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The NYPD Drops the Mask

Issue 288

The NYPD has morphed from its typical defensive/aggressive media posture to something far more disturbing: a primary source of bluntly politicized misinformation, even conspiracy theory.

John Teufel Jun 19

In the last two months, we learned that Justice Samuel Alito has been caught hanging two Trump-supporting flags at properties he owns, the second tinged with militant end-times Christianity, before telling an undercover activist he hopes America returns to a place of “Godliness.” How many reminders do we need that the law is fundamentally political, not just in its drafting but in its interpretation and enforcement? Why do people – mostly Democrats, mostly powerful – continue to pretend that there exists forms of state power drained of ideology, blind cherubs, umpires just calling the facts, ma’am?

The thing is, Alito is no different from a cop, who is no different from a mayor or a president. All are motivated not by bloodless principle but by the usual deranged combination of ideology, fetish, dopamine, and ego, the reasons anyone decides to pursue a profession where they hold legal power over others. Everybody knows this, on some level. Fascists are honest about it. The left decries it. Only the truly deluded, mostly periodically sundowning folks like Joe Biden, continue to cling to the notion that state actors are honorable, and institutions operating for some higher purpose.

So while the idea that enforcers of law are politically neutral is clearly nonsense, it is extremely useful for the powerful to maintain the illusion that – for example – the police are arresting you for violating a law, rather than because you are Black, or annoying, or said something that offended their sensibilities. When we see videos of cops swinging batons and cracking heads, it is easier to believe that they were preserving the order that society needs to function rather than hippie-punching or working out their issues with their fathers or whatever. If the police tilt too far into becoming open enforcers of ideology, it undermines the entire system.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as we’ve watched the NYPD morph from their typical defensive/aggressive media posture to something far more disturbing: a primary source of bluntly politicized misinformation, even conspiracy theory, and an organization that feels no compunction over threatening elected officials who don’t tow their line.

NYPD’s Chief of Patrol John Chell

The worst offender here has been a man named John Chell, who currently serves as the NYPD’s Chief of Patrol, effectively the boss of beat cops throughout the city. Chell is one of those central casting cops, an overweight Irish-coded bruiser with a thick New York accent who, in times prior, could be imagined pocketing sacks of gold nuggets from an old-timey crime boss played by Daniel Day Lewis. In our modern era, Chell goes on Newsmax to boast about the NYPD’s “flawless” invasion of Columbia University, and to urge Columbia administrators to again call in the troops so they can “take care of business.” Newsmax, of course, is the openly Trump-supporting cable news channel whose business strategy over the past seven years has been to get to the right of Fox News to steal away their fashiest viewership. 

Two days after Chell’s first Newsmax interview, the NYPD again raided Columbia, this time in far more brutal fashion. And two days after that, Chell was right back on Newsmax, telling their exclusively MAGA viewers that his cops “went really heavy” and “took back that campus” from “outside agitators.” Chell also offered his own take on education policy, opining that protestors should be expelled, and any professors who supported their actions fired.

It was in this second interview that Chell dipped heavily into the conspiracy theory well: UCLA – a campus he had no personal knowledge of – was rife with “outside agitators,” just like Columbia. Chell asked rhetorically, and darkly: “What is funding this? What is underneath it? Because some of these kids have no idea what they’re doing. Who is hijacking this, radicalizing them to do this?”

The current NYPD public relations shop has swollen to 86 staffers earning copious overtime.

Of course, none of this uninformed speculation has borne fruit, and nearly all the people arrested at Columbia were students of the university. No “funding source” (for what? keffiyehs and flags?) has ever turned up. There is no shadowy, deep-pocketed movement brainwashing your children. There’s just kids who are sick of the United States backing a genocide.

Chell followed up this performance by taking to Twitter to claim Councilmember Tiffany Caban “hates our city” and “does not represent the great people of NYC,” even though, as an elected official, she does exactly that. (In a fun bit of typical NYPD buffoonery, Chell’s tweet was deleted, according to the NYPD, by accident when an employee tried to make it his pinned tweet. These people are really beyond parody.) (Chell’s outburst against Caban was reminiscent of his February rage-tweet against a sitting NYC judge, except there, he named the wrong judge, whoops!)

Chell, to me, seems like your garden variety racist NYPD thug, a dim bulb to be sure, but a guy who can at least tie his own shoes in the morning, even if he does it with blinding rage, pulling the ears so tight that the bunny starts to scream. Contrast that with NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry, who seems so wildly stupid that if I met him on the street without his uniform on I’d probably ask him if he got separated from his mommy. I mean I’m almost jealous, the man has one of those faces that seems to gaze in amazement at any moving object in his field of vision. Every day must be a new adventure.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry

Daughtry, who tagged along with Chell for that second Newsmax interview, is now primarily known for holding up an academic textbook called Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction for the Newsmax hosts as though it was a how-to manual and not what it actually is, a boring-sounding “101” style intro text by a respected British historian. (The reaction by the Newsmax hosts, all awed wows, is hilarious.) It is hard for me to wrap my mind around this. Do people like Daughtry believe that there are bound, Oxford-published books designed to teach you how to commit terrorism? What does that say about the brainpower running the NYPD? 

Daughtry is also a rage-tweeter, having gone after journalist Talia Jane by retweeting a post by right-wing weirdo Oren Levy seeming to imply that cops should hit Jane in the head with a pipe. (I know I am using a lot of parentheticals, but there is always something else with these people – Levy, in a since deleted Tweet, also broke the news that anarchist protesters were working with someone named Linda Mills…not realizing that Linda Mills is the President of NYU.)

If the police tilt too far into becoming open enforcers of ideology, it undermines the entire system.

The above is not the full extent of the NYPD’s media push. Chell recently went on Dr. Phil (who was also in the news recently for “embedding” with the LAPD as they beat the shit out of anti-genocide UCLA protestors) to push another favored Eric Adams conspiracy theory, the “immigrant crime wave” (which is in itself a close cousin of the “Great Replacement Theory” embraced by white nationalists).

As New York Focus has reported, the current NYPD public relations shop has swollen to 86 staffers earning copious overtime, and led not by a media professional, but by a cop – Deputy Commissioner Tarik Sheppard, who himself earned a substantiated misconduct charge for pinning a woman to the ground and tasing her during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest. Daughtry recently posted a video to his Twitter of Sheppard pulling down a Palestine flag and replacing it with an American one. In his tweet Daughtry called our flag “Old Glory,” something nobody in New York City would ever say who isn’t a cop. So you can see how this whole thing is circular.

Daughtry ascended from detective to top NYPD brass overnight by virtue of being extremely close to Adams confidante, and current Chief of Department, Jeffrey Maddrey. How close? Close enough that, according to a lawsuit, Daughtry served as Maddrey’s driver while Maddrey was forcing a low-ranking female officer into sexual trysts while beating her up here and there. Maddrey is also, reportedly, the reason former NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell was forced out of a job – she tried to discipline him for voiding the arrest of a former cop who chased a bunch of kids around waving a gun, a rare attempt at enforcing accountability inside the NYPD which Adams did not like one bit

It isn’t surprising that the NYPD is run by a bunch of right-wing nutjobs, for the simple reason that lots of cops are right-wing nutjobs. One 2023 study found that police officers are more than twice as likely to be registered Republicans as civilians residing in the same jurisdiction. The percentage of Republicans in the NYPD is likely even higher than this, as 52% of NYPD officers reside outside of the city, opting for the more Trump-leaning suburbs. And NYPD leadership is no stranger to the vortex of MAGA conspiracy – the since-indicted former head of the Sergeant’s union, Ed Mullins, gave a Zoom interview to Fox News with a QAnon mug (they have mugs!) proudly displayed in the background. 

Fascism itself is deeply entwined with conspiracy theory, perhaps the most well-known being Hitler’s obsession with Jews, an anti-Semitism that continues to this day in MAGAworld. When Chell and Daughtry paint ominous pictures of shadowy figures brainwashing the minds of your children, they are borrowing from an old playbook. Fascists are, by definition, deprived of the ability to speak plainly about the nature of power and class, and so they must find convenient boogeymen to blame for public grievances. Immigrants, Jews, intellectuals, Black people, trans people, Muslims…all have spent their time in fascist crosshairs. The NYPD is continuing a long and proud tradition.

When the NYPD’s top brass paint ominous pictures of shadowy figures brainwashing the minds of your children, they are borrowing from an old playbook.

That said, it is still shocking to see the NYPD go full mask-off. It would seem unsustainable – even New York’s pro-cop white liberals would like to pretend the police force is not a QAnon convention, and Eric Adams does need to win reelection, after all. And that makes me wonder if Adams has simply lost control. When he removed Sewell, and put in her place the impotent figurehead Edward Caban, Adams messed up the chains of command and empowered strong-willed, ambitious men. Former Mayor Bill DeBlasio learned early in his tenure that the NYPD functioned more like its own independent state than an arm of his administration. Adams might soon learn the same lesson. Until then, we can look forward to more rage-tweets, more partisan attacks, more sheer nuttiness, from the out and proudly political organization known as the New York Police Department.

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