"There Is Nowhere I Feel Safe"
When Donald Trump falsely identified Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss as corrupt election workers, he triggered a modern lynching
Yesterday’s testimony asked Americans to think about the human fallout from Donald Trump’s lies and what happened when he unleashed the mob on anyone who got in his way—including three Black women he falsely accused of election fraud.
Do you know someone who is following the hearings? Please:
The point is this: Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them. He made no effort to stop them. He went forward with his fake allegations anyway….Don't be distracted by politics. This is serious. We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney (WY-01), June 21, 2022
When Chairman of the January 6 Select Committee Bennie Thompson (D, MI-02) welcomed Georgia election worker Wandrea "Shaye" Moss yesterday, at first, she could hardly speak about the terror that had been unleashed on her after the 2020 election. “I want to ask you, in your decade of service, had you ever experienced threats like these before?” Thompson asked her.
Moss spoke so softly that the television audience could not hear, and Thompson reassured her. “Don't be nervous, just — I understand,” he said. Of course, he did: across generations, both had experienced what it meant for Black people to get in the way of autocratic, white politicians.
Soon the rest of us understood, too: Moss’s voice had been stolen by the MAGA mob. Before Donald J. Trump lost the election, Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, had jobs they loved—Moss working for the Fulton County, GA, Board of Elections, and Freeman running a small business and helping her daughter on election day. But when Trump, attempting to overturn the results in Georgia, falsely charged the pair with election fraud, and MAGA operatives circulated a video doctored to make it appear that they had shifted thousands of votes, their lives became intolerable.
“Well, when—when I saw the video, of course, the first thing that I saw it was, like, why? What—why is—why are they doing this? What's going on?” Moss recalled. The co-worker who alerted her to the attack asked if she had received harassing messages, and she hadn’t—but Moss then checked a rarely-used Facebook account and discovered a river of hate. There were “a lot of threats wishing death upon me, telling me that, you know, I'm—I'll be in jail with my mother, and saying things like, `Be glad it's 2020 and not 1920.’”
Let’s pause here: “be glad it’s 2020, and not 1920” is meaningful to a Black person. It explicitly put Shaye Moss on notice that she, and her mother, might be lynched. In 1920, 53 Black Americans and eight white Americans died in lynchings. Violent, public murders escalated during World War I. While the victims were always overwhelmingly Black, targets included ethnic Germans, 13 of whom were murdered in 1915 alone, and numerous others were forced to perform humiliating public rituals, beaten, and driven out of their communities.
The worst year for anti-Black violence was 1919: white mobs looted and burned neighborhoods in East St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois, and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and these events were complemented by 53 individual murders—sometimes just for the “crime” of being a military veteran in uniform. That year, eight whites were also lynched.
Although Shaye Moss is too young to have experienced the most recent waves of white violence that shook the South during the Civil Rights movement, she knew what she was looking at. And she was terrified.
But what was even worse was this: by doing a job that, through no fault of her own, had put her in harm’s way, she had inadvertently exposed her mother and grandmother to white violence. As a result, Ruby Freeman had to close her business, and Shaye’s grandmother answered her door only to have a white militia barge in to search her home, claiming that they were there to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Ruby and Shaye, both of whom were in hiding.
In other words, this mother and daughter may have come perilously close to being lynched. And what was their crime? Being part of an American election and being the Black scapegoats that Donald Trump knew would activate descendants of Georgians who, using similar terror tactics, had driven their Black neighbors out of politics for almost 90 years after Reconstruction.
In addition to being frightened, “I felt horrible,” Moss recalled. “I felt horrible for picking this job and being the one that always wants to help and always there, never missing not one election. I just felt like it was — it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.”
Although Moss and Freeman were not lynched, they are traumatized, and the MAGA mob stole their lives. Both were popular and well-respected in their community: now, they try never to go out and hope that they are not recognized when they do. “For my entire professional life, I was Lady Ruby,” Freeman asserted. “Now, I won't even introduce myself by my name anymore. I get nervous when I bump into someone I know in the grocery store who says my name. I'm worried about who's listening. I get nervous when I have to give my name for food orders. I'm always concerned [about] who's around me. I've lost my name, and I've lost my reputation.” She never wears her signature tee-shirts that say “Lady Ruby” anymore.
As importantly, Freeman also lost her “sense of security.” Moss agreed. “This turned my life upside down,” she said. “I no longer give out my business card,”
I don't want anyone knowing my name. I don't want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven't been anywhere at all.
I've gained about 60 pounds. I just don't do nothing anymore. I don't want to go anywhere. I second guess everything that I do. It's affected my life in a — in a major way. In every way. All because of lies. For me doing my job, same thing I've been doing forever.
As it turns out, you no longer have to murder someone to steal their life: all it takes is the internet, a conspiracy theory, and a President with no scruples whatsoever.
Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, supported by the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, are suing media outlets that disseminated Donald Trump’s lie: The Gateway Pundit and a range of entities associated with the Herring Networks, Inc, including One America News (OAN) and a frequent OAN guest, Rudolph Giuliani, one of the architects of the Big Lie.
You may have wondered why, in the paragraphs above, I kept mentioning the small number of white people who were lynched. In part, it is because lynching, while primarily a tool to terrorize African American men, was also typically used to punish Black women, Asian-Americans, Latinx people, Jews, and other white people. Lynching is a historical fact, and white people who fought for Black political rights in the 1960s, or who were seen as political outsiders, were famously targeted for lynchings.
But why do such facts matter? Because these new lynchings—in which lives are stolen and degraded using social media apps, Google maps, and cell phones—are a standard aspect of MAGA politics and are used against any and all dissenters in the GOP. Hate campaigns sparked by Donald Trump that take advantage of our electronically porous lives to deliver death threats, racism, and hate from strangers have consistently driven moderate and even conservative Republicans out of politics since 2016.
Yesterday’s testimony offered evidence of that too. As Speaker of the Arizona House, Republican Rusty Bowers, told the committee he, his co-workers, and his family have been punished for over two years for his refusal to overturn Arizona’s results. It has been, Bowers said,
the new pattern or a pattern in our lives to worry what will happen on Saturdays because we have various groups come by and they have had video panel trucks with videos of me proclaiming me to be a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician and blaring loudspeakers in my neighborhood and leaving literature both on my property….And I don't know if I should name groups, but there was a—one gentleman that had the three bars on his chest. And he had a pistol and was threatening my neighbor.
Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling agreed. When a young female colleague he described as “unflappable” told him that she had encountered a QAnon video about one of their contractors, “I did pull up Twitter, and I scrolled through it, and I saw the young man's name.” After weeks of marinating in lies and hateful attacks delivered to his and his wife’s cell phones, for Raffensberger, the Tweet “was the straw that broke the camel's back. Had the young man's name. It's a very unique name. I believed it was a first-generation American and said-–had his name, `You committed treason, may God have mercy on your soul,’ with a slowly twisting .gif of a noose.”
“And for lack of a better word,” Raffensberger said, “I lost it.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger was not only receiving endless harassment, but “some people broke into my daughter-in-law's home, and my son has passed, and she's a widow and has two kids. And so we're very concerned about her safety also.”
And these are only a few of many election workers, elected officials, and family members—Democrats and Republicans—whose lives will never be the same because they believed in democracy enough to protect it. By the time the January 6 insurrectionists erected a gallows in front of the Capitol and chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” they were only expressing explicitly what they had already been doing electronically, and in mob actions around the country, for weeks.
There is no fixing this kind of damage—ever—not even with civil lawsuits and significant cash awards. People don’t survive lynchings, old-fashioned ones or modern electronic ones, even when they are still alive at the end of them. Moss, Freeman, Bowers, and Raffensberger will never fully have their lives back.
This is the point: to do permanent damage and call it “justice.” As white mobs knew in 1920, the point of lynching is not only to punish, or destroy, a few human beings.
They will never feel fully safe again, even when mob violence is once again driven out of politics. And most of us the rest of us won’t either.
All the scorecards that media outlets are running on Donald J. Trump’s election endorsements miss the more significant transformation of the GOP, say Amy Walter, Jessica Taylor, and David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. Yes, Trump’s endorsements are not magic: witness Mo Brooks’s defeat by newcomer Katie Britt in yesterday’s Alabama primary, and looking directly east to Georgia, Trump-endorsed candidates failed miserably. But winning Republican candidates have something in common: “as enthusiastic backers of Trump’s agenda.” (June 22, 2022)
Lots of us keep meds at home just in case: I generally have an EpiPen and an up-to-date asthma inhaler in the bathroom cabinet. According to Rachel M. Cohen at Vox fertile Americans across the country may be adding mifepristone and misoprostol to their medicine cabinets. These are the two medications needed to “self-manage” an abortion. It’s effective and safe: “When it comes to safely ending pregnancies, medication abortion is over 95 percent successful,” Cohen writes, citing research by the Guttmacher Institute. “Less than 0.4 percent of patients require hospitalization.” (June 22, 2022)
According to Erik Larson and Mike Leonard at Bloomberg, a Delaware judge has green-lighted Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.9 billion lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, Dominion asserts, knew that the Trump campaign’s allegations against the company were false but allowed them to be broadcast anyway. What’s the evidence? So glad you asked! “Rupert Murdoch spoke with Trump a few days after the election `and informed him that he had lost,’ the judge noted. (June 21, 2022)
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Gabriel Sterling, not Raffensberger, is the one who said he lost it.