By Robert A. Vella
The Feds and racism
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson to James Currie, Paris, January 28th 1786
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin to Governor Morris, Pennsylvania Assembly, November 11th 1755
An illuminating exposé by ProPublica highlights a discussion with Brennan Center for Justice fellow and former federal agent Michael German who spent years infiltrating white supremacist groups and who appeared before the House Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee on May 15, 2019. German described the conduct of these groups as “organized criminal activity,” and criticized the inadequate response from federal law enforcement by asking “Where is the FBI?” He also examined the Department of Justice’s reaction to several domestic terrorism cases including Coast Guard lieutenant and self-proclaimed white nationalist Christopher Paul Hasson who stockpiled weapons and targeted a hit-list of prominent Democrats and media personalities, and convicted felon Larry Hopkins who commanded a border militia group which illegally harassed migrants and who threatened to kill Barack Obama and other national figures. German didn’t pull any punches by asserting that the DOJ is not only averse to investigating and prosecuting racial crimes, but is also trying to exploit the situation to garner more authority to crackdown on dissent. Moreover, he states that the main reason why the FBI has vigorously pursued would-be domestic terrorists lately is because of public pressure triggered by the media’s coverage of mass shootings and other incidents.
From: He Spent Years Infiltrating White Supremacist Groups. Here’s What He Has to Say About What’s Going on Now. [emphasis by The Secular Jurist]
First, the arrests of several white nationalists allegedly planning acts of violence since the El Paso attack demonstrate beyond question that the FBI has all the authority it needs to act proactively against white supremacist violence. Claims from the FBI Agents Association and other current and former Justice Department officials that the government needs new laws to target this violence are false. I worked successful domestic terrorism undercover operations against white supremacists in the 1990s, and no one ever suggested we didn’t have all the authority we needed.
It is hard to know if these arrests mark a new increase in attention to far-right violence because the Justice Department doesn’t keep reliable data about how many investigations and prosecutions it conducts against white supremacists. It sometimes categorizes them as domestic terrorism, other times as hate crimes or even gang crimes, obscuring the true scope of the violence they inflict on our society. And since the Justice Department defers the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes to state and local law enforcement, the FBI doesn’t even know how many people white supremacists kill each year.
The Justice Department and FBI de-prioritize the investigation and prosecution of far-right violence as a matter of policy, not a lack of authority. These recent cases are a result of increased public pressure to do something about these crimes. But the Justice Department and FBI have done nothing to amend their policies that de-prioritize the investigation of white supremacist crimes. Maintaining public pressure and focusing on changing the biases that drive these policies is essential to forcing a change in priorities at these agencies.
The FBI intelligence assessment declaring conspiracy theorists a domestic terrorism threat should worry all of us. It had a line defining conspiracy theorists as those who do not hold the “official” or “prevailing” view on a particular topic. Given that the intelligence community has often been the promoter of false narratives, particularly about the lawfulness of its own conduct, giving them license to target people who disagree with the “official” view is chilling. It is basically a declaration that the government will treat dissent as dangerous.
The Justice Department seems to have tried to make this into a test case for demanding new authorities, even though prosecutors obviously had enough evidence to address the threat. Compare this case to the Larry Hopkins case in New Mexico. There the FBI received a tip in 2017 that a formerly incarcerated felon who was the “commander” of a border militia group that harassed migrants was also planning to assassinate Hillary Clinton, George Soros and Barack Obama. The FBI went to Hopkins’ trailer and recovered nine firearms he was not permitted to own due to his previous felony convictions, which included weapons charges and impersonating a police officer. The FBI did not arrest Hopkins and instead let him continue to operate with his militia group for 18 months, harassing migrants in the desert, until a video of his group pointing weapons at a group of migrants they detained went viral and sparked public outrage. Only then did the FBI take action.
I think the violence in Charlottesville was a wake-up call for everyone. The media finally recognized that white supremacists were engaging in terrorism, too. The level of violence these far-right groups inflict has been persistent over time, but studies show that the media gave terrorist acts perpetrated by Muslims 350% more coverage than violence committed by other terrorists. The increased reporting post-Charlottesville eventually caused policymakers to take notice, which in turn compelled the FBI and Justice Department to begin to take these crimes more seriously. The media coverage drives public perception, which causes policymakers to act. It remains to be seen whether they react in a way that improves the situation and builds a more inclusive society, or makes it worse by giving law enforcement broad powers to continue targeting marginalized communities agitating for civil rights and changes in government policies.
The authorities initially refused to name the gunman on Sunday, wanting not to give him “any notoriety for what he did,” said Michael Gerke, the police chief of Odessa. But they later issued a statement identifying the gunman as Seth A. Ator, of Odessa.
Police officers shot and killed Mr. Ator in the parking lot of a movie theater in Odessa, ending a shooting spree that began after the authorities had tried to pull him over for failing to signal a left turn. Although officials said in interviews that the gunman had been fired from his job with a trucking company on Saturday morning, the authorities stressed that they had not yet established a clear motive to explain the level of violence and firepower.
Christopher H. Combs, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s San Antonio office, said the shooting was not connected to either domestic or international terrorism.
Straight Pride arrests
Three dozen protesters arrested during a controversial Straight Pride rally and parade in Boston Saturday could be in court Tuesday, according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s office, while Boston police said they plan to review officers’ use of force during the demonstrations.
The parade, which began in Copley Square and ended in a rally at City Hall Plaza, was organized by a group called Super Happy Fun America. The group and its event were blasted by critics as homophobic.
Marchers were outnumbered along the parade route by thousands of protesters, many of whom gathered behind police barricades along Congress Street near City Hall.
On Sunday, Boston police released the names of the 36 people who were arrested Saturday, and the charges they face.
War crimes report
GENEVA, Sept 3 (Reuters) – The United States, Britain and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to a Saudi-led coalition that starves civilians as a war tactic, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
U.N. investigators recommended that all states impose a ban on arms transfers to the warring parties to prevent them from being used to commit serious violations.
In the latest twist in the UK’s ongoing Brexit saga, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to trigger a snap election if he loses a vote against a no-deal Brexit vote in Parliament on Tuesday evening.
It would be a gamble to go back to the country after three national votes in the last four years (elections in 2015 and 2017, referendum in 2016) but it could break the deadlock that has kept Parliament from making any obvious progress on Brexit for the past three years.
The problem that Theresa May had is that a majority of MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit, but a majority also opposes the deal that Brussels agreed with May.
Now, some leading members of his own Conservative Party — including a number of people who held top cabinet jobs under May — say they will back a proposed law ordering Johnson to ask the EU for another Brexit delay.
Johnson and his allies are warning they will withdraw the Conservative whip from any Tory MPs who vote for that — effectively kicking them out of the party.
The could easily leave Johnson with a minority government.