Thursday, April 20, 2023

Detroit Reparations Task Force hears public proposals during first meeting

BY:  - APRIL 14, 2023

The Detroit City Council Reparations Task Force heard ideas from the public during its first meeting on Thursday in downtown Detroit. 

They included remedies designed to address home mortgage foreclosure, various tax credits, repaying city retirees who took pension losses during the city’s 2013 bankruptcy process, as well as direct cash payments to African American city residents. 

“Black folks in Detroit need to be compensated,” Cecily McClellan, a retired city of Detroit employee told the task force. 

Eighty percent of Detroit voters approved a 2021 measure that called for the creation of a task force to study and address the issue of reparations. Detroit is 77% African American. The 13-member task force was appointed by the Detroit City Council.  The task force has been allotted $350,000 for administrative operations for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. 

Keith Williams, who serves as both Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus chair and Reparations Task Force co-chair, said he wants to see a reparations effort that addresses Black people who lost residential and commercial property in the Motor City’s Black Bottom community several decades ago.

In the early 1950s, an all-white Detroit city government seized private property in a lower east side neighborhood in the name of urban renewal. 

“I feel that we must acquire the land in these backward sections, that we must remove the buildings there from and sell the property back to private individuals for development,” then-Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo said in January 1950.

The effort displaced Black city residents, many of whom were poor. Black Bottom was replaced with Lafayette Park, a middle-class and largely white residential district, according to 1970 U.S. Census data.

Williams, a former Black Bottom resident, believes that Black descendants should receive government economic reciprocity.

“That should be part of the repair,” said Williams. 

Detroit isn’t the only city to consider reparations. In Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, elected officials approved a 2019 resolution to create a reparations funding stream. Last year, 16 Evanston residents were selected to receive $25,000 each in reparations to address harms from slavery to discriminatory housing policies.

Meanwhile, Detroiters’ perceptions of the racial wealth gap, the legacy of slavery and other forms of racial inequity are strongly connected to their support for reparations and policies that address racial inequity, according to a 2022 study by the University of Michigan.

Overall, 63% of Detroit residents support some form of reparations, and 70% say addressing racial inequality should be a high policy priority for elected officials. 

The analysis of survey findings emanates from the U of M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study and the Center for Racial Justice, with support from Poverty Solutions.

“There is a strong link between awareness of racial inequality and support for reparative policies,” said Erykah Benson, a U of M doctoral student in sociology and research fellow at the Center for Racial Justice, who analyzed the survey results. “We’re in a moment of national debate about how to think about, teach and resolve historical and contemporary injustices. How we collectively remember and understand our history shapes how we think about appropriate solutions for generational and ongoing injustices.”

Among the 73% of Detroiters who believe the average Black person is worse off than the average white person in terms of income and wealth, 71% support reparations and 75% say policies that address racial inequality should be a high priority. Among the 14% of Detroiters who believe the average Black person is equally well off as the average white person, 38% support reparations.

The survey was fielded between June 16 and Aug. 26, 2022, and captures the views of a representative sample of 2,339 Detroit residents. Results were weighted to reflect the population of the city of Detroit.

The Detroit City Council Reparations Task Force will provide recommended action steps to the City Council in no later than 18 months.  

This article originally appeared at Michigan Advance on April 14th, 2023.  

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'Obliterates the Police Narrative': Autopsy Shows Forest Defender Killed by Cops Never Fired Weapon

"Evidence Terán was executed is overwhelming," said a human rights lawyer after DeKalb County's autopsy report found no gunpowder residue on the hands of the activist whom police shot 57 times in purported self-defense.

Progressives expressed disgust Wednesday after DeKalb County released an autopsy showing that cops shot Atlanta forest defender Manuel Esteban Paez Terán 57 times and that there was no gunpowder residue on the victim's hands—debunking the government's claim Terán fired first.

The autopsy, which officials suppressed for three months, finally saw the light of day thanks to a public records request. Its results have prompted accusations of an attempted cover-up by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

"The GBI—the entity 'investigating'—clearly tried to craft a cover-up of an apparent police murder and failed."

Terán, commonly known as "Tortuguita," was killed during a January 18 raid on an encampment in the Weelaunee Forest. They were part of a collective that occupied the suburban Atlanta forest in a bid to prevent the construction of a $90 million, 85-acre police and fire training facility popularly known as Cop City.

The GBI has alleged that Terán shot and injured a state trooper before multiple officers from a joint task force returned lethal fire. But the autopsy found no gunpowder residue on Terán's hands, in addition to revealing that cops riddled the 26-year-old activist's hands, torso, legs, and head with nearly five dozen bullets.

"Terán did not fire a gun which obliterates the police narrative," human rights lawyer Steven Donziger tweeted. "Evidence Terán was executed is overwhelming."

"Georgia police buried the official autopsy of Terán for months until it was forced into the open today by a public records request," Donziger added. "The GBI—the entity 'investigating'—clearly tried to craft a cover-up of an apparent police murder and failed."

"Now that the cover-up is unraveling, will the public demand accountability?" the Atlanta Solidarity Fund asked on social media. "Will [Georgia State Police] get away with murder?"

In a statement, Tortuguita's mother, Belkis Terán, said, "We are devastated to learn that our child, our sweet Manny, was mercilessly gunned down by police and suffered 57 bullet wounds all over their body."

While the official autopsy report provides additional information, Tortuguita's loved ones continue to demand answers from the GBI, whose probe of the incident is ongoing.

"We cannot even begin to determine what happened on the morning of January 18 until the GBI releases its investigation," said family attorney Brian Spears.

His partner, attorney Jeff Filipovits, concurred: "There is no conceivable reason to continue to delay the release of its investigation. Only then can our clients and the community fully assess what happened in the moments leading up to Manuel's death."

Family members continue to question the GBI's ability to fairly probe the events of January 18 given that the bureau was involved in planning and executing the forest clearance operation that led to Tortuguita's death.

"Manuel was camping on publicly owned land that was not even on the future site of Cop City. Law enforcement went in with weapons and shot pepper balls," said Tortuguita's father, Joel Paez. "They created a violent situation and were ready to kill anyone who resisted. Now they will not even meet with us to explain what happened."

Tortuguita's family continues to urge the GBI to publish the results of its inquiry now, including forensic test findings, all audio and video recordings of the shooting, and interviews with officers involved.

"We are devastated to learn that our child, our sweet Manny, was mercilessly gunned down by police and suffered 57 bullet wounds all over their body."

Following the release of Tortuguita's autopsy, Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights organizer Martin Luther King, Jr. and a longtime Atlanta resident, posed a question about the future of Cop City: "How could this info regarding the police shooting of a protester of the Public Safety Training Center NOT raise more concerns about the center's placement and purpose?"

The Atlanta City Council gave the Atlanta Police Foundation, a private organization, permission to build Cop City in 2021, four years after the Atlanta City Planning Department recommended transforming the Weelaunee Forest—deemed one of four "city lungs"—into a massive urban park.

Several forest defenders were detained and charged with felonies—under a 2017 Georgia law that expanded the definition of "domestic terrorism" to include certain property crimes—during mid-December raids on their encampment.

More forest defenders were arrested on the same charges on January 18, the day police fatally shot Tortuguita—the first or possibly second time that police have killed an environmental activist in modern U.S. history, according to experts.

Additional people are facing prosecution as a result of Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's crackdown on demonstrations held since Tortuguita's killing.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announced what they called a "compromise" for Cop City in the wake of Tortuguita's killing, but opposition to the project remains strong among local residents.

"Cop City is something that no one in the community asked for, and survey after survey shows that the majority of Atlanta residents are opposed," Kamau Franklin from Community Movement Builders, one of the organizations fighting against Cop City, said in February. "The mayor continues to run roughshod over the desires of the community."

Days after cops killed Tortuguita, a coalition of more than 1,300 progressive advocacy groups published a letter demanding an independent investigation as well as the resignation of Dickens, a Democrat who they said parroted "the rhetoric of extreme right-wing Gov. Brian Kemp" when he condemned protesters rather than police officers following the shooting.

The groups pointed out that Dickens and the Atlanta City Council have the authority to terminate the land lease for Cop City and implored local policymakers to do so immediately.

The effort to halt the construction of Cop City suffered a major setback last week, however, when "the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously rejected an appeal of the project's land development permit," Axios reported.

Ikiya Collective, a signatory of the coalition's letter, warned earlier this year that the training set to take place at Cop City "will impact organizing across the country" as police are taught how to repress popular uprisings.

"This is a national issue," said the collective. "Climate justice and police brutality are interconnected, which is why we are joining the Stop Cop City calls to action with the frontline communities in Atlanta."

This article originally appeared at on April 20th, 2023.  

Related Posts:

‘People Have Been Protesting Against Cop City Since We Found Out About It’, FAIR 

Vigils For Tortuguita: Land Defenders Erupt In Solidarity, Progressive Hub

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Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The World Bank and the BRICS Bank have new leaders and different outlooks

The records and priorities of the new heads of the World Bank and the New Development Bank – Ajay Banga and Dilma Rousseff – represent two different perspectives on addressing the world’s problems

April 08, 2023 by Vijay Prashad
In late February 2023, US President Joe Biden announced that the United States had placed the nomination of Ajay Banga to be the next head of the World Bank, established in 1944. There will be no other official candidates for this job since—by convention—the US nominee is automatically selected for the post. This has been the case for the 13 previous presidents of the World Bank—the one exception was the acting president Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, who held the post for two months in 2019. In the official history of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), J. Keith Horsefield wrote that US authorities “considered that the Bank would have to be headed by a US citizen in order to win the confidence of the banking community, and that it would be impracticable to appoint US citizens to head both the Bank and the Fund.” By an undemocratic convention, therefore, the World Bank head was to be a US citizen and the head of the IMF was to be a European national (Georgieva is currently the managing director of the IMF). Therefore, Biden’s nomination of Banga guarantees his ascension to the post.

A month later, the New Development Bank’s Board of Governors— 
which includes representatives from Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa (the BRICS countries) as well as one person to represent Bangladesh, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates—elected Brazil’s former president Dilma Rousseff to head the NDB, popularly known as the BRICS Bank. The BRICS Bank, which was first discussed in 2012, began to operate in 2016 when it issued its first green financial bonds. There have only been three managing directors of the BRICS Bank—the first from India (K.V. Kamath) and then the next two from Brazil (Marcos Prado Troyjo and now Rousseff to finish Troyjo’s term). The president of the BRICS Bank will be elected from its members, not from just one country.

Banga will come to the World Bank, whose office is in Washington, D.C., from the world of international corporations. He spent his entire career in these multinational corporations, from his early days in India at Nestlé to his later international career at Citigroup and Mastercard. Most recently, Banga was the head of the International Chamber of Commerce, an “executive” of multinational corporations that was founded in 1919 and is based in Paris, France. As Banga says, during his time at Citigroup, he ran its microfinance division, and, during his time at Mastercard, he made various pledges regarding the environment. Nonetheless, he has no experience in the world of development finance and investment. He told the Financial Times that he would turn to the private sector for funds and ideas. His resume is not unlike that of most US appointees to head the World Bank. The first president of the World Bank was Eugene Meyer, who built the chemical multinational Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation (later Honeywell) and who owned the Washington Post. He too had no direct experience working on eradicating poverty or building public infrastructure. It was through the World Bank that the United States pushed an agenda to privatize public institutions. Men such as Banga have been integral to the fulfillment of that agenda.

Dilma Rousseff, meanwhile, comes to the BRICS Bank with a different resume. Her political career began in the democratic fight against the 21-year military dictatorship (1964-1985) that was inflicted on Brazil by the United States and its allies. During Lula da Silva’s two terms as president (2003-2011), Dilma Rousseff was a cabinet minister and his chief of staff. She took charge of the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program) or PAC, which organized the anti-poverty work of the government. Because of her work in poverty eradication, Dilma became known popularly as the “mãe do PAC” (mother of PAC). A World Bank study from 2015 showed that Brazil had “succeeded in significantly reducing poverty in the last decade”; extreme poverty fell from 10 percent in 2001 to 4 percent in 2013. “[A]pproximately 25 million Brazilians escaped extreme or moderate poverty,” the report said. This poverty reduction was not a result of privatization, but of two government schemes developed and established by Lula and Dilma: Bolsa Família (the family allowance scheme) and Brasil sem Misería (the Brazil Without Extreme Poverty plan, which helped families with employment and built infrastructure such as schools, running water, and sewer systems in low-income areas). Dilma Rousseff brings her experience in these programs, the benefits of which were reversed under her successors (Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro).

Banga, who comes from the international capital markets, will manage the World Bank’s net investment portfolio of $82.1 billion as of June 2022. There will be considerable attention to the work of the World Bank, whose power is leveraged by Washington’s authority and by its work with the International Monetary Fund’s debt-austerity lending practices. In response to the debt-austerity practices of the IMF and the World Bank, the BRICS countries—when Dilma was president of Brazil (2011-2016)—set up institutions such as the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (as an alternative to the IMF with a $100 billion corpus) and the New Development Bank (as an alternative to the World Bank, with another $100 billion as its initial authorized capital). These new institutions seek to provide development finance through a new development policy that does not enforce austerity on the poorer nations but is driven by the principle of poverty eradication. The BRICS Bank is a young institution compared to the World Bank, but it has considerable financial resources and will need to be innovative in providing assistance that does not lead to endemic debt. Whether the new BRICS Think Tank Network for Finance will be able to break with the IMF’s orthodoxy is yet to be seen.

Rousseff chaired her first BRICS Bank meeting on March 28. Banga will likely be appointed at the World Bank-IMF meeting in mid-April.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of US Power.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Originally published on on April 8th, 2023

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Monday, April 10, 2023

Knodl to win tight race for Senate seat, securing Republican supermajority

, APRIL 5, 2023

Update: Jodi Habush Sinykin has conceded the race in the 8th Senate district to Rep. Dan Knodl. “I am incredibly proud of this campaign, which from day one was focused on bringing people together and authentically representing the 8th Senate District,” Habush Sinykin said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we fell just shy of bringing home a victory for progress and fair representation, and I have called Rep. Knodl to concede the race.”

Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) is poised to beat Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin in a tight race for Wisconsin’s 8th Senate district, which represents the northern Milwaukee suburbs and parts of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — or “WOW” — counties.

Senate Republicans finally claim a 22-member, two-thirds supermajority with the win, which gives them the power to impeach and remove “civil officers” and to fast track bills without Democrat input. Knodl will succeed Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who retired in December after holding the seat for 30 years. 

“We have a win,” Knodl said, declaring victory at around 11:30 p.m. while surrounded by supporters at Bub’s Irish Bar in Germantown. The official results weren’t yet called, but Knodl said outstanding votes in Lisbon would secure the win for him. 

“I hope to carry on the good work that [Darling] has done for over 30 years,” Knodl said. “If I do that, I’m going to be in a very good position with these new constituents in the 8th Senate district going forward, so it’s a good day and I look forward to moving into the state Senate”

With 99% of votes counted at around 12:30 a.m, Knodl had 50.9% of the vote and Habush Sinykin had 49.1%. 

Habush Sinykin, an environmental lawyer, did not concede Tuesday night. 

Knodl, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2008, said “coattails” from the state Supreme Court election and abortion were likely reasons that the race for the traditionally Republican district was so close. 

Knodl will be the 22nd Republican senator, securing a supermajority in half of the Legislature.  

Either party holding a two-thirds majority in Wisconsin’s Legislature is rare, according to Rick Champagne, of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. This will be the first time Senate Republicans have held a supermajority for a legislative session since 1969. The November 2022 election gave the Republicans 22 seats in the Senate effective with the new term starting in January 2023, but Darling’s resignation in December left them one seat short of that goal by the time lawmakers were sworn in. 

The supermajority gives Republicans the power to impeach and convict “civil officer” unilaterally. In order for an impeachment to move forward, a majority of members elected in the Assembly must vote to impeach a civil officer. Impeachment can be brought for  “corrupt conduct in office or for the commission of a crime or misdemeanor,” according to a Wisocnsin Legislative Council memo. Assembly Republicans currently hold a 64-member majority. Two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict a “civil officer,” a term that hasn’t been defined in state law.

There’s only been one impeachment in Wisconsin history. Judge Levi Hubbell was impeached by the Assembly in 1853, but wasn’t convicted by the Senate.

The potential for impeachment became a major point of contention in the race following comments from Knodl, who appeared open to using the impeachment power. In the days leading up to the election, Knodl said he would “certainly consider” launching impeachment efforts against Judge Janet Protaciewitz, who won election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court against conservative Dan Kelly on Tuesday, for her work as a Milwaukee County judge.

“Republicans would like to have 22 senators, and it would give us some authority that just hasn’t been there for years, but that’s in our Wisconsin Constitution under Article 7,” Knodl said. “To me, it’s just a check.” 

After declaring victory Tuesday night, Knodl said that there was “nobody on a list or any proceedings that are imminent.” 

Knodl supporters were excited about the prospect of Republicans consolidating their power. 

“We have overwhelmingly Republican control of our Senate and house but not enough to get anything accomplished with a Democratic governor,” Barb Schaefer, a resident of the Town of Erin, said. “So it’s a very important race in that if we can make that next step and have the majority that will allow us to do more, that’s a huge plus.” 

Schaefer said she supports Knodl because he is a “proven conservative” and supports people’s rights and freedoms. 

Apart from impeachment proceedings, Republicans could also use the two-thirds majority to fast track bills by suspending legislative rules. Champagne said in an email that a supermajority could, in theory, suspend the legislative rules and withdraw bills from committee and take them up immediately, rather than needing to put them on the calendar. 

Habush Sinkykin, who focused much of her campaign on abortion and reproductive rights issues, said prior to the close of polls that she knew the race would be an uphill battle, but that Knodl winning would signify that gerrymandering continues to play a role in Wisconsin politics.

“It demonstrates that the system is broken, that the gerrymandering that has been accomplished that has gone up before the United States Supreme Court…, that puts Wisconsin tied dead last in the entire country with Texas as the most gerrymandered state in the nation, is truly silencing the will of the people,” Habush Sinykin said at a election night party Libby Montana Bar & Grill.

She said she hopes that a Knodl victory would be a “wake up call” for Wisconsin.

Knodl focused on issues like taxes and crime throughout the campaign. He said he plans to continue much of the work that he started in the Assembly. 

“It’s time to get to work,” Knodl said. “I already have bills that have been introduced in the state Assembly. We’ll get those queued up and move them in any fashion that we can through the Assembly or the Senate, and then we’ll get onto the budget process and craft a budget.”

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We Are 'Just Beginning,' Tennessee GOP Boasts in Fundraiser After Expelling Democrats

Kenney Stancil, April 07, 2023

The willingness of Republicans "to expel democratically elected Democrats for minor-verging-on-made-up infractions portends a terrifying new development," warned one journalist. 

The Tennessee Republican Party waited less than 24 hours to start fundraising off the expulsion of two progressive lawmakers from the state House—openly bragging Friday about what critics have called a blatantly anti-democratic move that shows the party's growing authoritarianism.   State Reps. Justin Jones (D-52) and Justin Pearson (D-86) are two of three Democrats who joined protesters in interrupting a floor session on March 30 to demand gun control in the wake of last week's deadly school shooting in Nashville. Tennessee House Republicans on Thursday voted to expel both Black men from the chamber while a vote to expel their colleague Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-13), who is white, fell short.

In a Friday fundraising email, the Tennessee GOP said: "Their adolescence and immature behavior brought dishonor to the Tennessee General Assembly as they admitted to knowingly breaking the rules. Actions have consequences, and we applaud House Republicans for having the conviction to protect the rules, the laws, and the prestige of the State of Tennessee."

"Our fight is just beginning," the email concludes.

Progressives members of Congress had already denounced Tennessee Republicans for engaging in what U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) called "straight-up fascism in its ugliest, most racist form" before the fundraising email emerged.

Now, the Tennessee GOP is portraying the state's first partisan expulsion since the Civil War era as upholding "the rule of law" and is trying to capitalize on it.

Slate's Alexander Sammon warned that Thursday's vote "is a chilling portent of the future of Republican governance and the state of democracy nationwide."

"While Republicans have focused on gerrymandering and voter suppression as the primary prongs of their assault on democracy (as well as the occasional insurrection attempt)," he noted, "the willingness to expel democratically elected Democrats for minor-verging-on-made-up infractions portends a terrifying new development."

In a Friday statementPublic Citizen president Robert Weissman condemned Tennessee House Republicans for "summarily ending" the current terms of Jones and Pearson and "depriving their constituents of duly elected representation."

"This was a racist and disproportionate act of retaliation against legislators who had joined demonstrators chanting in the chamber, in protest of Republican refusal to adopt commonsense gun control measures in the wake of the March 27 school shooting in Nashville," said Weissman, who called Tennessee Republicans' move "flagrantly anti-democratic."

"American democracy is in a profound crisis... What just happened in Tennessee is yet another reminder of the perilous state of our country."

"In modern American history, expulsion of state legislators is very rare—not just in Tennessee but throughout the United States, and rightfully so. Legislators should expel elected officials only in extreme circumstances, not over policy differences or impingements on decorum," he continued. "Legislative supermajorities already have enormous power; when they wield that power to strip away even the offices of the minority, they are treading on very dangerous ground."

As Weissman pointed out, "Some Tennessee legislators—and a lot of MAGA commentary online—are un-ironically calling the state representatives' chanting an 'insurrection.'"

"Of course, the United States did witness a real insurrection on January 6, 2021," said Weissman. "Not one member of Congress was expelled for promoting [former President] Donald Trump's patently false claims that the 2020 election was 'stolen' from him or for supporting the attempted coup carried out at Trump's behest. Only 10 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives would vote to impeach Trump in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, and only two of them were able to get re-elected."

"American democracy is in a profound crisis, riven by lies, right-wing extremism, conspiratorial thinking, and subservience to corporate and special interests, and racism," Weissman stressed. "What just happened in Tennessee is yet another reminder of the perilous state of our country."

Nevertheless, he continued, "a hopeful future is also a visible feature of our nation, demonstrated in the courage and principle of the targeted representatives... and the energy and commitment of the protesters—overwhelmingly young people—demanding justice and commonsense gun regulation."

"This is a powerful reminder that democracy does not die easily," Weissman added. "Indeed, the energy in Tennessee will help inspire and power the nationwide movement not just to defend but to expand and deepen our democracy, and we are committed to rising to the occasion, and being part of this movement to make our country a more just and equitable place for all."

This article originally appeared at on April 10, 2023.  

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Friday, April 7, 2023

Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire

In late June 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Thomas did not respond to a detailed list of questions.

In a statement, Crow acknowledged that he’d extended “hospitality” to the Thomases “over the years,” but said that Thomas never asked for any of it and it was “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

Through his largesse, Crow has gained a unique form of access, spending days in private with one of the most powerful people in the country. By accepting the trips, Thomas has broken long-standing norms for judges’ conduct, ethics experts and four current or retired federal judges said.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. When she was on the bench, Gertner said, she was so cautious about appearances that she wouldn’t mention her title when making dinner reservations: “It was a question of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended.”

Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in administrations of both parties, said Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations.”

“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” said Canter, now at the watchdog group CREW. “Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink.”

ProPublica uncovered the details of Thomas’ travel by drawing from flight records, internal documents distributed to Crow’s employees and interviews with dozens of people ranging from his superyacht’s staff to members of the secretive Bohemian Club to an Indonesian scuba diving instructor.

Federal judges sit in a unique position of public trust. They have lifetime tenure, a privilege intended to insulate them from the pressures and potential corruption of politics. A code of conduct for federal judges below the Supreme Court requires them to avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.” Members of the high court, Chief Justice John Roberts has written, “consult” that code for guidance. The Supreme Court is left almost entirely to police itself.

There are few restrictions on what gifts justices can accept. That’s in contrast to the other branches of government. Members of Congress are generally prohibited from taking gifts worth $50 or more and would need pre-approval from an ethics committee to take many of the trips Thomas has accepted from Crow.

Thomas’ approach to ethics has already attracted public attention. Last year, Thomas didn’t recuse himself from cases that touched on the involvement of his wife, Ginni, in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. While his decision generated outcry, it could not be appealed.

Crow met Thomas after he became a justice. The pair have become genuine friends, according to people who know both men. Over the years, some details of Crow’s relationship with the Thomases have emerged. In 2011, The New York Times reported on Crow’s generosity toward the justice. That same year, Politico revealed that Crow had given half a million dollars to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas, which also paid her a $120,000 salary. But the full scale of Crow’s benefactions has never been revealed.

Long an influential figure in pro-business conservative politics, Crow has spent millions on ideological

efforts to shape the law and the judiciary. Crow and his firm have not had a case before the Supreme Court since Thomas joined it, though the court periodically hears major cases that directly impact the real estate industry. The details of his discussions with Thomas over the years remain unknown, and it is unclear if Crow has had any influence on the justice’s views.

In his statement, Crow said that he and his wife have never discussed a pending or lower court case with Thomas. “We have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue,” he added.

In Thomas’ public appearances over the years, he has presented himself as an everyman with modest tastes.

“I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States,” Thomas said in a recent interview for a documentary about his life, which Crow helped finance.

“I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it,” Thomas said. “I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.”

“You Don’t Need to Worry About This — It’s All Covered”

Crow’s private lakeside resort, Camp Topridge, sits in a remote corner of the Adirondacks in upstate

New York. Closed off from the public by ornate wooden gates, the 105-acre property, once the summer retreat of the same heiress who built Mar-a-Lago, features an artificial waterfall and a great hall where Crow’s guests are served meals prepared by private chefs. Inside, there’s clear evidence of Crow and Thomas’ relationship: a painting of the two men at the resort, sitting outdoors smoking cigars alongside conservative political operatives. A statue of a Native American man, arms outstretched, stands at the center of the image, which is photographic in its clarity.

The painting captures a scene from around five years ago, said Sharif Tarabay, the artist who was commissioned by Crow to paint it. Thomas has been vacationing at Topridge virtually every summer for more than two decades, according to interviews with more than a dozen visitors and former resort staff, as well as records obtained by ProPublica. He has fished with a guide hired by Crow and danced at concerts put on by musicians Crow brought in. Thomas has slept at perhaps the resort’s most elegant accommodation, an opulent lodge overhanging Upper St. Regis Lake.

The mountainous area draws billionaires from across the globe. Rooms at a nearby hotel built by the Rockefellers start at $2,250 a night. Crow’s invitation-only resort is even more exclusive. Guests stay for free, enjoying Topridge’s more than 25 fireplaces, three boathouses, clay tennis court and batting cage, along with more eccentric features: a lifesize replica of the Harry Potter character Hagrid’s hut, bronze statues of gnomes and a 1950s-style soda fountain where Crow’s staff fixes milkshakes.

Crow’s access to the justice extends to anyone the businessman chooses to invite along. Thomas’ frequent vacations at Topridge have brought him into contact with corporate executives and political activists.

During just one trip in July 2017, Thomas’ fellow guests included executives at Verizon and PricewaterhouseCoopers, major Republican donors and one of the leaders of the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business conservative think tank, according to records reviewed by ProPublica. The painting of Thomas at Topridge shows him in conversation with Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society leader regarded as an architect of the Supreme Court’s recent turn to the right.

In his statement to ProPublica, Crow said he is “unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that.”

“These are gatherings of friends,” Crow said.

Crow has deep connections in conservative politics. The heir to a real estate fortune, Crow oversees his family’s business empire and recently named Marxism as his greatest fear. He was an early patron of the powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth and has been on the board of AEI for over 25 years. He also sits on the board of the Hoover Institution, another conservative think tank.

A major Republican donor for decades, Crow has given more than $10 million in publicly disclosed political contributions. He’s also given to groups that keep their donors secret — how much of this so-called dark money he’s given and to whom are not fully known. “I don’t disclose what I’m not required to disclose,” Crow once told the Times.

Crow has long supported efforts to move the judiciary to the right. He has donated to the Federalist Society and given millions of dollars to groups dedicated to tort reform and conservative jurisprudence. AEI and the Hoover Institution publish scholarship advancing conservative legal theories, and fellows at the think tanks occasionally file amicus briefs with the Supreme Court.

On the court since 1991, Thomas is a deeply conservative jurist known for his “originalism,” an approach that seeks to adhere to close readings of the text of the Constitution. While he has been resolute in this general approach, his views on specific matters have sometimes evolved. Recently, Thomas harshly criticized one of his own earlier opinions as he embraced a legal theory, newly popular on the right, that would limit government regulation. Small evolutions in a justice’s thinking or even select words used in an opinion can affect entire bodies of law, and shifts in Thomas’ views can be especially consequential. He’s taken unorthodox legal positions that have been adopted by the court’s majority years down the line.

Soon after Crow met Thomas three decades ago, he began lavishing the justice with gifts, including a $19,000 Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass, which Thomas disclosed. Recently, Crow gave Thomas a portrait of the justice and his wife, according to Tarabay, who painted it. Crow’s foundation also gave $105,000 to Yale Law School, Thomas’ alma mater, for the “Justice Thomas Portrait Fund,” tax filings show.

Crow said that he and his wife have funded a number of projects that celebrate Thomas. “We believe it is important to make sure as many people as possible learn about him, remember him and understand the ideals for which he stands,” he said.

To trace Thomas’ trips around the world on Crow’s superyacht, ProPublica spoke to more than 15 former yacht workers and tour guides and obtained records documenting the ship’s travels.

On the Indonesia trip in the summer of 2019, Thomas flew to the country on Crow’s jet, according to another passenger on the plane. Clarence and Ginni Thomas were traveling with Crow and his wife, Kathy. Crow’s yacht, the Michaela Rose, decked out with motorboats and a giant inflatable rubber duck, met the travelers at a fishing town on the island of Flores.

Touring the Lesser Sunda Islands, the group made stops at Komodo National Park, home of the eponymous reptiles; at the volcanic lakes of Mount Kelimutu; and at Pantai Meko, a spit of pristine beach accessible only by boat. Another guest was Mark Paoletta, a friend of the Thomases then serving as the general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget in the administration of President Donald Trump.

Paoletta was bound by executive branch ethics rules at the time and told ProPublica that he discussed the trip with an ethics lawyer at his agency before accepting the Crows’ invitation. “Based on that counsel’s advice, I reimbursed Harlan for the costs,” Paoletta said in an email. He did not respond to a question about how much he paid Crow.

(Paoletta has long been a pugnacious defender of Thomas and recently testified before Congress against strengthening judicial ethics rules. “There is nothing wrong with ethics or recusals at the Supreme Court,” he said, adding, “To support any reform legislation right now would be to validate these vicious political attacks on the Supreme Court,” referring to criticism of Thomas and his wife.)

The Indonesia vacation wasn’t Thomas’ first time on the Michaela Rose. He went on a river day trip around Savannah, Georgia, and an extended cruise in New Zealand roughly a decade ago.

As a token of his appreciation, he gave one yacht worker a copy of his memoir. Thomas signed the book: “Thank you so much for all your hard work on our New Zealand adventure.”

Crow’s policy was that guests didn’t pay, former Michaela Rose staff said. “You don’t need to worry about this — it’s all covered,” one recalled the guests being told.

There’s evidence Thomas has taken even more trips on the superyacht. Crow often gave his guests custom polo shirts commemorating their vacations, according to staff. ProPublica found photographs of Thomas wearing at least two of those shirts. In one, he wears a blue polo shirt embroidered with the Michaela Rose’s logo and the words “March 2007” and “Greek Islands.”

Thomas didn’t report any of the trips ProPublica identified on his annual financial disclosures. Ethics experts said the law clearly requires disclosure for private jet flights and Thomas appears to have violated it.

Justices are generally required to publicly report all gifts worth more than $415, defined as “anything of value” that isn’t fully reimbursed. There are exceptions: If someone hosts a justice at their own property, free food and lodging don’t have to be disclosed. That would exempt dinner at a friend’s house. The exemption never applied to transportation, such as private jet flights, experts said, a fact that was made explicit in recently updated filing instructions for the judiciary.

Two ethics law experts told ProPublica that Thomas’ yacht cruises, a form of transportation, also required disclosure.

“If Justice Thomas received free travel on private planes and yachts, failure to report the gifts is a violation of the disclosure law,” said Kedric Payne, senior director for ethics at the nonprofit government watchdog Campaign Legal Center. (Thomas himself once reported receiving a private jet trip from Crow, on his disclosure for 1997.)

The experts said Thomas’ stays at Topridge may have required disclosure too, in part because Crow owns it not personally but through a company. Until recently, the judiciary’s ethics guidance didn’t explicitly address the ownership issue. The recent update to the filing instructions clarifies that disclosure is required for such stays.

How many times Thomas failed to disclose trips remains unclear. Flight records from the Federal Aviation Administration and FlightAware suggest he makes regular use of Crow’s plane. The jet often follows a pattern: from its home base in Dallas to Washington Dulles airport for a brief stop, then on to a destination Thomas is visiting and back again.

ProPublica identified five such trips in addition to the Indonesia vacation.

On July 7 last year, Crow’s jet made a 40-minute stop at Dulles and then flew to a small airport near Topridge, returning to Dulles six days later. Thomas was at the resort that week for his regular summer visit, according to a person who was there. Twice in recent years, the jet has followed the pattern when Thomas appeared at Crow’s properties in Dallas — once for the Jan. 4, 2018, swearing-in of Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho at Crow’s private library and again for a conservative think tank conference Crow hosted last May.

Thomas has even used the plane for a three-hour trip. On Feb. 11, 2016, the plane flew from Dallas to Dulles to New Haven, Connecticut, before flying back later that afternoon. ProPublica confirmed that Thomas was on the jet through Supreme Court security records obtained by the nonprofit Fix the Court, private jet data, a New Haven plane spotter and another person at the airport. There are no reports of Thomas making a public appearance that day, and the purpose of the trip remains unclear.

Jet charter companies told ProPublica that renting an equivalent plane for the New Haven trip could cost around $70,000.

On the weekend of Oct. 16, 2021, Crow’s jet repeated the pattern. That weekend, Thomas and Crow traveled to a Catholic cemetery in a bucolic suburb of New York City. They were there for the unveiling of a bronze statue of the justice’s beloved eighth grade teacher, a nun, according to Catholic Cemetery magazine.

As Thomas spoke from a lectern, the monument towered over him, standing 7 feet tall and weighing 1,800 pounds, its granite base inscribed with words his teacher once told him. Thomas told the nuns assembled before him, “This extraordinary statue is dedicated to you sisters.”

He also thanked the donors who paid for the statue: Harlan and Kathy Crow.

“This story was originally published by ProPublica." ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

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