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Protesters demonstrate against shooting of Jacob Blake

Photo by kenfagerdotcom/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

An armed individual shot three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last night -- killing two and seriously injuring the third -- amid an uprising following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man. The suspected shooter has now been identified as a 17-year-old who reportedly "considered himself a militia member trying to protect life and property." Even before these details of the August 25 vigilante shooting were known, figures across the right-wing media ecosystem began hyping the violence, defending the alleged shooter, and using the deadly incident to fearmonger about activists and "the left."

On August 23, Blake, a 29-year-old father of six, was reportedly breaking up an altercation between two other individuals when Kenosha police arrived, responding to a call about a domestic incident. As video footage of the police shooting shows, Blake was walking away from the scene and trying to get in his car when a police officer grabbed his T-shirt and shot him multiple times in the back. Three of his young children were in the vehicle at the time of the shooting. Blake was taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries. He is in stable condition but is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father.

On August 25, the third night of protests in Kenosha following the unprovoked police shooting, a gunman opened fire into the crowd. David Beth, the county sheriff, said one of the victims was shot in the chest and a second in the head shortly before midnight on Tuesday. The suspect was identified as a 17-year-old, who faces a first-degree intentional homicide charge in Kenosha County and is currently in custody. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist activity, told CBS News that there were militia members at the protest but that it found no evidence from the alleged shooter's social media that he is connected to any extremist movements. His posts showed that he is very pro-police, often using the phrase "Blue Lives Matter" on his social media accounts. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the suspected shooter presented himself in interviews and on social media as "a militia member trying to protect life and property."

Before many of these details were known or the suspect was officially identified, many on the fringes of the right-wing media echo chamber gratuitously shared and hyped graphic videos of the shooting. Others indicated support for armed private citizens or self-styled militias. Across the media ecosystem, many began seizing on the horrific act of violence to fearmonger about racial justice activists and anti-fascists -- and some even suggested the media or Democratic leaders are to blame.

Infowars' Alex Jones defended violence from armed citizens against protesters

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, host of Infowars, was one of the first to fervently defend the Kenosha shooter. Jones has a history of encouraging right-wing militias to take up arms against any perceived threat. To Jones, last night's shooting was simply an act of self-preservation against what he described as a "communist overthrow of the country." In an August 26 live-streamed video posted on the platform, he spoke at length defending the alleged shooter, saying the shooting was purely done in self-defense against the "rioters" who were trying to "murder him."

He also repeatedly cited an article from far-right publication the Nationalist Review, saying that it "did a good job breaking it down." The article was explicitly written in an attempt to absolve the suspected shooter: "Please note, this article features a lot of videos worth watching that vindicate the actions of [the alleged shooter]. Share this article with anyone that thinks he was in the wrong for his actions."

Jones encouraged business owners to arm themselves in anticipation of further violence, referencing a shop owner who was knocked unconscious during the protests: "Hey dude, you should have been there with a riot shotgun, OK? I mean, seriously, that's how you defend your businesses, is with a shotgun."

Prior to the shooting on Tuesday night, Infowars reportedly promoted a Facebook event seemingly organized in anticipation of the Kenosha protests. The event called for armed citizens to gather to "protect our lives and property," writing: "Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs? No doubt they are currently planning on the next part of the city to burn tonight."

In the August 26 Infowars live video, Jones admitted to anticipating the militia attacks: "When the police stand down and you've got thousands of people going through neighborhoods burning down houses and businesses, raping and robbing, you're going to have the vaccum filled with citizens, and you're going to have street battles."

The right-wing echo chamber is defending the shooter's actions and hyping the violence

  • The Gateway Pundit, a notoriously factually challenged conservative blog, posted multiple articles breathlessly hyping extremely graphic videos of the August 25 shootings.
  • The Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh tweeted, "People have every right to protect private property while armed. If you attack armed men because you're mad that they're stopping you from lighting buildings on fire, and then you get shot in the process, it's 1000 percent your own fault. I shouldn't need to explain this."
  • BlazeTV host and reporter Elijah Schaffer tweeted claiming that the media was "gaslighting" the situation and that the alleged shooter -- who was "also protecting private property from criminals" -- was "a libertarian who said he was in support of the [Black Lives Matter] movement."
  • Pro-gun blog Bearing Arms published a post suggesting the shootings may have been done in self-defense and hyping a reported incident in which a protester pointed a gun at Schaffer. The post ended with a warning:
Be armed and prepared to defend yourself and your home. We've seen "protestors" in other places venture into residential neighborhoods already, so don't believe for an instant that there's no chance of it happening. Based on what we see in Schaffer's video from Monday, they might even start shooting without even meaning too, so be ready.
  • Pro-gun blog The Truth About Guns also defended the August 25 shooting, writing that "local residents tooled up open-carry style to protect their homes and businesses from rabid mobs intent on burning, looting and murdering their way through town." The post also fixated on the graphic videos of the shooting: "There's video of one reportedly 'revolutionary' looter who took a round to the head while trying to loot a car shop. It didn't go well for him."

Some are mocking "far-left cop haters" for asking for help after a person was shot in the head

  • The Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft wrote an article that mocked "cop-hating BLM and antifa looters" for shouting to call police after a protester was shot in the head. The post concluded, "Even the far left cop-haters want a police officer around when they need them."
  • Far-right commentator Cassandra Fairbanks' website, District Herald, posted an article headlined: "'Call the Police' Trends on Twitter After Kenosha Black Lives Matter Rioter Calls for Help From Law Enforcement Following Shooting." The subheading on the piece mocked the protesters, saying, "They went from 'Defund the Police' to 'Call the Police' real fast."

Many used the shooting to target activists, Democrats, or the media

    • White nationalist commentator Ian Miles Cheong tweeted, "Kenosha doesn't need your prayers," claiming that protests were a "baptism by fire for people" to "realize what living in a nation without police is truly like."
    • Cheong also tweeted, "An anti-gun lobbyist is furiously masturbating over the footage of gun violence in Kenosha."
    • Far-right social media figure Mike Cernovich blamed Democrats, writing, "Now DEMOCRATS OWN all of this. Every death. Every burning building. Every child's death. … Democrats wanted this".
    • Media figure Buck Sexton tweeted, "Democrats' decision to turn Kenosha into Fallujah isn't going to play well with Wisconsin soccer moms in November."
    • BlazeTV host Sara Gonzales tweeted that she "KNEW the media would use" a shooting to "further a race war with no evidence."
    • Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe tweeted, "Just watch, the media and the Left are now going to focus on the citizen militias showing up in Kenosha to take the blame off of BLM and Antifa for inciting the violence in the first place."
    • The Federalist ran an article headlined "Two Killed During Riots In Wisconsin As Democrat Governor Refuses Federal Assistance."


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    The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

    Screenshot from

    As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

    In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

    In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

    “The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

    Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

    “The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

    The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

    But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

    The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

    The Arizona Template

    In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

    Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

    The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

    “I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

    Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

    For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

    “We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

    When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

    It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

    In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

    “There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

    When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

    Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

    “You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

    Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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    Michael Carvajal

    Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

    The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

    The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

    When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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