stream of criticism of him, calling him “unstable,” “unhinged” and “a disaster…for our party.” Since she suspended her campaign in early March, she has continued to poll at around 20% of Republican primary voters. 

There are two ways to look at Haley’s capitulation. It might show that Trump is so strong that he has captured the entire party and is sweeping it before him. In contrast, it might show that Trump is weak, and Haley made this concession to his voters either in hopes of stepping into his place or in a desperate move to cobble the party, whose leaders are keenly aware they are an unpopular minority in the country, together. 

The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war. The last of the establishment Republican leaders who controlled the party before 2016 are trying to wrest control of it back from Trump’s MAGA Republicans, who have taken control of the key official positions. At the same time, Trump’s MAGA voters, while a key part of the Republican base, have pushed the party so far right they have left the majority of Americans—including Republicans—far behind.

Abortion remains a major political problem for Republicans. Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who provided the votes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and he has boasted repeatedly that he ended Roe. This pleases his white evangelical base but not the majority of the American people.

According to a recent Pew poll, 63% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 36% think it should be illegal in most or all cases. But Republicans are continuing to push unpopular antiabortion legislation. On Thursday, Louisiana lawmakers approved a law classifying mifepristone and misoprostol, two drugs commonly used in abortions, as dangerous drugs—a category usually reserved for addictive medications—making it a crime to possess abortion pills without a prescription. 

Louisiana prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases in which the fetus has a condition incompatible with life. The law requires doctors to get a special license to prescribe the drugs, one of which is used for routine reproductive care as well as abortions. The state would then keep a record of those prescriptions, effectively a database to monitor women’s pregnancies and the doctors who treat them. Louisiana governor Jeff Landry, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law. 

Trump has repeatedly promised to weigh in on the mifepristone question but, likely aware that he cannot please both his base and voters, has not done so. On Tuesday, May 21, though, he stepped into a related problem. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade, antiabortion activists have begun to talk about contraception as abortion, with some warning that it is “unbiblical.” But in February, 80% of voters polled said that contraception was “deeply important” to them, including 72% of Republican voters. On Tuesday, Trump said he was open to regulating contraception and that his campaign would issue a policy statement on contraception “very shortly.” He later walked back his earlier comments, saying they had been misinterpreted.

On May 19 the same judge who tried to remove mifepristone from the market by rescinding the FDA approval of it, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, blocked the Biden administration from implementing a new rule that requires sellers at gun shows and online to get licenses and conduct background checks. The rule closes what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” According to the Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy, 86% of Americans want mandatory background checks for all gun purchases. 

Trump himself is a problem for the party. His base is absolutely loyal, but he is a deeply problematic candidate for anyone else. As Susan Glasser outlined in the New Yorker yesterday, in the past week he chickened out of testifying in his ongoing criminal trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep damaging information from voters in 2016 after insisting for weeks that he would. He talked about staying in office for a third term, ran a video promising that the United States will become a “unified Reich” when he wins reelection, and accused President Joe Biden of trying to have him assassinated. He will be 78 in a few weeks and is having trouble speaking.

In addition to his ongoing criminal trial, on Tuesday a filing unsealed in the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents showed that a federal judge, Beryl Howell, believed investigators had “strong evidence” that Trump “intended” to hide those documents from the federal government.

Also revealed were new photographs of Trump’s personal aide Walt Nauta moving document boxes before one of Trump’s lawyers arrived to review what Trump had, along with the information that once Trump realized that the men moving the boxes could be captured on Mar-a-Lago’s security cameras, he allegedly made sure they would avoid the cameras. The new details suggest that prosecutors have more evidence than has been made public. 

This might explain why, as Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Rolling Stone reported today, Trump is pressuring Republicans to pass a law shielding presidents from prosecution in state or local courts, moving prosecutions to federal courts where a president could stop them.

Yesterday, Marilyn W. Thompson of ProPublica reported on yet another potentially harmful legal story. There were a number of discrimination and harassment complaints made against the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020 that Trump tried to keep quiet with nondisclosure agreements. A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Trump campaign to produce a list of the complaints by May 31. Those complaints include the charge that the 2016 campaign paid women less than men and that Trump kissed a woman without her consent. 

Trump’s current behavior is not likely to reassure voters. 

Yesterday he wrote on social media that “Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

There is no good interpretation of this post. If Trump does have that sort of leverage with Putin, why? And why not use it immediately? Is he openly signaling to Putin to ignore the Biden administration’s ongoing negotiations for Gershkovich’s release? Trevor Reed, who was arrested in Russia in 2019 when visiting his girlfriend in Moscow, noted: “As a former wrongful detainee in Russia, I would just like to remind everyone that President Trump had the ability to get myself and Paul Whelan out of Russia for years and chose not to. I would be skeptical of any claims about getting Evan Gershkovich back in a day.”  

Reed was freed in 2022 as part of a prisoner swap arranged by the Biden administration. 

Last night, at a rally in New York, Trump accepted the endorsement of alleged gang members, rappers Michael Williams (Sheff G) and Tegan Chambers (Sleepy Hallow). In 2023 the two men were indicted with 30 other people on 140 counts, including murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, and at least a dozen shootings. Sheff G was released from jail in April after posting a $1.5 million bond. 

Then, Trump’s people claimed that 25,000 people turned out for the rally, but they requested a permit for only 3,500, and only 3,400 tickets were issued. Aerial shots suggest there were 800–1,500 people there. 

MAGA voters don’t care about any of this, apparently, but non-MAGA Republicans and Independents do. And this might be behind Haley’s promise to vote for Trump. The unpopularity of the MAGA faction might allow Haley to step in if Trump crashes and burns, so long as she kowtows to Trump and his base. Or it might be calculated to try to repair the rift in hopes that the party can cobble together some kind of unity by November. As The Shallow State noted on X, Haley’s announcement showed that “Trump is fragile.”

But Haley’s statement that she will vote for Trump does not necessarily mean her voters will follow her. Deputy political director for the Biden campaign Juan Peñalosa met with Haley supporters in a prescheduled zoom call hours after Haley’s announcement. On Thursday afternoon the campaign issued a press release titled: “To Haley Voters: There’s a Home For You on Team Biden-Harris.”

MAGA Republicans know their agenda is unpopular, and they are working to seize power through voter suppression, violence, gerrymandering, and packing the legal system. But there are signs a bipartisan defense of democracy may be gathering strength.  

Notes:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-says-she-will-vote-for-trump/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-announcement-2024-race-donald-trump-south-carolina/

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/haley-shes-dropping-feel-kiss-ring-trump/story?id=107370200

https://meidasnews.com/news/trump-accepts-endorsement-from-indicted-gang-members

https://newrepublic.com/post/181931/maga-spin-trump-bronx-rally-size

https://blog.lime.link/visualizing-crowd-sizes/

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

https://www.politico.com/news/2024/05/23/louisiana-abortion-pill-criminal-penalties-00159735

https://time.com/6977434/birth-control-contraception-access-griswold-threat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/26/us/politics/republicans-birth-control-ivf.html

https://apnews.com/article/trump-contraception-birth-control-abortion-2024-8f73bb1b3a5864b24157f15eb272a3e6

https://www.vox.com/scotus/2024/3/26/24112540/supreme-court-mifepristone-fda-alliance-hippocratic-medicine-abortion-pills

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-judge-blocks-biden-backed-rule-expanding-gun-background-checks-2024-05-20/

https://missouriindependent.com/briefs/new-rule-to-close-gun-show-loophole-finalized-by-biden-administration/

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/07/25/poll-majority–support-universal-background-checks-gun-licensing-assault-weapons-ban

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-bidens-washington/there-is-literally-nothing-trump-can-say-that-will-stop-republicans-from-voting-for-him

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-republicans-pass-law-jail-1235027139/

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2024/05/10/maga-mike-vs-speaker-johnson-00157258

https://abcnews.go.com/International/trevor-reed-american-freed-russia-prisoner-swap-hurt/story?id=101641167

https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-campaign-harassment-bullying-lawsuits

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/21/politics/mar-a-lago-documents-walt-nauta-donald-trump/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/05/21/trump-florida-classified-documents-motions/

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/23/politics/nikki-haley-biden-trump/index.html

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Could Trump Turn the Bronx Red? Olivia Reingold

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Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his rally in the Bronx’s Crotona Park on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images)

In an overgrown field in the Bronx, a borough that has not voted red in a presidential election since 1924, Orthodox Jews, fraternity brothers, George Santos, Dominican immigrants, off-duty firefighters, and thousands of others are craning their necks for a view of Donald J. Trump. 

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump mouths to the crowd over the tune of “God Bless the USA.” 

He strides up to the podium, in a breeze that rattles the American flags behind him but is no match for his frozen blond quiff. Thousands of hands spring into the air, pumping rhythmically to chants of “U! S! A!”

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roars the former president. “Who would think—who would think?”

Who would think, indeed. Not Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who for the past five weeks has been trying to pin a felony conviction on Trump involving hush money he allegedly gave to a porn star. Two days earlier, Trump had shuffled out of the courtroom, quiet except for a quick interview where he told reporters, “Remember. . . I’m not allowed to say what I’d really like to say,” referring to the gag order barring him from publicly commenting on the case. 

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roared the former president. “Who would think—who would think?” (Jim Watson via Getty Images)

But now, in front of a sea of at least 8,000 in Crotona Park, the prospect of becoming a convicted felon seems far from Trump’s mind. “We are going to turn New York City around, and we are going to turn it around very, very quickly!” he proclaims to cheers from the crowd.

Though New Yorkers are famously Democratic, more of them seem to be warming to Trump’s America First message. Perhaps it’s the rising crime, or the migrants who are increasingly begging in the streets, or the fact that it now takes a family of four at least $318,000 a year to live here. Whatever it is, according to a Siena College poll this month, Joe Biden has lost 20 points in New York City, compared to his 2020 victory when he won 76 percent of the vote in Trump’s hometown. Meanwhile, Trump is up seven points, with Biden’s lead cut to single digits in the 2024 race for president.

One New Yorker who needed no convincing is John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and has already voted for Trump twice. He says people like him—Trump voters—are the “silent majority.” He brought along his 7-year-old son, who played in the grass with a fake million-dollar bill bearing the face of the billionaire from Queens.

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.” (Photo by Olivia Reingold for The Free Press)

“He was born in Manhattan,” says Wang of his son, who can name every single American president throughout history, in order. “Then we moved to Queens, and by the time I had my third child, we moved to Long Island ’cause you can’t live in the city anymore—it’s too dangerous.”

Wang says he was sick of worrying about getting pushed onto the subway tracks, which is exactly how one New Yorker died in March, allegedly shoved by a perpetrator with a violent past who was out on bail. Wang, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to become a citizen, tells me he was drawn to the U.S. because it would allow him to openly practice his Christian faith. Now, he’s troubled by the media, which “tells people Donald Trump is a dictator,” and by the anti-Israel mobs who cover their faces and “don’t know what they’re screaming for.”

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says Wang, wearing a bright red MAGA hat and work boots stamped with the Stars and Stripes. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.”

Top Democrats thought this wouldn’t happen on their turf. The morning of the rally, Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the portion of the South Bronx that includes Crotona Park, told an MSNBC panel that he’s “confident that the people of the Bronx are not going to buy the snake oil he’s selling.” U.S. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also told a local affiliate that Trump could not “trick” Bronx residents into supporting him. “It is truly an embarrassment to him, and I am looking forward to the response of everyday Bronxites talking about how they feel about him coming to their backyard,” said the congresswoman, whose district is east of the park.

But the people of the Bronx—and New Jersey, and Queens, and Long Island, and upstate New York, many of whom traveled miles to come see the former president whip the crowd into a frenzy—told me otherwise. 

Adam Solis, a 33-year-old who’s half-Dominican and half–Puerto Rican, says AOC does not represent even “one percent” of the values of the Bronx, where he’s lived his entire life. 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” he says, his two diamond earrings glistening in the sun. “We all believe in God here in the Bronx, we believe in tradition, we believe in family values, the nuclear family—these are all pillars of our existence.”

Trump supporters in the Bronx chant “U! S! A!” (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

I hear members of the crowd murmuring in multiple languages—Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and possibly Portuguese. “Ay, dios mío,” gasps one middle-aged woman, her enormous false eyelashes peeking from beneath the brim of a MAGA hat. Deeper into the crowd, a twentysomething woman perches on a man’s shoulders as if at a music festival, calling out in ecstasy: “Weeee love yooooou, Trump.” When Trump mentions New York, a redheaded boy cups his hands around his red cheeks to scream, “Yeah Trump, turn it red!”

While most other rallygoers are screaming at the top of their lungs, Samuel Heath-Quashie is less starstruck. Still, come November, the black 19-year-old student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey tells me he plans to cast his first-ever vote for Trump.

“It’s not like I look up to him like he’s my god,” the teen shrugs. “He’s a man—he does things I don’t agree with. But so does Biden, and at the end of the day, I want someone who’s going to help the American people.” 

One day, he says, he hopes to move out of his parents’ home in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, but inflation has tanked those dreams. When I ask him if he’s found any apartments he’d be able to afford, he says, “Yeah—they’re not good. They have mold and they have bugs.” He pauses, grimacing. “And I don’t like mold or bugs.” 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” said Adam Solis, 33. (Selcuk Acar via Getty Images)

Across the lawn, I find Mika Kol wandering around, asking if anyone has a lighter she can borrow. She’s wearing micro jeans shorts and a hat bearing the legend “I <3 Jesus,” and I assume she’s a Fashion Institute of Technology student. Close: she tells me she’s an online seller of vintage designer clothes under the alias “trustfundgoth.”

“I voted for Biden last time because I thought it would make my mom happy, and she pays my bills,” shrugs Kol, 25, who tells me she is a Jew of Iraqi heritage born in Texas. 

She said she started having second thoughts during the summer of 2020, when other fashion sellers pressured her to give ten percent of her profits to Black Lives Matter, which she calls “Fraud, Inc.” “All that social pressure made me feel like, you know what, I can’t stand woke people. They’re just holding the left hostage.”

And then she realized: “I could say whatever I want around conservative people, and they’ll just be happy that I’m there.”

When I exit the park, I happen upon dozens of police officers in riot gear. Young men and women—draped in keffiyehs and many in N95 masks—are standing behind them on a giant rock, shaking a sign that says, “Fuck Trump / Fuck Biden / The people of the Bronx / We run this shit.”

Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the rally. “It’s just wasteful energy,” said Youssef Naim, 24, of the demonstrators. “Trump is going to win, for sure.” (Stephanie Keith via Getty Images)

“They don’t give a fuck about you,” the protesters chant at the Trump crowd, clapping between words. 

I ask a young man, standing next to me, dressed all in black, what he thinks of the scene. 

“It’s just wasteful energy,” says the man, who introduced himself as Youssef Naim, 24. He said no matter how loud the protesters chant, “Trump is going to win, for sure.”

“And that’s not me saying that’s because he’s a better person—that’s because of a multitude of things,” says Naim, an art teacher who adds that he’s nonetheless leaning toward voting for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

But he has no trouble explaining Trump’s appeal: “A lot of people had this experience that they did better when Trump was in office, paired with Biden shitting himself and having dementia.” 

I ask him if the protesters, who are now marching toward the subway, see what he sees, that the former president could actually become the sitting president once again. 

“Half of them probably don’t. The other half are here because their friends are here, and then a select few just don’t want to admit it.”

Olivia Reingold is a field reporter at The Free Press. Follow her on X @Olivia_Reingold and read her piece “They’re Black Democrats. And They’re Suing Chicago Over Migrants.” 

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What If Raising Awareness Doesn’t Help? Suzy Weiss

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“I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with mylar balloons spelling out ‘Autism Awareness.’” (Image via X, illustration by The Free Press)

Mark your calendars, because July is Fibroid Awareness Month. Maybe you already celebrated National Fibroid Awareness Week—yes, there is both a month and a week—which starts in mid-April and, little-known fact, overlaps with National Infertility Awareness Week. In April, we’re also meant to have awareness for foot health, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, congenital diaphragmatic hernias, STIs, Parkinson’s, limb loss, and frogs

It’s easy to dismiss these holidays as marketing ploys, or the purview of bloated HR departments in search of new excuses to send emails. But look closely and you’ll notice that the mission of Raising Awareness, along with its cousin, Ending Stigma—we often Raise Awareness to End Stigma—has carved into our popular culture a huge place for itself. 

Still, there are a lot of emails. 

A search of my inbox surfaces calls to raise awareness for mental health (which gets its own month, May), veterans’ experiences, guns, epilepsy, and antisemitism.

To raise awareness for domestic violence, a building in downtown Pittsburgh was lit with purple lights. A bakery I like encouraged me to buy pink macarons for breast cancer awareness. I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with Mylar balloons spelling out “Autism Awareness.” It was 6 a.m. The gate was empty. Travelers, autistic and not, had presumably shoved off to their destination. 

“Tourette awareness” is something I’ve learned about thanks to Baylen Dupree, a TikToker I follow along with 9 million other people, who posts videos of her involuntary tics. I’m not picking on Dupree: she’s just one voice in a massive chorus of chronic illness sufferers who display their symptoms—this part is often referred to as a “journey”—to the world on social media. The goal—say it with me now—is to raise awareness for their conditions. 

Awareness is a big tent. Under awareness goes anything wacky, intimate, perverse, or otherwise eye-catching that allows you to accrue followers who you can then sell things to. A running influencer who spreads awareness about chronic illness, specifically Epstein-Barr, swears by Better Nature Tempeh. Brittney Mahomes hawks Auvi-Q, an EpiPen approved for toddlers, while raising awareness about food allergies. “Disabled Eliza” uses a duster made by Flash

It’s not a coincidence that the most shocking conditions get the most eyeballs. Perhaps we tell ourselves it’s “consciousness-raising” or “bringing visibility to an issue” or “using our influence,” but let’s be real: it’s voyeurism with a built-in pardon. Being authentic, finding community, and ending stigmas are, on the surface, good things. The internet is for everyone—no one should be judged, much less punished for, things they can’t control, whether it’s a rare blood disorder or a deformity or a disability. People can and do share whatever they want online, but it’s worth noting when authenticity demands intimate details for twisted incentives.

I am not proud to report that I was recently served up a video on Instagram Reels of a cute girl named Hannah. Hannah is an 8-year-old who suffers from a new-ish eating disorder—it was introduced to the DSM in 2013—called AFRID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. She is a clinically picky eater whose “safe foods” include Goldfish crackers and string cheese and whose “fear foods” include guacamole, spaghetti, applesauce, and cucumbers. The video showed Hannah trying mashed potatoes for the first time. She said the bowl of food made her “uneasy” before spooning three incredibly tiny bites into her mouth, which made her gag and nearly cry. 

A YouTube video explaining Hannah’s journey to a diagnosis—which includes her mother sharing her height and weight—is festooned with hashtags including #arfidawareness, #eatingdisorderawareness, #autismawareness, #mentalhealthawareness, and, at the end, simply #awareness. 

I watched a few more short videos—she tried a plum, orange Jell-O—before I stopped myself: Why in the world am I watching a child that I don’t know struggle through eating a honeydew? Why is anyone watching this? 

The comments included notes from cheering teens, nosy moms, judgy nutritionists, and perverted men. There are hundreds of comments. Hannah isn’t a niche internet oddity. She has 1.4 million followers. She went on Good Morning America, where she told the host, “Whenever I try food I think about all the people that I’m helping.” She added, “It motivates me.” But becoming well should be its own reward, something judged by parents and doctors and therapists.

ARFID is not well known, so until the proper research can be done and more resources cultivated, the segment laments, “Hannah is doing what she can: raising awareness.”

Awareness hasn’t always been an excuse to gawk, or an eternally open-ended project. 

Growing up, I remember running 5Ks on Sundays for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. There were pale pink wreaths of balloons and pink bagels and many, many ribbons. There was always a woman flanked by other women on a platform announcing that some massive amount of money had been raised to put toward breast cancer research, resources, and earlier detection. They gave out pamphlets for how to self-screen for lumps. I still do examinations in the shower because of it.

But somewhere along the way, that kind of real-world awareness got surreal. 

Awareness these days doesn’t ask for much. It also doesn’t offer much. It invites you to be on your phone and just let the awareness wash over you. There used to be an ask, usually money, tied to awareness, but lately we’ve let things get loose and let awareness drift away from any end. Finding a cure for autism, diagnoses for which are booming, has become passé. The new drugs to combat obesity weren’t the result of awareness, but discovery. It’s unclear how being aware of endometriosis or limb loss or Tourette is going to help any of those people, or ourselves. We’ve let people run roughshod over our consciousness in the name of awareness. 

It’s worth asking: What are we not raising awareness for? Maybe it’s the influence of Big Pharma on our increasingly sick lives and of Big Tech on our increasingly corrupted ways of dealing with it. 

I hope fibroids and frogs and IBS get proper research funding. I hope Hannah—the little girl searching for more foods to add to her safe list—gets better. But I wonder if she is destined to join the fight for children’s internet privacy, or if one day she’ll be declared cured and allowed to retire the Instagram page and fade away into normalcy, or if she’ll keep on trying to find new safe foods, in front of her followers, forever.

Suzy Weiss is a reporter at The Free Press. Read her piece, “Hurkle-Durkle Is the New Way to Self-Care Ourselves to Death,” and follow her on X @SnoozyWeiss.

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