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TBR News June 11, 2018

Jun 12 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. June 12, 2018: “An entertaining letter from a reader.:’ Once a week I put on a nice suit and tie and go up to a friend’s plant to interview job applicants.

Technical and security matters have been tended to by others and my job is to see if the applicant is suitable for constructive work with others.

Some of the applicants, most of whom are graduates of the University of Virginia here in Charlottesville, are educated and acceptable.

Others are pathetic losers and I dump them.

These are the Superior Millennials as a group.

They are the product of the American public school system and the end product of for-profit fake “universities” with degrees, for example, in Advanced Creative Writing, Goat Castration, Basket Weaving and other totally useless acquired talents.

The women wear layered clothing and always wear dark blue knee-length stockings and mis-matched tennis shoes.

The males wear blue jeans, purple knit sweaters and always have tattoos on their neck in Japanese kana.

But both of these sorry lumps of animated cow dung always have a plethora of electronic toys in their pockets that constantly jangle and beep during the interview.

These are from other losers attempting to let them know their kitty is much better now or that Maudie-Mae has broken up with Ronnie because he won’t stop shitting in the bed instead of in the bathroom.

One such luminary told me that they thought Egypt was located near Australia and another was certain Thomas Jefferson was a black inventor of the chicken.

Once the airheads found out that Zuckerberg’s Sucker Club, otherwise known as Facebook, was selling their personal information to anyone with a checkbook, they have been deserting its childish ranks by the tens of thousands.

Next, they will be sniffing glue to dampen down their superior intellectual talents.

This happened to a local young PhD and when they found her, dead, the next day, they had to separate her bloated face from the top of the card table.

Tarot, of course.

I instituted a program for my friend’s business: There were to be no electronic devices carried into the plant on pain of instant dismissal.

They can check their mind-numbing toys into the main office when they arrive for work and be picked up when leaving.

Some sniveling and tears but after we sacked about five of them, the rest obeyed.

If Grandma fell into a septic tank in Bad Seepage, Ohio, and drowned, and her brother Timmy wanted to tell her, there are desk phones connected to a switchboard and he can call the bereaved on on those.

I tell you, the level of education in the majority of American youth today is about on a par with that of a Bushman in Africa.

One asks God if somehow their childhood could not have been prevented.

And soon we will see twittering hordes of them walking aimlessly up and down the sidewalks, prying used chewing gum off the pavement for nourishment.’”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Netanyahu questioned by Israeli police in telecom corruption case
  • How Sanctions Feed Authoritarianism
  • EU must create a new world order to stop Donald Trump
  • Iran warns North Korea: Trump could cancel deal before getting home
  • ‘Serious violation’: China fumes as US opens new $256 million ‘de facto embassy’ in Taiwan
  • Haunted by a mugshot: how predatory websites exploit the shame of arrest
  • Say cheese: men who allegedly published thousands of mugshot photos arrested for extortion
  • “Alt-Right” and Anti-Fascists Unite Against Lawsuit Designed to Prevent Another Charlottesville

 

Netanyahu questioned by Israeli police in telecom corruption case

June 12, 2018

by Maayan Lubell

Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday over his alleged dealings with the country’s largest telecommunication company, Israel Radio said, one of three corruption cases weighing on his political future.

A vehicle carrying police officers pulled up at the entrance of the prime minister’s official residence, where a clutch of protesters called for Netanyahu to resign over the investigations.

Police declined immediate comment, but Israel Radio said Netanyahu was being questioned over allegations he awarded regulatory favors to Bezeq Telecom Israel in return for favorable coverage on a news site the company’s owner controls.

Netanyahu, who has been questioned twice before in so-called Case 4000, and Bezeq have denied wrongdoing.

In February, police recommended Netanyahu be charged with bribery in two other cases. Israel’s attorney-general is still weighing whether to indict him.

In the first investigation, known as Case 1000, he is suspected of bribery over gifts from wealthy businessmen, which police say were worth nearly $300,000.

The other, Case 2000, involves an alleged plot to win positive coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to take measures to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.

In both those cases, lawyers for Netanyahu said he has committed no crimes.

Despite the probes, the right-wing leader’s popularity has risen in the past few weeks, a reflection, commentators said, of his tough security policies, U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal he opposes, and the opening of the American Embassy in contested Jerusalem, a move Netanyahu has long ad

The surveys predicted that Netanyahu’s Likud party, which heads a coalition largely comprised of right-wing and religious factions, would add up to four seats to the 30 it already holds in the 120-member parliament if an election were held now.

Israel is due to hold its next national ballot no later than November 2019.

(This version of the story corrects case number in paragraph 4)

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff

 

How Sanctions Feed Authoritarianism

Past experience shows that economic pressure does change societies—but it mostly facilitates hardliners. Iran’s regime may be next.   

June 6, 2018

by Peter Beinart

The Atlantic

The United States has a long history of intervening overseas to solve one problem and inadvertently creating others. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration armed rebels fighting Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed government only to find that some of them later targeted the United States. During that same decade, America armed the government of El Salvador in a gruesome civil war against leftist rebels that spawned the migration that produced the now notorious gang, MS-13.

It’s worth remembering these precedents as the Trump administration prepares to reimpose sanctions on Iran as part of its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. American politicians and pundits have spent the last month debating whether those sanctions will make Iran more or less likely to build nuclear weapons. What they’re largely overlooking is what impact years of additional sanctions will have on the country Iran becomes.

The academic literature is clear: Far from promoting liberal democracy, sanctions tend to make the countries subject to them more authoritarian and repressive. In 2009, University of Memphis political scientist Dursen Peksen found that, between 1981 and 2000, sanctions contributed to a significant erosion of human rights in the countries on which they were imposed. The following year, in a study co-authored with the University of Missouri’s Cooper Drury, he found that sanctioned countries grew less democratic too.

The reason is that sanctions shift the balance of power in a society in the regime’s favor. As sanctions make resources harder to find, authoritarian regimes hoard them. They make the population more dependent on their largesse, and withhold resources from those who might threaten their rule. “Because the regime can intervene in the market to control the flow of goods and services made scarce by foreign economic pressure,” Peksen and Drury write, “the leadership will redirect wealth toward its ruling coalition and away from its opponents to minimize the cost of sanctions on its capacity to rule.”

But sanctions don’t just help despotic regimes tighten their grip. They erode the habits and capacities necessary to sustain liberal democracy over the long term. As sanctions devastate a country’s economy, its professionals often emigrate. Families under economic strain withdraw their daughters from school and marry them off at younger ages. And as sanctions restrict the legal flow of goods, people grow accustomed to the black market. In a 2005 study, Brown University’s Peter Andreas noted that sanctions often breed “a higher level of public tolerance for lawbreaking and an undermined respect for the rule of law. … Reestablishing societal acceptance of legal norms can be one of the most challenging tasks after sanctions are lifted, as old habits can be difficult to break.”

The Trump officials preparing to reimpose sanctions on Iran should know this. They should know it because America created many of these unintended consequences when it sanctioned Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Those sanctions, which began when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, virtually shut off Iraq’s legal commerce with the outside world. In response to a mounting humanitarian crisis, the United Nations in 1995 allowed Iraq to export a limited amount of oil and use the proceeds to buy imported food. But even as the Clinton administration publicly committed itself to regime change, Saddam used “oil for food” to consolidate his rule. By controlling the distribution of food, he made ordinary Iraqis—who before sanctions had bought and sold food on the open market—more dependent on his regime. Under “oil for food,” reported the journalist David Rieff, “Every Iraqi head of household had to have such a ration book, issued by the Ministry of Trade, which named every immediate family member and listed the precise quantities of foodstuffs to which the bearer was entitled. Every food agent had a computerized list from the Ministry of Trade of the people he was supposed to supply with these staples. What this meant in practice was that the regime could maintain a database on every Iraqi citizen and constantly update it, without recourse to the security services or even a network of paid informants. It was a secret policeman’s dream.”

If sanctions made it harder for Iraqis to dislodge Saddam, they also kept Iraqis from rebuilding the infrastructure America had destroyed during the Gulf War. Joy Gordon, author of Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, has detailed the interlocking ways in which international sanctions stymied reconstruction: Iraq’s “water treatment system was compromised first when the U.S. blocked equipment and chemicals for water purification; but if Iraq had somehow been able to produce or smuggle those, the water system would then have been compromised by the lack of electrical power, because electrical generators and related equipment had been bombed by the U.S., and because the replacement equipment was blocked by the United States. If Iraq had been somehow able to generate sufficient electricity, then the clean water could not have been distributed because the bombings had caused so much breakage in the water pipes, and the United States then blocked the importation of water pipes, on the grounds that they could be used for weapons of mass destruction. If Iraq had somehow been able to smuggle or manufacture water pipes, it did not have the bulldozers or cranes necessary to install them because those were blocked by the U.S. as well.”

But sanctions didn’t only devastate Iraq’s physical capital. They devastated its human capital too. According to one estimate, “more than three million professionals and intellectuals” left the country during the 1990s. And as Gordon explained to me, even many of the civil servants who stayed in Iraq stopped showing up to their jobs because their salaries had become worthless as a result of hyperinflation. The result was an “infrastructure running with far fewer people and people who had far fewer credentials and less experience.”

As the sanctions literature predicts, Iraqis turned to the black market. “The unemployment and impoverishment brought about not only malnourishment and disease, but crime and a deterioration of the social fabric,” writes Gordon. Saddam relied on Sunni tribal networks to smuggle oil and other goods across Iraq’s borders, thus increasing their power. And to avoid destitution, many Shia Iraqis turned to the charity provided by local Islamist groups. Queen Mary University political scientist Lee Jones, who studied Iraq in the 1990s for his book, Societies Under Siege, told me, “The result of dictatorship and sanctions was the destruction of secular opposition to Saddam. The only thing that survived were tribes, which became the core of al-Qaeda and ISIS, and Shia clerics that formed basis of Shia political parties.”

After toppling Saddam in 2003, the Bush administration discovered that governing and rebuilding Iraq was far harder than it had predicted. Ironically, that was partly because America’s own sanctions policies had made Iraq a less modern, less secular, less educated  society than it had been 15 years before.

Iran is not Iraq. Because it never endured a bombing campaign like the one to which Iraq was subjected during the Gulf War, its infrastructure is in better shape. But the social and political consequences of years of American and international sanctions have proved strikingly similar.

The United States first imposed sanctions on Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. But Iraq was not substantially cut off from global trade until the Obama administration and its European allies imposed sanctions between 2010 and 2012 that made it almost impossible for Iranian companies to import or export to the West or to transfer money through international banks. The economic and humanitarian costs were immediate and profound. Between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of Iranian families living in poverty almost doubled. By 2016, according to the BBC, Iranians were consuming just over half as much red meat, and just under half as much bread, as they had in 1996. Iran’s inability to import prescription drugs, and the raw materials necessary to make them, contributed, according to one 2016 study, to 6 million patients lacking “access to essential treatment.”

In Washington, it’s widely assumed that these sanctions led Iranians in 2013 to elect reformist President Hassan Rouhani, who pledged to cut a nuclear deal that would lift the burden on Iran’s economy. That’s debatable. Iranians had also voted for reformist candidates—such as Mohammed Khatami in 1997—before the sanctions began to bite.

But even as Rouhani won, Iranians warned that Western sanctions were replicating in Iran some of the toxic dynamics of 1990s-era Iraq. In 2013, hundreds of Iranian dissidents warned in a letter to President Obama that, “We are deeply concerned about the recurrence of the Iraqi experience for Iran, which would eliminate the only opportunity for peaceful and democratic change in our country. We are certain that economic sanctions will continue to weaken Iran’s civil society and strengthen the hands of extremists.”

Indeed, the Iranian government—and in particular the hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps—used the Obama-era sanctions to establish what two Iranian analysts in 2012 called “a near-economic monopoly in Iran as escalating sanctions have crushed Iran’s private sector and driven the middle class out of legitimate businesses.” As in Iraq, the sanctions spawned criminality: what two other Iranian observers have calleda “mafia-like class” that has used Iran’s “choked-off economy and its accompanying black markets” to “monopolize the economy.”

As the IRGC exploited sanctions to expand its wealth and power, Iran’s middle class—the prime driver of anti-government activism—grew weaker. Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Washington Post reporter jailed by the Tehran regime, argues that the lesson of “the last round of sanctions” against Iran is that “when people are squeezed economically, their needs and aspirations become much more about survival than about working toward change.” The Iranian-American filmmaker and writer Beheshteh Farshneshani noted in 2013 that “sanctions on Iran are only severely weakening the middle class, breaking the collective will and marginalizing democratic voices while solidifying the power of the ruling elite.” Iran’s deteriorating economy, combined with its lack of personal freedom, also provoked what CNN has called a “brain drain to the West.”

As in 1990s-era Iraq, Obama-era sanctions also contributed to making Iranian society more socially conservative. A 2012 report by the International Civil Society Action Network noted that, “Women’s rights experts recognize [a] socio-economic pattern emerging similar to those in Iraq when sanctions were imposed. In Iraq sanctions and the ensuing poverty resulted in the withdrawal of girls from education and increases in child marriage (families were forced to marry off their young daughters to reduce the number of mouths to feed). Iranian girls are at risk of similar developments.” Between 2012 and 2014, according to the Statistics Center of Iran, child marriage rose 20 percent.

Iranian dissidents overwhelmingly supported the 2015 nuclear deal in large measure because it offered the prospect of lifting sanctions and reversing some of these trends. And despite the corruption and incompetence of the Iranian regime, and the continued skittishness of many international corporations, the Iranian economy—which had shrunk in 2014 and 2015—grew in 2016 at a rate of more than 12 percent.

The Trump administration has largely quashed these hopes. Even before withdrawing from the nuclear deal, it lobbied European governments to avoid doing business with Iran and refused to grant permission to American companies wishing to do so. Now, as part of his withdrawal from the agreement, Trump plans not only to reimpose the American sanctions Obama lifted in 2015, but to demand that European companies cease doing business with Iran as well—or else lose access to the American market.

European businesses will not comply entirely, and Iran will go on trading with China and India. But it’s likely that Iran will still grow significantly more economically isolated than it has been over the past two years. In the run-up to Trump’s withdrawal announcement, the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, plunged, sparking fears of hyperinflation. This predictably has played into the hands of pro-regime conservatives, who have responded by vowing to build a “resistance economy” dominated by the state. “For the hardliners,” notes Columbia University’s Richard Nephew, who worked on Iran sanctions and negotiations for Obama, the reinstatement of sanctions “is an opportunity to restrict access to the country and by people in the country to the outside world. This concept of economic resistance is very attractive to them, as they see that openness can damage and undermine their control.”

Iran may still witness uprisings against the regime. But the weaker Iran’s middle class grows, the less organized and coherent those uprisings will become. “If sanctions do indeed trigger a domestic backlash,” Iran experts Mohammad Sadeghi Esfahlani and Jamal Abdi have predicted, “it will not come in the form of a pro-democracy movement, but instead in the form of food riots that will provide an easy target for the Iranian regime’s well-honed apparatus of repression.” It’s also likely that Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal will make Iranians more anti-American. Iranians celebrated the deal because they were desperate for an end to sanctions. Now even the most anti-government Iranians must admit that those sanctions are returning not because their leaders violated the nuclear agreement, but because America’s did.

In 2003, American leaders fantasized about a liberal, democratic, non-expansionist Iraq only to find that America’s own sanctions policies had helped destroy that dream. Now another Republican administration—led by some of the same foreign-policy officials—is spinning similar visions about Iran. The Iranians most invested in that vision warn that America’s policies are making it impossible. And the Trump administration either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

Peter Beinart is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

 

EU must create a new world order to stop Donald Trump

June 12, 2018

by Slavoj Žižek

RT

While most other western leaders fiddle and seethe, Donald Trump powers ahead as bully-in-chief. A genuine new world order is the only way to stop him.

Trump’s impulsive decisions, such as his refusal to endorse the G7 declaration agreed upon in Quebec, are not just expressions of his personal quirks. Instead, they are reactions to the end of an era in the global economic system, reactions which are sustained by an incorrect understanding of what is happening. However, Trump’s misguided vision is nonetheless based on the correct insight that the existing global system no longer works.

An economic cycle is coming to an end, a cycle which began in the early 1970s, the time when what Yanis Varoufakis calls the “Global Minotaur” was born, the monstrous engine that was running the world economy from the early 1980s to 2008. The late 1960s and the early 1970s were not just significant for the oil crisis and stagflation; Nixon’s decision to abandon the gold standard for the US dollar was the sign of a much more radical shift in the basic functioning of the capitalist system.

Indeed, by the end of the 1960’s, the US economy was no longer able to continue the recycling of its surpluses to Europe and Asia because its surpluses had mutated into deficits. As a result, in 1971, the US government responded to this decline with an audacious strategic move: instead of tackling the nation’s burgeoning deficits, it decided to do the opposite, to boost deficits.

And who would pay for them? The rest of the world!

Centre Stage

How? By means of a permanent transfer of capital that rushed ceaselessly across the two great oceans to finance America’s deficits. And these deficits thus started to operate “like a giant vacuum cleaner, absorbing other people’s surplus goods and capital.

While that ‘arrangement’ was the embodiment of the grossest imbalance imaginable at a planetary scale, nonetheless, it did give rise to something resembling global balance; an international system of rapidly accelerating asymmetrical financial and trade flows capable of providing a semblance of stability and steady growth

Powered by these deficits, the world’s leading surplus economies (e.g. Germany, Japan and, later, China) kept churning out the goods while America absorbed them. Almost 70% of the profits made globally by these countries were then transferred back to the United States, in the form of capital flows to Wall Street. And what did Wall Street do with it? It turned these capital inflows into direct investments, shares, new financial instruments, new and old forms of loans etc,” as Varoufakis noted in “Global Minotaur.”

This growing negative trade balance demonstrates that the US is the non-productive predator: in past decades, it had to suck up a 1 billion dollars daily influx from other nations to buy for its consumption and is, as such, the universal Keynesian consumer that keeps the world economy running. (So much for the anti-Keynesian economic ideology that seems to predominate today!)

This influx, which is effectively like the tithe paid to Rome in Antiquity (or the gifts sacrificed to Minotaur by Ancient Greeks), relies on a complex economic mechanism: the US is “trusted” as the safe and stable center, so that all others, from the oil producing Arab countries to Western Europe and Japan, and now even China, invest their surplus profits in the US.

Friendly Division

Since this “trust” is primarily ideological and military, not economic, the problem for the US is how to justify its imperial role – and it manages this through a permanent state of war.

For this reason, it had to invent the “War on Terror,” offering itself as the universal protector of all other “normal” (as opposed to “rogue”) states. Thus the entire globe tends to function as a universal Sparta with its three classes, now emerging as the First, Second, Third world: (1) the US as the military-political-ideological power; (2) Europe and parts of Asia and Latin America as the industrial-manufacturing region (crucial here are Germany and Japan, long the world’s leading exporters, plus, of course, now the rising China); (3) the undeveloped rest, today’s helots, those “left behind.” In other words, global capitalism brought about a new general trend to oligarchy, masked as the celebration of the diversity of cultures: equality and universalism are more and more disappearing as actual political principles.

From 2008 on, this neo-Spartan world system is breaking down. In Obama years, Paul Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave another breath of life to this system: ruthlessly exploiting the fact that the US dollar is the global currency, he financed imports by massively printing money.

However, Trump has decided to approach the problem in a different way: ignoring the delicate balance of the global system, he focused on elements which may be presented as “injustice” for the US: gigantic imports are reducing domestic jobs, etc. But what he decries as “injustice” is part of a system which profited the US: the Americans were effectively “robbing” the world by importing stuff and paying for it by debts and printing money.

Inside Outside

No wonder Trump addresses Kim Yong-un in far more friendlier terms than his big Western allies: here also, extremes meet. With the disintegration of the system that dominated world trade from 1970, the US is increasingly becoming the disruptor of world trade. In contrast to 1945, the world doesn’t need the US, it is the US which needs the world. Two outcasts are thus meeting in Singapore: the excluded outcast (Kim) and the outcast in the very fulcrum of the system.

Trump’s goal is to make trade deals with single partners who can all be blackmailed into submission, so it is of utmost importance that Europe acts as a unified economic and political force. Full of dangers as this new situation is, it opens up a unique chance for Europe: to engage itself in the formation of a new global economic system that will no longer be dominated by US dollar as the global currency.

In global economic terms, it’s war, so it’s time for radical measures. Europe should be aware that there is no return to the status quo.

Instead, a truly new world order is needed for Trump to get his comeuppance. And it is here that the response of EU members and Canada is insufficient: instead of advocating a new vision, they act as an offended party complaining that the US broke the established rules.

Thus, in the last decade or so, the EU more and more acts like the PLO ex-leader Yasser Arafat: about whom it was said that he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

As the immigrant crisis and Catalonia, among other events prove, it’s probable that Europe will again miss the chance.

 

 

Iran warns North Korea: Trump could cancel deal before getting home

June 12, 2018

by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday against trusting U.S. President Donald Trump, saying he could cancel their denuclearization agreement within hours.

Tehran cited its own experience in offering the advice to Kim a month after Washington withdrew from a similar deal with Iran.

Trump and Kim pledged at a meeting in Singapore on Tuesday to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy.

“We don’t know what type of person the North Korean leader is negotiating with. It is not clear that he would not cancel the agreement before returning home,” Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht was quoted as saying by IRNA new agency.

Nobakht questioned Trump’s credibility. “This man does not represent the American people, and they will surely distance themselves from him at the next elections,” he said.

As well as pulling the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Trump disowned on Saturday a joint communique issued by Group of Seven leaders, just hours after he had left their summit for the meeting with Kim.

Trump has said would be open to striking a new nuclear accord with Tehran. However, he says the existing deal negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama had failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile program.

On top of this, he also cited the terms under which international inspectors can visit suspect Iranian nuclear sites and “sunset” clauses, under which limits on the nuclear program start to expire after 10 years.

Trump has insisted any deal with North Korea should include irreversible and verifiable denuclearization.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman also advised North Korean leaders on Monday to “exercise complete vigilance” in their negotiations with the United States.

“We are not optimistic about these talks … The United States, especially Mr Trump, has undermined international agreements and has unilaterally withdrawn from them,” Bahram Qasemi said.

Trump has also decided to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change accord.

Washington will reimpose a wide array of Iran-related sanctions after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods, including measures aimed at the oil sector and transactions with its central bank.

Other remaining signatories of the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia- have criticized the U.S. exit and are still trying to salvage the accord.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and David Stamp

 

‘Serious violation’: China fumes as US opens new $256 million ‘de facto embassy’ in Taiwan

June 12, 2018

RT

An NGO, which has for decades been known as the de-facto embassy for the US in Taiwan, has opened up a flashy new office in Taipei. The move was condemned by Beijing as a blatant violation of its ‘One China’ policy.

The US-funded American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) unveiled its new headquarters in Taiwan’s capital on Tuesday, amid growing tension between the US and China over the fate of the disputed island. The massive $256 million complex, complete with Chinese gardens, occupies 6.5 hectares and will house nearly 500 American and local employees.

The swanky facility replaces AIT’s old stomping ground – a low-key military building that had housed the organization for decades.

In order to establish diplomatic relations with China, Washington was required to acknowledge Beijing’s One China policy, which does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. As a result, Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 but continues to act as a close ally and generous weapons supplier for the island nation. The United States opened AIT shortly after terminating formal ties with Taipei – a diplomatic workaround that has irked Beijing

The United States sending officials to Taiwan under any excuses is in serious violation of the ‘one China’ principle,” Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said during a daily news briefing. “We urge the United States to scrupulously abide by its promises to China over the Taiwan issue, correct their wrong actions, and avoid damaging China-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he added.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said the new complex reaffirmed the “vital relationship” between Washington and Taipei.

“The friendship between Taiwan and the U.S. has never been more promising. The great story of Taiwan-US relations remains to be filled with the efforts of those that will one day occupy this building,” Tsai added.

Growing ties between Taipei and Washington has been a constant point of concern for China. In late 2016, the then-president-elect Trump raised eyebrows in Beijing after holding a brief telephone conversation with Tsai, who had repeatedly called Trump to congratulate him on his presidential victory – the first direct communication between the US and Taiwanese leaders since 1979. During their 10 minute conversation, Tsai reportedly urged Trump to assist Taiwan with “more participation and contributions on international issues.”

Beijing is extremely suspicious of Tsai, believing that Taiwan’s first female president seeks formal independence for the island. Trump has previously vowed to honor Beijing’s One China policy, but Washington’s recent attempts to cozy up to Taiwan have undermined Beijing’s confidence in his pledge.

In March, Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which aims to increase travel and visits “at all levels,” including state officials and business leaders, both on the US and the Taiwanese side. The law was condemned by Beijing as a “severe” violation of the One China principle as well as an affront to joint US-China communiques.

With Trump at the helm, Washington has locked horns with Beijing on a number of key political, economic and military issues. The ongoing dispute over the South China Sea has been aggravated by Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, in retaliation for China’s alleged theft of trade secrets.

 

Haunted by a mugshot: how predatory websites exploit the shame of arrest

Sites are collecting people’s mugshots, then charging huge sums to remove them. Should Google be doing more to stop it?

June 10, 2018

by Olivia Solon in San Francisco

the Guardian

Gregory Rakoczy was asleep in his van at a Maryland campsite when six police officers knocked on his door. A fellow camper had Googled his name and found a mugshot indicating he was a felon on the run. He was not.

Rakoczy was arrested and held for 20 hours. Afterward he immediately Googled his own name and found that his picture had recently gone up on Mugshots.com for criminal charges he had faced 15 years ago.

At that time Rakoczy ran a company that installed audiovisual equipment in homes. He was charged with fraud after his firm sold dozens of clients one model of TV but installed a different one – a mistake he said was made by a distributor, but one he should have noticed.

Most of the 90 charges – one for every person sold the wrong TV – were dismissed after he replaced the TVs, and he spent five years on probation for the remaining ones.

He contacted Mugshots.com to take the picture down and they demanded $399, which he paid. But the next day he saw his picture was still on the site and he called them again.

“They told me it was $399 for every charge,” he said. He refused and the mugshot has haunted him ever since.

Rakoczy is one of a growing number of people demanding that lawmakers and search engines do more to clamp down on the predatory industry that has emerged around mugshots. It’s a complex debate that raises questions about public records in a digital age, shame culture and the responsibility of platforms like Google.

Last month the alleged owners of Mugshots.com, one of dozens of sites that publish booking photos and demand payment for their removal, were arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering and identity theft. But the site remains online, along with dozens of others like it.

“It’s really a good sign that finally they’ve been able to get charges against some of the people behind these sites,” said Paolo Cirio, an artist and activist who has dedicated the last few years to campaigning against mugshot extortion. “But it’s a small drop in the ocean.”

Since that incident in May 2012, Rakoczy, who is now an author, has been falsely detained six more times – at the beach, at dinner with his editor, at three other campsites and most recently, in November 2017, he was detained while dining with friends in Alabama. In every case, someone had Googled his name and seen the outdated and inaccurate mugshot record that appears among the top results.

“I’m an old school New Yorker, so every time I am introduced to somebody I say my own name. But then I think ‘oh crap, I’m going to get a knock on my door in 24 hours’,” said Rakoczy, who recently finished his first novel.

Eroding the presumption of innocence

At a federal level, mugshots are not considered public records; they are deemed to be an unwarranted invasion of privacy. But since the early 2000s, local law enforcement agencies in every state – with the exception of Georgia –have shared digital booking photos on their websites as a public notification service.

According to Eumi Lee, a UC Hastings law professor, this shift to the internet transformed mugshots of ordinary citizens from “public records that generally fell into ‘practical obscurity’” into “commodities posted for entertainment and commercial gain”.

Many of the government websites were designed not to be indexed by Google and kept updated. However, sites like Mugshots.com, Busted Newspaper, and Arrests.org, as well as state-level ones like Florida.arrests.org and Phoenixmugs.com, scrape these sites or submit freedom of information requests to get hold of millions of booking records.

The sites then use search engine optimisation techniques to ensure the mugshots rank highly in Google search results – even if the charges were subsequently dropped or the person was arrested due to mistaken identity or law enforcement error.

Not only do these pages humiliate their subjects, but they also damage their chance of finding a job, housing or even potential dates because mugshots create a powerful visual association between the subject and criminal activity, regardless of guilt. (The association is deemed so powerful that courts try to avoid showing mugshots to juries to avoid prejudice.)

Beyond the mugshot sites, there’s an entire ecosystem that profits from the humiliation of those arrested, including reputation management firms, mugshot removal services, media companies that publish mugshot galleries and search engines like Google.

It can be a lucrative business. The founders of Mugshots.com are accused of extorting at least 5,703 individuals in the US to rake in more than $2.4m.

“These websites have made people live in terror of their digital reputation,” said Sarah Lageson, a sociologist who studies the criminal justice system. “People opt out of society and avoid social situations that might result in Google search.”

‘My reputation is everything’

Kim (not her real name), a Canadian in her 30s who runs her own design company, is scared that prospective clients might see her mugshot, which was taken after a violent – and what she alleges was wrongful – arrest as she was leaving a gay bar in Florida in 2014.

Police officers were trying to move the crowd along, but Kim had become separated from her friend so took shelter in a doorway. She explained to a nearby police officer why she was waiting, but he insisted she move. She opened her mouth to protest and within seconds, she alleges, the police officer grabbed her wrist and spun her into the cuff position, slamming her face into the door.

“My eye was split open, my face pressed against the glass with blood streaming down my face,” she said. “All the people in the crowd started screaming ‘police brutality’.”

Kim was taken to hospital for several stitches above her left eye (the Guardian has seen photos of her injuries) before being taken to jail where she was charged with resisting arrest. The charges were dropped days later.

About a month after the incident, Kim’s lawyer called her to say her photo had been posted online. She turned to Google in a panic. Although her charges were dismissed weeks before, her battered face was staring back at her from several mugshot websites.

“It was mortifying. I’d just started my own company and my reputation is everything,” she said, adding that she feels “revictimised” every time she sees the picture.

She started to pay fees of between $200 and $450 to remove photos. Each time her photo was taken down from one site it would pop up on another. It was an expensive game of whack-a-mole.

“I spent $3,000 in total before realising it was a big scam. The second they see you are sucker enough to pay for one it’s up the next day on another,” she said.

Kim had the resources to hire lawyers and pay the take-down fees, but many aren’t.

“We know that people who are not white and people who are poor or mentally ill are disproportionately more likely to be arrested,” Lageson said. “Mugshots are simply a reflection of police discretion.”

Google’s responsibility

The Italian activist Paolo Cirio, who launched a campaign group called Right2Remove, wants Google to either de-index the mugshot websites or massively down-rank them in search results – offering Americans a similar right to those in Europe, where there is a regulation granting the “right to be forgotten”.

“Google is the gatekeeper. It would be great if they acknowledged that these websites are bad actors and demoted them,” he said.

Google has down-ranked mugshot websites in the past. In response to a 2013 New York Times article, Google tweaked its algorithm to dramatically reduce the sites’ prominence in search results. Since then, the sites appear to have worked around the changes and bubbled back to the top.

“We recognise that this is a sensitive issue,” said a Google spokeswoman. “Since 2013, we have had systems that work to decrease the visibility of mugshots for searches for people’s names, while being careful not to inadvertently suppress information that is in the public interest, such as sheriff department sites or sex offender registries.”

It’s a tricky problem because even if the mugshots websites are down-ranked, if an arrestee doesn’t have much of a digital presence their mugshot may still be the first result when someone Googles their name.

Cirio argues that Google is dragging its feet over the issue because it gets paid a small fee every time someone clicks on an ad for the reputation management companies that appear when people search for “remove mugshot” or something similar.

In light of Google’s recent decisions to ban advertising for bail bonds and high-interest payday loans, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume they could extend the ban to mugshot extortion sites. And some point to how the company has taken a strong line with other types of photo-based extortion such as revenge porn.

Google said it bans content that “seeks to exploit others”, which includes extortion and blackmail. However, searches reveal it still features many ads promising to remove mugshots for a fee, including one that imitates an official Google website.

Some members of Cirio’s group are taking matters into their own hands, using the dark arts of search engine optimisation and cyber-sleuthing to identify the people who run the sites and attempt to tarnish their reputation online.

For others, regulation is the only solution. So far, 18 states have introduced laws to ban removal fees or insist on accurate postings. However, these still place all the burden on the individual to find their mugshots online, contact the company with proof of the status of their case, and negotiate the removal of the picture.

Eumi Lee proposes a different solution: excluding mugshots from the public records, except when there is a specific law enforcement need or by court order.

“We are at such a pivotal mark in terms of criminal justice reform and also at this point of starting to fear the commercialisation of consumer and government data,” the law professor said.

“Society must recognise the greater privacy interests at stake in the digital era.”

Rakoczy remains pragmatic.

“I am not trying to hide the fact I was arrested, but I have a problem with everyone having such easy access and these sites wanting a buttload of money to take it down.”

Say cheese: men who allegedly published thousands of mugshot photos arrested for extortion

The arrests expose the murky industry behind mugshot publishing

May 18, 2018

by Arwa Mahdawi

The Guardian

Karma can be painful, as the alleged owners of a controversial website which publishes police mugshots and charges people to have them removed, have discovered.

On Wednesday, Thomas Keesee and Sahar Sarid, two of the alleged owners of Mugshots.com, were arrested in Florida, following an investigation led by the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has brought criminal charges against both men as well as the other two co-owners, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie and David Usdan.

The four defendants are accused of extracting more than $2m in mugshot-removal fees from over 5,000 people in a three-year period. Of those people, 175 have billing addresses in California, where the alleged Mugshot.com owners will face trial for extortion, money laundering and identity theft.

“This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation,” Becerra said in a press release. “Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.”

The murky world of mugshot publishing

Mugshots.com isn’t the only business to have turned a profit from people’s arrest photos; it’s part of a wider, deeply controversial, industry. There are “mugshot tabloids” like Just Busted, for example, which make money by selling papers full of booking photos of people arrested in the local area, with captions describing the crimes they are accused of committing.

Just Busted makes money from schadenfreude and, perhaps, people’s vigilante instincts. People buy the paper to leer at local “justice” being done. Meanwhile websites like Mugshots.com, which bills itself as a “Google for mugshots”, make money from reputation management: people paying to get their photos removed from a central, easily searchable database.

Many of these mugshot-related businesses style themselves as public services and an innovative form of journalism. “A picture worth a thousand words, and a mugshot worth more,” proclaims copy on the “About” section of Mugshots.com. Really, the co-owners deserve to be put in jail for their grammar alone.

Despite the mugshots industry’s high-minded proclamations, many companies dealing in monetizing booking photos have been accused of extremely low-life behaviour. They have also ruined many people’s lives.

In 2016, for example, the Guardian profiled Michael Lakey, who found himself in Just Busted with a caption saying he’d been arrested for the sexual assault of a child under 12 years old. In actuality, Lakey was the victim of a series of unfortunate errors. The police computer system hadn’t logged that he’d paid a driving fine and when he was pulled over one day in 2009, with no proof on his person that’d he’d paid the fine, he’d been arrested. Then an employee at Just Busted had accidentally put the wrong caption on Lakey’s mugshot. He became a pariah in his community and had to leave his home. Lakey eventually won five figures in a defamation suit against Just Busted, but that didn’t quite make up for his life being destroyed.

There have been numerous, largely unsuccessful, legislative attempts to crack down on the mugshot industry in the past. The Mugshot.com arrests may well be a turning point when it comes to the fortunes of a very badly behaved business.

 

“Alt-Right” and Anti-Fascists Unite Against Lawsuit Designed to Prevent Another Charlottesville

June 12, 2018

by Johnny Dwyer

The Intercept

Last August, emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump, the white supremacist movement stepped out of the shadows to take to the streets of a quiet college town in broad daylight.

Organizers had pitched the “Unite the Right” rally as a free speech gathering of white nationalists opposed to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Instead, police stood by as running clashes left racists and anti-fascist protesters bloodied and traumatized. By the end of the day, Heather Heyer lay dead on a city street, run down by a white supremacist behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger.

Now, a novel legal strategy aims to prevent a similar march from recurring this summer. A lawsuit filed last October by the city of Charlottesville targeted more than two dozen groups and individuals under an untested Virginia state law barring “paramilitary activity.” Ideologically, the defendants are a mixed bag, ranging from “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler to the constitutionalist Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia to the leftist group Redneck Revolt. They are accused of unlawful paramilitary activity, falsely assuming the role of peace officers by purportedly attempting to “keep the peace,” and being a public nuisance.

The array of defendants has a strange bedfellows quality that some find hard to stomach. Pam Starsia, the attorney for Redneck Revolt, whose members arrived in Charlottesville armed with semi-automatic rifles and sidearms to protect a park where anti-fascist protesters gathered, said she felt “furious” that the lawsuit put her client “in this position of having our legal interests aligned” with the same groups Redneck Revolt came to Charlottesville to oppose. Last week a local faith-based group, Congregate C’ville, called for Redneck Revolt to be dropped from the lawsuit.

Starsia, meanwhile, has argued that the Virginia law against paramilitary activity is fundamentally unfair. “The case seeks to impose on Redneck Revolt an unconstitutional choice,” she wrote in her motion to dismiss the suit. “Redneck Revolt members may choose to exercise either their First Amendment rights to free speech and group assembly at public protests, or their Second Amendment and state law protected right to bear arms, but they may never exercise both rights at the same time.”

The case sits at the intersection of racial violence and constitutional rights, yet the groups most closely associated with those issues have stood on the sidelines. Though the defendants have raised both First and Second Amendment claims, neither the American Civil Liberties Union nor the National Rifle Association has offered assistance or filed briefs in the case. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has championed similar actions in the past, is not involved in this one.

The one national group to take a position on the issue is Everytown for Gun Safety, which has spoken out against the presence of guns at public demonstrations. “Cities and local governments have the right to maintain public order,” Alla Lefkowitz, deputy director for litigation for Everytown, told The Intercept. “Neither the First [nor] the Second Amendment gives people the right to intimidate people.”

The city of Charlottesville agrees. It wants to move the discussion away from the Constitution to the issue of public safety. Yet the lawsuit raises a key question about the capacity for violence inherent to First and Second Amendment rights: Where do we draw a line between guaranteeing those rights and protecting the public?

The two remaining defendants who continue to fight a court order barring them from returning to the city, Jason Kessler and Redneck Revolt, highlight a bitter paradox: a white supremacist leader and a group of anti-fascists who confronted each other in Charlottesville last summer now hope to preserve the right to organize and mobilize — even if that means facing off violently in the streets all over again.

The driving force behind City of Charlottesville v. Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia is Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor. She left the Justice Department months before the violence in Charlottesville to join Georgetown Law School as a visiting professor and senior litigator for the university’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. McCord spent more than 20 years trying cases and arguing appeals in Washington, D.C.’s U.S. Attorney’s Office. She went on to main Justice, where she ran the National Security Division, supervising counterintelligence and terrorism cases, including the investigation into the Benghazi attacks. When she left the Justice Department in April of 2017, she was the acting assistant attorney general for national security. Among her responsibilities was overseeing the investigation into potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In the days after the violence in Charlottesville, McCord was a private citizen trying to make sense of the breakdown of law and order in a city she knew well. On August 15, she came across a piece in which Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and former attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, recounted a 1982 federal suit filed by the SPLC that successfully shut down a Ku Klux Klan training camp in Texas whose members had harassed local Vietnamese-American fishers. The SPLC team relied on a Texas law forbidding the operation of paramilitary groups. That case provided a template for similar successful actions in North Carolina against KKK affiliates. Virginia had a similar law, Zelikow wrote.

Charlottesville didn’t offer a perfect analogue. For one, there was a confusing diversity of groups on the ground. “Not only were there the alt-right who were out there, marching down the streets in full battle regalia with shields and helmets and banners and all kinds of primitive weapons — bats, batons, clubs,” McCord told The Intercept. “We also had seen in videos these guys who looked exactly like the National Guard, but they weren’t, who were in fatigues, combat boots, tactical vests, AR-15’s, multiple clips, helmets, with radio communications, extremely organized.”

McCord drove to Charlottesville to ask Zelikow whether a similar action could work there. Over lemonade on his porch, she realized that under Virginia’s Constitution and the state’s anti-paramilitary law, it could. The law forbids groups from training with weapons or using them in a manner that promotes “civil disorder.” It defines weapons broadly to include “any firearm, explosive or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing injury or death,” an important distinction since many of the groups arrived with crude weapons like bats.

Months later, the city of Charlottesville and a group of local business owners filed their lawsuit, drafted by McCord and her team at Georgetown. The 95-page complaint divides the defendants into two distinct categories: the “alt-right” and the militias. The first group included the white supremacist Traditionalist Worker’s Party; Vanguard America; The League of the South; and the National Socialist Movement; as well as those groups’ leaders. The second set of defendants included “constitutionalist” militias like the Pennsylvania and New York Light Foot militias and two leftist groups, the Socialist Rifle Association and Redneck Revolt. Each group in this category had carried visible assault weapons in Charlottesville, but beyond their embrace of Second Amendment rights, their political views diverged.

Since the Georgetown suit is a civil matter, the threat of imprisonment for the defendants is remote. A judge would only order someone to be imprisoned if they were held in contempt. The lawsuit, instead, seeks a judgment that finds that the defendants violated Virginia’s anti-paramilitary laws and a court order that stops the groups from returning to Charlottesville.

Twenty-one of the defendants have already settled or received a default judgment, signing agreements stipulating that they will not return to Charlottesville as armed factions. The latest settlement — signed Monday by white supremacist Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party — was preceded by three agreements filed Friday by his group, Vanguard America, and “alt-right” leader Elliott Kline. The city of Charlottesville also asked for a court order that would bar the remaining defendants from returning.

McCord says that this case could lay a foundation for future criminal cases under Virginia’s anti-paramilitary statute. “I don’t think most police and law enforcement and prosecutors really had any idea it existed before the case,” she said.

In fact, the Charlottesville Police Department sent mixed signals to the militias before the rally. In a recorded conversation obtained by a blogger via a Freedom of Information request, one detective told a self-described militia “commander” that “you’re obviously more than welcome to come [to the rally]. … Anybody is invited and they can come, and you can obviously carry a gun, just as long as you are following the law.” The officer didn’t mention the Virginia anti-paramilitary statute or suggest that showing up armed to a street protest could be a prosecutable offense.

As it turns out, all of the right-wing groups that made noise in the streets in the name of the First and Second Amendments have been unwilling to do so in a courtroom. Some white supremacist defendants struggled to find lawyers to represent them. (Because this is a civil lawsuit, the defendants do not have a right to court-appointed counsel.) Several defendants could not be located or have not responded to the suit, raising the likelihood that the court will enter a default judgment against them.

The white supremacist defendants enlisted two attorneys unafraid of representing them. A Virginia defense lawyer, Elmer Woodard, counsel for the Traditionalist Workers Party, Vanguard America, and National Socialist Movement, previously represented Richard W. Preston Jr., the Maryland KKK imperial grand wizard who pleaded no contest to discharging a firearm during the rally, and Jacob Goodwin, who was convicted for his role in the beating of DeAndre Harris, an African-American man, in a parking garage during the Charlottesville rally. (In a separate case, a jury acquitted Harris on charges of assaulting a white supremacist.)

Kolenich, who is representing “Unite the Right” organizer Kessler in this case and a separate federal lawsuit, recently told the Cincinnati Enquirer: “It’s plain that white people are the chosen people in the New Testament. It’s the job that we were given, to spread Christianity around the world. That doesn’t involve hatred of other races, not even of ethnic Jews. But it does involve opposing their un-Christian influence in society.”

Kolenich told The Intercept in an email that counterprotesters “are legally responsible for initiating the violence at Charlottesville and that the City is responsible for allowing and even encouraging it.”

“The city’s (and other plaintiffs [sic]) view seems to be that if you know your speech will result in counterprotester violence then it’s your fault for insisting on engaging in the speech,” he wrote. “This argument is garbage and legally frivolous and I look forward to defeating it.”

The most coherent challenges to the suit so far have come from the left. Starsia, the attorney representing Redneck Revolt, is a self-described “social justice advocate” with a busy private practice providing pro bono representation to local activists. Before Starsia moved to Charlottesville, she worked as an associate with the prestigious white-shoe firm Skadden Arps. Like Mary McCord, she is a graduate of Georgetown Law. For her, the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally was not the spontaneous collapse of social order. Instead it marked the preventable culmination of months of tension surrounding the proposed removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park.

“The community stood up against organized white supremacy on August 11 and August 12, while the city and, in particular, the police stood down,” she said. “This lawsuit … is just this giant smoke-and-mirrors act to make it look like the city is doing something and to distract from the fact that they haven’t told us how they’re going to keep us safe next time.”

Starsia’s client, Redneck Revolt, is one of two leftist groups named in the suit. (The other, the Socialist Rifle Association, could not be located to be served.) Redneck Revolt is a self-described “anti-racist, anti-fascist community defense formation” founded in 2016 with a mission to confront white supremacy. The group claims to have more than 45 branches in 30 states; its ethos is reflected in its post-Charlottesville rallying cry: “You don’t stand by and let people get hurt.”

While many right-wing militias exist for the purpose of defending their constitutional rights against the encroachment of the state, Redneck Revolt sees constitutional rights as a means rather than an end. The government cannot be trusted to protect the marginalized, the group says; members armed themselves in Charlottesville “as a reaction to increasing violence and threats against members of their communities,” according to a press release.

Redneck Revolt had been invited to provide security at Justice Park by Charlottesville’s Anarchist People of Color, according to Dwayne Dixon, one of Revolt’s members and an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina. The group had researched Virginia’s gun laws and determined that they could openly carry assault rifles without a permit provided their weapons were not loaded. Throughout the day, approximately seven Redneck Revolt members stood guard around the park with assault rifles strapped to their chests, muzzles pointed to the ground, ammo clips fixed to their belts. They sought to be a visual deterrent to any white supremacists seeking to enter the park.

“This wasn’t a cavalier cosplaying stunt,” said Dixon. “Charlottesville was the first time any of us had open-carried before. It’s not like this is routine behavior or anything that we really craved. … People made some really hard decisions as to whether this was a good idea and what kind of risks they were willing to bear.”

They had run a greater risk of being shot than of shooting someone, he said, but had hoped at least to “make the Nazis pause and realize that the balance of power doesn’t rest in their hands.”

The Redneck Revolt members were not immediately welcomed by the counterprotesters they had arrived to protect, however. The appearance of the group surprised the community organizer who had secured the permit for the park.

“I was freaked out because they were totally armed with AR-15’s, ammo vests, and sidearms,” said Walt Heinecke, a University of Virginia professor who held the permit for Justice Park and who had hired private security to protect counterprotesters gathered there. “I thought they were neo-fascists. But I went down, and I talked to them; it turned out that they were from the Redneck Revolt. They were cool. We talked logistics. … I didn’t want any weapons inside the park,” he said. The group abided by his wishes, agreeing to stick to the perimeter.

Dixon made clear in an interview that Redneck Revolt is not a militia and does not have uniforms, ranks, or a command structure. “We’re a horizontal, community self-defense organization, full stop.”

McCord called the decision to name Redneck Revolt in the lawsuit “painful.”

“This case was not conceived of because of Redneck Revolt, that’s for sure. They fit the description, so it was pretty hard not to include them,” she said. “A lot of people were alarmed at their carrying of assault rifles, just the way they were alarmed at the other people carrying assault rifles. It amps up the potential for violence so significantly.”

Some Charlottesville residents see a recurrent failure by outside parties to distinguish between hate groups committed to violence and the protesters challenging them. The ACLU’s decision to represent Kessler in the critical days before the march, for instance, drew widespread criticism and forced the group to defend its defense of white supremacist speech. President Donald Trump infuriated many when he said that there “were very fine people on both sides.”

Similarly, the Charlottesville lawsuit casts white supremacists and anti-fascists in the same legal terms. “I know the Constitution and the First Amendment and Second Amendment have this content-neutrality problem, but really, when you get right down to it, it’s about those racially intolerant and race-hatred groups that happen to carry weapons that are the problem,” said Heinecke.

For Starsia, the danger of the lawsuit is not only that it suggests a false equivalency between the defendants, but that it could set a harmful legal precedent for activists confronting white supremacists. “It’s not shocking that this ‘both sides behaving badly’ narrative is invoked. It’s a way of making the status quo look like a reasonable middle ground,” she said. “Anything that the state does to ostensibly target the right ultimately will come back to hit the left even harder.”

Legislative developments in response to the violence in Charlottesville have not been encouraging. Virginia’s attorney general and a state delegate introduced a “domestic terrorism” bill in the state legislature that seeks to outlaw discriminatory violence and violence committed to suppress individual rights. Like federal international terrorism laws, the proposed Virginia statute would criminalize providing material support to a domestic terror group. It would create a statewide list of terrorist groups, similar to the State Department’s list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The bill, part of an effort by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to address a 50 percent increase in hate crimes between 2016 and 2017, failed to make it out of committee.

At the same time, there has been no successful effort to tighten Virginia’s gun laws since the rally. In fact, the legislature recently repealed a law restricting firearms in houses of worship and lawmakers declined to consider a piece of legislation brought by a Charlottesville delegate to empower localities to restrict weapons at public gatherings.

Redneck Revolt hopes that a Virginia law restricting towns and cities from limiting the “purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms” will help convince a judge to dismiss the Charlottesville lawsuit. But Dixon doesn’t see guns as the solution to the anger that boiled over in Charlottesville.

“Guns are a really unfortunate appendage. And they’re a very selective tool. But they’re not going fix the goddamn problem,” he said. “They just put bodies in the ground and scare people.”

 

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