Donald Trump is on a rampage against mail-in voting and already questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election. This week on Intercepted: The modern Republican Party has mastered the art of voter suppression and gerrymandering, but the president is now seeking to exploit the pandemic to aid these efforts. In between tweets accusing Joe Scarborough, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” of being involved with the death of an intern decades ago and spending time on the golf course as the U.S. neared 100,000 coronavirus deaths, Trump has offered an overwhelmingly fictional narrative about Democratic voter fraud punctuated by warnings of the election being illegitimate before a single vote has been cast. Mother Jones senior reporter Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” analyzes the strategy of Trump and the GOP and lays out what he considers the nightmare scenario for the November election. As Trump continues to downplay the human toll of Covid-19, he is doubling down on his push for states to quickly reopen. Many of the states that have reopened surround Indian country and the chair of the Hopi Tribe reservation says, “We have a wildfire burning around us.” Journalist Rebecca Nagle, host of the podcast “This Land,” discusses how the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Native communities, explains some major cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on Indigenous land rights, and talks about Trump’s battles against Native tribes.
Chris Parnell [as Dr. Leo Spaceman]: This is Dr. Leo Spaceman
Donald J. Trump: Hello. Hello.
CP: Ah, I was afraid this might happen.
DJT: I don’t use insulin. Should I be?
CP: Do you need anything for yourself?
DJT: Hydroxy … You know what I’m talkin’ about, right? I’ve, I’ve had no impact from it … I’ve, I’ve had no … I feel the same. I haven’t changed, I don’t think, too much.
CP: There’s no telling how they’ll mix. But, what can you do? Medicine’s not a science.
DJT: I can absolutely do it if I want to and I don’t think I’m going to have to because it doesn’t seem to have any impact on me.
CP: Well, must be psychosomatic. Now, don’t worry. That’s just a fancy doctor word for “your brain is broken.”
DJT: A lot of people suggest that.
CP: Anywho, I have the results of your physical. You have no reflexes. Your blood tastes like root beer and some of your bones appear to have vanished.
DJT: Right. Unbelievable.
CP: You are going to die.
DJT: Very bad. I never thought about it. And that’s ok.
JS: This is Intercepted.
I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from my basement in New York City. And this is episode 132 of Intercepted.
DJT: We don’t want them to do mail-in ballots because it’s going to lead to total election fraud. So we don’t want them to do mail-in ballots. We don’t want anyone to do mail-in ballots.
JS: The history of the United States is rooted in white supremacy, slavery, and genocide. And over the past 244 years, since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, bloody battles have been fought and won to secure essential rights for people left out of the original vision of freedom espoused by the founders of the modern U.S. republic. And yet, the roots of white supremacist and genocidal policy and tradition remain, and they continue to nourish modern attempts to treat certain people in this country as unequal. On today’s show, we’re going to be discussing two major struggles that endure to this day and are in some ways intensifying, particularly during Donald Trump’s time in office.
Coming up on the show, we’re going to be talking with Native American journalist, Rebecca Nagle, about how coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities in this country, as well as the failure of the U.S. government to meet its treaty obligations and commitments to Native peoples’ health care. We’re also going to look at attempts by Donald Trump to strip a native tribe in Massachusetts of its reservation status in an apparent effort to aid a casino business with ties to the president. We’re also going to talk about some current cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that could have far-reaching consequences for Indigenous and tribal sovereignty rights.
Rebecca Nagle: We see among conservatives who, I believe, don’t want tribes to still exist. You know, I think we’re in what I would call, like, a neo-termination era. You know, we saw in the ‘40s and the ‘50s the United States federal government try to just get rid of tribes and get rid of our treaty rights and these obligations that the federal government was kind of tired of living up to. And I think we’re seeing a new era of that.
JS: But we begin with what is almost certainly going to be a scandalous dimension to the November presidential and congressional elections: the issue of suppressing voting rights. The modern-day Republican Party has made voter disenfranchisement a central component of its election strategy. And let’s be frank, they are really effective vote suppressors.
These efforts come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them come in the form of gerrymandering or redistricting. And the Republicans are masters of exploiting government mechanisms in an effort to make voting difficult for some Americans. But what is perhaps more insidious and relevant to the upcoming election is the way in which Donald Trump and the GOP are laying the ground to declare the election a fraud if it goes what they consider to be “the wrong way.” In fact, Trump remains totally obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s three million vote victory against him in the 2016 popular vote. In Trump’s alternate universe, there was widespread voter fraud that led to that large margin.
DJT: I’ll say something that again is controversial. There were a lot of votes cast that I don’t believe. I look at California …
Chuck Todd: Mr. President…
DJT: Excuse me.
CT: But that’s a …
DJT: Take a look at Judicial Watch. Take a look at their settlement. Where California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.
CT: A million votes of what?
DJT: Take a look at Judicial…
CT: What are you talking about?
DJT: Judicial Watch made a settlement. There were, there was much…
CT: About what?
DJT: There was much illegal voting. But let me tell you about popular vote. You have a second?
CT: Yes. Cause you were a big fan of it. Until you weren’t.
DJT: I like popular vote. I think I’d do better with a popular vote.
JS: Now, in between tweeting about Joe Scarborough and the death of an intern of his decades ago, and spending time on the golf course as we neared 100,000 coronavirus deaths, Trump has led a public campaign against mail-in voting and attempts to expand it, particularly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s all wrapped in his overwhelmingly fictional narrative of Democratic voter fraud.
DJT: You get a ballot. You’re sitting in your bedroom signing it. Who knows who’s signing it? Who knows that it ever gets to your house? Who knows if they don’t pirate? You know they pirate these applications. They print new voting forms and then they send them around. People sign them, or one person signs them with different pens and a different signature every time. It’s, it’s … Obviously there’s going to be fraud. We’re not babies. There’s tremendous fraud.
JS: There would be some pretty serious constitutional and separation of powers issues for Trump to overcome if he did want to consider postponing or canceling the election in November. But what Trump is already doing is combining the proven Republican voter suppression tactics with the opportunities to further the cause of disenfranchisement by exploiting the coronavirus pandemic. He’s already claiming that allowing widespread mail-in voting would result in the greatest election fraud in history.
Bret Baier: John, late today, Twitter placed a fact-check notification on a tweet from the President about mail-in ballots. What about that?
John Roberts: And this is something highly unusual. The President sent out this tweet at 8:17 this morning and I don’t know if you can see it, but at the bottom of the screen it says: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” If you click on that, up comes a message that says: “On Tuesday President Trump made a series of claims about potential voter fraud after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an effort to expand mail-in voting in California during the Covid-19 pandemic. These claims are unsubstantiated according to CNN, the Washington Post, and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud.” In the last hour…
JS: Our first guest recently tweeted the following: “Trump & RNC exploiting coronavirus to double down on making it harder for people to vote and, if that fails, they’ll use it as an excuse to challenge validity of election.”
Ari Berman on Trump and GOP Voter Suppression Efforts — Pandemic Style
Joining me now is Ari Berman, senior reporter for Mother Jones and a fellow at Type Media Center. Berman was the first national reporter to cover voter suppression during the 2012 election, earning widespread acclaim for his coverage and pushing the issue into the national spotlight. He is the author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” which is about the history of voting rights since 1965.
Ari Berman, thanks so much for joining us here on Intercepted.
Ari Berman: Hey Jeremy. Great to talk to you. Thank you.
JS: So Ari, over the weekend, Donald Trump tweeted “The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and ‘force’ people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!” [Tweet alert sound.] Now Ari, for years Trump has been claiming that voter fraud is this rampant problem that’s being exploited by the Democrats. He claimed repeatedly that millions and millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election and that’s really what explains Hillary Clinton’s three million vote win over him in the popular vote.
DJT: You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in New York and in New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.
JS: Talk about the rhetoric that we’re now seeing from Donald Trump, just in this past week, as we head toward the November general election.
AB: Well you’re right, Jeremy. It’s not a new strategy. And I think Donald Trump’s the only person I know who actually claimed widespread voter fraud when he won an election. So, I mean, you can imagine how he’s feeling now when it looks like he might be losing the election. For years and years, Donald Trump and the Republicans have made these claims of widespread voter fraud with absolutely no evidence, over and over and over.
Sean Hannity: In inner-city Philadelphia, Mitt Romney did not get a single vote.
DJT: We’re going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.
But they even wanna try and rig the election at the polling booths where so many cities are corrupt. And you see that. And voter fraud is all too common.
AB: But I think what you’re seeing is, Trump is increasingly saying the quiet part out loud and is making more and more ridiculous claims. So I mean, that tweet you read has like five or six lies embedded within 280 characters. There’s, you know, no evidence, first off, of widespread mail ballot fraud. There’s no evidence that everyone’s first off just going to cast a ballot by mail to begin with because a lot of people are still going to vote in person in this election. There’s no evidence that people are running around forging absentee ballots, stealing legitimate absentee ballots, doing all the things he’s claiming. So I mean it’s just basically a hundred percent made up. But the real worry here is that Republicans are going to use Trump’s rhetoric as a cover to oppose any efforts to make it easier to vote, to impose new barriers that make it harder to vote, and then to lay the groundwork for challenging the legitimacy of any election if they happen to lose.
DJT: Because you know the things with bundling and all the things that are happening with votes by mail, where thousands of votes are gathered and, I’m not going to say which party does it, but thousands of votes are gathered and they come in and they’re dumped in a location and then all of a sudden you lose elections that you think you’re going to win cause there’s a lot of fraudulent voting going on in this country.
JS: Is there something Trump could do from his post as President of the United States to postpone or cancel this election?
AB: Not as far as I understand, and not as far as every constitutional law or election expert I have talked to. I don’t believe that Trump has the authority to unilaterally postpone the election. Congress would have to sign onto that. That means that he would have to somehow convince Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to go along with postponing the election. Now, you never know. I mean, we didn’t predict we were going to be in a situation where 100,000 people were dead because of a deadly pandemic, so you can never predict these things. But he doesn’t have the power to unilaterally change the election. I’m worried about all the other stuff he could do short of that, though. That’s really what keeps me up at night. It’s not changing the election. It’s all the ways he could undermine the election before it’s actually occurred.
The first thing to understand is that Republicans were already engaged in a widespread effort to make it more difficult to vote because of the pandemic. They had already passed restrictions on voting in half the states in the country — in 25 states — ranging from requiring voter IDs, to cutting back on early voting, to closing polling places, to purging the voter rolls, to preventing people with past felony convictions from voting. So there are a whole series of restrictions they had already put in place before the pandemic, and now voting is just so much more difficult when people can’t safely leave their homes. And the country is really not prepared to hold anywhere close to an all-mail election. In 2018, a quarter of Americans voted by mail. So if you’re going to go from a quarter of Americans voting by mail in 2018 to, let’s say, 50 percent of Americans voting by mail in 2020, or 60 percent or 70 percent, states are going to have to do a lot to make it easier to vote by mail. What Republicans are doing right now is they’re doing everything they can to oppose making it easy to vote by mail. So they want all these crazy restrictions on mail voting, some of which we saw in Wisconsin in their April election.
Unidentified voter: This is so wrong. This is just so wrong. This election should have been called off. You know, they’re telling us to stay in the house and you know, stand six feet from each other. But then, one of the more important times, they’re forcing us to come out here, in a group. Stop playing politics with our lives, you know. That’s what I’m feeling.
AB: So they want you to have a witness signature when you cast an absentee ballot which, if you’re social distancing, is really hard if you’re at home by yourself. They want to throw out ballots if there’s any sort of mismatch on the signatures, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but tens of thousands of mail ballots get thrown out because of that. So, all of these little details, Republicans are going to try to enforce with really strong rigidity so that they can throw out as many ballots as possible. Then they’re going to do stuff that’s just completely blatant where they make it easy for Republicans to be able to vote, but harder for Democrats, and I’ll give you one example. In Texas right now, if you’re over 65, you can vote, for any reason, absentee. But if you’re under 65, you have to have a reason why you want to get a mail ballot. And the Texas attorney general is saying that coronavirus is not a legitimate excuse to get an absentee ballot. So this to me is the most insane thing I’ve seen Republicans do. They’re basically saying, Everyone over 65, which happens to be Trump’s strongest demographic, they can vote for any reason by mail, but anyone under 65 can’t use the pandemic as a reason to get an absentee ballot. Meaning, in a state like Texas, they’re going to make it super easy for old people to vote and super hard for everyone else to be able to vote. And usually, that would advantage Republicans because older voters are the most reliable Republican voters. So it’s stuff like that that makes me worried compared to Trump just postponing the election.
JS: So, as I understand it, 29 states, including some swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, they already have the option for voters to request an absentee ballot for any reason. Does mail-in voting really help Democrats as much as Donald Trump and the Republicans kind of claim it does?
AB: No. I mean, first off, there’s no evidence that either party benefits from mail-in voting. They use it roughly the same. The interesting thing is that Republicans have actually been the ones pushing for mail-in voting in places like Florida and Arizona, where more people vote by mail. And that’s because Republican voters tend to be older, and they’re the ones that need to vote by mail because they’re less likely to go to a polling place. So, the whole expansion of vote by mail has been pushed, historically, more by Republicans than Democrats. And that’s why it’s so ironic to hear Trump say that mail voting is some sort of Democratic plot. I mean, that would come as a big surprise to Republican operatives in Arizona and Florida that had been urging people to vote by mail. It would also come as a surprise to Republicans in states like Pennsylvania, which are literally sending out mailers instructing their voters on how to vote by mail. Trump has voted by mail. Pence has voted by mail. Ivanka has voted by mail. Jared has voted by mail. I mean nearly every member of Trump’s cabinet had voted by mail. So it’s not that Republicans oppose voting by mail. They only oppose voting by mail when they think it’s something that Democrats or progressives might do.
JS: It’s not that voting by mail somehow rigs things in favor of the Republicans or, in this specific case, Donald Trump in November. It’s this notion that a lot of public awareness is being raised about being in lines with people, being in crowded places. And so if Democrats are doing a major push, or state governments are doing a major push to educate people who normally would not vote by mail that they can, in fact, do it, it seems that’s the group that it’s targeted at, is people that traditionally don’t vote by mail but are damn sure committed to trying to not be at a polling place but still vote this year. And that seems like you’re talking about, then: younger people, a more diverse population, not your traditional vote by mail voter.
AB: Exactly. I mean, and that’s what Republicans are afraid of and that’s what they’re trying to do, is avoid a situation like in Milwaukee, where people are afraid to vote in person and so traditionally Democratic constituencies decide to vote by mail instead. And Republicans are basically doing everything they can to prevent that from happening. Now it’s worth noting that, in fact, mail ballots are more often rejected, in many cases, from Democratic constituencies. So, for example, in Florida in 2018, ballots that were cast by younger people, by communities of color, they were much more likely to be thrown out than ballots that were cast by, for example, older and whiter voters. Some of that is because those communities are more likely to vote in person, so they’re less likely to understand the rules of mail balloting. Or they may be first-time voters to begin with and they don’t understand all the rules for mail voting.
Mail voting is more complicated than voting in person, and you have to make sure that, first off, you get a ballot, which is not that easy in some states. You have to make sure that you sign all the correct forms; that you remember to sign your absentee ballot envelope, which a lot of people forget to do. You have to make sure that your signature on your absentee ballot matches the signature on file in the election office, which often it doesn’t if people just kind of sign it without thinking. And so these little technicalities could add up to huge amounts of voter disenfranchisement. And that’s what I’m really worried about, is that we don’t have in this country the kind of voter education that we need to help people get mail ballots in the first place and then to make sure they’re counted. In fact, we have a massive propaganda campaign by the president and his allies telling everyone it’s not safe to vote by mail, the process is rigged, we shouldn’t send ballots to every voter, we shouldn’t even send absentee ballot applications to every voter, which is the bare minimum of what we should be doing. And so I think a lot of people are going to be very confused how to cast a ballot by mail and we’re going to see a huge number of ballots rejected if we don’t do a lot between now and then to educate people on the process and to give election officials the resources they need to run elections in a smooth manner in the face of this massive propaganda and suppression campaign they’re facing from Trump and the GOP.
JS: You’ve mentioned a couple of times Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and of course we all watched as this very dramatic scene played out. And Ari, in your coverage of that situation you wrote: “What’s happening in Wisconsin is a preview of the strategy Republicans will likely adopt nationwide in November — oppose making it easier to vote, even in the midst of a pandemic, and hope that the courts will give you the green light.” Explain how you could see the Wisconsin model going national as we lead up to the November election.
AB: Yeah, I think what happened in Wisconsin is a very scary preview of what could happen in November, where basically Republicans who control the legislature opposed any effort to make it easier to vote. So they opposed mailing ballots to every registered voter, even though coronavirus was soaring in the state at the time and there was a stay-at-home order from the governor. They wouldn’t waive requirements. Like you needed a witness signature on your absentee ballot. Or you needed to upload a copy of your voter ID to even get an absentee ballot. Those seem like the kind of things you would immediately waive in a pandemic as being dangerous and confusing for voters. They didn’t do that. So basically the situation on the ground had dramatically changed, but the state made no effort to make it easier for people to get a ballot or to have that ballot counted.
The second thing I was afraid of was that the courts made little accommodation for voters. So the Supreme Court wouldn’t even give people an extra week to send back their ballots, even though there was a huge number of ballots that were totally backlogged because election officials in the post office were completely overwhelmed. Wisconsin was a state where only six percent of people voted by mail in 2018. Suddenly 60 percent voted by mail in 2018. Democrats in Wisconsin said we need to give people an extra week to be able to vote. And Republicans opposed them. The Supreme Court ultimately said no, you couldn’t do that, but if your ballot was postmarked by election day it would count but that you couldn’t send in a ballot after election day, even if you received it late. And that’s a very worrying situation, where basically the Supreme Court is going to side with Republicans in all of these challenges. They’re not going to say that, because of this extraordinary situation with the coronavirus, we need to slightly modify our election laws to make it easier for people to vote. If Republicans take that position in every single swing state, and the Supreme Court agrees with them in every single swing state — and I think there’s going to be litigation in basically every swing state around the rules of mail voting — basically a lot of ballots are not going to be counted and a lot of ballots are going to be thrown out. And that those ballots are more likely to be thrown out in Democratic areas because these are the very communities that are hit hardest by coronavirus. If you looked at where coronavirus was surging in Wisconsin, it was surging in particular in Milwaukee, where they closed 175 out of 180 polling places but didn’t put in the measures needed to ensure that a lot of people would be able to safely vote by mail. So that’s what I’m worried about in Wisconsin, is that it sets a precedent that basically Republicans will do whatever they can to make it harder to vote and the courts are going to side with them more often than not.
JS: Does it seem to you like another element of this is Trump and the Republicans knowing that almost certainly they will lose the popular vote, that this kind of talk about fraud and mail-in voting lays the ground for actual fraud on their part in the aftermath of the November election?
AB: For sure, because why else does Trump care about California sending ballots to all voters? Like, why does that concern him? He’s not going to win California. They’re not going to take back the California legislature. He only cares because he knows he lost California by a historic margin in 2016. That’s a big reason why he lost the popular vote. And he probably knows he’s going to lose the popular vote by an even larger margin in 2020. Everyone’s predicting that he could lose the popular vote by up to five million votes now, not just because of California but because states like Texas are becoming bluer, and there’s a lot more Democratic voters there than before. And so yeah, I think he’s laying the groundwork to challenge the legitimacy of the election, but I also think that he knows how close the 2016 election was that Republicans won Michigan by 10,000 votes. They won Wisconsin by 20,000 votes and they won Pennsylvania by 40,000 votes. And the details of how people vote could easily swing the outcome. And whether or not people can vote easily by mail, whether or not their ballots are counted, whether or not there’s enough polling places open if people want to vote in person — all of those things could easily swing 10, 20, 40 thousand votes. So the method of voting I think in this year, in a pandemic matters more than ever, and I think Republicans know that, and they’re doing everything they can six months out to make it so that maybe their voters have an easy time voting, but the other side has as many obstacles as possible in front of them when they try to get a ballot or cast a ballot.
JS: After the Wisconsin primary in April, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is in the running to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential candidate — running mate — she shared her plans with you at Mother Jones on improving voting rights and you spoke with her about that proposal. Layout first what Elizabeth Warren’s ideas constitute and ultimately what ended up in the HEROES Act that Pelosi shepherded through the House and that is almost certainly to be killed in large part by the Republican-led Senate. But start with Elizabeth Warren and then move to what’s actually in the proposal from Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats.
AB: Elizabeth Warren and some other Senate Democrats and some other Democrats outlined a very ambitious bill for protecting voting rights during a pandemic. And what Warren said was basically that, first off, we should mail ballots to all registered voters. To me, that’s the gold standard. Five states do this right now, six if you count California, which is going to do it for 2020. That’s what Trump is so afraid of because it’s such a simple system, and if you want to guarantee that people aren’t disenfranchised when it comes to voting by mail, the best way to do it is just to send them a ballot and then you mail it back. And so that was really the first part of what she laid out, but she also laid out that she would waive all these ridiculous rules in a pandemic that can disenfranchise people. She said that there needs to be enough voting in person, something like a month of early voting so people can social distance at the polls. She said that she would give a huge amount of funding to the post office because they were going to be more important than ever in terms of delivering ballots and they are under unprecedented attack from the administration right now, which is trying to defund them. It’s trying to privatize them, trying to put the head fundraiser of the Republican convention as postmaster general, which is a scandal that I don’t really think is getting nearly enough attention. A lot of that made it into the HEROES Act that was introduced by Nancy Pelosi.
Now, they stopped short of basically saying mail every voter a ballot. But they did say that if there was an extraordinary situation, an emergency situation like a pandemic, what House Democrats introduced was a really significant bill. Now I think the mistake was not doing this sooner. They basically said we can wait, and wait, and wait, and we’ll do this in the fourth stimulus bill. Well, the problem is there might not be a fourth stimulus bill. So I think they had to push much harder for this to be in the first stimulus bill because at that point Democrats had the leverage. Republicans were basically going to agree to almost anything the Democrats had proposed because it was such an extraordinary situation. And so I think the Democrats missed their opportunity to try to pass these really bold election reforms and this really important funding when they had the leverage. And the standard-bearer for the party, Joe Biden, has been very, very slow in embracing these kinds of reforms. I mean you could make the argument that, when there was a contested primary with Bernie Sanders, he just wanted to preserve the status quo so he could wrap up the nomination as quickly as possible. But it doesn’t make sense with Sanders out of the race that Biden wouldn’t do everything he can as aggressively as possible to promote making it easier for people to vote. So I think, in the same way, that the Biden campaign has been kinda tepid about everything, they’ve been tepid when it comes to voting too. Biden needs to endorse what Elizabeth Warren has proposed, what Kamala Harris has proposed, a similar bill, the Vote Safe Act.
And I think Democrats need to be really aggressive about this because Republicans are going to make an all-out effort to suppress the vote and do Democrats have anything resembling that on the other side, in terms of combatting the suppression, combatting the misinformation, combatting the propaganda? No! I mean, nobody would admit that they have as well-oiled a machine in terms of protecting the vote as Republicans have in terms of disenfranchising people. And that’s a big problem. It’s a major form of asymmetric warfare right now that Democrats are doing what they can to protect the vote, but it seems like Republicans are always one step ahead when it comes to finding more and more devious ways to undermine the democratic process.
JS: Give us some sense of the historical context, the roots of this voter disenfranchisement campaign that we’re witnessing now from Trump and the Republicans. Talk about some of the periods of U.S. history that predate this, whether it’s Reconstruction or the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act — the ways that the modern Republican party has tried to suppress voting rights. Walk us through some of the historically important moments that are the roots of this tactic.
AB: I don’t think you can understand the current fight over voting rights without understanding that there’s been a very long history in this country about fighting over the right to vote. And this has really never been a settled issue in this country. You go back to Reconstruction, which you mentioned, and the fact that the U.S. passed the 15th Amendment saying very explicitly that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. That basically was in force for a decade, and there were black officeholders in states like Alabama and Mississippi. And then Reconstruction was violently overthrown by white supremacists. They were Democrats at that point in time.
Then those white supremacist Democrats became white supremacist Republicans, basically, and opposed all the efforts to try to guarantee voting rights for people of color and historically marginalized communities. So the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to settle this debate. It was supposed to say that everyone has the right to vote free from discrimination. And the Voting Rights Act was incredibly powerful. It was the most important civil rights law ever passed by the U.S. government.
Lyndon B. Johnson: But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.
AB: But there’s been a steady effort to try to gut that law, and to try to put in place new voter suppression tactics. And so what happens more recently is, in 2010, Republicans take over all of these key swing states — like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida — and they put in place all of these new measures to make it harder for people to vote. And then in 2013, the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act and rules that those states with the longest histories of discrimination — places like Georgia and Texas and Alabama and Mississippi and North Carolina — that they no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. So that takes away the most important tool the federal government has to stop voting discrimination in the places where it occurs historically most often.
That really lays the groundwork for what we’re seeing now. It’s not like suddenly Donald Trump woke up one day and said, “This is the greatest rigged election in history.” Or suddenly the RNC woke up and decided they were going to file a lawsuit against mail ballots. This dates back a very, very long time in history. And basically whenever the demographics of the country are changing, whenever historically marginalized people are getting closer to power, that’s when you see the status quo — and it’s almost always the white status quo — decide that they’re going to take new measures to make it harder for those people to be able to participate in the democratic process.
JS: As you look at all of this, and knowing the history as you do, what is the sort of, in your analysis, the nightmare scenario in terms of voter disenfranchisement or fraud. Like, based on tactics we’re already seeing, combined with the tactics throughout history, combined with the composition, the current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, what is the nightmare scenario that you see in November’s election on these issues?
AB: The nightmare scenario is that a second wave of coronavirus hits. That it’s basically unsafe for anybody to leave their house, and we have basically done almost nothing to make sure that people can safely vote by mail. And so a lot of people have a hard time getting a ballot and there’s very restrictive rules so that all of the ballots are thrown out. Polling places are closed in all sorts of areas, but particularly in Democratic areas. So they close all the polling places in Detroit. They close all the polling places in Milwaukee. But the coronavirus isn’t as bad in rural Wisconsin, and it isn’t as bad in rural Michigan. People are able to vote there, no problem. So there’s a huge disparate impact. There is litigation, last minute, in terms of how to count mail ballots or whether to open polling places, things like that. It’s a very close election in Wisconsin. It’s a very close election in Michigan. It’s a very close election in Florida. All this stuff goes before the Supreme Court. We don’t have just one Bush v. Gore scenario, we have five or six states now that fall into the Bush v. Gore camp, and that the Supreme Court rules for Donald Trump and he’s installed in a second term because of voter disenfranchisement, and because ballots aren’t counted. Rules are changed to benefit one party over the other. I mean that is a terrifying situation that I find completely 100 percent plausible in terms of what November could look like. So I’m… The biggest thing that I’m afraid about is a Bush v. Gore scenario not in one state, but in five or six states, and a Supreme Court declaring Donald Trump the winner of the next election, as opposed to the people actually deciding.
JS: Very chilling way to end this interview, Ari Berman. But I do want to thank you for all the incredible work. You’ve been on this beat for many years and you’ve done some of the most vital public interest reporting of anyone on this issue and I want to thank you for all that work you’ve done and also for being with us here on Intercepted. Thank you very much.
AB: Thank you, Jeremy
JS: Ari Berman is a senior reporter for Mother Jones and a fellow at Type Media Center. He is the author of “Give Us The Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”
While more and more states across the country lift public health precautions, the death toll of Covid-19 continues to climb, and it’s hovering right now at around 100,000 people dead in the United States alone. Donald Trump not shockingly unfortunately seems to view this statistic as a positive.
DJT: We did the right thing. We would have lost millions of lives if we didn’t. Think of it: If we lost 100,000 lives, the minimum we would have lost is a million-two, a million-three, a million-five maybe. But take it to a million. So that would mean 10 times more than we lost already.
JS: As Trump continues to downplay the human toll of Covid-19, he also is doubling down on his push for states to quickly reopen their economies. Many of the states that have reopened surround Indian country. The Chairman of the Hopi Tribe reservation, which sits in the middle of the Navajo Nation, told Indian Country Today:
Timothy Nuvangyaoma: “We have a wildfire burning around us.”
JS: Indian Health Service has confirmed more than 9,000 Covid-19 cases. Currently, the Navajo Nation has the highest infection rate in the country with more than 5,000 confirmed cases and at least 157 deaths. On ABC News, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez urged states to slow down.
Jonathan Nez: Let’s slow the opening of businesses, please. Let’s just not open businesses throughout the region. You see spikes happening in Texas and other states but we are all in this together. What happens here on the Navajo Nation affects everyone around us and vice versa.
JS: Home to more than 170,000 people, the Navajo Nation encompasses parts of what is now called Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. According to the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, an estimated 30 percent of residents do not have access to reliable, clean drinking water. Despite U.S. laws prioritizing Indigenous rights to water, the Navajo Nation has to litigate for water rights from rivers that run through their land.
JN: You know the federal government just recently allocated funds to the tribes throughout the country and, you know, it’s been seven and eight weeks ago since the money’s came in to aid everyone throughout the United States but tribal communities have been waiting. And, so, because of that, we have to utilize our own sovereign ability to help stop the spread of Covid here on the Navajo Nation.
JS: Broken treaties and guarantees on the part of the U.S. government have played a role in heightening the Covid-19 crisis and threatening the future of Indian country. And the Trump administration has been there in lockstep. Trump himself has had a contentious relationship with Indian tribes. Back in 1993 in testimony before the U.S. Congress on Indian gaming, Trump said:
DJT: I will tell you right now, they don’t look like Indians to me. And they don’t look like the Indians… Now maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct, they don’t look like Indians to me and they don’t look like Indians to Indians.”
My next guest writes about Donald Trump, “he and his administration are still arguing that contemporary tribes are not Indian enough for treaty rights and federal statutes to apply.”
Rebecca Nagle on Covid-19 Hitting Indian Country and Threats to Native Sovereignty
Joining me now to discuss how Covid-19 is hitting Indian country and the continuing threats to Native sovereignty is journalist Rebecca Nagle. She is the creator and host of the podcast “This Land,” which examines a U.S. Supreme Court case about the treaty and land rights of five tribes in Oklahoma. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, she frequently writes about Native American issues including tribal sovereignty and Native representation in culture and media. Rebecca Nagle, thank you so much for joining us on Intercepted.
Rebecca Nagle: Thank you for having me.
JS: To start, talk about how Covid-19 is hitting Indian country and why the Navajo Nation is being hit particularly hard.
RN: At the beginning of this crisis, tribal leaders and Native health experts warned that this would happen — that, for many different reasons, Indian country would be the perfect storm for an outbreak like the tragic outbreak that we’re seeing on Navajo Nation. So one of those factors is that because of years of inadequate access to health care, despite it being a treaty right, Native Americans have less access to health care than most of the people in the United States. There are really high rates of diseases that make it more likely for people to be hospitalized and even die. So when we look at things like diabetes and heart disease and asthma, Native Americans have some of the highest rates of those diseases. Another factor that compounds the problem is that a lot of families, you know, grandparents and grandkids and aunts and uncles and multiple generations are living within the same house. And we know globally that the virus is actually spread the most within households. And the other thing that is particular to Navajo Nation is access to running water. Native people are the most likely racial group in the United States to not have access to clean water. About 40 percent of the households on Navajo Nation don’t have access to water.
JS: The Indian Health Service, or the IHS, grew out of treaties between the United States government and Indian tribes. The stated point was to provide health care to all Native American and Alaska Native tribes. Rebecca, what is IHS’s capacity to respond to the current coronavirus crisis?
RN: IHS is one of the oldest federal health care systems. It actually predates both Medicare and Medicaid. It’s, you know, not a hand-out. It’s not a free program. It’s a treaty obligation that the United States promised in exchange for billions of acres of land. As part of that exchange, many tribes were promised health care for their citizens.
IHS has been woefully underfunded since the day it was created. IHS is funded at about 16 cents on the dollar for what tribal leaders say the program needs to be fully funded. Most IHS facilities don’t have the capacity for ICUs, ventilators, all of the sort of critical things that we’re talking about. You know, giving care to people who are very, very sick from Covid.
The majority of the IHS system provides only for primary care, and so a lot of critically ill Covid patients are actually being transferred out. You know another really big problem is that there’s a huge vacancy rate and so there’s an estimated 25 to 31 percent vacancy rate among IHS facilities. So, at this moment that we’re talking about understaffing with health care and worry about health care workers getting sick or being overwhelmed, this system is facing this crisis already being a quarter short.
JS: What are the so-called relief efforts, on a financial level, from the federal government look like for Indian country?
RN: There was a set-aside for tribes that went through the CDC. It took weeks for the CDC and IHS to create an interagency agreement for that money to be transferred. We saw a very similar, and frankly even more disturbing hold up with the CARES Act funding. There was an $8 billion set-aside for tribes. All of that money still has not been disbursed.
The Trump administration tried to say that Alaskan Native Corporations were also tribes, even though for years the definition of tribes has only included federally recognized tribes for purposes like this. Tribes actually had to sue the Trump administration to stop sort of the siphoning off of money that was set aside for tribes to for-profit corporations. Trump’s secretary of Indian affairs, before coming to the Trump administration, worked for one of these for-profit Alaskan Native Corporations and due to her handling of the coronavirus relief funds, along with a lot of other issues that tribal leaders have had with her, leading Native organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians — which is the oldest representative body of Native Americans in the United States — are actually calling for her to resign. And so, what we’ve seen over and over again within the Trump administration is this kind of botched response in Indian country that, beyond even the funding that is being passed by Congress, it actually getting into the hands of tribes and the agencies that need them, has been a disaster.
JS: I just want to emphasize this point that you’re raising because it’s such an important one, I think, for people to understand. And that is that if you can get categorized as a Native Corporation from Alaska, you then get preferential treatment under the U.S. government contracting system. And so you have had large defense corporations, that have nothing to do with Indigenous Americans or Native tribes in this country, creating these corporations within the boundaries of Alaska and finding people to put on their boards so that they can reap huge profits as a beneficiary of a system that was in theory set up to benefit Indigenous people in this country but in practice is really just a boondoggle for corporations to pretend like they’re doing something for Indigenous people in this country, right?
RN: I think there’s nobody that the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act and the way that Alaskan for-profit corporations were set up has harmed more than Alaskan Natives.
Richard Nixon: I have just signed the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act. This is a milestone in Alaska’s history and in the way our government deals with Native and Indian peoples.
RN: Colonialism, over time, became more sophisticated, and by the time that the United States decided that it wanted the land in Alaska, which had a lot to do with oil being discovered there, they had learned from the lower 48 that treaties and tribes and reservations gave a lot more power to Native Americans than they liked. And so they came up with a very clever scheme to divest tribes in Alaska from a lot of their landholdings.
It’s a very complicated history. You know, Alaska Native Corporations do provide resources to tribal citizens that are critical, but they are for-profit corporations, not federally recognized tribes. And I think what I found disturbing about that, in general, is that we see among conservatives, who I believe don’t want tribes to still exist. You know I think we’re in what I would call like a neo-termination era. You know, we saw in the 40s and the 50s the United States federal government try to just get rid of tribes and get rid of our treaty rights and these obligations that the federal government was kind of tired of living up to. And I think we’re seeing a new era of that.
And I think that it’s disturbing to see an administration say that these for-profit corporations and that federally recognized tribes legally are the same thing because I think that distinction between a Tribal government that has a treaty-to-treaty relationship between the United States and a for-profit corporation that doesn’t have citizens — that has shareholders — I think the distinction between that is critical to the legal structure defending Native rights. It is bigger than just the CARES Act about why some people would seek to confuse that.
JS: On your podcast “This Land,” you examine Carpenter vs. Murphy, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could affect the future of land rights for five tribes in Oklahoma. First, Rebecca, just give us some background on that case.
RN: Carpenter vs. Murphy started in a really unusual place. It started with a murder in 1999 in a small town in Oklahoma called Vernon. And so a Creek citizen named Patrick Murphy killed a fellow Creek citizen named George Jacobs and he was sentenced to death by the state of Oklahoma. But in the appeals of his death penalty, he argued that Oklahoma didn’t have jurisdiction because the land where the murder occurred was the reservation of his tribe, Muscogee Creek Nation. That appeals, like many death penalty appeals, went on for a very long time, but in 2017 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and said that Congress never disestablished the reservation of Muscogee Creek Nation. And so that’s the question that’s in front of the Supreme Court. It’s kind of a windy story, so it’s actually going to be decided by a second case now.
John Roberts: We’ll hear argument first this morning, case 189526, McGirt v. Oklahoma.
RN: And so they just had oral arguments for McGirt v. Oklahoma two weeks ago and are set to decide the case by the end of June. I think the crux of the case is going to come down to: you know, is the Supreme Court willing to follow its own precedent, its own test that it’s created, to say whether or not a reservation still exists, which is a pretty black and white question, which boils down to, you know, is there a law that Congress passed that we can point to that terminated the reservation? In this case, there’s not. Or is the Supreme Court going to bend to the powerful interests who have joined this case — namely, you know, the state of Oklahoma, the Trump administration, oil and gas — and are they going to kind of bend to just the social pressure of the idea that there are a lot of non-Native people who live in this part of Oklahoma, and could we make, you know -— gasp out loud — the land where they live, a reservation? And so it’s not going to have much of an impact on peoples’ lives, but I think there are a lot of exaggerated claims that Oklahoma’s making. And I think there’s this baseline of where, a lot of times in courts and in Congress, you see this sort of rebuke to the idea of tribal jurisdiction, especially when it comes to tribal jurisdiction over non-Natives, that justices and lawmakers have a hard time stomaching.
JS: I mean effectively what happened is that this murder case became really a case about Indigenous land rights.
RN: You know, really since Oklahoma became a state, it has operated as if the reservations in its eastern half no longer existed. And the tribes have operated as if they still did. That might sound, like, sort of an odd set of circumstances, but it actually, I think, happens in the United States more often than people realize that local and state governments don’t acknowledge Indigenous land rights. And it’s kind of the role, I believe, of the federal government, as having a treaty and trust relationship to tribes, that when states do that to say, “Actually, you know, when we look at the text of this treaty, this is the right, that this sovereign nation, this Indigenous nation has.”
JS: I want to switch gears for a moment and just talk about the Trump administration’s recent revoking of the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts. To begin, give some background on this case.
RN: The Mashpee Wampanoag are the tribe that welcomed the pilgrim that the famed and mythical story of Thanksgiving is loosely framed around. And despite that generosity, they are actually still struggling to hold onto their land rights today.
The tribe had gotten land put into trust and was developing a casino. And there was a non-native casino developer from Chicago who wanted to develop a casino there and wasn’t allowed by the state of Massachusetts because they said, well, we already have a casino in this area. That person actually formed a group of local residents to start a lawsuit. That lawsuit resulted in a decision where the judge kind of punted the ultimate decision to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs said that the Mashpee Wampanoag didn’t meet the legal definition of Indian. So they are Indians who aren’t legally, technically Indian enough to have their land in trust. And then, recently, during this coronavirus pandemic, they got a phone call and a letter from the Trump administration ordering them to disestablish.
Amy Goodman: The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe said it will fight back after the Trump administration announced its reservation would be disestablished and it would lose its land trust status. Trump’s move will halt plans to build a casino which would have competed with nearby casinos in Rhode Island that have well-established ties to Trump
RN: One of the ways that land rights are set up for Native Americans, for the most part, land is held in trust by the United States. And then in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was this process called allotment where there was this theory that Native people were poor because we owned land communally and it needed to be divided up and privatized. And what that policy actually resulted in, rather than delivering Native people from poverty, was transferring two-thirds of the land base that Native people had in 1877 to white ownership. So an area the size of the state of Montana — 90 million acres. And in 1934 Congress realized that that policy was disastrous and they passed the Indian Reorganization Act.
Narrator: The nation’s current Indian policy, partly expressed in the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18th, 1934, has three chief objectives…
RN: And one of the things that the Act did was say that the Department of the Interior could put land back in trusts for tribes. So if there’s an area where tribes lost their land but it’s within their aboriginal homelands or within their treaty territory, the United States could take that land back into trust for tribes. So we lost 90 million acres and since 1930 about 9 million, so about 10 percent has been restored.
And then when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed, all of a sudden this process of putting land into trust became a lot more controversial because now trust land is a place where a casino could operate. And so if you were a casino operator, you don’t want another casino in that area. What you see now when tribes are trying to put land into trust is that the debate isn’t just about whether or not it’s their right to do that, but it often becomes about money. Native leaders are very concerned about this move. You know, the Trump administration has become the first presidential administration to take land out of trust since the Truman administration. And the sort of idiosyncratic, technical way that the Bureau of Indian Affairs said that the Mashpee Wampanoag don’t qualify to have land in trust could apply to over a hundred other tribes in the United States. So it’s a very, very scary moment for Indian country.
JS: And by taking their 320 plus acres of land out of federal trust, the Department of the Interior also is stripping the tribe of its ability to govern on its own land.
RN: You know, it’s going to have a devastating impact not just on their casino, but on the other basic services that they provide to their citizens, and also for their ability to operate as a sovereign nation.
One thing that’s really important for people to remember is that we are governments that do all the things that governments do. We have elections. We have citizens. We operate schools. We operate health centers. We operate police. We pave roads. And we, unlike other governments, aren’t allowed to tax in the same way. And so what tribes have done, because we’re put in this kind of impossible situation, is that we have created businesses where we can sustain ourselves and sustain our tribes. We live in this country that kind of worships business and worships profits and, like, worships corporations, and then when it comes to tribal businesses, our businesses are so often vilified. And I think that’s happened with this tribe, where people are like, “Well why don’t you just, you know, let the casino go and then it’ll be easier for you to have land in trust.” And it’s like, well, I mean, tribes need to be able to create a source of revenue, especially when the treaty obligations and the amounts that the federal government is supposed to pay, it doesn’t. And so casinos operated by tribes serve a really important purpose, you know. I mean, those casinos, like, my tribe’s gaming money. We just built, you know, one of the biggest outpatient health centers that’s operated by a tribe in the United States. And so that’s an area where our citizens can get dental care, where they can get primary care. And those are things that we would not be able to build if we didn’t have that income.
JS: You mentioned your tribe. Would you mind talking just briefly about your family history and your tribe?
RN: So I’m a citizen of Cherokee Nation. You know, the chapter of Cherokee history that probably most people are familiar with is our removal, which has come to be called the Trail of Tears. And so we were forcibly removed and really sent on a death march across the eastern half of the United States. And in the lead-up to that history, my grandfathers Major Ridge and John Ridge were leaders of the Cherokee Nation and they actually came to the decision to sign the removal treaty — the Treaty of New Echota. A lot of people see them as traitors within my tribe.
What my ancestors saw is that if we remained in our homelands that we would probably just be absorbed and be wiped out by the United States. And so they made what was an unthinkable decision, but to sign a treaty and to move West to preserve the tribe.
There was a Supreme Court decision that our tribe fought and won at the time. And so the Supreme Court said that, you know, Cherokee Nation had sovereignty over our land, and that the things that the state of Georgia and other white settlers were doing to try and harass and make us move by making life so unbearable were illegal. And Andrew Jackson didn’t enforce that law, and famously said that he would not.
JS: Donald Trump often holds up Andrew Jackson as this model for him.
DJT: Andrew Jackson, he was an exciting president with one of the most exciting election runs ever. Maybe we beat it, I don’t know. But that’s the one they seem to talk about. Hangs behind my desk in the Oval Office, beautiful painting…
JS: I wonder what it’s like to be you watching the way that Donald Trump talks about Andrew Jackson while also implementing the policies we’ve been discussing in the midst of, not just the coronavirus, but the broader crisis in Indian country. But what is that like for you to watch Donald Trump holding up Andrew Jackson as a kind of model American?
RN: A lot of people who are, rightfully so, you know, disturbed and disgusted by Trump’s behavior think of it as sort of un-American and that our country was founded in values that were higher or better than Donald Trump. And I think that Trump is not something that is separate from us in the United States but is a manifestation of things that are deeply American.
When you look back at the extreme violent chapters of our history. I mean, you know, if you just think about the removal of the Indians from the Southeast, you know. First Cherokee people were rounded up at gunpoint, weren’t expecting it. They knew that the treaty had been signed but they thought that it was being renegotiated so people were literally rounded up, you know, while they were planting corn. They were, like, living their lives, and actually first put into stockades where a lot of people died from disease and starvation, and then forced to walk across the United States. And that happened in the 1830s.
And so for us to think that this moment, with all the moments in the United States history that are like that, is somehow this departure from the real character, or the soul, or the heart of our nation, to me, is kind of denial of what has always been part of our country.
JS: As Joe Biden and his campaign start their vetting process with vice-presidential candidates, are you satisfied with the explanations or positions that Elizabeth Warren has offered about her claims of Indigenous ancestry?
RN: No. So I worked with some fellow Cherokee Nation citizens — Joseph Pierce, Daniel Heath Justice, and Twila Barnes — to organize an open letter that was signed by over 200 Natives Americans across the United States to say really clearly what we needed Warren to do. And what we need her to do is be an example for the hundreds of thousands of white people who, like her, grew up with a family story that they believed but there isn’t any evidence that backs that story up.
The letter had three demands, and she did two out of the three. But the biggest thing that she needed to do, and the hardest thing that she hasn’t done — that she’s refused to do — is to just simply state that her family story is false. And a lot of people think, you know, “Well, you’re asking her to say that her mom is a liar,” you know, or like feel like that’s, you know, asking her to do that is, like, a bridge too far. I think that it’s a, important, because Warren isn’t alone. There are twice as many people who self-identified as Cherokee on the last U.S. census than who are enrolled in the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. So that’s half a million people.
The L.A. Times did some really good reporting last year and into this year about members of fake tribes who’ve actually qualified for no-bid federal contracts. And so there are these fakes that go and form what are basically clubs and try to pretend like they’re a tribe and then have used their membership in these clubs to qualify for these contracts that are not just set aside for Native businesses but are set aside for all minority-owned businesses.
And so we need the public conclusion from this saga that’s happened with Elizabeth Warren, that has frankly already gone on way too long, to not be, “Well, you know, she just believed her family story and how can you blame her for that?” We need the conclusion to be: if white people claim to be Native, and don’t have any evidence, that that’s actually wrong. Like, it’s wrong to appropriate that identity and you shouldn’t do it. It’s really kind of that simple.
JS: Rebecca Nagle thank you so much for all of your really important work and for taking the time to share some of it with us here on Intercepted.
RN: Thank you so much for having me and for covering these issues. I really appreciate it.
JS: Journalist Rebecca Nagle is the creator and host of the podcast “This Land.” You can find her on Twitter at @rebeccanagle.
Before we end today’s show, I wanted to draw your attention to the case of one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the United States. I’m talking about the 75-year-old Leonard Peltier. He’s been in federal prison for more than 40 years. He’s a tribal citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and was active in the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. That group has long fought for Indigenous rights.
In 1977, Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents. He has long maintained his innocence and there’s a lot of evidence to support his claim. He is, right now, in a dire health crisis and his family and supporters are deeply concerned about his fate as coronavirus spreads in prisons. U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) have asked the Trump administration to release the Indigenous rights activist. We’re gonna continue to monitor Leonard Peltier’s case and we will share with you any developments that we hear.
And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program was done by Lucie Kroening. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.