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Hong Kong Leader Delays Extradition Bill Amid Mass Protests

HONG KONG—Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam sought to quell public anger Saturday by shelving an unpopular extradition bill that has highlighted apprehension about relations with mainland China, but opponents of the measure said it was not enough.

Activists said they were still planning a mass protest for Sunday, a week after hundreds of thousands marched to demand Lam drop the legislation, which many fear would undermine freedoms enjoyed by this former British colony but not elsewhere in China.

The battle over the proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance to allow some suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts has evolved into Hong Kong’s most severe political test since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts.

Critics said Lam should withdraw the plan for good, resign and apologize for police use of potentially lethal force during clashes with protesters on Wednesday.

“Democrats in Hong Kong simply cannot accept this suspension decision,” said lawmaker Claudia Mo. “Because the suspension is temporary. The pain is still there.”

The decision was “too little, too late,” she said.

“Hong Kong people have been lied to so many times,” said Bonny Leung, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of the groups that has helped organize the demonstrations.

Lam has said the legislation is needed if Hong Kong to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Speaking to reporters after announcing her decision Saturday, Lam sidestepped questions over whether she should quit. She insisted she was not withdrawing the proposed amendment and defended the police.

But she said she was suspending the bill indefinitely. It was time, she said, “for responsible government to restore as quickly as possible this calmness in society.”

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind,” she said. “We have no intention to set a deadline for this work.”

She emphasized that a chief concern was to avoid further injuries both for the public and for police. About 80 people were hurt in the clashes earlier in the week, more than 20 of them police.

“It’s possible there might be even worse confrontations that might be replaced by very serious injuries to my police colleagues and the public,” she said. “I don’t want any of those injuries to happen.”

Lam apologized for what she said were failures in her government’s work to win public support for the bill, which is opposed by a wide range of sectors in Hong Kong, including many teachers, students, lawyers and trade unions.

But she insisted the bill was still needed.

“Give us another chance,” she said.

Beijing-appointed Lam said she had the central government’s backing for her decision to yield to the protests. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said in a statement Saturday that the Chinese government “expresses support, respect and understanding” for Lam’s decision.

Many analysts believe that given deep public frustration over expanding control from Beijing under President Xi Jinping, China’s strongest leader in decades, Lam might eventually have to abandon the plan altogether.

“If there’s more mass action this week that doesn’t degenerate into smashing, they will have to,” said Ken Courtis, an investment banker who has worked in Hong Kong off and on for many years.

The anger seen in the streets has been directed squarely at Lam and the Hong Kong government, not Beijing, he notes.

“Young people continue to be very dissatisfied,” said Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings. “The economy’s not growing like people thought it would grow.”

Lam acknowledged that the government needed to tackle other issues, especially a dire lack of affordable housing. She also cited the economy as a concern.

The extradition bill has drawn criticism from U.S. and British lawmakers and human rights groups, prompting Beijing to lash back with warnings against “interference” in its internal affairs.

But analysts say China also has to weigh the risk of seeing Hong Kong, a vital port and financial center of 7 million people, possibly losing its special economic status.

Under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, Beijing needs to abide by its “one country, two systems” promises to respect the territory’s legal autonomy for 50 years as promised under the agreement signed with Britain for the 1997 handover.

Already, many here believe the territory’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring those promises.

Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among the moves in recent years that have undermined that

In may well be in China’s interest to help Hong Kong’s role as a financial center to grow in importance given the current extreme trade tensions with the U.S.

Much hinges on whether protests persist or again turn violent, Courtis said.

“That is a limit, a brake of common sense of how far Beijing would push these things,” he said. “The last thing Beijing wants, with all this trouble with Washington, is that Hong Kong boils over.”

The post Hong Kong Leader Delays Extradition Bill Amid Mass Protests appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions

EL PASO, Texas—The Trump administration is facing growing complaints from migrants about severe overcrowding, meager food and other hardships at border holding centers, with some people at an encampment in El Paso being forced to sleep on the bare ground during dust storms.

The Border Network for Human Rights issued a report Friday based on dozens of testimonials of immigrants over the past month and a half, providing a snapshot of cramped conditions and prolonged stays in detention amid a record surge of migrant families coming into the U.S. from Central America.

The report comes a day after an advocate described finding a teenage mother cradling a premature baby inside a Border Patrol processing center in Texas. The advocate said the baby should have been in a hospital, not a facility where adults are kept in large fenced-in sections that critics describe as cages.

“The state of human rights in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is grave and is only getting worse,” the immigrant rights group said in its report. “People are dying because of what is happening.”

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Five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by the Border Patrol, including a flu-stricken teenager who was found dead in a facility migrants refer to as the “icebox” because of the temperatures inside.

Customs and Border Protection responded to the complaints by saying: “Allegations are not facts. If there is an issue it is best to contact CBP directly. In many cases the matter can be resolved immediately.”

The agency also cited its response to a critical inspector general’s report last month, in which it said the government is devoted to treating migrants in its custody “with the utmost dignity and respect.”

The Trump administration has blamed the worsening crisis on inaction by Congress.

Many of the complaints center on El Paso, where the inspector general found severe overcrowding inside a processing center. A cell designed for a dozen people was crammed with 76, and migrants had to stand on the toilets.

With indoor facilities overcrowded, the Border Patrol has kept some immigrants outside and in tents near a bridge in El Paso with nothing but a Mylar foil blanket. Others have been kept in an empty parking lot, where migrants huddled underneath tarps and foil blankets repurposed as shade covers against the sweltering heat.

A professor who visited two weeks ago said it resembled a “human dog pound.” The Border Patrol responded by adding additional shade structures, but migrants are still kept outside in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

Migrants in El Paso and elsewhere also complained of inadequate food such as a single burrito and a cup of water per day. Women said they were denied feminine hygiene products.

Another complaint is that migrants are kept in detention beyond the 72-hour limit set by Customs and Border Protection. Some reported being held for 30 days or more, and one told The Associated Press she had been in detention for around 45 days.

The teenage mother with the premature baby, for example, spent nine days in Border Patrol custody after crossing the Rio Grande with her newborn, according to a legal advocate who visited the girl in a McAllen, Texas, processing center.

An exodus of people fleeing poverty, drought and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has led to a record number of migrant families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. Agents made 132,887 apprehensions in May, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together. Those apprehended also included 11,507 children traveling alone.

President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion border request for things such as an expansion of detention, medical care, food and shelter has languished on Capitol Hill since he sent it over six weeks ago, with House Democrats at odds with the White House. Congress is set to go on a break in two weeks.

Lawmakers are becoming increasingly agitated.

“In the first five months of this year, the number of apprehensions at the border has already exceeded the population of Atlanta, Georgia,” said Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.

___

Associated Press Writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

The post Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions

EL PASO, Texas—The Trump administration is facing growing complaints from migrants about severe overcrowding, meager food and other hardships at border holding centers, with some people at an encampment in El Paso being forced to sleep on the bare ground during dust storms.

The Border Network for Human Rights issued a report Friday based on dozens of testimonials of immigrants over the past month and a half, providing a snapshot of cramped conditions and prolonged stays in detention amid a record surge of migrant families coming into the U.S. from Central America.

The report comes a day after an advocate described finding a teenage mother cradling a premature baby inside a Border Patrol processing center in Texas. The advocate said the baby should have been in a hospital, not a facility where adults are kept in large fenced-in sections that critics describe as cages.

“The state of human rights in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is grave and is only getting worse,” the immigrant rights group said in its report. “People are dying because of what is happening.”

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Five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by the Border Patrol, including a flu-stricken teenager who was found dead in a facility migrants refer to as the “icebox” because of the temperatures inside.

Customs and Border Protection responded to the complaints by saying: “Allegations are not facts. If there is an issue it is best to contact CBP directly. In many cases the matter can be resolved immediately.”

The agency also cited its response to a critical inspector general’s report last month, in which it said the government is devoted to treating migrants in its custody “with the utmost dignity and respect.”

The Trump administration has blamed the worsening crisis on inaction by Congress.

Many of the complaints center on El Paso, where the inspector general found severe overcrowding inside a processing center. A cell designed for a dozen people was crammed with 76, and migrants had to stand on the toilets.

With indoor facilities overcrowded, the Border Patrol has kept some immigrants outside and in tents near a bridge in El Paso with nothing but a Mylar foil blanket. Others have been kept in an empty parking lot, where migrants huddled underneath tarps and foil blankets repurposed as shade covers against the sweltering heat.

A professor who visited two weeks ago said it resembled a “human dog pound.” The Border Patrol responded by adding additional shade structures, but migrants are still kept outside in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

Migrants in El Paso and elsewhere also complained of inadequate food such as a single burrito and a cup of water per day. Women said they were denied feminine hygiene products.

Another complaint is that migrants are kept in detention beyond the 72-hour limit set by Customs and Border Protection. Some reported being held for 30 days or more, and one told The Associated Press she had been in detention for around 45 days.

The teenage mother with the premature baby, for example, spent nine days in Border Patrol custody after crossing the Rio Grande with her newborn, according to a legal advocate who visited the girl in a McAllen, Texas, processing center.

An exodus of people fleeing poverty, drought and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has led to a record number of migrant families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. Agents made 132,887 apprehensions in May, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together. Those apprehended also included 11,507 children traveling alone.

President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion border request for things such as an expansion of detention, medical care, food and shelter has languished on Capitol Hill since he sent it over six weeks ago, with House Democrats at odds with the White House. Congress is set to go on a break in two weeks.

Lawmakers are becoming increasingly agitated.

“In the first five months of this year, the number of apprehensions at the border has already exceeded the population of Atlanta, Georgia,” said Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.

___

Associated Press Writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

The post Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups

This article was originally posted on Reveal News.

Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.

These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”

The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.

U.S. law enforcement agencies, many of which have deeply troubled histories of discrimination, have long been accused of connections between officers and extremist groups. At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marchers flew a “Blue Lives Matter” flag alongside anti-Semitic and white supremacist messages. In Portland, Oregon, police officers were found to have been texting with a far-right group that regularly hosts white supremacists and white nationalists at its rallies. A classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept, warned that white supremacists and other far-right groups had infiltrated American law enforcement.

It can be difficult to determine how deep or widespread these connections run. Researchers recently found numerous examples of police officers posting violent and racist content on their public Facebook pages. Reveal’s investigation shows for the first time that officers in agencies across the country have actively joined private hate groups, participating in the spread of extremism on Facebook.

Most of the hateful Facebook groups these cops frequent are closed, meaning only members are allowed to see content posted by other members. Reveal joined dozens of these groups and verified the identities of almost 400 current and retired law enforcement officials who are members.

One guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana, Geoffery Crosby, was a member of 56 extremist groups, including 45 Confederate groups and one called “BAN THE NAACP.”

A detective at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, James “J.T.” Thomas, was a member of the closed Facebook group “The White Privilege Club.”

The group contains hundreds of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic posts; links to interviews with white supremacists such as Richard Spencer; and invites to events such as the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Users regularly post memes featuring Pepe the Frog, the alt-right mascot, with captions such as, “white people, do something.” And there are explicitly racist jokes, such as one with a photo of fried chicken and grape soda with the caption, “Mom packed me a niggable for school.”

Thomas once posted the logo for the Black College Football Hall of Fame inside the group with a simple caption: “Seriously. Why?” Soon after, he posted a meme about an elderly African American woman confusedly responding to a reporter’s question by naming a fried chicken restaurant.

After being presented with Thomas’ postings on Facebook, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office fired him in February for violating a number of employee conduct policies.

“These policies state that ‘an employee’s actions must never bring the HCSO into disrepute, nor should conduct be detrimental to the HCSO’s efficient operation. … Personnel who, through their use of social media, cause undue embarrassment or damage the reputation of, or erode the public’s confidence in, the HCSO shall be deemed to have violated this policy and shall be subject to counseling and/or discipline,” the department said in an email.

In a hearing to appeal his firing, Thomas said he didn’t realize he was a member of the closed group and defended his behavior. “If you remove the black female out of the picture, what’s racist about it?” he said. The Harris County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission upheld his firing.

Lonnie Allen Brown of the Kingsville Police Department in Texas, a member of three Islamophobic groups, posted a photo of a young black man with a pistol to his head with the header, “If Black lives really mattered …. They’d stop shooting each other!” He also posted an image that read: “Islam. A cult of oppression, rape, pedophilia and murder cannot be reasoned with!” Neither he nor his department returned calls for comment.

Peter Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups for more than 20 years, said biased views like those expressed in these Facebook groups inevitably influence an individual’s decision-making process.

“The perceptions we have about the world at large drive the decisions we make,” Simi said. “To think that people could completely separate these extremist right-wing views from their actions just isn’t consistent with what we know about the decision-making process.”

While Facebook vows that it prioritizes meaningful content, its algorithms also appear to play a role in strengthening biases. The more extreme groups we joined, the more Facebook suggested new – and often even more troubling – groups to join or pages to like. It was easy to see how users, including police officers, could be increasingly radicalized by what they saw on their news feed.

What’s harder to see is how these views affected their policing offline.

Disciplinary records and investigations into police misconduct are kept secret in a majority of states, meaning most American cops enjoy a blanket of protection that can cover up biases. But in some cases, we found public documents that showed the officers we identified via Facebook also had been involved in real-life instances of alleged racism or other misconduct.

Will Weisenberger, a sheriff’s deputy in Madison County, Mississippi, was a member of a closed Facebook group called “White Lives Matter.” He’s also been caught up in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the department for allegedly engaging in decades of systemic racism and discriminatory policing.

Racism was so systematic at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, the ACLU asserts, that the department’s blank arrest forms came with two words already filled in: “Black” and “Male.”

Lawyers for the ACLU deposed Weisenberger and asked him about an incident in which a fellow deputy alleged that Weisenberger had punched an African American man in the face while the man’s hands were cuffed. Then they asked him if he ever uses any racial slurs while on duty.

“I may have used the N-word,” Weisenberger said, according to the deposition.

“It’s not something I’m proud of or do every day,” he continued.

Neither the Sheriff’s Department nor Weisenberger responded to calls for comment. The Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t release Weisenberger’s disciplinary record or a copy of the complaint made by his colleague. Police disciplinary records in Mississippi are confidential.

In Chicago, Lt. Richard Moravec was a member of a closed Facebook group called “Any islamist insults infidels, I will put him under my feet,” which disappeared from Facebook before we could join it or search it for posts by officers.

While we don’t know if he ever interacted with the Islamophobic group, Moravec has posted content that appears to be openly anti-transgender and anti-Islam on his personal Facebook page.

One meme Moravec posted featured a photo of a young girl with the caption, “Please! Don’t confuse me. I’m a girl. Don’t teach me to question if I’m a boy, transexual, transgendered, intersexed or two spirited.”

And Chicago’s open records on police conduct revealed that he also has been the subject of 70 allegations, including accusations of illegal use of force, verbal abuse and criminal misconduct, according to the Citizens Police Data Project. That’s more than 99 percent of Chicago police officers. One of the allegations resulted in a five-day suspension.

To find cops with connections to extremist groups, we built lists of two different types of Facebook users: members of extremist groups and members of police groups.

We wrote software to download these lists directly from Facebook, something the platform allowed at the time. In mid-2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and after we already had downloaded our data, Facebook shut down the ability to download membership lists from groups. Then we ran those two datasets against each other to find users who were members of at least one law enforcement group and one far-right group.

We got 14,000 hits.

We did not assume that everyone in a police Facebook group was an actual officer, because many could be relatives of police officers or just really into law enforcement. So, we spent months poring over individual Facebook pages, looking for clues, such as photos of the officer in uniform, or posts about police events, or notes mourning lost cops. Then we corroborated what we found on Facebook with additional research, often calling the departments to confirm the individual either still or had once worked there.

Ultimately, we confirmed that almost 400 users were indeed either currently employed as police officers, sheriffs or prison guards or had once worked in law enforcement.

We then asked to join the closed extremist groups. Many groups ask users questions in order to join, and these often offer insight into the nature of the group. The group “Stop Radical Islam in America,” for example, asks, “Why do you personally think Islam should be banned in America?” At least 12 current and former police officers were members of that group.

The group “Confederate Brothers & Sisters,” which counts at least 25 current and former cops as members, explicitly asks, “This group is sometimes racist does this bother you?” Inside that group, we found several cops and ex-cops posting racist comments.

We used our real names and photos and answered the questions honestly to join these groups. We used general language, often saying we were “interested in learning more.” As a result, many of the most extreme groups rejected our application to join, ignored us or blocked us from viewing the group.

But dozens let us in.

We didn’t seek to find every single hate group or police group on Facebook, and we couldn’t confirm the professions of hundreds of the users in our database.

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Several officers claimed that they didn’t even know they were members of the closed groups we identified them in. And that’s probably the case for at least some of these officers, due to Facebook’s policies for joining groups.

Until late 2018, Facebook allowed users to invite friends to join groups they thought would interest them. The invitees would receive a notification telling them they were a member of a new group, and depending on each user’s algorithm, the user’s news feed might include content and postings from the group. But it’s certainly possible that cops could have been added to groups without realizing it, especially if they’re not active on Facebook.

Facebook has since changed its policies. Users now get a request to join a group that they have to confirm.

But that doesn’t apply to dozens of current and retired officers who have commented on and liked posts in closed extremist groups or who proactively joined groups themselves, without being invited by somebody else.

We examined a tiny sample of what exists on Facebook — what Megan Squire, a computer science professor from Elon University in North Carolina, called “a tiny, postage-stamp-sized window into Facebook’s skyscraper of data.”

Squire, who has studied hate groups on Facebook for years and maintains her own database, said the social media platform, and especially closed groups, are used by hate groups such as white supremacists to plan events and build camaraderie.

“Charlottesville was planned on Facebook,” Squire said. “Extremists are definitely using Facebook groups to plan physical, real-world events or just to make their lives a little smaller, to find friends.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company doesn’t tolerate hate speech on the platform and works extremely hard to identify and shut down hate groups. In the last year, as part of a push to reform the company, Facebook has said it won’t tolerate white nationalist or white supremacist content, and it has moved to shut down the accounts of some of the most popular hate-speech provocateurs.

But while groups with overt neo-Nazi, white supremacist or Ku Klux Klan names get shut down relatively quickly by Facebook, hate groups have wised up in response.

As has happened elsewhere on the internet, extremist groups on Facebook often use in-jokes and subtle references in their names to avoid takedown policies. Moderators of closed groups control who can join, and on Facebook, cops can hide who they really are — using false names and listing pretend jobs.

Inside the closed Facebook groups to which we gained access, transparently racist, misogynistic and homophobic content is on full display. We catalogued more than 120 active and retired officers posting in these groups or commenting in support of others.

In one 48-hour period, civilian members of one closed group posted a steady stream of hateful content:

  • One user posted a link to a piece about how the skins of African slaves were once turned into jackets. It garnered 34 comments and 103 emoticon responses in 24 hours. Almost all of the people reacting to the post gave it the “haha” response. “10/10 would wear, ” a commenter said.
  • Another post mocked the removal of a citizenship question from the 2020 census, playing off the common white supremacist conspiracy theory that an international group of Jews is masterminding the immigration of Latinos into the United States. “When are we going to show everyone what the Jewish cabal is doing?” commented one member.
  • A video showing an African American man being arrested by an African American police officer resulted in an immediate comment: “Just reading that made me crave some fried chicken and watermelon.”

At least six law enforcement officers were members of the group, which was called “Anti-SJW Pinochet’s Helicopter Pilot Academy.” The name showcases the wordplay central to the white supremacists’ rebranding as the “alt-right.” It refers to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had his political opponents thrown out of helicopters into the Pacific Ocean. “SJW” stands for “social justice warrior,” a term used to mock individuals who support equal rights for people of color, women and the LGBTQ community.

While the terminology is new and sometimes cryptic, the core messages of the alt-right echo longstanding neo-Nazi and white supremacist premises. Perry Tolliver, a retired corrections officer from Baltimore, and Michael Pinegar, a former Arizona Department of Corrections officer — who were both members of the Pinochet group until it disappeared from Facebook earlier this month — seemed well-versed in the alt-right’s terminology. In separate posts in the group, both Tolliver and Pinegar referred to African Americans as “dindus” — a racist slur common on Facebook and elsewhere.

In a similar vein, Detective Steve Fumuso from Westchester County in New York frequently inserted comments into posts in the Pinochet group that denigrated African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.

Fumuso posted a meme with a white man making the “OK” symbol — a favored gesture of the alt-right — and the words “fuckin mint” under a racist joke about Mexicans in December 2017. Earlier, he had commented, “Ha ha ha haaaa. Fuck em,” under a “Tucker Carlson Tonight” clip about Mexicans being worried about crime committed by Central American migrants.

Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gleason said the department’s Special Investigations Unit would launch an investigation.

In an interview months later, Fumuso said he had retired shortly after the internal affairs investigation. He said the two things had nothing to do with each other.

“I like memes, they make me laugh. I didn’t join to express any racist views,” he said. “I don’t care what you think. That’s my opinion. You know what’s a racist comment? ‘Brits are all full of shit.’ ”

(The reporter conducting the interview, Will Carless, has a British accent.)

Several officers contacted for this story countered that they have a First Amendment right to opine on social media, even if those opinions are unpopular or offensive to some people.

However, while civilians enjoy First Amendment protection from government censorship or harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public agencies such as police departments may penalize their employees for speech and behavior in certain cases.

Valerie Van Brocklin, a former federal prosecutor who trains police departments and other public employees on social media use, said police officers across the country have been fired or suspended for making off-color jokes or leaving problematic comments under newspaper articles.

“I ask them, ‘Would you, as a cop, in your uniform, put that on a sandwich board and walk up and down the streets of your town? ’ ” Van Brocklin said. “And they’ll say, ‘No, because I could be fired for that.’ Well, instead of putting it on a sandwich board, you put it up for the whole world to see, so why would you think it’s protected?”

No single code of conduct or ethics policy governs the thousands of jurisdictions in the U.S. that employ police officers. Different law enforcement agencies have widely differing standards for the behavior they accept from their personnel, and this was reflected in the responses we received from departments.

In Watkins Glen, New York, Sgt. in Charge Steven Decker refused to talk about the fact that one of his officers, Robert Brill, was a member of two groups connected to the Proud Boys, a violent alt-right gang, and the group “Kekistani Freestate,” named for Kek, a sort of deity employed by the alt-right for memes and other jokes.

“We don’t discuss personnel matters,” Decker said, before hanging up. Brill didn’t respond to calls for comment.

The Abbeville Police Department in Georgia hasn’t responded to multiple phone calls and emails about one of its officers, Joel Quinn, frequently featuring conspiracy theories and anti-Islam posts on his personal Facebook wall. He also has posted inside a Confederate group.

Reached via Facebook Messenger, Quinn defended his posts. “Its also my responsibility to detect possible threats to my community all the way up to and including my country,” he wrote. “Think about this, majority of crimes are committed by minorities (black, hispanic, etc) per FBI statistics yet I don’t ‘prey’ on any particular one.” (According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, 68.9 percent of arrestees in 2017 were white.)

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections hasn’t commented on corrections officer Sheldon Best, a member of “Crusades Against Degeneracy,” a group that trades in racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic content. In 2017, Best commented on an NPR story reporting that babies of color are now the majority in the United States. Below it, he wrote: “Maybe, but minority on minority homocide (sic) will make sure adults of color remain a minority.”

Best said in an interview that he was apologetic about this and other posts in the group. “Some people” could view his membership in the group as problematic, he acknowledged. However, he said that while some members of the group hold discriminatory views, he does not.

We provided the New York Police Department with posts from Officer Randy Paulsaint, a member of 13 groups committed to the anti-feminist Men Going Their Own Way movement.

The groups contain memes depicting women as evil, greedy and jealous. In one, someone posted a meme about a woman asking for a Christmas present. In the comments, Paulsaint inserted a gif of a man kicking a woman in the head.

The NYPD said its investigation was closed as unsubstantiated. “The investigation was unable to clearly prove or disprove that the subject officer made the offending posts,” the department said.

Peter Simi, the sociologist, said white supremacists and other extremists have been working hard to integrate their hateful views into society in as many ways as possible.

“Leaders have long been advocating for infiltration of society — graduate from high school, go to college, join the military, become a police officer, become a school teacher — get inside the system,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult to get a handle on the scope of this, because the purpose for those who are infiltrating these systems is to be careful not to tip their hands. So we’re always dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”

Researchers Daneel Knoetze and Michael Dailey contributed to this story. 

The post Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups

This article was originally posted on Reveal News.

Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.

These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”

The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.

U.S. law enforcement agencies, many of which have deeply troubled histories of discrimination, have long been accused of connections between officers and extremist groups. At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marchers flew a “Blue Lives Matter” flag alongside anti-Semitic and white supremacist messages. In Portland, Oregon, police officers were found to have been texting with a far-right group that regularly hosts white supremacists and white nationalists at its rallies. A classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept, warned that white supremacists and other far-right groups had infiltrated American law enforcement.

It can be difficult to determine how deep or widespread these connections run. Researchers recently found numerous examples of police officers posting violent and racist content on their public Facebook pages. Reveal’s investigation shows for the first time that officers in agencies across the country have actively joined private hate groups, participating in the spread of extremism on Facebook.

Most of the hateful Facebook groups these cops frequent are closed, meaning only members are allowed to see content posted by other members. Reveal joined dozens of these groups and verified the identities of almost 400 current and retired law enforcement officials who are members.

One guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana, Geoffery Crosby, was a member of 56 extremist groups, including 45 Confederate groups and one called “BAN THE NAACP.”

A detective at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, James “J.T.” Thomas, was a member of the closed Facebook group “The White Privilege Club.”

The group contains hundreds of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic posts; links to interviews with white supremacists such as Richard Spencer; and invites to events such as the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Users regularly post memes featuring Pepe the Frog, the alt-right mascot, with captions such as, “white people, do something.” And there are explicitly racist jokes, such as one with a photo of fried chicken and grape soda with the caption, “Mom packed me a niggable for school.”

Thomas once posted the logo for the Black College Football Hall of Fame inside the group with a simple caption: “Seriously. Why?” Soon after, he posted a meme about an elderly African American woman confusedly responding to a reporter’s question by naming a fried chicken restaurant.

After being presented with Thomas’ postings on Facebook, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office fired him in February for violating a number of employee conduct policies.

“These policies state that ‘an employee’s actions must never bring the HCSO into disrepute, nor should conduct be detrimental to the HCSO’s efficient operation. … Personnel who, through their use of social media, cause undue embarrassment or damage the reputation of, or erode the public’s confidence in, the HCSO shall be deemed to have violated this policy and shall be subject to counseling and/or discipline,” the department said in an email.

In a hearing to appeal his firing, Thomas said he didn’t realize he was a member of the closed group and defended his behavior. “If you remove the black female out of the picture, what’s racist about it?” he said. The Harris County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission upheld his firing.

Lonnie Allen Brown of the Kingsville Police Department in Texas, a member of three Islamophobic groups, posted a photo of a young black man with a pistol to his head with the header, “If Black lives really mattered …. They’d stop shooting each other!” He also posted an image that read: “Islam. A cult of oppression, rape, pedophilia and murder cannot be reasoned with!” Neither he nor his department returned calls for comment.

Peter Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups for more than 20 years, said biased views like those expressed in these Facebook groups inevitably influence an individual’s decision-making process.

“The perceptions we have about the world at large drive the decisions we make,” Simi said. “To think that people could completely separate these extremist right-wing views from their actions just isn’t consistent with what we know about the decision-making process.”

While Facebook vows that it prioritizes meaningful content, its algorithms also appear to play a role in strengthening biases. The more extreme groups we joined, the more Facebook suggested new – and often even more troubling – groups to join or pages to like. It was easy to see how users, including police officers, could be increasingly radicalized by what they saw on their news feed.

What’s harder to see is how these views affected their policing offline.

Disciplinary records and investigations into police misconduct are kept secret in a majority of states, meaning most American cops enjoy a blanket of protection that can cover up biases. But in some cases, we found public documents that showed the officers we identified via Facebook also had been involved in real-life instances of alleged racism or other misconduct.

Will Weisenberger, a sheriff’s deputy in Madison County, Mississippi, was a member of a closed Facebook group called “White Lives Matter.” He’s also been caught up in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the department for allegedly engaging in decades of systemic racism and discriminatory policing.

Racism was so systematic at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, the ACLU asserts, that the department’s blank arrest forms came with two words already filled in: “Black” and “Male.”

Lawyers for the ACLU deposed Weisenberger and asked him about an incident in which a fellow deputy alleged that Weisenberger had punched an African American man in the face while the man’s hands were cuffed. Then they asked him if he ever uses any racial slurs while on duty.

“I may have used the N-word,” Weisenberger said, according to the deposition.

“It’s not something I’m proud of or do every day,” he continued.

Neither the Sheriff’s Department nor Weisenberger responded to calls for comment. The Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t release Weisenberger’s disciplinary record or a copy of the complaint made by his colleague. Police disciplinary records in Mississippi are confidential.

In Chicago, Lt. Richard Moravec was a member of a closed Facebook group called “Any islamist insults infidels, I will put him under my feet,” which disappeared from Facebook before we could join it or search it for posts by officers.

While we don’t know if he ever interacted with the Islamophobic group, Moravec has posted content that appears to be openly anti-transgender and anti-Islam on his personal Facebook page.

One meme Moravec posted featured a photo of a young girl with the caption, “Please! Don’t confuse me. I’m a girl. Don’t teach me to question if I’m a boy, transexual, transgendered, intersexed or two spirited.”

And Chicago’s open records on police conduct revealed that he also has been the subject of 70 allegations, including accusations of illegal use of force, verbal abuse and criminal misconduct, according to the Citizens Police Data Project. That’s more than 99 percent of Chicago police officers. One of the allegations resulted in a five-day suspension.

To find cops with connections to extremist groups, we built lists of two different types of Facebook users: members of extremist groups and members of police groups.

We wrote software to download these lists directly from Facebook, something the platform allowed at the time. In mid-2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and after we already had downloaded our data, Facebook shut down the ability to download membership lists from groups. Then we ran those two datasets against each other to find users who were members of at least one law enforcement group and one far-right group.

We got 14,000 hits.

We did not assume that everyone in a police Facebook group was an actual officer, because many could be relatives of police officers or just really into law enforcement. So, we spent months poring over individual Facebook pages, looking for clues, such as photos of the officer in uniform, or posts about police events, or notes mourning lost cops. Then we corroborated what we found on Facebook with additional research, often calling the departments to confirm the individual either still or had once worked there.

Ultimately, we confirmed that almost 400 users were indeed either currently employed as police officers, sheriffs or prison guards or had once worked in law enforcement.

We then asked to join the closed extremist groups. Many groups ask users questions in order to join, and these often offer insight into the nature of the group. The group “Stop Radical Islam in America,” for example, asks, “Why do you personally think Islam should be banned in America?” At least 12 current and former police officers were members of that group.

The group “Confederate Brothers & Sisters,” which counts at least 25 current and former cops as members, explicitly asks, “This group is sometimes racist does this bother you?” Inside that group, we found several cops and ex-cops posting racist comments.

We used our real names and photos and answered the questions honestly to join these groups. We used general language, often saying we were “interested in learning more.” As a result, many of the most extreme groups rejected our application to join, ignored us or blocked us from viewing the group.

But dozens let us in.

We didn’t seek to find every single hate group or police group on Facebook, and we couldn’t confirm the professions of hundreds of the users in our database.

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Several officers claimed that they didn’t even know they were members of the closed groups we identified them in. And that’s probably the case for at least some of these officers, due to Facebook’s policies for joining groups.

Until late 2018, Facebook allowed users to invite friends to join groups they thought would interest them. The invitees would receive a notification telling them they were a member of a new group, and depending on each user’s algorithm, the user’s news feed might include content and postings from the group. But it’s certainly possible that cops could have been added to groups without realizing it, especially if they’re not active on Facebook.

Facebook has since changed its policies. Users now get a request to join a group that they have to confirm.

But that doesn’t apply to dozens of current and retired officers who have commented on and liked posts in closed extremist groups or who proactively joined groups themselves, without being invited by somebody else.

We examined a tiny sample of what exists on Facebook — what Megan Squire, a computer science professor from Elon University in North Carolina, called “a tiny, postage-stamp-sized window into Facebook’s skyscraper of data.”

Squire, who has studied hate groups on Facebook for years and maintains her own database, said the social media platform, and especially closed groups, are used by hate groups such as white supremacists to plan events and build camaraderie.

“Charlottesville was planned on Facebook,” Squire said. “Extremists are definitely using Facebook groups to plan physical, real-world events or just to make their lives a little smaller, to find friends.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company doesn’t tolerate hate speech on the platform and works extremely hard to identify and shut down hate groups. In the last year, as part of a push to reform the company, Facebook has said it won’t tolerate white nationalist or white supremacist content, and it has moved to shut down the accounts of some of the most popular hate-speech provocateurs.

But while groups with overt neo-Nazi, white supremacist or Ku Klux Klan names get shut down relatively quickly by Facebook, hate groups have wised up in response.

As has happened elsewhere on the internet, extremist groups on Facebook often use in-jokes and subtle references in their names to avoid takedown policies. Moderators of closed groups control who can join, and on Facebook, cops can hide who they really are — using false names and listing pretend jobs.

Inside the closed Facebook groups to which we gained access, transparently racist, misogynistic and homophobic content is on full display. We catalogued more than 120 active and retired officers posting in these groups or commenting in support of others.

In one 48-hour period, civilian members of one closed group posted a steady stream of hateful content:

  • One user posted a link to a piece about how the skins of African slaves were once turned into jackets. It garnered 34 comments and 103 emoticon responses in 24 hours. Almost all of the people reacting to the post gave it the “haha” response. “10/10 would wear, ” a commenter said.
  • Another post mocked the removal of a citizenship question from the 2020 census, playing off the common white supremacist conspiracy theory that an international group of Jews is masterminding the immigration of Latinos into the United States. “When are we going to show everyone what the Jewish cabal is doing?” commented one member.
  • A video showing an African American man being arrested by an African American police officer resulted in an immediate comment: “Just reading that made me crave some fried chicken and watermelon.”

At least six law enforcement officers were members of the group, which was called “Anti-SJW Pinochet’s Helicopter Pilot Academy.” The name showcases the wordplay central to the white supremacists’ rebranding as the “alt-right.” It refers to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had his political opponents thrown out of helicopters into the Pacific Ocean. “SJW” stands for “social justice warrior,” a term used to mock individuals who support equal rights for people of color, women and the LGBTQ community.

While the terminology is new and sometimes cryptic, the core messages of the alt-right echo longstanding neo-Nazi and white supremacist premises. Perry Tolliver, a retired corrections officer from Baltimore, and Michael Pinegar, a former Arizona Department of Corrections officer — who were both members of the Pinochet group until it disappeared from Facebook earlier this month — seemed well-versed in the alt-right’s terminology. In separate posts in the group, both Tolliver and Pinegar referred to African Americans as “dindus” — a racist slur common on Facebook and elsewhere.

In a similar vein, Detective Steve Fumuso from Westchester County in New York frequently inserted comments into posts in the Pinochet group that denigrated African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.

Fumuso posted a meme with a white man making the “OK” symbol — a favored gesture of the alt-right — and the words “fuckin mint” under a racist joke about Mexicans in December 2017. Earlier, he had commented, “Ha ha ha haaaa. Fuck em,” under a “Tucker Carlson Tonight” clip about Mexicans being worried about crime committed by Central American migrants.

Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gleason said the department’s Special Investigations Unit would launch an investigation.

In an interview months later, Fumuso said he had retired shortly after the internal affairs investigation. He said the two things had nothing to do with each other.

“I like memes, they make me laugh. I didn’t join to express any racist views,” he said. “I don’t care what you think. That’s my opinion. You know what’s a racist comment? ‘Brits are all full of shit.’ ”

(The reporter conducting the interview, Will Carless, has a British accent.)

Several officers contacted for this story countered that they have a First Amendment right to opine on social media, even if those opinions are unpopular or offensive to some people.

However, while civilians enjoy First Amendment protection from government censorship or harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public agencies such as police departments may penalize their employees for speech and behavior in certain cases.

Valerie Van Brocklin, a former federal prosecutor who trains police departments and other public employees on social media use, said police officers across the country have been fired or suspended for making off-color jokes or leaving problematic comments under newspaper articles.

“I ask them, ‘Would you, as a cop, in your uniform, put that on a sandwich board and walk up and down the streets of your town? ’ ” Van Brocklin said. “And they’ll say, ‘No, because I could be fired for that.’ Well, instead of putting it on a sandwich board, you put it up for the whole world to see, so why would you think it’s protected?”

No single code of conduct or ethics policy governs the thousands of jurisdictions in the U.S. that employ police officers. Different law enforcement agencies have widely differing standards for the behavior they accept from their personnel, and this was reflected in the responses we received from departments.

In Watkins Glen, New York, Sgt. in Charge Steven Decker refused to talk about the fact that one of his officers, Robert Brill, was a member of two groups connected to the Proud Boys, a violent alt-right gang, and the group “Kekistani Freestate,” named for Kek, a sort of deity employed by the alt-right for memes and other jokes.

“We don’t discuss personnel matters,” Decker said, before hanging up. Brill didn’t respond to calls for comment.

The Abbeville Police Department in Georgia hasn’t responded to multiple phone calls and emails about one of its officers, Joel Quinn, frequently featuring conspiracy theories and anti-Islam posts on his personal Facebook wall. He also has posted inside a Confederate group.

Reached via Facebook Messenger, Quinn defended his posts. “Its also my responsibility to detect possible threats to my community all the way up to and including my country,” he wrote. “Think about this, majority of crimes are committed by minorities (black, hispanic, etc) per FBI statistics yet I don’t ‘prey’ on any particular one.” (According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, 68.9 percent of arrestees in 2017 were white.)

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections hasn’t commented on corrections officer Sheldon Best, a member of “Crusades Against Degeneracy,” a group that trades in racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic content. In 2017, Best commented on an NPR story reporting that babies of color are now the majority in the United States. Below it, he wrote: “Maybe, but minority on minority homocide (sic) will make sure adults of color remain a minority.”

Best said in an interview that he was apologetic about this and other posts in the group. “Some people” could view his membership in the group as problematic, he acknowledged. However, he said that while some members of the group hold discriminatory views, he does not.

We provided the New York Police Department with posts from Officer Randy Paulsaint, a member of 13 groups committed to the anti-feminist Men Going Their Own Way movement.

The groups contain memes depicting women as evil, greedy and jealous. In one, someone posted a meme about a woman asking for a Christmas present. In the comments, Paulsaint inserted a gif of a man kicking a woman in the head.

The NYPD said its investigation was closed as unsubstantiated. “The investigation was unable to clearly prove or disprove that the subject officer made the offending posts,” the department said.

Peter Simi, the sociologist, said white supremacists and other extremists have been working hard to integrate their hateful views into society in as many ways as possible.

“Leaders have long been advocating for infiltration of society — graduate from high school, go to college, join the military, become a police officer, become a school teacher — get inside the system,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult to get a handle on the scope of this, because the purpose for those who are infiltrating these systems is to be careful not to tip their hands. So we’re always dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”

Researchers Daneel Knoetze and Michael Dailey contributed to this story. 

The post Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Echoes of Flint in ‘Chernobyl’

On May 30, toward the end of its five-week run on HBO, author Stephen King tweeted that the mini-series “Chernobyl” is impossible to watch without considering our feckless and incompetent president. “Like those in charge of the doomed Russian reactor,” King wrote, “[Donald Trump] is a man of mediocre intelligence in charge of great power—economic, global—that he does not understand.”

It’s impossible to watch HBO’s CHERNOBYL without thinking of Donald Trump; like those in charge of the doomed Russian reactor, he’s a man of mediocre intelligence in charge of great power–economic, global–that he does not understand.

— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 30, 2019

As television critics have observed, “Chernobyl” all but invites comparisons between Soviet Russia and late-capitalist America. It’s easy to watch the show’s craven apparatchiks and be reminded of this administration’s egregious mishandling of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Still, the best analog for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster may be the years-long public health crisis that began on the watch of Trump’s predecessor.

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“When the people of Flint, Michigan, complained that their tap water smelled bad and made children sick,” The Guardian’s Anna Clark wrote in July 2018, “it took officials 18 months to accept there was a problem.”

In 2014, Michigan state officials told Flint residents that although their water was disconcertingly odorous and discolored, tasted of copper and appeared to be giving people skin rashes, it was perfectly safe to drink. This insistence from government officials that there is no cause for alarm is echoed in “Chernobyl,” when, in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, plant higher-ups and Soviet officials inform employees and the people of nearby Pripyat that its nuclear explosion is merely a fire. The town and its environs are eventually evacuated, but not before thousands are exposed to deadly radiation. At virtually every turn, the government’s efforts to contain what Zharkov (Donald Sumpter) calls “the spread of misinformation” end up exacerbating the crisis.

The similarities between these two incidents don’t end at institutional inaction, unfortunately. In Flint, as in Chernobyl, the state acknowledged that warning signs were ignored after the worst-case scenario had come to pass. And in both disasters, officials only took responsibility for their negligence after the knowledge of what had happened spread outside the affected regions.

Perhaps the most haunting parallel between the Chernobyl and Flint debacles, however, is that their true perpetrators have largely gone unpunished. While we learn in the show’s epilogue that a trio of Russian scientists were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for their crimes, the Soviet bureaucracy that enabled them escapes indictment. And just this week, prosecutors dropped criminal charges against eight officials in the Flint water scandal, pledging to begin their investigation anew. It appears that one of the warnings of Chernobyl—that the powerful are rarely held accountable in a major disaster—has largely gone unheeded.

“Chernobyl” is not without its historical inaccuracies. “Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life,” writes Russian-American journalist and author Masha Gessen in a recent essay for The New Yorker. “But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of ‘Chernobyl’ imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable—and, in doing so, they cross the line from conjuring a fiction to creating a lie.”

Whatever its failings, “Chernobyl” is nonetheless a powerful cautionary tale about what happens when bureaucrats put public perception over the lives of the people they’re meant to serve. In their efforts to keep the truth from spreading—or to reshape it entirely—Soviet officials revealed the lengths to which they’d go to protect themselves. But as the series reminds us, and as the Flint crisis illustrated before it, “The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. It doesn’t care about our governments” or “their ideologies.”

The post Echoes of Flint in ‘Chernobyl’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Echoes of Flint in ‘Chernobyl’

On May 30, toward the end of its five-week run on HBO, author Stephen King tweeted that the mini-series “Chernobyl” is impossible to watch without considering our feckless and incompetent president. “Like those in charge of the doomed Russian reactor,” King wrote, “[Donald Trump] is a man of mediocre intelligence in charge of great power—economic, global—that he does not understand.”

It’s impossible to watch HBO’s CHERNOBYL without thinking of Donald Trump; like those in charge of the doomed Russian reactor, he’s a man of mediocre intelligence in charge of great power–economic, global–that he does not understand.

— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 30, 2019

As television critics have observed, “Chernobyl” all but invites comparisons between Soviet Russia and late-capitalist America. It’s easy to watch the show’s craven apparatchiks and be reminded of this administration’s egregious mishandling of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Still, the best analog for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster may be the years-long public health crisis that began on the watch of Trump’s predecessor.

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“When the people of Flint, Michigan, complained that their tap water smelled bad and made children sick,” The Guardian’s Anna Clark wrote in July 2018, “it took officials 18 months to accept there was a problem.”

In 2014, Michigan state officials told Flint residents that although their water was disconcertingly odorous and discolored, tasted of copper and appeared to be giving people skin rashes, it was perfectly safe to drink. This insistence from government officials that there is no cause for alarm is echoed in “Chernobyl,” when, in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, plant higher-ups and Soviet officials inform employees and the people of nearby Pripyat that its nuclear explosion is merely a fire. The town and its environs are eventually evacuated, but not before thousands are exposed to deadly radiation. At virtually every turn, the government’s efforts to contain what Zharkov (Donald Sumpter) calls “the spread of misinformation” end up exacerbating the crisis.

The similarities between these two incidents don’t end at institutional inaction, unfortunately. In Flint, as in Chernobyl, the state acknowledged that warning signs were ignored after the worst-case scenario had come to pass. And in both disasters, officials only took responsibility for their negligence after the knowledge of what had happened spread outside the affected regions.

Perhaps the most haunting parallel between the Chernobyl and Flint debacles, however, is that their true perpetrators have largely gone unpunished. While we learn in the show’s epilogue that a trio of Russian scientists were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for their crimes, the Soviet bureaucracy that enabled them escapes indictment. And just this week, prosecutors dropped criminal charges against eight officials in the Flint water scandal, pledging to begin their investigation anew. It appears that one of the warnings of Chernobyl—that the powerful are rarely held accountable in a major disaster—has largely gone unheeded.

“Chernobyl” is not without its historical inaccuracies. “Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life,” writes Russian-American journalist and author Masha Gessen in a recent essay for The New Yorker. “But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of ‘Chernobyl’ imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable—and, in doing so, they cross the line from conjuring a fiction to creating a lie.”

Whatever its failings, “Chernobyl” is nonetheless a powerful cautionary tale about what happens when bureaucrats put public perception over the lives of the people they’re meant to serve. In their efforts to keep the truth from spreading—or to reshape it entirely—Soviet officials revealed the lengths to which they’d go to protect themselves. But as the series reminds us, and as the Flint crisis illustrated before it, “The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. It doesn’t care about our governments” or “their ideologies.”

The post Echoes of Flint in ‘Chernobyl’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

‘Civilizing’ Perpetual Foreigners

“The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown”
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“The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown”

A book by Julia Flynn Siler 

The horrendous experiences of Chinese immigrant women and children who were smuggled into prostitution and child slavery in the United States during the late 1800s are, for the most part, widely unknown. Julia Flynn Siler’s book on the subject, “The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown,” begins promisingly: “A ghost story led me to the edge of Chinatown. On a crisp morning in 2013, I dodged the crowds in Union Square and walked past a pair of stone lions up a hill. I had an address—920 Sacramento Street—and a description. I was looking for a five-story structure built with misshapen red bricks—some salvaged from the earthquakes and firestorms that razed most of the city in 1906.” But the allure of her introduction almost immediately evaporates into a litany of horror stories told without empathy.

Siler’s central story circles the lives of two women who enjoyed an intense friendship that endured for over half a century. One was Donaldina Cameron, whose life work was as a Christian missionary in San Francisco, rescuing Chinese prostitutes and child slaves brought from China and thrown into lives of unspeakable terror. The other woman was Cameron’s assistant, Tien Fu Wu, a former household slave sold by her father to pay his gambling debts. The women and children Cameron and Wu worked to save were usually stolen or sold by their fathers, a practice not outlawed in China until 1928. Prostitution was not illegal in the United States at this time. The smugglers often held auctions of Chinese women openly on the docks. As San Francisco began to lose some of its roughness and more white women began to settle there, these meat market auctions were moved to private locations.

The feats attempted by these two women were spectacular. Cameron and Wu often tangled with the police who frequently stood to benefit from the trafficking, fought the courts for custody of the rescued women and girls, and were continually threatened by the Chinese “tongs,” gangs of violent underworld thugs who ran human trafficking rings while warring over territory and power.

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Once the women and girls were safely ensconced in the Mission House under Cameron and Wu’s care, they were taught to read and write English, and to cook and sew. Bible study was an important part of each day, as was preparing to be baptized. Most of the women were being trained as competent homemakers. A few made it to college. One became a doctor and another a nurse. Yet another married Poon Chew, the editor of the first Chinese daily newspaper in the United States. Cameron and Wu rescued over 3,000 women and girls. But these were the exceptions.

Click here to read long excerpts from “The White Devil’s Daughter” at Google Books.

Siler presents Cameron without any embarrassment as a white messiah figure. Siler does not flesh out Cameron or Wu; they remain elusive heroic figures.

Yet she reveals a side of Cameron rife with ethnocentrism and elitism. At one point, Cameron suffered a nervous breakdown, but returned to work shortly afterward. Siler writes, “She must have wondered, in her darker moments, whether the cause she’d devoted her life to was truly worth the cost. … More troubling were the indications that some, if not many, of the subjects of her rescue efforts were not interested in her help. The invective hurled at her suggested that some—or perhaps many—of the ‘Chinese slave girls’ that she and her supporters had hoped to save had no desire to become Christians.” Siler records another troubling incident when the Chinese girls found a dead bird and decided to bury it according to their own customs based on Chinese folk beliefs.

But Siler ignores the psychological costs of intentionally erasing Chinese culture and belief systems. Nor does she examine the missionaries’ presumption that it was within their rights to convert their charges to Christianity to “civilize” them. Siler never considers the additional trauma to these woman and children that such a rupture would cause. This attempt to mold them into Christians might be perceived as another form of rape, though Siler and Cameron would surely balk at such an assertion.

Siler cleverly intersperses her narrative with haunting pictures of dark, narrow streets filled with sinister looking Chinese men, and terrified shots of Chinese women prostitutes peeking out of small windows. These photographs are juxtaposed with snapshots of Cameron, a dignified, slender, tall white woman with a beatific smile, usually holding the hand of one of the Chinese babies she has rescued. Wu looks serious and attentive, the scars of her past life still visible. The photographs of Cameron affirm Siler’s assessment of Cameron as an exemplary figure beyond reproach.

Siler outlines the laws against Chinese immigrants, which grew more extreme with time. The Chinese were banned from carrying vegetables and laundry on a pole as was their custom. Their children could not attend public school. The single long braid worn by Chinese men down their backs was shorn off. In 1893, a Chinese immigrant could be stopped anywhere and asked to show their residency papers. The Chinese were not allowed to have relations with whites. They could not testify in court. They could not work for the government. The Exclusion Act of 1882 banned any Chinese from coming to America, and this law was not rescinded for many decades. There were spontaneous violent assaults on Chinese immigrants. The worst was in 1871, when 17 Chinese men were murdered by a lynch mob of white men in Los Angeles. Similar laws would be cast upon the Jews decades later in Germany as the Jewish annihilation began.

Chinese men, as most people know, had come to America and built the railroads, labored in mines, and planted and harvested crops. Many worked as house servants. But their contributions did nothing to change the dominant perception of them as alien and treacherous. Many Americans thought them to be filthy, barbaric, spiritless, and reminiscent of automatons.

And here Siler misses a very important opportunity. She has no curiosity about how these pernicious attitudes toward the Chinese were conceived and propagated and clung to, even into our own time.

Contemporary Vietnamese author Viet Thanh Nguyen has said that he refuses to defend Asian humanity because as Toni Morrison says in “Beloved,” once you attempt to explain yourself to white people, it “distorts you because you start from a position of assuming your inhumanity or lack of humanity in other people’s eyes. …” Karan Mahajan has written that Asians are still seen as “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.”

But Siler seems oblivious to an entire community’s feelings of hopelessness and denigration. She writes from the entitled position of white privileged power, which sees only what it wishes to. And it is this blindness and lack of empathy that mar her book. One senses she has never truly experienced powerlessness or the desperation felt by San Franciscan Chinese Consul-General Huang Zunxian when he wrote these words in 1885 during a peak of anti-Chinese violence:

Men are no longer regarded as men here

Mauled like a subhuman species

In this vast and desolate world

Where can they find a foothold?

The post ‘Civilizing’ Perpetual Foreigners appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

‘Civilizing’ Perpetual Foreigners

“The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown”
Purchase in the Truthdig Bazaar

“The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown”

A book by Julia Flynn Siler 

The horrendous experiences of Chinese immigrant women and children who were smuggled into prostitution and child slavery in the United States during the late 1800s are, for the most part, widely unknown. Julia Flynn Siler’s book on the subject, “The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown,” begins promisingly: “A ghost story led me to the edge of Chinatown. On a crisp morning in 2013, I dodged the crowds in Union Square and walked past a pair of stone lions up a hill. I had an address—920 Sacramento Street—and a description. I was looking for a five-story structure built with misshapen red bricks—some salvaged from the earthquakes and firestorms that razed most of the city in 1906.” But the allure of her introduction almost immediately evaporates into a litany of horror stories told without empathy.

Siler’s central story circles the lives of two women who enjoyed an intense friendship that endured for over half a century. One was Donaldina Cameron, whose life work was as a Christian missionary in San Francisco, rescuing Chinese prostitutes and child slaves brought from China and thrown into lives of unspeakable terror. The other woman was Cameron’s assistant, Tien Fu Wu, a former household slave sold by her father to pay his gambling debts. The women and children Cameron and Wu worked to save were usually stolen or sold by their fathers, a practice not outlawed in China until 1928. Prostitution was not illegal in the United States at this time. The smugglers often held auctions of Chinese women openly on the docks. As San Francisco began to lose some of its roughness and more white women began to settle there, these meat market auctions were moved to private locations.

The feats attempted by these two women were spectacular. Cameron and Wu often tangled with the police who frequently stood to benefit from the trafficking, fought the courts for custody of the rescued women and girls, and were continually threatened by the Chinese “tongs,” gangs of violent underworld thugs who ran human trafficking rings while warring over territory and power.

Related Articles by

Once the women and girls were safely ensconced in the Mission House under Cameron and Wu’s care, they were taught to read and write English, and to cook and sew. Bible study was an important part of each day, as was preparing to be baptized. Most of the women were being trained as competent homemakers. A few made it to college. One became a doctor and another a nurse. Yet another married Poon Chew, the editor of the first Chinese daily newspaper in the United States. Cameron and Wu rescued over 3,000 women and girls. But these were the exceptions.

Click here to read long excerpts from “The White Devil’s Daughter” at Google Books.

Siler presents Cameron without any embarrassment as a white messiah figure. Siler does not flesh out Cameron or Wu; they remain elusive heroic figures.

Yet she reveals a side of Cameron rife with ethnocentrism and elitism. At one point, Cameron suffered a nervous breakdown, but returned to work shortly afterward. Siler writes, “She must have wondered, in her darker moments, whether the cause she’d devoted her life to was truly worth the cost. … More troubling were the indications that some, if not many, of the subjects of her rescue efforts were not interested in her help. The invective hurled at her suggested that some—or perhaps many—of the ‘Chinese slave girls’ that she and her supporters had hoped to save had no desire to become Christians.” Siler records another troubling incident when the Chinese girls found a dead bird and decided to bury it according to their own customs based on Chinese folk beliefs.

But Siler ignores the psychological costs of intentionally erasing Chinese culture and belief systems. Nor does she examine the missionaries’ presumption that it was within their rights to convert their charges to Christianity to “civilize” them. Siler never considers the additional trauma to these woman and children that such a rupture would cause. This attempt to mold them into Christians might be perceived as another form of rape, though Siler and Cameron would surely balk at such an assertion.

Siler cleverly intersperses her narrative with haunting pictures of dark, narrow streets filled with sinister looking Chinese men, and terrified shots of Chinese women prostitutes peeking out of small windows. These photographs are juxtaposed with snapshots of Cameron, a dignified, slender, tall white woman with a beatific smile, usually holding the hand of one of the Chinese babies she has rescued. Wu looks serious and attentive, the scars of her past life still visible. The photographs of Cameron affirm Siler’s assessment of Cameron as an exemplary figure beyond reproach.

Siler outlines the laws against Chinese immigrants, which grew more extreme with time. The Chinese were banned from carrying vegetables and laundry on a pole as was their custom. Their children could not attend public school. The single long braid worn by Chinese men down their backs was shorn off. In 1893, a Chinese immigrant could be stopped anywhere and asked to show their residency papers. The Chinese were not allowed to have relations with whites. They could not testify in court. They could not work for the government. The Exclusion Act of 1882 banned any Chinese from coming to America, and this law was not rescinded for many decades. There were spontaneous violent assaults on Chinese immigrants. The worst was in 1871, when 17 Chinese men were murdered by a lynch mob of white men in Los Angeles. Similar laws would be cast upon the Jews decades later in Germany as the Jewish annihilation began.

Chinese men, as most people know, had come to America and built the railroads, labored in mines, and planted and harvested crops. Many worked as house servants. But their contributions did nothing to change the dominant perception of them as alien and treacherous. Many Americans thought them to be filthy, barbaric, spiritless, and reminiscent of automatons.

And here Siler misses a very important opportunity. She has no curiosity about how these pernicious attitudes toward the Chinese were conceived and propagated and clung to, even into our own time.

Contemporary Vietnamese author Viet Thanh Nguyen has said that he refuses to defend Asian humanity because as Toni Morrison says in “Beloved,” once you attempt to explain yourself to white people, it “distorts you because you start from a position of assuming your inhumanity or lack of humanity in other people’s eyes. …” Karan Mahajan has written that Asians are still seen as “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.”

But Siler seems oblivious to an entire community’s feelings of hopelessness and denigration. She writes from the entitled position of white privileged power, which sees only what it wishes to. And it is this blindness and lack of empathy that mar her book. One senses she has never truly experienced powerlessness or the desperation felt by San Franciscan Chinese Consul-General Huang Zunxian when he wrote these words in 1885 during a peak of anti-Chinese violence:

Men are no longer regarded as men here

Mauled like a subhuman species

In this vast and desolate world

Where can they find a foothold?

The post ‘Civilizing’ Perpetual Foreigners appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

What’s Behind California’s Alarming Spike in Prison Homicides?

This article was produced in partnership with The Sacramento Bee, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

This story is part of an ongoing investigation into the crisis in California’s jails. Sign up for the Overcorrection newsletter to receive updates in this series as soon as they publish.

Deadly violence has surged in county jails across California since the state began sending thousands of inmates to local lockups instead of prisons, the result of a dramatic criminal justice transformation that left many sheriffs ill-equipped to handle a new and dangerous population.

Since 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to overhaul its overcrowded prisons, inmate-on-inmate homicides have risen 46% in county jails statewide compared with the seven years before, a McClatchy and ProPublica analysis of California Department of Justice data and autopsy records shows.

Related Articles by ProPublica

Killings tripled and even quadrupled in several counties.

The increase in violent deaths in jails began soon after California officials approved sweeping reforms called “realignment” in response to the court ruling. The result has meant the conditions in many jails now mirror those in the once-overcrowded prisons, with inmates killing each other at an increasing rate.

Inmates have stabbed, bludgeoned or strangled their cellmates, moved bodies and wiped away blood before guards noticed, autopsy reports show. Staff at the jails have missed several of the crimes entirely, only finding the bodies hours later.

The state holds more than 70,000 inmates spread across 56 counties with jails. Many inmates now are serving multiyear sentences in jails originally designed to hold people no longer than a year. An increasing number of jail inmates suffer from serious mental illness or chronic medical conditions that those facilities have been unprepared to handle.

While inmate-on-inmate homicides are up significantly in jails overall, Los Angeles County, home to more than 10 million people, including 16,000 in its jails, has been an exception. That follows a federal court order placing the nation’s largest jail system under an outside monitor in 2014 to overhaul operations after guards were caught allowing fights among inmates and other abuses. Los Angeles County jails haven’t had an inmate homicide in more than three years.

The rest of California saw its inmate homicide count soar by 150%, from 12 killings in the seven years before realignment to at least 30 in the seven years after.

The surge in killings in county jails is particularly significant because the population there is vastly different than in prisons. The majority of people in jails statewide are accused of crimes, innocent under the law, whereas prisons only hold those who have been convicted of felonies. Jails mix both populations, and the result has been deadly for some.

Three-quarters of those killed in jails since 2011 were awaiting trial, according to state data.

Some of the victims were hours away from being released.

Diverting people from overcrowded state prisons to county jails brought organized criminal activity and other new burdens to local sheriffs, said Jonathan Caudill, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Colorado who studies realignment and incarceration in California. The increase in homicides suggests jail officials lack the resources to supervise, provide services and protect the jail population, he said.

“You have the importation of prison politics into the county jail in concert with people being there longer and having to handle their problems there,” Caudill said. “It’s like fire and gasoline.”

Kill, Clean, Report

Increased deadly violence soon followed in every major California region, from the Bay Area to the Central Valley and the Southern California coastline.

In the seven years before realignment, only one jail inmate was killed in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles. But five have died in homicides in the seven years since. In San Diego County, homicides jumped from two to five in that same period.

Legislation passed to enact realignment reclassified the way the state looked at about 500 crimes to effectively eliminate the possibility of prison time. The new rules applied to anyone convicted of a crime after Oct. 1, 2011, and changed the statutes throughout California law, from the penal to the motor vehicle codes.

Realignment didn’t release people from prison early out a back door — it closed one of the front doors and made it more difficult to end up there at all.

Critics predicted the changes would inevitably lead to a spike in violent street crime statewide. But that has not happened. Researchers have found the prison realignment effort since 2011 has had little to no effect on public safety.

“Statewide violent and property crime rates are roughly where they were when California began implementing these reforms,” a Public Policy Institute of California report stated this year.

Inside California’s jails, the same has not been true. Sentenced inmates make up a greater share of the jail population statewide, and there are thousands more people held on felonies than in the years before realignment, data from the Board of State and Community Corrections shows.

The state has tried to improve conditions in its sprawling network of state prisons. But county jails — designed to hold people for weeks, not years — have long mixed low-level inmates with violent defendants in cells, including those charged with murder. But California’s in-custody death data and autopsy records indicate that risky practice has at least contributed to more deadly results in the years since realignment.

On May 8, 2013, Julio Negrete Jr. was booked into a Riverside County jail on suspicion of drug possession. Officials assigned him a cellmate accused of murder. The next day, guards went to escort Negrete, 35, to a bond meeting but couldn’t find him. They searched the cell from top to bottom, found bloody socks and then came upon his strangled body under the lower bunk hidden by two small cardboard boxes, coroner and court records state. Video footage showed the attack happened roughly 10 hours earlier.

In a written statement, the sheriff’s department said it is “always troubled” by inmate violence and investigates every assault in Riverside County jails. The agency said the five homicides since 2011 are not the result of its own failings. “When looking back at the totality as a whole, the assaults were discovered to be isolated from one another and acts of opportunity rather than a lapse of policy or procedure,” the department said. “All staff performed professionally and utilized their training to provide safety and security to the facility.”

Ross Mirkarimi, a former San Francisco County sheriff who now reviews inmate deaths, said of county jails: “The system obviously has fundamental blind spots. Those who are hellbent on committing murder know how to defeat those blind spots.”

Mirkarimi said local sheriffs haven’t reacted with enough alarm to deaths in jail custody. He said that if dying in a cell is “the most vivid feature” of a jail’s shortcoming, a doubling of inmate-on-inmate killings should sound a blaring siren.

When dangerous or mentally ill inmates strain a short-handed staff, every part of a jail suffers the consequences. Officers are sometimes slower to conduct rounds, to see fights develop in a housing area for dozens of gang members or to notice other signs of trouble. They often arrive too late to save lives.

Boredom and frustration alone can create tension among cellmates, said Michael Bien, a lawyer representing inmates in lawsuits against California prisons and several county jails. “We know that incarcerating someone in a place where you don’t have anything to do is likely to lead to violence, mental illness, stress, suicide, all sorts of things.”

On Dec. 14, 2014, a deputy at the Sacramento County Jail was conducting overnight rounds in a pod for sick prisoners where Edward Larson was housed. Larson, 54, was a mentally ill homeless man jailed for failing to register as a sex offender.

Jail staff assigned him a new cellmate after another inmate complained of Larson’s lewd comments and poor hygiene. His behavior also bothered his new cellmate, Ernest Salmons, who alerted a deputy at 3:10 a.m. that something was wrong. Larson was lying on his back, eyes closed and a blanket pulled up to his neck.

The deputy instructed Salmons, who was in jail on suspicion of stealing a vehicle, to nudge Larson, according to the district attorney’s death-in-custody review, so Salmons jostled Larson’s mattress. He was unresponsive, his skin cool to the touch, and firefighters pronounced him dead minutes later. His autopsy report shows he was beaten to death sometime after the previous night’s “stand-up count,” when inmates must stand so guards can take attendance. After that, staff only peer through cell windows for hourly checks.

Salmons first denied fighting Larson. But investigators noticed small areas of smeared blood on the wall of the cell, which had two beds. They found a bloodied T-shirt in the trash can and remnants of pooled blood on the floor. Larson’s head was bandaged, although he had never asked for a bandage. Salmons, however, received several of them.

“It appears,” investigators wrote, “someone had tried to clean up blood from the cell.”

Salmons was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office initially agreed to an interview about the safety of its jail. Then it rescinded the offer, saying instead it would only provide written answers to questions. Then it changed course again, saying the “topics” were the subject of “ongoing litigation” and it would answer no questions.

“I can tell you that the Sheriff’s Office is aware of the concerns regarding these topics,” Sgt. Tess Deterding, a spokeswoman, wrote in a statement.

“Agitated and Shirtless”

It’s not clear why Lyle Woodward was even in the San Diego Central Jail in early December 2016. Police had arrested him for alleged drug possession weeks earlier, though county officials later claimed in a court filing that he was jailed on a parole violation. Woodward had a history of mental illness and drug cases.

Regardless, on Dec. 3, correctional officers responded to a “man-down” alert and found Woodward unresponsive, sprawled facedown on the cell floor with blood pooling around his head, according to medical examiner records. Jail staff described one of Woodward’s cellmates as “agitated and shirtless.”

Cellmate Clinton Thinn, a New Zealander charged with armed bank robbery, told officers he’d fought with Woodward several minutes earlier. However, bruises on Woodward’s neck suggested something had been tied around his throat to choke off air. In the cell toilet, officers found a jail-issued blue shirt, torn into strips and knotted together. “It is unclear if the suspect attempted to flush the shirt portion,” the autopsy report stated.

Medics rushed Woodward to a nearby emergency room, where doctors and nurses resuscitated the 30-year-old. But his brain was gravely injured, and he began having seizures. Woodward’s condition worsened; his parents told the hospital to stop life support, and he died a week after the attack.

Last year, a jury convicted Thinn of murdering Woodward and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Woodward’s parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the sheriff’s department, alleging that jail staff failed to protect their son from a dangerous inmate and was slow to provide medical care. The sheriff has denied the allegations.

In written answers to questions from McClatchy and ProPublica, the sheriff’s department said the number of high-risk inmates inside San Diego County’s jail increased after realignment. It responded by forming a jail investigations unit.

“They work closely with facility staff members to develop, share and act upon information which could lead to violence and prevent it when possible,” Capt. Alan Kneeshaw wrote. “When assaults occur, they are documented and investigated.”

In Los Angeles County, a federal monitor and members of the public look into jail violence — not just the sheriff’s department. That independent scrutiny exists in only a couple of other California jurisdictions. And jail staff in Los Angeles didn’t volunteer for it.

Home to a quarter of the state’s residents, Los Angeles County once had as many inmate killings as the other 55 county jails combined. In 2011, as state officials negotiated prison realignment, civil lawsuits and news reports exposed that guards at Los Angeles’ Men’s Central Jail intentionally allowed inmates to assault each other.

County officials instituted an array of measures to protect people in the cells, including a civilian oversight board. The federal courts appointed an independent jail monitor.

Richard Drooyan, an attorney and the court-appointed monitor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said every jail fight is reviewed to ensure staff members followed safety protocols and intervened quickly. Gang members and other high-risk inmates are escorted by guards when they leave their cells to prevent violence.

In other county jails, court and autopsy records show inmates accused of serious violent crimes or suffering psychosis are sometimes housed with people facing minor charges. “That’s not the way they run the jails down here,” Drooyan said of Los Angeles County. The nation’s largest jail system now segregates and tightly controls where the high-risk inmates go and what they do, he said.

The fixes appear to have reduced violence overall and homicides in particular. State in-custody death data shows Los Angeles County had 12 inmate homicides from 2005 to 2011, compared with just five from 2012 to 2018.

An inmate has not been killed by another person in custody in more than three years.

Today, officers and administrators in the Los Angeles County jails “understand their obligations to protect the inmates and they take those obligations pretty seriously,” Drooyan said. “And I think that it’s reflected in the statistics.”

Update, June 13, 2019: This story was updated with a statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The post What’s Behind California’s Alarming Spike in Prison Homicides? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

What’s Behind California’s Alarming Spike in Prison Homicides?

This article was produced in partnership with The Sacramento Bee, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

This story is part of an ongoing investigation into the crisis in California’s jails. Sign up for the Overcorrection newsletter to receive updates in this series as soon as they publish.

Deadly violence has surged in county jails across California since the state began sending thousands of inmates to local lockups instead of prisons, the result of a dramatic criminal justice transformation that left many sheriffs ill-equipped to handle a new and dangerous population.

Since 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to overhaul its overcrowded prisons, inmate-on-inmate homicides have risen 46% in county jails statewide compared with the seven years before, a McClatchy and ProPublica analysis of California Department of Justice data and autopsy records shows.

Killings tripled and even quadrupled in several counties.

The increase in violent deaths in jails began soon after California officials approved sweeping reforms called “realignment” in response to the court ruling. The result has meant the conditions in many jails now mirror those in the once-overcrowded prisons, with inmates killing each other at an increasing rate.

Inmates have stabbed, bludgeoned or strangled their cellmates, moved bodies and wiped away blood before guards noticed, autopsy reports show. Staff at the jails have missed several of the crimes entirely, only finding the bodies hours later.

The state holds more than 70,000 inmates spread across 56 counties with jails. Many inmates now are serving multiyear sentences in jails originally designed to hold people no longer than a year. An increasing number of jail inmates suffer from serious mental illness or chronic medical conditions that those facilities have been unprepared to handle.

While inmate-on-inmate homicides are up significantly in jails overall, Los Angeles County, home to more than 10 million people, including 16,000 in its jails, has been an exception. That follows a federal court order placing the nation’s largest jail system under an outside monitor in 2014 to overhaul operations after guards were caught allowing fights among inmates and other abuses. Los Angeles County jails haven’t had an inmate homicide in more than three years.

The rest of California saw its inmate homicide count soar by 150%, from 12 killings in the seven years before realignment to at least 30 in the seven years after.

The surge in killings in county jails is particularly significant because the population there is vastly different than in prisons. The majority of people in jails statewide are accused of crimes, innocent under the law, whereas prisons only hold those who have been convicted of felonies. Jails mix both populations, and the result has been deadly for some.

Three-quarters of those killed in jails since 2011 were awaiting trial, according to state data.

Some of the victims were hours away from being released.

Diverting people from overcrowded state prisons to county jails brought organized criminal activity and other new burdens to local sheriffs, said Jonathan Caudill, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Colorado who studies realignment and incarceration in California. The increase in homicides suggests jail officials lack the resources to supervise, provide services and protect the jail population, he said.

“You have the importation of prison politics into the county jail in concert with people being there longer and having to handle their problems there,” Caudill said. “It’s like fire and gasoline.”

Kill, Clean, Report

Increased deadly violence soon followed in every major California region, from the Bay Area to the Central Valley and the Southern California coastline.

In the seven years before realignment, only one jail inmate was killed in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles. But five have died in homicides in the seven years since. In San Diego County, homicides jumped from two to five in that same period.

Legislation passed to enact realignment reclassified the way the state looked at about 500 crimes to effectively eliminate the possibility of prison time. The new rules applied to anyone convicted of a crime after Oct. 1, 2011, and changed the statutes throughout California law, from the penal to the motor vehicle codes.

Realignment didn’t release people from prison early out a back door — it closed one of the front doors and made it more difficult to end up there at all.

Critics predicted the changes would inevitably lead to a spike in violent street crime statewide. But that has not happened. Researchers have found the prison realignment effort since 2011 has had little to no effect on public safety.

“Statewide violent and property crime rates are roughly where they were when California began implementing these reforms,” a Public Policy Institute of California report stated this year.

Inside California’s jails, the same has not been true. Sentenced inmates make up a greater share of the jail population statewide, and there are thousands more people held on felonies than in the years before realignment, data from the Board of State and Community Corrections shows.

The state has tried to improve conditions in its sprawling network of state prisons. But county jails — designed to hold people for weeks, not years — have long mixed low-level inmates with violent defendants in cells, including those charged with murder. But California’s in-custody death data and autopsy records indicate that risky practice has at least contributed to more deadly results in the years since realignment.

On May 8, 2013, Julio Negrete Jr. was booked into a Riverside County jail on suspicion of drug possession. Officials assigned him a cellmate accused of murder. The next day, guards went to escort Negrete, 35, to a bond meeting but couldn’t find him. They searched the cell from top to bottom, found bloody socks and then came upon his strangled body under the lower bunk hidden by two small cardboard boxes, coroner and court records state. Video footage showed the attack happened roughly 10 hours earlier.

In a written statement, the sheriff’s department said it is “always troubled” by inmate violence and investigates every assault in Riverside County jails. The agency said the five homicides since 2011 are not the result of its own failings. “When looking back at the totality as a whole, the assaults were discovered to be isolated from one another and acts of opportunity rather than a lapse of policy or procedure,” the department said. “All staff performed professionally and utilized their training to provide safety and security to the facility.”

Ross Mirkarimi, a former San Francisco County sheriff who now reviews inmate deaths, said of county jails: “The system obviously has fundamental blind spots. Those who are hellbent on committing murder know how to defeat those blind spots.”

Mirkarimi said local sheriffs haven’t reacted with enough alarm to deaths in jail custody. He said that if dying in a cell is “the most vivid feature” of a jail’s shortcoming, a doubling of inmate-on-inmate killings should sound a blaring siren.

When dangerous or mentally ill inmates strain a short-handed staff, every part of a jail suffers the consequences. Officers are sometimes slower to conduct rounds, to see fights develop in a housing area for dozens of gang members or to notice other signs of trouble. They often arrive too late to save lives.

Boredom and frustration alone can create tension among cellmates, said Michael Bien, a lawyer representing inmates in lawsuits against California prisons and several county jails. “We know that incarcerating someone in a place where you don’t have anything to do is likely to lead to violence, mental illness, stress, suicide, all sorts of things.”

On Dec. 14, 2014, a deputy at the Sacramento County Jail was conducting overnight rounds in a pod for sick prisoners where Edward Larson was housed. Larson, 54, was a mentally ill homeless man jailed for failing to register as a sex offender.

Jail staff assigned him a new cellmate after another inmate complained of Larson’s lewd comments and poor hygiene. His behavior also bothered his new cellmate, Ernest Salmons, who alerted a deputy at 3:10 a.m. that something was wrong. Larson was lying on his back, eyes closed and a blanket pulled up to his neck.

The deputy instructed Salmons, who was in jail on suspicion of stealing a vehicle, to nudge Larson, according to the district attorney’s death-in-custody review, so Salmons jostled Larson’s mattress. He was unresponsive, his skin cool to the touch, and firefighters pronounced him dead minutes later. His autopsy report shows he was beaten to death sometime after the previous night’s “stand-up count,” when inmates must stand so guards can take attendance. After that, staff only peer through cell windows for hourly checks.

Salmons first denied fighting Larson. But investigators noticed small areas of smeared blood on the wall of the cell, which had two beds. They found a bloodied T-shirt in the trash can and remnants of pooled blood on the floor. Larson’s head was bandaged, although he had never asked for a bandage. Salmons, however, received several of them.

“It appears,” investigators wrote, “someone had tried to clean up blood from the cell.”

Salmons was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office initially agreed to an interview about the safety of its jail. Then it rescinded the offer, saying instead it would only provide written answers to questions. Then it changed course again, saying the “topics” were the subject of “ongoing litigation” and it would answer no questions.

“I can tell you that the Sheriff’s Office is aware of the concerns regarding these topics,” Sgt. Tess Deterding, a spokeswoman, wrote in a statement.

“Agitated and Shirtless”

It’s not clear why Lyle Woodward was even in the San Diego Central Jail in early December 2016. Police had arrested him for alleged drug possession weeks earlier, though county officials later claimed in a court filing that he was jailed on a parole violation. Woodward had a history of mental illness and drug cases.

Regardless, on Dec. 3, correctional officers responded to a “man-down” alert and found Woodward unresponsive, sprawled facedown on the cell floor with blood pooling around his head, according to medical examiner records. Jail staff described one of Woodward’s cellmates as “agitated and shirtless.”

Cellmate Clinton Thinn, a New Zealander charged with armed bank robbery, told officers he’d fought with Woodward several minutes earlier. However, bruises on Woodward’s neck suggested something had been tied around his throat to choke off air. In the cell toilet, officers found a jail-issued blue shirt, torn into strips and knotted together. “It is unclear if the suspect attempted to flush the shirt portion,” the autopsy report stated.

Medics rushed Woodward to a nearby emergency room, where doctors and nurses resuscitated the 30-year-old. But his brain was gravely injured, and he began having seizures. Woodward’s condition worsened; his parents told the hospital to stop life support, and he died a week after the attack.

Last year, a jury convicted Thinn of murdering Woodward and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Woodward’s parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the sheriff’s department, alleging that jail staff failed to protect their son from a dangerous inmate and was slow to provide medical care. The sheriff has denied the allegations.

In written answers to questions from McClatchy and ProPublica, the sheriff’s department said the number of high-risk inmates inside San Diego County’s jail increased after realignment. It responded by forming a jail investigations unit.

“They work closely with facility staff members to develop, share and act upon information which could lead to violence and prevent it when possible,” Capt. Alan Kneeshaw wrote. “When assaults occur, they are documented and investigated.”

In Los Angeles County, a federal monitor and members of the public look into jail violence — not just the sheriff’s department. That independent scrutiny exists in only a couple of other California jurisdictions. And jail staff in Los Angeles didn’t volunteer for it.

Home to a quarter of the state’s residents, Los Angeles County once had as many inmate killings as the other 55 county jails combined. In 2011, as state officials negotiated prison realignment, civil lawsuits and news reports exposed that guards at Los Angeles’ Men’s Central Jail intentionally allowed inmates to assault each other.

County officials instituted an array of measures to protect people in the cells, including a civilian oversight board. The federal courts appointed an independent jail monitor.

Richard Drooyan, an attorney and the court-appointed monitor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said every jail fight is reviewed to ensure staff members followed safety protocols and intervened quickly. Gang members and other high-risk inmates are escorted by guards when they leave their cells to prevent violence.

In other county jails, court and autopsy records show inmates accused of serious violent crimes or suffering psychosis are sometimes housed with people facing minor charges. “That’s not the way they run the jails down here,” Drooyan said of Los Angeles County. The nation’s largest jail system now segregates and tightly controls where the high-risk inmates go and what they do, he said.

The fixes appear to have reduced violence overall and homicides in particular. State in-custody death data shows Los Angeles County had 12 inmate homicides from 2005 to 2011, compared with just five from 2012 to 2018.

An inmate has not been killed by another person in custody in more than three years.

Today, officers and administrators in the Los Angeles County jails “understand their obligations to protect the inmates and they take those obligations pretty seriously,” Drooyan said. “And I think that it’s reflected in the statistics.”

Update, June 13, 2019: This story was updated with a statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The post What’s Behind California’s Alarming Spike in Prison Homicides? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Women in Switzerland Strike Over Pay, Harassment

GENEVA—Women across Switzerland walked off the job, burned bras and blocked traffic Friday in a day of demonstrations to demand fairer pay, more equality and an end to sexual harassment and violence. It was the first such protests in the Alpine nation in 28 years.

Discontent over sexism and workplace inequality in prosperous Switzerland underpinned the women’s strike. Many protesters were also demanding more pay specifically for domestic workers, teachers and caregivers — jobs typically held by women.

Swiss female lawmakers — mostly decked out in purple, the movement’s color — streamed out of parliament Friday in the capital of Bern, where several thousand women were demonstrating, public broadcaster RTS reported.

Related Articles by AlterNet

Hundreds of marchers also blocked roads near the main train station in Zurich, the country’s financial center.

Demonstrators in Geneva’s Parc Bertrand hoisted a banner showing that only 8% of jobs in engineering were held by women in Switzerland, in contrast to 91% of the country’s domestic help jobs.

The Swiss Federal Statistics office says women on average earned 12% less than men for similar work — the so-called “gender pay gap” — as of 2016, the latest figures available.

Also in Geneva, demonstrators bedecked the statues of four bearded Protestant reformers with purple-colored scarves and put up alternative street names honoring women underneath the official street names, which have been given to men.

Earlier in Lausanne, hundreds of women rallied at the city’s cathedral around midnight Thursday and marched downtown to set wooden pallets on fire, throwing items like neckties and bras into the inferno. A few women scaled the cathedral to shout out the hour, a Swiss tradition rarely carried out by women.

In Lucerne, hundreds of women staged a sit-down protest in front of the city’s theater, according to the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, and some of the paper’s female reporters joined in.

People across the country wore face paint or stickers.

In symbolic gestures large and small, businesses showed their support for the protests. The Roche Tower in Basel, the northwestern city’s highest skyscraper, lit up in the logo of the movement. Restaurants and stores hung purple balloons and the strikers’ logos.

Swiss women were urged to leave their workplaces at 3:24 p.m. — the time when organizers figured women should stop working to earn proportionally as much as men in a day.

Vanessa Trub, a Geneva pastor and vice president of a city association of ministers and deacons, said protesters on Friday were also demanding longer paternity leave — now just one day in Switzerland — to get men to help out more with child care.

The International Labour Organization reported recently that Switzerland is one of the worst nations in Europe and Central Asia when it comes to the post-high school education gap between the sexes, especially in the STEM science fields.

The Swiss statistics office also says of the 249 homicides recorded in the country between 2009 and 2018, 75% of the victims were women and girls.

Friday’s events evoked the protests on June 14, 1991, that drew hundreds of thousands of Swiss women out to condemn discrimination. The date was 20 years after Swiss women won the federal right to vote and a decade after sexual equality became law.

One Swiss region, Appenzell Innerrhoden, did not allow all Swiss women to vote in local elections until it was ordered by a court to do so in 1990.

The post Women in Switzerland Strike Over Pay, Harassment appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Women in Switzerland Strike Over Pay, Harassment

GENEVA—Women across Switzerland walked off the job, burned bras and blocked traffic Friday in a day of demonstrations to demand fairer pay, more equality and an end to sexual harassment and violence. It was the first such protests in the Alpine nation in 28 years.

Discontent over sexism and workplace inequality in prosperous Switzerland underpinned the women’s strike. Many protesters were also demanding more pay specifically for domestic workers, teachers and caregivers — jobs typically held by women.

Swiss female lawmakers — mostly decked out in purple, the movement’s color — streamed out of parliament Friday in the capital of Bern, where several thousand women were demonstrating, public broadcaster RTS reported.

Related Articles by AlterNet

Hundreds of marchers also blocked roads near the main train station in Zurich, the country’s financial center.

Demonstrators in Geneva’s Parc Bertrand hoisted a banner showing that only 8% of jobs in engineering were held by women in Switzerland, in contrast to 91% of the country’s domestic help jobs.

The Swiss Federal Statistics office says women on average earned 12% less than men for similar work — the so-called “gender pay gap” — as of 2016, the latest figures available.

Also in Geneva, demonstrators bedecked the statues of four bearded Protestant reformers with purple-colored scarves and put up alternative street names honoring women underneath the official street names, which have been given to men.

Earlier in Lausanne, hundreds of women rallied at the city’s cathedral around midnight Thursday and marched downtown to set wooden pallets on fire, throwing items like neckties and bras into the inferno. A few women scaled the cathedral to shout out the hour, a Swiss tradition rarely carried out by women.

In Lucerne, hundreds of women staged a sit-down protest in front of the city’s theater, according to the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, and some of the paper’s female reporters joined in.

People across the country wore face paint or stickers.

In symbolic gestures large and small, businesses showed their support for the protests. The Roche Tower in Basel, the northwestern city’s highest skyscraper, lit up in the logo of the movement. Restaurants and stores hung purple balloons and the strikers’ logos.

Swiss women were urged to leave their workplaces at 3:24 p.m. — the time when organizers figured women should stop working to earn proportionally as much as men in a day.

Vanessa Trub, a Geneva pastor and vice president of a city association of ministers and deacons, said protesters on Friday were also demanding longer paternity leave — now just one day in Switzerland — to get men to help out more with child care.

The International Labour Organization reported recently that Switzerland is one of the worst nations in Europe and Central Asia when it comes to the post-high school education gap between the sexes, especially in the STEM science fields.

The Swiss statistics office also says of the 249 homicides recorded in the country between 2009 and 2018, 75% of the victims were women and girls.

Friday’s events evoked the protests on June 14, 1991, that drew hundreds of thousands of Swiss women out to condemn discrimination. The date was 20 years after Swiss women won the federal right to vote and a decade after sexual equality became law.

One Swiss region, Appenzell Innerrhoden, did not allow all Swiss women to vote in local elections until it was ordered by a court to do so in 1990.

The post Women in Switzerland Strike Over Pay, Harassment appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Lineup for First Democratic Debate Set at 20 Candidates

NEW YORK—The two Democratic presidential front-runners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, will appear together on the second of NBC’s two debate nights later this month.

Twenty candidates in all will debate in two, two-hour sessions on June 26-27, televised by NBC News. The network announced the pairings on Friday.

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Featured on the first night will be Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Besides Biden and Sanders, the second debate night will feature California Sen. Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, author Marianne Williamson, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Democratic Party officials had promised to ensure that top tier and lagging candidates are spread roughly evenly over the two nights. But the second night features more of candidates toward the top of the polls at this stage of the campaign.

The debates in Miami will offer a prime opportunity for many White House hopefuls to reshape a race defined in recent weeks by Biden’s domination of national and many early state polls.

The post Lineup for First Democratic Debate Set at 20 Candidates appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Lineup for First Democratic Debate Set at 20 Candidates

The Democratic National Committee has announced that 20 candidates have qualified for the party’s first presidential debates later this month.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts were the only major candidates out of the two dozen Democratic hopefuls who failed to meet the polling or grassroots fundraising measures required to get a debate spot. Two lesser-known candidates, former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, also missed the cutoff, announced Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently had been on the bubble, both made the debate based on polling measures.

The campaign’s opening debates, set for June 26-27 in Miami, will offer a prime opportunity for many White House hopefuls to reshape a race defined in recent weeks by former Vice President Joe Biden’s domination of national and many early state polls.

An NBC News drawing Friday will divide the large field between the first and second debate night. Party officials have promised to weight the drawing with the intention of ensuring that top tier and lagging candidates are spread roughly evenly over the two nights.

Those assignments will determine the debate strategies for many campaigns. Candidates will have to decide whether to go after front-runners such as Biden, challenge others in the pack or stand out by remaining above the fray. They must also decide how much to focus on President Donald Trump.

Some candidates have criticized the debate-qualifying rules that the party chairman, Tom Perez, set this year. The polling and fundraising thresholds will remain the same for the July debates over two nights in Detroit .

Bullock’s campaign insists he has reached a party benchmark of a minimum 1 percent in at least three polls by approved organizations. But party officials say Bullock is wrongly counting a Washington Post-ABC poll from February.

He said Thursday that he was “certainly disappointed” by the DNC’s decision.

“But the greater point really is also that I’m the only one in the field that’s actually won in a Trump state, and we need to win back some of the places we’ve lost,” he said on MSNBC.

The polling and fundraising marks will double for the third and fourth debates in September and October. Candidates will have to meet both marks instead of one or the other. That means 2 percent in the approved polls and a donor list of at least 130,000 unique contributors.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will appear in the first debate, questioned some of the rules during a campaign stop Thursday before the DNC announcement, but said candidates have little choice other than to meet them.

“Fighting with the DNC is a little like fighting with the weather,” he said. “You can rage against the storm, but you will not have great effect. I think the rules are the rules.”

___

Associated Press writers Brian Slodysko in Washington and Matt Volz in Helena, Montana, contributed to this report.

The post Lineup for First Democratic Debate Set at 20 Candidates appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Mainstream Media Is Marching Us Into War With Iran

If there were any lingering hopes that the corporate media learned from its role in perpetuating the lies that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and would never again help start a Middle East war on the basis of false or flimsy evidence, the headlines that blared across the front pages of major U.S. news websites Thursday night indicated that such hopes were badly misplaced.

The U.S. military late Thursday released blurry, black-and-white video footage that it claimed—without any underlying analysis or further details—showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, one of the oil tankers damaged in attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

Here’s how CNN presented the U.S. military’s video:

Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks, and Yutaka Katada—the owner of the Kokuka Courageous—contradicted the Trump administration’s account during a press conference on Friday.

“Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object,” Katada said. “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”

Independent critics were quick to call for extreme skepticism in the face of U.S. government claims, given the quality of the “evidence” and the warmongering track records of those presenting it.

A serial liar is President.

A warmonger and a serial fabricator who helped get us into the disastrous Iraq war and who has sabotaged numerous attempts at diplomacy is the NatSec Advisor.

But go ahead, Media, treat Pompeo’s accusations as “evidence”…#OilTanker #GulfOfOman

— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) June 13, 2019

But the media displayed no such caution.

Just taking a random sample of screenshots after the news broke Thursday night, major outlets largely did the Pentagon’s dirty work by posting uncritical headlines that took the claims at face value.

The Washington Post used the word “purported” in its headline, but erroneously reported that the video was taken “before” the explosion on the vessel, not after. The headline was later changed, but was made no more critical of the military’s claim:

The U.K.-based Guardian also offered a simple “U.S. says” headline construction:

In the New York Times rendition—which appeared prominently on their homepage—the claim of what the U.S. military intelligence “believed” the video to show was framed with the more objective-sounding and vague phrase “what analysts believed”:

Like the GuardianPolitico made no attempt to go beyond the “U.S. says” framework:

Fox News, of course, went further than most by characterizing the Pentagon video as a “major clue” to who was behind the alleged attack:

CNN, meanwhile—specifically in the subhead of the headline story that appeared at the top of their page late Thursday night—took the military’s claim of what the video showed as actual fact:

The Hill‘s version, similar to the error made by the Post, reported that the video was taken before the explosion—a detail likely to leave readers much more suspicious of Iran’s involvement than if one of its vessels had approached the ship in the wake of the incident:

Though no single headline could be construed as explicit pro-Pentagon propaganda on its own, the uncritical nature of the coverage and ensuing echo chamber effect—or what is sometimes referred to as “propaganda reinforcement”—is one of the ways that the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies are empowered to turn a flimsy claim into a pervasive and widely-accepted fact.

Classic BBC propaganda reinforcement:

‘The footage released by the US on Thursday is rather more convincing…’

And ascribe doubts *solely* to the accused ‘Bad Guys’:

‘There will likely be doubts in Tehran as to whether this video is genuine.’ https://t.co/aXZVSS3XJL

— Media Lens (@medialens) June 14, 2019

In a blog post on Friday, historian and Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote that the Trump administration’s narrative that Iranians were removing an unexploded mine from the damaged oil tanker “doesn’t make any sense at all” and said the video footage released by the U.S. “needs to be carefully analyzed” before any conclusions are drawn.

“[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo alleged that only the Iranians had the expertise to deploy these mines,” Cole wrote. “We heard this crock for 8.5 years in Iraq—all shaped charges had to be Iran-backed, even those of al-Qaeda, because Iraqis didn’t have the expertise…. Sure. Had to be Iran, helping those hyper-Sunni al-Qaeda. Very likely story.”

On Twitter, Sina Toossi, research associate at the National Iranian American Council, echoed Cole’s call for skepticism and an investigation.

“What we need is an impartial investigation,” Toossi wrote, “and to be highly skeptical of claims and intel assessments from Bolton/Pompeo.”

Head of the tanker says two drones caused the damaged, contradicting this “dozen men on a boat” narrative.

What we need is an impartial investigation & to be highly skeptical of claims & intel assessments from Bolton/Pompeo. https://t.co/i0s3Nnsiwm

— Sina Toossi (@SinaToossi) June 14, 2019

In a column published last month as the U.S. aggressively escalated military tensions with Iran and pushed the two nations to the brink of all-out war, The Intercept‘s Mehdi Hasan asked a straightforward question that remains relevant in the present: “Do U.S. reporters, anchors, and editors really want more Middle Eastern blood on their hands?”

“If not,” Hasan wrote, “they need to fix their rather credulous and increasingly hawkish coverage of Iran and the Trump administration—and fix it fast.”

The post The Mainstream Media Is Marching Us Into War With Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Mainstream Media Is Marching Us Into War With Iran

If there were any lingering hopes that the corporate media learned from its role in perpetuating the lies that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and would never again help start a Middle East war on the basis of false or flimsy evidence, the headlines that blared across the front pages of major U.S. news websites Thursday night indicated that such hopes were badly misplaced.

The U.S. military late Thursday released blurry, black-and-white video footage that it claimed—without any underlying analysis or further details—showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, one of the oil tankers damaged in attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

Here’s how CNN presented the U.S. military’s video:

Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks, and Yutaka Katada—the owner of the Kokuka Courageous—contradicted the Trump administration’s account during a press conference on Friday.

“Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object,” Katada said. “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”

Independent critics were quick to call for extreme skepticism in the face of U.S. government claims, given the quality of the “evidence” and the warmongering track records of those presenting it.

A serial liar is President.

A warmonger and a serial fabricator who helped get us into the disastrous Iraq war and who has sabotaged numerous attempts at diplomacy is the NatSec Advisor.

But go ahead, Media, treat Pompeo’s accusations as “evidence”…#OilTanker #GulfOfOman

— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) June 13, 2019

But the media displayed no such caution.

Just taking a random sample of screenshots after the news broke Thursday night, major outlets largely did the Pentagon’s dirty work by posting uncritical headlines that took the claims at face value.

The Washington Post used the word “purported” in its headline, but erroneously reported that the video was taken “before” the explosion on the vessel, not after. The headline was later changed, but was made no more critical of the military’s claim:

The U.K.-based Guardian also offered a simple “U.S. says” headline construction:

In the New York Times rendition—which appeared prominently on their homepage—the claim of what the U.S. military intelligence “believed” the video to show was framed with the more objective-sounding and vague phrase “what analysts believed”:

Like the GuardianPolitico made no attempt to go beyond the “U.S. says” framework:

Fox News, of course, went further than most by characterizing the Pentagon video as a “major clue” to who was behind the alleged attack:

CNN, meanwhile—specifically in the subhead of the headline story that appeared at the top of their page late Thursday night—took the military’s claim of what the video showed as actual fact:

The Hill‘s version, similar to the error made by the Post, reported that the video was taken before the explosion—a detail likely to leave readers much more suspicious of Iran’s involvement than if one of its vessels had approached the ship in the wake of the incident:

Though no single headline could be construed as explicit pro-Pentagon propaganda on its own, the uncritical nature of the coverage and ensuing echo chamber effect—or what is sometimes referred to as “propaganda reinforcement”—is one of the ways that the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies are empowered to turn a flimsy claim into a pervasive and widely-accepted fact.

Classic BBC propaganda reinforcement:

‘The footage released by the US on Thursday is rather more convincing…’

And ascribe doubts *solely* to the accused ‘Bad Guys’:

‘There will likely be doubts in Tehran as to whether this video is genuine.’ https://t.co/aXZVSS3XJL

— Media Lens (@medialens) June 14, 2019

In a blog post on Friday, historian and Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote that the Trump administration’s narrative that Iranians were removing an unexploded mine from the damaged oil tanker “doesn’t make any sense at all” and said the video footage released by the U.S. “needs to be carefully analyzed” before any conclusions are drawn.

“[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo alleged that only the Iranians had the expertise to deploy these mines,” Cole wrote. “We heard this crock for 8.5 years in Iraq—all shaped charges had to be Iran-backed, even those of al-Qaeda, because Iraqis didn’t have the expertise…. Sure. Had to be Iran, helping those hyper-Sunni al-Qaeda. Very likely story.”

On Twitter, Sina Toossi, research associate at the National Iranian American Council, echoed Cole’s call for skepticism and an investigation.

“What we need is an impartial investigation,” Toossi wrote, “and to be highly skeptical of claims and intel assessments from Bolton/Pompeo.”

Head of the tanker says two drones caused the damaged, contradicting this “dozen men on a boat” narrative.

What we need is an impartial investigation & to be highly skeptical of claims & intel assessments from Bolton/Pompeo. https://t.co/i0s3Nnsiwm

— Sina Toossi (@SinaToossi) June 14, 2019

In a column published last month as the U.S. aggressively escalated military tensions with Iran and pushed the two nations to the brink of all-out war, The Intercept‘s Mehdi Hasan asked a straightforward question that remains relevant in the present: “Do U.S. reporters, anchors, and editors really want more Middle Eastern blood on their hands?”

“If not,” Hasan wrote, “they need to fix their rather credulous and increasingly hawkish coverage of Iran and the Trump administration—and fix it fast.”

The post The Mainstream Media Is Marching Us Into War With Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Official Consulted Climate-Change Rejecters, Emails Show

WASHINGTON—A Trump administration national security official has sought help from advisers to a think tank that disavows climate change to challenge widely accepted scientific findings on global warming, according to his emails.

The request from William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press. That request was made this past March to policy advisers with the Heartland Institute, one of the most vocal challengers of mainstream scientific findings that emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are damaging the Earth’s atmosphere.

In a March 3 email exchange Happer and Heartland adviser Hal Doiron discuss Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership.” Happer writes he had already discussed the work with another Heartland adviser, Thomas Wysmuller.

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Academic experts denounced the administration official’s continued involvement with groups and scientists who reject what numerous federal agencies say is the fact of climate change.

“These people are endangering all of us by promoting anti-science in service of fossil fuel interests over the American interests,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

“It’s the equivalent to formulating anti-terrorism policy by consulting with groups that deny terrorism exists,” said Northeastern University’s Matthew Nisbet, a professor of environmental communication and public policy.

The National Security Council declined to make Happer available to discuss the emails.

The AP and others reported earlier this year that Happer was coordinating a proposed White House panel to challenge the findings from scientists in and out of government that carbon emissions are altering the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

President Donald Trump in November rejected the warnings of a national climate change assessment by more than a dozen government agencies.

“I don’t believe it,” he said.

Happer, a physicist who previously taught at Princeton University, has claimed that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like “the poor Jews under Hitler.” Trump appointed him in late 2018 to the National Security Council, which advises the president on security and foreign policy issues.

The emails show Happer expressing surprise that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Oklahoma congressman who once questioned mainstream climate science, has come round to accepting that science.

A May 2018 email exchange between Heartland’s Wysmuller and Happer calls the NASA chief’s change of heart on climate science “a puzzle.” The exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change “part of the nonsense” and urges the NASA head — copied in — to “systematically sidestep it.”

Happer at the time was not yet a security adviser, although he had advised the Trump Environmental Protection Agency on climate change.

A NASA spokesman on Thursday upheld the space agency’s public statements on climate change.

“We provide the data that informs policy makers around the world,” spokesman Bob Jacobs said. “Our science information continues to be published publicly as it always has.”

But at the Heartland Institute, spokesman Jim Lakely defended the effort, saying in an email that NASA’s public characterization of climate change as manmade and a global threat “is a disservice to taxpayers and science that it is still pushed by NASA.”

After joining the agency, Happer sent a February 2019 email to NASA deputy administrator James Morhard relaying a complaint from an unidentified rejecter of man-made climate change about NASA’s website.

“I’m concerned that many children are being indoctrinated by this bad science,” said the email that Happer relayed.

Happer’s own message was redacted from the records obtained by the environmental group.

Two major U.S. science organizations took issue with Happer’s emails.

“We have concerns that there appear to be attempts by a member of the National Security Council to influence and interfere with the ability of NASA, a federal science agency, to communicate accurately about research findings on climate science,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advance of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.

There have been hundreds of scientific assessments by leading researchers and institutions the last few decades that look at all the evidence and have been “extremely credible and routinely withstand intense scrutiny,” said Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society. “Efforts to dismiss or discredit these rigorous scientific assessments in public venues does an incredible disservice to the public.”

The post Trump Official Consulted Climate-Change Rejecters, Emails Show appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Official Consulted Climate-Change Rejecters, Emails Show

WASHINGTON—A Trump administration national security official has sought help from advisers to a think tank that disavows climate change to challenge widely accepted scientific findings on global warming, according to his emails.

The request from William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press. That request was made this past March to policy advisers with the Heartland Institute, one of the most vocal challengers of mainstream scientific findings that emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are damaging the Earth’s atmosphere.

In a March 3 email exchange Happer and Heartland adviser Hal Doiron discuss Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership.” Happer writes he had already discussed the work with another Heartland adviser, Thomas Wysmuller.

Related Articles by

Academic experts denounced the administration official’s continued involvement with groups and scientists who reject what numerous federal agencies say is the fact of climate change.

“These people are endangering all of us by promoting anti-science in service of fossil fuel interests over the American interests,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

“It’s the equivalent to formulating anti-terrorism policy by consulting with groups that deny terrorism exists,” said Northeastern University’s Matthew Nisbet, a professor of environmental communication and public policy.

The National Security Council declined to make Happer available to discuss the emails.

The AP and others reported earlier this year that Happer was coordinating a proposed White House panel to challenge the findings from scientists in and out of government that carbon emissions are altering the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

President Donald Trump in November rejected the warnings of a national climate change assessment by more than a dozen government agencies.

“I don’t believe it,” he said.

Happer, a physicist who previously taught at Princeton University, has claimed that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like “the poor Jews under Hitler.” Trump appointed him in late 2018 to the National Security Council, which advises the president on security and foreign policy issues.

The emails show Happer expressing surprise that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Oklahoma congressman who once questioned mainstream climate science, has come round to accepting that science.

A May 2018 email exchange between Heartland’s Wysmuller and Happer calls the NASA chief’s change of heart on climate science “a puzzle.” The exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change “part of the nonsense” and urges the NASA head — copied in — to “systematically sidestep it.”

Happer at the time was not yet a security adviser, although he had advised the Trump Environmental Protection Agency on climate change.

A NASA spokesman on Thursday upheld the space agency’s public statements on climate change.

“We provide the data that informs policy makers around the world,” spokesman Bob Jacobs said. “Our science information continues to be published publicly as it always has.”

But at the Heartland Institute, spokesman Jim Lakely defended the effort, saying in an email that NASA’s public characterization of climate change as manmade and a global threat “is a disservice to taxpayers and science that it is still pushed by NASA.”

After joining the agency, Happer sent a February 2019 email to NASA deputy administrator James Morhard relaying a complaint from an unidentified rejecter of man-made climate change about NASA’s website.

“I’m concerned that many children are being indoctrinated by this bad science,” said the email that Happer relayed.

Happer’s own message was redacted from the records obtained by the environmental group.

Two major U.S. science organizations took issue with Happer’s emails.

“We have concerns that there appear to be attempts by a member of the National Security Council to influence and interfere with the ability of NASA, a federal science agency, to communicate accurately about research findings on climate science,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advance of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.

There have been hundreds of scientific assessments by leading researchers and institutions the last few decades that look at all the evidence and have been “extremely credible and routinely withstand intense scrutiny,” said Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society. “Efforts to dismiss or discredit these rigorous scientific assessments in public venues does an incredible disservice to the public.”

The post Trump Official Consulted Climate-Change Rejecters, Emails Show appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Lies Liberals Tell Themselves About the Second Amendment

You’ll have heard it said by many liberals and even progressives that the Second Amendment centers on arming militias in a post-colonial America. But the reality behind the legal statute that enshrined gun rights in the Constitution is more nuanced, and far more sinister. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz notes in her book, “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” the arming of state militias (which ultimately became the National Guard) was already noted elsewhere in the Constitution, so why was there a need to stipulate the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights, which pertains to individuals? That’s because, according to Dunbar-Ortiz, the Second Amendment can be traced directly back to settler colonialism.

“Basically, the Second Amendment is about killing Indians, taking their land and, increasingly, slave patrols,” Dunbar-Ortiz tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” The author lays out the genocidal genealogy of the right to bear arms, and explains that, at its root, it ensured the ability of white men to oppress people of color in order to steal or keep stolen land, and to control slaves through slave patrols. To top it off, she goes on to argue, our current police forces are essentially just modern-day slave patrols.

So why, she asks, do liberals, including her own representative, Nancy Pelosi, insist on the erroneous idea that the Second Amendment stems from the outdated need to arm militias? According to Scheer, the reason is quite simple.

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“[Political leaders] have a theory that works for them, because it does not force an examination of the ugly aspect of American history that is a settler colonialism—that slavery was the norm, that destroying indigenous people was the norm,” Scheer says.

This lack of honest examination of U.S. history, along with American myths about “cowboys and Indians” that are still perpetuated, are the foundation of the violent, gun-obsessed society that constitutes America today. It holds liberals and even progressives back from an effective approach to gun control, and it may be what inspired D.H. Lawrence, whom Dunbar-Ortiz quotes, to write, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”

Listen to the full discussion between Dunbar-Ortiz and Scheer as they talk about how this American ideology extends to the nation’s foreign policy. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, an author of 15 books, largely centered around the exploitation of indigenous people in America and other vulnerable groups, based on color and race and so forth. Been a professor of history, got your doctorate at UCLA, an institution we respect, even though I teach at USC. And I just want to admit, a little bit of self-criticism here: I knew of you; I had no idea of the power of your prose. And I say this advisedly, and now I’ve gone back and reread some of your work. But when I–you know, got the idea of this book, Loaded, because I was fascinated by the title: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. And I read some of the reviews and analysis of it, and everyone’s surprised, here’s this person on the left side of things who’s actually trying to understand the Second Amendment as a complex part of American history, as a profound part of American history. And the, you know, simplistic argument is only nutcases care about having the Second Amendment, and they want to go create mayhem in churches and elsewhere, and therefore there’s no reason or rhyme for it. And the fact is, your book is the most compelling, profound analysis of why we have a Second Amendment, and it’s not all good news. It’s actually a product of settler colonialism. And by way of introduction to the big idea of this book, is that it basically defines America, not in Donald Trump’s terms of “great” or Hillary Clinton’s–he’s going to make it great again, and Hillary Clinton said we were always great. That was the big debate in the last election: do we have to be made great again, or are we a continuing exercise in greatness? And reading your book, one is disabused of that notion by the second chapter. And the fact is that we are a country, despite all our proclamations about Jeffersonian democracy and, you know, the great limited government, it wasn’t an experiment in limited government as far as indigenous people, it was an experiment in genocide. Let’s just cut to the chase of it. Benjamin Madley at UCLA has written a profound book; I did a podcast with him. But you trace the right to bear arms, the Second Amendment, not to the idea of an official state militia–yes, there’s that, which is the way people try to interpret–no! You trace it–let me just begin with the big idea here–to guaranteeing the right of angry white men, primarily, out to kill indigenous people, out to capture runaway slaves, out to assert their power, as they expand an empire across the whole continent. And you point out that, very interesting history here, that this existed in various state constitutions before we had our federal constitution. And that it was supported by people we otherwise admire in many ways, like a Thomas Jefferson. So why don’t you give us the origins of the Second Amendment in American history?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: You know, it was already in the constitutions of Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, about five of the colonies, of the 13 colonies. You know, they were formed, the states were formed in 1775, 1776, and it was a whole decade later before the Constitution. During the war, they operated under the Continental Congress. So they already had these, and they had imported them from their colonial practices. So what you have to look at, since they didn’t really argue about the matter of the Second Amendment, why they put it in under the rights of men, individual rights–and second only to freedom of speech–is, you have to look at what was going on at the time. And this was a country, a nation state, formed as an imperialist state, as a kind of knockoff from the British empire. So you have to see it as pushing, as a split in the empire, and the beginning of another one, and not some kind of democratic–it was a republic only because they overthrew a king, and you know, they talked about having another king. But George Washington–our presidency is more or less a kind of operative kingship, the executive. But what they imported was the already practice of settler militias organizing themselves. And they were very well-regulated, with great motivation, because that’s how settler colonialism works. They take the land, and then the federal government is set up basically to then indemnify it, legalize it. And that’s the story of the next hundred years, and the United States taking the continent. It’s not that much different than New Zealand and Australia and Canada, except none of those have, well, constitutions until recently, because they’re still a part of the commonwealth. But they certainly don’t have a Second Amendment. So when we say, well, why can’t we do like Australia, you know, and confiscate all the guns after a big massacre? Which is, in the 1990s–well, they don’t have any kind of constitutional restriction on guns; it’s just whatever people decide to make up.

RS: Yeah, but I want to take you back to what your book stresses in its first chapter on the history, which precedes the Constitution. And you describe the–yes, well-ordered, in the sense I guess they can keep formations when they’re marauding around. But the existence of bands of armed white men, conquering, pushing people out, terrorizing people–that’s the pre-constitutional history, where the Second Amendment comes from. And so when they are surrendering to a new federal power, which is what this Constitution is, the reason they want in the Bill of Rights, which is supposed to be a check on that federal power, is the guarantee, particularly the slave-owning states, or states that are bordering on Native American communities, the right for these white men to continue to go out and kill people and grab their land. Is that an oversimplification? Because that’s what–it’s a history that, to me, was shocking in its clarity, and yet your book is well-documented, it’s very thoughtful. And as a result, I couldn’t put it down, for that reason. I thought I’m, you know, a pretty sharp and maybe cynical observer of our history; I don’t think I’m naive about, you know, how violent it has been. But reading your book–and again, the tone of it, the logic, the, how informative it is, was compelling. In the same way that I would bring up Benjamin Madley’s book on the genocide, primarily against California, of the northwestern indigenous culture. So why don’t you take us through that whole earlier period first?

RDO: Yeah, and Benjamin Madley’s very important, because he’s taking the endgame; you know, the Pacific, when they reached the Pacific, and those militias in operation in northern California. Basically, the Second Amendment is about killing Indians, taking their land, and increasingly, slave patrols. Because the cotton kingdom immediately–once they clear out, ethnically cleanse the whole eastern part of North America to the Mississippi, all of the native peoples, who were all agriculturalists, and force them into Indian territory, that’s when the cotton kingdom–and that wasn’t complete until 1845–but during that process of pushing them out, that the cotton kingdom blossomed. So that was where the Indian militias then, that had operated, moved west. And the militias east of the Mississippi were used for slave patrols. And I have a whole chapter on slave patrols, and that’s probably–I think, you know, when they’re making the Second Amendment, given that almost all of them are, if they’re not slave owners like Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Monroe–they’re slave traders. Or land–they’re all land speculators, including the good ones, John Adams, and all–they’re all involved. There’s no way to get out of it. Just like those of us now who oppose capitalism, we’re still–we’re still, it’s still a part of our lives every day. So this was, the slave system was the basis of the economy, and land. So the slave patrols are very important in the present because the police that exist now in the United States police forces, sheriffs, are direct descendants of slave patrols. So I have the whole genealogy–I didn’t make this up; there’s a wonderful book on slave patrols and how they came about. They started in this late, the late 17th century, 1680 or so, whereas the Indian militias existed from day one, 1607, John Smith, you know, organized the very first kind of–he had been a mercenary in Turkey, you know, fighting the Muslims, and then came to America. So, yeah, it’s basically for Indian-killing, and then repurposed for slave patrols, and continued as Indian-killing with the army of the west, once the Civil War was finished.

RS: So, OK, just to cut to the chase here, when they wrote the Second Amendment, they knew this was going to be a license for a lot of angry white men to go out and kill innocent people who happened to be indigenous or were runaway slaves or whatever, just to grab land. That it was a lawless concept from day one; it was not–and I think a strong point you make from a legalistic point of view, you didn’t need a Second Amendment to guarantee the right of states to have militias. That was not the reason for the Bill of Rights; the Bill of Rights was about individual rights and restraint on government. And that Second Amendment is telling these basic, you know, these guys who want to hop on their horses and go out and kill Native Americans and grab their land, you’re telling them that there’s nothing in this new government, this unity, that’s going to prevent them from doing that. Lawlessness was actually–I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but the way I read it, and it shook me up, is that lawlessness, in the sense of hurting, exploiting innocent people, was built into the very writing of the Second Amendment. And you point out it existed before the Bill of Rights; it was in the other, what, four or five other state constitutions, right?

RDO: Yes, and it is, it’s a legalization of lawlessness, like slavery. But it was law; it was legal. You know, it was mandated. In fact, early on, when they first started these citizens’ militias, they actually required colonists, white men, to be armed all the time. If they stepped out of their home, they had to have arms, and measured so much gunpowder, so many shells to load. That they had to be in good condition, and if they couldn’t afford that, they got subsidies. These were the colonies. And even to go to church or go into the field. And what was around, these were cleared territories; this was where they already had killed the Indians off, you know, in Virginia and in South Carolina. There’s nothing else around except native people trying to get their land back, or to keep the colonists from coming. There were no bears around; there was nothing else, it was completely, you know, farmland, agricultural land. There were no enemies, not even creatures, animals, to require that kind of requirement, to be armed. So when you look in those documents, you see that it was required, and then it became a kind of, it morphed into a right, you know, by the time of the independence. Because these colonists wanted to make sure that they kept these rights that had already been granted to them, without any kind of laws, that it be made law. But one thing that really bothers me, my own congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, keeps repeating, as do most democrats and most people, even gun-rights people who should at least read the Constitution and see what the Second Amendment is about–is they say it was meant for National Guard, what is National Guards now. But that’s provided for in Article 8 of the Constitution. Why would they then put it as an individual right, when it’s already created? State militias, they’re called, in the Constitution. That’s what became the National Guard. So that’s a completely–it mystifies me, you know, that they would say this. And I’m pretty sure they think it’s true, but I don’t know why. Didn’t they take constitutional law when they went to law school, you know, and read it?

RS: Well, I don’t think–I think you’re being too charitable. I think it’s, you know, too good to check. They have a theory that works for them, because first of all, it does not force an examination of the ugly aspect of American history, that it is a settler colonialism. That slavery was the norm, that destroying indigenous people was the norm. So whether you’re a democrat or republican, if you’re an establishment thinker, this idea that America was always great, or was great and now we have to make it great–you’re really talking about power of a minority, a racially constructed minority of–because it wasn’t just white people, but they had to be somewhat prosperous. You know, they couldn’t be indentured servants, or what have you. And it’s an entitlement program for such people. And I don’t think they want to examine the Second Amendment. But I want to connect it with another part of American mythology. That most children in America, until quite recently, were raised on a variant of cowboy and Indian mythology, where the Indians were the bad guys, the treacherous, the sneaky, and the cowboys were the good. And in your book, you discuss that. And that’s–the role of mythology in the support of empire is very critical. If you’re not a superior people–and it’s very difficult in a society that claims to be egalitarian and democratic to hold on, we held on to the idea of white superiority right through World War II; we had a segregated armed forces, we had a segregated South. And by the way, the Democratic Party was only successful because it was the part of segregation in the South. Everybody manages to forget that. But mythology here is really critical, and in your book you do remind us that the virtue of the cowboy, as defined as a white gun-bearing person, as opposed to the indigenous, was assumed in the education of most Americans. Right? There were very few people who objected to that narrative. And the reason I’m pushing this on the Second Amendment is that mythology still governs the thinking of a lot of people who support the Second Amendment. They want these guns, not so they can have the right to shoot squirrels–you mention somewhere when you finally had the affection of your father was when you could shoot a squirrel in the eye. I don’t know if you could do it, but the goal was to shoot a squirrel in the eye at 400 yards, I think you said? Some long, is it 400 yards or feet, I don’t know. It seems to me a very difficult thing to do. But that was a rite of passage that your own father, finally you had some common ground that you could do this. But the point is, the reason the Second Amendment remains a vibrant issue is not because they want the oddball nutcase to shoot up a church and then discredit the NRA. They actually believe that there are black people, and foreigners, and brown people, that are going to threaten their individual sovereignty, and they better have a gun, or eight guns. And you have some statistics in your book, and I’ve been reading other books about gun control in preparation for this. But I think we have an average of eight guns in the house of each gun owner, or something. And there is an extension of that settler mentality. They are still besieged. Even though we think of the U.S.–that’s the, the pro-gun-control people say, oh, well, you need that, you have the police, you have–well, they don’t see it that way. They see these foreigners and black people and brown people and poor people and so forth as an enemy that has to be kept at bay, right? And that’s why they want, you know, to be able to strap a gun and go to church. Well, as you point out, that’s as American as apple pie. Racism.

RDO: Yup. It’s white nationalism. This is why I really decided to write the book. I’ve been irritated for years, myself knowing what the Second Amendment was about, these arguments. But I kind of ignored it; I said, I’m not going to get into that, you know. And I got into it in another book, and that’s actually why I decided to write this one, as one editor paid attention to that and said, why don’t you write more about that. So I said, OK, I guess I will.

RS: The publisher this time is City Lights Books.

RDO: City Lights, yes.

RS: A great publisher.

RDO: Great publisher.

RS: And so people should get this book. I should give you the title again. It’s called Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. It’s not disarming in the sense of being disingenuous; it’s incredibly well-documented and logically worked out. It’s disarming in that it goes against the prejudice of many liberal people, that somehow only nutcases would want this thing, or that it’s misinterpreted, because after all it’s only about the right of states to have militias. As you point out, that right was guaranteed in the Constitution without the Bill of Rights. And so it’s really something else. And it’s something very current. That we have a large number of people in our society, correctly or incorrectly, who feel besieged by the other. We are not a melting pot, and that is simply nonsense; we are a fragmented society. And people are holding on to the Second Amendment because they think that the upheaval will come. And whether they believe it in biblical terms or they believe it in terms of, you know, you can’t go into New York City, it’s very dangerous, white nationalism–who would have ever thought, this late in the day of this republic, that white nationalism would be potentially a dominant force?

RDO: Yeah, and you know, 70 percent of those who are polled in the population actually say they honor the Second Amendment. And when they’re interviewed, they say, but–you know–yeah, well, the “but.” But the thing is, they really shouldn’t honor it. That’s the main point of my book. You should not honor the Second Amendment; you should do away with it, because of its sources. And secondly, I think there is a definite relationship, and statistically, between those who own guns–and they do own an average of eight each–70 percent of our population does not own a single gun, not one. Seventy percent; that’s only 30 percent of the population that owns even one gun. And the average gun owner owns eight. So if we put that in perspective, you know, that we’re leaving the police out of that particular–and it’s important to also deal with disarming the police, but–there’s 30 percent. So that’s exactly the basic, hard core support for Trump. Which I think is white nationalists, at its very base, you know, the support for Trump. It always, it never goes below 30 percent, even in the worst things that he does, you know. It’s that 30 percent, which is a huge, hegemonic power in the kind of electoral democracy that we have. Because they all pay attention, and they pay attention to one thing, and that’s the Second Amendment. And that’s–of course, there are the evangelicals, but they overlap a lot, too. So those 30 percent, 30 percent of the population owns guns, and probably half of them own 40, 50 guns. You know, not just eight. Because a lot of people just own one gun. So I think we’re talking about not just white nationalism rhetoric, which is bad enough, or taunting people, or doing racist acts, or mass killings, but actually being an armed force. So when I hear Trump, like he did today, say that he needs two more years because these last two years have been wasted, taken away from him, and he wants two more years. And Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeting that that’s true, and his whole base getting behind that, I’m thinking in my mind, these are armed people. And part of it is I come from rural Oklahoma, and I know these people; they’re my relatives. So I–I know–you know, anger is, I don’t think it’s the right word. I think there’s, you know, D.H. Lawrence had this thing about the cold soul of the American male. That he really nailed it, I think, that hardened character, you know, of this genocide, and slavery. And we don’t face these kind of nightmarish, this kind of nightmarish past, and bring it out in the open. Only African-Americans, you know, tell these stories; Native Americans tell, and a few friendly allies listen. But it’s so miniscule compared to the whole culture.

RS: What was the phrase you used, the cold soul of–

RDO: Yeah, the cold–I don’t have the quote right now, I have it in the book. But it is, like, something like a soulless character. And it’s sort of like William Burroughs in The Place of Dead Roads.

RS: [omission for station break] We just were talking about the soulless character of a certain part of America, at least. But I think in your book you’re really on to something, because the Second Amendment is treated as a cartoonish idea by most liberals. They don’t have guns, they don’t know why you need them, they think the police work for them, they don’t expect the country to be taken over by people who are going to be alien to their interests, and so forth. They–and what some people have referred to–Hofstadter, who you take on in your book, but had the, I think he had the paranoid imagination, or was that someone else. But there’s a strain, a strain in America–and you trace it brilliantly, I think, in this book, that, and that’s why it relates to ownership of guns–is the idea you can’t really trust the commonweal. You can’t trust even your neighbors too far. You certainly can’t trust your government, because it’s basically a fight for individual survival and power, right? And then sometimes you have your posse, your groupings, your people of common class, and race, and religion. Sometimes not; sometimes you’re just the lone nut. But at the heart of it is a certain soullessness, a lack of charity, a lack of affection, a lack of reaching out. And the cowboy-Indian image, which we take–somehow we treat it as a game; it wasn’t a game, it was a game of genocide. Genocide’s not a game. The idea was to eliminate a whole bunch of people because they were living on land you thought god had given you by virtue of your skin color, right? Or the language you spoke. And it goes into, like, the Daniel Boone myth, the myth of–

RDO: The hunter.

RS: Jesse James, the whole image of the strong white male is basically an image of a killer.

RDO: Right.

RS: Sometimes that killer is transformed to doing charity, like Jesse James, leaving some money for the widow, or something. But it’s basically a killer culture, based on the gun, based on extreme violence, disproportionate violence, because you’re assuming that the indigenous people that were killed by these heroic white men, you know, did not have the same kind of guns, same kind of firepower. So one white man could wipe out hundreds of them, you know. And there’s something very sick at the heart of our culture. There are a lot of healthy things at the heart of our culture, too; that’s why we have a women’s movement, that’s why we’ve had a civil rights movement. And we do have assimilation, we do have foreigners coming in. But we never want to–and this goes back to your Nancy Pelosi point–we don’t want to examine the past. Nancy Pelosi is an idiot when it comes to thinking about our history. And I say that without meaning to be unflattering to her personally. We have an idiotic culture. You know, and then I read a book like yours, and I realize I have fallen for these myths. Among other things, I have–I early on fell for the myth of Thomas Jefferson. Early on I believed, yes, you know, somehow in that primitive, technologically primitive society, with candlelight, were these wigged men who had brilliant ideas, you know? Well, actually, most of those ideas, I should have known from reading Charles and Mary Beard a long time ago, really were self-serving. Sustained their power, allowed them to keep their influence and wealth, as some people, you’ve pointed out George Washington was the richest guy in the country at one point. And yet, in that mythology, there’s the savior of the white man, almost descended from god, empowered by a god, who can kill endless numbers of these people. And which is, of course, our foreign policy; we bomb with impunity. No one questions bombing people all over the world; that’s just sort of all right. And you know, I’m going to wrap this up, but I mean the power of your book is you put us in touch with a soulless history related to the Second Amendment. So it’s a challenge to pro-gun-control people; it’s a challenge to liberals to think, yes, the Second Amendment should be eliminated, you know. However, you cannot do it without examining why we have a Second Amendment, and challenging that this was basically something put in to empower people catching runaway slaves. Catching freedom fighters, catching people trying to have control over their families, right? That was the main purpose of it. And if Nancy Pelosi will not understand that, she will not understand why it is so supported in the mythology of America.

RDO: Yes, that’s a–it is really gun control advocates that I, you know, wanted to direct this to, but also to us on the left, that I think we have stayed out of this argument a lot. Because we have mixed feelings; we wouldn’t mind an armed revolution; I really wouldn’t, you know. That’s not the same as, I don’t have to have the Second Amendment to help with an armed revolution. Because I would be, you know–you’re going to be criminalized anyway. You say, oh, they gave me the right to overthrow them–you know, it’s an absurd argument that you need the Second Amendment to make a revolution. That, you know, that’s a contradiction in terms. So that–I think that’s because we’ve ignored it, that we have not put our minds to how can we offer something to this endless debate that goes nowhere, and people keep getting killed. Because there are huge gun deaths, and half of the gun deaths in the United States are suicides. Because of this proliferation of guns, and people having them in their homes, or being able to go, and without any, really anything, or go to a gun show, and get a gun and then kill themselves, you know, on the spot. I know three people who have committed suicide that way, who weren’t gun nuts at all. They went and got a gun, and then shot themselves. Suicide. And there’s no other weapon–I mean, you know, you could try to hang yourself, someone will catch you or interrupt, or you might change your mind. But with a gun, it’s final.

RS: Let me wrap this up by saying I want people to read this book, Loaded–City Lights Books–A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. But it’s not disarming as far as underscoring the danger of white nationalism, and how it’s informed by this gun culture. And I think liberals are kidding themselves; I mean, we’ve been arguing about gun control forever, and every time you have a mass shooting, often–most often–they’re racist in tone. Or they’re aimed at a vulnerable group, you know, whether black people or Jews in a synagogue, or Muslims, you know, in a mosque. But the fact of the matter is, we’re missing the main point. Why is America so violent? And the violence grows out of a settler–I want to get back to the big idea of your book. The big idea of your book is you cannot understand the American experiment in strictly Tocquevillian terms. That that is a romance. You have to understand the dominant strain of a settler culture, of a superior people. Even when they are laced with immigration and different religious and so forth, there is a notion of the superiority of a certain dominant culture. And it invests in that dominant culture the right to kill people anywhere in the world, anywhere in the world wantonly, without much justification, with great contradictions, and sometimes genocidally, as was done with Native Americans in this country. And the Second Amendment represents that, in a tight set of words, in represents that arrogance of our culture. So if one wants to get rid of violence in America, one has to go back to its source, which was exploitation of the other. Is that not–?

RDO: Absolutely, that–if we go back to what, how the country was formed, and for what purpose, in settler colonialism, it’s inevitable–genocide is inevitable. It was successful, settler-colonialism, because it’s replacement; replace people, and the land itself is more valuable than the people. Then import enslaved Africans to also replace, to create the workforce. So it’s a–you know, people say that the, a lot of leftists now want to say the U.S. is not exceptional. You know, it’s just as bad as others–well, it is exceptionally–it is exceptional as sort of like all good families are the same, and all bad families are different, but in different ways. And the U.S. is different, in many different ways, than any other countries in the world. And I think that should be scary to us, because this chanting always that it’s the greatest country in the world, is a kind of–we have to look at the reverse of that. Why do we have to say that all the time? I don’t hear French people saying oh, France is the great–they’re always complaining, you know. And the Brits don’t say, oh god, Britain’s the greatest country in the world. I don’t–no other country I know of–I mean, some pitiful little countries like to say, well, we’re not as bad as you think we are. But the United States, this is the greatest country in the world. So it makes you think, you know, in psychological terms, well, what’s the opposite of that? You know, and to look into that. Because it’s shrouding–otherwise you sort of, you slice and dice it; well, some things are good and some things are bad. You know, and rather than getting to that core–

RS: It’s a particularly dangerous notion, because we are in the same moment the most powerful country militarily that the world has ever seen. At a whim, we can send drone attacks and destroy whole villages and so forth. So nothing, nothing in human history compares to the military power of the American empire. And at the same time, we have been so thoroughly indoctrinated into thinking it’s a benign power. So anything bad happens, it was a mistake, it was an accident, or a few bad apples got in and tortured some people at Abu Ghraib. Or you know, we had to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because we made some calculations about how long a–but it’s always benign, or it’s accidental, or so forth. And what your book reminds us–I’m going to end on this–the book is Loaded. And the history it tells, and it uses the Second Amendment as the organizing idea, is that settler colonialism, ramped up to the level of American power or the American empire, is a truly frightening spectacle. Because it’s righteous, it’s uncritical, it’s endorsed by even liberal people like Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton. And its extreme behavior goes unexamined and unchallenged, beginning with the genocide against Native Americans. And I guess the lesson of this book is if you don’t go back and look at the genocide, and then follow, that you don’t understand your current culture. You’re just whistling Dixie in the dark. So I’ll leave you on that note, and say goodbye to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

RDO: Thank you, Bob.

RS: Thank you. And our engineers at KCRW in Santa Monica are Kat Yore and Mario Diaz. Joshua Scheer is the producer of Scheer Intelligence. And here at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the North Gate Studios, we’ve had an able assistance from William Blum. Thank you, and see you next week with Scheer Intelligence.

 

 

 

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