TBR News August 28, 2016

Aug 28 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C.  August 28, 2016: “We are out of office until August 29. ed

Germany’s Vice Chancellor Gabriel: US-EU trade talks ‘have failed’

Free trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States have failed, according to Germany’s Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. After three years of talks, an agreement has yet to be reached.

August 28, 2016


Discussions on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have been unsuccessful, Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the country’s vice chancellor, said on Sunday.

“In my opinion the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it,” Gabriel told German broadcaster ZDF.

“Nothing is moving,” he added.

If agreed upon, TTIP would create the world’s largest free trade zone containing 800 million people. Three years of talks have still not led to an agreement, with negotiators facing tough criticism of the deal on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Gabriel, who also heads the Social Democrats (SPD), noted that after 14 rounds of talks, the two sides have yet to agree on even one chapter out of the 27 being discussed.

One of the reasons given for the breakdown in negotiations was that “we Europeans did not want to subject ourselves to American demands,” Gabriel said.

CETA defense

In contrast to his TTIP stance, Gabriel defended the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada, called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA.)

“The debate has become very difficult in that the agreement with Canada and the one with the USA have been lumped together,” Gabriel said, adding that this assumption is incorrect.

He praised the Canadian agreement, saying it was fairer for both sides.

Many Germans continue to harbor suspicions against the TTIP and CETA, but the Canadian-European deal is much further advanced and could be ratified in the near future. German trade unions and other organizations have called for a massive rally across German cities on September 17 to protest the two trade agreements.

Supporters of the TTIP hope to lock down the outlines of an agreement before France and Germany’s general elections in 2017 and before US President Barack Obama leaves office at the end of 2016.

German vice chancellor says can’t see Turkey in EU anytime soon

August 28, 2016

by Michelle Martin


German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday he did not see Turkey joining the EU during his political career, adding that the bloc would not be in a position to take Turkey in even if Ankara met all the entry requirements tomorrow.

Turkey started talks about joining the European Union in 2005 but has made little progress despite an initial burst of reforms.

Many EU countries are wary about the possibility of the large, mainly Muslim country becoming a member of the bloc and Europe has long worried that Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws are used to quash dissent.

A crackdown since a failed July 15 coup in Turkey has fueled tension between Ankara and Brussels.

“Even if you’re very optimistic about my political career, I certainly won’t see Turkey becoming a member of this EU,” Gabriel, 56, told a news conference on Sunday.

“With the state we’re in, we’re not even in a position to take in a city state,” said Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) – the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

He said one logistical problem was Turkey’s large population, which stands at about 79 million according to the World Bank.

“How would that work in a European Union that is currently losing one of its most important member states, that has been rattled, that doesn’t know how it should reorganise itself?,” he added, referring to Britain’s recent vote to leave the bloc.

He said Turkey might instead, in the distant future, become a partner “in an outer ring” of a changed EU.

Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his government could stop helping to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe if Brussels failed to relax travel rules for Turks from October.

Visa-free access to the EU — the main reward for Ankara’s collaboration in choking off the influx of migrants — has been subject to delays due to a dispute over the anti-terrorism legislation, as well as the post-coup crackdown.

Gabriel said in an interview on Saturday that Merkel’s conservatives had “underestimated” the challenge of integrating record migrant arrivals.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Helen Popper)

Sheriff’s Raid to Find Blogger Who Criticized Him Was Unconstitutional, Court Rules

August 26, 2016

by Naomi LaChance

The Intercept

An appellate court in Baton Rouge ruled Thursday that a raid on a police officer’s house in search of the blogger who had accused the sheriff of corruption was unconstitutional.

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals argued that Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s investigation into the blog ExposeDAT had flawed rationale: the alleged defamation was not actually a crime as applied to a public official.

The unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel comes after police officer Wayne Anderson and his wife Jennifer Anderson were denied assistance in local and federal court.

“I love it when justice is tangible,” Jerri Smitko, one of the Andersons’ laywers, told The Intercept.

“With that piece of paper it says that what they did was unconstitutional — that’s a great feeling because you’re holding it in your hand and it’s vindication for people that they intended to oppress,” she added.

The raid was sparked by the sheriff’s investigation into who was behind the anonymous blog that accused local officials, including him, of corruption and fraud. Through a blog and a Facebook page called “John Turner,” ExposeDAT used public records to show conflicts of interest.

The sheriff sought warrants when Tony Alford, a local business owner, filed a criminal complaint about the blog. On August 2, Larpenter and his deputies raided the Andersons’ house after they traced the IP address of the John Turner Facebook page through a warrant to AT&T.

The information AT&T provided, according to an affidavit, gave the sheriff an address and a name: Wayne Anderson.

The court found that the raid on the Andersons’ house was unjustified. “Anthony Alford, the supposed victim, is president of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation Board of Louisiana, and a public official,” the decision read. “Consequently, the search warrant lacks probable cause because the conduct complained of is not a criminally actionable offense.”

The ruling said that when applied to public officials, like Alford, the criminal defamation statute is unconstitutional.

Smitko said she now plans to go to the Terrebonne Parish Court and retrieve Anderson and his family’s electronic devices.

“I certainly believe that my clients have been damaged by this unconstitutional action,” Smitko said. “They’ve been deprived of their rights, and I anticipate that we’ll be meeting shortly to discuss pursuing a claim for damages against the parties involved.”

The electronic devices were being held for an investigation that was in the hands of the Louisiana attorney general. Now, the case is closed.

“We respect the First Circuit decision, we have no plans to appeal, and as far as the attorney general is concerned, the case is closed,” Ruth Wisher, press secretary for the attorney general, told The Intercept.

This week’s ruling comes after a tumultuous month of legal back and forth.

On August 5, following the raid, a post appeared on John Turner’s Facebook page. “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” he wrote, telling readers to “stay tuned.”

That same day, Judge Randall Bethancourt — the judge who signed the warrant — ruled that it was within his jurisdiction to allow the search.

Anderson’s attorneys disagreed with the ruling but were initially unsuccessful in seeking relief. Arguing that their First-, Fourth-, and 14th-Amendment rights had been violated, Anderson and his wife sought intervention in federal court., asking for a temporary restraining order against Larpenter.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey denied the request.

“The judge could very well have erred in concluding that probable cause existed to believe that a crime was committed. But unless Larpenter lied to obtain the warrant, an error of law is not attributable to him,” Zainey wrote.

“I’m just very dismayed and actually aghast that this happened in the first place, and I am hopeful that our state appellate court will right the wrong,” Smitko told The Intercept after Zainey’s ruling.

While there have not been any new blog posts, the writer has taken to Facebook. On August 15, in a post that his since been taken down, the pseudonymous John Turner wrote: “Why is Sheriff Larpenter so angry about people exposing facts that are part of the public record?”

He went on to write a post similar in nature to his previous articles, outlining business ties among Parish officials.

Over the month of August, Larpenter had publicly defended his position. “They need to upgrade [criminal defamation] to a felony,” he recently said on local television station HTV10.

“The media come and all the different outlets, even our local media, wrote unsatisfactory accusations about me like, ‘Oh, they got freedom of speech. They can say what they want.’ Well that’s not true,” he said.

After the court of appeals decision, Larpenter told Houma Today, “we have to live with that ruling.”

On August 15, Larpenter was supposed to be honored for his service to the community by being inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame. The ceremony was rescheduled because of flooding.

A fortress against fear

In the rural Pacific Northwest,prepping for the day it hits the fan

August 27, 2016

by Kevin Sulivan

Washington Post

Don and Jonna Bradway recently cashed out of the stock market and invested in gold and silver. They have stockpiled food and ammunition in the event of a total economic collapse or some other calamity commonly known around here as “The End of the World As We Know It” or “SHTF” — the day something hits the fan.

The Bradways fled California, a state they said is run by “leftists and non-Constitutionalists and anti-freedom people,” and settled on several wooded acres of north Idaho five years ago. They live among like-minded conservative neighbors, host Monday night Bible study around their fire pit, hike in the mountains and fish from their boat. They melt lead to make their own bullets for sport shooting and hunting — or to defend themselves against marauders in a world-ending cataclysm.

“I’m not paranoid, I’m really not. But we’re prepared … if and when it hits the fan.”

Don Bradway, 68, who left California five years ago and settled with his wife, Jonna, on several wooded acres of north Idaho

“I’m not paranoid, I’m really not,” said Bradway, 68, a cheerful Army veteran with a bushy handlebar mustache who favors Hawaiian shirts. “But we’re prepared. Anybody who knows us knows that Don and Jonna are prepared if and when it hits the fan.”

The Bradways are among the vanguard moving to an area of the Pacific Northwest known as the American Redoubt, a term coined in 2011 by survivalist author and blogger James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is deliberate) to describe a settlement of the God-fearing in a lightly populated territory that includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon.

Those migrating to the Redoubt are some of the most motivated members of what is known as the prepper movement, which advocates readiness and self-reliance in man-made or natural disasters that could create instability for years. It’s scenario-planning that is gaining adherents and becoming mainstream in what Redoubt preppers described as an era of fear and uncertainty.

They are anxious about recent terrorist attacks from Paris to San Bernardino, Calif., to Orlando; pandemics such as Ebola in West Africa; potential nuclear attacks from increasingly provocative countries such as North Korea or Iran; and the growing political, economic and racial polarization in the United States that has deepened during the 2016 presidential election.

Nationally, dozens of online prepper suppliers report an increase in sales of items from water purifiers to hand-cranked radios to solar-powered washing machines. Harvest Right, a Utah company that invented a $3,000 portable freeze dryer to preserve food, has seen sales grow from about 80 a month two years ago to more than 900 a month now, said spokesman Stephanie Barlow.

Clyde Scott, owner of Rising S Bunkers, said pre-made, blast-proof underground steel bunkers are in big demand, including his most popular model, which sleeps six to eight people and sells for up to $150,000.

“Anybody with a peanut-sized brain,” he said, can see that the U.S. economy is in perilous shape because of the national debt, the decline of American manufacturing and the size of the welfare rolls.

Some people worry about hurricanes, earthquakes or forest fires. Others fear a nuclear attack or solar flare that creates an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out the nation’s electric grid and all computers, sending the country into darkness and chaos — perhaps forever.

“The list is long; the concerns are many,” said Glenn Martin, who lives in north Idaho and runs Prepper Broadcasting Network, an online radio station. “Imagine a societal collapse and trying to buy a loaf of bread in Los Angeles or New York and stores are closed down.”

Martin’s programming emphasizes gardening, farming and how-to shows about sustainable living more than “doom and gloom,” he said, and his audience has grown from 50,000 listeners a month two years ago to about 250,000 a month now.

Online interest in prepper and American Redoubt websites is increasing. Tools that measure online readership show that monthly search traffic to Rawles’s survivalblog.com has doubled since 2011; an estimate from SimilarWeb, a Web analytics firm, shows that the site had about 862,000 total visits last month.

Rawles’s guidebook, “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It,” and his post-apocalyptic survival novel, “Patriots,” have sold about 350,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. They are among hundreds of available survivalist books.

In response to all the uncertainty, more and more preppers are not simply stocking up at home. They are moving their homes — to the Redoubt, a seldom-used term for stronghold or fortress.

It is impossible to know exactly how many people have come over the past few years, but newcomers, real estate agents, local officials and others said it was in the hundreds, or perhaps even a few thousand, across all five states.

Here, they live in a pristine place of abundant water and fertile soil, far from urban crime, free from most natural disasters and populated predominantly by conservative, mostly Christian people with a live-and-let-live ethos and local governments with a light regulatory touch and friendly gun laws.

The hearty and adventurous, or those seeking an escape from modernity’s leading edge, have long made a new life for themselves in Idaho; Ernest Hemingway came here to live and to die.

The locals regard the newest transplants as benign if odd, several said in interviews.

“The mainstream folks kind of roll their eyes,” said state Sen. Shawn Keough, a 20-year veteran Republican legislator who represents north Idaho.

Many drawn to the Redoubt are former police, firefighters and military. Most said they would vote for Donald Trump as the “lesser of two evils,” and they said Hillary Clinton would make an already bloated and ineffective government even bigger.

“I don’t want to be one of the guys waiting for help,” said Patrick Devine, 54, a former paramedic in Los Angeles who moved two years ago at a friend’s urging.

Devine said he had firsthand knowledge of chaos and government failure, earned from working numerous shootings and earthquakes, particularly in Haiti in 2010.

“I can’t stop it. But I can prepare myself to the best of my ability for anything that does come and be helpful to other people,” said Devine, who works at a local gun range and wears a 9mm pistol on his hip.

“I love this place,” said Chris Walsh, as he buzzed low over sparkling Lake Coeur d’Alene in his mustard-colored Beechcraft Bonanza airplane.

A Detroit native, Walsh, 53, runs Revolutionary Realty, which specializes in selling real estate to those moving to the American Redoubt. He said he has sold hundreds of properties in the last five years.

He lives off the grid in a house high on a hill overlooking a lake, producing his own electricity from 100 solar panels. But he is also a few miles from restaurants and shopping in Coeur d’Alene, a popular tourist destination.

Walsh said most of the prepper properties he sells generally have key features: at least two sources of water, solar panels or another alternative energy source, ample secure storage space for a few years’ worth of supplies, and a defensible location away from main roads and city centers.

Such amenities don’t come cheap; the average property sells for between $250,000 and $550,000, he said, but some go for more than $2 million. Walsh said a basic solar array can cost around $15,000, while more elaborate systems can cost 10 times that.

Walsh said most of his clients regard moving to safer territory as a prudent step against a reasonable fear. But just as important, he said, they get to live a simpler life in a safe, beautiful place.

“What they are doing when they come here is relearning things that their great-great-great-grandfathers and mothers already knew,” Walsh said. “What’s going on here is a pioneering spirit.”

Much of the Redoubt migration is motivated by fears that President Obama — and his potential successor, Hillary Clinton — want to scrap the Second Amendment, as part of what transplants see as a dangerous and anti-constitutionalist movement toward government that is too intrusive and hostile to personal liberties.

“This is a bastion of freedom,” said Todd Savage, 45, a retired Marine who moved to north Idaho from “the urban crime-scape” of San Francisco and opened American Redoubt Realty after meeting Rawles a few years ago.

“The bottom line is that our clients are tired of living around folks that have no moral values,” Savage said. “They choose to flee tyranny and leave behind all the attributes of the big city that have turned them away.”

Savage spoke as he drove his Chevrolet Suburban with an AR-15 rifle tucked next to the driver’s seat, a handgun between the front seats, and body armor and more than 200 rounds of extra ammunition in the back — along with a chain saw to move fallen trees and two medical kits, just in case.

“You have GEICO; I have an AR-15,” Savage said.

Trevor Treller, 44, who carries a small Smith & Wesson pistol on his hip, moved to north Idaho last year from Long Beach, Calif., and recently paid a little less than $400,000 for a defensible three-bedroom house on five wooded acres.

Treller, a sommelier at a local resort, said Obama was a key factor in his decision. He said the president has inflamed racial tensions in America, presided over a dangerous expansion of the national debt, been “hostile” to Second Amendment rights and failed to curtail the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

Treller said any one of those factors could lead to crippling chaos, so he and his wife have laid in food, weapons and ammunition and are installing an iron gate across their long gravel driveway.

“I think there’s a very good chance that these things won’t happen in my lifetime, but I also think there’s a chance that they will,” Treller said. “It’s extreme collective hubris to think that we’re exempt from everything that happened to every single society before us throughout history.”

Treller said he settled on Coeur d’Alene after scouring city-data.com, a website where he looked for his ideal mix: conservative election results, low crime rates, solid incomes, low population density, affordable house prices — and few illegal immigrants, because he said they erode “American culture.”

Idaho is about 83 percent white, and its three northernmost counties are more than 90 percent white, according to Census Bureau data. Those interviewed in the American Redoubt insisted they are not trying to segregate themselves by race. And while the Aryan Nations white supremacist group was headquartered near Hayden Lake in the 1980s and 1990s, Rawles has described the Redoubt movement as “anti-racist” and said like-minded folks of all races are welcome.

Walsh, the real estate agent, said he saw far more racism in Detroit, where he was raised, than in north Idaho.

“Here, a black person, they’re a novelty,” Walsh said. “You’ll see people walk up to black people here sometimes and just talk to them because they’ve never spoken to a black person before. In terms of them walking around [saying racist things], you never see it.”

Treller’s wife, Christina Treller, 38, a critical care nurse at a local hospital, said she initially resisted her husband’s proposal to move to Idaho. Now she loves their new Victorian-style house in the woods, with its fresh well water and clean air, and fruit and nut trees that they recently planted.

Having lived through the 1992 riots after Los Angeles police were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, she said she views society as more fragile than most people realize.

“I’m being wise,” she said.

“I don’t have a problem with preppers, but it’s the extremists people don’t want around — the fringe, the radicals. That’s the concern I hear from people,” said Mike Peterson, a real estate agent in Bonners Ferry and retired Los Angeles firefighter and EMT.

Keough, the state senator, recently fought off a tough GOP primary challenge in which she was labeled a “progressive traitor” by Alex Barron, a blogger who calls himself the Bard of the American Redoubt.

“We’re certainly not oblivious to the turmoil in the world and not oblivious to the huge challenges we have at the national level,” Keough said. “But those who subscribe to the ‘world is coming to an end’ theory, people tend to shake their heads at those folks. They come across as paranoid.”

State Rep. Heather Scott, a Republican who represents north Idaho, said the newcomers have adapted smoothly.

“I have met many people, especially recently, who have moved here after being inspired by the idea of the American Redoubt,” she said. “I haven’t heard any of them speak about the ‘end of the world’ but rather the appreciation for a simpler and safer life.”

Scott said preparing for a natural or man-made disaster was “simply prudent,” because, “Economic experts are consistently saying that global markets are at risk, and they are telling people to take precautions to weather through an economic crisis.”

Don Bradway dug into a plate of homemade enchiladas in the kitchen of the cozy house he and Jonna bought for $259,000 in 2010.

What they have looks like an idyllic retirement experience: his and hers recliners in front of a big-screen TV, a “side-by-side” all-terrain vehicle in the barn, an art studio for retired nurse Jonna, a carpentry and machine shop for retired firefighter and EMT Don, and a sweet-natured dog named Moose.

Their 30-year-old son, who moved to Idaho with them, lives nearby.

Don, who’s a member of the GOP Central Committee of Kootenai County, won’t say exactly how much food and supplies they have on hand.

“There are some things you don’t talk about,” he said. “But the Bradway motto is that it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

As Don sees it, you need look no further than the economic chaos in Venezuela, with its hungry people storming grocery stores, to see that a society-ending economic collapse could easily happen anywhere.

“We pray to God that it never happens,” he said, finishing his refried beans.

But if it does, he said his “fellow thinkers” in the American Redoubt are prepared.

“They know they can depend on the Bradways to help them,” he said.


Primed to fight the government

A fast-growing U.S. movement armed with guns and the Constitution sees a dire threat to liberty

May 21, 2016

by Kevin Sullivan

Washington Post

REDMOND, Ore. — B.J. Soper took aim with his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and fired a dozen shots at a human silhouette target. Soper’s wife and their 16-year-old daughter practiced drawing pistols. Then Soper helped his 4-year-old daughter, in pink sneakers and a ponytail, work on her marksmanship with a .22-caliber rifle.

Deep in the heart of a vast U.S. military training ground, surrounded by spent shotgun shells and juniper trees blasted to shreds, the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard was conducting its weekly firearms training.

“The intent is to be able to work together and defend ourselves if we need to,” said Soper, 40, a building contractor who is an emerging leader in a growing national movement rooted in distrust of the federal government, one that increasingly finds itself in armed conflicts with authorities.

Those in the movement call themselves patriots, demanding that the federal government adhere to the Constitution and stop what they see as systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties.

Law enforcement officials call them dangerous, delusional and sometimes violent, and say that their numbers are growing amid a wave of anger at the government that has been gaining strength since 2008, a surge that coincided with the election of the first black U.S. president and a crippling economic recession.

Soper started his group, which consists of about 30 men, women and children from a handful of families, two years ago as a “defensive unit” against “all enemies foreign and domestic.” Mainly, he’s talking about the federal government, which he thinks is capable of unprovoked aggression against its own people.

The group’s members are drywallers and flooring contractors, nurses and painters and high school students, who stockpile supplies, practice survival skills and “basic infantry” tactics, learn how to treat combat injuries, study the Constitution and train with their concealed handguns and combat-style rifles.

“It doesn’t say in our Constitution that you can’t stand up and defend yourself,” Soper said. “We’ve let the government step over the line and rule us, and that was never the intent of this country.”

Law enforcement officials and the watchdog groups that track the self-styled “patriot” groups call them anti-government extremists, militias, armed militants or even domestic terrorists. Some opponents of the largely white and rural groups have made fun by calling them “Y’all Qaeda” or “Vanilla ISIS.”

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism, said there were about 150 such groups in 2008 and about 1,000 now. Potok and other analysts, including law enforcement officials who track the groups, said their supporters number in the hundreds of thousands, counting people who signal their support in more passive ways, such as following the groups on social media. The Facebook page of the Oath Keepers, a group of former members of police forces and the military, for example, has more than 525,000 “likes.”

President Obama’s progressive policies and the tough economic times have inflamed anti-government anger, the same vein of rage into which Donald Trump has tapped during his Republican presidential campaign, said Potok and Mark Pitcavage, who works with the Anti-Defamation League and has monitored extremism for 20 years.

Much of the movement traces its roots to the deadly 1990s confrontations between civilians and federal agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and in Waco, Tex., that resulted in the deaths of as many as 90. Timothy Mc­Veigh cited both events before he was executed for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, and said he had deliberately chosen a building housing federal government agencies.

Now a “Second Wave” is spreading across the country, especially in the West, fueled by the Internet and social media. J.J. MacNab, an author and George Washington University researcher who specializes in extremism, said social media has allowed individuals or small groups such as Soper’s to become far more influential than in the 1990s, when the groups would spread their message through meetings at local diners and via faxes.

The movement received a huge boost from the 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada, where federal agents and hundreds of armed supporters of Bundy faced off in a dispute over the rancher’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on federal land.

When federal agents backed down rather than risk a bloody clash, Bundy’s supporters claimed victory and were emboldened to stage similar armed face-offs last year at gold mines in Oregon and Montana.

In January, dozens of armed occupiers, led by Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan, took over the headquarters buildings of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near rural Burns, Ore., an action that resulted in the death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, an occupier who was shot by state troopers.

Soper has been in the middle of all of it. He says he has tried to be a more moderate voice in a movement best known for its hotheads. He spent a month living in his RV at Burns, trying to talk the occupiers into standing down.

Two days after Soper’s last visit to the refuge, Finicum was killed in an operation in which the Bundys were arrested. An independent local investigation concluded that the shooting was justified, although the U.S. Justice Department is investigating several FBI agents for possible misconduct. Soper considers Finicum’s death “murder.”

That kind of talk is “a big deal,” said Stephanie Douglas, who retired in 2013 as the FBI’s top official overseeing foreign and domestic counterterrorism programs. “Free speech doesn’t make you a terrorist just because you disagree with the government. But if you start espousing violence and radicalizing your own people toward a violent act, the federal government is going to take notice.”

Shortly after the Bundy ranch confrontation, two of Bundy’s supporters who had been at the ranch, Jerad and Amanda Miller, killed two police officers and a civilian and also died in a Las Vegas shooting rampage. Police said the couple left a note on the body of one the officers they had shot point-blank.

It said: “This is the beginning of the revolution.”

Until two years ago, B.J. Soper was a creature of ESPN.

Settled down after spending much of his 20s as a professional rodeo rider, he lived with his second wife and their two daughters on a pastoral plot of land with horses, dogs, cats, chickens and a majestic view of the snow-capped Cascades.

He spent his days building sheds and doing other small carpentry jobs, and his weekends watching sports on TV. He played softball. He hunted and fished. He followed his mother’s advice and stayed away from politics: She taught him young that registering to vote was just a way for the government to call you to jury duty.

Then the TV news was filled with footage from the Bundy ranch, and he was shocked. Government officials said Bundy had been abusing grazing rights and refusing to pay his fees for two decades, so they finally sent in armed agents to round up his cattle grazing on federal land. Officials said they had shown great restraint and patience with Bundy. But to Soper, it appeared that they were bullying him.

He wondered: “Do we really have federal armed agents out there pointing guns and threatening to kill people over cows? What in the hell is going on here?”

He started doing research on the Internet and quickly tapped into what seemed to be thousands of voices arguing that the federal government had lost track of the constitutional limits on its power.

“At that point, I had heard of Waco, Texas, and I had heard of Ruby Ridge, and quite honestly, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s just a bunch of crazies up there, and they got in a gunfight with the government,’ ” he said. “But that’s not the truth.”

The more he read, the more convinced he was that the government was “out of control,” and he was amazed by the number of people who felt the same way.

“I was very disappointed with myself,” he said. “I realized that we’re here in the predicament that we’re in as a country because my generation, and my parents’ generation, have done nothing. We let this happen. We got used to our cushy lives where everything’s easy. We have forgotten what’s really important. We’ve forgotten what liberty and freedom really mean.”

It was like being shaken out of a lifetime of slumber, he said: “Before 2014, I was blind. I wasn’t awake. I wasn’t paying attention. But Bundy Ranch woke me up.”

Suddenly, his weekends watching the San Francisco 49ers or the Portland Trail Blazers seemed like anesthesia numbing him against real life.

“I lived like 90 percent of Americans, oblivious to everything that was going on, from the time I was 18 until the Bundy Ranch happened,” he said. “I just said, ‘I can’t sit back and do nothing. I’ve got to get involved.’ I feel responsible for where we’re at, because I’ve done nothing my entire life.”

His response was to start his Central Oregon Constitutional Guard, which he said was partly to protect against the government, but partly a way to get back to a simpler America.

“As a kid, life was easy,” he says on the group’s website. “No worries. Very little threats. I would ride my bike around all over the neighborhood for hours on end. Play with friends and show back up for dinner without worry.”

Critics say such talk is naive nostalgia for a 1950s America that wasn’t ever really such a homespun paradise in the first place. And they say the groups that have sprung up in response are far more dangerous than Soper and others want to make them seem.

“The idea that he needs to face down the government with weapons I think is really, really wrong,” Potok said. “They don’t really say that, but I think that is what is right under the surface.”

Soper’s research also led him to some of the Internet’s favorite conspiracy theories, including a purported U.N. plot to impose “One World Government.” And Soper, like most in the patriot movement, became a believer.

He suspects that the United Nations, through a program called Agenda 21, wants to reduce the global population from 7 billion to fewer than 1 billion. He said the federal government may be promoting abortions overseas as part of that plot, and also may be deliberately mandating childhood vaccines designed to cause autism because autistic adults are less likely to have children.

Soper said he could not rule out the possibility that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. He suspects that the government and the “medical community” have had a cancer cure for years but won’t release it because cancer treatment is too profitable for pharmaceutical companies.

“I’m not saying that’s the case,” he said, “but I like to look at all avenues.”

Soper knows those ideas sound crazy to many people, but, he said with a laugh, “It shows I just don’t trust my government.”

Those who track these groups say paranoid conspiracy theories and armed occupations undercut often-legitimate disagreements with federal policies.

Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the lead agency at the Bundy ranch, said Soper and the others have “taken an aggressive anti-federal, anti-BLM posture because of [their] bizarre and discredited interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and paranoid views of the federal government.”

Said Potok: “People having nutty ideas is of very little importance except when those ideas begin to affect their actions. An awful lot of people have acted violently in defense of some of these ideas.”

Just before dusk one recent evening, 10 people hopped out of pickups on the shoulder of Route 97 in Redmond and began picking up litter near an Adopt-a-Highway sign that said “Central Oregon Constitutional Guard.”

Soper said being a patriot sometimes means spending a couple of hours picking up bottles, cans and even rotting fur from a road-kill deer — all while carrying a concealed .45-caliber pistol on his hip.

“It’s like American Express — don’t leave home without it,” said Soper, working alongside his wife, Lisa Soper, also packing a .45 in her jeans.

Passing drivers beeped and gave thumbs ups.

A white BMW pulled over and the driver approached Soper.

“You guys the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard?” he asked.

“Yeah, we are,” Soper said. “You interested?”

“I saw you guys on Facebook,” said Glenn Golter, 42, a flooring contractor whose clothes were covered with dust after a day’s work. “I like it that you stick up for our constitutional rights.”

Soper invited Golter to join the group for its monthly meeting at a local pizza restaurant right after the cleanup. And just like that, the movement had a new member.

They drove to Straw Hat Pizza, in a strip mall on the edge of this high-desert town of 30,000 people in the Cascade Range foothills. Lisa picked some healthy greens for her husband from the salad bar, while the children and the other guys in the group ate thick, cheesy pizzas.

Across the family-style table, Alex McNeely, 25, a drywaller and “avid YouTuber,” said he became interested in the patriot movement online and joined the group to feel that he was helping to defend the country.

“There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm. “But if I’m denied my rights, what else can I do? Am I just going to stand there and take it, or am I going to do something?”

In the Constitutional Guard, McNeely said, “I feel what we do is stand up for people who don’t have the means to stand up for themselves. I have an overwhelming desire to help people.”

They have passed out more than 2,000 pocket-size copies of the Constitution that Soper said he bought for $500, sent food and clothes to victims of forest fires in Washington state and Oregon and given Christmas presents to more than three dozen needy children.

McNeely considered joining the military when he graduated from high school, but he turned 18 the month Obama was elected in 2008, and, because of Obama’s “socialist” policies, “I wasn’t going to accept him as my commander in chief.”

“I don’t like that he wants to fundamentally change America,” McNeely said.

The group members are conservatives, do not like former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and generally support Donald Trump. Soper said he would prefer just about anyone over Clinton but would not cast a vote for president this year. He said he thinks casting his vote is “a waste of time” because Oregon’s politics are dominated by Democrats.

MacNab, the George Washington University researcher, said Trump has been a powerful recruiting tool for groups angry at the government. “The tea party built little bridges between the fringe and the mainstream,” she said. “With Trump, it’s an 18-lane superhighway. He’s literally telling them they’re right.”

One of the men indicted in the Bundy ranch case is Gerald DeLemus, who was New Hampshire co-chair of Veterans for Trump and was named by the Trump campaign as a New Hampshire alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Soper bristles when critics call him anti-government; he said he supports the government but just wants it to follow the Constitution. And he said calling his group “armed” is as relevant as saying its members wear boots, because the Second Amendment gives every American the right to carry a gun.

Soper, who carries a pocket Constitution with him everywhere, said he thinks the Constitution does not give the federal government the right to own land, and that the government’s increasing emphasis on environmental regulations is putting ranchers, miners, loggers and others out of work and devastating local economies.

“We need to be able to raise and grow food,” Soper said. “Wealth comes from the land. I want to take into consideration endangered frogs. But at the same time, that frog can’t be more important than the survival of the human race.”

Everyone in the group keeps 30 days’ worth of food and emergency supplies on hand. Group members learn gardening and raising livestock. They go camping and learn survival tactics, including how to fashion a shelter, find food and water, and make a fire.

McNeely and Lisa Soper are taking an emergency medical technician class to learn to treat wounds, including combat trauma. They all are working on getting ham-radio licenses to communicate in the event that the cellphone network fails.

But a bedrock of their mission is to be an armed and trained paramilitary force. Soper said group members train on “basic infantry” skills: “working a patrol, patrolling with a vehicle, arriving at ‘contact’ and how to protect yourself and escape from that.”

“We are not soldiers,” Soper said. “But we know the basics.”

Soper said the group would be ready for an earthquake or other natural disaster, but he’s most concerned about “man-made disasters” caused by the government.

“I don’t know that it’s all that far-fetched that we have an economic collapse,” he said. “The dollar is a pretty scary investment anymore. China’s buying up all the gold. When people get hungry and thirsty and can’t feed themselves, they get desperate.”

In April 2015, Soper pulled on his paramilitary camouflage fatigues, picked up his AR-15 rifle and spent a couple of weeks “standing guard” at the Sugar Pine Mine in southwestern Oregon, where miners were having a dispute with the BLM.

The agency had ordered two miners to cease operations because they had built structures at the site in violation of the terms of their permit to mine on federal land.

The miners said the federal government was trying to force them out of business and steal their property. They also said BLM agents who served the cease-and-desist paperwork had pointed guns at them. Gorey, the BLM spokesman, said no agent ever drew a weapon.

Supporters of the miners put out a national call on YouTube for volunteers to help them, and Soper went.

“The government showed up and pointed guns at these miners,” Soper said. “Put yourself in their shoes. How are you going to respond? When you are in fear for your life, you have a right to defend yourself.”

Gorey said agents followed proper procedure at Sugar Pine and did not threaten anyone. “We’re a scapegoat for these militiamen who seem eager to wage war against the federal government,” he said.

A federal judge eventually ordered the BLM not to enforce its order until the matter could be heard in an Interior Department appeals court, where it is pending.

“The last thing I ever want to do is point a gun at another American,” Soper said. “But when the BLM picks up guns against us, when is it okay for us to defend ourselves?”

As Soper sipped a soda at the pizza parlor, his 4-year-old daughter, Kalley, asked him for more quarters to play video games. He handed over a few with a gently teasing roll of his eyes.

“We’re the guys that see the wolves for what they are,” Soper said as watched her bounce away. “And we want to protect the sheep.”

On a recent Friday morning, Soper had been at his laptop since 5 a.m., typing a furious letter to his county sheriff.

Soper had awoken to the news that government agents had arrested a dozen people in connection with the 2014 standoff at the Bundy ranch. That meant a total of 19 people, including Cliven Bundy, now faced obstruction-of-justice and firearms charges that Soper thought were unfair. He was also enraged that Bundy’s sons were still being held without bail over the occupation at the wildlife refuge.

“People are being detained without due process,” he said. “These are not our American values.”

If Bundy and his supporters faced charges, Soper said, so should the federal agents who faced off against them: “Why should law enforcement be held to a different standard?”

“The last thing I want is violence,” Soper said. “But I hope they see that if we continue down this path, we’re going to have more bloodshed in this country.”

Soper said the answer to grievances with the government is negotiation, not violence. But he said that when federal agents draw weapons on citizens without cause, citizens have the right to answer guns with guns.

“We have the right to defend ourselves from imminent danger or death,” Soper said. “I don’t believe that excludes law enforcement. When they’re not doing their duty justly, I think you have a right to defend yourself.”

Soper kept typing, warning that the government had lost “common sense.”

“I pray we find some sense of it again, otherwise a very dark future awaits us, and it is not very far down the road,” he wrote.

“Sheriff,” he said, “people are going to die.”

From bad to worse: Clinton laying foundation for increasingly hostile relations with Russia

August 28, 2016

by Danielle Ryan


Let’s be honest: Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin aren’t exactly the best of friends. But Clinton appears to be intent on making a bad situation worse — and all to score a few political points.

The relationship with Russia is one Clinton should be taking very seriously. If she wins the presidency in November, relations between Washington and Moscow will continue to be a major foreign policy priority. They have already hit a 25-year low. It should go without saying then, that when it comes to Russia, Clinton should not mince her words.

As a woman who spent four years as her country’s chief diplomat, Clinton should know better than to publicly insult the leader of a country with whom she will have to work closely. Yet it appears that this has entirely escaped her awareness. Instead, she has opted to ramp up anti-Moscow paranoia to the point that it wouldn’t be overly surprising if her campaign announced they were releasing an updated version of Red Channels — a 1950s pamphlet that named and shamed public figures suspected of being Kremlin sympathizers.

Grand godfather of white supremacist nationalism?

Clinton’s most memorable insult directed at Putin was back in 2014 — before she was running for president — when she compared him to Adolf Hitler. In a country that celebrates their victory over Nazism every May 9, you can imagine that didn’t exactly go down well. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of comments from Clinton about ‘the Russians’ and how to deal with them. At one point, she mocked Putin’s movements and voice during an interview with Christiane Amanpour. Hardly ‘chief diplomat’ kind of behavior.

But things took a bizarre turn this past week, when in a speech about the xenophobia of Donald Trump, Clinton called Putin the “grand godfather” of a global, nationalist white supremacist movement. Confused? Here’s the reasoning: Trump said some nice things about Putin. Trump wants to improve relations with Moscow. There are extreme right-wing nationalists in Russia. Trump therefore is part of a global cohort of white supremacists led by Putin. Simple.

The mental gymnastics Clinton expects her supporters to engage in to make this claim stack up to anything meaningful are quite something. Ironically, in stoking fears of the Russians out to get the world, Clinton is engaging in the kind of fear-mongering that she claims to abhor in Trump. Of course, it may not be as bad as calling Mexicans immigrants rapists, as Trump did, but the root of it — appealing to fears and prejudices to manipulate and distract voters — is the same

Putin, to be fair, has on occasion made less than flattering comments about Clinton. In response to the Hitler incident for instance, he said Clinton is not known for being “graceful in her statements” and it’s “better not to argue with women” — an undeniably sexist comment to Western ears. He added that when people “push boundaries too far”, it’s a sign of weakness, not strength. The key difference to note here, however, is that these comments, however you feel about them, have usually been made in response or retaliation, not out of the blue.

Neither has Putin stooped to the level of American political leaders in insulting the American people. In fact, he has at times been complimentary, admiring the American creativity, openness and open-mindedness, which has led to “such amazing results” in the development of their country.

On the other hand, you get Barack Obama saying things like “Russia doesn’t make anything” and no one is “rushing to Moscow” for opportunity. Then you have John McCain, a former presidential candidate, who says things like Russia is a “gas station masquerading as a country”. In the American handbook on diplomacy, under the term ‘respect’ it must say: You will respect and revere us, but don’t expect reciprocation.

All roads lead to Moscow

But back to Clinton. In her mind, it seems everything now comes back to the Russians. DNC email leaks that expose party corruption? Russians. Her opponent? Russian agent. WikiLeaks? Russian front. Global right wing white supremacist movement? Led by Russia. What’s next? I’m sorry for Clinton Foundation/State Department corruption, the Russians made me do it?

Clinton’s campaign is now built on two things, neither of them having anything to do with her own credentials: 1. Convincing voters that her opponent is worse than she is, and 2. Blaming any and all embarrassing revelations on Russia. That has been the core of her campaign strategy in recent weeks. Why? Because her campaign has been so dogged by scandal, that it simply makes sense to spend less time addressing those real issues and more time pointing at distractions.

When November 8 rolls round and Clinton wins — which is likely if polls are to be believed — how will she pick up the phone to Moscow and expect that her months-long campaign built on Russophobia won’t have further damaged a relationship that is so desperately in need of repair? Instead of taking out a band-aid, Clinton is reaching for a hatchet. It’s stupid, short-sighted and dangerous. Imagine during the diciest moments of the Cold War, the occupant of the White House had entirely dismissed Soviet leaders and acted like diplomacy with those deplorable Russians wasn’t really worth their time. Imagine if they had chosen to disengage and publicly mock them. The Cold War may have ended on a decidedly different note.

It’s unlikely that the American people want any kind of serious confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia — but the cheap political points that Clinton can score today by playing the Russia card could come at a much higher price down the road.

Syria à la Carte: Turkish Invasion Highlights Rapidly Shifting Alliances

The Turkish advance into northern Syria marks a turning point in the Syrian conflict. Its nominal target was Islamic State, but with large powers reconsidering their alliances in the region, the Kurds stand to lose the most.

August 26, 2016

by Maximilian Popp and Christoph Reuter


One common description of chaos theory holds that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can trigger a tornado. And it could very well be that the theory is the best tool we currently have available to describe the complex situation in Syria. The butterfly wings in this case was the late July decision by the Syrian regime to recruit new tribal militia fighters in a remote northeastern province. The tornado it triggered four weeks later was threefold: the invasion of northern Syria by the Turkish army; the sudden expulsion of Islamic State from the border town of Jarabulus; and the US military suddenly finding itself on both sides of a new front in Syria — that between the Turks and the Kurds.

“It is 3:30 p.m. and we have almost reached the center of Jarabulus and have suffered almost no casualties. But we only just crossed the border this morning!” Saif Abu Bakr, a defected lieutenant and commander with the rebel group Hamza Division, sounded on Wednesday as though he couldn’t believe what had just happened. “We set off with 20 Turkish tanks and 100 Turkish troops from Karkamis” — the border town in Turkey — “and headed through the villages west of the city and then on to Jarabulus.”

More than two-and-a-half years after Islamic State (IS) conquered the border city, displaying the heads of its adversaries on fence posts in the process, the jihadist tumor was removed in mere hours. Jarabulus was one of the last IS bastions on the Turkish border and the group had long been able to use the border crossing there unchallenged, allowing them to funnel both men and materiel into the parts of Syria under their control. “Almost all of them fled three days ago, except for a few local followers and a couple of foreigners,” Umm Chalid, a widow from the city, said of the IS fighters. “All the residents left too. We knew that something would happen.”

The invasion in the north is a turning point in the Syrian war, marking the first time that Turkey has become directly involved in the conflict. At the same time, many of the complicated alliances in the region are suddenly shifting, with some allies becoming estranged and some enemies discovering common interests.

Primary Goal

In the days leading up to the Turkish invasion, a bizarre procession could be witnessed traveling along the roads on the Turkish side of the border — the product of the Turkish army’s attack preparations, which involved bringing in rebels belonging to a variety of groups from Idlib and Aleppo in buses and pick-ups. The fighters were mostly from small, Pentagon-supported units, such as the Hamza Division, the Sultan Murad Brigade and the Levante Front. Large and powerful hardcore Islamist groups like the former Nusra Front were not part of the operation.

Once the Turkish tanks had established their position on a hill west of Jarabulus, they began firing on the fragmented IS units in the city. But they also fired on those troops that had likewise been seeking to liberate Jarabulus from IS: the Kurdish-controlled SDF militia, which had advanced on the city from the south. For the Turks, it was a two-fold success: For one, they attacked IS, which Ankara believes was behind the attack last weekend on a wedding in Gaziantep which killed over 50 people. For another, Turkey was able to pursue its primary goal of stopping the advance of the Kurds, who are seeking to establish a contiguous territory stretching across all of northern Syria. That is something Ankara wants to prevent at all costs.

The events are consistent with the pattern that seems to govern the involvement of most powers active in Syria. Each party is fighting its own war: It’s Syria à la carte. The Turks are interested in battling the Kurds. The Americans are only interested in defeating Islamic State. The Kurds are seeking to establish their own state. And the Russians are primarily intent on demonstrating to the world that they are once again a global power.

The Turkish army’s new invasion partnership with Syrian rebels — car-sharing included — is just the latest of the rapidly shifting alliances of convenience used by all to pursue their interests. Taken together, they have transformed this horrific war into a completely unpredictable battlefield. The cards have been reshuffled — and one of the catalysts was local skirmishes in the remote northeastern province of Hasakah.

Rapid Escalation

But first, a bit of background. For years, a tense alliance of convenience had existed in Hasakah between troops loyal to Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and Kurds with close ties to the PKK, the Kurdish militant group in Turkey. The Kurds have continually founded new PKK offshoots in the region, an alphabet soup of groups including most importantly the YPG (which stands for People’s Protection Units in Syria) and, more recently, the SDF, or Syrian Democratic Forces. All the groups share personnel, funding and leadership and the image of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan can be seen everywhere. The YPG did not participate in the uprising against Assad and in exchange, the group was allowed to expand its control in Kurdish areas with Assad’s unspoken acquiescence. There have been occasional skirmishes between the YPG and Assad troops, but the conflicts have always been rapidly resolved.

Because it is running out of troops, however, Assad’s army in July began recruiting a new militia as part of the “National Defense Force” from Sunni tribes in Hasakah — fighters from the same clans that were involved in earlier plundering and killing of local Kurds when they rose briefly in 2004. The Kurds haven’t forgotten and within days, the situation escalated, with the two sides firing on each other and the Kurds conquering almost the entire provincial capital, likewise named Hasakah. Then on August 18, the Syrian air force bombed Kurdish positions in the region for the first time in five years.

The air strikes didn’t have much impact on the local fighting, but they completely altered the international balance of power. Though Turkey has long been fighting against Syrian President Assad, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recognized that the Syrian strikes against the Kurds could be useful. As a leading member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party formulated it in June: “Ultimately, Assad is a killer and tortures his own population. But he doesn’t support Kurdish autonomy. We abhor one another, but in this respect, we are pursuing similar policies.”

Assad’s attack on the Kurds also facilitated rapprochement between the Turkish and Russian governments on the Syrian question. Ankara and Moscow have long been far apart on Syria. Erdogan has been demanding Assad’s deposition since 2011 and finances some rebel groups. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has preferred to prop up the Assad regime in the hopes of a more orderly transition of power. But the ice age between Erdogan and the West, which has only become colder since the recent putsch attempt in Turkey, has once again made Russia a potential ally for the Turks.

Dropping the Kurds

On the other hand, the Kremlin is no longer making much progress towards its own vision for Syria. The Russian air force, to be sure, has been effective in propping up Assad’s rump empire despite ground troops from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere doing their best to defeat him. But Bashar Assad has refused to make even the tiniest of concessions. His renewed military strength is entirely the product of Russian support and Moscow’s plan was not to dump him, but to present him as an example of their own successful strategy of intervention.

Were Turkey to accept a transition goverment under Assad’s leadership, this would be easier to achieve. Assad would never step down on his own, but the Russians would be in a position to swap him out with a favorable general at their convenience. That would clear the way for an international agreement — with the West likely footing the bill for Syrian reconstruction — and for Russia’s departure from Syria.

Turkish support would make the plan easier to achieve — and such support appears to be forthcoming: Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said last weekend that Turkey would tolerate an Assad-led transition government. The deal would involve concessions for Turkey in exchange for Ankara’s agreement that Assad could remain in power for the time being. Russia, meanwhile, would then drop the Kurds as an ally, a partnership that only came into being last autumn.

In the tactical shifting of alliances in Syria, the Kurds had hoped to be the cleverest player. Now, however, it looks as though they may have risked too much.

To make matters worse for the Kurds, their relations with the US have likewise deteriorated rapidly, despite being Washington’s closest ally in the fight against Islamic State. After pushing IS out of its own areas, Kurdish fighters did not, as had been agreed with the US, turn their attentions to the de facto IS capital of Raqqa but opted instead to head in the opposite direction and push IS out of the Arab city of Manbij before heading north to Jarabulus, another predominantly Arab city.

From the Turkish perspective, any further Kurdish advance west of the Euphrates River crosses a red line — and the Turkish name for the tank operation in northern Syria, Euphrates Shield, indicates as much. The US is likewise uninterested in seeing the Kurds conquer additional Arab cities. “We’ve put a lid on the Kurds moving north,” a US government official told the Wall Street Journal this week, “or at least doing so if they want any support from us, which I think is a fairly significant piece of leverage.”

The Turkish operation in Jarabulus also received US air support and US Special Forces are thought to have participated. Furthermore, just hours after the invasion, US Vice President Joe Biden landed in Ankara in an attempt to smooth over tense relations between the two countries. The upshot, though, was that on the ground south of Jarabulus, the sudden change of course very nearly led to two American-supported groups firing on each other.


The recent events mark an unfortunate example of history repeating itself — of the PKK allowing itself to be used by the Syrian regime only to be dropped at the whim of Damascus. For many years beginning in the 1980s, Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez Assad allowed the PKK to maintain a presence in the Syrian-occupied Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. But when Turkish tanks appeared on Syria’s northern border in 1998, Hafez turned his back on the Kurds and the PKK had to abandon its Bekaa Valley camps. That marked the beginning of Öcalan’s odyssey across the world, which ended with his arrest by Turkish special forces in Kenya.

Now, it looks as though the PKK has once again miscalculated. The group had hoped to take advantage of the US and Russian battle against IS to establish a Kurdish state in northern Syria. And Russia had been happy to use the Kurds to pressure the Turks. Now that Moscow has achieved its goal, though, it looks to be abandoning the PKK.

On Wednesday, Shirwan Darwish, spokesman for the Kurdish military leadership in Manbij, issued a threat to Turkey during a conversation with DER SPIEGEL. “We have established our defensive lines on the Sajur River (west of the Euphrates) and will defend ourselves against anyone who even comes close to this line. It has been drawn with the blood of our martyrs.”

Most of the residents who fled Jarabulus, the majority of whom are Arabs, see the situation a bit differently. “If you liberate an area, that doesn’t mean that it subsequently belongs to you,” says Darwish Chalifa, a local politician. “The majority of the people here are for the Free Syrian Army and against Assad. We hope that our Kurdish brothers understand that and don’t begin fighting against us.”

The fact that Assad’s air strikes targeting the YPG were close to a US Special Forces camp has finally moved the US to prevent all Syrian planes from flying into the region — “that is extremely positive,” says Chalifa.

“As soon as the situation has calmed down, we want to go back home,” says Ahmed Abd al-Hossein, a member of the city’s former municipal government. “We’ve been preparing for months and have established a stabilization committee for several villages. First, we intend to evaluate the damage that has been done and then to meet with international aid organizations next week to determine what is needed. The FSA has promised to withdraw, with the exception of one small unit, and then we plan to open up a police station.”

Under the Eyes of the Russians

City elections are expected to be held soon. A naive hope maybe, but it at least offers a clear perspective. For the larger protagonists in the region, it isn’t yet clear whether they will profit from the recent changes or not.

◾Islamic State, which all sides insist is the true enemy, has lost Jarabulus and will quickly be forced to give up its last bastions on the Turkish border

◾That will likely mean that the willingness of the Kurds to attack the IS stronghold of Raqqa on behalf of the West has sunk dramatically.

◾Syrian rebels are rejoicing over the successful invasion. But a rude awakening could be on the horizon when Turkey turns its back on them so it can join Assad in the battle against the Kurds.

Turkey has improved its relations with Russia and the US and put a halt to the Kurdish advance. But the conflict may now flare in Turkey. Already, several hundred people have been killed there in recent months in skirmishes between the Turkish military and the PKK.

Bashar Assad has now added the Kurds to his list of enemies, but Turkey isn’t as great of an enemy as it used to be. His fate, though, remains in the hands of Moscow.

◾And the US now has the problem of having two allies in Syria who actually would like to shoot at each other.

The Russians would seem to have gained the most, and the Kurds look to be on the opposite end of that spectrum.

The fighting in Hasakah, where it all began, was hastily brought to an end on Tuesday. Emissaries from the government in Damascus and YPG representatives agreed to put a stop to the skirmishes. Furthermore, the only road to Qamishli is to be reopened: Assad’s troops still control part of the town in addition to its airport, which is the only airfield in northeastern Syria.

Negotiations for the agreement took place at the Russian air force base at Khmeimim, which has long since become a second center of power for the Assad regime. It is here where the government leads talks with all manner of Syrian groups — under the close watch of the Russians.


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