- Individuals who threaten or attempt to spread COVID-19 could face terrorism charges, a Justice Department memo says, because the virus meets the statutory definition of a “biological agent.”
- Charges have already been dropped in places like Missouri, where a man recorded himself licking a line of deodorants in a Wallmart.
- In New Jersey, another man was charged after purposely coughing on a grocery store employee before laughing and saying he had the virus.
- Others could soon face similar charges, like a woman who intentionally coughed all over products in Pennsylvania grocery store, forcing the store to toss more than $35,000 worth of goods.
The Justice Department’s second-highest-ranking official said Tuesday that people who threaten or intentionally attempt to spread the coronavirus could face criminal charges under terrorism laws.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen sent a memo with the guidance to top Justice Department leaders, law enforcement agency chiefs, and U.S. Attorneys across the country.
In it, he said prosecutors and investigators could come across cases of “purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19.”
“Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’… such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” Rosen wrote. “Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated.”
He did not state whether or not his warning was precautionary or if it came in response to reports of intentional exposure, but prosecutors at the state level have already begun pressing terrorism charges against those accused of maliciously trying to infect others.
People Have Already Been Charged
Prosecutors in Missouri, for instance, charged 26-year-old Cody Lee Pfister after he posted a video of himself licking merchandise in a Walmart. The video shows Pfister saying, “Whos’s scared of coronavirus? Don’t touch your mouth?” He then licks a row of deodorant sticks.
The City of Warrenton Police Department said Monday that Pfister was taken into custody after it received numerous calls from people reporting the video. The calls came from local residents and even people from places as far as the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
Pfister was later charged with a terrorist threat in the second degree. In Missouri, making a terrorist threat in the second degree means ignoring the risk of “causing the evacuation, quarantine or closure of any portion of a building.” The crime is a class E felony, which means it can be met with a prison sentence of up to four years and a fine.
New Jersey was also hit with a case of similar reckless behavior, with the state’s Attorney General’s Office saying Tuesday that it charged a man for his behavior in a Wegmans store.
According to a news release, a store employee was concerned that the man, 50-year-old George Falcone, was standing too close to her and an open food display. He then “allegedly stepped forward to within 3 feet of her, leaned toward her, and purposely coughed.”
Falcone also reportedly laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus, then told two other employees they were lucky to have jobs. He was ultimately charged with harassment, obstructing administration of law or other governmental function, and terroristic threats in the third degree. The last charge alone is punishable by up to 3 to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $15,000.
A woman in Pennsylvania may also soon be hit with terroristic threat charges. Gerrity’s Supermarket, a small family-owned chain in northeastern Pennsylvania, said a woman came into one of its stores on Wednesday and purposely coughed all over fresh produce, the bakery department, and meat case section.
The store co-owner, Joe Fasula, wrote a post on the store’s Facebook page saying, “While there is little doubt this woman was doing it as a very twisted prank, we will not take any chances with the health and well-being of our customers. We had no choice but to throw out all product she came in contact with.”
The store said it hadn’t yet quantified the total loss, but estimated it to be well over $35,000. “We are checking to see if our insurance company will cover it, but even if they do, our rates will surely go up next year,” the post continued.
“I am also absolutely sick to my stomach about the loss of food. While it is always a shame when food is wasted, in these times when so many people are worried about the security of our food supply, it is even more disturbing.”
Police were contacted and the local District Attorney’s office promised to aggressively pursue numerous charges. While the woman isn’t known to be infected with COVID-19, police say they plan on making every effort to ensure she is tested.
The woman, who the store says police “know to be a chronic problem in the community,” will also undergo a mental health evaluation, authorities said.
The Justice Department’s guidance may now hopefully deter some people from carrying out these careless acts, but the reports of incidents themselves serve as a reminder to be extra cautious about touching your face during the pandemic.
While the virus is believed to mainly spread between people who are in close contract, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has warned that “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”
See what others are saying: (Politico) (Business Insider) (The Washington Post)
Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates
The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.
Same War, New Battlefield
Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.
Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.
Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.
Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources.
Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.
According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.
Xbox Under Fire
To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture.
While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.
“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.
“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,” Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.
Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”
The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.” That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want
Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).
“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.
The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.
“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)
Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools
Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.
Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.
The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.
One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.
Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.
In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.
OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications.
In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported.
NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.
“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others,“ it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.”
Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools.
In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.
See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)
Mass Shootings in Half Moon Bay, Oakland Rock California
Just since Saturday, at least 19 people have been killed and 17 have been injured in mass shootings in California.
California Sees Third Attack in Under a Week
Two California localities experienced separate mass shootings Monday, just days after an attacker killed 11 and injured nine others in a suburb of Los Angeles.
The first of the most recent shootings took place in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 30 miles outside of San Francisco, where a gunman killed seven and critically injured an eighth at two different locations.
According to authorities, police were dispatched to the first location around 2:20 pm and found four people shot to death and a fifth victim also suffering gunshot wounds. Shortly after, three more people were found dead at another site nearby.
About two hours later, police discovered the suspect in his car in the parking lot of a San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office substation with a semiautomatic handgun in the vehicle that officials later confirmed he had purchased legally.
Sheriff Christina Corpus said the man was taken into custody “without incident” and is “fully cooperating.” He has been identified as a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident of Asian descent.
Currently, the gunman’s motive is unknown, but the Sheriff told reporters Monday that both of the locations he targeted were nurseries, and it has since been reported that they were mushroom farms.
“All evidence we have points to this being an instance of workplace violence. The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, is where the subject was employed,” Corpus said in a press conference Tuesday, though she added that, so far, the “only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been coworkers.”
As of writing, it remains unclear why he targeted the second location. A mushroom farm called Concord Farms has told reporters that it was the site of the second shooting — which a law enforcement official confirmed to The Washington Post.
In a statement to the media, a spokesperson said the farm had “no past knowledge” of the alleged gunman or his possible motives. Little has been released about the victims, though Corpus said Tuesday they were all adults and a “mixture of Asian and Hispanic descent,” some of whom were migrants.
Authorities had previously stated that, because people both live and work on the farms, children were among those who witnessed the shooting. However, on Tuesday, one official walked that back and said while children were indeed in the vicinity, police do not have information about specific witnesses.
Just hours after the violence in Half Moon Bay, seven people were injured, and one other was killed during a shooting at a gas station in Oakland. Very little has been reported about the incident, but police have said that the shooting was “between several individuals.”
Renewed Calls for Gun Control
Californians continue to reel from the rapid succession of mass shootings in a state known for its strict gun control laws.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence, the state ranks No. 1 in the country for gun law strength. An analysis led by the organization found that California has the sixth-lowest rate of gun ownership and the eighth-lowest gun death rate.
Many of California’s top lawmakers have argued that the state’s relatively low gun violence statistics emphasize the need for more federal regulations.
“The Second Amendment’s becoming a suicide pact,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told CBS News in an interview.
“We’ll continue to find whatever loopholes we can and continue to lead the national conversation on gun safety reform. And the data bares out. It works. It saves lives,” he continued. “California’s 37% lower than the death rate of the rest of the nation, and yet, with all that evidence, no one on the other side seems to give a damn. I can’t get anything done in Congress.”
Following the Monterey Park shooting, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.), alongside other Democratic colleagues, introduced two gun control bills in the upper chamber. The first would ban assault weapons, while the second aims to raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.
President Joe Biden quickly threw his support behind the measures, urging Congress to pass them.
“The majority of the American people agree with this commonsense action,” he said in a statement Monday. “There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation.”
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