- 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)
Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Environmental Review
- The Dakota Access Pipeline must suspend operations pending an environmental review, according to orders from a U.S. District Court.
- A judge claimed that while this may cause disruption to oil industries, the Army Corps of Engineers did not provide a needed environmental impact statement. They must now draft one and undergo a review process that could last 13 months.
- This order is a big win for environmental groups and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who have been fighting for four years to shut down the pipeline. The tribe has long claimed that the pipeline is a threat to their main water supply in the Missouri River,
- However, Energy Transfer Partners, which runs the pipeline, is vowing to appeal the ruling.
Pipeline Ordered to Shut Down
A U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. ordered on Monday that the Dakota Access Pipeline must halt operations within 30 days, pending an environmental review.
The pipeline runs for over 1,100 miles between North Dakota and Illinois, transporting 570,000 barrels of oil per day. It has faced opposition from environmental activists and members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for several years over pollution concerns. Monday’s order is a victory for the pipeline’s critics.
In his order, United States District Judge James E. Boasberg wrote that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the Dakota Access Pipeline, had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed a portion of the pipeline to be built under part of the Missouri River.
“This was because the Corps had failed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement despite conditions that triggered such a requirement,” Boasberg wrote.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is located just under a mile from the pipeline, and gets much of its water supply from the Missouri River. They feared that having a pipeline under their water source could lead to contamination should there ever be a leak or spill.
The court acknowledged the potential consequences of shutting the pipeline down, including a disruption of North Dakota’s oil industry, as well as the oil industries of other states. However, Boasberg believed that the best path forward in this case was to shut the pipeline down.
“Yet, given the seriousness of the Corps’ [National Environmental Policy Act] error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease,” Judge Boasberg wrote.
The court is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess the environmental impacts of the pipeline and to prepare an impact statement. Judge Boaberg first ordered a review back in March. Per Monday’s ruling, the pipeline must shut down pending the review, a process that is expected to last 13 months.
Responses to Order
The ruling could be appealed and only closes the pipeline temporarily. Still, it was cause for celebration for members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other activists who had been protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2016.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” Mike Faith, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said in a statement. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
“It took four long years, but today justice has been served at Standing Rock,” said Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe. “If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on.”
Youth activist and founder of Fridays for Future Greta Thunberg also applauded the court’s decision on Twitter.
On the other hand, however, the decision was met with swift criticism from Energy Transfer Partners, which controls the pipeline. The company has promised legal action, and according to Hasselman, has already filed for an appeal.
In a statement, Energy Transfer said the order is “not supported by the law or the facts of the case.”
“Furthermore, we believe that Judge Boasberg has exceeded his authority in ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been safely operating for more than three years,” it said.
Energy Transfer claims that billions of dollars of tax and royalty revenue will be lost by local and tribal governments in several states.
“The economic implications of the Judge’s order are too big to ignore and we will do all we can to ensure its continued operation,” the company stated, before maintaining that the Dakota Access Pipeline is environmentally safe and responsible.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (Associated Press) (Wall Street Journal)
International Students Who Take Only Online Courses This Fall Cannot Stay in the US, ICE Says
- On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it will not issue visas to prospective and current international students who will only be taking online courses during the upcoming fall semester.
- That’s despite the fact that many colleges around the country are integrating online-only models because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Many international students now fear they could be deported and worry about how they might be able to return home with current travel restrictions.
International Students Could Face Possible Deportation
The federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program has announced that it will not allow international students to remain in the country for the upcoming fall semester if they enroll in online-only universities or colleges.
SEVP, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, made the announcement Monday after education institutions had asked the agency for months to extend grace periods for international students into the fall.
It was not unprecedented to think that SEVP might. It had already allowed international students to shift to online classes for the spring semester when much of the U.S. began to shut down. Those eased restrictions then carried into summer semesters.
Prior to those semesters and under normal rules, international students were required to take classes in-person and could only take a maximum of three credit hours (usually one course) online.
With daily COVID-19 cases increasing in most states, some institutions have already announced that they will be foregoing in-person classes in the fall. Despite this, ICE has argued that “there is a need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.”
“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” SEVP said in its Monday statement.
“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction, to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
“If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”
Notably, that announcement also requires universities to make a decision by July 15 on whether they plan to fully open, implement a hybrid system, or become online-only
“What is just, to me, absolutely staggering is we have been asking for this guidance since April,” Lizbet Boroughs, an executive with the Association of American Universities, told The Washington Post.
Boroughs added that universities now have “nine days to respond. There’s just tremendous concern about trying to protect current students who are members of their communities and their educational investment. ”
Questions Linger About How This Will Take Effect
Online, many international students have spoken out about the announcement, with some even sharing links to petition letters to send to congressional representatives.
“And I thought the cancelled flights, stress of finding last minute summer housing, not being able to see my mom for over a year would be enough,” one person tweeted. “With no support system, in the middle of a pandemic, this is all that was missing.”
“I regret coming here for a better education,” another person said on Twitter. “It’s so cruel to uproot lives in the middle of a pandemic over reasons entirely beyond our control. Everything is so uncertain and I’ve never felt less like a human being.”
The announcement has also led to a flurry of unanswered questions from students and others involved in higher education. For example, students at schools that have already announced online-only semesters for the fall have been left to wonder whether those schools will quickly revise their plans.
Last week, you had the University of Southern California announced that almost all of its undergraduate fall courses will be held online. Monday, just hours before ICE’s announcement, Harvard announced that all of its courses for the full academic year will be taught online as well.
In fact, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, of about 1,100 U.S. colleges being tracked, 9% plan to operate online, and 24% have proposed a hybrid model.
ICE has confirmed that students planning to enroll in schools with hybrid models will be allowed to take more than three credit hours online if institutions file certifications with the agency. Still, tons of students are scared their visas will be revoked or not approved if their schools don’t revise plans to accommodate them.
Following ICE’s announcement, Harvard University President Larry Bacow called the move a one-size-fits-all approach and suggested that the university might update its online-only policy.
“We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward,” Bacow said in a statement Monday evening.
Others worry about the negative impact ICE’s move could have on graduate students who conduct research and teach classes
“If their labs close and they’re not able to work full time on dissertation research… do they have to leave the country?” Boroughs asked in her interview with The Post. “We know there are many PhD candidates who are involved in critical research to respond to this covid pandemic. ”
Even if students are denied visas, many wonder how they will be able to return home. An array of countries currently have travel restrictions, some of which even apply to those with students visas.
Value of Having International Students
Advocates for extending flexibilities for international students into the fall semester have argued that they are a vital asset to American campuses.
According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, during the 2018-2019 academic year, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported almost 460,000 jobs.
They are also not part of a small or insignificant group. According to federal data, 1.1 million people in the U.S. hold active student visas.
That’s why people like immigration lawyer Fiona McEntee have argued that losing foreign students would be a huge blow to university budgets.
“If students can study online successfully from an academic point of view, why are we forcing them to come into a situation where they could put their health at risk and also the health of their classmates at risk?” she asked.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)
Remains of Missing Fort Hood Soldier Vanessa Guillén Identified
- Authorities confirmed Sunday that they recovered the remains of Vanessa Guillén, an Army Specialist at Fort Hood who had been missing since April 22.
- Not long after the body was found last week, soldier and suspect Aaron David Robinson died by suicide as he was about to be taken into custody.
- His reported girlfriend who was taken into custody, Cecily Aguilar, claims that Robinson killed Guillén, then confessed to her. After this, they both mutilated and disposed of her body by a river 20 miles from Fort Hood.
- Guillén’s family and lawyer claimed that she was subject to sexual harassment while at Fort Hood. They believe Robinson was among the men who harassed her, however, investigators have not yet found evidence to support this.
Investigators have identified the remains of Vanessa Guillén, an Army Specialist who went missing from Fort Hood in April.
The remains were initially discovered on June 30. While they were believed to be the remains of Guillén, DNA evidence did not confirm the victim’s identity until Sunday evening. The remains were found by a river in Bell County Texas where workers were building a fence. Investigators had searched that exact area nine days prior but did not find the body.
Guillén was last seen on April 22 in a Fort Hood parking lot. Her family had long been calling for answers in her disappearance, criticizing investigators for slow movement on the case.
The family has also claimed that Guillén experienced sexual harassment while at Fort Hood. While she told friends, family, and other soldiers, Guillén did not formally report these incidents because she feared potential retaliation.
Eventually, social media users joined in on the family’s calls for answers, spreading campaigns for justice in Guillén’s name and holding peaceful protests.
The man suspected of killing Guillén, a fellow soldier named Aaron David Robinson, died by suicide when authorities tried to take him into custody last week. According to Guillén’s family and lawyer, he was among the men who allegedly harassed her. Investigators, however, have said they have not yet found that Robinson harassed Guillén. Investigations are still ongoing.
Another suspect, Cecily Aguilar, is in custody. She has been identified by numerous reports as Robinson’s girlfriend, and an estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier. Aguilar is facing one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence and could face up to 20 years in federal prison if she is convicted. According to a release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas, Aguilar said that Robinson confessed he had killed a female service member to her. He allegedly struck her in the head with a hammer while at Fort Hood.
Robinson then allegedly transferred the body off to a remote site in Bell County and asked Aguilar to help him dispose of it. Aguilar claimed she recognized the deceased as Guillén before she “helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of” her. Reports indicate that they had attempted to cut up and burn parts of the body before burying the remains in separate holes.
Guillén’s sister Mayra claims that she met Robinson on the base in the aftermath of her sister’s disappearance. Mayra claimed that Robinson laughed in her face at one point.
“Not knowing that he had something to do with it, I felt, something was telling me that, that he did something and I wasn’t wrong,” Mayra said during a press conference.
Calls for Investigation
Guillén’s family, along with their attorney Natalie Khawam, are calling for a Congressional investigation into this case. They believe the investigation thus far has been improper.
“We will never know what happened, ever, until we get a Congressional investigation because everything that we were given was lies,” Khawam said during a press conference last week. “It was evasive. They were not sincere, they were actually very disingenuous to us.”
“I don’t know who is covering up for who but it doesn’t matter,” she added.
Khawam is not the only one asking for a probe into the matter. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Jackie Speier wrote a letter calling for the Department of Defense Inspector General to investigate Guillén’s disappearance, the circumstances of her workplace, and the Army’s response to both.
“We are gravely concerned with the appearance that the Army was able to marshal significant
additional investigative resources after her family began a social media campaign with the
hashtags #IAmVanessaGuillén and #FindMySister,” they wrote. “If the Army must rely on relatives, not commanders or comrades, to take the initiative in locating missing soldiers, there is something fundamentally broken in the institution.”
Representative Tulsi Gabbard is also calling for an investigation, as well as legislation to protect those serving in the military from harassment and assault. Guillén’s case has also prompted numerous people who have previously served to tell their own stories of assault in the military using the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillén.