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‘Occupy Ice’: activists blockade Portland building over family separations

Dozens pitch tents outside immigration office in response to thousands of migrant children split from their parents

After successfully forcing Portlands Ice office to shut down Wednesday, occupying protesters are vowing to stay until so-called zero tolerance immigration policies end.

The pledge by members of #OccupyICEPDX came as Donald Trump signed an executive order ending his administrations policy of separating migrant children from parents at the border with Mexico. Yet despite the order US official have said there are no immediate plans to reunite children separated from their parents under the zero tolerance policy, which has come under heavy criticism from Democrats, Republicans, human rights activists, international leaders and the public.

Ice announced this morning that the office would be temporarily closed as a result of security concerns, and would not reopen until those concerns were addressed.

Meanwhile Portlands mayor, Ted Wheeler, announced that the city would not attempt to clear the camps, calling Ice an agency that had lost its way.

Quick guide

Why are families being separated at US border?

Why are children being separated from their families?

In April 2018, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced a zero tolerance policy under which anyone who crossed the border without legal status would be prosecuted by the justice department. This includes some, but not all, asylum seekers. Because children cant be held in adult detention facilities, they are being separated from their parents.

Immigrant advocacy groups, however, say hundreds of families have been separated since at least July 2017.

More than 200 child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Nations, said they opposed the practice.

What happens to the children?

They are supposed to enter the system for processing unaccompanied alien children, which exists primarily to serve children who voluntarily arrive at the border on their own. Unaccompanied alien children are placed in health department custody within 72 hours of being apprehended by border agents. They then wait in shelters for weeks or months at a time as the government searches for parents, relatives or family friends to place them with in the US.

This already overstretched system has been thrown into chaos by the new influx of children.

Can these children be reunited with their parents?

Immigration advocacy groups and attorneys have warned that there is not a clear system in place to reunite families. In one case, attorneys in Texas said they had been given a phone number to help parents locate their children, but it ended up being the number for animmigration enforcement tip line.

Advocates for children have said they do not know how to find parents, who are more likely to have important information about why the family is fleeing its home country. And if, for instance, a parent is deported, there is no clear way for them to ensure their child is deported with them.

What happened to families before?

When an influx of families and unaccompanied children fleeing Central America arrived at the border in 2014, Barack Obamas administration detained families.

This was harshly criticized and a federal court in 2015 stopped the government from holding families for months without explanation. Instead, they were released while they waited for their immigration cases to be heard in court. Not everyone shows up for those court dates, leading the Trump administration to condemn what it calls a catch and release program. ByAmanda Holpuch

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On Wednesday afternoon, in 95F (35C) degree temperatures, a core group of 50 or so protesters kept up their blockade of the federal facility. All expected that, as on the previous two days, the crowds would swell in the evening.

Luis Marquez, a local activist, when asked about the shutdown, said: I think this occupation is a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing. Every single person here is a hero.

Like others in the camp he said he would not leave until the zero tolerance incarceration of refugees at the border ended.

If I hurt your whole family separately or all together, I am still hurting you.

Along with others, he was sitting in the shade, not far from where a live vibraphone performance had recently concluded. Occupiers were creating bespoke placards, handing out water, or sleeping through the heat of the day in their camp on a tram line at the rear of the Ice building.

By Wednesday the camp consisted of 30 tents and a number of other temporary structures. It had dedicated information and medical stations. Signs called for donations and builders. There were mounds of donated food and water, and makeshift barricades at either end of the camp. In the late afternoon, a local ice cream truck, Fifty Licks, stopped by for a second time to give out free ice cream to protesters.

A range of other cities began occupation camps Wednesday, as the tactic pioneered in Portland appeared to inspire others around the country. Plans for occupations were announced in LA, New York City, and elsewhere.

Protesters blockade the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) building in Portland, Oregon. Photograph: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/REX/Shutterstock

For the most part, the occupation promoted on social media with the hashtag #occupyICEPDX that began on Sunday has been peaceful.

On Tuesday evening, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) vehicles blocked a facing street and moved in on the buildings western entrance. About a dozen DHS officers emerged, armed and dressed in riot gear.

Officers parted protesters and entered the building. They re-emerged with more than 20 Ice staff members who had been stuck inside. Officers escorted the staff past protesters on the sidewalk and drove north as a convoy.

Five people slept at the facility on the Sunday night, said Jacob Bureros of Direct Action Portland, which organised the initial rally. Near midnight on Tuesday there were about 100 on site, busying themselves with kitchen work, security patrols or fashioning barricades from waste wood and chunks of concrete.

On Tuesday night, people were spread around the perimeter of the Ice facility, blocking entrances to buildings and car parks . While some wore masks or tactical clothing others were dressed casually, with dogs or children in tow. Many were protesting for the first time. A young carpenter, who would only identify himself as A, said previous protest movements had left him cold.

Arun Gupta (@arunindy)

An Occupy encampment grows at #OccupyICEPDX. The ICE prison is closed and all the personnel inside appear to have left other than a security guard. Protesters have peacefully shut down one piece of the deportation machine.

June 20, 2018

I was never into the Occupy movement, I thought it was flawed, he said. But the thought of children being separated from their parents had angered him.

It just has to stop, he said. I lost my dad five months ago. I can sympathize so much with these children. Im a working-class person. I am surrounded by people who have fled here for their safety. They come here seeking safety and asylum, and they get violence.

Out on the street, holding a sign, Stu Tanquist said he was here to stand for the most vulnerable people in the world.

Gregory McElvey and Kat Stevens said they would camp at the facility with their newborn baby.

I think it will be dangerous and hard, but nowhere near as dangerous as it is to be in an immigrant family, McElvey said.

Bureros would like to spark a national movement.

We cant all get to the border, we cant all get to Washington DC, he said. So I am calling on all the other cities to step up, occupy the Ice facilities in your city and make sure they dont function. Ill stay here as long as it takes.

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How to spot a perfect fake: the worlds top art forgery detective

The long read: Forgeries have got so good and so costly that Sothebys has brought in its own in-house fraud-busting expert

The unravelling of a string of shocking old master forgeries began in the winter of 2015, when French police appeared at a gallery in Aix-en-Provence and seized a painting from display. Venus, by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, to describe the work more fully: oil on oak, 38cm by 25cm, and dated to 1531. Purchased in 2013 by the Prince of Liechtenstein for about 6m, Venus was the inescapable star of the exhibition of works from his collection; she glowed on the cover of the catalogue. But an anonymous tip to the police suggested she was, in fact, a modern fake so they scooped her up and took her away.

The painting had been placed in the market by Giuliano Ruffini, a French collector, and its seizure hoisted the first flag of concern about a wave of impeccable fakes. Ruffini has sold at least 25 works, their sale values totalling about 179m, and doubts now shadow every one of these paintings. The authenticity of four, in particular, including the Cranach, has been contested; the art historian Bendor Grosvenor said they may turn out to be the best old master fakes the world has ever seen. Ruffini, who remains the subject of a French police investigation, has denied presenting these paintings as old masters at all. To the Art Newspaper, he protested: I am a collector, not an expert.

The quality of these paintings their faithful duplicity jolted the market. The sums of money at stake in art, never paltry to begin with, have grown monstrous. Thirty years ago, the highest auction price for a painting was $10.4m, paid by the J Paul Getty Museum for Andrea Mantegnas Adoration of the Magi in 1985. In contrast, while the $450m paid for Leonardo da Vincis Salvator Mundi in 2017 counts as an outlier, abstract expressionists and impressionists frequently come, in auctions or private deals, with nine-figure price tags.

In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.

What was most unnerving about the alleged fakes sold by Ruffini was how many people they fooled. The National Gallery in London displayed a small oil painting thought to be by the 16th-century artist Orazio Gentileschi a battle-weary David, painted on an electric-blue slice of lapis lazuli; the work is now suspect. A portrait of a nobleman against a muddy background was sold by Sothebys in 2011, to a private collector, as a Frans Hals; the buyer paid 8.5m. Sothebys also sold an oil named Saint Jerome, attributed to the 16th-century artist Parmigianino, in a 2012 auction, for $842,500. With care, the catalogue only ventured that the work was from the circle of Parmigianino an idiom to convey that it was painted by an artist influenced by, and perhaps a pupil of, Parmigianino. But the entry also cited several experts who believed it was by Parmigianino himself.

The works were full of striking, scrupulous detail. On Jeromes arm, for example, dozens of faint horizontal cracks have appeared; every so often, a clean, vertical split intersects them. In French canvases from the 18th century, cracks in paint tend to develop like spider webs; in Flemish panels, like tree bark. In Italian paintings of the Renaissance, the patterns resemble rows of untidy brickwork. On the Saint Jerome, the cracks match perfectly. Prof David Ekserdjian, one of the few art historians who doubted that the painting was a Parmigianino, said he just didnt feel the prickle of recognition that scholars claim as their gift: the intimacy with an artist that they liken to our ability to spot a friend in a crowd. But I have to be frank, I didnt look at it and say: Oh, thats a forgery.

When Sothebys sells an artwork, it offers a five-year guarantee of refund if the object proves to be a counterfeit a modern forgery intended to deceive, as its terms specify. In 2016, after uncertainty crackled over the Hals and the Parmigianino, the auction-house sent them to Orion Analytical, a conservation science lab in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Orion was run, and staffed almost solely by, James Martin, who has loaned his forensic skills to the FBI for many art forgery investigations. Within days, Martin had an answer for Sothebys: both the Hals and the Parmigianino were fakes.

The Hals contained synthetic pigments that the artist, in the 17th century, could not have used. In Saint Jerome, similarly, Martin found phthalocyanine green, a pigment first synthesised four centuries after Parmigianino died. It showed up consistently across 21 paint samples from various parts of the painting a bit like taking the pulse of a corpse 21 times, Martin told the New York Times last year. Sothebys refunded both buyers, and filed suits against the sellers, demanding they return their proceeds from the sales.

In December 2016, in a signal of how attribution scandals have spooked the market, Sothebys took the unprecedented step of buying Orion Analytical, becoming the first auctioneer to have an in-house conservation and analysis unit. The company had seen enough disputes over attribution to mar its bottom line, its CEO, Tad Smith, said: If you looked at earnings reports from a year or two ago, youd see little blips here and there. These were expenses coming from settlements not a slew, the number was small and statistically insignificant, but theyre expensive. The cost of insurance that covers such settlements was also rising. With Martin in the building, the pictures and other objects moving through Sothebys now have a much higher chance of being checked, Smith said. Last year, Martin analysed more than $100m worth of artworks before they went under the hammer or into private sales. Sothebys employs him, in part, as a conservator, so he ministers to the health of the paintings and sculptures that pass through. But over the past two decades, Martin has also become the art worlds foremost forensic art detective. He has worked so many forgery cases with such success that he also serves Sothebys as a line of fortification against the swells of duff art lapping into the market.

The first major painting sold by Sothebys was also a Hals a real one: Man in Black, a half-length portrait of a hatted gent. Until 1913, Sothebys had dealt in books for a century or thereabouts; art made up only a wan side business. In that year, though, a Sothebys partner found a Hals consigned to the firm, and rather than forwarding it to Christies, as was often the practice, decided to auction it. After a spirited contest of bids, Man in Black sold for 9,000 a 26% rate of return per annum since Christies had last auctioned the work, in 1885, for around 5. It was the first signal, for Sothebys, that there was profit to be mined from paintings. Last year, it sold $5.5bn worth of art, jewellery and real estate.

The Frans Hals painting, Portrait of a Gentleman, supplied to Sothebys by Mark Weiss. It sold for a reported 8.5m ($10.8m) but was later declared fake. Photograph: Sotheby’s

For Sothebys, the question of authenticity is not merely, or even primarily, academic. There is more at stake than a satisfying answer to the fundamental conundrum of whether authenticity matters at all a debate that has been fought and refought in the history of western art. If a fake is so expert that even after the most thorough and trustworthy examination its authenticity is still open to doubt, the critic Aline Saarinen once wondered, is it or is it not as satisfactory a work of art as if it were unequivocally genuine? Typically, this debate comes to rest at the same place every time. Of course authenticity matters; to study a false Rembrandt as a true one would be to hobble our understanding of Rembrandt as an artist, and of the evolution of art. Now, however, the questions philosophical whimsy has been replaced by financial urgency. At a time when the art market is synonymous with art itself, a lack of regard for attribution would derail a trade that traffics in the scarcity of authentic Rembrandts.

Leaving straight forgeries aside, any discussion about the authenticity of an artwork opens suddenly, like a trapdoor, into the murk of semantics. On the sliding scale of attribution that art historians use painted by; hand of; studio of; circle of; style of; copy of each step takes the artist further from the painting. These variations, often subtle, are compounded by the unease about overpainting; Salvator Mundi had been worked over so many times and so heavily, critics argued, that it was less by Da Vinci than by his restorers. Deliberate fakes, misattributions and poor restorations all encroach into the realm of the authentic. In two decades at the Met in New York, Thomas Hoving, the museums director until 1977, must have examined at least 50,000 objects, he wrote in his book False Impressions. I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones.

Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of Martins technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isnt wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into Raphaels.) Forgers also test their own fakes to ensure theyll pass. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who served three years in prison for forging paintings worth $45m, surveyed the chemical elements in his works by running them under X-ray fluorescence guns the same handheld devices, resembling Star Trek phasers, that many art fairs now train upon their exhibits.

Georgina Adam, who wrote Dark Side of the Boom, a book about the art markets excesses, told me that many forgers are sensibly choosing to falsify 20th-century painters, who used paints and canvases that can still be obtained, and whose abstractions are easier to imitate. The technical skill needed to forge a Leonardo is colossal, but with someone like Modigliani, it isnt, she said. Now, scholars will say its easy to distinguish, but the fact is that its just not that easy at all. In January, in a celebrated Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, 20 out of 21 paintings were revealed to be counterfeits.

As the tide of money in the market has risen, making decisions about authenticity has turned into a fraught venture. Collectors, realising how much they stand to lose, are now happy to take scholars and connoisseurs traditionally the final authorities on the authenticity of a work to court for their mistakes. Realising that their reputations, as well as their bank balances, may wilt under the heat,these experts have begun to subtract themselves from the game entirely.

The estates of several 20th-century artists had once taken on the duty of resolving doubts over attribution, setting up authentication committees, consisting of experts or the artists former colleagues or friends people expected to know the work best. In 2007, a collector named Joe Simon-Whelan sued the Andy Warhol estates authentication committee, claiming it had twice rejected a Warhol silkscreen he owned because it wanted to maintain scarcity in the Warhol market. Four years later, after spending $7m in legal fees, the estate dissolved the committee. The authentication boards of other modern artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder have followed. Individual connoisseurs as the art world calls its experts wont always challenge popular identifications, wrote the critic Jerry Saltz in a scorching essay on the vertiginous price of Salvator Mundi. They are reluctant to rock the already splintering institutional boat. As in the wider world, where people sit by for fear of losing position, its no wonder that many old master experts are keeping quiet, not saying much of anything.

The collapse of these committees feels like a victory of the market over the academy, like a blow to the very cause of trustworthy authentication. (In New York, a small band of lawyers is lobbying for legislation that will protect scholars from being sued merely for expressing their opinion.) In this void of opinion, Martins abilities premised not on the mysterious instincts of connoisseurship, but on the verifiable results of the scientific process have an even higher valence.

Martin, a tall man with lumber-beam shoulders, has a voice that never surpasses a murmur. He is a consummate nerd; find someone who looks at you the way Martin looks at his Fourier-transform infrared microscope. He trained as a conservator of paintings, but now he assays them: picks out their chemical constituents, inspects pigments and binders, peers under their washes of colour. From a paintings materials, he can extract the vital detail of when it could, or could not, have been created.

The field of scientific art conservation is not a crowded one; Martin, who set up the first for-profit art lab in the US, has been consulted in nearly every major fraud case in the past 25 years, often working alongside the FBI or other investigators. When he is described as the premier forensic detective working in art today, the accolade comes not only from people such as John Cahill, a New York lawyer who has managed dozens of art transactions, and who called Martin hands-down the best in the business, but also from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Beltracchi, the German forger, told me that, after his arrest, he had seen an assortment of technical studies collected by the police and the prosecution. He remembered Martins well. His reports contained the most accurate results. His reports were factually neutral and without unrealistic guesses. By folding Martin into its staff, Sothebys has given itself a muscular chance to stamp out problems of attribution before they flare into spectacular, expensive affairs. But its hard not to feel, at the same time, that it has cornered a precious resource, at a moment when the art world needs him most.

Martin spent much of last year setting up a new lab in what used to be a photo studio on the fifth floor of the Sothebys headquarters in Manhattan. Soon, he will also have a London facility, in the building where the Beatles once recorded A Taste of Honey for the BBC. The New York lab, one large room, is as white and aseptic as a dentists clinic. Many of the cabinets are still empty, and the desk surfaces often bear nothing apart from one red pack of Martins Dentyne Fire gum. Outside the lab, above the lead-lined double doors, is a warning light; if its on, so to is the giant x-ray fluorescence machine, and no one is allowed in.

One Friday in mid-February, the room held only two items of art. A carved wooden chair sat on a counter; on a stand was a painting that, for reasons of confidentiality, may be described here only as a late-19th century American work. When a painting checks into the lab, it is first submitted to a visual examination in bright, white light; then the lamp is moved to one side, so that the light rakes over the surface at an angle, showing up restored or altered areas. The canvas in Martins lab was at the next stage; it had been photographed under ultraviolet and infrared, and then under x-rays to discover some of the paintings chemical elements.

On a computer, one of Martins two colleagues cycled through the images. Under infrared, the paintings browns and yellows and greens turned into shades of grey, but no spectral underdrawings peered back out. (Not that underdrawings would have suggested anything about authenticity one way or another; theyd merely have been a further nugget of information to consider.) Mapped for lead by the x-ray fluorescence unit, the painting looked faded and streaked with dark rust; the streaks betrayed where restorers had perhaps applied touchups with modern, lead-free paint. Mapped for calcium, the painting showed yellow-green splashes where conservators had made repairs with a calcium carbonate filler.

Not every object needs to move beyond these non-invasive phases. (At Orion, Martin was once able to unmask a fake Modigliani after seeing, under infrared, a faint grid, which had been drawn by a forger who wanted to guide his work.) If Martin has to disturb the painting, he will place it under a stereo microscope and, squinting through the two eyepieces, pick out a grain of paint with a scalpel. He demonstrated with a sample of phthalocyanine blue, a synthetic pigment he picked out of a box that held paint cakes of different colours. Working with the same steady, cautious manner in which he speaks, he teased out a particle smaller than the width of a human hair, flattened it gently, then nudged it on to a slim, small rectangle of metal, where it was held in place between two tiny diamonds.

You dont drink a lot of coffee before you do this, he said, grimacing.

Cracks in the surface of a 16th-century painting as seen through Martins microscope. Photograph: Joshua Bright for the Guardian

The metal plate then goes into the Fourier-transform infrared microscope, like a slide. The spectrometer pumps infrared light through the flecks of pigment; a computer analyses the lights behavior and returns a tidy spectrum graph. Martin has looked at so many of these spectra that he recognises on sight the patterns thrown up by different pigments, but even if he didnt, the computer could rifle through databases of the spectrum patterns of other known chemicals, find the nearest match, and tell Martin what, in this case, he already knew: that his sample was phthalocyanine blue.

By a system of triage sorting, for instance, for artists with a high incidence of being faked in the past, or for works accompanied by scientific analysis reports that are suspiciously long only a small percentage of the tens of thousands of objects passing through Sothebys is diverted to the lab. Martin thinks of them as patients showing symptoms. Sometimes, like a doctor doing general checkups, he will tour the galleries at Sothebys just before a sale, reading every work with a handheld infrared camera. In the past year, his lab has stopped several lots from going to market, preventing possible disputes after the sale. In one case, a painting valued at $7m was removed from sale after the lab found that it had been completely and irretrievably overpainted by a restorer. An appraiser wouldve said its worthless, Martin said. So it wasnt sold.

The arduous process of Martins work divorces art from its aesthetic. It reduces compositions of great prestige or high beauty to their very particles; it frees Martin up to think of art as pure matter. In this way, he comes closer to the artist than anyone has before, often becoming only the second person to think as intensely about the materiality of the object, about the chemical nature of its pigments or the physical properties of its canvas. The art he analyses derives its worth from unique, flashing inspiration. His own talent, if anything, has more in common with the forger. It lies in his capacity to be unflashy but diligent to perform a step time after time without a slackening of attention, to never leave a molecule unturned, to never conclude more about a work than what it tells him about itself.

When Martin turned 13, his father gifted him a microscope, a chemistry kit, and art lessons a splendid piece of foreshadowing. He used them all, but he was particularly attracted to art. The family lived in Baltimore, and whenever they visited Washington DC, Martin spent his time at the National Museum of Natural History, drawing the dioramas, while the others wandered the capital. His father worked in army intelligence. As a child, Im not sure I understood what he did. I do remember being in airports and trying to guess who was a spy, Martin said. He devoured detective stories and loves them still, particularly Patricia Cornwells novels about Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist. We both examine patients that cannot speak their past, he said.

In a universe a twist away from ours, Martin might have become a forger himself. Late in his teens, he joined an art school where students were taught how to grind their own pigments and stretch their own canvases. For practice, he set up an easel in the Baltimore Museum of Art and copied the works he liked; he grew so accomplished that once, as he was leaving with his copy of William Merritt Chases Broken Jug, the museum director spotted him and asked if he was returning the painting to storage.

I was very good technically, Martin said, but like most art forgers, I didnt have my own creative way of doing things. He thought hed become an illustrator of medical textbooks, but then heard about a conservation programme at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The portfolio he submitted included his copy of the Chase, as well as of other painters all at such a high level of craft, said Richard Wolbers, who taught him at Winterthur, that we were blown away. He was such a good copyist, in fact, that he was almost rejected. Later, I heard that the committee worried that if they trained me to be a conservator and taught me all the science, Id be a natural forger.

After Winterthur, Martin was hired by the Clark Art Institute, a museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to conserve paintings. A couple of years later, he set up the museums first conservation lab, filled with equipment that he bought or begged from chemistry departments in nearby universities. At the time, in 1990, the apparatus of analysis the microscopes, the spectroscopes, the infrared cameras was bulky, expensive and difficult to operate. Few museums had their own labs, Martin said. The Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA [Museum of Modern Art], the museums in San Francisco none of them had the facilities.

In getting to know a painting, conservators in these museums relied first on the tactility of their craft listening to the sound of the swab on the canvas, Martin said, or feeling the pull of the swab in the varnish. Most conservation departments owned microscopes, some perhaps even x-ray machines. But if they needed some serious technology Fourier-transform infrared microscopes, say, or scanning electron microscopes they could turn only to the lab in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or to those in universities. Even then, an expert was still needed to interpret the data. Small museums really didnt have any place to go. Some people took paintings to the vet to get them x-rayed.

Martins lab began by assisting conservators who had no equipment of their own. If someone was trying to get a varnish off a painting and didnt want to damage it by using a solvent that was too strong, theyd send me a sample, he said. Id tell them: Its polyurethane. Youre not going to get it off. Or: Its shellac. You need to use alcohol. A conservator wondering if the strange sky in a landscape was overpaint paint applied by later restorers could mail Martin a tiny cross-section tweezed out of the work, so that he could examine it under a microscope. Wed see the layers in the cross-section: varnish, varnish, varnish, then blue sky, then more varnish, then more sky. So wed establish that the topmost layer of blue was overpaint.

In its materials, an artwork holds its biography, so inevitably, Martin became an arbiter of authenticity. Nearly all of the privately owned art labs in Europe and the US have been founded in the past decade not coincidentally, around the time that the worlds multi-millionaires realised how hollow their lives had been without art. But in the 1990s, at Clark, and then again at Orion, which he founded in 2000, Martin was often the sole resource for collectors and merchants.

James Martin using his stereo fluorescence microscope in his New York lab. Photograph: Joshua Bright for the Guardian

Some of his stories from these years have the baroque pulpiness of Elmore Leonard plots. Martin narrates these with care; he is alive to the sensational aspects of his work, but by default, he wears an air of studious detachment. There were the two questionable gentlemen from Tel Aviv, who slipped a pair of paintings out of architects tubes, shook them open as if they were rugs, and asked him to confirm that they were Modiglianis. (They werent.) There was the client who sent Martin to test a painting at an auction house, claiming he wished to bid on it, but then also had Martin stop by a warehouse to assess a horrible copy of the same painting. (Martin now thinks the client wanted to know how close the fake was to the genuine work.) There were the two ferocious dogs chained near the front door of a house in Los Angeles, guarding the stolen Chinese sculptures held within. There was the collector who offered to fly Martin to an undisclosed location, have him picked up by a security detail, and bring him in to examine an old Mexican stele, a stone carving supposedly worth $50m. The night before his flight, Martin was unable to sleep, so he Googled the collector and found that he had recently been released from federal prison after serving time on weapons charges.

Next morning, Martin called the collector and turned down the case.

Oh, the collector said. Did you read about the murders?

No, Martin said. What murders? The collector, it turned out, had once been implicated in the killings of two people over a matter of Mexican steles. Martin never got on that plane.

The FBI first came to Martin in 1994. A suspicious number of works ascribed to the 19th-century artist William Aiken Walker, who often painted black sharecroppers in the American south, were emerging in the market. Theyd sell at really small country auctions for $5,000 or $10,000 so low that nobody would pay for analysis, Martin said. From the paintings, Martin sampled a yellow pigment called PY3, which had been manufactured in Germany and was not available to American artists until the late 1940s, decades after Walker died. Walker also used lead white paint, Martin found; the forger used zinc white. A former vitamin salesman named Charles Heller was eventually indicted for a spree of counterfeiting, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served one year in prison.

With even a little study, a con artist would know not to use zinc white; some forgers go on to become diligent researchers, accessing technical journals and case studies to learn what experts search for. Martin recalled a painting once referred to him, around 3.5 sq metres in size and dated to 1932. In a first round of study, he discovered nothing amiss. But the works provenance its documented history of ownership was shaky, so he ran a second pass under a microscope. For most of a day, he scanned the painting in dime-sized increments, until his eyes dried up. Was anything embedded in the paint: dust, or hair, or an insect wing? Did the dirt look as if it had been smeared on deliberately? Finally, embedded in a speckle of blue, he found a slim fibre; with a scalpel, he snipped it off and subjected it to infrared spectroscopy. The fibre turned out to be polypropylene. Perhaps someone had worn a polar fleece while painting the forgery?

For a while, Martin cited this example in a two-day course he taught. Last year, though, he read a translation of Faussaire (or Forger), a French novel written in 2015 and containing a wealth of sound wisdom for forgers. If you want to get hold of antique lead, one character advises another, for instance, then you can just pick up bits of it from the old buildings in Rome. The same character warns of the dangers from microparticles from your clothes You must always work in an old smock. Never nylon or a modern apron. Martin is convinced the detail came from his anecdote; it was one reason he decided to stop teaching his course altogether.

As a crime, art forgery can seem trifling less a sinister outrage than a half-complete Robin Hood jape that merely robs the rich. After Beltracchis arrest in 2010, the Frankfurter Allgemeine called art forgery the most moral way to embezzle 16m; Der Spiegel noted that, unlike crooked bankers, Beltracchi hadnt swindled the common man. But the crime can have real victims, and Martin has met so many of them that he has developed a gentle bedside manner to break bad news. He has seen people who used the money set aside for their childrens education to buy a painting, only to find it to be fake. So we arent just talking rich people. In some situations, its a persons whole life.

The inflation of the art market, and its attendant litigiousness, imposes fierce pressures upon anyone called to judge the authenticity of an artwork. Martins harshest experience of this came during the bitter legal battle over the fate of the Knoedler gallery. The Knoedler, once New Yorks oldest gallery, closed in 2011, days after Martin issued a report concluding that a Jackson Pollock it had sold for $17m was fake.

The bogus Pollock was only the inauguration of a scandal. Over 15 years, Knoedler had sourced and sold 40 paintings ascribed to a range of leading modern artists: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell, among others, earning roughly $80m in the process. When the ambiguity of the works provenance raised needles of suspicion, 10 buyers sued Knoedler and its director, Ann Freedman; all but one of these lawsuits have been settled out of court. In 2013, investigators learned that the forgeries had been painted by a Chinese immigrant, who was by then 73 years old, in his garage in Queens, and placed with Knoedler by an art dealer who pleaded guilty. Knoedlers executives claimed they had no knowledge of the fraud, and argued that scholars had verified the works before sale.

In at least four of the lawsuits, which carried on for years, the plaintiffs hired Martin to test the paintings they had purchased. He found them all to be forgeries. A purported Rothko from 1956, which sold for $8.3m, used a ground layer of white paint between the canvas and the oils; through that decade, though, Rothko had used a transparent ground layer. In an apparent Pollock, the artist seemed to have misspelled his own signature as Pollok. Further, in 16 Knoedler paintings he analysed, Martin found the same ground layer of white paint and other anachronistic pigments repeating themselves across the works of several artists, as if Motherwell, De Kooning and Rothko had all travelled forward in time, met in a bar, and swapped tubes of paint.

A fake Mark Rothko painting is shown to the court during a trial in New York in 2016. Photograph: AP

Eventually, Martin was proved right; when the FBI raided the Queens garage, it even found the tubs of white that had coated the canvas in the fake Rothko. But, until then, the trials were a torrid experience. Knoedler recruited experts to attack Martin in court. They went after him with a vengeance, saying hed soiled the evidence, accidentally or on purpose, said the lawyer John Cahill, who represented some of Martins clients. Knoedlers attorneys served six subpoenas on Martin, to extract more than 8,000 documents and emails related to the case. Instead of being an expert witness, he was forced to defend himself the care and soundness of his methods, his very character in court.

When Martin talks about the Knoedler trials, even the memory of the ordeal draws a look of horror on his face. Hes a real boy scout, and his integrity means a lot to him, so he suffered, Cahill said. It was an attempted impeachment of Martins whole career. His entire power relies on being objective, on not being part of the party, said Narayan Khandekar, who runs Harvards Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. He comes under a lot of pressure, because people have a lot of money at stake on the outcome of his analyses. But hes been very, very brave to stand up and stay stolidly on track with what he does.

Martin had always loved science for its ability to guide him in pursuit of truth, and he felt a deep distress when his objective facts were countered with dirty tricks and personal vilification. In 2016, after his clients settled with Knoedler, Martin found it difficult to return to work. He wanted to never have to provide expert testimony again, and to go away to paint for a while; hed already primed a set of boards.

It was surreal, what happened to me, he said. No scientist should have to go to through this. When, later that year, negotiations began for Sothebys to buy Orion, Martin was ready to be cocooned within a larger institution. Hed rather probe works before they hit the market, he decided, than go through the acrimonious aftermath of a sale even once more. Above his desk in Sothebys, Martin keeps pinned a pair of sketches of himself from his time in the Knoedler courtroom, as if to remind himself of what he has gratefully left behind.

In conversation, Martin uses many homespun metaphors, but his favourite is that of the three-legged stool. Deciding the authorship of artworks, he says, relies on connoisseurship, technical analysis and provenance. He values the opinions of connoisseurs, considers them complementary to his own skills; his tests can definitively reveal if a painting is not by Da Vinci or Modigliani, but they are unable to affirm authorship, except in rare cases.

Science has a habit, though, of showing up the sagacity of scholars. In a 1932 trial in Berlin the first in which a forensic exam was used to scrutinise art two connoisseurs squabbled about the authenticity of a set of 33 canvases, all purportedly by Vincent van Gogh, all sold by an art dealer named Otto Wacker. It took a chemist, Martin de Wild, to trace resins in the paint that Van Gogh had never used, and to prove the paintings fake. Since then, the science has improved, even as human judgment has remained the same, vulnerable to the potential thrill of discovering new work, and to market pressures. During the Knoedler trial, Cahill remembered, one expert admitted that he couldnt tell one Rothko canvas from another, or indeed whether a Rothko had been hung upside-down or right side up.

In any case, however fond he is of the three-legged stool, Martin may have to think soon of a different item of furniture. The humanities are in decline everywhere; in England, the last art history A-level was cut in 2016. The populace of connoisseurs is thinning out. In British art now, for a major artist like George Stubbs, theres no recognised figure that we can all go to and say: Is this by George Stubbs or not? Because various specialists have died recently, and theres no one to replace them, Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian, said. Meanwhile, researchers at Rutgers University have developed an AI system that, in tests, detected forged paintings with 100% accuracy by scanning and comparing individual brushstrokes. One leg is growing longer, another growing shorter, the stool becoming decidedly imbalanced. And so, if the art market wants to beat back the threats posed by sophisticated forgeries if it wants to preserve its financial vigour, rooted as it is so absolutely in the notion of authenticity it will have to turn more and more to the resources of science.

As a thought experiment, it is possible to envision the immaculate forgery the one that defeats scientist and connoisseur alike. Our villain is a talented copyist, well practised in the style and the themes of his chosen artist. He is also a resourceful procurer of materials, able to rustle up every kind of age-appropriate canvas and frame, pigment and binder. He fits his forgery neatly into a chain of provenance giving it the title of a now-lost work, or providing false documents to claim that it had been part of a well known private collection.

In theory, if each of these steps is perfectly performed, there should be no way to expose the painting as fake. It will be a work of art in every way save one. But the world of today, the world in which the forgery is being created, is likely to fix itself in some form within the painting as radioactive dust, perhaps, or as cat hair, or a stray polypropylene fibre. When that happens, only the scientist can hope to nab it.

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Homeless people on their pets: ‘She saved me as much as I saved her’

Four people share stories of animal companions as experts say they take better care of pets than those with housing

Heather, 22, Seattle

Before we found Poppy, I didnt feel like I had anything to wake up for. I was going through a rough time in my life and didnt care about myself. Id been homeless since my parents told me to leave our family house in June 2016 and was so miserable in my situation. Everywhere I go people shun me and tell me to leave.

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Then, last March, I was walking around downtown Seattle with my boyfriend when we saw a group of guys with two dogs. They were yelling at one of them and she was shivering and obviously scared. I went into a store and when I came out my boyfriend had the dog. I was confused. He said to me: I made a life choice without you; were keeping the dog. Hed paid the guys $5 for her.

It was an eye-opening moment for me to look at her properly. She raised her head with a look that said: Please dont hurt me. She had protruding ribs, fleas, missing patches of fur and couldnt walk properly. I wrapped her in my jacket like a little baby and promised Id never let anybody hurt her again. And thats my promise to her for the rest of her life. We named her Poppy after a poppy seed muffin she was trying to eat off the sidewalk.

Heather on Poppy: Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

We moved from sleeping in a doorway to a tent. I stopped stealing food from stores when we were desperate; I didnt want to go to jail for something dumb and risk losing her. Ive applied for food stamps and now have a case manager helping me get on a housing list and get Poppy registered as a service animal so that were protected from being split up [by the Federal Housing Act].

People comment about how I shouldnt be on the street with a dog. But they probably have a misconception that shes not being taken care of. Twice a month the Union Gospel Mission does free pet care. I feed her at specific times with foods that the vet has told me will keep her healthy. I get money for her food from panhandling. Shes literally with me 247. She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even just the weather being nice. Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. In my mind shes a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.

Kate Fraser Daley, 39, Portland, Oregon

Kate Fraser Daley with her dog, Tenny, and her daughter in Portland, Oregon. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

When my family became homeless last June, some of the time we had Tenny, our four-year old chihuahua-terrier mix, with us, and some of the time he was with friends of the family. But he was so sad when we were apart. There were times when he wouldnt eat and just wanted to sleep. His happy-go-lucky self wasnt there.

Wed been in the same apartment for 10 years so the change was really hard on everyone. We decided to send our two cats, Snowflake and Mittens, to another friends house. Within the first week, Snowflake got out and ran away. My husband was absolutely heartbroken. A year on and just mentioning her name is still very emotional for him. Mittens passed away when our friends moved.

Kate Fraser Daley: I said to my husband: We dont give up on our family. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

When we moved into a shelter, Tenny became extremely protective of all of us. Being part of a mobile family unit is difficult for a dog, because everywhere becomes their territory to protect and theres no actual home. Were in a 25-family shelter at the moment. All the families sleep on bunks in one large room and we can only be there from 6pm to 8am. But Tenny is never satisfied with our surroundings. His barking has become incessant and hes being snippety. I dont think hes going to calm down until we get back into an apartment. Then he wont have to be running all over town trying to freakishly protect his family from the world, which is not the job of a dog.

I know its unfair on him. We try to give him all the love we can and help him work through it. My husband and I actually talked about whether we are going to have to take him back to the pound. We cant afford a lawsuit and we dont want to risk him being put down if he bites somebody. But I said to my husband: We dont give up on our family. Were working on getting into an apartment and will see how he calms down when he has his own space to protect again.

Richard Dyer, 52, Seattle

Richard Dyer with his pet ferrets Ricky and Tiny in Seattle. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

My two ferrets are called Ricky and Tiny. Ive had Ricky for five years. I rescued him when I saw somebody walking him on the street and yanking him around on a chain. And Ive had Tiny for almost three years and rescued him after someone threw him out in the woods. They were both skittish at first because of the way they had been treated, but now theyre leash- and litter box-trained.

I had wanted ferrets as pets since I was a kid. I grew up in Fort Payne, Alabama, and we had them on our land, but they were so fast you could never catch them.

Ive been homeless a little over a year; its not the first time, but its the first time in a long time. My wife and I were living in an apartment and the rent went up by $150. We couldnt afford it and didnt have any place to go so we had no option. Right now were staying in a tent. I come downtown when the ferrets are out of food.

Richard Dyer: They come up to me every time I call and Tiny is always on my heels, he never lets me out of his sight. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

Most shelters dont allow animals. But I wouldnt subject my family to one anyway they are full of drugs and disease and lice. Were in a sanctioned camp thats supported by several agencies and we have electricity. We pay $60 a month to be there and our neighbors at the camp love the ferrets.

A while ago I was diagnosed with bipolar [disorder] and was suicidal. But since having these ferrets, I havent had any suicidal tendencies. They ease my stress. They come up to me every time I call and Tiny is always on my heels, he never lets me out of his sight. My favorite thing about them is how they play with each other. They cant be apart from each other; their bond is magnificent.

Ryan Mikesell, 37, Hillsboro, Oregon

Ryan Mikesell lives with his pets in an RV parked in Hillsboro, Oregon. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

When Im feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, my mini Labradoodle, Josie, climbs on my chest to calm me down. She wont take no for an answer. Shell be like, Go ahead, tell me to get off. I dont care. I have PTSD and her doing that is a grounding mechanism for me. I feel things and she just senses it. Shes like my soulmate in dog form. My therapist loves her.

My animals are my family. The oldest is Jamie, a Jack Russell-chihuahua I got eleven years ago when I was living in a house with my ex-partner. Jamie has had two litters and Ive kept three of her puppies. In total, I have five dogs and my cat, Buddy, who I found abandoned in an alley nine years ago.

Ive been homeless for eight years. I grew up in Olympia, Washington, but my parents were very abusive and I didnt want to be anywhere near them, so I left for Oregon. I have agoraphobia and severe anxiety. I also have diabetes and need to have a refrigeratorso I can keep eating healthily. I live in a motorhome that I have nowhere to permanently park. It used to be that as long as you regularly moved your vehicle, you could park in lots of places. But since the new mayor of Portland came into office, you can get a ticket and be towed in 20 minutes. I put a call out on Facebook saying I needed somewhere to park for six months and a woman offered me her driveway, which is where I am now.

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Mountain bikers in fatal cougar attack did everything right, authorities say

Surviving cyclist in satisfactory condition in hospital as official says bikers tried to scare the mountain lion and then hit it

A mountain biker who was killed by a cougar near Seattle and his friend who escaped after the animal attacked him did everything right, authorities have said.

The two men were riding on a trail in the Cascade Mountain foothills on Saturday when the mountain lion began following them. Authorities said they did everything state guidelines advise: getting off their bikes, making noise and trying to scare the animal away. One even smacked it with his bike, after it charged.

The cougar ran off but returned and attacked when the men got back on their bikes. It bit one the survivor on the head and shook him. The second cyclist ran and the animal dropped the first victim and pounced, killing its victim and dragging him back to what appeared to be its den, Sgt Ryan Abbott of King county sheriffs department said.

They did everything they were supposed to do, Abbott said on Sunday. But something was wrong with this cougar.

The survivor was still in hospital on Sunday. A Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman, Susan Gregg, said the 31-year-old man was in satisfactory condition.

Authorities would not confirm the names of the cyclists until the man who died, a 32-year-old Seattle resident, was formally identified. That was expected on Monday.

The attack near North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle, was the first fatal cougar attack in Washington state in 94 years. The first man managed to get on his bike and ride off, looking back to see his friend being dragged into the trees, Abbott said. The cyclist rode for two miles before he could get a cellphone signal to call 911.

When rescuers arrived, it took about half an hour to find the second victim, who was dead with the cougar on top of him in what appeared to be a den-like area. An officer shot at the animal, which ran off. Several hours later, state fish and wildlife agents used dogs to track the cougar to a nearby tree. They shot and killed it.

Authorities planned to match DNA taken from the animal with DNA from the victims to be certain they killed the right cougar. They also plan to examine the cougar to see what might have been wrong with it.

There are an estimated 2,000 cougars in Washington. Until the 1960s, the state paid hunters a bounty for killing them. Now it allows 250 to be hunted in 50 designated zones. While they are sometimes known to kill livestock or pets, and though one even found its way into a park in Seattle in 2009, encounters with people are rare.

Attacks have become more common, though, as people encroach on the animals territory. In North America, there have been about 25 deadly attacks and 95 non-fatal attacks reported in the past century, but more attacks have been reported in the US west and Canada over the past 20 years than in the previous 80.

Experts say people encountering the big cats in the wild should stop and pick up small children immediately. Because running and rapid movements can trigger the animals prey drive, people should not run. Instead they should face the cougar, speak firmly and slowly back away, appearing as large as possible by standing on a rock or stump or opening a sweatshirt or jacket.

People should also become more assertive if the cougar does not back off. If it does attack, people should fight back.

The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey but a potential danger, Washington state fish and wildlife advises on its website.

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How the resurgence of white supremacy in the US sparked a war over free speech

The long read: With neo-Nazis marching in American cities, the national faith in absolute free expression is breaking down even inside the organisation sworn to defend it, the ACLU

Late last summer, the American Civil Liberties Union faced a mounting crisis over its most celebrated cause, which many consider the lifeblood of democracy: freedom of speech. For nearly a century, the ACLU has been the standard-bearer of civil liberties in the US, second only to the government in shaping Americans basic rights. Although the organisation has been at the vanguard of many of the countrys most hard-fought legal battles desegregation, reproductive rights, gay marriage the argument among its staff last summer, over whether to continue representing white supremacists in free-speech cases, was more intense than anything the organisation had seen before.

After Donald Trump was elected, the ACLU had positioned itself as a leader of what it calls the resistance, suing the administration over voting restrictions, illegal detentions, and the Muslim travel ban. It recruited celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Mahershala Ali and Tina Fey to raise money and reassure worried Americans. The ACLU has had your back for almost a hundred years, one ad declared. We got this. In the nine months after the election, the organisations paying membership quadrupled to more than 1.5 million people, and it received more than $80m in donations.

Then, on 10 August, the organisations Virginia chapter sued to prevent the city of Charlottesville from relocating a white-nationalist rally to a safer location outside the city centre. The ACLU claimed the move would violate the organisers constitutional rights to freedom of speech and public assembly. Two days later, when a white supremacist injured 19 people and killed the anti-racist protester Heather Heyer in a car attack during the rally, many people, including Virginias governor, blamed the ACLU. One response in particular became a symbol of the larger backlash: I cant facilitate Nazis murdering people, an ACLU of Virginia board member declared, in a series of viral tweets announcing his resignation.

Since its founding in 1920, the ACLU has helped make the US home to arguably the most freewheeling, unregulated public discourse in the world. And it has done this partly by defending, in the courts of law and public opinion, the speech rights of racists and fascists. The ACLU asserts that laws guaranteeing freedom of speech must embrace everybody (think the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis) if theyre going to protect anybody (think organised labour, anti-war protesters and Black Lives Matter). The same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you, its website explains.

Over the course of the 20th century, the ACLU largely won the country over to its vision, making freedom of speech one of the most widely accepted principles in US political life. A 2015 report from Pew Research Center found that Americans are more supportive of free expression than any other people in the world. By some measures, theres more accord in the US about protecting speech than about protecting the air we breathe.

But the rise of the far right has given new weight to longstanding questions about the wisdom of the ACLUs approach to free speech and, by extension, Americas. Critics say the ACLUs insistence on defending some extremist speech impedes the long fight for civil rights, hobbling the pursuit of social and political equality. The legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron told me that the US has polluted its civic environment with the slow-acting poison of hate. One Yale law scholar has even recently wondered if free speech could wreck the American experiment.

In the face of its critics, the ACLU which employs about 1,800 staff, spread between its national office and 53 semi-autonomous affiliate offices across the country has always soldiered on with its support for the right to say even the most appalling things. But Charlottesville was different. Inside the ACLU, the violence propelled the fiercest debate over racial justice and free speech that the organisation has ever experienced. By the end of August, hundreds of its own staff had signed a letter to the national executive director, Anthony Romero, claiming that the organisations mission of advancing justice and civil liberties was being undermined by our rigid stance on defending white supremacists.

According to a staff member who dissents from the organisations traditional position, the debate represents a tipping-point moment for the ACLU. Staff of colour have been feeling a lot of things, an ACLU lawyer in California told me last year. Im working at this organisation that is protecting groups that believe that I shouldnt exist, that question the very existence of people of my race. What does that mean personally, and what does that mean for the organisation as a whole, and its own structural racism?

For many supporters, however, the debate constituted something of a mutiny against the soul of the organisation. On the same day that the staff letter to Romero began circulating, nine senior members of the organisation wrote to the board condemning the possibility that the ACLU might reverse its historic role in defending freedom of speech. Every major news outlet in the US reported on the conflict. Journalists from the left and right who cover the free-speech beat, including Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept and Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic, argued that curtailing white-supremacist speech would ultimately harm liberal causes. (Greenwald described the attacks on the ACLUs position as warped and indescribably misguided.) In an email to staff, Romero acknowledged that many members and allies of the organisation feared its internal debate means that our principles and our legacy are now in jeopardy.

The fact that these debates have divided even the staff of the ACLU is a sign of how acute they have become in the country at large. A long-time consensus has been breaking down, the legal historian Laura Weinrib, who has written an important new history of free speech in 20th-century America, told me. One study suggests that many liberals have become increasingly intolerant of racist speech. Several other studies show that support for free speech is weakening, especially among millennials. I think this generation perhaps doesnt fully apprehend just how hard fought-for the right to freedom of speech was, Romero told me recently. Partly as a result of these trends, free-speech defenders of all political stripes believe that the principle is under greater threat than it has been for generations. We confront a real crisis now about the future of free speech in this country, Wendy Kaminer, a former member of the ACLUs national board, told me.

Last fall, the ACLUs president, Susan Herman, told the organisations national leadership conference: We need to consider whether some of our timeworn maxims the antidote to bad speech is more speech, the marketplace of ideas will result in the best arguments winning out still ring true in an era when white supremacists have a friend in the White House. She later added: If we at the ACLU cannot figure out how to bridge our different experiences, and work together and do the critical work we need to do, what hope is there for the rest of the country?

In the US, free speech has long been akin to American football a cherished contact sport. As the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr once suggested, even your uncle, submerged in his La-Z-Boy armchair, thinks he knows everything there is to know about it. Arguments over who can say what seem to be breaking out all over the US these days. Can black athletes kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice without being fined or losing their jobs? Is it an unacceptable form of censorship to no-platform ones political opponents, or to boycott companies that advertise on their television shows and websites? Should corporations be free to spend mind-boggling sums of money to flood the media with campaign spots for their pet political candidates?

Charlottesville inflamed two of the most urgent free-speech questions in the US. Should the law tolerate extreme forms of hate speech, which seek to deny people human dignity on the basis of characteristics such as race, sex, sexual orientation or religion? And who in the US given its legacies of oppression and its growing inequality is really free to speak?

Americans are often suspicious of attempts to re-evaluate beliefs about free speech, as if any doubt is a chink in the ramparts of freedom into which the crowbar of totalitarianism will be forced. But the fact that many lawyers and activists who have dedicated their lives to civil liberties and civil rights are reconsidering these beliefs might give pause to those who wish to dismiss such ideas out of hand. If these questions could change even the ACLU, they might also change the nation.

The debate unfolding across the US seems to stem, in part, from a growing conviction on the left that free speech, as we have been taught to imagine and mythologise it, does not in fact exist.As children, Americans learn that free speech is fundamentally egalitarian a level playing field on which all ideas may be heard and strenuously contested.And, on the face of it, public discourse in the US is almost completely no-holds-barred. Private organisations, such as social media platforms, can largely set their own rules on speech, but the government and public institutions are not, in theory, permitted to muzzle people, no matter what they are saying.

White supremacists march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Though many countries enacted hate-speech laws in the decades after the second world war, the US did not. The rights of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals with placards that say God Hates Fags and Pray for More Dead Soldiers have been upheld. In many cases, it is legal to advocate violence to achieve your political ends. The concept of free speech has been stretched so far that it now welcomes under its tent the corporate financing of political campaigns, as well as fetish videos of small animals being crushed to death under stiletto heels. Alongside this expansive legal position, a cultural norm has developed that pretty much any viewpoint has a moral right to be aired.

But critics insist that what really counts is the power to be heard. And for many Americans, that often proves to be difficult, dangerous or incredibly expensive. Speech is a luxury of class, K-Sue Park, a legal scholar at UCLA, told me. And of course class is completely racialised in this country. If you want an idea of how unequal free speech can be in the US, compare the passive policing in Charlottesville where armed white supremacists were able to beat and even shoot at counter-protesters to the teargas, police dogs and rubber bullets deployed against black protesters in Ferguson in 2014, where residents were demonstrating against the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

One important part of the free-speech consensus that now appears to be breaking down is the belief that the KKK and other white supremacist organisations are operating within the bounds of acceptable political discourse rather than as, say, terrorist organisations and therefore have a moral right to be heard. The mantle of free speech in the contemporary political context has somehow been claimed by the white supremacists, Ahilan Arulanantham, the legal director and director of advocacy at the ACLU of Southern California, told me. To Weinrib, the historian, the conflict surrounding the ACLU is largely about the extent to which defending these groups is perceived to legitimate their ideas.

To critics of the ACLUs approach, there is something hopelessly naive about deploring the views of white supremacists while celebrating their right to express themselves freely, and thereby influence the political debate. Defenders of the USs free-speech status quo often paint its detractors as snowflakes whose primary objection is that hateful speech hurts peoples feelings. But to thinkers such as the literary theorist Stanley Fish who once wrote a book titled Theres No Such Thing as Free Speech And Its a Good Thing Too the promotion of white supremacists rights represents a failure of political realism. The only way to fight hate speech or racist speech is to recognise it as the speech of your enemy, Fish told an interviewer in 1998, and what you do in response to the speech of your enemy is attempt to stamp it out.

There are strong arguments for far-reaching free speech rights, but a number of fictions have also helped to preserve the American orthodoxy. One is that free speech as we know it today was born fully formed in 1791, with the first amendment to the US constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (I copied those 45 words out of a handy edition of the constitution, published by the ACLU, which fits snugly in the back pocket of my jeans.)

The problem with the way people talk about the first amendment now is that they think its an abstract, timeless principle, Park said. No serious legal scholar believes that. For much of American history, free speech remained largely theoretical unless you were a property-owning white man. Liberty was not a licence to rise above ones station. For over a century after the first amendment was ratified, Weinrib writes in a forthcoming paper, public officials regularly suppressed speech they regarded as threatening, blasphemous, antisocial, and even uncivil, and the judiciary rarely intervened.

It was the ACLU that helped to move freedom of speech off the faded parchment of the Bill of Rights and into American life through public advocacy, legal briefs and the representation of silenced citizens in lawsuits against the government. For the core group of ACLU founders, however, free speech began as a means to an end, not a solemn credo. The organisation was established by a small cadre of Ivy League-educated activists and lawyers with radical sympathies who wanted to advance the cause of workers. In order to promote the interests of the downtrodden in a relatively conservative society, they presented the ACLU as an unbiased advocate for the rights of folks across the political spectrum.

In doing so, Weinrib writes, they invoked and even pioneered the now-standard defences of free speech: that open debate advances democratic legitimacy, encourages political participation, and produces better policy outcomes. As one ACLU affiliate staff attorney recently told me, they were so good at this argument for free speech that they fooled themselves, and now fully believe that it wasnt tactical, it was moral.

From the beginning, the ACLUs hardline position fuelled controversies similar to the ones raging today. Nadine Strossen, a former president of the ACLU, told me that free speech is under perpetual siege. For years after its release, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) clashed with the ACLU over the film The Birth of a Nation, which valorised the founding of the Ku Klux Klan a half-century earlier, sparking the Klans re-emergence as a lynch mob and political force. In the 1940s, labour advocates claimed that the ACLU had forgotten about the material conditions that preceded free speech bread and water roots in the community respite from fear, as one put it. In the 1970s, the ACLU alienated much of its membership, and a good portion of the country, when it defended the right of a group of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois, a Jewish community where thousands of Holocaust survivors lived. Even so, David Goldberger, who represented the neo-Nazis as a young ACLU lawyer, told me the staff in the late 1970s was solid to the core on its first-amendment position. (Consensus may have been easier then, when the ACLU was a much smaller organisation.)

But by the early 1990s, new doubts were being raised about whether all speech should be free. Its naive to say the solution to racist speech is just more speech, one member of the ACLUs executive committee told USA Today. Over the previous decade, there had been an increasing focus on the unfulfilled promise of the US constitutions 14th amendment, ratified after the end of the civil war, which was supposed to have made all Americans equal before the law. Fresh debates broke out on the left about how unbridled expression, from ethnic slurs to pornography, might perpetuate racial and gender inequality. Summarising the critique in 1993, Henry Louis Gates Jr, himself a supporter of expansive free-speech rights, wrote: Liberalisms core principle of formal equity seems to have led us so far, but no farther. That same year, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein found that the country was in the midst of a dramatic period of new thought about the meaning of free speech in America, and raised doubts about the extent to which the first amendment was serving American democracy.

To some observers, what appears to have happened since then is that large swathes of the left and the right have switched positions on freedom of speech. Many liberals, concerned about the threats that certain kinds of expression especially hate speech and campaign financing by corporations pose to human dignity and democratic participation, came to endorse some limitations on speech. By doing so, they occupied the position that moral conservatives had once held, albeit for different ideological reasons. The Catholic critic William Donohue once said that the ACLU was so intoxicated with the idea of individual rights that it was destroying the moral foundation of American society. Today, some on the left agree. Theres a fetishisation of first-amendment absolutism within the ACLU, says Olga Tomchin, a civil rights attorney who resigned in protest from the ACLU of Northern California board in September.

Meanwhile, conservatives, who had once sought to silence communists and anti-war activists, realised that first-amendment-based protections for corporations could strengthen the hand of business. They also learned to use the rhetoric of free speech to push back against what they saw as an increasingly powerful liberal establishment ruling over universities and the media. Yet despite portraying themselves as staunch defenders of free speech, many Republicans have also campaigned for legislation that tends to restrict the political expression of poorer Americans and people of colour, such as onerous voter registration and ID laws.

With Trump in the White House and racist violence permeating the culture from Ferguson to Charlottesville, debates over who has the power to speak have taken on an even greater urgency. We havent seen, in the last 50 years, such alignment between white supremacist organisations and the government of the US, said Vince Warren, a former senior staff attorney at the ACLU, who is now executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy organisation that does not represent white supremacists. That alignment requires us all to have a new strategy with respect to what level of tolerance were going to have with white supremacist ideas.

Were now battling the original sin of this country, which is slavery and the subjugation of people of colour, Warren continued. Its a battle for the soul of America.

After Charlottesville, the ACLU struggled to navigate the faultlines of identity, speech and power that have divided the country. A number of emotional and often angry conference calls were held between hundreds of staff across the country, and there was a flurry of internal communications arguing over the ACLUs position. The whole organisation is trying to grapple with this question, an ACLU organiser told me, and were not doing a great job of it. The dissenting staff member said the leadership was just thinking everything was going to blow over, and not fully realising yet the gravity of what had happened. Anthony Romero, reflecting on the period recently, told me he was focused on managing the public fallout. I was reliving the Skokie moment, when members of the organisation abandoned it en masse, he said. What I hadnt fully apprehended was what kind of existential question this would raise for some members of the staff.

In late August, the ACLU tweeted a picture of a blond toddler in a onesie with FREE SPEECH printed across the chest, waving an American flag. The caption read: This is the future that ACLU members want. To some observers, in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville, it evoked the white-power slogan known as the 14 Words: We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. As the tweet began to attract criticism, Romeros communication staff called him. Were looking like [were saying] that the future of America is a white baby, Romero recalled being told. Im like well, tweet a picture of a brown baby screaming! You know, tweet a picture of an Asian baby screaming!

Around this time, an open letter from staff to the national leadership began circulating, which was signed by roughly 400 people more than a quarter of the organisation at the time. The letter stressed the staffs commitment to racial justice and free speech, but demanded a reconsideration of the ACLUs approach to representing white supremacists. We believe white supremacy presents a grave threat to the full enjoyment of other constitutional rights, such as equality before the law, the letter said, and indeed to the lives of many people of colour. In many cases, it added, the ACLUs representation of white supremacists furthers their aims.

The ACLU marching in the 2017 Pride March, New York City. Photograph: Taylor Hill/WireImage

The flare-up after Charlottesville was by no means the first such disagreement among ACLU staff. In 2008, shortly after the election, some objected when the organisation spoke out for the speech rights of four students who spray-painted Hang Obama by a Noose and Lets shoot that nigger in the head at North Carolina State university. A more recent source of tension has been over the ACLUs defence of the Washington Redskins football teams right to retain its name, which many staff members consider so offensive they refuse to utter it. Theres a lot of discontent, especially among staff of colour, across the country, an ACLU lawyer in California told me.

Over the past two decades, the ACLU has expanded significantly, hiring younger and more diverse staff. By doing that, they have ushered in a different way of thinking about the work, Vince Warren, who was a senior staff attorney at the ACLU from 1999 to 2006, told me. The national office employs roughly 400 people, 40% of whom are people of colour. Were moving toward an honest examination of the limits of the first amendment and its place in the uneven structure of our society, the ACLU lawyer in California said.

On 22 August, Romero wrote to staff to express his hope that the internal conversation about representing white supremacists could be had without the glare of outside media. But in public, the ACLU leadership vigorously reaffirmed the organisations traditional approach. Central to the ACLUs defence of expansive free speech is an argument often known as the marketplace of ideas, which holds that the best way to combat ones political enemies is out in the open. The more speech there is, the argument goes, the easier it will be for the best ideas to gain acceptance, and for the worst ideas to be consigned to the proverbial rubbish heap.

This argument is ubiquitous, and beloved of many free-speech defenders, but it rests on uncertain foundations. What is the actual ground for believing that the best ideas will prevail? asked K-Sue Park, the UCLA legal scholar. Last summer, Park argued in the New York Times that the ACLU should expand its approach to free speech beyond the first amendment and consider the many ways speech is suppressed in America. As in any marketplace, the marketplace of ideas is shaped by power imbalances such as racial and financial inequality and ignoring them is not the best way to ensure that the best ideas prevail, Park said. The analogy to the market is even ridiculed by some within the ACLU. As the affiliate attorney put it, Im a fucking lawyer. Ive had people explain to me the marketplace of ideas, that more speech is the answer to bad speech, etcetera. I mean its painful, its literally painful. There are far more sophisticated ways to think about these things.

A second argument that the ACLU made in its public statements after Charlottesville is that government cant be trusted to regulate speech. If we were to authorise government officials to suppress speech they find contrary to American values, it would be Donald Trump and his allies in state and local governments who would use that power, David Cole, the national legal director of the ACLU, wrote. Even if other bodies, such as the judiciary and civil society, were involved in deciding what speech is protected or suppressed, Cole argued that it would still be virtually impossible to articulate a standard that would allow us to suppress all the bad speech and none of the good, however we construe that. If the record of campus speech policies and European hate-speech laws are any indication, he may be right. In one troubling recent case in France, highlighted by Glenn Greenwald, 12 activists were convicted of violating hate-speech laws for wearing T-shirts that read Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.

But the question, as Henry Louis Gates Jr once pointed out, has always been where, not if, to draw the line. We have long penalised certain kinds of expression, such as genuine threats and defamation, and it would be very difficult to imagine society operating without some such limits, however imperfect they may be. There is a tendency on the part of some first-amendment absolutists to imagine free speech not as part of a complex system of competing values, but as a binary state of purity or pollution as if political speech in general is poisoned as soon as legal antidotes are created for any kind of speech whatsoever. As Waldron, the legal philosopher, once put it: Its as though one betrays free speech by even raising the issue.

There is a famous quote often misattributed to Voltaire and trotted out in many defences of free speech: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. In some peoples eyes, that is exactly what the ACLU, and the US, is doing: suicidally defending the speech of racists and fascists. We risk obsolescence, because Americans rights are defined by their level of privilege often their level of racial privilege, the dissenting staff member said. And if we cant take that into account in our work, what is our role in America other than propping up the institutional and structural racism that already exists?

While many commentators focus on whether we should change speech laws, almost all the people I spoke to stressed that the debate at the ACLU is about racial justice and free speech more broadly. For some, the abstract discussion of first-amendment principles can itself seem like a tactic to shift the conversation away from pervasive injustice. The New Yorker writer and Columbia professor Jelani Cobb calls this the free-speech diversion. The default for avoiding discussion of racism is to invoke a separate principle, one with which few would disagree in the abstract, Cobb wrote in 2015, as the counterpoint to the violation of principles relating to civil rights.

If the ACLU really cared about racial justice, some critics say, it should continue defending free speech but stop privileging the rights of white supremacists. Fascists seemingly get to skip the line when it comes to who the ACLU represents, the former ACLU affiliate board member Olga Tomchin said a criticism I also heard from several staff members. In turn, this harms the ACLUs relationship with the marginalised communities it is also working to support and defend. The ACLU can have a proactive first-amendment stance without giving free legal services to Nazis, the affiliate staff attorney told me. We can still let them riot at this park, but were not going to let them jump the list of literally hundreds of requests for representation.

And if the ACLU really cared about freedom of speech, critics of its traditional approach add, it should focus more on the forms of oppression that prevent people from having a voice in US society, such as the fact that 3 million formerly incarcerated Americans remain stripped of the right to vote even after serving their sentences. If the ACLU wants to say that its invested in the first amendment and not freedom of expression in the wider world, thats one thing, K-Sue Park said. But it cant claim to be a defender of free expression if its only concerned with defending the first amendment.

Thats absurd, Romero said, when I asked him about the impression among some staff that the ACLU puts more into representing white supremacists than defending people of colour. And its just not borne out by the facts. A spokesperson for the ACLU said that, nationwide, the organisation dedicates more time and resources to fighting mass incarceration than any other issue. Other priorities include immigration, LGBT rights, national security issues and voting rights. It has filed at least 150 legal actions against the Trump administration.

When I asked Romero what accounts for the misapprehension that the ACLU spends so much of its time defending white-supremacist speech, he said: Its an important issue for the country and for the organisation. But it gets an outsized amount of attention. He cited an example from Columbus, Ohio, where the ACLU has a lawsuit pending against the police department for pepper-spraying peaceful anti-Trump protesters. Theyre pro-immigrant, theyre anti-Trump, they get pepper-sprayed no ones writing anything about that case, right?

A memorial to activist Heather Heyer and those affected by the violence in Charlottesville, August 2017. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

One difficulty the ACLU faces, Romero said, is that other organisations do not have a mandate to defend free speech and advance racial justice and pursuing both ideals at the same time can be exceptionally challenging. You know, it would be much easier if I went to go run the NAACP or the Puerto Rican Legal Defence Fund which is the one I could be possibly qualified for, because Im not black but Im Puerto Rican, right. It would be very easy to say we dont defend the white supremacists, he said. What makes it really, really hard, he added, and really exceptional and really fantastic, is the fact that we do both, and that we have done both from the inception.

Is structural racism a problem in America? Yes, Romero went on. Is the ACLU immune from unconscious bias and prejudice among its workforce and volunteers? No. But he pointed to several efforts to address the issue, such as the organisations ongoing, successful push to diversify its staff, including at the most senior levels. Any other organisation that goes through an internal staff kerfuffle like the one we saw last August wouldnt lean in in the same way that we have, Romero said.

Despite this, there is a sense within the ACLU that young people and people of colour need more of a voice, said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a distinguished professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University and a board member of the ACLUs New York affiliate. After Charlottesville, the dissenting staff member told me, Our leadership made it clear that theyd prefer to only have one side of the story out there. Other staff members described an ironic chill on the speech of the ACLUs own employees. Theres a deep understanding among staff across the country that you cant individually speak about these things, the affiliate staff attorney told me. If the ACLU leadership really believed in the marketplace of ideas, the attorney added, then they would love staff to say contentious things publicly. Even about the issue theyre actually talking about, they dont believe their own arguments. (A senior communications officer at a large California affiliate told me staff attorneys were not allowed to speak to the press without their bosss approval. My request to interview several of their staff attorneys was declined; I asked why, but got no reply.)

Romero told me there were no consequences for staff members who disagreed with the ACLU publicly. But he also suggested that, ultimately, the dissent would not lead him to change the organisation. I understand that reasonable people will differ, he said. Im also not running a kibbutz. I think its important to hear the divergent viewpoints and to engage them, but what the organisation stands for, and longstanding positions of the organisation, is not open to a staff plebiscite. That is a decision made by my board.

On 1 May, after a half year in which the focus of Americas free speech debates moved away from the ACLU and back onto the football field, social media and campus, a committee set up in the wake of Charlottesville, and headed by David Cole, quietly released a new set of guidelines for how the organisation would decide to take free speech cases. The guidelines formalised something the ACLU leadership had declared publicly after Charlottesville that it will not represent groups marching with guns. They also stated that the ACLU will consider how the cases it takes affect the people and partner organisations in the communities where those cases arise.

The dissenting staff member described the guidelines as a step in the right direction, rather than something that gets us all the way there, but the affiliate staff attorney thought that view of the guidelines was naive. Its a status-quo memo, the attorney said. This squared with what the ACLU leadership told me that only the board could change policy, and the guidelines merely codify existing best practices.

The guidelines lack two things in particular, the dissenting staff member said. The first was a power analysis that encourages the organisation to look at who already has power in society when they make their case selections. The second was an attempt to turn the mirror inward to look at the structural inequalities within the ACLU. But some affiliates are creating their own guidelines for taking cases involving white supremacists, and several are looking at how their own institution is shaped by the same injustices that warp American society. The commitment to racial equity cannot be a side gig, the staff member said. Its part and parcel of how the ACLU must shift its view in a changing America where everything is racialised in order to protect civil liberties.

Both Romero and Cole, however, feel that the crisis at the ACLU is past, and that the argument has largely been won. Cole pointed out that no one has objected to the new guidelines or asked the board for a change of official policy. (The staff letters after Charlottesville only called for a sustained conversation.) This type of substantive disagreement is par for the course at the ACLU, said Ahilan Arulanantham, the ACLU of Southern California legal director, who has been with the organisation for 15 years. From his perspective, he stressed, Charlottesville has not led to long-lasting and deep divisions within the ACLU.

What will happen in the country as a whole is uncertain but one lesson of Americas free-speech history is that entrenched norms do change. Jeremy Waldron, the legal philosopher, already sees things evolving. Theres been a greater willingness on the part of free-speech advocates to concede the serious harm and evil that free speech can do, he said. People no longer talk in heroic terms about todays neo-Nazis the way they did about the neo-Nazis marching in Skokie. The debate on both sides, he feels, has become slightly less hysterical, a bit more concessive.

Will the first amendment survive without the ACLU being the counsel for white supremacists? Vince Warren asked. I think the answer is yes. The question, he went on, is how the ACLU will defend more precarious constitutional principles, like the 14th amendment commitment to equality before the law. The ACLU affiliate staff attorney agreed: Theres a movement afoot for justice and we can be a part of it, or we can watch and cling to the model we had 40 years ago.

Main illustration by Nathalie Lees

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Health mutt: proposal to put shelter dogs on vegan diet divides Los Angeles

A possible plan to move the citys dogs onto a plant-based diet has the backing of prominent vegans such as Moby, but others warn it could get messy

Proponents say it will make Los Angeles the worlds progressive capital. Sceptics say it will mean diarrhea, lots of diarrhea.

The proposal, which has divided scientists and animal rights groups and inflamed social media, is to put dogs in the citys public shelters on a vegan diet.

The Los Angeles animal services commission is considering the idea after lobbying by prominent vegans, including Moby, the dance music pioneer.

The commission unanimously voted earlier this month for a feasability study and analysis of the benefits and risks. A report detailing pilot project options is expected in February.

Roger Wolfson, a commissioner and television screenwriter who is driving the initiative, cites ethical, environmental and health reasons to switch dogs to plant-based food.

Currently more than 20,000 chickens, 10,000 turkeys and 1,000 lambs die each year in order to be churned into food for the 33,000 dogs in LAs public shelters, he said.

We are the department of animal services, not the department of animal companion services, he told the Guardian this week. So we need to start from a place of avoiding unnecessary killing of animals. We already shelter pigs and chickens and turkeys and we wouldnt think about killing them unnecessarily. So if dogs can get their needs met without killing animals we owe it to the citizens of Los Angeles to try.

Wolfson, who was a political speechwriter in Washington DC before moving to LA and writing for shows such as Fairly Legal and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, also cited the impact of meat and dairy consumption on deforestation, greenhouse gases and ocean dead zones.

Several high-profile allies endorsed Wolfsons proposal at a public hearing in November, including the musician and DJ Moby, who owns a vegan restaurant in LA. If we adopt this, its just one more thing that proves to the world that Los Angeles really is the progressive capital of the world, he said, according to meeting minutes, which used his real name, Richard Hall.

Musician and vegan restaurant owner Moby is a supporter of the plan. Photograph: Kris Connor/WireImage

However, the citys chief veterinarian, Jeremy Prupas, cited clinical nutritionists, a veterinary toxicologist and other experts who advised against a vegan diet. In addition to health questions, workers at the understaffed shelter would confront canine diarrhea, a big issue, Prupas said.

Armaiti May, an LA-based veterinarian who supports the proposal, told the Guardian that abrupt changes in diet can lead to looser stools but that a gradual transition would avoid major problems. Its a small issue in the grand scheme of things. May believes meat-based kibbles have fuelled a cancer and allergy epidemic in dogs.

Tracy Reiman, executive vice-president of the animal rights group Peta, said a vegan diet was healthier and more ethical than feeding dogs factory farmed animals who have endured miserable lives and gruesome deaths and whose dead, dying, diseased, or disabled carcasses are found in most commercial dog foods.

Other voices urge caution. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and Tufts university professor, told the New York Times earlier this year there were no long-term studies on the effects of veganism in dogs. We know a lot about dog nutrition, but there are unknowns as well it isnt easy to formulate a high-quality diet for dogs, and its particularly difficult with a vegan diet.

Social media has bristled with arguments for and against, the latter insisting dogs need meat.

Owners who have put their dogs on vegan diets say diarrhea fears are overblown and that health benefits are tangible. Winky had been plagued with recurring ear infections which disappeared permanently after I phased the meat-based food out of his diet, Karen Dawn, an author and activist, wrote in an LA Times op-ed.

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Five years after Sandy Hook: families keep the memory of lost children alive

In the years since the mass shooting that killed 20 children and six educators, families have memorialized their loved ones in many different ways

School safety campaigns. An animal sanctuary. A childrens book. Support for mental health reform. A lawsuit against the manufacturer of a military-style rifle.

In the five years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, the families of the 20 children and six educators killed have taken very different paths to honor the lives of their loved ones.

Some family members have chosen to remain intensely private. Others have become prominent advocates for gun violence prevention.

No single campaign represents all 26 families. The continuing lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor and dealer of the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting, for example, was brought by the families of only nine Sandy Hook victims and one survivor.

Here, drawn from the joint website for the Sandy Hook victims families, is a brief look at how each family has asked to remember and honor those who died.

Charlotte Helen Bacon, age six

Charlotte Helen Bacon.

Smart, funny, curious, messy, in-intimidated, and adventurous, her family wrote, describing six-year-old Charlotte. We like to use the word BOLD.

A foundation in Charlottes honor supports a therapy dog program, a scholarship for students studying to become veterinarians, and a grant to help couples grieving the death of a child.

Together with an award-winning childrens book author, her parents co-wrote a picture book, Good Dogs, Great Listeners, which tells the story of Charlotte and her dog, Lily. Charlottes brother also wrote a book about his experience with therapy dogs after his sisters death, called The Dogs of Newtown.

Daniel Barden, age seven

Mark Barden holds up a picture of his son Daniel during a vigil. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Seven-year-old Daniel was unusually compassionate, always concerned that the people around him were happy and safe. He used to sit next to a special needs girl in his class to make sure she was OK, and when she would lose her glasses, Daniel would find them.

The What Would Daniel Do? campaign encourages other people to follow Daniels legacy of kindness. His parents have been outspoken about participating in a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer, focused on the irresponsible militaristic advertising for AR-15-style guns sold to civilians. Mark Barden, his father, is one of the founders of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit that advocates for mental health reform, certain gun laws, and a violence prevention program that trains students and adults to Know the Signs of someone at-risk of violence.

Olivia Rose Engel, age six

Olivia Rose Engel.

Olivia loved swimming and soccer and dancing in a pink tutu, singing and art projects and math. At dinner, she led her family in saying grace, and she was proud of her role as a big sister and her participation in an educational program at her parish church. To honor Olivias zest for life, her family has raised money for Newtown Park & Bark, a group that supports a local off-leash dog park. The organization has a page that honors Olivias joy, with photographs of happy dogs and messages about them. Olivias family also created a web site in her honor.

Josephine Gay, age seven

Josephine Gay.

Seven-year-old Josephine, known as Joey, was the girly-est of her sisters, and she adored her older siblings, the family wrote in a recent article in the Newtown Bee. Fun-loving and affectionate, Joey had worked hard to meet the milestones that came so easily to her older sisters, after being diagnosed with autism, global apraxia and apraxia of speech. Her family wrote that she had found love and support in Newtown: Her classmates eagerly learned sign language and encouraged and included her whenever they could.

Her family has raised money for Joeys Fund, which supports families in New England who need resources to help family members with autism. Her mother, Michele Gay, is also one of the founders of Safe and Sound Schools, an organization that promotes improved school security.

Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, age six

Ana Marquez-Greene.

A budding musician, six-year-old Ana Grace had a gift for melody, pitch and rhythm that stood out even in a musical family, as her father put it. She never walked anywhere – her mode of transportation was dance. She dance from room to room and place to place.

The Ana Grace Project supports arts education and has worked with schools to implement a Love Wins curriculum, which supports a stronger social and emotional environment for students and staff. Recognizing that the counseling resources available to Newtown residents after the shooting are not available to every community dealing with violence, the organization has also worked to bring professional development in counseling and trauma-informed care to other communities that need them.

Her father, prominent Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, released a tribute album, Beautiful Life, in 2014. Her mother, Nelba Marquez-Greene, writes frequently on social media about grief, activism, and how political developments affect survivors of violence.

Dylan Hockley, age six

A photograph of British-born Dylan in a Superman t-shirt has become one of the icons of the fight to pass tougher gun laws in America. Dylan, his family wrote, adored chocolate and cuddling and bouncing on trampolines. He was sensitive to loud noises and loved routine. He wanted to play with other kids so much, they wrote, even though he didnt always know how.

The Dylans Wings of Change Foundation benefits children with autism and other special needs. His mother, Nicole Hockley, is one of the founders and managing directors of Sandy Hook Promise. His parents have been outspoken about their participation in a lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor and dealer of the military-style weapon used in the Sandy Hook shooting.

Madeleine F Hsu, age six

Her family described Madeleine as a a petite princess with a big personality, always ready to jump into surf at the beach, plunge into the pool, or ride her bike without training wheels as soon as they had been taken off.

Once you set your mind to do something, her family wrote of her, it was as good as done.

Catherine Violet Hubbard, age six

Catherine Hubbard.

Catherine, with her red hair and freckles, loved animals so much she made her own business cards for Catherines Animal Shelter, her family wrote. Her title: Care Taker. Tell your friends I am kind, she would whisper to animals when she played with them.

Catherines family is building an animal sanctuary in her honor on 34 acres of Connecticut farmland. The sanctuary already hosts events, and individuals and groups can donate to support the sanctuary or volunteer their time for instance, building garden beds or clearing out invasive plants.

Chase Kowalski, age seven

Chase had already been an enthusiastic athlete and competitor for years. He began running competitively at age two, his family wrote. At age 6, Chase asked to be entered into his first triathlon in his first ever competition, he took on the field and won his age group!

The CMAK Foundation supports programs for physical and emotional well-being for kids and their families, including Race4Chase, a kids triathlon program.

break the cycle

Jesse Lewis, age six

The quintessential image of Jesse, his family wrote, is him in boots with no socks, ripped jeans, an army helmet on his head, and dirt smudged on his cheek as he marched through a field from one adventure to another.

When he and his classmates were targeted on December 14, his family wrote, Jesse used his last few minutes on earth yelling to his friends to run, saving many lives.

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement supports a social and emotional learning program for teachers and students. Jesses mother Scarlett Lewis has spoken publicly about the importance of this kind of learning in childrens lives as well as the importance of forgiveness.

James Radley Mattioli, age six

James was all boy, his family wrote, always wrestling with his father, jumping off tall objects, and moving through the world with boundless energy. He loved his sister and learning from her. He had also developed a keen interest in math.

His family asked that donations to support the programs that brought him joy should be sent to: The James R Mattioli Memorial Fund C/O Newtown Savings Bank; 39 Main Street Newtown, CT 06470.

Grace McDonnell, age seven

Grace had been taking art classes since she was three years old, and showed early talent. She saw beauty in everything and was fortunate to have found her passion early in life, her family wrote.

Through the Grace McDonnell Memorial Fund, her family wrote, they hoped to support young artists and youth art programs.

A memorial for the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Photograph: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Emilie Parker, age six

Emilie loved visiting the craft store, and her family constantly found beads, bits of paper, colored cotton balls or anything else Emilie thought she could use to create art all over the house. Her family shared a photograph of her next to a canvas with a palette of paints, wearing an enormous t-shirt as an artists smock.

The Emilie Parker Art Connection supports art programs. Alissa Parker, her mother, has written a book, An Unseen Angel, about a faith-filled, spiritual path to coping, healing and forgiving in the wake of tragedy. She is also one of the founders of Safe and Sound Schools.

Jack Pinto, age six

Jack had a huge smile and a love for mischief. He loved playing sports and, most of all, being with his big brother.

To honor his memory, his family has supported Kids in the Game, an organization that provides funds for athletic programs for kids and schools that could not otherwise afford them.

Noah Pozner, age six

Noah loved playing deep imaginative games with his Legos and superhero toys. He went to school in a Batman shirt and Spider-Man shoes, listening to Gangnam Style, one of Noahs favorite songs, on the way. His twin sister, Arielle, survived the shooting.

In the wake of the shooting, Noahs father, Lenny Pozner, founded the Honr Network, a group that works to combat the conspiracy theorists who claim the Sandy Hook shooting is a hoax and that grieving family members are crisis actors. The Honr Network coordinates volunteers to monitor and take down hoaxer posts and videos. Working with tech companies like Google on this effort has been an uphill battle, one that has made Pozner himself the target of intense harassment. A Florida woman was sentenced to five months in prison earlier this year for making threats against him.

Caroline Previdi, age six

Caroline was joyful, a lover of art and dance. Before Christmas one year, she brought her piggy bank to her parents and asked to donate all of her savings to their church to make sure the every kid would have a present under their Christmas trees. At her funeral, some mourners wore pink, her favorite color, to honor her, the New Haven Register reported.

The Caroline Previdi Foundation provides support for kids without financial resources to engage in extracurricular activities.

Jessica Rekos, age six

As well as horseback riding, Jessica spent hours watching the Free Willy movies and taking notes on orcas, her family wrote. Mom, I just want to be friends with an Orca, she once said.

Her family wrote, she was always planning, asking questions, and figuring out the details. They called her our little CEO.

The Jessica Rekos Foundation supports horseback riding scholarships and research and internships on orca and whale conservation.

Avielle Richman, age six

Avielle Richman.

Avielle had a spitfire personality, her family wrote. She was often barefoot. Asked what she wanted to be, she replied that she would like to be an artist … and a spy … and a fairy princess … and a writer. She loved to name things: the maple trees next to her house were Efford and Maeve.

The Avielle Foundation supports neuroscience research aimed at understanding the brains chemistry, structure, and circuits that lead to violence and compassion, as well as community education and outreach about neuroscience research and its findings, and how to promote brain health.

Benjamin Wheeler, age six

Ben was full of urgent questions that he wanted answered at once. He demanded attention. He loved lighthouses and dreamed of being an architect, a paleontologist and a lighthouse keeper all at once.

Bens Lighthouse, a community organization in Newtown, was founded to support Newtown youth over the long term as they dealt with the aftermath of the violence at Sandy Hook.

Allison N Wyatt, age six

Allison lined the walls of her home with rows of pictures she had drawn, and she loved drawing for people she cared about, from friends and relatives to her school bus driver. Her family wrote that they had found a final picture Allie had drawn for her first grade teacher, Victoria Soto, who was also killed in the shooting. It had a message: I love you, Love Allie.

The Allison Wyatt Memorial Fund has donated to St Jude Childrens Research Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House Charities and International Child Art Foundation.

Rachel Davino, age 29

A behavioral specialist, Rachel had a clear focus on helping adults and children with autism, her family wrote, and she had just completed the requirements to become a board certified behavioral analyst. Her soon-to be-fiance Tony Cerritelli had just asked her family for permission to marry her, and they were planning to become engaged on Christmas Eve.

Rachel was working on a family collection of Italian recipes for a family cookbook, and she loved karate, photography, cooking and baking. At a celebration honoring her life, she was compared to The Giving Tree, a Shel Silverstein book about selflessness.

Her friends and family made plans to walk and raise money for Autism Speaks to honor her life.

Dawn Hochsprung, age 47

Elementary school principal Dawn Hochsprung. Photograph: Reuters

Sandy Hooks school principal was strong, confident, inspiring and compassionate, her family wrote. She balanced raising her two daughters with her own continuing education, always keeping in touch with her children as she moved from one meeting to another.

Dawn died as she lived: always in control, handling whatever came her way, her family wrote.

Erica Lafferty, one of her daughters, spoke about her mother at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 in support of Hillary Clinton and her commitment to gun violence prevention. She is now a program manager at Everytown for Gun Safety, major a gun violence prevention advocacy group.

Anne Marie Murphy, age 52

When the shooting happened, Anne Marie Murphy, a classroom aide, wrapped a child in her arms, protecting him. Both she and the child were killed.

Thank you for respecting our privacy, her family wrote.

Lauren Rousseau, age 30

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Charles Manson, cult leader and convicted murderer, dies aged 83

Manson and his family became notorious for the murder of Sharon Tate and six others during the summer of 1969

Charles Manson, the pseudo-satanic sociopath behind a string of killings that shocked California out of its late 1960s cultural reverie, died on Sunday after almost a half century in prison.

The 83-year-old, who died of natural causes, had been serving multiple life sentences in state prison in Corcoran, California, for orchestrating the violence in 1969 that claimed the lives of Sharon Tate, the heavily pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski, and six others.

While his death prompted the inevitable and renewed questioning around why his grim notoriety had been so enduring, Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County, said: Today, Mansons victims are the ones who should be remembered and mourned on the occasion of his death.

She went on to quote the late Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who put Manson behind bars, who had said: Manson was an evil, sophisticated conman with twisted and warped moral values.

Quick Guide

A quick guide to Charles Manson

Who was Charles Manson?

Charles Mansonwasone of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century. Heleda cult known as the Manson Family in California, most of whom were disaffected young women. Some became killers under his messianic influence.

Murder from afar

Despite spending more than 40 years in prison for the murders of seven people in 1969,Manson did not carry out the killings.Insteadhe convincedmembers of his familyto murder. One of their victims was the actor Sharon Tate, who was married to Roman Polanski and was more than eight months’ pregnant when she was killed.

Celebrity friends

By the time of histrial in 1971, Manson hadspent half of his life in correctional institutions forvarious crimes. He became a singer-songwriter before the Tate murders andgot a break in the music industry when he metBeach Boys’ Dennis Wilson,who let him crash at his home.

Helter Skelter

It is believed that Manson intended using the murders to incite an apocalyptic race war he called Helter Skelter, taking the name from the Beatles song.

Notorious by name

Thekillings and the seven-month trial that followed were the subjects of fevered news coveragein the US.Manson occupieda dark, persistent place in American culture, inspiring music, T-shirts and half the stage name of musicianMarilyn Manson.

Photograph: Los Angeles Times

As the leader of a cult known as the Manson Family, Manson had instructed his followers, made up mostly of disaffected young women, to carry out the killings. The brutality of the murders set Los Angeles on edge, and ended the sunny optimism of the 60s counterculture and its aspirations to a new society built on peace and love. Manson presented himself as a demonic force: at trial, he carved a Nazi swastika into his forehead.

The five received the death penalty but were spared when capital punishment was temporarily abolished following a ruling by the supreme court in 1972.

Manson and three female followers, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, were convicted of murder and conspiracy to murder. Another defendant, Charles Tex Watson, was convicted later.

Tate, the wife of Polanski, who was out of the country the night of her murder, was eight and a half months pregnant when Mansons followers broke into her home in Los Angeles. They stabbed and shot Tate and her visitors, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and Steven Parent.The word Pig was written in blood on the front door. Tate, who had starred in The Valley of the Dolls, was stabbed 16 times, and an X was carved into her stomach.

The next night, his followers murdered couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Although the followers committed the murders, Manson had ordered them. At the LaBianca home, he tied up the couple before leaving others to carry out the killings.

After his death on Sunday night, Tates sister Debra told NBC: One could say Ive forgiven them, which is quite different than forgetting what they are capable of. It is for this reason I fight so hard to make sure that each of these individuals stays in prison until the end of their natural days.

In the 2004 book Sharon Tate Recollection, Polanski wrote: Even after so many years, I find myself unable to watch a spectacular sunset or visit a lovely old house or experience visual pleasure of any kind without instinctively telling myself how much she would have loved it all.

Prosecutors at the time said Manson and his cult were trying to spark a race war that he believed was foretold in the Beatles song Helter Skelter, and hoped the Black Panthers would be blamed for the killings.

Before the murders, Manson spent most of his teens and 20s in and out of prison, and he later became a singer-songwriter. He got a break in the music industry when he met the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. The group later recorded Never Learn Not to Love, which Manson had written.

Manson in a 2017 California department of corrections photo. Photograph: Reuters

He became friends with the Byrds producer Terry Melcher (the son of Doris Day) and even recorded 13 folksy songs for an album that eventually was titled Lie: The Love and Terror Cult; it was released in March 1970 to help pay for his defense.

Manson had established himself as a would-be cult leader in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. He took a handful of followers, some of whom would later be convicted in the killings, to the old Spahn Movie Ranch north of LA and turned it into a hedonistic commune.

Van Houten, the youngest member of the original Manson Family, later said that Manson had used sex, LSD, Bible readings, repeated playing of the Beatles White Album and rambling lectures about triggering a revolution to brainwash her.

Van Houten, 68, was convicted of the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. She was recommended for parole in September but Californias governor, Jerry Brown, has yet to approve the recommendation. He rejected an earlier decision, concluding that Van Houten posed an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.

In June, officials denied a parole request by Krenwinkel, the states longest-serving female prisoner, after her attorney said she had been abused by Manson or another person. She has been denied parole multiple times in the past.

Mansons lawyer, Irving Kanarek, claimed his client was innocent during a 2014 interview with the Guardian. No question he was legally innocent. And, more than that, he was actually innocent, Kanarek said, arguing that there was no evidence connecting him to the case.

At a 2012 parole hearing, which was denied, Manson was quoted as having said to one of his prison psychologists: Im special. Im not like the average inmate. I have spent my life in prison. I have put five people in the grave. I am a very dangerous man.

According to the LA Times, Manson committed hundreds of rules violations while being held at the Corcoran state prison, including assault, repeated possession of a weapon and threatening staff. Officials said he has spat in guards faces, started fights, tried to cause a flood and set his mattress ablaze.

In 2014, Manson and Afton Elaine Burton, a 26-year-old Manson devotee, were granted a marriage license, but it expired before the two could marry. She had faithfully visited him in prison for seven years. Manson had been denied parole 12 times, with his next hearing set for 2027.

His death is unlikely to end interest in his crimes. Quentin Tarantino is believed to be preparing a film that uses the murders as a backdrop for its main plot, and an adaptation of Emma Clines bestselling 2016 novel, The Girls, is on the way.

Writer Joan Didion interviewed Linda Kasabian, the Manson family member who acted as a lookout in the Tate and LaBianca killings and later gave evidence at the trial, and described the atmosphere in Hollywood in an essay from her collection The White Album (1979).

Everything was unmentionable but nothing was unimaginable Didion wrote. A demented and seductive vortical tension was building in the community. The jitters were setting in. I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.

I remember that no one was surprised.

Reached at home in Manhattan, Didion, 82, told the Guardian: Mansons legacy was never obvious to me. It wasnt obvious when I went to talk with Linda Kasabian, and it isnt obvious to me now. But I do find it easy to put him from my mind.

In 2008, California officials ordered the search of a deserted ranch in Death Valley where Manson and his family briefly resided. The search turned up no evidence of human remains.

Manson may be gone but the persistence of his dark vision endures. I am crime, he proclaimed in a telephone call to the New York Post from prison in the mid-2000s.

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My travels in white America a land of anxiety, division and pockets of pain

This summer, Gary Younge took a trip from Maine to Mississippi to find out what has brought the US to this point. From the forgotten poor to desperate addicts, their whiteness is all some of them have left and that makes fertile ground for the far right

Jeff Baxters enduring memory, from childhood, is the glow. Coming down over the hill overlooking the coke plant in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the molten iron would make itself known both as a vision and an aspiration. Its like the sun landed there, says Baxter, a burly, bearded retiree, who achieved his boyhood dream of becoming a steelworker.

Today, the plant, like the one Baxter worked in for 30 years, stands derelict a shell that represents a hollowing out not just of the local economy but of culture and hope as though someone extinguished Baxters sun and left the place in darkness. Buildings in the centre of town that were once testament to the industrial wealth produced here stand abandoned. More than 40% of the population now live below the poverty line; 9.1% are unemployed.

Cambria County, where Johnstown sits, was once a swing county. Al Gore won it in 2000; George W Bush took it in 2004; it went to Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 each time by fairly narrow margins. Last year, Donald Trump won it in a landslide.

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Baxter, who once backed Obama, voted for Trump, the first time he had ever voted Republican. I liked [Obamas] message of hope, but he didnt bring any jobs in Trump said he was going to make America great. And I figured: Thats what we need. We need somebody like that to change it.

Over at the century-old Coney Island Lunch, this once-bustling institution famous for its chilli dogs and sundowners is virtually empty. A lot of people have left town, explains Peggy, who has been serving at the diner for nine years. There are no jobs. If youre going to have a life or a steady income, you know, you need to get out of here, because theres nothing here. I expect a lot of towns go this way. You know, when the steel mills died and the coal died. Its sad, its very sad.

Theres not many white Americans left. Theyre a dying breed a confederate flag on a Trump poster in North Carolina. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Across from the counter, Ted sits in a T-shirt emblazoned with a Native American in full headdress. He thinks white America is getting a rough deal and will soon be extinct. Theres not many white Americans left. Theyre a dying breed. Its going to be yellow-white Americans, African-American white Americans, you know what Im saying? The cultures are coming together, he says, with more than a hint of melancholy. Blending and blending, and pretty soon well just be one colour.

Ted also voted for Trump. I liked him on TV. I voted for him, alright, but it was because he was supposedly going to make America great, and whats he done so far? He hasnt done anything.

Two days after I spoke to Ted and Peggy, Coney Island Lunch closed down.

In the 12 years I reported from the US I saw no end of white journalists opine on black America. This summer, I took a trip through white America, driving from Maine (the whitest state) to Mississippi (the blackest), to flip the script. Talking only to white people, I attended a white supremacist conference, accompanied an emergency health worker who sought to revive people who had overdosed, and went to a comedy club in the French Quarter of New Orleans to see the Liberal Redneck perform. I was told the Ku Klux Klan were liberals (they werent), that Confederate general Robert E Lee didnt own slaves (he did) and that I could not be British because Im black (I am).

It was a few weeks before the disturbances in Charlottesville, when a mob of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and Klansmen, converged on a college town in Virginia, terrorising protesters and leaving one dead and many injured. Just seven months after the US had bid farewell to its first black president, his successor said there were some very fine people marching with the neo-Nazis who chanted: Jews will not replace us. A poll shortly afterwards showed that almost half of white Americans thought they were under attack and one in three thought the country needs to do more to preserve its white European heritage.

Any reckoning with how the US got to this point, politically, demands some interrogation of how white America got to this place economically and culturally; that takes into account both their relative privilege and their huge pockets of pain.

White Americans make up a majority of the country. Compared with other races, they may enjoy an immense concentration of wealth and power. But these privileges are nonetheless underpinned by considerable anxiety. Their health is failing (white peoples life expectancy has stalled or dipped in recent years), their wages are stagnating (adjusting for inflation, they are just 10% higher now than they were 44 years ago) and class fluidity is drying up (the prospects of poor white Americans breaking through class barriers is worse now than it has been for a long time). Out-traded by China (in 2016 the trade deficit with the country was $347bn); soon to be outnumbered at home (within a generation white people will be a minority); and outmanoeuvred on the battlefields of the Arab world and beyond (neither of the wars launched in response to 9/11 have ended in victory), these vulnerabilities are felt at home and abroad. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter protesters are in the streets over police brutality, football players are taking a knee and the movement to bring legal status to large numbers of undocumented people grows. White Americans feel more pessimistic about their future than any other group. Almost two-thirds of white working-class people think the country has changed for the worse since the 50s.

I covered the last presidential election from Muncie, Indiana, once seen as the archetypal US town thanks to the Middletown project, a sociological study first published in the 20s. Many of the white working-class areas on the south side of Muncie were similar to Johnstown. The head of Middletown Studies at the citys Ball State University, James Connolly, told me this was the area he had found most difficult when it came to finding contacts. Whereas African Americans in the north-east of the city had strong churches and campaigning organisations, he explained, the poorer white areas had few champions.

Nobody speaks up for the poor, said Jamie Walsh, a white working-class woman who grew up in Muncie,explaining Trumps appeal to those she grew up with on Muncies Southside. There is systemic racism, but black people have advocates. Poor white people dont. Theyre afraid. Theyre afraid that theyre stupid. They dont feel racist, they dont feel sexist, they dont want to offend people or say the wrong thing. But white privilege is like a blessing and a curse if youre poor. The whole idea pisses poor white people off because theyve never experienced it on a level that they understand.

You hear privilege, and you think money and opportunity, and they dont have it. I understand how it works but I dont think most people do. So when Trump says stuff, they can understand what hes saying and he speaks to them in a way other people dont. And then youve got people calling them stupid and deplorable. Well, how long do you think you can call people stupid and deplorable before they get mad?

Andrew Kieszulus If you are white and middle class, its much easier to remove the negative consequences of a use disorder. Photograph: Sugar Films Ltd

Increasingly, for many white Americans, their racial privilege resides not in positive benefits of work and security but in the sole fact that it could be worse they could be black or Latino. In other words, their whiteness is all they have left. In few areas is this clearer than the opioid epidemic, which is disproportionately affecting white America. Wander down Oxford Street, home to one of the main shelters in Portland, Maine, and you can see people, distraught, disoriented and desperate, openly struggling with their addiction long into the night.

In the past, we might go months and not have an overdose call, said paramedic Andrea Calvo, as we drove around Portland, Maine. And we had a day, not too long ago, when I think we did 14 overdoses the majority of people, certainly in this area in this state, probably in the country, are somehow affected by addiction issues. A member of her family struggles with addiction. She constantly worried that one day she would be called to assist her.

Andrew Kieszulas was a 22-year-old sports star from a middle-class family when his doctor first prescribed opioids for a back injury. With his thick neck perched on top of mountainous shoulders, he had the air of an all-American boy from an all-American family. But, behind the facade, things had started to go wrong. Very quickly, the prescription drugs were removed and I was left with an emotional addiction, a mental addiction and a very physical addiction to the opiates and, very quickly, I transitioned over to street drugs, he explained.

Kieszulas has had to struggle hard to remain sober these last five years. His achievements are his own. But he would be the first to tell you that being white helped. When black America was blighted by the crack epidemic, it was understood as a crisis of culture and treated as a problem of crime. African Americans were locked up in unprecedented numbers, leaving more Americans in prison than had been incarcerated in the Soviet gulags at its height and more African Americans in prison than had been enslaved in 1850.

If you are white and middle class, its much easier to remove the negative consequences of a use disorder, Kieszulas explained. Youre less likely to go to jail, less likely to have any kind of negative criminal consequence. I myself dont have a criminal record. I did some very interesting things to support my habit and to find relief. And transitioning out of that without a criminal record at all? I think it speaks for itself.

Thanks to contamination through needle sharing, the opioid epidemic is also turning into an HIV crisis, which is particularly acute in rural white areas. Of the most vulnerable 5% of counties at risk of an HIV outbreak, almost all voted for Trump.

In late October, Trump called it a public health emergency, while offering little in the way of new funding. When your privilege amounts to this amount of pain, no wonder you cant see it. But just because you cant see it, doesnt mean its not there.

Muncie, Indiana. Nobody speaks for the poor, says one resident. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

If theres one thing that 200 years of slavery and 100 years of segregation did for African Americans, it was to temper their investment in the myth that the US is a meritocracy. The notion that if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you would get on was always stymied by the grim realities of racial barriers. America was never America to me, wrote the Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes in 1935s Let America Be America Again. Theres never been equality for me / Nor freedom in this homeland of the free.

But, for many white Americans, the expectation that each year would be better than the next and each generation healthier and wealthier provided the core for optimism. However, with those assumptions being eroded, the mood is now more reminiscent of a post-colonial country. People are looking back for a sense of hope. Ask Trump voters when they would like to go back to if they wanted to make America great again and they will give you a date. Jeff Baxter wants to go back to the glow of the 60s, Ted to the 80s, others to the 50s and beyond.

There are, of course, many white Americans looking forward, fighting for their place in a more equal and just, multiracial future. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed while protesting against the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville when a car, allegedly driven by a neo-Nazi sympathiser, ploughed into the crowd. She wanted equality, her father, Mark Heyer, said. And in this issue of the day of her passing, she wanted to put down hate.

Her mother, Susan Bro, refused to take the presidents condolence call. Ive heard it said that the murder of my daughter was part of making America great, Bro added. The blood on the streets is that what made America great? Attacking innocent people with a vehicle is that what made America great?

When American Renaissance, a white supremacist group straining to put a veneer of intellectualism and respectability on its bigotry, came to Montgomery Bell state park near Nashville in the summer, they were met by a crowd of mostly white protesters, chanting: No Klan, no hate, no racists in our state.

One told me that Trumps election had shaken some white people out of their complacency. We were asleep at the wheel, she said. We can no longer find comfort in silence. We have to dig up all the courage we have, to take a stand for whats morally right. On the journey back to Nashville I stopped at a secondhand shop on the roadside, selling Confederate paraphernalia, owned by Nikki who had a complicated relationship to the stars and bars. Im a proud southerner, she said. But you and I both know the [American] civil wars basically about slavery, she told me. Thank God we lost, thank God but it doesnt mean that we still dont wanna honour our dead.

Trump did not create this anxiety nor this division. References to the civil war and the Klan illustrate for just how long white America has been riven by its sense of moral purpose and material privilege. What is new is that Trump has emboldened the bigots and channelled their thinking in a fashion not seen in modern times. A president who draws a moral equivalent between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters, who baits black athletes and black journalists, brands Mexicans rapists and Muslims terrorists.

One of those to whom he has given confidence is Richard Spencer, the intellectually unimpressive, historically illiterate huckster who rallied the far right in Charlottesville. Spencer, who wants to create an ethno-state for white people, claims to have coined the term alt-right a sanitised word for the extreme right. In July last year, Trumps former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, boasted that his website Breitbart News was a platform for the alt-right.

When I encountered Spencer at Montgomery Bell park, he emerged carrying a glass of what smelled like bourbon and an entourage of adoring bigots soon surrounded me in the car park. More odious troll than eloquent polemicist, he claimed, among other things, that Africans had benefited from white supremacy and that, despite having been banned from 26 European countries, Europe would always be more his home than mine. If Africans had never existed, world history would be almost exactly the same as it is today, he claimed. Because we are the genius that drives it. Like a vulture preying on the anxiety, and with few alternatives on offer as much as people cited Trump as the problem, few offered Democrats as the solution he felt confident.

People are now aware of the term alt-right I dont think Trump shares the ideal of the ethno-state But he wouldnt have run the campaign that he ran if he didnt feel some sense of loss, that America has lost something, he said.

He felt he was gaining influence. This was one of the few accurate things he actually said. And by far the most chilling.

Angry, White and American is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Thursday 9 November

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