A visit to the Trump grand jury

Dispatches from Atlanta and beyond. Also in this month's edition: Big Lou the emu and a temple for napping.


A visit to the Trump grand juryOn the Stand
by George Chidi

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sent me a summons to appear before the Trump grand jury, and I tried to say no. Honest.

Whenever I walk into the Fulton County courthouse, I quietly expect to be thrown out as a hazard to decency. A summons? It’s like seeing a wedding invitation from your ex-wife.

Journalism is about writing things that piss people off. If I wanted to make people feel good about themselves, I would have been a preacher. Except, of course, I tend to get thrown out of churches on general principle.

I get thrown out of a lot of places. Getting thrown out of a police station or a hospital or a brothel or an Army base—a neat trick, when I was in the Army—is a professional sport at this point. The holes on my bingo card are “funeral” and “prison.” Watch this space.

I got into this mess by getting thrown out of a meeting.

On December 14, 2020, I went to the Georgia State Capitol to observe the electoral college vote, expecting to see Proud Boys brawling with police. Three weeks earlier, they had been all over the Capitol steps, listening to Nick Fuentes and Ali Alexander call for a truck blockade of Atlanta while Alex Jones drove circles around the building in an armored personnel carrier. I figured something stupid would happen.

Lo and behold, I saw C.J. Pearson walk by in the hallway. Pearson is a Black conservative who made himself famous by being more MAGA than thou as a teenager. He’s also one of the Republicans who would have been electors if Trump had won Georgia. And I sensed shenanigans. So, with Facebook Live going, I followed Pearson into a room he went in to see what was up. The group gathered in there promptly threw me out, but not before telling me what was going on was an “education meeting.”

Instead, they were “voting” as “electors.” For Trump.

Weirdly, that’s relevant now. Hence the summons from Willis, whose office is looking into the fake electors as part of its investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. I made some performative noises about reporter’s privilege, and made sure they wouldn’t ask me about confidential sources. But I testified. It was fun. Five stars. I would recommend it. ­ ­

Big Lou Lake Claire Emu
Big Lou

Photograph by Jason Travis

In Memoriam: Big Lou
by Austin L. Ray

Atlanta has long been a home for transplants: Folks from all over the world come here to find their place and make a life. That was also true for Big Lou, an emu who arrived in the city in 1993. After living nearly three decades adjacent to the Lake Claire Community Land Trust, mostly in the backyard of Dawn Aquamarine Aura, the local celebrity passed away peacefully on July 28.

Lou had many neighbors: chickens, ducks, at one point another emu (the two didn’t get along, so the newcomer was relocated). But Lou and Aura formed a special bond. While she admits he had a “mischievous side”—he sometimes “liked to pull scrunchies out of girls’ hair”—Aura remembered him as a “low-key stable presence” who otherwise created “no drama.” As his legend grew, Lou attracted visitors like Mack Williams, who lived for a while in a house on Adolphus Street and took his dog, a boy named Sue, for walks in the land trust. “Lou was Sue’s mortal enemy,” Williams told me. “Every time we walked by his habitat and Sue saw Lou, he would freak out. Lou, a consummate professional, was unbothered.”

Eventually, Williams started to visit Lou alone, bringing him grapes. Grapes were one of Lou’s favorite snacks, but he also enjoyed melons, leaves, and raw veggies. Lou was a bit of a foodie, Aura said: “He wanted—and got—vegetable and fresh fruit salads, along with canned corn, beans, green beans, brown cooked rice, and a medley of tortilla chips, popcorn, and peanuts, twice a day for 29 years.” Another visitor: former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who, according to Aura, laid eyes on Lou during a tour of the land trust and said, That’s the biggest chicken I’ve ever seen!

Shortly after Lou’s death, Aura was still reflecting on what the emu meant to the city: “Since he’s a public figure, I’ve been dealing with the outpouring of love and support from folks who knew him. But I will remember for the rest of my life how sweet, kind, gentle, well-mannered, and loving he was. He was my close friend, and I was his.”

This was adapted from “Remembering Big Lou the emu, Lake Claire’s most famous resident”—read the full story here.

At the Nap Temple

by Gray Chapman

Tricia Hersey
Tricia Hersey

Photograph by Charlie Watts

Leading me through an empty, century-old church, its wooden floors squeaking beneath her feet, Tricia Hersey stops in front of a trio of stained glass windows—original to the 1903 building but still vividly glowing with amber, emerald, and indigo panes. Rather than biblical scenes, the church’s windows have simple decorative motifs; these three show a triptych of anchors. “They feel like a metaphor for the building and the space,” Hersey says. “That it becomes an anchor to the whole community.”

Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry, a performance art project turned movement espousing the idea of rest as both resistance and reparations. The project began in 2016 with a series of collective napping experiences around Atlanta, but in recent years—following the pandemic, the police murder of George Floyd, and a growing disenchantment with traditional workplace culture—Hersey’s message has found global resonance. Now, nearly half a million people have flocked to the Nap Ministry’s Instagram account for guidance on reclaiming rest.

Today, I’m with Hersey in Grant Park’s Georgia Avenue Church, which until recently has been home to a small Presbyterian congregation. The Nap Ministry’s creative director, Helen Hale, went to preschool here; her father, Chad Hale, served as pastor. Hersey and Hale, an Atlanta dancer and performance artist, often dreamed about the possibilities for their respective projects inside the building. Then, one day in 2019, the executive presbyter at the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, which oversees all Presbyterian churches in the metro—a woman named Aisha Brooks-Johnson—happened to come to one of Hersey’s collective napping events. “She laid down, she slept, she woke up, and she said, I see what you’re doing here. There’s some spiritual work happening in this room,” Hersey recalls.

A year later, Hersey and Hale joined a call with the Presbytery to discuss the future of the property. “They wanted to have it in someone’s hands who’d be doing community work in it,” says Hersey. “They understand the idea of worship in art, that a building like this is a church but also a sanctuary for the entire community.” The group offered the Nap Ministry what Hersey describes as a “generous and collaborative lease” in exchange for her stewardship of the aging building.

Following the opening of the Nap Temple on October 9 (which coincides with the publication of Hersey’s new book, Rest as Resistance: A Manifesto), Hersey hopes to start hosting collective daydreaming activations—large-scale guided meditations in which participants imagine a more just world—as well as meditation workshops, lecture series, performance art events, even studio space for artists. Her longer-term vision involves a chaplaincy practice. “This work is about making people see that they’re divine. And you can’t come in here and not feel moved,” Hersey says, gesturing at the soaring vaulted ceilings, white wooden pulpit, and stained glass windows. “This is a sanctuary for the weary.”