Heather Cox Richardson
The International Criminal Court today issued an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights, for war crimes: kidnapping Ukrainian children and transporting them to Russia. Russia does not recognize the ICC, which is established at The Hague—the government seat of the Netherlands—and for its part, the Russian government claims its deportation program is humanitarian and patriotic. The international assessment that Putin and one of his top officials have personally engaged in war crimes drives another wedge between Putin and the rest of the Russian people as over time his inability to interact successfully with the rest of the world will have growing consequences for the people at home,
The arrest warrant is unlikely to put Putin in custody any time soon. But an official charge of war crimes will make it harder for other leaders and countries to associate with the Russian regime. Chinese president Xi Jinping is scheduled to travel to Russia next week for his first visit since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, that visit, which was fraught enough to begin with, has become more complicated.
Russia promptly announced that Putin and Xi will sign accords ushering in a “new era” of ties, while China’s foreign ministry called the trip “a visit for peace.” But the trip, coming after recent evidence that China has been supplying Russia with war materials, means its involvement with Russia could lead to sanctions against China, a hit that its currently fragile economy can’t easily absorb.
That the warrant focuses on children is also significant. Of the 123 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court, 33 are African, 19 are in the Asia-Pacific region, 18 are in Eastern Europe, 28 are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 25 are in Western Europe and elsewhere. All nations care about children, but the trafficking of children to serve as soldiers, sex slaves, drug mules, and so on, is an especially sensitive issue for many of the parties to the Rome Statute.
The international assessment that Putin has engaged in war crimes is significant in the United States as well, even though the U.S. is not a signatory to the Rome Statute. The American right wing has held up Putin and his attack on the secular values of democracy as a model, saying that his rejection of LGBTQ rights, for example, and his alleged embrace of Christianity show how a modern nation can reclaim what they see as traditional virtue. Putin’s arrest warrant for war crimes, centered in crimes against children, will make it harder to spin his authoritarianism as a virtue, especially as they claim their policies are designed to protect children.
The right-wing rejection of democracy was on display at a meeting of the Federalist Society in early March. Politico’s Ian Ward covered the meeting. The Federalist Society organized in the 1980s to argue that the civil rights decisions of the past several decades corrupted democracy because liberal judges were “legislating from the bench” against the wishes of actual voters. The society’s members claimed to stand for judicial restraint.
But now that their judges are on the bench, they have changed their philosophy. Last summer, after a Supreme Court stacked with Federalist Society members overturned the right to abortion, voters have tried to protect that right in the states. Now, according to Ward, the Federalist Society appears to be shifting away from the idea of judicial restraint in the face of popular votes and toward the idea that judges should “interpret the Constitution” in ways right-wing Americans support. They are quick to claim that democracy is not the answer: it would result, they say, in the tyranny of the majority.
That abandonment of democracy is about more than just voting their folks into office. Right-wing figures frustrated by the secular values of democracy—religious freedom, companies that respond to markets without interference by the state, academic freedom, public schools, free speech, equality before the law—want to restore what they consider human virtue by using the state to enforce their values.
Because they think all aspects of the modern U.S. have been corrupted by liberal democracy, people on the far right are eager to destroy those institutions and replace them. When Trump said, as he did yesterday, that “the greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia,” he was echoing this ideology to mobilize his followers (even though his concerns are probably less to do with civilization than with his legal issues). His call for firing “deep staters” and reconstituting “the State Department, the defense bureaucracy, the intelligence services, and all of the rest” is an explicit call to radicalize our government.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, endorsed Trump’s worldview, saying “Trump is absolutely right, our greatest threat currently is right here at home. We must ‘fundamentally change’ by severely reforming the government deep state bureaucracy. They (among many parts of our USG[overnment]) represent a menace to our way of life.” (Flynn’s ties to Russia forced him out of office, and he pleaded guilty to lying about them to the FBI; Trump pardoned him.)
Flynn has been on a far-right road tour across America since shortly after Trump left office, recruiting an “Army of God” to put Christianity at the center of American life and institutions. “At this ReAwaken America Tour, Jesus is King [and] President Donald J. Trump is our president,” a co-organizer, Clay Clark, said.
Kiera Butler of Mother Jones today explained how Flynn and his conspiracy-minded supporters have leveled a hate campaign against Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida, accusing it of killing Covid patients by denying them the horse-deworming drug ivermectin. They have organized a group called The Hollow 2A to help “Americans gather to lawfully take back our country” with guns and activism at the local level. Along with two other groups, they are planning to swamp the hospital board meeting on Monday, acting as a groundswell of local activists protesting hospital malpractice when, in fact, they have joined forces to attack a hospital that adheres to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a government agency.
Today Ohio joined five other Republican-dominated states—Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Missouri, and Florida—in leaving the Electronic Registration Information Center, a national data-sharing consortium that updates national voter rolls. Right-wing election deniers say that the bipartisan ERIC is controlled by left-wing groups that enable fraud. Those still belonging to ERIC deny all of the accusations and point out that getting rid of ERIC would get rid of one of the country’s most powerful tools for stopping individuals from voting multiple times, as a number of people from Florida’s The Villages did in 2020.
In a sworn affidavit today, the top lawyer for the Capitol Police said that neither he nor the police chief was informed that anyone other than House members would see the video footage from January 6, 2021, that House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) permitted Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson and his staff to review. Republicans also ignored the Capitol Police’s repeated requests to review and approve all of the footage that Carlson used on his show. Carlson tried to present the attack on the Capitol as a tourist visit as part of his narrative that the FBI and the Department of Justice are corrupt.
But the attempt to destroy the fabric of our government has not yet succeeded. Today, in one of her last rulings before stepping down, Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the D.C. District Court ordered Trump attorney Evan Corcoran to testify in the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents. Howell agreed with Department of Justice prosecutors that discussions between Trump and Corcoran met the threshold for the crime-fraud exception, meaning that they are not covered by attorney-client privilege because they were part of a crime.
Meanwhile, CNN’s John Miller, as well as journalists from many other outlets, reports that sources in law enforcement are telling them that “senior staff members from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the New York State Court Officers—who provide security at the state Supreme Court building in lower Manhattan—and the New York Police Department” have been meeting all week to prepare for a possible indictment of the former president, as early as next week.