There is mounting evidence that Clarence Thomas's wife helped plan the events of Jan. 6. Can her privilege as a white woman married to a Black Supreme Court Justice shield her from the charges?
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There’s a groundswell of evidence that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas—the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—was part of an “an attempted coup” to overthrow a free and fair presidential election. We know this, but just saying that out loud is shocking. More shocking still: She is refusing to testify before the January 6 Congressional Committee. But now that the DOJ has seized the phone records of top White House aides, including Mark Meadows, the clock may be ticking on Ginni Thomas’s free pass at meddling with democracy.
But even so, it still remains to be seen whether she (together with her husband, who was complicit) will be held accountable. Which is terrifying when you consider that:
- On Nov. 9, 2020, Ginni Thomas emailed Arizona lawmakers after the 2020 election to set aside Joe Biden’s popular-vote victory and choose “a clean slate of Electors,” according to emails obtained by The Washington Post. In sending those emails, Thomas was trying to assist in the extraordinary scheme, known as the “Fake Electors.” The fake electors were only the first of several attempts at overturning the election.
- In the two weeks following the election, Ginni Thomas sent a series of 21 texts to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (he replied 8 times), urging him to overturn the results of the election, according to published reports. In one message, she wrote “Help This Great President stand firm Mark!!! … You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.” As Jane Mayer reports, Ginni Thomas’s texts expose her belief in baseless conspiracy theories. In one text, she told Meadows that “watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation,” which was a widely held belief among the far-right QAnon group.
- On January 6, 2021, Ginni Thomas attended the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse before the armed mob attacked the Capitol. In an interview, she said she “got cold” and left early. She has disavowed the violence that followed (saying “I was disappointed and frustrated that there was violence that happened following a peaceful gathering of Trump supporters on the Ellipse on Jan. 6,” she told the Washington Free Beacon in March). However, the case the Jan.6 Committee has presented makes it clear that the violence wasn’t just something that “happened,” it was part of the plan (after the fake electors antic didn’t work). “The violence was no accident,” as Rep. Bennie Thompson put it.
But, these alarming incidents only scratch the surface of Ginni Thomas’s involvement in the attempt to overthrow the will of the American voters. Ginni, a white woman, and her husband, a Black Supreme Court Justice, and among the most virulently conservative, have been engaged in a “long crusade” to reshape the political landscape of the U.S., as described in a lengthy profile in the New York Times from February this year. I bring up race, because race is very much a part of their shtick: The Supreme Court justice offers a kind of cover for the retrograde policies of the far right, like many other conservatives of color, e.g., Dinesh D’Souza, Candace Owens, Michelle Malkin, Ali Alexander, Enrique Torres.
And she, the dutiful white wife to her Black husband, provides a kind of endorsement that he is not the dangerous kind of Black men that so many white people, including her own family, fears. In 1991, one of Ginni Thomas’s relatives told The Washington Post that Clarence “was so nice, we forgot he was Black.” This is the public role she has played for him since his confirmation hearings when she sat behind him, furrowed brow, an embodied rebuke of the meticulous charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas made by Anita Hill.
Once Clarence Thomas was confirmed as Supreme Court Justice, Ginni Thomas began her own political career at conservative organizations, including The Heritage Foundation, Hillsdale College, and the right-wing “news” website The Daily Caller, founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel. In an (archived) bio from her bid to become a delegate to the RNC in 2016, she described herself as a “lifelong political activist, from Nebraska College Republican Chair” to helping “launch and set agendas with President Trump’s White House.” How she got a seat at the table at Trump’s White House began with her ardent opposition to President Obama.
Following Obama’s election, Ginni Thomas became involved in the Tea Party, a conservative group that has been described as a populist response (from mostly older, white men) to government bail-outs of failing banks, insurers and auto companies following the economic meltdown of 2008, and closely aligned with anti-tax proponent Grover Norquist. However, as researchers at Harvard noted, it was also a sophisticated attempt to reshape the Republican party by an elite group of wealthy donors and well-funded free-market advocacy organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity, an astroturf group co-founded by billionaire David H. Koch.
Always looking for an opportunity to advance her conservative agenda, Ginni leveraged her connections to the Tea Party and her part-time position at The Daily Caller to build a list of “leaders from the grassroots in each state … who have their ear to the ground” and are willing to be surveyed weekly by two “prominent pollsters.” From that list, she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her conservative think tank, Liberty Central, to oppose President Obama, whom she called “hard left,” and warned was steering the nation “to tyranny.” Some journalists were raising the alarm as early as 2010 over the ethical breach in Ginni’s activism—as the wife of a Supreme Court justice—but many of these reports were tepid, often framed as concern over the “extremely personal” criticism of conservative justices by liberals, a refrain that echoed Thomas’s response to the confirmation hearing.
Following Mitt Romney’s lost bid for the White House in 2012, Ginni and a cohort of conservative activists and journalists formed a group called Groundswell to organize a “30-front war” to seed talking points throughout the right-wing media like Steve Bannon’s “platform for the alt-right,” Breitbart News. Bannon said in an interview that, “Ginni Thomas is an operator; she stays behind the scenes. Unlike a lot of people who just talk, she gets shit done.”
In the last election, she got shit done through the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive group of 400 or so people from right-wing organizations that want to influence policy and media narratives. In 2019, after years of being involved with CNP, Ginni joined the nine-member board of CNP Action, the 501(c)4 arm which, under the tax code, is allowed to engage in direct political advocacy. In the days following the 2020 Presidential Election, according to the New York Times, the group issued a call to action titled “Election Results and Legal Battles: What Now?” that urged the members to contact legislators in three of the swing states that tipped the balance for Joe Biden—Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania—and instructed members to challenge the election results and appoint fake, or what they would craftily rebrand as an “alternate” slates of electors, to keep Trump in power. “Demand that they not abandon their Constitutional responsibilities during a time such as this.”
And, according to reports, Ginni Thomas appears to have been not a bystander to the attempted coup, but a willing and enthusiastic accomplice.
Together, Ginni and Clarence Thomas have used their dynamic-interracial-duo performance to further a far-right agenda. As the New York Times put it, “He fulfills the hard right’s longing for a judge—and especially a Black judge—oblivious to the howls of the left, while she serves up the red meat the base wants to hear in her speeches.”
Together, they have flouted the ethical standards of the Supreme Court, including a failure to report $686,000 of Ginni’s income in a required financial disclosure document, and by violating decades of established norms about avoiding even the appearance of political partisanship, by headlining events such as the October 2021 celebration of Thomas’s career on the Court hosted by The Heritage Foundation.
While Ginni’s activism has legal scholars gobsmacked about the ethics violations, it remains unclear how her status as the wife of a Supreme Court Justice might affect her chances of being held accountable. In an interview in March with the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, she said, “Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.” It remains to be seen whether her separate spheres defense will be enough to activate the white-women-skate-from-accountability playbook.
But Ginni may find that her marriage to Clarence Thomas could result in her becoming collateral damage in whatever is to come. For example, there are growing calls to expand the court (to curb the far-right excesses of the current body), which would dilute Justice Thomas’s power on the court, alongside calls to impeach Clarence Thomas.
Currently, Ginni Thomas faces the threat of a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee, which would compel her to testify in the Committee hearings, if she refuses to do so on her own. And, if she doesn’t comply with the subpoena, she could be convicted of contempt of Congress.
It’s still possible that the toxic swirl of her status as a white woman married to a Black Supreme Court justice who is so instrumental in bringing the far-right’s theocratic agenda to life will mean that she is protected from being held accountable for her role in the attempted coup. But, the latest news gives me some hope that the jig is up for Ginni Thomas.
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