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Column: Trump is not a felon. He’s ‘justice involved’

Former President Trump speaks to reporters at Trump Tower on May 31.
(Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)
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Hello and happy Thursday. There are 151 days until the election and today we are talking dead chickens and deadbeats.

We’ve all heard by now Donald Trump’s authoritarian threats to punish his political opponents if he’s elected. But right-wing super-bro Jack Posobiec is suggesting taking it a step further — advising Republicans to tie dead chickens around the necks of those who disparage their orange demi-god. (Credit to anonymous account PatriotTakes on the social media platform X for pulling the video clip on the “dead chicken theory.”)

I don’t want a fowl necklace — and neither do you! It’s unsanitary and gross. Can’t we just go with scarlet letters?

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But like most things MAGA, the weird quickly turns sinister.

Posobiec was talking about a strategy cooked up by MAGA-lovin’ lawyer Mike Davis, who helped Brett Kavanaugh crush sex harassment allegations during his Supreme Court nomination.

Davis, in turn, apparently credits the dead chicken mumbo-gumbo to Clarence Thomas, that impartial saint of a Supreme Court justice.

Posobiec claims that Davis claims that Thomas claims that farmers tie dead chickens around their dogs’ necks to teach them not to kill chickens, including on his own childhood homestead.

Yes, we are all thinking of Kristi Noem right now, and wondering why Republicans are obsessed with chickens. And dead things.

This is actually some disturbing conservative metaphor for a crisis PR strategy that works to turn the accused into the victim, first by smearing the accuser, then by calling it all a partisan witch hunt where fact and fiction decompose into a blob of uncertainty. Basically, attack your way out of accountability by making life so miserable for those who seek justice that they just stop trying.

“When it comes to lawfare and when it comes to the stuff they are doing to Trump ... if there is no reciprocity, then they will continue to do these things,” Posobiec said.

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But don’t think this through too hard because it’s really confusing, and boils down to narcissistic abuse anyway — which explains so much of the last eight years. We’re running around wrapped in dead chickens and we’re too confused to know it.

But on to Trump and a question: Deadbeat, felon or both?

All felons are not deadbeats

Newspapers on display at a bodega in Brooklyn on May 31.
(Ruth Brown / Associated Press)

Here’s the thing: For the past 20 years or so, Democrats have worked to undo an unfair criminal justice system that turned millions of Black and brown people into felons. Sometimes giving them that life-changing label when they were kids. Sometimes pinning it on them for crimes such as having one too many joints on them.

So Democrats are supposed to be the party that understands that a person is not their worst moment. In fact, they’ve made a point of not calling folks felons — opting for human-centric language such as “justice involved people” or “people formerly incarcerated.”

“That’s the word they have been using for Black men and Black women and Mexicans and Arabs and immigrants and Indigenous people to justify incarceration,” Jay Jordan told me.

Jordan was convicted of a felony as a teen in California. When he got out, he helped pass a law that allows people to have their records expunged after they serve their sentence. Now he’s working with Harvard on an oral history of criminal justice reform.

“That one word, ‘felon,’ has been used to commit the original sins of this county, and Democrats can’t see that?” he said. “We see that word out there and we are like, ‘Damn, will I ever be able to get past that?’”

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But we get it — Trump’s the guy you do want to call felon

“I am not going to deny that that is probably a pretty good campaign strategy,” Wanda Bertram told me. She’s the spokesperson for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Prison Policy Initiative, which advocates for a fair justice system. She doesn’t like the way the Democrats are throwing around the f-word, but she gets it.

For a lot of people, maybe the majority of Americans who don’t think about criminal justice beyond obsessively watching their Ring feeds for package thieves, being a felon is bad — a lifelong shame. And for them, pointing out that someone is a “convicted felon” should be a way to cast doubt on that person’s character.

A post-trial Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 25% of independent registered voters said Trump’s conviction made them less likely to vote for him.

Maybe those are the elusive margin voters who will determine the fate of America — older folks in places such as Michigan who think criminal justice reform is soft-talk for coddling bad guys.

Maybe I need to shut up and let the Democrats go for the win.

The blowback

Of course, 18% of independent voters in the poll said the verdict made them more likely to support him. And that’s part of the political problem of calling Trump a felon, aside from the esoteric ethical stuff.

That same poll, and many like it, found that Republicans don’t care if he’s a felon. The poll found that 56% of registered Republican voters said the verdict wasn’t going to change their vote, and an astounding 35% said it made them more likely to back the guy.

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That includes people like Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, whose bushy mustache is a sight to behold.

“I think it’s time that instead of letting them out of jail and giving them alcohol and drugs and everything else, I think it’s time we put a felon in the White House,” he said in some cringey conservative-dude humor set-up on Instagram. “Trump 2024, baby.”

That attitude makes me worry that the whole felon thing will backfire like “deplorables” did for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

And the other blowback

Beyond Trump supporters not caring, there are about 19 million people with felony convictions in the United States — about 6% of the population, not to mention all of their family and friends. In all, about 77 million Americans — 1 in 3 adults — have a criminal history.

Of course, Trump, with his cash and privilege, is hardly one of them.

Because normally being a felon is hard, not a photo-op.

It’s hard to find housing. It’s hard to find a job. There are a bunch of jobs you aren’t even allowed to have, like being a teacher or a lawyer. For Jordan, the unseen punishments include problems volunteering at his son’s kindergarten.

Those hidden penalties, often painful, limiting and unfair, are called collateral consequences and there are about 48,000 on the law books across the United States.

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They are the kind of penalties that criminal justice reform was meant to address, but hasn’t. And now, even in California, the so-called pendulum swing is in full motion. Instead of reforms, we are arguing over new crimes. New ways to add to our incarcerated population.

So there’s a real chance that “this is the kind of messaging that reinforces a bias against everyone with a felony record,” Bertram said. “Biden should be worried about this kind of messaging losing people who have records.”

So what’s a Democrat to do?

State Assemlymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has been a champion of second-chance laws in his decade-plus in the Legislature. He has no problem calling Trump a felon because he sees the difference between the Donald and regular folks.

“He is an unremorseful felon and that is why we are going after him,” Jones-Sawyer told me.

“When we talk about people getting second chances, it’s for people who acknowledge [their wrongdoing], and then are remorseful, and they are not going to do it again,” he said.

Jones-Sawyer said this is what Democrats mean — that Trump has had no accountability for attempting to overturn a fair election. He has never admitted it, even goes after the judge and jury. This week, Trump asked that his gag order be removed — so he can talk more smack, maybe even endanger those jurors by riling up his supporters.

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Jones-Sawyer said Democrats need to do a better job of explaining what they stand for: “We’ve got to let people understand the truth, the Democrats are not out here trying to let everyone out of prison. We are here to make sure people abide by the rule of law.”

It’s not that Trump is a felon. It’s that he’s a deadbeat.

Unless Democrats find a way to make that distinction, voters won’t either.

We’ll just be covered in dead chicken, wondering what stinks.

What else you should be reading

The must-read: Senate Republicans vote against making contraception a federal right
The authoritarian warning: Trump’s Vows to Prosecute Rivals Put Rule of Law on the Ballot
The L.A. Times Special: Tired and confused, first migrants reach California border after Biden’s asylum order

Stay Golden,
Anita Chabria

P.S. What is happening here?

Rapper 50 Cent was at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday with super-lawyer Ben Crump to advocate for his immensely popular liquor brand Sire Spirits, and for Black entrepreneurs in general. While there, he posed for an incredibly unlikely photo with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), thankfully not in a theater. Story here.


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