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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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The 2015 Charleston church massacre and 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville prompted a reckoning with the monuments that still dot the former Confederate States of America, with dozens of municipalities pulling down statues and relocating plaques and flags to museums.

Now two Republican lawmakers want to erect a new monument at the South Carolina statehouse—to African-Americans who fought for the Confederacy. It’s not surprising that they’re running into opposition from historians, who say almost no blacks chose to take up arms for the South. But the project is also at odds with the efforts of white nationalists who, for different reasons, want to ensure the Confederacy is remembered as a white supremacist project.

State Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns told TPM their inspiration came from a group of descendants of African-American Confederate soldiers who reached out to them last October, wanting to construct a monument honoring their ancestors. The lawmakers say their only aim is educating South Carolinians about a forgotten part of their state’s history.

Civil war historians counter that the vast majority of blacks who served in the Confederacy were slaves working as cooks, servants, laborers. A very small number, some historians say, did serve as armed soldiers, but only because they were forced into doing so. They argue the myth of blacks volunteering as soldiers is designed to obfuscate the reality that slavery was the root cause of the conflict.

Meanwhile,  a younger generation of white nationalists proudly acknowledges that the South fought the Civil War to protect and propagate the enslavement of African-Americans. And they have pushed back against efforts to memorialize black Confederates.

“One of the things that this black Confederate narrative is trying to do is paint the Confederacy as a multicultural, progressive experiment in civil rights,” Kevin Levin, author of the forthcoming book “Searching for Black Confederate Soldiers,” told TPM.

“Hardcore white supremacists want to step back and say, ‘Look, the Confederacy was racist, their goal was the preservation of white supremacy and slavery. And they’re actually the ones who are on solid historical ground; they’re the ones that are cutting through the myth.”

In a 2017 blog post, white nationalist Brad Griffin decried so-called “Rainbow Confederates” who engage in “deceptive historical revisionism.” Another leading white nationalist, Matthew Heimbach, has written that the focus on non-white soldiers obscures the fact that the Confederate army believed in maintaining “the superiority of the White race in all affairs.”

Commenters on a recent article posted about the South Carolina monument on white nationalist site American Renaissance mock the effort to honor black soldiers as “tripe” and “cuckservatism at its most absurd.”

The lawmakers behind the proposal, which they pre-filed in December, both voted in 2015 against removing the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds. And they admit that they’re trying to advance the largely discredited idea that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and economic issues, not primarily over slavery.

“It is in part about slavery,” Rep. Burns told TPM of the conflict, “but in fact it’s largely about the 35 percent tariff that was imposed on all goods and services coming in and out of the south in that period. The truth of the matter is that there were thousands of black Confederates serving on the side of the south.”

Burns and Chumley claim it was Walter Curry, a board member of South Carolina’s African-American Chamber of Commerce and great-great-great grandson of the state’s only known female African-American Confederate veteran, who first reached out to them about constructing the monument. Curry did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment. Chumley and Burns said they would release the names of the other black South Carolinian individuals and groups who pitched the monument idea to them next week.

“Whatever the circumstances were, they fought,” Chumley told TPM. “They picked up the cause. That’s what was admirable about it.”

But historians, despite some ongoing disagreement on the number and significance of the role blacks played in the Confederacy, say these sorts of depictions are historically inaccurate, not educational.

John Stauffer, a Harvard University historian who has clashed with Levin over his advocacy for the “symbolic” importance of black Confederates, told TPM that the “statistically insignificant” number who took up arms did so “essentially with a gun to their heads.”

There were a small number of free blacks in cities like New Orleans who outwardly supported the Confederacy to protect the few rights they had, and tens of thousands more enslaved laborers who worked on ironworks, railroads, and as body servants to Confederate officers on the battlefield. But a Confederate law prohibiting blacks from enlisting as soldiers, enacted out of fear that arming African-Americans would foment an uprising, wasn’t repealed until weeks before the conflict ended in 1865.

Stauffer cautioned that public monuments like the one proposed in South Carolina fail to provide this necessary context and are just another way of “purging slavery from the war.”

Scores of websites maintained by modern-day Confederate sympathizers aim to do just that, pushing dubiously-sourced news accounts and images of black men in uniform as proof that African-Americans were valued servicemen. Paul Gramling, Lt. Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told TPM the existence of black Confederates proves that the “reason for that war was money and taxes.” Kirk Lyons, head of the stridently pro-Confederate Southern Legal Resource Center, maintains a Facebook page devoted to those people, and said statues like the one in South Carolina would be a credit to the “contributions” of these “undercounted” supporters of the Confederate government.

The monument proposal has been assigned to the legislature’s judiciary committee, and Chumley and Burns hope to get a hearing to debate it once the body reconvenes next Tuesday.

Advancing the project will be an uphill battle.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Rep. Samuel Rivers, the only black Republican in the Palmetto State’s legislature and a member of the judiciary committee, said a “dicey” new Confederate statue was the wrong way to teach residents about their state’s history.

“I have no desire to continue to go backwards in some continuous battle that has already been won,” Rivers said. “I’m for educating us on what happened, but erecting monuments of over 100 years ago? Let’s move forward.”

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Wednesday’s disbanding of his federal commission on voter fraud won’t stop Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) from pursuing the issue with zeal.

Kobach, an ardent advocate for restrictive voting laws, on Thursday filed criminal charges against two people he alleges cast illegal votes in the 2016 election, according to a report from the Kansas City Star. Kobach is the only secretary of state in the country who has prosecutorial power, thanks to a 2015 bill he championed.

Kobach’s office charged Que J. Fulmer with two counts of voting without being qualified, one count of voting repeatedly, and another of “advance voting unlawful acts” for allegedly voting in Colorado as well as Kansas’ Hamilton County, according to the newspaper.

Bailey Ann McCaughey faces the same charge of voting more than once for allegedly casting ballots in both Colorado and Finney County, Kansas, as well as one count of election perjury, the Star reported.

The news comes less than 24 hours after the controversial voter fraud panel he helped oversee was dismantled via an order from President Donald Trump. The panel was plagued by a series of lawsuits alleging a lack of transparency and violation of privacy protections for requesting voters’ personal information.

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President Donald Trump’s beleaguered voter fraud panel will likely reconvene in January after getting waylaid by some eight federal lawsuits, according to the commission’s leader, Kris Kobach.

“Much of the past few months has been spent by commission staff answering discovery requests for information and drafting affidavits and things that like — going through the legwork of litigation, and that takes time,” Kobach, who serves as Kansas’s secretary of state, told the Topeka Capitol-Journal in an interview. “We have a very small staff in Washington, D.C., and that staff has been bogged down in litigation.”

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—as well as one of the Democratic members of the panel—have sued the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, alleging a lack of transparency and that the collection of Americans’ personal data violates voters’ privacy.

That litigation has stalled the work of the panel, which has not met since September.

Kobach has been a leader of the effort to gin up concerns about voter fraud and build support for restrictive voting laws. Elections experts say widespread voter fraud doesn’t exist.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Thursday that he believes the recently passed GOP tax bill did too much to help the bottom line of America’s largest corporations.

“I thought we probably went too far on [helping] corporations,” the Florida Republican told the Fort Myers-based News-Press.

“By and large, you’re going to see a lot of these multinationals buy back shares to drive up the price,” Rubio continued. “Some of them will be forced, because they’re sitting on historic levels of cash, to pay out dividends to shareholders. That isn’t going to create dramatic economic growth.”

The bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last week slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. It also includes a number of provisions that benefit the country’s wealthiest residents rather than the middle-class Americans the GOP has insisted will benefit from the plan, including a cut to the top income tax rate and for pass-through businesses.

The bill will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Rubio told the News-Press he was unconcerned about polls showing that most Americans disapprove of the legislation, saying the media has unfairly influenced peoples’ opinions and that ultimate perception of the bill will be based on “what their paycheck is telling them.”

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President Donald Trump said Thursday that though he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election interference makes “the country look very bad,” but he believes the outcome will be “fair.”

Trump held forth on Mueller’s investigation in a meandering 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his Mar-A-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, where he’s spending the holidays. No White House aides were present for the on-the-record conversation.

The President told the newspaper 16 times that the probe has discovered “no collusion” by his campaign, but added that he thinks Mueller is “going to be fair” to him.

Those comments are in line with what Trump has said previously, but run counter to a weeks-long effort by his supporters in Congress and in the conservative media to paint the investigation as hopelessly tainted by partisan bias. Those supporters have tried to pivot the national conversation towards Democrats’ dealings with Russia, instead.

Trump has enthusiastically assisted that effort, telling the Times that there was “tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats,” particularly those affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He argued that special counsel investigators should focus their attention on past work that the lobbying firm of Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, did for a client referred by his own former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Trump called Manafort, who was indicted on a slew of financial crimes charges, a “very nice man” and “an honorable person,” repeating that he only managed the campaign for a short period of time. Manafort worked for Trump from March to August 2016.

Trump did not appear bothered by his associates’ indictments and plea agreements, or the fact that Mueller’s probe is continuing past the Christmas deadline his lawyers provided to reporters because, he said, there is nothing incriminating to find.

The Russia allegations were invented by Democrats “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election,” he told the Times.

Trump also again took shots at his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, calling it a “terrible thing” and “certainly unnecessary.”

He praised the “loyalty” of Barack Obama’s first Attorney General, Eric Holder, and said he has “great respect” for what Holder did to “totally protect” the President.

Though Trump denied any interest in reopening a Justice Department investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, he asserted that he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

Trump is reportedly under scrutiny by Mueller’s team for obstruction of justice. The investigation has to do with his abrupt firing of former FBI Director James Comey after Comey allegedly declined Trump’s request that he swear a loyalty oath and drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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As evidence for why Simon & Schuster did not want to move forward with publication of self-proclaimed far-right “troll” Milo Yiannopoulos’ autobiography “Dangerous,” the publisher has offered up the manuscript itself—annotated with a litany of scathing notes from one of its top editors.

The draft was included in court documents the publisher recently filed in New York State Supreme Court to defend its February decision to cancel a publication deal with Yiannopoulos worth $225,000. Yiannopoulos sued for $10 million in July over a breach of contract.

Manuscript notes from editor Mitchell Ivers show the impossible task Simon & Schuster faced: prodding an individual who built a career at Breitbart News off of demeaning Islam and using the word “lesbian” as a slur to produce a book suitable for mainstream publication.

Over and over, Yiannopoulos’ characteristic self-aggrandizement, penchant for ethnic smears, sloppy logic, and lack of humor are criticized by Ivers.

“Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke,” Ivers writes of a line about “informing cab drivers that curry is not a deodorant.”

“Don’t start chapter with accusation that feminists=fat. It destroys any seriousness of purpose,” he notes on a section titled “Why Feminists Hate Me.”

“If that headline is hate speech, THIS WHOLE BOOK is hate speech,” he implores on a section about a piece by Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti titled “Feminists Don’t Hate Men, But It Wouldn’t Matter If They Did.”

The “superficial and nonsubstantive” quality of the work is what ultimately prompted Simon & Schuster to cancel the book contract, Ivers said in a sworn affidavit. The decision to do so came at around the same time that Yiannopoulos was forced out from Breitbart and dropped from the Conservative Political Action Conference after a video surfaced in which he appeared to defend pedophilia.

Though Yiannopoulos was permitted to keep his $80,000 book advance, he sued the publisher in July. A New York Supreme Court judge in October rejected Simon & Schuster’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

But Yiannopoulos has otherwise had a spectacularly bad year. His effort to organize a “Free Speech Week” fell apart after he neglected to actually inform the slated speakers that they were invited. And in October, BuzzFeed published an explosive exposé on Yiannopoulos’ successful campaign to “smuggle” Nazi and white nationalist ideas into Breitbart’s stories and the broader political discourse.

It’s unclear why Simon & Schuster thought Yiannopoulos—whose views on women, gay people, minorities, and Muslims were well-known long before his concerted attempts to mainstream white nationalism were uncovered—was the best person to author a “serious work addressing political correctness and related free speech issues,” as they referred to the initial publication deal in a court document.

His contract was with Threshold Editions, a Simon & Schuster imprint aimed at a conservative audience, and Ivers has personally edited books by President Donald Trump, conservative shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, and Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe. At various points in his notes, Ivers praises Yiannopoulos’ “well argued” points about why Black Lives Matter has failed as a movement, or how the left abandoned white working-class voters.

But the notes by Mitchell, which circulated on Twitter Thursday, elucidate how the book failed to live up to what Simon & Schuster ostensibly thought they’d signed up for.

“Delete entire chapter”

 

“No need to drag lesbians into this!”

“I will not accept a manuscript that labels an entire class of people ‘mentally ill.'”

“If that headline is hate speech, THIS WHOLE BOOK is hate speech.”

“The way you casually bring up the KKK makes no sense”

“Stupid ethnic joke diminishes any authority”

“Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke” 

“This entire paragraph is just repeating Fake News.”

“Three unfunny jokes in a row.”

Read the full annotated manuscript below.

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The spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. on Tuesday of a “direct interference in our electoral process” after the State Department came out against the Kremlin’s decision to prevent opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running against Vladimir Putin in the upcoming presidential election.

“This statement by the U.S. Department of State, which I’m sure will not be the only one, is a direct interference into the electoral process and the state’s domestic affairs,” Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook, echoing language U.S. intelligence agencies have used to describe Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

On Christmas Day, one day after Navalny registered as a candidate, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission formally barred the popular activist and attorney from competing in the race.

The justification given was a four-year-old criminal conviction for embezzlement revived in February of this year, as the New York Times reported at the time. Navalny and his supporters claim the charge was politically motivated.

In a statement provided to TPM, a State Department spokesperson criticized the Kremlin’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices” and urged Russia’s government to “hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

This unequivocal criticism from the U.S. was brushed aside by Russia’s leadership, who have denied allegations that they intervened in the 2016 race to swing the results in President Donald Trump’s favor.

“The funniest thing is that these are the same people who just branded RT and Sputnik as foreign agents, who are harassing Russian media around the world and who are investing huge amounts of money into ‘countering Russian propaganda,’ which is how they label anyone who they disagree with,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook, referring to the U.S. government’s decision to require several major English-language Russian state publications to register with the Justice Department as foreign agents.

“And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” Zakharova added.

Russia’s presidential election is scheduled for March 2018, and Putin, who has been in power since 2000, is almost certain to win.

This post has been updated.

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Just days after the inauguration, White House Counsel Don McGahn learned—and warned President Donald Trump—that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably violated federal laws, according to a new report out Wednesday.

Foreign Policy reported that the Special Counsel has obtained “records” that reveal McGahn in late January researched the consequences of lying to the FBI and of violating the Logan Act, a centuries-old federal prohibition on private citizens negotiating with hostile foreign governments. The research, conducted with the help of two aides, prompted McGahn to conclude that Flynn had likely committed a crime by discussing sanctions with a top Russian official during the transition, two current administration officials told Foreign Policy.

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The Special Counsel’s investigation into top White House adviser Jared Kushner’s foreign contacts is completely warranted, outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Tuesday.

“He deserves the scrutiny,” Christie said of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law in an interview with MSNBC.

“Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role,” Christie said, adding that Kushner may have acted appropriately. “If he’s innocent of that, then that will come out as Mueller examines all the facts, and if he’s not, that will come out too.”

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Donald Trump was warned that Russia and other foreign nations would try to infiltrate his presidential campaign in late summer 2016, after becoming the official GOP nominee, NBC News reported Monday.

Multiple government officials told NBC that both Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton were given routine high-level counterintelligence briefings by senior FBI officials in late July or early August, and were asked to alert the FBI about any suspicious outreach to their campaigns.

The White House dismissed NBC’s report as inconsequential, alleging, as the Trump administration often does, that the leak of information is more important than its content.

“That the Republican and Democrat nominee for President received a standardized briefing on counter-intelligence is hardly a news story,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, told NBC. “That NBC News hears about the contents of this classified conversation due to an inappropriate leak is a news story.”

The report said it was unclear if the warning regarding Russia was passed along to other Trump campaign officials.

But no evidence has yet emerged that Trump’s team notified the FBI about various contacts Russians or Kremlin-linked officials had with campaign officials prior to or following the late-summer briefing. Donald Trump Jr., former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and White House adviser Jared Kushner are among those known to have engaged in these meetings.

At the time the FBI issued its warning, the bureau was already aware of some contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that the federal investigation into these communications began in July 2016.

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