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Hurricane Irma is a monster storm. Here’s where it might be headed.

As the remnants of what was once Hurricane Harvey move mercifully away from Texas, forecasters are already eyeing another monster storm.

Hurricane Irma formed early Wednesday in the warm waters off the coast of West Africa — and took just 30 hours to strengthen to a Category 3. That’s the fastest intensification rate in almost two decades. By Friday afternoon, the storm had also grown noticeably larger in size with a well-defined eye, a classic sign of a strong hurricane.

Though Irma poses no immediate threat to land, the outlook is ominous: In the Atlantic, Irma is expected to pass through some abnormally warm waters — the primary fuel source for storm systems. The official National Hurricane Center forecast says it will remain at major hurricane status for at least the next five days, and, in a worst-case scenario, Irma could eventually grow into one of the strongest hurricanes ever seen in the Atlantic.

That assessment is leaving forecasters and coastal residents understandably jittery. A hurricane this far out at sea normally wouldn’t draw this much attention, but Harvey’s floodwaters are still receding, leaving behind historic damage in Texas and Louisiana. This is not a normal situation.

Irma is “starting to give me that uncomfortable feeling in my gut,” wrote meteorologist Brendan Moses on Twitter. Another meteorologist, Michael Ventrice, said some of the initial modeling of Irma output “the highest windspeed forecasts I’ve ever seen in my 10 yrs of Atlantic hurricane forecasting.” Even the National Hurricane Center forecaster tasked with constructing the storm’s official forecast was surprised by how “uncommonly strong” Irma already is.

Hurricane Irma is what meteorologists call a “Cape Verde hurricane,” named after the African island nation just west of Senegal — an infamous late-summer breeding ground for powerful long-track storms. Some of the most notorious hurricanes ever to make U.S. landfall were born near where Irma generated.

Only about 15 percent of Cape Verde hurricanes directly strike the United States, so there’s no guarantee that Irma will. Since any potential landfall is still almost two weeks away and could take place anywhere from Texas to Maine, there’s not much for people to do right now except monitor the storm’s progress — and speculate.

On Friday, the National Weather Service warned of “fake forecasts” that are circulating widely on social media. But even established forecasting outlets have begun to share (rather cautiously) long-range graphics that show Irma threatening the U.S.

Meteorologists won’t have even a ballpark estimate of where Irma might make landfall or how strong it will be until early next week at the soonest. It will probably take a few more days to refine those forecasts enough to confidently call for preparedness actions.

But as of Friday, the most likely scenarios for Irma aren’t looking good.

Florida and the Caribbean: Historically, Florida is the state most likely to be hit by a hurricane in September. Recent runs of the European model, the weather model with the greatest historical accuracy, showed a swath of the southeast coast from the Florida Keys to southern Virginia as the most likely area where Irma would make landfall. On the way, it could pass close to the islands of the northeast Caribbean.
Northeast: A few recent model runs show Irma curving northward off the East Coast, potentially affecting the mid-Atlantic or New England. The large-scale North American weather pattern over the next 10 days may become especially chaotic due to a dwindling typhoon in the Pacific (the atmosphere is one giant connected system, after all), so it’s possible an unpredictable dip in the jet stream could steer Irma inland.
Gulf of Mexico: Should a high-pressure area over the western Atlantic remain in place, Irma could scoot underneath it, passing through the northern edge of the Caribbean and into the Gulf of Mexico. With the Gulf coast already devastated by Harvey, it’s a potentially tragic scenario that can’t yet be ruled out.
Out to sea: Most hurricanes that form where Irma did don’t make landfall in the United States at all. They safely curve out to sea. If we’re lucky, Irma might do the same.

It’s peak hurricane season, so it’s no surprise to see another strong storm spinning across the Atlantic. But with Irma’s path still to be determined, the best place to focus our attention now is on helping soothe the disaster that’s already happened in Texas and Louisiana.

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Hurricane Irma is a monster storm. Here’s where it might be headed.

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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

Mother Jones

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On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles was engulfed in flames after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers who had been charged in the beating of Rodney King, an African-American motorist. Videos and images of King’s brutalization were widely circulated, provoking an immediate call for justice. When that call went unheeded, the ensuing unrest ignited a wave of violence, death, and financial loss in America’s second-largest city. Fifty-four people were killed in the riots, nearly 12,000 were arrested, and the city incurred more than $1 billion in damages. (The following year, two of the officers were convicted in federal court of violating King’s civil rights; the other two were acquitted once again.)

The parallels between modern-day police brutality and the 1991 King beating serve as a grim reminder of how little has changed today, despite efforts to reform law enforcement. Here are four documentaries and television specials that offer a window into the enduring legacy of the King verdict:

  1. LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later
    Despite being a retrospective, A&E’s special does not allow readers to retreat from the present-day, unfurling images of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin at the start of the two-hour film. LA Burning spins through first-person recollections from a week of dark, incendiary nights in Los Angeles. The grievances and discontent of rioters are visible onscreen, and notable interviewees include George Holliday, the photographer whose video of King’s beating went viral in the pre-Internet age. The special is available to stream on A&E’s website.
  2. LA 92
    At a midnight speech in Sacramento, California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) declares a state of emergency in LA: “This is a matter that needs to be settled in the courts and not in the streets,” he tells residents. Using archival footage, LA 92 is National Geographic Channel’s reconstructed glimpse into the turbulence roiling the city during the riots. We shuttle from images of the California National Guard on standby duty to moments of quiet calm at the First AME Church, where African-American city council member Rita Walters tells crowds, “Tonight we must tell our children one more time: Stay cool, be calm…that for African-American children and adults, freedom is not yet a reality in the United States.” The film premieres on Sunday, April 30, on National Geographic.
  3. The Lost Tapes: LA Riots
    As conflagrations spread across Los Angeles, first responders, dispatchers, and law enforcement agents scrambled to ensure the city did not fully descend into flames. Their voices are among those highlighted in this program from the Smithsonian Channel, which stitches together raw footage and homemade videos capturing the riots at the height of their intensity—some of it rarely-seen footage. “I can smell the fires,” one resident phones into a local radio station. “I’m really angry, and I’m really very scared. I just spent the last 10 years of my life in college. But it doesn’t really matter because even with a briefcase in my hand and suit on my back, I’m still just another nigger to the cops out there.” The episode is available online.
  4. Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!
    Showtime’s 99-minute documentary evaluates the events preceding the King beating, outlining the LAPD’s long history of systematic racism. The Sacha Jenkins film revisits the 1965 Watts riots, which were sparked by the arrest of African-American driver Marquette Frye. The six-day rebellion that followed in this largely African-American LA neighborhood killed 34 people and led to approximately 4,000 arrests. It was the costliest urban riot of its period, and it served as a precursor to the 1992 riots. The documentary also examines California’s Simi Valley, the predominantly white community to which the King trial was moved after fears of media saturation led to a venue change. No black citizens served on the Simi Valley jury that acquitted the officers. The full film is available on Showtime’s website.

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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

Mother Jones

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Modern hog farms make pungent neighbors. In North Carolina’s hog-wild Duplin county, an average-sized operation holds more than 7,000 pigs, each generating about 10 times the fecal waste of a person. This massive manure gusher falls through slats and is shunted into open cesspools, known, rather delicately, as “lagoons.” When the pits reach capacity, the untreated fecal slurry is sprayed onto nearby farmland as fertilizer.

A recent analysis of satellite data by Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half mile of a CAFO or a manure pit. In Duplin County alone, more than 12,000 people—about a fifth of the county’s population—live within sniffing distance of one of these fragrant facilities, EWG found. A growing body of research, summarized here, shows that these operations “pollute local ground and surface water,” and “routinely emit air pollutants that negatively impact the quality of life and health of nearby residents.” High levels of the air-borne toxins hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can trigger eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and feelings of stress and anxiety, research shows.

The NC legislature is working to stick it to the very people who live under these conditions. Bills are pending in the state House and Senate that would severely limit the amount money that can be awarded in lawsuits by property owners who live near “agricultural or forestry operations.” If the bills pass, people who live near CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) will be barred from suing hog growers for making it deeply unpleasant and even dangerous to hang out outside, open their windows, hand their clothes out to dry, etc.

The legislation amounts to a move to protect the state’s powerful hog interests and maintain a classic example of environmental injustice, says Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. She calls the push to limit these nuisance lawsuits a “direct attack on people’s Constitutional rights.” She points to a 2014 paper by University of North Carolina researchers finding that North Carolina’s hog CAFOs “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents.”

As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, the operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents—and starting in the early 1980s, experienced a massive CAFO boom. In Duplin County alone, hog CAFOs now churn out 2.3 million million hogs annually—more than 30 for every one of the county’s 60,000 residents, and more than were raised in the entire state as recently as 1982.

The bills’ sponsors openly seek to protect a company called Murphy-Brown from about two dozen pending lawsuits by filed by people who live near hig facilities. Murphy-Brown is the hog-raising subsidiary of pork-processing giant Smithfield, now owned by the Chinese state-owned firm WH Holdings, which calls Smithfield the “largest port company in the world.” As originally written, House Bill 467 would have applied even to those pending suits. Republican state Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the retired hog farmer who sponsored the House bill, called complaints about the operations “at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies,” and accused plaintiffs of “being prostituted for money” by opportunistic lawyers, The Raleigh News and Observer reports.

According to an analysis of campaign-finance records by the Durham-based weekly IndyWeek, “over the course of his career Dixon has received more than $115,000 from Big Pork,” including $36,250 from “donors associated with Murphy-Brown, the company facing more than two dozen federal lawsuits that this legislation would effectively negate.”

In a 2014 Mother Jones piece on the origin of those suits, Bridget Huber reported from the ground:

“It’s like being held prisoner,” says Elsie Herring, a Middleton and Speer client from Wallace, North Carolina in Duplin County, who has been dealing with hog stench for years. The odor means her family can no longer enjoy sitting on the porch, having cookouts, or even hanging laundry on the line. “We were here before the pork industry even came in here, so what about our rights?” she asks. “It’s as if we have none.”

Earlier this month, Dixon’s bill passed the NC House—but with an amendment exempting pending lawsuits from the restrictions on damages. Its companion bill, SB 460, remains under consideration by the NC Senate, and it still contains the provision that would essentially nullify existing lawsuits. North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s Muhammad says it’s anyone’s guess whether the legislation will make into law. After all, this is a state that recently repealed one odious “bathroom bill” under pressure, only to replace it with “new legislation that LGBT rights advocates say is just as bad,” as Mother Jones’ Ashley Dejean recently reported. “We’re in a fix here in North Carolina,” Muhammad told me. “It’s just one bad thing coming from the legislature after another.”

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

Mother Jones

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This is from the LA Times yesterday:

The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns — a policy shift that marks a significant milestone in the board’s attempts to curb shootings by police.

Wait. This is new? This hasn’t always been LAPD policy? Apparently not, and apparently not much of anywhere else, either:

As criticism of policing flared across the country, particularly after deadly shootings by officers, law enforcement agencies looked to de-escalation as a way to help restore public trust. Like the LAPD, other departments have emphasized the approach in training and policies.

The Seattle Police Department requires officers to attempt de-escalation strategies, such as trying to calm someone down verbally or calling a mental health unit to the scene. Santa Monica police have similar rules in place, telling officers to try to “slow down, reduce the intensity or stabilize the situation” to minimize the need to use force.

….The focus on de-escalation represents a broader shift in law enforcement, said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and expert in police accountability. Now, he said, there’s an understanding that officers can shape how an encounter plays out. “This is absolutely the right thing to do,” he added.

This is especially important in Los Angeles:

African Americans continue to represent a disproportionate number of the people shot at by officers. Nearly a third of the people shot at last year were black — a 7% increase from 2015. Black people make up about 9% of the city’s population but 40% of homicide victims and 43% of violent crime suspects, the report noted.

The LAPD also topped a list of big-city agencies with the highest number of deadly shootings by officers. Police in Los Angeles fatally shot more people than officers in Chicago, New York, Houston and Philadelphia did, the report said. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department came in second, with 15 deadly shootings.

Go ahead and call me naive, but I would have figured that de-escalation was standard protocol everywhere. Not always followed in practice, of course, but at least theoretically what cops are supposed to do. But apparently not. It sounds like it started to catch on after Ferguson, and is only now being adopted as official policy in a few places.

Better late than never, I suppose, but I wonder what’s stopping this from being universally adopted? What’s the downside?

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

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I Met the White Nationalist Who Says Trump Made Him Rough Up a Protester

Mother Jones

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For once, liberals and white supremacists agree on something: President Donald Trump’s rhetoric incites right-wing violence. On Monday, Matthew Heimbach, a notorious 26-year-old white nationalist who was filmed shoving an African American woman at a Trump campaign rally in March 2016, filed a lawsuit claiming that he had simply been acting “pursuant to the directives and requests of” Trump himself.

At the rally in Louisville, Kentucky, three African American protesters drew jeers from the crowd, prompting Trump to shout from the stage, “Get ’em outta here!” Heimbach, standing nearby, began shoving Kashiya Nwanguma, a student at the University of Kentucky. Nwanguma also claimed she was called a “nigger and a cunt” (Heimbach denies it was him). After the incident, Heimbach wrote on his blog, “White Americans are getting fed up and they’re learning that they must either push back or be pushed down.”

A month later, Nwanguma filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Heimbach and another man of assault and battery, and sought to hold Trump liable for inciting the violence. On April 1, 2017, a judge squashed a challenge to Nwanguma’s case filed by Trump, writing that because violence had broken out at previous rallies and known hate-group members were in attendance in Louisville, Trump’s directive for attendees to remove the protesters was “particularly reckless.”

Acting as his own attorney, Heimbach has filed a counterclaim denying the charges. If he is found guilty, he said in his claim, he was only acting on Trump’s orders. Citing among other incidents the February 1, 2016, Trump rally in Iowa where the then-presidential candidate instructed a crowd to “knock the crap out of disrupters”—”I promise you,” the president said, “I will pay for the legal fees”—Heimbach argued that the president’s campaign should be held financially responsible for any penalties levied against Heimbach. “Any liability,” he wrote, “must be shifted to” Trump.

I met Heimbach in 2013, while directing a documentary for Vice about the White Student Union he had formed at Towson University outside Baltimore, Maryland. The WSU patrolled the suburban campus in search of “black predators.” “White Southern men,” Heimbach said, “have long been called to defend their communities when law enforcement and the state seem unwilling to protect our people.” While I accompanied Heimbach’s crew, the only crime we witnessed was a drug deal by two white students—which the WSU members ignored. They did, however, celebrate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Heimbach exemplifies and has ridden the wave of white-extremist radicalization since Barack Obama’s election in 2008. During our interviews, he denied being an outright white supremacist or racist. “I hate Hitler,” he told me, explaining that he despised the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. “They’re just low-rent thugs trying to make themselves feel better. Frankly, they’re an embarrassment.”

But over the next several years, Heimbach came out as a full-on white nationalist. He made common cause with members of the National Socialist Movement, the Aryan Terror Brigade, and the Imperial Klans of America. He formed a new group, the Traditionalist Youth Network, which openly advocated partitioning the United States into mini-“ethno-states” based on race. He battled with anti-fascists in Indiana. “The political establishment has made an entire generation of young white men and women into fascists, and that’s a beautiful thing!” he told a New York Times reporter in 2016.

Heimbach rallied behind Trump’s candidacy, and started wearing a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap everywhere. The footage of him shoving Nwanguma in Louisville was emblematic of how Trump’s nativist dog whistle was pulling extremist sentiment into the mainstream. “Now there’s some viral footage of several heated moments in Louisville,” Heimbach wrote in a blog post on the Traditionalist Youth Network website after the incident:

One features yours truly helping the crowd drive out one of the women who had been pushing, shoving, barking, and screaming at the attendees for the better part of an hour. I’ll avoid any additional Trump events to ensure that I don’t become a distraction, but the entire point of the Black Lives Matter movement’s tactics is to push people until they push back. It won’t be me next time, but White Americans are getting fed up and they’re learning that they must either push back or be pushed down.

Even if the odds that Heimbach’s lawsuit will succeed are infinitesimal, the case is a revealing indication of the far right’s symbiotic relationship with Trump. White nationalists, apparently, really do believe the president has been nudging them to commit violence, or at least promising to tolerate it if they do. When in February sources inside the White House told reporters that Trump planned to no longer target white supremacists as part of the government’s anti-terrorism efforts, the editor of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer cheered, “Yes, this is real life…Donald Trump is setting us free.” Others were heartened by Trump’s silence in the wake of the murder of six people at a mosque in Quebec City by a white nationalist that same month. The rioters in Berkeley, California, last weekend—some wearing MAGA hats—seem to have heard the same music that Heimbach did last March.

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I Met the White Nationalist Who Says Trump Made Him Rough Up a Protester

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Inside the Underground Anti-Racist Movement That Brings the Fight to White Supremacists

Mother Jones

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At lunchtime on May 19, 2012, 18 masked men and women shouldered through the front door of the Ashford House restaurant in Tinley Park, Illinois, a working-class suburb of Chicago. Some diners mistook the mob for armed robbers. Others thought they might be playing a practical joke. But Steven Speers, a stalactite-bearded 33-year-old who had just sat down for appetizers at a white nationalist meet and greet, had a hunch who they were. The gang filing in with baseball bats, police batons, hammers, and nunchucks were members of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) and the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement (HARM), two groups dedicated to violently confronting white supremacists.

“Hey, bitches!” one of the anti-racists shouted before charging Speers’ table. “ARA is going to fuck this place up!”

Speers stood up and warned his seven companions to prepare to fight. His girlfriend, Beckie Williams, who had organized the lunchtime gathering on the white supremacist website Stormfront, grabbed a butter knife. Francis Gilroy, a homeless man who had driven up from Florida to find “work for whites,” as an online ad for the meeting promised, tried to pull the attackers off his companions. Williams was clubbed on the arm. Speers was hit on the head so hard he vomited.

An 80-year-old woman celebrating her granddaughter’s high school graduation at a nearby table was also pushed to the floor. A retired cop who believed he was witnessing a terrorist attack used a chair to knock out one of the masked intruders. That’s when they ran off, dragging their dazed companion.

In less than two minutes, the anti-racists had unleashed a flurry of destruction. A mosaic of smashed glass covered the floor. Blood polka-dotted the ceiling. Three people required medical care.

One group of attackers raced away in a cherry red Dodge Neon. Jason Sutherlin, a 33-year-old with the words “TIME BOMB” tattooed across his knuckles, rode shotgun. His half-brother Dylan drove, and his half-brother Cody, along with their cousin John Tucker, squeezed into the backseat with 22-year-old Alex Stuck, who’d been decked in the restaurant. They sped toward Interstate 80, which would take them home to central Indiana.

An off-duty police sergeant who’d heard a radio call about the attack spotted the Neon and turned on her siren. When she looked inside the parked car, amid the sweaty men she saw a baton, a baseball cap that said “Anti-Racist,” and a black and red scarf spelling out “HARM.” The men were arrested and charged with felony mob action and aggravated battery, which together carried up to seven years behind bars. (Speers and Gilroy were also arrested—Speers for a charge of possessing child pornography.)

Jason Sutherlin Andrew Spear

Sutherlin and his four compatriots would soon come to be known as the Tinley Park Five. Though they had launched the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement just six months earlier, the attack would make them the public faces of a small yet militant movement that had been waging war on right-wing extremists for decades. HARM was part of Anti-Racist Action, a national group that had spent more than 20 years trying to expose and combat radical right-wing activity with tactics that ranged from counseling kids in neo-Nazi gangs to harassment and physical violence. Most of their actions received little attention, though they occasionally made headlines, like after the 2002 Battle of York, where ARA members attacked a white supremacist march in a Pennsylvania town, or the time in 2009 when pepper-spray-wielding ARA members broke up a New York City speech by the British Holocaust denier David Irving. But mostly, this war was invisible beyond the predominantly white working-class youths caught up in it.

As the election of Donald Trump has ushered white supremacists and their ideas from the fringes to the mainstream, their most militant foes have also come out of the shadows. On Inauguration Day, Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right,” was punched in the face on a Washington, DC, street corner. The blow was caught on video, spawning countless remixes and a debate over the ethics and efficacy of “Nazi punching.” That same night, a Trump supporter shot and wounded an anti-fascist, or “antifa,” who was protesting a speech by Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Washington in Seattle. Less than two weeks later, “black bloc” protesters in Berkeley, California, helped force the cancellation of another Yiannopoulos speech, setting fires, smashing windows, and punching a Milo fan. Nationwide, new militant groups like Redneck Revolt are recruiting the next generation of activists who believe that white liberals are not up to the challenge of beating back right-wing extremists. The story of HARM’s rise and fall is a prequel to this moment, and a revealing tale about an underground war that’s been simmering for years and may now be poised to explode.

The seed for HARM was planted in People’s Park, a tangle of trees and footpaths in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, where in 1968 an African American graduate student named Clarence Turner opened a small store called the Black Market. In a state with a long history of white supremacism (in 1925, nearly one-third of all adult white males there belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and the governor was a sympathizer), the shop celebrated African and African American culture by selling dashikis and Malcolm X speeches. A few months after it opened, two Klan members firebombed it on Christmas. “This will not be an open season on niggers,” Turner shouted during a rally in front of the ashen skeleton of his shop.

Left Hook: A Brief History of Nazi Punching in America

By the 1990s, People’s Park had become a hangout spot for punks, ravers, hippies, petty drug dealers, and college kids looking to score. It was there around 1996 that Jason Sutherlin met Telly, another teen from a nearby town. Telly introduced Sutherlin to Nomad, a hulking, half-Puerto Rican tattoo artist. (These names are aliases that they asked me to use to avoid being targeted by white supremacists; the investigation into the Tinley Park assaults is ongoing.) Long before they would become leaders of the local anti-racist movement, the three teens “chased the same cute punk girls,” Sutherlin recalls. “At first, they were my competition, but then we became pals.”

The trio shared a love of hip-hop and punk and a hatred for bullies. It was at house parties and concerts that they got their first introduction to Indiana’s numerous white supremacist gangs—specifically, the Hammerskins and the Vinlanders Social Club. Sutherlin recalls attending a show where a Hammerskin stabbed a Latino kid. At another show, concertgoers tried to kick out a group of neo-Nazis, one of whom fired a gun into the air. (More recently, three Vinlanders nearly beat a homeless black man to death in Indianapolis in 2007.) Sutherlin was shocked by the neo-Nazis’ boldness, but he was just as impressed by how the older punks stood up to them. “That culture of not taking any shit seeped into my consciousness.”

A rampaging neo-Nazi shot Won Joon Yoon outside the Korean United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1999. Andrew Spear

Sutherlin had grown up in a diverse, working-class family that moved frequently between Indiana, Texas, and Florida. “We were crazy white trash, but my mom ran a very multicultural household,” he said. He had a gay Latino babysitter and his younger sister’s dad is black. Sutherlin recalled walking down the street with her near their home outside Bloomington when she was four. “Look,” a man shouted from the window of his pickup. “He’s got his own little nigger!” When the 14-year-old Sutherlin launched a bottle of Snapple at the truck, the man jumped out and beat him up. “In that moment, I realized that if there’s anything in life worth throwing down over,” he said, “that was it.”

In July 1999, a 21-year-old Indiana University student who had fallen under the sway of a neo-Nazi cult called the World Church of the Creator went on a two-state, three-day shooting spree, wounding nine people and killing two, including a Korean graduate student in Bloomington. Still, Sutherlin and his friends weren’t overtly interested in politics yet—they just liked hanging out in the park, going to shows, drinking, and getting into fights. Sutherlin describes himself during his teens and early 20s as a “hoodrat.” One night in 1999, after he’d dropped out of school, he burglarized a house, stealing several computers to get money to buy cocaine. He was sentenced to two years. An acquaintance who was also an inmate at the same facility later joined the prison branch of the Vinlanders Social Club. “He wasn’t even racist,” Sutherlin said, “but I think the power of the group appealed to him. If you’re a disaffected young man, any strong masculine identity will hold sway over you.”

Sutherlin became active in politics after getting out of prison and having a child. “Bringing a son into this world made me feel like I had to make things better for him,” he said. Punk, rap lyrics, and his family’s diversity had fostered his interest in left-wing ideas, but now he read voraciously about slavery, capitalism, and sexism. Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which documents the link between race and mass incarceration, “blew my mind.” He became fascinated by the militant 19th-century abolitionist John Brown. He went on a diet and lost nearly 150 pounds.

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Sutherlin took it as a sign that America might finally be reckoning with its racist past. “He was the first president I ever believed in,” he says. “Like, I was telling my family to vote for him.” But after Obama’s election, the political climate seemed to sour and the racial progress Sutherlin had hoped for never materialized. “America just would not accept a black man as its leader. It enraged me to fully realize that.”

Fanning the flames of Sutherlin’s anger was the emergence of the tea party and birtherism, and the “failure of mainstream Democratic or Republican politicians to aggressively challenge” these movements’ racist and nativist messages. This frustration led him to People’s Park, where a small crowd gathered at the former site of the Black Market one night in October 2011. Just three weeks after Occupy Wall Street took over New York’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Bloomington was born. Sutherlin helped build a kitchen and cook communal meals, and he didn’t sleep for two days. He was thrilled to be involved in activism of some kind, even if it wasn’t directly addressing racism.

Toward the end of the year, Thomas Buhls, a former Marine and organizer for the Knights, the public wing of the Ku Klux Klan, showed up around People’s Park handing out recruitment pamphlets and talking about “white genocide.” Buhls was part of a new wave of young white supremacists who pioneered the recruitment approach since adopted by the so-called alt-right: rebranding white nationalism not as a philosophy of racial superiority, but as a common-sense extension of identity politics in which the white working class is portrayed as victims of immigration, affirmative action, and multiculturalism. In this world-view, white anti-racists were an especially loathsome threat to racial solidarity. “If I tell the obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews,” wrote Robert Whitaker, a former Reagan administration aide, in his “Mantra,” a mini-manifesto that appeared online in 2006 and has served as a touchstone for white nationalists. “They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white. ‘Anti-racist’ is a code word for anti-white.”

“Buhls was telling people the recession happened because of the Jew bankers, because the Latinos were stealing jobs,” Sutherlin remembers. He and Telly would confront Buhls when they got the chance, and Sutherlin told him not to bother people in the park. “His audacity, man, of showing up at the spot where the Black Market had been firebombed.”

“I wasn’t sure if I was racist or anti-racist,” recalls Alex Stuck. “I just knew I was pissed off.” A high school dropout from Terre Haute, Indiana, who also participated in Occupy Bloomington, Stuck worked at a pizza shop beneath the pub where Sutherlin was a bartender and bouncer. Stuck had a cockatiel Mohawk, a teardrop inked beneath his right eye, and an underbite reminiscent of a French bulldog. “I was your average dumb kid,” he says. “I’d tell a racist joke or use a racist slur.” But Sutherlin began to school him about white privilege, sexism, and structural racism. “Before that, I was a muggle,” Stuck says, referring to the term for Harry Potter characters without magical powers.

The magic Sutherlin introduced him to was the history of the secret war between anti-racists and white supremacists. Like most wars, this one had its own martyrs and heroes. There was the tragedy of Greensboro, North Carolina, where in 1979 Klansmen and neo-Nazis opened fire on a “Death to the Klan” rally, killing five participants. There were the Baldies, a 1980s Minneapolis street crew, whose shaved heads, bomber jackets, boots, and braces mirrored the attire of the racist skinheads they booted out of town. And then there was Anti-Racist Action, which merged the moralism of America’s abolitionist tradition with the nihilism of punk rock and viewed the culture war as a literal war on racists, sexists, and homophobes, whom they denounced as fascists. “Racism is an idea,” an anonymous ARA member said in the 2000 documentary Invisible Revolution, but “fascism is an idea mixed with action. It took fascism to establish Jim Crow and before that, slavery…Anti-Semitism has been around a long time, but it took fascism to make the Holocaust…When you cross that threshold, you negate your rights to a calm, collective conversation.”

If ARA was the brawn of the anti-racist movement, its most prominent brain was Noel Ignatiev, a Marxist, an ex-steelworker, and a former lecturer for Harvard University’s African American studies department. He founded a journal, Race Traitor, as a vehicle for his theories about how to attack and erode white privilege. Anti-racist whites must commit “treason to whiteness” by rejecting the benefits skin color confers upon them, Ignatiev argued. “Be reverse Oreos,” he told the New York Times in 1997. “Defy the rules of whiteness—flagrantly, publicly. When someone makes a racial slur in your presence, say, ‘You probably think I’m white because I look white.'” He added that “challenging people on their whiteness can lead to harsh confrontations, even blows.” Breitbart described him as the “Harvard professor who calls for the ‘destruction’ of the ‘white race.'”

White Nationalists See Trump as Their Troll in Chief. Is He With Them?

Sutherlin, Telly, and Nomad cited this legacy as inspiration for the group they formed in the winter of 2011, just before Occupy Bloomington was evicted from People’s Park. “The feeling was that Occupy had been too moderate and unfocused,” says Sutherlin’s cousin John Tucker, who worked with Sutherlin as a bouncer. He credits his interest in HARM to teenage run-ins with neo-Nazis and to the times he heard his mother, who has a dark complexion, being called “wetback” and “squaw” by strangers in Bloomington. “This was going to be something more effective,” Tucker said. “Protesting and camping is nice, but this was going to have results.”

At HARM’s first official meeting, a few dozen people showed up at Sutherlin’s apartment with potluck dishes and beer. Telly stood before the crowd and announced the new group’s name and mission. Adopting Anti-Racist Action’s four-point platform, HARM promised to fight racists with direct action, eschewing protests or legislative efforts in favor of, say, hacking neo-Nazis’ email accounts, providing security at gay pride parades, and exposing the shady pasts of bigoted candidates. “This is a war,” Telly said, “and we intend to win.”

That’s when all but about 10 people left. “Some of them were hipster liberals,” said Stuck. “Once it came down to the nitty-gritty and we started discussing tactics, they were like, ‘We don’t wanna be a part of this.'”

Those who stayed included Tucker, who’d never been involved in politics before, and Sutherlin’s affable 23-year-old half-brother, Cody. Nomad arrived later that night. Stuck recalls seeing him—muscular as a middleweight, his head Bic-razored, his throat adorned with a tattoo of a switchblade—and thinking, “That’s who I want to be.” “I was a disenfranchised white youth,” Stuck says, “and thank God that HARM got to me first. I could have easily went the opposite direction.”

Nomad had that exact fear about his 14-year-old son, who had recently come home with a neo-Nazi recruitment flyer. White supremacists had even shown up at the tattoo parlor where Nomad worked and tried to recruit him, not realizing he was a militant anti-racist—and half Puerto Rican. “They are poisoning these kids,” Nomad said.

Telly was particularly alarmed by the growing acceptance of extreme right-wing ideas and figures. “It was terrifying,” he said. The birther movement and Arizona’s 2010 anti-immigrant law were “barely veiled racist sentiments that sounded like stuff white supremacists would advocate, not what members of the Republican Party would typically find acceptable.” Telly recalled J.T. Ready, an Arizona Republican committeeman and a former member of the National Socialist Movement who killed his family and himself after the FBI began investigating his border militia group for the murder of undocumented immigrants. There was also Jack Hunter, who had worked as an aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) until it came out that he’d made pro-Confederate statements and written that “John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place.” These people didn’t have much influence, Telly acknowledged, but “it was fucking insane that they had any influence whatsoever. Things had gone so far to the right, and we wanted to pull them back to the left.”

With its core members assembled, HARM planned an action: It would confront Buhls, who was holding a “European Heritage” rally in downtown Bloomington. In preparation, the activists lifted weights in Sutherlin’s garage “to beef up so we could break bones better,” says Stuck, half-seriously. On the day of the rally, in April 2012, more than 100 people came out to protest Buhls, who showed up with just one friend. The HARM members didn’t have a concrete plan to challenge Buhls, and before they could do anything two protesters ran up and punched him. His “Celebrate White Heritage” sign capsized into a sea of counterprotesters. Police whisked him away in a patrol car for his own safety.

A few weeks later, HARM stormed the restaurant in Illinois. While Sutherlin and the rest of the Tinley Park Five sat in jail, their comrades found their next target: the newly formed White Student Union at Indiana University. Matthew Heimbach, a white nationalist leader from Maryland, had pioneered the first White Student Union at Towson University outside Baltimore before helping spread the concept to other schools. Bloomington’s White Student Union announced its presence on campus by planning an “American White History Month.”

But less than a week after the White Student Union made its debut, a disturbing notice was posted on the group’s Facebook page by its founder, an IU undergrad:

I just spent all night in the hospital.

While walking down 10th…a blue van pulled up and four figures poured out of the vehicle…All of them wore all black clothing and had either ski masks or bandanas covering their faces…

What’s up…? That’s the only thing they said. I got hit in the head with something from behind. I fell down and told them that was enough. At this point all…of them proceeded to kick me for what felt like hours. At some point I passed out. I didn’t think I would ever wake up again.

None of it was true—it was an elaborate psyops scheme. HARM had plastered flyers all over Bloomington denouncing the White Student Union’s founder as a racist and then promised to stop only if he handed over access to the group’s Facebook page. Amazingly, he did. Then HARM invented the story of the beating to elicit notes of sympathy from other white supremacists. Once the post was up, they “doxed” those who replied, posting their real names and email addresses online.

“Though we support direct action against white supremacy,” an anonymous HARM member gloated on the group’s website after revealing the hoax, “we also believe in proportional responses and it is our belief that this fictitious action would have been overkill.” In other words, actually beating up the college kid who started the White Student Union would have been a step too far, but harassing him and outing his sympathizers was not. Heimbach “found a young naive conservative kid and turned him into the next battle in the war against racial supremacy,” the HARM member wrote, adding that the student had agreed to disband the White Student Union as a result of the hacking. “White supremacists are like rabid dogs…Just like rabid dogs, putting them down is always the most humane approach.”

I met Telly and Nomad in Columbus, Ohio, several months after the Tinley Park attack. Sutherlin and his brothers, his cousin, and Stuck were in Chicago awaiting trial, and Telly and Nomad were participating in a fundraiser to pay bail. They led me to a carriage house behind a “big-ass, beautiful mansion,” as Nomad described it, where a crowd of about 50 people greeted us. Many were HARM and ARA members, and I wondered if any of the remaining 13 fugitives were among them. (I never found out.) They were dressed in Mad Max-style punk garb—black jeans, black hoodies, bomber jackets, and combat boots, with neck and face tattoos, septum piercings, and rainbow-colored bandannas. They included a few African Americans and a dozen women. As Bob Fitrakis, a political-science professor and voting rights activist who hosted the event, wrote, they “exuded an aura that made the Weathermen look like the Brady Bunch.”

We Talked to Experts About What Terms to Use for Which Group of Racists

Fitrakis, a paunchy man with a ducktail mullet, was running for Congress as the candidate of the Green Party, which had co-sponsored the evening with ARA. His supporters, who had paid $25 to attend, mingled awkwardly with the radicals. Circulating among them was the Green Party’s then-vice presidential candidate, an anti-poverty activist named Cheri Honkala. “Dude,” Nomad said to me after a woman wearing a pearl brooch offered him a glass of zinfandel on a silver tray. The switchblade tattooed across his throat wiggled as he spoke. “This is a little out of my league.”

“These kids are the future,” said a sweaty, elderly man who asked that I not use his name because he was a “prominent professor.” He wore a black blazer over a T-shirt with a peace sign. “This is what the left needs—working-class, radical youth who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and scare the bejesus out of the teabaggers!”

“I guess there’s a time and a place for everything, even electoral politics,” Nomad said as he handed me a PBR, glaring at the clean-cut and middle-aged partygoers around us. He took a swig from a bottle of Southern Comfort he’d stashed in his back pocket. “But—and I hate to use gendered language like this—liberals are fucking pussies, man. Sometimes you’ve got to put on the big-boy boots and stomp through some mud.”

After Honkala made a speech about her work as a housing activist in Philadelphia, Telly and two other ARA members sat at the front of the room and described what had happened at the Ashford House. Nomad, standing beside me, snorted tearfully into a red handkerchief when Telly read a letter Jason Sutherlin had sent from jail. “People might think our actions are extreme,” Telly told the crowd, “but these guys”—neo-Nazis—”are often so far beyond the law that they don’t respond to legal appeals. They don’t care if hate crime legislation is enacted; it makes no difference to them. The situation in America has reached a critical tipping point, and we need to fight back with whatever tactics are effective at sending these guys back into the caves they crawled out of.”

“Right on, brother,” a snowy-haired man said.

Other Green Party members golf-clapped. The professor in the black blazer raised his champagne glass.

A hand suddenly shot up in the crowd. “Am I hearing you right?” asked an elegant African American woman with a bundle of silver-streaked hair and a “No War in Iraq” button on her straw purse. “You guys advocate violence?” She’d never heard of HARM or ARA and had been attracted by their names, she explained, but weren’t they just as bad as the people they were fighting? “Doesn’t your approach make you just like the Nazis?”

“Bullshit,” an ARA activist fake-sneezed, flashing a shit-eating smile. The questioner stormed out of the room. Telly ran a hand over his shaved head and sighed. “We’re not remotely the same,” he told the remaining crowd. “We support a diversity of tactics.” He reminded listeners that most of ARA’s actions were nonviolent—removing swastika tattoos from ex-convicts, counseling juvenile offenders, providing security at protests. “Violence is never our default response, and it’s a tiny fraction of what we do,” he said. “But it is one weapon in our tool kit. We’re not afraid to acknowledge when nonviolence is obviously not working. What you’re doing, what the liberal left is doing, frankly isn’t working.”

Five months later, I met Jason Sutherlin at East Moline Correctional Center, a turreted fortress circled by razor wire rising out of the cornfields of western Illinois, where he’d been sentenced to six years following a plea deal. His brothers, his cousin, and Stuck were sent elsewhere in the state to serve terms ranging from three and a half to six years. (A sixth Ashford House attacker, 28-year-old Jason Hammond, was later arrested and sentenced to three and a half years. His twin brother, Jeremy, is serving a 10-year sentence for hacking the security company Stratfor.) The rest of the Tinley Park attackers remain at large and are unknown.

Sutherlin shook my hand, the T-I-M-E on his knuckles interlacing through mine, as he sheepishly slipped the B-O-M-B hand into the pocket of his prison denims. “That guy acts tougher than he is,” he said, nodding toward a beefy prisoner sitting near us in the visitation room, bouncing his son on a leg adorned with a large swastika tattoo. Sutherlin’s eyes are cottonseed blue and heavily lidded, and his slightly upturned nose gives him a wary, porcine appearance. On his bicep is a tattoo that says “Fools Rush In,” and he has the physique of a dead lifter, a huge torso held up by a pair of tiny sawhorse legs. “My best friend in here is a queer black dude,” he told me, grinning. “But the Nazis don’t mess with us.”

How Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream

White supremacist gangs have an active presence in some Illinois prisons, and Sutherlin told me a story about a white guard who had approached him one day and said, menacingly, “I know why you’re in here.” Later, Sutherlin found himself alone with the same guard. The guard walked up to Sutherlin and flashed a photo of his wife, who is African American. “I think you’ll be all right in this prison,” the guard said. “I totally misread the dude,” Sutherlin told me. “He was congratulating me.”

Why risk so much to fight racism? I asked. Is this even his fight?

“My sister is black,” he said, “and that gave me a different experience of growing up in Indiana. Today, racism has reached a whole other level. It literally makes me sick to my stomach.”

“But why is violence necessary?” I pressed him. “You seem awfully preoccupied with morality—isn’t violence wrong?”

“Part of me feels bad for the whole attack,” he said. “Some central part of me thinks that all violence is oppression, and it’s never, ever right to oppress another person for their beliefs, identity, sexuality, or any other reason, no matter how heinous. But another part of me thinks that these guys aren’t worth that consideration—they’re such scumbags. All you can do is stop them from influencing others at this point.”

“Is it a danger to dehumanize them?”

“Yeah, man, it is. I think about that every day. I don’t want to dehumanize anybody.”

I later spoke with Brandon Spiller, whom Sutherlin had hit in the head with a steel baton at Tinley Park. He told me that being attacked had strengthened his conviction that whites are under siege in America. In the months after the assault, he said he’d received dozens of threatening phone calls from ARA members at his home in Wisconsin. “It’s definitely made me more likely to use my gun next time,” he said.

This is one of the paradoxes of militant anti-racist tactics: Attempting to stop hate crimes by policing thought crimes may reinforce the narrative of victimization that radicalizes some extremists in the first place. Research also suggests that violent protest may drive would-be allies toward more reactionary positions. Even Ignatiev, the anti-racist intellectual, doubts the efficacy of attacks like the one at the Ashford House. Activists should focus on dismantling the institutions and social structure that perpetuate racism, he has written. “Race is not the work of racists.”

Heimbach, now the head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party, told me that groups like ARA help his cause. (Heimbach was filmed shoving a protester at a Trump campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, in April 2016.) “They help reinforce our narrative of white victimization and make recruitment easier.”

Beckie Williams, however, wrote two weeks after the attack that the incident had caused her to abandon the white power movement. “Because of the relentless harassment by the ARA TERRORISTS,” she posted on Stormfront, “my already tenuous health is being impacted in a extremely severe way. My only recourse is to step away from activism for the sake of my continued survival.” (The other targets of the Tinley Park attack could not be reached for comment.)

After buying Sutherlin another microwave cheeseburger, I suggested that, while his actions might be appropriate in a society like Nazi Germany, in a democracy like ours, maybe they’re not. But he didn’t buy that; he believes it’s the responsibility of groups like HARM to police the boundary between democracy and fascism, keeping right-wing extremists in check, disorganized and unable to spread their ideas in public or harass people. “We’re not living in a fascist society,” Sutherlin said. “I know that. But it’s happening all around us, in fits and starts.”

As Sutherlin scarfed down a third vending-machine cheeseburger, I asked him about Tony Horwitz’s book Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, which I’d mailed him. “I feel like that book found me at just the right moment,” he said, a bead of grease dribbling down his chin. We’d been discussing the lesser-known details of Brown’s life, like his murder of slavery advocates at Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas in 1856, and the fact that his raid on Harpers Ferry was widely denounced as fanatical violence, even by President Abraham Lincoln. “I don’t know if we’re headed for a similar moment in American politics,” Sutherlin continued. “But if we are, I want to be someone who did something to stop it, not someone who played it safe and stood by.”

Ten feet away, the guy with the swastika tattoo kissed his son goodbye, and a guard led him away. The brawny, bearded Nazi could have been mistaken for one of Sutherlin’s brothers, the resemblance was so strong.

In January, just before Trump’s inauguration, I spoke with Sutherlin and Telly. All six of the Tinley Park attackers had been released from prison and HARM had gone dormant. Telly lives on the East Coast and has helped create a new group, the Torch Network, which combines several of the most radical ARA chapters, including those in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Central Texas. It promises to be just as militant as ARA, if not more. “New groups call me up and ask for advice,” Telly said. He cited the emergence of anti-fascist groups like the John Brown Militia, Redneck Revolt, and the Bastards Motorcycle Club as reasons to be optimistic, but otherwise he was gloomy. “I don’t know what to tell them,” he said. “We lost. Someone like Trump is what we were trying to prevent from happening.”

“I thought we were being alarmist,” Sutherlin said with a chuckle when I called him at his home outside Bloomington, “but it turns out things were way worse than even we imagined.” He’s no longer on parole and has been lying low, taking care of his six-year-old son and going to anti-Trump rallies but avoiding more militant activism. Since the election, he said, he’d also heard from people who were inspired by his example and seeking his advice. One was a childhood friend, a “gun-loving backwoods survivalist” who had never been political until Trump was elected but recently bought more weapons and talked about defending himself against the radical right wing. “I think a lot of people are now realizing that you can’t be neutral,” Sutherlin said. “A lot of people are suddenly realizing you have to pick a side and go to war.”

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Inside the Underground Anti-Racist Movement That Brings the Fight to White Supremacists

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Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

Mother Jones

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A federal judge Monday ruled that the state of Texas intentionally discriminated against African American and Hispanic voters when it enacted a draconian voter ID law in 2011. The ruling could pave the way for courts to require Texas to get approval from federal authorities before making future changes to its voting laws.

This is the second time Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has found that state lawmakers purposefully engaged in illegal discrimination when it adopted the photo ID requirement in 2011. In 2014, Ramos found that the law had a discriminatory effect and intent. A finding of discriminatory effect is sufficient to force a voting law to be change, but a discriminatory intent finding can open a state up to more significant punishments. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ramos’ finding of discriminatory effect but asked her to reconsider the question of intent. Her ruling on Monday reaffirmed her previous decision.

Critics of the photo ID law pointed to the fact that Texas lawmakers allowed voters to use concealed gun permits, which are more likely to be held by white voters. But the law disallowed identification cards issued to state employees and public university students, which are more likely to be used by minorities. In her opinion, Ramos pointed out that Republican lawmakers refused to include more forms of acceptable ID, reduce the cost of acquiring an ID, adopt a more lenient policy toward expired documents, or approve voter education about the new requirements. “These efforts revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on nonracial grounds, to suppress minority voting,” Ramos wrote in her opinion.

In 2013, the Department of Justice joined civil rights groups, Democratic lawmakers, and voters in challenging the law. On the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the department signaled that it might change its position. In February, the department’s lawyers asked the court to allow the US government to withdraw from the case and urged. The DOJ also urged Ramos not to rule on the intent question until the Texas legislature had taken steps this spring to amend the law, which the Fifth Circuit had ordered it to do. Ramos allowed the federal government to withdraw from this part of the case but rejected its request to hold off on the intent ruling. However, Ramos did indicate that she would wait until the legislature recessed to issue any remedy in conjunction with her findings.

The intent finding is a major victory for voting rights advocates because the courts have wide latitude to remedy intentional racial discrimination. Most importantly, a finding of intent allows the courts, if they choose, to put jurisdictions under federal oversight so that future changes to election procedures must be approved by the DOJ. Civil rights groups are requesting such a remedy and feel their argument for putting Texas back under federal supervision—which ended when the Supreme Court gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013—is strong. Last month, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in San Antonio found, in a separate case, that Republicans had racially gerrymandered congressional districts in order to weaken the growing power of minority voters. Taken together, voting rights attorneys believe the two findings of racially discriminatory intent make a convincing case that Texas should be placed under federal supervision.

“This is a great win for Texas voters, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who looked seriously at the evidence,” Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center said in a statement after Ramos’ ruling. “Texas legislators crafted a law they knew would hurt minority voters, without any good justification or attempt to ameliorate the harms, and they mangled the legislative process to get it through.”

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Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

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The Alabama Governor’s “Inappropriate Relationship” Wasn’t the Whole Scandal

Mother Jones

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican whose relationship with a former aide earned him the nickname “Love Gov,” is expected to resign this week under threat of impeachment. But Bentley’s departure won’t resolve every scandal plaguing his administration.

On Friday, the special counsel leading the impeachment investigation released a 130-page report, which found that Bentley had improperly used law enforcement officials to cover up his “inappropriate relationship” with the former aide, Rebekah Mason. “Bentley directed law enforcement to advance his personal interests and, in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” the report says. The findings come days after the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe Bentley committed multiple felony violations of state ethics and campaign finance laws.

Apart from Bentley’s fate, the report shed some light on an episode that brought national scorn and a federal civil rights investigation to Alabama—an episode that also involves the state’s junior US senator, Luther Strange (R).

In 2015, the Bentley administration announced it would shutter 31 driver’s license offices. The closures—which were portrayed as a cost-saving measure—hit rural, minority counties the hardest, leaving 8 of the state’s 11 majority-African American counties without an office that issues driver’s licenses. The move was especially problematic given that Alabama requires voters to present photo identification to cast a ballot.

The closures drew widespread condemnation from civil rights activists. The NAACP filed a lawsuit, which led to an investigation by the US Department of Transportation. The department found that the closures violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In December 2016, the state of Alabama agreed to expand hours of operations for some offices—a partial reversal of the 2015 closures.

According to Friday’s report, former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Director Spencer Collier told investigators that it was Mason who asked him to shutter driver’s license offices. Collier alleged that at a budget meeting in 2015, Mason proposed closing offices and asked his agency to come up with a plan for doing so. Collier also said he contacted that state attorney general’s office because he thought the proposal might violate federal law; Strange was the attorney general at the time.

“It was Collier’s understanding that Mason intended the plan to be rolled out in a way that had limited impact on Governor Bentley’s political allies,” the report states. “Collier claims he reported this to the Attorney General’s office because he was concerned about a Voting Rights Act violation.”

Ultimately, Collier came up with a plan to close offices with the smallest workloads—which hit rural and minority communities the hardest. Bentley approved the plan but, according the report, took an office in the district of a Republican state senator off the closure list.

In an email, Bobby Segall, an attorney for Mason, declined to address Mason’s involvement in the closures but added, “I will say generally there is a good bit in the report with which we do not agree.”

In February, Bentley appointed Strange to the US Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions (R) became US attorney general.

Beyond Bentley’s strange saga, the report raises the question of whether Strange’s office green-lighted a plan that the federal government found discriminatory. Collier first noted in the fall of 2015—amid a public backlash over the closures—that he had discussed the plan with Strange’s office. Spokespeople for Strange and the Alabama attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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The Alabama Governor’s “Inappropriate Relationship” Wasn’t the Whole Scandal

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This Epic PBS Documentary Shows How Creepily Little Has Changed Since World War I

Mother Jones

I was never that much of a history buff, so it’s pretty rare for me to sit down and watch a documentary about a war that ended before my mom was born. But I’m rethinking my slacker ways after watching The Great War, a captivating new series premiering April 10 on PBS’ American Experience.

The history of this nation’s involvement in World War I is as fascinating as it is unsettling. The Great War also was our global coming of age, the beginning of America’s transformation into a nation deeply engaged in world affairs and conflicts. Perhaps what struck me most about the three-part, six-hour series was the familiarity of so many of its themes—a sense of déjà vu that left me feeling like even those of us who know our history are doomed to repeat it.

Here are 10 big takeaways from the series to accompany this exclusive clip (above) about the wartime crackdown on dissent.

1. America was as polarized a century ago as it is today. In 1917, the country was split over race relations, voting rights, domestic politics, our place in the world, and whether we should be fighting foreign wars at all.

2. The “great” war was so not great. Like all big conflicts, World War I had its inspiring tales of duty, bravery, and heroism, but the primary narrative was one of staggering deprivation and devastation. By the time America came in, some 15 million soldiers and civilians were already dead. (The 1918 flu pandemic, made worse by the war, would kill millions more.) Beyond the bullets and shells, the Germans introduced frightening new weapons including mustard gas, which was soon adopted by the Allies. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, US soldiers fighting the Germans lost an average of 550 men per day for 47 straight days. Three times that many were wounded. “It was, and remains,” notes one commentator, “the bloodiest battle America has ever been involved in.” But the longest conflict we’ve ever been involved in is still happening—over in Afghanistan.

“First to Fight” US Marines in 1918 U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Publicity Bureau

3. Immigrants were scapegoated. Sound familiar? With Americans being shipped overseas to backstop French and British forces against the Kaiser’s army, German Americans became the bad guys at home. They were forced to register with the federal government. German language and songs were banned from schools. There were stein-smashing events, and citizens were encouraged to report those they suspected of disloyalty. Anyone deemed pro-German might be beaten, tarred and feathered, hauled to an internment camp, or even lynched. Now we have anti-Muslim travel orders, rising hate crimes, and an anti-immigrant president who supports the notion of a Muslim registry—during the campaign, a Trump surrogate cited internment camps as a precedent. This is a slippery slope, people.

4. You were either with us or against us. Remember how the politicians who refused to fall in line with George W. Bush’s post-9/11 crackdown on civil liberties (and his move to invade Iraq) were attacked for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Rewind to 1917: At first reluctant to enter the war, President Woodrow Wilson went all in, brooking no dissent from the public. Conformity was enforced by means of federally funded propaganda, as well as vigilante groups that, with the blessing of the Department of Justice, conducted “slacker raids.” Police, too, conducted mass roundups, locking up draft evaders, conscientious objectors, and war critics such as socialist leader Eugene Debs. Hutterite religious objectors were tortured (some to death) at Leavenworth military prison.

New York City Preparedness Parade (May 1916) Library of Congress

5. Laws were passed to justify repression. With today’s Republican lawmakers proposing harsh penalties for peaceful protest activities such as blocking traffic, it’s instructive to recall the Espionage and Sedition acts that Congress passed in 1917 and 1918 at the urging of President Wilson. (One of the film’s featured historians, Michael Kazin, calls Wilson “both the great Democrat and one of the most oppressive figures in American history.”) Used to prosecute more than 2,000 Americans, “these two acts really become tools to shut up people who refuse to be quiet about their opposition to the war, especially left-wing organizations—socialists, the IWW International Workers of the World,” historian Jennifer Keene explains. Simply griping to a colleague about food rationing might get a man locked up. “For every prosecution,” adds historian Christopher Capozzola, “there may be tens, hundreds, thousands of ‘friendly’ visits by government agents warning someone not to say what they said or write what they wrote.”

6. World War I spawned a huge propaganda machine. Wilson enlisted marketing guru George Creel to sell the war and made him the head of a new federal Committee on Public Information. Creel was masterful in controlling the narrative of the conflict at home and spreading the view that if you weren’t actively down with the war effort, then you were disloyal. Years later, the administration of George H.W. Bush relied on PR firms to gin up public support for Operation Desert Storm. You might recall the fabricated story of Iraqi troops ripping babies from their incubators at a Kuwait hospital and leaving them to die—brought to you by a Kuwaiti government front group that hired companies such as Hill & Knowlton to make its case for America to go after Saddam.

A 1917 propaganda poster James Montgomery Flagg/Library of Congress

7. America betrayed her black soldiers. The documentary, whose commentators include several black historians, does a fabulous job of showing how the war was transformative for African American soldiers. Handed over to fight hellish trench battles under French command, they were treated, if not as equals, then at least as worthy comrades by their white French counterparts. The returning veterans were no longer content to accept the racist status quo in America; hundreds were lynched for resisting white supremacy. The “red summer” of 1919 was “a wave of racial violence unparalleled in United States history,” notes historian Chad Williams. “It was a horrific statement about how the aspirations of African Americans were going to be met with violent resistance from white people.” Thousands of blacks wrote to the White House begging for help, but they were given the cold shoulder. President Wilson, at once a global visionary and a small-minded bigot, refused to acknowledge the slaughter, and America remained as violently racist as it ever was. But the new perspective and sense of entitlement among black veterans planted seeds for a civil rights movement yet to come. America, of course, is still pretty darn racist.

The Harlem Hellfighters land in New York City. National Archives

8. The war was a turning point for women’s voting rights. The suffragists of the time, led by Alice Paul, were deft at turning Wilson’s war rhetoric against him: Even as young Americans died to “make the world safe for democracy,” they said, Wilson was stifling democracy at home. Anti-government protests had all but evaporated once America declared war, but Paul and others continued their daily vigil outside the White House gates. Even after Wilson had the women locked up, they continued to make him look bad by launching a hunger strike. Wilson eventually capitulated. Congress approved the 19th Amendment in 1919—the states ratified it in 1920. (Now it’s people of color who are stuck fighting—yet again—to protect their voting rights.)

9. Petty bipartisan squabbling ruined everything. After the immense effort of negotiating the terms of peace in Europe and selling the treaty to the American public, the president let his petty rivalry with Republican Henry Cabot Lodge doom the treaty’s ratification by the Senate. What if Wilson had let the pact proceed with Lodge’s inconsequential amendments attached? Or what if he’d brought the Republican leader along with him to Paris when he negotiated the treaty? What if America had ratified the treaty and stayed intimately involved in the postwar order? “Just what if?” asks historian Margaret MacMillan. Her implication is clear: World War II might never have happened.

A women’s peace parade in 1914, before America joined the war Library of Congress

10. Hillary Clinton actually would have been our second female president. Shortly after Congress nixed Wilson’s hard-fought treaty, the president suffered a massive stroke. His inner circle covered up the severity of his condition for a year and a half, while first lady Edith Wilson essentially served as a covert chief executive: “A handful of people in the White House,” says Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg, “engaged in the greatest conspiracy in American history.” Yet.

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This Epic PBS Documentary Shows How Creepily Little Has Changed Since World War I

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

Mother Jones

Do photo ID laws reduce minority turnout? Previous studies have suggested that the answer is yes, but the effect is fairly small. However, in the Washington Post last week, three scholars wrote about a new study they conducted, which offers “a more definitive assessment” than previous studies. Their conclusion: states with strict photo ID laws produce a far lower turnout among minorities than other states.

It’s taken me a while to comment on this because I had to read the report a few times to make sure I understood everything. In the end, I found several reasons to be skeptical of their conclusion.

First off, they found much stronger effects in primaries than in general elections. Now, maybe this really is the case, and I can certainly invent plausible stories about why it might be so. But it still seems odd.

Second, in a draft version of their study, they say this:

Importantly, we see no effects for Asian Americans, the one minority group that is, by at least some standards, not socioeconomically disadvantaged. The effects of these laws seem to be concentrated toward the bottom end of the racial hierarchy.

In later drafts, their numbers have been updated and it turns out that Asian Americans are affected by voter ID laws—which makes their important finding disappear. But if this was an important verification in one draft, it ought to be an important discrepancy in the final draft. However, it’s not mentioned.

Third, hardly any of their findings are statistically significant. I’m not a big stickler for 95 percent significance always and everywhere, especially for something like this, where there’s one messy set of real-life data and you have to draw conclusions from it one way or another. If the results are significant at 85 or 90 percent, that’s still strongly suggestive. Nonetheless, that’s all it is.

Fourth, the effect size on African Americans is considerably less than it is for Hispanics and Asian Americans. Maybe this is just because blacks are more politically organized, and therefore more likely to overcome the deterrent effects of photo ID laws. Maybe.

So far, none of these are deal breakers. They made me a little tentative about accepting the authors’ results, but that’s all. But then we get this:

Here’s what’s going on. On the left, you see their main results, based on a model they constructed. It shows very large effects: in states with strict photo ID laws, turnout decreases 8 percentage points among Hispanics, 2 percent among African Americans, and 5 percent among Asians.

On the right, you see the results from a second test. It compares turnout in states before and after they enacted strict photo ID laws, and it shows much smaller effects: about 2 percentage points for all minorities. This strikes me as a better test, since it eliminates lots of confounding variables that crop up when you compare one set of states to a different set. But the authors go to considerable lengths to downplay these results, for reasons that I don’t find very persuasive. Yes, their sample size is smaller, and yes, things can change from year to year. But their sample sizes aren’t that small, and the differences in a single state over the course of two years is probably smaller than the differences between states in the same year.

Maybe I’m totally off base here. I don’t have the raw data or the chops to analyze it. Still, if I had to bet money, I’d bet that the second test is more reliable, and the real effect of photo ID laws is a decreased turnout of about 2 percentage points among minorities. That’s plenty to affect a close election, and the motivation for these laws is plainly partisan and racial. They should be done away with everywhere.

That said, I continue to suspect that the effect is fairly modest.

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

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