TGIF: The FBI Is Not Your Friend

TGIF: The FBI Is Not Your Friend

One of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured “Russiagate” controversy is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice. But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice. Rather, as James Bovard writes, it “has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that ‘the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.’ This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908…. The FBI has always used its ‘good guy’ image to keep a lid on its crimes.”

Bovard has made a vocation of cataloging the FBI’s many offenses against liberty and justice, for which we are forever in his debt.

Things are certainly not different today. Take the case of Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with conversations he had with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, between Trump’s election and inauguration. One need not be an admirer of Flynn — and for many reasons I certainly am not — to be disturbed by how the FBI has handled this case.

One ought to be immediately suspicious whenever someone is charged with or pleads guilty to lying to the FBI without any underlying crime being charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew C. McCarthy points out:

When a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his co-conspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.

That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like [former Trump foreign-policy “adviser” George] Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime.

When the FBI questioned Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, it already had the transcripts of those conversations — the government eavesdrops on the representatives of foreign governments, among others, and Flynn had been identified, or “unmasked,” as the ambassador’s conversation partner. The FBI could have simply told Flynn the transcripts contained evidence of a crime (assuming for the sake of argument they did) and charged him with violating the Logan Act or whatever else the FBI had in mind.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the FBI asked Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, apparently to test him. If he lied (which would mean he’s pretty stupid since he once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and must have known about the transcripts!) or had a bad memory, he could have been charged with lying to the FBI.

As investigative reporter Robert Parry explains:

What is arguably most disturbing about this case is that then-National Security Adviser Flynn was pushed into a perjury trap by Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department who concocted an unorthodox legal rationale for subjecting Flynn to an FBI interrogation four days after he took office, testing Flynn’s recollection of the conversations while the FBI agents had transcripts of the calls intercepted by the National Security Agency.

In other words, the Justice Department wasn’t seeking information about what Flynn said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – the intelligence agencies already had that information. Instead, Flynn was being quizzed on his precise recollection of the conversations and nailed for lying when his recollections deviated from the transcripts.

For Americans who worry about how the pervasive surveillance powers of the U.S. government could be put to use criminalizing otherwise constitutionally protected speech and political associations, Flynn’s prosecution represents a troubling precedent.

Why didn’t the FBI charge Flynn with an underlying crime? It might be because his conversations with Kislyak were not criminal. McCarthy writes:

A breaking report from ABC News indicates that Flynn is prepared to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians — initially to lay the groundwork for mutual efforts against ISIS in Syria. That, however, is exactly the sort of thing the incoming national-security adviser is supposed to do in a transition phase between administrations. If it were part of the basis for a “collusion” case arising out of Russia’s election meddling, then Flynn would not be pleading guilty to a process crime — he’d be pleading guilty to an espionage conspiracy.

David Stockman shows that the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller themselves indicate the Flynn-Kislyak conversations contained no evidence of criminal behavior.

Flynn spoke to Kislyak to ask that Russia not escalate tensions after President Obama imposed sanctions last December for the alleged election meddling and to ask that Russia not vote to condemn Israel, via a UN Security Council resolution, for its illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. In other words, not only were Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak unexceptional — presidential transition-team foreign-policy officials have spoken with representatives of other governments in the past — but the content of those discussions should have raised no suspicions. Would non-escalation of the sanctions controversy or a UN veto have undermined Obama’s foreign policy? I don’t see how. (True, the Obama administration abstained on the resolution, but would Obama have objected had Russia vetoed it? By the way, Russia voted for it, and the resolution passed, as it should have.)

The Flynn plea certainly does nothing to indicate “collusion” with the Russians. For one thing, the conversations were after the election. And perhaps more important, Kislyak was not looking for favors from Flynn; on the contrary, Flynn was lobbying the Russians (successfully on the sanctions — Vladimir Putin did not retaliate — and unsuccessfully on the UN resolution.) Where’s the evidence of Russian influence on the Trump team? There was foreign influence, but it was from Israel, a regular meddler in the American political process. All indications are that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Trump son-in-law and special envoy to everywhere Jared Kushner to lobby the world to defeat the UN resolution. Kushner, who has helped finance illegal Israeli settlements, then directed Flynn to call every Security Council member, not just Russia.

What about the Logan Act? The Act, enacted in 1799, around the time of the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, prohibits private citizens from unauthorized “correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Right off the bat, the Act appears to violate freedom of speech. And as Parry writes, “That law … was never intended to apply to incoming officials in the transition period between elected presidential administrations.”

Note also that only two indictments have been brought in 218 years: in 1803 and 1852. Both cases were dropped. Far more serious contacts with foreign governments have occurred. In 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon (with help from Henry Kissinger who was working in the Johnson administration) had a representative persuade the president of South Vietnam to boycott the peace talks President Lyndon Johnson had been arranging with North Vietnam. That decision most likely prolonged the Vietnam war and resulted in combat deaths that would not have occurred. Unlike the Flynn case, Nixon’s action undercut the sitting president’s policy and, more important, the interests of the American people.

I hold no brief for Flynn, whose conduct while working for Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, his dubious efforts on behalf of Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his apparent financial conflicts of interest are enough to make anyone cringe. But that cannot justify what the FBI did in this plea case.

Government law-enforcement agencies should not be allowed to administer credibility tests to Americans or others. If they have evidence of real offenses against persons and property, bring charges. Otherwise, leave us all alone.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media. 
 
The mainstream media went batshit Thursday night when it was reported that a rogue Twitter employee on his or her last day on the job shut down the Donald Trump’s personal account for 11 minutes.
The fact that the well-established though unofficial mouthpiece of the president of the United States was taken from him, albeit temporarily, gave journalists and analysts myriad options to choose from when commenting on the story.
Popular topics ranged from Twitter’s internal security — as in how this happened in the first place — to First Amendment issues pointing out that the company has blocked other accounts over content violations while letting The Donald run wild. Some takes highlighted that some were cheering the unknown employee as a hero.
Trump himself appeared to laugh the incident off and view it only as evidence that his efforts are having an effect. He posted — of course — on his restored Twitter account early Friday morning:
“My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee. I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.”
As for Twitter, the company said in a Friday tweet that it’s all over the situation:
“Update: We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again. We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it.”
The reason the story caught fire so quickly is because of the reality at its core: Donald Trump and Twitter go hand in hand. It’s his voice. It’s a way — in his mind, the case very much appears to be — for him to speak directly to the people.
And someone quite literally just tried to silence him.
Back in September, I made the observation that if Trump continued to directly involve himself in the #TakeAKnee movement — one that continues, though the media has largely stopped addressing it — then the movement could morph, and the president could find himself becoming its focal point.
Tomorrow, November 4, nationwide protests are set to begin with the stated goal of removing the so-called Trump regime from the Oval Office. Maybe. It’s hazy on whether or not these marches have already been organized and coordinated or whether those at the head are merely hoping others will join their cause.
Regardless, the scent of dissidence in the air remains. There exists a surge of individuals in this country who are growing increasingly appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency. This — again, reality — is perfectly represented by the actions of someone at Twitter who decided to go for his throat. His vocals.
Donald Trump likes to believe Twitter gives him a means to speak to the people. Well, this recent move by a “rogue” employee of that very mechanism — as well as the ongoing #TakeAKnee movement and countless other indicators — should alert the president to the fact that some of the people are beginning to talk back.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

Trump’s Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media. 

 

The mainstream media went batshit Thursday night when it was reported that a rogue Twitter employee on his or her last day on the job shut down the Donald Trump’s personal account for 11 minutes.

The fact that the well-established though unofficial mouthpiece of the president of the United States was taken from him, albeit temporarily, gave journalists and analysts myriad options to choose from when commenting on the story.

Popular topics ranged from Twitter’s internal security — as in how this happened in the first place — to First Amendment issues pointing out that the company has blocked other accounts over content violations while letting The Donald run wild. Some takes highlighted that some were cheering the unknown employee as a hero.

Trump himself appeared to laugh the incident off and view it only as evidence that his efforts are having an effect. He posted — of course — on his restored Twitter account early Friday morning:

“My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee. I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.”

As for Twitter, the company said in a Friday tweet that it’s all over the situation:

“Update: We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again. We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it.”

The reason the story caught fire so quickly is because of the reality at its core: Donald Trump and Twitter go hand in hand. It’s his voice. It’s a way — in his mind, the case very much appears to be — for him to speak directly to the people.

And someone quite literally just tried to silence him.

Back in September, I made the observation that if Trump continued to directly involve himself in the #TakeAKnee movement — one that continues, though the media has largely stopped addressing it — then the movement could morph, and the president could find himself becoming its focal point.

Tomorrow, November 4, nationwide protests are set to begin with the stated goal of removing the so-called Trump regime from the Oval Office. Maybe. It’s hazy on whether or not these marches have already been organized and coordinated or whether those at the head are merely hoping others will join their cause.

Regardless, the scent of dissidence in the air remains. There exists a surge of individuals in this country who are growing increasingly appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency. This — again, reality — is perfectly represented by the actions of someone at Twitter who decided to go for his throat. His vocals.

Donald Trump likes to believe Twitter gives him a means to speak to the people. Well, this recent move by a “rogue” employee of that very mechanism — as well as the ongoing #TakeAKnee movement and countless other indicators — should alert the president to the fact that some of the people are beginning to talk back.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

It Begins: Feds Demand Facebook Hand Over Info on Anti-Trump Users

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media. 

 

Washington, D.C. — Through a trio of search warrants, the Department of Justice (DoJ) is demanding Facebook hand over the personal information of potentially 6,000 of its users, it was revealed Thursday.

According to CNN, which obtained court documents pertaining to the case, the DoJ warrants target the accounts of three “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”

That description comes from the three users’ attorneys, CNN  reports. It all stems from arrests made in Washington, D.C. on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration back in January, following what the government claims were riots.

The warrants were served to Facebook in February, but a gag order prevented the social media giant from alerting the three users to the government’s intentions until the order was lifted in mid-September.

Once alerted, the users contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which now represents them.

“What is particularly chilling about these warrants is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,” the ACLU’s Scott Michelman told CNN.

One of the warrants is for Emmelia Talarico, who ran the disruptj20 page where much of the anti-Trump protesting was organized. The other two are for Facebook users Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour.

If Facebook complies with the DoJ’s reqest, it will mean the federal government will have access to the personal data — including private messages — of the nearly 6,000 users who simply “liked” the disruptj20 page.

In the ACLU’s motion to quash the warrants, filed with the D.C. Superior Court on Thursday, Michelman notes the type of data the government is seeking to obtain. From one of the warrants:

“All profile information; News Feed information; status updates; links to videos, photographs, or other web content; Notes; Wall postings; Comments; Friend lists, including the friends’ Facebook user ID numbers; groups and networks joined by the Account, including the Facebook group ID numbers; event postings; and pending and rejected ‘Friend’ requests.”

He sums it all up as such:

“In short, the warrants sought a complete record of anything the three users communicated or received from a third party via Facebook, everyone with whom the users associated via Facebook, and everything the users searched for on Facebook, during the specified time period.”

That time period is from November of 2016, just before the presidential election, and February 9 of this year, when the warrants were served to Facebook.

In addition to what the ACLU sees as a clear violation of their clients’ First Amendment protections, Michelman warns in the motion of the precedent that would be set:

“Additionally, the enforcement of the warrants would chill future online communications of political activists and anyone who communicates with them, as they will learn from these searches that no Facebook privacy setting can protect them from government snooping on political and personal materials far removed from any proper law enforcement interest.”

The ACLU also argues that there are no safeguards in the warrants to protect the privacy of those who ultimately had nothing to do with those “riots” back in January. They assert that the DoJ’s action violates Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

Facebook has yet to say whether it will comply with the government’s order, and the DoJ, as CNN writes, “is not commenting on these search warrants”

Why White Supremacists and Antifa Need Each Other

Why White Supremacists and Antifa Need Each Other

The celebrated left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky recently told The Washington Examiner that the Antifa is “a major gift to the Right, including the militant right”.

By Antifa, Chomsky was referring to the loose collection of left-wing activist groups that describe themselves as “anti-fascists” or more commonly, just Antifa. The decentralized movement recently gained national publicity for its role protesting against the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, which included a number of overt white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The rally tragically broke into violence and ended with the death of one protester.

On the surface, the quote from Chomsky above could seem absurd. After all, the Antifa’s whole reason for existing is precisely to counter the influence of far right groups.

But one must remember that there can be all the difference in the world between intentions and results. The War on Terror has not ended terrorism; the War on Drugs has not ended the trade in illegal drugs; and the aggressive actions of the anti-fascists are more likely to help the fascists than hinder them.

In his remarks, Chomsky was recognizing this counterintuitive result. Implicitly, he was also pointing out the strange symbiotic relationship that often prevails between groups that are fundamentally opposed to each other’s ends.

The Antifa and the white supremacists may hate each other, but they also need each other. That is because they have a mutual enemy in what may be called the “gray zone”–that great and diverse set of people that rejects the duality and believes that peaceful coexistence is possible and preferable to either violent alternative.

Naturally, both extremes share an intermediate goal of eroding the gray zone. The most effective way to accomplish this is to provoke indiscriminate overreactions that harm peaceful people. This encourages more people to radicalize, choose one of the extremes, and commit further provocations, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Opposites Align

This symbiotic relationship between opposites exists more often than we might suppose. Two recent examples illustrate the point.

The first is the Iran Nuclear Deal, which established additional safeguards and inspections on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. This deal was instrumental in reducing tensions between the US and Iran. It also temporarily brought together some strange forces to oppose it. On the US side, this included hawkish American politicians and commentators that have been consistently skeptical or hostile towards Iran. The opposition also included the conservative hardliners in Iran, the people that are the most concerned about Western intentions. Thus, the most anti-Iranian voices and the most anti-Western voices were united in their opposition to any move towards peace and cooperation.

Another example of this opposites’ symbiosis comes from the explicit strategy pursued by jihadist terrorist groups like ISIS. Indeed, ISIS used the “gray zone” term in a telling article from its official publication, Dabiq.

In the article, as recounted by Dan Sanchez, the ISIS authors celebrate the erosion of the gray zone, writing:

The grayzone is critically endangered, rather on the brink of extinction. Its endangerment began with the blessed operations of September 11th, as these operations manifested two camps before the world for mankind to choose between, a camp of Islam… and a camp of kufr — the crusader coalition.

The authors also cited Osama bin Laden, who thought President George W. Bush’s black-and-white narrative on terrorism was essentially true:

The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.

The primary purpose of indiscriminate terrorist acts is to spark an overreaction that victimizes innocent people, in this case, innocent Muslims. They can then use that overreaction as a source for future recruitment, and the cycle repeats.

Fortunately, the conflict in the US between white supremacists and Antifa has not approached the scale and lethality of the violence perpetrated by jihadist terrorists. But the violence in Charlottesville was a meaningful escalation, and the results do not bode well.

The Case of Charlottesville

The events in Charlottesville were a needless tragedy from any reasonable perspective. But for the white supremacists and the Antifa, the results are likely to be regarded as a success. Consider the following:

  • The white supremacist camp, which was able to draw no more than a few hundred people, was nevertheless able to claim national headlines for days.
  • The lead organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, Jason Kessler, went from being completely unknown to being notorious. (And given that he surrounded himself by the odious ideologies of white nationalism and neo-Nazism, he almost certainly views this as an upgrade.)
  • The Antifa similarly garnered national publicity, including sympathetic or neutral profiles in mainstream publications.
  • The Antifa also benefited from frequently lazy reporting, which treated the entire group of counterprotesters as homogeneous, thereby inflating the Antifa’s numbers significantly.
  • President Trump’s infamous comment denouncing “both sides” was widely circulated in the media, by supporters and critics alike. This had the effect of reinforcing a false dualistic narrative that benefited the white supremacists and the Antifa alike.

The day of the rally already saw several innocent people getting injured and one killed.

In the wake of the rally, the reaction is likely to harm further innocent people, if not in life-threatening ways. Already, there is a growing tendency to assume any rally related to free speech or right-leaning causes is automatically a front for white supremacy or neo-Nazi organizations. This is then used to justify action through the government or by Antifa groups to suppress those rallies, violating the rights of would-be demonstrators.

If it continues, this trend will generate its own negative reaction. Perhaps it will push people into the arms of more extreme and violent elements. Or, perhaps denied the ability to hold a public demonstration, the existing neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups will start expressing their views in more explicitly violent ways.

The point of tracing these effects through is to see that while the population at large is harmed by tragedies like Charlottesville, the extreme groups involved actually benefit. Given this, we should not be surprised to see more aggressive actions and counter-actions planned for the future.

These cycles are self-perpetuating, but they are not unstoppable.

The solution is to reject the initiation of violence in all cases, even against people who are expressing hateful or appalling ideas. Because as Chomsky put it, “When confrontation shifts to the arena of violence, it’s the toughest and most brutal who win – and we know who that is.” It’s not us.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

Charlottesville Haters: Test Case for the Internet as Public Square

In a recent column, I celebrated the phenomenon of “Social Preferencing” and the boost Charlottesville gave to an online, crowdsourced, social media version of it, @YesYoureRacist,” which makes it easy for everyone to “ostracize a Nazi.”

That column received quite a bit of pushback from readers with a darker view of the situation, pointing to the likelihood of shattered innocent lives (due to mistaken identity or intentional fraud) and predicting an era in which unpopular views are suppressed by the digital equivalent of lynch mobs.

Those readers are right: Both scenarios are indeed playing out even as I write this.

University of Arkansas professor Kyle Quinn received death threats and demands that he be fired after he was mistakenly identified as one of the “white nationalist” marchers in Charlottesville. He’s still dealing with the fallout. Presumably others are in the same boat. But mistaken identities and false accusations are not unique to social media. They’re just magnified by it. And the tools which create that magnification can also be used to correct the errors and falsehoods. This is just a matter of scale, not a new or insoluble problem.

On the other hand “guilty” individuals like Christopher Cantwell and organizations like the Daily Stormer web site are losing access to their soapboxes (and their livelihoods) as they’re dropped by web hosts (GoDaddy), payment processors (PayPal), social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter), intermediary utilities (Cloudflare) and even, in Cantwell’s case, dating sites (OKCupid).

As vociferously as I disagree with people like Cantwell and organizations like the Daily Stormer, I agree that this is a problem.

It’s not a problem with the Wakfer model of Social Preferencing, which explicitly calls for “accessible personal disclosure” of the kind being prevented by these exclusions from, effectively, the public square. But it’s a problem nonetheless.

While the actions of these large firms are not, strictly speaking, censorship (the parties involved are not owed platforms by any particular providers and are free to seek the services they need elsewhere), it’s a simple fact that they hold market positions which can at least temporarily create the same effect. They are using those positions to create that effect.

John Gilmore famously noted that “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Libertarians like me view the market in much the same way. This situation is a practical, nuts and bolts test of those views. There’s a great deal riding on the outcome.

If GoDaddy, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal et al. are in effect creating damage to the public square — and I say they are — can the Net and the market effectively route around that damage?

Usable publishing platforms (Diaspora, Steemit, Minds.com, Gab.ai, and so on) and processors (Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) are already in place and there’s nothing to stop others from launching.

Will the big players pay a preferencing price (to the benefit of those other platforms) for their attempts to decide for us  what and whom we may view and hear? Here’s hoping they do.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

Practical Reasons to Support the Right to Free Speech

In the wake of tragedies like what happened in Charlottesville, one common impulse to demand new limitations on free speech. This reaction is predictable, understandable, and mistaken.

The case for limiting free speech is straightforward enough. The Charlottesville violence broke out at the scene of a political rally in defense of a Confederate general’s statue and it included a line-up of speakers that promote fascism and white supremacist views. These views are not part of legitimate political discourse and if they were suppressed, these abhorrent ideas would remain appropriately marginalized and perhaps violence of the sort we saw this weekend could be avoided.

There are variations on the theme, but this is the general spirit of it.

The problem is that the case quickly breaks down on further analysis. And even if you don’t think free speech should be defended as a matter of principle, there are compelling practical reasons to do so.

Two articles help make the pragmatic case for protecting free speech.

First, over at Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward adeptly summarizes one of the more obvious logical problems with the argument for restrictions in the era of President Trump (emphasis in original):

But if fascists are to lose their free speech rights, someone must take them. And if you believe, as many of the counter-protesters do, that the white nationalists and their brethren were emboldened by the presence of a man in the White House who sees them as part of his coalition, then why on God’s good green earth would you want to turn around and hand that very man the right to censor anyone whom he labels fascists? Because I can tell you right now, the list of folks that Trump and the restive-but-still-Republican Congress would like to silence sure won’t look like the list those sign-wavers have in mind.

Then, check out David Meyer-Lindenberg’s harsh but delightful take on the German experience with free speech restrictions, which includes an array of absurd and foreseeable outcomes. His conclusion? When it comes to hate speech, Never Go Full Europe.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

A local cop wants to fight a man who banned police from his gym

This article originally appeared at Anti-Media. 

 

Atlanta — A story about an Atlanta gym owner, Jim Chambers, who refuses to serve police officers and members of the military is having a ripple effect in the community. Now, local media is reporting that a cop has challenged Chambers to a boxing match at an upcoming event.

It all began when a military veteran saw a sign posted outside Chambers’ EAV Barbell Gym that read:

“Rules: Do whatever the fuck you want, correctly, except crossfit cultism — no fucking cops.”

The veteran was offended and sent a photo of the sign to Atlanta’s 11Alive News, who proceeded to publish a story with the following opening:

“A shocking and vulgar sign about police officers has been posted in front of a local business in Atlanta. The sign could be seen from the street with the curse word blurred out, but the message is clear: It says no cops allowed.”

In speaking to 11Alive News for the story, Chambers not only defended his policy, but also expanded it.

“We’ve had an explicitly stated ‘No Cop’ policy since we opened, and we also don’t open membership to active members of the military,” he said.

Chambers has since taken the sign down, but as he told 11Alive News, the move was about shielding members of his gym from criticism and not about any faltering of his stance:

“I didn’t want the other folks there to take the heat that I’m willing to take.”

Chambers, a lifelong political activist, explained that most of the people who work out at his gym are minorities who feel uncomfortable around law enforcement. He says his gym, which also doubles as a meeting place for other local activists, simply isn’t an appropriate place for cops to come and burn off energy:

“We wanted one space that was just a little different. It’s not an aggressive, hetero-jock space that’s dominated by cops and soldiers. It’s a place where you’re safe from that.

“And we don’t want to make police stronger so that they can hurt people more efficiently. It’s not a personal thing, but if you put that uniform on, and quite honestly I view that as an occupying enemy army.”

To be clear, the atmosphere at EAV Barbell Gym is described on its website for anyone to view beforehand:

“We require no one to agree with any set of politics, but if you are hostile to the fringe, you ought to look elsewhere. We wanted to create a gym that wouldn’t be prohibitive due to cost, or overly aggressive, exclusionary jock culture. We want elite athletes and total newbs, anyone looking to pick up a bar. Meatheads welcome, too, so long as tolerance abounds.”

Unsurprisingly, Chambers’ story evoked a strong reaction in the community, and by Thursday, 11Alive News was reporting that a local cop was challenging the gym owner to a fight.

“He seems like he might enjoy getting the opportunity to punch a cop in the face and I’d be happy to oblige him and give him that opportunity,” seven-year police veteran Tommy Lefever told the news outlet.

Lefever explained that the idea is about gaining Chambers’ respect:

“I found, you sweat, you bleed with somebody, you exchange punches with somebody in a sport like boxing, it’s hard not to respect the guy for getting in there with you afterwards.”

Continuing, the officer says that first step could begin a path toward changing Chambers’ mind:

“Gaining mutual respect for one another in the boxing ring might be the start of something that can help overcome differences in world view, ideology, what have you.”

When told of Lefever’s challenge by 11Alive News, Chambers laughed and wanted to know if it would be fair fight before he accepted.

In a statement, the Atlanta Police Department didn’t comment on the “no cops” policy but said it wouldn’t prevent officers from responding to an emergency at the gym. Chambers says he never has and never will require assistance from cops, and in the meantime his policy breaks no laws.

To Vincent Champion, Atlanta cop and southeastern director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, it all sounds suspect.

“I don’t understand why you’d put a sign like that up at all,” he told 11Alive News. “Without talking to the man, this appears to be hate for law enforcement and for what reason? Are you doing something illegal?”

The strong reaction to the story from the community has even pulled another Atlanta gym into the fray. Google search confusion has caused Village Fitness, which is around the corner from Chambers’ gym, to receive phone calls and walk-ins from people regarding the controversial policy.

Tara Perry of Village Fitness told 11Alive News she does not agree with Chambers’ position. People’s mistaking her establishment for Chambers’ has even prompted Perry to put a sign of her own out front, one expressing her support for cops and soldiers.

“We’ve been here so long, we’re established with the community,” she said. “We support our local police and military. We offer discounts for them.”

Jim Chambers says he’ll be putting up a new version of his sign, this one without the profanity.

Don’t Blame Political Opponents for Crimes of an Individual

Don’t Blame Political Opponents for Crimes of an Individual

On Wednesday morning, in the suburbs of Washington, DC, a gunman opened fire on a group of Republican Members of Congress.

The Republicans were reportedly holding baseball practice for the annual charity game, and the shooter opened fire while they were on the field. The incident ended after the gunman was shot by Capitol Police, and the shooter later died of his injuries. Multiple people were wounded in the attack, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), but fortunately none of the victims had died as of this writing.

Of course, it is still early in the investigation, so the details may change. But as it stands, the shooter has been identified as James Hodgkinson of Illinois.

Attack Was Politically-Motivated

There’s no indication that Hodgkinson is Muslim, so naturally, the US media is not describing the event as terrorism. That said, the motivation for the attack does appear to be political in nature–given both the choice of target and the strong political statements expressed by the alleged shooter.

As Zero Hedge and The Hill have reported, Hodgkinson had an active political presence on social media. His views seem to line up with standard progressive positions, and he was a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders in the last election cycle. His Facebook posts suggest that he fully bought into the Trump traitor narrative offered by Democrats. Consequently, he had also called for Trump’s impeachment on social media.

At least from what I’ve read, the views he expressed publicly do not appear to have been uniquely radical or violent.

However, further evidence of a political motive can be found in the fact that, according to at least two sources, the shooter asked bystanders whether the people practicing were Republicans or Democrats before opening fire.

Even if this last report didn’t exist, it would be an extraordinary coincidence if the shooter decided to commit a random act of violence, in a city he didn’t live in, at a baseball field that happened to be hosting a Congressional baseball practice for an event that happens once a year. It’s technically possible, but not very likely.

Assigning Collective Blame

So it’s safe to say the attack was political. And for conservatives, a useful narrative almost writes itself: a self-identified leftist accepted the Democratic talking point that Trump and the Republicans are traitors and decided to take matters into his own hands.

It’s understandable how Republicans could gain from this tactic, and it should come as no surprise that some of them are already trying it out. For example, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) blamed the attack in part on the Democrats’ “hateful rhetoric”, describing their post-election conduct as “political rhetorical terrorism”.

This narrative serves as a convenient rebuttal to the numerous reports that emphasize the threat Americans face from right-wing terrorism. In such reports, it’s all but inevitable that President Trump’s behavior will be deemed responsible for extremist violence perpetrated by individuals. Similarly, in Davis’s version, the Democrats’ vitriolic speech against Trump is to blame for a random individual shooting at Republicans during baseball practice.

The arguments are mirror images of each other. And they rely on the same basic fallacy of collectivism.

To be clear, the only person responsible for Capitol Baseball shooting is the shooter himself.

All Democrats are not to blame. Neither are Bernie Sanders supporters nor progressives. The shooter himself may have identified with one or more of these labels, but that doesn’t make other members of those groups guilty by association.

It’s true that Hodgkinson demanded raising taxes on the rich. But from this, it does not follow that everyone who supports tax increases is just steps away from going homicidal.

The same observations hold for attackers with some type of right-wing ideology. For example, the only person responsible for the racially-motivated stabbing on the University of Maryland campus is the attacker himself. Trump supporters and conservatives are not at fault for senseless acts of violence committed by an individual.

This extends to the leaders of these groups as well. We might learn later that the latest Russia segment by Rachel Maddow or John Oliver was the last straw that finally convinced Hodgkinson to take violent measures. But even if that’s the case, Maddow and Oliver still would not be responsible for the shooter’s actions. No doubt hundreds of thousands of other people would have consumed the same segment without deciding to shoot up a baseball field.

Threat to Free Speech

Outright blaming opinion-makers and politicians for inspiring violent acts is incorrect because it ignores the agency of the actual attacker to make independent decisions. It’s also extremely dangerous from a free speech perspective.

The free speech protections in the First Amendment have proven to be remarkably resilient. That said, judging from the illiberal state of many college campuses, many Democrats and progressives are now open to the idea of regulating “hate speech”. Fortunately, most Republicans are unlikely to go along with that. This might be a matter of principle for some, but it’s also likely driven by disinterest in the latest social justice priorities. Either way, the Republicans currently serve as a decent bulwark against legislative efforts to circumvent the First Amendment.

However, if the Republicans adopt the narrative that the Democrats’ hateful rhetoric is causing violence, then the dynamic described above could change. For Republicans, restricting free speech would no longer be just about appeasing illiberal college progressives. Why, it would be a matter of national security instead.

In turn, this creates a dangerous pathway for a bipartisan consensus to emerge around restricting free speech–with Democrats doing it for social justice and Republicans doing it in the name of terrorism and national security. This would not be a positive development.

Conclusion

In the wake of an attack like this, assigning collective guilt is the default reaction for many American politicians and journalists. Most commonly, this blame is placed on Muslims, but it happens in other cases as well.

The problem is that it’s not actually true. Arbitrary groups don’t commit crimes; individuals do. And they are the only ones that should be blamed.

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

Portland Mayor’s Attack on Speech Is Illegal and Counterproductive

UPDATE: Since the time of writing, the first of these events went ahead as scheduled. The event stayed relatively peaceful, and happily, didn’t devolve into a full-on melee like those seen recently in some demonstrations in northern California. The second rally, initially planned for June 10, was canceled by the organizers voluntarily.

In the aftermath of the racially-motivated stabbings that occurred a few weeks ago, Portland’s mayor has publicly called for limiting free speech in the Rose City. Specifically, he has asked the federal government to revoke and deny permits for two upcoming political rallies.

(more…)

Trump's Twitter Account Being Deleted Was Actually Bigger Than You Think

The Biggest Gaffe at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

During his monologue At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, comedian Hasan Minhaj criticized Donald Trump for not understanding the First Amendment — and in doing so, showed he — Minhaj — does not understand the First Amendment. He said:

“The man who tweets everything the enters his head, refuses to acknowledge the amendment that allows him to do it.”

No, the amendment does not allow him or us to do anything. In theory it does nothing more than recognize a natural right to freedom that exists independent of the Constitution and of the state.

I’ve yet to hear that anyone in the media, which so reveres the First Amendment, corrected Minjah.

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