There is a great deal of support with the prosecution of executions, however, so it is not surprising that the federal executions resumption effort had some hardworking supporters among the federal ranks.
What comes out, however, more than anything, is the real sense of urgency that William Barr in particular brought to the effort. The meetings may have put pressure on the resumption of the executions, but Barr made his own efforts and shaped the efforts. In the well-known Barr style, it was not enough to resume federal executions: it had to be done with lies, rule mutilation and maximum fatigue.
Barr searched out which prisoners would be executed, chosen for the heinousness of their crimes. Barr thought about it in his public announcements, just as Barr did in other announcements. Barr set the schedule for “consecutive” executions, three in a week or maybe not, depending on which administrative liars you believe about the others. Barr’s Justice Department killed a prisoner while his lawyers appealed the case, which resulted in the appeals court meekly declaring the appeal “in dispute” in its response.
However, a special remark could be made about Barr’s seemingly out of nowhere urge to allow the government of all people to re-execute prisoners through a firing squad. This bit of extravagant vulgarity was obviously not as random as it seemed; It was proposed just two weeks after death row lawyers “argued that an overdose of pentobarbital would be so excruciating that even death by shooting would be less painful”.
Although Barr’s team defended their chosen drug with a response that wiped the firing squads off as “more primitive” and “regressive”, two weeks later Barr’s squad proposed new regulations that would reinstate the firing squads.
ProPublica notes that the Justice Department has admitted that their previous legal claims need to be settled. That’s an interpretation. We have gathered more than enough knowledge of Barr’s team and methodology to suggest that this embrace of previously recognized “more primitive” and “regressive” means of executing prisoners may have instead been simply a thumbs-up in the eye of opponents of the death penalty – an explicit confirmation from Barr that his team did indeed intend to push executions, not only despite debates about the cruelty of their chosen drugs, but with any additional “primitive” cruelty that might be required.
The cruelty, as has often been said of the newest brand of conservatism, is the point.
Barr’s urge to execute as many prisoners as possible before his team runs out of time, it turns out, will outlive Barr himself. He has now resigned, but three more executions are planned before Joe Biden, an opponent of the death penalty, takes office. It is impossible not to see the record number of executions under Barr’s short tenure as anything other than the continued fetishization of killing, one of the few remaining obsessions in a conservative movement that is limp on some other principle it once had in favor of openness has become authoritarianism.