The Morning Dispatch: The Growing War on the Right

Plus: Roger Stone's conviction prompts a look back at the Russia investigation, and unrest in Iran.

Happy Monday! The Morning Dispatch’s resident Bears fan feels nothing inside after watching another four quarters of football comparable only to a debilitated whale slowly washing up on shore with the tide. There was no sense of hope, no ragtag group of bystanders banding together to drag the humpback into the ocean. No, to the extent that there were witnesses to this tragedy they simply sighed, shrugged their shoulders, and averted their gaze.

Anyhow, the news!

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified publicly on Friday in the House’s impeachment inquiry, laying out her understanding of why she was removed from her post in Ukraine. President Trump criticized Yovanovitch as she was testifying in a tweet, in a move that Democrats billed as witness intimidation and even Trumps supporters decried as misguided. 

  • Several more key witnesses testify this week:

    • Tuesday: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Kurt Volker

    • Wednesday: Gordon Sondland and Laura Cooper

    • Thursday: Fiona Hill

  • Demonstrators and state police clashed at a Hong Kong university Sunday in the most violent conflict to date of the year’s pro-democracy protests. Meanwhile, new anti-regime protests broke out in Iran—more on that below.

  • John Bel Edwards was re-elected Louisiana governor on Saturday night, edging out Republican challenger Eddie Rispone by about 40,000 votes. 

  • Pete Buttigieg surged to the top of the Democratic field in a new poll of Iowa voters released by the Des Moines Register and CNN.

  • President Trump announced yet another round of cash payouts to farmers hit by his trade war with China, payments that are approaching $30 billion since the dispute began—all while farm bankruptcies continue to soar.

  • Attorney General William Barr delivered a speech at a Federalist Society conference on Friday criticizing the “resistance” to President Trump and making the case for stronger executive authority.

  • President Trump on Friday pardoned three military personnel accused or convicted of war crimes, raising some concerns within the military community.

  • In an interview with BBC, Prince Andrew denied salacious allegations related to his connections with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

  • At least four people were killed, and a half-dozen more were injured, after one or more gunmen ambushed a Fresno, California, family watching football in their backyard.

The Growing War on the Right

An institution long at the heart of the conservative movement issued a statement Sunday denouncing "holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers and racists," and is re-evaluating its relationship with one of its speakers after she defended all of the above. 

Young America's Foundation (YAF), a conservative youth organization founded in 1969, told The Dispatch in an email on Sunday that it has launched an "internal review" of its relationship with right-wing provocateur Michelle Malkin to determine whether she is "compatible with our goals as we go forward." The controversy is another example of the growing tension between traditional conservatives and the so-called alt-right. 

This divide—which has been festering just below the surface for some time—came to the fore last week when Donald Trump Jr. was booed at a UCLA event promoting his book. Now, “person named Trump shouted down on college campus” is about as much of a story as “the sun rose today.” But Junior wasn’t heckled by a liberal social justice mob; his antagonists alleged to be criticizing him for not adhering to Trumpism strongly enough.

These alt-right protesters—who refer to themselves as “groypers” for reasons that both have to do with a cartoon frog and could not be less important—were upset the Q&A portion of the UCLA event was canceled, thwarting their opportunity to inject anti-Semitic and racist bile into the conversation. Spearheaded by 22-year-old “leader” Nicholas Fuentes, these “groypers” (we’re going to exhaust our scare quote quota) descend upon institutional conservative events asking “leading questions about Israel, immigration, and LGBTQ issues” in an attempt to “reveal” speakers’ lack of conviction, as Vox’s Jane Coaston reported. It even happened to Jonah last week!

Which brings us back to YAF. Though it doesn’t mention her by name, its statement on Sunday can be viewed as a not-so-subtle shot at Malkin, who has long been affiliated with the group as a speaker. Malkin has long been an immigration hawk, but in recent years she has defended the views of alt-right figures like Fuentes—who attended the 2017 Unite the Right neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, and more recently referred to the Jim Crow South as “better for them, it’s better for us.” In a recent speech, Malkin not only refused to disavow Fuentes (along with a laundry list of other garden variety racists), but stood with him. (She was, however, willing to disavow Republicans who support “open borders sellouts.”) And now her page on YAF’s website can’t be found.

A spokesman for Young America’s Foundation told The Dispatch the organization released its statement “because we wanted our students and activists to know YAF hasn’t changed its long-standing practice of opposing racists who fly false flags as conservatives.” (The group still features Dinesh D’Souza—who once wrote that the American slave was treated “pretty well” and responded to a picture of President Obama taking a selfie by saying “you can take the boy out of the ghetto,”—prominently on both the YAF website and Twitter. The spokesman declined to comment when asked if YAF would characterize these D’Souza comments as racist.)

For decades, YAF has brought core conservative principles to campuses, in many cases providing students with an introduction to ideas that they would otherwise never know. In some cases, the speakers YAF sponsors have been controversial because they say genuinely controversial things. In many others, they’re controversial simply because they bring an ideological perspective that isn’t wanted on the supposedly tolerant campuses populated by “woke” students, “woke” professors and “woke” administrators.

At a time when too many non-conservatives conflate the right and the alt-right, a job made easier by conservatives too willing to tolerate the repugnant views of alt-right provocateurs, it’s encouraging to see a clear repudiation of those views represented in the statement from YAF.

A Stone, Unturned

Roger Stone’s luck has run out. The former Trump adviser was convicted Friday of seven federal crimes related to his work on the Trump campaign, all involving various types of dishonesty: lying to Congress, obstructing a congressional investigation, and tampering with other witnesses who were testifying before Congress. 

The verdict is an ignominious end for the professional dirty trickster. It’s also an opportunity to look back, with the benefit of hindsight, on the Russia investigation. 

Some of the earliest murmurs of weirdness between the Trump campaign and Russia came during the 2016 general election, as the candidate exploited the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. You’ll likely recall Trump’s famous line from a press conference that July: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” That raised some eyebrows, coming just days after WikiLeaks released a trove of DNC emails from a hack that experts suspected—even then—had been orchestrated by the Kremlin. 

It was WikiLeaks that got Stone in trouble. That’s because Stone thought he had an in with Julian Assange through a mutual friend, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. Through Corsi, whose exact connection to Assange remains unknown, Stone occasionally got a look at the well-hidden process of how WikiLeaks would release the stolen information. 

More importantly, he spent the next few months strutting around Trumpworld, talking up his insider status to anyone who’d listen. Earlier this month, Steve Bannon testified at Stone’s trial that Stone had sold himself to the campaign as an access point to Assange. Deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates testified that Trump apparently got information about future WikiLeaks releases from Stone during at least one phone call for which he was present.

But if trumpeting his proximity to Assange was an asset for Stone during the campaign, it became a very distinct liability once Trump was elected and the Russia investigation was underway—with intense scrutiny of whether the campaign played a role in the WikiLeaks releases. When Stone went before Congress in late 2017, telling the truth wouldn’t necessary have implicated the campaign in any crimes, but the optics would have been terrible. Stone refused to turn on Donald Trump. So he lied. 

The wildest accusations of Trump-Russia collusion remain unproven, some of them no doubt wishcasting from the president’s most fervent foes. But those wild fantasies would come to overshadow what was actually concerning about Trump’s relationship with Russia. It wasn’t that he helped direct an incredibly elaborate, labor-intensive, top-secret conspiracy to get foreign election help, but something much simpler: he was willing, even eager, to accept foreign election help if he saw an opportunity and determined it would be useful. 

Hey, Roger Stone has an in at WikiLeaks? Hey, maybe that’d be helpful! Say, a Russian lawyer says she has dirt on Hillary? Seems worth checking out! 

Trump isn’t shy about admitting this. In an interview with ABC this summer, he said: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent’—oh, I think I'd want to hear it.” As he said these words, Rudy Giuliani was leading an effort on Trump’s behalf to extract information from the newly elected leader of Ukraine that could damage Joe Biden’s likely candidacy.

Donald Trump sees no problem with looking for foreign help in an election. And he seems to have convinced some in the Republican Party that he’s right.

Uncertainty in Iran

This weekend, sudden unrest in Iran. Here is what happened: In the face of economic hardship brought on in part by stern U.S. sanctions, Tehran on Friday moved to reduce its domestic gasoline subsidies, causing prices across the nation to jump 50 percent overnight. The action sparked nationwide protests, with citizens shutting down highways and demonstrating in the streets in more than 20 cities. A few protests have descended into violence, with protestors clashing with police forces armed with tear gas. 

Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime has responded aggressively, taking much of the country’s internet offline to keep news of the protests and revolutionary fervor from spreading on social media. In a televised speech backing the gas hikes Sunday, Khamenei denounced demonstrators as “thugs” and suggested—as he has during past mass protests—that they were in league with foreign enemies of the state.

While the sudden gas hike provided the spark for the protests, the tinder has been piling up for some time—particularly since the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last year, damaging Iranian economy and sending the rial into a slow-motion death spiral

As was the case during past moments of Iranian unrest, there’s evidence that plenty of that anger has transformed into wholesale hatred for the regime—videos have been trickling out of protesters apparently chanting “death to the dictator” and “death to Khamenei.” 

The Trump administration’s policy on Iran is complicated, pulled in opposite directions by two of Trump’s policy instincts. On the one hand, the president has frequently ridiculed his predecessor Barack Obama for being too soft on the mullahs and has gone after Tehran with several aggressive sanctions packages. On the other, Trump has distanced himself from previous Republican administrations’ advocacy for the spread of democracy abroad, decrying the appetite for “regime change” that, he says, has embroiled America in “endless wars” across South Asia and the Middle East. 

Accordingly, the administration responded slowly to the news over the weekend, gradually moving into a position of strong solidarity with the protesters. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of the more hawkish remaining members of the Trump national security team, tweeted on Saturday: “As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you.” Then, on Sunday afternoon, the White House issued a strong statement of its own: “The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them,” it read in part. “We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators.”

What comes next is unclear. Iran has squashed protests before; whether the regime will be able to do so again will largely depend on how quickly these demonstrations grow, and where. According to Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA operative in Iran and now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the regime has leaned on two strategies in the past for quelling dissent: deploying Iran’s various ethnic groups against one another and dispatching elite security forces to particularly quarrelsome areas. But the former is difficult when protests are not limited to one ethnic group and the latter is more complicated when protests are strong in the state’s central cities. 

According to Gerecht, Iran learned during a previous period of unrest in 2009 that it was difficult to rely on its local Basij peacekeeping forces to quell mass unrest in the cities—“you’re essentially asking people who grew up in the same neighborhoods to beat people from the same neighborhood.” That leaves the state’s mobile riot police forces—but there’s only so many of those to go around.

Protesters may have to hold out for a while if they hope to see any direct aid from Washington. That’s partially due to Trump’s lack of interest in meddling too much in foreign affairs: Gerecht said that “there’s nothing on the drawing board” when it comes to the complicated process of providing technical support. More than that, there’s this simple fact: “Washington never does anything quickly.” 

Worth Your Time

  • The Intercept and the New York Times obtained a series of Iranian intelligence cables depicting the country’s vast influence operation in Iraq, including “years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.”

  • For those of you following the undoing of WeWork, Katrina Brooker’s dive into the relationship between CEO Adam Neumann and Softbank’s Masa Son for FastCompany is a must read: “At 6-foot-5, with long jet-black hair and chiseled cheekbones, Neumann stood out. So did his words.”

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Instagram has changed us as a society.

Toeing the Company Line

  • Jonah has bounced between Spain, Wisconsin, and Vegas the past few days, but he still made time for the Friday G-File. This week’s edition dives into Trump’s impeachment defense, and the differences between Mike Pompeo’s and John Bolton’s approaches to their respective roles. Give it a read here.

  • Before Spain, Wisconsin, and Vegas, Jonah was also in Texas, where he recorded this conversation with Rep. Dan Crenshaw on the state of conservatism, the art of persuasion, and how young people can promote free market principles.

  • Correction: In Friday’s Morning Dispatch, we said that John Bel Edwards was the only Democratic governor in the Southeast. North Carolina also has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.

Let Us Know

Roger Stone has a fairly large tattoo of Richard Nixon’s face on his back. What politician’s face from the last 20 years would make for the best ink?

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.