Discover more from Dispatches From A Collapsing State | Jared Yates Sexton
The Corruption of Clarence Thomas & A Note on Censorship
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded. Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Before we start, a note on something a little off-topic.
Actually, no, that’s not entirely true. It’s actually completely on-topic considering the through-line of greed and power.
The recent fight picked by Elon Musk over at Twitter against Substack is a petulant and juvenile skirmish, but also concerning in a variety of ways. For those who aren’t aware, the beta testing of Substack’s Notes feature led to Twitter aggressively limiting any interaction with Substack content while denying anything was happening. Then, it went a step further, with Twitter labeling any link to Substack content as “potentially harmful” and warning users to steer clear.
Let’s begin with the larger picture and then, if you’ll indulge me, a personal accounting.
From the beginning of the rise of social media to this current mess, I have been concerned. The corporatization of the public sphere has led to incredible tragedies. Genocides. Relentless attacks on democracy. Awful experiences for users and wild opportunities for despots. But underneath it all, hiding beneath the code and beyond the usual coverage of these things, has been the threat of monopolization of information. The Zuckerbergs and the Musks of the world have benefitted from a rigged economy and a federal government that is both paid off (more on this later) and completely and utterly dependent on these tech figures to create and operate their systems, including the programs that keep the administrative state relatively humming and the war machine rolling on. There has been virtually no oversight beyond some show hearings and a vague gesture of “caring.”
At every step the tech barons have shown both an eager willingness to work with authoritarians and a ceaseless desire to forward their own agendas through control of information. They censor and aid dictators and dictatorial regimes. They look the other way as dangerous actors spread disinformation designed to undermine elections, public health, and generally inform people. And now, Elon Musk’s roughshodding of Twitter has revealed what has lain at the heart of all of this all along: a system not only vulnerable to the whims of the wealthy and their agendas, but a system that designed explicitly to serve those whims.
And, again, if you will indulge me, I would like to tell you a story and explain why I am writing this article on this platform in the first place. And apologies for the frank nature of what is to follow.
Back in 2016 I wound up in a very strange place. My independent reportage - intended to remain with a small literary publisher - went viral as I found myself caught up in the growing authoritarian movement that was the Trump Campaign. Almost immediately my entire life was turned upside down. It resulted not just from the attention, but from the rapid rollout of death threats and targeted harassment that my coverage and analysis inspired. Soon, with no warning, white supremacists and Neo-Nazis were attempting to break into my home. Stalking my family. Attempting to destroy my life and my career.
Since, I have spent the last six years attempting to do everything in my power to both understand what is happening and attempt to help stave off the worst case scenario. What I found researching my book AMERICAN RULE was that the history of the United States we had all been fed in public schools and institutions was a mythology designed to hide the authoritarianism that has been here all along. Writing THE MIDNIGHT KINGDOM revealed the omnipresent threat of capitalism, including its weapons in white supremacy, Christian mythologies, weaponized conspiracy theories, and how we are teetering on the edge of an authoritarian nightmare as the wealthy and powerful have so corrupted our system (again, more on this soon) that something must now change.
These years have changed me in ways I never expected, but also revealed so much to me. In the beginning I was a useful figure in terms of revealing the dangerous elements of Trumpism as the media was going into overdrive and profiting from his circus and the resulting anxiety. Since I turned my focus to the larger issue beyond Trump what I have discovered is something very telling: our media rewards a very narrow interpretation of how this world operates. There can be criticisms of Trump, sure, but the moment a lens redirects to a larger criticism of capitalism and the corporatization of America and the world, which is what these media outlets depend upon, the story changes very quickly.
I am on Substack for a very simple reason. This platform has allowed me an outlet that was denied to me for years. Following the publication of one book after another, I was still able to publish freelanced articles (often for a couple of hundred bucks a pop) and was offered one regular writing gig for a major national platform (for the price of roughly $1,200 a year), but there was very little in the way of publications that allowed for systemic criticism or frank conversation about what is actually happening in this chaotic and dangerous world.
My platform, honestly, was built on Twitter as my reportage from 2016 went viral. I attempted to use that platform to educate, leaning on long threads attempting to concentrate as much information into easily-digestible bites as possible. When Musk took over the platform I noticed, like a lot of other leftists, that my account was immediately throttled. On top of losing thousands and thousands of followers, the possible outreach of my account was diminished to almost nothing. After a little experimentation, I was able to understand how to reinvigorate the algorithm, but the effects were incredible. It didn’t help, you can imagine, when THE MIDNIGHT KINGDOM was released and the resulting content was focused on criticism of the very network setup and system manipulations the platform was playing out in real-time.
For people like me Substack has been a godsend. One of the few ways we can make a living. Mainstream publications are uninterested in doing much of anything besides continuing to publish the same “Has Wokeism Gone Too Far?”; “College Liberals Are Hurting Free Speech”; and anti-trans articles we’ve all come to absolutely loathe. Meanwhile, the dangers of growing authoritarianism and concentrated wealth have been completely underplayed and ignored.
Musk’s control over Twitter, and now his attack on Substack, are examples of how this landscape is not only dangerous, but devastating. Control over Twitter and other social media hubs is just a proliferation of the same control over information and discourse methods that have existed all along, only now they are at the whims of individuals who can decide, on a moment’s notice, to effectively silence any critics or honest brokers standing in their way.
It is, honestly, a disturbing trend.
Now, before we discuss one of the most corrupt Supreme Court Justices in modern history, himself a symptom of this larger problem, I must ask if you will please consider subscribing to this Substack and continue supporting my work. This has been a really, really demoralizing and concerning development, and I don’t think I have to tell you that this crackdown is only beginning.
It was in December of 2004 that The Los Angeles Times reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had received tens of thousands of dollars of improper gifts. Among them was a bible previously owned by Frederick Douglass, valued at $19,000. Thomas’s openness to accepting these “gifts” has been an open secret for well over two decades, but ProPublica’s blockbuster report this past week was a whole different story.
In it was revealed that a billionaire named Harlan Crow has personally gifted Thomas with millions of dollars’ worth of vacations around the world, travel in his private jet, and stays in his luxury resorts. When asked for comment, Crow didn’t bother to deny the reportage, instead insisting he was merely extending “hospitality” to a friend.
The report itself was jaw-dropping. Thomas and his wife Ginni Thomas, who has been definitively linked to the attempted coup of January 6th, have been carted around the world on super-yachts, taken to see Komodo Dragons, and Clarence has even been a guest to Bohemian Grove, the bizarre meeting where elites carry out secret rituals of power, all on Crow’s dime. Along the way, Thomas has been spending his time with men like Leonard Leo, who was instrumental in the theft of the Supreme Court and the eventual overturning of Roe V. Wade.
We could spend our time focusing on these lurid details. We could focus our energies on Thomas, himself, and he most assuredly deserves it. And we could even talk about reports that Crow has an astounding collection of Adolf Hitler memorabilia, including a signed copy of Mein Kampf and paintings. But in doing so we would be missing the more important things here.
Simply put, this is far from an aberration. What makes it notable is Thomas’s blatant corruption and unabashed willingness to take and take and take without even considering reporting it, must less turning it down. But that this is part and parcel of government life now, and that there are no real consequences to engaging in this blatant misconduct, is so, so telling.
While social media is filled with calls for impeachment of Thomas or investigations, this will likely parallel exactly what happened in 2004 with the initial reporting. It will be forgotten at worst and at best simply become an aspect of the larger story of Clarence Thomas.
Because everybody knows what this is.
Everyone knows the Federalist Society, which Crow keeps flush with cash, is simply an operation designed to bastardize the judicial system and ensure it continues as a weapon for the wealthy.
Everyone knows that Thomas is accepting thinly-veiled bribes so that he can work hand-in-hand with Crow, Leo, and others in crafting strategies to further the work of the stolen Supreme Court while also recruiting, training, and then coordinating the next generation of corporate-stooge judges.
And everyone knows the government at large has been bought off by these individuals and groups over and over and over again, so many times that it’s hard to keep track anymore of who owns them now.
What’s even worse is that there will likely be little more said about the topic. Democratic politicians will signal concern, but even this blatant corruption and the opportunity it represents to play hardball and wrest away control of the Court will be let go. Because maintaining a semblance of respectability in our institutions is more important. And not because they believe believe the institutions actually deserve respect.
No. Because that veneer of respectability is the only thing that keeps this train rolling. This is why when protesters decrying the stealing of bodily autonomy by this farce of a Court “bothered” Brett Kavanaugh - himself a corrupt and unworthy justice - at an upscale restaurant, there was call for “decorum.” Because this machine requires at least a minimal level of buy-in that is only achievable should it seem remotely legitimate.
Make no mistake, the Supreme Court has hardly ever been legitimate. This is a body that has ruled consistently against the dignity of human beings, maintained the atrocious apartheid state, assisted corporations and the wealthy as a matter of course, and trampled democracy at nearly every turn. Thomas is not the first corrupted justice and he sure as hell won’t be the last.
Simply put, this will continue to get worse and more obvious until there is a grassroots movement against corruption in politics. This might be one of the few issues most people can agree upon, and record distrust in our institutions is far from something to despair. In talking with media the past week about the indictment of Donald Trump, I was asked repeatedly about this distrust and whether it was cause for concern. Repeatedly I said it was, but also for rejoicing.
The faux-populism that Trump and others have cultivated into an authoritarian movement has certainly stoked distrust, but it existed long before these things developed. There’s a reason to distrust these institutions: they are not worthy of your trust. This corruption is obvious. Undeniable. Disgusting. And enraging. But it is also how this business is done.
Honestly, we should read this news and be grateful that is reaching the light of day. Because the more power and wealth these people concentrate, the more opportunities there are going to be to silence revelations like this. Because, at the end of the day, the game is rigged and has been rigged for a long, long time. The hope lies in recognizing it and refusing to play the game at all.