John Fetterman says he went looking for the "enchanted village" of forgotten Trump voters.
- U.S.The Daily Beast
In any other year, a glittering homecoming dance in McDonough, Georgia, wouldn’t be controversial.But during the raging coronavirus pandemic, from which at least 257,072 Americans have died, Ola High School had no plans to host a mass gathering of singing and sweating teenagers. So parents in the town about 35 miles south of Atlanta did it themselves, with few precautions, on Nov. 14.Photos on social media show students wearing bronzer and hoop earrings. Boys wore rented tuxedos and boutonnières to match their dates’ blue satin. Bright green homecoming court sashes sat draped across sequin dresses and giant crowns rested atop loose curls.“It’s my daughter’s senior year, so I hosted a dance,” one parent, Beth Knight, told The Daily Beast over Facebook messenger. “It was terrific.”“We sold over 300 tickets, but only about 250 kids actually showed up because they were warned by teachers and coaches that they should not attend because of the virus,” Knight added. “The kids who came had fun.”New York Tries to Shut Down Potential Superspreader WeddingA trawl of social media accounts linked to the event—with not a mask in sight—appeared to confirm that. It was just the latest in a laundry list of weddings, dances, religious gatherings, and concerts that appeared to flout public health guidance as pandemic fatigue set in across the country. Couples, parents, and church leaders have gathered in crowds together despite months of repeated messages from authorities about masks and hand-washing and distancing—and warnings about an impending, deadly holiday surge in COVID-19 cases.“Dancing it off,” one apparent attendee posted on Instagram, squatting in front of a wall, with students in black and red dresses behind him. “This do be our last hoco,” wrote another student. (“Hoco” appears to be the vogue term for “homecoming.”)> Do you know something we should about the coronavirus, or how your local or federal government, school, or business is responding to it? Email Olivia.Messer@TheDailyBeast.com or securely at firstname.lastname@example.org from a non-work device.Last week, The Daily Beast reported that parents at a school in Rolla, Missouri, threw a homecoming dance for up to 200 students in that community. As infections spread in the aftermath of the event, the school was forced to return to fully remote learning, and the public health department fell significantly behind in its contact-tracing efforts.When asked on Monday if she feared that her own event could turn into a “superspreader,” creating a pre-Thanksgiving surge of cases in McDonough, Knight seemed to take issue with the question.“It seems the liberals and the Democrats want to keep the virus agenda front and center,” she told The Daily Beast. “The conservatives, on the other hand, are ready to embrace freedom again. This whole virus plandemic scamdemic has totally ruined 2020. The media [is] paralyzing people with fear so they will do mail-in ballots to rig an election. They succeeded in election fraud. The election is over. People need to stop bowing down to the virus. Forcing people to wear masks is a crime.”Famously, no significant evidence of voter fraud has emerged in the 2020 election.“The dance was nine days ago,” Knight continued. “I have not heard of anyone testing positive who attended the dance. Kids need to have some normalcy to help with anxiety and depression. Don’t you agree?”Knight was unwilling to list any COVID precautions taken by organizers of the dance. This appeared to be consistent with posts on her Facebook page in the days surrounding the event, which featured a burnthemask hashtag, along with allegations that “making kids wear masks is child abuse.” She also shared a post arguing that the top infectious disease expert in the country, Dr. Anthony Fauci, “should be in prison.”Two students who said they were in student leadership at Ola High School spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday under the condition of anonymity. The pair said they helped plan the dance but were afraid that press coverage would “ruin” their football team’s efforts to compete in one last game of the season on Friday.“I’m going to cry,” one of the students said in a phone interview.“For senior year, any event that’s been cancelled, I’ve been doing everything I can to have that event, even if it’s outside of school,” added the student. “None of the football players went, so that, just in case, they could play in the playoffs.” (Of course, any number of dance attendees could have infected members of the football team or others in the community in the days afterward.)With help from parents and classmates, the students found a venue, hired a DJ, and planned a list of precautions. Those precautions, the students said, included a COVID waiver with safety information, contactless temperature readings on-site, optional masks, hand sanitizers, and pre-packaged food.Phone messages and emails left for the high school’s administrators were not returned on Monday, but a statement from JD Hardin, executive director of communications at Henry County School District, confirmed on Monday that “school leaders did hear of the private, non-school affiliated party.” Hardin, however, would not clarify whether school administrators were aware of it before it took place, as one student told The Daily Beast on Monday.“This was a private party and in no way sanctioned/sponsored by the school or the school district,” said Hardin. “Henry County Schools continues to adhere to the guidelines and protocols set forth by the CDC, Department of Public Health, and local medical professionals. All guidelines and protocols have been incorporated into our board of education-approved, district-adopted guidelines and response plans. We continue to remind everyone in our community the important role they play in mitigating any spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing hands, and watching the distance between individuals.”As for how many students at the high school have COVID-19, Hardin said one student was reported as being infected the week of Nov. 9-13 and another was reported for the week of Nov. 16-20.The largest hospital in the area, Piedmont Henry, stopped responding to The Daily Beast’s emails seeking an interview with hospital administrators after a spokesperson learned what the story was about. The mayor of McDonough, Georgia, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday.“I didn’t want to see a tradition that we’ve had for over 20 years taken away,” one of the students told The Daily Beast. “I wanted to see kids that have been doing nothing for eight months experience some joy.”The other student, also a senior, said: “There were a lot of people against us, but we had a lot more support than critics. Our tradition at our school runs very deeply.”That much appeared to be true. There were at least 10 parent chaperones, the students said, and others proudly posted about their children or grandchildren attending the event on Facebook.Tony Sargent, a 48-year-old native of the McDonough area, said his son, a senior, “had a great night” at the dance and that he wasn’t worried about it. Sargent said he believed COVID transmission wasn’t something his son needed to be worried about because it has more severe effects on older people than it does on teenagers. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that most children infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, “some children can get severely ill from COVID-19,” including requiring hospitalization. In rare cases, teens have died from the virus.“There was massive interest in an event like this,” said Sargent. “Obviously not everybody went, so I guess if somebody had a problem they just didn’t go.”A viral pandemic makes things a bit more complicated than that. And as for the idea that the dance had seemingly gone off without epidemiological incident, the health department wasn’t so sure.“We are seeing an increase pretty much everywhere,” Hayla Folden, spokesperson for Georgia’s District 4 Public Health, which covers Henry County, told The Daily Beast.“If you give it to the end of the week, we may be able to link some cases to this event,” added Folden, noting that it would have been difficult to trace before, considering the department wasn’t even aware of the mass gathering until asked about it. “We’re continuing to see higher numbers of cases in Henry County, but they also have the highest population in our district.”As of Monday, the county had 8,262 cases and 133 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. About 609 of those cases were diagnosed in just the last two weeks, Folden explained.Parents Tried to Cover Up a ‘Superspreader’ Dance. Disaster Ensued.To be clear, the COVID-19 data out of Georgia has come under intense scrutiny since the pandemic began, with experts in July claiming that Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration presented the state’s coronavirus dashboard data in a way that made it appear healthier than it was. One local magazine called the ensuing distrust in the state’s numbers “a disaster,” with others calling the numbers “a lie” designed to make a reopening look safer than it actually was.Folden acknowledged that folks in many areas of her district have been reluctant to wear masks, and have been vocal about COVID fatigue. But she said it’s another thing entirely to throw a large, non-distanced event.“It is frustrating when our staff are working around the clock to contact-trace and test. We know it doesn't just affect older people. It can affect everyone. It’s a pretty personal illness. Having had it myself, it attacks everyone just a little bit different,” said Folden.Now, according to the students interviewed by The Daily Beast on Monday, others at neighboring schools have reached out to see how they can throw similar parties in the coming weeks, which they called “winter balls.”“We all deserved a dance,” said one of the seniors interviewed by The Daily Beast. “We’ve been trying to help them.”Unsurprisingly, Folden had one single piece of advice for parents thinking about throwing parties like this: “Please don’t. Please. Don’t.”“There’s no way to know if one healthy teenager is going to be OK and one healthy teenager is going to end up in the hospital,” said Folden, who is based out of LaGrange, Georgia. “That is just too much of a risk.”What’s more, while teens are less likely than older adults to die from the virus, they can still deal with long-term, debilitating health complications. And studies show they are just as likely to transmit it to others. Worse still, large events can kill those who aren't present, like the notorious wedding in Maine over the summer that led to 170 infections, killing at least seven people who did not even attend the event.“We have encouraged people not to do this,” Folden said of the homecoming dance. “Policing is a bit more difficult. The only thing we would be able to do, if we were aware, is ask state patrol to make a drop-in visit, and—if the governor’s executive order is not being enforced, then they could assist us in asking people to close that down.”“But again,” said Folden, “we can’t even do that if we don’t know it’s happening.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- PoliticsThe Daily Beast
Conservative operatives and a super PAC with ties to infamous GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone are calling for Trump supporters to punish Republicans by sitting out Georgia’s crucial Senate runoffs or writing in Trump’s name instead. And though their efforts remains on the party’s fringes, the trajectory of the movement has Republicans fearful that it could cost the GOP control of the Senate.The most aggressive call to boycott or cast protest ballots in the two runoff races has, so far, come from a dormant pro-Trump super PAC with ties to Stone, which unveiled a new initiative to retaliate against the Republican Party’s supposed turncoats by handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.The group, dubbed the Committee for American Sovereignty, unveiled a new website encouraging Georgia Republicans to write in Trump’s name in both of the upcoming Senate runoff elections, which could determine the party that controls the upper chamber during President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office. The PAC argued that doing so will show support for the president in addition to forcing Republicans to address the wild election-fraud conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters and members of his own legal team.“If we can do this, we have a real chance at getting these RINO senators to act on the illegitimate and corrupt election presided over by a Democrat party that is invested in the Communist takeover of Our Great Nation,” the group wrote on its new website, writeintrumpforgeorgiasenate.com. “We will not stop fighting for you, the American Patriot, against the evils of Socialism and inferior Religions.”Justice Dept. Watchdog Looking Into Abrupt Change in Roger Stone Sentencing Recommendation, Says ReportThe effort is representative of a broader push among some of President Trump’s most devoted supporters to withhold support for the two Georgia Republican senators facing competitive runoff challenges, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, in the hope of leveraging the party’s fear of losing the U.S. Senate to get more establishment backing for their drive to change the result of the election. The goal, those operatives say, is to expose a supposed vast election fraud conspiracy abetted by high-level Republicans in Georgia’s state government, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.The Committee for American Sovereignty and a sister nonprofit group were set up in 2016 as vehicles for prominent pro-Trump operatives—most notably Stone and former Blackwater chief Erik Prince—to attempt to suppress the Black vote by amplifying claims that Bill Clinton had an illegitimate biracial son. It’s been mostly quiet since then. The PAC’s recent filings with the Federal Election Commission disclose nothing but outstanding federal and state tax liabilities, and its new effort in Georgia doesn’t appear to have received much pickup yet.A request for comment sent to the Committee for American Sovereignty email address on file with the FEC was not returned. Efforts to reach Pamela Jensen, a California political activist who leads the group, were not successful. Her husband, an attorney named Paul Jensen who describes Stone as a “long time client,” told The Daily Beast in an email his wife “has no comment, and nor do I.” Stone did not respond to inquiries about his present involvement with the group.Efforts by the super PAC and other pro-Trump activists to kneecap Georgia Republicans nonetheless gained major traction over the past week thanks largely to the public utterances of Powell, who claimed in a Saturday interview on Newsmax that her imagined voter fraud conspiracy involving Dominion voting machines and Venezuelan bribes extended all the way to Kemp and Raffensperger. Powell even suggested that Loeffler would have lost this month to Rep. Doug Collins, her top Republican challenger, had it not been for the supposed voter fraud that tainted Georgia elections.“Mr. Kemp and the secretary of state need to go with it because they're in on the Dominion scam with their last-minute purchase or reward of a contract to Dominion of $100 million,” Powell said.Fears of an intra-party disaster in Georgia fueled by Trump fans livid about Powell’s conspiracy theories have been tempered a bit by internal polling showing a relatively slim portion of Trump voters in the state are so disgruntled they might rebuke the GOP’s own Senate candidates. One Republican operative who’s seen that polling told The Daily Beast that the number was “in the single digits.”But the Jan. 5 runoff contests are expected to be extremely tight even barring any defections. And even Republicans who fully buy into the conspiracy theories around the Trump election defeat say they worry that it will depress GOP turnout, potentially enough to cost the party the two Senate seats and the majority.“The anger over the secretary of state’s incompetence and the governor’s failure to lead could mean that Republicans just stay home,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman and speaker of the House. “I think there’s a very big problem with getting Republicans to turn out.”Gingrich told The Daily Beast in an interview on Monday that he is fully convinced that Democrats will attempt to steal both Senate elections. Republicans “could actually win the popular vote but not win the counted vote,” Gingrich predicted. “They actually have a fairly easy campaign... The problem is when you get done doing all of that—traditional, classic campaigning—if the other side then has sufficient control of the election machinery, they just beat you.”But Gingrich said he hoped such dire predictions of inevitable election-stealing would drive Republicans to the polls, rather than reinforcing the very voter apathy that he said he was concerned about. “I have a very simple model,” he said. “You have to win by a bigger margin than they can steal.”Rush Limbaugh Does Full 180, Blasts Sidney Powell After Team Trump Disavowed HerThough Gingrich may see the stakes of the runoffs in clear terms, others Republicans don’t. On conservative media social site Parler, grieving Trump fans said they’ll express their displeasure with the GOP by skipping the runoffs or by writing in Trump’s name. Last week, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh told his audience that “Never Trump” Republicans were desperate for their votes in the runoffs, suggesting that Trump supporters’ votes could be up for grabs.“It’s funny how these Never Trump people want us to save their bacon right now while they sat on their butts and ridiculed Trump and us for voting for him,” Limbaugh said.Limbaugh eventually urged his audience to vote for Loeffler and Perdue anyway. But pro-Trump Georgia lawyer Lin Wood, who sued Georgia in an attempt to stop the state’s vote certification, tweeted Saturday that he wouldn’t vote in the runoff unless Loeffler and Perdue took more actions against his claims of Election Day voter fraud.“Threaten to withhold your votes & money,” Wood tweeted. “Demand that they represent you.”Conservative operative Ali Alexander, who has organized “Stop the Steal” protests around the country, demanded that Perdue and Loeffler call on Kemp to order a special session of the Georgia legislature to investigate claims of voter fraud. If they didn’t, Alexander said, Trump supporters would boycott the runoff.“Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue can either do what we said, because we are their voters, we are their donors, we are their volunteers, or we literally won’t vote,” Alexander said, before mimicking his critics’ concerns about Senate control. “‘Oh, but Ali, then Democrats will take the Senate?’ I would rather an enemy in my face than a traitor behind.”Alexander, who has nearly 200,000 Twitter followers and is prone to grandiose pronouncements about his own influence within the party, threatened to launch primary campaigns across the country under the “Stop the Steal” brand against Republicans deemed insufficiently supportive of Trump’s post-election legal efforts. He claimed he could convince 100,000 Georgia voters to boycott the Jan. 5 runoff, and urged his fans not to donate to the Georgia Senate candidates or Republican groups, saying they had enough money already.“Nobody should be donating to the NRSC, the RNC, Kelly Loeffler, or David Perdue,” Alexander said.Alexander’s comments prompted pushback from Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), the one-time QAnon supporter now set to be sworn into Congress in January. Greene tweeted that the threats would “hand over the Senate to the Socialist Democrats!”“People taking donations to their personal PayPal should spend it on elections,” Greene tweeted, an apparent jab at Alexander for soliciting donations to his PayPal account from Trump voters.Other Republicans have rushed to make sure Trump voters angry at the GOP still show up to vote in the runoffs. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Monday for Trump supporters to buck calls from conservative activists to sit out the vote.“That is NONSENSE,” Trump Jr. tweeted. “IGNORE those people.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.