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Richmond Murder Plot Shows Insurrectionists Aren’t ‘Regular Americans’

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

This past weekend, CNN began running stories ("Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump's Insurrection") dedicated ostensibly to examining what motivated the hundreds of people who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, but which in the process primarily normalized them. "Before they were at an insurrection, they were regular Americans," read one promotional headline.

But the more we learn about the insurrectionists and their violent intentions, as evidence appears in the court record of their prosecutions, the more apparent it is that there is nothing remotely normal about the far-right movement into which they have eagerly been swept up. Even more self-evident is that, as we learn more about would-be insurrectionary events in the year leading up to Jan. 6—particularly the failed plans that were laid out to attack state capitol buildings in Virginia and Michigan—that the Capitol siege was not simply a one-off event; rather, the far-right extremists who still have not backed down in their belief that the election was stolen from Donald Trump intend to keep attempting it until they succeed.

The plot to unleash terrorist violence in Richmond, Virginia, was laid out in detail this weekend by the Winnipeg Free Press, which did a deep-dive exploration of the would-be terrorist career of Patrik Mathews, the onetime Canadian reservist arrested by the FBI five days before thousands of gun fanatics gathered in Richmond to protest the state's looming gun-control laws.

The Press had earlier exposed Mathews' activities as a budding recruiter for the neo-Nazi terrorist group The Base while serving as an active-duty combat engineer in Canada, leading to an RCMP raid on his home in Beausejour. Mathews fled to the United States in 2019 and began leading the life of a fugitive with other members of The Base, but his activities were being tracked and monitored by federal agents.

At one point, the agents obtained a "sneak and peek" warrant to search an apartment he shared with fellow Base member Brian Lemley Jr., which provided a trove of disturbing information:

What the agents found was disturbing: several self-recorded propaganda videos in which Mathews urged white supremacists to pick up arms and carry out attacks to spark a race war.
"If you want the white race to survive, you're going to have to do your f—king part… This is the age of war," Mathews said.
"Derail some f—king trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies."
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland — which would later prosecute the criminal charges against the men — many of Mathews propaganda videos discussed killing people in furtherance of the neo-Nazi movement.

"The system has prevented a peaceful solution at every possible turn. It is the system that is fomenting violent revolution—not us—and they shall now reap what they have sown," Mathews said in one of the videos. "This is the century upon which this current civilization's rotting Jew-infested country comes to a collapse."

Moreover, the men were getting worked up about the upcoming Jan. 20, 2020, gun-rights rally in Richmond—whose politics they endorsed, but which they saw primarily as an opportunity to spark a violent conflict by opening up gunfire on rallygoers and on police. Among their purchases in the weeks leading up to the event was a semiautomatic assault rifle they assembled and then practiced with repeatedly at a gun range.

According to the FBI affidavit in the case, the three men discussed "the planning of violence at a specific event in Virginia, scheduled for January 20, 2020."

"Lemley discussed using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to conduct ambush attacks," the affidavit explains, "including attacks against unsuspecting civilians and police officers. Lemley stated, 'I literally need, I need to claim my first victim,' and when describing the optic, Lemley stated, "It's so unfair what I can do to people with that you know. There is no safety. Don't be caught alone at night in a place where I pop you."

Mathews stated, "We could essentially like be literally hunting people. Um. You could provide overwatch while I get close to do what needs to be done to certain things."

It quoted Mathews observing that "you know we got this situation in Virginia where this is going to be, that opportunity is boundless and the thing is you've got tons of guys who are just in theory should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to fucking full blown civil war.'"

In preparation for the Richmond event, the men gathered supplies: "bug out bags" they could stash as part of their getaway plans, purchasing body armor and an ammunition stockpile with over 1,600 rounds.

"I need to claim my first victim," Lemley told Mathews at one point.

"We can't let Virginia go to waste. We just can't. … Virginia will be our day," Mathews replied.

The men were arrested in Delaware on January 16. Several other members of The Base and another neo-Nazi terrorist band, Atomwaffen Division, were arrested over the next month on various charges involving their attempts to terrorize their political opponents.

The Richmond rally was raucous but generally nonviolent. However, its organizers made clear that their frequently seditionist rhetoric was not going away. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes—who eventually played a key role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, though he has not yet been charged—told protest supporters that the momentum was building for a civil war:

So yes, it could come down to a standoff. That's why it's important for, like I said, we want to reach out to the state police and National Guard as part of our mission when we go to Virginia, is reach out to them and encourage them to stand down because if they do act under the command of the governor, they come into a county, and they're resisted by the local militia or the sheriff and his posse, it will kick off a civil war in this country. That's what will happen. There will be a civil war between the left and the right and we'd prefer to see that not happen. That's where it's going to go.

And that was indeed where it went over the next year, particularly for the far-right "Patriot"/militia movement to which most of these various actors voiced allegiance—even as their opportunistic focus veered suddenly in the direction of anti-pandemic restriction protests. In late April, a group of armed militiamen attempted to take over the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing, and succeeded in threatening legislators who then voted to nullify Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's shutdown orders.

When federal and state investigators arrested 14 militiamen—many of whom had participated in the April protest—in October on charges that they had plotted to kidnap and execute Whitmer, it shortly emerged that the men's original plan had involved a massive takeover of the Capitol, at the culmination of which they intended to hold show trials and televised executions of state officials taken hostage.

Placing state capitols under siege was clearly a developing tactic that the radical right intended to keep repeating until it took hold. In Oregon, a group of far-right protesters successfully, but briefly, invaded the statehouse on Dec. 21; Republican state Representative Mike Nearman, who faces official misconduct charges for allowing the extremists into the building, was expelled from the Oregon Houseon June 11.

CNN should understand that it's true that these extremists all consider themselves not just regular Americans, but the apotheosis of national pride—even though they revealed their deeply seditionist natures on Jan. 6 and afterward. This is largely because the Patriot movement dresses its violent extremism in the swaddling clothes of jingoist patriotism, convincing its bellicose believers that they represent the "silent majority." This is a reality that CNN's project utterly neglects.

So despite a mountain of legal setbacks, many of the insurrectionists and their supporters and apologists remain defiant in their belief that they were trying to save America from a nefarious leftist cabal involving Joe Biden, Chinese communists, and "antifa/BLM leftists." One such activist—a Washington state-based "Patriot" who threatened a woman journalist on camera in Washington, D.C., during a November 14 "Stop the Steal" event—was unrepentant to a Washington Post reporter: "I'd do it all again," he said, "but with the mask on."

What's clear now is that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol brought a year's worth of gathering momentum to a kind of fruition for the far-right tactic of threatening legislative buildings with invasion—and that the tactic remains a viable option for the future as well, at least until they finally succeed. Jan. 6 was a kind of culmination, but it likely also was a kind of beginning.

Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Neo-Nazi Thugs On Riot Charges

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

If white nationalists who engaged in acts of thuggish violence at protests during the Trump years were hoping they could escape culpability with the help of the Trump-appointed courts, then that gambit is not looking very solid right now, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court on Monday announced it would refuse the case of two members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM)—a band of neo-Nazi alt-righters from Southern California who like to travel around the country to participate in far-right protests with the intention of inflicting violence on "leftists"—who wanted to overturn the riot laws federal prosecutors had used to convict them for their violent roles in the August 2017 "Unite the Right" riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Members of RAM had flown from California to Virginia in August to participate in the event, and had committed numerous acts of violence there, at the culmination of which a young white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer and maiming 19 other people. Three of the men pleaded guilty to felony federal charges of conspiracy to riot and crossing state lines to riot in May 2019; two of them, Michael Miselis and Benjamin Daley, filed appeals.

In 2020, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had considered the men's conviction and sentencing on the grounds that the Anti-Riot Law used to imprison them was unconstitutionally overbroad. It ruled that while certain provisions in the law—such as those criminalizing speech that "tends to encourage a riot"—are unconstitutional First Amendment violations, it nonetheless upheld the men's convictions because those charges fell under other parts of the law—namely, the men's "substantial conduct," which included "pushing, punching, kicking, choking, head-butting, and otherwise assaulting numerous individuals, and none of which 'were in self-defense'"—which the court found were perfectly constitutional.

The Supreme Court's announcement leaves the convictions of Miselis and Daly, as well as the rulings in their appeals, in place. As is typical, the high court offered no comment in turning away the cases.

Daley faces a 37-month prison term, while Miselis was sentenced to 27 months.

The Rise Above Movement's existence and its activities were first exposed in detail in a ProPublica investigative piece published in October 2017. Nearly a year later, federal prosecutors filed charges against the men and another Charlottesville participant, Cole Evan White. Four other RAM members, including co-founder Robert Rundo, were charged in October 2018 with conspiracy to riot as well; however, their convictions were overturned on appeal in June 2019 by a federal judge who deemed the law unconstitutionally overbroad. Those charges were reinstated this March, primarily as a result of the Ninth Circuit's 2020 ruling.

RAM, as a 2019 sentencing memo explains, "represented itself as a combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy and identity movement. RAM regularly held hand-to-hand and other combat training for its members and associates to prepare to engage in violent confrontations with protestors and other individuals at purported political rallies. All three of the defendants attended these trainings to prepare for their violence."

Like most far-right street-brawling groups, their entire raison d'être was to provoke fights with far-left and anarchist groups, particularly those attached to various campuses in California and elsewhere. "RAM's goal when they attended these rallies was simple: They sought to provoke physical conflict, or—even better—they looked for any reason to serve as an excuse which they believed would justify their use of violence against their ideological foes," the memorandum notes. Their violence included events in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California, in the spring of 2017.

At the Aug. 12, 2017, event in Charlottesville, the RAM gang once again played a leading role in provoking violence on the streets, both at the Aug. 11 tiki torch march onto the University of Virginia campus and at the main Aug. 12 event in Charlottesville around the Robert E. Lee statue in a downtown park. The men were especially exultant about the Friday night march in which they had massively outnumbered counterprotesters and had mercilessly assaulted them: "After the students and protestors left, Miselis's own Go-Pro video captured him yelling 'total victory' and 'we beat you tonight, we'll beat you tomorrow too!'"

The next day, they engaged in such violence as punching protesters and knocking them to the ground, at which point they began kicking them so hard that Miselis broke his own toe. Daley infamously attacked a feminist and began strangling her, caught in an image reproduced frequently, and then threw her to the pavement with such force that she suffered a concussion.

Afterwards, online conversations made clear that "the defendants' primary regret about their time in Charlottesville was not having exacted enough violence."

Rundo, who fled the country after being cleared on appeals, is now an international fugitive. He is believed to be currently hiding out in Bosnia while being sought by police there, after having been expelled from Serbia.

Far-Right Gang Killed Cop In Plot To Blame 2020 Protest Violence On 'Leftists'

Despite the widespread media narrative blaming Black Lives Matter and antifascist activists for last summer's protest violence, there were plenty of suspicions that far-right extremists seeking to intensify the public's fear of the "violent left" were in fact responsible for a significant amount of it. These suspicions were fed by such incidents as the assassination of a federal officer in Oakland by two far-right "Boogaloo Bois" and the arrest of another "Boogaloo" enthusiast from Texas for attacking a police station in Minneapolis.

Now we know, thanks to federal prosecutors investigating the Oakland incident, that in fact it was not the act of a single "lone wolf" and his accomplice, but rather part of a larger plot by group of far-right extremists who called themselves the "Grizzly Scouts" and planned a series of deadly attacks on law-enforcement officers with the intent of making it appear to be the work of the "violent left." Even more disturbing, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, most of these conspirators, following their arrests for destroying evidence in the case, have been released on bond by federal magistrates who have deemed them not a risk to the community.

The Grizzly Scouts, according to the grand jury indictment handed down in April, plotted a variety of lethal actions targeting law-enforcement officers in the months and weeks before fellow "Boogaloo Boi" Steven Carillo—an active-duty Air Force sergeant—shot and killed federal protection officer Dave Patrick Underwood on May 29, 2020, and then a week later, a Santa Cruz sheriff's deputy seeking to arrest him. Carrillo was a key member of the group, which in addition to planning attacks on police, engaged in paramilitary training exercises at the home of a member near Turlock, California.

The four men named in the indictment—Jessie Alexander Rush, 29, of Turlock; Robert Jesus Blancas, 33, of Castro Valley; Simon Sage Ybarra, 23, of Los Gatos; and Kenny Matthew Miksch, 21, of San Lorenzo—and Carrillo used a WhatsApp chat group for the Grizzly Scouts labeled "209 Goon HQ" to plan their attacks and organize training sessions as part of the so-called "Boogaloo" movement with which they identified.

The men created a so-called "Quick Reaction Force" intended to perpetrate acts of violence against their perceived enemies, and sent one member to scout a protest in Sacramento. They also cooked up an "Operations Order" document describing police officers as "enemy forces," and described taking some law-enforcement officers prisoner: "POWs will be searched for intel and gear, interrogated, stripped naked, blindfolded, driven away and released into the wilderness blindfolded with hands bound."

On May 26, three days before he shot Underwood, along with another federal officer who survived, at a Black Lives Matter protest in Oakland, Carrillo had messaged Ybarra that he wanted to conduct a "cartel style" attack on police, and the two men then met in person in Ybarra's van to discuss the idea. Before leaving his home in Ben Lomond for Oakland on May 29, Carrillo had texted Ybarra that he was heading out to "snipe some you know what's."

Carrillo then met up with another "Boogaloo Boi" named Robert Justus Jr., 30, of Millbrae, who drove the van to the BLM protest with Carrillo in the passenger seat, armed with the rifle he then used to open fire at a guard booth at the Ron Dellums Federal Building manned by Underwood and his partner. Justus later turned himself in to authorities.

During the week following the shootings, the Grizzly Scouts discussed their hopes that then-President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act as a response to the violence at the protests, which were inspired by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman.

"[T]hat ^^^ will be our sign," Rush—who had himself previously served in the military—texted the others. "That effectively means the federal gov has declared war on things they're afraid of." He added that "the gov spent 100s of thousands of dollars on training me, im gonna use that s—."

The Grizzly Scouts also considered various ways to concoct violence between leftist antifascist groups and police. Blancas told the others that he was "totally down" with the idea of disguising himself as an antifascist while stirring up violence.

"It's the tactically sound option," Blancas wrote. "Them f—ing each other up only helps us."

Their plans, however, fell apart on June 6 when sheriff's deputies, investigating reports of a van in the Santa Cruz mountains matching the description of one that witnesses identified at the scene in Oakland, arrived at the scene of what turned out to be Carrillo's mountain compound stocked with guns, bombs, and ammunition just as the van pulled away. They followed it to Carrillo's home in Ben Lomond where he then retreated, and when deputies went to arrest him, he unleashed a torrent of gunfire and pipe bombs, killing Sheriff's Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller, and wounding another.

Carrillo, who was himself wounded during the fight, left the scene in a white sedan, and then was found an hour later after running through his back yard, jumping onto a neighbor's property, entering the man's home and demanding his car keys. After the neighbor obeyed, he seized an opportunity to tackle Carrillo from behind and did so, knocking away his AR-15 in the process, and then knocking away both a pipe bomb and his handgun when he tried to reach for them while on the ground. The neighbor held him there until deputies arrived and took Carrillo away.

Prior to the deputies' arrival at his mountain compound, Carrillo had texted the other members of the Grizzly Scout group on WhatsApp, according to the documents filed in the four men's indictment. He told the group that he was "preparing to engage in a shoot-out with law enforcement," the indictment says. "Carrillo asked the other Grizzly Scouts to come to his aid, saying: 'Kit up and get here. Theres inly one road in/out. Take them out when theyre coming in. ... Police are here fkr me . . . Theyre waiting for reenforcements im listening to them."

Carrillo explained his predicament to the "209 Goon HQ" participants: "Dudes i offed a fed."

At that point, the other Grizzly Scouts promptly went into ass-covering mode, destroying evidence of their interactions. Rush instructed Carrillo to "factory reset" his phone, which the indictment notes "would have had the effect of deleting and destroying any evidence on it, including any stored communications." The other men all promptly deleted any records of the "209 Goon HQ" WhatsApp group from their phones, including the discussions about violence against law enforcement and Carrillo's confession.

These deleted files, according to the indictment, "appeared to include, for example, files concerning the rank structure of the Grizzly Scouts, a non-disclosure agreement requiring members of the Grizzly Scouts to maintain the confidentiality of the group's materials, a liability release waiver, descriptions of Grizzly Scouts uniforms, and a scorecard to assess members of the Grizzly Scouts with respect to combat, firearms, medical, and other training."

Carrillo now faces multiple felony charges in both the Oakland murder and the Ben Lomond shooting, while Justus has been charged with acting as his accomplice.

However, his Grizzly Scout cohorts so far have only been charged with obstructing justice, primarily because of their attempts to cover the militia group's tracks leading to Carrillo. Three of the four men have been released from custody on bond; only Blancas remains in prison, largely because he also faces a child enticement charge related to alleged sexual conversations with a teenage girl discovered in the course of the investigation. Ybarra was released by a federal judge in Sacramento, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley released Rush and Miksch after their hearings in April.

Miksch was released on a $25,000 bond to the custody of his parents, who insisted their son was a "good kid." Corley, while calling his views "abhorrent," also released Rush under the custody of his wife on a $50,000 bond. Corley imposed certain restrictions on the men: monitored internet use, a prohibition on weapons possession, and not contacting other militia members.

Carrillo's path of radicalization was the subject of an April ProPublica investigative piece that detailed how social media and internet conspiracy sites led him to join the Grizzly Scouts and plan acts of terrorist violence in the name of a far-right-fueled civil war. The report uncovered documents showing how the Grizzly Scouts went about organizing for those acts:

The documents also make clear that Carrillo's military background, in particular his advanced combat and weapons training, provided exactly the qualities the Grizzly Scouts wanted in its recruits. The Grizzly Scouts' members — law enforcement officials say the group had attracted 27 recruits — were given military ranks and roles based on their level of military training and prior combat experience. Some Grizzly Scouts were designated "snipers," others were assigned to "clandestine operations," and some were medics or drivers. Whatever their role, all were expected to maintain go kits that included "combat gauze" and both a "primary" and "secondary" weapon.

"This group was different," Jim Hart, the sheriff of Santa Cruz County, where Ben Lomond is located, told ProPublica. "There was a definite chain of command and a line of leadership within this group."

Ironically, Carrillo's lethal violence nonetheless had its intended effect in spreading the right-wing narrative that the "violent left" was primarily responsible for the mayhem around anti-police-brutality protests. The very killings he perpetrated, in fact, were trotted out by Republican Senator Ted Cruz as evidence of "antifa violence" during a Senate hearing, and by then-Vice President Mike Pence in his GOP Convention acceptance speech.

GOP Extremists In West Challenging Party ‘Establishment’ For Power

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

One of the consequences of the GOP's sidelong embrace of its extremist elements—from the insurrection denialists and Big Lie gaslighters to the QAnon cultists like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert—is that far-right extremists are now perfectly comfortable identifying as Republicans. In some cases, they're demanding the overthrow of the party's establishment—which can't seem to decide whether to fight back or just succumb willingly to the incoming far-right tide.

Establishment Republicans in Western states are particularly under siege from extremist elements among their voting base. In Idaho, for instance, armed-standoff-guru-turned-pandemic-denialist Ammon Bundy filed paperwork to run for governor, in a race already featuring another leading state "Patriot" movement figure. In Nevada, an insurgent far-right group organized on social media and led by Proud Boys members are attempting an open hostile takeover of the Clark County GOP, the state's largest county-level Republican organization.

Bundy's filing is rich in irony. For starters, he is currently banned from the Idaho Statehouse in Boise after his two ejections and arrests for defying masking requirements, for which he is currently standing trial. For another, as KTVB notes, Bundy himself is not even registered to vote in Idaho, and has apparently never done so in the five years or so that he has lived in Emmett.

He also named himself the treasurer of his campaign, which means that he will have to refile the paperwork, according to the Idaho Secretary of State's office, which tweeted out an explanation: "Because a treasurer must be a registered Idaho voter, Ammon Bundy will either need to register and refile or name a new treasurer by refiling. IDSOS staff have notified him as such."

The Republican field to replace incumbent Governor Brad Little (who has not announced whether he will seek re-election) is already large, and Bundy's competition in the primary already features another leading "Patriot" movement figure, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who announced her candidacy last week. While Bundy was probably the earliest far-right figure in Idaho to take up the cause of opposing COVID-19-related public-health restrictions, McGeachin—who has supported Bundy and his fellow standoff-loving "Patriots" steadfastly from her office in Boise—has also been on the pandemic-denialist bandwagon.

McGeachin appeared alongside Bundy at one anti-restriction rally in Boise. More notoriously, she appeared in a video in which she brandished a handgun and a Bible while sitting in the driver's seat of a pickup, railing against coronavirus restrictions.

The political insurgency inside Clark County's GOP was reported Friday by Rory Appleton at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who explained that a group of far-right activists with deep ties to the Proud Boys are positioning themselves to take over the county Republican leadership. Some of its members, meanwhile, are alleged to have threatened a number of prominent Republicans.

The group, Appleton reported, organized online—primarily using the encrypted chat app Telegram—while reveling in anti-Semitic and white-nationalist memes and rhetoric. "Two Republican women in public office told the Review-Journal they've been threatened by leaders of the fringe movement, as did the current board of the Clark County party, which is hiring security for a crucial meeting Tuesday," the story reads.

Calling itself the "Republican Chamber of Commerce" (despite lacking ties to any known GOP organization), the far-right group first made its presence felt last month when it organized a late surge in votes favoring the censure of Barbara Cegavske, the state's Republican Secretary of State, for refusing to play along with attempts to overturn the 2020 election results based on Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud.

Since then, it has been preparing to provide a similar wave of votes to sweep three of their three leading figures—Rudy Clai, Matt Anthony and Paul Laramie—into the leadership of the Clark County GOP. The group has no record of doing business anywhere in the state of Nevada, and has no connection to any of the known chamber or Republican groups already established in Nevada.

Yet its website appears to be a nominally mainstream GOP group. Its primary emblem resembles the Republican National Committee's logo but inverted, with a red elephant on a white background encircled in red with the letters "RCC" and "Republican Chamber of Commerce" within.

Anthony has achieved a level of media notoriety as one of Las Vegas' most prominent Proud Boys, though he insists the local chapter is nonviolent and nonracist. After the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, he defended the people arrested and warned against a law-enforcement crackdown on "Patriots": "They're basically going all in on tyranny, guys. … They're watching. It's to be expected. They're the enemy. They're going to shut down our ability to communicate."

As it happens, Anthony is also a fugitive: He is the subject of an arrest warrant from the state of Michigan after he broke probation by moving to Nevada and then refusing to return after Nevada declined to oversee his probation, all stemming from his 2012 arrest on a drug charge.

The group's Telegram channel—owned by Anthony, and administered by Clai—is titled "Keep Nevada Open," apparently an offshoot of a Facebook group with the same name that boasted 17,000 members and organized anti-masking and other pandemic-related protests. Appleton describes a review of the channel's contents by the Clark County GOP executive board, led by chief of staff Richard MacLean:

MacLean showed his fellow board members several pictures and videos posted within the group, though not specifically by Anthony and Clai.
One photo blamed the 9/11 terrorist bombings on Jews. Another video featured a long clip of an Adolf Hitler speech and Nazi soldier marches. Some featured cartoon characters with negative Jewish stereotypes, and one photo featured messages written on dollar bills.
A post even poked fun at Republicans, claiming they seemed to be shocked at certain current events while white nationalists were thrilled by them.

The board promptly ejected the three men from the party. However, on Thursday, 10 people including Anthony and Clai filed a lawsuit against both the county and state party central committees, accusing them of illegally boxing them out of Clark County GOP meetings. They claim Clai and Anthony are heading up an alternative leadership slate, and are running against a mainstream ticket headed up by state Sen. Carrie Buck.

Despite the pushback by local Republican officials, the extremist elements remain emboldened in no small part because national-level Republicans have shown their eagerness to ignore the radicalism and even embrace it. Certainly, the local far-right leaders are confident that the party's base supports them, and not the establishment players.

"We have the numbers, and they don't, so they have to play dirty," Anthony said in an interview Thursday. "It's that simple."

McGeachin's campaign signs feature the hashtag #IAmIdaho. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a pivotal moment in history, not just for Idaho but for our nation," McGeachin said.

Bundy told NBC News on Monday that, despite the filings, he hasn't formally announced his candidacy, but is preparing to build a campaign organization.

"The people of Idaho are very freedom-minded," Bundy said. "I had never desired [to run for office], but I knew as early as 2017 that I would run for governor of Idaho."

Far Right’s Covid Conspiracy Blames Fauci For Virus

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The far right has a favorite new conspiracy theory: Dr. Anthony Fauci, it seems, conspired with nefarious globalists to manufacture the COVID-19 virus in a Wuhan, China, laboratory and unleash it on the unsuspecting world in order to seize control of the global population. Or something along those lines.

But watching its progression into more mainstream settings—including a recent White House press conference—provides a vivid illustration not only of the ways that conspiracy-fueled extremists twist quasi-legitimate debate to their own ends, foisting their fantasies on a larger public in the process, but how they can almost instantaneously transform government-created information vacuums into fetid hothouses for their fearmongering and smears.

Far right promotes conspiracy theory blaming Fauci for COVID-19

"COVID-19's greatest power is fear," intoned conspiracy-meister Alex Jones in the introduction to a recent episode of his Infowars show, behind a distorted video portrait of Fauci and creepy soundtrack. "It is a psychological warfare weapon that has been deployed against the people of the world—to be the cover for a controlled global collapse, to consolidate power in the hands of the globalists, and establish their New World Order.

"If this power grab is ever to be defeated, we must meet it head on, and expose the fact that the virus was deliberately released from the Wuhan lab, and that Fauci was publicly in control of the gain-of-function coronavirus project," Jones asserted.

The stories about the Wuhan laboratories are not new. A number of far-right conspiracists, ranging from Jones to Donald Trump, have made similar claims in the past but were knocked down by leading scientists. However, their assertions have come under fire due to questions raised by an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists suggesting that the weight of evidence points to the likelihood that the COVID virus was produced in a Wuhan lab—which in turn has set the far-right aflame.

The article, by onetime New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade, argued that the consensus among leading virologists that the virus originated in wildlife and was transmitted to humans has no data to support it, and that the theory that it had leaked out of a laboratory—specifically, the Wuhan Institute of Virology—due to so-called "gain-of-function" research was supported by the weight of the evidence. Its primary conclusion, however, is that none of the theories are conclusive because of a lack of evidence—almost entirely due to the refusal of the Chinese government to allow a transparent investigation of the lab's role in the global pandemic.

That was all the opening the conspiracy crowd needed. As usual, Jones was only leading a parade of hysterical theorists eager to add their take on the Wuhan-lab controversy. "Did The Pandemic Start in Fauci's Lab?" asked one YouTube video. "Chinese Virologist Claims Coronavirus Was Man-Made In Wuhan's Laboratory," and "Is the Coronavirus a Chinese Bioweapon?" read others. At World Net Daily, the headline read: "New evidence ties COVID-19 creation to research funded by Fauci."

Wade's article was careful to specify that the evidence for any of the lab-leak theories is inconclusive, and acknowledges the natural-origin theory could yet prove correct. He complains that the lab-leak theories have been unfairly dismissed as conspiracies, but spells out clearly that "the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy."

What he fails to acknowledge, however, is that reportage such as his becomes malleable putty for the conspiracy theorists. Jones was adamant about suggestions that the lab release was accidental: "None of it's accidental. You had the Rockefeller Foundation lockstep, you had the Event 201 with Gates and Fauci and the U.N.," he told his audience.

Jones blamed research under the auspices of "Fauci and Bill Gates" for the creation of what he called a "bioweapon." One of his guests went on to assert that the COVID-19 virus was not an accidental product, either: "This is clearly an offensive biological warfare weapon," he said.

On the "Real America's Voice News" podcast by former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, another ex-White House adviser, Peter Navarro, held forth at length about the Wade article, plainly eager to blame Fauci for it all: "If it came from the lab, Fauci did it," Navarro told Bannon. He also claimed that Fauci used contract legalese to "get around the Trump White House to give the Chinese Communist Party weaponization capability through gain of function."

"You know, Fauci pulled a fast one on the House of Trump, I'm telling ya," he said. "This Nick Wade article, Fauci is goin' down."

He concluded: "For whatever reason, Fauci wanted to weaponize that virus. And he is the father of it, he has killed millions of Americans, and now we are 99.99 percent sure of that."

A number of Republican politicians—notably Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul—have now called for an official investigation into whether U.S. taxpayers were helping finance "gain of function" research in Wuhan. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson blamed Fauci, saying: "So what were we doing cooperating with China?"

The extent to which the Wuhan-lab-leak-theory is becoming a right-wing obsession was manifested late last week when reporter Emerald Robinson of the conspiracy-friendly Newsmax operation tried to grill Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the matter. She asked a question similar to Johnson's: "Given that gain-of-function research is dicey, why would the U.S. fund that in China?"

When Psaki suggested she ask the National Institutes of Health that question, Robinson continued: "Who does the president agree with, Dr. Fauci or the other officials? Does he think it was a lab leak?"

"Well, the president has said, and I have said from here many times, that there needs to be a credible, independent investigation through the World Health Organization, and one that relies on data, that relies on participation from China and other countries that may have information," Psaki answered. "That's certainly something everybody has called for and we look forward to that happening."

The article that sparked the controversy is also deeply problematic, in no small part because of the author: While Wade is indeed a formerly well-regarded science writer, his reputation was permanently tarnished in 2014 when he published a book—titled A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History—contending that race is a biological reality, and that recent natural selection had created racial differences in economic and social behavior—claiming, as he is in the case of the COVID-19 theories, that "politics" suppressed a robust discussion of the matter.

The book was denounced in a letter signed by 140 senior geneticists who said that Wade had misrepresented and misinterpreted their findings, and that his conclusions fell well outside of any grounded hypothesis based on the science: "We reject Wade's implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not."

An American Scientist review of the book concluded: "A Troublesome Inheritance is itself troubling, not for its politics but for its science. Its arguments are only mildly amended versions of arguments discarded decades ago by those who methodically and systematically study human behavioral variation across cultures."

Wade, it seems, has a knack not only for distorting and misrepresenting science, but for promulgating "apolitical" discussions of scientific issues that just happen to become grist for white nationalists and far-right conspiracy theorists. His recent piece on the Wuhan labs is filled with similar key omissions.

For instance, he claims that the only evidence supporting the argument that the COVID-19 genomes indicate a natural origin is a letter by two scientists based on ostensibly slipshod claims, saying: "And that's it." But in fact another letter he cites (and dismisses), published in the medical journal The Lancet in February 2020, specifically references a list of studies by scientists from multiple countries who "have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2),1 and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens."

A recent debunking by Politifact of the claims regarding Fauci notes that, while Fauci was indeed involved in approving a grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, all parties involved deny that it involved gain-of-function research.

"We have not ever participated in gain-of-function research. Nor have we ever been funded to participate in gain-of-function research," Robert Kessler with the EcoHealth Alliance told PolitiFact.

"The research supported under the grant to EcoHealth Alliance Inc. characterized the function of newly discovered bat spike proteins and naturally occurring pathogens and did not involve the enhancement of the pathogenicity or transmissibility of the viruses studied," the NIH told Politifact.

Fauci himself recently addressed the underlying issue in an interview with National Geographic, calling the whole debate a "circular argument."

"If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what's out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated … Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species," Fauci said.

For conspiracy theorists, however, actual science, facts, and logic don't really matter. They have just learned how to trot out enough of them to seem interested in a good-faith discussion, and then using them to springboard into the bizarre alternative universe of fabricated smears where they dwell.

‘Domestic Terrorists’ In Whitmer Kidnap Plot May Face Life Sentences

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Federal prosecutors have been reluctant for decades to use references to "domestic terrorism" in their charges and filing papers in crimes involving right-wing extremists, but that appears to be changing now, in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The latest filings in the case involving the 14 militiamen who plotted last year to kidnap and murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer make that plain.

A superseding indictment from the grand jury in the case filed this week by the Justice Department—adding new charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, based on the men's plot to use a massive explosive charge to destroy a bridge near Whitmer's summer home—is quite clear: "The defendants engaged in domestic terrorism."

The same plotters—who called themselves the "Wolverine Watchmen"—had a much wider-ranging original plan, which included invading the Michigan Statehouse in Lansing with 200 armed militiamen, taking state officials hostage, and then holding televised executions. When they realized the logistics of such a plan were overwhelming, they reverted to the simpler plot to kidnap Whitmer.

This week's indictment focuses on four men—Adam Fox, 40, of Wyoming, Michigan; Barry Croft Jr., 45, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland—who conducted surveillance and bought explosives in preparation for carrying off their kidnapping plans. They were charged with conspiracy—joining codefendants Kaleb Franks and Brandon Caserta, who already were indicted on that charge—while Harris and Croft had additional weapons charges added to their case.

Garbin entered a guilty plea in December 2020 to the original indictment charging him with conspiracy to kidnap the governor and now awaits sentencing; he is reportedly cooperating with investigators as part of the plea deal. He appears to have been a primary source of the information in the indictment, along with the federal informant who provided most of the original evidence.

The men had held their first paramilitary training exercise to prepare for their plan in July 2020 in Wisconsin. They attempted to detonate a couple of improvised bombs but failed. They continued building similar devices—which included a balloon filled with steel ball bearings. When the men gathered again in September for another session, they had greater success, setting off a couple of the bombs in the vicinity of silhouette targets shaped like humans, and were satisfied with the resulting damage caused by the shrapnel.

Preparing for that later session, Garbin in an encrypted text message to his fellow conspirators suggested "taking down a highway bridge near the governor's vacation home." After the training session, the men drove to Whitmer's summer home to conduct surveillance.

Along the way, Fox and Croft "stopped to inspect the underside of a highway bridge near the vacation home for a place to mount an explosive charge," the indictment said.

Afterward, the men ordered $4,000 worth of explosives from the FBI informant, who was posing as someone who was capable of providing the men with such materials. Fox, Franks, and Harris drove to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to make the down payment.

If convicted of kidnapping conspiracy, the five defendants face life sentences in prison, while the conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction also includes a maximum of life in prison.

Whitmer on Thursday told CNN that each gradual revelation of the plot's details is increasingly "disturbing."

"I'm incredibly grateful to the FBI and [Michigan State Police] and that gratitude only grows with more revelations about how serious and scary this group was. And how intent they were on not just harming me but harming our law enforcement, harming communities," Whitmer said on New Day. "The rhetoric has got to stop. We've got to all rise to this challenge and stop vilifying and encouraging these domestic extremists to hurt our fellow Americans."

Facebook’s Internal Probe Finds Failures That Stoked January 6 Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Facebook executives have been dismissive from the start about attempts to hold them accountable for their social media platform's role in inciting and organizing the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—including CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress last month in which he evaded questions about his company's culpability, saying: "I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law and do the insurrection."

But an internal Facebook report uncovered by BuzzFeed shows that the company failed to take action against "Stop the Steal" and other accounts where false information about the election was widely propagated in an attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election, violence was encouraged, and where much of the insurrection was organized. Though the report was completed shortly after Zuckerberg's testimony, it essentially corroborated a report by the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz days before he testified that found Facebook's culpability in the Capitol siege extended to well over a year before the event.

BuzzFeed reports that the internal document, assembled by an internal task force studying harmful networks, acknowledges the role of Facebook activity by "Stop the Steal" activists, as well as pro-Trump groups associated with the brief attempt to organize a "Patriot Party" split from the GOP, in the violent events of January 6. It also observes that insisting on an "inauthentic behavior" standard—rather than one based on the spread of misinformation and violent speech—hindered its attempts to take the appropriate preemptive steps.

"Hindsight is 20/20, at the time, it was very difficult to know whether what we were seeing was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy," reads the report. "But hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection."

"Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" wondered Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, in comments to BuzzFeed.

"For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to: Do you care? Do you care enough about democracy? Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" she said. "There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events. And when they're organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes."

The report noted that while Facebook executives were pleased "at having made it past the election without major incident," that feeling was "tempered by the rise in angry vitriol and a slew of conspiracy theories that began to steadily grow" afterwards.

Donovan observed that the Stop the Steal organizing began long before Election Day, and that Facebook's failure to prepare illustrates how poorly it is able to protect democracy. Indeed, that was largely the thrust of the Avaaz report on Facebook's culpability in the insurrection published March 18, six days before Zuckerberg testified.

The Avaaz study found that over the eight months leading up to the election, there were an estimated 10 billion views on key top-performing Facebook pages that regularly and repeatedly shared false information about the election. There was also a marked lack of moderation on those pages, allowing the "false or misleading information with the potential to cause public harm" to flourish. Those pages, the study found, saw a nearly threefold increase in interactions from October 2019—when they had 97 million—to a year later, when they had 277.9 million. It also found that nearly 100 million voters saw false voter fraud content on Facebook.

"A poll conducted in October 2020 found that 44 percent of registered voters reported seeing misinformation about mail-in voter fraud on Facebook (that equates to approximately 91 million registered voters)," the report states. "The polling suggests that 35 percent of registered voters (approximately 72 million people) believed this false claim."

This growth particularly benefited pages backing the authoritarian QAnon conspiracy cult and, later, the Stop The Steal movement. The Avaaz study found 267 groups championing violence around the election with a combined following of 32 million—nearly 70 percent of which had Boogaloo, QAnon, or militia-themed names and content.

Facebook's reliance on algorithmic detection played a large role in its failures to act on these pages, Avaaz noted, since the company's policies also allow misinformation on their platform if it is being spread by politicians. It noted that political ads for the Georgia election featured misinformation that had been debunked by fact checkers nonetheless being spread by Republican candidates—permissible under Facebook policy.

"The scary thing is that this is just for the top 100 pages—this is not the whole universe of misinformation," Fadi Quran, a campaign director at Avaaz, told Time. "This doesn't even include Facebook Groups, so the number is likely much bigger. We took a very, very conservative estimate in this case."

Donovan pointed to Facebook's focus on "inauthentic activity," such as people using fake accounts, as the source of its failure. This problem was manifested earlier when Facebook attempted to clamp down on QAnon pages, but failed utterly because its takedowns were based on "coordinated inauthentic behavior," which describes accounts and pages that mislead people about their identity and intentions, regardless of whether the information they spread is accurate or not.

In other words, those QAnon pages were removed not because they spread wildly false smears but because the people operating them broke Facebook's rules about false or double identities. It's a peculiarly self-serving standard that uses truthfulness in creating accounts as a proxy for truthfulness in the content being promulgated. Moreover, as Donovan told BuzzFeed, it means that Facebook can ignore how its products create coordinated activity among real people, and the harm that can result, she said.

The internal Facebook report largely acknowledges this, explaining that the social media giant was outmaneuvered by coordinated accounts that formed a powerful network of groups promoting hate, inciting violence, and spreading lies about the election.

So-called "super-inviter" accounts—highly influential activists within these far-right movements—played key roles in the ability of Stop the Steal pages to spread even after Facebook banned the original group. The largest of these pages were fueled by 137 super-inviters who recruited some 67 percent of their members; and that many of these people coordinated with each other, lying about their locations and using private groups to organize.

"Because we were looking at each entity individually, rather than as a cohesive movement, we were only able to take down individual Groups and Pages once they exceeded a violation threshold," the report reads. "After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement."

The Avaaz report features a long list of recommendations, including reforms for the company to undertake on its own, such as "detoxing" the algorithms, submitting to audits and other forms of transparency, and proactively correcting the record when misinformation appears on its platforms. It also recommends that President Biden launch an initiative to build an anti-disinformation infrastructure.

However, given Facebook's refusal to accept culpability in the insurrection, it also makes sense for lawmakers to take steps. So the report urges an investigation into Facebook's role, both by Congress and by a proposed January 6 Commission, which would "go beyond the actors involved in the insurrection, and investigate the tools they used, including Facebook's role in undermining the 2020 elections, and whether the platform's executives were aware of how it was being used as a tool to radicalize Americans and/or facilitate the mobilization of radicalized individuals to commit violence."

"This shows the company is anti-democratic at the very least," Donovan observed, "and at the very worst, it shows that they know the risks, and they know the harm that can be caused and they are not willing to do anything significant to stop it from happening again."

White Nationalists Gloating As Murdochs Back Carlson’s Anti-Immigrant Rant

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Tucker Carlson has been popular with white nationalists for awhile now. But he has cemented his reputation as one of their all-time immortals this week by proving not only that he can spew white-nationalist dogma on primetime TV and not get fired for it, but he can double down on the hatemongering and even gain the backing of conservative Jewish rabbis.

After Carlson regurgitated white-nationalist "replacement theory" in the context of American immigration and border issues last week, the Anti-Defamation League demanded Fox fire their most popular talk show host, and was refused by Fox's corporate heads. So as Carlson then piled on the theory this week, white nationalists and their "redpilled" followers were practically pumping their fists in glee.

Tucker Carlson doubles down on immigration 'replacement theory'

"This week Tucker redpilled 4 million people and there's nothing liberals can do about it," tweeted Nick Fuentes, leader of the white-nationalist "Groyper Army" and its associated "America First" movement.

Fuentes tweet

Fuentes later crowed again: "Daily reminder that replacement theory is now politically mainstream and there is nothing the ADL and SPLC can do about it."

"This segment is one of the best things Fox News has ever aired and was filled with ideas and talking points pioneered many years ago," the notorious white nationalist site VDare tweeted in response to Monday's segment in which Carlson doubled down harder on the "replacement theory" rhetoric. "You should watch the whole thing."

"Literal anti-white Jewish shit," responded Mike Peinovich, the white nationalist host of The Daily Shoah, to the ADL's criticism. "If what Tucker Carlson said was wrong, why not just argue with him and prove him to be so? Jews and their minions never present any arguments for their positions. Why should they be taken seriously?"

"Tucker Carlson confirms what white nationalists have been talking about for decades: the white population of the US and wider West is being deliberately and maliciously replaced," tweeted the white nationalist Way of the World account. "They mean to take away power from us in our own lands by making us an electoral and social irrelevance."

"Great segment mentioning unmentionable reality of demographic replacement," tweeted Kevin MacDonald, an anti-Semitic academic beloved by neo-Nazis. "Doesn't explicitly mention Whites but obviously implied." He then described Carlson's attack on the Anti-Defamation League as a "must-see for conservatives."

This is not the first time that Carlson has made exactly these claims: He has touted the same theoryregarding immigrants "replacing" current voters in various segments in the past couple of years. (It is, naturally, an utterly specious claim: Voting requires citizenship, meaning those new immigrants are not eligible even to apply for five years; the naturalization application process then typically takes 15 months. Moreover, the 700,000 new citizens who take the oath every year—after which they may finally vote—represent only 0.2% of the total U.S. population.)

Carlson already has a remarkable record of dabbling increasingly in white supremacist rhetoric dating back to 2006, including recently unearthed recordings of his ramblings on radio. His greatest hits include a regurgitation of neo-Nazi propaganda about "white genocide" in Africa, not to mention his mutual promotion of the white nationalist website VDare. There is a reason white supremacists love Carlson's show, and why they assiduously watch it in hopes of picking up pointers.

Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch defended Carlson, disingenuously claiming he had "decried and rejected replacement theory" when he said during the Thursday evening segment, "White replacement theory? No, no, this is a voting rights question."

Murdoch noted that the ADL had once honored his father, Rupert Murdoch, with a leadership award, to which ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt replied that the award was granted "over a decade ago, but let me be clear that we would not do so today, and it does not absolve you, him, the network, or its board from the moral failure of not taking action against Mr. Carlson."

And there was blowback for the ADL and Greenblatt. Former ADL chief Abraham Foxman criticized the callfor Carlson's firing: "Fox is not an anti-Semitic network," he said. "It's a lot of things but it's not an anti-Semitic network and it's certainly not an anti-Israel network."

In Israel, an organization of traditional orthodox rabbis, the Coalition for Jewish Values, attacked the ADL's stance, publishing a letter supported by 1,500 rabbis calling the accusation "grossly misplaced charges of antisemitism." It attacked Greenblatt, saying that "alas, the ADL has become markedly partisan under your leadership."

Carlson's Monday segment featured an unusually long 20-minute monologue in which Carlson dismissed his critics as "the usual chorus of hyper-aggressive liars" and reiterated his thesis—namely, that Democrats support mass immigration because it increases their electoral advantage and power.

He also attacked the ADL by claiming that it had itself embraced "replacement" theory—for Israel rather than the United States—in the past, pointing to a paper in which the ADL (then under Foxman's direction) argued against allowing more Palestinian refugees into Israel because it would lead to Jews becoming a "vulnerable minority" in their own nation.

"Why would any democratic nation make its own citizens less powerful?" Carlson said. "Isn't that the deepest betrayal of all? In the words of the ADL, why would a government subvert its own sovereign existence? Good question. Maybe ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt will join 'Tucker Carlson Tonight' some time to explain and tell us whether that same principle applies to the United States."

As Christopher Mathias notes, white nationalists were particularly enamored of this portion of the monologue, viewing it as the ultimate "gotcha" moment—one which, in fact, again echoed an argument they have made for decades.

"Demographic replacement, ADL, Israel, it's all there … a full redpill," commented Fuentes. "On primetime Fox News for 4 million mainstream conservatives. Can you feel it? We are inevitable."

Greenblatt was interviewed by CNN's Brian Stelter about the controversy, and noted that this reflects the raging epistemological battle that has warped Americans' sense of shared reality and induced millions into embracing false information:

This is the Trumpian war on truth that is still raging, it's raging because guys like Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan Murdoch encourage it. It's raging because men like Paul Ryan sit silently on the Fox Corporation board of directors. Murdoch knows better. Ryan knows better. They know Tucker is cynically preying on his audience's fears, their fears of being replaced, fears of a changing, growing America. But the show goes on, the profits go on, they act like Tucker's invincible, they seem to think that he's the boss when in fact they are the bosses.

Oath Keepers ‘Lifetime Member’ Cooperating With Prosecutors On Insurrection Conspiracy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A self-described "lifetime member" of the Oath Keepers has become the first defendant in the January 6 insurrection cases to enter a guilty plea as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, following a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Friday morning.

The plea bargain for Jon Schaffer, 53, a heavy-metal guitarist from Indiana who was photographed assaulting officers with bear spray and entering the U.S. Capitol, was approved by Judge Ahmit Mehta. Schaffer engaged in a long conversation with Mehta acknowledging that the deal requires him to "cooperate fully with the United States," which includes providing evidence of known crimes and sitting for interviews with investigators.

Schaffer's guilty plea to two charges—obstructing an official proceeding and illegally entering the Capitol grounds—makes him the first participant in the insurrection to agree to provide evidence against his fellow rioters. Schaffer, who originally faced six felony charges, will enter the government's witness protection program as part of the deal.

According to an earlier filing, which was mistakenly made public, Schaffer in March began engaging in "debrief interviews." As The Washington Post notes, the plea bargain marks a critical step forward in the prosecution of the cases, as other defendants face similar choices in terms of providing evidence for prosecutors, particularly when it comes to the activities of the two key paramilitary organizations involved in the insurrection, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

"Whenever you have a large group of people arrested," criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it's common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. "They're going to start talking. They're going to start sharing information."

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was present in Washington on January 6 but did not enter the Capitol, is one of the key figures being drawn into the net prosecutors are creating with conspiracy charges involving other members of his group. Though federal indictments handed down against his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys cohorts have not named him personally, he is referenced in several of them as "Person 1," a central player in what prosecutors are describing as a conspiracy to "stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote."

"I may go to jail soon," Rhodes recently told a right-wing rally in Texas. "Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you're found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don't like their political views."

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola's attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called "cooperating witness" was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that "anyone they got their hands on they would have killed," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence "if given the chance." The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that "they plan to kill every single 'm-fer' they can." That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.

Insurrectionists Seek Plea Bargains To Cooperate -- Or They Double Down

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Thanks mostly to their own compulsive braggadocio, the evidence against the people charged as participants in the January 6 Capitol insurrection—now at well over 350 of them and counting—just keeps getting deeper and deeper. At least one of the men facing charges, in fact, is now cooperating with authorities and providing what could prove to be even more damning evidence against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers organizers who played key roles in the attack.

However, while some of the defendants have expressed remorse and claim that they were misled—even, in some cases, blaming Donald Trump for their misfortune—others instead are doubling down, defending the insurrection as an act of patriotism. Two of them from New England, in fact, appear to be embarking on a post-indictment career of fundraising around political rallies at which they appear onstage with other speakers to denounce President Biden and Democrats as "communists."

"Yeah, we are definitely not terrorists," 46-year-old Mark Sahady told a crowd in suburban Bridgewater, Massachusetts, last month. "Make no mistake about it: This is a political prosecution."

Sahady and his codefendant, Suzanne Ianni, are both charged with unauthorized entry of the Capitol and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds. Out on bail after their January 19 arrests in Boston, they've chosen to embrace their martyrdom as "patriots," leaning into the support that insurrectionists and the conspiracy theorists who inflamed them have received in the weeks afterward from establishment Republicans and right-wing media.

The Bridgewater event was a rally against COVID-19 restrictions, but Sahady and Ianni were its featured speakers, introduced to the audience as "freedom fighters" by organizer John Hugo. "We're drawing a line in the sand; we're pushing back," Hugo told the audience.

Sahady, Ianni, and Hugo are the leaders of "Super Happy Fun America," a proto-fascist group that organizes "protest" events that serve primarily as opportunities for street violence by Proud Boys and other far-right brawlers. In 2019, they organized a "Straight Pride Parade" in Boston that turned into just such a riot.

Hugo likes to claim that their group welcomes the Proud Boys, but that they are different since "we're not trying to start fights." However, Sahady has participated in several Proud Boys street marches—including in Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon—that turned into violent riots as well.

It preaches a virulent politics claiming that Democrats and "violent" leftists are conspiring to take over America, institute a Marxist system and oppress conservatives and "normal" Americans.

"The American Democrats—they are the communists! They are the enemy of Americans, and all [the] human race," Bao Chau Kelley, the group's outreach coordinator, proclaimed at the Bridgewater rally.Most other indictees in the insurrection are keeping a much lower profile. That's particularly the case now that federal prosecutors filed a document in the case of Jon Ryan Schaffer, a heavy-metal guitarist/frontman from Indiana who faces six felony charges, indicating that Schaffer is considering a plea bargain in exchange for his cooperation and testimony in the case.

Schaffer, who was photographed wearing an Oath Keepers hat while assaulting police officers with bear spray and invading the Capitol, has distanced himself from the organization in court. According to the filing—which was mistakenly made public—Schaffer in March began engaging in "debrief interviews."

"Based on these debrief interviews, the parties are currently engaged in good-faith plea negotiations, including discussions about the possibility of entering into a cooperation plea agreement aimed at resolving the matter short of indictment," the filing said.

As Marcy Wheeler observes, the filing's accidental release—a notation clearly states that "the parties request that this filing be docketed under seal"—could complicate any such plea bargain. However, it also makes clear that cooperation agreements are under way in several cases, and indicates how prosecutors are proceeding, including review of the deals "at various levels of government."

"Whenever you have a large group of people arrested," criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it's common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. "They're going to start talking. They're going to start sharing information."

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola's attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called "cooperating witness" was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that "anyone they got their hands on they would have killed," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence "if given the chance." The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that "they plan to kill every single 'm-fer' they can." That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.

Zeroing in on the case of Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs—who claims he had a working relationship with FBI agents, providing information about leftist protesters, over many months prior to the Capitol siege—the Times notes that while Biggs faces the possibility of decades of imprisonment, he only need blame himself: "Like other Proud Boys, he helped document the prosecution's case."

"Wanting to show how smart they are, they've basically outlined the charges against them," Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst who examined the online evidence, told the Times.

The same was true for a New Jersey man who was arrested just this week for assaulting police officers during the insurrection and leading the push into the Capitol building. Christopher Joseph Quaglin of North Brunswick was arrested Wednesday and faces charges of assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers or employees, civil disorder and obstruction of official proceeding.

Not only do multiple videos show Quaglin assaulting multiple officer and acting as one of the chief aggressors in the breach of the Capitol, he also bragged about doing so on social media afterwards. Quaglin posted that he was "in the middle of it" and was sure he was "going to make the news," according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

Prosecutors say he had booked six rooms at his hotel and actively recruited others to join him on Jan. 6. After the siege, he returned to the room and posted a video saying it was a "great time."

"When you guys see the footage, I was in the red, white and blue uhh hoodie and the black helmet," he said. "I'm absolutely on a loop on Fox News."

The braggadocio underscores how thoroughly the insurrectionists believed the conspiracy theories and disinformation about the election that they all give as their reasons for storming the Capitol, but how little attachment they had to the reality of their criminal behavior until after the fact. "There's a lot of bravado, but not a lot of forward thinking," Fredericks observed to the Times.

That same delusional fervency fuels the kind of post-insurrection embrace of the alternative-universe characterization of the "patriotism" of the insurgents embodied by the "Super Happy Fun America" crowd.

The attention from having two key members arrested for being inside the Capitol has only fueled interest in their organization, the group's leaders told The Washington Post. Hugo claimed that there are now about 400 "card-carrying" members of Super Happy Fun America, and that more than one-third of them had joined since Jan. 6.

At a two-hour "leadership meeting" the night before the Bridgewater rally, the group decided that its next move would be to target the mainstream media. Hugo declined to say how.

"We've seen an uptick in censorship, wholesale suspension of conservatives from social media," said Hugo. "It's like a snake, a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing us, squeezing us, squeezin

Biden, Garland Taking Quiet But Firm Steps Against White Nationalist Violence

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Quietly and with little fanfare, the Biden administration has been taking all the right steps early in its tenure in confronting the threat of right-wing extremist violence and its spread—a mandate handed to Biden by the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Rather than take a high-profile approach that might backfire, Biden's Justice Department and FBI, and to a lesser extent the Department of Homeland Security, have wisely taken a low-key route that emphasizes competence and effectiveness, as a New York Times piece explored last weekend.

But make no mistake, the Biden administration is taking the problem seriously. Indictments from the insurrection now number more than 300, prosecutors are establishing evidence of a clear chain of conspiracy leading to the attack focusing on Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, and arrests for criminal behavior by far-right extremists unrelated to the attack are occurring as well. It's a welcome change from the malign neglect of the matter by Donald Trump and his administration.

As we have argued consistently since the insurrection, an effective approach to right-wing domestic terrorism necessarily will eschew the trappings of the post-9/11 "war on terror"—that is, instead of creating new laws and giving law enforcement unneeded new powers, the phenomenon can most effectively be attacked by smartly deploying law enforcement to enforce the many laws already on the books.

According to Shaun Courtney at Bloomberg, that is in fact how the Biden administration has tackled the issue so far. It also appears to be the thinking of key lawmakers in Congress.

"There's no shortage of laws on the books to deal with violent extremist groups and the actions that they take. My sense is right now it's primarily resource allocation and prioritization," said Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"The whole idea of having more robust oversight of the Department of Homeland Security and their intelligence operations, I think is a critical first step," Peters said.

Claiming that law enforcement lacks the legal authority necessary to counter domestic terrorism "gives cover to the idea that somehow, 'Oh if you only had the tools, we would have actually been targeting this threat,' " Becky Monroe, a policy director in the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Barack Obama, told Courtney.

The Times story noted that several concrete steps have already taken place. DHS has opened up a review of how it handles domestic extremism—needed, in no small part, because of the department's well-documented evisceration of its intelligence-gathering capacity for domestic right-wing terrorism. For the first time in its history, DHS has designated domestic extremism as a "national priority area," which requires that 7.5 percent of the billions in grant funds be devoted to combating it.

Biden also has bolstered a National Security Council team devoted to domestic extremism, one that had been depleted under Trump. Meanwhile, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, has said the Justice Department would also make domestic extremism a priority.

A mid-March intelligence assessment commissioned by Biden concluded that far-right extremists—particularly those animated by racial and ethnic grievances—pose the most lethal domestic-terrorism threat to Americans for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, militia-like organizations pose an ongoing threat primarily to government and law-enforcement personnel.

The report noted that the militia-extremist-group threat increased last year and is expected to continue to heighten throughout 2021. That's due to "sociopolitical factors" motivating such groups, "such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence."

Former DHS counterterrorism chief Elizabeth Neumann told NPR's Terry Gross that such groups "basically declared war on the government and stated that their aim was to overthrow the U.S. government, to establish a white nation."

This, she said, is why the Capitol insurrection has actually had the effect of inflaming and encouraging longtime far-right radicals, many of whom had grown discouraged over the years at the prospect of effectively attacking the American government to overthrow it successfully. All of them have, after all, long clung to the fantasy of having a "race war" or "civil war" to overthrow the government. January 6 had the look of their fantasy becoming reality.

As Neumann explained:

So it's not like they destroyed the Capitol. It's not like they disrupted the transition of power. But it was seen as kind of almost the starting point, perhaps, of the civil war that they have believed in their mythology was going to come at some point, a race war. And so you see on online chat rooms that you have groups using this as a recruitment tactic, that it's finally happening, if—you know, there's going to be this race war, that we're finally going to be able to achieve our aim of ridding the country of all of these people we don't think should be here, establishing our own country. And any time you have, for an extremist group or a terrorist group, something that symbolic, it affects and helps them with their recruitment, with their morale. So these—certainly, on the white supremacist side, we see an emboldening effect for those groups.

More than emboldening extremists, the post-January 6 environment has become ripe for shifting boundaries among them and the formations of new alliances and configurations. The resulting reconfiguration will affect the nature of the far-right insurgency that declared war on American democracy on January 6.

"There is a concern then on the other side of January 6, you have groups interconnected in a way that they weren't before," Neumann told Gross. "We heard in the news on Wednesday that prosecutors have found interconnections between Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and Three Percenters. I think we're going to see more of this to come as the investigation unfurls. But the knowledge that they had been coordinating in the weeks up to January 6 is rather significant. These are not groups that necessarily share the same ideology."

New Capitol Riot Indictment Describes Chaotic Assault Led By Oath Keepers

Between careering around the streets of Washington, D.C., in commandeered golf carts and exchanging nearly 20 phone calls, the Oath Keepers and their leaders were very busy fellows in the hours and minutes leading up to the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 -- in which they played leading roles, according to a filing this week by federal prosecutors.

The new indictment filed Thursday adds two Oath Keepers who acted as bodyguards for former Donald Trump aide Roger Stone at the pro-Trump rally that day, Robert Minuta and Joshua James, to the conspiracy case that now includes 12 Oath Keepers—but so far, not the paramilitary organization's founder, Stewart Rhodes. However, the new filing lays out the central role Rhodes (identified only as "Person 1") in coordinating his members as they created a "stack" formation that overwhelmed police barricades.

The document describes a harrowing ride by Minuta, James, and others in a group of golf carts they took to get to the Capitol through D.C. traffic. Minuta, dressed in "battle apparel"—hard-knuckle tactical gloves, ballistic goggles, a radio with an earpiece and bear spray— apparently texted a running commentary as the passenger.

"Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there's violence against patriots by the D.C. police; so we're en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now . . . it's going down, guys; it's literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building . . ." Minuta allegedly stated during the drive.

The addition brings to 12 the total number of Oath Keepers indicted for conspiracy to "stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote." So far, Rhodes has not been indicted, though prosecutors have been circling, and in each filing appear to be getting closing to charging him alongside the others.

The indictment says Rhodes and his team—including an unnamed communications chief designated as "Person 10," and three Oath Keepers who guarded Stone—engaged in "frequent and consistent communication leading up to the attack." Overall, they exchanged 19 phone calls over three hours that day:

  • At about 1 p.m., Minuta and Rhodes exchanged two calls totaling about three minutes at roughly the same time that a mob of Trump supporters first surged through police barricades onto Capitol grounds.
  • From 1:59 to 2:15 p.m., over a 17-minute span, "Person 10" spoke with Rhodes, and then exchanged five calls with James totaling about 6½ minutes, while Rhodes called Florida Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs—who led the "stack" formation—for 15 seconds. This was about the same time the doors to the Capitol were first being breached.
  • Rhodes then forwarded a message from "Person 10" telling the team that the mob had "taken ground at the capital[.] We need to regroup any members who are not on mission." "Person 10" then called Meggs for 42 seconds.
  • Between 2:24 and 2:33 p.m., Rhodes spoke with "Person 10" for nearly 5½ minutes, after which "Person 10" and Meggs spoke. After James checked back with "Person 10," he and Minuta jumped into the golf cart and headed toward the Capitol, where they began harassing officers outside the east doors of the building. At 3:15 p.m., the two men entered the building, pushing past police at the Rotunda doors.
  • Between 3:40 and 4:05 p.m., "Person 10" connected for three minutes with James, Minuta, and Rhodes for 3½ minutes. Shortly afterward, more than a dozen Oath Keepers, including many who had entered the Capitol, gathered around Rhodes just outside the building.

The communications within the team also indicated that the insurrectionists were following a previously mapped strategy. Jessica Watkins, one of the leaders of the group that entered the Capitol, texted: "We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan."

"You are executing citizen's arrest," one person responded. "Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud."

Watkins responded: "We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fticking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here."

Another person told Watkins to stay safe, then added: "Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for."

There was no indication in the indictment that the government knows the contents of the 19 calls, nor did it identify "Person 10." In interviews, Rhodes has said he had named as his on-the-ground team leader a former Army explosives expert and Blackwater contractor nicknamed "Whip."

Justice Department officials have indicated they are also considering bringing sedition charges against the insurrectionists. "I personally believe the evidence is trending toward that, and probably meets those elements," Michael Sherwin, the former team leader of the investigation, told 60 Minutes. "I believe the facts do support those charges. And I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that."

Rhodes has been portraying himself as a likely martyr. At an anti-immigration event in Texas last weekend, he told the audience: "I may go to jail soon. Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you're found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don't like their political views."

He also claimed innocence for his members. "If we actually intended to take over the Capitol, we'd have taken it, and we'd have brought guns," Rhodes said. "That's not why we were there that day. We were there to protect Trump supporters from antifa."

FBI Agents And Oregon Cops Got Cozy With Violent Proud Boys Leader

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

While the aftermath of the January 6 Capitol insurrection made clear to everyone what reporters and other observers had long been saying—namely, that American law enforcement had treated the Proud Boys and other far-right street-brawling cohorts with kid gloves—the details of the relationship between those groups and authorities are still murky. But the attorney for Joe Biggs, one of the Proud Boys currently facing conspiracy charges in the January 6 siege, helped shed some light on that matter this week.

The FBI and other police agencies routinely sought Biggs' advice, according to a Monday court filing by John Hull, Biggs' attorney. The revelation raises questions not just for federal authorities now investigating some of these men, but for law enforcement agencies in Oregon and elsewhere who, according to Hull, had similar arrangements with Biggs.

After an FBI agent contacted Biggs in late July 2020 and he met with two agents at a restaurant, the filing claims, Biggs agreed to feed the agency information about antifascist activists, both in Florida and elsewhere. Hull, who is petitioning a judge to keep Biggs out of jail pending trial, said the agents wanted to know what he was "seeing on the ground." Afterward, an agent asked follow-up questions in a series of phone calls, and Biggs answered them.

"They spoke often," added Hull.

Biggs enjoyed similar arrangements with law enforcement officials in Oregon, Hull claimed. He routinely spoke with local and federal law enforcement officials in Portland about rallies he was organizing there in 2019 and 2020, and sometimes received "cautionary" phone calls from FBI agents.

"The FBI has known about his political commentary and role in planning events and counter-protests in Portland and other cities since at least July 2020 and arguably benefitted from that knowledge in efforts to gather intelligence about Antifa in Florida and Antifa networks operating across the United States," Hull's filing reads.

In August 2019, Biggs organized a large demonstration at Portland's waterfront attracting hundreds of Proud Boys from around the nation, vowing violence beforehand and urging his Twitter followers: "Get a gun. Get ammo. Get your gun license. Get training. Practice as much as you can and be ready because the left isn't playing anymore and neither should we."

Yet on the day of the march, Portland police coordinated with Proud Boys organizers to keep counterprotesters from interfering and provided escorts for separate marching contingents. At the time, Biggs was observed shaking hands and joking with Portland police officers who helped escort the group across the Hawthorne Bridge after the demonstration ended. Afterward, police began arresting leftist counterprotesters in large numbers.

A year later, according to Hull, police had a similar arrangement with the Proud Boys when Biggs organized another march in Portland—one where attendance was markedly down. Nonetheless, predictably, police reserved their aggressive tacticsfor leftist protesters in downtown Portland later that evening.

"As part of the planning, Biggs would regularly speak with by phone and in person to both local and federal law enforcement personnel stationed in Portland, including the FBI's Portland Field Office," Hull's filing reads. "These talks were intended both to inform law enforcement about Proud Boy activities in Portland on a courtesy basis but also to ask for advice on planned marches or demonstrations, i.e., what march routes to take on Portland streets, where to go, where not to go."

Eric Ward, executive director of the Portland-based Western States Center, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that it was "deeply concerning" to learn that Biggs had worked with the FBI, noting that police authorities have "frequently maintained inappropriately close relations with far-right groups."

"Law enforcement has no credible reason for working with someone like Biggs," Ward said. "It's long past time for a clear accounting of institutional and professional law enforcement relationships with groups espousing political violence at home and abroad."

Zuckerberg Denies Facebook’s Central Role In Spurring Capitol Riot

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed scarcely able to contain his annoyance Thursday as he bobbed, weaved, and otherwise mostly evaded House Energy and Commerce Committee members' questions in a hearing on social media's role in promoting extremism—and particularly questions about his company's culpability in providing a platform for radicalizing and organizing the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

As it happened, no one was able to ask Zuckerberg about a report issued the day before from the Tech Transparency Project demonstrating that hundreds of militia groups remain active on Facebook, organizing and recruiting, as well as spreading disinformation and promoting violence—well after the insurrection. But then, Zuckerberg's testimony made all too clear that the social media giant's response to the problem would continue to be muddled and half-hearted, as the report indicated.

Zuckerberg evasive about Facebook's culpability in Jan. 6 insurrection

Zuckerberg was defiant about Facebook's role in the insurrection during Thursday's hearing, titled "Disinformation Nation: Social Media's Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation." He told Congressman Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, the subcommittee cochair—who wanted to know "how is it possible for you not to at least admit that Facebook played a central role in facilitating the recruitment, planning, and execution of the attack on the Capitol?"—that the blame primarily laid elsewhere.

"I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law and do the insurrection," he said. "And secondarily, also, the people who spread that content—including the president, but others as well—with repeated rhetoric over time, saying that the election was rigged and encouraging people to organize, I think those people bear the primary responsibility as well."

The fact that they were doing so on his company's platform—often in direct and flagrant violation of its own terms of use—seemed to have no bearing on its culpability, in Zuckerberg's view. He similarly doubled down when confronted about Facebook policies that allow political groups and politicians to run ads containing false information.

When asked by cochair Jan Schakowsky of Illinois about Facebook taking money "to run advertisements to promote disinformation," Zuckerberg replied that "we don't allow misinformation in our ads. And any ad that's been fact-checked that's false, we don't allow to run as an ad."

This was at best misleading: Facebook, in fact, does run ads containing misinformation if they are political in nature—because the company has repeatedly insisted it won't fact-check political ads. Zuckerberg has argued that "political speech is important" and so the company doesn't want to interfere with it—which gives politicians and political groups open license to lie freely on Facebook.

Eventually the Democrats who were trying to hold Zuckerberg's feet to the fire for providing a platform that profits from "engagement" algorithms that wind up radicalizing thousands of users came to despair of ever getting a straight answer from the Facebook CEO. After getting a runaround to his question about whether or not Zuckerberg signed off on a reduction in a company plan to tackle extremist misinformation, committee chair Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey ended his discourse curtly, turning to Google CEO Sundar Pichai in frustration.

That defiant approach to the problem comports with the company's running failure to shut down some of the same far-right factions that supported the insurrection, as detailed in the Tech Transparency Project's report, despite its long-running promises to bring the problem under control.

The TTP was able to identify 201 militia pages and 13 militia groups on Facebook as of March 18. Some 70 percent of them had the word "militia" in their name.

Moreover, not only do militia pages persist on Facebook, but TTP found that the platform is actually pushing people toward them: 34 of the militia pages identified by TTP (17 percent) were actually auto-generated by Facebook. Most of these had the word "militia" in their names.

But the reason the term continues to thrive on Facebook was explicit in the response given to BuzzFeed by a company spokesman about TTP's report: "We'll review the accuracy of the claims and the content referenced as soon as we have access to this report. We have banned over 890 militarized social movements and removed more than 3,400 Pages, 19,500 groups, 120 events, 25,300 Facebook profiles and 7500 Instagram accounts representing them; but simply using the word 'militia' does not violate our policies."

"After nearly a year of promises to curb the organizing of militia groups on the platform—a threat that culminated in the attack on the Capitol January 6—Facebook has shown that they are not capable of handling the dangers posed by their platform despite their claims to Congress and the public," TTP director Katie Paul told BuzzFeed News.

Of the 201 militia groups the TTP identified, more than 20 were created after Facebook's crackdown last August. Some were formed in December 2020 or later, such as the Texas Militia, which launched its page even as the attack on the Capitol was under way on Jan. 6. Its creator and administrator claimed that "modern technology has enabled radicals to subvert the process by which we elect our representatives."

"We must be prepared…to defend our rights and prevent [the] takeover of our great nation by radicals, uphold the Constitution, and preserve our way of life," he added.

BuzzFeed also found that Facebook's algorithms continue to push users down far-right rabbit holes. Upon visiting the page for the East Kentucky Malitia (a deliberate misspelling to avoid detection), Facebook directed their reporter to the pages of Fairfax County Militia and the KY Mountain Rangers. Once there, the algorithms directed the reporter to the Texas Freedom Force.

The Texas Freedom Force, as it happens, was identified as a "militia extremist group" by the FBI in an affidavit it filed in January while charging one of its members, Guy Reffitt, with multiple felonies for participating in the January 6 Capitol attack. Reffitt, you may recall, notoriously warned his adult children he would kill them for "treason" if they turned him in to federal authorities after the insurrection.

Police Minimizing Anti-Asian Hate In Atlanta Killings Ensures More Bias Crimes

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The police overseeing the investigation into the Atlanta spree killings that targeted Asian women working at massage parlors seem to be working overtime to avoid reaching the conclusion that the murders were a far-right hate crime. But that's how the American policing system seems to operate: deliberately blind to any ideological components of transparently right-wing violence.

Despite Asian women comprising six of the eight victims, the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office seemed to be making one excuse after the other for the 25-year-old white perpetrator—but warning that it couldn't call the mass killings a hate crime. Then it emerged that the sheriff's official, Capt. Jay Baker, making all the excuses himself was prone to indulging in anti-Asian bigotry in the form of a Facebook post promoting a T-shirt describing COVID-19 as an "Imported Virus From Chy-Na."

"He was pretty much fed up, and kind of at [the] end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did," Baker had told reporters. No wonder Congressman Ted Lieu wants the FBI to take over the investigation—even though the federal agency has its own history of turning a blind eye to the presence of far-right terrorism.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia, faces eight counts of murder in all three shootings—four of them related to shootings at two spas in Atlanta, and the other four related to a Cherokee County spa shooting.

In fact, there is evidence that Long acted on the basis of hatred both of Asians and of women generally, beyond the toll on the victims. According to a Korean newspaper, translated by Jeong Park, one of the spa workers reported that Long, while in the middle of murdering people, had announced: "I'll kill all the Asians."

Another report from the Korean press said that Atlanta police were warning owners of Korean stores to exercise caution because "there's a shooter who says he wants to kill Asians."

Secondarily, even minus the clear racial bias, Long's purported explanation for targeting of female sex workers—"These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, something that he shouldn't be doing. He was attempting to take out that temptation," Baker said—is de facto evidence of a gender bias against women, which is one of the categories of motive under federal and Georgia's state hate-crimes laws.

Unsurprisingly, the Asian-American community—which has been trying to cope with a sharp increase in brutal hate crimes in recent months—was outraged by the attempt to downplay the hateful elements of the murders.

"It's taken six Asian American women dying in one day to get people to pay attention to this," Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) told the Guardian. "Record keeping of hate crimes against Asian Americans is so low because they are not even willing to accept that we are discriminated against and harassed because of our race."

Others spoke up as well. "We know hate when we see it," Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock said on MSNBC. "We'll get into the nuances of it, but only hate drives you to take eight precious lives in the way that he did."

"Racially motivated violence should be called out for exactly what it is and we must stop making excuses and rebranding it as economic anxiety or sexual addiction," Rep. Marilyn Strickland said on the House floor on Wednesday. "As a woman who is Black and Korean I am acutely aware of how it feels to be erased or ignored."

The FBI's hate-crime statistics for 2019 show only 4.4 percent of all racially motivated hate crimes were directed at Asians, compared to 48.5 percent fueled by anti-Black bigotry and 14.1 percent by anti-Hispanic bias. However, hate-crime statistics have long been undermined by the reality that they are severely underreported: a federal study by the National Crime released in February found that more than 40 percent of hate crimes are never reported to authorities.

A significant factor in this is that local police departments are not required to report hate-crime numbers. So, even as the numbers of bias-motivated crimes in the U.S. rose to the highest level in more than a decade—with some 7,314 incidents reported, an increase of about 3 percent in an already elevated plateau that began after Trump's election—police participation in the FBI's statistic-gathering plummeted to an all-time low.

The FBI reports that 86 percent of participating agencies failed to report a single hate crime in 2019, including about 70 cities with populations over 100,000. Only about 14 percent—just over 2,000 out of 15,000 participating agencies—reported any hate crimes at all.

The problem is exacerbated by an increasingly partisan conservativism in police cultures, manifested by the open hostility of many officers to civil-rights groups such as Black Lives Matter critical of their treatment of black arrestees, as well as their continuing use of disproportionate force to handle such protests. This has created increasing tensions in communities such as Portland, Oregon, where police have lost credibility for their ongoing failures to take hate crimes seriously, as well as to treat leftist protesters with increasing brutality.

The same right-wing swing in police culture also has produced the cozy relationship of law-enforcement officers with far-right extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. That relationship helped create the conditions that led to those groups' major participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Police have also developed a pattern of erasing or ignoring evidence of likely ideological or bigoted motives from their investigations of domestic terrorism and hate crimes:

  • Both local and federal investigations of the 2017 massacre of 58 concertgoers at a Las Vegas country-music festival by a gunman named Stephen Paddock concluded that he had no political motive—even though there was abundant evidence that Paddock was a right-wing extremist who told one witness he intended to "wake up the nation" to the threat of federal gun control with his act.
  • When two white men in Glynn County, Georgia, shot and killed a black man named Ahmaud Arbery jogging through their neighborhood, local police and the county prosecutor at first advised that no charges be filed and handed the case off to another county. But when video of the killing—clearly showing the two men gunning down Arbery for no clear reason—the case was given to a grand jury and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation. It shortly emerged that police had actually encouraged and coached the killers to behave as they did.
  • The FBI's investigation of the Christmas Day bombing of downtown Nashville that nearly destroyed a city block recently concluded that it was actually a spectacular suicide, fueled by the bomber's paranoia and his adoption of a number of conspiracy theories—even though all of those theories were fundamentally ideological in nature, reflecting the man's embrace of far-right political beliefs. "Warner specifically chose the location and timing of the bombing so that it would be impactful, while still minimizing the likelihood of causing undue injury," the FBI said.

Far-Right Terrorist Sought To Infiltrate Federal Law Enforcement Agency

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Ethan Collins had it all figured out. Like a lot of far-right extremists, he fantasized a lot about committing various acts of terrorism—bringing down the power grid, bombing police stations, that sort of thing—and thought about ways to make them happen. The Colorado man decided his best shot was to try to infiltrate a federal law enforcement agency and pull off his crimes from within its ranks.

Fortunately, Collins is a terrible liar. In order to join that unnamed federal agency, he had to take a polygraph test. He failed it. Three times. And his answers to agents the third time around became grounds for a search warrant that produced a store of illegal silencers Collins says he made himself. He's now under arrest.

Collins' story was revealed this week in a Daily Beast article by Pilar Melendez and Seamus Hughes. He is currently being transported to Colorado to face multiple weapons charges—all of them related to the silencers. Investigators reportedly also found a substantial cache of legal weapons in his home, including a high-powered sniper-type rifle and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

According to the affidavit filed by the FBI this week, Collins—who makes his living as a pilot—had applied to the federal agency in May 2020 for work, and was required to take a polygraph exam. Collins failed three times—likely because of his reactions during the portion of questions devoted to terrorism, because after the third blown exam, on Jan. 11, the polygraph examiner questioned him further about his responses to those portions of the exam.

His answers were hair-raising. Among the many things the Collins confessed:

  • He had carefully plotted out an attack on the Colorado energy grid that would leave the Denver metropolitan area without power for an extended period. He thought the best time to carry out such an attack was in the winter.
  • His plan would have entailed recruiting over 70 people to participate in the scheme, carefully coordinated by him but with minimal contact with each other.
  • The high numbers of recruits eventually sidelined his plan, because he realized he lacked the manpower to pull it off.
  • Among his other potential targets for attack were the Federal Reserve—which he blamed for his economic woes—and Data Centers for the state of Colorado, as well as local police stations.
  • He approved vigorously of the plot by 14 Michigan militiamen to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer that was disrupted last fall by the FBI. Collins told the examiner that "those plotting to kidnap the Governor would be justified in doing so if they arrested her and put her on trial for violating their rights as American citizens."

"Collins considers himself as a patriot, not a terrorist, but at one point during the interview did state he felt he was a terrorist. Collins said he has spent a lot of time thinking about how easy it would be," the affidavit explained.

Based on his replies, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Collins' home in Centennial, a Denver suburb, nearly three weeks later. In addition to the silencers and guns, investigators also found ballistic gear.

While the Collins arrest is a reassuring reminder that federal law enforcement's processes intended to catch such would-be infiltrators are working, it also leaves the ominous sense that there likely are men who are better liars capable of eluding detection by polygraph who have gained access to the ranks of federal agencies.

After all, the FBI itself recently warned that law enforcement generally was being targeted for infiltration by right-wing extremists of a variety of ideological stripes, including white supremacists and "Patriot" conspiracists. And very few such agencies outside of the federal government even create an emphasis to screen for such extremists, let alone require polygraph tests to detect them.

How Police Inertia And Cronyism Promoted Proud Boys Violence

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A veteran officer on the Fresno, California, city police force was placed on leave over the weekend when it emerged that he had joined a group of Proud Boys in counterprotesting local citizens who oppose turning over a local theater to an anti-LGBTQ church. But it also turned out that this was nothing new: The officer, a veteran of over a decade named Rick Fitzgerald, had been marching with the hate group for over three years.

It went unnoticed largely because modern police culture, over the past four years, developed an extremely tolerant and often benign approach to dealing with far-right street brawlers like the Proud Boys. As The New York Times explored in depth this weekend, it took their prominent role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol for law enforcement to recognize that these proto-fascist organizations are a public menace, and the involvement of law enforcement officers both in the groups themselves, and in enabling their violence—often by turning a blind eye to it, while charging their victims with crimes—is a serious problem that police agencies around the country must confront.

From the very outset—beginning with their first public event, in April 2017 in Berkeley, California—the Proud Boys' entire brand has revolved around generating extraordinary street violence. Yet even as its track record for extremism mounted with each "free speech" and "pro-Trump" event held in a targeted liberal urban center—particularly in Portland, Oregon, and other West Coast cities—the kid-gloves treatment they received from police forces dealing with them became a documented trend.

In spite of that, the FBI and most police forces, as the Times reports, "had often seen the Proud Boys as they chose to portray themselves, according to more than a half-dozen current and former federal officials: as mere street brawlers who lacked the organization or ambition of typical bureau targets like neo-Nazis, international terrorists and Mexican drug cartels."

"There was a sense that, yes, their ideology is of concern, and, yes, they are known to have committed acts of violence that would be by definition terrorism, but we don't worry about them," Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary for threat prevention in the Department of Homeland Security, told the Times. "The Proud Boys are just the guys-that-drink-too much-after-the-football-game-and-tend-to-get-into-bar-fights type of people — people that never looked organized enough to cause serious national security threats."

Fitzgerald is hardly the first police officer to face scrutiny for involvement with the Proud Boys:

  • A female deputy officer from Clark County, Washington, was fired after posing for a photograph wearing a Proud Boys sweatshirt, as well as appearing in a photo shared on a Proud Boys Twitter account accompanied by her contact information in order to purchase "Proud Boys' Girls" merchandise.
  • A former Connecticut cop admitted in 2019 that he had belonged to a local chapter for eight months, but was told his membership didn't violate department policy; he retired anyway.
  • In Chicago, a three-year veteran named Robert Bakker was caught organizing Proud Boys meetups in online chat rooms by local antifascists; Bakker was particularly active in a Telegram channel titled "Fuck Antifa," where he bragged about working in law enforcement. Bakker denied that he was ever a member and remains on the Chicago Police Department force.

Fitzgerald's involvement was exposed when a Twitter user, @Borwin10, published photos of the officer—wearing a mask, but exposing his tattoos and wearing a "Sheepdog" name tag—at both the weekend's protests over Fresno's historic Tower Theater and at a Sacramento Proud Boys march in November. In another photo, the same man can be seen stealing a rainbow-colored flag from a counterprotester. It also emerged that Fitzgerald was one of eight Fresno officers involved in the 2010 killing of a 23-year-old Fresno State student.

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama promptly announced Fitzgerald's suspension. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer confirmed that the man in the photos is a Fresno police officer.

"As I said in my release yesterday, we take matters such as this very very seriously," Dyer told reporters. "I can tell you as the mayor of this city we will not tolerate any city employee that belongs to or affiliates with — associates with an organization that promotes supremacy, promotes criminal activity or promotes racism."

If local authorities are indeed now taking involvement with the Proud Boys by their police officers seriously, that would mark a significant sea change. There is a long history of city officials dismissing those concerns.

Investigative journalist Will Carless—who last year cowrote for Reveal News a piece exposing how police officers around the United States participate in extremist Facebook pages, and how their departments permit it—observed on Twitter that in the course of reporting that piece, his team had contacted several internal affairs departments about these officers' activities, and "as far as we know, they did nothing."

"After we published our stories, I got calls from several internal affairs departments asking me who the Proud Boys were," Carless added. "Investigating officers told me again and again they weren't concerned about affiliation with the group."

As the Times' law enforcement sources noted, a "blind spot in the culture of law enforcement," even more than the Trump administration's antipathy to any focus on far-right groups, produced this failure. "If the Proud Boys was not a white male chauvinist club but a Black male chauvinist club, I think that, sadly, we would have seen a different policing posture," said Neumann.

"They committed violence in public, used videos of that violence to promote themselves for other rallies and then traveled across the country to engage in violence again," Mike German of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University remarked. "How that didn't attract FBI attention is hard for me to understand."

The cases of the Proud Boys indicted in the Capitol insurrection—particularly Ethan Nordean, one of the group's primary leaders on Jan. 6—provide a clear illustration of how the police's biased handling of the organization helped feed these men's beliefs that their violent tactics had the tacit support of law enforcement and other authorities, as the Times piece explores in detail. Nordean and his cohorts, it notes, had been let off the hook by local police in Portland and Seattle on numerous occasions.

The most notorious of these was a late-June 2018 riot in Portland during which Nordean flattened an antifascist with whom he was brawling, the video of which then went viral, making him a kind of celebrity in far-right circles. Police in fact arrested Nordean that day—but then released him 30 minutes later. He was never charged; instead, prosecutors charged his victim, who suffered a "severe concussion," with assault. The next week, he was named "Proud Boy of the Week" on the group's Facebook pages and made an appearance on Alex Jones' InfoWars broadcast, which he used to recruit new members.

This was part of a consistent and ongoing pattern, particularly with the Portland Police Bureau: Proud Boys would bus in men armed for street combatfrom out of town, sometimes even driving their pickup trucks through the downtown and shooting pedestrians with paintball guns, while police stood by and did nothing. When a man hurled a pipe bombat Black Lives Matter demonstrators last summer and he was identified on social media, police chose not to investigate because no witnesses came forward to place the man there.

This was in fact a concrete far-right strategy that evolved between April 2017 and January 2021. A Washington Post feature about the man who organized a "Cruise for Trump" rally in Portland described in clear detail how this all works: A nonresident of a liberal urban center organizes a protest ostensibly around the right-wing cause du jour, which then attracts a horde of other nonresidents, whose supposed purpose is to come tell people who live in those cities how terrible their politics are—but whose underlying purpose, betrayed by the weapons and defensive gear they bring along with an attitude of eagerness to punch "leftists," is to engage in violence.

The Proud Boys and their cohorts were adept at adopting mainstream right-wing talking points as the ostensible purpose of their rallies. Their earliest events were about "free speech" and defending Donald Trump from leftist critics. Soon enough, the purpose for these events began to vary widely, signaling clearly what had already become obvious to observers: Namely, the designated cause was just a beard for right-wing outsiders to wear while planning street violence in the urban centers they loathed.

  • A May 2018 rally in downtown Seattle was officially a protest endorsing "open carry" firearms laws, after the city had attempted to pass an ordinance disallowing firearms in city parks and other public spaces.
  • A June 2018 rally in Portland—previewed by a vow from a Proud Boys leader to "cleanse the streets" of the city—was organized to protest the city's pro-immigrant "sanctuary city" status. This protest eventually broke down into extraordinary violence by members of the Proud Boys.
  • A November 2018 event in downtown Portland was dubbed "HimToo"—a reference to the anti-sexual-assault #MeToo hashtag, but in this case turned on its head into a rally in favor of men's rights, held shortly after the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in which allegations of sexual assault played a major role.
  • And sometimes, the Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys contingent would simply organize "flash marches" in downtown Portland with no official purpose, other than to create opportunities for violence—as one such rally in October 2018 did.
  • Finally, the marches became causes unto themselves, such as when hundreds of out-of-town Proud Boys gathered in Portland in August 2019 and paraded through the town, sometimes with a full police escort—while more than a dozen counterprotesters were arrested by police.

The Proud Boys themselves never made much of an attempt to disguise their violent intentions on social media, however. Prior to that last 2019 rally, Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs (also currently under indictment for his role in the Jan. 6 attack) openly encouraged would-be participants to embrace the violence.

Biggs urged his Twitter followers: "Get a gun. Get ammo. Get your gun license. Get training. Practice as much as you can and be ready because the left isn't playing anymore and neither should we." He followed that with a "Death to Antifa" meme featuring an image of a corpse in a plastic body bag.

Supporters chimed in with memes depicting ISIS-style beheadings of antifascists with large knives, along with comments expressing their unquenched desire to "exterminate" far-left activists. "I fully expect [an] armed conflict to break out on Aug. 17," one commenter said. "People may die this is the real deal."

Police provided some of the Proud Boys marchers that day with an escort. Towards the end, they turned their attention to antifascist demonstrators in downtown Portland and arrested 13 of them. A September 2020 Proud Boys rally in Portland had essentially the same outcome, though with many fewer demonstrators involved.

Law enforcement's cozy relationship with the Proud Boys now appears over—at least on the official level. Rooting it out of the broader police culture—clearly an important component of the task now facing law enforcement in rooting far-right extremists out of their own ranks in order to adequately combat the violent ideologies behind the Capitol siege—will no doubt prove a much harder hill to climb.