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TBR News September 30, 2017

Sep 30 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., September 30, 2017: “There is an interesting, and potentially very embarrassing rumor being bruted about inside the Beltway. It concerns the fate of a huge amount of foreign gold placed in what the foreign nations who owned it believed would safety during the Cold War. The coffee house gossip has it that the gold was disposed of some time ago and is now all in China. I am waiting to get more information on this and when I do, up it will go, names and all.”



Table of Contents

  • How A Dubious CIA Document Is Fueling Tensions In Catalonia
  • Catalan referendum: Police ‘seal off’ polling stations
  • When Dissent Became Treason
  • Trump Administration Lobbying Hard for Sweeping Surveillance Law
  • The Company and its stolen art
  • Turkey’s Erdogan says Iraqi Kurdish authorities “will pay price” for vote
  • As Kurdish Borders Close, War of Words Heats Up
  • How the far-right AfD crept into Berlin’s left-wing strongholds


How A Dubious CIA Document Is Fueling Tensions In Catalonia

September 30 2017

by Zach Campbell

The Intercept

Tensions are running  high in Barcelona. Last month saw a terrorist attack on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Las Ramblas, which killed a dozen people and injured more than 100. At the same time, Barcelona and the greater region of Catalonia are a day away from an independence referendum that has pitted the Catalan and Spanish governments against each other in a way unseen since the fall of Franco’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.

The central government in Madrid is bent on preventing the Oct. 1 referendum: in the last week, Spanish military police have shut down multiple websites associated with the referendum, and raided newspaper offices, TV stations and print shops in search of the ballots and ballot-boxes to be used in the vote. The Spanish interior minister has attempted to seize control of the Catalan police. Meanwhile, two ferries docked in Barcelona’s port are housing thousands of riot police that Madrid has said it plans on using to physically stop the vote. Spanish police have arrested at least a dozen members of the Catalan autonomous regional government and others involved with the independence movement, threatening charges of “sedition“ and “rebellion.“

Last month, as the referendum fervor was heating up, leading Spanish daily newspaper El Periódico published a document alleging that the CIA had warned the Catalan police about a potential attack in Barcelona. The document stated that three months before the attack, the CIA had warned the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, of “unsubstantiated information of unknown veracity“ pointing to a summer attack in Barcelona. The document (pictured below) named Las Ramblas as a potential target.

The revelation had huge implications—if true, it would represent a case of gross negligence on the part of the Catalan police and evidence that Catalonia’s president, interior minister, and police chief had lied to the public. But El Periodico’s initial story unraveled quickly: Soon after its publication, local journalists questioned the veracity of the document. Supposedly authored by the CIA, it was plagued with spelling and formatting errors typical of Spanish speakers. Even WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tweeted that he thought it looked fake.

The publication of the document raises many questions. If it is indeed fake, was it created by El Periódico, or did the newspaper get spun a fabrication by an outside source who was intent on undermining trust in Catalonia’s authorities? Just over one month after the attacks in Barcelona and prior to Catalonia’s impending referendum, The Intercept has delved into the strange case in an effort to shine light on the murky origins of the alleged CIA report.

The story started as a blip in the live coverage of the attack on Aug. 17, 2017. Less than one hour after a large van had rammed through crowds of people on Las Ramblas, El Periódico published an entry on its live blog stating that the “CIA warned the Mossos two months ago that Barcelona, specifically [Las Ramblas], could be the location of a terrorist attack like the attack that happened today.” At the time, dead bodies were still scattered across the street’s pedestrian center.

El Periódico wasn’t the only Spanish newspaper publishing articles trying to prove that police had been warned of a potential attack. In the days following the incident, for example, El País ran a story stating that Belgian intelligence had alerted the Mossos about one of the attackers earlier this year. But the El País report was quickly debunked. Still, the Spanish and Catalan press were eager for the police negligence story.

El Periódico published the first document on Aug. 31, which it claimed was a section of a CIA report about a potential attack in Barcelona. Days earlier, Catalonia’s president and interior minister had both made public statements saying that there had been no warning from the CIA, in response to El Periódico’s post on the day of the attack.

Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Mossos, held a press conference to say the same, though he added one small detail—the Mossos did receive a warning in May about a potential attack in Barcelona, but it wasn’t from the CIA and it was sent to all levels of Spanish police. Trapero said that the Mossos, alongside the Spanish national police, military police and counterterrorism officials, had all determined the notice to be of “very low quality.” And either way, Trapero insisted, El Periódico’s document was false.

Still, the story was picked up all over Spain and internationally. Politicians and journalists accused Catalonia’s president, interior minister, and police chief of lying to the public about the alleged CIA warning. Each of the three officials were responsible for critical aspects of Catalan governance and all three supported the independence movement. With the Oct. 1 referendum looming, the accusations of negligence and misinformation were significant and damaging.

Enric Hernàndez, director of El Periódico, backpedaled in response to questions about the document’s veracity. In an interview with a Catalan radio station on the same day he published the purported CIA warning, Hernàndez stated that the document was authored by the CIA, but said that it was the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, not the CIA, that had sent the warning to the Catalan police.

Hernàndez added that the warning had also been sent to other Spanish police forces. When asked why he had singled out the Mossos for criticism, he avoided the question. And he bizarrely blamed email encryption for the typos and formatting errors that had appeared in the document.

The following day, Sept. 1, Hernàndez published another article about the alleged CIA warning, including what he called a complete version of the document. The document was similar to the original, with some of the typos corrected. The accompanying article no longer mentioned the CIA, and instead adopted a more generic term: “American intelligence.” Hernandez said the document had been sent from the National Counterterrorism Center to the Mossos and also to CITCO, Spanish counterterrorism police.

As the backlash continued, Hernàndez revised his story again. The published document, he said, wasn’t an original after all—the newspaper had created it based on the text of the original. Hernàndez maintained that his source had, just before publishing, requested that the original document not be published. So El Periódico mocked-up its own version.

Hernàndez stands by his reporting on the case. He said in an interview with The Intercept that the only error El Periódico made was to not initially state that the purported CIA document was an inauthentic version that the newspaper’s staff had recreated.

According to Hernàndez, he first heard about the alleged CIA notice from two sources in the Catalan government on two separate occasions in late May. (In interviews with other media, Hernàndez has said these two conversations took place in June.) The first source, he says, tipped him off to the existence of the warning, and the second, a day later, read him its contents. Both sources said the warning was from the CIA and had been sent to the Mossos raising alarm about a potential attack in Barcelona. Hernàndez says he was not physically shown the document in either meeting.

Journalists at El Periódico began investigating further, Hernàndez says, after the Catalan president, interior minister and police chief denied the existence of a CIA warning in the days following the attack. That’s when, he says, they obtained the alleged document. Hernàndez would not discuss whether or not he tried to verify the document with sources in the U.S.

“We had two sources,” Hernandez explains, “so either they both deceived us in the moment, and this warning was never sent and was an invention, or [the Catalan officials] deceived the public by denying the existence of the warning.”

Hernàndez’s battle seems almost personal: “If on Aug. 20, the president of the [Catalan government] hadn’t denied the existence of the warning, we wouldn’t have looked further into it,” he says. “This is a debate between truth and lies.”

The CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Press officers from the National Counterterrorism Center refused to speak about the case.

However, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the National Counterterrorism Center did state that it had no record of any communications sent in 2017 between its office, Spanish counterterrorism police, or the Mossos.

Hernandez argues that the communication was classified, and thus there would have been no record available under FOIA. But Sally Nicholson, FOIA Chief for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the agency responsible for National Counterterrorism Center records, says that in the case of her agency, that is not how it works.

“If there had been communications but they were classified, the FOIA response would have said so,” Nicholson explains. “If you have a request for something that an agency can’t admit to doing, can’t confirm or deny, you still get that answer. You’ll get ‘we can’t confirm or deny, because just by confirming or denying it would give out a classified fact.’”

“If we had an exclusion for records, we would cite the exclusion in the response,” Nicholson adds, “in this case, there are no exclusions that are being cited.”

Las Ramblas is like Barcelona’s Times Square—one of the city’s central streets and tourist destinations. As much now as before the attack, the street’s pedestrian walkway, which leads from the city’s central square to the Mediterranean sea, is constantly packed with tourists, street vendors, restaurants and the occasional artist. Even before the attack, police flanked either side of the entrance, sporting submachine guns and military-style police vans.

After the attack, police quickly found plans for what would have been a larger, more deadly atrocity: the detonation of a rental truck full of gas canisters next to the Sagrada Familia, another one of Barcelona’s famous landmarks. That plan was foiled when the person modifying the gas canisters set them off prematurely in a house about 120 miles south of Barcelona.

For people on both sides of the Catalan independence movement, the Barcelona attack came to represent a grave example of the other sides’ failings, explains Josep Àngel Guimerà, a journalism professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Separatist press argued that there was a lack of communication between Spanish and Catalan counterterrorism police, says Guimerà. For unionists—with the help of El Periódico’s reporting—the attack came to represent the failings of the Catalan police and three top figures in the independence movement.

Guimerà notes that journalists on both sides of the movement were quick to react to the publication of the alleged CIA report. “All of the media that stand opposed to the Catalan independence movement believed Enric [Hernàndez, the director of El Periódico]. And all of those that support the movement doubted him,” says Guimerà. “There was an almost-automatic response on behalf of the media to believe the warning or not.”

Another issue is that Spanish media don’t typically fact-check their articles or investigations, says María Ramírez, a journalist with two decades of experience working for Spanish media. Ramírez is quick to add that individual journalists do often scrutinize and fact-check their own work, but it’s not a common practice.

“There is no newspaper in Spain that has processes of fact-checking like in the U.S.,“ Ramírez, now a journalism fellow at Harvard, explains. “Typically [Spanish journalists], when a source passes them a document, will publish it and that’s it. It would be much more valuable to find another source and build a narrative to explain.”

“If you just publish without checking,” she adds, “you’re not doing your job for readers.”

Beyond that lies another question: If the document is indeed false, who created it?

Journalist Carlos Enrique Bayo, head of investigations at Madrid-based news organization Público, has been working on cases like these for a year and a half. In 2016, he and a colleague, Patricia López, obtained explosive recordings of conversations that took place inside the office of Spain’s then-Minister of Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz.

The publication of the conversations—in which Fernández Díaz and the former head of the Catalan anti-fraud office can be heard discussing a secret political police force—triggered a major investigation in the Spanish Congress. Congressional investigators verified that Fernández Díaz had, during his tenure as Spain’s interior minister, created a covert police unit tasked with obstructing corruption investigations into the conservative People’s Party, which has been in government in Spain since 2011. According to the congressional probe, the political police also worked to investigate Fernández Díaz’s opponents, among them people involved with the rising leftist-populist movement in Spain and the independence movement in Catalonia.

In both cases, congressional investigators found that Spanish police had leaked falsified documents to the press in order to discredit the then-Interior Minister’s adversaries. Bayo notes that one of those police, José Luis Olivera, now leads CITCO, the counterterrorism agency that supposedly received the purported U.S. intelligence document published by El Periódico. (CITCO did not respond to requests for comment.)

Is this a smoking gun? Bayo says no, it is not. But, he adds, it is strange that “right now, a document would appear, written in terrible English, that they say was sent by U.S. intelligence directly to the Mossos, when evidently intelligence agencies typically speak among each other.”

Josep Àngel Guimerà, the journalism professor, agrees. While it is impossible to be certain about what happened, he says he blames a politically-minded leak and journalists who don’t fact check.

“I’m sure there is a report somewhere that says generally that Las Ramblas is a target,” Guimerà remarks. But, he adds: “Out of one grain of sand, there are people here that have tried to build a mountain.”



Catalan referendum: Police ‘seal off’ polling stations

September 30, 2017

BBC News

Police have sealed off 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia designated as polling stations for the region’s banned independence referendum, Spain’s central government says.

The move came as the Spanish authorities stepped up their attempts to stop Sunday’s referendum.

Police have now occupied the regional government’s telecommunications centre.

The planned ballot has been declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

The authorities in Madrid have sent thousands of police to the region to stop it taking place. They are being assisted by the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

They have been ordered to clear schools occupied by activists aiming to ensure the buildings can be used for voting.

Many of those inside the schools are parents and their children, who remained in the buildings after the end of lessons on Friday.

What are the arguments?

Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain, has its own language and culture.

It also has a high degree of autonomy, but is not recognised as a separate nation under the Spanish constitution.

Pressure for a vote on self-determination has grown over the past five years as austerity has hit the Spanish economy and people hard.

But Spanish unionists argue Catalonia already enjoys broad autonomy within Spain, alng with other regions like the Basque Country and Galicia.

Will the vote go ahead?

“Of the 2,315 polling stations… 1,300 have been sealed off by the Mossos d’Esquadra,” said Enric Millo, the central government’s representative in Catalonia.

He added that 163 of these were being “peacefully” occupied by people who would be allowed to leave, although no-one will be allowed in.

Officers have also been seizing items such as ballot papers, while prosecutors have ordered the closure of websites linked to the vote and the arrest of officials organising the referendum.

But Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont told Reuters news agency that the referendum would go ahead.

“Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion,” he said.

Why is Madrid so opposed?

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stared down Catalan secessionists when they held a trial referendum in 2014, offering no concessions to their demand for a legal vote.

He has pledged to stop the 2017 vote, saying it goes against the constitution which refers to “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”.

Government spokesman Iñigo Mendez de Vigo accused the Catalan government of being inflexible and one-sided but it is a charge Catalan nationalists throw back at Madrid itself.

Despite the tension in the region, demonstrations by independence campaigners have been largely peaceful.

“I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist,” Mr Puigdemont has said.


When Dissent Became Treason

September 28, 2017

by Adam Hochschild


As our newspapers and TV screens overflow with choleric attacks by President Trump on the media, immigrants, and anyone who criticizes him, it makes us wonder: What would it be like if nothing restrained him from his obvious wish to silence, deport, or jail such enemies? For a chilling answer, we need only roll back the clock one hundred years, to the moment when the United States entered not just a world war, but a three-year period of unparalleled censorship, mass imprisonment, and anti-immigrant terror.

When Woodrow Wilson went before Congress on April 2, 1917, and asked it to declare war against Germany, the country, as it is today, was riven by discord. Even though millions of people from the perennially bellicose Theodore Roosevelt on down were eager for war, President Wilson was not sure he could count on the loyalty of some nine million German-Americans, or of the 4.5 million Irish-Americans who might be reluctant to fight as allies of Britain. Also, hundreds of officials elected to state and local office belonged to the Socialist Party, which strongly opposed American participation in this or any other war. And tens of thousands of Americans were “Wobblies,” members of the militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the only battle they wanted to fight was that of labor against capital.

The moment the United States entered the war in Europe, a second, less noticed war began at home. Staffed by federal agents, local police, and civilian vigilantes, it had three main targets: anyone who might be a German sympathizer, left-wing newspapers and magazines, and labor activists. The war against the last two groups would continue for a year and a half after World War I ended.

In a strikingly Trumpian fashion, President Wilson himself helped sow suspicion of anything German. He had run for reelection in 1916 on the slogan “he kept us out of war,” but he also knew American public opinion was strongly anti-German. Even before the declaration of war, he had darkly warned that “there are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags…who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life…. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out.”

Once the US entered the war immediately after Wilson’s second term began, the crushing swiftly reached a frenzy. The government started arresting and interning native-born Germans who were not naturalized US citizens—but in a highly selective way, seizing, for example, all those who were IWW members. Millions of Americans rushed to spurn anything German. Families named Schmidt quickly became Smith. German-language textbooks were tossed on bonfires. The German-born conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Karl Muck, was locked up, even though he was a citizen of Switzerland; notes he had made on a score of the St. Matthew Passion were suspected of being coded messages to Germany. Berlin, Iowa, changed its name to Lincoln, and East Germantown, Indiana, became Pershing, after the general leading American soldiers in their broad-brimmed hats to France. Hamburger was now “Salisbury steak” and German measles “Liberty measles.” The New York Herald published the names and addresses of every German or Austro-Hungarian national living in the city.

Citizens everywhere took the law into their hands. In Collinsville, Illinois, a crowd seized a coal miner, Robert Prager, who had the bad luck to be German-born. They kicked and punched him, stripped off his clothes, wrapped him in an American flag, forced him to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” marched him to a tree on the outskirts of town, and lynched him. It didn’t matter that he had tried to enlist in the US Navy but been turned down because he had a glass eye. After a jury deliberated for only forty-five minutes, eleven members of the mob were acquitted of all charges while a military band played outside the courthouse.

The next battle was an assault on the media unmatched in American history before or—so far—since. Its commander was Wilson’s postmaster general, Albert Sidney Burleson, a pompous former prosecutor and congressman. On June 16, 1917, he sent sweeping instructions to local postmasters ordering them to “keep a close watch on unsealed matters, newspapers, etc.” for anything “calculated to…cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny…or otherwise embarrass or hamper the Government in conducting the war.” What did “embarrass” mean? A subsequent Burleson edict gave a broad range of examples, from saying “that the Government is controlled by Wall Street or munition manufacturers, or any other special interests” to “attacking improperly our allies.”

One after another, Burleson went after newspapers and magazines, many of them affiliated with the Socialist Party, including the popular Appeal to Reason, which had a circulation of more than half a million. Virtually all Wobbly literature was banned from the mail. Burleson’s most famous target was Max Eastman’s vigorously antiwar The Masses, the literary journal that had published everyone from John Reed to Sherwood Anderson to Edna St. Vincent Millay to the young Walter Lippmann. While The Masses never actually reached the masses—its circulation averaged a mere 12,000—it was one of the liveliest magazines this country has ever produced. Burleson shut it down; one of the items that drew his ire was a cartoon of the Liberty Bell crumbling. “They give you ninety days for quoting the Declaration of Independence,” declared Eastman, “six months for quoting the Bible.”

With so many recent immigrants, the United States had dozens of foreign-language papers. All were now required to submit to the local postmaster English translations of all articles dealing with the government, the war, or American allies before they could be published—a ruinous expense that caused many periodicals to stop printing. Another Burleson technique was to ban a particular issue of a newspaper or magazine, and then cancel its second-class mailing permit, claiming that it was no longer publishing regularly. Before the war was over, seventy-five different publications would be either censored or completely banned.

Finally, the war gave business and government the perfect excuse to attack the labor movement. The preceding eight years had been ones of great labor strife, with hundreds of thousands of workers on strike every year; now, virtually every IWW office was raided. In Seattle, authorities turned Wobbly prisoners over to the local army commander, then claimed that because they were in military custody, habeas corpus did not apply. In Chicago, when 101 Wobblies were put through a four-month trial, a jury found all of them guilty after a discussion so brief it averaged less than thirty seconds per defendant. By the time of the Armistice, there would be nearly 6,300 warranted arrests of leftists of all varieties, but thousands more people, the total unknown, were seized without warrants.

Much repression never showed up in statistics because it was done by vigilantes. In June 1917, for example, copper miners in Bisbee, Arizona, organized by the IWW, went on strike. A few weeks later, the local sheriff formed a posse of more than two thousand mining company officials, hired gunmen, and armed local businessmen. Wearing white armbands to identify themselves and led by a car mounted with a machine gun, they broke down doors and marched nearly twelve hundred strikers and their supporters out of town. The men were held for several hours under the hot sun in a baseball park, then forced at bayonet point into a train of two dozen cattle and freight cars and hauled, with armed guards atop each car and more armed men escorting the train in automobiles, 180 miles through the desert and across the state line to New Mexico. After two days without food, they were placed in a US Army stockade. A few months later, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a mob wearing hoods seized seventeen Wobblies and whipped, tarred, and feathered them.

Even people from the highest reaches of society bayed for blood like a lynch mob. Elihu Root, a corporate lawyer and former secretary of war, secretary of state, and senator, was the prototype of the so-called wise men of the twentieth-century foreign policy establishment who moved easily back and forth between Wall Street and Washington. “There are men walking about the streets of this city tonight who ought to be taken out at sunrise tomorrow and shot,” he told an audience at New York’s Union League Club in August 1917. “There are some newspapers published in this city every day the editors of which deserve conviction and execution for treason.”

Woodrow Wilson is remembered for promoting the League of Nations to resolve conflicts abroad in an orderly fashion, but at home his Justice Department encouraged the formation of vigilante groups with names like the Knights of Liberty and the Sedition Slammers. The largest was the American Protective League (APL), with 250,000 members by the end of the war, some of them from existing business organizations, like California’s Midway Oilfields Protective Committee, whose membership joined as a group. Its ranks filled with employers who hated unions, nativists who hated immigrants, and men too old for the military who still wanted to do battle. APL members carried badges labeled “Auxiliary of the US Department of Justice,” and the Post Office gave them the franking privilege of sending mail for free.

The government offered a $50 bounty for every proven draft evader, which brought untold thousands to the hunt, from underpaid rural sheriffs to the big-city unemployed. Throughout the country, the APL carried out “slacker raids,” sometimes together with uniformed soldiers and sailors. One September 1918 raid in New York City and its vicinity netted more than 60,000 men. Only 199 actual draft dodgers were found among them, but many of the remainder were held for days while their records were checked. Wilson approvingly told the secretary of the navy that the raids would “put the fear of God” in draft dodgers.

Although brave and outspoken, Americans who opposed the war were only a minority of the population. The Wilson administration’s harsh treatment of them had considerable popular support. In early 1917 the unrestricted German submarine attacks on American ships taking cargo to the Allies and the notorious Zimmerman telegram, promising Mexico a slice of the American Southwest if it joined the war on Germany’s side, fanned outrage against Germany. The targeting of so many leftists and labor leaders who were immigrants, Jewish, or both drew on a powerful undercurrent of nativism and anti-Semitism. And millions of young men, still ignorant of trench warfare’s horrors, were eager to fight and ready to be hostile to anyone who seemed to stand in their way.

By the time the war ended the government had a new excuse for continuing the crackdown: the Russian Revolution, which was blamed for any unrest, such as a wave of large postwar strikes in 1919. These were ruthlessly suppressed. Gary, Indiana, was put under martial law, and army tanks were called out in Cleveland. When bombs went off in New York, Washington, and several other cities, they were almost certainly all set by a small group of Italian anarchists (indeed, one managed to blow himself up in the process). But “alternative facts” reigned: the director of the Bureau of Investigation, predecessor of the FBI, claimed the bombers were “connected with Russian bolshevism.”

The same year an outburst of protest by black Americans provided a pretext for vicious racist violence. Nearly four hundred thousand blacks had served in the military, then come home to a country where they were denied good jobs, schooling, and housing. As they competed with millions of returning white soldiers for scarce work, race riots broke out, and that summer more than 120 people were killed. Lynchings—a steady, terrifying feature of black life for many years—reached the highest point in more than a decade; seventy-eight African-Americans were lynched in 1919, more than one per week. But all racial tension was also blamed on the Russians. Wilson himself predicted that “the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying Bolshevism to America.”

This three-year period of repression reached a peak in late 1919 and early 1920 with the “Palmer Raids,” under the direction of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, helped at every step by a rising young Justice Department official named John Edgar Hoover. On a single day of the raids, for example—January 2, 1920—some five thousand people were arrested; one scholar calls it “the largest single-day police roundup in American history.” The raiders were notoriously rough, beating people and throwing them down staircases. After one raid, a New York World reporter found smashed doors, overturned furniture, wrecked typewriters, and bloodstains on the floor. Eight hundred people were seized in Boston, and some of them marched through the city’s streets in chains on their way to a temporary prison on an island in the harbor. Another eight hundred were held for six days in a windowless corridor in a federal building in Detroit, with no bedding and the use of just one toilet and sink.

Palmer was startlingly open about the fact that his raids were driven by ideology. After attacking “the fanatical doctrinaires of communism in Russia,” he vowed “to keep up an unflinching, persistent, aggressive warfare against any movement, no matter how cloaked or dissembled, having for its purpose either the promulgation of these ideas or the excitation of sympathy for those who spread them.” Campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, he hysterically predicted a widespread Bolshevik uprising on May Day, 1920, scaring authorities in Chicago into putting 360 radicals into preventive detention for the day. When the day passed and absolutely nothing happened, it became clear that the United States never had been on the verge of revolution; membership in the country’s two feuding communist parties was, after all, minuscule.

Citizens—in particular a committee of a dozen prominent lawyers, law professors, and law school deans—were emboldened to speak out against the repression, and the worst of it came to an end. But it had accomplished its purpose. The IWW was crushed, the Socialist Party reduced to a shadow of its former self, and unions forced into sharp retreat; even the determinedly moderate work-within-the-system American Federation of Labor would lose more than a million members between 1920 and 1923.

Because this sorry period of our history is too often forgotten, it’s good to see it recalled this year by several writers and filmmakers marking the centenary of America’s entry into World War I. Library of Congress staff member Margaret E. Wagner’s America and the Great War breaks no new ground but makes clear that the story of this country and that war is not only about the Lusitania and doughboys in France. She covers the war at home as well, both in the text and in photos and artwork drawn from the library’s vast collections. The illustrations, for instance, include a vigilante leaflet, dissidents like John Reed and Eugene V. Debs (imprisoned for more than two years for speaking against the war), a lynch mob, and a haunting charcoal drawing by the artist Maurice Becker, a cartoonist for The Masses, showing how he and his fellow conscientious objectors were treated in military prisons: shackled to cell bars so they would be forced to stand on tiptoe nine hours a day.

Such people and events are also evoked in The Great War, some six hours of exceptionally well-crafted film from PBS’s American Experience, which portrays a very different America from the can-do-no-wrong country of traditional war documentaries. Most of the footage is about the fighting in Europe and all that led to it, but the filmmakers do not stint in looking at the ruthless stifling of dissent at home. We learn about the division of opinion in the country, the harsh treatment of returning black veterans by the government and lynch mobs alike, and vigilantes like the American Protective League, several of whose wild-eyed reports on supposed spies and subversives are shown onscreen. The war “had great costs,” says Nancy K. Bristow, one of many historians interviewed, near the close of the film. “Not only in loss of life. That war was won, but it was won by way of behaviors, policies, and laws that contradicted the very values for which the country was fighting.”

Several other historians talk about the figure who presided over so much of what happened in those years, Woodrow Wilson. Their collective portrait is of a complex man who in the end was blinded by his own sense of righteousness. Any person or group who stood in his way was to be swept aside, jailed, or deported. He was convinced that he knew what was best, and not just for his own country. As Michael Kazin, one of the historians interviewed, puts it, “He wanted to be president of the world.”

Kazin himself is the author of a much-needed book for this anniversary season, War Against War, which he begins by putting his cards on the table: “I wish the United States had stayed out of the Great War. Imperial Germany posed no threat to the American homeland…and the consequences of its defeat made the world a more dangerous place.” He goes on to paint a full and nuanced picture of the surprisingly diverse array of Americans who opposed the war. Fifty representatives and six senators voted against it; one of the latter, Robert La Follette, then began receiving nooses in his office mail. More resistance came from Socialists, anarchists, and other radicals; Emma Goldman, jailed for two years for organizing against the draft, was one of 249 foreign-born troublemakers placed under heavy guard on a decrepit former troopship in 1919 and deported to Russia. She reportedly thumbed her nose at Hoover, who was seeing off the ship from a tugboat in New York Harbor.

Remarkably, Kazin points out, the South had the highest percentage of noncooperators of any part of the country. (This seems to have had more to do with the rural/urban divide than with beliefs; many young southern men had a farm to maintain or a family to support and may have simply trusted the local sheriff not to turn them in.) Perhaps the biggest surprise in Kazin’s book is the sheer number of resisters. If you add together men who failed to register for the draft, didn’t show up when called, or deserted after being drafted, the total is well over three million. “A higher percentage of American men successfully resisted conscription during World War I than during the Vietnam War.” Several bold men and women, among them Norman Thomas, A. Philip Randolph, and Jeannette Rankin, lived long enough to speak out against both wars.

Once the Russian Revolution happened, much of the repression was carried out in the name of anticommunism. Nick Fischer’s history of the anticommunist frenzy in these years, Spider Web, is unfortunately written with little grace. For instance, he repeatedly studs a lengthy paragraph with half a dozen or more descriptive phrases in quotation marks, but then forces the reader to turn to the endnotes at the back of the book to find out just who is being quoted. However, his perspective is refreshingly original.

Anticommunism in this country, he points out, never had much to do with the Soviet Union. For one thing, it had already been sparked by the Paris Commune, decades before the Russian Revolution took place. “To-day there is not in our language…a more hateful word than Communism,” thundered a professor at the Union Theological Seminary in 1878. For another thing, after the Revolution, anticommunists knew as little as American Communists about what was actually happening in Russia. The starry-eyed Communists were convinced it was paradise. The anticommunists found they could shock people if they portrayed the country as one ruled by “commissariats of free love” where women had been nationalized along with private property and were passed out to men. Neither group had much incentive to investigate what life in that distant country was really like.

For a century or more, Fischer convincingly documents, the real enemy of American anticommunism was organized labor. Employers were the core of the anticommunist movement, but early on began building alliances. One was with the press (whose owners had their own fear of unions): as early as 1874 the New York Tribune was talking of how “Communists” had smuggled into New York jewels stolen from Paris churches by members of the Commune, to finance the purchase of arms. That same year the Times spoke of a “Communist reign of terror” wreaked by striking carpet weavers in Philadelphia. In 1887, Bradstreet’s decried as “communist” the idea of the eight-hour workday.

The anticommunist alliance was joined by private detective agencies, which earned millions by infiltrating and suppressing unions. These rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century, and by the time of the Palmer Raids the three largest agencies employed 135,000 men. Meanwhile, starting in the 1870s, the nation’s police forces began using vagrancy arrests to clear city streets of potential troublemakers (New York made more than a million in a single year). Then they developed “red squads,” whose officers’ jobs and promotions depended on finding communist conspiracies.

Another ally was the military. “Fully half of the National Guard’s activity in the latter nineteenth century,” Fischer writes, “comprised strikebreaking and industrial policing.” Many of the handsome redbrick armories in American cities were built during that period, some with help from industry, when the country had no war overseas. Chicago businessmen even purchased a grand home for one general.

By the time the US entered World War I, the Bureau of Investigation and the US Army’s Military Intelligence branch were also part of the mix, making use—and here Fischer draws on the pioneering work of historian Alfred McCoy—of surveillance and infiltration techniques developed by the army to crush the Philippine independence movement. An important gathering place for the most influential anticommunists after 1917, incidentally, was New York’s Union League Club, where Elihu Root had given his hair-raising speech about executing newspaper editors for treason.

Fischer carries the story farther into the twentieth century, giving intriguing portraits of several professional anticommunists. One, for instance, John Bond Trevor, came from an eminent family (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt attended his wedding) and got his start as director of the New York City branch of Military Intelligence in 1919. He moved on the following year to help direct a New York State investigation of subversives, which staged its own sweeping raids, and soon became active in the eugenics movement. He was a leading crafter of and lobbyist for the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply restricted arrivals from almost everywhere except northwestern Europe. His life combined, in a pattern still familiar today, hostility to dissidents at home and to immigrants from abroad.

What lessons can we draw from this time when the United States, despite its victory in the European war, truly lost its soul at home?

A modestly encouraging one is that sometimes a decent person with respect for law can throw a considerable wrench in the works. Somewhere between six and ten thousand aliens were arrested during the Palmer Raids, and Palmer and Hoover were eager to deport them. But deportations were controlled by the Immigration Bureau, which was under the Department of Labor. And there, Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post, a progressive former newspaperman with rimless glasses and a Van Dyke beard, was able to stop most of them.

A hero of this grim era, Post canceled search warrants, restored habeas corpus rights for those detained, and drastically reduced or eliminated bail for many. This earned him the hatred of Palmer and of Hoover, who assembled a 350-page file on him. Hoover also unsuccessfully orchestrated a campaign by the American Legion for his dismissal, and an attempt by Congress to impeach him. All told, Post was able to prevent some three thousand people from being deported.

A more somber insight offered by the events of 1917–1920 is that when powerful social tensions roil the country and hysteria fills the air, rights and values we take for granted can easily be eroded: the freedom to publish and speak, protection from vigilante justice, even confidence that election results will be honored. When, for instance, in 1918 and again in a special election the next year, Wisconsin voters elected a Socialist to Congress, and a fairly moderate one at that, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 330 to 6, simply refused to seat him. The same thing happened to five members of the party elected to the New York state legislature.

Furthermore, we can’t comfort ourselves by saying, about these three years of jingoist thuggery, “if only people had known.” People did know. All of these shameful events were widely reported in print, sometimes photographed, and in a few cases even caught on film. But the press generally nodded its approval. After the sheriff of Bisbee, Arizona, and his posse packed the local Wobblies off into the desert, the Los Angeles Times wrote that they “have written a lesson that the whole of America would do well to copy.” Encouragingly, much of the national press is not doing that kind of cheerleading today.

The final lesson from this dark time is that when a president has no tolerance for opposition, the greatest godsend he can have is a war. Then dissent becomes not just “fake news,” but treason. We should be wary.


Trump Administration Lobbying Hard for Sweeping Surveillance Law

September 29 2017

by Alex Emmons

The Intercept

The Trump administration is pushing hard for the reauthorization of a key 2008 surveillance law — section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA — three months before it sunsets in December.

To persuade senators to reauthorize the law in full, the Trump administration is holding classified, members-only briefings for the entire House and Senate next Wednesday, with heavy hitters in attendance: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, NSA Director Mike Rogers, and FBI Director Christopher Wray will give the briefings, according to an internal announcement of the meetings provided to The Intercept and confirmed by multiple sources on Capitol Hill.

Section 702 serves as the legal basis for two of the NSA’s largest mass surveillance programs, both revealed by Edward Snowden. One program, PRISM, allows the government to collect messaging data sent to and from foreign targets, from major internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. The other, UPSTREAM, scans internet backbone sites in the U.S. and copies communications to and from foreign targets.

Both programs ostensibly only “target” foreigners, but likely collect massive amounts of Americans’ communications as well. And despite persistent questioning from members of Congress, the Obama and Trump administrations have repeatedly refused to provide an estimate of how many domestic communications the programs collect. Civil liberties advocates have long warned liberal defenders of the program under President Obama that one day the surveillance apparatus may fall into the hands of a president with little regard for rule of law or constitutional protections.

Privacy activists have also raised concerns about how the data is shared with law enforcement, and routinely used for purposes unrelated to national security. The FBI frequently conducts “backdoor searches” on the data during ordinary criminal investigations, which allows them access to Americans’ communications without having to get a warrant.

According to a 2014 letter the Obama administration sent to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the FBI frequently queries FISA 702 data, and the number of those backdoor searches is “substantial.”  And before the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the government has compared the frequency of these searches to the frequency of making Google searches, according to documents obtained by the ACLU and reported on by The Intercept in April.

Privacy and criminal justice advocates have also expressed alarm that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and even Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have access to the data.

It is unclear whether the Senate will pass a reauthorization of Section 702 without reforms, but the prospect of a “clean reauthorization”  is likely to face serious resistance in the House. The House has twice passed legislation defunding warrantless “backdoor” searches, but both times the measures gained no traction in the Senate and were stripped out by leadership.


The Company and its stolen art

September 30, 2017

by Christian Jürs

The looting of art objects by conquering armies did not begin in 1939 but the Germans were more organized and effective than Napoleon or the Allied troops who looted the Imperial Palace in Peking, China, after they suppressed the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

It was Hitler’s aim to establish a huge museum complex in the provincial Austrian city of Linz where he had lived as a child. To this end, he set up the Sonderauftrag Linz where much of the art located by his agents in Europe was to be cataloged and eventually displayed in the projected museums. Hitler had rivals in this art collecting—Hermann Göring was the most prominent. But by and large, the Linz project garnered an enormous collection of the most valuable art in the world.

When the war ended, various Allied commissions, directed by the Americans, located most of this art and made attempts, mostly successful, to return the more prominent object to the original owners. Many items, however, managed to disappear—some before the end of the war into the hands of Germans looking for portable treasures, and after the war into the hands of its liberators for precisely the same reason. Much of the Reichsbank bullion vanished into the purses of individuals as well as agencies. Many paintings, sculptures, rare books, manuscripts and other valuables have never surfaced in public since the war ended in 1945.

After 1948, art in the hands of the U.S. Army was turned over to the CIA who were the in possession of extremely valuable art and then were obviously engaged in buying and selling it.

There is the question of a self-portrait by Raphael which belonged to the wealthy Polish Czartoryski family. It had been taken by the Germans, along with the famous Da Vinci picture titled “The Lady with the Ermine” and given to Hans Frank, the Governor of the former Polish territory. Frank brought the painting back to Germany since he had to evacuate his post as the Soviets advanced into Poland. The Raphael was taken from Frank by the Gestapo, and the Americans seized the Da Vinci and later returned it to the Poles. The Raphael painting, “Portrait of a Gentleman,” is still listed as missing. It is firmly believed that this stolen masterpiece is hanging on the wall of a CIA asset in a mansion close to Washington. D.C.

Then there is the famous Rothschild gold coin collection of over 2,000 rare gold coins taken from the Vienna branch of the Rothschild family and kept at the Hohenfurth monastery in Czechoslovakia for safe keeping. These coins were taken from the Linz collection in the last month of the war by Dr. von Hummel, Bormann’s secretary, and Dr. Rupprecht, curator of Hitler’s armor collection and an acquaintance of SS General Heinrich Müller, head of the Gestapo. The collection was transported by car to Berchtesgaden and vanished from sight.

The coins ended up in a safe at a front-“Institute” on Wilson Blvd in Washington from where they were eased out into the rare coin market.

A large number of lesser-known items looted from the Linz collection at the end of the war, as well as items stolen by the armies of the victors from France, Italy and Germany, have without a doubt, passed through the hands of major international art auction houses and galleries. These agencies publish heavily illustrated catalogs and it might be instructive to read back issues and compare the art with the files of stolen property.




Turkey’s Erdogan says Iraqi Kurdish authorities “will pay price” for vote

September 30, 2017


ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Iraqi Kurdish authorities would pay the price for an independence referendum which was widely opposed by foreign powers.

Iraq’s Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence in Monday’s referendum, defying neighboring countries which fear the vote could fuel Kurdish separatism within their own borders and lead to fresh conflict.

“They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum.

Erdogan has built strong commercial ties with Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq, which pump hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil daily through Turkey for export to world markets.

“We don’t regret what we did in the past. But since the conditions are changed and the Kurdish Regional Government, to which we provided all support, took steps against us, it would pay the price,” he said.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to impose economic sanction, effectively cutting their main access to international markets, and has held joint military exercises with Iraqi troops on the border.

However, after Erdogan said that Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if Ankara halted the cross-border flow of trucks and oil, it has said that any measures it took would not target civilians and instead focus on those who organized the referendum.

Iraq’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it plans to take control of the borders of the autonomous Kurdistan region in coordination with Iran and Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Bin Yildirim, speaking on Saturday, did not refer specifically to those plans, but said Ankara would no longer deal with Kurdish authorities in Erbil.

“From now on, our relationships with the region will be conducted with the central government, Baghdad,” he said. “As Iran, Iraq and Turkey, we work to ensure the games being played in the region will fail.”

Reporting by Dirimcan Barut; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Stephen Powell


As Kurdish Borders Close, War of Words Heats Up

September 29, 2017

by Rod Nordland and David Zucchino

New York Times

ERBIL, Iraq — The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region warned on Friday that the Kurds might be forced to retaliate if the central government persists with what his spokesman called a “very aggressive” stance toward the pro-independence referendum.

Overseas flights were canceled on Friday from the international airport in Erbil, hours before a ban by the Iraqi government took effect, while officials in Baghdad warned that land borders might also be closed. There were also reports of internal highway closures.

“We are hopeful that these are all temporary measures,” said Vahal Ali, director of communications in the office of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish region’s president. “We want this to be a peaceful transition, but if Baghdad decides not, there is a lot we can also do.”

Mr. Ali was critical of threats by Baghdad to ask Turkey to cut a vital oil pipeline, which provides most of the estimated $8 billion the Kurdish region earns annually from oil revenue, and a request from the Iraqi parliament to move troops into the oil-rich, Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk. “Baghdad’s response to the referendum was very aggressive, so we don’t know what will happen,” the spokesman said.

Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a referendum on Monday, which Mr. Ali said obliges Mr. Barzani to negotiate independence from the rest of Iraq. Baghdad has refused to enter such negotiations, and Mr. Ali said that if it maintained that attitude, Kurdistan would be forced to unilaterally declare independence.

President Barzani was obligated to conduct the referendum and now is obligated to respond to that result,” Mr. Ali said. “We’ve repeatedly said we can negotiate, but that has to be on the question of independence.”

Kurdish officials have expressed dismay at the absence of support they have found internationally, with the United States and other powers, as well as the United Nations, critical of the decision to even hold the referendum, and none expressing approval for the pro-independence result.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson bluntly expressed the American rejection of the referendum and its outcome in a statement released on Friday, saying “the vote and the results lack legitimacy.”

Hoshyar Zebari, who helped lead the referendum drive in the Kurdish region and was formerly Iraq’s foreign minister, said that criticism of the vote from the United States had “emboldened Baghdad” to take a hard-line position toward the Kurds. Baghdad’s threatened retaliation was, he said, “very damaging and provocative, and illogical and destructive.”

Mr. Ali said the Kurds were hopeful that international allies would eventually come around to the idea of Kurdish independence, and said they were heartened at some individual voices praising the referendum result. He cited, for instance, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the minority leader in the United States Senate, who on Wednesday praised the Kurdish independence vote.

Iraq’s influential Shia spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in his Friday sermon in the southern city of Karbala, was strongly critical of the Kurdish move. “Any individual steps toward division and separation and the attempt of making this thing reality will lead to internal and external reaction and bad consequences that would damage our dear Kurdish citizens in the first place and maybe lead to what is more dangerous than that, God forbid, and will give way for many regional and international sides to intervene in Iraqi affairs,” Ayatollah Sistani said.

On Friday, military officials in Baghdad confirmed that the strategic highway linking Mosul and the northern city of Dohuk, in Kurdish-held territory, was closed by the Iraqi military for several hours. In addition, protests by civilians forced the closure of the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway on Friday. Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, said that land borders would also be closed between Iraq’s Kurdish region and Turkey and Iran, but there was no confirmation if that had happened.

The Iraq border agency announced that it was sending convoys of police officers and Interior Ministry officials to guard three key land border crossings between the Kurdish region and Syria, Turkey and Iran beginning on Saturday.

Mr. Ali said that he was aware of no such move and that it would be unconstitutional.

He said that cutting off the Kurdish region’s trade with Turkey, which he said totals $17 billion a year, would hurt everyone.

He also warned of measures that the Kurdish regional government could take if Iraq’s crackdown on air travel and the borders continued, including severing internet and mobile telephone coverage, much of it based in the region, and even the supply of cement, most of which comes from the region.

“The list is very long. There’s a lot we can do, if we’re talking about that,” he said. “We could cut off communications. We can also close the Erbil International Airport to domestic flights, to Baghdad and Najaf.” That, he said, would hurt many Iraqi officials whose family members live in the Kurdish region. “The families of all their policy makers live in Erbil because it’s not safe in Baghdad anymore,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Ali also scoffed at Iraqi threats to move troops into Kirkuk, the oil-rich city claimed by both Arabs and Kurds. Kurdish forces took control of most of the city after Islamic State extremists chased the Iraqi army out in 2014.

They’re talking about sending troops?” Mr. Ali asked. “They couldn’t enter Kirkuk un

Flights after 5 p.m. on Friday were canceled by international airlines flying out of Erbil, according to travelers at the airport. The Iraqi ban took effect at 6 p.m.

Prime Minister Abadi’s office released a statement that the Kurdish region’s two international airports, in Erbil and Suleimaniya, could be reopened as soon as Kurdish officials transferred control of them to the federal government. Kurdish officials said that was not going to happen.

The Kurdish region’s minister of transport, Mawlood Bowa Morad, accused the Iraqi government of having issued orders to shoot down any airliners that defied its ban on international flights into Erbil or Suleimaniya airports. “There is a military order that if any flights are coming in, they are going to shoot them down,” Mr. Morad said, during an interview at the nearly deserted Erbil airport after the 6 p.m. deadline had passed.

Producing his smartphone, Mr. Morad displayed a scan of what he described as a document that had come from a high official in Prime Minister Abadi’s office, issuing the shoot-down order to the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad. Officials in Mr. Abadi’s office said that the document was a forgery, and that the official who supposedly had signed it was a retiree with no authority.


How the far-right AfD crept into Berlin’s left-wing strongholds

The eastern outskirts of the German capital have remained bastions of support for the left ever since the collapse of the GDR. But in the district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf, the far-right AfD made staggering gains

September 30, 2017

by Loveday Wright


A child in a pink coat cycles across a patch of grass. Surrounding her, pre-fabricated concrete apartment blocks match the pale Autumn sky.

Along one of the wide roads so characteristic of the former East, a single election poster is still left in the carpark of a local supermarket. It’s for the neo-Nazi NPD party. It calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty.

This is Marzahn-Hellersdorf. On the eastern outskirts of Berlin, it is a world away from the achingly hip and trendy districts in the center.

The Left party won the direct mandate here in Sunday’s election – and that’s the way it’s been for decades. But this is also where the Alternative for Germany (AfD) garnered the most votes in the German capital. More than one-in-five people here voted for the far-right populists, with the party boosting their share of the vote in the constituency by a huge 15 percent.

“What did we expect?” asks one man in his 40s, finishing his cigarette outside a shop. “I’ve always thought that different cultures don’t fit together. The idea that Europeans have to make compromises for the Muslims – I don’t know if I can put it like that, but I will anyway – people don’t understand that, and neither do I.”

But he also wants to make it clear he didn’t vote for the AfD: “I like some of their policies, but there are too many right-wingers in there. That’s it. If we’re not careful, it could develop into the kind of party we’ve seen before – in 1933.”

‘Tolerance has to have its limits’

In this part of the city, the Left party lost almost seven percent of its voters to the AfD.

“People do feel somehow forgotten,” an old man says as his wife tries to hurry him into the car. On top of concerns about pensions and rising rents, Germany’s decision to take in a million refugees has left many feeling the locals aren’t getting enough support.

“I think its a shame that the AfD didn’t win,” says Ronny, a young man in a black jacket and trainers. “As it says on their posters – tolerance has to have its limits. When it comes to the asylum seekers, I’ve got nothing against them. But seriously, so many, and only in Marzahn and poor areas like this?”

He slopes off across the car park. Apart from the Vietnamese man quietly selling bootleg cigarettes round the side of the shop, there don’t seem to be many migrants around. But almost 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers were housed in this district, according to figures from last year.

That’s around 6.5 percent of the asylum seekers living in Berlin. And it’s true that Marzahn-Hellersdorf is poor. A local government report from 2015 shows 23 percent of people receive welfare benefits – above Berlin’s average 19 percent.

Social struggles

For years, the Left party’s focus on social issues has ensured its success in poorer areas of the former East. But the AfD has capitalized on struggling voters in places like Marzahn-Hellersdorf – a source of frustration for local Left party politicians.

“Lots of people here live in difficult social situations, and they think the AfD has something to offer them,” says Bjoern Tielebein, who organized the Left party’s local election campaign. “We’ve tried to make it clear that that’s not the case.”

“The AfD doesn’t stand for social equality, in fact it’s the opposite,” he says outside his office in the local town hall. “My party has tried to put a clear social program at the forefront of the political discussion, but unfortunately it has been overshadowed in a discussion only about migration and asylum. For us, it’s always got to be about social justice, and people aren’t going to be better off just because there are fewer refugees here.”

But down the road at the AfD’s office, that’s not the way the party’s local candidate Jeanette Auricht sees it. She came second to the Left party’s Petra Pau, who has been voted into the Bundestag in the last five elections.

“Of couse we have to help refugees – people actually fleeing war – the AfD has always said that. But we can’t bring in a million economic migrants, that doesn’t work,” Auricht says. “For years, there hasn’t been any money for new schools, for infrastructure; libraries have closed, swimming pools can’t be refurbished. The money was never there, but suddenly now it is. That’s very difficult to explain to people on the street and I also wonder myself where all that money is coming from.”

An alternative to the establishment?

But Auricht argues it’s not just the migration issue that draws people to the AfD – and its voters aren’t only poorer people, either. “It’s only been 30 years since we became part of a free democratic country, in which we can vote freely. So party loyalty might not be as strong. And I think a lot of people have memories of the GDR when there was also an imposing partner – Moscow – and people connect that with the EU. A lot of things are decided in Brussels and not in Berlin, and for many people, that’s very unsettling.”

The AfD has also made gains where the Left has been a victim of its own success, Bjoern Tielebein admits. Some voters no longer see their party as an alternative to establishment politics. “We can’t just be a party for election day, and some people seem to think that that’s what we’re increasingly becoming,” he says. “So we’ve got a serious challenge to get back to that.”

Future worries, past fears

On the square outside the town hall, market traders are packing away for the evening. In denim dungarees and a mullet hairstyle, the market’s organizer, Mirko, looks straight out of the GDR.

“All the established parties are to blame, because no one responded to the citizens needs,” he says, in a thick East Berlin accent.  “The problems didn’t start today, or yesterday, but years ago – that’s nothing to do with the AfD. I’m still working now, but when I retire, will I be able to afford my rent? No one can answer me that – or they don’t want to.”

Many people here say they feel left behind by politics. But a lot are also wondering what the AfD is going to do beyond putting a voice to that sentiment. One pensioner, who grew up in Marzahn-Hellersdorf and experienced life under the Nazis as well as the GDR, said he was horrified by the rise of the far-right. “Most of the people who voted for the AfD are against things without being for anything,” he says. “There’s a lot of emotion there, but not much reason.”

Back at the local supermarket, people wander out clutching enough for a single dinner: a frozen Schnitzel; a chocolate pudding. Whichever way they voted, people here hope the district’s election results will force politics to pay attention.


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