June 23, 2022 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Trump’s MAGA-style lynch mob

None of the witnesses will have their lives back fully.


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When J6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson welcomed Georgia election worker Wandrea ArShaye ‘Shaye’ Moss, she could hardly speak of the terror unleashed on her after the election. 

“I want to ask you, in your decade of service, had you ever experienced threats like these before?” Thompson asked her.

Moss spoke so softly that the television audience could not hear, and Thompson reassured her. “Don’t be nervous — I understand,” he said. 

Of course, he did. 

There is no fixing this kind of damage — ever — not even with civil lawsuits and cash settlements. People don’t survive lynchings, old-fashioned ones or modern electronic ones, even when they are alive at the end of them. 

Across generations, both had experienced what it meant for Black people to get in the way of autocratic, white politicians.

Soon the rest of us understood, too.

Moss’s voice had been stolen by the MAGA mob. Before Donald Trump lost the election, Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, had jobs they loved. Moss worked for the Fulton County, Georgia, Board of Elections.  Freeman ran a small business and helped out on Election Day. 

But when the former president, attempting to overturn election results in Georgia, falsely accused the pair of election fraud – and MAGA operatives circulated a video doctored to make it appear that they had shifted thousands of votes – their lives became intolerable.

“Well, when — when I saw the video, of course, the first thing that I saw it was, like, why? What — why is — why are they doing this? What’s going on?” Moss recalled. 

The co-worker who alerted her of the video asked if she’d received harassing messages. She hadn’t — but she then checked her rarely-used Facebook account. She discovered a river of hate. 

There were “a lot of threats wishing death upon me, telling me that, you know, I’m — I’ll be in jail with my mother, and saying things like, `Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.’”

Let’s pause. “Be glad it’s 2020, and not 1920.” 

That’s meaningful to a Black person. 

It put Moss on notice. She and her mom could be lynched. 

In 1920, 53 Black Americans and eight white Americans died in lynchings. Violent, public murders escalated during World War I. While victims were overwhelmingly Black, targets included ethnic Germans, 13 of whom were murdered in 1915 alone, and numerous others were forced into humiliating public rituals, beaten and driven out.

The worst year for anti-Black violence was 1919. White mobs looted and burned neighborhoods in East St. Louis, Chicago and in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These events were complemented by 53 individual murders — sometimes just for the “crime” of being a military veteran in uniform. 

That year, eight whites were also lynched.

Although Moss is too young to have experienced the most recent waves of white violence that shook the South during the Civil Rights movement, she knew what she was looking at. And she was terrified.

Worse was that by doing a job that put her in harm’s way, she had inadvertently exposed her mother and grandmother to white violence. 

As a result, Ruby Freeman had to close her consignment business. Shaye’s grandmother answered the door to have a white militia barge in to search the home. They claimed they were there to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Ruby and Shaye, both of whom were in hiding.

In other words, they come close to being lynched. 

What was their crime? 

Being part of an American election and being the Black scapegoats that Donald Trump knew would activate the descendants of Georgians who had, using similar terror tactics, driven their Black neighbors out of politics for almost 90 years after Reconstruction.

In addition to being frightened, “I felt horrible,” Moss recalled. “I felt horrible for picking this job and being the one that always wants to help and always there, never missing not one election. I just felt like it was — it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.”

They weren’t lynched, but the MAGA mob stole their lives. 

Both were popular and well-respected in their community. Now, they never to go out. They hope they are not recognized when they do. 

“For my entire professional life, I was Lady Ruby,” Freeman testified. “Now, I won’t even introduce myself by my name anymore. I get nervous when I bump into someone I know in the grocery store who says my name. I’m worried about who’s listening. I get nervous when I have to give my name for food orders. I’m always concerned [about] who’s around me. I’ve lost my name, and I’ve lost my reputation.” 

She never wears tee-shirts that say “Lady Ruby” anymore.

Freeman also lost her “sense of security.” Moss agreed. 

I no longer give out my business card. I don’t want anyone knowing my name. I don’t want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all.

I’ve gained about 60 pounds. I just don’t do nothing anymore. I don’t want to go anywhere. I second-guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a — in a major way. In every way. All because of lies. For me doing my job, same thing I’ve been doing forever.

You no longer have to murder someone to steal their life. All it takes is the internet, a conspiracy theory and a president without scruples.

Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, supported by the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, are suing media outlets that disseminated Trump’s lie: The Gateway Pundit and a range of entities associated with the Herring Networks, Inc, including OAN and a frequent OAN guest, Rudolph Giuliani, one of the architects of the Big Lie.

Lynching, MAGA-style
You may have wondered why, in the paragraphs above, I kept mentioning the small number of white people who were lynched. 

In part, it is because lynching, while primarily a tool to terrorize African American men, was also typically used to punish Black women, Asian-Americans, Latinx people, Jews and other white people. 

Lynching is a historical fact, and white people who fought for Black rights in the 1960s, seen as political outsiders, were famously targeted.

But why do such facts matter? 

Because these new lynchings — in which lives are stolen and degraded using social media, Google maps and cell phones — are now a standard aspect of MAGA politics. They are even used against GOP apostates.

MAGA campaigns of hate have taken advantage of our electronically porous lives to deliver death threats, racism and animus from strangers. They have consistently driven moderate and even some conservative Republicans out of Washington politics since 2016.

Yesterday’s testimony offered evidence of that, too. 

As GOP speaker of the Arizona House, Rusty Bowers said that he, co-workers and his family have been punished for over two years for his refusal to overturn Arizona’s results. It has been, Bowers said:

The new pattern or a pattern in our lives to worry what will happen on Saturdays because we have various groups come by and they have had video panel trucks with videos of me proclaiming me to be a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician and blaring loudspeakers in my neighborhood and leaving literature both on my property … And I don’t know if I should name groups, but there was a — one gentleman that had the three bars on his chest. And he had a pistol and was threatening my neighbor.

Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling agreed. When a young female colleague he described as “unflappable” told him that she had encountered a QAnon video about one of their contractors, “I did pull up Twitter, and I scrolled through it, and I saw the young man’s name.” 

After weeks of marinating in lies and hateful attacks delivered to his and his wife’s cell phones, for Sterling, the tweet 

QUOTE was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Had the young man’s name. It’s a very unique name. I believed it was a first-generation American and said – had his name – you committed treason, may God have mercy on your soul,’ with a slowly twisting gif of a noose. UNQUOTE

“And for lack of a better word,” Sterling said, “I lost it.” 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was not only receiving endless harassment, but “some people broke into my daughter-in-law’s home, and my son has passed, and she’s a widow and has two kids. And so we’re very concerned about her safety also.”

And these are only a few of many election workers, elected officials, and family members — Democrats and Republicans — whose lives will never be the same because they believed in democracy. 

By the time the J6 insurrectionists erected a gallows in front of the Capitol and chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” they were expressing explicitly what they had already been doing electronically.

There is no fixing this kind of damage — ever — not even with civil lawsuits and cash settlements. People don’t survive lynchings, old-fashioned ones or modern electronic ones, even when they are alive at the end of them. 

None of the witnesses will have their lives back fully.

That’s the point: Do permanent damage and call it “justice.” 

The point of lynching is not only to punish, or destroy, a few human beings. They will never feel fully safe again, even when mob violence is again driven out of politics. And most of us, the rest of us, won’t either.

This article originally appeared in Political Junkie.

Claire Bond Potter is the Editorial Board's politics historian. A professor of historical studies at The New School for Social Research in New York City, she is the co-executive editor of Public Seminar and the publisher of Political Junkie. Follow her @TenuredRadical.

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