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Jewish Centers Report Bomb Threats Across U.S.

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Several Jewish community centers (JCC) across the United States were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving bomb threats, the latest wave of threatened attacks against them this year, the national umbrella organization said.

Some 11 centers including those in the Houston, Chicago, and Milwaukee areas received phoned-in bomb threats that were later determined to be hoaxes, said David Posner, a director at JCC Association of North America who advises centers on security.

No arrests were made and no one was injured. All of the centers returned to normal operations, Posner said in a statement.

The FBI was investigating the incidents, Posner said.

Officials at the FBI were not immediately available for comment.

Officials at the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee, received a bomb threat at 10:15 a.m. local time, the second such incident at the center over the last three weeks, it said on Twitter.

“Taking very cautious measures, we are sheltering in our gym, as has been recommended,” the Milwaukee JCC said in a text message sent to parents of children who attend the preschool at the center, according to an NBC affiliate in Milwaukee.

The center reopened two hours later, the center said on Twitter.

Monday’s incidents come after three waves of bomb threats in 2017. In all, 69 incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states and one Canadian province have been reported, according to the JCC Association of North America.

“We are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” Posner said.

Jewish community centers typically offer after-school activities, fitness programs, and various other services.

Over the weekend, the headstones at the graves of about 170 Jews were vandalized in the St. Louis area, the Washington Post reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

IMAGE: Demonstrators hold a banner during a “Muslim and Jewish Solidarity” protest against the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Grand Central Terminal in New York City, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Orlando Nightclub Victims’ Families Sue Twitter, Google, And Facebook

(Reuters) – The families of three men killed at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub have sued Twitter Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc in federal court, accusing the companies of providing “material support” to the self-radicalized gunman.

The gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and wounded 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group before police fatally shot him after the June attack, officials said.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in Detroit federal court by the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero, who were killed during the massacre.

Similar lawsuits in the past have faced an uphill fight because of strong protections in U.S. federal law for the technology industry.

The three families claim Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Facebook “provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds and attract new recruits.”

The suit alleges the “material support has been instrumental to the rise of ISIS and has enabled it to carry out or cause to be carried out, numerous terrorist attacks.”

Facebook said on Tuesday there is no place on its service for groups that engage in or support terrorism, and that it takes swift action to remove that content when it is reported.

“We are committed to providing a service where people feel safe when using Facebook,” it said in a statement. “We sympathize with the victims and their families.”

Twitter declined to comment. In August, the company said it had suspended 360,000 accounts since mid-2015 for violating policies related to promotion of terrorism.

Representatives of Google could not immediately be reached.

The three companies plus Microsoft Corp said this month they would coordinate more to remove extremist content, sharing digital “fingerprints” with each other.

Technology companies are protected from many lawsuits under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which says website operators are not liable for content posted by others.

Monday’s lawsuit claims that the companies create unique content by combining ISIS postings with advertisements to target the viewer. It also says they share revenue with ISIS for its content and profit from ISIS postings through advertising revenue.

The families in the case in Michigan, where one of the victims is from, are seeking damages and for the court to rule that the sites have violated the Anti-Terrorism Act in the United States.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and David Ingram in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)

IMAGE: A person rubs an “#Orlando United” sticker on the sign pole outside Pulse nightclub following the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Judge Lets Wisconsin Officials Decide How To Perform Vote Recount

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Local officials in Wisconsin will decide for themselves how to carry out a presidential election recount after a state judge on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by former Green Party candidate Jill Stein to have the ballots counted by hand.

A recount of Wisconsin’s three million votes is set to begin on Thursday after Stein’s campaign requested the audit and paid the state’s $3.5-million filing fee, state election officials say.

Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ruled that Wisconsin’s 72 county clerks will not be required to count ballots by hand as Stein requested in a lawsuit filed on Monday, Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a statement.

Bailey-Rihn said Stein’s lawsuit, backed by the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, fell short of Wisconsin’s legal standard to ban use of ballot machines in a recount and failed to show enough evidence of fraud or other issues, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said.

“I follow the law. That’s who I am, despite my personal opinions,” said Bailey-Rihn, the Journal reported. “It’s (the counties’) decision. It’s their discretion. I may disagree with it … but I must follow the law.”

The ruling will not deter Stein’s efforts, a lawyer for her campaign recount effort said, referring to the hand counting of ballots as the “gold standard.”

“We are calling on all counties to respect the will of Americans across the country and across the political spectrum, and follow the recommendation of the judge, and conduct a hand recount to ensure the accuracy, security, and integrity of this election,” Matthew Brinckerhoff said in a statement.

Stein has also sought a recount in Pennsylvania on Monday, just hours before the state’s deadline, and her campaign said she would file a similar request in Michigan by its deadline on Wednesday.

“Election integrity experts have independently identified Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as states where ‘statistical anomalies’ raised concerns,” her campaign said on its website, seeking donations to pay for recount filing fees.

Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the presidential contest has unleashed talk of recounts, with the Republican president-elect contributing a surprise twist.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that “serious voter fraud” occurred in California, New Hampshire, and Virginia, states that Clinton won.

All three states rejected Trump’s claim, and the White House on Monday said there had been no evidence of widespread election fraud in the presidential contest.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Green Party Raises $2.5 million For Presidential Recount In Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein on Thursday reached her goal to raise $2.5 million to request a recount in Wisconsin, one of three states where she plans to seek an audit of U.S. presidential election results, her campaign said.

Stein will ask Wisconsin to verify vote totals tallied by electronic machines that her campaign called “highly vulnerable to hacking and malicious reprogramming” in a statement on its website.

She is also trying to raise an additional $2 million to request recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where deadlines are next week to file the required paperwork.

Election experts have identified Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania as states where “statistical anomalies” occurred, according to the Stein campaign.

“We deserve elections we can trust,” the campaign said.

Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by slight margins in the three battleground states on his way to an upset in the presidential election on Nov. 8. Leading up to the election, many polls had Clinton defeating Trump.

Although Clinton won the popular vote, Trump is well ahead in Electoral College votes, the determining tally in winning the presidency in the United States. Stein won a little more than 1 percent of the popular vote.

“Our effort to recount votes in those states is not intended to help Hillary Clinton,” the Stein campaign said.

Election experts are calling for Clinton to seek a manual review of paper ballots and voting equipment in the three states, University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman wrote in an essay.

Such an examination would “help allay doubt and give voters justified confidence that the results are accurate,” Halderman wrote on Medium.com, a site where users can self-publish articles and essays.

The most likely explanation for the polls wrongly predicting a Clinton win was that they were “systematically wrong” rather than that the election being hacked, he wrote.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

IMAGE: Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaks at a campaign rally in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. September 8, 2016.   REUTERS/Jim Young

Unconstitutional: Court Strikes Down Republican Gerrymandering In Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Republicans in Wisconsin tilted district maps in their favor in order to hamper Democrats and ultimately win state elections in 2012 and 2014, a federal court said on Monday in a case that could influence future rulings on gerrymandering.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin decided 2-1 that Act 43, a redrawing of districts approved by the state’s Republican-led legislature in 2012, violated the U.S. Constitution, court documents showed.

“We find that the discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest,” the court wrote in its ruling.

The case has no bearing on Donald Trump’s victory in Wisconsin in the presidential election on Nov. 8, in which he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a statement that he planned to appeal, which would send the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A ruling there on gerrymandering – the practice of manipulating electoral boundaries for political advantage – could have wide implications across the country as similar cases in Maryland and North Carolina work their way through lower courts.

“This is a big victory for those who want to see courts rein in partisan gerrymandering. But it is anybody’s guess what happens to this when it gets to the Supreme Court,” wrote Richard Hasen, an elections law expert at the University of California, Irvine, on his blog.

Since 2010, Republicans have more than doubled their control of state legislatures. They now control both legislative chambers in a record 32 states, the New York Times reported.

“Republicans win elections because we have better candidates and a better message that continues to resonate with the voters,” said Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a statement.

Twelve Wisconsin voters argued in their lawsuit that Republicans redrew maps in 2011 to divide Democratic voters so they fall short of a majority in districts and to concentrate Democratic voters into districts so they win by overwhelming margins and dilute votes of Democrats statewide, according to the ruling.

Despite receiving 51 percent of the votes statewide in 2012, Democrats won only 39 of 99 Assembly seats. In 2014, Republicans won roughly the same percentage of votes statewide, but won 63 seats, a 24-seat disparity, judges wrote.

The Wisconsin case hinged on a new way to measure the discriminatory effect of gerrymandering. The “efficiency gap” measure found the redistricting in Wisconsin caused Democrats to waste more votes than Republicans.

The measure gives judges “a clear threshold for deciding what is acceptable”, Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the New York Times.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

IMAGE: Voters wait in line to cast their ballots during early voting at the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus, in Columbus, Ohio U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Paul Ryan Wins Primary Election For Congressional Seat

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan handily won a primary election for his congressional seat on Tuesday, a contest overshadowed by presidential candidate Donald Trump‘s brief refusal last week to endorse his fellow Republican.

Ryan, who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2012, had roughly 84 percent of the vote compared with challenger Paul Nehlen’s 16 percent, with 87 percent of voting areas reporting results, the Journal Sentinel reported at 11 p.m. local time.

“I am humbled and honored that Wisconsinites in the 1st Congressional District support my efforts to keep fighting on their behalf,” Ryan said in a statement.

In the general election for the 1st Congressional District seat in southeast Wisconsin on Nov. 8, he will likely face Iraq war veteran Ryan Solen, who won the Democrat primary on Tuesday.

Nehlen thanked his supporters in a brief Twitter post after the polls closed.

“Truly an amazing journey,” he said.

The race became the center of attention a week ago when Trump refused to endorse Ryan during an interview with the Washington Post.

In a sign of the tension between the politicians, Trump told the newspaper he was “not quite there yet” – echoing a phrase Ryan had used about Trump.

On Friday, Trump endorsed Ryan and Senators John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire during a campaign stop in Green Bay, a show of support that could be a step to mend his frayed relations with fellow Republicans.

Trump, a former reality TV star, has troubled many in the Republican establishment with his off-the-cuff, often insulting, style and controversial policies. These include a proposed ban on Muslims visiting the United States and his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out undocumented immigrants.

Ryan, Ayotte and McCain had criticized Trump‘s feud with the family of Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004 and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for bravery. Trump had a running dispute with Khan’s parents after they criticized him at last month’s Democratic National Convention.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Paul Tait and Richard Pullin)

Photo: U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrives at a news conference about the House Democrats’ sit-in over gun-control laws, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas 

Zimmerman To Auction Gun Used To Kill Trayvon Martin

The Florida man who shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin in an incident that triggered nationwide civil rights protests will auction the gun he used on Thursday and spend some of the proceeds to challenge gun control policies, the auction website said.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently returned to George Zimmerman the Kel Tec 9mm pistol that he had used to kill the unarmed Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, according to Gunbroker.com, the website where the weapon is being sold.

Zimmerman described the gun as “a piece of American history,” according to the site.

The one-day auction is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Thursday, with bidding starting at $5,000.

The Trayvon Martin Foundation “has no comment on the actions of that person that murdered Trayvon,” Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, said in a statement.

Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time, said the shooting was in self-defense. Martin’s family said the teenager was simply passing through the residential area on his way home from a convenience store.

Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the incident that sparked civil rights rallies and shone a spotlight on Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law.

President Barack Obama said after Zimmerman’s acquittal that Martin “could have been me, 35 years ago” and urged Americans to understand the pain African Americans felt over the case.

 

‘SOCIOPATH’

“George Zimmerman” quickly became the top trending term on Twitter in the United States, with many users on the social media site expressing shock and revulsion.

“The only people worse than George Zimmerman are the people who bid on that gun,” tweeted the writer, Lyz Lenz.

National Review columnist Charles C. W. Cooke said Zimmerman “may have acted legally, but the man is a sociopath.”

On the auction website, Zimmerman said he planned to use part of the proceeds to fight Black Lives Matter, a rights movement that grew out of the incident, as well as to counter “violence against law enforcement officers.”

Proceeds would also go toward fighting Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s “anti-firearm rhetoric,” he said.

“I am honored and humbled to announce the sale of an American firearm icon. The firearm for sale is the firearm that was used to defend my life and end the brutal attack from Trayvon Martin,” he said on the site.

The number from the Martin case is written on the pistol in silver permanent marker and “many have expressed interest in owning and displaying the firearm,” he said in the description.

In a phone interview with a local broadcaster on Wednesday, Zimmerman brushed off those critical of the auction.

“They’re not going to be bidding on it, so I couldn’t care less about them,” he told Orlando TV station WOFL.

Zimmerman, who has had brushes with law enforcement since his acquittal, was the target of an attempted murder by Matthew Apperson in a Florida road dispute in May 2015, according to prosecutors.

He told WOFL that he had received death threats while in hiding after killing Martin, and that he had received more threats to his life since the gun sale was announced.

“What I’ve decided to do is not cower,” he said. “I’m a free American. And I can do what I like with my possessions.”

 

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Amy Tennery in New York, and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Alabama’s Top Judge Faces Ethics Charges Over Gay-Marriage Order

Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice was suspended on Friday for ordering state probate judges not to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, despite contrary rulings by a federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Roy Moore, an outspoken opponent of same-sex unions, faces possible removal from the bench after the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission charged him with violating the state’s judicial ethics laws, according to news website AL.com.

The legality of gay marriage had been at the center of a national debate until the Supreme Court ruled in June that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, handing a historic triumph to the American gay rights movement.

Despite the decision and a federal court ruling that made gay marriage legal in Alabama, Moore in January issued an administrative order to state probate judges that they should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to court documents.

“Chief Justice Moore flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority,” the complaint said. “Moore knowingly ordered (probate judges) to commit violations … knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office.”

Moore said in a statement that the commission had no authority over administrative orders or the court’s ability to prohibit probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. “We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail,” he said.

Moore wrote in his order that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was at odds with a decision in March 2015 by the Alabama Supreme Court that instructed probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The conflicting opinions had resulted in “confusion and uncertainty,” Moore said, with many probate judges issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while others refused to do so. [uL1N14R283]

The Human Rights Campaign, the biggest U.S. gay rights organization, hailed the suspension. “Roy Moore is an embarrassment to the state of Alabama,” Eva Walton Kendrick, the group’s Alabama state manager, said in a statement.

Moore, a Republican, has been a hero of conservative causes before. In 2003, he was removed from office after a federal judge ruled he was placing himself above the law by refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument.

He won the chief justice job back in 2012, vowing not to do anything to create further friction with the federal courts.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Ed Davies/Mark Heinrich)

Photo: A same-sex marriage supporter holds a sign referring to Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, during a protest outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama February 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Marvin Gentry