“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.” — Smedley D. Butler
Back in 2019, when the world was young, I started an email newsletter. My goals were simple: a place to connect with readers, play around with form and writing, and draw connections between history and current events.
Two and a half years and tens of thousands of readers later, there is a lot to be proud of. I’ve been among the first to call out coups and concentration camps, wrote on crises of climate change and colonialism, and held my own industry to account.
Now it’s time for an upgrade. Starting today, I’m bringing a new focus—and, I’m especially excited to announce, a new team to the effort. Welcome to The Racket.
The Racket takes its name from the speeches of Smedley Butler, the legendary Marine turned antiwar activist, who, not coincidentally, is the subject of my soon-to-be-released book. Butler was a veteran of nearly every U.S. overseas war, invasion, and occupation from 1898 until the eve of World War II. After decades of advancing the causes of U.S. capitalism, empire, and his own career at the expense of peoples all over the world, Butler became a fierce critic of all three.
Butler turned his maverick streak against the powerful, taking the side of the working class and against fascism. (Notably, in 1934, Butler blew the whistle on an incipient fascist coup against Franklin Roosevelt, in which powerful financiers and businessmen hoped to dismantle the New Deal by force.) And Butler wasn’t afraid to challenge the institutions to which he had dedicated his life. He wrote the quote above in his book, War Is a Racket, an early jeremiad against what would be dubbed the military-industrial complex. Soon after, he declared that as a Marine he had been no more than hired muscle for corporations and the banks—a “racketeer for capitalism.”
The Racket will carry on Butler’s legacy: his fearlessness, his eagerness to challenge the powerful, and his willingness to be critical of himself. Building on a career I’ve spent exposing wrongdoing and corruption at the highest levels, each issue will help you better understand the webs of connections that link seemingly disparate parts of our world—in international affairs, disaster, U.S. politics, social issues, and more.
As a former Associated Press correspondent and one-time contributor to pretty much every reputable news outlet you can name—with a shelf of hardware to show for it— you can be assured every issue will be based on reporting of the highest journalistic standards. (So if you’re looking for unsourced conspiracy theories or power-reifying fictions repackaged as “heterodoxy,” look somewhere else.) I’ll take risks. Sometimes—true to the new name—things will get loud. My promise is that I will always keep learning, and so will you.
Best of all, starting now, I won’t be doing it alone.
The Racket will be edited by Sam Thielman, an experienced journalist and editor whose credits include The Guardian, NBC News, and the Columbia Journalism Review. He also edits other excellent newsletters, including Spencer Ackerman’s and Rana Ayyub’s, so I know I’m in good hands.
I am also excited to be working with researcher Annie Malcolm, whose doctorate in anthropology from UC Berkeley far outclasses everyone else in the group. Her research was based on experimental ethnography in an artist village in China. She also curates art exhibitions and volunteers with unhoused people in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Racket will also soon include a regular podcast produced and overseen by Evan Roberts, whose past projects include investigations into the food industry and an audio history of the struggle over the I-Hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown.
The new logo and feel of The Racket is designed by Casey Burns, a rock poster artist who has also worked with Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, and Spoon.
What will you get?
If you sign up for The Racket, you’ll get two items a week: a piece of original writing by me, and a second item—a podcast, digest, or shorter take—on Fridays. (Evan and I are planning to bump up the number of podcasts starting early next year.)
Upgrade to a paid subscription—$6/month or $60/year (that’s two months free!)—and you’ll get full access, including exclusive voice memos or videos from the field, subscriber-only comment boards, and more. As the community grows, the extras will grow with it. Bonus podcasts? A Discord? Join and you can help decide.
In January, we are planning to go deeper into and behind the scenes of Gangsters of Capitalism (which you should preorder while you’re at it).
This week, we’re kicking off from Charlottesville. I will be reporting live from the courthouse on a groundbreaking federal lawsuit: a conspiracy case against the neo-Nazi and white supremacist authors of the infamous 2017 rampage that shocked the world. It was, the plaintiffs’ lawyers allege, a real-life conspiracy to sow mayhem based on a racist conspiracy theory—the so-called “Great Replacement”—that has been steadily gaining steam in right-wing media and politics ever since. It’s a fascinating case with international implications. You won’t want to miss it.
It’s up to you
None of this will work without your support. The more people who chip in $6 a month, the more we can do—more investigations, more Freedom of Information actions, more and better independent journalism.
If you cannot afford a paid subscription right now (I get it! It’s been a tough few years), I invite you to join the free list. If, on the other hand, you’re in a position to kick in extra, please do. You can also send a paid subscription as a gift to others. Every bit helps.
I appreciate everyone who has read and shared my newsletter for the past two years. Please join me in making The Racket something special.