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Weekend Listening: The First GOP Debate and the Elephant Not in the Room Bari Weiss



Republican presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley face off at the first debate of the GOP primary season. (Win McNamee via Getty Images)

On Wednesday night, Fox News and the streaming platform Rumble hosted the first Republican presidential debate with the eight GOP hopefuls who made the cut: North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, former governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former vice president Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. 

Missing from the stage was Donald Trump, who refused to attend the debate. Instead, he sat down with Tucker Carlson—a move that allowed him to flip the bird to the RNC and allowed Tucker to do the same to Fox, who fired him a few months ago. Trump’s interview with Tucker aired exclusively on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and more than 74 million people tuned in.

Here at The Free Press, we love a good debate night, and we were up until the wee hours discussing it all. So today on Honestly, TFP reporter Olivia Reingold, TFP senior editor Peter Savodnik, and Newsweek’s opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon are here to discuss: who emerged on top? Who fell by the wayside? And did the elephant not in the room still somehow manage to dominate the night?

Click here to listen to our discussion or read an edited transcript below. And join us in the comments. —BW

And the winner is. . . 

Bari: With Trump missing from the debate stage, there was only really one reason to tune in, and that was to see if there’s actually a viable candidate in this race that is not Trump. Polling has consistently shown that people are desperate for an alternative to another Trump v. Biden face-off in 2024. And I wonder, did last night give us a clear contender? 

Batya: The two competing answers we got at our debate at Newsweek were that the winner of the GOP debate was Donald Trump, and the other one was the winner was Joe Biden. So clearly, we felt that no one really stood out. There were some moments that really defined the evening. One of them was the foreign policy debate between Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, which was sort of the old GOP versus the new Trump GOP going at it. At that moment, Vivek’s credibility really came into question in a way that surprised me. I did find myself admiring the way in which Nikki took the event to task, despite the fact that I agreed with what Vivek was saying. Vivek had the right lines, but Haley’s deportment and her credibility and her experience, despite the fact I don’t agree with what she’s done with it, really came through for me. 

Peter: I think it’s obvious that Vivek had the best night. He had the best lines. He had the most energy and the most momentum. The problem is that he’s trying to beat Trump. Ultimately, the question for him, which no one asked, is if you are such a fervent supporter of Trump, why are you running? I think he did great last night, but I don’t see how that actually wins him the nomination. 

Olivia: I think this was the first time that a lot of people really heard of this guy [Vivek] or started taking him seriously. I think his ascent can be explained by his authenticity or perceived authenticity. It’s very hard to be authentic on a debate stage. You saw a lot of other candidates using pretty canned or rehearsed lines, but I got the sense that often Vivek was improvising and he sometimes took positions that the crowd was not happy with, but he still maintained his position. I think that’s what people admire about him: they feel like they’re getting someone who’s actually honest about where he stands. He’s not trying to water things down. 

Bari: And how are voters responding to him? 

Olivia: What I heard from a lot of voters is that they see Trump as someone who talks about everything that’s wrong about America, but what they see in Vivek is someone who says what could be right about America. However, I do think Vivek’s optimism was tarnished a bit by some of his pretty ugly and aggressive hits on the debate stage.

Nikki Haley stands her ground: 

Bari: I think Nikki Haley also emerged as a clear contender. From the very start of the night, she came out swinging. She started by attacking her own party for blowing up the debt. Here’s what she said: “The fact is that no one is telling the American people the truth. The truth is that Biden didn’t do this to us. Our Republicans did this to us, too. Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt. Our kids are never going to forgive us for this. Look at the 2024 budget: Republicans asked for $7.4 billion in earmarks. Democrats asked for $2.8 billion. So you tell me, who are the big spenders? I think it’s time for an accountant in the White House.” Batya, what did you think of her strategy?

Batya: It was a way of talking about the economy that set her apart, right? It was a gambit to be like, “Let’s all take responsibility. Both sides are at fault for inflation.” I think she really is a throwback to the pre-Trump Republican Party not just on foreign policy but on economic policy as well. I think that Nikki Haley also showed the Republican Party the way forward on abortion, which is a very tricky issue. Haley said: “Let’s find consensus. Can’t we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions? Can’t we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can’t we all agree that doctors and nurses who don’t believe in abortion shouldn’t have to perform them? Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available? And can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?” Now, that was a very courageous thing for a pro-life candidate to say, but finding that consensus is the only way to get out of this morass. I don’t know how it felt in the room, but at least watching from home, it seemed like that really landed with the audience. I know just from the working-class people I spoke to, they really do agree. 

Bari: Nikki also clearly came ready to deploy this one particular line by Margaret Thatcher. While Vivek and Christie were sort of squabbling back and forth, she decides to step in and says: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,” and the crowd cheered. Is the GOP embracing the #TheFutureIsFemale and #GirlBoss? 

Peter: Last night, Haley showed herself as someone who is about getting things done. When Haley confronted Pence about the Senate calculus, that was her confronting him about playing from an old playbook. That was her calling him out for being stuck in the ’80s. And that’s why the Thatcher quote worked so well. It’s her saying, “We’re all more or less in agreement here that abortion is lamentable, but what can we actually get done?” If you look at what happened in Kansas, if you look at the debates going on in her own state or in other red bastions, you can see that people are tired of the old original culture war that stretches back to the early ’70s. So I think she very deftly tapped into that, just like with the line attacking the GOP over the debt in the very beginning. It was her way of attacking the swamp without identifying it as the swamp. I thought she was just very smart in an almost coded way. 

Bari: I think that the phrase has become overused, but it felt like she was putting herself forward as the “commonsensical candidate.” 

Peter: Yeah, that’s right. 

The elephant not in the room:

Bari: At about the hour mark of the debate, Brett Baier said he wanted to take a moment to address the elephant not in the room. And of course, that was Donald Trump. The candidates proceeded to spend 15 minutes going back and forth about the former president. Chris Christie got an audience full of boos after saying that we need to stop normalizing this type of conduct. Vivek contested Christie by declaring that Trump is the greatest president of the twenty-first century. Looking at where the Republican voter base currently is, which of these two have the correct strategy? 

Peter: If Trump’s the greatest president of the twenty-first century, then why would we vote for anyone besides him? Again, Haley was the only one who actually got it right when she said no one wants a rematch between Biden and Trump next year. A large majority of Americans do not want a rematch of 2020. I also think Chris Christie made a very compelling argument. He was saying something that would travel very well in a general election, but it’s going to sink his campaign now. He’s targeted all these MAGA voters whom he needs if he wants to win the nomination. So politically, he’s unviable. However, Haley, in a smart, deft way, was able to tap into what people are thinking and feeling. 

Batya: I thought it was great TV. I thought they had to ask that question, but I think the answer—it’s sort of unanswerable because Trump’s accomplishments were so vast on behalf of the working class. To ask people to not vote for a man who immeasurably improved their lives, who made this country feel like it cared about them for the first time in generations, who put money in their bank accounts, and for the first time made the American dream feel like something they could start dreaming about again—to ask them not to vote for him is not just ridiculous. None of those people onstage are able to quite understand the complexity. These people are not voting for Trump because they think he’s moral. They’re voting for him because it is undeniable what he accomplished and because he represented their future. 

Pence invokes Jesus; DeSantis flounders:

Bari: Talking about Trump gave Pence his big opportunity to get on the soapbox, and Christie and Scott and Haley all applauded him for his refusal to buckle under the pressure of Trump on January 6. And Pence leaned hard into this moment. He said he took an oath to the Constitution and his Heavenly Father and said, “Everyone on this stage needs to make it clear whether they’ll do the same.” Now, taking a step back—this is the riddle of Mike Pence. You look at him: he was the governor of Indiana. He was vice president of the United States. He’s very hardcore on every conservative issue. And yet he’s polling at like four percent. So, is the problem that Mike Pence is just so uncharismatic, or is there something about his brand of conservatism that’s just not relevant anymore? 

Batya: The GOP base is the working class, and the working class is not hardcore. They are extremely tolerant. They’re conservative by and large on social issues, much more so than Democrats, but they are deeply, deeply tolerant people. And the class issue unites them much more than a political identity. And, you know, this is something that I think is very hard for people to understand: working-class conservatives hate the Republican Party. They hate, hate, hate the Republican Party. And Mike Pence really represents that thing that they hate. And so I don’t think it’s surprising at all. I do think what’s interesting is that we’ve gotten 45 minutes in and have not even mentioned Ron DeSantis—

Bari: Yes, let’s get to DeSantis! The biggest loser to me on that stage was Ron DeSantis. Six months ago, we were told by everyone that the Florida governor was the man to beat. He was hailed as the future of the Republican Party. He raised $20 million in the first six weeks of his campaign. He was definitely the favorite among the donor class who were looking for an alternative to Trump. He was the strong horse. Now, last night he tried to Trumpify himself a few times. He said things like, “Anthony [Fauci], you’re fired.” He blamed the corporate media for the decline of America. He called out George Soros and liberal DAs, saying the inmates are running our asylums. I’m sure he rehearsed all of those lines, but none of them stuck. I’m not going to remember any of them 24 hours from now. A lot of people are saying it’s lights out for Ron DeSantis. He’s done. What do you think? What happened to Ronnie D? And any chance of him making a comeback? 

Peter: I don’t think so, because, look, the whole DeSantis play from the very beginning has been one word, which is competence. The whole campaign is premised on the assumption that the Republican base cares deeply about the Trump agenda. And I think that’s wrong. I think what they really care about is they want the proverbial bull in a china shop. They want the person who’s going to muck everything up. That’s what they love about Vivek. That’s what they responded to last night. I think that’s why Nikki Haley’s line about a woman getting the job done resonated so well with voters. It’s argumentative, it’s brash, and DeSantis lacks all of that.

Batya: I disagree with Peter. I think that Ron DeSantis misunderstood the Trump voter in exactly the same way that the liberal media does. He assumed, like the liberal media does, that people voted for Trump because they were anti-gay or suspicious of black people. The truth is the exact opposite: the Trump voter is very pro-gay, like Trump. They’re also not suspicious of black people. There’s a lot of unity around that. They’re very eager to show that they are tolerant and have moved on from that stereotype about Republicans. So to me, the thing that draws Trump’s voters is the economic policy that’s geared towards the working class. The reason Ron DeSantis will not be able to recover is because he doesn’t agree with Trump about creating an economy that does that. There is a huge divide in the GOP between what the donor class wants, which is the fight against wokeness, and what the voter base wants, which is an economy that works for the hardest-working Americans. 

Trump’s very. . . Trumpy. . . interview on Tucker:

Bari: In my opinion, Tucker’s interview with Trump didn’t feel like a presidential conversation. They were chatting about things like Jeffrey Epstein, Hillary Clinton, and Kamala Harris, but Trump barely dinged DeSantis. He didn’t mention Vivek. Do you think this is a winning strategy? Can he just sail his way to the nomination and not engage with these debates at all? 

Olivia: I think not. In retrospect, I don’t think it was advantageous for him to not attend last night’s debate because without him being there, they didn’t have to differentiate themselves from him. I think if he were in the room, it would have been really uncomfortable for them to challenge or contradict him. The interview with Tucker surprised me because it had the cadence of someone who is not really in campaign mode. 

Bari: I think because he is so far ahead in the polls, he just feels he’s above the other candidates. Trump is ignoring standard etiquette and standard politics, but again, maybe that’s just a smart strategy. Peter, what do you think? 

Peter: I think that’s obviously the strategy sitting on a 55 percent lead. That’s the piece of the GOP base that he controls, or at least is in his camp right now. However, I don’t see that working long-term or over the next five, six months in the lead-up to the first primary in South Carolina. What Trump seems to be forgetting is his own lesson of 2016, which is you have to fight for the nomination. While all the other candidates back in 2015 were kind of riding on years of experience, political careers, and their various successes or elections, Trump was actually making a case in his own kind of blustering, bombastic way for a totally different politics. And it was a fight. It really resonates with voters. I think what happens is that people will begin to look at the candidates like Vivek and think maybe he is a better alternative. The question is, can someone who’s more reasonable or with a broader and more ecumenical appeal like a Haley become viable? 

Bari: I hate myself for feeling this way, but as I was watching the Trump-Tucker interview, I felt that it was more objectively entertaining than what was happening on the debate stage in Milwaukee. Others would disagree. Do people still have the appetite for what Trump is offering? 

Batya: I think Trump was probably hoping it would dominate the headlines. Yet the headlines really were very much about the debate. Also, Trump is very rarely wrong about where the populist energy is flowing, so him praising Vivek on Truth Social this morning signals to me that he really does not see him as a threat at all. Maybe they’ve spoken about VP or something, but if he was worried about him after last night, I don’t think he would have been saying nice things about him on Truth Social. There were a few moments during the Tucker interview where we really saw a different side of Trump that I think doesn’t come out a lot because he’s often in fight mode. At one point, Trump said, “You have great people in the Democratic Party. You have great people that are Democrats. Most of the people in our country are fantastic. I’m representing everybody, not just Republicans or conservatives. I’m the president of everybody.” And to me, that was the Trump that we could have had if the other side did not declare war on him from the minute he got into office and just decided he was an illegitimate president, despite the fact that he won that first election in 2016 fairly. So I think there was a little bit of pathos for me watching it in that sense. 

Bari: Let’s assume it’s Trump v. Biden in 2024. Who’s your money on? 

Olivia: I think it’s going to be Trump simply because that really makes it a referendum on Biden. I just don’t think people are pleased enough with his performance to reelect him. 

Peter: It’s Trump because Covid is over. That was what undid him in 2020. 

Batya: I don’t like to prognosticate because I am always wrong, but I have to say I really, really don’t know. I am excited to find out. I thought the debate last night was really interesting, and I think this is just a really interesting election cycle in terms of thinking about the future of our nation and in terms of how we see ourselves as Americans and what our priorities are. So I’m looking forward to it, whichever way it turns out. 

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May 27, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson




The White House hosted a three-day state visit for President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto of Kenya beginning on May 23, 2024. The visit marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Kenya and is the first state visit for an African leader since President John Kufuor of Ghana visited in 2008.

The Biden administration has worked to develop ties to African nations, whose people are leery of the United States not only because of what Biden called the “original sin” of colonists importing enslaved Africans to North American shores, but also because while the Soviet Union tended to support the movements when African nations began to throw off colonial rule, the U.S. tended to support right-wing reaction. More recently, during the Trump years the United States withdrew from engagement with what the former president allegedly called “sh*thole countries.”

In contrast, officials from the Biden administration have noted the importance of the people of Africa to the future of the global community. Currently, the median age on the continent is 19, and experts estimate that by 2050, one in four people on Earth will live on the African continent. 

Saying that Africans must have control over their own countries and their own future, U.S. officials backed the admission of the African Union to the Group of 20 (G-20), welcoming the organization’s 55 member states to the intergovernmental forum that focuses on global issues, and pledged more than $55 billion to the continent to aid security, support democratic institutions, and advance civil rights and the rule of law. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, First Lady Jill Biden, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all visited the continent, where they have emphasized partnership with African countries for economic development rather than a competition with China and Russia for resource extraction. 

In March 2023, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia to emphasize the connections between Africa and North America, focus on the importance of democracy as Russian disinformation in Africa is driving pro-Russian and anti-U.S. sentiment, and announce U.S. investment in the continent as well as calling for more. 

But in July 2023, those efforts appeared to take a step back when a military coup in Niger deposed elected president Mohamed Bazoum. A few months later, the ruling junta asked the forces of former colonial power France to leave the country and turned to Russia’s Wagner group for security. In March, U.S. diplomats and military officials expressed concern about the increasing presence of Russia in Niger, and a few days later, officials told close to 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country to leave as well. Russian troops moved into a military base the U.S. has been using. 

The U.S. says its troops will leave by mid-September and has pledged to continue negotiations. Niger was a key ally in the U.S. antiterrorism efforts against armed forces allied with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Neighboring Chad has also asked the 100 U.S. troops in the country to leave.

Meanwhile, in the year since her trip to Africa, Vice President Harris has focused on digital inclusion in Africa, recognizing that the spread of digital technology has the potential to promote economic opportunity and gender equality and to create jobs, as well as open new markets for U.S. exports. Last week, she announced that the African Development Bank Group and Mastercard have launched the Mobilizing Access to the Digital Economy Alliance (MADE), which is working with public and private investors to provide digital access for 100 million individuals and businesses in Africa over the next ten years, focusing first on agriculture and women. 

Kenya’s President Ruto won election in 2022, promising voters that he would champion the “hustlers,” the young workers piecing together an income informally. U.S. ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, former chief executive officer of eBay and Hewlett-Packard and unsuccessful 2010 Republican candidate for governor of California, has supported this idea of economic development. Focusing on “commercial diplomacy,” she has worked with Ruto to encourage business investment in Kenya.  

At a state luncheon with President Ruto last week, Harris reiterated her belief “that African ideas and innovations will have a significant impact on the future of the entire world—a belief driven in part by the extraordinary creativity, dynamism, and energy of young African leaders” and by the continent’s young demographic. She reiterated the need to “revise and upgrade the U.S.-Africa narrative, which is long overdue; and to bring fresh focus to the innovation and ingenuity that is so prevalent across the continent of Africa.” She warned: “Any leader that ignores the continent of Africa is doing so at their own peril.” 

While Kenya’s main economic sectors are agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, it is also a technology hub, and Harris called out its “Silicon Savannah,” a technology ecosystem that produced the cellphone-based money transfer system M-PESA, as well as startups making biodegradable plastics, creating drinking water from humidity, and so on. 

Ruto thanked Harris and Biden “for helping us reshape, reengineer, and write a new narrative for our continent.” Africans “are going to write our own story,” Ruto said, adding that the narrative of “this continent of conflict, trouble, disease, poverty” is “not the story of Africa.” “Africa is a continent of tremendous opportunity,” he said, “the largest reserves of energy—renewable energy resources; 60 percent of the world’s arable, uncultivated land; 30 percent of…global mineral wealth, including those that are necessary for energy transition; the youngest continent, which will produce 40 percent of the world’s…workforce by 2050 and where a quarter of the world’s population will be living, providing the world’s biggest single market. In short,” he said, “Africa is a rich continent and a continent of opportunity.”  

In a conversation with Vice President Harris and Ambassador Whitman, President Ruto said that the young population of Africa is “tech hungry” and that technology “is the instrument that we can use to leapfrog Africa from where we are to…catch up with the rest of the world.” The digital space, he said, is the space that will create the greatest output from young people and women. To that end, he said, Kenya is investing 30% of its annual budget in education, training, knowledge, and skills. 

As part of his reach for global leadership, Ruto has put Kenya at the front of an initiative backed by the United Nations for a multinational security intervention in Haiti, where officials have asked for help restoring order against about 200 armed gangs in the country, coalitions of which control about 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 exacerbated political instability in Haiti by creating a power vacuum, while weapons flowing into the country, primarily from straw purchases in the U.S., fed violence. Last year, then–prime minister Ariel Henry had pleaded with the United Nations Security Council to bolster Haitian security forces and combat the gangs.

The U.S. declined to lead the effort or to provide troops, although it, along with Canada and France, is funding the mission. On Thursday, Biden explained that “for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented about what we’re trying to do…. So we set out to find…a partner or partners who would lead the effort that we would participate in.” Kenya stepped up, although Kenyan opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights groups are fiercely opposed to deploying Kenyans to the Caribbean nation. 

The Haitian gangs oppose the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS), which is supposed to consist of 2,500 troops, 1,000 of whom are Kenyans. The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica have officially notified the United Nations secretary-general of their intent to send personnel to the mission. Other nations have said they will support the mission, but as of May 20 had not yet sent official notifications. The MSS was supposed to arrive by May 23, but a base for it in Port-au-Prince is not yet fully equipped. Experts also told Caitlin Hu of CNN that Haitian authorities have not done enough to explain to local people how the mission will work, and Haitian police say what is most necessary is more support for local police.  

Kenyan news reported that the advance team of Kenyan police officers who went to Haiti to assess conditions for their deployment there will recommend a delay in deployment.






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I Helped Make Standing Rock Go Viral. Now I Regret It. Lucy Biggers




Lucy Biggers poses at Standing Rock in December 2016, after she went live from the camp on the NowThis Facebook page. (All photos courtesy of the author)

Eight years ago, I was in my mid-20s, and like many of my colleagues at NowThis News, I was completely aligned with the company’s left-wing content. As a social video producer, each day I logged on and searched my newsfeed for stories and videos that would appeal to our millions of Facebook followers. I called myself a journalist but really I was an early social media influencer, pushing a very specific point of view. 

The stories that got the most engagement were ones that elicited strong emotions, either happiness or anger. A “happy” story was one in which the good guys—LGBTQ activists, BLM protesters, climate change warriors, and the like—won some battle against greedy capitalists, cops, or (insert white authority figure here). An “angry” story was one in which those oppressors screwed over the good guys. When I came across a story I thought could go viral, I quickly edited the video and added subtitles and music. Then I’d sit back and wait for the reaction from our like-minded followers.

So, in October 2016, when the actress Shailene Woodley popped up on my computer screen, I knew she was going to generate a whole lot of views.

The clip showed her speech after she won an award from the Environmental Media Association. For months, she had been deeply involved in trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Flanked by several members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she spoke emotionally about the importance of stopping the oil pipeline.

“What we are seeing right now at Standing Rock is that thousands of people are committed to fighting and winning a battle against corporate greed with nothing but love and compassion, prayer, and ceremony,” she said. “I’m calling out to everyone in this room tonight, show up. Don’t just tweet about it. . . Go to Standing Rock. Go to Standing Rock.

I quickly did my thing: I ran the video through my editing software, moving the best moments to the beginning. I added emotional music by searching “heartfelt” and “somber” in our music library. I wrote some subtitles. Then I posted it.

Within 24 hours, the video had over 1 million views. By December, that number was up to 17 million. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposed the pipeline because it was going to be routed underneath Lake Oahe, where the reservation gets its water, which they consider sacred. Even though the pipeline would be 95 feet below the lake, the tribe feared a leak could contaminate it. The protests began in April 2016, when some 60 members of the tribe rode on horseback for miles to set up the Sacred Stone Camp, which soon became known as Standing Rock. They vowed to stay until the pipeline was stopped.

Over the next few months, thanks to the viral clips shared by NowThis and other left-leaning social media sites, hundreds and then thousands of people joined the camp. The Native Americans led the protests, sometimes locking themselves to pipeline machinery or trespassing on the construction sites. Every day, protesters uploaded videos of these “acts of resistance” to Facebook. 

Woodley was a regular at Standing Rock, often livestreaming on Facebook. In one grainy video, she talked about the evils of capitalism, the threat of climate change, and out-of-control corporate greed. She talked about her vegan diet and the increasing difficulty of finding nontoxic foods. In my mind, all of these issues were connected. Late-stage capitalism, colonialism, commercial agriculture, and corporate greed were all part of the mindset that was leading a greedy pipeline company—Energy Transfer Partners—to desecrate Native American land.

For months leading up to Woodley’s speech, I had watched videos of the Standing Rock protests every day, all day long. The term doomscrolling hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what I was doing. In mid-October, I had watched footage of the police clashing violently with Standing Rock protesters. I quickly edited the footage for NowThis. The next day, Senator Bernie Sanders reshared my video to his millions of followers. Talk about validation!

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Rashida Tlaib Speaks at Detroit Conference Tied to Terrorist Group Francesca Block




Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks at the People’s Conference for Palestine last Saturday. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Over the weekend, while most Americans were barbecuing and honoring our fallen soldiers, U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was in Detroit, speaking at a conference alongside two people with links to a U.S. designated terrorist organization. 

Tlaib was a surprise speaker Saturday at the three-day “People’s Conference for Palestine.” Minutes before she took the stage at the Huntington Place convention center, hundreds of attendees, many dressed in keffiyehs, danced and sang along to music, which one of the organizers told the crowd was a “medley of songs from the first Intifada.” Then he introduced Tlaib, who walked up to the podium with her fist in the air as the audience stood and cheered.

In her 15-minute talk, the Michigan congresswoman accused Israel of “war crimes” and called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “murderous war criminal.” She also appeared to threaten Joe Biden’s election prospects in her state. Referring to the campus protesters, Tlaib stated: “It is disgraceful that the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress continue to smear them for protesting to save lives no matter faith or ethnicity. It is cowardly. But we’re not gonna forget in November, are we?” 

Wissam Rafidi, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist terrorist group founded in 1967, also addressed the conference. The PFLP, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, is not as prominent as Hamas or other terrorist groups. But has, among other things, claimed responsibility in 2019 for exploding a device that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl in Dolev, a settlement in the West Bank.

At the conference on Friday, Rafidi said, “These Zionists lie like they breathe. I want to assure everyone that there is no longer a place for a two-state solution for any Palestinian. The only solution is one democratic Palestinian land which will end the Zionist project in Palestine.” He also said: “Hamas is part of the resistance of the Palestinian people.” 

Another speaker at the conference was Sana’ Daqqa, the wife of a PFLP terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 abduction and murder of an Israeli soldier. Speaking on both Friday and Sunday, Daqqa praised the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses. She then referenced the Hamas massacre on October 7, called the al-Aqsa Flood, as the response to Israel. “The only thing that can stop this is a flood,” she said. “This is what the resistance intended, that the flood would become floods throughout the entire region.” 

The conference was organized by over a dozen pro-Palestine groups, including The People’s Forum, which owns the conference’s website domain. As a recent Free Press investigation showed, The People’s Forum is funded by multimillionaire Marxist Neville Roy Singham, who was born and became wealthy in America but now lives in Shanghai where he funds a number of propaganda sites boosting the Chinese Communist Party. People’s Forum’s executive director Manolo De Los Santos also spoke at the conference, calling for the end of America. “We have to bring down this empire with one million cuts, and those one million cuts have to come from every sector of struggle in this room,” De Los Santos said.

The group’s involvement in the conference “underscores foreign influence efforts into destabilizing U.S. institutions through grassroots activism,” said Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at the Network Contagion Research Institute, which researches the spread of “hostile ideological content.”

“The rhetoric from speakers, including those with direct ties to terrorist organizations, glorifies violent resistance and revolutionary actions,” Goldenberg added. “This, coupled with the call for sustained and intensified direct action, raises the alarming possibility that individuals are being indoctrinated to embrace and participate in violence.”

The People’s Forum and its partners, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, are now organizing a rally in D.C. on June 8, calling on protesters to serve as a “red line” and to “surround the White House.” 

“Their explicit objectives are to organize and mobilize protests over the summer, which should raise significant national security concerns,” Goldenberg said.

In February, Tlaib’s sister helped organize a protest vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary against Biden’s policy of supporting Israel in the Gaza War. More than 100,000 Michigan voters cast their ballot for “uncommitted,” including Tlaib herself. As of press time, Tlaib’s spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment from The Free Press

Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @FrancescaABlock. Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist. Follow him at @EliLake

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