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The 60s folk troubadour is on an environmental mission, in tribute to Greta Thunberg. He discusses love, success, Brian Jones and how drugs became big business

Donovan, born Donovan Phillips Leitch in Scotland in 1946, was famous enough before he was 18 for the world to be on first-name terms with him. You dont have to be a boomer to remember Mellow Yellow, although it may help if you want to remember his famous stand-off with Bob Dylan in Dont Look Back, a really poignant moment of the old folk against the new (Dylan, new folk in this narrative, is actually older by four years, Donovan is keen to stress).

Now 73 and living in Ireland, he has wild grey hair and a gentle, thoughtful face; he looks, in real life, like an atmospheric black-and-white photo of a folk singer. His conversation is as wild as his hair, completely ungoverned by conventions such as sticking to the point or answering the bloody question. His mind comes into focus every now and then, when he wants to tell me what to write, how to write it and how to ask a question. I have actually since considered some remote therapy to try and figure out why this annoyed me so much.

Anyway, he is out of retirement with Eco-Song, a tribute album to Greta Thunberg that he has recorded with his wife, Linda. No, wait, its not a tribute album; its an album of songs from across his career with an eco theme, waiting to be turned into a stage opera. He and Linda want to take it to schools, to universities, want the youth performing it up and down the land. They have a plot strung around the songs four young students in Cork, meeting up on a Friday night, after a climate strike but, for the time being, the songs have been released as a standalone CD. A month ago, in an entirely different world, he was planning to take it on tour.

We met before the lockdown in a London hotel; the coronavirus crisis was serious enough then that we bumped elbows as I came in, unserious enough that we forgot not to shake hands at the end, serious enough that his roadie immediately handed him some hand sanitiser. Donovan wanted to explain why he and Linda have dedicated themselves to Thunberg.

It starts in quite an unlikely place, this explanation with Mary Shelley, who first sounded the alarm about the dangers of science while all the great poets were silent (She was the wife of the poet Shelley, we know that now, he says, in a tone of aching significance, though surely we knew that then). And her monster, science, is now raging throughout the earth. OK It was a young woman who sounded the alarm back then. And I rang the bell, 50 years ago, in 1968, alone among my song-poet peers. I think he means the bell for nuclear disarmament. His lyrics, from the start, often had a pacifist edge, along with social conscience; he performed at benefit gigs for striking shipbuilders, contributed two songs to Ken Loachs Poor Cow (which was to domestic violence what Cathy Come Home was to homelessness).

Mellow Yellow may be the song that floats to the top of the memory, but electrical banana / is gonna be a sudden craze is by no means the summit of his lyrical endeavour. We actually invaded pop culture with meaningful lyrics, he says. He was very anti-nuclear and still is but I could get no further detail on which bell he is talking about, that he rang and none of the other song-poets did. Never mind that now.

And then, 50 years later, in 2018, a wee lass called Greta rings the bell again. At first, shes alone. Linda and I waited to see if her generation would have their own songwriters. But they had none. (I would love to drill into this large statement, that there are no songwriters in Generation Z. But Donovan expressly forbade any questions until the tea had arrived.) Rebellions and movements need songs. And Linda and I found it extremely significant that it was Mary, not the poets, and its again a young woman, its Greta, pointing to the disaster approaching. The male domination of science and industry has meant that theres no nurture, anywhere, nature has been raped and pillaged by the male sensibility. Its always a woman who sounds the alarm although, in this timeline, Donovan appears to be an honorary one. Ah, tea. So, about this eco-mission

Donovan: The singer started off as a kid with a guitar, a bard in the old Gaelic tradition. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

In fact, it is a bit of a stretch to talk about retirement, since it is only five years ago that he was releasing a greatest hits album to celebrate 50 years since his first release, and even more years of being Donovan, a kid with a guitar, and a song, and a hat, and a harmonica, the traditional troubadour, minstrel, bard, in the old Gaelic tradition. He grew up in Glasgow, of Scottish and Irish descent, in a song-filled house that was also alive with his photographer fathers unpublished poetry. He has had periods of intense introspection, deepening his relationship with transcendental meditation with sundry Beatles, mainly George Harrison, and periods of hightailing it to Bhutan and Nepal to meet Buddhists in exile, but since he got his first contract in 1964, he has never really stopped releasing music. Its the mission, he explains. He has to go wherever the mission takes him. Nevertheless, youd call the 60s his heyday, the decade of Epistle to Dippy and The Hurdy Gurdy Man, often playing on his own, doors swinging open wherever he went.

Anyway, the tea is here and I am allowed to ask a question, except: First Im going to read you something. It takes four minutes. Ive measured it. Its the mission that has brought Donovan and Linda back in the saddle. If you want me to expand, I can. Tell me more, you should say. He then reads me the speech, which is essentially a longer version of what he had already told me about the young-women-plus-Donovan bell-ringers before the tea.

As the encounter turns into something more like a recognisable conversation, he circles again and again back to the start of his career, meeting Linda, losing her, finding her again. He is the most fantastic name-dropper, but if you ask him for any more detail Ah, celebrities, he says, knowingly. You want to hear about the celebrities. Its amazing, isnt it, how that connects with hell begin, before haring off to the absolutely least connected thing. He is delightful and maddening, although maddening can get the upper hand. Sod it, lets start where he wants to start at the beginning, with his unholy talent.

While the Beatles were doing their famous 10,000 hours gigging in Hamburg, he didnt need to do all that (although he did play Hamburg once, in 1965 It was like a Popeye cartoon: the street was like madness, sailors and tourists and police. Halfway through singing my first song, the wall behind me collapsed and the club behind broke into mine, and everybody was fighting).

I realised television was for me; I picked it up very quickly. Everything jazz, blues, folk, pop music, literature, feminism, ecology I just absorbed it like a sponge, and I was prepared, because I had had poetry of noble thought read to me as a child. He was recording a demo in London when Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones, walked in. He knew that I was something that was going to happen, and he said to Ready, Steady, Go [like a 60s Top of the Pops, only bohemian]: If you dont have him on, youre going to be sorry.

He thus got his first TV performance before he had even released a single, and slips into the third person, awestruck. And suddenly, he connected with millions of people. How did he do that? And the cameraman loved it, and the directors loved it, and the producers loved it. How did I learn it so early? Because, what Im about to sing to you, you already know. The Gaelic singer-songwriter tradition is actually four: poetry, music, theatre and radical thought.

Or perhaps it was astrological: Im a Taurus, and the Tauruss area is the throat, and Im very highly skilled with vocalising. I can really impress and project a very special feeling. And then he veers into reincarnation: Did I learn this before I was born? Or is it a continuum, that you are actually not a person, but a force, you are an energy, and this energy is manifesting itself in a character called Donovan, but I dont own it, its part of a tradition?

A portrait of the song-poet as a young man: Donovan in the late 60s. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

That night on Ready, Steady, Go was fateful for another reason he met a woman called Linda Lawrence in the green room, all dressed in black, pure, white, blanched face, a bohemian girl. My dream. They were both just 18, but things were already quite complicated. She wanted to marry Brian Jones, with whom she had a child. She wasnt his first girlfriend he had two or three kids already. He was like the god Pan; he was spreading kids around every six months. Thats one way of putting it, I guess. Jones drowned in a swimming pool at the sadly young age of 27 in 1969, although not before he had counselled Linda that, even though where he was going, she couldnt follow, she should choose someone other than Donovan as her next partner, someone mature.

Whether heeding this or for some other reason, she went to Los Angeles on her own (later moving her young son over to the US to be with her), and Donovan, bereft, went to Japan. Because, can you believe that in 1969 the government were taxing the Beatles and I and others 96%? Why, yes, I can believe it, because I recall a whiny Beatles song about it. Taxman, he croons momentarily. But still, we were rich. I dont think we ever saw any real money, because we were moving so fast and doing exactly what we wanted to do. We never had a purse. Ah, hippies; too cool to have a wallet, never so cool as to forget about money altogether. As long as I didnt put my foot on UK soil, I didnt have to pay any income tax. It wasnt the money, it was the principle.

The Japanese tour was flat, not for audiences, but for Donovan, who was miserable. It wasnt drugs and he wasnt overly crazy on alcohol, he just had a broken heart and its hard to stay interested in your mission through one of those. Without the mission, I wasnt in good shape, he says. Gypsy Dave was always with me. Gypsy Dave crops up a lot when he talks. He was there at the start, apparently, when they were sleeping rough in Liverpool (Well, on benches in graveyards, with a sleeping bag; but that was the rough. The smooth was in St Ives, sleeping on a beach under the stars). Dave makes sage remarks throughout the Linda separation (There are plenty more fish in the sea), but it remains hard, maybe because of his handle, to remember that he was a real person, the sculptor and songwriter Gyp Mills, rather than a kind of spirit animal.

Anyway, it was Dave who insisted that he couldnt keep on gigging in Japan when his heart wasnt in it, that he had to go home. My agent, Vic Lewis, said: As soon as you put your foot on [the British airline] BOAC in Tokyo, youre on British soil the whole tax plan is out of the window. I was about to earn more than any British artist had ever earned on a year dropout $7m. Today it would probably be a lot more. Vic was on his knees in the airport, because he stood to get 10%. I quite like this tableau, the mystic bard shuffling sadly on to a plane, foregoing his ancient principle of opposing a supertax, as his agent prostrates himself on the ground for his lost 700 grand. Wheres Hans Holbein when you need him?

Donovan with his wife Linda Lawrence on their wedding day in October 1970. Photograph: Bill Orchard/Rex/Shutterstock

So he was home, and Linda had come back to England, too, after life in the US got too dicey. The drug dealers were moving in, and he takes an interesting detour through the end of the psychedelic dream. The drugs were quite safe to begin with, but as the 60s progressed, it was becoming big business, and a lot of our songs were singing about it. So it became like we were the ones who were commercially promoting it. The pair reunited in 1970 in a touching scene involving a cow. We walked up to the woods, me with my guitar, and we sat in the field, and we didnt say anything. Until I said: Do you want to get married now? And she said: I still feel the same. And I started singing a song, and a cow came up and licked Lindas face while I was singing. Id never heard of anything like that happening. And you cant make that up. It must be a Taurus thing.

If his first decade of fame was all about love found and lost, its eventual resolution liberated both Donovan and Linda to delve into the deeper significance of the human condition transcendental meditation. Me, David Lynch, Paul McCartney, but dont focus on me, focus on what the teaching says. This might be part of your article. O K. There are three levels of consciousness, waking, sleeping and dreaming, and we move between the three of them. But there is a fourth level, superconscious transcendental vision.

If you never access that, you never truly relax, and this in a roundabout but mainly non-verbal way, explains why the world is in such a mess and we stockpile nuclear weapons. Yet why have we not already destroyed ourselves? Why has it not already happened?

Go on then, wise guy Well, its extraordinary in itself.

On the plus side, everything you need to know is already inside you you just need to access it. Will our self-awareness come too late to halt the climate crisis? Greta says no. Her generation is saying no. It is an extraordinary mission, and the mission is eco. And I think thats it.

Encounter completed. I dont know what Greta Thunberg is going to make of this intervention. But I hope Donovans tour goes ahead in the future, if only because I am hoping for a future in which all tours go ahead.

Donovans album Eco-Song is available to download at The rescheduled show at Cadogan Hall, London, will take place on 12 October.

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In an extract from Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties, Mike Davis and Jon Wiener look past the sun and surf to a radical fight for equality and justice

In August 1965, thousands of young Black people in Watts set fire to the illusion that Los Angeles was a youth paradise.

Since the debut of the TV show 77 Sunset Stripin 1958, followed by the first of the Gidgetromance films in 1959 and then the Beach Boys Surfin USA in 1963, teenagers in the rest of the country had become intoxicated with images of the endless summer that supposedly defined adolescence in southern California.

Edited out of utopia was the existence of a rapidly growing population of more than 1 million people of African, Asian, and Mexican ancestry. Their kids were restricted to a handful of beaches; everywhere else, they risked arrest by local cops or beatings by white gangs. As a result, Black surfers were almost as rare in LA as unicorns. Economic opportunity was also rationed.

Surfers in Malibu, 1965. Photograph: Jonathan Blair/Corbis via Getty Images

During the first half of the 60s, hundreds of brand-new college classrooms beckoned to white kids with an offer of free higher education, while factories and construction sites begged for more workers. But failing inner-city high schools with extreme dropout rates reduced the college admissions of Black and brown youth to a small trickle. Despite virtually full employment for whites, Black youth joblessness dramatically increased, as did the index of residential segregation. If these were truly golden years of opportunity for white teenagers, their counterparts in South Central and East LA faced bleak, ultimately unendurable futures.

But LAs streets and campuses in the 60s also provided stages for many other groups to assert demands for free speech, equality, peace and justice. Initially these protests tended to be one-issue campaigns, but the grinding forces of repression above all the Vietnam draft and the LAPD drew them together in formal and informal alliances.

Thus LGBT activists coordinated actions with youth activists in protest of police and sheriffs dragnets on Sunset Strip, in turn making Free Huey one of their demands. When Black and Chicano high school kids blew out their campuses in 196869, several thousand white students walked out in solidarity. A brutal LAPD attack on thousands of middle-class antiwar protesters at the Century Plaza Hotel in 1967 hastened the development of a biracial coalition supporting Tom Bradley, a liberal Black council member, in his crusade to wrest City Hall from rightwing populist Sam Yorty.

A air of Black Panther party buttons, one reading Free Huey in reference to Huey P Newton, co-founder of the party. Photograph: The Frent Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

In the same period, the antiwar movement joined hands with the Black Panthers to form Californias unique Peace and Freedom Party. There are many other examples. By 1968, as a result, the movement resembled the music of LA free jazz pianist Horace Tapscotts Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra: simultaneous solos together with unified crescendos. Historians of 60s protests have rarely studied the reciprocal influences and interactions across such broad spectrum of constituencies, and these linkages are too often neglected in memoirs, but they provide a principal terrain of our analysis.

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The 60s in LA have obvious bookends. The year 1960 saw the appearance of social forces that would coalesce into the movements of the era, along with the emergence of a new agenda for social change, especially around what might be called the issue of issues: racial segregation. In LA, those developments overlapped with the beginning of the regime of Sam Yorty, elected mayor in 1961. 1973, on the other hand, marked not only the end of protest in the streets but also the defeat of Yorty and the advent of the efficient, pro-business administration of Tom Bradley.

There were also three important turning points that subdivide the long decade. 1963 was a rollercoaster year that witnessed the first: the rise and fall of the United Civil Rights Committee, the most important attempt to integrate housing, schools and jobs in LA through non-violent protest and negotiation. (Only Detroit produced a larger and more ambitious civil rights united front during what contemporaries called Birmingham Summer.) In California it brought passage of the states first Fair Housing Act repealed by referendum the following year in an outburst of white backlash.

1965, of course, saw the second turning point, the so-called Watts Riots. The third, 1969, began as a year of hope with a strong coalition of white liberals, Blacks and newly minted Chicanos supporting Bradley for mayor. He led the polls until election eve, when Yorty counterattacked with a vicious barrage of racist and red-baiting appeals to white voters. Bradleys defeat foreclosed, at least for the foreseeable future, any concessions to the citys minorities or liberal voters. Moreover, it was immediately followed by sinister campaigns, involving the FBI, the district attorneys office, and both the LAPD and LA county sheriffs, to destroy the Panthers, Brown Berets and other radical groups.

Joan Didion evoked a sense of dread in her essay collection The White Album. Photograph: Julian Wasser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

This is the true context underlying the creeping sense of dread and imminent chaos famously evoked by Joan Didion in her 1979 essay collection, The White Album. If helter skelter was unleashed after 1970, the Manson gang were bit players compared to the institutions of law and order. For the past half century, a number of stereotypes have framed our recollections of this age of revolt, but the Los Angeles experience confounds most cliches. In the standard narrative, for instance, college students, organized as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Free Speech Movement (FSM) in Berkeley, were the principal social actors, and the great engine rooms of protest were found at huge public university campuses in places like Berkeley, Madison, Ann Arbor, and Kent. (The exceptions, according to this narrative, were some historical Black colleges and Ivy League Columbia.)

In Los Angeles, however, it was junior and senior high schools that were the principal battlefields, and the majority of protesters were Black and brown. Indeed, as many as 20,000 inner-city teenagers and their white Westside allies participated in walkouts and demonstrations between 1967 and 1970. Members of college radical groups as well as the Black Panther party played significant roles as advisers to these protests, but the indigenous teenage leadership was most important. These struggles recruited hundreds of kids to groups like the Panthers and Brown Berets and gave birth to a unique high school New Left formation, the Red Tide.

The terrain of college protest in Los Angeles also differed from that of the mainstream. Of the two flagship local universities, the University of Southern California was a citadel of campus Republicanism, birthplace of Nixons so-called USC Mafia (and, as it turned out, the alma mater of several Watergate conspirators). UCLA, for its part, saw only episodic mass protests, most notably during Nixons invasion of Cambodia in spring 1970. The real homes of sustained student activism were the three inner-city community colleges (LA City College, Southwest College and East LA College), along with Cal State LA and Valley State (later Cal State, Northridge).

The latter was the site of a 196970 uprising by the Black Student Union and SDS that was quelled by police batons, mass arrests, and a staggering 1,730 felony charges against Black students: repression on a scale that rivaled or exceeded the more famous battles at San Francisco State.

The Black Panther minister of information, Eldridge Cleaver, addresses an estimated 7,500 students at UCLA in 1968. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Historians and political scientists have generally conceded that the one hundred or so ghetto insurrections of the 1960s should be regarded as genuine protests, but they have usually described them as leading to mere chaos and demoralization. Conventionally, rioters have been portrayed as the opposites of organizers and builders. This does not describe events in Los Angeles.

The 1965 explosion unified and energized a generation of young Black people, ended gang conflict for a number of years, and catalyzed the extraordinary Watts Renaissance, the citys most important arts and literary movement of the decade. Black Power became an aspiration shared by thousands, and in 1967 this grassroots unity found expression in the emergence of LAs Black Congress the more radical successor to the United Civil Rights Committee. It included SNCC, the Black Student Alliance, the Che-Lumumba Club of the Communist Party, the Black Panthers, and the powerful Us organization (or Organization Us) led by Ron Karenga. (The congress would later be destroyed by a violent conflict between Us and the Panthers, instigated and fueled by the FBIs secret Cointelpro program.)

Contests over public space were also extraordinarily important in Los Angeles. In part this was the legacy of earlier decades when the LAPDs notorious Red Squad had been the enforcer of the anti-union open shop doctrine, and when city hall supplied draconian anti-picketing and antifree speech ordinances. The 60s saw a renewal of this unsavory tradition.

Police search African American youths in 1966. Photograph: Everett/Rex Shutterstock

The LAPD, aided by the LA county sheriffs, conducted an unending siege of bohemian Venice, tried to drive teenyboppers and hippies off Sunset Strip, regularly broke up peaceful love-ins and rallies in Griffith and Elysian Parks, suppressed lowriders on Whittier Boulevard, harassed kids selling the underground LA Free Press, raided coffeehouses and folk clubs, and invoked obscenity as an excuse to crack down on artists, poets and theater groups. No other major city outside of the deep south was subjected to such a fanatic and all-encompassing campaign to police space and control the night. Along with minorities, many young whites were also routinely victimized, leading hatred of the LAPD to grow into a common culture of resistance.

The cops, however, had a formidable opponent in the ACLU of Southern California, the national organizations most hard-charging and activist affiliate. When national ACLU director Roger Baldwin and a majority of the national leadership publicly embraced anti-communism in the late 1940s, AL Wirin, ACLU SoCals legendary chief counsel, pointedly challenged the ban on representing Communist party members in trial proceedings, taking on several cases in private practice.

Moreover, in 1952, the local branch chose as its new director Eason Monroe, a state college professor from San Francisco who had been fired for refusing to sign a loyalty oath. A decade later, Monroe charted a novel course for the affiliate by not only defending the local civil rights coalition in court but also joining in its leadership. Significantly, it was an ACLU team, led by UCLA professor John Caughey and his wife LaRee, that launched the legendary 1963 lawsuit to force integration of LAs de facto Jim Crow school system an effort that would reverberate for three decades. No other ACLU branch claimed such a large role in the decades protest movements.

Understanding Los Angeles in the 60s also requires rewriting the histories of gay liberation and the womens movement. Indeed, New York City was not the origin and center of everything. Los Angeles had the first gay street protest in America over police raids on the Black Cat Bar in Silver Lake, two years before the Stonewall uprising; it had the first gay church the Metropolitan community church, now the largest gay institution in the world; and it had the first officially recognized gay pride parade on Hollywood Boulevard in 1970. LA also witnessed the nations first police raid on a womens health clinic, following which the organizers were tried for practicing medicine without a license.

Finally, the course of events in Los Angeles challenged the myth that the Old Left was irrelevant in the 60s and that the New Left had invented itself ex nihilo. The Communist party, for its part, never appears in the standard narrative except as an unattractive corpse. But in Los Angeles its most unruly and dissident branch remained very much alive under the charismatic and eventually heretical leadership of Dorothy Healey.

Two young Chicano men during a protest in Los Angeles, 1970. Photograph: BBC/David Fenton/Getty Images

Despite the partys devastating losses following Soviet secretary Nikita Khrushchevs 1956 Crimes of Stalin speech, Healey was determined to resurrect what she could of the 1940s Popular Front and to reach out to the new radicals on campus, in the ghettos and in the barrios. Still under the threat of a prison sentence, she found a niche at KPFK, the new 75,000-watt Pacifica Radio FM station, in 1959, where her Communist Commentaryimpressed even hostile listeners with its intelligence and wit although it almost cost the station its license. In 1966 she ran in the primary for county tax assessor and received a staggering 85,000 votes. By then the local Communist party had confidentially rebuilt many of its links with progressives in the Democratic party and had assumed an important role in the Peace Action Council. Its youth members, relatively unconstrained by a party line or adult control, played innovative roles in the early 60s, including participation in Southern Freedom Rides, and later, more influentially, as the Che-Lumumba Club which would become the political base of Angela Davis. For two generations Healey defined radicalism in the public eye.

This is a movement history of Los Angeles that looks at the city from the vantage points of its flatland neighborhoods and bohemian beaches where the young heroes of this story lived. We have tried to give human faces to social forces, to understand rebellion as a constant debate about goals and tactics, and to recall the passions of struggle, especially the power of love. It was also important to describe in some detail the machinery of racial oppression that kept good schools, well-paid jobs and suburban homes out of the reach of people living inside the citys ghettos and barrios.

At epic moments in the long decade the United Civil Rights campaign in 1963, the Watts uprising in 1965, and the wave of high school revolts from 1966 to 1969 the movement tried mightily to break through to the other side, only to face the batons and drawn guns of the LAPD. By 1973, repression had dug nearly 100 graves and put more than 10,000 protesters in jail or prison. An enormous effort has been made to trivialize the 60s and to bury its dreams in a paupers grave. But its unruly ghost, like that of the 1930s, still shakes its chains in the nightmares of elites.

  • Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties, by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener (Verso), is out now

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The long read: The notorious case of three teenage sisters inspired a campaign for change and a backlash from the patriarchy

At about 3pm on 27 July 2018, the day of his death, Mikhail Khachaturyan scolded his three teenage daughters, Krestina, Angelina and Maria. The apartment they shared in a Soviet-era housing block near the huge ring road that encircles Moscow was a mess, he told them, and they would pay for having left it that way. A large, irascible man in his late 50s with a firm Orthodox faith, Khachaturyan had run his household despotically since he allegedly forced his wife to leave in 2015.

That afternoon, his daughters would later tell investigators, he punished them in his customary sadistic way. Calling them one by one into his bedroom, he cursed and yelled at them, then pepper sprayed each one in the face. The oldest sister, Krestina, 19, began to choke from the effects of the spray. Retreating to the bedroom she shared with her sisters, Krestina collapsed on the bed and lost consciousness. Her sister Maria, then 17, the youngest of the three, would later describe this moment as the final straw.

Krestina woke shortly after 7pm to cries from the other side of the bedroom door. Running into the living room, she saw Angelina and Maria standing over their father, who was in his chair, struggling violently. Apparently believing her sisters were in danger, Krestina snatched the bottle of pepper spray from a nearby table and sprayed it frantically at her father.

But what Krestina had witnessed was not another assault by Khachaturyan on his daughters. While she was recovering in the bedroom, investigators say Maria and Angelina attacked Khachaturyan with a hunting knife and hammer they had retrieved from his car. Disoriented from the pepper spray and rapidly losing blood, Khachaturyan hobbled on to the landing outside the apartment. It was there that Angelina, the 18-year-old middle daughter, caught up with him and, investigators allege, drove the knife into his heart.

Several minutes later, one of the sisters called the police. Identifying herself as Angelina, she explained through tears that her father had attacked her under the influence of a heavy dose of sedatives, and that she had killed him in self-defence. Police found his body on the landing, with multiple stab wounds to the neck, arms and torso. The sisters were arrested for murder and held in a womens remand prison in south-east Moscow.

News of the killing quickly spread across Russia, and in the months that followed, the country was divided over what drove the three teenage sisters to kill their own father. The case was covered obsessively by newspapers, evening news programmes, and TV talkshows. It was all anyone could talk about for months, said Alexey Parshin, Angelinas lawyer.

Some, including Khachaturyans two sisters, claimed the young women were scheming ingrates who killed their father to steal his money. They cited evidence that the daughters had slashed each other in the minutes following the killing with the same knife they allegedly used to murder him, in what investigators would later call a deliberate attempt to mislead them.

Others including their mother, Khachaturyans estranged wife came to the sisters defence, refusing to accept that such an egregious motive could be behind their actions. As lawyers and investigators began piecing together the Khachaturyan family story, it became clear this was not a cold-blooded murder. Over hundreds of pages of court documents and transcripts of witness testimony, a picture emerges, which Mikhail Khachaturyans sisters contest, of a household terrorised by his paranoiac despotism of routine sexual abuse, beatings, humiliation and death threats.

Despite this history of abuse, in June 2019 prosecutors indicted all three daughters on charges of pre-meditated murder. Two months after the killing, they were released from custody following an appeal from their lawyers, and as an investigation into the crime continues, they are staying with relatives, awaiting trial. A psychological assessment shortly after the killing found that Maria was mentally unsound at the time of the crime due to an acute stress disorder caused by her fathers abuse, and recommended her for treatment. But given the severity of the charges, Maria and her sisters face betwen eight and 20 years in prison for what they maintain was a desperate act of self-defence.

Meanwhile, Russia finds itself deep in a national debate over domestic violence. The sisters case has galvanised opposition to the countrys punitive legal system and conservative political culture. At present, Russia has no specific legislation to define, prevent or prosecute domestic violence. Womens rights advocates are campaigning to overturn a controversial 2017 law on battery that has softened punishments and, they say, encouraged perpetrators to act with impunity.

Hundreds have taken to the streets since the indictment was issued to call for the sisters release and picket government buildings in protest against their prosecution. Fundraising concerts and theatre performances have been held to offset their legal fees and call for the passing of a law that would help prevent future attacks. An online petition for their release has gathered more than 370,000 signatures. Its become clear this is a problem of catastrophic proportions which cant be ignored, said Alyona Popova, a womens rights activist who started the petition and helped draft a domestic violence bill now being debated in the Russian parliament. Something has to be done.

But as activists step up their efforts to reform the legal system, they are being countered by a campaign backed by the powerful Orthodox church to promote traditional values and portray the Russian family unit as under threat.

Orthodox priests are appearing on state TV channels excoriating the malign forces of globalisation, while mass vigils are being held across Russia to protest against western progressivism. Hundreds of social media accounts representing conservative movements are promoting an apocalyptic narrative that claims any moves towards regulating family affairs will lead to the disintegration of Russian families and perhaps of Russia itself.

In the years before his death, Mikhail Khachaturyan liked to take regular pilgrimages to Israel, returning with candles from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianitys holiest site, and various icons that he added to a home shrine at which he prayed daily. An account purportedly belonging to him on a Russian social media platform where he lists his name as Michael of Jerusalem contains pictures of him bathing at holy sites, drinking shirtless with friends and posing with prominent Orthodox clerics and public figures.

During a police interrogation the day after his murder, a partial transcript of which was provided to me by one of Angelinas attorneys, Angelina said that her father first sexually assaulted her while the two were on holiday in Israel in November 2014, and that he had subjected her to various forms of sexual harassment ever since. It always took place in his bedroom, she said, with the door closed. Hed regularly tell us that sex outside marriage is a sin, she said of her pious father. But because were his blood and his daughters, he can do with us as he wishes, and we should submit ourselves to it.

In WhatsApp messages that were leaked to the press, Khatchaturyan had often threatened Angelina with sexual violence. In January 2018, while he was on a pilgrimage in Israel, he threatened to rape both his daughter and his estranged wife upon learning that Angelina wasnt home as he had instructed. Three months later, he sent her a series of lewd voice messages. Youll be sucking endlessly, Angelina, he said in one. And if you leave Ill find you. Three minutes later, he warned: Ill beat you for everything, Ill kill you. Leave, leave, dont drive me to sin.

Khachaturyan sexually assaulted his other daughters as well, according to the official investigation into the crime, and had effectively enslaved them. We served him in the home, ironing, cleaning, cooking for him and giving him food when he asked, Maria said in a police interview, according to court documents. If the sisters fell short of his expectations, or he simply lost his temper, he attacked them.

Violence, or the threat of it, was a constant presence in their home. Khachaturyan was highly superstitious, and is said to have banned his family from uttering certain everyday words in his presence, believing them to bring bad luck. He installed a camera on the landing outside their apartment to record his childrens comings and goings. In a search of the property after the killing, police confiscated a hammer, a knife, two airguns, a crossbow, a rubber-bullet handgun, a revolver, a hunting rifle, 16 cartridges and 16 spears. In Khachaturyans car they also found business cards displaying the logo of Russias Federal Security Service, or FSB, and listing the 57-year-old as its employee.

Angelina Khachaturyan arrives at a court hearing in Moscow in June 2019. Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty

Investigators declared the cards fake, but few in the area doubted that Khachaturyan was well connected. A series of events recounted by neighbours indicate that he had friends in the Moscow police and the prosecutors office. He constantly bragged about his connections, said Parshin, Angelinas lawyer, who has written to the authorities requesting that Khachaturyans contacts with law enforcement officials be investigated. The choice for the three sisters, he said, was to do nothing, and hope itll pass, or go to the police and inevitably suffer another beating at the hands of their father, who would have been the first person the police would report to.

In records of her police interrogation, Angelina described the predicament the sisters faced in the run-up to the murder. My sisters and I were tired of such a life, but afraid to turn to anyone for help because he had connections everywhere, she said of her father. After their mother was forced to flee, the sisters were afraid that anyone who tried to help them would get into trouble. Telling our relatives was also not a solution to the problem, because they might have not believed us.

In their statements, Maria and Angelina both recounted an episode from early 2016, when the three sisters were on holiday with their father in Adler, a resort on Russias Black Sea coast. After Krestina ran out of a room where shed been alone with her father, she swallowed a handful of drotaverine pills, an antispasmodic drug, in an apparent suicide attempt, and had to be rushed to hospital.

Krestinas lawyer, Alexey Liptser, told me that it was fear that Krestina would again attempt suicide that had driven her sisters to take matters into their own hands. (Krestina did not take part in the killing, he added.) In a WhatsApp exchange with one of her friends a month before her fathers murder, Krestina said that he had again threatened to rape her and that she might not endure the situation much longer.

I lost consciousness during the night, she wrote. He began to chase me out at one in the morning, because he didnt like the fact that one of his shirts isnt ironed. She continued: I became anxious and started crying and then began suffocating and fell on the ground. The little ones began to sob and resuscitate me, it was fucking crazy. And to top it off he whacked them over the head with his gun He gets worse every day. And its like this every day? the friend responded. Almost, Krestina replied.

Consider the fact they could not be expected to make logical decisions, their inability to find help, the constant violence, the threats to their lives, said Parshin. Put all that together and youll understand what state they were in, and why they took that knife and that hammer.

Mikhail Khachaturyan drove them to that state, Parshin went on. The moment he began to commit crimes against them, he stopped being a father.

In December, I travelled to Moscows northern outskirts to see Aurelia Dunduk, the mother of the three sisters and a key witness in their case. Dunduk met Mikhail Khachaturyan in Moscow in 1996, two years after she had emigrated with her parents from Moldova. She was 17. Khachaturyan, who was 35, was from an ethnic Armenian family that had left the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan in 1988 to escape the sectarian conflict that was engulfing parts of the moribund Soviet empire. The family came to Moscow hoping to eventually emigrate to the US, but their plans never worked out.

The city the two families encountered then, in Russias first post-Soviet decade, was a place descending into lawlessness. Aspiring entrepreneurs, law enforcement officials and petty criminals eager to exploit the collapsing system used any means at their disposal to profit from the chaos. After a stint in the Russian army, Khachaturyan became a local racketeer: merchants opening up stores and small businesses in his part of north Moscow would pay cash for his protection.

Dunduk dated Khachaturyan for several months after they first met, then broke it off. He had become violent, and started threatening her family, she claims, so she moved outside the city to stay with relatives and keep her distance. He ultimately forced her to return through a campaign of threats and coercion, she said, which culminated in him locking Dunduk in his apartment after she attended a new years eve party he hosted.

Krestina, left, and Angelina, at Moscows Basmanny district court. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/TASS

I stayed against my will, Dunduk, now 40, told me at a cafe not far from the apartment where Khachaturyan was murdered. He left none of us any choice, neither me nor my relatives. She is tired of the constant attention from prosecutors, journalists and Khachaturyans defenders that she has faced since the murder, and her shaky cadence was barely audible over the pop music playing from speakers overhead. Her voice is familiar to audiences of the many talkshows she has appeared on since her daughters arrest, in a bid to argue their case. In February, she sat in a TV studio as a screen above her showed two amateur actors re-enacting her alleged rape by Khatchaturyan 20 years earlier. The cameras zoomed in on Dunduks face so viewers could scrutinise her reaction. She lowered her head and looked away.

In June 1997, Dunduk gave birth to a son, Sergey, and two years later to Krestina. By that point, she said, Khachaturyan regularly beat her; the smallest thing could set him off. You just didnt know, she told me. One minute youre talking to him normally, and then suddenly he might begin shouting and cursing. One afternoon in the early 00s she managed to escape the apartment and run to the local police station. Khachaturyan followed her and listened with a grin as she asked to file a complaint against him. She said he then hit her in front of the duty officers, many of whom were his friends, and dragged her home. After that, she said, it was pointless trying to do anything.

Sergey said he was also subjected to regular violence. When he was 16, in 2013, Khachaturyan chased him out of the home. He was forced to sleep rough for weeks before he was taken in by a friend, with whom he has lived ever since. Then, in 2015, Khachaturyan also forced Dunduk out. He lost his temper, put a gun to my temple and told me: Im going to leave now, and if youre still here when Im back, Ill kill you all, she alleges.

Dunduk never returned to live with the family. A friend in Moscow put her up for six weeks, and then she joined her mother in Moldova. After a year, she came back to Moscow to be closer to her children, again staying at friends homes. But she had minimal access to her daughters, who she said feared retribution from Khachaturyan. It was because of this lack of communication, and the fear that drove it, that Dunduk only learnt of Khachaturyans sexual abuse from investigators. When she found out, she said: I wanted to kill him all over again.

After Khachaturyans death, his family began a very public feud. Arsen, Khachaturyans 21-year-old nephew, started touring Moscows TV studios defending the reputation of a man he calls papa. On air, he has branded Dunduk a prostitute and accused her of abetting her daughters in the killing. In September 2018, friends of Arsen assaulted Sergey on the set of a prime-time talkshow. In January, Khachaturyans mother, Lidiya, and sister Naira launched a libel suit against Dunduk for claiming in an interview that Khachaturyan had raped her. A husband cannot rape his wife by definition, they told Russian media.

In many ways, the split in the Khatchaturyan family reflects the bitter divide within Russian society. On the one hand, there are those who wish to preserve a sense of national identity rooted in conservative Orthodox Christian values and a rejection of progressive ideas. On the other, there are those who believe Russias development as a modern society is dependent on its ability to embrace liberal social policies and champion the rights of women and minorities.

Even before the killing, domestic violence had been a topic of public contention in Russia. In 2012, the Russian government conducted a nationwide survey that found one in five women had been physically assaulted by a husband or partner. Four years later, in July 2016, the Russian parliament, with Putins consent, excluded battery against close persons spouses, parents, children and other live-in relatives from a law decriminalising other forms of battery. This meant that for the first time in Russias history, there was effectively a law that applied specifically to domestic violence.

But there was soon a backlash from conservatives. In November 2016, a group of lawmakers led by the head of parliaments committee on the family, Elena Mizulina, introduced a bill to decriminalise instances of domestic violence that happen no more than once per year and cause no lasting physical damage. Mizulina framed her bill as a way of safeguarding Russian families from outside intrusion, citing foreign funding received by NGOs opposed to her initiative.

This time, Putin backed the conservatives, warning in December 2016 that interference in family matters is unacceptable. As lawmakers moved to pass the decriminalisation bill at the end of 2016, Russian state TV launched a propaganda campaign to smooth its passage through parliament. Reports on federal channels suggested men should not be criminally liable if they beat their wives accidentally, out of strong love, or in the interests of upbringing, and peddled the notion that European children are routinely withdrawn from families after bogus domestic violence complaints from strangers. We are balancing out peoples rights, and removing anti-family laws, said Olga Batalina, one of the lawmakers pushing the initiative.

Under the new law, which Putin signed in February 2017, domestic violence that doesnt cause severe injury is punishable by a 30,000-ruble fine (360) comparable to a smoking or parking violation or 15 days in jail. A second offence can lead to three months in prison, but if a year has passed since the first, a modest fine is again imposed. Critics summed up the law as one free beating a year.

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The reasons for Putins about-face on domestic violence are complicated. The conservative movement in Russia is partly fuelled by many of the same anti-globalist fears driving the current populist wave across Europe. But in addition, since the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, Russia has suffered a protracted population decline. Putin has unveiled various financial incentives for first-time mothers and made raising the birth rate a signature policy during his 20 years at Russias helm. But he has largely failed to reverse the trend: the country has one of the worlds highest abortion rates, nearly half of all marriages collapse, and immigration no longer offsets population decline.

To shore up support, Putin has appealed to the nationalist majority that comprises his base through a rhetoric of traditional values and a slew of conservative initiatives. A 2013 law banning promotion of homosexuality in the presence of Russian children led to a violent backlash against LGBT people across the country. Putin has also empowered the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution that rails against globalisation and encroaching western influence and defends traditionalism as a means of protecting Russian identity.

The Russian Orthodox Church is completely merged with the state, said Yulia Gorbunova, a Human Rights Watch researcher and author of a major report last October on the issue of domestic violence in Russia. They echo each other on all the main social issues.

Following the passage of Mizulinas decriminalisation bill in 2017, womens rights activists reported a spike in domestic violence. Many incidents involved repeated abuse and blatant police inaction despite victims appeals. A crisis hotline operated by the Anna Centre, a womens rights organisation that Putins government has labelled a foreign agent, recorded a rise in complaints from 20,000 in 2016 to more than 31,000 in 2018.

After the decriminalisation, all of us saw a barrage of cases, an absolute barrage, said Mari Davtyan, a lawyer involved in the Khachaturyan case and a campaigner for domestic violence legislation. Society read the message. Those who used violence concluded that its now allowed. And what did those who suffer from it conclude? That theres no line of defence left.

Ten months after the law went into effect, in December 2017, Margarita Gracheva, a woman from a town 60 miles south of Moscow, was driven to a nearby forest by her husband where he chopped off her hands with an axe. It was a horrific coda to months of abuse that continued despite Grachevas appeal that November to the police, who refused to press charges. In January 2018, in another Moscow region town, a beauty salon worker named Elena Verba was stabbed 57 times by her husband, who went to work and left the mutilated body for his seven-year-old son to discover. Verba had reported an incident of domestic violence to police six months earlier, but duty officers persuaded her to retract her accusation because her husband worked in law enforcement and risked losing his job. Last September, in Cheboksary, 400 miles east of Moscow, 38-year-old Anna Ovchinnikovas husband strangled her with a rope, placed her body in a suitcase and buried it in a nearby forest. She had filed at least three complaints about domestic violence. All three men were ultimately sentenced to prison terms of between nine and 15 years.

Government figures suggest that only one in 10 Russian women who suffer domestic violence report it to the police roughly in line with the global average, according to the UN and a mere 2% seek legal advice. According to a recent analysis by independent outlet Media Zona of several thousand court verdicts against Russian women jailed on murder charges between 2016 and 2018, 79% had been defending themselves against a partner.

A protester holds a placard with a message reading Domestic violence victims need therapy not prison on Patriarshy Bridge in Moscow. Photograph: Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

Gorbunova of Human Rights Watch said the problem is compounded by the fact that Russian police often refuse to launch investigations. Theyre not taught to treat the situation as potentially lethal, she said. So they either laugh it off, or tell the wife to behave herself and be nice to her husband.

Last July, a court in Oryol, 200 miles south of Moscow, sentenced duty officer Natalya Bashkatova to two years in prison for negligence. In November 2016, Bashkatova received a call from a woman whose boyfriend had threatened to kill her. Do not call again. We will not come to you, she told the woman. What if something happens? the woman asked. If he kills you, well come to examine the body, came Bashkatovas answer. Dont worry. Within 40 minutes of that exchange, which the woman recorded, she had been beaten to death by her boyfriend in the courtyard of her home.

The last resort for some victims is an appeal to the European court of human rights. In July, the ECHR issued its first decision on a domestic violence case in Russia, ruling that police had failed to protect Valeriya Volodina from repeated acts of violence by a former partner who stalked and assaulted her after she left him in 2015. It gave a scathing assessment of the governments tolerance for a climate which was conducive to domestic violence.

In November, Russias justice ministry responded to a series of questions sent by the ECHR in connection with domestic violence cases brought by Russian women. In excerpts cited by Russias Kommersant newspaper, the ministry said the scale of domestic violence in Russia is exaggerated and dismissed the need for separate legislation. A victim has the option to reconcile with their attacker for the sake of preserving personal relations in the family, it said, and Russian women who appeal to the ECHR are trying to sabotage the efforts the government is making to improve the situation.

To get to the office of Oksana Pushkina, a lawmaker in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, you pass through metal detectors and through an exhibition space to a set of lifts that takes you to the ninth floor. On the November afternoon I visited, assault rifles and other Russian-made weapons were on display in glass cases as the legislative body, as well as schools and other state institutions across the country, celebrated 100 years since the birth of Russian arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Pushkina is one of 73 female lawmakers in the 450-seat chamber, where she stands out among a mass of jingoistic officials who rubber-stamp laws approved by the Kremlin. When we met, she had recently returned from a conference at the Council of Europes Strasbourg headquarters on how police should respond to domestic violence. I sat there like some creature from another planet, said Pushkina, a glamorous woman in her 50s. They were discussing whats already in place in their countries. And we dont even have a law.

With help from Davtyan and Parshin, the two lawyers involved in the Khachaturan case, and Alyona Popova, the activist, Pushkina is trying to introduce a new domestic violence bill. It includes banning an abusive partner from access to the victim for at least one month, their possible eviction from a shared family home, and a requirement that they compensate their victims legal fees or alternative accommodation during periods of violence. It proposes a support infrastructure for victims, with counselling services and shelters across Russia. And it defines domestic violence and the kinds of ways physical, psychological, economic it can manifest itself.

For us its important that the violence does not happen again, Davtyan said. The goal is simple: that he stops approaching her.

The opposition to any domestic violence bill is well organised, well funded, and backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. In early December, a month after visiting Pushkina, I attended a roundtable at the Duma that brought representatives of Russias various religious groups together with lawmakers.

Billed as Legislative aspects of the defence of spiritual-moral values as a key factor in the development of civil society, the three-hour session was dominated by high-ranking Orthodox clergy. Pushkinas domestic violence bill featured prominently. The family is a holy creation, declared one priest, and thus cannot be regulated by a secular state.

One threat in particular kept coming up: zapad, the west.

Aurelia Dunduk, estranged wife of Mikhail and the mother of the three Khachaturyan sisters. Photograph: Matthew Luxmoore

Fifty-four units of the CIA are working against us, trying to impose their values, Pavel Pozhigaylo, a member of the Russian culture ministrys board, told the room. We are at war. The audience applauded. The Orthodox activist Andrei Kormukhin told the roundtable that Pushkinas bill is aimed not at preserving the family, but at destroying it. He then gave the floor to his wife, a mother of nine children, who branded the bill anti-Russian and said that if it had passed in the 90s, the happy families we have today would not exist.

A few days later, I sat down with Kormukhin at a cafe in central Moscow. He leads Forty Forties, an ultra-conservative movement that claims to have 40 regional branches and more than 10,000 supporters, including senior Orthodox clergy. The churchs leader, Patriarch Kirill, has met with its members and is a personal friend of Kormukhins, whose WhatsApp avatar shows the men deep in conversation. In its six years of existence, Forty Forties has roped in football hooligans and neo-Nazis and stood accused of various extremist acts in defence of religion. In May 2015, Kormukhin was briefly detained by police for joining in a violent attack on LGBT activists attempting to hold a parade in Moscow.

In recent months, Forty Forties has directed its resources against Pushkinas domestic violence bill, staging protests and mass vigils under the slogan for the family. In October, Kormukhin co-authored an open letter to Putin denouncing the draft law. The 1,700-word text, which included 50 references to family, was co-signed by more than 180 organisations from across Russia including amateur fight clubs, paramilitary groups and civic movements with names like Big Family, Family, Love, Fatherland and Lots of Kids Is Good.

Kormukhin argues that the law is part of a western plot aimed at weakening Russian families and insists that statistics on domestic violence cited by rights activists are wrong. Because the majority of crimes happen when the man is in a state of intoxication, he said, a man needs to be given the benefit of the doubt and be left to sober up.

A good duty officer will know that if the woman returns home then the husband will fall before her knees the next morning, beg for forgiveness and promise it wont happen again. And then the children will stay with their parents and the family unit will be preserved, he said. Why do you want to deprive a family of its breadwinner?

What if he beats her again after three days? I asked.

And what if youre a paedophile? Kormukhin asked, frustrated. It says nothing if a man has beaten his wife once.

For Pushkina, the dirty campaign waged by groups like Forty Forties undermines their stated commitment to religious values. Were talking about prevention [of violence], and they call us extreme feminists and destroyers of a social order that is a de facto patriarchate, Pushkina said. It really has been that way since ancient times. But times are changing.

Maria, Angelina and Krestina Khachaturyan are largely oblivious to the vicious culture war their case has fuelled. Banned from using the internet and from communicating with each other, with witnesses or the press, they are dimly aware at best of their status as torchbearers for Russias feminist movement and targets of its conservative backlash.

For now, Angelina and Krestina are living with relatives, and Maria with her mother. Just before New Years Eve, their night-time curfew was lifted, but the other rules remain in force. They now only see each other in court, under a bailiffs watchful eye, when they gather to hear the judge extend their pre-trial restrictions. They were always together, and when they split them up it was as if one organism was torn into three parts, Parshin told me.

On 3 December, investigators announced they were sending the final version of their indictment to the prosecutors office for trial. Maria, Angelina and Krestina had acted with premeditation, they concluded, driven by a strong personal enmity towards their father caused by his protracted physical and sexual abuse. But two weeks later, the prosecutors office issued a stunning decision: investigators should reassess the case, it said, and consider reclassifying the sisters actions as self-defence exactly what their lawyers had been arguing all along. Killing in self-defence is not a crime, so if the murder charge is dropped, the women will be set free.

But Mikhail Khachaturyans sisters, Naira and Marina who have emerged as his most committed apologists since his death have appealed, alleging that his daughters led a debauched, drug-addled existence and murdered their father for his money. Theyve also pressed additional charges against Dunduk, claiming she lied repeatedly in interviews about extramarital affairs. Yulia Nitchenko, an attorney who represents them, said any rumour that charges will be dropped is fake news; she expects the case to go to trial in the coming weeks and for the three sisters to be convicted within a year. The court will set the whole record straight, she told me. No one will evade justice.

Pushkinas campaign for domestic violence legislation appears to have stalled. In November, parliaments upper house published a version of her bill listing preservation of the family as a primary goal of preventing domestic violence a clear overture to the conservatives. Even in this watered-down version, the bill is unlikely to race through parliament. In the past decade, at least 30 different domestic violence bills have been prepared in Russia, and several introduced in the Duma. None has passed even the first reading. But public opinion appears to be on Pushkinas side, driven in part by the case of the Khachaturyan sisters.

In the past, said Parshin, Angelinas lawyer, the problem was denied outright; it was as if, in societys perception at least, it did not exist. Thats the most noticeable change, he said. People have begun talking about the issue of domestic violence.

In a December 2019 survey by state-backed pollster VTsIOM, 40% of respondents said they know violent families, and 70% said they supported a hypothetical law on domestic violence. In an August 2019 poll by the independent Levada Centre, only 14% of respondents said domestic violence is a family affair that should be kept private.

It used to be treated as a marginal issue. Journalists covered this rarely and reluctantly, and called such cases household squabbles, said Davtyan. But theres now an understanding that this is not just a domestic affair, but a violation of human rights.

Popova was hopeful this shift will pave the way for the laws passage, even if the conservatives succeed in stalling it for now. But she warned that each month brings news of victims who could have been saved.

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As the president completes his first year in power, his opponents are finding their voice and fighting back

Jair Bolsonaros presidency was still a week away when Edu Krieger penned his first critique a ballad lamenting the rise of Brazils incoming leader and lampooning him over the corruption allegations that continue to haunt his family.

Its important for us to counterattack with our art, said the 45-year-old singer-songwriter who has since become a specialist in musical parodies of the populist provocateur.

But as Bolsonaro completes his first year in power, Krieger is far from the only Brazilian artist finding their voice and continuing a rich tradition in one of the worlds most musical nations. From raperos to roqueiros, a growing chorus of musicians are denouncing the extremist politician and his assault on their trade.

We cant become anaesthetised and think, Oh, he won [the election]. Theres nothing we can do, said Krieger, who has written songs for some of Brazils most celebrated female voices.

At least through our music we can pester them a bit and make some noise. This is the most efficient kind of resistance we can mount right now We cant just passively accept the kind of situation they are trying to impose.

Another artist joining the resistance is Manu da Cuca, a 34-year-old composer who wrote the 2020 carnival anthem for one of Rios leading samba schools, Mangueira.

The songs standout lyric which warns of the perils of gun-toting messiahs is a clear swipe at the pro-gun president, whose middle name is Messias.

Edu Krieger says he wants to make some noise. Photograph: Felipe Fittipaldi

Theres no shortage of false prophets in todays Brazil, said Da Cuca, whose baby daughters name Havana hints at her leftist leanings. And its these messiahs who end up dragging us down with their hateful policies, added the musician, whose real name is Manuela Oiticica.

Chico Csar, a 55-year-old troubadour with seven albums to his name, is another setting his scores on Bolsonaro.

Csar, from the northern state of Maranho, said he received insults and threats for a song skewering Bolsonaros fascist followers. The presidents assault on Brazilian culture was the reason for the artists backlash, he said.

Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has enraged musicians, film-makers and visual artists alike by slashing public support for their work in what many see as payback for their opposition to his rule.

Art is like an anthill, Csar said. When you tread on it it bites the aggressor.

Marina Iris, a 35-year-old singer from Rio, makes no explicit reference to the president on her new album. But it is infused with angst and upset over growing police violence and discrimination in Bolsonaros Brazil.

One track, a Brazilian standard called Onze Fitas, tells the story of a woman shot dead with 11 bullets a song Iris said spoke to growing state repression under a new wave of far-right politicians.

We are trying to stop ourselves going backwards, Iris said. Theres no way my music could ignore this.

Not all Brazilian artists are joining the cultural counterattack, however and a small number of rightwing rappers have even used their verses to sing Bolsonaros praises.Krieger, the son of one of Brazils leading conductors, said many artists still felt reluctant to challenge the president for fear of alienating his supporters and harming their careers.

Artists have bills to pay. Artists have to work. They need places to perform, he said. I understand its really hard for artists to speak out in a way that might make them lose their audience. Like it or not, 58 million people voted for this guy.

Jair Bolsonaro responded to the attacks by slashing funding to the arts. Photograph: Adriano Machado/Reuters

But as Bolsonaros first year in power draws to a close and Krieger prepared to fashion another post-Christmas critique of his countrys radical leader the composer said more and more artists were taking up instruments.

I think were moving out of the period of general anaesthetic that started the year.

Krieger said his music was battling not just against Bolsonaro, but against the kind of intolerant and lopsided country Brazil had become over more than 500 years of inequality.

Bolsonaro and his team are a faithful portrait of this Brazil: the Brazil of intolerance, the Brazil of homophobia, the Brazil of inequality, the Brazil of privilege, Krieger said.

Through our art we need to show that those people who are now in power represent exactly the kind of society we do not want to be.

Or is that actually the society we do want? he wondered. Thats the big question now.

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The punks were sceptical of my presence. One guy even headbutted me. In retrospect, I think it was a sign of acceptance

I was in my mid-20s when Cornell Capa, director of the International Center of Photography in New York, recommended me for a job documenting life in the American sector of Berlin while the city was still divided. As a young photographer, I was so nervous. All of these senior German officials were swanning around my studio inspecting my work.

I blurted out that I wasnt American, that I was born in Canada, almost like a confession. I felt I had to tell them. They just looked at me quizzically, laughed and started speaking in German. I have no idea what they thought of me. But I got the job.

I went to West Berlin in 1982 to document what was called Mauerkrankheit, which roughly translates as wall sickness. It was a disorder, identified in Berlin, caused by the fact that youre living in this divided city, surrounded by the tension between the Soviet and American sectors. Its a slow-motion trauma that culminates in depression. I heard that nearly 10% of people living in the east were diagnosed with it.

In the west, I discovered a different side to the disorder. Every Saturday, punks would hang out, drink beer and blare music through their soundsystems. Cars would be set alight and bank windows smashed in. The cops would arrive, teargas them and send them running to find shelter in nearby bars, and the whole cycle would repeat. They were sceptical of me to begin with. One guy even headbutted me. In retrospect, I think that was a sign of acceptance.

Getting to know them wasnt easy, and it happened in the strangest of ways. I would carry a bunch of bananas to snack on while I wandered the streets. When I found the punks, I didnt know what to say, so I offered them bananas. They just laughed at me. But they must have liked it, because they welcomed me into their crew.

As I got to know them, I realised they fitted into the idea of the wall sickness, but they were the manic side of the depression that reigned in the east. There was something psychotic about punk at the time. These werent just weekend punks and punk wasnt just a look this was their life.

The woman in this shot was called Miriam, and the rat on her shoulder is called Bestia. It was a week or so before Reagan was planning to visit, and there were windows smashed all over the city in protest. Despite the violence and the militancy, she was extremely gentle. She was big, much bigger than me, but she had a soft way of gesturing and moving.

She invited me to her place, a nearby squat. We hung out, drank tea, took some shots and became friends. She introduced me to her rat, Bestia, who lived in her oven. Being a squat, it had no electricity, so it was perfectly safe. Bestia was almost like a guardian angel for Miriam, keeping her safe amid the anarchy. I think it was useful to keep guys off her back, too nobodys messing when you have a rat draped around your neck.

People feel this image represents a moment in Berlins history, or the punk movement more broadly, but to me its a shot of someone I got to know, who welcomed me into a hard-to-reach scene. It was a doorway for me into other activist and protest scenes, and I remember the time fondly.

People seem to think that punk has died, and maybe elements of the aesthetic have. But the spirit of punk was so much more than a look, and I think that lives on, albeit in different forms. I think we saw it in the Occupy movement, within elements of the Arab spring, and I think we are seeing it today in the UK with Extinction Rebellion.

Philip Pococks CV

Photograph: Heike Borowski

Born: Ottawa, Canada, 1954.

Training: Film and television production, New York University.

Influences: Diane Arbus, Brassa, the Capa brothers, Eikoh Hosoe, Andr Kertsz, Dorothea Lange, Helen Levitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Lszl Moholy-Nagy, Gordon Parks, Thomas Ruff, Aaron Siskind, Francesca Woodman.

High point: My 1997 Documenta X commission, Germany.

Low point: A life-changing accident on a film set in 1979.

Top tip: Draw with your eyes. Think like a writer. Earn trust and befriend!

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Thousands are calling for opposition candidates to be allowed to stand in the citys election, says Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev

On a typical weekday, Moscow is a modern, rapidly developing metropolis, a far cry from its dark, litter-strewn, dilapidated self 20 years ago. Its formerly abandoned industrial parks are hipster havens serving artisanal cocoa milk lattes and avocado bruschetta to crowds that wouldnt look out of place in east London or Brooklyn, while its public transport system is one of the cheapest and most efficient in the world.

But by the weekend, downtown Moscow is a warzone. For several weeks, Muscovites have been peacefully protesting in the streets, and the state has responded with unprecedented repression. Armies of masked riot police greatly outnumbering the protesters are viciously beating them with rubber batons. There have been multi-pronged pre-dawn raids on protesters homes and summary arrests of opposition leaders. Military recruiting officers have been hunting for draft dodgers at rallies and courts are dispensing harsh sentences for offences such as throwing an empty plastic bottle at the police. Universities are threatening to expel students spotted at protests.


Who is Alexei Navalny?

Born in 1976 just outside Moscow, Alexei Navalny is a lawyer-turned-campaigner whose Anti-Corruption Foundation carries out investigations into the wealth of Vladimir Putins inner circle.

He started out as a Russian nationalist, but emerged as the main leader of Russia’s democratic opposition during the wave of protests that led up to the 2012 presidential election, and has since been a constant thorn in the Kremlins side.

Navalny is barred from appearing on state television, but has used social media to his advantage. A 2017 documentary accusing the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, of corruption received more than 30m views on YouTube within two months of release.

He has been repeatedly arrested and jailed by the authorities. The European court of human rights ruled that Russia violated Navalny’s rights by holding him under house arrest in 2014. Election officials formally barred him from running for president in 2018 due to an embezzlement conviction that he claims was politically motivated. Navalny told the commission its decision would be a vote not against me, but against 16,000 people who have nominated me, against 200,000 volunteers who have been canvassing for me.

There has also been a physical price to pay. In April 2017, he was hospitalised after being attacked with green dye that nearly blinded him in one eye, and in July 2019 was taken from jail to hospital with symptoms that one of his doctors said could indicate poisoning.

His main strength in opposition has been in bringing large numbers of protesters out on to Russia’s streets. At times, Navalny has seemed to find short spells in jail an energising rather than demoralising experience. There were some others in the jail, and for all of them it was their first protest in their lives,” he once said. “When they saw me walking past, they were calling out, Whens the next protest? They werent asking if there would be one, they wanted to know when.

Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Egor Zhukov, a political science student, was arrested and charged with mass rioting (a criminal offence that carries up to eight years of prison) for making a gesture pointing to the right, according to prosecutors. They also brought a custody challenge against a couple who brought their infant son to what was supposed to be a peaceful rally, threatening to have child protection services seize him for them endangering his physical and mental safety. Even moderate Kremlin loyalists were aghast at such vindictiveness.

State TV offered its usual dose of lies and smears against the protesters, while Moscows authorities are busy distracting Muscovites with hastily cobbled together food and music festivals with a solid lineup of rock stars. Some of the biggest names on the bill refused to participate for political reasons, with Max Pokrovsky, the lead singer of Nogu Svelo!, joining the protests instead.

But none of the scare tactics and attempts to distract Moscows youth from protesting with state-sponsored entertainment worked. On 9 August, an anonymous Telegram account linked to the police doxxed thousands of people who turned up at previous rallies or signed petitions for independent candidates. The next day, 50,000 people came out to protest: the biggest crowd in years.

What makes Moscows protests unique is the almost surreal peacefulness on the protesters part. State propaganda chose the familiar route of justifying police violence: look, TV pundits and officials said, in Paris, Hamburg and Hong Kong riot police used teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets, seriously injuring some, so were going easy on you! These false equivalences couldnt be less relevant. Unlike Paris, not a single shop window in Moscow has been smashed, not a single car torched. State media talked about business losses caused by the protests, but failed to mention that it was Moscows authorities that ordered cafes and shops to shut down (and even degraded cellular service in the city centre on purpose).

A series of protest rallies in downtown Moscow culminated in an epic crackdown with more than a 1,000 people arrested on 27 July. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

And unlike the gilets jaunes(yellow vests)grand demands, the oppositions goals seem almost insignificant in comparison: let opposition candidates stand in the Moscow City Duma council elections on 8 September. The crisis could have been averted at any point in the past few weeks without any major consequences for the authorities: independent candidates, some of whom are associated with Alexei Navalnys Anti-Corruption Foundation, could have been registered to compete in the election and lose; some could even win a token seat in one of the most powerless local assemblies in Russia, which until now very few people cared about: the turnout at the 2014 elections was about 20%. Its not uncommon for opposition candidates to win local elections, only to be co-opted or quietly unseated later.

Instead, opposition candidates were met with such forceful resistance that it became clear that the Kremlin wont allow even the symbolic electoral presence of what its ideologues call non-systemic opposition. In order to register to run in an election, a non-partisan applicant has to gather a number of signatures from his supporters, an arcane, opaque procedure designed to discourage participation. When some opposition candidates did manage to gather the required signatures, their applications were thrown out by the electoral commission under the most cynical pretences. The refusal to register their preferred candidates led to a series of protest rallies in downtown Moscow in mid-July which culminated in an epic crackdown with more than 1,000 people arrested on 27 July.

The massive criminal investigation into the new generation of Russias protest movement has been dubbed the new Bolotnaya Square case, after a 2012 protest rally which resulted in a violent stand-off with the police and several dozen criminal convictions for the protesters. What makes it different this time, however, is that a new civic infrastructure has sprung up specifically in response to government crackdowns: pro bono lawyers working around the clock to provide legal assistance for the arrested protesters, independent websites such as OVD-Info and MediaZona tracking down the arrests and covering the sham trials, and a much more active civil society that is no longer willing to put up with attacks on independent reporters such as Meduzas Ivan Golunov.

Yet to change are the tired old men in the Kremlin, thinking that they can solve the problem the same way theyve always done: with rubber batons and mass arrests. In the next few years, they could find themselves sorely disappointed.

Alexey Kovalev is head of investigations at Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet

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Meek Mills incarceration for minor probation infractions has prompted protest, shedding light on the plight of African Americans in the US justice system

The entry in the Pennsylvania database is stark and direct. Inmate number: ND8400. Name: Robert Rihmeek Williams. Age: 30. Height: 6ft 2in. Location: State Correctional Institution Chester.

Behind those blunt words lies a story that has exposed a running sore within the US criminal justice system. The incarceration of Williams for minor probation violations related to a crime he committed as a teenager more than a decade ago has brought some of the biggest names in music and sport rallying to his cause, spawned a new hashtag and drawn hundreds of people to the steps of Philadelphias City Hall to protest.

From Jay-Z to Colin Kaepernick, influential supporters have spoken out against the perceived mistreatment of Williams and what it tells us about the experiences of a generation of African Americans. The outpouring has lifted the lid on a largely overlooked iniquity, in much the same way as the unmasking of Harvey Weinstein has laid bare the sexual misconduct of powerful men.

Despite his branding as prisoner number ND8400, Williams is no ordinary inmate. When he is allowed out of his cell and on stage, he metamorphoses as Meek Mill, the Billboard chart-topping hip hop artist managed by Jay-Zs Roc Nation with major albums including Dreams Worth More Than Money and the current release Wins & Losses to his name.

His sentencing earlier this month to two to four years in state prison for seemingly minor breaches of his probation terms has unleashed an outcry from influential voices. Jay-Z blasted what he described as the entrapment and harassment of black people, accusing the Philadelphia courts of stalking Williams and using the slightest violation to lock him back inside.

The former 49ers quarterback Kaepernick has metaphorically got back down on one knee to champion the defendant as a victim of systemic oppression. America professes to be the land of the free, yet it has the worlds largest prison population disproportionately Americas prisons are filled with Black bodies, he said.

Such high-profile focus on the plight of Mill has in turn cast light on thousands of other young black people whose stories typically have no hope of being aired. In Philadelphia alone, there are 45,000 men and women who have served their time but routinely remain caught in the grip of the penal system through probation that stretches on for years, often sending them back to prison for slip-ups that can be as insignificant as turning up late for an appointment with a parole officer.

Hundreds of people have rallied in support of Meek Mill at Philadelphias City Hall, seen in the background. Photograph: MediaPunch/Rex/Shutterstock

Its like having a full-time private babysitter, said Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and Georgetown academic who wrote Chokehold: Policing Black Men. If I had a probation officer intimately looking into everything I did for five years, I think I might be in trouble I think most people would be.

African Americans are bearing the brunt of the burden. They form 12% of the overall US population but 40% of all parolees, and studies show they are far more likely to be sent back to prison for probation violations than their white peers.

Mills own story begins on 24 January 2007, almost 11 years ago, when he was stopped by police on the streets of Philadelphia. Aged 19, he was living in the north of the city with his mother as sole parent, his father having been killed in a robbery when he was five.

He had been rapping since the age of 12 and was starting to be noticed in local rap battles under his then stage name, Meek Millz. His first single, In My Bag, was still a year away.

Mill was found by the arresting officers to be carrying an unlicensed handgun and a stash of drugs. The following year, he faced a trial in which the judge, Genece Brinkley, acted as both judge and jury, convicted him and then sentenced him to up to 23 months in prison, with five years of probation to follow.

Mill was rewarded for good behavior inside prison by being let out early after eight months, on 16 January 2009. He picked up his music career where he had left off, acquiring as his first manager Will Smiths bodyguard Charlie Mack and releasing his first studio album, Dreams & Nightmares, in 2012.

While the hip-hop community came to embrace a new rising star, few of his growing band of fans realized that behind the scenes, he remained in the clutches of Judge Brinkley. Her decision to send him back to prison earlier this month imposing on him double the time for which he had originally been sentenced, though no new crime had been committed was the culmination of a decade of extreme surveillance by her court.

The latest sentence was handed down for two relatively minor probation violations, both of which have been or will be dismissed. One was for a dispute with a fan trying to take his photo in an airport, the other for popping a motorbike wheelie on a Manhattan street during the filming of a music video.

The nature of the tight rein under which Mill has been held during probation a virtual prison outside a prison is vividly recorded in a docket filed with the Philadelphia court of common pleas, where his case has been processed. It sets out a seemingly bottomless list of interactions with the court, running to 42 pages and counting.

The docket shows that since his release in 2009, Mill has been hauled back in front of Brinkley no fewer than 34 times, 22 of them for probation violations.

Despite the fact that Mill is now 30, and barely resembles the 19-year-old who carried that gun and drugs in 2007, he is in effect treated as though he were still a child, dependent on the firm disciplinary hand of the court for his wellbeing. The docket shows that this successful musician and touring artist has to plead with Brinkley for permission to travel whenever he has a concert outside Philadelphia.

The defendant is to report to the Probation Department to sign a new travel schedule is a typical entry in the docket. No travel outside of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester and Bucks Counties is permitted by this order is another made seven years after his original arrest.

Nicki Minaj, left, and Meek Mill at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles in 2015. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The log for 15 March 2013 is particularly striking. The defendant is to take an etiquette class as per the courts discretion, it says.

The reference is to an order made by Brinkley that Mill attend etiquette classes as redress for what she considered to be his regrettable use of social media. The judge thought he needed to learn how to post on Instagram and other outlets with more poise, telling him in court that such lessons were more important than any concerts he might have.

In December 2015 by now almost nine years after the original offense and at the time of his chart-topping Dreams Worth More than Money album the docket entry records: Defendant must report every two weeks, and only do charitable events but can not do paid performances. Also not permitted to go to New Jersey (visit his mother).

Court documents raise questions about the intense interest that Brinkley has shown Meek Mill over the past 10 years. An African American woman elected to the court in 1993, the judge has displayed what Mills lawyers suggest is an inappropriate level of curiosity about the defendants hip-hop career.

At one of the hearings, Brinkley expressed her personal disappointment at Mills behavior, after all Ive done for you over all these years trying to help you have a career and to move your career forward. She said of the rapper: He has the ability to be like Jay-Z, to make Jay-Zs kind of money.

Filings in court show that Brinkley has on several occasions urged Mill to break with Jay-Z and Roc Nation and return to his old manager Charlie Mack. I dont want this to be taken out of context by anyone, she once said, adding: It seemed as if while Mr Mack was representing him there were fewer problems with the probation department.

Mills lawyers allege that in February 2016 Brinkley called him and his then girlfriend, the musician Nicki Minaj, back into her chambers for a private conversation in which she made an unconventional proposal. According to a court motion, she suggested that Mill record a version of a song by the popular group Boyz II Men called On Bended Knee and to mention the judge specifically in the song. When Mill refused, she allegedly replied: Suit yourself.

The Guardian invited Brinkley to respond to allegations about her treatment of Mill, including complaints that her recent decision to send him back to prison was excessive and cruel and driven by personal animus. She declined to comment on grounds that the matter is subject to future litigation.

Rashad Robinson, executive editor of the online racial justice organization Color of Change, said that Brinkley had gained a reputation in Philadelphia for using probation violations as justification for putting defendants back behind bars. She stands out, he said, even in a city that has the highest incarceration rate of any of the 10 largest US cities, where one out of every three inmates in its prisons are there for probation or parole violations rather than fresh crimes.

Its hard to know for certain her intentions, but what is clear is that Brinkley is a person who is comfortable wielding her power in ways that fall far short of the ethical standards of public officials, Robinson said.

Color for Change has organized an online petition under the hashtag #FreeMeekMill demanding that Brinkley be taken off the case before the rapper gets a chance to appeal his latest sentence. So far, more than 60,000 people have signed it.

While Robert Williams, aka Meek Mill, is in SCI Chester, with little chance of getting out for at least the next two years, one small compensation may be the public attention his story has drawn to a largely hidden abuse. The criminal process is designed to set up black men to fail, Butler said.

What happened to Meek Mill is a perfect example of that.

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Fans of the band Insane Clown Posse protested the FBIs gang designation, as nearby a pro-Trump rally drew a smaller than expected crowd

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was being besieged by a clown.

Dan Rice, the most famous clown of the time he was also an animal trainer and a strong man was running for state senate in Pennsylvania. He had based his campaign on attacking Lincoln over his handling of the civil war.

Rice lost the election and Lincolns clown problem ended. Until Saturday, that is, when more than a thousand people, many wearing clown make-up, gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on Washington DCs national mall for the long-awaited Juggalo March.

The Juggalos the name given to fans of the band Insane Clown Posse were in Washington to demonstrate against the FBI labelling them a gang, a designation they say has led to discrimination from police and in the workplace.

Paint-clad protesters began to gather at around 1pm. Some Juggalos wore full face make-up in tribute to Insane Clown Posse duo Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J; others were wearing actual clown trousers and shoes; many more sported Juggalo T-shirts and sipped Faygo, a midwestern soda popularized by the band.

Just like Lincoln, these clowns had a problem in the form of a hastily arranged pro-Trump rally that was also taking place on the mall, less than a mile away.

The Juggalos were out in Washington to demonstrate against the FBIs designation as a gang. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

The Trump event, which organizers had dubbed the mother of all rallies, had been called by supporters of the president, aiming to give him a shot in the arm after a turbulent introduction to the White House.

The mother of all rallies could have overshadowed the Juggalo event. But among the Insane Clown Posse enthusiasts, it was clear they were not worried. Juggalos had travelled from across the country to attend the march, a rare opportunity to gather en masse, and they were determined to enjoy it.

Chris Fabritz, with whom the Guardian spent the day, is known as mankini among certain Juggalos due to his penchant for wearing a bikini. He was hosting 14 Insane Clown Posse fans in his two-bedroom apartment over the weekend, which he said illustrated the bond between Juggalos.

Were a family. We welcome everybody with open arms, Fabritz said. Were people who genuinely believe in the human spirit.

Fabritz added that he and his fellow Juggalos would give you the shirt off our back if you needed it. He was wearing a black bikini top and a pair of American flag underpants at the time.

Chris Fabritz, aka mankini, at the Juggalo march in Washington … We welcome everybody with open arms. Were people who genuinely believe in the human spirit. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

The clown paint and overtly masculine music of Insane Clown Posse during the march Shaggy 2 Door described the bands output as the worlds most hated music has given the band and their adherents something of a comical air.

But the FBI designation of Juggalos as a loosely-organized hybrid gang, made in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, has had real consequences for fans of the group.

Many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence the FBI assessment said. Law enforcement officials in at least 21 states have identified criminal Juggalo sub-sets, according to [National Gang Intelligence Center] reporting.

Insane Clown Posse say that designation is unfair, claiming various people who commit crimes could often be said to be fans of certain musicians.

A number of Juggalos, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and Insane Clown Posse themselves, are attempting to have the ruling overthrown. Until then, Juggalos are suffering.

Todd Okan, 35, was among those on the mall. He said he was pulled over by police in Sacramento, California, because he had stickers of Insane Clown Posses hatchet man mascot on his car.

They said these symbols are considered a gang symbol, Okan said. They were asking me, like: Are you a leader of this gang? Okan, who is an accounting auditor, said he was not in a gang.

I was like: This is the music I listen to.

Others had similar stories. Jessica Bonometti, from Manassas, Virginia, said she was fired as a probation officer in March 2016 as a result of her support for Insane Clown Posse. She had liked several photographs of the band on Facebook, she said, and was told by her boss that her affiliation was the reason she was fired.

She said she had been unable to find a job since then, hampered by the firing and a lack of references.

My job was everything to me, she said. Im 34, I dont have kids, I dont have a husband, so my job was like my life. I didnt leave my house for a year after. I just couldnt deal with people. I felt like a misfit. Like I dont belong. So to say that the effects of it have been devastating would be a serious understatement.

Jessica Bonometti at the march. She says she was fired from her job as a probation officer as a result of her support for Insane Clown Posse. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

The Juggalos began marching just after 5pm, after an expletive-laden speech from Shaggy 2 Dope real name Joseph Utsler and Violent J, aka Joseph Bruce. The Juggalos pride themselves on a sense of community: chants of family, family echoed around the Reflecting Pool, as did the Juggalo identification cry of whoop, whoop.

In the late afternoon sunshine people waved signs Is your band next was a popular one as they strolled east along the mall and ringed the Washington Monument, passing around 500m from the Trump event.

Ahead of the Juggalo event there had been concerns about the proximity between the two groups. In Charlottesville in August, a rightwing demonstration ended in the death of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer as white supremacists launched attacks on counter-protests.

Organizers of the Trump rally had claimed thousands of people would attend. On Saturday, streets surrounding the mall were blocked by police cars. But instead, by mid-afternoon, the mother of all rallies had only attracted around 400 people. The crowd gathered in a space the size of a football field on the lush grass of the mall which made for a lot of free grass where they listened to hourly pledges of allegiance and numerous renditions of the Star Spangled Banner.

The supporters milled around amiably in the fenced-off enclosure. Some picnicked on the grass, others held American flags aloft.

Tahnee Gonzalez, 31, was carrying a cloth banner that depicted Trump holding an assault rifle, standing on top of a tank. There was also an eagle on it. She had travelled from Phoenix, Arizona, to attend the rally. She said she decided to come to show the fake news that there is support for our president.

Tahnee Gonzalez, a Trump supporter, at the rally in Washington which took place nearby the Juggalo event. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

Its America first now. We can no longer support any other country until ours is completely united and strong again, she said. I want my fellow millennials to know they need to rise up before its too late.

The only millennials rising up on the mall that day were on the other side of the Washington monument.

The upbeat, open-minded nature of the Juggalo march, in spite of the reason for it taking place, provided a stark contrast to the Trump event, where people waved anti-communism flags and talked variously about Hillary Clintons emails, the need to take our country back, and craven politicians.

The only palpable similarities between the events was that both took place on the national mall and both offered free face-painting although the stars and stripes designs at the Trump rally differed in style from those of the Insane Clown Posse crowd.

When you step in we throw politics aside, Fabritz said as the Juggalo march wound its way back to Abraham Lincolns statue. Were Juggalos, and we just love everyone.

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Environmental lawyer James Thornton says Chinas ecological civilisation concept is the best response to the worlds environmental crisis

James Thorntons specialty is suing governments and corporations on behalf of his only client the Earth and hes very good at it. In his four decades of legal practice across three continents, hes never lost a case.

Acknowledging this in 2009 the New Statesmannamed him one of the ten people likely to change the world; ClientEarth, the public interest environmental law firm he started in London in 2007 now employs 106 people.

Thornton has been in Australia to talk about his work and his new book, Client Earth, which he co-wrote with his partner Martin Goodman. When I met them in Sydney, Thornton was keen to discuss his unlikely adventure in China, while Goodman, usually a reserved Englishman, enthused about the unexpected hope he found while writing Client Earth.

First invited to Beijing in 2014 to help implement Chinas new law allowing NGOs to sue polluting companies for the first time, Thornton has seen how serious the worlds biggest polluter is about addressing its environmental problems. He believes their concept of ecological civilisation is the best formulation hes heard for the new environmental story we must tell.

Facing the ruin of their environment, the Chinese looked hard and amended their constitution. This core document now calls for the building of an ecological civilisation, he says. We built an agricultural, then an industrial, and now must build an ecological civilisation.

I have no cynicism about whether they mean to do it. My job is to try and clean up the environment for future generations. The Chinese really want to do that. This task, apparently insurmountable for the west, is made possible by Chinas 2,500-year tradition of centralised government.

They said, we have a long-term vision, we want to be here in another 2,000 years and that will only happen if we clean up the environment. So we have determined that were going to deal with our environmental problems and were going to do so in a very thoroughgoing way.

Thornton said it helps that most of the politburo are engineers, rather than political scientists, lawyers or economists as in the west. So when they actually decide that there is a problem and it takes actual evidence to get them there they define the problem and then their next question is: whats the solution? How can we afford it, how quickly can we do it, and how can we marshal all forces in society to get there?

At first Thornton thought this was rhetoric. And then I realised it wasnt rhetorical. So by the time we got deep into conversation and I first heard the notion of ecological civilisation, I asked several very senior officials, Is this serious? And they said Yes, absolutely serious. Its been central policy now for some years.

Chinese workers prepare panels that will be part of a large floating solar farm project under construction on a lake caused by a collapsed and flooded coal mine in Huainan, Anhui province, China. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

With a group of Chinese experts and five other westerners, Thornton spent 18 months analysing how to create the legal structures for an ecological civilisation. They then gave recommendations for how to create the rule of law to deliver it. Thats typical of what theyre doing. Theyve thrown hundreds of their best intellectuals at designing the theoretical framework for each of the pieces of the architecture of ecological civilisation. These include economic, industrial and agricultural policies for an ecological civilisation.

Thornton says that when he first went to China, hed only read the western media about it and had many of the same notions hes often challenged with, especially concerning democracy and human rights. And I understand where they come from. But I also know that the western democracies that we prize so much arent doing very well with respect to the environment. Weve elected somebody in the United States who seems really dedicated to the notion of contempt for the environment.

In the west, efforts to address environmental problems are fragmentary and not well funded. Whereas in China, he says, suddenly you have this direction from the top on down asking all of these top people over the course of the next few decades: How does everything have to change to deliver this?

Thornton is also a Zen Buddhist priest, which helps him to see intractable environmental problems with a commanding clarity and precision, and to approach them with admirable pragmatism, patience, tenacity and long-term strategy. Law becomes about saving civilisation, he says. Law is the answer to the question Im often asked: what can I do about global problems?

The extraordinary challenges Thornton overcame to bring environmental litigation to Europe are among the many inspiring stories Goodman tells in ClientEarth. Jamess first actions were therefore brazen, Goodman says. In the UK, he set out to change the cost rules. In Germany and at the EU level, the matter was one of standing: rights had to be granted for citizens to bring serious environmental concerns to the courts.

Thornton did change the legal system and ClientEarth flourished. In 2016 the Financial Times named this small non-profit firm in the top 50 law firms in the world. ClientEarth also won the most innovative law firm award and Thornton won a special achievement award.

It was then that Goodman realised ClientEarth was an ugly duckling story: The poor relation charity environmental law group that suddenly found itself among the swans of top global law firms.

ClientEarthis a rare thing: a hopeful book about the environment and a page-turner about the law. Goodman is professor of creative writing at the University of Hull and a lively storyteller. His chapters recount Thorntons life and work; Thorntons are meditations on the laws moral dimensions.

Thornton and Goodman have been together for 25 years and their conversation swings from Thorntons urgent stories about systemic change to Goodmans tales of hope. Despite having lived with ClientEarth for a decade, it was only when Goodman came to write the firms story that he began to fathom just how powerful its legal work really is.

I think its the most important thing going, he says. The environment no longer seems an intractable problem. We need lawyers, they bring hope, they can help you.

It seems this hope is contagious. Alice Garton, a lawyer from the Northern Territory, feels like the luckiest person on the planet to be working for ClientEarth. Ive spent years of my life being really depressed about climate change and pessimistic, she says. Since starting here, Im optimistic.

Client Earthhad a similar effect on Brian Eno, a long-time supporter and trustee of the firm. After reading the book to write its foreword, Eno was so inspired he told Thornton: I want to come and live with you in the office for three days to really see how I can help.

Thornton replied: Youre the worlds greatest producer, so what Id like you to do is produce ClientEarth. Something great will come of that.

Brian Eno and ClientEarths James Thornton talk about law and the environment.

When asked about his own most inspiring moments, Thornton names three. Preventing Poland from building a new generation of coal-fired power stations. Enforcing the first environmental laws in the US, introduced by Nixon in 1970 along with the Environment Protection Agency, but flouted by Reagan. When Reagan told the new head of the EPA to disable it, Thornton almost singlehandedly (with a scientist) showed them that somebody could do it better, embarrassing them into enforcing the law again. And his work in China.

Im tough and patient, Thornton says. This is an understatement. Aged eight, a spider-loving Thornton considered studying entomology but realised that wouldnt help the threatened natural world. So he decided to become a lawyer, to fight for its protection. But this was the early 1960s and there were no environmental lawyers then. So Thornton helped to found his vocation, including teaching the first courses on environmental law.

Now Thornton is looking to the next stage of the Paris Agreement. Paris was a turning point in history, he says. The next stage must be a legal framework and enforcement, otherwise citizens can go to court to accuse their government of not implementing the law, and we will help them do so. When the law is passed, the work begins.

But these laws are new and fragile and need our active support. As Goodman says: I think people have got to understand that these laws are around, theyre really vulnerable, and theyll die unless we pay them attention and demand that theyre held strong.

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The anti-fascist movement draws on punks political awareness and network for activism and right now may be its most crucial moment

No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!

When Green Day chanted the repurposed lyrics from Texan punk trailblazers MDCs 1981 song Born to Die during the 2016 American Music Awards, it gave the burgeoning anti-Trump, anti-fascist movement the slogan it needed and it would soon appear on placards, T-shirts and be chanted by protesters in their thousands in months to come.

It was a tiny piece of punk history writ large on American cultural life but it only gave the merest hint of US hardcore punks influence on the current political landscape.

As political commentators struggle to nail down the exact nature of Antifas masked legions, theyve overlooked one thing: Antifa has been critically influenced by hardcore punk for nearly four decades.

From on the collectivist principles of anarchist punk bands such as Crass and Conflict, the political outrage of groups such as the Dead Kennedys, MDC and Discharge, Antifa draws on decades of protest, self-protection and informal networks under the auspices of a musical movement.

Mark Bray, author of The Antifa Handbook, says that in many cases, the North American modern Antifa movement grew up as a way to defend the punk scene from the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, and the founders of the original Anti-Racist Action network in North America were anti-racist skinheads. The fascist/anti-fascist struggle was essentially a fight for control of the punk scene [during the 1980s], and that was true across of much of north America and in parts of Europe in this era.

Theres a huge overlap between radical left politics and the punk scene, and theres a stereotype about dirty anarchists and punks, which is an oversimplification but grounded in a certain amount of truth.

Drawing influence from anti-fascist groups in 1930s Germany, the UK-based Anti-Fascist Action formed in the late 70s in reaction the growing popularity of rightwing political parties such as the National Front and the British Movement. They would shut down extreme-right meetings at every opportunity, whether it be a march or a gathering in a room above a pub. Inspired by this, anti-racist skinheads in Minneapolis formed Anti-Racist Action, which soon gained traction in punk scenes across the US. Meanwhile, in New York, a movement called Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice sprung up.

The term Antifa was adopted by German antifascists in the 80s, accompanied by the twin-flag logo, which then spread around Europe, and finally pitched up in the US after being adopted by an anarchist collective in Portland, Oregon.

Singer Thomas Barnett of Strike Anywhere during a 2009 concert in Berlin. Composite: Jakubaszek/Getty Images

For Thomas Barnett, singer with popular hardcore punk band Strike Anywhere, his punk ethics and the direct-action philosophy of Antifa go hand in hand, and, with Trumps presidency emboldening the extreme right, the stakes couldnt be higher: This isnt just a raft of right-wing ideas this is actual hate and violence, and the destruction of entire sections of humanity. Of course, I dont believe in the false equivalence [between Antifa and the alt-right]. I think anti-fascists pre-emptive street violence against Nazis is righteous and important.

Many adopt direct-action tactics, whether it be the recent Antifa protests across the US, the black-block tactics employed during the WTO and G7 protests around the world, or even the decision made by Brace Belden to leave California to join the YPG, the far-left Kurdish guerrilla group battling Isis.

Punk itself wasnt a direct influence on my joining a guerrilla group, of course, but punk did help to cement my radical politics. Being in a community with a certain degree of consciousness and solidarity between people helped immensely in that regard, says Belden.

Bands, record labels, zine writers and venues around the world have co-operated to create a network that exists entirely outside of the mainstream, providing an off-grid template for Antifa activists to draw from. In America, there is Appalachian Terror Unit, a young band with heavy Antifa leanings from the Trump heartland of West Virginia. In Oakland, Antifa-related punk/oi! band Hard Left have taken part in benefit shows for protesters involved in the events at Charlottesville. In Texas, Antifa are organizing community relief efforts for victims of the Houston floods.

Theres definitely an overlap between the leaderless politics and the DIY ethos and the notion that if theres a problem in our punk scene, were not going to be able to count on the mainstream to necessarily give a shit, explains Bray.

Strike Anywhere singer Barnett says: Its also about community self-defence. The punk experience is like the flow of water. You can put up dams, you can run it underground it will still get through. It also carries on the folk tradition that was speaking truth to power before there was even electric power.

If there was ever a person unafraid to speak truth to power, it would be Jello Biafra, former singer of the Dead Kennedys and the man responsible for their 1981 call-to-arms Nazi Punks Fuck Off. So it might come as a surprise that he is withering in his criticism of Antifas actions in recent months.

Im not down with confronting [the extreme rights] provocations of violence with actual violence. I mean, self-defence is one thing, but going to a Trumpist rally with the express purpose of beating up fascists what does that accomplish? Whos the fascist now? It plays right into their hands, he says.

More than ever, we have to keep our heads right now. And I am all about freedom of speech, but I think protesting these people non-violently is the way to go, because it lets the targets of the fascist speakers know theyre not alone and lets the fascists who show up know that theres an awful lot of people who are not down with them, and a chorus of raised middle fingers is better than showing up with some kind of a weapon. Escalating the violence is not the way to go.

With his current band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine, he has updated his 1981 song and called it Nazi Trumps Fuck Off, but it comes with a caveat: Trump is the target, not his supporters.

I usually talk about the song on stage for a while before we play it, pointing out that almost everybody in the audience, especially if were playing in Texas or Southern California, know people in their family, close friends, at school or work, whatever, who think that Trump is really cool. And I point out that the last thing we should do is to dismiss these people as rednecks or stupid or Im not going being your friend anymore, fuck you thats not going to persuade anybody of anything and it helps Trump divide the country. My point is that you dont do that, you sit down and talk to somebody, not blog in an echo chamber. It might be stomach-churning, but you might plant a seed, and if someone wakes up three weeks, three months, three years later and thinks, Wow, that person that called me on my bigotry was right. All this racist, anti-immigrant fascism isnt getting us anywhere. I dont want any part of it anymore.

Author and punk historian Jon Savage, a champion of the Dead Kennedys during his stint as a music journalist in the 70s, isnt so sure: Its very idealistic and very laudable, but its like arguing with Brexiters over here (in the UK). Youre not going to get any change out of that. There is a proportion of people who can discuss things in a rational way, but here youre talking about core beliefs and wishes and feelings, and these are irrational, and they are even less rational when they are tested against reality.

For Savage, Antifas direct action tactics are as legitimate a tool as Biafras more measured approach: If you dont protest the way things are, then nothing is going to change. Youre reacting to fascism and entropy. You need a variety of approaches, and in politics I wouldnt discount any approach. Its probably useful to have sensible people because they can say, Well, look what happens when you dont listen to me and see what the nutters are going to do.

Klaus Fluoride and Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys perform at The Peoples Temple in 1978 in San Francisco, California. Composite: Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

For Barnett, even the current terminology is under debate. Calling it Antifa is like calling it this weird exotic cult, instead of calling it everyday life. Every aspect of media coverage of it is insidious, turning public opinion against us, making us a violent spectacle thats both something terrible and un-American, when this is the fucking Boston Tea Party, he says. If people want to talk about how the heritage of American culture and our patriotic destiny fits in [to anti-fascism] its basic math to me, and to many, many others.

Biafra and Strike Anywheres Thomas Barnett at least find some accord on the rebranding of the right, however. You know what they called the alt-right two years ago? Neo-fucking-Nazis! says Biafra. Now its alt-right, like alt-country or alternative pop music.

Barnett concurs: They dont get to be alt-right. They just get to be digital-age Nazis, or white supremacists or terrorists. And thats what [the media] are doing to anti-fascist action.

Regardless, Barnett says the antifascist movement isnt taking anything for granted. These rallies, whatever the next one is, whatever form it takes, are Trojan-horse events to invite and welcome white terrorist groups, and are just platforms for them to go into communities to hurt and intimidate people. And thats what anti-fascist action has always known, and thats what the punks have always known.

Or, in the bald terms of someone who put his teenage years in a punk band called Warkrime behind him to go and fight in an actual war, former YPG militia member Belden says: When I was younger my friends and I used to beat the shit out Nazis that would roll out to punk shows [in California]. And guess what? Theyd leave and never come back. Violence works.

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