Why Greg Abbott’s pardon of far-right killer Daniel Perry is chilling

A Texas man who killed a Black Lives Matter protester in 2020 was pardoned yesterday. Here’s what it says about politics in 2024.

People light candles and kneel around a metal bunch with a sign reading “Justice for Garrett Foster” and several flower bouquets on it.

A vigil for Garrett Foster, who was murdered by Daniel Perry in the summer of 2020. Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Donald Trump advertises his authoritarianism like it’s a golf course adorned with his name.

The presumptive GOP nominee has repeatedly promised to sic the Justice Department on his political adversaries, vowing to appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after” President Joe Biden, “the entire Biden crime family, and all others involved with the destruction of our elections, borders and our country itself.” He has repeatedly praised the extrajudicial killing of looters and drug dealers, and implored police officers to brutalize criminal suspects.

But Trump’s attitude toward lawbreakers who are aligned with his movement is decidedly more lenient. He has repeatedly assured those who commit violence on his behalf — like the January 6 rioters who tried to forestall the peaceful transfer of power in 2021 — that he will immunize them from legal accountability through presidential pardons.

Thus, the frontrunner in America’s 2024 election has adopted a gangster’s mentality toward crime: the criminality of any given action is determined by its compatibility with his interests, not the law.

In theory, the constitution — with its elaborate division of powers — should constrain Trump’s assaults on the rule of law. That’s surely true to a point. But if Trump’s authoritarian impulses are backed by his fellow Republicans, then the structural constraints on his power in a second term would be less than reliable.

Unfortunately, two recent developments indicate that the long arc of Republican politics is bending toward lawlessness.

Texas just let a far-right radical get away with murder

First, in Texas, you can commit murder without suffering the legal consequences of that crime, so long as your victim’s politics are loathed by the right and your case is championed by conservative media. Or at least, this is the message sent by Gov. Greg Abbott’s pardoning of Daniel Perry.

In the weeks after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the proliferation of Black Lives Matter protests had filled Perry with apparent bloodlust. Then an active-duty Army officer, Perry texted and messaged friends, among other things:

  • “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”
  • “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work they are rioting outside my apartment complex … No protesters go near me or my car.”
  • “I wonder if they will let [me] cut the ears off of people who’s decided to commit suicide by me.”

When a friend of Perry asked him if he could “catch me a negro daddy,” Perry replied, “That is what I am hoping.”

Weeks later, Perry was driving an Uber in Austin, Texas, when he came upon a Black Lives Matter march. According to prosecutors, Perry ran a red light and drove his vehicle into the crowd, almost hitting several protesters. Activists gathered angrily around Perry’s car. Garrett Foster, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran who was openly carrying an AK-47 rifle, approached Perry’s window.

Perry then shot Foster dead.

At trial, Perry’s defense team alleged that Foster had pointed his rifle at the defendant. But witnesses testified that Foster never brandished his weapon, only carried it, which is legal in Texas. And Perry corroborated that account in his initial statement to the police, saying, “I believe he was going to aim at me. I didn’t want to give him a chance to aim at me.” A jury convicted Perry of murder last year.

But this week, the governor of Texas used his pardoning power to release Perry from prison.

In a statement, Abbott said, “Texas has one of the strongest ‘stand your ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive district attorney.” He noted that in the Lone Star State, a person is justified in using deadly force against another if they “reasonably believe the deadly force is immediately necessary” for averting one’s own violent death. The Texas governor argued that it was reasonable for Perry to believe his life was at stake since Foster had held his gun in the “low-ready firing position.”

Yet this claim is inconsistent with Perry’s own remarks to the police, which indicated that Foster did not aim a rifle at his killer, but merely carried it. Needless to say, seeing a person lawfully carrying a firearm cannot give one a legal right to kill them.

But pesky realities like this carry less weight than conservative media’s delusional grievances. Shortly after Perry’s conviction in April 2023, then-Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson aired a segment portraying Perry as a helpless victim of “a mob of rioters” and a “Soros-funded” district attorney. Carlson decried the jury’s verdict as a “legal atrocity” and lambasted Abbott for standing idly by while his state invalidated conservatives’ right to defend themselves. “So that is Greg Abbott’s position,” he said. “There is no right of self-defense in Texas.”

The next day, Abbott pledged to work “as swiftly as Texas law allows regarding the pardon of Sgt. Perry.”

Republicans are making it clear they can’t be trusted to check Trump’s most lawless impulses

During a second Trump presidency, the independent power of Democratic officials might limit the reach of his authoritarian machinations. A Democratic House or Senate would serve as a check on illiberal legislation, while blue states could leverage their own constitutional authority to impede legally dubious executive orders.

But as Abbott’s conduct shows, we should not trust Republican politicians to defend the rule of law. Like Trump, many in the conservative movement believe that its supporters should be held to a more lenient legal standard than its enemies. And they also evince some sympathy for political violence aimed at abetting right-wing power.

Crucially, this illiberal faction of the GOP seems to include some Supreme Court justices.

To this point, the Roberts Court has checked some of Trump’s more egregious affronts to the constitutional order. Should the GOP secure the opportunity to build an even larger conservative majority, however, that could change.

This week, Americans received a reminder of just how radical the Supreme Court’s most right-wing justices have become. In the weeks following the January 6 insurrection, die-hard Trump supporters across the country hung upside-down flags in protest of Biden’s supposed theft of the election. On Thursday, the New York Times reported that one such flag had hung outside the home of Justice Samuel Alito, even as he was presiding over judicial challenges to the 2020 election’s results. Alito claims he had no involvement in the flying of the flag, which his wife had hung upside down in response to “a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.” Notably, this explanation does not deny the political meaning of that symbol in January 2021.

Alito joined Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch in dissenting from the court’s decision not to hear a challenge to election procedures in Pennsylvania. Thomas’s wife, the conservative activist Ginni Thomas, had also publicly signaled support for the January 6 demonstrators.

If Trump secures the opportunity to appoint additional Supreme Court justices, it is all but certain that they will be at least as sympathetic to his extremism as Alito or the Thomas family.

None of this means that Trump’s election would mark the end of the American republic. But it does suggest that both Trump and the conservative movement arrayed behind him pose an intolerable threat to the most liberal and democratic features of our system of government.

Sourse: vox.com

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