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- On November 3, 2020, Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States, was defeated in his bid for re-election. As the votes were tallied and the outcome became certain, he raged against this apparent dying of his light, protesting vociferously, claiming fraud and demanding recounts, but by the morning of November 4th the mandate was clear: He had won 13 states with a total of 95 electoral votes, and received 51,186,504 popular votes out of a total of 144,007,113 counted, with fewer than 4 million still uncounted. The roughly 42,000,000 margin of defeat represented the greatest thrashing a presidential candidate had ever received.
In his last public appearance, two days after the election, he said he would appeal, and was planning his strategy to reclaim the office that had been “stolen” from him.
He was 74 years old and in good physical health. Nonetheless, he died that day, November 5th, 2020, eleven weeks before the end of his term, of a bullet wound to the head fired as he addressed a crowd of supporters.
I fired that bullet.
I have always believed an action should be taken at its first practical moment, in this case the moment Donald Trump’s power had been seriously compromised. The world in general and, in particular, the United States would be safe, no matter what executive orders his lame-duck successor might issue.
My real name, as you likely know (this is written under a pseudonym – my lawyers insisted – although I’m making no effort to hide my identity), is Destiny Brooke Avilan. I was born in 1980 in Chicago, and I lived there most of my life. Chicago’s a nice town; “my kind,” like Frank Sinatra used to sing. (I did spend two of my early adolescent years in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens, New York, in a house only a few blocks from where Mr. Trump grew up. I don’t think we ever met, but life is full of uncanny little coincidences, isn’t it?)
I lived in Queens because my father, a peripatetic man, took a job in New York City. He left it two years later to take a job back in the Windy City. I admit I was thrilled: My small circle of friends, who I exchanged letters with in those pre-email days, was there, Queens, despite Jamaica Estates’ rarefied air, was dirty and unpleasantly noisy and I was too young to appreciate most of the delights Manhattan had to offer. We were lonely a lot: Although we had a live-in nanny/housekeeper, we were pretty much left to our own devices, since she wasn’t particularly committed to either role and Dad’s work kept him away a lot of the time. To his credit, that was the principal reason he left New York. My mother died when we were still very young and he admittedly felt guilty about being an absent single parent. He never remarried.
I say “we” because I had a brother. Stokely was fifteen months older than me, and he reacted much more intensely than I did to the missing parental supervision and company. Stoke and I both felt like strangers in a strange land in Queens. Neither of us made many friends there, so we were each other’s rock, and he was much more than my Big Brother. He was my heart and soul and I was his. We went for long walks together. We talked about everything going on, in and out of our lives (including politics; he was already a very politically aware creature so I became one), watched TV together, insisted on eating together (which pissed off Mary Poppins to no end: It forced her to make real meals), went to the movies and skating together. We took shooting lessons together – we were both fascinated by guns. (Phoebe Ann Moses – you’d know her as Annie Oakley – was my hero.) We even slept together – just slept, usually entwined. We both wore pajamas.
I read, too, a lot, and took ballet lessons to make me graceful (Stoke took guitar lessons while I was in dance class) and played with the few girlfriends I had (and, when I was thirteen, had my first sexual encounters with one of them; that fascinated me too) and (with Stokely’s encouragement) worked out, hard, several times a week at the Y. He smoked and drank (I didn’t, and he didn’t push me to), constantly broke rules at school and sold marijuana (which I tried; the smell in his bedroom was enough to get me high and I loved it!) and, of course, got into trouble from which Dad (and his lawyer) was able to extricate him before his life got permanently stained. That was another – big – reason Dad left New York, though to be frank, Chicago wasn’t a much-improved environment for two bright, hungry, lonely teenagers carrying serious chips of adolescent discontent on their shoulders.
Stoke eventually straightened himself out by enlisting in the Army. He liked the discipline (even if he didn’t always abide by it; he never rose above the rank of corporal) and saw it as a career. He was the reason I enlisted as well, when I was twenty-two and fresh out of college. I trained as an artillery specialist but my true calling was sharpshooter: I could shoot a walnut off a rock at 500 yards with the wind blowing. I spent two tours in Afghanistan as a sniper and killed more than twenty enemy soldiers. I’m not proud of killing them; I don’t know anyone who took pride in killing strangers, there or anywhere else. We were at war. Killing is part of your job when your employer is waging war, a fundamental, very important part. Let me be perfectly clear: Killing them did not not buoy my spirits, it did not send a chill down my spine, it did not turn me on. I gagged every time, but it did make me feel relevant: War, they said back in the days of Vietnam, is not healthy for children and other living things. It’s not meant to be. War is the epitome of unhealthiness: It exists because there are social, political and economic sicknesses that are disrupting society. War and the killing that comes with it are supposed to be the cure. They’re not, as you’ve probably figured out if you’re old enough to read. They’re often the cause.
But you’re not reading this to get a political science lesson.
When I left the Army I was twenty-eight. It was early 2009. Stoke and I still followed politics. We’d enthusiastically voted for Obama. He seemed like someone we could believe in, someone we could trust. He’d just been inaugurated and I, like so many others, had high hopes for the end of the fighting that was still in full swing. I wanted something different: I’d had too much of it. As had Stokely: He’d served a year in Somalia and done two tours in Iraq. He didn’t know how many he’d killed. But, he said, it was “way too many.”
I’d describe the sensation of watching someone collapse with a bright red spurt shooting from his chest or his head but I’m sure you get the picture without the graphics. You cannot get used to that. You have to take a deep breath and be grateful it’s done. And I’d had too much of killing people because of politicians’ rhetoric. By this time I’d come to believe it was bullshit, and so were the high-profile folks who claimed there was good cause. (There may be good cause for wars and the destruction they bring but, frankly, I can’t think of one anymore. Truth is, I don’t know if I ever could, but now when I hear about the “events” in Yemen and Afghanistan, they literally make me sick. “War” and “good cause” are contradictory terms.)
I spent the next ten years trying to blot out the preceding six, and remake my life into something recognizable and meaningful. I went back to Chicago and took a routine job with the Park District. Among other things, I taught marksmanship classes to adults and teenagers, as well as led gun safety workshops throughout the area, and I competed in shooting contests on both the regional and national levels; I won quite a few and became a minor celebrity among local gun aficionados. Stokely and I talked, or at least emailed, almost daily. He was inured to Army life and, if he didn’t enjoy it, at least he felt it was keeping him in check. He didn’t have a girlfriend. He rarely socialized. (I didn’t either.) He did his job, drank and smoked dope (he never used anything stronger), and – somewhat surprisingly – studied: war. He talked about going back to school to get a degree in some social science, but he never did.
He missed me, he said. I said I missed him, too. And I did. It was painful.
I met a man I fell in love with, or wanted to. We got married and had two kids before I realized I wasn’t in love, just still lonely. We got divorced, mostly amicably. He was a good man and a good father; we shared custody and, before I shot the president, I thought long and hard about whether I felt absolutely confident Dale would be able to take care of Saffron and Sugar by himself, better than my Dad had handled Stokely and me. (He did try. He just couldn’t and died miserable because of it when I was thirty-six.) I decided I did, and Dale has lived up to expectation. It’s hard for the kids, though. Having an assassin for a mother, I mean. I wish I could wipe away the stigma they have to live with. But, then, I wish Mr. Trump had not created the circumstance that made that stigma a necessity.
I got sort-of re-involved in politics. Mostly I stayed on the periphery: I campaigned for Obama in 2012 and for Lindsay Graham, then for Ted Cruz, in 2016. I could not support Mrs. Clinton; she was a quintessential politico, like her husband and Bush the Younger, and I had nothing but distrust of and contempt for the breed. When Mr. Trump was nominated I supported him; he seemed Clinton’s polar opposite, and – whatever his shortcomings – that was key. When he was elected, I had mixed feelings but a lot more hope than I would have had if Hillary had won. Donald Trump, at least, promised escape from the rut we were sinking into. Change was necessary. Ergo, change was good.
Like me, you know, I’m sure, the “highlights” of President Trump’s term in office. I won’t bother to detail them here but, suffice to say, my disenchantment with his leadership grew daily. Still, I had hope. As Barry Goldwater said in July, 1964 (and no less than Malcolm X echoed that December), “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Mr. Trump was nothing if not extreme in defending what he perceived as liberty. Especially his own.
He had, however, no interest in justice. If he had, he – and my brother – would be alive today.
In 2019, Stokely had been a soldier for twenty-one years. We were still closeasthis: He’d never married and we spent virtually every moment, before my marriage and after the divorce, of his leaves and my vacations together. (We still slept in the same bed, and we still wore pajamas: It had never gone an inch beyond brother-and-sister cuddling. You may not believe that but it’s true.)
I visited the girls when I could but they were outside the mainstream of my life. (I hate saying that, but it’s the truth. I loved my kids, but I was a terrible mother and I knew it. Dale remarried in 2015 and they’d grown close to Daisy, their step-mom. Even I liked her.)
Stoke may have straightened his life out but he was still high-strung and broke rules too often to get promoted, and when he was assigned to border duty he grumbled loudly that the whole migrant-wall debacle was a travesty. I agreed, of course, but I was worried and I was furious when he and a whole lot of others went, on November 11, 2019. By that time, naturally, skirmishes between the migrants and the troops were breaking out almost daily and, the media said, it seemed just a matter of time before those escalated into outright and “full-fledged armed conflict, replete with casualties.” A Washington Post reporter wrote that. There had been, in fact, fifty or so deaths between the time the troops had first been sent in the fall of 2018 – including those two kids who died as a result of the Border Patrol’s negligence that December – and November, 2019, when Stokely was deployed.
But everyone who’d died had been a refugee. The president just kept saying more soldiers were necessary, that the casualties were strictly the fault of the migrants’ aggressive and illegal efforts to cross the border. And his constantly receding base, of both those in office and across the voting public, defended that position, and him. After all, no American had died.
Stokely, a believer in but not a champion of human rights, wrote to me daily. The letters were horror stories told matter-of-factly perhaps but not without sympathy. They further incensed me. The soldiers’ conditions, he said, weren’t much better than the asylum seekers’. They slogged through the days and smoked weed and slept as much as they could to escape. It’s war, he wrote, and in war people suffer and die. Good guys and bad guys. Except in this war, the real bad guys are nowhere near the battle.
His letters made me frantic.
He’d opposed the deployment. So did tens of thousands of others. There were protests in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and even the profoundly conservative bastions of Phoenix and Dallas, the like of which hadn’t been held since the waning days of the 1968 election campaign. “It’s necessary,” President Trump tweeted, “to maintain the security of the US, our sovereignty & sanctity of our borders, to protect American citizens from the criminals & killers who want to enter under the lie they are seeking asylum.”
I disagreed but all I did was protest, and grieve and fume and suck it in: He was my president and “My president, may he always be right, but my president right or wrong.” Besides, there hadn’t been an American casualty in the time our troops had been taking an active role in subjugating what Mr. Trump called “the dangerous hordes.” And the election that already seemed sure to turn him out of office was just eleven months away. Surely, if he was re-nominated as most of us expected, he’d get the message from the polls during the campaign, or at least once the votes were counted, and yank the leash.
Instead, as the voting grew nearer he let go of it. Troops were no longer simply permitted to shoot if they thought there was provocation, they were encouraged to, and neither Congress nor the military commanders discouraged the practice. More protests led to nothing. Between the deployment of the additional troops in November, 2019, and the ordered withdrawal of all of them fourteen months later, on January 20, 2021 – the newly sworn-in president’s first official act in office – at least 426 asylum seekers, including 133 children under fourteen, were killed or got sick and died. Almost all of those killed were killed by the American military.
Stokely wrote “I’m sick, I’m dying.”
I emailed my congresswoman. I emailed my senators. I called my congresswoman. I called my senators. I went to Washington and tried to see them. I did see my congresswoman – for about thirty seconds on her way to a committee meeting. She nodded. She said she understood my frustration and sympathized. And she kept on walking.
I took part in more protests. I helped organize and spoke at rallies. I shouted, everywhere. I got arrested twice, spent two days in jail on one charge, one more on the other, before the charges were dismissed. I came out angrier than I’d been before I went in. I became, in short, a full-fledged activist with an agenda – Stokely’s welfare – that mattered far more to me than anything else. If you’ve ever had a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister you were incredibly close to but couldn’t do a thing to help, you’ll understand.
Stokely Avilan was the only American serviceman who died in the conflict. It happened on October 22, 2020 – two weeks before the election – when one of his fellow grunts, name unknown, randomly lobbed two grenades into the fray where Stoke was one of several soldiers standing ground against a small group trying to break their way into America through the blockade keeping them out. (Three Hondurans – two adult women and a nine-year-old girl – among those trying to enter were killed as well. The administration pointed to their deaths as the unfortunate but exemplary consequence of the migrants’ actions.)
By January, 2020, there were almost 18,000 people waiting at what they called The Wall that Isn’t There: Congress had never funded its construction and Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration had yet to produce results: It remained tied up in the courts. The migrants had caravanned, primarily on foot, from every country in Central America. Of course there was tension between the refugees and the American soldiers denying them the opportunity to cross the border. President Trump’s decreed methods of inhibiting people from applying for asylum were unquestionably illegal. Not to mention unjust and unconscionable.
But that isn’t the point, either.
The politicos, almost to a man (or woman), expressed their sorrow about Stokely’s death, and offered their prayers; they asked for patience, and they didn’t do one goddamn thing.
Like I said, I was furious to start with. When the news of Stokely’s death was announced, my rage went all but out of control, but I steeled myself and set my mind to the task, while realizing it would only make matters worse if I did it before the election. There might be a backlash, causing the unlikely: that President Trump (or his stalking horse of a vice-president) was re-elected.
I made my plan. Two weeks later, on November 5th, I executed it. And him.
You know the details. I don’t really want to go through them again. I turned myself in, of course. There was no point in trying to escape; I knew I would be caught and, anyway, the act was the point, not my survival of it. I considered the likelihood that I’d be executed, and I accepted that. You pay the consequences of what you do. That’s what I’d demanded of Donald Trump, and that’s what society and the justice system would demand of me.
The process of the trial gave me a chance to explain what I did and mitigate, to some extent anyway, the burden it had placed on Dale and my kids. My defense team enlisted all kinds of medical and scientific talent, and they gave me every kind of test you could imagine (and some you couldn’t, no matter how vivid your imagination might be).
Naturally the story came out before the trial – my lawyers made every effort to soften the blow, but what’s done is done and I’d be lying if I said I was sorry. It took more than year for the trial to begin. The proceeding itself was relatively quick, but the aftermath has been going on now for well over a year. I was found not guilty by reason of insanity (my lawyers built a hell of a case; I wasn’t thrilled about the plea but they convinced even me it was the appropriate one) and placed in a facility for the criminally insane. I’m likely to spend the rest of my life here. That’s okay with me: I did what I believed was necessary and completely justified and right. It was what I had to do, and I will always believe that what I did was not commit murder but bestow justice and revenge for the president’s indisputable direct culpability in Stokely’s death. If he had not acted illegally, I would not have. I have no doubt, have never had any doubt, that I acted morally.
I miss Stokely with all my heart and soul, and talk to him every day, write him letters. I know he’ll never read them, but it’s the way I have of keeping him alive. I’m a good prisoner (or, if you prefer, patient): I follow the rules, I take my meds, I cry a lot. I never try to contact Saffron or Sugar. Dale and Daisy won’t permit it though when they come of age they’ll be allowed to visit if they choose to. To be frank, I’m not sure I want them to. I don’t know what I could say.
But there was a surprise.
There was a huge outpouring of sympathy for me during the trial, and an astonishing show of support, from the American people – a lot of those 93,000,000 who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump in his bid for re-election, I guess. A New York Times/CNN poll taken during the trial showed an astounding 71 percent of U.S. citizens of voting age believed I should be found not guilty, and 58 percent were in favor of a full pardon if I was convicted. Only 13 percent believed I was incontrovertibly guilty, and only half of those said I should be executed. I appreciate their faith, that they believe what I did was morally right even if – if – it was legally wrong.
If I’m ever released (there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that, to be sure) I’ll run for Congress. I believe I’d be elected, and I’d introduce legislation to create major change in the ways presidents are permitted to administer the office. But, then, I’m an ethicist. For better or worse.
And, bottom line: That, for me at least, is the point.