If anybody is still saying “It can’t happen here,” I’ve got breaking news for you. It’s already happening here, and it’s only going to get worse. Vermonters are living in fear or getting the F out, and we’re only an eyeblink away from a violent incident.
We could start with the post-Uvalde spate of school threats which, so far, have been caught in time or turned out to be noise. But that roulette wheel keeps a-spinnin’, and eventually it’s going to land on double zero. And even if the threateners were gormless copycats, they still create a climate of fear in our schools and our families.
The worst of the school threats happened in Canaan, where extremist parent Shane Gobeil said he would “show up and kill somebody” if his child was approached by a transgender person or a drag queen. The schools were shut down for two days, and prosecutors obtained an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Gobeil, which means he can’t possess or purchase firearms for the next six months.
And then what? Gobeil is well-known in town for being a potentially violent extremist who seems to have swallowed the most vile of the far-right fairy tales. I mean, “drag queen” is the latest conservative bugbear, so at least he’s up to date. Many Canaanites feel perpetually threatened by him. By himself, he creates a chilling atmosphere in the community.
How many Gobeils do we have in Vermont? How long until someone grabs a gun before opening his mouth?
Got a little news bomb in my inbox today from the Vermont ACLU. They’re announcing a federal lawsuit that, if true, frankly beggars belief.
The gist: A year and a half ago, the Brattleboro Police Department arrested cited* local resident Isabel Vinson for the “crime” of writing a Facebook post critical of a local business owner. The charge, per Vermont law: “disturbing peace by use of telephone or other electronic communications.”
*Correction: Cited, not arrested.
Is this the same law that Attorney General TJ Donovan refused to enforce against racist, anti-Semitic goon Max Misch for waging a campaign of social-media hate directed at Kiah Morris? Donovan’s reasoning was that a prosecution would run afoul of the First Amendment.
That happened in January 2019. Vinson was cited in July 2020. I guess somebody didn’t get the memo.
To sum up: You can’t be charged for repeatedly engaging in vile, threatening, racist speech, but you can be for once criticizing a business owner? Huh. I guess justice is blind.
Huzzah, hooray, the Vermont Supreme Court has upheld the state’s ban on high-capacity firearm magazines. It’s a nice little victory for a law that will mainly be used to add another charge to an offender’s charging document.
Because hey, nobody’s going to be out there doing primary enforcement of this thing. It’ll be enforced after the fact, when someone has been arrested for some other offense.
More importantly for Vermont’s top legal eagle, the court has allowed Attorney General T.J. Donovan to press his case against notorious asshole white supremacist Max Misch.
For those with short memories, Donovan filed the firearms charge against Misch after declining to prosecute Misch for hate crimes — particularly his open harassment of former state representative Kiah Morris, who left the Legislature because she was targeted by haters.
His decision not to pursue hate crime charges triggered a backlash from those who thought Misch deserved some kind of punishment, and that Morris deserved some kind of recourse in the law. After all, the police barely lifted a finger* to investigate her complaints of harassment. Ditto the Bennington County State’s Attorney. Donovan’s decision not to prosecute Misch meant that Morris got absolutely zero protection from the criminal justice system.
*In fact, Police Chief Paul Doucette’s biggest issue with the case was that “it is damaging the reputation of the Town of Bennington, the Bennington Police Department and myself personally.” He has also accused Morris of profiting financially off her claims. Nice guy.
Return with me now to the halcyon days of 2012, when Peter Shumlin was still popular and a fresh-faced young prosecutor from up Burlington way took on the seemingly impossible task of challenging Vermont’s Eternal General Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary. Sorrell had held the office of attorney general since 1997 and had been repeatedly re-elected, as is our general custom with statewide officeholders other than governor. Many believed that by 2012, ol’ Billy was long past his sell-by date. Others thought he wasn’t particularly qualified in the first place, but those people are obvious malcontents. (Like, for instance, the late Peter Freyne.)
Ultimately, thanks to a last-ditch infusion of cash on Sorrell’s behalf from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, TJ Donovan’s bid to unseat the incumbent came up just a little bit short. Sorrell won the primary by a puny 714 votes out of more than 41,000 cast.
But Donovan was widely hailed for his chutzpah and, more to the point, for very nearly pulling it off.
So let me ask you this. Whatever happened to that brave, headstrong young man with a limitless political future?
I mean, there’s A Guynamed TJ Donovan around. In fact, he became AG in the 2016 election, after Sorrell retired. He looks a lot like the ambitious young pol of 2012, but as time goes by, he’s acting more and more like his predecessor.