Attack on innocent truck driver shows how dangerous election fraud claims really are

The saying "elections have consequences" has never rung more true than it does right now, and in more ways than one. Right now, the consequence of the 2016 election is that we currently have a sitting president who refuses to accept the outcome of what state election officials have verified as a free and fair election, instead claiming that the election was "rigged" with "rampant fraud," insisting that he actually won in a landslide, and continuing to peddle falsehoods in an attempt to remain in power.

We'll get to those claims in a minute. But first let's look at a story that highlights how the consequences of those claims are growing more and more dangerous.

A former Houston police captain has been arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a police investigation into an incident that occurred two weeks before the 2020 election.

According to ABC 13 News, Mark Anthony Aguirre had spent four days surveilling a man who he thought was heading up a huge voter fraud operation. Believing the man's truck was transporting 750,000 fraudulent ballots, 63-year-old Aguirre rammed his SUV into the back of the truck, forcing it off the road. When the driver got out to check his truck and the welfare of the person who had struck his vehicle, Aguirre pulled out his pistol. He held the truck driver at gunpoint on the ground with his knee in his back until the police arrived.


The truck was not full of ballots. It was full of air conditioner parts and tools, and the man was an innocent air conditioner technician.

But it gets even darker and unhinged. Aguirre explained to police that he was part of a private citizen group called "Liberty Center" who were "investigating" an alleged voter ballot harvesting operation that the truck driver was supposedly running out of his shed behind his mobile home. Aguirre said he and some friends had set up a "command post" at a Marriott hotel and had been conducting 24-hour surveillance of the driver's home for four days. He claimed the driver was hiding 750,000 fraudulent ballots. He claimed they were using Hispanic children to sign them because their fingerprints wouldn't show up in a database. He also claimed that Mark Zuckerberg had paid the man $9.37 million to conduct the illegal voting operation.

None of this was true, of course. Police searched the truck driver's home, shed, and truck, and found no ballots. His home and shed contained normal home and shed things. And his truck contained exactly what you would expect an air conditioner repairman's truck to contain. The poor guy thought he was being robbed at gunpoint when Aguirre confronted him after ramming his truck.

So what of this "Liberty Center"? A grand jury subpoena of Aguirre's bank records show that he received three large payments from an organization called Liberty Center for God and Country—two for $25,000 in the month prior to the truck-ramming incident, and $211,400 the day after it.

The police officer who investigated the incident wrote in his affidavit that Aguirre told him he could be part of the solution or part of the problem, adding "I just hope you're a patriot."

Apparently, being a patriot means going along with someone being paid huge amounts of money to conduct bizarro "investigations" based on cuckoo conspiracy theories and committing felonies in the name of overturning a free and fair election.

We are so far past the point of "perusing legal channels" for ensuring the election was legitimate it's not even funny. Every state has verified its election results, including states with Republican Secretaries of State that ended up blue. Trump's legal team and other allies who have brought court cases have lost spectacularly. Every court case that has been put forth alleging either fraud or unconstitutionality of election changes due to the pandemic has been lost or dismissed except one, making Trump 1-59 in court. That includes rulings from Trump-appointed federal judges, the Supreme Courts of various states, as well as the SCOTUS itself.

There's a widespread claim that all of these cases have been dismissed on technicalities, but that's simply not true. You can read the court rulings here. There has been an unfortunately successful attempt at convincing a good portion of the public that there is evidence of widespread fraud, but multiple judges have been clear the evidence isn't there. The vast majority of "evidence" that has been presented are affidavits from people either misunderstanding normal election processes or describing normal processes in suspicious ways. Some of it has been flat out false information (such as the "expert" who mixed up counties in Michigan and Minnesota) and some of it has been flat out wrong assumptions based on a lack of relevant knowledge.

We can't get into every instance—and indeed, the absolute flood of b.s. is designed to make it virtually impossible to keep up with—but here's one example from this morning's Senate hearing. Much has been made of the forensic audit of the Dominion voting machines in Michigan, with countless breathless social media posts claiming a 68% error rate. Chris Krebs is a Republican who served as director of CISA—the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency—until he was fired by Trump for fact-checking him about the election. He explained in two minutes what the real story is with that part of the audit report.

Watch:

And yet Trump is still claiming to have won the election in a landslide, his pet media outlets are peddling the same fraudulent claim, and millions are eating it up.

Let's be perfectly clear. Fake voter fraud claims aside, the idea of a landslide Trump win is absurd on its face. Nearly every single poll of likely or registered voters leading up to the election had Biden favored to win. And despite the fanatic enthusiasm of his base, Trump has been a historically unpopular president. His approval rating at the beginning of 2020 was 42.6%, the lowest of any president since 1976—and that was before his handling of the pandemic led to hundreds of thousands of American deaths. Forty-one separate polls show that he has never even reached, much less exceeded, a 50% approval rating during his entire presidency.

So yeah. Cheering, adulating, superspreading crowds at rallies do not a majority make. The idea that Biden could only have won if there were fraud doesn't even make basic logical sense, and the idea that Democrats would have rigged the presidential election and not the congressional races is just plain silly.

The longer these allegations continue to be pushed, the more danger American citizens and the country as a whole will be in. One man's insatiable narcissism is not worth destroying democracy. Enough is enough.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."