- An FBI document identified conspiracy theories as motivators for violent domestic terrorism for the first time.
- The document, which comes from an FBI field office in Phoenix, Arizona says “fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”
- The document provides numerous examples, specifically noting violent acts encouraged by QAnon and Pizzagate.
- The FBI has recently come under fire for how it defines and addresses white supremacist acts in relation to domestic terrorism.
A previously unpublished FBI intelligence bulletin identifies “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat, marking the first time the agency has done so.
The bulletin obtained by Yahoo News is from the FBI’s Phoenix Arizona field office and is dated May 30, 2019.
According to the document, the FBI “assesses anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”
The bulletin goes on to provide multiple examples of conspiracy theories that prompted individuals to either attempt or succeed in carrying out violent attacks.
It mentions QAnon, which it defined as “an anonymous government official known as Q posts classified information online to reveal a covert effort, led by President Trump, to dismantle a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring.”
Regarding QAnon, the FBI document gave an example of a QAnon follower who used an armored truck to block off traffic to the Hoover Dam bridge.
The document also mentions Pizzagate, a debunked conspiracy that democratic officials were running a child sex trafficking ring at Washington D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant.
It gives numerous examples of attempted violent acts encouraged by this particular conspiracy, such a man who entered Comet Ping Pong with two guns and fired at a locked door before he aimed at an employee.
The FBI bulletin also identifies the man who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October as an example of a violent extremist who believed in conspiracy theories concerning Jewish people and organizations.
Increased Scrutiny of FBI
The FBI bulletin comes amid increased scrutiny of how the agency defines and approaches domestic extremism.
During a Senate committee hearing in July, FBI Director Christopher Wray was criticized by Democrats who argued the bureau was not doing enough to address white supremacist violence.
“The term ‘white supremacist,’ ‘white nationalist’ is not included in your statement to the committee when you talk about threats to America,” said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill).
Wray told the Senators that the FBI did not list white supremacists as a separate category of extremism, because the agency was focusing on “racially motivated” violence more generally.
“I will say that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence,” the director added.
The Future of Extremism and Conspiracy Theories
The FBI bulletin says that conspiracy theories are not new, specifically stating, “throughout history, such conspiracy theories have fueled prejudice, witch-hunts, genocide, and acts of terrorism.”
However, it does say that this problem has gotten worse because the internet and social media has “enabled promoters of conspiracy theories to produce and share greater volumes of material via online platforms that larger audiences of consumers can quickly and easily access.”
The FBI also provided a grim outlook for the future.
“These conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace over the near term, fostering anti-government sentiment, promoting racial and religious prejudice, increasing political tensions, and occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document says.
The document also added that the bureau believes the 2020 presidential election cycle “likely will impact the direction of these conspiracy theories and the potential activities of extremists who subscribe to them over the long term.”
A more recent example of fringe conspiracy theories promoting violence not included in the FBI bulletin is the highly publicized case of Anthony Comello.
In March, Comello shot and killed a suspected mob boss who he believed was part of the deep state.
“Mr. Comello’s support for QAnon went beyond mere participation in a radical political organization, it evolved into a delusional obsession,” Comello’s attorney Robert Gottlieb wrote in a letter to the court.
“Because of his self-perceived status in QAnon, Mr. Comello became certain that he was enjoying the protection of President Trump himself, and that he had the president’s full support,” the letter continued.
Some have also accused President Donald Trump of propagating some conspiracy theories and supporting prominent conspiracy theorists. Trump is well known for promoting the “birther” conspiracy, that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.
Others have also pointed to the recent growth of people wearing QAnon t-shirts or holding QAnon signs at Trump rallies and events.
Lots of Q shirts here at the rally in Cincinnati and Trump pre-rally speaker Brandon Straka just said “Where we go one, we go all.” — a common rallying cry of the #QAnon movement. They even have an acronym for it. #WWG1GWA. pic.twitter.com/cOsAB3vLmC— Marcus J. DiPaola (@marcusdipaola) August 1, 2019
At a recent rally in Greenville, North Carolina, the president specifically pointed out a “beautiful baby” wearing a jumpsuit with a Q representing QAnon.
Trump, for this part, has not spoken out against QAnon, but last week he said in a tweet that Antifa should be labeled as a terrorist organization.
See what others are saying: (Yahoo News) (The Washington Post) (NBC News)
Syracuse Chancellor Agrees to Student Demands After Racist Incidents
- For the past two weeks, several racist incidents have occurred on Syracuse University’s campus, with slurs being written in campus buildings and some students even claiming to have had slurs directly hurled at them.
- This week, the white supremacist manifesto of the suspect in the Christchurch shooting was airdropped to students, though authorities deemed the threat a hoax.
- Student activists engaged in protests and sit-ins to call attention to a list of demands they had recommended for the school to respond to these acts.
- After several days, and calls for his resignation, Syracuse’s Chancellor signed onto 16 of the 19 demands, and added edits to the remaining three.
Racist Incidents on Campus
Following two weeks of racist incidents on its campus, Syracuse University’s Chancellor has agreed to the requests of student protestors.
Student activists engaged in protests and sit-ins on the campus, which has seen more than a dozen acts of racism. Starting on Nov. 7 and continuing for the next eleven days, racial slurs were written in campus buildings and shouted at students.
In one incident, a swastika was found by a student apartment. In a separate incident, fraternity social activities were suspended after students in one group were found to have been yelling the N-word at a black woman on campus.
On Monday, a white supremacist manifesto was airdropped to students. Notably, it was the same 74-page manifesto written by the suspect in the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 51 people dead. While investigations led officials to believe it was a hoax, it still left students afraid to walk alone, go to class, and be on Syracuse’s campus.
Not Again SU, a movement led by black students at Syracuse in the wake of the racist incidents, staged a seven-day sit-in at a campus landmark.
They also created a list of 19 demands, which included expelling students involved with the hate crimes and related incidents, enrolling faculty and staff in diversity training, hiring more counselors that better reflect the identities of the student body, setting aside $1 million to create a curriculum that educates the campus on diversity, and implementing a 48-hour response system to racially motivated incidents. They also requested that any students participating in sit-ins not be punished and to receive monthly updates on the status of their demands.
Chancellor Agrees to Demands
Chancellor Kent Syverud did not initially agree to the terms, prompting students to call for his resignation. During a Wednesday night forum at a campus church, a student asked if he would agree to their list.
According to the campus paper, the Daily Orange, he responded by saying, “If the question is ‘Can I produce agreement to every word at this instant?’ The answer is I cannot.”
Students then stood up and chanted “sign or resign.” They walked out and proceeded to Syverud’s home where they continued to protest. He signed onto 16 of the 19 conditions the following morning, giving slight modifications to the other three.
In a statement, he said he made this choice to “support the thoughtful, forward-thinking and constructive solutions offered by many of our students.”
“Implementing these recommendations is the right thing to do. They will make our community stronger,” he added.
Support for Movement
The student activists were not the only ones encouraging Syverud to take action. Before he agreed to sign on, many were expressing support for the protesters. Syracuse’s high profile basketball team tweeted in support of the movement.
Presidential candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also tweeted her support for #NotAgainSU.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Monday calling the incidents “disturbing, not only to the Syracuse University community, but to the greater community of New York.”
He added that Syverud did not handle the matter “in a way that instills confidence.”
Not Again SU shared Syverud’s signature on their Instagram. They were met with messages of congratulations in the comments; however, it is unclear if they have agreed to his changes.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Orange) (NBC News) (Syracuse.com)
Jussie Smollett Sues Chicago for ‘Malicious Prosecution’ in Hate Crime Case
- After dropping charges against actor Jussie Smollett for making false reports about a hate crime allegedly committed against him, the city of Chicago sued Smollett, demanding he cover the cost of the investigation.
- The suit specifically asked for over $130,000 to cover overtime paid to officers on his case.
- Now Smollett has countersued, saying he should not have to pay since he already agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond and accusing the city of “malicious prosecution” that brought him humiliation and emotional distress.
Jussie Smollet’s Hate Crime Case
Former Empire actor Jussie Smollet is suing Chicago for “malicious prosecution” and says he should not have to reimburse the city for the cost of the investigation into his hate crime claims.
Smollett made headlines in January when he said two masked men looped a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and yelled homophobic and racist slurs. But after an investigation, Chicago police determined that the attack was staged by Smollett, who was then indicted on 16 felony counts of filing a false report.
Smollett has maintained his innocence and prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against him in March, after he agreed to complete community service and forfeit the $10,000 bond he paid following his arrest.
Now his lawyers are using that as a defense for why he should not have to pay for the cost of the investigation.
Smollett’s lawyers filed a two-count counterclaim against Chicago on Tuesday in response to its April lawsuit demanding that he pay over $130,000 to cover the 1,836 hours of overtime paid to police officers working his case.
In the city’s lawsuit, it said it also intended to seek attorneys’ fees and a civil penalty of $1,000 for each of his false claims. However, Smollett’s legal team says the city “is not entitled” to any of this.
Smollett’s lawyers argued the city should not be allowed to hold him liable for the cost because it accepted the $10,000 from the actor “as payment in full in connection with the dismissal of the charges against him.”
The counterclaim adds, “The City cannot seek additional recovery from Mr. Smollett under the doctrine of accord and satisfaction.”
His attorneys also accused the city of “malicious prosecution,” saying that Smollett suffered “humiliation, mental anguish, and extreme emotional distress” as a result of the city’s actions against him.
The claim specifically called out Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson and two other detectives, Edward Wodnicki and Michael Theis. The counterclaim says police released “false and misleading information,” which led media outlets to report that Smollett might have arranged the alleged attack.
It also criticized the city for using claims from the Osundairo brothers, the men Smollett was accused of paying to carry out the alleged attack, to pursue criminal charges against him.
In response to the countersuit, Chicago police issued a statement Wednesday saying “The City stands by its original complaint and will continue to pursue this litigation.”
The city added, “The judge in this case has already ruled in our favor once, and we fully expect to be successful in defeating these counterclaims.”
Kim Foxx Announces Reelection Effort
The same day as Smollet’s counterclaim, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx officially announced that she is running for reelection. Foxx currently has four challengers fighting for her spot and has the outrage over the Jussie Smollett case hanging over her head.
Foxx recused herself from the case before Smollett’s arrest, saying she did so because she had conversations about the investigation with one of Smollett’s relatives. But a few months later, her office released documents citing a different reason, showing that she was advised to withdraw based on unfounded rumors that she was related to Smollett. Though she disagreed with the advice and called the rumors racist, she complied with the recommendation.
Foxx’s office also faced intense scrutiny for abruptly dropping the charges against Smollett, which left both police officials and community leaders confused and frustrated.
At the time, Chicago Police Department commander Ed Wodnicki called the reversal of charges a “punch in the gut” and said prosecutors did not discuss their decision with the police department prior to announcing it.
Meanwhile, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and superintendent Johnson spoke out against the decision. “This is without a doubt, a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you are in a position of influence and power you’ll get treated one way, other people will be treated another way,” Emanuel said.
In her campaign ad, she admitted to mishandling the Smollett case but argued that her opponents are attacking her personally over it to “undercut progress.”
“Truth is, I didn’t handle it well. I own that. I’m making changes in my office to make sure we do better. That’s what reform is about,” Foxx said.
But her opponents say it’s too late, and many believe the lack of trust surrounding Foxx’s leadership will affect her in her bid for reelection.
Guards Charged With Falsifying Records After Allegedly Shopping Online and Falling Asleep the Night of Epstein’s Death
- Federal prosecutors charged guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas with falsifying documents that said they had completed prisoner checks the night convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died.
- An indictment alleges that the two did not complete any rounds, and instead, both spent time online shopping and sleeping.
- Both guards rejected a deal from prosecutors and pleaded not guilty.
Guards Charged With Falsifying Records
Federal prosecutors charged two guards on Tuesday for falsifying documents on Aug. 10, the night that sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died.
Epstein reportedly committed suicide in New York at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was awaiting trial on federal charges of sex trafficking minors. Shortly after his imprisonment began, Epstein reportedly tried to commit suicide and was placed on suicide watch for a week before being taken off.
Even though Epstein was no longer on suicide watch, prison officials moved his cell to within at least 15 feet of the guards’ desks to monitor him more closely.
The indictment, however, alleges that guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas lied on signed documents to say they had carried out required half-hour rounds, when in fact they had not.
According to the charges, both were also supposed to have performed additional sets of more-detailed prisoner checks and headcounts at midnight, 3 a.m., and 5 a.m. The accusation, however, states that the guards “repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch.”
In fact, according to the charge, the last time anyone saw Epstein alive was around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 when Noel reportedly briefly walked up to and then away from the door to the tier that held Epstein. The indictment asserts that video footage showed no one else approaching Epstein’s cell for the rest of the night.
The indictment claims the two “sat at their desk” and “browsed the internet,” with Noel spending part of the night shopping for furniture while Thomas shopped for motorcycles and looked at sports news.
At one point, the indictment says both sat at their desks for two hours without moving, concluding that the guards had fallen asleep on duty.
Noel and Thomas then allegedly “repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates when, in truth and in fact, they never conducted such accounts.”
Around 6:30 the next morning, Noel found Epstein’s body when delivering his breakfast. She then reportedly told a supervisor that they hadn’t completed their 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. rounds.
Thomas, however, said that they hadn’t done any of their rounds that night.
“We messed up,” he said, then adding of Noel: “I messed up. She’s not to blame. We didn’t do any rounds.”
Following their Tuesday indictment, both guards were taken into custody. In federal court, they both pleaded not guilty to six different counts of record falsification after they rejected a plea deal where they would have admitted to the crime.
Shortly after their arrests, both were released on bail for $100,000 each.
Arguments from Attorneys
During their hearing, Thomas’ attorney argued that the guards were being scapegoated.
“We feel this is a rush to judgment by the U.S. attorney’s office,” he said. “They’re going after the low man on the totem pole here.”
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman rejected such a conclusion and said the guards were being charged for breaking federal law.
“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center [MCC],” he said. “Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”