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TBR News January 20, 2020

Jan 20 2020

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. January 20, 2020:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.

Trump aches from his head to his toes
His sphincters have gone where who knows
And his love life has ended
By a paunch so distended
That all he can use is his nose

Commentary for January 20: “Trump is acting like a degraged dictator, issuing senseless orders to Congress, sending out reams of virtually illiterate Twitter postings, and displaying his growing rage at anyone who dares to contradict him. He is, after all, a great genius who is Saving America. From whom is not clear but given past rantings, he has blacks, Mexicans, gays, pot dealers, Armenians, Venes=zuelans, Canadians and others in mind. As the snake said as it wound itself around a tree’The end is in sight.’”

Trump’s Approval/Disapproval rating January 20 reporting
Source   Approve Disapprove
YouGov      40%        53%

The Table of Contents
Trump impeachment: Schumer ready to ‘force votes for witnesses’
• The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-war Is Unsustainable
• Targeted killings via drone becoming ‘normalised’ – report
• 8 facts about gun control in the US
• In the Face of Rising White Supremacist Violence, Police Continue to Investigate Victims and Activists
• The Season of Evil
• Encyclopedia of American Loons

Trump impeachment: Schumer ready to ‘force votes for witnesses’
Senate minority leader said he aims to compel the chamber as early as Tuesday to hold vote on witnesses and extra evidence
January 20, 2020
by Joanna Walters and Tom McCarthy in New York
The Guardian
Senate Democrats were ramping up pressure for witnesses to be called in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump before the historic process gets fully under way on Capitol Hill on Tuesday – even as the president plans to be away at the elite economic and political forum in Davos, Switzerland, during opening arguments.
Trump already has no plans to appear at his own Senate trial and will be represented by a legal team that includes some controversial figures. But the symbolism of his being out of the country at a very see-and-be-seen annual event that draws global leaders while he stands accused back home of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress during its investigation into his conduct with Ukraine is telling.
He is due to give a keynote speech at the forum as the drama unfolds in Washington.
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said that he aims to compel the chamber as early as Tuesday to hold a vote on whether witnesses and extra evidence can be brought before the impeachment trial, and he turned up the pressure on moderate Republicans to side with the minority to achieve that.
In a press conference in New York on Sunday evening, Schumer said he stands ready to “force votes for witnesses and documents” at the trial if the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell – who has yet to set out the exact details of how he proposes that the trial will proceed – does not call for such a vote.
“We have the right to do it, we are going to do it and we are going to do it at the beginning on Tuesday if leader McConnell doesn’t call for these witnesses in his proposal,” Schumer said.
Trump has been keen for the Senate to dismiss the charges against him without even going through the motions of a trial. McConnell intends to proceed with a trial but there has been no agreement to call any outside witnesses, such as the former national security adviser John Bolton or the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who could shed even more light on the president’s dealing with the Ukrainians and the pivotal role of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The case hinges on a 25 July phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump asked his counterpart to do him a “favor” and investigate both a conspiracy theory concerning election interference and ties between the former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter and the eastern European country.
Trump’s team is entitled to file a detailed legal brief in the case before midday on Monday. An initial brief on Saturday argued fiercely against the impeachment charges.
“This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election, now just months away,” Trump’s lawyers said, also claiming the charges against the president were invalid as they did not concern a crime.
Schumer indicated he was determined to press for witnesses and documents that have been blocked to be brought forward either before or after opening arguments.
“We’re allowed to amend it, and ask for them. I am allowed to amend it – and then if they say well let’s wait and hear the arguments we’ll want a vote after they hear the arguments as well and we will do everything we can to force votes again,” he said.
On Saturday, the House’s selected team of impeachment managers, who prosecute the case against Trump at trial, outlined their case in a 111-page legal brief.
In a joint statement, the seven managers, led by the Democratic intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, said their case was “simple, the facts are indisputable, and the evidence is overwhelming: President Trump abused the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in our elections for his own personal political gain, thereby jeopardising our national security, the integrity of our elections, and our democracy.
“And when the president got caught, he tried to cover it up by obstructing the House’s investigation into his misconduct.”
On Sunday, the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, once a harsh critic and now a staunch Trump ally, said the latest hope from the president is that he wants the trial and his expected acquittal at the hands of the Republican Senate majority to be out of the way by the annual presidential showcase event, the State of the Union address to Congress and the American people.
“His mood is, to go to the state of the union [on 4 February] with this behind him and talk about what he wants to do for the rest of 2020 and what he wants to do for the next four years,” Graham told Fox News Sunday.

The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-war Is Unsustainable
January 17, 2020
by Patrick Cockburn
The Independent
Today Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei gave his first Friday sermon in Tehran for eight years to an audience of thousands, as he tried to calm down the furious public reaction to the Revolutionary Guards mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers, then proceeding to lie about their responsibility for three days.
Khameinei spoke of the “cowardly” killing of General Qassem Soleimani by the US, of President Trump using the destruction of the plane to “push a poison dagger” into the backs of the Iranian people. Rhetorical flourishes like this are not going do him a lot of good with critics who see the shootdown as epitomising the incompetence, duplicity and division of his government.
But the nature of the crisis differs markedly from the way it is being portrayed abroad. For more has gone wrong than a series of blunders. Obscured amid the plaudits and denunciations directed at Soleimani and Khamenei is the fact that both men’s policies in the Middle East had become counterproductive.
Over the last four years, Iran has had great success in spreading its influence in countries with large Shia populations. But it has failed to consolidate the status quo it played such a large role in creating. “The Iranians are good at gathering cards, but not at playing them,” is an old saying in the region.
Despite Iranian successes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the power structure in all three countries is rickety and prone to crises. Over the last four months, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran have been rocked by mass protest, while Syria is in the final throes of civil war.
Much depends on how the Iranian leadership responds in the next few months to the assassination of Soleimani, formerly their high-profile viceroy overseeing the Iranian zone of influence. They could continue to head towards a full scale US-Iran conflict or, just possibly, veer towards some sort of compromise deal.
Neither side wants a war, as demonstrated by America’s belated revelation that 11 of its soldiers were injured by the Iranian ballistic missile strike on two of its bases in Iraq on 8 January. At the time, Trump had reassured the world that there were no American casualties. and therefore no need for him to retaliate. Meanwhile, Iranian paramilitaries in Iraq have been instructed not to attack US facilities in order to de-escalate the crisis.
In the longer term, if Iran continues with the policies pursued by Soleimani and Khamenei, it will feel compelled to resume low-intensity warfare to provide a counterbalance to US sanctions. Before this happens, Iran will have to decide if it is going to use the elimination of Soleimani to devise a new strategies to replace those that have failed.
Nobody watches the changing political winds in Tehran as closely as Iraqis, who know that their country is where the US-Iran struggle is being fought out.
“Iran is in a very critical position,” says a prominent Iraqi Shia politician in Baghdad quoted in the online magazine Middle East Eye. “The policy that Khamenei previously pursued in managing the Iraq file and the region is no longer successful. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard had contributed to creating problems in Iraq that turned into a burden for Iran and became an obstacle in the way of its negotiations with the United States.”
Discussions now taking place in Iran are about whether the Revolutionary Guards should retain the Iraq file, or be handed over to some other body, such as intelligence or the foreign ministry. Soleimani’s former deputy and nominated successor as head of the Quds Force, Esmael Ghaani, has been handling Afghanistan, and is less familiar with the Middle East.
Quite aside from US pressure for disengagement, it is very much in Iran’s interests in Iraq to take a less hands-on role, and to look to the Iraqi government and Shia political parties to drive out the US. In Syria, where Iran had orchestrated support for President Bashar al-Assad after 2011, an Iranian pullback is feasible, because Assad has largely won the war to stay in power, and since 2015, the leading role in supporting him has been taken over by Russia.
Given these developments, it should be easier than it looks for Tehran and Washington to reach agreement on reducing Iran’s regional activism. The problem is that in Middle Eastern politics, everybody tends to overplay their hand at one time or another, usually when they come to overconfidently believe that they can put their opponent permanently out of business. The US has repeatedly fallen into this trap in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – and it is all too likely to do the same in its confrontation with Iran which, whatever the two sides’ intentions, will remain a dangerous stalemate, always at risk of tipping into outright war.
The US maximalist demands on Iran’s nuclear facilities, ballistic missiles and regional influence effectively mean that it wants regime change or capitulation. Both outcomes are possible; neither is likely. The Iranian leadership tends to come together when threatened, and is prepared to use any degree of force to stay in power. Western capitals have been looking expectantly for an end to the clerical regime in Tehran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 – but to no avail.
President Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018 without a coherent explanation of what was wrong with it, or what would be put in its place. Since then, both Iran and the US have carried out what could be deemed acts of war, culminating in the last few months in the Iranians attacking Saudi oil facilities, and the US assassinating Soleimani. On each occasion, both sides avoided full-scale retaliation, but this restraint rests on a knife-edge, and cannot last forever. The basis for a deal exists, but that does not mean one will materialise.

Targeted killings via drone becoming ‘normalised’ – report
Drone Wars says UK and US has developed ‘easy narrative’ for targeted assassinations
January 19, 2020
by Dan Sabbagh
The Guardian
Targeted assassinations via drone strikes, such as the killing of Iran’s Qassem Suleimani, have become progressively normalised with the help of official secrecy, government propaganda and some uncritical press coverage, according to a report.
In The Frame, published by pressure group Drone Wars, concludes that “an easy narrative for targeted killing” had been constructed by the UK and the US during the conflict with Islamic State, where several high-profile individuals were killed by drones and the existence of a British “kill list” emerged.
Chris Cole, the director of Drone Wars, said it helped reinforce the justifications for the US assassination of Suleimani, the leader of the Quds Force in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, earlier this month.
“It is surely unarguable now that drones have enabled and normalised a culture of targeted killing which is eroding international law norms and making the world a more dangerous place,” Cole said. He argued the recent strike could usher in a violent “new era in drone warfare”.
The study, conducted before Suleimani was killed, examines drone strikes carried out between 2015 and 2018, including the lethal targeting of Briton Reyaad Khan by the RAF in September 2015, as well US strikes on Mohammed Emwazi the same year and two years later on Sally Jones.
It concludes that then prime minister David Cameron and other ministers under his premiership and since have focused on the “the notoriety of individual British Isis members” to justify their actions, whilst relying on military secrecy to avoid a wider policy debate.
The report’s author, Joanna Frew, says there was considerable coverage of the first acknowledged killings of Khan and to a lesser extent Emwazi in 2015, but that dropped off as the conflict continued, with less reporting of the killing of Jones despite her media notoriety as the “white widow”.
Looking at the BBC, the Times, the Daily Mail and the Guardian, Frew said that there were 127 news articles that discussed Khan’s death in more than one sentence, 67 for Emwazi – dubbed by the tabloids as “Jihadi John” – and just 26 for Jones, who was killed in October 2017, possibly with her 12-year-old son Jojo Dixon.
An acknowledgement in the Daily Mail in February 2017 that British RAF pilots were “working their way through” the kill list was only cited in a handful of other media articles. The killing of Naweed Hussain by a US drone strike, guided by intelligence from the RAF, was only made public in 2018, a year after it had happened.
Coverage of the drone strikes was largely conducted impartially according to Frew, but there were a significant minority of pieces in the Daily Mail (48 in total) and the Times (35) that were judged to have “expressed support”.
The report’s author looked at 329 articles in total. A much smaller number – 26 overall – were critical, with 16 in the Guardian, five in the Mail and four in the Times. All but one of the BBC articles were impartial, Frew added.
Ministers also switched away from relying on legal justifications, as Cameron had in the case of Khan, who had been accused of plotting imminent terror attacks on the UK, so justifying the attack on the well established grounds of self-defence. When Emwazi was killed the prime minister also said it was “the right thing to do”.
Given Emwazi’s involvement in the notorious Isis “Beatles” cell which conducted filmed executions of hostages, Frew said the argument was not surprising and effective. But she added it also has the effect of placing the target “as beyond redemption, beyond the rule of law, where a legal justification is not necessary”.
International law around targeted killings is complex, but in theory they are only legitimate as acts of self-defence by a state, where the threat is imminent, meaning overwhelming and immediate. But the doctrine of imminence has been eroded over recent years, the report notes.
In the case of Suleimani, an official in Iran’s government, the US said it had intelligence he was plotting further terror attacks against its citizens in the Middle East, but has not publicly released the information, which has been described as “razor thin” by sources who had seen it.
Donald Trump has said that legal justifications about the death of Suleimani “doesn’t really matter” because the Iranian commander was “the terrorist” and had a “horrible past”.
Frew, in her report, called on the UK to disclose its policy on drone targeted killing, to respond to questions about the “kill list” and engage in international efforts to develop a code of conduct about the use of armed drones. She added: “Senior ministers have played to the gallery on drone targeted killing without responding and engaging in proper debate on the legal and ethical issues.”

8 facts about gun control in the US
The legal basis for firearm possession in the US is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. But how are guns regulated? DW looks at who can buy and sell them — and how one loophole undermines gun control.
January 20, 2020
by Kathleen Schuster
Gun control is one of the most divisive issues in American politics. With each mass shooting — defined as four or more victims having been killed indiscriminately — antagonism grows between both sides of the gun control argument.
Proponents of stricter gun regulations fear for their safety in a country where there is an average of 88 guns per 100 people, according to the 2011 Small Arms Survey. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence estimates that around 114,994 people are shot each year in the US. This includes murders, assaults, accidents, police intervention, suicide attempts and suicides.
Opponents of regulatory arguments, however, also fear a loss of safety. They argue that restricting the right to bear arms would leave citizens unable to protect themselves in their daily lives or, in a worst-case scenario, from a government turned against the people.
Though regulations vary from state to state, there are a few key conditions for obtaining guns in the US.
1. Is there a minimum age?
The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), which regulates firearms at the federal level, requires that citizens and legal residents must be at least 18 years of age to purchase shotguns or rifles and ammunition. All other firearms — handguns, for example — can only be sold to people 21 and older.
State or local officials may implement higher age restrictions but are not allowed to lower the federal minimum.
2. Who’s restricted from purchasing or possessing firearms?
Fugitives, people deemed a danger to society and patients involuntarily committed to mental institutions are among those who may not purchase firearms. People with prior felony convictions that include a prison sentence exceeding one year, or misdemeanors carrying sentences of more than two years, are also prohibited from purchasing firearms.
Federal law also blocks the sale of guns to people who have been found guilty of unlawfully possessing or using controlled substances within the past year. This includes marijuana, which, though legalized in many US states, remains illegal under federal law.
Other restrictions apply to people who have been issued restraining orders by courts to prevent harassment, stalking or threatening; people who have renounced their citizenship; dishonorably discharged military personnel; unauthorized migrants; and people temporarily visiting the US on nonimmigrant visas, for example as tourists.
3. Does the federal or state government regulate firearms?
The Second Amendment serves as the legal basis for the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Though state and local governments regulate whether residents may, for example, carry guns in public, laws regulating who may receive or possess guns are set out at the federal level.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a division of the Department of Justice, administers the GCA. The ATF also regulates the standards for issuing licenses to gun vendors.
Shotguns, rifles, machine guns, firearm mufflers and silencers are regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934. The purchase of semi-automatic weapons is legal in most states, as are automatic weapons made before 1986.
4. Who may sell firearms?
Like handgun owners, dealers interested in obtaining a Federal Firearms License (FFL) must be at least 21 years of age. They must have premises for conducting business and must alert a local law enforcement official at the time of submitting their applications to the federal bureau that regulates firearms. Just like gun owners, they must fulfill the same criteria regarding their history of prior convictions and mental state. The license fee costs $200 (€170) for an initial three-year period and $90 for each subsequent three-year-long renewal.
Selling firearms online also falls under these regulations. Although the purchase may be paid for online, the gun itself must be shipped to a registered FFL holder, who then conducts the necessary background check before handing the firearm over to its owner.
However, the law is unclear on what constitutes selling guns for profit. Any individual may sell firearms without a license if his or her motive isn’t to make profit for livelihood through repeated and regular sales.
5. Is a background check required to purchase a firearm?
Yes. The amendment to the 1968 Gun Control Act — known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 — requires holders of FFLs to conduct a background check. Potential firearm purchasers fill out a federal form known as the ATF 4473, which checks for prior convictions and other red flags. FFL holders then use the information provided on the form in the background check.
States may decide whether the background check is carried out solely by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) or a combination of the NICS and state agency information. Roughly 30 states rely solely on the NICS.
Estimated to take under 10 minutes by phone or online, the check gives the FFL holder an immediate answer: approve, delay or deny. A delay indicates the need for further research for three business days, after which point FFL holders can act at their own discretion if the research proves inconclusive.
The Brady law, however, does not apply to someone who is obtaining a firearm from an individual without an FFL.
6. Do states require permits to purchase firearms?
Only a dozen of the US’s 50 states require purchase permits for handguns. Of those states, only three — California, Connecticut and Hawaii — require permits for the purchase of rifles and shotguns.
California, for example, requires applicants to pass a written test and enroll in a gun safety class to obtain purchase permits. States with this requirement do not recognize the “concealed carry reciprocity” policies of some states, which allow gun owners licensed in one state to bring their weapons to another.
7. Do states require permits to carry firearms?
Most states require permits to carry handguns. Concealed carry and open carry vary by state. Some states allow residents to carry handguns without permits.
By contrast, virtually no state requires a permit to carry rifles and shotguns. Massachusetts and New Jersey require people carrying rifles and shotguns to bring along a form of ID or a firearms identification.
8. What is the ‘gunshow loophole’?
The law on selling, receiving and possessing firearms is clear. Yet not every individual providing the gun in a transfer requires an FFL, which in turn means that not every buyer is legally subject to a background check. This potentially enables guns to fall into the hands of users who might otherwise not be allowed to own a firearm.
According to the ATF, anyone can sell a gun without an FFL from their home, online, at a flea market or at a gun show as long as he or she is not conducting the sale as part of regular business activity. One example would be someone who sells a firearm from his or her personal collection. Others who are exempt include those giving guns as gifts. Only individuals whose “principal motive” is to make a profit via sale must obtain an FFL.
Commonly referred to as the “gunshow loophole,” this ambiguity also explains how a purchase can occur without a background check — and without breaking the law. A 2017 survey by Harvard and Northeastern universities estimates that roughly one in five transactions occur without a background check.
A gun may also be purchased on behalf of a third party as long as it is a gift and as long as the recipient does not violate federal restrictions on gun ownership to the best of the gift giver’s knowledge. The same applies to the general transfer of guns. Children younger than 18 may possess guns that were given to them by parents or guardians as gifts provided that they have written permission.

The 2nd Amendment issue
Much is said about the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution allowing anyone to own a firearm. This is a misintrpretation of the Amendment which reads as follows:
Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (As a miltia note. In earlier times a militia was a state guard, not a political entity”

In the Face of Rising White Supremacist Violence, Police Continue to Investigate Victims and Activists
January 20, 2020
by Alice Speri
The Intercept

It’s been 10 months since someone set an office building on fire at Highlander Research and Education Center, a storied civil rights institution perched in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, but the investigation into the fire seems to have gone nowhere. The charred remains of the collapsed structure are still untouched, and the yellow tape blocking access to them has only recently come off. In the parking lot next to the destroyed building, a symbol someone spray-painted in black on the concrete the night of the fire is also untouched: It looks like a hashtag, but with three intersecting lines instead of two.
That symbol is one used by racist extremists in the U.S. and abroad. It was painted on one of the firearms used by an Australian white supremacist who massacred 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, just two weeks before the fire at Highlander. The Anti-Defamation League traced the symbol’s origins to a Romanian fascist movement dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. But while the symbol is obscure to most, it has resurfaced in connection with the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group that was active in the U.S. until recently. A year before it was sprayed in the parking lot at Highlander, the symbol was also painted on “the Rock,” a boulder at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus, not far from Highlander, used by students as a message board. Yet if the symbol was a clue about who might have attacked Highlander, investigators — with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the FBI — have not yet said so publicly.
Nobody was hurt in the March 29 fire in New Market, where Highlander sits on a hilly 200-acre campus with stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains. But it’s not the first time the center has come under attack. For nearly nine decades, Highlander has offered sanctuary to an array of racial, social, and economic justice movements, hosting the likes of Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the activists who wrote the Movement for Black Lives policy platform and immigrant rights and Palestinian solidarity groups. But the center also has a long history of being targeted for harassment and violence by government officials and racist groups. In 1961, as anti-communist fearmongering gripped the country, the state of Tennessee seized Highlander’s land and buildings and revoked its charter; in 1966, the Ku Klux Klan firebombed its Knoxville location. After this most recent attack, Highlander staff had few expectations that law enforcement officials investigating the fire would give them answers about who caused it — but they were taken aback by their questions.
When local police arrived on the day of the fire, the first thing they asked Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, one of Highlander’s two co-directors, was “Are you beefing?”
“It was very clear to us that that there was some feeling that we might have done something to instigate this, versus white supremacy instigated this,” said Henderson, the first black woman to lead the center. “At that point, I didn’t even know what the symbol was or meant, but even when we did realize that it was a symbol of the white power movement, it’s not like we’re out there doing a tit for tat with them. I’m literally in a position where my very existence as a human is the antithesis of what they believe in.”
André Canty, who works in development and communications at Highlander, compared the line of questioning from police after the fire to that following the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012 — or that often applied to black victims of police violence. “What did he do to cause his own death?” said Canty. “You’re asking me, why did your abuser abuse you? Why are racists doing racist things?”
But as federal investigators joined local police in the months following the fire, the questions posed to Highlander staff grew only more pointed and bizarre, as if they, and not their presumed attackers, were under investigation. “Who do you train?” they were asked. “Who funds you? Are you training protesters? Do you know antifa?”
“It was totally an interrogation,” said Henderson. “Instead of an investigation that’s going to produce information that tells us how we can make ourselves more safe from white supremacist violence, what tends to be true, historically, is that these are opportunities for the state to gather more information about who’s coming to Highlander, what they’re talking about, what you train them on.”
Asked about those questions, Jason Pack, a special agent with the FBI’s field office in Knoxville, wrote to The Intercept that he was not “personally aware of those issues,” but declined to comment further because the investigation is “ongoing.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told The Intercept that it is the office’s policy “to neither confirm or deny the existence of or status of investigations.” Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey did not respond to a request for comment. The Fire Marshal’s Office referred questions to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which has since taken over fire investigations. A spokesperson for the bureau wrote in a statement to The Intercept that “the cause of the fire remains under investigation.” The ATF did not respond to a request for comment.
Policing Violence vs. Policing Dissent
As white supremacists have carried out a growing number of deadly attacks in recent years, the FBI has come under mounting criticism for its failure to address the threat posed by far-right extremist ideologies, whose adherents account for most of the politically motivated violence in the U.S. At the same time, the bureau has also been heavily criticized for devoting large resources to surveilling political dissent by groups and individuals, often of color, who pose no threat but are critical of the government because they oppose official immigration policies or demand police accountability.
The FBI’s preoccupation with policing nonviolent critical ideologies while neglecting to investigate ideologies tied to real, and increasing, violence was perhaps best captured in an infamous 2017 threat assessment report warning law enforcement agencies of the supposed rise of a “black identity extremist” movement targeting police, which the FBI said had emerged on the heels of the Ferguson protests and in response to “perceived racism and injustice in American society.” Yet as The Intercept has reported, and as a number of legislators, activists, and even law enforcement officials have repeatedly pointed out, the black identity extremism category was a product of the FBI’s imagination, assembled by cobbling together disparate, isolated incidents with no connection between them other than the race of their perpetrators.
For more than a year after the assessment was leaked, the FBI refused to disavow the categorization, even while failing to point to any evidence suggesting that such an ideology existed in reality. Then last year, as the backlash around the label persisted, and as ongoing white supremacist attacks underscored the FBI’s seeming double standards, bureau officials told legislators that they were doing away with a set of earlier domestic terrorism categories in favor of four larger ones. The FBI’s fictional black identity extremists would now be lumped together with white supremacists under a new “racially motivated violent extremism” category. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment for this story, referring The Intercept to two congressional hearings in which bureau officials testified on the issue. “The term I’m using is racially motivated violent extremist for the very fact that we’re focused on the violence; we’re not focused on the skin of anyone,” Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, said in response to a legislator’s question about the FBI’s focus on supposed black identity extremists as opposed to white supremacist extremists. “‘Black identity extremist,’ since I’ve been here, we have not used that term,” added McGarrity, who was appointed to his position in February 2018. “But also, you’re not hearing me use ‘white supremacists’ as a group. I’m focused on the violence. … Ideology itself is a First Amendment right.”
As The Intercept noted at the time, that false equivalence made it virtually impossible for the public to know whether the FBI was devoting resources to investigating real threats of racist violence or social and racial justice groups critical of government. And while the FBI’s reclassification has already been replicated at the local level — for example, by the New York City Police Department, which recently announced a “Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism” unit — civil rights advocates warn that collapsing real and imaginary extremist ideologies risks providing cover for the ongoing targeting of nonviolent activists and activists of color.
“It’s egregious to compare black dissent to what white nationalists are doing in this country and to what white supremacy is doing in this country,” said Henderson. “Let’s just be real: If there’s a fear about domestic terror, white men are killing lots of people. And we’ve got to figure out how to deal with that.”
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program, told me that using the “racially motivated” umbrella term without distinction “is a way to both hide the fact that there isn’t really black motivated violent extremism and at the same time, to justify the continued investigation.”
In fact, civil rights advocates have argued against using recent white supremacist attacks to call for more domestic terror laws and mass policing of any ideology, cautioning that trampling on constitutionally protected speech in the absence of criminality or national security threats risks strengthening authoritarian systems that will inevitably blow back on government critics and minorities. But there is a fundamental difference between policing ideas and policing crime and criminal intent. The fire at Highlander, where the investigation of a criminal, violent act appears to have morphed into a broad inquiry into the political work of the victims, offers a troubling example of the obfuscation enabled by the “racially motivated extremism” label.
“There was a criminal act and there was presumably criminal planning that led up to it, which is different from surveilling simply on the basis of speech and ideology,” said Levinson-Waldman. “The focus on the victims of that act and their political work and organizing is incredibly distressing. It’s so backwards, and it’s so counterproductive.”
The Memphis Blacklist
While the fire at Highlander remains unsolved almost a year after it occurred, 400 miles away, on the opposite side of the state, a recent lawsuit against the city of Memphis has exposed the lengths to which police will go to surveil the free speech activities of Black Lives Matter and other activists who have committed no crimes.
In 2018, a federal judge in Memphis ruled that the city’s police department was in violation of a decades-old federal consent decree prohibiting local law enforcement from gathering “political intelligence.” The ruling followed litigation that revealed that Memphis police’s Office of Homeland Security, a unit set up following the 9/11 attacks, had engaged in widespread and systemic surveillance of the constitutionally protected activities of individuals protesting, among other things, the killings of black men at the hands of police. The litigation strikingly revealed how the domestic political surveillance efforts ramped up after 9/11 evolved in the post-Ferguson era. It exposed a fake Facebook profile police had created to “friend” activists and monitor their discussions and plans. It showed that police had used software designed to comb social media chatter and map connections between individuals based on their digital interactions. It revealed that police had been compiling a series of “joint intelligence briefs” on local activists, including pictures, comments, and details about events they planned to attend, which they then distributed as often as three times a day to other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the military, and a number of large local businesses, such as FedEx. And the litigation revealed that police had also monitored church services, candlelight vigils, even a black-owned food truck festival and a school supplies giveaway.
The lawsuit itself followed the discovery by local activists of a “blacklist” of 84 individuals whom the city had secretly barred from entering City Hall without police escort. The list included some of the city’s most vocal organizers, but also some whom police had found to be merely “associates” of known protesters, as well as the mother and aunt of Darrius Stewart, a 19-year-old black man killed by Memphis police during a 2015 traffic stop.
Keedran Franklin, a 33-year-old activist and organizer, and one of four named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he’s always suspected that police were keeping tabs on him, but first had those fears confirmed in early 2017, when a friend who was working as a security contractor for the city told him that officials “have a book on y’all,” Franklin recalled. “They have pictures, known associations, your picture is on the wall.”
Franklin had first become active in his community by working on violence interruption programs and collaborating with the former mayor’s “guns down” initiative, but he had become suspicious of the information the city kept on the youth he worked with and grew increasingly skeptical of what he now believes was a surveillance effort masked as community outreach. “I felt like I was helping them prey on us,” he told me. Franklin soon started organizing protests and direct actions, first with the Fight for $15 campaign to raise the minimum wage and then, after the Ferguson protests and the killing of Stewart in Memphis, against police violence.
But Franklin never threatened police or anyone else, he stressed, and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings even gave him his personal cellphone number after Franklin helped negotiate with police during a protest, offering to help disperse protesters if police promised not to arrest anyone. “Why would he allow me to have his number if I’m this much of a threat?” said Franklin. “It was all political, flat out political. They had no criminal investigations around any of us.”
When the lawsuit yielded dozens of joint intelligence briefs and other internal police documents, Franklin’s name, photo, and activities were all over them. “Keedran Franklin has participated in several demonstrations/protests and is associated with a group called Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens,” reads one of several police documents about Franklin, which also lists other individuals he is “closely associated with” and notes that they espouse several causes, such as “Free Palestine,” “Fight for $15,” and “Standing Rock.”
Memphis offers the most detailed picture we have of what domestic political surveillance looks like in practice.
Franklin already knew he was being monitored; he had been followed by unmarked cars for years, and he often confronted police and livestreamed the exchanges with his phone when he saw them watching him. But the extent of the surveillance revealed in the documents surprised even him: Some memos listed people’s height and weight, Social Security numbers, and in one case details of an individual’s mental health history. And Franklin realized when he learned of the joint intelligence briefs that a new neighbor who had told him that he looked familiar had been receiving the memos police had written on him and distributed widely. “I’m not this terrorist they are painting me to be,” he said. “I got flaws, I’m not perfect, but I’m no damn terrorist.”
Police surveillance efforts seem to have picked up after Stewart’s killing in July 2015. A year earlier, the protests over the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, had kicked off nationwide rallies against police violence. And a couple of months before Stewart was killed, protests over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore had reignited anger at police, while also putting local and federal law enforcement on high alert. In Memphis, a majority black city where distrust of police runs deep — “and for good cause,” as a local lawyer put it — tensions came to a peak on July 10, 2016, after the police killings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, when hundreds of peaceful protesters shut down the Hernando de Soto Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River to connect Tennessee to Arkansas.
That protest — the largest in Memphis’s recent history — kicked off a series of others in the following months, and the police department’s Homeland Security office, which had previously focused on domestic and international terrorism threats, “shifted almost entirely to obtaining intelligence about planned large events with the potential for violence against large scale disruption of traffic or commerce,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in court filings. In an internal slide made public through the litigation, police even called 2016 “A Year of Social Unrest Reminiscent of the late 1960s and early 1970s,” just as they resorted to the surveillance tactics of those years.
Through 2016, officers monitored activists as they protested racist coverage by the local paper, rallied outside Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion, and staged a peaceful “die-in” outside the home of Mayor Jim Strickland in December 2016. It’s that die-in in particular that prompted officials to add activists and protesters to the blacklist — or “escort list,” as they called it — which up to that point had mostly included former employees or individuals accused of threats or disorderly conduct. The mayor personally authorized the addition to the list of many of the protesters who had lain down in his front yard.
Ursula Madden, the chief communications officer for the city of Memphis, challenged the description of the protest as “peaceful,” saying that protesters “showed up at the mayor’s home with their faces covered, climbed in the trees on his private property, tried to open the doors to his house and peeked into the windows while his family was inside sleeping—all while recording it on Facebook live and making threatening comments.”
But both the blacklist and the police intelligence operation directed at protesters violated a 1978 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department that Memphis had entered after it was found to have illegally compiled dossiers on anti-war and student activists through the 1960s and 1970s. While the Justice Department has entered into dozens of such agreements with police departments across the country in an effort to bring them in line with federal civil rights standards, most decrees have focused on excessive force or discriminatory policing. The Memphis consent decree is the only one nationwide that focuses on the issue of political surveillance. And because of the thousands of pages of documents and the public testimony produced by the recent lawsuit, Memphis also offers the most detailed picture we have of what domestic political surveillance looks like in practice.
“Memphis is a microcosm of what we assume is happening across the country,” said Levinson-Waldman, who serves on a federal monitoring team a judge put in place after he found the city to be in violation of the decree. “It’s the clearest window that we have into what kind of surveillance is going on.”
One Big Plantation
In Memphis, no one can possibly forget that the police are watching. If across the country security cameras have become a ubiquitous reality of modern life, whose presence is easy to forget as they blend into the urban landscape, Memphis’s cameras light up the city with piercing blue flashes that flicker endlessly from utility poles like thousands of blinking eyes.
Memphis’s distinctive “SkyCop” cameras — more than 2,000 in 500 locations across the city — feed millions of hours of footage a year into the city’s Real Time Crime Center. The cameras are another legacy of the war on terror, as officials in Memphis, a major commercial hub, first looked to boost video surveillance capabilities to protect critical infrastructure. In fact, the cameras have largely been used to deter crime, but the lawsuit revealed that they were also used to surveil protesters in violation of the decree. “It’s a police state, for real,” said Franklin, of the cameras. “They started taking that equipment and technology and turned it inward, onto us.”
But there are other reminders of police surveillance. Antonio Cathey, another well-known Memphis activist and organizer with Fight for $15, told me that at a turkey giveaway some friends and family had organized before Thanksgiving, police stood at a distance watching people with binoculars. And that’s nothing compared to what happened to Cathey in August 2018, on the very first day of the consent decree trial. Cathey was in court watching the proceedings when his grandmother called to tell him that police had pushed their way into her house and, across the street, that of his uncle.
When Cathey raced there, he found dozens of officers from various agencies, many in riot gear and face masks. The officers had raided the homes and issued his uncle a citation after they found a trace of marijuana in his car’s ashtray — not enough to justify an arrest. “They tore the house completely up,” said Cathey, adding that he had been terrified for his grandmother. “I told her, Don’t open the door for them. Every guy with a badge and a gun is not a good cop.”
Cathey, who recognized one of the officers from protests he had attended, repeatedly asked police why they were there, but all they told him was, “We know all about you” and “We know exactly who you are.” A neighbor pointed to a light pole on the street that he said municipal workers had come to fix in the early hours of the morning, even though it didn’t appear to be broken. There was a box on the pole with black and yellow tape, and a sign warning, ‘Danger, don’t touch.’ But Cathey could see a camera lens behind the tape.
That’s when it clicked for him that the raid was no coincidence. “We just had court downtown,” he said. “I see what’s going on. If they can’t get to you, they’ll get to your family.”
Madden, the city spokesperson, said in a statement that the incident was “unrelated” to the lawsuit.
Since then, relatives have told Cathey that they support him but wish he would stop going to protests. “I’m not going to stop doing this,” he said. “I have the right to do this, and [police] are not going to stop me. If they’re looking for something, I’m open, it’s right on my Facebook page.”
But it’s not just activists who are learning to live with a surveillance apparatus they assume to be ubiquitous. Journalists and lawyers in Memphis whisper when they speak in public places. They get suspicious when a car remains behind them after a couple of turns. When I met in a cafe with Wendi C. Thomas, who for years wrote a column for Memphis’s largest newspaper before recently starting the independent news organization, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, she kept watching her back before asking if we could speak in a more private place. “I know when I talk to people who aren’t from Memphis that I sound crazy,” she told me. Then, citing a phrase others have used to describe Memphis, she added, “This place is one big plantation.”
Thomas, who as the Commercial Appeal’s first black female columnist endured years of threats of violence from readers, including death and rape threats, said she discovered the Memphis police had been tracking her social media pages in the middle of the consent decree trial, which she was covering. Thomas was looking down at her notebook when she heard an officer who was testifying about the fake identity he created to friend activists on Facebook read her name out loud, twice, from an exhibit page. “I looked up and was like, Did he just say my name? Why would they be monitoring me?” she said. Thomas immediately filed a public records request for her name and that of three other female journalists, including the photographer for this story, whose name had come up in testimony. It took the city 433 days to respond.
Thomas believes that she and the other journalists came under surveillance because they were in contact with activists. “I think it speaks to the trust that we have built, intentionally, with activists and organizers,” she said. “The fact that you have sources is proof that you’re a good journalist. For some of us who have a broad variety of sources, including those in communities that are marginalized, it’s proof that we are doing our jobs. But that also makes us a target. If more journalists here in Memphis saw that as part of their job, maybe it would be harder for the city to target all of us.”
There is little question that the targeting is real. As The Intercept has reported, Memphis police in 2018 arrested undocumented journalist Manuel Duran, who ran a local Spanish-language news site, while he covered a protest to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in the city. When the charges against Duran were quickly dismissed, instead of releasing him, police turned him over to officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who detained him for over a year. While a number of activists were also arrested at the protest, several other reporters who were there were not. And Duran, who was wearing a press badge, appeared to have been singled out. He was well known to local police, which he had covered critically, and in his own video of the incident, an officer can be heard saying, “Get him, guys” and pointing in Duran’s direction. Then officers grab him even as two activists try to shield him and scream, “He’s a reporter.”
In a statement, the city’s spokesperson wrote that “officers did not know Mr. Duran, or know that he was a member of the media,” and that he was “one of many people arrested for blocking traffic.”
“History doesn’t rhyme, but it echoes,” Thomas said about the episode. “It’s disturbing: The day before the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, they’re out there arresting journalists and organizers.”
Police surveillance continued even in church. Rev. Earle Fisher, a pastor at the city’s Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church and an outspoken community leader, said a meeting he hosted at the church after the 2016 bridge protest had also been monitored by police. Fisher said people there had joked about the church being bugged, but he was nonetheless shocked to learn from a local news outlet that his church was one of the spaces that law enforcement was watching after the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security had warned Memphis police that “gangs, home grown extremists and criminals” could use legal protests as cover to incite violence. Fisher said that if there was a real threat of violence at the church, police should have told him — but they never did.
Fisher first realized how far the city would go to monitor critics when he noticed “Tennessee Department of Homeland Security” pop up on his listed Wi-Fi networks at home. Once, after he wrote a public letter to the city’s district attorney about the killing of Darrius Stewart, a friend in law enforcement warned him to “keep his nose clean” because the DA “ran his profile to see if anything came up.” “If you know anything about history, these types of things are always going to happen,” said Fisher. Now every time a phone call drops, he just thinks, It must be them.
But Fisher added that he and most activists he knows have simply taken note of the surveillance and continued to do the work.
“When you are somebody who has been clearly committed to advocating against an unjust status quo, then you are going to find yourself at odds with any entity that’s been constructed to protect the status quo,” he said. “I know I’m on the right side of history, I know I’m doing this for the right reasons, and I know, based on my constitutional rights, that I’m doing this the right way. At some point, you just hope it breaks through.”
A City of Spies
Memphis has a long history of both activism and government surveillance. The city was a focal point for the labor and anti-war movements, and it’s there that King marched for the last time in a rally in support of a sanitation workers’ strike in 1968. At the height of the civil rights movement, around 1965, the Memphis Police Department established a Domestic Intelligence Unit that began to infiltrate and keep secret dossiers about citizens engaging in constitutionally protected political activities, from vigils against the Vietnam War to union efforts. Much like the FBI was doing at the same time under the now-infamous COINTELPRO program, the Memphis Police Department targeted the ACLU, the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and various workers groups. Without warrants, it monitored their mail and phones and kept files on their activities, relationships, and sexual preferences, relying on a network of undercover agents and informants to gather intelligence on unsuspecting individuals.
The extent of the DIU’s surveillance was finally exposed in the mid-1970s, when Memphis State student Eric Carter discovered his roommate had been an undercover officer. When Carter demanded to see the files police had kept on him, the city incinerated them. As it became clear that officials planned to destroy all evidence of the DIU’s work, the ACLU intervened, represented by Memphis civil rights attorney Bruce Kramer, and requested a federal court to stop the city from destroying more evidence. But before the order could be served, Mayor Wyeth Chandler ordered the DIU terminated and “ten filing cabinets of photographs, reports and documents compiled over a nine-year period … stuffed into garbage bags by DIU staff, taken to city’s Scott Street incinerator, doused with fuel and burned,” according to the ACLU’s retelling of the incident. That’s when the ACLU filed Kendrick v. Chandler, a class-action lawsuit that in 1978 led to a federal consent decree banning the city of Memphis from “engaging in law enforcement activities which interfere with any person’s rights protected by the First Amendment.” Even in connection to a criminal investigation, the order continued, “the City of Memphis must appropriately limit all law enforcement activities so as not to infringe on any person’s First Amendment rights.”
Since then, Kramer has periodically checked to make sure that police were abiding by the ban, but it was in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests and the killing of Darrius Stewart that it became evident police were brazenly violating the decree. When activists learned of the blacklist — after one of them showed up at City Hall and was told that he couldn’t enter without a police escort — Kramer filed a new lawsuit on behalf of Franklin and three others, accusing the city of violating the Kendrick decree. The ACLU joined the suit after the judge in the case indicated that the four were not part of the original 1976 lawsuit and therefore couldn’t bring the claim, an interpretation Kramer vehemently contests.
For Kramer, there is little difference between today’s surveillance and what the city of Memphis engaged in half a century ago. “The basic principles are the same: People have a First Amendment right to protest and a Fourth Amendment right not to have these dossiers kept on them,” he told me. “In the ’70s, and even before then, in the ’60s and ’50s and ’40s, they were worried about communists, and then they were worried about the Black Panthers, and then they were worried about the Weathermen, and then they were worried about the civil rights people. There is no doubt they fear the activist community — black and white.”
Despite being under federal court orders, the Memphis Police Department never put in place guidelines or training to make sure that officers wouldn’t conduct political surveillance. And when attorneys started deposing police as part of the recent litigation, they realized that “there was a complete ignorance amongst the entire department about the existence of the decree,” said Thomas Castelli, legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee.
The week before the trial started, the city also filed a motion to modify the terms of the decree, which it argued was written before the internet and surveillance technology and was inapplicable to today’s policing methods. After Judge Jon McCalla of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee found the city in contempt of the decree, he brought in a federal monitoring team that’s currently in the process of negotiating guidelines, trainings, and an auditing mechanism the police department must follow going forward. But the city has also continued to argue that the decree is obsolete and makes it harder for police to do their job — an argument that McCalla refuted in clear terms last November, when he denied a new request by the city’s lawyers to modify the terms of the decree. The decree, McCalla wrote, “acts as a bulwark, ensuring that the City’s surveillance practices do not cross the line from being a powerful weapon in the fight against crime to becoming an intrusive tool that improperly interferes with its residents’ First Amendment-protected activities.”
The drawn-out process and the city’s apparent backpedaling have frustrated activists, and two recent community meetings held by the monitor have been heated. “This is not like we’re two parties and we have to mediate a fight,” said Franklin. “The city administration and police force violated our constitutional rights. They’re in the wrong and need to be treated as such. … They still never apologized.”
Franklin, who became a father in November, said he fears that the judge’s ruling and the monitoring team won’t be enough to stop police from harassing him. “I don’t want my son to be under the scope of Big Brother like a Fred Hampton Jr.,” he said, referring to the son of Fred Hampton, the young leader of the Black Panthers killed by Chicago police in 1969. “I should not have to live in fear of me and my son being surveilled. My son should not have to live in fear of that.”
According to Madden, “the City is complying with the consent decree. However the City has the right to seek modification of the consent decree, which is 40 years old, and is not consistent with best police practices to provide safety in the 21st century.”
In a recent interview about the decree with a local media outlet, Rallings, the police director, also argued that the decree is outdated. “In 1978, nobody wore seatbelts,” said Rallings. “Well, we learned that seatbelts save lives, so everybody knows it’s click it or ticket. So we found that something that was done in the ’70s we probably need to go revisit and modify and make it apply to modern police work, and that’s all we’re asking.”
But Rallings also connected Memphis’s surveillance efforts to the warnings local police have been getting from federal law enforcement, particularly following the killings of eight police officers during protests in Dallas and Baton Rouge in 2016. “That was a peaceful protest, until a gunman opened fire,” said Rallings. “If we think about the number of threats that we are receiving, information from the FBI that individuals were infiltrating peaceful protests and had nefarious intents. … We had an obligation to protect our citizens.”
In fact, documents obtained in discovery show that police were regularly distributing intelligence briefings that compiled news coverage of incidents of violence against police officers in other cities with information gleaned from social media about rallies and actions planned in Memphis — even though there was no connection between them. Other documents show that round-the-clock social media monitoring of Memphis-based activists yielded no evidence that they posed any threat.
“There’s this kind of connotation here, whether they intended that connotation or not, and it’s going out to pretty much every cop in the city,” Castelli said. “I think it’s just indicative of what’s going on all over the country with this: law enforcement that is concerning itself more and more with what people are saying, and particularly with what they are saying about law enforcement. … There seems to be a theme, and it fits with the larger antagonism between activists for police reform and the police that are supposed to make sure they can say what they want to say.”
Some activists noted that police surveillance of police critics and protests against police violence was particularly frustrating when compared to police’s hands-off treatment of far-right groups that have also rallied in Memphis and across Tennessee.
“One of these is not like the other,” said Fisher, the pastor. “But here’s a basic thought: Treat us the same way you treat the white supremacists when they come to town. … This is a concrete choice, them saying, ‘No, we’re not going to provide you with the same constitutional rights and privileges as we would provide the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.’”
As it happens, Tennessee has long been a hotbed for the white nationalist movement. “It seems to be viewed as a friendly place for white supremacists,” said Castelli. Halfway between Highlander and Memphis is the town of Pulaski, the birthplace of the Klan, and in recent years the state hosted 20 percent of the country’s white supremacist gatherings and events, according to the Anti-Defamation League. And while Memphis and the Appalachian mountains where Highlander is located are very different demographically and politically, activists from both communities recognize their experiences as being part of the same criminalization of black dissent in a state that has a long history of both civil rights struggles and white supremacist backlash.
“What’s absurd is that they are spending so many resources on that sort of thing across the state in Memphis, a black city, when literally white supremacists are firebombing buildings over here,” said Highlander’s Henderson. “Why are you surveilling Keedran? Why are you surveilling me? What did I do? If the only answer you have is that we are black and we disagree with the power structures that are harming our communities, then how is this any different than McCarthyism? How is it different than COINTELPRO?”
A History of Harassment
Last summer, Henderson and Franklin joined activists from Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and across the country in a delegation to Capitol Hill organized by the racial justice group MediaJustice, which together with the ACLU has been lobbying lawmakers to demand more transparency from the FBI about its surveillance of activists of color. Myaisha Hayes, an organizer with MediaJustice who runs the group’s “protect Black dissent” campaign, told me that what was happening on opposite sides of Tennessee was exactly what she feared would continue to happen as the FBI collapsed real and imaginary extremist categories into the generic “racially motivated extremism.”
“On one side of the state, you’ve got people dealing with the police department clearly violating an agreement not to surveil activists, and then a few hours away, you have activists calling for help to investigate an act of hatred, an act of violence, and yet there’s no follow-up,” she said. “While the government and the police have such a long history of surveilling and criminalizing black folks, they’ve really left those same communities vulnerable to white supremacist violence and police violence.”
At Highlander, being targeted for state surveillance and harassment while also coming under threat of violence by white supremacist groups has a long history. At Highlander’s workshop center — a red two-story structure where visiting activists and organizers gather for meals and meetings — a series of panels line the walls, describing Highlander’s achievements over the decades along with the attacks on the center in those same years.
The Highlander Folk School was founded by Myles Horton at Monteagle, Tennessee, in 1932 as a space to organize poor and working people in the South, and from its early days, the school served as a radical space for education, movement building, and desegregation. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Highlander was accused of being “thoroughly communistic” and a “free love” community. The center lost some of its union partners to the red-baiting and faced a series of bomb threats. The harassment continued through the 1950s as the school was infiltrated and accused of “fomenting racial strife and disrupting values and institutions of the South.” Highlander had always promoted interracial solidarity, but through the ’50s and ’60s, the center was pivotal to the black freedom movement: Highlander organized voter registration workshops and adult literacy programs to fight disenfranchisement. Parks trained at the school months before the Montgomery bus boycott. And it’s there that Pete Seeger taught King the reworked lyrics to “We Shall Overcome.”
In 1961, following an FBI investigation, Tennessee officials closed the school, took its land, and revoked its charter. The padlocked buildings were burned down shortly after. Highlander relocated to a house in Knoxville and changed its name to the current Highlander Research and Education Center. “They literally just changed the name and kept doing what they were doing,” said Henderson. In Knoxville, the harassment continued. In 1963, an interracial training camp for activists organized by Highlander was raided by police, who arrested 29 people. Days later, someone burned the camp down. In 1966, after the Klan marched against the center’s Knoxville location, someone threw a Molotov cocktail through its window. Highlander moved to its current location in 1972.
“Highlander was attacked a lot,” said Susan Williams, a coordinator at the center’s library who has been with the organization for more than 30 years. “How it still exists is kind of a miracle.”
The latest fire dealt a blow to the staff. While most of Highlander’s historical archives were safe offsite at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere, the office building that was destroyed contained documentation of the center’s more recent work on immigrant rights, anti-globalization, and economic and environmental justice, which Williams is now setting out to re-create. The fire also brought heightened security to a community whose hospitality and inclusivity are core to its mission. On a recent visit, guests were welcomed warmly, but only after the center’s security team — or “community safety,” as staff prefer to call it — was notified. “It’s hard for people to have security,” said Williams, “that’s the biggest change in terms of our mentality.”
But the fire has also brought messages of support and solidarity from groups and individuals across the region, the country, and the world who were touched by the center’s work. “We forget that we’re just stewards of this place that really matters to people,” said Williams. “And most importantly to people who come here who are very isolated, who are getting attacked, and here they meet people like them and develop relationships.”
If Highlander has come under attack throughout its history, Henderson noted, many of the vulnerable and marginalized communities with which it works undergo attacks every day. “All the folks that we work with are people that are consistently under attack,” she said. But Henderson is adamant that just as nine decades of threats and obstruction failed to stop the work of Highlander, neither will the latest attack.
On the day of the fire, a delegation of Central Appalachian activists had been due to arrive at the center to talk about efforts to fight mass incarceration in the region. With their destroyed office building still smoldering, Henderson and the rest of the staff debated whether to cancel the workshop. “And then we were like, ‘That’s exactly what they want us to do, they want to stop our work,’” she said.
The workshop that day proceeded as planned. A new library, already in the works before the fire, is opening soon. “In short, we’re here,” Henderson and her co-director wrote in a recent email to supporters. And while the investigation remains open, the work at Highlander continues.
“One of the biggest victories,” Henderson said, “other than all the incredible, lifesaving work that was possible because this place continued to be walking in its mission, is that white nationalists didn’t win.”

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.

To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 62

They were both asleep in five minutes and when Claude woke up about eight, he discovered that Alex had put an arm across his chest and was snoring softly into his pillow.
He gently disengaged the arm and got up. There were various interesting things he could do that day and he showered and shaved and put on an expensive suit and a tweed overcoat. Ernie’s badge and handcuffs went into a coat pocket and after drinking a cup of freshly brewed coffee, he wrote out a note and left it propped up on the kitchen table.
He took the extra set of door and gate openers and went into the garage.
The eastern sky was turning a light pink as he drove down the county roads heading south towards Duluth. There was always the interesting thought that he might visit Ernie in the hospital and unplug him from any support systems he might be on. Somewhere in the trunk of his car was an excellent Polaroid camera and if he didn’t feel like dispatching Ernie, he might take a few pictures of him in his agony to amuse his new friend.
The next one up was Gwen and shortly before nine, she managed to drag Lars out of a heavy sleep.
It took him several minutes for him to realize that she was requiring his services to help her buy clothes and other items for Alex. He was very tired and not feeling well after his consumption of more Kulmbach beer than he was accustomed to but in the end, Gwen prevailed and a cold shower assisted him in making a partial recovery of his senses.
Chuck was also comatose and it took her more time to waken him and get him sufficiently awake to understand her.
“Jesus H. Christ woman, leave me in peace!”
“You deserve this. Lars and I are going out to buy some clothes for our friend and I don’t know when we’ll be back. It depends on how far we have to go. There’s a note from Claude on the table in the kitchen. He’s gone to Duluth, God knows what for, and he doesn’t know when he’ll be back so you guys are on your own today. And no more beer, Charlie, got me?”
Chuck could barely keep his reddened eyes opened.
‘Yes, all right, fine, perfect. Is Alex up yet?”
“No, he’s probably worse off than you are. Be sure to feed him on schedule and try to be nice today. You get so negative sometimes and it’s not good for him. I’m off now and remember what I said about being a little positive.”
Chuck merely rolled over and plunged back into soothing sleep.
Chuck finally managed to wake up at ten thirty. He had no headache but he was very tired and totally disinterested in getting out of bed. There was, however, the question of Alex and lunch so he got out of bed in slow stages, showered and shaved and put on a blue broadcloth shirt, gray cardigan and charcoal slacks. Feet stuck in a pair of soft and very expensive deerskin moccasins, he slowly descended the oak staircase and into the bowels of the house.
Alex was indeed dead to the world, which, Chuck thought, was probably better for him considering how the world had treated him in times past.
He shook the bed with his hand and was rewarded by stirring and mumblings from the inert mass under the covers.
“Wake up, kid, and greet the new day.”
The stirrings increased and a head appeared. Chuck was pleased to note that the swelling around the eye had gone down to the point where two pale blue eyes regarded him.
“Hey, Chuck! What’s going on?”
“Nothing, Alexander. Everyone has left us for the day and I was told to be nice to you and make some lunch. Gwen put your clean clothes on the chair over there so if you would like to shower and get dressed. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
“OK, give me a few minutes. Do I have to shower?”
“If you want to live in the house with the rest of us, yes, you have to shower. Those clothes look like they came off a plane accident victim and Gwen, that sweet and considerate young lady, has gone out to buy you some new ones. Take your time but fifteen minutes ought to be enough.”
“Where’s Claude?”
“Claude has gone to Duluth, reasons not given. Do you know anything about that?”
“Well….he said he was going to talk to my mother.”
“Oh fine. That conversation will be all over the news at five. Woman found cut into little pieces and fed to pet beagle.”
“He said he wasn’t going to kill her. I asked him if was going to and he said he was just going to talk to her. And we don’t have a dog. Ernie hates dogs and tries to run over them if they get in the street. I don’t think Claude is going to cut my mom up.”
“He might be telling you the truth but he could well visit Ernie and send him off to Polish heaven with a great bang. Look, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it as Teddy Kennedy once said. I’ll be in the kitchen fixing lunch so don’t spend too much time in the bathroom.”
Chuck had a cup of hot Colombian coffee and a roll while a refurbished Alex, no longer limping, ended up with a Denver omelet and a large glass of milk.
“Can’t I have some coffee?” he asked, eyeing the milk. In his house, milk was almost always a week past expiration date and tasted like it.
“No coffee for you, lad. I got my ass reamed out by Dame Gwen last night for letting you drink too much beer and it’s milk and orange juice for you from now on. And eat the omelet before it gets cold.”

Halfway through the brief meal there was a sudden clangor of bells and Chuck jumped up. It was the perimeter fence alarm system and he went to the front door and peeked out through a small window set in it.
At first he could see nothing and then, over to the right edge of his vision, he saw what looked like a fat man in a fur coat trying to climb up to the top of the fence. A second look corrected his initial impression.
The burglar was not a fat man in a fur coat but a large black bear that seemed to have his head and shoulders caught in the concertina of razor wire that topped the high fence. The alarm bells didn’t seem to bother him but Chuck was badly shaken to note that there were at least five other large bears also attempting to climb the fence.
He ran back through the kitchen, Alex staring after him, and tore up the stairs.
In Gwen’s room he found a .357 Magnum pistol and two boxes of ammunition in her bedside table and grabbing it up, ran back downstairs.
He took a quick look at the pistol, found it loaded and jerked the front door open.
The other bears, intent on reaching the top and totally oblivious of the roars of pain of their impaled and badly bleeding comrade, paid no attention to Chuck.
From where he stood on the terrace, the bears were a hundred feet away and most of them were nearing the top of the fence.
The one caught in the wire looked relatively helpless so he drew a bead on the nearest bear and shot it. The heavy pistol bucked in his hand and the roar of the shot stopped the other climbers.
The target, half of its head blasted off, toppled back onto the ground. He shot at another one, missed and then shot a third squarely through the throat. Great gouts of blood squirted out of it and it too dropped onto the ground. The others hastily scrambled down from the fence and lumbered off across the road and down into the tall pines.
That left two dead bears on the ground and a very much alive, one stuck in the razor wire and roaring in fury. Chuck walked over towards the fence and shot the remaining invader under the chin, blowing off the entire top of his head. The bear jerked several times and then hung limply, smashed head still enmeshed in the wire.
He stared at the furry corpses and then up at the dripping remains of his last trophy shot and wondered what possessed the bears to raid his house. Then he thought of LeBec and went over to look at him. By now he was walking in the snow and his feet were getting very cold. The moccasins were comfortable in the house but did not have the ability to stay dry in wet snow.
LeBec’s leg was now visible and it became obvious that the bears, who normally hibernated during the winter, must have smelled him and decided to break their annual Lenten fasting and make Chuck’s job of disposal easier by eating Collins’ pet assassin.
Chuck hastily dug the body out of the snow with his bare hands and dragged it down towards the front gate. When he was about halfway there, Alex came out through the open front door.
He saw the remains of the bears and smelt blood, powder and faint corruption.
He also saw Chuck dragging a skinny, contorted and very naked body partially wrapped in sheet plastic down to the gate.
“Hey, Chuck, can I help you?”
Chuck dropped LeBec. He supposed that when Gwen heard about this, there would be more scolding. And then there was the question of Alex himself. How was he going to explain dragging a naked man across the courtyard?
“We had an accident here, Alex. Yes, go back inside and push the button just below the speaker. It’s on the right side of the door. Hurry up, my feet are freezing.”
Alex shrugged and went back inside and a few seconds later, the gate slid open.
A contorted and yellowish LeBec was deposited beside one of the bears and Chuck punched the manual control that closed the gate.
There was no point, he thought, leaving LeBec in the snow bank. It was melting and LeBec was starting to thaw and he was not prepared to fight off hungry bears all day.
They were omnivores and perhaps they might eat LeBec or some of their former running mates. At any rate, he would have to go inside and deal with Alex.
This did not prove as difficult as he thought.
Alex was finishing off the last of his omelet when Chuck, pistol in one hand and ammunition boxes in the other, came back into the kitchen after turning off the ringing bells.
“Well, that’s a nice break in the day, don’t you think, kid?”
“Those are bears, aren’t they?” Alex asked as he drank down what proved to be delicious, untainted milk.
“Yes, most of them are bears.”
“Who’s the dead dude? Did the bears get him too?”
“Yes. The bears chased him over the fence and killed him.”
“But they were all outside the fence and he was inside. And why is he naked, Chuck?”
Chuck sighed.
“That’s because he died in Claude’s bed of a heart attack some time ago and we stuck him in snow bank to keep him fresh until we could bury him.”
“In Claude’s bed? Were they having some kind of sex?”
Chuck began to laugh with relief.
“No, that was before Claude came. That’s a nasty question, Alex. You’re a sick boy.”
“Well, my mom had a fat boyfriend and he died right there on top of her and I had to help get him off. That wasn’t very nice to look at Chuck. It was just an idea.”
“Do you want more milk?”
“Yes, please. This is sort of an interesting place to be. Do you think the bears will come back and eat him?”
“I’m hoping.”
“What if someone comes by in their car and sees him with his legs all stuck up in the air like that?”
“This is a private road and I don’t think anyone is coming by. Do you want another omelet?”
“No, but that sure was good. And I took a shower like you asked.”
His hair was still wet and no longer stuck up at odd angles. Alex looked as if someone had put a bowl over his head and cut off anything that hung down below its edges. This area was growing out but the demarcation line was still very visible.
“Good boy. Now how many of your school friends can you tell about all the adventures you have had?”
“Not very many. Who was that guy?”
“Alex, that is a very long story. I don’t think you are ready for it right now. Maybe when we all get to know each other a little better, I can tell you about LeBec.”
“There’s nobody home now.”
“Yes, right. And how are you feeling today, Alex?”
“Not as bad as yesterday. And that beer sure tasted good.”
“Keep that in your mind because we can’t do that again. Gwen doesn’t like it.”
“Is she the boss or are you?”
“Never argue with women, kid, because you will always lose. She likes you and that’s that. She likes to take care of you. It’s a mothering instinct that some women have, but obviously not your mother.”
“She told me about her brother. The one who died.”
Chuck was curious. He had never heard about a brother, living or dead so Alex related as much as he could remember of what Gwen had said.
“Oh, that’s a sad story, Alex. I never knew that. Look, let’s put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and then I can practice on the piano and you can go back to bed or go outside and poke a stick at the big bear hanging from the fence. My God, what would someone think who drove by? Three dead bears, a concentration camp inmate and where, oh where is Goldilocks? Someone ate her all up and she just loved it. No, no, just forget I said that and for shits sake, don’t repeat that to Gwen.”
“Never mind, Alex, just clean off your plate and we can all go and do something else and forget about the bears. OK?”
“Yes, sir. But this is sure an interesting place to be.”
“That’s a polite thing to say. This is not your normal household, Alexander, not at all. If you can put up with us, I suppose we can put up with you. Now, I’m going to practice on the piano and you can do what you want. When I’m done, we can go outside and move LeBec across the street and hope the bears come back and eat him. Or we can leave him where he is with his legs stuck up in the air. What do you think?”
“Does he smell bad?”
“Not yet but he’s getting there.”
“I’ll help you drag him across the road if you want.”
“Good lad. Now, let me practice in peace.”
“I think we should move him now, Chuck. What if someone comes by? I mean you can tell people you were hunting bears but what can you say about the dead guy? I don’t mind helping you if you want. Your shoes look kind of wet so you better change them, don’t you think?”
Chuck could see that there would be no trouble at all with Alexis and shaking his head, he went up to put on a pair of winter boots.
This is also an e-book, available from Amazon:

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Noreen Martin

Few denialists are crazier – or more aggressively lunatic – than the HIV denialists, those who don’t think HIV is the cause of AIDS, a notion roughly as insane and illustrative of serious delusion as the notion that bacteria and viruses are not causative agents of infectious disease (indeed, and not surprisingly, the proponents of these two ideas overlap).
Noreen Martin is an HIV denialist. She is also AIDS positive, but insists that her AIDS is not viral: “My own experience with AIDS was due to a lifetime of negative health issues. When extremely sick, I took the medicines, ate healthy, took over 50 supplements a day, and had a good attitude. So, within a few months I was as good as new.” Indeed, Martin used ARVs (antiretrovirals) to get back to health, and admits that when she stopped using them, her health deteriorated: “my fatigue slowly came back, my CD4s dipped and my viral load increased to over 3 million. Nevertheless, I never placed much stock in either of these numbers because after extensive research, I realized that neither were related to health. It was other conditions that caused the problems and the ARVs were powerful enough to keep them at bay.”
Of course, reading testimonials like this, I suspect most readers would be somewhat concerned: Martin’s state of mind is not of the sort we ought to ridicule and call out in an Encyclopedia like this. Thing is, though, that Martin is pretty vocal about her denialism, and may potentially cause real harm; she’s even gotten her bullshit published on the website Opposing Views (which is admittedly denialist friendly insofar as it is premised on the balance fallacy). In fact, her OV piece, “Other Ways to Treat Cancer Besides Chemotherapy & Radiation”, is primarily focused on cancer quackery. According to Martin, “[c]ancer is a most unnecessary disease that is not created by Nature but by man.” Martin apparently knows preciously little about cancer – and nature – but nevertheless goes on to claim that “[s]ince modern medicine does not offer much hope for incurable diseases [which, you may note, is true by the definition of “incurable”], it is time that we take back our power over disease, chart our own course, and take responsibility for our destiny.” Ah, yes – this is an important premise for any quackery: the get-out-of-jail-card premise that allow promoters of quackery to blame the victim when their advice fails and say that you just didn’t try hard enough. In any case, Martin goes on to blame cancer on – you guessed it – The Toxins. Evidence? “A century ago, 1 in 33 developed cancer. Now, 1 in 3 persons will develop cancer in one’s lifetime. What has changed to cause this significant increase? The main answer can be stated in one word, toxins, pure and simple.” Of course, the real reason for the increase is – demonstrably – that people live longer and don’t die of the diseases they did in 1900. Nor does Martin – entirely unsurprisingly – specify which toxins she is talking about.
Martin is also the proud author of two self-published books: AIDS: They Suckered Us and Get A Life – Free From Toxins and Disease. She has amply demonstrated that she has no clue about either topic, but plenty of misinformation to spread.
Diagnosis: Completely delusional and utterly crazy conspiracy theorist and quackery promoter. Avoid at all costs.

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Jennifer Margulis

Jennifer Margulis is a a journalist and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, home birth advocate, quackery promoter, author, and a radical anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and infectious disease advocate. As most critics of modern medicine, Margulis moves between legitimate concerns related to e.g. over-treatment, and batshit paranoid conspiracy theories involving how Big Medicine and Big Pharma are out to destroy you and your children for profit.
According to herself, she is “not anti-vaccine, I am pro-questions,” which is the typical refrain among those who are anti-vaccine and don’t want those beliefs questioned, and although Margulis admits that “vaccines work”, she has repeatedly peddled many of the typical and thoroughly discredited anti-vaccine talking points, suggesting that vaccines may cause autism, that vaccine schedules recommend “too many too soon”, and that vaccines are potentially harmful because they’re not “natural”, as opposed to the often deadly diseases they prevent.
Margulis is perhaps most famous as a homebirth advocate and promoter of the idea of “embracing the pain to make you stronger” because it is natural. In her book The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line (good review here; here is Margulis trying to manipulate Amazon reviews of her book), Margulis argues not only for homebirths and “parents know better than doctors” (after all, doctors were wrong before) and that bathing a newborn is harmful, but questions the need for well baby checkups – which she apparently thinks are primarily a gimmick to sell vaccines – and for giving newborns vitamin K and prophylactic eye drops. Indeed, Margulis is against chemicals in general, and tries to scare you as she has scared herself for instance by telling us hat Johnson’s Baby Wash contains “a host of unpronounceable chemicals [yes, the Food Babe gambit, no less], some of which are known toxins … and carcinogens,” which shows that Margulis has failed to grasp even the most rudimentary principles of toxicology and chemistry, or at least that she’s aware that her readers obviously haven’t. Similarly, Margulis is firmly opposed to formula, which she says is killing babies because it’s unnatural, and against disposable diapers because they contain chemicals which, according to Margulis, can cause your child to become infertile, citing – as her only evidence – a single study showing that disposable diapers, rather obviously, raise scrotal temperatures. There is another good review of the book here.
A typical move in her book is to chide doctors (lots of that) for ignoring “the existing scientific literature” on bed rest or toilet training, and then promptly assert that ultrasound exams of pregnant women may be responsible (they aren’t) for (the mythical) rising rates of autism among children, based on information by “a commentator in an online article” (who is left anonymous but has apparently “used ultrasonic cleaners to clean surgical instruments (and jewelry)”). Also, “[p]eople who do not use ultrasound, like the Amish, are at lower risk for autism,” says Margulis, which is not even wrong, since Amish women don’t reject ultrasound and the urban legend that Amish don’t get autism is demonstrably exactly that.
Indeed, her book relies primarily on i) anecdotes, and ii) appeals to nature to support her claims, as well as the (familiar) formula “anything used by mainstream doctors and hospitals = bad; anything used by midwives or alternative healers = good,” and she laments how back in the days “birthing women were usually attended by informally trained midwives who passed on their skills from generation to generation,” whereas today a birth taking place in a hospital today involves “at least half a dozen medical professionals.” Therefore giving birth was much better before. Margulis has several stories of babies or mothers dying in those horrible “sterile” and “hygienic” hospitals because of indifferent or incompetent doctors, and no stories of women dying in childbirth without the intervention of doctors; you do the math.
Of course, the mortality rates for homebirths in the US are rather frightening, something that Margulius has some trouble explaining away. Her response is … striking.
Anti-vaccine memes
As for Margulis’s inane hypothesis that there is a connection between ultrasound and autism, she later wrote to Linda Birnbaum, the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a toxicologist with a PhD in microbiology and an extensive publication list, offering to educate Birnbaum on the causes for the (mythical) rise in autism, citing her degrees in English and literature, her background as an “award-winning journalist” and her stay in Niger in 2006–07 (“I think it is important to have a global perspective on health”) as her qualifications. “My extensive research,” said Margulis, who has no background in research (she means google guided by confirmation bias), “as a journalist has led me to suspect that two environmental factors may be directly contributing to the autism epidemic:1) Over/ill-timed exposure to prenatal ultrasound … 2) The use of Acetaminophen, especially before or after infant vaccination. This may be the smoking gun …” Neither of the two hypotheses, which are not compatible, has any plausible connection to autism, the prevalence of which has not increased in any case – there isn’t even a correlation to confuse with causation here! The hubris of Jennifer Margulis is breathtaking.
“As a parent, I would rather see my child get a natural illness and contract that the way that illnesses have been contracted for at least 200,000 years that Homo sapiens has been around. I’m not afraid of my children getting chicken pox. There are reasons that children get sick. Getting sick is not a bad thing”
– Jennifer Margulis
We don’t know if that quote needs further comment, but if you think it does, try (following one “Bradley”) to replace “illness” with “bear attack” and “getting sick” with “mauled by bear”).
Though Margulis admits, as mentioned, that vaccines save lives, she still pushes the most ridiculous and demonstrably false anti-vaxx myths. Margulis insists, for instance, that “weknow vaccines cause autism in some children”, misinterprets the significance of the Hannah Poling case and misrepresents the story of the removal of thimerosal from US vaccines. It’s all a grand conspiracy, you see; the US vaccine schedule is a result of profit motives and collusion between Big Pharma and the government. Margulis also claims that the chickenpox vaccine is more dangerous than the disease (despite the fact that the death rate from chickenpox dropped 97% after the introduction of the vaccine and no deaths have been reported from the vaccine). She even asserts, without a shred of evidence, that the doctors who most vocally support the CDC’s current vaccine schedule are choosing an alternative schedule for their own children.
In 2010, during a Frontline episode , Margulis asked why we are still vaccinating for polio since polio has become more rare. This is not an intelligent question.
Lately, Margulis has – in addition to continuing to promote antivaccine myths and pseudoscience published in fake studies – been observed defending Andrew Wakefield’s newest antivaccine conspiracy film Vaxxed, and writing defenses of Bob Sears related to the disciplinary proceedings against him initiated by the Medical Board of California (Sears is currently one of the celebrity members of the antivaccine movement, and probably its most famous physician, after Wakefield). She is also a mainstain at various antivaccine events, and was for instance among the speakers – an impressive lineup of conspiracy theorists – at the antivaccine rally Revolution for Truth in 2017.
Diagnosis: Rabid, loud and – frankly – stupid infectious disease advocate, conspiracy theorist and promoter of all sorts of things that count as natural according to her standards for such matters. She seems to be relatively influential, however. Extremely dangerous.

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