Normal, decent people were outraged when Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha killer charged with first-degree intentional homicide, was made into a right-wing celebrity. All of the videos we’ve seen of him are unpleasant, whether he’s shooting people, or punching a girl. Yet Tucker Carlson praised him. Failed actor Rick Schroeder put up hundreds of thousands of dollars to bail him out of jail. Alex Jones let Rittenhouse’s mother sell “Free Kyle” merchandise on his show. Michelle Malkin even took the killer’s family out for a night on the town.
The GOP has developed quite a knack for making heroes out of gross people. Mitch McConnell hired the smarmy kid from Covington Catholic, Nick Sandmann, as a grassroots director right after Donald Trump had him speak at the Republican National Convention. His qualifications were essentially the ability to smirk on camera. Then there’s the McCloskeys, whose entire claim to fame is pointing guns at peaceful Black protesters. They too were given a primetime RNC slot and used it to stoke racial fear. Mike Lindell, the infamous MyPillow CEO, is a star at conservative events, despite promoting insurrection and violence. Conservative cable networks are already making excuses for the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, even referring to them as “patriots.” Expect a few of those domestic terrorists to get their own “opinion” shows.
As disgusting as these displays are, it’s a lot worse when we allow the right wing to force real heroes underground. I was livid when I saw Rittenhouse partying with a white supremacy group at a bar, while election workers in Georgia—who quite literally saved our democracy—are in hiding right now because their lives are threatened. Although I’m rightfully angry at the Republicans, I also am left to wonder where the progressive outreach and support are for our people. Why haven’t our progressive leaders bothered promoting their stories? Why haven’t our politicians invited them to speak at our events, or offered them legal or financial assistance, or even employment? These are our heroes, and the least we could do is treat them as such.
Actually, the very least would be to ensure they aren’t vilified.
There are plenty of heroes who have helped democracy and, I don’t believe, are getting their due. Last year, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was fired from the National Security Council for the crime of adhering to the law. His twin brother, Yevgeny, was also fired, in an act of pure petty retaliation. Contrast their treatment with Oliver North, who was involved in the illegal sale of weapons to Iran. The right wing gave North his own platform to spew hate, financial backing to run a doomed Senate campaign, and eventually, leadership of the NRA—which he thankfully ran into the ground. Meanwhile, I’d be happy if Vindman and his brother would just get reinstated.
Yet the person who specifically inspired me to write this story is a woman named Ruby Freeman. I’d have loved to interview her, but I can’t get hold of her. No one can: she’s in hiding, along with her family. Before November, Freeman sold handbags at an Atlanta mall kiosk. She was just one of hundreds of people in Georgia who, along with her daughter, answered the call to be an election worker, during an historic election taking place during a pandemic. Freeman worked late into the night counting ballots at a vote counting center in Atlanta. Poll observers from both parties were present, and surveillance video covered the entire process.
Very late on Nov. 3—Nov. 4, actually—election workers were told they could retire for the night. They packed uncounted ballots into secure, standard bins. However, word came down that they didn’t want all of the workers to leave just yet after all, so Freeman and others dragged the cases out to begin counting again.
Allies of Donald Trump selectively edited and distributed misleading clips of the surveillance video, to only show the election workers taking out the “suitcases,” claiming it was proof of election fraud. Those clips were featured on Hannity and other right-wing programs of ill repute. Over in QAnon-land, an elderly election worker was instantly transformed into a key global conspirator: It was Ruby Freeman who thwarted the election for Trump, the far right insisted.
The conspiracies were all over the place, but they typically involved Freeman single-handedly generating thousands of fake ballots for Joe Biden. No explanation was ever given as to why she would have chosen to support Republicans in all the down-ballot races, of course.
Trump became obsessed with her. He repeatedly tweeted false information that named Freeman; in his now-infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump falsely insisted that she created and planted “18,000 ballots, all for Biden.”
Raffensperger and his team had already analyzed the video, frame by frame, and confirmed that it showed nothing but the normal counting process. That analysis and those facts didn’t matter to Trump or his believers. His psychotic followers have since ensured that Freeman can’t walk down the streets of her own neighborhood anymore.
This really bothers me. I live near Sanford, Florida—home to the racist miscreant who killed Trayvon Martin. A local gun show treated George Zimmerman like a hero—and the little bastard actually signed autographs.
If I never mentioned it before, I sometimes really hate this state.
But back to Georgia, where, unfortunately, Freeman wasn’t the only election worker made to suffer. Lawrence Sloan was part of the team that processed thousands of absentee ballots at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. There were plenty of media, poll observers (from both parties), and election officials present. Sloan volunteered to work an 18-hour shift because he felt he was needed.
Although absentee voters are only supposed to send back the ballot, many mistakenly sent the instruction sheet back as well. In one instance, Sloan processed a ballot, and crumpled up the accompanying instruction sheet. Video clearly shows the crumpled paper is not a ballot: that would have been obvious, since those are 19 inches long. Unfortunately, that innocent action changed Sloan’s life.
Several Trump supporters sent out tweets that falsely allege Sloan’s paper crumpling was nefarious, including Donald Trump, Jr.
Trump Senior also recklessly referenced Sloan in support of his false claim that the vote was “stolen.” Sloan ultimately was forced into hiding.
“I start seeing white pickup trucks and vans with ‘Trump’ spray painted on the side, pulling up and honking their horns,” Sloan said. “And as a Black man in the South, I know when pickup trucks start pulling up and honking their horns, it’s time to go.”
Sloan’s friends picked him up from a nearby restaurant, and he began staying in different people’s homes, as information about him and his family, their car plates and other personal information hit the Internet with threats.
Sloan continues to move around. He also said that for now, he plans to keep changing his appearance.
Freeman and Sloan are two people who did their jobs for democracy, and they ended up sacrificing everything. They should be so lucky to get even a small percentage of the adoring attention the GOP showers on their worst people—the people who actually should be shamed into hiding. Wouldn’t it be nice if Joe Biden or Kamala Harris called attention to the plight of election workers in this environment, and publicly thanked Ruby Freeman and Lawrence Sloan for their service, while also clearing their names? It would also serve as a sledgehammer to Trumpists who still want to parrot the lies that have disrupted the election workers’ lives, and to a larger extent, the entire election. The Capitol insurrection has forced a reckoning amongst Republicans, and I doubt there are too many who are still willing to make monsters out of these election workers. If they do, they must be blacklisted, along with the other untouchables of the Sedition Caucus.
Meanwhile, if I were Ruby Freeman, my first step would be to sue the pants off of Sean Hannity, the Trumps, and everyone else who decided to make her a scapegoat for Trump’s failures. Nick Sandmann was given access to several right-wing, high-profile attorneys like Todd McMurtry. He recently settled a $250 million lawsuit with The Washington Post, and another with CNN. On the other hand, I am not aware of any high-profile attorneys volunteering to help Freeman, Sloan, or the multitude of others who have been purposely slandered and libeled. Hopefully, they’ll get to go after those wealthy right-wing hucksters and their billionaire backers for all they are worth.
Fox News—one of the worst offenders in spreading misinformation—didn’t retract a word until the voting technology company Smartmatic threatened an expensive lawsuit over their lies. Fox was forced to air a “news package” that ran on Lou Dobbs’ and Jeanine Pirro’s shows, debunking Trump’s false claims of fraud.
Yet at the same time, Fox decided to lionize the QAnon-following Trumpist who was killed during the insurrection. Ashli Babbitt, who was apparently a devoted Fox News viewer, was shot because she got so close to Mike Pence and other legislators while storming the Capitol. Given that this crowd also beat a cop to death, the Capitol police officer who shot Babbitt will likely be found to be justified in his actions.
Fox News, however, thought it was appropriate to eulogize her with a despicable piece entitled, “Ashli Babbitt, woman killed in Capitol riots, described as patriot who ‘loved America with all her heart.’” Fox swooned, describing her not as a conspiracy theorist, or a violent rioter, but as an “Air Force veteran, small business owner, and devout Trump supporter.” Her enabling husband spoke to the network, insisting that she loved her country, she loved Trump, and that she was only killed for “voicing her opinion,” rather than trying to breach a barricaded doorway. Overall, there was an odd dichotomy at play on the network: Half of the hosts defended the violent mob as patriots, while the other half insisted they were antifa.
It’s not surprising. This is the same network that praised Rittenhouse for “maintaining order when no one else would.” That obscene messaging worked, and Rittenhouse’s legal defense was funded by “Christian” crowdfunding sites and right-wing legal groups; they’ve raised over $2.5 million for him.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers rushed to defend Rittenhouse. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie praised his “self-control,” saying ”He also exhibited incredible restraint and presence and situational awareness; he didn’t empty a magazine into a crowd.”
Yeah, a real hero, that one.
Admittedly, I’ve only focused on two Georgia election workers who are currently in hiding, but there were thousands of such workers in every state, doing hard work for very little pay, exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the middle of a pandemic. On top of that, they have had to contend with threats and harassment from brainwashed Trump cultists.
In a year where everyone seems to be extra committed to making it better than the hellscape that was 2020, let’s do our part. Election workers, especially in states hostile to voting, put everything on the line to save our nation. It was bad enough risking COVID-19, they shouldn’t have to risk being killed by QAnon believers as well.
I would like to see the Democrats introduce a congressional resolution honoring those who bravely volunteered to keep the 2020 election free and fair. We’d get the added bonus of watching Republicans squirm when forced to vote on this. Hell, I’d like to see Biden put the Medal of Freedom around Ruby Freeman’s neck. Who’s going to complain? The ones who cheered when Rush Limbaugh and Jim Jordan got one? I’d also like to see progressive voices, like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, take the time to highlight the work—and the plight—of people like Sloan and Freeman on their programs. This would serve to contrast the Fox News hosts currently promoting and whitewashing the violent crimes of right-wing domestic extremists.
Finally, I’d like to see philanthropist backers of Democratic causes rally behind those forced into hiding by the fascist cultists of the GOP. If a washed-up child actor from the 1980s can spare six figures to support a racist killer, then someone on our side can reach into their own pockets to ensure our election heroes are at least safe.
We can’t stop the Republicans from treating their monsters as heroes, but we must ensure they don’t get to treat our heroes like monsters.