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The rise and humiliating fall of Chris Cantwell, Charlottesville's starring 'fascist'

By Avi Selk
The rise and humiliating fall of Chris Cantwell, Charlottesville's starring 'fascist'
White nationalist Chris Cantwell has had quite the week after being featured prominently in an HBO news program on the march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend. Must credit: Photo by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post

The white supremacists, nationalists and far-right trolls who starred in last weekend's violent Charlottesville, Virginia, rallies have suffered no lack of humiliation in the days since.

Take "Millennial Matt," whose catchphrase - "Hitler did nothing wrong!" - earned him tens of thousands of fans before he went to the rally,but his Twitter account has since been deleted, his real identity publicized, and he is now begging fans for money to flee his hometown because "my life is in shambles."

There are plenty of other examples, from the hot dog restaurant cook who lost his job to students whose universities publicly renounced racism after they went to the march. There's even a Twitter feed devoted to shaming the tiki-torch-lit faces of white nationalism.

But none of the marchers soared so high or crashed so hard as Chris Cantwell, who became the ivory-skinned, gun-toting star of a documentary about Charlottesville that aired Monday on HBO - and a week later is better known as the "weepy white supremacist" or "weeping Nazi" who got banned from OkCupid.

- - -

Act 1 - "Heil Cantwell!"

For a few triumphant hours, Cantwell was the thick-armed embodiment of white nationalism to tens of millions of people - the star of VICE News and HBO's Web documentary about last weekend's rallies, which has been seen more than 30 million times.

He looked every bit the rebel leader in that footage from Friday night and Saturday, greeting other white nationalists from as far away as Canada; marching by torchlight to the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; screaming "Jews will not replace us!"

"I carry a pistol. I go to the gym all the time," Cantwell tells the camera, muscles bulging beneath a shirt that advertises his blog, which in turn advertises Cantwell as a libertarian "fascist."

"I'm trying to make myself more capable of violence!" he says.

And violence there was. Men in the streets of Charlottesville wielding Confederate flags like spears. A black man beaten by white men with sticks. Heather Heyer, killed when a car rammed a crowd of counterprotesters, as 19 others were injured.

Cantwell got his licks too, as seen in the documentary.

"Communists!" he yells, pouring a jug of milk over his eyes after, he says, counterprotesters hit him with tear gas. "Second time in two f-ing days!"

"They're afraid of you. You got too big," an admirer tells him.

"Heil Cantwell!" cries another.

And then the self-avowed fascist was back on his feet and leading a march shirtless, a few cans short of a six-pack gleaming in the weekend sun.

"We'll f-ing kill these people if we have to," Cantwell says.

- - -

Act 2 - "Cantwell the Coward"

Cantwell's bravado only increased over the weekend, as news of the violence spread across the country.

He invited the VICE reporter to his hotel room after the marches, where he showed off his high-powered rifles and the 9mm pistolstrapped to his ankle.

The fatal car strike was justified, Cantwell insisted. The protesters had been "stupid animals."

"Someone died," the reporter reminded him.

"I think a lot more people are going to die before we're done, frankly," Cantwell said.

End film. Tens of millions of people have since watched it, and Cantwell would freshen his Facebook profile with photos of himself in the thick of the violence.

But as the weekend faded, other footage began to circulate. Cantwell had apparently recorded it during the rally, in what appeared to be the privacy of a hotel room.

And the famed white separatist appeared to be at the point of tears.

"I've been told there's a warrant out for my arrest," Cantwell pleads to the camera, through sniffles and a trembling voice. "I don't know what to do!"

There were, in fact, felony warrants out for him, the Boston Globe would later report: for the use of illegal gas, and injury by chemical or explosive. (University of Virginia police didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.)

In his confessional, Cantwell told the camera he was too scared to go to the courthouse or meet police. He complained that Chelsea Manning had been threatening to "curb-stomp Nazis."

"I know we talk a lot of s- on the Internet," Cantwell said. But: "Every step of the way we've tried to do the right thing and they just won't stop. . . . Our enemies just will not stop."

It's unclear where the video was first posted, but copies quickly spread across YouTube - mocked on the political left and right alike.

"White Supremacist Cries After Realizing He Could Be Arrested," wrote Mother Jones.

"MUH MASTER RACE HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH," a user added on 4Chan's /pol message board, which is something of a hotbed of racism itself.

And Cantwell's week would only get worse.

- - -

Act 3 - "Straight, Man, Single"

By midweek, Cantwell's name was as well known in the mainstream media as the fringes of the Internet.

But who was he, really?

As the Boston Globe told it, Cantwell was a former comedian from Keene, New Hampshire, who more recently moved to New York.

He is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "an unapologetic fascist, who spews white nationalist propaganda with a libertarian spin on his live-streamed call-in show" and seeks a whites-only state.

Or - per an OkCupid profile leaked online - he is 6 feet tall, single, and "interested in getting married and having children" with the right woman.

"Ideally I'd like to talk on here briefly, move quickly to the phone, and then we can go out on a date and see what happens," wrote the user "ItsChris603," beneath what appears to be a gym-mirror selfie of Cantwell, which ArsTechnica reported was his account.

He described himself not as a fascist, but a podcaster "specializing in controversial political satire."

"It's great because I have a very flexible schedule," he wrote. A typical Friday night would find him not, say, screaming about Jews at a white nationalist march, but rather "doing date nights. Bowling, live shows, movies, travel, all types of things."

OkCupid, remarkably, announced in a tweet that Cantwell did have an account, and had just been banned for life.

Tinder booted him too, Cantwell confirmed in a slur-filled blog post Thursday, explaining that "these [Jews] will stop at nothing."

Likewise, his YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter account have all been deleted as tech companies rush to purge extremists of all kinds from their platforms since Charlottesville.

So there it is. The man who was an HBO-famous swaggering racist Monday had been reduced by the end of the week to broadcasting from an undisclosed location via a Tumblr account and his personal blog.

Cantwell had hired a lawyer, he wrote Thursday, and was preparing to turn himself in to police.

"Depending on who you listen to, I'm either a hero, a terrorist, or a crybaby, " he wrote, "which should tell you something about the reliability of the media."

Behind a WWII internment camp's barbed wire, two Scouts forged a bond. It endured when they both entered Congress.

By Lori Aratani
Behind a WWII internment camp's barbed wire, two Scouts forged a bond. It endured when they both entered Congress.
Former congressman Norman Mineta, D-Calif., and former senator Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., share a moment after dinner in Cody, Wyo., near the preserved site of the Heart Mountain internment camp. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary

When they are together, it's not hard to see the Boy Scouts they were when they met seven decades ago, in the barbed-wire Japanese internment camp that sprawled over desolate fields. One was imprisoned here; one belonged to the only troop that agreed to a jamboree on the inside.

Norman Mineta went on to become a mayor, a Democratic congressman and a Cabinet secretary to two presidents. Alan K. Simpson went on to serve Wyoming as its Republican senator for 18 years. And they have returned to speak out against the racism that led to Heart Mountain's opening 75 years ago this month.

On this day, they are goofing around after dinner on the front porch of one of Simpson's favorite haunts in Cody, where storefront signs once read "No Japs Allowed."

They rib each other relentlessly. Simpson, almost a foot taller, bends down to plant a goodbye kiss on Mineta's head. When they hug, Mineta's face is squashed into Simpson's chest.

"You need to shave," Mineta quips.

Simpson rubs his chin and grins.

Nearby, their wives shake their heads and roll their eyes. They've seen this show before. "It's like they're 12 years old again," says Deni Mineta. "Look at the two of them."

The men take a cruise most years with their wives, but the trip they treasure most is this annual pilgrimage. Their personal story is a highlight for the former internees and their descendants, who visit and reflect on a particularly dark chapter in American history.


Two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an order ordering all Japanese Americans away from the Pacific Coast.

Mineta and his family were among 120,000 who were "relocated" inland to one of 10 internment camps that opened amid the wartime hysteria. The majority were citizens, forced to leave behind their homes, jobs, belongings and crops. Families lost everything. Mineta remembers tears streaming down his father's face as they left San Jose and headed first for a way station at the Santa Anita Racetrack, then to the Heart Mountain camp, 15 miles outside of Simpson's home town of Cody.

Simpson remembered how the rows of tar-paper barracks appeared almost overnight on a sagebrush flat. There was nothing near the camp but the railroad tracks that transported the internees. With more than 10,000 usually there, the camp dwarfed the population of Cody, then at just more than 2,500.

"The townspeople in Cody were not thrilled," Simpson said. "We didn't know who was in there except it must have been a pretty bad group with all that activity."

"I remember the day we got there in November [1942]," Mineta said. "The wind was blowing, all this silt was hitting our faces, cold as blazes. . . . The restrooms were quite a ways away, so when it would get cold and either raining or the snow, you had to go to the bathroom at 11 or 12 at night and trudge through all that mud and muck and mire.

"And then each of the units had one single globe in the middle of the room and a potbelly stove in the middle. My job was to get the coal from the bin and then bring it - and that's what kept us warm."

He was 11.

No schools had been built for the thousands of children who were among the internees, so to keep the children occupied, camp elders decided to form Boy Scout troops.

Long before internment, scouting had deep roots in the Japanese community. Immigrant parents viewed it as a very American tradition and admired the organization's values of good citizenship, loyalty and service. When Mineta's family left their house for the train ride to the assembly center in Southern California, young Norman wore his Cub Scout uniform.

So Heart Mountain troop leaders wrote to troops in nearby towns, inviting them to participate in Boy Scout jamborees. All refused. They were afraid of the armed guards and uneasy about the unfamiliar faces inside.

"It was a confusing time," Simpson said. As a young boy, "You were sorting out your world when nobody was there to teach you what the hell was going on, but you knew it was mess."

But his troop's leader, Glenn Livingston, was "a scoutmaster ahead of his time," Simpson said. He told his young scouts that the boys behind the barbed-wire fence were just like them, and he was right: The Heart Mountain scouts, Simpson said, read the same comics and earned the same merit badges.

Even as a young kid, Simpson said: "You knew these were Americans, especially when you met the Scouts. They didn't even know where Japan was."

By chance, he was matched up with Mineta, who remembers Simpson as a "roly-poly kid with lots of hair."

Among their tasks that day was pitching a tent.

There is some dispute between the two, as usual, as they recount what happened next. Mineta claimed that when it came time to build a small moat around the tent, Simpson suggested routing it so that it would flow toward the tent of another Scout - one known as a bully.

"It was no skin off my nose, so I said 'Sure,' " Mineta recalled. By chance it rained, and the moat worked perfectly to flood the kid's tent.

"Oh, he laughed, 'hee hee hee, haw haw haw, hee hee hee,' " Mineta said. "I had to say, 'Alan, stop laughing so we can get some rest.' "

Said Simpson: "He said I laughed hideously at the event. I don't recall any cackling, but it was fun."

They spent a day together. Then Simpson went back to a comfortable life as the son of a prominent family in Cody. Mineta stayed behind the barbed wire for a year.


That might have been that, had it not been for a small news item that ran in the Cody Enterprise in 1971.

Like the thousands of other Japanese families, Mineta and his family had returned home after the war to rebuild their lives. Mineta's family was among the fortunate: A friend had taken care of their property, so they had a home. But prejudice persisted, and his father struggled to restart his insurance business.

Mineta got a business administration degree at the University of California at Berkeley, joined the Army and fought in Korea. In 1971, he was elected mayor of San Jose and became the first Japanese American to lead a major U.S. city.

Simpson, by then a young lawyer practicing in Cody, spotted an Associated Press story in the local paper about that election. Buried deep in the text was a mention that Mineta and his family had been interned at the Heart Mountain camp.

Simpson, realizing this was the same pesky kid, dashed off a note.

"Dear Norm, congratulations on being elected mayor - I have been wondering what you've been up to all these years . . ." Mineta recalled. "He still complains, to this day, that I never responded to him."

Did he?

"You know, I don't remember that I did - so I fall silent whenever he's talking about that," he said with a sheepish grin.

Three years later, Mineta was elected to Congress, and Simpson wrote again. This time, the newly minted congressman wrote back.

After Simpson was elected to the Senate from Wyoming in 1978, the two former Boy Scouts finally were reunited face-to-face - 35 years after they met on the sagebrush flat.

Politically, they were opposites. Simpson is a Republican. Mineta is a Democrat.

Once, when Mineta signed on to support a gun control bill, Simpson called him up. "He said, 'You know what gun control is in my state?' " Mineta recalled. "It's how steady you hold the gun." That argument didn't persuade Mineta, but it did make him laugh.

The two were in Congress at the same time for 16 years. Outsiders thought their bipartisan friendship was curious.

Mineta, again: "One time this guy asked Alan, 'I don't understand. You're a conservative Republican, and he's a liberal Democrat, so what's the big difference between you and Mineta?' And Alan said, 'Well, I wear a 17 1/2 shoe and he wears 8.' "

In 1995, when Simpson decided he would not run for reelection, Mineta was among the first people he called. The exchange was trademark Simpson.

"He said, 'I want to talk to you, and I said, 'Why don't you come on over Wednesday at 2 p.m.,' " Mineta said. "And then he said, "May I remind you that I'm a U.S. senator, and you are a mere representative of the House?' So I said, 'Okay you imperial so-and-so, I'll come over to your side.' "

Perhaps their most memorable legislative collaboration came on the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the government formally apologized to the Japanese American internees and created a $1.25 billion trust fund to provide reparations to those who were interned. Mineta and his colleagues, including Sens. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Spark M. Matsunaga, D-Hawaii, worked with many others for more than a decade to get the bill passed.

Simpson plays down his role in the bill's passage, but Mineta insists his friend was a key supporter despite Simpson's opposition to the provision providing $20,000 payments to living internees.

Speaking in support of the bill from the Senate floor, Simpson recounted how his trip with the Boy Scouts into the Heart Mountain detention camp had "put a new twist" on his own wartime perception of Japanese Americans "because we thought of them as something else - as aliens, we thought of them as spies, we thought of them as people who were behind wire because of what they were trying to do in our country."

Instead, he said, they were Boy Scouts from California, wearing "the same merit badges, same Scout sashes, same clothing. . . . But in my mind you had to see it, you had to have it etched on the back of the rim of your eye, to understand that these people were put in an extraordinary situation where they lost their constitutional rights in the United States of America. They were not, as I say, aliens. They were U.S. citizens."


At the site of the camp where more than 14,000 people were confined, just a few old buildings remain. They have been preserved by a nonprofit foundation as part of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, which aims to remind visitors of the need for tolerance and upholding basic civil rights when protecting national security.

Simpson and Mineta helped raise millions of dollars for the center, much of it by telling the story of their friendship. Mineta always tells people how much he treasures Simpson's humor and loyalty. Simpson always expresses his admiration for how Mineta moved on after Heart Mountain to "do good," for refusing to give in to bitterness.

In an interview in Simpson's living room, he and Mineta reflected on their long bond.

"It wasn't anything mystical," Simpson said. "It was just two boys - just two curious, inquisitive kids - pesky, good-humored, full of fun, who met each other and who remembered - at least I remembered."

Said Mineta: "He is a great friend all around. Even though he's a conservative Republican, and I'm a liberal Democrat, we're just the best of friends."

That makes them rare specimens of a nearly extinct species, as they well know.

"People may like the aspects . . . of bipartisanship. . . . And certainly an Asian and a Caucasian, there's another blend," Simpson said. "And maybe they pine for that, I don't know."

Up the hill from the center, an American flag flaps in the wind. At the flagpole's base sits a plaque with the names of 800 who were drafted or enlisted from Heart Mountain. It includes 15 internees who died fighting for the United States, two of whom were awarded the Medal of Honor.

"This is not about the past," Mineta said at the center's opening in 2011. "This is about the future . . . because history already has the ability to repeat itself, and what you are doing here is drawing that line in the sand, to say that never again will there be something like what happened here."

This summer, a record number of people made the pilgrimage, boarding yellow school buses that took them through fertile farmland. First-timers such as Mitch Homma, whose parents and grandparents were interned here, joined Bacon Sakatani, now in his 80s, who has made 30 trips to Heart Mountain since his confinement there as an eighth-grader. Raymond Uno, a judge, led 50 members of his family to see where he had been interned.

For many, the trips are a contemplation of family history that is both painful and prideful. John S. Toyama, who was born at Heart Mountain, said that one of the first times he returned to the camp as an adult, he cried.

"It was very emotional," he said. Now, he is more at peace when he sees the mountain and wanders through the center.

"There is good energy here," Toyama said, energies that he thinks helped the Japanese Americans interned at Heart Mountain survive.


The visitors also see the durability of the unlikely Boy Scout friendship as a powerful energy, a testament to resilience and mutual respect. When Mineta and Simpson arrive, the 85-year-olds are greeted like favorite uncles and dear friends. Instead of handshakes, there are hugs and kisses and, among the younger members of the crowd, plenty of selfies.

"Every year [the crowd] gets bigger, and Norm and I get smaller," Simpson jokes to the crowd. "Thanks for keeping [Heart Mountain] alive."

Later that afternoon, Mineta grips a cane and climbs slowly up the stairs to a refurbished barracks like the one he lived in for a year. Internment "was a bad memory," he had said in a previous interview. "It's something you don't forget, but you don't let that become a chain around your neck."

Now, he looks out the window.

"Same old dust is still here," he says while picking at dirt in the windowsill. His wife takes a picture.

"Smile," she says.


Video: Norman Mineta and Alan Simpson first met in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming in the 1940s, as two Boy Scouts at an internment camp for Japanese Americans. They met again in Congress, forming a bipartisan friendship that has endured into their 80s. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)


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Harley-riding lawyer leads Japan's nuclear power revolt

By Tsuyoshi Inajima and Emi Urabe
Harley-riding lawyer leads Japan's nuclear power revolt
Hiroyuki Kawai, lawyer and filmmaker, poses with his Harley-Davidson Trike motorcycle inside a garage in Tokyo, on July 25, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi.

In the basement of a three-story house in a leafy neighborhood in Tokyo, about 40 lawyers crowded together, plotting against Japan's massive nuclear power industry.

The host was 73-year-old Hiroyuki Kawai, one of Japan's most colorful litigators. The end game? To close all of the country's 42 reactors for good, a result that would be a major blow to the future of atomic energy across the world. For the staunch anti-nuclear activist, the risk of a meltdown outweighs the benefits of the relatively clean source of power.

Countries from Germany to Taiwan have scaled back plans for nuclear power after Japanese utility Tepco's 2011 Fukushima meltdown. Kawai is propelling the anti-nuclear movement forward with a 22 trillion yen ($171 billion) shareholder lawsuit against the company, among the largest in damages ever sought. He wants to pressure the government and businesses to distance themselves from atomic power, and while his court cases have yielded mixed results, his bold tactics are garnering attention around the world.

"If we push them enough, one day they will crumble," Kawai said at an interview. "It's a revolution."

Kawai stands out in a 300-strong anti-nuclear lawyer consortium, in both spirit and appearance. On the day of the interview, Kawai is wearing a bright candy-pink suit-jacket, a black shirt, and a crystal encrusted snake brooch on his lapel. The father of three daughters and seven grandchildren rides his Harley-Davidson motorbike across the country on weekends, and hosts bimonthly meetings of lawyers at his residence to discuss strategies to shutter reactors.

"A number of countries and societies are influenced by trends in Japan," said Hitoshi Yoshioka, a professor at the graduate school of social and cultural studies at Kyushu University. "If he's successful, the impact on the world will be great."

While Kawai now spends about 80 percent of his time in legal battles against power providers and the government without pay, he started his career pursuing much more lucrative cases. In the late 70s, he was an adviser to a witness linked to one of the country's biggest financial scandals, propelling him into the spotlight. By his account, he was a winner, and made "a ton of money" along the way. Yet the cases in which he was involved were less than savory and he began to question whether this was satisfying enough.

"I did so many bad things," Kawai says, recalling how in the 90s he turned his back on the corrupt businessmen and money-hungry upstarts he called clients. "I helped a lot of villains."

In 1994, Kawai began taking on anti-nuclear cases. He says the reason for his reincarnation is simple: he wanted to use the legal system to do good for society, and believed the growing use of atomic power was the biggest risk facing Japan, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.

For years, Kawai lost. Anti-nuclear activists were seen as environmentalists that threatened Japan's quest to become energy independent and cheaply power a sputtering economy. After embracing atomic energy in the 1960s, the number of reactors grew to 54 by 2009, and at its peak, nuclear provided about one-third of Japan's power consumption.

"Fighting nuclear means turning all of Japan's society against you," Kawai says. "It's like being surrounded by enemies. It's a very hard fight."

Japan needs nuclear power to achieve energy security, economic growth and environmental conservation while placing top priority on safety, said Hiroyuki Honda, a spokesman for the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, the industry group consisting of top utility Tokyo Electric Power Holdings Inc. and nine other regional firms.

"To supply cheap and stable electricity, it is necessary to use various ways to generate electricity. A nuclear power option should be maintained as it is important to balance economic efficiency, environmental conservation and stable supply,'' said Jun Oshima, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric.

Reactors are being allowed to restart after meeting stricter safety standards, and Japan can't abandon nuclear power because of earthquakes, said a trade ministry official, who asked not to be identified because of internal policy. Relying heavily on thermal power would lead to more CO2 emissions and reliance on fossil fuel imports, he said. While the nation plans to boost renewable energy as much as possible, its growth has limits and needs to be supplemented by atomic and thermal power, according to the official.

Tepco shares slumped 1.1 percent at the close in Tokyo on Friday, while the Topix Electronic Power & Gas Index lost 1.1 percent.

Kawai is currently directly involved in 24 atomic-related cases. The rest of his time is spent on corporate lawsuits which provide the funds to cover his anti-nuclear work, including directing a few documentary films. Public perception has turned in favor of his ideals with 55 percent of the population against nuclear restarts versus 26 percent that are for, according to a Mainichi newspaper poll in March.

"After losing so many times with everyone fighting cases individually, he created the strategy of bringing the lawyers together to share information," said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the non-profit antinuclear group Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, who has known Kawai for nearly two decades. "We've been able to win an injunction twice because Kawai had collected expertise by calling on his network of lawyers."

Kawai's legal attacks are counter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's post-Fukushima energy policy, which seeks to see nuclear power account for as much as 22 percent of the country's energy mix by 2030. The Nuclear Regulation Authority, an independent supervisory body set up by the government after Fukushima, has said 12 reactors are safe to restart after extensive checks, though just five of Japan's 42 operable reactors have been allowed back online so far.

One of Kawai's biggest cases is a shareholder suit against Tepco. He argues the power provider didn't take enough safety measures to prevent Fukushima. The amount of damages sought -- currently 22 trillion yen -- is the direct sum of the estimated costs to clean up the Fukushima disaster, he said. He's had three favorable decisions since Fukushima, one of which has been overturned by a higher court, while most of the cases are still pending, he said.

"Nothing is an easy win," Kawai says. "But it's not just about winning -- it's about changing society. There's a good reason to keep fighting."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

How can you stand by a president with no heart?

By michael gerson
How can you stand by a president with no heart?

“O mother

What shall I cry?

We demand a committee, a representative

committee, a committee of investigation


-- T.S. Eliot, “Difficulties of a Statesman”

WASHINGTON -- It is ironic that Steve Bannon, the alt-right conscience of the White House, was dismissed at the moment of his triumph. President Trump’s recantation of his staff-enforced moral clarity on the Charlottesville clash was a high point for the Breitbart worldview. About that unequivocal condemnation of Nazis, racists and murder? Never mind. The left is just as bad. Both sides share the blame.

This might be defensible -- if you leave out the 400 years of oppression, segregation, violence and cruelty that black people have experienced in North America. If you leave out a bloody Civil War started by slave interests to defend an economic system based on theft of labor and the lash. If you leave out the millions shot, gassed and incinerated under the Nazi flag, their wedding rings and gold fillings carefully collected by their killers. If you leave out every grave of every American who fought and died to defeat fascism and militarism.

So moral equivalence is an option -- for those who are willfully blind to history and have a shriveled emptiness where their soul once resided.

This is now, sadly, an accurate description of America’s 45th president, who felt compelled to reveal his true convictions. Such compulsion has the virtue of honesty. It has the drawback (from Trump’s perspective) of leaving his defenders without excuse.

Following the departure of Bannon, the question has become: “Why should anyone who doesn’t agree with Bannon stay at the White House?”

There are, of course, some true believers who constitute a deep state of lunacy and malice. And it would be difficult for relatives to resign in protest from the family. But consider poor chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, standing beside Trump during his moment of sympathy for the “very fine people” at a white supremacist rally. (Cohn was “somewhere between appalled and furious,” according to sources who talked to Axios.) Or consider poor chief of staff John Kelly, who watched helplessly as message discipline swerved into the alt-right abyss.

But “poor” is not quite the right adjective. People with jobs at the White House or in the Cabinet are not victims. They hold positions of public influence and trust, with their primary duty owed to the United States Constitution (go and look at the oath they take), not to the president.

Loyalty to the president is a good thing, in the proper context. It is rooted in gratitude for the opportunity of a lifetime. There is a natural tendency, I can attest as a former White House staffer, to defend the leader you know from attacks by outsiders who know him not at all. Being an assistant to the president or a Cabinet officer is the chance to do great good -- a chance that may never come again. Besides, the president won an election and has the right to set his own agenda.

But Trump is knocking out the props that support this type of reasoning. He is a president who shows precious little downward loyalty, frequently subjecting his closest aides to public humiliation as a kind of management tool. The chance to do great good is dwindling day by day, as Trump systematically alienates natural allies and embitters enemies through compulsive taunting. His disordered character is preventing him from pursuing any sort of mandate that his election might have represented.

And it is not possible for a Cabinet officer or White House staffer to comfort himself or herself that “At least the president’s heart is good.” That is something I did not doubt when serving George W. Bush. Now Trump has opened his own chest for all to see. And the cavity is horrifyingly empty.

Every additional day of standing next to Trump -- physically and metaphorically -- destroys reputation and diminishes moral standing. The rationalizations are no longer credible. But resignation, in contrast, would be a contribution to the common good -- showing that principled leadership in service to the Constitution is still possible, even in the age of Trump. When loyalty requires corruption, it is time to leave.

Michael Gerson’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

America’s elites respond to Trump with cowardice

By fareed zakaria
America’s elites respond to Trump with cowardice

WASHINGTON -- Much of America has reacted swiftly and strongly to Donald Trump’s grotesque suggestion that there is a moral equivalence between the white supremacists who converged last weekend on Charlottesville, Virginia, and those who protested against them. But the delayed, qualified and mealy mouthed reactions of many in America’s leadership class tell a disturbing story about the country’s elites -- and the reason we are living in an age of populist rebellion.

The least respected of today’s leaders are, of course, politicians. The public largely views them as craven and cowardly, pandering to polls and focus groups. And that is how too many Republican officials have behaved in the face of Trump’s words and actions. With some honorable exceptions, men and women who usually cannot stop pontificating on every topic on live TV have suddenly gone mute on the biggest political subject of the day.

I know. They worry about the base, about primaries, about right-wing donors. But shouldn’t they also worry about their country and their conscience? Shouldn’t they ask themselves why they went into public service in the first place? And if they see someone at the highest level trampling on the values of the country, shouldn’t they speak up -- directly, forcefully and without qualification?

Business leaders, meanwhile, are still among the most respected and envied people in America today. They run vast organizations, get paid on a scale that makes their predecessors from just 25 years ago look middle-class, and live in a bubble of private planes, helicopters and limousines. In other words, they have all the wealth, power and security that should allow them to set standards and lead.

Again, with some honorable exceptions, business leaders have been cowards. Most of them surely think Trump is a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman. In the past, some chose not to do business with him because they believed he was unethical. Others were initially amused by his candidacy but regarded his rhetoric on trade, immigration and refugees as loathsome. And yet, almost none of them spoke out against him. Few even distanced themselves after he blamed “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville. Had Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier not resigned from one of Trump’s advisory boards and Trump not doubled down on his initial comments, it is unclear how many other CEOs would have spoken out. And even then, some jumped ship from the advisory councils only when it became clear that there was really no alternative.

America’s technology pioneers might be the most admired people on the planet. They are viewed as smart, innovative and successful. Many among them are not just rich but claim to be wise beyond words, prophets of the future who opine on space travel and artificial intelligence. Can they not see what is going on right here on Earth at the White House and condemn it?

Where are evangelical Christian leaders on a matter of basic morality? While some have made their voices heard, it is striking how many have not, or have even endorsed Trump’s comments. Do they have a burning moral duty to speak out against protections for LGBT Americans but not neo-Nazi violence?

America once did have more public-minded elites. But they came from a small clubby world, the Protestant establishment. Not all were born rich, but they knew they had a secure place atop the country. They populated the nation’s boardrooms, public offices and best schools. This security gave them greater comfort in exercising moral leadership.

Today we have a more merit-based elite, what is often called a meritocracy. It has allowed people from all walks of life to rise up into positions of power and influence. But these new elites are more insecure, anxious and self-centered. Politicians are likely to be solo entrepreneurs, worried about the next primary or fundraiser. CEOs live with the constant fear that they might lose their jobs or that their company might lose its customers in an instant. Religious leaders worry that they will lose congregants. These groups may not think they have the luxury to be high-minded, but they do. They are vastly more secure than most people in America, or in human history. If they cannot act out of broader interest, who can?

The group of public figures who deserve the most praise this week are the military brass. In a remarkable act of leadership for people who actually work under the president, the heads of all five branches of the armed forces issued statements unequivocally denouncing racism and bigotry. Perhaps this is because the military has been the institution that has most successfully integrated America’s diverse population. Perhaps it is because the military remains an old-fashioned place, where a sense of honor, standards and values still holds. The military chiefs have shown why they still command so much respect in the country. America’s other elites should take note.

Fareed Zakaria’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

‘Co-marketing’ arrangements put Zillow in hot water

By kenneth r. harney
‘Co-marketing’ arrangements put Zillow in hot water

WASHINGTON -- You’re probably familiar with the online realty marketing giant Zillow because of its voluminous home sale listings and its controversial “Zestimate” property valuation feature.

But you may not know this: Zillow is in hot water with the federal government over alleged violations of anti-kickback and deceptive practices rules. According to Zillow, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has concluded a two-year investigation into the company’s “co-marketing” arrangements that allow mortgage lenders to pay for portions of realty agents’ monthly advertising costs on Zillow websites. In exchange for the money, lenders are presented in agents’ ads to site visitors as sources of financing, which ultimately generates “leads” and new mortgage business. Consumers likely are in the dark about the lender’s financial relationship with the realty agent unless they know to click on a question mark icon after the promotional words “ask these lenders about financing.”

Though the CFPB declined to comment for this column, Zillow confirmed that the bureau has threatened it with legal action if it does not agree to a settlement. The CFPB has not publicly detailed its specific reasons for pursuing Zillow, but the company says the allegations involve the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) -- which prohibits kickbacks in exchange for business referrals -- and a section of the Consumer Financial Protection Act that prohibits “unfair, deceptive or abusive” practices.

A Zillow spokeswoman told me that “we believe our program is lawful,” and the company welcomed an opportunity to discuss the allegations with the CFPB.

Some background: Thousands of agents across the country pay Zillow for advertising space, mainly because millions of consumers visit its sites to check out listings and information on more than 100 million homes, whether they are for sale or not.

On homes listed for sale, frequently there is also contact information for local “premier agents” who may or may not be the actual listing agent. Premier agents pay Zillow for the promotional space and other benefits -- typically hundreds of dollars per month but sometimes well above $1,000 -- and receive leads to consumers who are actively searching for a home or plan to in the future. Premier agent monthly payments are a crucial part of Zillow’s business model, amounting to nearly $190 million during the second quarter of 2017 alone. This represented more than 70 percent of Zillow’s total revenues during the quarter.

Legal experts say the CFPB’s concerns likely focus on an optional feature of the premier agent program that permits real estate agents to have their monthly advertising fees paid for in part -- or almost entirely -- by lenders who seek leads to potential borrowers. A loan officer who is given exclusive promotion along with a premier agent might pay 50 percent of the agent’s monthly bill. Three lenders who’ve cut individual deals with the agent might pay a combined total of up to 90 percent.

The sticky legal question here is whether the lenders or loan officers are paying for referrals of business -- banned by RESPA -- or whether they are simply jointly advertising their wares and paying fair market value for the exposure. In a multimillion-dollar settlement in January with national lender Prospect Mortgage over alleged violations of the anti-kickback law, the CFPB tipped its hand: It cited payments made by loan officers to subsidize realty agents’ advertising costs on an unnamed online site that was widely understood to be Zillow. In that case, the CFPB levied fines against real estate brokerages as well as the lender -- opening the door to possible future legal attacks against realty agents themselves.

Marx Sterbcow, a RESPA legal expert based in New Orleans, said that absent details from the CFPB, the anti-kickback case against Zillow is “confusing” since individual loan officers and realty agents appear to be the direct participants in the payment arrangements. However, he said, Zillow’s role in providing “substantial assistance” to the arrangements could make it vulnerable to charges by the CFPB under the deceptive practices act.

George Souto, sales manager and loan originator for McCue Mortgage in New Britain, Connecticut, told me he checked out the Zillow program but “got a bad feeling very quickly.”

“Once I saw the way it really works, it became clear to me that it wasn’t a lead generator but a way to pay for referrals. I felt uncomfortable,” he said, and worried about possible legal action by the CFPB or banking regulators.

Where’s this all headed? Only lawyers at Zillow and the CFPB know whether the case is destined for litigation or a settlement. Meanwhile, now you know how agents and lenders end up on Zillow pages: They pay. Or co-pay.

Ken Harney’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

GOP leaders must overcome their timidity and denounce Trump

By eugene robinson
GOP leaders must overcome their timidity and denounce Trump

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump has dropped all pretense and proudly raised the banner of white racial grievance. The time has come for Republicans in Congress to decide whether this is what they signed up for.

Business leaders decided Wednesday that they’d had enough, quitting two presidential advisory councils before Trump quickly dissolved the panels. Military leaders made their call as well, issuing statements -- in the wake of Charlottesville -- making clear they embrace diversity and reject bigotry.

With only a few exceptions, however, GOP political leaders have been too timid to denounce the president and the reprehensible game of racial politics he’s playing. I think the corporate chief executives who bailed are making the right bet: History will remember who spoke out, who was complicit, and who stood idly by.

Thursday on Twitter (where else?) Trump poured salt in the nation’s wounds by coming out firmly against the removal of public monuments to the Confederacy -- the issue that brought white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan to Charlottesville and led to the death of Heather Heyer.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he wrote. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson -- who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

Some slippery-slope arguments are valid but the one Trump makes is absurd. He can’t possibly be so dense that he doesn’t see a clear distinction between the men who founded this nation and those who tried to rip it apart.

Trump may indeed not know that most of those Confederate monuments were erected not in the years right after the Civil War but around the turn of the 20th century, when the Jim Crow system of state-enforced racial oppression was being established. They symbolize not history but the defiance of history; they celebrate not defeat on the battlefield but victory in putting uppity African-Americans back in their place.

But even if someone explained all of this to Trump -- perhaps in a one-page briefing memo with lots of pictures -- he wouldn’t care. For him, the important thing is to tell the white voters who constitute his base that they are being disrespected and dispossessed. It’s a cynical and dangerous ploy.

We know this is Trump’s game because White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon told us so. In an interview with journalist Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect, published Wednesday, Bannon is quoted as saying: “The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

But Trump’s base won’t identify with Nazis and the KKK. That’s why Trump maintained -- falsely -- that among the torch-bearing Charlottesville white supremacists there were also plenty of “nice people.” And it’s why he now seeks to broaden the issue to encompass Confederate monuments nationwide, abandoning his earlier position that the question should be left to local jurisdictions.

That’s probably also why Bannon, in the interview with Kuttner, referred to the white-power clowns as, well, “clowns.” He’s smart enough to reassure Trump supporters that they’re not like those racists and that all the racial game-playing is on the other side.

Trump’s desperation is palpable. His approval ratings have slid perilously close to the danger zone where Republican officeholders no longer fear crossing him.

For titans of the business community, the tipping point came Wednesday. The chief executives of such companies as General Electric, Campbell Soup, Johnson & Johnson and 3M decided they could no longer serve on Trump’s advisory Manufacturing Council or his Strategy & Policy Forum.

Why stick around? Prospects that Trump can actually follow through on a business-friendly agenda, including tax reform, look increasingly dim. And Trump’s “many sides” reaction to Charlottesville wasn’t going over at all well with employees, customers or the executives themselves.

“Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country,” JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon wrote in a message to his employees. “It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart.”

The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and National Guard also publicly condemned hate groups in the wake of Charlottesville. They, of course, could not mention the commander in chief by name.

But politicians can. And they must.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

When Trump needs a Friend, this is what ‘Fox & Friends’ is for

By dana milbank
When Trump needs a Friend, this is what ‘Fox & Friends’ is for

WASHINGTON -- The movement away from President Trump had become a stampede.

Republican lawmakers from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to lowly backbenchers dissociated themselves from the president for saying there were “very fine people” marching among the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

Trump disbanded his corporate advisory panels after eight members quit in protest of his moral parallels between white supremacists and those who opposed them.

The two living former Republican presidents, military leaders and even the vice president issued statements making plain their differences with Trump. Condemnations poured in from the conservative prime minister of Britain and from Germany, where they know what comes of coddling Nazis.

On Wednesday morning, I entered the echo chamber, watching all three hours of “Fox & Friends” -- Trump’s favorite show, to judge from his tweets -- to see if the hosts would defend Trump even after he aligned himself with white supremacists. It was a delicate task -- some parts of Fox News Channel had already gone wobbly, with Kat Timpf calling Trump’s remarks “disgusting” -- but Trump’s “Fox & Friends” friends gave it a try.

Host Steve Doocy began the 6 a.m. hour by saying Trump’s real “mistake” was to take questions from reporters. He figured the president “was just trying to be very careful” in his remarks, and Doocy read out White House talking points (”The president was entirely correct ... “)

Host Todd Piro allowed that Trump’s comments “may not have been the smartest,” but said, “He could cure cancer tomorrow and other people in the media are going to attack him.”

Another host, Abby Huntsman, joined in to say that although this was a “missed opportunity” for Trump to “stand up a little stronger” against hate groups, some people “are going to hate on this president” anyway.

The hosts tried mightily to change the subject from Trump’s unconscionable defense of neo-Nazis to his claim that those taking down statues of “Confederate heroes” (Doocy’s phrase) would soon attack George Washington.

“Hmm, interesting point there,” said Huntsman, introducing her “panel” to “debate” this phony issue.

First came Johns Hopkins professor Wendy Osefo. She replied that the issue was “beyond monuments” and more about Nazis killing and beating people. “This is not talking points,” she said. “This is human life.”

Huntsman turned to Gianno Caldwell, a black Republican and reliable Trump defender. “I mean, there are good people on both sides of this debate,” she coaxed.

Caldwell wasn’t having it: “President Trump, our president, has literally betrayed the conscience of our country, the very moral fabric in which we’ve made progress when it comes to race relations in America. He’s failed us. ... Mr. President, good people don’t pal around with Nazis and white supremacists.”

Huntsman, after trying one more time to talk about statues, gave up: “You know, it’s a tough debate.”

It’s not a tough debate. It’s not a debate at all. There are Nazis, and there are the rest of us.

It was obscene and unthinkable that the president of the United States let white supremacists know it’s OK to hold and act on their hateful views. In defending Trump, Fox is further encouraging these racists to crawl out from under their rocks and preach in the open.

A Huffington Post/YouGov poll shows the effect. Only 22 percent think Trump is opposed to white nationalism. And when the president winks at racism, more racists are emboldened. Among Trump supporters, 48 percent think the white nationalists in Charlottesville were mostly right or went too far but have a point. Half of Trump supporters, thus given the green light by the president, express sympathy for white nationalists. That is, to coin a term, deplorable.

But it’s happening. In the 7 a.m. hour, Trump’s Fox friends continued their Trump defense.

“Not everyone there was out to hurt someone or was evil,” Huntsman said, adding that, even so, it’s “incredibly important” to call out bigotry and hatred.

“Which he did,” Doocy interjected.

“Which he did,” Huntsman agreed.

To their credit, the hosts interviewed, near the end of the show, conservative pundit Rich Lowry, with a dissent. When Doocy again raised the prospect of Washington becoming the next victim after Robert E. Lee, Lowry explained that “there’s a huge historical and moral difference” between the first president and the Confederate commander. Lowry said Lee probably would have wanted his statue taken down, because “he wanted to put the Civil War behind us and focus on national unity.”

Would that Trump and his “friends” could do the same.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Robert E. Lee is worth remembering. Just don’t honor him.

By richard cohen
Robert E. Lee is worth remembering. Just don’t honor him.

Touch not that statue of Robert E. Lee in lovely Charlottesville, Virginia. Let it stand, keep it handsome and dignified, but around it place plaques telling the curious that the man memorialized there was a traitor to his country who went to war so that white people could continue to own black people -- to take their women and sell their children, rip apart families and, if need be, take the lives of the recalcitrant or the rebellious. Lee is not a man to be honored. He is, though, worthy of remembering.

Lee should be recalled as a slave owner who would not give them up. He should be remembered as one who felt so keenly about slavery that he renounced his commission in the U.S. Army and enlisted in the Confederate one, whose purpose was to keep emancipation at bay. I have the late Elizabeth Brown Pryor, author of “Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters,” to thank for setting the record straight. As I wrote in 2011, Pryor’s essay for The New York Times gave us “a Lee who is at odds with the one of gauzy myth. He was not, as I once thought, the creature of crushing social and political pressure who had little choice but to pick his state over his country. In fact, various members of his own family stuck with the Union.”

“When Lee consulted his brothers, sister and local clergymen, he found that most leaned toward the Union,” Pryor wrote. “At a grim dinner with two close cousins, Lee was told that they also intended to uphold their military oaths. ... Sister Anne Lee Marshall unhesitatingly chose the northern side, and her son outfitted himself in blue uniform.” Pryor noted that some 40 percent of Virginia officers “would remain with the Union forces.”

So what is so honorable about Lee? What is so honorable about leading your men into a war that cost more than 600,000 lives and whose purpose was to retain slavery? What’s a black person gazing upon a Lee statue to think? Here is a man who, had he won, would have kept that black person’s ancestors in chains -- grandparents going back not all that far, maybe only five generations, as these things are reckoned. This is like me having to gaze on a statue of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, an outstanding military leader in World War II, whose brilliance enabled the Germans to murder even more civilians. In the end, he turned against Hitler and was made to commit suicide. He didn’t manage to kill Hitler. He did manage to kill countless others.

But it is the Germans, in the end, who know how to memorialize the unpardonable. Berlin today is replete with monuments and memorials to the Holocaust, even cobblestones bearing the names of murdered Jews and sunk into the streets where the Jews once lived. The basement of the building that housed the Gestapo and the SS has been retained and converted into a museum called the Topography of Terror. It was once used for torture and executions. It is now used to educate. Millions have visited it. Few have forgotten it.

Elsewhere in Germany, former concentration camps are open to be viewed. I have seen most of them, each time wondering and marveling at the German families who tour the place, thinking ... thinking what?

I make no comparison between the Holocaust and American slavery. Both are blights on the two nations. Both say something about Germans and Americans that needs to be confronted. Germany has done so. We are only very slowly beginning to. Keep the Lee statue. The old general still has work to do.

Richard Cohen’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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