A Trump rally without Trump

What is a Trump rally like without Donald Trump present? To find out, I drove to a Harley Davidson lot in Festus, Missouri, where the local branch of the Tea Party was holding their own rally without them. It was very different than the last time I attended a Trump rally in St. Louis. For Quartz:

But Trump rallies, which attract fanatical followers, do not tell the whole story of Trump’s support. This raises an interesting question: What is a Trump rally like without Trump? What happens to the crowd when the demagogue is absent?

In an attempt to answer this question, I drove to the parking lot of a Harley Davidson outlet in Festus, Missouri, a small city outside of St. Louis. This was where the local branch of the Tea Party was holding its own Trump rally—without Trump in attendance. Speakers included local Tea Party leaders like Jim Hoft, a popular right-wing blogger better known as the Gateway Pundit, and Ed Martin, Jr., an associate of ultraconservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly, a St. Louis native herself. This was a St. Louis gathering. Both in tone and topic, it was far more in the spirit of St. Louis—white, bigoted St. Louis, that is—than in the spirit of Trump.

I knew this because, back in March, I attended a Trump rally in St. Louis—the first to be significantly disrupted by protesters, and one of the bloodiest rallies to date. As Trump spewed hateful epithets from the podium that were broadcast through speakers placed outside the building where the rally was held, Trump fans and opponents clashed both inside and on the streets, sometimes getting into physical altercations. Novel at the time, this has since become standard for Trump rallies.

In Festus, the atmosphere was quite different. A comparatively small audience of roughly 200 people were in attendance—still overwhelmingly white, and mostly middle-aged or older. There were Trump hats and Trump signs on display. But there were just as many for local politicians like Eric Greitens (the Missouri GOP candidate for governor best known for ads in which he is shown shooting an Gatling-style machine gun). The differences between a Trump rally and a Trump fan-only rally were so stark, both in topic and tenor, that it raised the question of how closely Trump and Tea Party interests are aligned, particularly in a region home to many evangelical conservatives.

Read the whole thing here

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Islam Karimov is dead

As I noted in an earlier post — which you should read if you’re interested in Uzbekistan — I have been studying Uzbekistan extensively for over a decade. Islam Karimov, its first and only president, has died. I will likely be writing more about this in the days to come. For now, an excerpt of my op-ed for The New York Times:

Uzbeks who loved Mr. Karimov — and there are many who did — will mourn his passing. Others mourn because they fear for a greater loss of stability in a country already troubled by widespread poverty and a scarcity of gas, food and water. But some Uzbeks have already been mourning for years — for the Uzbekistan that Mr. Karimov never allowed to exist, and for the promises that were never honored in practice.

For 25 years, Uzbeks were told they lived in a “future great state.” That slogan, still ubiquitous, never came with a timeline. Previously, when one would ask Uzbeks when they thought Uzbekistan would change, they would always say, “When Karimov is gone.”

That day, both longed for and dreaded, may be here. What is Uzbekistan without Islam Karimov? For the first time in independent Uzbekistan’s history, the future has arrived.

Read the whole thing here

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A wall against open minds

For the Globe and Mail, I wrote about Trump’s trip to Mexico and his horrifying immigration speech:

The proposed Mexican wall is fantastical. It is as fantastical as the wall being built in Atlanta, a wall that guards nothing but the sanctity of bigotry. The Trump fans, endlessly mocking political correctness, are building themselves a safe space. Their safe space is a shrine – to Mr. Trump, to audacity, to doing things because one can, not because it serves the public good. Such is the Trump campaign.

The wall was never truly about Mexico, but it was always about borders. His antipathy toward Mexicans – and Muslims, and blacks, and other minorities – was aimed at capturing the allegiance of whites. His campaign was born this way, and it thrived this way, until he became too erratic and vulgar. His support stagnated, then fell.

Now he is attempting to appease the groups he insulted – visiting Mexico, reaching out to blacks – but his message still targets white voters. He needs to reassure them he is not a bigot so they can reassure themselves they are not either.

Mr. Trump followed up his Mexico excursion with a rally speech in Arizona. Surrounded by cheering fans, he reverted to form: energetic and paranoid, portraying the divide between the U.S. and Mexico as a divide between safety and danger. Any illegal immigrant who committed a crime stood in for all illegal immigrants. When not murdering “good Americans,” they were leeching off the system, stealing resources and jobs.

Early in his speech, Mr. Trump bemoaned the “illegal flow of drugs, cash, guns and people.” In his world view, objects are the same as human beings: dangerous and disposable, so long as they come from Mexico.

He spoke of “compassion for Americans,” but the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans he insulted merited none. His rage in Arizona stood in stark contrast to his meekness earlier in the day. Confronted with the humanity of his enemy in Mexico, he faltered; surrounded by adoration, he struck from afar.

Read the whole thing here

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How immigrants to America become “white”

For De Correspondent, I wrote on the white supremacist movement surrounding the Trump campaign, and the complicated history of “whiteness” in America. An excerpt on Polish-Americans:

Here it is important to understand how, exactly, Americans ‘become white’. The history of Polish-Americans is an illuminating example. Upon arriving in the U.S. en masse in the late 19th and early 20th century, Poles endured discrimination based on their appearance, religion and culture.In 1903, the New England Magazine decried the Poles’ “expressionless Slavic faces” and “stunted figures” as well as their inherent “ignorance” and “propensity to violence”. Working for terrible wages, Polish workers were renamed things like “Thomas Jefferson” by their bigoted Anglo-Saxon bosses who refused to utter Polish names.

The Poles, in other words, were not considered white. Far from it: they were considered a mysterious menace that should be expelled. When Polish-American Leon Czolgosz killedPresident William McKinley in 1901, all Poles were deemedpotential violent anarchists. “All people are mourning, and it is caused by a maniac who is of our nationality,” a Polish-American newspaper wrote, pressured to apologize for their own people. The collective blame of Poles for terrorism bears great similarity to how Muslims (both in the U.S. and Europe) are collectively blamed today.

But then something changed. In 1919, Irish gangs in blackface attacked Polish neighborhoods in Chicago in an attempt to convince Poles, and other Eastern European groups, that they, too, were “white” and should join them in the fight against blacks. As historian David R. Roedigerrecalls, “Poles argued that the riot was a conflict between blacks and whites, with Poles abstaining because they belonged to neither group.” But the Irish gangs considered whiteness, as is often the case in America, as anti-blackness. And as in the early 20th century Chicago experienced an influx not only of white immigrants from Europe, but blacks from the South, white groups who felt threatened by black arrivals decided that it would be politically advantageous if the Poles were considered white as well.

Over time, the strategy of positioning Poles as “white” against a dark-skinned “other” was successful. Poles came to consider themselves white, and more importantly, they came to be considered white by their fellow Americans, as did Italians, Greeks, Jews, Russians, and others from Southern and Eastern Europe, all of whom held an ambivalent racial status in U.S. society. With that new white identity came the ability to practice the discrimination they had once endured.

Read the whole thing at De Correspondent

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Uzbekistan’s president may be dying. Here is all my research on Uzbekistan.

I’ve been studying Uzbekistan for over a decade. As both an MA and a PhD student, I studied the country extensively, and was the first scholar to study Uzbek digital media in depth. Other areas of research are state and dissident politics, terrorism, propaganda, Islamic movements, exile groups, human rights, and the politics of the Uzbek-speaking diaspora. I’ve also written extensively on the massacre of civilians by state forces in Andijon in 2005, and debunked the existence of the terrorist group “Akromiya”, which the government used as a justification for the massacre.

Uzbekistan’s first and only president, Islom Karimov, is said to be gravely ill — either from a stroke or a brain hemmorrhage, depending on the source. This is a crisis moment for Uzbekistan, regardless of the outcome. Never in Uzbekistan’s history has the government released a public statement on the president having a major illness. There is no clear successor, and many rivalries within the government elites. Secrecy and gossip both rule in Uzbekistan, making the situation difficult to understand and probable outcomes difficult to determine.

Below is a full list of everything I’ve written about Uzbekistan so you will have background to understand the current crisis. Uzbeks have already endured decades of routine, quiet, state-sanctioned violence. I hope that a better and safer future lies ahead. Omon bo’ling.

Update: Karimov has died. Below are articles I wrote and interviews I did since this became clear.

This Is Hell Radio, “Lockout”, Interview on Uzbekistan (9/10/16)

Radio Free Europe, “Uzbekistan Without Karimov” (9/11/16)

Salaam Media, South Africa, interview on Uzbekistan’s past and future (9/9/16)

The Stream, Al Jazeera, “The future of Uzbekistan” (9/8/16) [Heated debate; recommended***]

Uzbekistan’s real problem is not terrorism, it’s politics (9/6/16) (Politico Europe)

Independence Day for a Scared Nation (9/1/16) (New York Times op-ed)

BBC World Service, interview on Uzbekistan about 26 minutes in. (9/3/16) [Not the greatest interview because an earthquake shook my house right before I went on! ]

Al Jazeera English, live interview on Uzbekistan (9/3/16)

CBC, Uzbeks experience “mass anxiety, mourning and worry” after president’s death (9/2/16) [***Recommended interview}

ArHaberlar Arabic-language interview on Uzbekistan (9/2/16)

MO*nieuwsbrieven “Vermist: Oezbeekse dictator. Gezocht: toekomstplan voor explosief werelddeel” (9/2/16) On Uzbekistan

Wiadomosci,”Zbliza sie koniec Islama Karimow. Kto nastanie po smierci dyktatora?” (8/31). Polish interview on Uzbekistan


2016 “Recognize the Spies”: Transparency and Political Power in Uzbek Cyberspace. Social Analysis, 59 (4): 50-65

2011    Digital Distrust: Uzbek Cynicism and Solidarity in the Internet Age
American Ethnologist 38 (3): 559-575

2010    A Reporter Without Borders: Internet Politics and State Violence in Uzbekistan
Problems of Post-Communism57 (1): 40-50

2007    Poetry of Witness: Uzbek Identity and the Response to Andijon
Central Asian Survey 26 (3): 317–334

2006    Redefining Religion: Uzbek Atheist Propaganda in Gorbachev-era Uzbekistan Nationalities Papers34 (5): 533-548

2006    Inventing Akromiya:The Role of Uzbek Propagandists in the Andijon Massacre Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 14 (4): 545–562


2016      “Nations in Transit: Uzbekistan“. Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2015

2014     “Digital Memory and a Massacre: Post-Soviet Uzbek Identity in the Age of Social Media“, Central Asia Program, Uzbekistan Initiative Papers, George Washington University. Co-written with Noah Tucker.

2014     “Nations in Transit: Uzbekistan“. Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2014

2013     “Nations in Transit: Uzbekistan“. Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2013

2012    “Digital Freedom of Expression in Uzbekistan: An example of social control and censorship in the 21st Century”. Published by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation


Trumpmenbashi: What Central Asia’s spectacular states can tell us about authoritarianism in America (3/22/16) — The Diplomat
Dashcams for Freedom (8/5/15) — Foreign Policy
‘We Are Not Afraid’ (7/14/15) — Foreign Policy
Uzbekistan’s Forgotten Massacre (5/13/15) — The New York Times
Can Minor Languages Make Revolution? (10/1/14) — The Common Reader
The Curse of Stability in Central Asia (2/19/13) — Foreign Policy
An American dream, an exile’s nightmare (6/30/13) — Al Jazeera
Kim Kardashistan: A Violent Dictator’s Daughter on a Quest for Pop Stardom (8/8/12) — The Atlantic
Censorship as Performance Art: Uzbekistan’s Bizarre Wikipedia Ban (2/23/12) — The Atlantic
The Strange Saga of a Made-Up Activist and Her Life—and Death—as a Hoax (12/20/11) — The Atlantic
My archive on Central Asia from Registan


The Future of Central Asian Studies: A Eulogy keynote at Indiana University (3/7/15)
Here and There with Dave Marash
, hour-long interview on Central Asian politics (9/1/15)
This is Hell, “Journalist Sarah Kendzior explains how Uzbeks turned a hashtag against a dictatorship” (7/25/15)
BBC Uzbek, interviewed by Uzbek novelist Hamid Ismailov (6/18/15) (In Uzbek)
Crikey, “Follow Friday: @sarahkendzior, commentator and the full Kendzior” (1/24/14)
Ferghana News, Вашингтон больше не интересуют исследования Центральной Азии (“Washington losing interest in Central Asia:), interviewed (12/17/13)
VOA Uzbek, “As Uzbeks share their pain on the internet, they create their own identity”. In Uzbek. (6/12/13)
BBC Uzbek, “Three years after the tragedy in southern Kyrgyzstan, how are people getting by?” In Uzbek. (6/7/13)
Voice of America, “An American scholar analyzes Central Asia in the age of the internet”(Print interview in Uzbek) (4/14/13) (TV interview in English, original)
Voice of America, “Experts: Central Asia on the threshold of an uncertain future” (in Uzbek) (3/27/13)
The Seattle Spectator, “Speakers Address Election Fraud in Uzbekistan” (1/23/13)
Voice of America Uzbek “Sara Kendzior: O’qimishli fuqarolarga imkon bermaslik – O’zbekiston fojiasi” (“Sarah Kendzior: The tragedy of Uzbekistan is that educated citizens are being denied opportunities”) (12/20/12)
Radio Free Europe, “Gulnara Karimova takes the fight to Twitter” (11/30/12)
BBC Uzbek, “‘Twitter’ da Gulnora Karimova va ‘boshqa’lar bilan dahanaki jangnter”. (“A war of words between Gulnara Karimova and ‘others’ on Twitter”). Interview about the daughter of the dictator of Uzbekistan attacking me on Twitter (11/30/12)
BBC Uzbek, “‘Ўзбекистонда ўз ҳуқуқингни билиш давлатга қарши амал’..ми?” Uzbek-language interview about law and justice in Uzbekistan (6/19/12)
Voice of America, Russian service: “Uzbekistan has banned Wikipedia”. Interview with me on online media censorship in Uzbekistan (2/25/12)


2012     The Uzbek Opposition in Exile: Diaspora and Dissident Politics in the Digital Age
Washington University in Saint Louis, Department of Anthropology.


2006       State Propaganda on Islam in Independent Uzbekistan
Indiana University, Department of Central Eurasian Studies.


2014     “Reclaiming Ma’naviyat: Morality, Criminality and Dissident Politics in Uzbekistan”. In Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics, ed. Madeleine Reeves, Johan Rasanayagam, Judith Beyer. Indiana University Press.

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They don’t care about us

As Milwaukee burns and Baton Rouge floods, I wrote about the abandonment of the heartland for Quartz:

They come for the chaos. They don’t stay for the banal brutality of the time in between, the slow erosion of opportunities that structure daily living. 

Dramatic events in these regions—a shooting, an environmental catastrophe—are cast, in the media, as moments of crisis. But the actual crisis is a collective refusal to examine systemic failures and understand the long-standing local problems that culminated in these tragedies. At the heart of this blindness is racism. It is hard to imagine an epidemic of poisoned white children, or white teenage boys killed regularly by black police, or white inner city residents living in poverty for decades while black suburbanites happily thrive, without media and political outrage surrounding it.

In the Midwest and South, racism is compounded by regionalism. When a politician wants votes, these regions are “the heartland” or “the real America” (unless, of course, they’re referring to non-white residents). Most of the time, however, it is “flyover country”—the immense swath of land that coastal media and political elites ignore. The region’s invisibility has increased, like its hardship, since the 2008 recession. As of 2014, one out of four journalists lived in three expensive coastal cities–a significant change from one out of eight in 2004, a number already disproportionate to the population. Meanwhile, Midwestern and Southern media is steadily being bought out and bankrupted, leaving its stories untold by the people best qualified to tell them.

Read the whole thing at Quartz

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Trump and Putin: A Bad Bromance

For Quartz, I looked over years of Russian-language coverage of Trump, which long preceded his campaign, and reflected on their relationship and their collaborative white supremacist bases:

While some members of the US media have dismissed attempts to examine Trump’s ties with Russia as “McCarthyism,” Trump’s long-standing public approval of Russia—and Russia’s equally enthusiastic response to Trump—merits scrutiny.  Throughout his campaign, Trump has vacillated on nearly every position, with the notable exception of his consistent praise for Putin. The genesis of this relationship is not as important as its consequences. Though Trump’s odds of winning the presidency have decreased, his campaign has empowered white-nationalist movements, many of which embrace Putin. In July, US white-supremacist leader Matthew Heimbach proclaimed, “Putin is the leader, really, of the anti-globalist forces around the world.”

In other words, Trump and Putin are two of a kind: xenophobic, bigoted demagogues with dual histories of corruption, aggression, and celebration of white supremacy repackaged as patriotic nationalism. Their radical American and Russian followers, now linked by the internet, share similar goals and are part of a larger revival of white-supremacist movements happening across the West.

The USSR collapsed twenty-five years ago. Russia is no longer the center of the communist Soviet Union but rather a hyper-capitalist, authoritarian state. Dominated by oligarchs, modern Russia has retained the worst trappings of the Soviet system—such as mass surveillance and personality cults—while cracking down on political dissidents, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Jews, migrant laborers, and others who do not fit with Putin’s nationalist vision. In other words, he engages in many of the same practices Trump proposes.

 Trump and Putin are two of a kind: bigoted demagogues with dual histories of corruption and aggression. Critics of this relationship are therefore not merely reacting to outdated Cold War stereotypes—in fact, many are not even old enough to remember this era. Rather, they are rightfully wary of a mutually beneficial relationship between a Russian dictator and an American demagogue that could ultimately harm citizens of Russia, citizens of the US, and citizens of the many other states most directly affected by this alliance, starting with Ukraine and the Baltic members of NATO.

Read the whole thing here

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Trump’s foreign policy is actually a domestic attack

From my latest for the Globe and Mail:

He had no intention of making an actual foreign policy speech. Instead, he made a domestic policy speech aimed at recasting innocent U.S. citizens as dangerous foreign infiltrators. There is no true foreign policy in his universe – only the singular threat of radical Islam, a concept without a country, easy to manipulate in order to smear perceived adversaries.

According to Mr. Trump’s speech, the great enemy of the U.S. is “immigrants or the children of immigrants,” whom he claims are “the common thread linking the major Islamic terrorist attacks that have recently occurred on our soil.”

This is a remarkable claim for a candidate who is both the son, husband and ex-husband of immigrants. It is an inflammatory claim in a country in which 13.3 per cent of citizens are immigrants, and which has long prided itself on a being refuge for foreigners. It is an irresponsible claim in a country where the majority of mass murders are carried out not by Muslims, but by white nationalists or random angry men – two key components of the Trump constituency. And it is a suspicious claim to make as he and his backers fall under scrutiny for their connection to an authoritarian government, Russia, which shares the xenophobic, anti-Muslim outlook.

In the U.S., one is far more likely to be killed in a shooting by a lone white male than in a terrorist attack by an organized Muslim group. Even recent attacks by Muslim Americans – the Orlando shooter or the Boston marathon bombers, for example – were very loosely connected, if at all, to terrorist cells. Between September 11, 2001 and 2013, 33 Americans were killed in terror attacks by Muslims, while 180,000 Americans were murdered during that same period. In 2012, 66 were killed in mass shootings alone: twice the number killed by Muslim terrorists since 9/11.

You can read the whole thing here. I also recommend giving a reread to some of my recent articles in the Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy, and Quartz. Weeks ago I predicted a number of developments in the Trump campaign to which the rest of the world seems to be just catching on. These predictions have implications far beyond November, and concern public safety. I’ve been right on most every Trump development since January, so please take heed.

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More on Poland, Russia and the US

The Polish news outlet Onet did another interview with me on the US election and its potential ramifications for Poland and other Eastern European states. You can read excerpts in Polish here, and the original interview in English below:

Hillary Clinton has the chance to win the 2016 US presidential elections and become US president. But there are some concerns about her record as Secretary of State regarding “reset policy” towards Russia. What do you think about it? Is there a risk that Clinton would try to introduce new “reset policy” in relations with Russia if she wins presidential elections?

The US-Russia relationship has recently become extremely complicated, to say the least. A central source of contention is Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, which has included possibly collaborating with Wikileaks to hack the Democratic National Committee, and Putin’s embrace of Donald Trump, who has encouraged Russia to get Hillary Clinton’s emails. These actions have no precedent in US electoral history. Furthermore, since the 2009 “reset”, Russia has taken Crimea, which transformed its relationship with the US and the West in general. There is no returning to the old “reset” anymore.

Russia’s aggression is a concern not only for the US but for NATO, especially as Russia contemplates invading other Eastern European states. No one wants a new Cold War. Everyone in America who can remember the first Cold War is wary of revived tensions. But no one wants Russia to pursue its current course of aggression either. The US will likely have a very tense relationship with Russia in the years to come, which will require serious diplomatic effort on Clinton’s part. Who she picks for Secretary of State and other key positions, should she win, will be critical to making US diplomatic policy effective and avoiding more serious conflict.

“Reset policy” is the main concern for countries from Central and Eastern Europe such as Poland. Should Poland worry about New “reset” policy?  Is there some way for Poland to stop – just in case – such attempts by American authorities in the nearest future?

Right now, Poland’s biggest concern should be a Trump win, since Trump has openly stated he would support the US withdrawing from NATO and would do nothing to stop Russian invasion of Eastern European states. Trump advisors such as Paul Manafort have intervened in other Eastern European states, including Ukraine, and Trump has been praising Putin excessively for years. Trump is unlikely to care if Russia invades Poland. He will probably cheer it on.

If Clinton is elected, she will likely continue the standard US policy toward Eastern Europe and Russia, which includes participation in NATO and a commitment to protecting NATO members like Poland from Russian aggression. It is unclear, given the repercussions of Russia’s possible involvement in the US election, how or whether a Clinton administration will continue to collaborate with Russia in other international ventures. But you can basically consider the Russian “reset” over. While Clinton has defended the “reset” as a success before, it is very difficult to claim that the “reset” policy was effective given Russia’s actions over the past few years.

The Obama administration is pursuing active policy towards NATO (and strengthening NATO Eastern flank). Would active Washington’s role within NATO be the best guarantee in order to avoid new “reset policy” towards Russia?

Like I said, the US under Clinton would likely maintain a strong commitment to NATO and to NATO’s mission of helping its Eastern European member states. The US relationship with Russia has substantially worsened over the past two years – and particularly over the past two months – and Clinton will need to repair this relationship while also not allowing Russia to pursue aggressive policies against neighboring foreign states. This will be very difficult for her administration to accomplish. But at this point, the US’s commitment to NATO is strong and would remain strong under a Clinton administration as well.

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On Clinton Derangement Syndrome

In which I try to explain to a European audience this unique pathology affecting Americans:

The answer is often axiomatic. People hate Hillary Clinton because people hate Hillary Clinton. This instinctive, matter-of-fact hatred is known in America as Clinton Derangement Syndrome. When possessed, the victim sees Hillary Clinton as a woman of unimaginable power. Her most amazing trick is the ability to eliminate men from American history. For example:

  • Did the US go to war in Iraq because of George W. Bush and his team of neoconservative advisors? No, it was because Senator Hillary Clinton voted for it.
  • Do we have mass incarceration for black Americans because Bill Clinton, backed by bipartisan leadership and widespread public support, instated a crime bill in 1994 that had horrific repercussions? No, it was becauseHillary was First Lady,and gave a speech supporting it (as did Bernie Sanders and many other liberal politicians).
  • Is the recent rise of authoritarianism and terrorism the result of complex worldwide geopolitical problems that now fall to John Kerry, current Secretary of State – along with many others – to solve? No. Hillary Clinton,who left her office as Secretary of State in 2013, and only Hillary,is causing these problems.

These allegations, echoed widely as Clinton campaigned against Trump and Sanders, are the Clinton Derangement Syndrome in action.

Read the full article at De Correspondent

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