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FBI Memo Calls Conspiracy Theories Domestic Terror Threat

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  • 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.

FBI Document 

A previously unpublished FBI intelligence bulletin identifies “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat, marking the first time the agency has done so.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.”

Other Instances

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.

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)

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Olympic Skating Coach Banned for Life After Sexual Misconduct Allegations

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  • The U.S. Center for SafeSport leveled a lifetime ban against Olympic figure skating coach Richard Callaghan on Wednesday after a former skater accused Callaghan of sexually molesting him beginning at age 14.
  • Callaghan was suspended from the Olympics in 2018 for nearly 20 years following an older allegation of sexual misconduct.
  • The allegations against Callaghan have stoked comparisons to USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and skater John Coughlin, prompting questions about how Olympic-linked organizations deal with sexual misconduct allegations.

Banned from the Olympics

The U.S. Center for Safesport banned famed Olympics figure skating coach Richard Callaghan for life on Wednesday over accusations of sexual molestation.

The organization made the decision after one of Callaghan’s former students filed a lawsuit claiming that Callaghan sexually molested him when he was 14-years-old. 

U.S. Figure Skating then followed suit and banned Callaghan from any kind of skating-related activity in the U.S.

Callaghan, 73, is most known for training skaters Tara Lipinski and Todd Eldredge. Notably, Callaghan oversaw Lipinski’s training when she won the gold medal in ladies’ singles figure skating during the 1998 Nagano Olympics. He also oversaw Eldredge’s six U.S. national championship titles, as well as a world championship title.

The allegations were brought by former skater Adam Schmidt, who is also suing U.S. Figure Skating for inaction related to previous complaints made before his alleged molestations. The lawsuit alleges Callaghan molested Schmidt multiple times between 1999 and 2001.

“Today’s announcement is a major victory for all who’ve suffered abuses by the former legend of figure skating, Mr. Callaghan,” Schmidt told ABC News. “Now he will forever be known as the predator who delivered medals to a corrupt organization who accepted them in exchange for the safety and protection of children. US Figure Skating created that culture of abuse that lasted decades and today is the first of many victories to come in reversing that. USFS is officially on notice.”

The ban comes after SafeSport suspended Callaghan from Olympic activity for nearly 20 years after former student Craig Maurizi filed a second misconduct complaint against him in January 2018.

Callaghan has denied the allegations and was first suspended in March 2018, but he will not be able to appeal the permanent ban. According to Callaghan’s attorney, he is “subject to a lifetime ban without due process.”

Previous Allegations

In 1999, Maurizi filed his first complaint against the skating coach. The allegation, filed to U.S. Figure Skating, details the nature of Maurizi’s relationship with Callaghan, dating back to 1976 when he first began taking lessons from him at the age of 13. 

Two years later, Maurizi said Callaghan began acting sexually inappropriate around him, and Maurizi said when he turned 18, Callaghan initiated a sexual relationship. That relationship allegedly continued in an on-again-off-again fashion until 1997.

“At the time, I thought the sex was consensual,” Maurizi told the New York Times in 1999. “Now, when I look back, I don’t think it was consensual. I don’t care how old a student is, whether it’s a boy or a girl, a coach should never have sex with a student. The coach is the person the athlete looks up to for leadership and to be a role model. I don’t think coaches understand the influence they can exert over students. People need to be more aware of this.”

The claims were later dismissed by U.S. Figure Skating and the Professional Skater’s Association because they had been filed more than 60 days from when the alleged abuse occurred.

Within the time-frame of Callaghan and Maurizi’s relationship, The New York Times reported at least five other sexual misconduct claims dating back to the 1980s. The claims range from inappropriate sexual comments to unwarranted sexual advances such as Callaghan exposing himself in a hotel.

“I feel finally vindicated,” Maurizi told the New York Times following Callaghan’s ban this week. “This guy’s a monster. This man has ruined the lives and careers of many people. I believe he should be punished to whatever extent is possible.”

Olympic Organizations’ Handling of Allegations

The allegations against Callaghan are the latest in a series of sexual misconduct allegations against people connected to Olympic athletes.

In 2015, USA Gymnastics broke ties with sports doctor Larry Nassar, and the following year, one of his patients filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse. In all, more than 250 women and one man accused Nassar of sexual abuse, many of his patients being underage at the times of their assault.

Nassar pleaded guilty in three different trials, admitting to the molestation of 10 accusers. The 56-year-old is now serving a federal conviction of 60 years and a state conviction of 40 to 175 to years. 

In December, U.S. Figure Skating issued a restriction notice to figure skater John Coughlin in relation to unspecified allegations. On January 17, U.S. Figure Skating suspended him, and the following day, he committed suicide.

Since his death, more women have stepped forward, including bronze medalist Ashley Wagner and his former skating partner Bridget Namiotka.

SafeSport later released a statement saying it had uncovered “a culture in figure skating that allowed grooming and abuse to go unchecked for too long.”

This month, U.S. Figure Skating also released a statement saying the organization does not tolerate sex crimes.

“Recent news reports regarding allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct in our sport have been heartbreaking,” the statement reads. “We support all survivors, and we encourage all victims of abuse to come forward and report it to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport or U.S. Figure Skating.”

Many, however, have criticized organizations connected to the Olympics, claiming they have been slow to act in situations involving sexual abuse.

“This should have been done in the ’90s when USFS first knew,” Schmidt’s attorney John Manly told USA Today. “It’s good news but small comfort to those Callaghan hurt. Clearly this move is in response to the horrible press USFS received in response to Adam Schmidt’s filing. You shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to protect kids from child molesters in Olympic sports.”

Manly argued that because U.S. Figure Skating did not act in 1999 when it received Maurizi’s first complaint, it enabled Callaghan to continue coaching, thus leading to Schmidt’s alleged molestations.

U.S. Figure Skating has defended itself, saying that following Maurizi’s original complaint, it examined its procedures into reporting cases of abuse and updated misconduct policy in May 2000.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Time) (CNN)

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Anti-Vaxxer Cited for Assaulting CA Vaccine Lawmaker on Facebook Live

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  • An anti-vaxxer was cited for suspicion of assault after live-streaming himself pushing California state Senator Richard Pan, an author of prominent vaccination bills in the state.
  • Pan and other legislators condemned the move, saying that disagreeing on legislation is not a reason to resort to violence.
  • Kenneth Austin Bennett, the man who pushed Pan, has 4,500 followers on Facebook, where he often posts anti-vax rhetoric. He attempted to run for Pan’s seat in 2018 but failed to appear on the ballot. 

Bennett Pushes Senator Pan

An anti-vaccine supporter live-streamed himself shoving California state Sen. Richard Pan, who authored influential vaccine legislation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Austin Bennett was cited with suspicion of assault on Wednesday. Bennett live-streamed the incident on his Facebook page, where he frequently posts anti-vax rhetoric along with other conspiracy theories to his 4,500 followers.

Bennett’s video opens with him walking around Sacramento near the California State Capitol. He talks to his followers about religion, conspiracy theories, and “Lucifer establishing his kingdom” in Sacramento for the first nine minutes of the video. He then runs into Pan.

“Oh my goodness you guys, what are the chances of this?” Bennett asks. “Right here, Right here…What are the chances of this, Senator Pan?”

Bennett then follows Pan down the street and asks him about remarks he made in 2015 about water being the most dangerous ingredient in vaccines. He continues to press the senator on other vaccine-related topics, to which Pan minimally responds. Eventually, Pan laughs and says, “Oh boy” after Bennett asks him a question about water being a toxin. 

Bennett then pushes Pan and says, “Yeah, I pushed you. I pushed you. I pushed you.”

He walks away from the scene and says, “I probably should not have done that.” He returns to Pan, who appears to be calling the police with his colleagues. They eventually walk into a building, and Bennett continues to address his camera outside. 

He claims he pushed the senator for “lying” about vaccine information.

“If he got what he deserved he would be hanging for treason,” he later says about Pan.  

Responses to Incident

Bennett acknowledged the situation on his Facebook page during a second live stream on Wednesday. In the hour-long stream, he further condemned Sen. Pan, and also spoke on other conspiracy theories about Facebook and the 2018 wildfires in Paradise, California.

“I was charged with assaulting Richard Pan, but also had the chance to further expose the corrupt politician,” he captioned the video.

He also told local news outlet KCRA that he did not regret pushing Pan.

In a statement on Thursday, Pan said the incident was a result of rhetoric spread by anti-vaccine extremists.

“Bullying, threats, and violence should not be acceptable in civil discourse and policy making,” he said. “Yesterday’s assault was incited by violent rhetoric and imagery employed by anti-vaccine extremists.  Anti-vaxxers have attempted to dehumanize me and other public health advocates on social media while making death threats.”

“Mr. Bennett is not a lone actor, but a person who accepted the violent rhetoric of the anti-vax movement and acted upon it by assaulting me on a public street while live streaming the attack on Facebook,” Pan added. “Social media companies also need to accept responsibility for giving a platform for this violence and hate.”

Others also supported Pan, including California Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, who said that disagreeing on legislation is “no reason to resort to aggressive and harmful behavior.”

My colleagues and I will do all we can to aid those investigating this matter and protect the elected leaders, staff, and visitors who work at and tour our Capitol each day,” she added in a statement.  

History Between Bennett and Pan

Sen. Pan was a pediatrician prior to becoming a state lawmaker. He authored a bill that passed in 2015 that removed religious and personal beliefs as exemptions for school children receiving vaccines. He is currently working on legislation that aims to combat illegitimate medical exemptions.

In 2018, Bennett ran to unseat him as the senator for California’s sixth district. He was unable to appear on the ballot and ran as a write-in.

On his campaigns website, he claimed that the bills Pan had worked on were “reckless and destructive to our children’s future.”

He also said one of his campaign promises was to “protect children from forced vaccinations.”

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (KCRA) (The Daily Beast)

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Philadelphia Man Commits Suicide After Being Harassed for Dating Trans Woman

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  • A Philadelphia man named Maurice Willoughby committed suicide after he was harassed by men on the street for dating a transgender woman. 
  • A video of that confrontation was shared on social media, causing the 20-year-old to face more bullying online, according to his friends.
  • #RipReese began trending on Twitter after news of his death broke, with many mourning Willoughby and confronting LGBTQ issues within the black community.

Video Goes Viral

A 20-year-old Philadelphia man committed suicide after a video spread online showing men harassing him on the street for dating a transgender woman.

The video shows several men verbally berating Maurice “Reese” Willoughby with homophobic comments as he defends his relationship in front of them.

According to his friends, Willoughby already lived with depression and struggled with it more as the video gained traction on the internet. They said the constant harassment he had experienced online played a role in his suicide, though his girlfriend, Faith Palmer, also referenced a drug addiction in relation to his death.

“Over the weekend Reese killed himself after the relentless taunting, bullying, mocking and disrespect he received after publicly proclaiming his love for his girl,” said a person who had been friendly with Willoughby in the past.

“And you know what breaks me about this? Is that when it comes to discussing the weight of transphobia and homophobia in the black community, especially amongst those who should speak up on it, all you hear is crickets? It’s no secret that every community has its issues no matter how beautiful the painted picture is, but damn we oppressed people are still out here oppressing our own people?”

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No matter how shitty the times are in which we live, sometimes you find something out and you’re just like, how could this happen? how could we let this happen? The couple in this photo is beautiful Reese and his girlfriend Faith. Reese was a black cisgender male, his girlfriend Faith, is a black transgender woman. Over the weekend Reese killed himself after the relentless taunting, bullying, mocking and disrespect he received after publicly proclaiming his love for his girl, and you know what breaks me about this? Is that when it comes to discussing the weight of transphobia and homophobia in the black community, especially amongst those who should speak up on it, all you hear is crickets? It’s no secret that every community has its issues no matter how beautiful the painted picture is, but damn we oppressed people are still out here oppressing our own people? don’t say black lives matter if that bracket doesn’t include black trans people and mental health in the black community, Reese fucking DM’d ME, and when I responded I never got a response back, this is garbage, and this hurts, Reese I’m so sorry, Faith, I’m so sorry, I lové you, I lové ya’ll, we lové you, we lové ya’ll. This is so trash, and I hate everything about this. IGNORANCE , HATRED AND TOXIC MASCULINITY KILLED OUR BROTHER. Rest in all power family, a lot of our sisters are up there with you.

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That was my friend and everyone who took part in bulling him need to be in jail,” another friend Amethyst Jade Lee said in a Facebook post.

Prior to his death, Willoughby reportedly made a Facebook post defending Palmer.

“Y’all can say whatever about faith,” he wrote, according to Aazios.com, “I really don’t care if she not passable  I don’t care if she wasn’t born a woman she is a woman to me & I love her flaws that’s what makes her faith if you heard her story it’s motivating….. I’m happy you should be happy for me”

Notably, Palmer also posted to Facebook, remembering Willoughby’s openness about their relationship.

“HE WASNT SCARED OF ANYONE SO HE FOUGHT BACK FOR US !” she wrote.

Online Reaction 

Since his death, people online have shared their thoughts on the situation, many addressing what they believe to be a disconnect between straight and LGBTQ+ individuals in the African American community.

“There’s a HUGE issue highlighted in the video of Reese being harrassed,” one Twitter user wrote. “And that’s that the black community needs to address the RAMPANT homophobia and transphobia so embedded in our culture. Because THAT shit is detrimental. #RipReese

According to the Human Rights Campaign, African American trans women face the highest rates of fatal violence within the LGBTQ+ community.

That reality has become more prominent in recent months after two transgender women in Dallas, Texas were killed earlier this year.

Because of the violence trans women face, many posthumously poured praise for Willoughby, saying he was brave for being open about his relationship in spite of all the backlash. That included singer Kehlani, who identifies as queer, as well as several others.

RIP REESE THANK U FOR LOVING HER OUT LOUD,” the singer wrote in all caps.

Others sought to criticize the men who harassed Willoughby in the video.

“My heart breaks for Reese, for his girlfriend, and their loved ones,” Pose producer Janet Mock said. “These men screaming at him are beyond fragile, standing on a shaky altar of masculinity, too insecure to do what Reese did: Unapologetically love a woman who everyone says is unworthy of love.”

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

See what others are saying: (The Advocate) (Heavy) (Blavity)

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