The daily newspaper USA Today is the second-most circulated print newspaper in the United States — more than The New York Times and more than double The Washington Post. Only The Wall Street Journal has higher circulation numbers.
On Sunday, the paper published and heavily promoted a repellent article complaining that “defendants accused in the Capitol riot Jan. 6 crowdfund their legal fees online, using popular payment processors and an expanding network of fundraising platforms, despite a crackdown by tech companies.” It provided a road map for snitching on how these private citizens — who are charged with serious felonies by the U.S. Justice Department but as of yet convicted of nothing — are engaged in “a game of cat-and-mouse as they spring from one fundraising tool to another” in order to avoid bans on their ability to raise desperately needed funds to pay their criminal lawyers to mount a vigorous defense.
In other words, the only purpose of the article — headlined: “Insurrection fundraiser: Capitol riot extremists, Trump supporters raise money for lawyer bills online” — was to pressure and shame tech companies to do more to block these criminal defendants from being able to raise funds for their legal fees, and to tattle to tech companies by showing them what techniques these indigent defendants are using to raise money online.
The USA Today reporters went far beyond merely reporting how this fundraising was being conducted. They went so far as to tattle to PayPal and other funding sites on two of those defendants, Joe Biggs and Dominic Pezzola, and then boasted of their success in having their accounts terminated:
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Biggs fundraiser was listed as having received $52,201. Pezzola had received $730. Biggs’ campaign disappeared from the site shortly after USA TODAY inquired about it….
Friday, a USA TODAY reporter donated to Pezzola’s fundraiser using Stripe. Stripe told USA TODAY it does not comment on individual users. A USA TODAY reporter was able to make a $1 donation to Pezzola’s fundraiser using Venmo, a payment app owned by PayPal. After being alerted by USA TODAY, Venmo removed the account.
Soon a PayPal account took its place. PayPal caught that and removed it, too.
Wow, what brave and intrepid journalistic work: speaking truth to power and standing up to major power centers by . . . working as little police officers for tech giants to prevent private citizens from being able to afford criminal lawyers. Clear the shelves for the imminent Pulitzer. Whatever you think about the Capitol riot, everyone has the right to a legal defense and to do what they can to ensure they have the best legal defense possible — especially when the full weight of the Justice Department is crashing down on your head even for non-violent offenses, which is what many of these defendants are charged with due to the politically charged nature of the investigation.
The right to a vigorous defense has always been a central cause of mine as a lawyer and a journalist (it also used to be a central cause of left-wing groups like the ACLU, years ago; it was that same principle that caused then-candidate Kamala Harris to solicit donations last summer that went to protesters charged with violent rioting). A federal prosecutor was recently referred for disciplinary procedures for publicly threatening to charge some of these Capitol protesters with sedition, one of the gravest crimes in the U.S. Code. That is how grave the legal jeopardy is faced by these people trying to raise money for lawyers.
What makes all of this extra grotesque is that, as The Washington Post reported, most of those charged with various crimes in connection with the January 6 Capitol riot, including many whose charges stem just from their presence inside the Capitol, not the use of any violence, are people with serious financial difficulties: not surprising for a country in the middle of a major economic and joblessness crisis, where neoliberalism and global trade deals have destroyed entire industries and communities for decades:
Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories. . . . The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as that of the American public, The Post found. A quarter of them had been sued for money owed to a creditor. And 1 in 5 of them faced losing their home at one point, according to court filings.
This USA Today article is thus yet another example of journalists at major media outlets abusing their platforms to attack and expose anything other than the real power centers which compose the ruling class and govern the U.S.: the CIA, the FBI, security state agencies, Wall Street, Silicon Valley oligarchs. To the extent these journalists pay attention to those entities at all — and they barely ever do — it is to venerate them and mindlessly disseminate their messaging like stenographers, not investigate them. Investigating people who actually wield real power is hard.