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  • May 28, 2017 5:05:09 AM

    Philippines President Rodrigo Dutertecongratulated last month by U.S. President Donald Trump for his murderous war on drugs — told his soldiers he will back them up if they rape women while enforcing martial law.

    The remark, though apparently intended as humor, drew stinging rebukes from human rights and women’s organizations.

    Duterte made his comment in a rambling speech Friday on the island of Mindanao, where he imposed martial law last Tuesday to battle militants linked to the Islamic State.

    If any of them were to rape three women, he said, he would personally claim responsibility for the attacks, according to a transcript of the speech released by the president’s office, The Guardian reported.

    “Fight, and I will pray for you and I will answer for everything,” he said at one point in English in a videotape of his speech. “If you go down, I go down. I and I alone will be responsible.”

    He added: “Just do your job. I will take care of the rest. I will go to jail for you. If you rape three, I will admit it.”

    He also said: “You can arrest any person, search any house.”

    Phelim Kine, a deputy director with Human Rights Watch’s Asian division,
    said the “pro-rape comments only confirm some of the worst fears of human rights activists that the Duterte government will not just turn a blind eye to possible military abuses in Mindanao, but may actively encourage them.”

    The Gabriela Women’s Party in the Phillippines issued an angry statement saying: “Rape is not a joke. This attempt to please the military forces using women to feed the macho fascist mentality ... emboldens military forces to systematically use rape as a tool of war.”

    Chelsea Clinton took to Twitter to lash the idea of a rape comment as a joke, saying: “Not funny. Ever.”

    Duterte’s spokesman responded to the outrage by saying that the president was using “heightened bravado” to lift troop morale, Agence France-Presse reported.

    Last year Duterte “joked” about an Australian missionary who was killed in a prison riot after men lined up to rape her. Duterte said she was beautiful and that he should have been first in line.

    Duterte is notorious for the war on drugs he has launched that has resulted in the extra-judicial killings of at least 7,000 suspects. He once boasted that he himself had pushed a drug trafficking suspect out of a helicopter, but later said he was joking.

    Trump, according to a transcript of an April 29 call leaked to the media, told Duterte, “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

    “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump said.

    Trump has invited Duterte to visit him in the White House. Duterte hasn’t yet accepted the invitation.

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  • May 27, 2017 6:38:13 PM

    A charter school principal in New Orleans has lost his job after video surfaced of him appearing to wear Nazi-associated rings.

    The video, which appeared Thursday, shows then-Principal Nicholas Dean of Crescent Leadership Academy holding an American flag and a shield as he discusses talking to six journalists who “appeared to me completely soulless.”

    Dean, who identifies himself in the video as Nick Andrews, is also seen wearing a helmet, goggles, and two rings closely associated with Nazism. One appears to be of the German Iron Cross and another a skull ring that was awarded to leading members of the Nazi party, according to the local Times-Picayune. 

    “If foreigners come here with Marxist ideas and Marxist tactics ... it’s my duty to be here,” Dean can be heard saying in the video.

    Crescent Leadership Academy said Dean was terminated Thursday.

    “Educators are role models, and they should prioritize this sacred role above all else,” Superintendent Kunjan Narechania said in a statement. “While the circumstances surrounding this decision are regrettable and damaging, I appreciate the board making a swift decision so that school can move forward and so that our community can continue to heal.” 

    Dean’s firing came as he was already being investigated after photos emerged of the principal standing next to a Confederate flag and a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee prior to its removal earlier this month.

    “I didn’t go to protest for either side,” Dean told the Times-Picayune at the time. “I went because I am a historian, educator and New Orleans resident who wanted to observe this monumental event,” he said. “People who know me know that I am a crusader for children and I fight tirelessly on their behalf.”

    But an investigation by the Times-Picayune also turned up a podcast that Dean was featured on ― under the alias Nick Andrews ― where he discusses his work in predominantly black schools.

    “I started seeing how the black community looked at each other and how race and tribe is so powerful for them, and I really respected that,” Dean says in the podcast. “Even though they fight a lot, kind of tribally, there’s a sense of unity among blacks that’s just understood. That was when I began my own kind of identity, if you will, quest.” 

    In the podcast, Dean refers to Take ‘Em Down NOLA ― a group that has advocated for removing Confederate monuments ― as a “black supremacy movement.” 

    Dean says in the podcast that he is not a white supremacist, but that by other people’s definition of one, he “most certainly” is. He adds that going to graduate school with “radical leftists” changed his worldview.

    “If these people get their way, I don’t exist,” Dean says.

    New Orleans has recently made a massive push to remove Confederate monuments in the city. After Robert E. Lee’s statue was taken down, Mayor Mitch Landrieu made an impassioned speech celebrating the removal.

    “These statues are not just stone and metal,” Landrieu told a crowd at Gallier Hall. “They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”

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  • May 27, 2017 3:40:28 PM


    A Horrific Attack

    Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, a longtime criminal who apparently posted hateful rhetoric on Facebook, is the suspect detained in Friday’s horrific Portland knife killings of two good samaritans as well for the injury of another. All intervened in response to a hate speech tirade against a Muslim train passenger.

    On Facebook, a “Jeremey Christian” from Portland praised comic books, pot, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. He wrote: “May all the Gods Bless Timothy McVeigh a TRUE PATRIOT!!!” while introducing a poem on his page. Mr. Chritian also denigrated Muslims and violently referred to Antifa supporters. Among the photo memes he shared, shown below, was one stating, “If We’re Removing Statues because of the Civil War, We Should Be Removing Mosques because of 9/11.” Portland media reports him to be a known white supremacist who participated in public events.

    The horrific killings occurred on a train near Portland’s Hollywood Station during a rush hour barrage of “hate speech” about against Muslims and others that was reportedly directed at a woman wearing a hijab. The Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, starts this weekend.

    In 2015, anti-Muslim hate crime rose 67 percent to 257, the highest level since 2001, according to the FBI, and various cities like New York and San Jose saw an additional increase in anti-Muslim hate crime in 2016. Spikes in hate crime sometimes occur following catalytic incidents like terror attacks like the one in Manchester this past week.

    Attack Comes Amid 6 Percent Rise In Hate Crime in 2016 in U.S. Cities and a National Rise in 2015

    The latest data for 25 large U.S. cities and counties showed overall hate crimes reported to police rose 6 percent in 2016, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. Increases were highest in California and in the nation’s most populous cities. Of the 25 localities surveyed, 14 hit or tied multi-year highs in 2016. Of those cities and counties reporting increases and multi-year highs, four of them were among the five largest cities, where increases were far higher than the overall average.

    In 2016, hate crime in Chicago rose 20 percent, 24 percent in New York City, 15 percent in Los Angeles, and 50 percent in Philadelphia. The largest increase, 62 percent, was in Washington, D.C., while Seattle ― with only a 6 percent increase ― and Columbus, Ohio ― with a 9.8 percent rise ― were the only jurisdictions where percentage increases fell below double digits. Boston; Suffolk County, New York; and Houston, however, had significant overall drops, although Boston experienced an increase in anti-Muslim hate crime.

    The FBI found a 6.7 percent increase in hate crime in 2015, with 5,850 criminal incidents. If the national increases in the Cal State University municipal survey holds across the entire country, it would be the first consecutive annual increases since 2004, when there were 7,462, and the highest level since 2011. Still, even a 6 percent increase in 2016 would still be far below the levels of 2001, when there was a severe hate crime spike following 9/11.

    Recently, ProPublica and Buzzfeed found Oregon had the highest per capita number of hate incidents collected in a non-governmental national data collection effort. The FBI indicated Oregon had 65 hate crimes in 2015. The states with the largest number of hate crimes overall in 2015 were California, 837; New York, 500; Ohio, 416; Massachusetts, 411; New Jersey, 330; and Michigan, 309. Maryland, whose separate 2015 state hate crime report released in September showed 203 hate crimes in the state, only showed 41 in the FBI figures. Many areas do not adequately report hate crime, however.

    Religious Crimes Rose As Anti-Muslim Prejudice Hits Disturbing Levels

    Religiously motivated hate crime rose dramatically in 2015 to 1,244 incidents, according to the FBI, an increase of 22.7 percent over 2014, where there were 1,014 incidents. The proportion of religion-based hate crime also increased to its highest level since modern reporting commenced in the early 1990s, constituting 21.3 percent of hate crime in 2015 compared to 18.5 percent in 2014. The 2015 religion hate crime FBI totals were also the highest numerically since 2010.

    Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics relying on annualized datasets from residential phone surveys found an even higher proportion of religiously motivated hate crime:

    The percentage of hate crimes motivated by religious bias was nearly three times higher in 2012 (28 percent) than in 2004 (10 percent), but did not have a statistically significant change from 2011 to 2012.

    In New York City in 2017, hate crimes through May 14 were up, at 178, compared to 114 for the same period in 2016, with anti-Semitic crimes up from 47 to 87 and anti-Muslim crimes up from 9 to 12.

    In 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks, anti-Muslim hate crime peaked at 481 and had been in a range of 105 to 160 until 2015’s breakout. Anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015 showed a significant increase in the proportion of hate crimes from the previous year as well. Anti-Muslim hate crimes accounted for 4.4 percent of all hate crimes in 2015, up from 2.8 percent for 2014.

    In the month of the election, through Dec. 12, 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) counted 1,094 incidents nationally, with 315 directed at immigrants, 221 at African-Americans, and 112 at Muslims, along with 26 anti-Trump incidents. California, with 125 incidents, led the nation.

    SPLC also found direct references to President Trump or the election in over one-third of the national incidents right after the election. In addition, while the SPLC found only a 3 percent rise in hate groups, they found a tripling in anti-Muslim groups. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported 2,213 bias “incidents” in 2016 and a 57 percent increase and 260 crimes and a 44 percent increase. Election time spikes were confirmed in many, but not all cities in the Cal State Study.

    From 2002 to 2014, the number of respondents who state that Islam is more likely to encourage violence doubled from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to Pew research. A June 2016 Reuters/Ipsos online poll found that 37 percent of Americans had a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, compared to 38 percent for Atheism, 21 percent for Hinduism, 16 percent for Judaism and 8 percent for Christianity. Those results are not just recent developments. A 2009 Gallup poll showed 43 percent of Americans admitting to prejudice against Muslims, with 9 percent saying they had a great deal of prejudice toward them. Compared to the 43 percent of respondents admitting prejudice against Muslims, only 18 percent said the same for Christians, 15 percent for Jews and 14 percent for Buddhists. A recent 2016 Pew Research results show a significant proportion of non-Muslim Americans view Muslims negatively.

    Erratic Homicidal Lone Extremists

    The Portland attack is just the latest homicide in which race or religion appear to have been a contributing factor in 2017 and part of a disturbing trend of rising hate homicides, particularly by individuals with extremist proclivities or apparent mental illness in multi-fatality incidents or with knives. A Maryland white supremacist is facing trial for the random racial knife attack against an elderly African-American man in New York, while an African-American man is in jail after randomly killing three white people, days after killing a security guard in Fresno in April.

    Also this month, an African-America soldier visiting the University of Maryland was stabbed in a random knife attack that is being investigated as a possible hate crime, but it has not been charged as such.

    In Florida last week, a former white supremacist and newly converted violent Salafist Jihadist killed two of his neo-Nazi roommates in yet another bizarre attack after stating they degraded his faith.

    2015 also had the highest number of hate homicides ― 18, according to the FBI ― going back to the beginning of the century, and the Pulse night club murders that killed 49 in Orlando last June were the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

    Mr. Christian, following an emerging trend of possible mental distress combined with “blended extremism,” called himself an “Anarcho-Nihilist and registered Libertarian, who happened to vote for only Bernie in the primary then switched back.” He further wrote of anti-Semitism as well, “In short I sympathize with both Commies and Nazis because of Semitic Patriarchal Monethesism.”

    Some violent homicidal extremists construct ad hoc idiosyncratic amalgams of hatred in part from a buffet found on social media, while others, like the recent Florida convert, skip from one extremism to another. These prejudices and stereotypes then direct where their violent sociopathic tendencies are targeted. Mr. Christian further wrote Antifa would “be X’d out of Portland soon” and stated, “I’m gonna stab some masked up bitches.”

    Christian faces a judge Tuesday in connection with the killings amid a national outcry about rising hate crime and incivility.

    U.S. Demographics-Religion: Pew Research Center

    Christian: 70.6%; Evangelical Protestant 25.4% ; Catholic 20.1% 5.9%

    Non-Christian: 5.9%; Jewish 1.9%; Muslim 1%; Buddhist 0.9%

    Unaff.: 22.8%: Agnostic 4%; Atheist 3%

    FBI Hate Hate Crime By Faith 1996-2015

    From Jeremy Christian’s apparent Facebook Page

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  • May 27, 2017 1:39:46 PM

    Terror struck Portland, Oregon last night when two young women riding a MAX train came under verbal assault by a man making anti-Muslim slurs. Passengers attempted to intervene to protect the teenage Muslim girls.

    In the end, two passengers were stabbed to death trying to lend protection to the teenagers, and another was left wounded. 35-year old Jeremy Joseph Christian is in custody. We know from reporting done by The Portland Mercury that Christian is an active white supremacist. The two young Muslim passengers were unharmed because of the heroic acts of those who stood up to bigotry.

    As a minister in the United Church of Christ living just blocks from the incident, I am left sickened. Portlanders of all backgrounds are trying to make sense of the violence. Sadly, attacks such as these have become too routine, as politicians, starting with Donald Trump, have engaged in the vilification of Muslims. The United States is being torn apart across religious and cultural lines for political gain. The reality is that those who are Muslim are my brothers and sisters.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies hate crimes, reported tracking 1,372 reported bias incidents between the day after the election and the start of February and an astounding “197 percent increase in total number of anti-Muslim hate groups up from 2015.”

    Helping Mr. Trump and others spread anti-Muslim bigotry are Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham, a close ally of the president. This week, following the devastating attacks in Manchester, Graham wrote:

    “Islam is a threat to our very way of life. There will be more stabbings, more shootings, more bombings, and more killing. Our U.S. politicians need to wake up and see the dangers,” he declared.

    “We need to find ways to make our border secure so that we can know who is coming into this country and make sure they support the freedoms and liberties we hold dear.”

    Islam is not evil or a dangerous religion. Fundamentalism, however, can turn any faith tradition into a violent movement. Consider the number of terrorist bombings at women’s health clinics in the United States by so-called Christians over the last several decades, and the link between white nationalist domestic terrorist groups that identify as part of a fringe movement within Christianity.

    Trump, Graham, and others have helped to incite violence at their rallies and in the streets. This new normal can only be called sinful. The attack in Portland can only be called domestic terrorism.

    My prayer is that every Christian body speaks out against hate crimes such as the one that occurred in Portland last night. It is vital that the interfaith movement in the United States continues to stand-up as a counterweight to those who would use religion as a tool of division. All our faith traditions, at their core, are about building just societies and freeing people from oppression. We must be about the work of bringing people together; not building walls to keep one another apart.

    No child should fear for their life riding mass transportation because of their faith.

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  • May 27, 2017 8:27:31 AM

    Two men are being hailed as heroes after they were killed while trying to stop a man from abusing two young women on a train in Portland, Oregon, because they appeared to be Muslim.

    Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, of North Portland, allegedly attacked the men on a MAX train at the Hollywood Transit Station at 4:30 p.m. Friday. He was charged with offenses including two counts of aggravated murder over the incident, which occurred hours before the start of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

    Witnesses said at least one of the women the suspect targeted was wearing a hijab, and it appeared the abuse was religiously and racially motivated. Christian is known to locals and authorities as an active white supremacist.

    “He said, ‘Get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here,’” Evelin Hernandez, a passenger on the train, told KATU-TV.

    Three men intervened amid the suspect’s “ranting and raving,” Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said during a news conference. “They were attacked viciously by the suspect.”

    Police said one of the men who intervened died on the train. The other died later in hospital, while the third man was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

    Portland police identified the deceased as Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche of Portland. Best died on the train, while Namkai-Meche was pronounced dead later at the hospital, they said. A third victim, who sustained non-life threatening injuries, was identified as 21-year-old Micah Fletcher of Portland.

    Namkai-Meche’s sister, Vajra Alaya-Maitreya, released a statement on behalf of their family to HuffPost, calling him “brave, loving and hilarious.”

    “Taliesin Myrddin lived a joyous and full life. His enthusiasm was infectious. We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common,” the statement reads. “He was resolute in his conduct and respect of all people. In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward. He will live in our hearts forever as the just, brave, loving, hilarious and beautiful soul he was. We ask that in honor of his memory, we use this tragedy as an opportunity for reflection and change. We choose love. Safe journey Taliesin. We love you.”

    Asha Deliverance said on Facebook that her son Namkai-Meche had died a hero and that he was a “shining bright star.”

    A GoFundMe page was set up by a Portland-area business owner to help support the families of the “Tri Met Heroes.”

    The suspect’s mother, Mary Christian, told HuffPost early Saturday that she had no idea that her son might have been involved.

    “It’s scary,” she said. “I can’t imagine he would do anything like this, unless he was on drugs or something. He’s been in prison, he’s always been spouting anti-establishment stuff but he’s a nice person I just can’t imagine.” 

    Officers detained Christian soon after he got off the train, police said. They were unable to interview the women, however, as they’d already left the area.

    Police booked Christian into the Multnomah County Jail early Saturday. Along with the aggravated murder charges, he faces two counts of intimidation in the second degree, one of attempted murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

    Christian has previously been convicted for felony robbery, kidnapping and possession of weapons. He will be arraigned in Multnomah County Court on Tuesday, where he may face additional charges, authorities say.

    Police said Saturday afternoon that they were investigating Christian’s “extremist ideology,” but noted that he had not been flagged as a member of a criminal gang, and wasn’t known to have a history of mental health issues.

    His ties to white supremacy include attending local rallies, according to authorities. On April 29, police confiscated a baseball bat from him at a “March for Free Speech” rally, after which he screamed racial epithets and gave the Nazi salute throughout the day, the Portland Mercury reports.

    The Willamette Week identified him as being the man in the American flag in the below video:

    Police said they were familiar with Christian but did not see him as a threat to public safety, adding that he suffered from mental illness. His mother told HuffPost that she didn’t believe he was mentally ill.

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement in response to the attack Friday calling on President Donald Trump to speak out against anti-Muslim incidents, which it said had increased more than 50 percent in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016.

    “President Trump must speak out personally against the rising tide of Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry and racism in our nation that he has provoked through his numerous statements, policies and appointments that have negatively impacted minority communities,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. 

    “Only a strong statement from the nation’s leader will send a message to bigots that such acts of violence targeting racial, ethnic or religious minorities are unacceptable.”

    Trump’s administration may be moving in the opposite direction on white nationalism, however. Muslim advocacy groups and a program that works to rehabilitate neo-Nazis may lose funding if Trump narrows the focus of the Countering Violent Extremism grant program to Islamic extremism. As it stood under the Obama administration, groups dedicated to help combat Islamophobia and other hate group at home shared millions in funding, alongside groups that deterred recruitment by Islamic terrorist groups.

    Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler paid tribute to the train victims for “doing the right thing, standing up for people they didn’t know against hatred.” “Their actions were brave and selfless, and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all,” he said in a Facebook post. “They are heroes.”

    TriMet, the transit provider in the Portland region, confirmed there would be delays following the incident and issued messages of condolences over the deaths:

    Police said the Oregon State Medical Examiner would conduct autopsies on the two men on Saturday morning. They will release the names of the three victims soon after, they added.

    This article has been updated throughout.

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  • May 27, 2017 6:19:06 AM

    The Wall Street Journal has reported that the White House is considering having a team of lawyers approve Donald Trump’s tweets before they go out. But who would stop Trump’s itchy fingers before dawn when he usually taps out his nastiest tweets?

    That was the topic on a CNN panel Friday as journalists wondered who would be brave enough to bird dog Trump at 2 a.m. — or confiscate his phone.

    “My question is, is one of those lawyers going to take up residence in the White House?” asked CNN political correspondent Dana Bash. “Because that is the biggest issue for the White House staff when they’re tearing their hair out looking at these tweets [written]  in the off hours when he gets himself worked up into a frenzy.”

    Yahoo anchor Brianna Golodryga added: “I don’t seen the president handing over his phone ... are these lawyers coming in at 2 in the morning to do phone duty?”

    The Journal reported Friday that advisers are weighing new strategies to deal with the pounding onslaught of bad news for the president as damaging information mounts in the ongoing investigations into Russian connections to the Trump campaign team. One strategy would have lawyers vet Trump’s tweets so they “don’t go from the president’s mind out to the universe,” and create more trouble for him and his aides, a source told the newspaper.

    But timing would be an issue. Could the president let a tweet sit until lawyers could see it — or would he turn his phone over to someone until working hours? A former campaign aide said neither is likely.

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  • May 26, 2017 11:49:34 PM

    WASHINGTON ― A pair of bills introduced in the House and the Senate would make assaulting law enforcement officers a federal offense and suing cops for civil rights violations more difficult. 

    Under the Back the Blue Act, introduced on May 16 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the Senate and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) in the House, suing cops in federal court for violating the constitutional rights of civilians will be limited.

    The bill introduced in the Senate states that individuals who were “engaged in felonies or crimes of violence” would be blocked from receiving damages for any violations that occurred during “any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in the judicial capacity of that officer.” 

    So, even if the individual can prove their rights were violated by an officer, police departments would be able to claim an individual’s injuries were a result of that person’s conduct which, to quote the bill, “more likely than not, constituted a felony or a crime of violence.”

    It would also treat assault on a police officer leading to bodily harm as a federal crime carrying a mandatory minimum of two to 10 years in prison, depending on if the harm was minor, “substantial” or “serious.” If a weapon was used during the assault, the charge would carry a 20 year mandatory minimum regardless of the harm inflicted on the officer. 

    Both caveats would have brash consequences for civilians ― particularly black and Latinx people who tend to have more unnecessary contact with law enforcement. For instance, an officer could justify their use of excessive force by charging someone with felony assault ― an issue explained by HuffPost in January regarding Louisiana’s law that made attacks on police a “hate crime.”

    It could also have an impact on political demonstrations. For example if a police officer attempts to restrain a protester and that person makes a movement the officer interprets as threatening, a minor trespassing or disturbing the peace charge could be upgraded to assault.

    But in light of the new bill, a civilian, regardless of whether or not they were “engaged in felonies,” could be hit with a federal charge and possible federal prison time without the option to seek damages for a civil rights violation. 

    The proposed law would also make it a federal offense to murder, attempt to murder or conspiring to murder a federal judge, a first responder or a state or local law enforcement official who works for any agency that receives federal funding. And almost all law enforcement agencies ― including local police departments ― receive federal funding.

    Defendants, if found guilty, would face the federal death penalty and a mandatory minimum of 30 years in federal prison.

    The bill also mandates that no more than $20 million be granted to local law enforcement agencies so that they can “promote trust and ensure legitimacy” with the communities they serve. 

    If passed, the bill could be legally redundant. All 50 states have statutes, or “aggravating factors,” that automatically increase the penalties for violent attacks on law enforcement officers, according to the Anti-Defamation League. And Louisiana and Kentucky have made violent attacks on police a hate crime in the past year.

    Cornyn and Poe both introduced the same bill last year.

    Cornyn has said the bill was a way of showing “unparalleled support” to law enforcement.

    “Law enforcement officers selflessly put their lives on the line everyday to protect our communities, and in return they deserve our unparalleled support for the irreplaceable role they serve,” Cornyn told The Dallas Morning News last year. “The Back the Blue Act sends a clear message that our criminal justice system simply will not tolerate those who viciously and deliberately target our law enforcement.”

    Poe has made similar comments.

    Cornyn and Poe’s offices did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

    The 2016 bills didn’t pass, but the political climate was different. Former President Barack Obama’s administration focused on sentencing reforms and prosecutors placing crimes into context when deciding on prison time. Obama was also vocal about the need to reform police departments and better their relationship with the communities they serve. 

    President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has vowed to be harder on crime and end what he calls the “anti-police atmosphere” in the U.S. Trump has said protests against widely-publicized police violence has provoked the murder of police officers and that calls for reform are “anti-law enforcement.” He also believes that calls for police accountability have caused a “war on cops.” 

    May 10 memo from current Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed Obama’s policy, mandating that federal prosecutors “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” possible against defendants charged with a federal crime. The memo also requires federal prosecutors to get approval from the U.S. Attorney or an assistant Attorney General if they wish to pursue a lesser charge. 

    The Back the Blue Act, if passed, would take prosecutorial aggressiveness a step further.  

    Currently, any attacks on law enforcement are handled by state and local jurisdictions. This would continue under the law unless the U.S. attorney doesn’t like the way a case is being handled, which could pose an issue since many jurisdictions have elected district attorneys looking to reform criminal sentencing laws and police departments. As criminal justice reporter Radley Balko explained in The Washington Post:

    In a few places, such as Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston, the new DAs were elected specifically after campaigning on policing issues, or in response to a past incumbent’s inattention to police abuse. If this bill passes, a U.S. attorney more sympathetic to law enforcement could thwart those efforts by, for example, charging a high-profile victim of police abuse with the new federal crime of assaulting a police officer. It wouldn’t be difficult. We’ve seen plenty of video now where a clear victim of police brutality was initially arrested and charged with battering one of the officers who beat him. 

    If the new bill were to go into effect, federal prosecutors would have full discretion to overrule a state or local court if “the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence” or if “a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.”

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  • May 26, 2017 11:42:59 PM

    LOS ANGELES ― Two investigators with the beleaguered Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which faces three investigations over its prosecutors’ alleged misuse of jail informants, have accused multiple senior OCDA staff members of covering up evidence in separate cases. When the two investigators flagged evidence from their own investigations to staff, the pair claim they were met with punishment for merely doing their jobs.  

    OCDA investigators Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos each filed separate claims with the county’s Board of Supervisors on Friday, arguing that they have been subjected to mistreatment by various OCDA staff and that their careers have been damaged in the process.

    The investigators make extensive and deeply troubling allegations against members of their own investigative unit and several OCDA prosecutors ― some of whom are linked to the ongoing jail informant scandal. It’s the latest in a series of allegations of misconduct against the embattled district attorney’s office, which along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has been embroiled in the sprawling snitch scandal for more than three years.

    At the center of the scandal is the misuse of a sophisticated informant program ― operated by sheriff’s deputies and utilized by prosecutors to secure convictions ― that has allegedly violated the civil rights of numerous defendants and led to the unraveling of more than a dozen murder cases in the county. New hearings linked to the scandal began just this week.

    The complaints filed by Conklin and Santos are a prerequisite for filing a lawsuit against public entities, their lawyer, Joel Baruch said in a statement. Baruch also said that both Conklin and Santos are “whistleblowers in the strictest sense” and that they have put their law enforcement careers in jeopardy by “ensuring that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office follows the law in protecting the constitutional and statutory rights of all of us.”

    Here’s the alarming claims made by the DA’s investigators:

    Prosecutors allegedly covered up evidence in the Stephenson Choi Kim murder case.

    In 2004, Stephenson Choi Kim, along with several other suspects, were charged in a shooting at a cafe in Cypress, California. Seven years later, Choi Kim would be found guilty of all charges, including one count of murder and multiple other counts including premeditated attempted murder and street terrorism. In 2012, Superior Court Judge John Conley sentenced Choi Kim to life without the possibility of parole, plus 255 years in prison.

    But that conviction and sentencing would turn out to be built on the back of cheating. Susan White, at that time a detective with the Cypress Police Department, stated in police reports that she had interviewed multiple eyewitnesses to the shooting and that a number of those witnesses had identified Choi Kim, and others, as being present at the cafe at, and just before, the time the killing occurred. However, those same eyewitnesses would go on to testify in the trial that they had not in fact positively identified any individual as being present. Moreover, the sole witness White claimed had positively identified Choi Kim as the shooter denied ever having done so. Both the police and the prosecutor stated that the audio recording of White’s interview with that witness had been lost.

    While then-Deputy District Attorney Cameron Talley, who has since retired, did not call White to the stand to testify about her false testimony, the defense did. White was then forced to admit that her police reports were mistaken and that eyewitnesses she claimed to have positively identified a co-defendant as a lookout for the shooting had not done so. Secondly, White was forced to admit that an eyewitness she claimed had positively identified Choi Kim as the shooter also was false. The defense asked Judge Conley to declare a mistrial, claiming that White had committed perjury.  

    Despite the obvious problems, Judge Conley denied the mistrial motion and ruled that White had not lied under oath, but instead had simply conducted a sloppy investigation and written inaccurate police reports.

    When the trial ended, the defense wrote a letter, which was forwarded to OCDA, declaring that White had committed perjury at the trial, had written false police reports and had also forged pretrial lineup identification. That’s when OCDA asked Investigator Conklin to review the allegations.

    In 2011, just three months after Choi Kim’s trial ended, Conklin completed his investigation into the matter and determined that Choi Kim’s defense attorneys were correct ― White had participated in the tainting of evidence, falsely manufactured her police reports and had committed perjury on the witness stand. But when he informed prosecutor Talley of his findings, Conklin says the prosecutor told him “it would be preferable if you said your investigation was not completed until after the date of the sentencing.”

    In other words, the complaint reads, Talley “did not want to advise” Choi Kim’s defense attorneys about Conklin’s findings “since he was concerned that it might result in a new trial” for Choi Kim. Conklin says Talley would never go on to inform Choi Kim’s lawyers about his findings.  

    In June 2011, Conklin says his investigation was given to another prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Aleta Bryant, to review what, if any, criminal charges would be brought against White. Conklin says that around this same time prosecutor Talley was given a disk containing Conklin’s entire investigative materials in the White matter, including an interview he conducted with White, all audio recordings and transcripts of the eyewitness’ pretrial statements.

    However, about two weeks later, Conklin was told that OCDA had never received recorded pretrial interviews with two of the witnesses that Conklin had collected himself and which were contained on the disk he turned over to Talley. The day after Conklin received this notification, Bryant indicated that White would not be prosecuted for her alleged crimes.

    Then, that same day, Conklin says that Deputy District Attorney Talley yelled at him, saying he was a “de facto investigator for the defense and doing the defense’s dirty work.” He added that the prosecutor essentially asked him to lie, allegedly saying to him, “why didn’t you stop your investigation once you located the new recordings” and “why didn’t you wait until after the sentencing ― now I have to disclose suspect descriptions to the defense.”

    Mysteriously, Conklin says that then-Deputy DA Dan Wagner told his boss in July 2011 that he wanted to meet with Conklin about his investigation into the White crimes. But, after emailing Wagner about his own availability, Conklin says he never heard back from the prosecutor.

    And for the next four years, Conklin says he had no further conversations with any of the homicide prosecutors or OCDA management about his White investigation. He also assumed that his completed investigation materials and records were shared with Choi Kim’s defense team, which OCDA is legally required to do. 

    But in 2015, Conklin saw an article in the local O.C. Weekly newspaper stating that Choi Kim had filed for an appeal for a new trial. Since the article made no mention of his investigation, Conklin says he became suspicious that OCDA had not turned over the contents of his investigation to Choi Kim’s lawyers. He also says that he thought the timing of the lack of disclosure was suspect because by 2015 the jailhouse informant scandal in the county had exploded and OCDA was facing tremendous scrutiny for their role in it. This alarmed Conklin further, he says, because Wagner was the prosecutor in the Scott Dekraai mass-murder case, which remains at the center of the scandal due to allegations that a snitch was illegally planted next to Dekraai in jail to glean incriminating evidence from him.

    Conklin says he he came to the conclusion that “the highest levels of management” at OCDA had not ever shared his White investigation with the Choi Kim defense, so he contacted Choi Kim’s defense attorney Michael Chaney.

    Chaney told Conklin, according to the complaint, that he was not familiar with Conklin’s name, any investigation he had conducted into White and that the OCDA office had in its possession numerous pieces of evidence from the White investigation. Conklin says he would go on to meet with Chaney and provided him with the “narrative and timeline” from his White investigation.

    Having been caught violating a defendant’s rights by not turning over evidence, Conklin alleges that the OCDA, through Wagner, at some point in 2016, concocted a scheme to cover up their misdeeds and attempted to shift blame onto Choi Kim’s defense team.

    Wagner informed the defense in a 2016 letter that there was a set of materials that had never been picked up by them. But then, according to the complaint, Wagner allegedly included within those materials Conklin’s internal investigation, which had never before been turned over. Conklin believes that this was intended to give the defense the impression that it was their negligence that caused them to never have the investigation materials.

    Investigators claim they were pulled from a second case due to their whistleblowing.

    Like Conklin, investigator Santos claims he too has been subject to unfair discipline and harassment while working at OCDA, also due to whistleblowing on an investigation he was assigned by the agency into a car accident that former Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz was involved in.

    In the early hours of election night November 2016, Felz crashed his vehicle into a tree in a residential neighborhood. When Fullerton police arrived on the scene, Felz, according to Santos’ complaint, was slurring his words and told the officer, “I’m a City Manager,” and “call Danny Hughes” ― who, at the time of the crash, was the Chief of Police for the Fullerton Police Department. Santos says that the patrol officer called the chief who dispatched one of his sergeants, Jeff Corbett, to go to the scene of the accident and drive Felz home. Felz was not arrested that night and it wouldn’t be until March 2017 that he’d be charged with a DUI for the crash.

    Santos alleges that it was no accident that Corbett was called to help with preferential treatment of Felz. “Sometime before [the Felz crash] Sergeant Corbett, who supervised the narcotics unit at FPD, was found by a Fullerton PD officer having sexual relations in his police vehicle while on duty behind a local business,” according to the complaint. Corbett was not arrested for the act, Santos says, and that instead Corbett told his fellow narcotics division officers that they should say he was involved in work-related surveillance. Santos then claims Chief Hughes did Corbett a favor and covered up that misconduct so, come the night of Felz accident, Corbett was willing to do his chief a favor back.

    Upon investigating the incident, Santos says he discovered evidence that led him to conclude that Chief Hughes had criminally obstructed justice. So in January of this year, the investigator informed Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh that he was concerned about the case because of the DUI and what appeared to be a cover-up.

    But according to Santos’ complaint, Baytieh ― a county prosecutor who has been at the forefront of his office’s response to the ongoing jail informant scandal and who has been accused of misconduct himself over informant use ― told Santos that “I am friends with Chief Hughes and we are only going to be investigating the DUI and not anything else.”

    The investigator then says that Baytieh threatened to take him off the investigation. And the following month, Santos claims his supervisor took the Felz investigation away from him completely.

    Both investigators claim that they have now been subject to internal discipline, and even have had management falsely document wrongdoing in their personnel records, directly due to their whistleblowing. They claim that the punishment is ongoing and that as recently as February the pair were formally taken off of another investigation they had partnered on.

    Additionally, Santos claims he’s also been the target of false rumors in the office that he was having an affair with one of his investigation assistants. Santos says his sexual harassment complaint linked to that incident was never appropriately addressed nor investigated by OCDA. 

    “The OCDA learned of the two complaints from the media this morning,” Michelle Van Der Linden, OCDA spokeswoman, told HuffPost. “Both claims are personnel matters involving litigation and as such, we are unable to discuss or provide additional information at this time.”

    Fullerton Police Chief David Hinig told HuffPost that “this matter pertains to the actions of members of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Any reference to employees of Fullerton, former or current, constitute personnel matters and we cannot comment further.”

    This story has been updated with comments from Fullerton Chief of Police David Hinig. Additional language has been added to further detail the allegations of perjury against Susan White.

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  • May 26, 2017 10:19:57 PM

    A Baltimore attorney was indicted Tuesday for allegedly pressuring a rape victim not to testify against his client, in part by threatening her with deportation.

    Christos Vasiliades, 39, is accused of telling the woman and her husband that they would likely be deported if they showed up in court and offering them $3,000 from the defendant in exchange for not testifying.

    The Maryland state indictment, first published by the Baltimore Sun, charges Vasiliades and Edgar Ivan Rodriguez, who acted as a Spanish-language interpreter for the woman and her husband, with obstruction of justice and witness intimidation by threat and corrupt means. (The couple’s names are blacked out in the public version of the indictment.)

    Vasiliades was arrested on Tuesday and arraigned on Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty and prosecutors “agreed to release him under pretrial supervision,” said Raquel Guillory Coombs, public information officer at the Maryland Attorney General’s office.

    The lawyer represents Mario Aguilar-Delossantos, who is facing felony rape charges. According to the indictment, Vasiliades contacted the woman and her husband on April 11 to meet and talk because he said his client’s case had become “more complicated.” 

    During the meeting, Vasiliades allegedly pointed to the Trump administration’s ramped-up immigration efforts and warned the couple that they would risk deportation if they testified in court. In a follow-up meeting on May 18, the woman allegedly wore a device that recorded Vasiliades and Rodriguez claiming that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was “looking at this case.” 

    “You know how things are with Trump’s laws now; someone goes to court, and boom, they get taken away,” Rodriguez said, according to the court documents. 

    Vasiliades and Rodriguez allegedly offered the woman and her husband $3,000 in exchange for their silence. If the couple failed to show up in court, Vasiliades said he could get the case thrown out. Once that happened, the indictment said, the lawyer would alert Rodriguez, who would be waiting outside the courthouse to hand over the money. 

    Afterward, the woman and her husband could seek out Aguilar-Delossantos and “kick his ass” themselves, Vasiliades allegedly suggested.

    “If we were back home where I’m from, from Greece ... we would go f*ck him up, that’s it, if you want to do that, that’s fine,” the lawyer said, according to the indictment.

    HuffPost reached out to Vasiliades for comment, but had not heard back from him at the time of publication. 

    Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told Mic.com that Vasiliades and Rodriguez had tried to capitalize on the “climate of fear” created by the Trump administration’s immigration policies and an uptick in ICE raids across the country.

    “This case, I think, illustrates the folly of that kind of policy,” Frosh said. “It takes an enormous amount of courage for a rape victim to step forward and report a rape, and it takes even more courage for somebody who might be deported to step forward and report a crime.” 

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  • May 26, 2017 9:53:59 PM

    A trucker turned the front of a famous “Cathouse” into litter when he rammed a stolen 18-wheeler into Nevada’s Moonlite Bunny Ranch.

    “He backed his giant rig through the fence and into the ranch,” brothel owner Dennis Hof told HuffPost on Friday.

    Hof said the crash happened just after 4 a.m. Thursday. None of the employees, sex workers or customers were injured.

    The driver, identified as 40-year-old Brian Brandt, of Reno, intentionally crashed into the Carson City establishment, which is featured in the HBO reality show “Cathouse,” authorities said. Brandt, who remains jailed, faces charges of assault with a deadly weapon, property destruction and possession of stolen property, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office said.

    The incident became even more alarming, said Hof, when the driver got out of the tractor-trailer wearing body armor and a mask.

    “When the girls called me, I grabbed some weapons and was on my way down there,” said Hof, who has a residence on the property. “When I got there, [law enforcement officers] already had him in car. You can imagine what I would’ve done to a guy in body armor ― I would’ve unloaded on him. I would’ve had no choice.”

    Hof said he was perplexed as to the man’s intentions. Authorities have not indicated the driver was armed, and Hof said none of the witnesses reported seeing him carrying a weapon or acting aggressively.

    “The guy even told police, ‘Thanks for getting here so quick,’” Hof said.

    According to The Associated Press, the truck had been stolen from a northern Nevada terminal of Michigan-based Central Transport hours before it crashed into the brothel. Central Transport spokesman Mickey Blashfield told AP that Brandt is a former driver for the company who was recently fired for inappropriate behavior. Blashfield declined to comment further on the reason for Brandt’s termination.

    Reno’s KRNV News reported Brandt was arrested May 17 after being accused of assaulting an employee at the trucking business with a 4-foot steel bar. He faces charges of battery and conspiracy to destroy property in connection with that case.

    Hof, who said neither he nor any of his employees recognized Brandt, suspected the man intentionally targeted the brothel for media exposure.

    “If you want to get recognition, you might as well go to a world-famous brothel,” Hof said. “This story has gone all over the world. That could have been his logic.”

    The truck caused an estimated $400,000 in damage to the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, which is one of roughly two dozen legal brothels in Nevada. Prostitution is legal in 10 of the state’s 17 counties.

    “I think we got off really easy, and I’m glad nobody’s hurt,” Hof said. “I hope this guy ― if it’s a medical issue ― gets what he needs. If it’s not a medical issue, I hope he enjoys his afternoons with O.J. [Simpson] in prison.”

    The publicity-savvy proprietor added, “The front door’s definitely out of commission, but the back door’s always open.”

    David Lohr covers crime and missing persons. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow him on Twitter.

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  • May 26, 2017 6:37:55 PM

    Four days after a deadly terror attack claimed the lives of 22 people and injured scores of others at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the pop star has announced she’s hosting a benefit concert to raise money for the victims and their families.

    In an open letter shared on social media Friday, the “Dangerous Woman” singer expanded upon her original tweet, in which she wrote she was “broken” and “so so sorry.” 

    “My heart, prayers and deepest condolences are with the victims of the Manchester Attack and their loves ones,” Grande wrote. “There is nothing I or anyone can do to take away the pain you are feeling or to make this better. However, I extend my hand and heart and everything I possibly can give to you and yours, should you want or need my help in any way.”

    “The only thing we can do now is choose how we let this affect us and how we live our lives from here on out. I have been thinking of my fans, and of you all, non stop over the past week,” she continued. “The way you have handled all of this has been more inspiring and made me more proud of you than you’ll ever know. The compassion, kindness, love, strength and openness that you’ve shown one another this past week is the exact opposite of the heinous intention it must take to pull of something as evil as what happened Monday.”

    Grande revealed she plans to return to the “incredibly brave city” of Manchester for a benefit concert, suggesting that she’ll be joined by other musicians, who have yet to be announced. Details about the concert are limited, but Grande promised to keep her fans updated once everything is confirmed. 

    In the wake of the attack, the singer canceled all dates on her Dangerous Woman tour until June 5, while the fate of the rest of the tour remains in limbo. 

    “From the day we started putting the Dangerous Woman Tour together, I said that this show, more than anything else, was intended to be a safe space for my fans,” the 23-year-old added. “A place for them to escape, to celebrate, to heal, to feel safe and be themselves. To meet their friends they’ve made online to express themselves. This will not change that.”

    For Grande’s full letter, read below. 

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  • May 26, 2017 4:07:11 PM

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appears to be a pretty good shot ― and a horrible comedian.

    A Texas Tribune reporter snapped a photo of Abbott showing off his target sheet on Friday, after which the governor “jokingly” pointed to the bullet holes and threatened the media.

    “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters,” Abbott said, according to reporter Patrick Svitek.

    Abbott was on a victory lap at a shooting range after signing a bill on Friday that significantly reduces the fee for a license to carry a handgun in Texas. His office says the new law “strengthens the 2nd Amendment,” but critics worry that the state is going too far with various gun measures.

    Texas is trying to drastically ease requirements for gun ownership. In April, a House committee greenlighted a bill that would make it legal to carry a gun without a license. Another bill would nix a requirement that gun owners take a training course.

    The Texas Tribune reports:

    House Bill 375 — authored by State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford — is known as “constitutional carry” and it would make the licensing process and classes to obtain a permit optional. The idea, according to Stickland, is that Texans shouldn’t be forced to take a course and pay a fee to exercise their Second Amendment rights. If passed, Texas would be the 11th state to allow constitutional carry.

    A number of Texas Democrats oppose the proposal. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, a critic of both the campus carry and open carry laws, said constitutional carry “seems to be an unnecessary thing.” 

    It’s no secret that Texas loves its guns. But Abbott’s quote, at the very least, showed a stunning lack of awareness. After all, Republican Greg Gianforte was charged with assault after allegedly body-slamming a Guardian reporter in Montana on Wednesday. He was elected to Congress the next day. 

    Everyone saw that story ― media outlets pulled their endorsements of the candidate and the GOP appeared to keep its distance from him after the news broke. As it turns out, threatening or attacking reporters isn’t a good idea, although there appears to be a trajectory of anti-media rhetoric under President Donald Trump’s administration.

    “This joke was dangerous and out of line. Because it’s never just a joke to some. It’s never just rhetoric. Words matter,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Friday afternoon.

    “President Trump encouraged violence as a candidate on the trail, and his supporters started throwing punches,” he added. “Rep-elect Gianforte once joked about hurting journalists, then this week followed it through with a bodyslam that sent a Guardian reporter to the hospital. Words matter.”

    But it doesn’t matter whether these incidents are directly related to Trump’s campaign against the media or simply outliers — the toxic environment is there. Trump has railed against all media so often and with such vitriol that press freedom has already taken a dive.

    Trump called the press the “enemy of the American people,” possibly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to imprison reporters, and joked with his head of Homeland Security that the department should consider using a ceremonial sword on the press.

    Needless to say, journalists aren’t laughing along.  

    But it goes both ways. In states like Texas and Montana, which have “Stand Your Ground” laws, a reporter would have every right to shoot back in self-defense.

    This article has been updated with comment from Dan Gross. 

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  • May 26, 2017 3:29:46 PM

    After 18-year-old Devon Arthurs converted to a violent, fundamentalist version of Islam about a year ago, he didn’t stop posting on the white supremacist messaging board he frequented. Nor did he avoid sharing a house with three roommates, who he later told police were all neo-Nazis. 

    For a time at least, these adherents of seemingly opposing extremist ideologies appeared to coexist under one roof in an upscale condominium complex in Tampa, Florida. 

    Now, however, Arthurs is in jail on murder charges, one roommate is in a federal detention center on charges of possessing explosives, and the other two roommates are dead. 

    Last Friday, Arthurs walked into a nearby smoke shop with a gun and held three people hostage. When police arrived, they negotiated for the release of the hostages. Several minutes later, Arthurs surrendered.

    He made references to “Allah Mohammed” during his arrest, according to the police affidavit, and then led police to his apartment across the street. Inside were the bodies of two of his roommates: 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk. 

    Arthurs later gave a full confession, according to a police affidavit, explaining that he and his two slain roommates, along with a third roommate, Brandon Russell, had all “shared a common neo-Nazi belief” until Arthurs’ conversion to Islam. The families of Himmelman and Oneschuk have strongly denied that the two were neo-Nazis.

    Arthurs told police he shot Himmelman and Oneschuk because they “disrespected his Muslim faith.” He had “become angered by the world’s anti-Muslim sentiment,” the affidavit stated, and thought the murders would “bring attention to his cause.”

    He also accused his roommates of plotting a domestic terror attack. When federal authorities subsequently searched the apartment, they discovered a package containing “explosive precursors” addressed to Russell, along with other bomb-making materials.

    And in Russell’s bedroom, FBI agents found Nazi propaganda and a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.  

    Russell, a 21-year-old Florida National Guardsman, was later arrested in Key Largo. Court documents state that he admitted to being a leader of the same neo-Nazi group of which Arthurs had once been a member: the Atomwaffen Division. 

    Earlier this week on an Atomwaffen Division message board, members mourned Himmelman and Oneschuk, posting photos of their “fallen Aryan brothers.” Many also argued that Russell should have dealt with Arthurs long ago. 

    Russell, one member wrote, was “sympathetic towards Salafism,” the ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam Arthurs had embraced, “and its [sic] come back to ruin his life basically.”

    The Atomwaffen Division is a small group, known previously to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League only for posting racist recruitment flyers on college campuses. 

    But in January a “source” close to the group spoke to Radar magazine, detailing the Atomwaffen Division’s penchant for celebrating Islamic extremism. 

    The source told the magazine that the Atomwaffen Division often used the slogan “Osama was Right” and that its leader had praised Omar Mateen ― the man who massacred 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016 before declaring allegiance to ISIS ― as a “hero.” 

    When Arthurs converted to Islam, a friend told the Tampa Bay Times, Atomwaffen Division members didn’t immediately kick him off the group’s message board, even when Arthurs listed his political affiliation as “Salafist National Socialism.” They made fun of him, but he seemed to still be largely ingratiated with the group. 

    And even earlier this week, while many Atomwaffen Division members memorialized Arthurs’ alleged murder victims, at least one member of the message board appeared to condone his crime. 

    “He shouldn’t have done what he did but I’m not gonna shit on him for it,” someone wrote. “Islam openly commands to kill nonbelievers if they are at war with Islam and right now the U.S. is at war with Islam so when American Kuffar die it’s nothing I’ll get upset over.” 

    “Fuck off... you race traitor Muslim cunt,” another member responded. 

    The administrator for the Atomwaffen Division’s message board, hosted on IronMarch.org, also made an announcement this week: “All Muslims have been isolated and ejected from the group.”

    The story of a neo-Nazi in Florida converting to Islam and then embracing a violent, fundamentalist version of the religion might sound anomalous, even absurd. But experts say what happened with Arthurs isn’t unheard of.

    Moreover, there’s often ideological crossover ― and even mutual admiration ― between neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists, even if many in the neo-Nazi community are rabidly Islamophobic. 

    Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, pointed to the story of Ahmed Huber, a Swiss neo-Nazi who converted to Islam and was later accused by the U.S. government of funneling money to al Qaeda.

    A 2002 CNN segment shows the inside of Huber’s study, where he proudly displayed photos of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. 

    Levin told HuffPost that Huber, who died in 2008, embodied many of the shared ideologies of neo-Nazis and Salafist jihadis. Namely, he was anti-American, anti-Semitic, and against the meddling of Western powers in other countries. 

    Then there’s David Wulstan Myatt, a prominent neo-Nazi in Britain who converted to a Salafist jihadi brand of Islam in the early 2000s.

    His new religion, Myatt wrote in an essay explaining his conversion, was “the only force that is capable of fighting and destroying the dishonour, the arrogance, the materialism of the West.” 

    “For the West, nothing is sacred, except perhaps Zionists, Zionism, the hoax of the so-called Holocaust, and the idols which the West and its lackeys worship, or pretend to worship, such as democracy,” he wrote.

    And in February of this year, a man known only as “Sascha L.” was arrested in Germany for attempting to kill police with explosives. 

    Authorities later uncovered evidence that Sascha had been a neo-Nazi, a political stance that apparently inspired him in 2013 to post paranoid videos in which he accused Muslims of trying to implement Sharia in Germany. 

    Yet German authorities believe a year later he converted to a fundamentalist branch of Islam and had since been spreading symbols of the Islamic State online. 

    Matthias Quent ― director of the Thuringian Center for Documentation and Research Against Group Focused Enmity at the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Germany  explained that “on one hand, the hate groups of the far right need the Islamist terrorism to scapegoat Muslims and to legitimize their law-and-order ideology.” 

    But on the other hand, he said, neo-Nazis and radical Islamists share one major “ideological link”: anti-Semitism. 

    He pointed to how members of the far-right in Germany, along with racist figures in the U.S. like David Duke, attended a 2006 Holocaust denial conference in Iran hosted by that country’s former extremist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

    There are also many German neo-Nazis, Quent said, who often express “sympathy” for “the unscrupulousness and the will of the islamists and their anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.”  

    This is true in the U.S. as well. In a recent Atlantic profile of Richard Spencer, the American white supremacist troll, Spencer speaks admiringly of ISIS, calling it an “identify movement” and a “grassroots movement” with its own “ideas.” 

    “They’ve built themselves up fast, from nothing,” Spencer said. 

    However according to Levin, the California State professor, the most unifying characteristic between neo-Nazis and Salafist jihadis might be psychological. 

    “The bottom line is this: Extremism does not attract the most stable of people,” he said. “Much of the appeal of extremist ideology is not only based on doctrine but on the kind of empowerment it yields to the follower.”  

    “And sometimes,” he said, as in the case of Arthurs, “you trade in one kind of extremism for another.” 

    America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story.

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  • May 26, 2017 2:27:41 PM

    ”Hot Convict” Jeremy Meeks is making the rounds at the Cannes Film Festival

    The model, who was discovered after the Stockton police department posted his mugshot to Facebook, was released from prison in March 2016 and has had a skyrocketing modeling career ever since.

    Meeks attended the amfAR gala on Thursday night. Dressed in all black with diamond skulls on his loafers, he smoldered on the red carpet before mingling with stars.

    At the gala, Meeks mingled with various guests, including Nicki Minaj and designer Philipp Plein. 

    Meeks walked at Philipp Plein’s resort 2018 show in Cannes on Wednesday. The model appeared alongside Paris Hilton at the show and spent time time with Carine Roitfeld, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. 

    “Thank you Philipp plein for an amazing show and Cannes experience!!!” Meeks wrote on Instagram. 

    Thank you Philipp plein for an amazing show and Cannes experience !!!

    A post shared by JEREMY MEEKS (@jmeeksofficial) on

    MY FASHION GOD MOTHER @carineroitfeld @philippplein78

    A post shared by JEREMY MEEKS (@jmeeksofficial) on

    Just a few months ago, Meeks walked for Plein at New York Fashion Week. We hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of him around the globe. 

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  • May 26, 2017 2:13:39 PM

    SANTA ANA, Calif. ― New evidentiary hearings began Tuesday as part of the penalty phase in the case against Scott Dekraai, a man who pleaded guilty to murdering eight people in 2011 but whose sentencing has remained in limbo amid ongoing allegations of malfeasance by county prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies.

    But the testimonies ― or lack thereof ― heard this week only complicated a case that has already been marked by scandal and alleged wrongdoing

    Orange County Sheriff Deputies Ben Garcia and William Grover both invoked the Fifth Amendment on Thursday, declining to answer Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders’ questions about previous testimony in which they covered up the existence of the county’s jail informant program.

    Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals called out Garcia and deputy Seth Tunstall in 2015, saying the pair “either intentionally lied or willfully withheld information” during their testimony. On Thursday, he said he would go back and include Grover in that ruling if he could. All three deputies worked in a branch of their department called “special handling,” which specifically dealt with inmates and jail informants.  

    Central to the hearings are questions surrounding the abrupt termination of the special handling log ― a 1,157-page, formerly secret cache of notes that sheriff’s deputies inside the jail maintained from 2008 to 2013 to record their activities with inmates, some of whom were informants. The database has shed new light on the scope of the informant program in the county and has revealed that some deputies were destroying jail records, possibly illegally. 

    In separate log entries, Garcia and Grover both describe the “shredding” of “old” documents related to the special handling unit. In another entry, Grover describes a “purge” that he, Garcia and another deputy did of old files in a desk drawer. Here’s an example of one of Grover’s log entries from 2009:

    The destruction of records relates to the second subject of testimony: questions surrounding a policy change that allowed OCSD staff to destroy informant-related records ― even as allegations of misconduct around their use of informants grew. 

    The first days of the hearings have already raised troubling new questions about the OCSD’s inquiry into the special handling log and the agency’s record retention policies.

    Why did OCSD pretend it didn’t have answers about the ending of the log?

    Questions have plagued the sheriff’s department over its investigation into the log’s origins, use and sudden termination. Now, during this week’s hearings, a new mystery has begun to develop around the department’s investigation into the log’s ending.

    Lt. Andy Stephens took the stand on Tuesday to answer questions about his investigation into the log’s abrupt elimination. Stephens, a 24-year veteran of the OCSD, now oversees the department’s Custody Intelligence Unit, a new unit to oversee jail informants. The CIU replaced the former special handling unit.

    Stephens says OCSD command staff asked him to perform a task three days after he took over the CIU: email four OCSD sergeants who worked in classification/special handling during the years that the log was active and ask them about their understanding of the log and why it ended. Stephens obliged. 

    One of those sergeants was Marty Ramirez. A late log entry references Ramirez and Lt. Raymond Wert discussing the decision to end the record. The entry dated Jan. 23, 2013, says Ramirez and Wert held a special handling meeting wherein it was determined that the log would end and that deputies would start keeping a document for “important information sharing only.”

    But Ramirez told Stephens that “[h]e had no knowledge of the existence of this log during the time he was assigned to that position,” according to court documents. 

    In court this week, Sanders showed Stephens an internal memo indicating that Lt. Michael McHenry had questioned Ramirez about the log in July. Ramirez replied at the time by saying Wert was primarily responsible for special handling.

    But when McHenry allegedly spoke to Ramirez a month later, Ramirez had a detailed understanding of the log. McHenry says Ramirez told him that when he had learned of the log, “he thought there was a better way to document things.” According to McHenry, Ramirez said, “it wasn’t like the guys were doing anything wrong.” Ramirez explained, according to McHenry, that he saw the termination of the log as “an improvement in operations, not fixing an error.”

    It’s therefore unclear why sheriff’s department appears to have begun a second, segregated investigation of Ramirez’s knowledge of the ending of the log ― when they purportedly already had his answer on that issue months before.  

    Why did the department request new informant record destruction policies as the informant scandal was unfolding?

    Carol Ann Morris, the assistant director of the support services division of the OCSD, took the stand on Thursday. Morris is the author of the agency’s records retention schedules, which determine when OCSD can legally destroy records.

    She described embarking on the herculean task of revising record retention policy for the agency in 2013. Most divisions hadn’t updated their policies since 2008, but she said updating the jail division’s retention policies was particularly challenging because they hadn’t been changed since 1979.

    In August 2014, after about 15 months of work, Morris submitted her new record retention schedules to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The board must approve all new record retention policies, she explained in court. Three months later, the jail division requested she add three additional categories to her policy: “confidential informant files,” “source of information” and “special handling jacket or file.” The jail requested the ability to destroy any records they maintained in those categories after just three years. The county supervisors approved the new record policy in December of that year. 

    Thus as the county’s jailhouse informant scandal was exploding in 2014, a new record destruction policy was authorized. The policy allowed OCSD to destroy records that, according to testimony, documenting informant history for the previous 30 years. 

    Moreover, the three-year interval of the new policy coincided with records that would seemingly exist around the same time that Dekraai was jailed and an informant was allegedly planted next to him to glean incriminating evidence from him. 

    Sanders, who has unearthed damning evidence of a jail informant program’s existence, ordered OCSD to turn over those policies to the court in 2016. However, the new record retention policy was never disclosed. Instead, the old policy from 1979 was turned over.

    Sanders only discovered the existence of the updated policy when an unnamed source happened to provide him with a copy of it last year ― after the OCSD failed to provide the 2014 retention policies despite a subpoena requiring its disclosure. Sanders has alleged that the OCSD intentionally provided the court with outdated policy documents in order to conceal that the agency had obtained the ability to destroy informant-related evidence.

    Morris and her staff member, Vanessa Reid-Mena, both testified on Thursday that it was an accident that the 2014 record retention policy wasn’t turned over to the court. Reid-Mena said the error was due to internal miscommunication over who was going to provide a copy of the new policy. 

    But, in describing the OCSD’s inquiry into the failure to disclose the new policy to the court, both Morris and Reid-Mena relayed a story of being interviewed in front of several witnesses for nearly five hours ― off the record. On March 30, 2017, members of the California Attorney General’s Office questioned numerous members of the OCSD, including Morris, Reid-Mena and Assistant OC Sheriff Adam Powell. According to Morris, Powell requested the meeting not be recorded and suggested that there might be more “candor” that way. 

    Why did OCSD deputies continue to shred records, even with a legal hold in place?

    Morris testified on Thursday that she learned in 2012 that some staff within the jail thought they could rely on the “Jail Operations Manual,” an internal rulebook for jail staff, to provide guidelines for evidence destruction. But the county’s board of supervisors hadn’t authorized those guidelines, meaning they could be illegal. 

    An alternative set of unofficial record retention policies was circulated to jail staff sometime that year, Morris said. She said she immediately alerted OCSD commanders that these rules were not official and should not be followed. She testified that she doesn’t know what action was taken to make sure records were not destroyed.

    Further, it became illegal to destroy jail records in 2009, when the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into county jails.

    Sanders also questioned Morris about evidence of document destruction described in the special handling log. When defense attorney showed some of these entries to Morris on Thursday, she said she was “alarmed” by the notion that these deputies were destroying any records.

    This week’s hearings came just days after “60 Minutes” aired a segment on the informant scandal. In the segment, OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas ― whose office faces three investigations over the use of jail informants ― said informants probably shouldn’t believed. Still, his office has been using jailhouse snitches to help secure convictions for decades, presenting them as credible witnesses with credible evidence.

    Rackauckas has long maintained that no one in his office intentionally misused the jailhouse informant program. The sheriff’s department has said that it has taken steps to create more robust ways of documenting and managing inmates.

    The malfeasance already found in the county and allegations of even more prompted the DOJ to launch an investigation in December. The California attorney general’s office and an Orange County grand jury also continue to investigate.

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