Category Archives: 2020 Campaign

Jorge Riley Likes to Overshare

I have to admit that I find characters like Jorge Riley absolutely fascinating. The former Corresponding Secretary of the California Republican Assembly, and former President of the Sacramento Republican Assembly, Riley says that he is a “French-speaking, Native American Messianic Jewish right-wing conservative Republican.” 

            He is also now a prisoner in federal custody, awaiting trial for his role in the violent January 6th attack on the Capitol building, all of which he richly documented on his Facebook page.

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            Riley really made this easy on his prosecutors.  On the 5th of January, the day before the assault, he posted on Facebook the following message: “Do you really not get what is going to happen on the 6th? I absolutely am looking forward to that and NO MATTER WHAT THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN STOP IT!!!”  Between the 6th and the 8th of January, he posted, according to the charging documents, “over 150 messages, photographs, and videos on his public Facebook account, detailing his actions on January 6.”

            Those posts show Riley wearing “war paint” and a feather in his long black hair. They show Riley stating in one video that he had “breached” the Capitol building, pushed past police officers, and carried on despite being hit with pepper spray three times. Riley said that “we broke windows. We went into the door.  We pushed our way into Nancy Pelosi’s office. We just kept going further and further . . . and then we were sitting in there, yelling ‘Fuck you Nancy Pelosi.’” 

            It did not take FBI officials much time to track down Riley.  He was arrested a week after the protest at his home in Sacramento.

            Last Wednesday, Riley appeared before a federal judge in Sacramento, who ordered him returned to Washington to face charges, two misdemeanors and a Class B felony.  The judge called Riley “a man of impulse and poor judgment,” which seems like an understatement. Riley’s attorney said that his client was neither a flight risk nor a threat to the community, because the person who summoned him to Washington, Donald Trump, was no longer president and would not be issuing any more orders.  Besides, Riley was a disabled American veteran who used his $600 Covid relief check to book travel to Washington. Now he was broke.  The judge did not buy any of this.

            Riley has said different things about his Native American identity, and Acee Agoyo, the fantastic reporter who writes for, was obviously skeptical about the claims of this “self-proclaimed Native Republican.”  She suggested that his hair was dyed, his identity a fabrication: another nutty Pretendian.  Indeed, one woman who commented on Agoyo’s article identified herself as Riley’s ex-wife. She said he had a long record of violence and drug abuse, a long criminal record, and that “he is NOT Native Amarican [sic] he’s Mexican and White!”

            I am not sure what makes Jorge Riley tick.  I am not in the business of disputing one’s claims to Native American identity, even though I have written about a number of historical figures whose “real” identities” were drawn with very blurred lines. Riley made jokes likening the occupation of the Capitol to taking land back that had been illegally seized.  Maybe he will demonstrate ties to an Indigenous community in California or elsewhere. Maybe he belongs in the same category as the crazy Q-Shaman.  Time will tell. There is some strange stuff going on in the American culture. And historians can cite so many examples of a conjured Native American identity, from Elizabeth Warren to Andrea Smith to Mr. Riley, fulfilling needs material and spiritual.

            By the end of the day, after scuffling with police and leaving Capitol Hill and walking down the mall drinking a beer, Riley’s “fake” war paint had washed off.

See How We Are

Four years ago on Election Day I took my daughters to Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Among the local luminaries buried there was Susan B. Anthony, the famous champion of women’s rights. The cemetery was kept open late. We went to visit Anthony’s grave on the day I cast my ballot for what I fully expected would be America’s first woman president.

We were not alone. The cemetery was packed. We never made it to Anthony’s grave. The lines were too long. But we did stand in a crowd filled with women young and women old, who shared our sense that something momentous was going to happen that night. The atmosphere was hopeful, at times festive. With a woman succeeding the first African-American president, maybe it was possible to see another ceiling shattered, a change for the good.

I watched the coverage that night. I sensed early on that Hillary Clinton was going to lose. I could see the tension in James Carville’s face relatively early in the evening as he watched the returns coming in from Florida. That is when it dawned on me that it was over, and that sixty-two million Americans had voted for a monster whose only qualification was a puffed up financial resume, an infinite capacity for dishonesty, and a lethal ability to combine corruption, vindictiveness, racism and incompetence.

Over the past four years I have cut people out of my life who continue to support this monster. For each of his crimes they have had an excuse or a denial. At times I am disappointed in myself for doing this, but I no longer believe these individuals can be reasoned with. Why continue to bash my head against a wall? They are toxic people, and for my own health I have cut these toxins out. So much of the past four years has been toxic. So much rot. So much sickness.

As I write these words I think of a song by my favorite band, X, called “See How We Are.” We are not well.

I was never among those who thought of the policies pursued by Trump and his supporters as “Un-American.” From his fear and hatred of immigrants, his racism, his predatory behavior toward women, his greed, his avarice, and his civic illiteracy, he strikes me as a perfect representative of what this country has become, and in a large measure always has been. I know there are people committed to what many consider this nation’s ideals, but at times it feels like they lose more rounds than they win. My only hope is that there are enough sane people in a handful of states who will defy efforts to disfranchise them and vote to save what’s left of this tattered republic. Sometimes I worry that this election already has been stolen, that the republic cannot be saved.

The last four years have been hard. This year has been especially hard. Trump was not the sole cause of all of this. Or he was both a cause and a symptom. And the underlying causes of Trumpism, those American toxins, will remain in the body politic, even if he is somehow prevented from stealing this election. Look at the Republicans already maneuvering to run for President in 2024: Tom Cotton, Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, that vicious empty suit from Missouri and Crenshaw from the district where I briefly lived in Texas–they are no better than him.

I am not hopeful for the future. I do not believe that this country is an exceptional place. We contend with problems that other countries have addressed more successfully. Sometimes I do not believe I will be able to forgive those who continue to support this violent monster.

Vice-President Biden has called for a return to decency. Watching him on TV, I am willing to believe in his basic decency and kindness, even if I wish he took different stands on some of the issues that matter to me. I voted for him last Saturday. But I know he is just a guy, the candidate of a political party whose moderate leadership has failed to effectively counter the President’s tyranny. They continue to appeal to norms that long ago were torn asunder.

Trump’s regime–and I hope it lasts only one term–will have been a historic presidency. It has demonstrated how bad things can become when a significant number of the American people forfeit their civic responsibility to be informed, critical, and compassionate citizens. These have been painful years, but for the love of God do not tell me you were surprised by any of this. It is not just Trump. Tens of millions of Americans share in the guilt for what has happened over the past four years and, like Frank Bruni, I will never be able to look at this country the same way again.

Long ago Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Richard Price expressing his faith in the people. He said that “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” Maybe the election of 2020 will serve this purpose. Don’t bet on it. That the United States was founded on principles of liberty, justice, and equality has always been the biggest lie in American history. And the past four years have shown that the forces of racism, fascism, illiberality, callousness and corporate greed are not going anywhere. We will live with the illness for a long, long time. I am not certain we will ever recover, whatever the outcome of the election.

Ten Little Democrats

Ten Democrats have qualified for the third debate to be held tomorrow night in Houston.  While it is almost certain that the moderators will not ask candidates about issues affecting Indian Country, there are important questions out there that a committed President might address.  The shift in tone from the Obama years to Trump could not be more stark.  The President’s racism and hostility towards Native Americans is readily apparent.  Though some native communities, like the Crows, favor the current administration’s friendly stance towards coal mining, other native peoples find the president’s attacks on Elizabeth Warren, despite her claims about her identity, as off-putting, and his environmental policies a direct threat to their nations.  I have written at length about President Trump on this blog, and in the coming weeks I will look at what he and the three declared Republican candidates have had to say about native peoples.  In the meantime, let’s look at what the Democrats are up to.

Joe Biden has not produced a document describing his policy goals for Native Americans. During the debates he emphasized that the United States was a nation of immigrants. Context is important: Biden was criticizing Trump’s demonstrated cruelty toward those who have crossed the southern border, but statements like this can grate on Native Americans because it appears dismissive of their historical experience as the original inhabitants of the continent. Biden chose not to attend the Frank LeMere Native American Presidential Forum in Iowa, which might have offered him a chance to lay out an agenda and talk about the generally favorable policies of the Obama Administration.  He did salute Sharice Davids and Deb Halland on their election to the House of Representatives back in November of 2018.  Biden has said little specifically about Native American concerns, but he did introduce the first version of the Violence Against Women Act when he served in the Senate, and he worked for its reauthorization as Vice-President under President Obama.

Corey Booker has a set of policies on his website for “Animal Welfare,” but nothing so far for Native Americans. Still, he mentions Native Americans frequently, and he hopes if elected to “invest in rural and Indian Country.”  His environmental proposals include stepping “up efforts to defend communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities by doubling staffing in all EPA enforcement offices.” Booker’s environmental policy statement shows that he is aware that “a full one in eight Native Americans do not have reliable access to water and Black families are twice as likely as white families to live without modern plumbing”.   In his call for cleaning up abandoned coal, uranium and hard rock mines across the country, he points out that “Native American miners, essential to the nation’s nuclear development efforts, are particularly at risk,” and that “1200 of the nation’s 4000 abandoned uranium mines are located on or near Navajo reservations.”  On the 26th of August, Booker tweeted out his support for the Cherokee Nation’s effort to appoint a delegate to the House of Representatives, and earlier that month, in a speech at an AME Church, Booker referred to Jefferson’s description of native peoples as “savages” and argued that “bigotry was written into our founding documents.” It is unlikely that Booker will point out that according to a DNA test he took for Henry Louis Gates’ program Finding Your Roots, he “is 7 percent Native American.”  Booker himself wrote in 2016 that “I am descended from slaves and slave owners. I have Native American blood and am also the great-great-great grandson of a white man who fought in the Creek War of 1836, in which Native Americans were forcibly removed from their land.”

Pete Buttigieg has called for Congress to pass Savanna’s Act . As mayor of South Bend, he was involved in working with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to build a housing and government complex, as well as a $400 million dollar hotel and casino. The Pokagon Band appreciated Buttigieg’s assistance and in a ceremony in November of 2016 presented him with a ceremonial blanket. He has ambitious plans for improving health care in rural America that he says will benefit Native peoples.  In an interview posted online by the Des Moines Register on July 27th, Buttigieg said that he was still working on a set of policies for Native Americans.  He has not released a policy statement as of yet.  

Julian Castro was the first Democratic candidate to release a detailed policy proposal for Native Americans.  I have written about Castro’s plan on this blog, and will say nothing more about it on this time.  Elizabeth Warren gets a lot of credit for being the candidate with “a plan for that.” Castro it appears as well has a wide breadth of knowledge and a team that is helping him craft sound policy statements.

Kamala Harris earned the wrath of gaming tribes in California where she served as Attorney-General.  According to a report by David Palermo on Pechanga, “in her five years in office, Kamala has opposed at least 15 land-into-trust applications.” During her run for the Senate, the California Democratic Party Native American Caucus expressed “deep concerns” about both Harris and her opponent.  “We are dismayed by the lack of sensitivity to tribal issues and to Native Americans as individuals that we see in our announced candidates,” said Mary Ann Andreas, a council member with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.  “Their comments and actions provide little assurance that they grasp the government-to-government relationship guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”  Harris skyped into the Frank LeMere forum in Iowa. In response to one question, Harris said that “I strongly believe and take very seriously and we must acknowledge that the government of the United States stole lands and took lands from the tribes.”  That is a point few people who study Native American issues would disagree with, and it borders on the edge of common knowledge. But it also is a statement any candidate could make and required little preparation, study, or understanding of the principal issues. What might it mean for a President to acknowledge that the United States sits on a stolen continent? The consequences of a President doing so are significant. Harris is trying to address the skepticism native peoples in her home state have felt about her for quite some time. During her time in the Senate, she has co-sponsored and supported the Native American Voting Rights Act and Savanna’s Act, among other pieces of legislation, and criticized Trump judicial nominees for their opposition to tribal sovereignty.

Amy Klobuchar hails from a state with a significant Native American population, and when she applied for college as a 17-year-old, wrote about Dee Brown’s  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as the most important book in her life. At the Frank LeMere forum in Iowa, Klobuchar said she understood well the importance of state and federal officials engaging in consultation with native communities.  She told the audience that “I will respect sovereignty and I will strongly believe in government-to-government negotiations and consultation.”  Klobuchar is knowledgeable about issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and has argued that her plan for infrastructure, should she be elected, will help native communities. Based on her career in the Senate, and her time in Minnesota politics before that, Klobuchar was perhaps more knowledgeable about Native American issues coming in to the campaign than any other candidate.  Though she has not produced on her website a detailed position statement, it is difficult to imagine that she would disagree much with the policies identified by Castro and Warren.  And she has none of the problems presented by a Warren candidacy.

 Beto O’Rourke was asked during a campaign stop in Oklahoma, “Native America! What about us?”  He tweeted out video of his answer. He mentioned Murdered and Missing Native American women who disappear at ten times the rate of the general population.  #MMIW and #MMIWG is an equal protection issue for O’Rourke.  He showed his familiarity with the history of violence and greed that has been the story of Oklahoma. Aware of the legacy of allotment in the west, O’Rourke suggested that unless we as a nation confront our racist past, we can never have meaningful justice moving forward.  That is a powerful argument.  How does it translate into policy? For O’Rourke it means respecting Native Americans when it comes to what happens on and underneath their lands. It means increasing funding to address the problem of #MMIW. During his time in Congress, O’Rourke voted against H.R. 538 which, in his view, aimed “to reform how Native American tribes manage their natural resources such as minerals and other energy-related assets found on their lands.” Why, because while he agreed that “Native Americans should be allowed to manage their lands and natural resources,” he worried that there could be “unintended consequences on other land and water supplies throughout the U.S. should we exempt Native American tribes from current environmental law when they attempt to access natural resources on their land.”  Sovereignty can be a tricky one, and it would be nice to hear a clearer plan from O’Rourke that goes into more detail. He chose not to attend the summit in Iowa,

Bernie Sanders recently released his plan for “Native American Rights.” His 2020 platform reads,

“Time and time again, our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the federal government break solemn promises, and huge corporations put profits ahead of the sovereign rights of Native communities. I will stand with Native Americans in the struggle to protect their treaty and sovereign rights, advance traditional ways of life, and improve the quality of life for Native communities.”

He believes that “Native American tribes should have sovereign control over their lands,” better access to healthcare, and that important pieces of legislation like the Indian Child Welfare Act should be preserved. Furthermore, “stereotypes and slurs against Native Americans should be discouraged and denounced.” Sanders clearly understands the complexities of law and order in Indian Country, and argues that tribes must have the ability to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of crime on reservations. That is one reason, he says, why he co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. He supports the “10-20-30 Bill” which would “invest 10 percent of rural development funds into the communities where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for the last 30 years.” He has voted to protect Native American lands from corporate exploitation, including the Keystone XL Pipeline, which he vehemently opposes.

Elizabeth Warren’s strong command of the issues has been undermined by her false claims to Cherokee ancestry.  I have written about her claims, and about her foolish decision to trumpet the results of a DNA test. I have also written about the President’s “Pocahontas” name-calling, which is sure to catch on with the most deplorable of the troglodytes who follow him. Warren has apologized for her claims to Native American ancestry, but it appears that this may not be enough for some Democratic voters.  And this might be unfortunate, for the Warren campaign has written a detailed and sound policy proposal.   Despite a long history of “discrimination, neglect, greed, and violence,” Warren points out that “Tribal Nations and indigenous peoples have proven resilient and continue to contribute to a country that took so much and keeps asking for more.”  Despite small progress, the United has failed in its “legal, political, and moral obligations toward tribal governments and indigenous peoples.”  Warren says that “Washington owes Native communities a fighting chance to build stronger communities and a brighter future.”

            How to do that? Warren, along with Representative Deb Haaland, assembled a legislative proposal for what they will call the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act. It will not address every problem but, Warren says, “it will represent an urgently needed and long-overdue step toward ensuring that the United States finally, and for the first time, fully meets its resource obligations to Indian Country.”  The Honoring Promises plan, she says,

will seek to end the problem of inadequate funding by removing these programs from the traditional appropriations process and instead ensuring predictable, guaranteed funding for all of these vital initiatives — no matter the circumstances in Washington.Predictable, guaranteed funding can take a variety of forms, including multi-year advanced appropriations and sequestration exemptions; automatic inflation adjustments to ensure that adequate support does not erode over time; and mandatory funding available under all circumstances, like Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Trust and treaty obligations do not vanish because of political games in Washington; federal funding must no longer vanish for these reasons, either.

Warren’s policy proposal is lengthy, detailed, and well-informed. I recommend that you read it.  Only Castro’s comes close in terms of its thoroughness. The Cherokee claims are a problem for many voters, and have given ammunition to the President and his racist supporters, but Warren has studied this issue and has a well-researched set of policy proposals in place.

Andrew Yang has said little about Native Americans. His UBI Plan, or Universal Basic Income, would help Native American families. Yang did not attend the Frank LeMere Forum in Iowa and his website, filled with policy proposals, includes nothing related to Native Americans.

The Top Tier: Warren and Castro have devoted the most time and energy to Native American affairs thus far in their campaigns.  Whatever one thinks of Warren’s identity claims in the past, she and Castro clearly lead the field in this issue. 

The Next Best: Because Sanders has taken the time to produce a set of policy proposals, and because of Klobuchar’s experience in Minnesota and in the Senate working on Native American issues, they belong below Warren and Castro.

The Rest of the Pack: Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, and O’Rourke have all responded to questions about Native Americans in a manner that shows their familiarity with the fundamental issues.  Each of them can do more. That these candidates have explicitly characterized much of American history as “racist” is notable: I am not sure I can remember this many Democratic candidates asking their supporters to take a long look at the nation’s history.  This has come through their discussions of the legacy of slavery, and the nation’s treatment of native peoples. 

Disappointing: Biden has had a long enough career that his inattention to Native American issues cannot be ascribed to a rookie mistake.  He can and should do more.  I am not sure what to make of Yang’s candidacy, but clearly Native American issues are not on the list of matters he considers importance.

Native Americans make up a small percentage of the American population, but they can tip an election in Montana, and in the Four Corners states.  They are an important voting bloc in Alaska and throughout the western states and the western Great Lakes.  Beyond their electoral importance, a Presidential candidate’s views on Native Americans, I would argue, can tell us something about their understanding of history, their appreciation of the complexities of the federal constitution, and, most of all, their understandings of justice and equality.  Even Warren and Castro, who have done considerably more than their rivals, have not addressed every issue. The candidates’ discussions of sovereignty are ambiguous and undefined: they speak of consultation, which is important, and allowing tribes the right to control what takes place on Indian land, but they do not clearly say how far they are willing to go.  Their definitions of sovereignty are considerably less than those laid out, for instance, in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document none of the candidates has mentioned.  Neither have the candidates discussed the high rates at which police are killing Native Americans.  Their solutions to address poverty seem to emphasize economic development, which can have serious negative consequences. They seem almost completely unaware that many native peoples do not live on Indian reservations.  Still, the attention we have seen thus far given to the issue is unprecedented, and that is a product of the hard work of Native American activists and their allies who have pushed the government to do something about the scourge of missing and murdered indigenous women, and about the despoliation of tribal lands by corporate interests. We have candidates for a major party’s nomination talking openly and energetically about the nation’s exploitative, violent, and racist past. There is no reason, furthermore, to believe that the candidates who have not spoken about the issues would disagree with Warren and Castro on the broad policy questions, and some of the solutions candidates have suggested are creative and refreshing.  There is little doubt that Democrats view Native American issues as much more important than does the Trump Administration, that they are more willing to listen to native peoples, and that they will reap the resulting small rewards on Election Day.  Whether that is enough is another question.

A “People First Indigenous Communities Policy” Or a Communities First Indigenous Peoples Policy. Either Way…

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro has released a proposal for American Indian policy should he be elected. While this may or may not elevate this consistently impressive candidate to the front of the crowded field, it is consequential. The San Antonio Express News announced that “Castro Outflanks Rivals with Plan for Native Americans.” Buzzfeed ran with the headline, “This Democratic Candidate Has the First Plan to Fix the Disparities Faced by the Native American Community.” Vox announced, “Castro Unveils Ambitious Plan to Empower Native American Communities.” If Elizabeth Warren “has a plan for that,” increasingly so too does Castro.

For generations, according to Castro’s policy statement, “Indigenous communities have been treated as second-class citizens rather than sovereign tribal nations free to determine their destiny.” The United States has failed to honor its obligations under treaty and law, and has failed to “respect unique government-to-government relationships.” Meanwhile, it allows “corporations to exploit sacred land for their own profits.”

Castro pointed out that this history has had huge consequences, and has resulted in significant and deeply entrenched inequality and injustice. The United States created these problems, he suggests, and must work with Native American communities to fix them. It is a thorough indictment, based on sound reading and a command of the issues. Castro saw some of these problems first hand when he served as HUD Secretary under President Obama, and gained some experience then working with tribal communities.

As President, Castro asserts, “I will partner with indigenous communities for a fairer and more prosperous future.” This is, in a sense, what the law requires, but Castro shows an awareness of the problems–of the weight of historical injustice–much deeper than we shall ever see from the Trump Administration.

Castro’s plan contains five major provisions: Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty, Honoring Treaty Commitments, Justice for Indigenous Women, Eliminating Barriers to Democratic Participation, and Partnering with Indigenous Communities Throughout the Americas. Each of these contains several specific proposals. Some of them are ideas that have been around for quite some time. Some of them require rolling back Trump Administration policies damaging to native peoples. Castro, for instance, would change the current administration’s definition of domestic violence to one that includes “psychological abuse and other non-violent actions.” Some of these proposals are important, innovative, and entirely new.

The entire proposal shows a candidate aware of a complex set of policy questions in all of its depth, who has a staff with enough expertise to produce a proposal that is informed, aware, and actionable. Castro’s knowledge of these issues is up-to-date. The Democrats have many capable candidates, but none of them have spoken as forcefully on Native American issues. I have no idea who will win the Democratic nomination, or if Castro will be around at the end of the race, but this proposal is truly significant. I cannot remember a candidate this early producing so thorough a plan. Should you choose to discuss it with your students, or read it yourself, you can do so right here.