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He Hunted al-Qaeda. Now He Hunts Neo-Nazis David Volodzko

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Kristofer Goldsmith, 38, is the founder of Task Force Butler—an elite team of veterans who use their military expertise to take down neo-Nazi terrorists on American soil. (Photos by Saul Martinez for The Free Press)

On a frigid night last February, Iraq combat veteran Kristofer Goldsmith woke to the sound of his dogs barking. He removed a gun from the safe next to his bed and crept downstairs to the kitchen of his home in suburban New York when he noticed movement just outside the glass kitchen door. 

He turned to find a man in all-black tactical gear crouched behind a bush, pointing an AR-15 with a suppressor directly at him.

“I didn’t know at that moment if it was a terrorist or a cop,” Goldsmith remembers.

Goldsmith, 38, has made enough enemies that they frequently retaliate. He is the founder of Task Force Butler—an elite team of veterans who use their military expertise to take down neo-Nazi terrorists on American soil. Over the last few years, the Aryan Freedom Network (AFN) has repeatedly posted his home address online as well as photos of his family. Just this month, the FBI contacted him to say an AFN member had made a credible threat to “exterminate” his family. 

That night back in February 2023, someone had called the police claiming Goldsmith had murdered his wife, and a cop had staked out his home.

Though Goldsmith managed to defuse the situation, he could have easily ended up wounded or killed. But he says it’s all in a day’s work for a neo-Nazi hunter and former Army sergeant who’s tasted his fair share of danger. 

“I have a high threshold for threats,” he says with a slight grin and a shrug.

I met with Goldsmith in late December at a coffee shop, the location of which can’t be disclosed for security reasons. He keeps his head shaved and sports a full beard in the tight, tactical style preferred by Special Forces members. He has the lean build of a welterweight boxer. 

Since its official founding in 2022, Task Force Butler has evolved from a one-man operation into a fully staffed movement, with a dozen or so volunteers who work remotely across the country. Most have day jobs in fields like mental health, real estate, tech, and finance. The majority are former military with experience in enemy surveillance. “The average member is a combat guy who ran around Afghanistan with a machine gun,” Goldsmith tells me.

Goldsmith’s typical day involves sitting in front of an extra-wide gaming screen, laptop, and phone, and infiltrating Nazi groups online. He monitors their private group chats, collects information from social media posts and public records, and studies videos to pick out members based on small details. 

“Like cargo pants, or the fit of a pair of jeans, or bootlaces,” Goldsmith explains. “These details can be cross-referenced with publicly available photos that these Nazis post on their Facebook or Instagram. If someone wears pink running shoes while disrupting a pride event, they probably don’t wear them just for the crime, but in their everyday life, too. You can use that to identify them.”

The goal is to provide a legal breadcrumb trail for prosecutors. In just two years, Goldsmith’s research has helped bring about three federal lawsuits against the nation’s most active neo-Nazi organization, Patriot Front. Task Force Butler has also assisted in at least nine convictions against Patriot Front in Idaho, and helped land a felony charge against Aryan Freedom Network member Thomas Vance Pollock in North Carolina. 

Though Pollock worked as a Nazi propagandist, some of the neo-Nazi groups Goldsmith investigates are violent. That includes former private Ethan Phelan Melzer, a pro-ISIS member of the Atomwaffen Division, who was sentenced to 45 years last March for plotting to ambush and murder his own Army unit. “Too few Americans understand that jihadists and white supremacists are willing to work hand-in-hand, that their movements have been aligned for decades—to kill Americans and attack our national interests,” Goldsmith says.

Between 2013 and 2022, 444 people were killed by domestic extremists, which include white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis. (Though Goldberg understands the distinctions, he casually uses the term “Nazi” in conversations to refer to all pro-white terrorist groups.) In May 2022, white supremacist Payton Gendron opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing ten black people and wounding three. In August 2023, Ryan Palmeter entered a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, with a semiautomatic rifle and a 10mm Glock, both marked with swastikas, and killed three black people before taking his own life.

Most recently, Task Force Butler helped dismantle the New England–based Nationalist Social Club—Anti-Communist Action, better known as NSC-131, who consider themselves soldiers in a war against Jews. NSC-131’s militant wing, the “Bully Squad,” conducts statewide vigilante patrols in which they hunt for “anti-white” activity, getting into verbal confrontations, starting fights, and assaulting random people on the street.

Last December, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office slapped NSC-131 with a civil rights lawsuit, thanks in part to intelligence offered by Goldsmith, detailing the group’s membership, command structure, and criminal activity. All told, Goldsmith’s team played a role in five lawsuits against NSC-131, adding a string of Nazi names to their arrest log.

“My goal is to impose costs on these motherfuckers to take them off the field,” he tells me. “To get them locked up or so wrapped up in civil cases that their resources, their time, their energy, their money are exhausted so they can’t do this to other people. We wanna fucking take our pound of flesh. We wanna make it expensive to be a Nazi.”

Goldsmith’s typical day involves sitting in front of an extra-wide gaming screen, laptop, and phone, and infiltrating Nazi groups online.

For Goldsmith, the business of hunting Nazis is a family tradition. His grandmother’s brother died in France fighting the Nazis, and she used to keep a framed letter from President Roosevelt, acknowledging his service, hanging in her guest bedroom. Goldsmith’s paternal grandfather was also a World War II vet.

Though not Jewish himself, Goldsmith spent his childhood on Long Island, where half his friends were Jewish and—he figured—so was half the country. “It wasn’t till I landed in basic training where I was like, holy shit, there’s sixty different people here calling themselves Christians.”

Goldsmith enlisted in the Army after September 11, where he was fast-tracked to sergeant in just over two years (it usually takes four to six). He was deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005, where he searched for enemy targets and relayed their location for attack. He often saw police and civilians pull dead bodies and bloodied limbs off the ground. One time, Goldsmith remembers a nervous Iraqi policeman saying he felt unsafe. Just hours later, the officer’s body was found riddled with bullets. It was Goldsmith’s job to take photos of his splattered brains.

Returning home in 2007, Goldsmith suffered from undiagnosed PTSD and drank to numb the pain. He had night terrors and panic attacks and fell into a dark hole. “I was really fucked up,” he says. “Unemployable, drinking every fucking night.” He was also physically sick, with constant ear infections and sinuses that “had started to scar over” because of his exposure to burn pits in Iraq.

In January 2007, on the eve of his redeployment, with four months of active duty remaining, he attempted suicide. “Every adult experience I’d had was at war or preparing for war,” he says of his despair. “I got stuck thinking my life had no meaning, that I’d been reduced to a number. They just needed a body to deploy, and it didn’t matter the physical suffering that I was enduring.”

He downed a bottle of Percocet—which he’d been prescribed for an upcoming surgery for his sinuses—and a bottle of vodka, and then wrote on his arms with a magic marker: “Stop-loss killed this soldier.” He woke up the next morning in the hospital, eventually learning that his roommate had discovered him just in time. He spent the next two weeks in a hospital bed, where he didn’t give up on the idea of ending his life. 

“I tried to escape at some point and got handcuffed to the gurney,” he says. 

Later, Goldsmith was booted from the service with a less than honorable discharge, losing his rank and GI benefits. 

“I went from Sergeant Goldsmith back to Kris,” he says. “I was stripped of my identity, my community, my support network, and left to navigate the VA system on my own.”

Goldsmith slowly rebuilt his life. He got his drinking under control, went to therapy, and enrolled in Columbia University, where he graduated in 2020 with a BA in political science. After several years as an independent advocate for veterans’ rights, he was hired in 2016 as a chief investigator for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). There, he uncovered a Russian psyop posing as a VVA administrator, posting Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBT content online with the intent to sow racial and political discord.

His life took another turn in September 2019, when “Donny,” an old military buddy (whose real name he can’t share for safety reasons), contacted him and said, “I just infiltrated a neo-Nazi organization. You want to help me take them down?”

Goldsmith passed on the offer, but as he continued his work for the VVA, he couldn’t put it out of his mind. “What the Russians and the Chinese and all of these other hostile entities were doing was always adjacent to American-born extremism and disinformation,” he says. 

Then came the pandemic, and Goldsmith lost his job at the VVA. In May 2020, he dug up Donny’s number and gave him a call. 

“All right,” he told his friend, “tell me about your Nazis.”

Donny gave Goldsmith a number and a password to access the website, bloodandsoil.org, then run by white supremacist group Vanguard America, where he started posing as a neo-Nazi online. “The infiltration process is never the same twice,” he tells me. For Patriot Front, he applied online, followed by a voice interview on the encrypted messaging app Rocket.Chat. An in-person vetting followed, where Patriot Front members ask candidates the names of their favorite Nazi philosophers or sympathizers, what YouTube channels they watch, or which politicians they support.

“You can either go for someone like Paul Gosar,” Goldsmith says, given the Arizona Republican congressman’s alleged ties to the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, “or someone like [business magnate] Henry Ford,” who published dozens of stories during the 1920s in The Dearborn Independent on the evil nature of Jewish influence.

The interviews include questions like, “What is the meaning of loyalty?” or “Is respect earned or given?” During one exchange, Goldsmith was asked of a hypothetical showdown with Antifa, the left-wing anti-fascist group: “You draw your weapons and go to fire, but you get a click. What do you do?”

Goldsmith’s reply? “My weapon is a pump-action, so I’ll go ahead and rack that shotgun and I can pretty much guarantee I’m not gonna get two clicks in a row.” 

His interviewer was pleased. “Touché,” he replied.

Goldsmith says he’s never that frightened during these interviews, but that’s “not to say I think these people don’t wanna hurt me.” Because he’s able to pass the vetting process using only a fake name and a lot of guts, he says with a smile: “They’re not the most intelligent people.”

Task Force Butler still has no central headquarters or dependable financing. Up to now, they’ve survived on nonprofit grants and small donations from supporters, who learn about the group’s activities in the news and donate through their website. They typically give “a little more than $50 on average,” Goldsmith says. “That might mean a few thousand dollars a month.”

He hopes to hire paid analysts by June. “Pride Month is the fighting season for extremist organizations,” he says, adding that the warmer weather also means more people are outside, increasing the chance for conflict. Task Force Butler plans to protect pride events by providing security analysis for several venues in New England. Then comes November, when there will inevitably be conspiracy theories about a stolen election or trunks full of illegal ballots. “We’re focusing our efforts on training veterans in swing states so they can be ready and in position to gather evidence of extremist activity as it happens,” Goldsmith says.

In the meantime, Goldsmith keeps a subcompact semiautomatic pistol on his hip—especially at home, because he never knows when the next SWAT team will show up. 

“I don’t want to own a gun,” he says. “I do it because I have to. Because when an Atomwaffen-type terrorist organization wants to get squirrely and try to kick down my door, I’m gonna fucking take them out. And if I die, they’re dying with me.”

David Volodzko is the author of the newsletter The Radicalist, where he writes about political extremism. His work has been published in New York magazine, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter (now X) @davidvolodzko.

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The Old Evil Chris Hedges

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Which Genocide Are You On? – by Mr. Fish

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine: It comes back in a rush, the stench of raw sewage, the groan of the diesel, sloth-like Israeli armored personnel carriers, the vans filled with broods of children, driven by chalky faced colonists, certainly not from here, probably from Brooklyn or somewhere in Russia or maybe Britain. Little has changed. The checkpoints with their blue and white Israeli flags dot the roads and intersections. The red-tiled roofs of the colonist settlements — illegal under international law — dominate hillsides above Palestinian villages and towns. They have grown in number and expanded in size. But they remain protected by blast barriers, concertina wire and watchtowers surrounded by the obscenity of lawns and gardens. The colonists have access to bountiful sources of water in this arid landscape that the Palestinians are denied

The winding 26-foot high concrete wall that runs the 440 mile length of occupied Palestine, with its graffiti calling for liberation, murals with the Al-Aqsa mosque, faces of martyrs and the grinning and bearded mug of Yasser Arafat — whose concessions to Israel in the Oslo agreement made him, in the words of Edward Said, “the Pétain of the Palestinians” — give the West Bank the feel of an open air prison. The wall lacerates the landscape. It twists and turns like some huge, fossilized antediluvian snake severing Palestinians from their families, slicing Palestinian villages in half, cutting communities off from their orchards, olive trees and fields, dipping and rising out of wadis, trapping Palestinians in the Jewish state’s updated version of a Bantustan.

It has been over two decades since I reported from the West Bank. Time collapses. The smells, sensations, emotions and images, the lilting cadence of Arabic and the miasma of sudden and violent death that lurks in the air, evokes the old evil. It is as if I never left.  

I am in a battered black Mercedes driven by a friend in his thirties who I will not name to protect him. He worked construction in Israel but lost his job — like nearly all Palestinians employed in Israel — on Oct. 7. He has four children. He is struggling. His savings have dwindled. It is getting hard to buy food, pay for electricity, water and petrol. He feels under siege. He is under siege. He has little use for the quisling Palestinian Authority. He dislikes Hamas. He has Jewish friends. He speaks Hebrew. The siege is grinding him, and everyone around him, down.

“A few more months like this and we’re finished,” he says puffing nervously on a cigarette. “People are desperate. More and more are going hungry.”

We are driving the winding road that hugs the barren sand and scrub hillsides snaking up from Jericho, rising from the salt-rich Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the earth, to Ramallah. I will meet my friend, the novelist Atef Abu Saif, who was in Gaza on Oct. 7 with his 15-year-old son, Yasser. They were visiting family when Israel began its scorched earth campaign. He spent 85 days enduring and writing daily about the nightmare of the genocide. His collection of haunting diary entries have been published in his book “Don’t Look Left.” He escaped the carnage though the border with Egypt at Rafah, traveled to Jordan and returned home to Ramallah. But the scars of the genocide remain. Yasser rarely leaves his room. He does not engage with his friends. Fear, trauma and hatred are the primary commodities imparted by the colonizers to the colonized.

“I still live in Gaza,” Atef tells me later. “I am not out. Yasser still hears bombing. He still sees corpses. He does not eat meat. Red meat reminds him of the flesh he picked up when he joined the rescue parties during the massacre in Jabalia, and the flesh of his cousins. I sleep on a mattress on the floor as I did in Gaza when we lived in a tent. I lie awake. I think of those we left behind waiting for sudden death.”

We turn a corner on a hillside. Cars and trucks are veering spasmodically to the right and left. Several in front of us are in reverse. Ahead is an Israeli checkpoint with thick boxy blocks of dun colored concrete. Soldiers are stopping vehicles and checking papers. Palestinians can wait hours to get past. They can be hauled from their vehicles and detained. Anything is possible at an Israeli checkpoint, often erected with no advance warning. Most of it is not good.

We back up. We descend a narrow, dusty road that veers off from the main highway. We travel on bumpy, uneven tracks through impoverished villages.

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It was like this for Blacks in the segregated south and Indigenous Americans. It was like this for Algerians under the French. It was like this in India, Ireland and Kenya under the British. The death mask — too often of European extraction — of colonialism does not change. Nor does the God-like authority of colonists who look at the colonized as vermin, who take a perverse delight in their humiliation and suffering and who kill them with impunity. 

The Israeli customs official asked me two questions when I crossed into occupied Palestine from Jordan on the King Hussein Bridge. 

“Do you hold a Palestinian passport?” 

“Are either of your parents Palestinian?” 

In short, are you contaminated?

This is how apartheid works.

The Palestinians want their land back. Then they will talk of peace. The Israelis want peace, but demand Palestinian land. And that, in three short sentences, is the intractable nature of this conflict.

I see Jerusalem in the distance. Or rather, I see the Jewish colony that lines the hills above Jerusalem. The villas, built in an arc on the hilltop, have windows intentionally narrowed into upright rectangles to double as gun slits.

We reach the outskirts of Ramallah. We are held up in the snarl of traffic in front of the sprawling Israeli military base that oversees the Qalandia checkpoint, the primary checkpoint between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is the scene of frequent demonstrations against the occupation that can end in gunfire.

I meet Atef. We walk to a kebab shop and sit at a small outdoor table. The scars of the latest incursion by the Israeli army are around the corner. At night, a few days ago, Israeli soldiers torched the shops that handle money transfers from abroad. They are charred ruins. Money from abroad will now be harder to get, which I suspect was the point.

Israel has dramatically tightened its stranglehold on the more than 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, who are surrounded by more than 700,000 Jewish colonists housed in some 150 strategically placed developments with their own shopping malls, schools and medical centers. These colonial developments along with special roads that can only be used by the colonists and the military, checkpoints, tracts of land that are off limits to Palestinians, closed military zones, Israeli-declared “nature preserves” and military outposts form concentric circles. They can instantly sever the flow of traffic to isolate Palestinians cities and towns into a series of ringed ghettos.

“Since Oct. 7 it is hard to travel anywhere in the West Bank,” Atef says. “There are checkpoints at the entrances of every city, town and village. Imagine you want to see your mother or your fiancée. You want to drive from Ramallah to Nablus. It can take seven hours because the main roads are blocked. You are forced to drive through back roads in the mountains.”

The trip should take 90 minutes.

Israeli soldiers and colonists have killed 528 Palestinian civilians, including 133 children, and injured more than 5,350 others in the West Bank, since Oct. 7, according to the UN human rights chief. Israel has also detained over 9,700 Palestinians — or should I say hostages? — including hundreds of children and pregnant women. Many have been severely tortured, including doctors tortured to death in Israeli dungeons and aid workers killed upon their release. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the execution of Palestinian prisoners to free up space for more. 

Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, was in the past spared the worst of Israeli violence. Since Oct. 7, this has changed. Raids and arrests take place almost daily in and around the city, sometimes accompanied by lethal gunfire and aerial bombardments. Israel has bulldozed or confiscated more than 990 Palestinian dwellings and homes in the West Bank since Oct. 7, at times forcing owners to demolish their own buildings or pay exorbitant fines.

Heavily armed Israeli colonists have carried out murderous rampages on villages east of Ramallah, including attacks following the murder of a 14-year-old colonist on April 12 near the village of al Mughayyir. The colonists, in retaliation, burned and destroyed Palestinian homes and vehicles across 11 villages, ripped up roads, killed one Palestinian and wounded more than two dozen others. 

Israel has ordered the largest West Bank land seizure in more than three decades, confiscating vast tracts of land northeast of Ramallah. The extreme rightwing Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a Jewish colony and is in charge of colonial expansion, has promised to flood the West Bank with a million new colonists. 

Smotrich has vowed to obliterate the distinct areas in the West Bank created by the Oslo accords. Area A, which comprises 18 percent of the West Bank, is under exclusive Palestinian control. Area B, nearly 22 percent of the West Bank, is under Israeli military occupation, in collusion with the Palestinian Authority. Area C, over 60 percent of the West Bank, is under total Israeli occupation.

“Israel realizes that the world is blind, that no one will force it to end the genocide in Gaza, and no one will pay attention to the war in the West Bank,” Atef says. “The word war is not even used. This is called a normal Israeli military operation, as if what is happening to us is normal. There is no distinction now between the status of the occupied territories, classified as A, B and C. The settlers are confiscating more land. They are carrying out more attacks. They do not need the army. They have become a shadow army, supported and armed by Israel’s rightwing government. We have lived in a continuous war since 1948. This is simply the newest phase.” 

Jenin and its neighboring refugee camp are assaulted daily by Israeli armed units, undercover commando teams, snipers and bulldozers, which level entire neighborhoods. Drones equipped with machine guns and missiles, as well as warplanes and Apache attack helicopters, circle overhead and obliterate dwellings. Medics and doctors, as in Gaza, are assassinated. Usaid Kamal Jabarin, a 50-year-old surgeon, was killed on May 21 by an Israel sniper as he arrived for work at the Jenin Governmental Hospital. Hunger is endemic.

“The Israeli military carries out raids that kill Palestinians and then departs,” Atef says. “But it returns a few days later. It is not enough for the Israelis to steal our land. They seek to kill as many of the original inhabitants as possible. This is why it carries out constant operations. This is why there are constant armed clashes. But these clashes are provoked by Israel. They are the pretext used to continually attack us. We live under constant pressure. We face death daily.”

The dramatic escalation of violence in the West Bank is overshadowed by the genocide in Gaza. But it has become a second front. If Israel can empty Gaza, the West Bank will be next.

“Israel’s objective has not changed,” he says. “It seeks to shrink the Palestinian population, confiscate larger and larger tracts of Palestinian land and build more and more colonies. It seeks to Judaize Palestine and strip the Palestinians of all the means to sustain themselves. The ultimate goal is the annexation of the West Bank.”

“Even at the height of the peace process, when everyone was mesmerized by peace, Israel was turning this peace proposal into a nightmare,” he goes on. “Most Palestinians were opposed to the peace accords Arafat signed in 1993, but still they welcomed him when he returned. They did not kill him. They wanted to give peace a chance. In Israel, the prime minister who signed the Oslo accords was assassinated.”

 “A few years ago, someone daubed a strange slogan on the wall of the U.N. school east of Jabaliya,” Atef wrote from the hell of Gaza. “‘We progress backwards.’ It has a ring to it. Every new war drags us back to basics. It destroys our houses, our institutions, our mosques and our churches. It razes our gardens and parks. Every war takes years to recover from, and before we’ve recovered, a new war arrives. There are no warning sirens, no messages sent to our phones. War just arrives.”

The Jewish settler colonial project is protean. It changes its shape but not its essence. Its tactics vary. Its intensity comes in waves of severe repression and less repression. Its rhetoric about peace masks its intent. It grinds forward with its deadly, perverted, racist logic. And yet, the Palestinians endure, refusing to submit, resisting despite the overwhelming odds, grasping at tiny kernels of hope from bottomless wells of despair. There is a word for this. Heroic.

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The Old Evil Chris Hedges

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Which Genocide Are You On? – by Mr. Fish

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine: It comes back in a rush, the stench of raw sewage, the groan of the diesel, sloth-like Israeli armored personnel carriers, the vans filled with broods of children, driven by chalky faced colonists, certainly not from here, probably from Brooklyn or somewhere in Russia or maybe Britain. Little has changed. The checkpoints with their blue and white Israeli flags dot the roads and intersections. The red-tiled roofs of the colonist settlements — illegal under international law — dominate hillsides above Palestinian villages and towns. They have grown in number and expanded in size. But they remain protected by blast barriers, concertina wire and watchtowers surrounded by the obscenity of lawns and gardens. The colonists have access to bountiful sources of water in this arid landscape that the Palestinians are denied

The winding 26-foot high concrete wall that runs the 440 mile length of occupied Palestine, with its graffiti calling for liberation, murals with the Al-Aqsa mosque, faces of martyrs and the grinning and bearded mug of Yasser Arafat — whose concessions to Israel in the Oslo agreement made him, in the words of Edward Said, “the Pétain of the Palestinians” — give the West Bank the feel of an open air prison. The wall lacerates the landscape. It twists and turns like some huge, fossilized antediluvian snake severing Palestinians from their families, slicing Palestinian villages in half, cutting communities off from their orchards, olive trees and fields, dipping and rising out of wadis, trapping Palestinians in the Jewish state’s updated version of a Bantustan.

It has been over two decades since I reported from the West Bank. Time collapses. The smells, sensations, emotions and images, the lilting cadence of Arabic and the miasma of sudden and violent death that lurks in the air, evokes the old evil. It is as if I never left.  

I am in a battered black Mercedes driven by a friend in his thirties who I will not name to protect him. He worked construction in Israel but lost his job — like nearly all Palestinians employed in Israel — on Oct. 7. He has four children. He is struggling. His savings have dwindled. It is getting hard to buy food, pay for electricity, water and petrol. He feels under siege. He is under siege. He has little use for the quisling Palestinian Authority. He dislikes Hamas. He has Jewish friends. He speaks Hebrew. The siege is grinding him, and everyone around him, down.

“A few more months like this and we’re finished,” he says puffing nervously on a cigarette. “People are desperate. More and more are going hungry.”

We are driving the winding road that hugs the barren sand and scrub hillsides snaking up from Jericho, rising from the salt-rich Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the earth, to Ramallah. I will meet my friend, the novelist Atef Abu Saif, who was in Gaza on Oct. 7 with his 15-year-old son, Yasser. They were visiting family when Israel began its scorched earth campaign. He spent 85 days enduring and writing daily about the nightmare of the genocide. His collection of haunting diary entries have been published in his book “Don’t Look Left.” He escaped the carnage though the border with Egypt at Rafah, traveled to Jordan and returned home to Ramallah. But the scars of the genocide remain. Yasser rarely leaves his room. He does not engage with his friends. Fear, trauma and hatred are the primary commodities imparted by the colonizers to the colonized.

“I still live in Gaza,” Atef tells me later. “I am not out. Yasser still hears bombing. He still sees corpses. He does not eat meat. Red meat reminds him of the flesh he picked up when he joined the rescue parties during the massacre in Jabalia, and the flesh of his cousins. I sleep on a mattress on the floor as I did in Gaza when we lived in a tent. I lie awake. I think of those we left behind waiting for sudden death.”

We turn a corner on a hillside. Cars and trucks are veering spasmodically to the right and left. Several in front of us are in reverse. Ahead is an Israeli checkpoint with thick boxy blocks of dun colored concrete. Soldiers are stopping vehicles and checking papers. Palestinians can wait hours to get past. They can be hauled from their vehicles and detained. Anything is possible at an Israeli checkpoint, often erected with no advance warning. Most of it is not good.

We back up. We descend a narrow, dusty road that veers off from the main highway. We travel on bumpy, uneven tracks through impoverished villages.

Subscribe now

It was like this for Blacks in the segregated south and Indigenous Americans. It was like this for Algerians under the French. It was like this in India, Ireland and Kenya under the British. The death mask — too often of European extraction — of colonialism does not change. Nor does the God-like authority of colonists who look at the colonized as vermin, who take a perverse delight in their humiliation and suffering and who kill them with impunity. 

The Israeli customs official asked me two questions when I crossed into occupied Palestine from Jordan on the King Hussein Bridge. 

“Do you hold a Palestinian passport?” 

“Are either of your parents Palestinian?” 

In short, are you contaminated?

This is how apartheid works.

The Palestinians want their land back. Then they will talk of peace. The Israelis want peace, but demand Palestinian land. And that, in three short sentences, is the intractable nature of this conflict.

I see Jerusalem in the distance. Or rather, I see the Jewish colony that lines the hills above Jerusalem. The villas, built in an arc on the hilltop, have windows intentionally narrowed into upright rectangles to double as gun slits.

We reach the outskirts of Ramallah. We are held up in the snarl of traffic in front of the sprawling Israeli military base that oversees the Qalandia checkpoint, the primary checkpoint between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is the scene of frequent demonstrations against the occupation that can end in gunfire.

I meet Atef. We walk to a kebab shop and sit at a small outdoor table. The scars of the latest incursion by the Israeli army are around the corner. At night, a few days ago, Israeli soldiers torched the shops that handle money transfers from abroad. They are charred ruins. Money from abroad will now be harder to get, which I suspect was the point.

Israel has dramatically tightened its stranglehold on the more than 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, who are surrounded by more than 700,000 Jewish colonists housed in some 150 strategically placed developments with their own shopping malls, schools and medical centers. These colonial developments along with special roads that can only be used by the colonists and the military, checkpoints, tracts of land that are off limits to Palestinians, closed military zones, Israeli-declared “nature preserves” and military outposts form concentric circles. They can instantly sever the flow of traffic to isolate Palestinians cities and towns into a series of ringed ghettos.

“Since Oct. 7 it is hard to travel anywhere in the West Bank,” Atef says. “There are checkpoints at the entrances of every city, town and village. Imagine you want to see your mother or your fiancée. You want to drive from Ramallah to Nablus. It can take seven hours because the main roads are blocked. You are forced to drive through back roads in the mountains.”

The trip should take 90 minutes.

Israeli soldiers and colonists have killed 528 Palestinian civilians, including 133 children, and injured more than 5,350 others in the West Bank, since Oct. 7, according to the UN human rights chief. Israel has also detained over 9,700 Palestinians — or should I say hostages? — including hundreds of children and pregnant women. Many have been severely tortured, including doctors tortured to death in Israeli dungeons and aid workers killed upon their release. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the execution of Palestinian prisoners to free up space for more. 

Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, was in the past spared the worst of Israeli violence. Since Oct. 7, this has changed. Raids and arrests take place almost daily in and around the city, sometimes accompanied by lethal gunfire and aerial bombardments. Israel has bulldozed or confiscated more than 990 Palestinian dwellings and homes in the West Bank since Oct. 7, at times forcing owners to demolish their own buildings or pay exorbitant fines.

Heavily armed Israeli colonists have carried out murderous rampages on villages east of Ramallah, including attacks following the murder of a 14-year-old colonist on April 12 near the village of al Mughayyir. The colonists, in retaliation, burned and destroyed Palestinian homes and vehicles across 11 villages, ripped up roads, killed one Palestinian and wounded more than two dozen others. 

Israel has ordered the largest West Bank land seizure in more than three decades, confiscating vast tracts of land northeast of Ramallah. The extreme rightwing Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a Jewish colony and is in charge of colonial expansion, has promised to flood the West Bank with a million new colonists. 

Smotrich has vowed to obliterate the distinct areas in the West Bank created by the Oslo accords. Area A, which comprises 18 percent of the West Bank, is under exclusive Palestinian control. Area B, nearly 22 percent of the West Bank, is under Israeli military occupation, in collusion with the Palestinian Authority. Area C, over 60 percent of the West Bank, is under total Israeli occupation.

“Israel realizes that the world is blind, that no one will force it to end the genocide in Gaza, and no one will pay attention to the war in the West Bank,” Atef says. “The word war is not even used. This is called a normal Israeli military operation, as if what is happening to us is normal. There is no distinction now between the status of the occupied territories, classified as A, B and C. The settlers are confiscating more land. They are carrying out more attacks. They do not need the army. They have become a shadow army, supported and armed by Israel’s rightwing government. We have lived in a continuous war since 1948. This is simply the newest phase.” 

Jenin and its neighboring refugee camp are assaulted daily by Israeli armed units, undercover commando teams, snipers and bulldozers, which level entire neighborhoods. Drones equipped with machine guns and missiles, as well as warplanes and Apache attack helicopters, circle overhead and obliterate dwellings. Medics and doctors, as in Gaza, are assassinated. Usaid Kamal Jabarin, a 50-year-old surgeon, was killed on May 21 by an Israel sniper as he arrived for work at the Jenin Governmental Hospital. Hunger is endemic.

“The Israeli military carries out raids that kill Palestinians and then departs,” Atef says. “But it returns a few days later. It is not enough for the Israelis to steal our land. They seek to kill as many of the original inhabitants as possible. This is why it carries out constant operations. This is why there are constant armed clashes. But these clashes are provoked by Israel. They are the pretext used to continually attack us. We live under constant pressure. We face death daily.”

The dramatic escalation of violence in the West Bank is overshadowed by the genocide in Gaza. But it has become a second front. If Israel can empty Gaza, the West Bank will be next.

“Israel’s objective has not changed,” he says. “It seeks to shrink the Palestinian population, confiscate larger and larger tracts of Palestinian land and build more and more colonies. It seeks to Judaize Palestine and strip the Palestinians of all the means to sustain themselves. The ultimate goal is the annexation of the West Bank.”

“Even at the height of the peace process, when everyone was mesmerized by peace, Israel was turning this peace proposal into a nightmare,” he goes on. “Most Palestinians were opposed to the peace accords Arafat signed in 1993, but still they welcomed him when he returned. They did not kill him. They wanted to give peace a chance. In Israel, the prime minister who signed the Oslo accords was assassinated.”

 “A few years ago, someone daubed a strange slogan on the wall of the U.N. school east of Jabaliya,” Atef wrote from the hell of Gaza. “‘We progress backwards.’ It has a ring to it. Every new war drags us back to basics. It destroys our houses, our institutions, our mosques and our churches. It razes our gardens and parks. Every war takes years to recover from, and before we’ve recovered, a new war arrives. There are no warning sirens, no messages sent to our phones. War just arrives.”

The Jewish settler colonial project is protean. It changes its shape but not its essence. Its tactics vary. Its intensity comes in waves of severe repression and less repression. Its rhetoric about peace masks its intent. It grinds forward with its deadly, perverted, racist logic. And yet, the Palestinians endure, refusing to submit, resisting despite the overwhelming odds, grasping at tiny kernels of hope from bottomless wells of despair. There is a word for this. Heroic.

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TGIF: President Putin and Vice President Trump Edition Suzy Weiss

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Alex Soros and Huma Abedin arrive at the Booksellers Room of the White House on May 23, 2024. (Saul Loeb Getty Images)

Apparently, aunts don’t get parental leave in this country. Here I am, babysitting a two-year-old, blowing endless raspberries, sneaking illegal candy into tiny palms day and night, putting on the Moana soundtrack again and my thanks is. . . more deadlines? 

And for my other aunts out there, who, like me, always seem to show up after the diaper change and disappear before the bedtime meltdown, I see you. 

But here I am. And for my sister-in-law Nellie, and only for her, I’ll endure the wrath of the commenters.

Let’s get to it.

 → He’s answering every question: The leader of the free world had an important task on Thursday night. It would be a decisive moment for his presidency. According to Rachel Maddow, “the fate of the world” hung “in the balance.” What did Joe Biden have to do? Answer a few questions from the press without the help of a teleprompter in a manner that suggested he was of sound mind. The bar was set very, very low.  

Did he clear it? Well, at another event a few hours before his “big boy” press conference, he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin.” That’s the geopolitical equivalent of calling the teacher “Mom.” And at the press conference itself he referred to Kamala Harris as “Vice President Trump.” 

In the end it was better than expected and worse than we deserve. But you know who thought Joe crushed it? His press guy. “To answer the question on everyone’s minds: No, Joe Biden does not have a doctorate in foreign affairs,” said Andrew Bates on X, answering a question on absolutely no one’s minds. “He’s just that fucking good.”  

When pressed on his health, Biden said his main issue is that after he broke his left foot, he didn’t wear the boot. Uh, relatable king check! A 20-year-old staffer clutched a microphone in front of each reporter’s face as they asked the president a bunch of variations of “So you’re really going to do this?” Biden says, after a few coughs and three seconds of silence: Yes. 

Best-in-Show-in-Chief: Apparently, most of the president’s movements, Cabinet meetings, public comments, and private comments—but like, only that stuff!—are being choreographed down to the minute. CNN reports that the president’s aides provide him with talking points and diagrams for where to walk and require advisers to submit questions ahead of meetings. He’s also not really having many Cabinet meetings—in fact, there hasn’t been a full Cabinet meeting since last October—and is seen less and less by staffers. 

Biden’s rare performances even come with stage direction, per Axios, which obtained pictures of an event prep document with two full pages dedicated to “Walk to podium” with pictures taken from the wings. Staffers claim this is part of their “advance work” and a sign of meticulous prep. I’m sure the latest OPEC data was right on the other side of the “Walk to podium” page. 

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reports that the “acting chief of staff” and presidential “gatekeeper” is none other than Hunter Biden. So if you see a new executive order next week detailing penalties for hookers who steal your crack, that’s just that enduring Biden legacy of serving the American middle class. A Dem who worked for Biden said the whole arrangement “is more of a family thing than a political thing.” And I get that. It’s basically how we run TGIF. Give the crackhead Kennedys their privacy. 

Just a routine checkup with the Parkinson’s guy: Last week it came out that Dr. Kevin Cannard, a neurologist and Parkinson’s expert, has visited the White House at least eight times since last summer and met with the president’s personal physician. Karine Jean-Pierre, Biden’s press secretary, said on Tuesday that the meeting had nothing to do with the president. I guess the two doctors who treat the president just chose a weird place to hang out? Then later that same day, she confirmed that indeed the meeting was about the president and that she got confused about the dates and misspoke. 

There was a discrepancy too on whether Biden was treated by a doctor after the debate for his “cold,” which is a new word for “probably Parkinson’s.” (Tired means dementia and jet-lagged means it’s malignant.) Last Wednesday Jean-Pierre said he wasn’t checked out by his doctor, but Biden said in a meeting with Democratic governors a few hours later that he was. Jean-Pierre then corrected things and said that the appointment after the debate was not a full work up, but a “check-in,” which apparently happens a couple of times a week. A couple of times per week! That seems like a lot of times per week to go to the doctor for a routine annual checkup. 


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