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F.B.I. Was Told That Militia in New Mexico Planned to Kill Obama and Clinton

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The US seems to be in a state that in a person is called a “nervous breakdown.” Simon Romero reports in the NY Times:

The imprisoned leader of a right-wing militia that detained migrant families in New Mexico first came under the scrutiny of federal authorities in 2017, after the F.B.I. received reports that his group was “training” to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros, according to documents unsealed Monday in federal court.

The militia leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, appeared in Federal District Court on Monday after his arrest over the weekend on a charge of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

The arrest followed a series of videos posted by Mr. Hopkins’s group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, showing men in camouflage circling and detaining hundreds of migrants in the desert near Sunland Park, N.M., and then handing the migrants over to Border Patrol.

The heavily armed militia’s actions have ignited debate over whether its members broke kidnapping laws and effectively acted as a paramilitary force supporting the Border Patrol. Militia members argue that they were assisting the authorities to patrol remote areas of the border and carrying out “verbal citizen’s arrests.”

In an affidavit, David S. Gabriel, an F.B.I. special agent, said the bureau was made aware of the activities of Mr. Hopkins after receiving reports in October 2017 of “alleged militia extremist activity” in northwestern New Mexico.

Mr. Gabriel said that the following month, two F.B.I. agents went to a trailer park in Flora Vista, N.M., where Mr. Hopkins was living at the time. With Mr. Hopkins’s consent, the agents entered the home and saw about 10 firearms in plain view, in what Mr. Hopkins referred to as his office.

Mr. Hopkins, who has also used the name Johnny Horton Jr., told the agents that the guns belonged to Fay Sanders Murphy, whom he described to agents as his common-law wife, according to the affidavit. The agents collected at least nine firearms from the home as evidence, including a 12-gauge shotgun and various handguns.

The court affidavit gave few details about the report the F.B.I. received stating that the United Constitutional Patriots “were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama because of these individuals’ support of Antifa.” The term Antifa refers to left-wing activists who have clashed with right-wing groups in cities across the country.

Mr. Hopkins’s lawyer, Kelly O’Connell, disputed the reports about assassination plans. “My client told me that is not true,” Mr. O’Connell said.

He also questioned the timing of the arrest. “My question is, why now?” Mr. O’Connell said, noting that the weapons were found in his home in 2017. He suggested that pressure from prominent Democrats in New Mexico may have prompted the F.B.I. to take action.

Mr. Hopkins has faced weapons-related charges before, according to court documents. He was convicted of two felonies in Oregon in 2006: criminal impersonation of a peace officer and felony possession of a firearm. And he pleaded guilty in 1996 in Michigan to possession of a loaded firearm, and was sentenced to 16 months to two years in prison.

Mr. O’Connell said Mr. Hopkins planned to plead not guilty to the latest charge.

After the 2017 search of Mr. Hopkins’s residence in New Mexico, F.B.I. agents contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and determined that none of the firearms collected from the home was manufactured in New Mexico, opening the door to possible additional charges of transporting the weapons in interstate commerce, a federal offense.

Mr. O’Connell, who was the host of a conservative radio talk show program in New Mexico until 2017, declined to say who was paying Mr. Hopkins’s legal fees. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 4:06 pm

Ugly: Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the N.R.A.

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Mike Spies writes in the New Yorker:

This winter, members of the National Rifle Association—elk hunters in Montana, skeet shooters in upstate New York, concealed-carry enthusiasts in Jacksonville—might have noticed a desperate tone in the organization’s fund-raising efforts. In a letter from early March, Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s top executive, warned that liberal regulators were threatening to destroy the organization. “We’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the N.R.A. but in the entire history of our country,” he wrote. “The Second Amendment cannot survive without the N.R.A., and the N.R.A. cannot survive without your help right now.”

LaPierre is right that the N.R.A. is troubled; in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars. It is not unusual for nonprofits to ask prospective donors to help forestall disaster. What is unusual is the extent to which such warnings have become the central activity of the N.R.A. Even as the association has reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, it has substantially increased its spending on messaging. The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.

On NRATV, the organization’s programming network, the popular host Grant Stinchfield might appear in a “Socialist Tears” T-shirt, taking a sledgehammer to a television set cycling through liberal news shows. The platform’s Twitter account circulates videos of the spokesperson Dana Loesch, a former Breitbart News editor who has said that mainstream journalists are “the rat bastards of the earth” and deserve to be “curb-stomped.” Over menacing images of masked rioters, she asserts that the only way to stop the left is to “fight its violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” A lawyer and activist called Colion Noir, whose real name is Collins Idehen, Jr., also has a large following. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Noir appeared in a video chiding “all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else’s Second Amendment.”

Loesch and Noir have become the primary public faces of the N.R.A.; at events, enormous banners feature their images alongside those of LaPierre and Chris Cox, the organization’s top lobbyist. But Loesch and Noir are not technically employed by the N.R.A. Instead, they are paid by Ackerman McQueen, a public-relations firm based in Oklahoma. In at least one year, Loesch earned close to a million dollars, according to a source who has seen her contract.

For more than three decades, Ackerman has shaped the N.R.A.’s public identity, helping to build it from a niche activist organization into a ubiquitous presence in American popular culture. Ackerman produces the N.R.A. magazine America’s 1st Freedom and has devised its most successful ad campaigns, including one called “I’m the N.R.A.,” for which it recruited gun owners, including the actor Tom Selleck and the basketball star Karl Malone, to pose with their weapons. More recently, Ackerman produced a series called “Freedom’s Safest Place,” in which conservative icons inveigh against liberals and terrorists. In a segment from 2016, the country-music star Charlie Daniels warns the “ayatollahs of Iran” that they may be acquainted with “our fresh-faced flower-child President,” but they “haven’t met the heartland—or the people who will defend this nation with their bloody, calloused bare hands.”

The N.R.A. and Ackerman have become so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Top officials and staff move freely between the two organizations; Oliver North, the former Iran-Contra operative, who now serves as the N.R.A.’s president, is paid roughly a million dollars a year through Ackerman, according to two N.R.A. sources. But this relationship, which in many ways has built the contemporary N.R.A., seems also to be largely responsible for the N.R.A.’s dire financial state. According to interviews and to documents that I obtained—federal tax forms, charity records, contracts, corporate filings, and internal communications—a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements. Memos created by a senior N.R.A. employee describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed, whose leaders have encouraged disastrous business ventures and questionable partnerships, and have marginalized those who object. “Management has subordinated its judgment to the vendors,” the documents allege. “Trust in the top has eroded.”

In response to a description of my reporting, Bill Brewer, a lawyer who represents the N.R.A., said that the organization “has serious concerns about the accuracy of this reporting and The New Yorker’s sources. Of course, we cannot comment on privileged communications or personnel matters.”

Marc Owens, who served for ten years as the head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, recently reviewed these records. “The litany of red flags is just extraordinary,” he said. “The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain venders and people in control.” Owens added, “Those facts, if confirmed, could lead to the revocation of the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status”—without which the organization could likely not survive.

In its early days, the N.R.A. was more interested in shooting than in politics. It was founded by two former Union Army officers, who returned from the Civil War dismayed at having been outshot by their Confederate counterparts and hoping to inspire a culture of marksmanship in the North. For more than a century, the N.R.A.’s primary concerns were hunting, firearms education, and gun safety. Then, in 1977, a decade after the Federal Gun Control Act restricted firearms sales, activist board members seized control of the group and transformed it into an advocacy organization for gun owners’ rights. Officials knew that this new mission would require a more sophisticated approach to public relations. An N.R.A. executive suggested hiring Ackerman McQueen, which was run by a personal friend.

Later that year, Wayne LaPierre began working for the N.R.A., as a lobbyist. LaPierre, a former Democratic legislative aide with little experience handling guns, was not obviously suited to a role as a firebrand. People who have spent time around him describe him as “mild,” “reserved,” “awkward,” and even “meek.” Still, he rose through the organization, and he built a close relationship with Ackerman. In a deposition concerning a federal-election case, the firm’s then C.E.O., Angus McQueen, said, “I speak to Wayne almost every day. There are exceptions, because I take vacations and he takes vacations. Although he has no reluctance to interrupt mine.”

In 1991, LaPierre became executive vice-president, the N.R.A.’s top position. He is, by many accounts, reticent about public appearances. According to a story that circulates among staffers, he was once dispatched to appear on a Sunday news show after a school shooting. When a producer entered the greenroom to bring him on set, LaPierre, fretting over talking points, was hiding behind a curtain, with only his wingtips visible. Nonetheless, he appears in videos and makes speeches, often choreographed by Ackerman, that present him as a ferocious critic of the political left. At the N.R.A.’s annual meetings, he disparages “élites” who “long to turn America into some European-style socialist state.” Last year, he told the crowd, “We’re standing at the edge of fear, staring into the abyss of the demise of our country and its freedom we care about most.” He added, “This coming election is a guarantee of our worst nightmares if we don’t win.” A former N.R.A. staffer told me, “The agency created the Wayne cult of personality.”

Established in the early seventies, Ackerman McQueen is a family business. It has about two hundred and twenty-five employees, and offices in Oklahoma City, Dallas, Alexandria, and Colorado Springs. In the past, the company has worked with other national clients, such as the Six Flags amusement parks, but now its roster seems to consist mainly of the N.R.A. and a modest set of regional accounts, including some Oklahoma-based casinos and the Chickasaw Nation. “Most of the agency’s efforts go toward servicing the N.R.A.,” a former senior employee at Ackerman told me. Tax filings for 2017, the most recent year for which records are available, show that the N.R.A. paid Ackerman McQueen and its affiliates more than forty million dollars that year. (Bill Powers, Ackerman’s executive vice-president for public relations, broadly disputed the facts of this article, saying, “It’s like an old Soviet disinformation campaign—you take a little bit of truth and wrap it around a bunch of that things aren’t true.” He declined to point to specific inaccuracies.)

Ackerman McQueen provides the N.R.A. with public-relations work, marketing, branding, corporate communications, event planning, Web design, social-media engagement, and digital-content production. It wields great influence over the N.R.A.’s initiatives and is involved with nearly all of the group’s divisions, with the exception of its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, where, according to former employees, Ackerman’s messaging sometimes undermines the group’s efforts. In 2012, after a gunman murdered twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, LaPierre argued that the best way to prevent such atrocities was to install armed police officers in schools. When President Barack Obama criticized this reasoning, Ackerman responded with an ad noting that Obama’s children received Secret Service protection. An ominous voice-over asked, “Are the President’s kids more important than yours?” At the time, N.R.A. lobbyists were negotiating with federal lawmakers over potential regulations. The organization maintained friendly relations with several Democratic legislators, including Mary Landrieu, a senator from Louisiana. According to a former staffer, the ad caused Landrieu and others to “freak out,” nearly ending those relationships. “Ackerman never cleared that ad with us,” the former staffer recalled. “We had no oversight over Ackerman McQueen.” (Landrieu could not be reached for comment.)

Many N.R.A. employees have long suspected Ackerman of inflating the cost of the services it provides, but its relationships with executives remain strong. For instance, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Business, Guns

Rapper Nipsey Hussle killed in shooting, and something he said

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From an article in the LA Times:

Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was from South L.A. and had talked in the past about his early life in a street gang. He was a well-known community organizer who most recently was involved in the new Destination Crenshaw arts project.

He told The Times in 2018 that he had managed to develop a love of music and technology.

“I grew up in gang culture,” he said. “We dealt with death, with murder. It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it. I guess they call it post-traumatic stress, when you have people that have been at war for such a long time. I think L.A. suffers from that because it’s not normal yet we embrace it like it is after a while.”

In a 2014 interview with YouTube channel Vlad TV, Hussle confirmed that he had joined the Rollin’ 60s, a notorious Crips gang clique, as a teen. . .

Read the whole thing.

I find it interesting and likely that those living under near-wartime conditions will fall prey to PTSD, and they go untreated and unremarked. As he says, LA suffers from it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:39 pm

Nice example of scum: NRA officer enlisted a Sandy Hook truther to sow doubt about Parkland shooting, emails show

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Isaac Stanley-Becker reports in the Washington Post:

In the week after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 students and staff members and renewing calls for gun control, the National Rifle Association fell silent.

But the day after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting, an NRA training coordinator based at the group’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va., sprang into action behind the scenes. He sought information countering the official version of the grisly, and familiar, events, which involved a lone gunman and a legally purchased firearm.

For support, he turned to Wolfgang Halbig, a conspiracy theorist intent on proving that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 26 students and staff members dead in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, was a hoax.

“You have included me with a lot of Information since the Sandy Hook Incident and I do appreciate it very much,” the NRA coordinator, Mark Richardson, wrote on Feb. 15, 2018, according to emails published by HuffPost on Wednesday. “Concerning what happened in Florida yesterday, I have been asking the question and no one else seems to be asking it.”

He pushed the deluded idea that the gunman, a former student at the school, had not acted alone, posing questions about how he had gained entry and where he had kept his equipment.

“To pull the fire alarm, he had to already be inside. Correct?” he wrote. “When my Children were in school the only way into the school was through the front door and past the main office.”

As with Sandy Hook, Richardson observed, “There is so much more to this story. He was not alone.”

Halbig, a former Florida state trooper and school administrator, replied the following day, inviting Richardson to call him to discuss the incident.

The subject line of his emailed response included, in all caps, the name Avielle Richman, one of the 20 students killed in Newtown. For years, Halbig has accused Richman’s parents of falsifying the first-grade girl’s death, writing on his website that their intention was “to steal money from hard-working Americans.”

Jeremy Richman, her father, a neuroscientist who had founded the Avielle Foundation in his daughter’s name, died in an apparent suicide on Monday, following the apparent suicides of two teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting.

The deaths returned the nation’s focus to the two communities, which have been besieged by online abuse and threats stoked by conspiracy theories that depict the victims as “crisis actors.”

But the correspondence shows how an officer of the NRA saw these theories as potentially useful to his cause. The inquiry, sent from Richardson’s work email, was evidence of the curious handshake in which the gun-rights organization has found itself with the most extreme purveyors of Internet falsehoods.

“The NRA literally drives conspiracies about school shootings to fear monger gun owners to buy more guns,” David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting who has become a prominent advocate for gun control, wrote on Twitter.

Richardson didn’t return an email seeking comment. He defended himself to HuffPost, saying he was posing a “legitimate question” about how the shooter had entered the school. The NRA didn’t immediately return a request for comment. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2019 at 8:51 am

This seems insane to me: Indiana Teachers Say They Were Mock Executed With a Pellet Gun During a School-Shooter Drill

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Sarah Jones writes in New York:

For educators, school-shooter drills have become a grim ritual. But teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana, say one recent drill went much too far. As reported by the Indianapolis Star, law-enforcement officers lined teachers up and then shot them execution-style with an airsoft rifle. Pellets left bloody welts and caused panic; teachers had not been warned that officers would use a training weapon during the drill. “They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing,’” one anonymous teacher told the Star. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad.”

White County Sheriff Bill Brooks, whose department conducted the training, says that his officers stopped using the rifle after they were “made aware that one teacher was upset.” But multiple teachers complained to the Star, and the state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, has asked legislators to amend a pending school-safety bill so that it would prohibit safety-drill instructors from launching projectiles at teachers. During a Wednesday hearing, ISTA members vividly described hearing screams from shot teachers:

Brooks opposes the amendment. “We don’t need legislation in White County,” he told the Star. “We’re just not going to do it.” But Keith Gambill, the vice-president of ISTA and a music teacher based in Evansville, Indiana, told New York on Thursday that the union remains committed to legislative change anyway. “We want employees and students to be in a safe environment even if there has to be a training,” he said. “But the training should not involve shooting a projectile.” Gambill said the union had not received reports of similar incidents at other schools.

But while the Meadowlawn case is unusual, it has a legible genealogy. The sheriff’s intransigence, the drill’s traumatic conclusion, even the simple existence of the drill, all stem from the same basic reality — America refuses to pass any meaningful gun-control legislation. There’s no point, legislators say. Mass shooters are evil, and no law can strip evil from the hearts of men. And so mass shootings become symptoms of something other than legislative malpractice. They become sins, or “a random force of nature,” as the writer Patrick Blanchfield once put it. We can’t prevent mass shootings, this logic insists, so we can only prepare for them. As Blanchfield noted, the proliferation of gun violence has spawned a lucrative cottage industry — bulletproof whiteboards and bulletproof backpacks and training programs that script extreme school-shooting drills.

There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs. Liberals look at New Zealand, which banned military-grade guns within ten days of the Christchurch shootings, and draw up a short list of reasons to explain why they acted, and we do not: American gun culture, the particularities of our legislative system. But our intransigence is not just about our political system or some buried nostalgia for a mythical cowboy past: it is also about money. Guns make certain people very rich — people like gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists, though they aren’t the only beneficiaries of America’s reluctance to restrict its firearms.

The White County Sheriff’s Department shot teachers during an exercise designed by the for-profit ALICE Training Institute. The Ohio-based, for-profit organization did not return emailed requests for comment before press time, but its website is instructive. Though there’s no evidence that it has encouraged law-enforcement officials to assault teachers with pellet guns during trainings, it does promote a proactive response to active shooters. Each letter in its name corresponds to a different step in its safety protocol. “ALERT is when . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 3:35 pm

How to Talk About the New Zealand Massacre: More Sunlight, Less Oxygen

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Evan Osnos writes in the New Yorker:

Even more than its predecessors, the massacre in New Zealand feels like the confluence of strands of our times: on March 15th, a gunman with an AR-15 killed forty-nine people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, the worst massacre in New Zealand’s history. It was a poisonously global moment: the attacker broadcast the massacre live on Facebook, and he posted a so-called manifesto to Twitter, regurgitating neo-Nazi in-jokes and immigration-conspiracy theories about “birth rates” and “white genocide.” His particulars merit little more attention than that.

By now, we know to restrain our instinct to recirculate, and perversely glamourize, the details. We know to deprive the virulent corners of modern life of the “oxygen of amplification,” in the words of Whitney Phillips, of the Data & Society Research Institute, who is the author of a valuable report on the interplay between extremists, technology, and journalism. In a list of best practices, Phillips reminds reporters to treat violent language and memes as “inherently contagious” and to avoid highlighting “objectively false” ideas unless they are prominently undermined.

It is good advice, but it can also be misused. As news spread of the gunman’s motives, Donald Trump, Jr., who is not known for his powers of restraint, expressed a sudden desire not to give the “NZ shooter what he wants.” He tweeted, “Don’t speak his name don’t show the footage. Seems that most agree on that. The questions is can the media do what’s right and pass up the ratings they’ll get by doing the opposite? I fear we all know the answer unfortunately.”

Don, Jr.,’s newfound sympathy for decorum most likely owes less to a nuanced theory of violence and publicity than to the shameful reality that the New Zealand killer hailed his father, President Donald Trump, as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” In the Oval Office, a few hours later, the President was asked if he considers white nationalism a rising threat. “I don’t, really,” he said. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Trump called the incident “a terrible thing.” He was speaking, not incidentally, during a ceremony in which he vetoed an attempt to block his use of emergency funds to build a border wall. He complained, as ever, about an “invasion” of illegal immigrants.

The New Zealand killer takes his place in the cracked pantheon of violent, Trump-admiring extremists: beside the gunman at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, who blamed Jews for resettling refugees and immigrants, whom Trump vilifies as the center of his politics; beside the van-dweller in Miami who found purpose amid the throngs of Trump rallies and set about sending pipe bombs to George Soros, journalists, and Democrats. The New Zealand killer did not exact his violence in America, but he would be at home in our statistics: in the past decade, seventy-three per cent of all American extremist-related killings have come from the right wing, compared to twenty-three per cent from Salafi jihadism and three per cent from the left wing, according to the Soufan Center, which studies global security.

Pointing out those patterns does not feed oxygen to the sources; it subjects them to the disinfecting power of sunlight. We can only have an honest analysis of the sources of this violence if we understand how it grows and spreads. That applies not only to the role of journalism but also to the role of technology. Whenever a killer relies, as he did in this case, on the Internet to amplify the effects of his terror, some inevitably defend social media as no better and no worse than the humanity that uses it. Don’t blame the hammer, we are told; blame the hand. At best, that is a deflection. One does not have to be a Luddite to believe that the worst of social media is not a mirror image of us; it is a grotesque distortion, a funhouse mirror that bulges and squeezes and disfigures us in ways that mock our humanity instead of reinforcing it.

Once again, Facebook finds itself scrambling to explain how it will prevent its creations from being used for harm. When I interviewed a range of Facebook executives last year, several of them touted the use of artificial intelligence and human moderators to prevent the misuse of Facebook Live. Alex Schultz, a longtime Facebook staffer, told me that, to detect instances of suicide or murder on Facebook Live, the company created a system that looks for sudden spikes in attention—“by number of people viewing, by the rate at which those impressions are going up, by the percentage of sad reactions versus likes, by the number of people saying, ‘Oh, my God’ down in the comments.” He said, “Then you need artificial intelligence to be able to read those comments, to get the signal out so you can rank it.” In this case, the rampage was broadcast by a head-mounted camera for a hideous seventeen minutes. It stopped only after Facebook was alerted by New Zealand police. In a statement, Mia Garlick, of Facebook New Zealand, said, “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this horrendous act. New Zealand Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and thevideo.”

By then, archives of the video were everywhere. Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative reporter at the Observertweeted, “I may have reached my moment of total despair. The full video is all over YouTube. All over Facebook.” She pointed to a version that had been watched twenty-three thousand times on Facebook in one hour. “And 1000s out there,” she wrote.

For Facebook, the New Zealand massacre is a gruesome measure of the social-media platform’s power and its limitations. The attack struck just as the company is attempting to refashion itself to focus on small-scale, encrypted conversations. But that new focus will expand alongside the main news feed of public conversation; it will not replace the public forum. And so the peril remains. The company did not create the root cause—what the scholar Thomas Rid calls a “violent transnational neo-fascist ideology”—but the technology has multiplied its force to a degree that is almost beyond measure.

To allow the killer to monopolize the final image of this moment would be a mistake. Instead, it is worth pausing to . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2019 at 5:33 pm

The Tragedy of Baltimore

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Alec MacGillis reports in ProPublica:

On April 27, 2015, Shantay Guy was driving her 13-year-old son home across Baltimore from a doctor’s appointment when something — a rock, a brick, she wasn’t sure what — hit her car. Her phone was turned off, so she had not realized that protests and violence had broken out in the city that afternoon, following the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who drew national attention eight days earlier when he died after suffering injuries in police custody.

As she saw what was happening — fires being set, young people and police officers converging on the nearby vortex of the disorder — she pushed her son, Brandon, down in his seat and sped home. “Mom, are we home yet?” Brandon asked when they pulled up at their house just inside the city line, where they lived with Guy’s husband, her grown daughter and her husband’s late-teenage son, brother and sister-in-law.

“Yeah,” she told him.

“You’re still holding my head down,” he said.

Guy grew up in an impoverished, highly segregated part of West Baltimore near what was now the focal point of the street clashes, but she had long since climbed into a different stratum of the city’s society; she was working as an information-technology project manager for T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based mutual-fund giant. Seeing her old neighborhood erupt changed her life. After long discussions with her husband, who manages the office of a local trucking company, she quit her job and went to work for a community mediation organization. “It just felt like it was the work I was supposed to be doing,” she said.

In Baltimore, you can tell a lot about the politics of the person you’re talking with by the word he or she uses to describe the events of April 27, 2015. Some people, and most media outlets, call them the “riots”; some the “unrest.” Guy was among those who always referred to them as the “uprising,” a word that connoted something justifiable and positive: the first step, however tumultuous, toward a freer and fairer city. Policing in Baltimore, Guy and many other residents believed, was broken, with officers serving as an occupying army in enemy territory — harassing African-American residents without cause, breeding distrust and hostility.

In 2016, the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division concurred, releasing a report accusing the city’s Police Department of racial discrimination and excessive force. The city agreed to a “consent decree” with the federal government, a set of policing reforms that would be enforced by a federal judge. When an independent monitoring team was selected to oversee the decree, Guy was hired as its community liaison. This was where she wanted to be: at the forefront of the effort to make her city a better place.

But in the years that followed, Baltimore, by most standards, became a worse place. In 2017, it recorded 342 murders — its highest per-capita rate ever, more than double Chicago’s, far higher than any other city of 500,000 or more residents and, astonishingly, a larger absolute number of killings than in New York, a city 14 times as populous. Other elected officials, from the governor to the mayor to the state’s attorney, struggled to respond to the rise in disorder, leaving residents with the unsettling feeling that there was no one in charge. With every passing year, it was getting harder to see what gains, exactly, were delivered by the uprising.

One night last October, after Guy and her husband, Da’mon, had gone to bed, Da’mon’s brother banged on the bedroom door. “Yo, yo, get up!” he shouted.

It was around 11:30 p.m. Da’mon’s 21-year-old son, Da’mon Jr., whom Shantay had helped raise, would ordinarily have been home by then, after his bus ride across town from his evening shift working as a supply coordinator at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But he was nowhere to be seen. Da’mon Sr. rushed to the door and asked what was going on.

“Dame’s been shot,” his brother said.


Four months later, I met Guy and Da’mon Jr. at a cafe near my office in the center of the city. Da’mon had recently been released after spending 47 days in the hospital, with 20 surgical procedures. His inferior vena cava, which carries blood from the lower body to the heart, no longer functioned; he had to rely on collateral veins instead. He was trying to go back to work, but swelling in his legs and shortness of breath were making it hard.

Da’mon told me he had no idea who was behind the shooting, which he surmised was either an attempted robbery or a gang initiation. It was unnerving, he said, knowing the shooter was still out there somewhere. “I don’t like it when cars slow down to me or people are staring at me too long at stop signs,” he said. “Any one of y’all could be that person. You never know.”

But Guy, somehow, had come through the experience even more committed to the cause she had signed on for. “Our city needs restoration,” she told me.

t takes remarkable fortitude to remain an optimist about Baltimore today. I have lived in the city for 11 of the past 18 years, and for the last few I have struggled to describe its unraveling to friends and colleagues elsewhere. If you live in, say, New York or Boston, you are familiar with a certain story of urban America. Several decades ago, disorder and dysfunction were common across American cities. Then came the great urban rebirth: a wave of reinvestment coupled with a plunge in crime rates that has left many major cities to enjoy a sort of post-fear existence.

Until 2015, Baltimore seemed to be enjoying its own, more modest version of this upswing. Though it is often lumped in with Rust Belt economic casualties like Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, Baltimore in fact fared better than these postindustrial peers. Because of the Johns Hopkins biomedical empire, the city’s busy port and its proximity to Washington, metro Baltimore enjoyed higher levels of wealth and income — including among its black population — than many former manufacturing hubs.

The city still had its ills — its blight, suburban flight, segregation, drugs, racial inequality, concentrated poverty. But as recently as 2014, Baltimore’s population, which is 63 percent African-American, was increasing, up slightly to 623,000 after decades of decline. Office buildings downtown were being converted to apartments, and a new business-and-residential district was rising east of the Inner Harbor. The city was even attracting those ultimate imprimaturs of urban revival, a couple of food halls.

The subsequent regression has been swift and demoralizing. Redevelopment continues in some parts of town, but nearly four years after Freddie Gray’s death, the surge in crime has once again become the context of daily life in the city, as it was in the early 1990s. I have grown accustomed to scanning the briefs column in The Baltimore Sun in the morning for news of the latest homicides; to taking note of the location of the latest killings as I drive around town for my baseball coaching and volunteering obligations. In 2017, the church I attend started naming the victims of the violence at Sunday services and hanging a purple ribbon for each on a long cord outside. By year’s end, the ribbons crowded for space, like shirts on a tenement clothesline.

The violence and disorder have fed broader setbacks. Gov. Larry Hogan canceled a $2.9 billion rail transit line for West Baltimore, defending the disinvestment in the troubled neighborhood partly by noting that the state had spent $14 million responding to the riots. Target closed its store in West Baltimore, a blow to a part of town short of retail options. The civic compact has so frayed that one acquaintance admitted to me recently that he had stopped waiting at red lights when driving late at night. Why should he, he argued, when he saw young men on dirt bikes flying through intersections while police officers sat in cruisers doing nothing?

Explaining all this to people outside Baltimore is difficult, not only because the experience is alien to those even in cities just up or down the interstate from us (though a handful of cities elsewhere, like Chicago and St. Louis, have experienced their own waves of recent violence, albeit less dramatically than Baltimore). It’s also because the national political discourse lacks a vocabulary for the city’s ills. On right-wing talk radio, one of the few sectors of the media to take much interest in Baltimore’s crime surge, there are old tropes of urban mayhem — Trump’s “American carnage.” Typically lacking from these schadenfreude-laced discussions is any sense of the historical forces and societal abandonment that the city has for decades struggled to overcome.

On the left, in contrast, Baltimore’s recent woes have been largely overlooked, partly because they present a challenge to those who start from the assumption that policing is inherently suspect. The national progressive story of Baltimore during this era of criminal-justice reform has been the story of the police excesses that led to Gray’s death and the uprising, not the surge of violence that has overtaken the city ever since. As a result, Baltimore has been left mostly on its own to contend with what has been happening, which has amounted to nothing less than a failure of order and governance the likes of which few American cities have seen in years.


To understand how things in Baltimore have gotten so bad, you need to first understand how, not so long ago, they got better.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 March 2019 at 8:05 am

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