Mayra Cantu poses for a portrait near the Rio Grande on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Roma, Texas. Cantu, whose husband is a Border Patrol agent, has been an outspoken advocate for better mental health care for Border Patrol agents. (Sergio Flores for The Free Press.)

Why Some U.S. Border Agents Are Contemplating Suicide. Plus. . .

The ‘Butcher of Tehran’ is dead. A backlash in Portland. Harvard capitulates to the student intifada. Harrison Butker’s commencement speech. And much more.

On today’s Front Page from The Free Press: The Butcher of Tehran is dead; Francesca Block reports on a Jewish teacher forced to hide from a Bronx mob; Olivia Reingold talks to the independent taking on Portland’s progressive DA; Kat Rosenfield refuses to get mad at Harrison Butker; and much more. 

But first, in our lead story, Michele DeMarco and Joe Nocera report on a crisis within a crisis on the southern border: 

Brian, a U.S. Border Patrol agent who works along the south Texas border, is haunted by something that happened a few years ago. A man—a Mexican cartel member, he believes—emerged from the banks of the Rio Grande carrying two toddlers. The children, a boy and a girl, were wearing nothing but diapers. The man darted across the border, dropped the children fifty feet away, and then raced back into the river to Mexico. 

“I picked up these toddlers and looked fifty yards south,” said Brian, a ten–year veteran of the agency, who, like all agents we spoke to for this story, insisted on using a pseudonym. That’s when he saw six adult migrants running across the border as fast as they could. The children, he realized, had been a decoy. 

Another veteran agent said he’s witnessed the same problem on his watch—and much worse. “We regularly see things that people should never see, like rotting human remains, abuse of every kind, babies and kids dying or dead,” he told The Free Press

“Do you know what that does to you over time?” he asked. “You have to shut down a part of yourself to keep going.” 

Three-plus years into the worst border crisis in American history, the men and women of the Border Patrol are facing a crisis of their own. Read the extraordinary story in full here.

Francesca Block reports on an anti-Israel protest at a Bronx high school that got out of control and left a Jewish teacher hiding in her classroom for hours. “I was terrified,” she tells The Free Press. Read on. . . 

Portland has had a—shall we say—patchy relationship with law and order in recent years. In the summer of 2020, Portland—which is one of the whitest cities in America—saw some of the longest and most intense riots in the country. (The first five weeks alone cost local businesses an estimated $23 million.) The city council voted to dramatically cut police funding. Just before all that, in May 2020, Portland elected progressive prosecutor Mike Schmidt to be its DA. 

One guess as to what happened next. 

The homicide rate tripled. As of today, all violent crime is up 17 percent. Open-air drug use became the norm in the city’s downtown. 

The political mood has shifted in Portland, which is why Nathan Vasquez, an independent running for DA on a law-and-order platform, has a shot of booting Schmidt at the ballot box Tuesday. He talks to Free Press reporter Olivia Reingold about why even very progressive Portlanders have changed their tune on public safety and policing, how to balance social justice with safety, and more. Read Olivia’s interview here. 

  1. Salman Rushdie on Palestinian statehood: “If there was a Palestinian state now, it would be ruled by Hamas and we would have a Taliban-like state. A satellite state of Iran. Is that what the progressive movements of the Western left want to create?” (Bild)

  2. Magic Monetary Theory—roughly speaking, the idea that deficits are fake and government debt is a psy op—was once an amusing sideshow. But the joke’s over now that the mainstream left, including Biden administration officials, are taking it seriously, writes Matt Taibbi. (Racket News

  3. South Korea is contemplating a radical fix for its fertility crisis: a $70,000 baby bonus. Economist Tyler Cowen investigates whether it could work. (Marginal Revolution

  4. Consumer sentiment has hit a six-month low. And, as Josh Barro writes, the economic picture is unlikely to change dramatically before the election. (Washington Post)

  5. Donald Trump will hold a rally in the south Bronx this week, his first rally in New York since 2016. An audacious demonstration of the former president’s multiracial blue-collar appeal, or a campaign getting creative under the constraints of his court schedule? Both, probably. (Fox News)

  6. Will RFK Jr. qualify for next month’s presidential debate? He needs to be on the ballot in enough states to win 270 electoral college votes and register 15 percent in four national polls. His campaign is bullish, while both Trump and Biden’s campaigns appear blindsided by the idea the debate could be anything other than a one-on-one. (ABC

  7. Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz has given Bibi Netanyahu an ultimatum: set out a post-war plan by June 12 or he’ll quit the coalition. “While Israeli soldiers are displaying incredible bravery on the front, some of the people who sent them to battle are acting with cowardice and a lack of responsibility,” said Gantz. (Times of Israel

  8. Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola debuted his self-financed sci-fi epic Megalopolis at Cannes. In interviews promoting his passion project—which sounds too weird to miss—Coppola took aim at the film industry. “The job is not so much to make good movies, the job is to make sure they pay their debt obligations.” (Variety)  

  9. An appalling video from March 2016 of Sean “Diddy” Combs assaulting his then-girlfriend Cassie Ventura in a hotel has been leaked on the heels of a federal investigation into the rapper for human trafficking. Diddy responded with an apology on Instagram saying, “I’d hit rock bottom.” (CNN

  10. AMC networks has added a trigger warning to Goodfellas, cautioning that the mob movie contains “offensive content,” including “cultural stereotypes.” It’s wisepeople, not wiseguy, thank you very much. (New York Post)  

→ “The Butcher of Tehran” is dead: On Sunday, Iranian state media reported that a helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi—a.k.a. The Butcher of Tehran—crashed in a remote part of the country. Raisi was traveling with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Doha days after the October 7 massacre. 

By Sunday night both men were confirmed dead.

Raisi, a Holocaust denier, earned the sobriquet the Butcher of Tehran when he served as the prosecutor general of Tehran between 1989 and 1994. He participated in a so-called death commission that ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian American journalist and leading critic of the regime, told The Free Press that the families of Raisi’s victims were openly celebrating his death. “On my social media, I see family members of those who were executed as a result of his orders cheering. People in Iran are celebrating; there are fireworks everywhere in different cities. They really see Raisi as an example of the whole system, of the whole regime.” 

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Free Press that the president’s death will create a succession crisis—both to find a new president and because Raisi, 63, was the leading contender to replace 85-year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. There will now be a scramble to hold an election for a new president among a reluctant population. All this is against the backdrop of a regime that apparently can’t organize a safe flight for two of its most senior members.

“They will have to call an election within 50 days,” said Brodsky. “That’s a tall order for the Islamic Republic because the Iranian people don’t want an election; they want an end to the Islamic Republic.” —Ben Clerkin

→ Speaking of Masih Alinejad: For those unfamiliar with Masih’s name, we here at The FP consider her one of the bravest women alive. A champion of women’s rights in Iran, Masih now lives in exile in America but remains a hunted woman, moving from safe house to safe house because the Iranian regime keeps trying to assassinate her. But “crazy” is how New York Times reporter Farnaz Fassihi described Masih during a hot mic on a conference call. She also discouraged fellow reporters from interviewing the dissident. Consider that when you read that paper’s coverage of Iran. — Bari Weiss

→ “Okay, well, this is it”: Amid a lot of bad news so far this year, perhaps the most awe-inspiring development is the first Neuralink brain implant. In January, Noland Arbaugh, who is paralyzed from the neck down, had a device attached to his brain that allows him to control a computer using only his thoughts. Arbaugh, on a computer, can play video games, make phone calls, and a lot of other things that the rest of us take for granted. Now, five months after the procedure, Arbaugh has spoken for the first time about how he came to be Neuralink’s first trial patient, and how his life has changed since January. 

He tells Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance that his faith made it easy to go through with the trial: “I wasn’t worried at all,” Arbaugh told Vance. “I saw so many dots connecting for me that were fitting into this. My accident was such a freak accident, and I’d wondered why it had happened to me and what God had in store for me. When I started doing all the Neuralink stuff, I was like, ‘Okay, well, this is it.’ ” And in an interview with Good Morning America, Arbaugh imagines a day in the not too distant future when “someone can have a spinal cord injury, go into hospital, get surgery, and walk out a couple days later,” adding: “I think it’s gonna happen.” Amid much darkness, progress. 

→ Campus capitulation: It’s well past time for a shower and anyway, summer internships start soon. But just as the protests are fizzling out, with students packing up their ”tentifadas” for the summer, some colleges have decided to negotiate with the Hamas-curious campus cohort. 

The latest to strike a very one-sided bargain with students is Harvard. In exchange for the protesters going home, the college has announced it will consider adopting boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel, setting up a Palestinian Studies Center, and not taking any action against 80 protesters. Harvard student Shabbos Kestenbaum, who is suing the college for failing to tackle antisemitism, told The Free Press that the deal was “an absolute betrayal” that will only incentivize further protests. 

“I’ve been asking for a meeting with the president Alan Garber and college administrators for months,” Kestenbaum said. “Apparently to get a seat at the table I should have been calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

“It’s a major victory for the protesters. The message is that if you shout loud enough and make enough noise, you’ll get away with some truly terrible behavior. They have bullied and harassed Jews. Letting them off without punishment will just mean it all starts again in the fall.”

Harvard is only the latest elite school to promise to consider BDS measures. Colleges to have made that concession include:

  • Princeton, which will also consider ​new academic affiliations with Palestinian scholars, students, and institutions, and a new Palestinian studies course. 

  • Northwestern, which has also committed to build a house for Muslim student activities and to fundraise for scholarships for Palestinian undergraduates.

  • Brown University, which agreed to vote on implementing BDS. 

  • Rutgers, which agreed to accept at least 10 displaced Gazan students and hire additional professors who specialize in Palestinian and Middle Eastern studies.

  • Johns Hopkins, which will grant amnesty to all student protesters.

  • University of California, Berkeley, which agreed to ensure that their academic partnerships don’t exhibit anti-Palestinian discrimination, which protesters say is a “pathway to boycott of Israeli university programs.”

  • University of California, Riverside, which has committed to discontinue business school study programs in Israel. It also promised a “review of Sabra Hummus.”
    Ben Clerkin

→ You don’t need to be mad at Harrison Butker: Perhaps you have heard of Harrison Butker, the 28-year-old Kansas City Chiefs kicker at the center of the latest viral outrage. Butker was the commencement speaker last week at Benedictine College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Kansas, where he appears to have been engaged in some kind of record-setting effort to offend as many progressives as possible in less time than it takes to deliver the average TED Talk. His speech was critical of abortion, IVF, even surrogacy. He told the men to be “unapologetic in your masculinity”; he suggested the women were probably looking forward more to marriage and children than to high-powered careers. Oh, and there was some stuff in there too about the identity of the guys who killed Jesus, if you know what I mean. 

Butker’s speech was very trad and frequently interrupted by the audience, who, rather than being affronted, kept erupting in cheers and applause. Perhaps they did not realize that this speech by a Catholic kicker at a Catholic university wasn’t for them, the Catholic graduating seniors. It was for me, a 42-year-old woman in New England eating peanut butter straight out of the jar because a sandwich seemed like too much work. 

Or at least, that’s what it feels like: for days now, the story of Butker’s speech and subsequent backlash, including a statement of denunciation from the NFL itself, has been the subject of wall-to-wall coverage from The New York Times to People magazine. It’s as if the media has set aside its differences in service of a single unified mission: to make sure I know this happened and that I am good and mad at it. 

Well, fine. I have watched the speech, and true enough, there is little in it I agree with. If Butker broke into my house, tied me to a chair, and forced me to watch the whole thing with my eyelids taped open Clockwork Orange–style, I wouldn’t be thrilled! But he didn’t do this, and as such, I am far less mad at him than I am the shrieking discourse hall monitors demanding I be outraged by it. Not only is it hard to imagine a more joyless—or fruitless— way to spend my limited time on this planet, it’s hard to see how Butker’s comments differ from the hundreds of thousands of speeches delivered to approving crowds every day, in various settings, by faith leaders of all stripes. Given the sheer diversity of ideology in this country, there’s probably something in there to offend everyone! But this is America; isn’t freedom of speech and assembly, no matter how offensive some might find the ideas involved, kind of what we do here? Indeed, the culture of free expression that allowed Butker to speak his mind to an appreciative audience is the same culture that permits me to host weekly discussion salons with my all-female neighborhood watch group, the Kindred Alliance for Rights, Equality, and Nurturing Society (KARENS). . . which for some reason nobody wants to join, but whatever. 

Join us for our next get-together, where we’ll stage a live dramatic reading of the HOA Regulations, Chapter 4, Section 7: Proper Identification and Reporting of Microaggressive Lawn Gnomes. My guess is it will really get the crowds going. —Kat Rosenfield

Rupa Subramanya remembers the man who made her a journalist. “So many of Canada’s commentators are cowards, but Rex Murphy encouraged me to call it as I see it—no matter how much controversy that might cause,” writes Rupa. Read her full tribute here.

Steve recommends Brazilian jiu-jitsu: We are all so full of anxiety and anger with no way to channel it. The answer is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s a form of grappling with historic ties to Japan and Brazil (clearly). You spend every class on a mat fighting not to get choked out or have your arm twisted in a very unnatural way. It may sound terrible, but you will leave the mats healthier in every way, more confident, and happier. 

Don recommends the poetry of Emily Dickinson: It is easy to read and yet deep enough to consume quite some time deciphering just a verse or two. Ms. Dickinson’s cloistered life gave her a lens on the world that is both beautiful and tragic all at once. Make yourself a cuppa and sit down with any one of a dozen anthologies on a rainy day and you’ll have embarked on a journey of the mind and heart.

Whether you prefer to relax with martial arts or poetry or something else, send your recommendations to

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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