Why social media platforms banning Trump won’t stop — or even slow down — his cause


Bronwyn Carlson, Macquarie University

Last week Twitter permanently suspended US President Donald Trump in the wake of his supporters’ violent storming of Capitol Hill. Trump was also suspended from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely.

Heads quickly turned to the right-wing Twitter alternative Parler — which seemed to be a logical place of respite for the digitally de-throned president.

But Parler too was axed, as Amazon pulled its hosting services and Google and Apple removed it from their stores. The social network, which has since sued Amazon, is effectively shut down until it can secure a new host or force Amazon to restore its services.

These actions may seem like legitimate attempts by platforms to tackle Trump’s violence-fuelling rhetoric. The reality, however, is they will do little to truly disengage his supporters or deal with issues of violence and hate speech.

With an election vote count of 74,223,744 (46.9%), the magnitude of Trump’s following is clear. And since being banned from Twitter, he hasn’t shown any intention of backing down.

In his first appearance since the Capitol attack, Trump described the impeachment process as ‘a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics’.

Not budging

With more than 47,000 original tweets from Trump’s personal Twitter account (@realdonaldtrump) since 2009, one could argue he used the platform inordinately. There’s much speculation about what he might do now.

Tweeting via the official Twitter account for the president @POTUS, he said he might consider building his own platform. Twitter promptly removed this tweet. He also tweeted: “We will not be SILENCED!”.

This threat may come with some standing as Trump does have avenues to control various forms of media. In November, Axios reported he was considering launching his own right-wing media venture.

For his followers, the internet remains a “natural hunting ground” where they can continue gaining support through spreading racist and hateful sentiment.

The internet is also notoriously hard to police – it has no real borders, and features such as encryption enable anonymity. Laws differ from state to state and nation to nation; an act deemed illegal in one locale may be legal elsewhere.

It’s no surprise groups including fascists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white supremacists were early and eager adopters of the internet. Back in 1998, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke wrote online:

I believe that the internet will begin a chain reaction of racial enlightenment that will shake the world by the speed of its intellectual conquest.

As far as efforts to quash such extremism go, they’re usually too little, too late.

Take Stormfront, a neo-Nazi platform described as the web’s first major racial hate site. It was set up in 1995 by a former Klan state leader, and only removed from the open web 22 years later in 2017.




Read more:
Social media giants have finally confronted Trump’s lies. But why wait until there was a riot in the Capitol?


The psychology of hate

Banning Trump from social media won’t necessarily silence him or his supporters. Esteemed British psychiatrist and broadcaster Raj Persaud sums it up well: “narcissists do not respond well to social exclusion”.

Others have highlighted the many options still available for Trump fans to congregate since Parler’s departure, which was used to communicate plans ahead of the siege at Capitol. Gab is one platform many Trump supporters have flocked to.

It’s important to remember hate speech, racism and violence predate the internet. Those who are predisposed to these ideologies will find a way to connect with others like them.

And censorship likely won’t change their beliefs, since extremist ideologies and conspiracies tend to be heavily spurred on by confirmation bias. This is when people interpret information in a way that reaffirms their existing beliefs.

When Twitter took action to limit QAnon content last year, some followers took this as confirmation of the conspiracy, which claims Satan-worshipping elites from within government, business and media are running a “deep state” against Trump.

Social media and white supremacy: a love story

The promotion of violence and hate speech on platforms isn’t new, nor is it restricted to relatively fringe sites such as Parler.

Queensland University of Technology Digital Media lecturer Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández describes online hate speech as “platformed racism”. This framing is critical, especially in the case of Trump and his followers.

It recognises social media has various algorithmic features which allow for the proliferation of racist content. It also captures the governance structures that tend to favour “free speech” over the safety of vulnerable communities online.

For instance, Matamoros-Fernández’s research found in Australia, platforms such as Facebook “favoured the offenders over Indigenous people” by tending to lean in favour of free speech.

Other research has found Indigenous social media users regularly witness and experience racism and sexism online. My own research has also revealed social media helps proliferate hate speech, including racism and other forms of violence.

On this front, tech companies are unlikely to take action on the scale required, since controversy is good for business. Simply, there’s no strong incentive for platforms to tackle the issues of hate speech and racism — not until not doing so negatively impacts profits.

After Facebook indefinitely banned Trump, its market value reportedly dropped by US$47.6 billion as of Wednesday, while Twitter’s dropped by US$3.5 billion.




Read more:
Profit, not free speech, governs media companies’ decisions on controversy


The need for a paradigm shift

When it comes to imagining a future with less hate, racism and violence, a key mistake is looking for solutions within the existing structure.

Today, online media is an integral part of the structure that governs society. So we look to it to solve our problems.

But banning Trump won’t silence him or the ideologies he peddles. It will not suppress hate speech or even reduce the capacity of individuals to incite violence.

Trump’s presidency will end in the coming days, but extremist groups and the broader movement they occupy will remain, both in real life and online.




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Reddit removes millions of pro-Trump posts. But advertisers, not values, rule the day


The Conversation


Bronwyn Carlson, Professor, Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Despite being permanently banned, Trump’s prolific Twitter record lives on


Audrey Courty, Griffith University

For years, US President Donald Trump pushed the limits of Twitter’s content policies, raising pressure on the platform to exercise tougher moderation.

Ultimately, the violent siege of the US Capitol forced Twitter’s hand and the platform permanently banned Trump’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump.

But this doesn’t mean the 26,000 or so tweets posted during his presidency have vanished. They are now a matter of public record — and have been preserved accordingly.




Read more:
Twitter permanently suspends Trump after U.S. Capitol siege, citing risk of further violence


The de-platforming of Donald Trump

The loss of public access to Trump’s original Twitter posts means every online hyperlink to a tweet is now defunct. Embedded tweets are still visible as simple text, but can no longer be traced to their source.

Adding to this, retweets of the president’s messages no longer appear on the forwarding user’s feed. Quote tweets have been replaced with the message: “This Tweet is unavailable” and replies can’t be viewed in one place anymore.

But even if Trump’s account had not been suspended, he would have had to part with it at the end of his presidency anyway, since he used it extensively for presidential purposes.

Under the US government’s ethics regulations, US officials are prevented from benefiting personally from their public office, and this applies to social media accounts.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, also used her personal and political Twitter accounts to conduct official business as ambassador. The account was wiped and renamed in 2019 once her role ended.

Where did all the information go?

Despite being permanently suspended, Trump’s prolific Twitter record is not lost. Under the Presidential Records Act, all of Trump’s social media communications are considered public property, including non-public messages sent via direct chat features.

The act defines presidential records as any materials created or received by the president (or immediate staff or advisors) in the course of conducting his official duties.

It was passed in 1978, out of concern that former president Richard Nixon would destroy the tapes which ultimately led to his resignation. Today, it remains a way to force governments to be transparent with the public.

And although Trump tweeted extensively from his personal Twitter account created in 2009, @realDonaldTrump, it has undoubtedly been used for official purposes.

From banning transgender military service to threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea, his tweets on this account constitute an important part of the presidential record.

As such, the US National Archives says it will preserve all of them, including deleted posts — as well as all posts from @POTUS, the official presidential account.

The Trump administration will have to turn over the digital records for both accounts on January 20, which will eventually be made available to the public on a Trump Library website.

Still, the president reserves the right to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to 12 years.

We don’t know whether Trump will invoke restrictions. But even if he does, grassroots initiatives have already archived all of his tweets.

For example, the Trump Twitter Archive is a free, public resource that lets users search and filter through more than 56,000 tweets by Trump since 2009, including deleted tweets since 2016.

Screenshot taken from https://www.thetrumparchive.com/
The Trump Twitter Archive, started in 2016, is currently one of few extensive online databases providing access to the president’s past tweets.
Screenshot

A matter of public record

In 2017, Trump told Fox News he believed he may have never been elected without Twitter — and that he viewed it as an effective means for pushing his message.

Twitter also benefited from this relationship. Trump’s 88 million followers (as of when his account was suspended) generated endless streams of user engagement for the social media giant.

Trump’s approach to using Twitter was unprecedented. He bypassed traditional media channels, instead tweeting for political and diplomatic purposes — including to make important policy announcements.

His tweets set the agenda for US politics during his presidency. For example, they influenced foreign relations between the US and Mexico, North Korea, China and Iran. They were also used to endorse allies and attack rivals.




Read more:
Twitter diplomacy: how Trump is using social media to spur a crisis with Mexico


The closest thing to a town square

For all the reasons listed above, the value of Trump’s Twitter record extends beyond historical research. It’s a way to hold him accountable for what he has said and done.

And this will soon be on display as the US Democratic Party looks to impeach him for the second time for “inciting insurrection”.

Trump’s administration of “alternative facts” has continuously stonewalled a number of enquiries — going as far as refusing to testify before Congress on certain matters.

From this frame of view, Trump’s Twitter feed was arguably one of few places where his claims and decisions could really be scrutinised. And indeed, news coverage of the president often relied heavily on this.

The amplification effect

The media’s reliance on president Trump’s tweets ultimately highlights a key aspect that governs today’s hybrid media system. That is, it’s highly responsive to a populist communication style.

Trump’s use of Twitter indirectly contributed to his election success in 2016, by helping boost media coverage of his campaign. Researchers also observed him strategically increasing his Twitter activity in line with waning news interest.

Through a constant stream of provocative remarks, Trump exploited news values and continuously inserted himself into the news cycle. And for journalists under pressure to churn out content, his impassioned messages were the perfect sound bites.

Now, stripped of his favourite mouthpiece, it’s uncertain whether Trump will find another way to exert his influence. But one thing is for sure: his time on Twitter will go down in history.The Conversation

Audrey Courty, PhD candidate, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump is impeached again in historic vote. Now Republicans must decide the future of their party



Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Bryan Cranston, Swinburne University of Technology

In a historic vote today, Donald Trump became the only US president to be impeached twice.

By a margin of 232–197, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives voted to charge Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” for his role in encouraging the insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol last week.

When Trump was impeached by the House last year for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, no Republicans joined the Democrats in the vote.

This time, however, ten members of Trump’s own party supported the effort to remove him from office.

Is there any chance of conviction?

Now that the House has voted to impeach Trump, a trial will be held in the Senate, though the timing of this is unclear at the moment.

For Trump to be convicted, 67 senators need to vote in favour. If all 50 Democrats and independents vote to convict Trump as expected, then at least 17 Republicans would need to join them.




Read more:
Trump impeached a second time – but Trumpism will live on


So far, only three (Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey) have indicated they would do so. Mitt Romney, a vocal Trump critic, will probably join them, and Susan Collins is a possibility.

Even though the most powerful Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is said to be privately supporting the impeachment effort (and publicly said he hasn’t decided how he will vote), the numbers required to convict Trump will likely still fall short.

McConnell's vote will be crucial.
The future of the Republican Party may come down to how McConnell votes in the Senate trial.
Senate Television/AP

What’s at stake for Republicans?

Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, has said the president “will be remembered as an aberration” when he leaves office after noon on January 20.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party will go on. And it will need to find its identify in the post-Trump era.

Do they continue with the arch-conservatism of the past decade that gave rise to the Tea Party and Trump, or do they return to the more traditional Republican politics associated with George W. Bush, John McCain and Romney?

While some Senate Republicans have loudly declared their allegiance to Trump, others appear to be suddenly on the fence.




Read more:
What’s next for the Republicans after Trump? Here are 5 reasons for pessimism — and 5 reasons for hope


Lindsey Graham, who went from being one of Trump’s most outspoken opponents to his staunchest backer in Congress, last week broke with Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. However, Graham is strongly opposed to impeachment.

McConnell, too, could be looking ahead to rebuilding the party post-Trump, which is why he is said to be wavering on his vote to convict Trump. As one Republican close to him told Axios,

If you’re McConnell, you want to be remembered for defending the Senate and the institution.

The most prominent Republican to join the impeachment effort in the House is Liz Cheney.

The daughter of former US Vice President Dick Cheney has only been in Congress since 2017. After just two years, however, she was elected chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-most senior Republican position in the House after minority leader (Kevin McCarthy) and minority whip (Steve Scalise).

A rising star in the party, Cheney surprised many when she said she wouldn’t run for the open Senate seat in Wyoming last year, opting to stay in the House.

With both McCarthy and Scalise voting against impeachment today, Cheney’s move suggests she is positioning herself as a leader of the anti-Trump faction in the party, with eyes on perhaps becoming the first female Republican House speaker.

Why purging Trump might not be possible

It must be noted that a significant portion of the American electorate still supports Trump and his policies. According to FiveThirtyEight, about 42% of Americans do not support impeachment. And among Republicans, just 15% say they want him removed from office.

Whoever leads the Republican Party post-Trump will need to consider how they will maintain the rabid support of his “base”, while working to regain more moderate voters who defected from the party in the 2020 election.

The reason McConnell is reportedly said to be considering voting to convict Trump is that is would make it easier to purge him from the party.




Read more:
‘Delighting in causing complete chaos’: what’s behind Trump supporters’ brazen storming of the Capitol


But purging Trump will be difficult. Even without Twitter, the power Trump wields is immense. The fear among many Republicans is that he can encourage primary challenges to any incumbents he feels have wronged him.

He’s done this many times before. In 2018, Trump strongly endorsed Brian Kemp in his successful campaign for governor of Georgia, but when Kemp rejected his claims of election fraud in November, Trump announced he was ashamed of having supported him. Trump loyalists are already looking for a primary challenger to him.

Trump has also called for primary challenges to Republican Ohio governor Mike Dewine and John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate.

Security concerns among Trump’s supporters

Trump doesn’t appear to want to go away quietly, which is also a cause for concern from a security standpoint.

This week, a leaked internal FBI bulletin warned that armed protests are planned for all 50 states and Washington DC in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Some state capitol buildings have begun boarding up their doors and windows, while 15,000 National Guard troops have been mobilised for deployment to the nation’s capital ahead of expected violence and unrest.

A member of the Pennsylvania Capitol Police
A member of the Pennsylvania Capitol Police stands guard at the entrance to the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Jose F. Moreno/AP

This is an unfortunate sign of how many expect Trump’s supporters to respond to both his impeachment and Biden’s inauguration — even with Trump finally urging against further violence and unrest.

Most presidents aim to leave office with the nation better off than when they entered, but Trump’s legacy appears to be cementing a more divided country, where his brand of aggressive “conflict politics” may be the new norm.

This is a no-win situation for the country. And Republicans are still trying to figure out which side of history they want to be on.The Conversation

Bryan Cranston, Lead Academic Teacher – Politics & Social Science (Swinburne Online), Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Twitter is not censoring Donald Trump. Free speech is not guaranteed if it harms others



Alex Brandon/AP

Katharine Gelber, The University of Queensland

The recent storming of the US Capitol has led a number of social media platforms to remove President Donald Trump’s account. In the case of Twitter, the ban is permanent. Others, like Facebook, have taken him offline until after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.

This has led to a flurry of commentary in the Australian media about “free speech”. Treasurer Josh Frydenburg has said he is “uncomfortable” with Twitter’s removal of Trump, while the acting prime minister, Michael McCormack, has described it as “censorship”.

Meanwhile, MPs like Craig Kelly and George Christensen continue to ignore the evidence and promote misinformation about the nature of the violent, pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol.

A growing number of MPs are also reportedly calling for consistent and transparent rules to be applied by online platforms in a bid to combat hate speech and other types of harmful speech.

Some have conflated this effort with the restrictions on Trump’s social media usage, as though both of these issues reflect the same problem.

Much of this commentary is misguided, wrong and confusing. So let’s pull it apart a bit.

There is no free speech “right” to incite violence

There is no free speech argument in existence that suggests an incitement of lawlessness and violence is protected speech.

Quite to the contrary. Nineteenth century free speech proponent John Stuart Mill argued the sole reason one’s liberty may be interfered with (including restrictions on free speech) is “self-protection” — in other words, to protect people from harm or violence.




Read more:
Parler: what you need to know about the ‘free speech’ Twitter alternative


Additionally, incitement to violence is a criminal offence in all liberal democratic orders. There is an obvious reason for this: violence is harmful. It harms those who are immediately targeted (five people died in the riots last week) and those who are intimidated as a result of the violence to take action or speak up against it.

It also harms the institutions of democracy themselves, which rely on elections rather than civil wars and a peaceful transfer of power.

To suggest taking action against speech that incites violence is “censoring” the speaker is completely misleading.

There is no free speech “right” to appear on a particular platform

There is also no free speech argument that guarantees any citizen the right to express their views on a specific platform.

It is ludicrous to suggest there is. If this “right” were to exist, it would mean any citizen could demand to have their opinions aired on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and, if refused, claim their free speech had been violated.




Read more:
Trump’s Twitter tantrum may wreck the internet


What does exist is a general right to express oneself in public discourse, relatively free from regulation, as long as one’s speech does not harm others.

Trump still possesses this right. He has a podium in the West Wing designed for this specific purpose, which he can make use of at any time.

Were he to do so, the media would cover what he says, just as they covered his comments prior to, during and immediately after the riots. This included him telling the rioters that he loved them and that they were “very special”.

Trump told his supporters before the Capitol was overrun: ‘if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore’.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Does the fact he’s the president change this?

In many free speech arguments, political speech is accorded a higher level of protection than other forms of speech (such as commercial speech, for example). Does the fact this debate concerns the president of the United States change things?

No, it does not. There is no doubt Trump has been given considerable leeway in his public commentary prior to — and during the course of — his presidency. However, he has now crossed a line into stoking imminent lawlessness and violence.

This cannot be protected speech just because it is “political”. If this was the case, it would suggest the free speech of political elites can and should have no limits at all.

Yet, in all liberal democracies – even the United States which has the strongest free speech protection in the world – free speech has limits. These include the incitement of violence and crime.

Are social media platforms over-censoring?

The last decade or so has seen a vigorous debate over the attitudes and responses of social media platforms to harmful speech.

The big tech companies have staunchly resisted being asked to regulate speech, especially political speech, on their platforms. They have enjoyed the profits of their business model, while specific types of users – typically the marginalised – have borne the costs.

However, platforms have recently started to respond to demands and public pressure to address the harms of the speech they facilitate – from countering violent extremism to fake accounts, misinformation, revenge porn and hate speech.

They have developed community standards for content moderation that are publicly available. They release regular reports on their content moderation processes.

Facebook has even created an independent oversight board to arbitrate disputes over their decision making on content moderation.

They do not always do very well at this. One of the core problems is their desire to create algorithms and policies that are applicable universally across their global operations. But such a thing is impossible when it comes to free speech. Context matters in determining whether and under what circumstances speech can harm. This means they make mistakes.




Read more:
Why the business model of social media giants like Facebook is incompatible with human rights


Where to now?

The calls by MPs Anne Webster and Sharon Claydon to address hate speech online are important. They are part of the broader push internationally to find ways to ensure the benefits of the internet can be enjoyed more equally, and that a person’s speech does not silence or harm others.

Arguments about harm are longstanding, and have been widely accepted globally as forming a legitimate basis for intervention.

But the suggestion Trump has been censored is simply wrong. It misleads the public into believing all “free speech” claims have equal merit. They do not.

We must work to ensure harmful speech is regulated in order to ensure broad participation in the public discourse that is essential to our lives — and to our democracy. Anything less is an abandonment of the principles and ethics of governance.The Conversation

Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Trump’s challenges to democracy will be a big problem for Biden



Just because he’s leaving office doesn’t mean Donald Trump will stop being a threat to democracy.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

James D. Long, University of Washington and Victor Menaldo, University of Washington

When a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and stopped Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the nation’s next president, it was scary – and fatal for at least five people.

But it did not pose a serious threat to the nation’s democracy.

An attempt at an illegal power grab somehow keeping Donald Trump in the Oval Office was never likely to happen, let alone succeed. Trump always lacked the authority, and the mass support, required to steal an election he overwhelmingly lost. He didn’t control state election officials or have enough influence over the rest of the process to achieve that goal.

Nevertheless, over his term as president, he repeatedly violated democratic norms, like brazenly promoting his own business interests, interfering in the Justice Department, rejecting congressional oversight, insulting judges, harassing the media and failing to concede his election loss.

However, as scholars who study democracy historically and comparatively, we predict that the biggest threats to democracy Trump poses won’t emerge until after he exits the White House – when Biden will have to face the Trump presidency’s most serious challenges.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden
Just because he’s leaving office doesn’t mean Donald Trump will stop being a danger to democracy. Joe Biden will have to deal with Donald Trump’s legacy.
Brendan Smialowski, Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

It wasn’t a coup

Trump never really threatened a coup, which is a swift and irregular transfer of power from one executive to another, where force or the threat of force installs a new leader with the support of the military. Coups are the typical manner in which one dictator succeeds another.

A coup displacing a legitimately elected government is quite rare; prominent examples from the past 100 years across the world include Spain in 1923, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, Chile in 1973, Pakistan in 1999 and Thailand in 2006.

A military-backed takeover was not going to happen in the U.S. Its armed forces are extremely unlikely to intervene in domestic politics for regime change, especially not in favor of a president who is historically unpopular among its ranks.

Even if Trump’s most ardent supporters believe he won, there aren’t enough of them to credibly threaten a civil war. Despite their ability to breach a thinly defended Capitol, a sustained insurrection would be easily quashed by law enforcement.

Trump couldn’t even stage an “auto-coup,” which happens when an elected executive declares a state of emergency and suspends the legislature and judiciary, or restricts civil liberties, to seize more power. There have also been very few of those perpetrated against democratically elected governments over the last 100 years. The most prominent examples are Hitler’s Germany in 1933, Bordaberry in Uruguay (1972), Fujimori in Peru (1992), Erdoğan in Turkey (2015), Maduro in Venezuela (2017), Morales in Bolivia (2019) and Orbán in Hungary (2020).

A U.S. president can’t dismiss the legislative or judicial branches, and elections are not under his control: The Constitution declares that they are run by the states. And the declaration of election results is also well outside the power of the president (or vice president). It doesn’t matter whether the losing side formally concedes; the new president’s term begins at noon on Jan. 20.

The attack on the Capitol may have threatened the lives of federal legislators and Capitol police officers, but the most it achieved was to interrupt, briefly, a ministerial procedure. Within hours, both the House and Senate were back in session in the Capitol, carrying on their certification of the electoral votes cast in 2020.

People scale the walls of the U.S. Capitol
People scale the walls of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Still a threat to democracy

By objecting to the outcome of the election, Trump highlighted aspects of the process that many Americans were previously unaware of, ironically ensuring the public is better informed about the mechanics and details of American elections. In that way, he may have, paradoxically, made American democracy stronger.

And it was fairly strong already. There was no evidence of any sort of widespread fraud or other irregularities. Major media organizations continue to explain and document the facts regarding the election, contradicting the president’s disinformation campaign. In 2020, voter turnout was higher than it has been for a century. Despite the pandemic, Trump’s rhetoric and threats of foreign tampering, the 2020 elections were the most secure in living memory.

But beyond elections, Trump has threatened America’s other bedrock political institutions. While there are many seemingly disparate examples of his disregard for the Constitution, what unites them is impunity and contempt for the rule of law. He has committed numerous impeachable acts – including potentially the incitement-to-riot on Jan. 6. He is facing a criminal investigation in New York state, and may be looking at federal inquiries both about possible misdeeds he committed in office and from before he became president.

The framers of the Constitution feared many things they designed the U.S. government to defend against, but perhaps one anxiety eclipsed all others: a lawless president who never faces justice, and was never held accountable during or even after leaving office. As Alexander Hamilton wrote, “if the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution.”

There’s very little time left to hold Trump to account during his term. After the events of Jan. 6, he now faces public backlash from longtime congressional allies and resignations from his Cabinet. He has also been locked out of Facebook and Twitter.

But the question of real, lasting – and legal – accountability will fall to Biden, and his nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland. They will decide whether to continue existing investigations and potentially start new ones. State attorneys general and local prosecutors will have similar powers for the laws they enforce.

The aftermath

Newly elected leaders can often face strong incentives – and encouragement – to prosecute their predecessors, as Biden does now. But that approach, often called restorative justice, can also destabilize democracy’s prospects if lame-duck executives anticipate this and decide to hunker down and fight instead of conceding defeat. Consider Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, toppled by Western military intervention and killed by his people in 2011. He refused to flee or seek asylum for fear that both foreign governments and his own successors would prosecute him for human rights violations.

A depiction of the 1649 execution of King Charles I of England.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution wanted to create limits on leaders, beyond execution.
National Portrait Gallery, London, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps counterintuitively, it is when outgoing presidents in transitioning democracies enshrine protections against their prosecution directly before leaving office that the democratic system is more likely to endure. This was the case in Chile with dictator Augusto Pinochet, who left power in 1989 under the aegis of a constitution he foisted on the country on his way out.

By contrast, after-the-fact pardoning of crimes – as Gerald Ford did of Richard Nixon – runs the risk of creating a larger threat to democracy: the idea that rogue leaders and their henchmen are above the law. If Trump finds a way to pardon himself, he may reduce his legal vulnerability, but he can’t erase it entirely.

If prosecutors or Congress let Trump off the hook, they may be the ones breaking new and dangerous ground, truly shattering the rule of law that underpins American democracy.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

James D. Long, Associate Professor of Political Science, Co-founder of the Political Economy Forum, Host of “Neither Free Nor Fair?” podcast, University of Washington and Victor Menaldo, Professor of Political Science, Co-founder of the Political Economy Forum, University of Washington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fired for storming the Capitol? Why most workers aren’t protected for what they do on their own time



The man on the right wearing the Trump hat was identified by his badge as an employee of Navistar Direct Marketing, which fired him.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Elizabeth C. Tippett, University of Oregon

Can you be fired for joining a violent mob that storms the Capitol?

Of course you can.

Among the jarring images of white insurrectionists who broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was a man marching through the building holding a Trump flag with his work ID badge still draped around his neck.

It didn’t take long for internet sleuths to zoom in on the badge and alert his employer, Navistar Direct Marketing, a Maryland direct mail printing company.

The company promptly fired the man and contacted the FBI, issuing a statement that “any employee demonstrating dangerous conduct that endangers the health and safety of others will no longer have an employment opportunity.”

Even though the Capitol Police let all but 14 of the rioters walk away, the FBI and District of Columbia police have begun tracking them down. Other companies have also taken action against employees identified in the many photos from inside the Capitol. Even the CEO of a data analytics firm found himself without a job following his arrest.

Based on my experience as a law professor and lawyer specializing in employment law, I doubt that Navistar management is losing sleep over whether its decision was legally justified.

It’s not even a close case. Non-unionized workers in the United States – about 90% of all workers – are employed at-will. That means you can be terminated at any time, without notice, for any reason. It doesn’t even have to be a good reason. Unless the company has guaranteed your job in writing, or there is a specific law that protects your conduct – such as laws protecting union organizing or whistleblowing – your fate is up to them.

The law is more protective when it comes to unionized workers and government employees. These workers may have the right to be terminated only for cause, and they might get a hearing process prior to being disciplined. Government workers are also protected by the First Amendment, particularly when it comes to free speech in their capacity as citizens rather than speech related to the workplace.

That’s why the teachers and off-duty police officers spotted at the Capitol have only been suspended pending investigations, rather than fired outright. For these workers, their fate may depend on whether they were peacefully participating in the day’s earlier rally – an activity that would be considered protected speech – as opposed to engaging in violence or joining the capitol invasion, which would be unprotected illegal conduct.

Things get murky if these government workers were displaying white supremacist symbols, like a confederate flag, at the rally. Courts have recognized limits on the public speech of police officers to uphold public confidence, community relations and department morale.

A throng of Trump supporters stand in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6 as one snaps a picture.
A supporter of President Donald Trump appears to take a selfie at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

But as the Brennan Center, a liberal-leaning law and public policy institute, observed in an August 2020 report, “few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically prohibit affiliating with white supremacist groups.” The absence of such policies could make it harder for departments to later discipline off-duty police officers for their role.

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State lawmakers who participated are a different matter. Because they were elected by the people, they can’t be removed like ordinary employees. That might require a recall election or a state impeachment process.

But for most of the folks who snapped selfies in the Capitol – or ended up in someone else’s – if they don’t get a knock on the door from the FBI, they may soon be getting one from HR.The Conversation

Elizabeth C. Tippett, Associate Professor, School of Law, University of Oregon

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A scholar of American anti-Semitism explains the hate symbols present during the US Capitol riot


Crowds carrying hate symbols as they stormed the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.
Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jonathan D. Sarna, Brandeis University

One of the many horrifying images from the Jan. 6 rampage on the U.S. Capitol shows a long-haired, long-bearded man wearing a blackCamp Auschwitz” T-shirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones, and under it the phrase “work brings freedom” – an English translation of the Auschwitz concentration camp motto: “Arbeit macht frei.”

Another image, more subtle but no less incendiary, is of a different man whose T-shirt was emblazoned with the inscription “6MWE” above yellow symbols of Italian Fascism. “6MWE” is an acronym common among the far right standing for “6 Million Wasn’t Enough.” It refers to the Jews exterminated during the Nazi Holocaust and hints at the desire of the wearer to increase that number still further.

These and related images, captured on television and retweeted on social media, demonstrate that some of those who traveled to Washington to support President Donald Trump were engaged in much more than just a doomed effort to maintain their hero in power.

As their writings make clear to me as a scholar of American anti-Semitism, some among them also hoped to trigger what is known as the “Great Revolution,” based on a fictionalized account of a government takeover and race war, that, in its most extreme form, would exterminate Jews.

Extreme anti-Semitism

Calls to exterminate Jews are common in far-right and white nationalist circles. For example, the conspiracy theorists of QAnon, who hold “that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump,” traffic in it regularly.

The anonymous “Q” – the group’s purported head who communicates in riddles and leaves clues on message boards – once approvingly retweeted the anti-Semitic image of a knife-wielding Jew wearing a Star of David necklace who stands knee-deep in the blood of Russians, Poles, Hungarians and Ukrainians and asks with feigned innocence, “Why do they persecute me so?”

Images of long-nosed Jews dripping with the blood of non-Jews whom they are falsely accused of murdering have a long and tragic history. Repeatedly, they have served as triggers for anti-Semitic violence.

More commonly, including in recent days, QAnon has targeted Jewish billionaire philanthropist and investor George Soros, whom it portrays as the primary figure shaping and controlling world events. A century ago, the Rothschilds, a family of Jewish bankers, was depicted in much the same way.

QAnon supporters, US Capitol
Among the crowd that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were QAnon supporters.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

QAnon members also mark Jews with triple parentheses, a covert means of outing those whom they consider usurpers and outsiders, not true members of the white race.

‘White genocide’

Another website popular in white nationalist circles displayed photographs of Jewish women and men, downloaded from university websites, so as to help readers distinguish Jews from the “Aryan Master Race.” “Europeans are the children of God,” it proclaims. “(((They)))” – denominating Jews as other without even mentioning them – “are the children of Satan.”

The website justifies rabid anti-Semitism by linking Jews to the forces supposedly seeking to undermine racial hierarchies. “White genocide is (((their))) plan,” it declares, again marking Jews with triple parentheses, “counter-(((extermination))) is our response.”

Members of the Proud Boys, another group that sent members to Washington, likewise traffic in anti-Semitism. One of the group’s leaders, Kyle Chapman, recently promised to “confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization.” The West, he explained “was built by the White Race alone and we owe nothing to any other race.”

Chapman, like many of his peers, uses the term “white genocide” as a shorthand way of expressing the fear that the members of the white population of the United States, like themselves, will soon be overwhelmed by people of color. The popular 14-word white supremacist slogan, visible on signs outside the Capitol on Wednesday, reads “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Composed by David Lane, one of the conspirators behind the 1984 assassination of Jewish radio host Alan Berg, this slogan originally formed part of a larger document entitled “The White Genocide Manifesto.” Its 14 planks insist that Jews are not white and actually endanger white civilization. “All Western nations are ruled by a Zionist conspiracy to mix, overrun and exterminate the White race,” the manifesto’s seventh plank reads.

While influenced by the infamous anti-Semitic forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the document goes further, blaming members of what it euphemistically calls the “Zionist occupation governments of America” for homosexuality and abortion as well.

QAnon followers, the Proud Boys and the other far-right and alt-right groups that converged on Washington imagined that they were living out the great fantasy that underlies what many consider to be the bible of the white nationalism movement, a 1978 dystopian novel, “The Turner Diaries,” by William Luther Pierce.

The novel depicts the violent overthrow of the government of the United States, nuclear conflagration, race war and the ultimate extermination of nonwhites and “undesirable racial elements among the remaining White population.”

Symbolism outside the Capitol

As opinion writer Seyward Darby pointed out in The New York Times, the gallows erected in front of the Capitol recalls the novel’s depiction of “the day of the rope,” when so-called betrayers of their race were lynched. Unmentioned in The New York Times article is that the novel subsequently depicts “a war to the death with the Jew.”

The book warns Jews that their “day is coming.” When it does, at the novel’s conclusion, mass lynchings and a takeover of Washington set off a worldwide conflagration, and, within a few days “the throat of the last Jewish survivor in the last kibbutz and in the last, smoking ruin in Tel Aviv had been cut.”

“The Turner Diaries”’ denouement coupled with the anti-Semitic images from the Capitol on Wednesday serve as timely reminders of the precarious place Jews occupy in different corners of the United States. Even as some celebrate how Jews have become white and privileged, others dream of Jews’ ultimate extermination.The Conversation

Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US Capitol mob highlights 5 reasons not to underestimate far-right extremists



A man wearing a T-shirt alluding to the QAnon misinformation campaign walks through the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 incursion.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Alexander Hinton, Rutgers University – Newark

In the wake of the mob incursion that took over the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, it’s clear that many people are concerned about violence from far-right extremists. But they may not understand the real threat.

The law enforcement community is among those who have failed to understand the true nature and danger of far-right extremists. Over several decades, the FBI and other federal authorities have only intermittently paid attention to far-right extremists. In recent years, they have again acknowledged the extent of the threats they pose to the country. But it’s not clear how long their attention will last.

Clearly the U.S. Capitol Police underestimated the threat on Jan. 6. Despite plenty of advance notice and offers of help from other agencies, they were caught totally unprepared for the mob that took over the Capitol.

While researching my forthcoming book, “It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the U.S.,” I discovered that there are five key mistakes people make when thinking about far-right extremists. These mistakes obscure the extremists’ true danger.

A KKK march in Tennessee in 1986
In this Jan. 18, 1986, photo, a KKK group marches in Tennessee to protest the first national observance of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday.
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

1. Some have white supremacist views, but others don’t

When asked to condemn white supremacists and extremists at the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump floundered, then said, “Give me a name.” His Democratic challenger Joe Biden offered, “The Proud Boys.”

Not all far-right extremists are militant white supremacists.

White supremacy, the belief in white racial superiority and dominance, is a major theme of many far-right believers. Some, like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, are extremely hardcore hate groups.

Others, who at times identify themselves with the term “alt-right,” often mix racism, anti-Semitism and claims of white victimization in a less militant way. In addition, there are what some experts have called the “alt-lite,” like the Proud Boys, who are less violent and disavow overt white supremacy even as they promote white power by glorifying white civilization and demonizing nonwhite people including Muslims and many immigrants.

There is another major category of far-right extremists who focus more on opposing the government than they do on racial differences. This so-called “patriot movement” includes tax protesters and militias, many heavily armed and a portion from military and law enforcement backgrounds. Some, like the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Boogaloos, seek civil war to overthrow what they regard as a corrupt political order.

A boat flies the Gadsden ‘Don't tread on me’ flag and a Three Percenters flag.
During an April protest in Seattle, a boat flies the Gadsden ‘Don’t tread on me’ flag and the flag of the Three Percenters right-wing militia.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

2. They live in cities and towns across the nation and even the globe

Far-right extremists are in communities all across America.

The KKK, often thought of as centered in the South, has chapters from coast to coast. The same is true of other far-right extremist groups, as illustrated by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map.

Far-right extremism is also global, a point underscored by the 2011 massacre in Norway and the 2019 New Zealand mosque attack, both of which were perpetrated by people claiming to resist “white genocide.” The worldwide spread led the U.N. to recently issue a global alert about the “growing and increasing transnational threat” of right-wing extremism.

A person wearing a 'Q' vest
The ‘collective delusion’ known as QAnon will be around for many years.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

3. Many are well organized, educated and social media savvy

Far-right extremists include people who write books, wear sport coats and have advanced degrees. For instance, in 1978 a physics professor turned neo-Nazi wrote a book that has been called the “bible of the racist right.” Other leaders of the movement have attended elite universities.

Far-right extremists were early users of the internet and now thrive on social media platforms, which they use to agitate, recruit and organize. The 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville revealed how effectively they could reach large groups and mobilize them into action.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have recently attempted to ban many of them. But the alleged Michigan kidnappers’ ability to evade restrictions by simply creating new pages and groups has limited the companies’ success.

A German American Bund march in New York City
People carrying a Nazi flag march in New York City in 1937.
New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection/Library of Congress

4. They were here long before Trump and will remain here long after

Many people associate far-right extremism with the rise of Trump. It’s true that hate crimes, anti-Semitism and the number of hate groups have risen sharply since his campaign began in 2015. And the QAnon movement – called both a “collective delusion” and a “virtual cult” – has gained widespread attention.

But far-right extremists were here long before Trump.

The history of white power extremism dates back to slave patrols and the post-Civil War rise of the KKK. In the 1920s, the KKK had millions of members. The following decade saw the rise of Nazi sympathizers, including 15,000 uniformed “Silver Shirts” and a 20,000-person pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1939.

While adapting to the times, far-right extremism has continued into the present. It’s not dependent on Trump, and will remain a threat regardless of his public prominence.

People wearing camouflage and carrying weapons
Members of the Boogaloo movement, seen here at a New Hampshire demonstration, seek a civil war in the U.S.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

5. They pose a widespread and dire threat, with some seeking civil war

Far-right extremists often appear to strike in spectacular “lone wolf” attacks, like the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995, the mass murder at a Charleston church in 2015 and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018. But these people are not alone.

Most far-right extremists are part of larger extremist communities, communicating by social media and distributing posts and manifestos.

Their messages speak of fear that one day, whites may be outnumbered by nonwhites in the U.S., and the idea that there is a Jewish-led plot to destroy the white race. In response, they prepare for a war between whites and nonwhites.

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Thinking of these extremists as loners risks missing the complexity of their networks, which brought as many as 13 alleged plotters together in the planning to kidnap Michigan’s governor.

Together, these misconceptions about far-right extremist individuals and groups can lead Americans to underestimate the dire threat they pose to the public. Understanding them, by contrast, can help people and experts alike address the danger, as the election’s aftermath unfolds.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published Oct. 30, 2020.The Conversation

Members of the Proud Boys arrive at an event in Oregon.
Members of the Proud Boys right-wing extremist group arrive at a pro-Donald Trump rally in Oregon in September 2020.
AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

Alexander Hinton, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology; Director, Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, Rutgers University – Newark

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Impeaching Trump a second time is a complex and politically risky act. Here’s how it could wor



STRF/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

Markus Wagner, University of Wollongong

President Donald Trump is extremely unlikely to capitulate to pressure to resign in the final days of his presidency. And his Cabinet is equally unlikely to force him out by invoking the 25th amendment of the Constitution, despite calls from the Democrats to do so.

So, in the wake of last week’s insurrection at the US Capitol, which left five people dead and the Trump White House in free fall, the final option available to lawmakers who want to punish the president for his role in encouraging the rioters is impeachment. Again.

The House Democrats introduced an article of impeachment against Trump today for “inciting violence against the government of the United States”. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democrats “will proceed” with impeachment proceedings this week if Vice President Mike Pence does not respond to a separate resolution calling for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment.

This will no doubt be a complicated task in the waning days of the Trump presidency. No US president has faced impeachment twice. And there are many questions about how the process will play out, given Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the US in just nine days.

Pelosi says the House 'will proceed' with impeachment.
Pelosi says the House ‘will proceed’ with bringing legislation to impeach Trump to the floor this week.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Impeachment: a two-step process

This is how the impeachment process works under the Constitution. (Trump will be familiar with this since he’s already been through it before on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.)

Impeachment requires both chambers of Congress — the House of Representatives and the Senate — to act. The House has the “sole power of impeachment” for federal officials, and all that is required is a simple majority to initiate proceedings. The House essentially takes on the role of a prosecutor, deciding if the charges warrant impeachment and a trial.

The Senate is where the actual trial takes place. Under the Constitution, the chamber acts like a court, with senators considering evidence given by witnesses or any other form deemed suitable.

Impeachment managers appointed by the House “prosecute” the case before the Senate and the president can mount a defence. The chief justice of the Supreme Court acts as the presiding officer.

While these proceedings have many of the trappings of an actual court, it is important to bear in mind that impeachment is a political process.

Under the impeachment clause of the Constitution, a president may be removed from office “on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

This language has been the source of considerable debate, with some legal experts, like Trump’s first impeachment lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, arguing that impeachable offences are limited to actual crimes. Others (correctly) disagree.




Read more:
Does impeachment need a crime? Not according to framers of the Constitution


Conviction requires two-thirds of senators — a deliberately high threshold to prevent politically motivated impeachments from succeeding. No previous impeachment of a president has ever met this bar: Andrew Johnson (1868), Bill Clinton (1998) and Trump (2019) were all acquitted.

Even though some Republican senators have indicated they would vote in favour of impeachment — or at least be open to it — the number is likely nowhere near enough for conviction.

Complicating factors: time, shifting majorities and a difficult process

With only days left before Trump leaves office on January 20, time is of the essence.

The Constitution does not mandate any particular timeline for the proceedings to take place. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated a Senate trial could not begin before January 19, as the Senate is in recess until then.

Moving that date up would require all 100 senators to agree — an unlikely prospect.




Read more:
‘Delighting in causing complete chaos’: what’s behind Trump supporters’ brazen storming of the Capitol


But this may not be an obstacle to starting the process. The Constitution is silent on the question of whether a Senate trial can be held after a president has left office. The 1876 impeachment of War Secretary William Belknap for graft after he left office may serve as precedent.

William Belknap was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
Library of Congress

So, if the House votes to impeach Trump before January 20, a trial could theoretically happen after that date. The maths also change slightly in the Democrats’ favour on that day. The Democrats will take back control of the Senate, albeit on a 50-50 split with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris casting any tie-breaking vote.

Democrats are pushing for impeachment because the Constitution not only allows conviction, but also provides for barring Trump from holding federal office again. This would thwart his ambitions to run for president in 2024 — a prospect not lost on Republicans with the same goal.

The Constitution does not stipulate how many senators need to vote in favour of disqualifying an impeached official from holding office again, but the Senate has determined a simple majority would suffice. This tool has also been used sparingly in the past: disqualification has only occurred three times, and only for federal judges.

The bigger hurdle, however, is that it still requires Trump to first be convicted of impeachment by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Political implications of impeachment

Biden has remained lukewarm at best to suggestions of a Senate trial after January 20. Such proceedings would allow Trump to style himself a political martyr to his followers even more than is already the case.

This would distract from the critical goals Biden has for his first 100 days and beyond: tackling spiralling COVID infection numbers and the country’s lagging vaccination program, providing immediate financial relief to struggling families, rejoining international climate action efforts and repairing the damage done to the fabric of government by the Trump administration. Last, but not least, it would make confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet picks more difficult.

Achieving these goals while Trump sets off the political fireworks he so cherishes is implausible.

Biden says impeachment is for Congress to decide.
Biden has said impeachment is for Congress to decide.
Susan Walsh/AP

The Democrats have floated the idea of impeaching Trump before January 20, but not sending the article of impeachment to the Senate for trial until weeks later — or even longer — to give Biden a chance to get started on these initiatives. But a distraction is a distraction no matter when it happens.

Democrats would also do well to remember that political fortunes can change. It’s understandable to want to punish Trump for his actions, but
rushing into a political trial in the Senate, which Democrats are bound to lose, may have unintended consequences for the future.




Read more:
‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?


What’s to stop the Republicans from pursuing impeachments of future Democratic leaders they disagree with, even in the face of certain defeat in the Senate? This could poison the political atmosphere even further.

Democrats may also want to consider the fact that Trump could face federal charges for allegedly inciting the violence at the Capitol or state charges for urging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat to Biden.

While this outcome is far from certain, the chances of conviction in a court of law would likely prove to be less toxic politically for both Democrats and Republicans alike.


This story has been updated to add Democrats formally introducing an article of impeachment on January 11.The Conversation

Markus Wagner, Associate Professor of Law, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.