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DA Jackie Lacey Has Recused Herself from the Daniel Hernandez Shooting Case

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has recused her office from reviewing the April fatal police shooting of Daniel Hernandez after the California Attorney General said her role presents a likely conflict of interest. It’s the latest turn in a high-profile case involving LAPD officer Toni McBride, daughter of powerful police union member Jamie McBride.

The development comes weeks ahead of the runoff between incumbent district attorney Lacey and her progressive challenger George Gascón. Many see the race as a referendum on police accountability in Los Angeles County, with Lacey’s critics accusing her of being beholden to law enforcement unions. Those unions have contributed at least $3 million to backing her reelection, including a $1 million dollar cash influx from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents roughly 10,000 rank-and-file officers.

Jamie McBride, the hard-nosed face of the LAPPL who’s called Black Lives Matter a “hate group,” helped orchestrate the union’s contributions to outside committees backing the incumbent DA. Lacey’s potential conflict of interest stems from her role in deciding if Toni McBride should face prosecution for shooting Hernandez.

In a statement, the district attorney’s office said that Lacey “recognized and wanted to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” so she appealed to Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office to review her role on July 20.

“On Aug. 4, 2020, the attorney general’s office agreed to District Attorney Lacey’s request to take jurisdiction over the matter involving Officer McBride,” a spokesperson said. “That decision ended the involvement of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in this case.” A spokesperson for Becerra’s office said the “facts and circumstances of the case present a likely conflict of interest.”

Lacey’s recusal over a month ago is likely a surprise to members of the Los Angeles City Council, who on August 19 approved a resolution calling for the attorney general’s intervention, even though Lacey had already granted Becerra authority. It is also an unusual recusal for a prosecutor who has not shied away from controversial decisions in other police shooting cases, like declining to prosecute the officers who in 2015 shot and killed an unarmed Black man named Brendon Glenn, says Eric Miller, a professor at Loyola Law School.

“Really it’s political pressure that forced Lacey to recuse herself,” Miller says. Gascón, Lacey’s reform-minded opponent can “hammer her with it.”

The shooting took place on April 22, when the 23-year-old McBride shot 38-year-old Hernandez six times in the aftermath of a multi-vehicle crash in South Los Angeles. Prior to shooting the LAPD received a call saying a man, apparently Hernandez, was stabbing himself in his car after causing the crash. In body cam and bystander footage released by the LAPD, Hernandez is seen approaching McBride with what police say is box cutter knife. McBride, with her pistol drawn, tells Hernandez to “drop the knife” multiple times as he drew closer to her, within what appears to be roughly two cars lengths. McBride then shoots at him twice. Hernandez hits the ground, and as he attempts to stand, McBride shoots four more times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Whoever is going to be investigating will see that the LAPD investigation is fair and accurate,” says McBride attorney Larry Hanna, who has previously accused Gascón of politicizing the case. “Whoever investigates will see that officer McBride acted in the interest of the public to preserve and save lives.” 

“We know this DA is a walking conflict of interest, at so many different levels,” says Gascón, who previously served as San Francisco’s district attorney. His campaign has been heavily backed by wealthy Bay Area philanthropists seeking criminal justice reform. “She knows there’s a conflict, but she wasn’t willing to admit because she’s trying to look for a way to slip and slide.”

The shooting drew the attention of Black Lives Matter activists, not only because of McBride’s ties to the LAPPL, but because she is a competitive shooter and a gun model with over 90,000 Instagram followers. In the aftermath of the Hernandez shooting, videos of McBride shooting high-powered rifles, schmoozing with Keanu Reeves, and celebrating her LAPD division’s nickname—”Shootin’ Newton”—have drawn significant ire. In recent weeks, she has posted on social media in favor of the Black Lives Matter countermovement, Blue Lives Matter, as well as a clip of herself modeling alongside a massive gatling gun.

The LAPD is conducting a months-long internal investigation into the Hernandez case, after which Chief Michel Moore and the civilian police commissioners will review the incident and make their recommendations. The attorney general will now replace Lacey’s office in reviewing the LAPD investigation and deciding whether charges are merited; the process could take over a year.

Among the factors that the attorney general’s office will likely consider are McBride’s distance from Hernandez when she decided shoot, whether Hernandez posed a “imminent threat,” and the officer’s decision to continue shooting after Hernandez hit the ground.

Arnoldo Casillas, who is representing the Hernandez family in a lawsuit against McBride, the City of Los Angeles, and the LAPD, said Lacey “did the right thing” by recusing herself, but he believes the chances of Becerra bringing charges in a police shooting are “extremely remote.” In March 2019, the California Attorney General’s office declined to charge the Sacramento officers that shot Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man. Clark’s killing spurred a new stricter police use-of-force standard in California that requires law enforcement to only use deadly force when “necessary.”

According to Loyola professor Miller, Lacey’s recusal is an unusual case, but it highlights the larger debate over the influence of police money nationwide. He points to the hundreds of thousands of dollars law enforcement unions contributed to Becerra’s election. “This is not just a local thing,” he says. “This goes all the way up the attorney general.”


RELATED: The LAPD Officer Who Shot Daniel Hernandez Is a Firearms Influencer—and Daughter of a Powerful Police Union Figure


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A Local CEO Is Under Investigation for Animal Cruelty in Incident with Pet Dog

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Santa Monica Police Department detectives are preparing to submit evidence to the District Attorney’s office in a potential animal cruelty case against local environmental company CEO Jeffrey Previte.

As Patch.com reports, Previte, the joint CEO of environmental consulting and compliance group EBI Consulting, is being investigated on allegations that he yanked the dog off the floor by its neck and smacked it in the face inside a Santa Monica apartment building last month.

A video of the incident was provided to the Daily Mail by a concierge who said he could hear the dog’s cries from his desk and reported the alleged abuse.

In a statement Friday, the SMPD said, “SMPD Detectives have worked closely with the local agency where the dog resides along with PETA to confirm to the best of their ability that Mr. Previte is no longer in possession of the dog and the dog’s wellbeing. SMPD personnel have gathered the necessary information including the online video, interviews with neighbors, acquaintances and other witnesses, and will be presenting all the facts to the filing authority regarding criminal charges.”

Unfortunately, it seems Previte and the dog—identified by the Daily Mail as four-month-old Beachy—have already left town.

According to the statement, “Mr. Previte and the animal in question no longer reside in California and have not been in the state since the beginning of our investigation.”

Although the police couldn’t locate Previte or check on the dog’s well-being when they initially responded to a call at the 1700 block of Ocean Avenue on September 4, they were given a video of the alleged August 22 incident and were later able to contact Previte by phone and were told that the dog was still in his care. Police say they were eventual able to check the dog’s condition but didn’t elaborate further.

The Daily Mail also shared a photo of Previte from his Facebook page, which shows him on a hunting trip, posing with a dead deer, along with the caption, “I didn’t mean to kill Bambi.”

“PETA is pushing for a vigorous prosecution of this abuser, including a lifelong ban on keeping animals, and for the rescue of this poor dog,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement. “We want everyone to remember Jeffrey Previte’s name and face because no one with an ounce of respect for animals or love for a dog should ever give a cent of business to a man who shoots and kills animals for fun when he’s not tormenting his dog at home.”

The puppy’s exact whereabouts and condition remain unclear. The SMPD would only confirm that, “Animal Services Officers continue to work with the individual and local authorities in the area where the animal is believed to now reside to have the dog evaluated by a veterinarian.”


RELATED: A Local Animal Rights Activist Is Being Accused of Staging Videos of Dog Torture


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Steve Harvey, Purported Difficult Boss, Comes to the Defense of Ellen DeGeneres

Family Feud host Steve Harvey has nothing but warm regards for his fellow TV personality, Ellen DeGeneres.

“I’m going to say this about it,” Harvey shared in an interview with People. “Ellen DeGeneres, the person that I know, that I’ve known for a number of years, that I saw back in the comedy club days, when we used to split time with the same management, all of this and what’s happening now, Ellen, the person, is probably one of the coolest and kindest people I’ve met in this business.”

The embattled DeGeneres is as the center of a series of scandals about her personal and professional conduct, as well as the conduct of senior staffers overseeing her daytime show. But that doesn’t appear to have dulled Harvey’s opinion of her.

“People want to take something and make something out of everything,” he said in the interview. “[Ellen] has no control over what every staff member does, what every producer does, you can’t control that. You don’t even know some of the stuff that’s happening.”

He conceded that, “it’s her name that’s on the show,” and thus she is held responsible to “take the hit” for conduct.

Harvey himself has come under fire for his conduct on set. In 2017, he wrote a list of strict rules for how he wanted to be treated by employees. The rules forbade meetings without appointments–describing encounters with employees and guests in the hall as “ambushes”–and banning any meetings in his dressing room. In the memo he implored staff, “Do not attempt to walk with me.”

Dominique Collier, a model who was a guest on Harvey’s talk show, sued Harvey for harassment in 2018. Collier alleged she was forced to change out of her own clothes and into more provocative attire in order to appear, and that the audience was then allowed to describe her as looking like a “whore,” “slut,” and “ratchet.” When she left the stage and was crying in a dressing room, she alleged Harvey carried her clothes to her, personally handling her bra and undergarments.


RELATED: The Ellen DeGeneres Show Sheds Top Producers Accused of Misconduct


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DAILY TRACKER: Updates on L.A. County’s COVID-19 Cases

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Coronavirus Cases Los Angeles, Update 9/23/2020:

Below is the current breakdown of coronavirus cases as of 8 p.m. on September 22.

There are now 263,333 total confirmed cases (+1,265 from prior day). There have been 6,423 deaths (+31 from prior day). The regions with the highest rate of infections per capita are Saugus, Santa Catalina Island, and City of Industry. The most deaths have been recorded in Glendale (176), El Monte (158), and Westlake (141). The seven-day average positivity rate is 2.9 percent.

Novel Coronavirus Cases in Los Angeles County, by Neighborhood
Acton 70
Adams-Normandie 264
Agoura Hills 160
Agua Dulce 27
Alhambra 1234
Alsace 366
Altadena 694
Anaverde 16
Angeles National Forest 7
Angelino Heights 75
Arcadia 573
Arleta 1436
Artesia 364
Athens Village 241
Athens-Westmont 1533
Atwater Village 237
Avalon 6
Avocado Heights 292
Azusa 2012
Baldwin Hills 613
Baldwin Park 2917
Bassett 637
Bel Air 84
Bell 1579
Bell Gardens 1912
Bellflower 2352
Beverly Crest 119
Beverly Hills 673
Beverlywood 154
Bouquet Canyon 8
Boyle Heights 4219
Bradbury 18
Brentwood 290
Brookside 3
Burbank 1515
Cadillac-Corning 129
Calabasas 266
Canoga Park 1845
Canyon Country 132
Carson 1820
Carthay 211
Castaic 1947
Central 2145
Century City 114
Century Palms/Cove 1482
Cerritos 575
Chatsworth 658
Cheviot Hills 70
Chinatown 115
Claremont 403
Cloverdale/Cochran 291
Commerce 577
Compton 4006
Country Club Park 343
Covina 1799
Covina (Charter Oak) 308
Crenshaw District 300
Crestview 190
Cudahy 1080
Culver City 384
Del Aire 76
Del Rey 352
Del Sur 15
Desert View Highlands 49
Diamond Bar 544
Downey 4062
Downtown 803
Duarte 692
Eagle Rock 645
East Covina 4
East Hollywood 614
East La Mirada 99
East Los Angeles 6205
East Pasadena 80
East Rancho Dominguez 670
East Whittier 87
Echo Park 249
El Camino Village 145
El Monte 4295
El Segundo 131
El Sereno 1212
Elizabeth Lake 7
Elysian Park 95
Elysian Valley 256
Encino 587
Exposition 80
Exposition Park 1307
Faircrest Heights 32
Figueroa Park Square 314
Florence-Firestone 5671
Gardena 1231
Glassell Park 684
Glendale 3620
Glendora 1258
Gramercy Place 244
Granada Hills 1170
Green Meadows 937
Hacienda Heights 1013
Hancock Park 229
Harbor City 491
Harbor Gateway 978
Harbor Pines 21
Harvard Heights 556
Harvard Park 1601
Hawaiian Gardens 532
Hawthorne 1986
Hermosa Beach 207
Hi Vista 7
Hidden Hills 7
Highland Park 1084
Historic Filipinotown 432
Hollywood 1181
Hollywood Hills 291
Huntington Park 2898
Hyde Park 786
Industry 36
Inglewood 2826
Irwindale 69
Jefferson Park 253
Kagel/Lopez Canyons 37
Koreatown 1149
La Canada Flintridge 183
La Crescenta-Montrose 199
La Habra Heights 43
La Mirada 839
La Puente 1474
La Rambla 78
La Verne 496
Ladera Heights 95
Lafayette Square 82
Lake Balboa 1015
Lake Hughes 4
Lake Los Angeles 224
Lake Manor 24
Lakeview Terrace 541
Lakewood 1262
Lancaster 3332
Lawndale 628
Leimert Park 312
Lennox 698
Leona Valley 18
Lincoln Heights 1060
Little Armenia 391
Little Bangladesh 482
Little Tokyo 88
Littlerock 85
Littlerock/Juniper Hills 9
Littlerock/Pearblossom 91
Llano 3
Lomita 239
Longwood 112
Los Feliz 209
Lynwood 3245
Malibu 101
Manchester Square 190
Mandeville Canyon 26
Manhattan Beach 354
Mar Vista 313
Marina del Rey 69
Marina Peninsula 36
Maywood 1424
Melrose 1884
Mid-city 281
Miracle Mile 173
Mission Hills 768
Monrovia 822
Montebello 2276
Monterey Park 947
Mt. Washington 544
Newhall 7
North Hills 1796
North Hollywood 3797
North Lancaster 18
North Whittier 207
Northeast San Gabriel 333
Northridge 1390
Norwalk 3217
Pacific Palisades 126
Pacoima 3410
Padua Hills 3
Palisades Highlands 28
Palmdale 4061
Palms 539
Palos Verdes Estates 96
Palos Verdes Peninsula 3
Panorama City 2861
Paramount 2362
Park La Brea 104
Pearblossom/Llano 24
Pellissier Village 27
Pico Rivera 2400
Pico-Union 1760
Playa Del Rey 27
Playa Vista 140
Pomona 5411
Porter Ranch 360
Quartz Hill 175
Rancho Dominguez 72
Rancho Palos Verdes 299
Rancho Park 89
Redondo Beach 550
Regent Square 30
Reseda 2125
Reseda Ranch 111
Reynier Village 39
Rolling Hills 11
Rolling Hills Estates 41
Roosevelt 8
Rosemead 819
Rosewood 30
Rosewood/East Gardena 29
Rosewood/West Rancho Dominguez 107
Rowland Heights 658
San Dimas 525
San Fernando 906
San Gabriel 627
San Jose Hills 715
San Marino 87
San Pasqual 10
San Pedro 1929
Sand Canyon 7
Santa Catalina Island 25
Santa Clarita 3374
Santa Fe Springs 560
Santa Monica 861
Santa Monica Mountains 112
Saugus 27
Saugus/Canyon Country 2
Shadow Hills 62
Sherman Oaks 1036
Sierra Madre 74
Signal Hill 268
Silver Lake 614
South Antelope Valley 6
South Carthay 119
South El Monte 876
South Gate 4389
South Park 2012
South Pasadena 277
South San Gabriel 176
South Whittier 1746
Southeast Antelope Valley 13
St Elmo Village 144
Stevenson Ranch 162
Studio City 240
Sun Valley 1636
Sun Village 161
Sunland 442
Sunrise Village 53
Sycamore Square 7
Sylmar 3216
Tarzana 644
Temple City 518
Temple-Beaudry 1221
Thai Town 158
Toluca Lake 103
Toluca Terrace 23
Toluca Woods 18
Torrance 1408
Tujunga 505
Twin Lakes/Oat Mountain 12
University Hills 53
University Park 1121
Val Verde 76
Valencia 43
Valinda 742
Valley Glen 631
Valley Village 512
Van Nuys 2926
Venice 288
Vermont Knolls 713
Vermont Square 337
Vermont Vista 1903
Vernon 12
Vernon Central 2954
Victoria Park 209
View Heights 45
View Park/Windsor Hills 142
Walnut 266
Walnut Park 698
Watts 1915
Wellington Square 119
West Adams 890
West Antelope Valley 5
West Carson 434
West Covina 2820
West Hills 527
West Hollywood 556
West LA 43
West Los Angeles 491
West Puente Valley 380
West Rancho Dominguez 22
West Vernon 2325
West Whittier/Los Nietos 968
Westchester 413
Westfield/Academy Hills 7
Westhills 9
Westlake 2378
Westlake Village 32
Westwood 372
White Fence Farms 44
Whittier 2277
Whittier Narrows 2
Wholesale District 2375
Willowbrook 1439
Wilmington 1754
Wilshire Center 1095
Winnetka 1240
Wiseburn 124
Woodland Hills 883
Under Investigation: 4915


RELATED: When Will California’s Gyms, Movie Theaters, and Schools Reopen? A New Roadmap Explains


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California Will Ban the Sale of New Gas-Powered Cars Starting in 2035

In a new step intended to try to slow the rate of climate change, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order banning the sale of new gas-powered passenger cars in California starting in 2035. The new car ban will not impact the sale of existing cars manufactured before that date, and cars already on the road at the time of the ban may continue driving indefinitely.

“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said in a press statement. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse–and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

Currently, half of all California greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of smog-forming pollutants are linked to transportation. Newsom’s office says that transitioning to zero-emission passenger cars could result in a 35 percent reduction of those greenhouse gas emissions, as well as an 80 percent drop in the amount of nitrogen emissions from cars. Notable, though, is that another significant amount of pollution linked to cars comes from the friction of tires on asphalt, something not addressed in the order.

The executive order tasks the California Air Resources Board with developing final regulations to implement the order. The order demands that the regulations include provisions to “support workers and job retention and creation” amid the transition to more clean-energy car production and sales.

Phasing out the sale of new gas cars in California puts the state in the company of many members of the international community who have already adopted the standard. Sweden, Norway, the U.K. Israel, India, Germany, Canada, and France all have similar rules in place at the national level. Were California its own country, based on 2019 numbers, its economy would rank fifth in the world, and car manufacturers have often adapted to California rules in order to access customers in the enormous market.

Newsom’s executive order also takes another stab at climate change by calling for the phasing out of new permits to conduct fracking in California by 2024. Little fracking is currently done in the state–it represents only about two percent of oil extraction statewide–but the practice is highly controversial.

The Mercury News described the executive order as perhaps the boldest state actions on climate change since Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger established the “cap-and-trade” carbon market. Currently, one of the largest forest projects intended to capture 100 years of carbon “offset” by cap-and-trade credits is the site of a climate change-linked wildfire.


RELATED: Climate Change Could Kill Off Southern California’s Joshua Trees


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Tres Leches Lovers Rejoice: Beloved Bakery Porto’s Will Now Ship Cakes Nationwide

One of L.A.’s biggest immigrant-food success stories started in the 1960s, when Rosa Porto supported her family by baking cakes at her home in Manzanillo, Cuba, and selling them to neighbors.

After moving to L.A. in 1971, Rosa continued to sell her homemade cakes, including her classic tres leches cake. In 1976, she opened Porto’s on a stretch of Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. The beloved bakery has since grown into a mini empire. There are now five locations in Southern California—Glendale, Burbank, Downey, West Covina, and Buena Park—and a Northridge outpost is under construction.

porto's
The Portos outside the original bakery in Echo Park

Courtesy the Porto family

And, after seeing its online sales spike during the pandemic, the Portos are also focused on solidifying their new status as a national brand. On September 29, in a major milestone for the family-owned bakery, Porto’s will start offering nationwide shipping for its iconic Milk’N Berries cake, which is a riff on that tres leches cake that Rosa, who died last year, used to make.

“It really is full circle,” says Raul Porto, 60, Rosa’s son and the company’s president. “We started with my mother making cakes in her home out of necessity. To now be in a position where we’re shipping cakes to all 50 states . . . it’s incredible. It’s still a family business. The cake is still based on her recipe.”

The Milk’N Berries cake debuted on the Porto’s menu in 2009, and the bakery has since sold more than one million. The new model’s sponge is lighter than in Rosa’s original creation, and it’s less sweet and topped with whipped cream and berries instead of sugary meringue. But at its core it’s still a tres leches cake, with each layer of sponge soaked in a blend of three different dairy products—condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream—plus a little brandy.

“We’ve just kind of enhanced the cake and moved it toward the modern taste buds,” says Tony Salazar, Porto’s vice president of operations and executive pastry chef, who started working at the company as a teenager more than 40 years ago.

Expanding its business model to ship the cake nationwide puts old-school Porto’s in competition with sleekly branded bakeries like Milk Bar. But Raul says his offerings are a relative bargain: an eight-inch, three-layer Milk’N Berries cake that feeds ten to 12 people will retail for $39.99, plus shipping.

“The other competitors on the market, from what I see, are a lot more expensive,” Raul says. “We try to be very reasonable with the price. We were immigrants when we came in, and at first the majority of our customers were Cuban expatriates. It was almost like all our customers were immigrants who were broke.”

To make the cake stable enough to ship across the country some tweaks were required. Instead of being crowned with berries, as it is when you purchase it at the bakery, the shipped version features berries in between layers of cake. The dessert arrives frozen on a serving platter with a shipping collar to maintain its integrity. Just defrost and enjoy.

porto's at home

Porto’s “Cake at Home” is an extension of it hugely successful “Bake at Home” line, which launched in 2018 and includes Porto’s favorites, like its cheese rolls, along with new items, like arroz con pollo balls, not sold in the bakery.

Raul says the majority of shipped orders come from people in California who used to drive from hours away.

“I remember one incident in Downey when there were two ladies, a mother and daughter from San Diego, who came at like 4 o’clock in the morning,” he says. “Then the parking attendant came in and didn’t know what to do because they had fallen asleep in the car.”

Nationwide shipping of the Milk’N Berries cakes will launch with 1,000 cakes the first day, but there will likely be a hunger for many more. When Porto’s started selling Bake at Home chocolate twists in August, its initial run of 8,000 sold out in eight hours.

“If you were to ask me a year ago, I would have said it’s going to do OK,” Raul Porto says of nationwide shipping. “Now our expectations are much greater. I don’t know if it will ever surpass the bakeries, but who knows. It’s definitely going to be bigger than we ever imagined.”


RELATED: Porto’s Bakery Makes L.A. History With the Largest-Ever Rosca de Reyes


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QAnon Isn’t Going Away, It’s Going to Congress  

In the past few weeks, the cultish conspiracy movement known as QAnon has come under increasing scrutiny over its outlandish myths about everything from COVID-19 vaccines to satanic pedophile rings. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have cracked down on the fast-growing movement, but the effort doesn’t seem to have deprived it of oxygen: more than 80 current or former 2020 congressional candidates have endorsed or lent credence to QAnon, including 22 who will appear on ballots this November. And the numbers continue to rise.

The QAnon worldview revolves around a bizarre fantasy that Hollywood celebrities and members of the Democratic establishment secretly torture and eat children, and that Donald Trump is working secretly to have the malefactors rounded up en masse and executed in Guantánamo. In a few short years, QAnon-associated accounts have metastasized on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok at an unprecedented rate. The pandemic has further fueled conspiracy movement’s growth, uniting anti-vaxxers, “re-open” fanatics, and COVID deniers with the Sandy Hook skeptics already part of QAnon’s growing coalition.

Over the summer, QAnon quadrupled in size and influence, due largely to the embrace of Trump, who regularly shares QAnon content on Twitter which then echoes around the MAGA-sphere. During the economic shutdown in response to COVID-19, believers found common cause with anti-vaxxers and anti-government protesters. In July, former national security adviser General Michael Flynn released a video of himself and his family earnestly reciting the QAnon pledge. More recently, conspiracy theorists have co-opted the hashtag #SaveTheChildren, which had been used in the past for legitimate causes, including raising funds for the humanitarian organization Save the Children and to draw attention to the scourge of human trafficking, obscuring the lines between actual activism and conspiratorial propaganda.

Already, a QAnon diehard named Marjorie Taylor Greene is headed to Congress next year, after her Democratic opponent in a deep-red Georgia district quit the race, citing a pending divorce from his wife. Taylor Green won the Republican nomination despite hours of uncovered videos in which she demeans Blacks, Muslims, and Jews, and promotes a slew of conspiracy theories. Trump endorsed Taylor Greene after the victory, calling her “a future star,” all but ensuring the rest of the GOP will fall in line behind her. The attention-hungry Taylor Greene has already begun trading online insults with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, albeit unsuccessfully.

“As a blonde woman, I would like to take a moment to thank Congresswoman @AOC. She has single handily [sic] put an end to all ‘dumb blonde’ jokes. Blondes everywhere appreciate your service and your sacrifice!” Taylor Greene wrote. To which Ocasio-Cortez replied, “Don’t worry Mrs. Greene, I completely understand why you need to swing + miss at my intellect to make yourself feel better. You seem to have some trouble spelling your own insults correctly. Next time try “single-handedly,” it’ll work better. Good luck writing legislation!”

In August, Trump referred to QAnon supporters as “people that love our country.” The President added, “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”

Trump’s ringing endorsement of QAnon supporters like Taylor Greene has elevated the once-obscure network of conspiracy theorists into a force within the conservative movement that is drawing comparisons to the Tea Party of a decade ago. Angelo Carusone heads Media Matters for America, a progressive research group that has been keeping tabs on QAnon congressional candidates since the start of the 2020 election cycle. He estimates that the number of current and former candidates running for Congress this year who have expressed support for the conspiracy theory has increased from approximately 50 before Taylor Greene’s victory to more than 80 in the weeks that followed.

“It just became more socially acceptable and politically viable to embrace it and to say so more explicitly,” Carusone said in a recent interview.

Some of the new Q-friendly candidates started pushing Q content on the eve of their primary election, presumably paying lip service to the conspiracy cult as part of a last-minute bid for more votes. Others did it because QAnon has become more politically acceptable and they no longer feared the consequences, Carusone said.

Catherine Purcell, a third-party candidate who has qualified to appear on the ballot in Delaware’s At-Large Congressional District in November, belongs to the second group. A pledge of allegiance associated with QAnon is posted on Purcell’s campaign home page. She recently posted an unsettling selfie video on YouTube in which she unblinkingly recites a poem featuring QAnon-related phrases like “Democrats eat you for adrenochrome”—a reference to the belief widely held in QAnon circles that opponents of Trump extract a life-extending chemical from the blood of children. (Content warning: She also refers to Michelle Obama using an anti-LGBTQ slur.)

Presently, at least 22 QAnon-identified congressional candidates will appear on the November ballots, according to Media Matters, and five of those are from California. One is Alison Hayden, a London School of Economics graduate running for California representative Eric Swalwell’s seat in Congress. Hayden, 60, a Bay Area special education teacher, became a QAnon believer during the COVID-related shutdown in the spring. She now suspects that shadowy global elites unleashed both the pandemic and the civil unrest over racial injustice to foil President Trump’s plan to unmask a secret cabal of Democratic pedophiles.

A QAnon supporter named Mike Cargile is running against incumbent Congresswoman Norma Torres to represent the 35th District of California, which includes parts of eastern Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County. Cargile, a marketing professional from Pomona, has referred to the coronavirus as a “scamdemic” on social media and posted incendiary remarks attacking Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Torres, who emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala as a child, said supporters of the GOP challenger have trolled her campaign relentlessly and even made death threats against her online. “It’s on the upswing because the president has normalized it,” she said of QAnon. “He continues to retweet and provide a platform for these people.”

Most of the QAnon supporters running for Congress, including the five in California, aren’t going to get elected. But at least two might. Colorado gun activist Lauren Boebert, who defeated a five-term Republican incumbent in the primary, would join Taylor Greene in Congress next year if she wins a close race to represent a district in Colorado. In May, Boebert told an interviewer, “Everything I’ve heard of Q—I hope this is real. Because it only means America is getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values.”

Win or lose, QAnon candidates’ success at getting on the ballot for the November election should give voters pause, says Carusone of Media Matters. “You’ve had 80-plus people running for the House and Senate combined that have been pushing QAnon theories and adding a layer of political legitimacy to it,” he said. Meanwhile, QAnon memes and affiliated social-media accounts are cropping up in races for state legislatures around the country, the Associated Press reported earlier this month.

Mike Madrid, the former political director of the California GOP-turned Never Trump conservative and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, predicts there will be a QAnon caucus in the Republican Congress in 2020. “Count on it,” he says.


RELATED: Inside QAnon, the Conspiracy Cult that’s Devouring America


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For Presidential Impersonators, Playing POTUS in a Divided Country Can Be a Dangerous Game

Original photos: Elisabeth Caren ◍ Photos Set Design: Jordan Grossman ◍ Agent: Denise Bella Vlasis at Tribute Productions

Alec Baldwin was begging him to stay on stage.
For John Di Domenico, the world’s top Trump impersonator, the day was going even better than he’d envisioned when he hopped onto a flight from Las Vegas to San Jose early that morning.

It was a warm day in February, and he’d been hired as the comic relief for a Lunar New Year dinner benefiting Evan Low, a California state assemblyman representing Silicon Valley. Not yet in makeup and as bald as Dr. Evil, 57-year-old Di Domenico, a brawny five foot eight, had spent much of the morning seated at a desk in the lobby of the San Jose Doubletree hotel tinkering with his material. The U.S. Senate had voted on the articles of impeachment that week: “Today, ‘MAGA’ has a new meaning,” Di Domenico pecked into his laptop and simultaneously tested aloud in Trump’s voice—“My Ass Got Acquitted.” He tried a localized bit: “They’re terrible people, the media—all lies, all lies! Especially the San Jose Mercury News. How many articles can you write about Mercury? It’s a tiny planet. Tie-knee.”

He checked his account on Cameo, the app that lets people buy personal video greetings from notables. Di Domenico has filmed as many as 24 greetings in a day from his home White House lectern, at up to $200 a pop, earning more than $100,000 since he joined the service in October 2019. On this morning, a Cameo request had come from the Church of the Redeemer in West Monroe, Louisiana. “We are pro-Trump here,” wrote the pastor. “Please say some fun version of this: ‘Sorry I can’t be there, but you’ve got Aaron Booth to run the show tonight. He’s one funny real-estate appraiser!’”

Then around noon, a text came in from Di Domenico’s agent, informing him that he was under consideration for a guest role on the CBS show The Good Fight, where he’d play a famous actor doing a Trump impersonation on a television sketch comedy show. In other words, he’d impersonate Alec Baldwin impersonating the president. The gig might require Di Domenico to fly to New York the next day, a challenge since he was also under consideration to appear at a Tony Robbins conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, that week. But it was all good: “Once there’s forward movement and there’s energy, things start happening and it’s like a twister,” he told me happily after the show that night. “Things start sucking towards you.”

donald trump impersonator
Before each performance, John Di Domenico uses recordings of the president speaking to get him in a Trumpy mood.

The storm of Donald Trump’s presidency has been traumatic for many, but it’s been manna for John Di Domenico and others in his spectacularly bizarre business. If the beginning of Trump’s end comes in November, say a tiny prayer for these artists who may never see times like this again. “It’s a very small clique,” says Bob DiBuono. The 49-year-old New Jersey actor is Di Domenico’s main rival at the top of the Trump-impersonation racket. If you include impersonators making a living doing Obama or any former president, membership is only slightly less exclusive than the club of real ex-presidents. Reggie Brown, America’s top Obama impersonator, estimates there are “less than five people at the top level. Altogether, maybe 25.”

Mostly comedians or once-struggling actors, they are hired via an online service such as GigSalad, or through talent agents, by everyone from major corporations looking for unique keynote speakers to wedding planners. Top impersonators can earn up to $30,000 emceeing a conference, $10,000 for doing 45 minutes of jokes as dinner entertainment for a Passover seder at a resort in Cancun, $1,500 to show up at a party, and anywhere from $125 to $5,000 for a custom video or Zoom appearance.

“We are all competing against each other, but there’s a respect, because there’s not many of us, and we all know how much work it takes to really perfect all the aspects of your character,” DiBuono says. Nothing against Darrell Hammond’s lower-lip-hiding Bill Clinton, Dana Carvey’s finger-flinging George H. W. Bush, or Will Ferrell’s deer-in-headlights Dubya. But making it big without SNL’s boost requires a whole nother level of moxie and a tolerance for abuse.

barack obama impersonator
Reggie Brown looks strikingly like Obama, even when he’s out of costume.

Elisabeth Caren

“I tell them, ‘You got four years—rake in the money,’” says Dustin Gold, a manager of political impersonators. Comedian Vaughn Meader’s JFK was so good that his 1962 album, The First Family, sold 7.5 million records. But hours after the 1963 assassination, Lenny Bruce started a nightclub show with a long pause and then said, “Boy, is Vaughn Meader fucked,” and he was right. No one wanted to laugh about JFK anymore. Tim Watters, a Floridian whose physical similarity to Bill Clinton led him to stop selling real estate in 1992 and try his luck as an impersonator, says he earned $1 million in his peak year, 1996, which dwindled in 1998 and pretty much dried up after 2000. “I was making more than the president,” he said. “When Lewinsky broke, I lost a lot of Fortune 500 gigs.” A few are luckier. Care to check out Rich Little’s 1970s-era Richard Nixon? Until the pandemic, you could still catch the octogenarian playing mid-sized rooms in Vegas and doing Watergate jokes.

But while the getting is good, there is no one better positioned to understand the persona of a president—the outward-facing sum of their word choices, facial expressions, and hand gestures—than an impersonator. And every one of them says that, from the surface, they reach something deep.

For Joe Biden impersonator Dave Burleigh, the Democratic candidate’s speaking voice is animated by loss. To perform it, Burleigh touches his own grief. “There’s a reflective sadness in Biden’s delivery, an empathetic reflection. His family dying in a car crash, then losing his son to cancer,” Burleigh says. “I lost my Dad to cancer when I was 19.”

Before Trump’s presidential candidacy, Di Domenico had almost given up the business. Weary of fighting for sporadic corporate conference bookings with his stable of impersonations—Dr. Phil, Guy Fieri, businessman Trump, and Austin Powers—he’d started poking around for dependable work as a Vegas producer.

Onstage in a $4,000 wig, Di Domenico slayed the crowd of about 300 Democrats in the banquet room of a Chinese restaurant perfumed by fried lobster.

But at this moment, three weeks before the U.S. registered its first COVID-19 death, Di Domenico was aces. He had never met Baldwin, who was coming to support Low. But there was no assurance the best fake Trump would get the chance to meet and take a photo with the most famous one.

Onstage in a $4,000 wig, Di Domenico slayed the crowd of about 300 Democrats in the banquet room of a Chinese restaurant perfumed by fried lobster—“My Secret Service detail told me there’s over 5,000 people here at the arena tonight, and 2,000 outside that couldn’t get in . . . I’m the greatest president in the history of presidents other than the late great Abe Lincoln, whose wife was maybe a three.”

Now $4,500 richer (minus expenses and 20 percent to his agent) from the day’s work, he prepared to cede the stage to Baldwin. In a postshow phone call from his dressing room, Di Domenico related to his fiancée what happened next. “So Alec says, ‘No, no, no—you’re not going anywhere. I want to interview you.’”

Alec: How long have you been doing this?

John: I’ve been doing Trump since 2004.

Alec: So from when he started doing The Apprentice. You began doing comedy clubs? Vegas?

John: Comedy clubs, voiceovers. I did a movie in 2008 and a bunch of stuff.

Alec: When did you know you had the essence of Trump? And what, to you, is the essence of Trump?

John: The essence of Trump is confidence no matter what.

Alec: I’m gonna steal that from you.

John: If people are booing me, I hear applause. It’s like positive thinking on steroids.

Alec: Whenever people ask me what I’m trying try to do, I say I just try to make Trump as miserable as possible.

John: You know how they say you’re the king of the . . . ?

Alec: No, no—I’m the worst Trump impersonator there is. All Trump impersonators know that. What we do is five minutes long. They want to get a couple gags, get everybody wound up, and say, ‘Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!’ Very broad. Very caricature. What else do you do these days?

John: This is pretty much taking over my entire life.

Alec: You and me both, baby!

◍◍◍

While the pandemic has drastically reduced in-person performances, it has been a boon for Cameo greetings and paid Zoom meetings. Sarah Cooper used her lockdown time to create an abstract impression of the president with lip-synched TikToks so on-key that she was rewarded with a forthcoming Netflix special. But most impersonators hone their acts on the road, where, in the days before COVID, they’d come face-to-face with people who treat impersonators as therapy dummies. After a trade-show gig at Mandalay Bay in Vegas in 2016, Di Domenico stepped into an elevator with his producers. An older man who was already aboard sprang, grabbed him by the throat, and squeezed. “My producers were saying, ‘It’s not him, it’s not him,’” Di Domenico recalls. As they shoved him out, “the guy said, ‘I know it’s not him. It’s what he represents.’”

Thirty-nine-year-old Brown is the most realistic fake Obama; born to a white mother and a black father, he has the same height, head shape, and natural vocal cadence as the ex-president. When I visited his Sherman Oaks apartment, he told me about a confrontation he had at the Muse Hotel in New York. He had been having drinks in costume with Watters (the Bill Clinton) and a faux Sarah Palin after doing a sketch on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show. Brown started getting heckled by “total frat bros—double polo, popped collars. One had his beer balls, going, ‘Hey, Obama, I didn’t vote for you.’ And I’m [in Obama voice] ‘OK, well, did you vote?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, good for you—your voice has been heard.’ I was trying to de-escalate, but his friends started pushing me. I said, “‘Alright, dude. Nothing’s happening. Stop touching me.’”

Normally, when he makes public appearances, Brown’s contract rider requires that he be accompanied by two security people, costumed as Secret Service. Brown has also become adept at Thai boxing. When he was 20, an N-word-spouting thug bashed his face with a hard object, shattering his craniomaxillofacial bones and ending his modeling career. When he is invited to give keynote talks as Obama, Brown breaks character at the end to tell his personal story, including his birth father leaving him when he was 5 and his losing his beloved stepfather to leukemia when he was 13. He runs a charity in schools called Outsmart Racism.

This night, he asked the aggressor, “Do you want to get knocked out or you want to get choked out?”

The bros, intimidated by this ready-to-rumble Obama, offered to buy him a beer. “Then when I went to leave, the guy says, ‘Have a good night, N-word,’” Brown recalls.

They went outside, Brown with Watters and Patti Lyons, the faux Palin. “She always had my back,” Brown says.

Watters and Lyons insist they have only hazy memories of this incident, but Lyons says Brown often can’t distance himself from anger directed at the Obama avatar. “Someone will say something and instead of saying, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ he’d say ‘F.U., dude.’ I would say, ‘Reggie, just stop. Stop it. Don’t do this.’ But you become very loyal to your character. When I started doing Palin, I wasn’t sure I liked her. But then as you study her, you get to know her and like her.”

barack obama impersonator
Customized $3,000 prosthetic ears add the final touch to Reggie Brown’s already convincing look.

Left: @Iamreggiebrown on Instagram | Right: Allen Salkin

Unlike Di Domenico who requires nearly two hours to wig up, face paint, and get his Trump on, Brown requires only a dusting of white hair powder, a touch of makeup, and one other easy step to look so much like Obama that it’ll make you drop your phone: a slip-on pair of $3,000 prosthetic ears.

He took them off and handed them to his manager “like a chick takes her earrings off in a fight—‘Hold these.’”

The aggressor charged. “I took him like it was a movie, and I don’t know if it’s ‘dung’ him or ‘dinged’ him off a light pole, spun him around, and threw him back at his friends. He staggered and splatted at their feet.”

Back inside, there was more trouble when a separate drunkard stepped off the elevator and decided to try his luck.

“He tried hocking one right in my face. I ducked. He went to punch me, I ducked, picked him up, double-legged him, took him down on the ground. He’s saying, ‘I’m gonna kill you.’ I was in his ear, ‘You’re not doing a good job.’ He starts crying, and they kick him out of the hotel.”

Oftentimes it goes less roughly for Obamas. Dion Flynn, a New York actor, impersonated the former president on The Tonight Show. “After Trump got elected, I had these overwrought women hugging me closer, saying, ‘I voted for you. I would vote for you again. Please don’t leave.’” It went differently when Flynn was hired for $3,000 plus expenses to visit a dying woman in Illinois. Arriving in a black Escalade, he was led to her adjustable bed in the living room where he held a folder labeled “NSA.” Using information her family had provided, he read her “top secret” file aloud, gently joking about her shoe buying and unsuccessful first marriage. “You’ve never been in a surrealistic situation until you’re singing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah,’ dressed as Obama, for a woman who would be dead in 36 hours,” Flynn recalls. Just before he left, the dying woman, who seemed to believe the president himself was there, whispered, “I didn’t vote for you.”

Like the ex-presidents, many impersonators are former professional rivals who know and like each other—even as they ruthlessly pick each other apart. “I’m the best of the best,” said Anthony Atamanuik, a background actor on 30 Rock before his version of Trump landed him a 24-episode run of The President Show on Comedy Central. “Roger Stone and I were at this event, and he grabbed my arm and said, ‘He knows what you do.’ I said, ‘OK, OK.’ He goes, ‘You do his presence. I’ve never seen anyone do his presence.’ I said, ‘Roger, what did you do with Watergate?’”

DiBuono doesn’t criticize other impersonators directly, but he says, “Most guys don’t have the full package. They look like their guy and can’t do the vocal impression well; or they do the impression, but they’re not real comedians and don’t have good material.”

When Brown was developing his Obama impression around 2011, he paid particular attention to how the 44th president would enter a room. “If he’s coming in and he’s feeling all cool, he does this little stroll and he’ll be like, ‘Oh, it’s good to see you. How are you?’ He moves like a swaggy robot. It’s hingey.”

His standard Obama act includes zingers at Trump. “I won the Nobel Peace Prize. He won the Try and Get a Piece prize.” He has not used that joke on trips he has been paid to take via airplane and motorcade to summer camps in the Northeast. “I’ll take the podium and make them say, ‘Yes we can!’ Like, ‘Do you promise to be the best you can be?’ Then I say, ‘And now we officially break color war!’ They go crazy. I take some pictures, and then I head out.”

◍◍◍

Hours before he was living the onstage dream with Baldwin in San Jose, Di Domenico started the nearly two-hour process of becoming Trump. He leaned his cell phone against a mirror in his hotel room to play a highlight video.

“Welcome to the world, Joe,” Trump said, and the impersonator repeated it. Then, “We sold millions and millions of hats.”

In developing his Trump, “there were certain things about him that reminded me of my dad, who had a very short fuse,” Di Domenico says. “My dad never apologized. He was a hardworking guy and he wanted fucking quiet and he didn’t want to hear it from his kids. Our summer vacations, he drove us to Ocean City, New Jersey, dropped us off, and drove home so he could have a week of quiet.”

His Trump wig has hair set into a translucent lattice that disappears into Di Domenico’s scalp. He sends it to its maker, Bree Schaller, every few weeks for repairs. He lifts it from a dummy head and smoothes it onto his own. On the mirror are two headshots of Trump—one a glowering Time cover headlined “Deal with It,” the other showing a canary-mouthed smile. They watch Di Domenico shave. “He has no stubble.” In normal times, Di Domenico visits a beauty salon every couple of weeks to keep his eyebrows bleached the same corn blond as the wig.

joe biden impersonator
Biden impersonator Gary Bley crowns around with Di Domenico as Trump. (On occasion, Bley moonlights as Mike Pence.)

Elisabeth Caren

Di Domenico did once meet Trump when the impersonator performed as Austin Powers for a Trump birthday in Atlantic City around 2000. The impersonator had received a call from a booker who asked three times if he could do the gig for free.

“Not for free on a Saturday night,” Di Domenico replied.

“So 100 percent you will not perform for Donald Trump for free?”

“No.”

The booker said they could now discuss a price.

“That comes from the top. It’s a pain in the ass.”

On the night of that particular show, staff warned Di
Domenico not to shake Trump’s hand. “All right, baby,” Di
Domenico assured them in the voice of the character invented by Mike Myers. Then Trump came in the dressing room and stuck his hand out. “Shake his hand,” a staffer whispered.

The director said, “Mr. Trump, this is John Di Domenico. He’s the best Austin Powers impersonator in the country.”

The gag was that Di Domenico would pop out of a giant cake at the end of the show. He and the birthday boy would lock arms with a line of showgirls and do a few kicks.

“So I jump out, the girls leave the stage,” Di Domenico recounts, “and Trump vamps, ‘Austin, wasn’t this some party?’

“‘Baby, it was groovy, baby.’

“Then Trump said, ‘I want to thank everybody for being here. And, by the way, folks, you probably didn’t know this, but he doesn’t do this a lot. In fact, he doesn’t do it for anyone. But he did it for me. This is Mike Myers.’

“I felt like I got hit by a cattle prod. I thought, ‘Why is he saying that? He knows I’m not Mike Myers.’ And as I came offstage, people were saying, ‘Oh, my God, I was talking to you! I didn’t realize you were really him! Mr. Myers, can I get your autograph?’ Textbook Trump!” Di Domenico says, laughing.

george w. bush impersonator
George W. Bush impersonator John
Morgan

Margi Tobey

When the impersonators gather, as they did recently at O’Briens Irish Pub in Santa Monica, stories fly. Don Frankel, a phony Clinton, reminisced about a model at a medical convention who circled for days, trying to get in his pants, and finally slipped him her number. “Since I’m married, I immediately threw it away,” he croaks.

Brown nods, “Everyone knows the Clintons have it best. Girls are always throwing themselves at him. It’s bizarre, but he still has it. I can’t imagine it’s fun to be Bernie.” (This was later confirmed by James Adomian, a Sanders impersonator. “I have to be very much out of costume if I’m gonna get laid after a Bernie Sanders show,” he griped.)

Brown bemoaned his own lack of road action. “I guess people know Obama doesn’t play that way. He doesn’t really exude sexual charisma.”

There was one notable exception, however—a Vegas producer who promised a big payday if he starred as Obama in a porn film. He declined. “I don’t think me appearing nude as Obama will do much to enhance either of our brands!”

◍◍◍

In 2012, Marcus J. Fox, a TV producer who worked on The Osbournes and Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, cooked up a reality show in which political impersonators would live together. Brown, Lyons, Di Domenico, and Watters spent about a week with others shooting the pilot for Politicos in and around Gainesville, Georgia. At the time, many were managed by Gold, from whom Brown has since split.

“Patti really was like a ditzy soccer mom,” Gold recalled in a phone interview. “She had accidentally taken some sleeping pills instead of Tylenol, and on the way to a car dealership she was drooling all over herself. Marcus told me, ‘Dude, this is going to sell so easy.’” Taking Ambien was a mistake, Lyons admits, but “they loved it.”

Then things really turned, Brown recalls. “One night after we’re almost done shooting, I went to sleep. A few hours later, a police officer was waking me up and bringing me downstairs and we see the kitchen being taped off. Dustin is being handcuffed.”

According to news accounts, a fight had broken out between Watters and Fox that drew in Gold. “The Clinton was looking for a fight,” Lyons says bitterly. “He was saying to Marcus, ‘You’re Irish, I’m of English descent—we used to own you.’ Marcus was like, ‘F you, my father fought that fight.’”

Watters recalls that early in production, Fox said, “‘If you’re controversial, you’ll be one of the main characters.’ I figured I’d play that up. Throw some alcohol on there, and someone gets crazy.”

clinton impersonators
Bill and Hillary Clinton impersonators Bill Watters and Teresa Barnwell were all set to star together in a reality show called Politicos. But it was canceled when an agent for the impersonators stabbed the producer, Marcus J. Fox.

Margi Tobey

At a court hearing, a sheriff’s investigator testified that at one point Fox held Gold down on a pool table and licked his face. Gold ran outside, fell down an embankment, was let back in at 4 a.m. by a Michelle Obama impersonator, scuffled with Fox, and then stabbed the producer in the gut with a steak knife. Fox was hospitalized with punctured intestines and required several operations, according to both Brown and Lyons.

Gold was charged with a felony and claimed self-defense. The case was dropped with no conviction, said Hannah Aldrich, a clerk with the Hall County, Georgia, criminal court. In text messages, Fox cited ongoing security concerns and did not reply to requests for more comment. The show never aired.

Brown’s business was dropping off even before the pandemic. Bidens are popping up, including Tom Shillue, a comedian on The Greg Gutfeld Show on Fox News. Shillue’s bit involves Biden making rambling phone calls from his basement.

“Other people can talk about Biden losing his marbles,” Shillue said in a phone interview. “But that’s not funny. What’s funny is he always brings it back to his childhood with a story about Corn Pop.”

Di Domenico says Biden impersonations will never be as popular as those of Trump, Obama, and Clinton because the former vice president lacks catchphrases and traits to caricature. Burleigh, who uses full masks for spot-on impersonations of Sanders and Trump, had resisted spending the $10,000 it would cost to make a mold for Biden. But he’s been trying to study the voice.

“He’s got like three different tones,” Burleigh texted. “There’s subdued Grandpa Biden, Barstool Biden (‘C’mon Man!’), and Cranky Biden (‘Dog Face Pony Soldier’).” Finally, in late summer, Burleigh received two bookings for a Biden impersonation—one a corporate gig, the other a TV pilot—and he ordered the mask.

In 2016, Di Domenico predicted Trump’s election. At appearances in the middle of the country during campaign season, he was experiencing rabid devotion. In Trump’s 2005 book How to Get Rich, which credits coauthorship to longtime Trump Organization staffer Meredith McIver, there is a chapter entitled “Read Carl Jung.” It discusses “persona,” noting the Latin origin of the word means mask. “It’s the face we put on for public use, and it can be intentional or unconscious . . . The only danger is when people become their personae. That means something has been shut off somewhere along the line, and these people will end up hiding behind the false personality that works professionally.”

When you see Democrats lining up to take selfies with Di Domenico after the San Jose show, you understand that, before and maybe after all the mishegas, an achievement you can’t take away is that Trump, whether through craft, instinct, or madness, created an indelible persona called Trump and blasted it on the nation’s collective unconscious in 20-foot-high brass letters. The persona sold useless degrees and got cast as a successful businessman on reality TV even though the man himself wasn’t. Then, when he was ready to grab for political power, Trump added a nasty smirk to his mask by embracing birtherism and a border wall.

Perhaps if someone isn’t easy to impersonate, they’re not electable. They lack a persona that lodges in the subconscious and motivates fingers to mark ballots. If Biden doesn’t win, think about Kate McKinnon’s memorable Elizabeth Warren (“I’ve got a plan for that”) and Larry David’s indelible Bernie Sanders.

Or Adomian’s Sanders. During a primary-season comedy-club tour in which Adomian as Sanders debated Atamanuik as Trump, his faux Sanders had sharp material: “As president, I promise that I will only fly stand-by. Even on Air Force One, if anyone—anyone—has a better reason to take the flight, you go ahead and take the seat. I’ll take the next one.” Sanders’s voice? Have you done a Biden impression? A Hillary? You’ve probably done your own Bernie for friends. Everyone alive in the 1970s still has a Nixon.

“He’s got like three different tones,” Burleigh texted. “There’s subdued Grandpa Biden, Barstool Biden (‘C’mon Man!’), and Cranky Biden (‘Dog Face Pony Soldier’).” —Biden impersonator Dave Burleigh

What’s more, Trump effectively tars his opponent’s masks with monikers: “Lyin‘ Ted.” Speaking of Lincoln once, he showed his thinking on persona and politics: “Honest Abe—I wonder how honest he really was.”

If you want Trump gone from the White House, know that The Apprentice was only a top-ten hit the first season. Trump’s act tires. Still, “I don’t think he’s going to lose,” Di Domenico says. “But even if he does, a core group is going to have events, and they’ll want a Trump. He’ll never disappear from the American consciousness.”

Starting to remove his makeup late after the San Jose event, a message dinged on Di Domenico’s phone. He’d just been booked on The Good Fight.

Allen Salkin is the co-author of The Method to the Madness: Untold Stories of Donald Trump’s 16-Year Quest for the White House.

Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Hollywood’s Two Biggest Trade Publications, Are Now Sister Magazines

The industry’s two biggest trade publications are now sister properties. In a deal announced this morning, Penske Media Corp., owner of Variety (as well as Rolling Stone and Music Business Worldwide), is partnering with MRC, owner of The Hollywood Reporter (as well as Billboard, Vibe, Deadline, WWD, SHE Media, Sportico, and Robb Report) to create the new joint venture PMRC. Variety was first to report the news.

It’s one of two deals the company’s respective CEOs—Jay Penske of PMC and Asif Satchu and Modi Wiczyk of MRC, formerly Valence Media—entered into effective today. The other is a content partnership that will be overseen by MRC, which, in addition to its media properties, produces TV shows, movies, and live shows, including the Golden Globes. In that deal, MRC will reportedly be tasked with “mining the collective brand IP across all of its content divisions including television, film, live and alternative and nonfiction.”

The PMRC deal makes TheWrap the only major Hollywood trade publication that’s not connected to Penske.

As Los Angeles reported back in July, a deal between the companies has been in the works for several months. At the time, both entities fervently denied insider reports about a potential deal.

While no staffing changes have been announced as yet, MRC CEOs Satchu and Wiczyk predicted the deal might cause “some anxiety.” In a letter to employees that was shared with Los Angeles, they wrote, “We’re really excited to share the breaking news below about partnering with PMC across media and long-form content, which gives us an incredible opportunity to expand and evolve the brands and their influence. We appreciate this will cause some anxiety, as well as some excitement, and look forward to sharing more information in the coming week and at our upcoming town hall [set to take place on October 2].”  

The deal comes after several months of turmoil at THR. In April, editorial director Matthew Belloni exited abruptly over disputes with Wiczyk and Asif Satchu. Belloni was reportedly reluctant to skew reporting in favor of MRC vehicles, including Ozark and Knives Out. Following Belloni’s departure, THR laid off longtime publisher Lynne Segall along with about a dozen journalists, including veteran film critic Todd McCarthy. Shortly thereafter, the company jettisoned additional staff members across all of its media properties, including Billboard and Vibe. Wiczyk and Satchu had reportedly stopped taking salaries as the company looked to stem losses that reportedly total around $15 million a year.

More on the deal as the story develops.


RELATED: Penske Media Eyeing Purchase of ‘The Hollywood Reporter’


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Morning Brief: Orange County Teachers Protest School Reopenings

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» Orange County schools are scheduled to welcome young students back to elementary school campuses next week—but some teachers are protesting the move. Educators at two large O.C. school districts say they’re not satisfied with safety protocols and believe the district’s rush to reopen puts them in danger. [Los Angeles Times]

» Studios and entertainment industry unions have reached a deal on COVID protocols for film sets. Rules will require regular testing, pay for workers who get sick or have to quarantine, and other provisions. [CBS Los Angeles]

» Vanessa Bryant has formally filed suit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over deputy conduct relating to Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashThe suit claims a group of deputies used personal cell phones to take photographs of the scene and victims which they then shared. [Los Angeles Times]

» An audit of University of California admissions finds dozens of cases where “inappropriate factors” were used to give preference to rich, well-connected students over better-qualified ones. UC Berkeley was linked to the majority of the cases. [Los Angeles Times]

» The FDA is expected to establish stricter standards for COVID-19 vaccines. The new requirements are likely to push back the timeline for any vaccine to be approved, but may increase public trust in the product once it becomes available.  [The Washington Post]


TOP STORIES FROM L.A. MAG

» Indoor Nail Salon Services Are Now Permitted in California, but Counties Will Make the Call Los Angeles County officials recently said reopenings were being paused through the end of September

» COVID-19 Shut Down the County Fair, but the Fairplex Has Served a More Important Role While we were all bemoaning yet another canceled tradition, the Pomona campus has been playing host to a quartet of overlooked COVID-response efforts

» L.A. City Council Wants to Honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a Statue A motion calls for the Department of Cultural Affairs to get to work on the details


ONE MORE THING

baby face shields covid-19

Local Students Are Making Sure the Tiniest Angelenos Are Safe from COVID-19

The CDC warns that infants and children younger than two years old shouldn’t be fitted with face masks because they can impair breathing and present a choking hazard. “But what about face shields?” thought local high school student Tiffany Chang. Now, she’s formed a group to create tiny shields to provide infants with a bit of protection.

[FULL STORY]


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