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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Proposes Strict Crackdown on Violent Protests

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  • On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called for legislation aimed at cracking down on “violent and disorderly protests,” as well as at withholding state grants and aid from cities with “Defund the Police” measures. 
  • Under his proposed law, a person could be charged with a felony if they block roadways during a protest held without a permit or if they are part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes injury or damage. 
  • It also gives protection to drivers who kill or injure others while “fleeing for safety from a mob” and would bar anyone who is convicted under this bill from becoming a state or local government employee.
  • Critics of the proposed law say that DeSantis is trying to scare people from using their first amendment rights and argue that the driver clause could actually lead to violence against protesters. 

DeSantis’ Proposed Protest Law

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) unveiled a bill on Monday that, if passed, would severely crackdown on protests described as “violent or disorderly.

Notably, that bill would make it a felony to be part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes property damage or injury to other people and to block traffic during a protest held without a permit. The bill also stipulates that drivers would “NOT be held liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.”

Among those measures, the bill would create a new six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone who strikes a law enforcement officer “during a violent or disorderly assembly.” 

That also includes offense enhancements for people who throw objects that hit civilians or law enforcement, for people who assault law enforcement “during a violent or disorderly assembly,” and for people from different states who participate in such assemblies. 

On top of that, the bill has a “No ‘Defund the Police’ Permitted” measure, which would prohibit state grants or aid from going to any local government that slashes police department budgets.

It also “waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damage” if that “government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.” Essentially, sovereign immunity refers to the fact that the government cannot be sued without its consent.

Anyone who is convicted of participating in “a violent or disorderly assembly” would additionally be barred from becoming a state or local government employee. Convicted individuals would find their state benefits terminated as well. 

Support for the Bill

The bill is a response to nationwide protests where demonstrators have called for racial justice following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Since those protests began, many have called for police departments to be defunded or abolished. 

While there have been documented cases of looting and arson, a September report from the U.S. Crisis Project found that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. 

As he announced the bill, DeSantis called it the “boldest and most comprehensive” piece of legislation of its kind.

If you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it,” he said. “If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks raining down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct.”

DeSantis then went on to criticize cities like New York City, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, Wicsonsin. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department labeled New York City, Portland, and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” That came after President Donald Trump ordered the agency to review federal funding for local governments in cities that have faced violence, vandalism, and looting during protests.

“This proposed legislation gives us tools to separate the peaceful from the violent,” Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell told Politico. “It also establishes the Legislature’s direction that we severely punish those who promote violence through the corruption of these demonstrations.”

Like Campbell, DeSantis has stressed that the bill is aimed only at those who incite violence at protests, not peaceful protesters.

Criticism of the Bill

Still, many have argued that DeSantis is using marginal reports of violence to punish all forms of protest and critics of police misconduct.

Among those, Florida’s incoming House Minority Leader, Evan Jenne (D), said, “Most of this stuff is already illegal. He is just Hell bent on silencing any voice of opposition.”

“None of this is about policy,” Jenne added. “It’s about buoying President Trump, who has slipped precipitously in the polls. It’s dog-whistle base stuff.”

Stephanie Porta, executive director of the progressive group Organize Florida, said, “This is out there to absolutely scare people into not using their constitutional rights for freedom of speech.” 

The ACLU of Florida also condemned the bill, and Executive Director Micah Kubic called the proposal “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values.”

“This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” he added in a statement. 

Some are also worried that the bill could actually incite violence since it shields drivers that kill or injure people with their vehicles. In fact, several critics have noted that during a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, a counterprotester was hit and killed. That same incident also injured 19 others. The driver of that car later claimed he “felt he was in danger and people were coming at him.”

Where Is the Bill at?

For now, this measure remains simply a proposal. 

It will first have the opportunity to be formally introduced in March 2021 when Florida’s next legislative session actually begins. Until then, committees will start the process of crafting the bill’s language and finding sponsors as they meet later this year. 

The bill’s language will be critically important. That’s because terms like “mob” and “Defund the police” will have to be strictly defined. For example, “Defund the police” can carry several definitions.

In some cases, it means redirecting money for police departments to other governmental agencies for housing, mental health services, and other social programs. In others, people could use it as a proxy for abolishing whole police departments. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (WESH 2 News) (WPTV 5)

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Rep. Schiff Urges DOJ to Investigate Trump for Election Crimes: “There’s Enough Evidence”

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“When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate,” the congressman said.


Schiff Says DOJ Should Launch Inquiry

Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.) told Rogue Rocket that he believes there is “certainly […] enough evidence for the Justice Department to open an investigation” into possible election crimes committed by former President Donald Trump.

Schiff, who took the lead in questioning witnesses testifying before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Tuesday, said that it will be up to the DOJ to determine whether “they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal activity, but added that an investigation must first be launched.

“Donald Trump should be treated like any other citizen,” the congressman said, noting that a federal judge in California has already ruled that Trump and his allies “likely” engaged in multiple federal criminal acts. “When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate.”

“One of the concerns I have is it’s a year and a half since these events. And while […] there’s an investigation going on in Fulton County by the district attorney, I don’t see a federal grand jury convened in Atlanta looking into this, and I think it’s fair to ask why,” Schiff continued, referencing the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.

“Normally, the Justice Department doesn’t wait for Congress to go first. They pursue evidence and they have the subpoena power. They’re often much more agile than the Congress. And I think it’s important that it not just be the lower-level people who broke into the Capitol that day and committed those acts of violence who are under the microscope,” he continued. “I think anyone who engaged in criminal activity trying to overturn the election where there’s evidence that they may have engaged in criminal acts should be investigated.”

Schiff Takes Aim at DOJ’s Handling of Committee Subpoenas

Schiff also expressed frustration with how the DOJ has handled referrals the committee has made for former Trump officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify before the panel.

“We have referred four people for criminal prosecution who have obstructed our investigation. The Justice Department has only moved forward with two of them,” he stated. “That’s not as powerful an incentive as we would like. The law requires the Justice Department to present these cases to the grand jury when we refer them, and by only referring half of them, it sends a very mixed message about whether congressional subpoenas need to be complied with.”

As far as why the congressman thought the DOJ has chosen to operate in this manner in regards to the Jan. 6 panel’s investigation, he said he believes “the leadership of the department is being very cautious.” 

“I think that they want to make sure that the department avoids controversy if possible, doesn’t do anything that could even be perceived as being political,” Schiff continued. “And while I appreciate that sentiment […] at the same time, the rule of law has to be applied equally to everyone. If you’re so averse, […] it means that you’re giving effectively a pass or immunity to people who may have broken the law. That, too, is a political decision, and I think it’s the wrong decision.”

On the Note of Democracy

Schiff emphasized the importance of the American people working together to protect democracy in the fallout of the insurrection.

“I really think it’s going to require a national movement of people to step up to preserve our democracy. This is not something that I think Congress can do alone. We’re going to try to protect those institutions, but Republicans are fighting this tooth and nail,” he asserted. “It’s difficult to get through a Senate where Mitch McConnell can filibuster things.”

“We don’t have the luxury of despair when it comes to what we’re seeing around us. We have the obligation to do what generations did before us, and that is defend our democracy,” the congressman continued. “We had to go to war in World War II to defend our democracy from the threat of fascism. You know, we’re not called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices. We see the bravery of people in Ukraine putting their lives on the line to defend their country, their sovereignty, their democracy. Thank God we’re not asked to do that.”

“So what we have to do is, by comparison, so much easier. But it does require us to step up, to be involved, to rally around local elections officials who are doing their jobs, who are facing death threats, and to protect them and to push back against efforts around the country to pass laws to make it easier for big liars to overturn future elections.” 

“We are not passengers in all of this, unable to affect the course of our country. We can, you know, grab the rudder and steer this country in the direction that we want.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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Senate Passes Bill to Help Veterans Suffering From Burn Pit Exposure

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For Biden, who believes his son Beau may have died from brain cancer caused by burn pits, the issue is personal.


Veterans to Get Better Healthcare

The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday to pass a bill that would widely expand healthcare resources and benefits to veterans who were exposed to burn pits while deployed overseas.

Until about 2010, the Defense Department used burn pits to dispose of trash from military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, dumping things like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and medical waste into pits and burning them with jet fuel.

Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated a link between exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by the pits and health problems such as respiratory ailments and rare cancers. The DoD has estimated that nearly 3.5 million veterans may have inhaled enough smoke to suffer from related health problems.

For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs resisted calls to recognize the link between exposure and illness, arguing it had not been scientifically proven and depriving many veterans of disability benefits and medical reimbursements.

Over the past year, however, the VA relented, awarding presumptive benefit status to veterans exposed to burn pits, but it only applied to those who were diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of their service.

The latest bill would add 23 conditions to the list of what the VA covers, including hypertension. It also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing, and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal research on toxic exposure.

The bill will travel to the House of Representatives next, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to push it through quickly. Then it will arrive at the White House for final approval.

An Emotional Cause for Many

Ahead of a House vote on an earlier version of the bill in March, comedian John Stewart publically slammed Congress for taking so long to act.

“They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘We want to do it. We want to support the veterans. But we want to do it the right way. We want to be responsible,’” he said. “You know what would have been nice? If they had been responsible 20 years ago and hadn’t spent trillions of dollars on overseas adventures.”

“They could have been responsible in the seventies when they banned this kind of thing in the United States,” he continued. “You want to do it here? Let’s dig a giant fucking pit, 10 acres long, and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s going to cause some health problems.”

For President Biden, the issue is personal. He has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the fact the long-awaited benefits could soon arrive for those impacted.

“The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God,” he said during a speech on Thursday.

A 2020 member survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins.

Although burn pits have largely been scaled down, the DoD has not officially banned them, and at least nine were still in operation in April 2019.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Military Times) (Politico)

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Key Takeaways from the Second Jan. 6 Committee Hearing

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The second hearing focused primarily on showcasing how Trump ignored top advisors who told him his election fraud claims were false and warned him against declaring victory on election night.


Advisors Told Trump His Fraud Claims Were Wrong

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection held its second public hearing Monday, during which members laid out evidence to support their case that former President Donald Trump knew his election fraud claims were false but still pushed them away.

“We will tell the story of how Donald Trump lost an election and knew he lost an election and, as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy — an attack on the American people by trying to rob you of your voice in our democracy,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Ms.) said in his opening statement. 

“And in doing so, lit the fuse that led to horrific violence on Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol, sent by Donald Trump to stop the transfer of power.” 

Drawing from live witness testimonies and taped depositions, the committee showed how top officials and advisors close to the president repeatedly told him that his election fraud claims were false and that he had lost the race. Despite this, he declared victory on election night long before all the votes were counted, then continued his efforts to push the Big Lie and overturn his defeat even as a growing number of people provided more and more evidence to the contrary.

Some of the strongest moments of testimony were from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who at various times described Trump’s election fraud claims as “bogus and silly,” “idiotic,” “stupid,” “complete nonsense,” “crazy stuff,” and “bullshit.” 

The former Justice Department leader also outlined multiple instances where he said he had told the then-president that alleged fraud the DOJ had looked into turned out to be without merit — including some examples that Trump had publicly touted.

That was also echoed by former Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, who listed a number of fraud claims in detail and said he too informed Trump that there was no evidence to support them.

“I tried to, again, put this in perspective and to try to put it in very clear terms to the president,” he told the panel. “And I said something to the effect of, ‘Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.’” 

Both Barr and Donoghue said that Trump seemed to have little interest in listening to the evidence.

“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has … become detached from reality,Barr said in one now-viral clip. “On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would, you know, tell them how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.” 

Trump Ignored Aides Who Told Him Not to Declare Victory

The panel also played footage of top officials saying they had advised Trump against declaring victory on election night, including his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and another top campaign aide, Jason Miller.

Stepien and Miller said they had explained to Trump that votes were still being counted, including many Democrat votes that would come in later because more Democrats had cast ballots by mail. But Trump ignored them, and instead opted to listen to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who Miller told the panel was “definitely intoxicated” on the consequential night.

Even Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told the committee that he had shared his reservations about Giuliani with the president. When asked what he told Trump about his concerns over Giuliani, Kushner responded: “Basically, ‘not the approach I would take if I was you.’” 

In regards to Giuliani, the committee also emphasized that there were two groups of people who surrounded Trump following the election: “Team Normal” and “Rudy’s Team.”

“Team Normal” was being led by Stepien and composed of people who tried to dissuade Trump of his fraud claims, while “Rudy’s Team” was made up of Giuliani and others who encouraged Trump to spread the Bog Lie, like lawyer Sidney Powell.

Possible Fundraising Fraud

The Jan. 6 committee has previously floated multiple laws the former president may have violated through his actions leading up to the insurrection, including obstruction of an official proceeding and witness tampering.

On Monday, the members appeared to outline a new possible crime: fundraising fraud.

In a video presentation that concluded the day, the representatives illustrated how Trump and his allies used the “Big Lie” as a “big rip-off” by convincing supporters to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to what they called his “Official Election Defense Fund,” which they had said would be used for the legal efforts to overturn the results of the election.

But a senior investigator for the committee said that they had found that the fund never existed. Instead, most of the $250 million in donations went to Trump’s Save America PAC. Some of it was also given to PACs run by Trump advisors and the former president’s own hotels, but very little was actually spent on legal battles.

The Jan. 6 committee does not have the power to bring criminal charges, though they can refer them to the DOJ. When asked by reporters on Monday if the committee would make any criminal referrals, Thompson replied, “No, that’s not our job. Our job is to look at the facts and circumstances around January 6, what caused it, and make recommendations after that.”

That remark, however, was later contradicted by the committee’s vice-chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.).

“The January 6th Select Committee has not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals,” she wrote on Twitter. “We will announce a decision on that at an appropriate time.”

A spokesperson for the committee also appeared to back up Cheney’s remarks in a statement to CNN.

“Right now, the committee is focused on presenting our findings to the American people in our hearings and in our report,” the spokesperson said. “Our investigation is ongoing and we will continue to gather all relevant information as we present facts, offer recommendations and, if warranted, make criminal referrals.”

The panel’s third public hearing was initially set to be held Wednesday, but a spokesperson announced that it will be postponed until an undisclosed time next week. The committee did not provide reasoning for the move, but sources have cited a scheduling conflict.

Cheney has said that the hearings in days ahead will expand to Trump’s broader efforts to plan for Jan. 6, including his plan to “corrupt” the DOJ, as well as his efforts “to pressure the vice president, state legislatures, state officials and others to overturn the election.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (ABC News)

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