Cities around the world seek to emulate NYC’s elevated park
By MARY ESCH
Monday, May 28
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The success of New York City’s elevated park, the High Line, has inspired a slew of projects across the United States and internationally that repurpose rusting ribbons of steel and concrete as green space in hopes of rejuvenating neighborhoods or reclaiming overbuilt riverfronts.
Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, London and New York’s capital of Albany are among the cities with High Line-style projects completed or in the planning stages. All seek to capture at least some of the popularity of the 23-block-long railroad viaduct in lower Manhattan planted with trees, shrubs and flowers that attracts more than five million visitors a year and has spurred $4 billion in surrounding development since it opened in 2009.
“Communities all over the country are recycling all kinds of abandoned or unneeded infrastructure,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. “We’re recycling abandoned rail lines, canals, utility corridors, parking lots, roofs of buildings, airports — even decking over freeways.”
The first section of a park on the old Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia opens next month. Chicago’s elevated Bloomingdale Trail on an abandoned rail line opened in 2015. In Miami, the Underline will transform land beneath the Metrorail into a 10-mile-long linear park designed by James Cormer Field Operations, which developed Manhattan’s High Line. London has the Camden Highline, a planned park on a half-mile strip of disused railway. In Washington, D.C., an old freeway bridge is being transformed into a park connecting Capitol Hill with communities east of the Anacostia River.
And in Albany, the proposed Skyway seeks to transform a half-mile-long unneeded highway ramp into a landscaped promenade linking downtown to the Hudson River waterfront park.
“We’ll be looking to the High Line for some design ideas, landscaping lessons learned and ways to fundraise to support programming,” said Sarah Reginelli, president of Capitalize Albany, a nonprofit economic development organization. “But it’s a very different project, not only in size and scope, but also because it serves the critical function of connecting downtown with the riverfront.”
Albany residents and officials have long lamented the inaccessibility of the Hudson River waterfront to the city’s downtown. Standing as a major barrier is multi-laned Interstate 787, which borders the river and carries 80,000 cars and trucks a day.
A recent Albany waterfront corridor study considered several solutions including burying the highway or decking over it. Several cities have done just that. One of the most successful is Dallas’ 5-acre Klyde Warren Park built over the Woodall Rogers Freeway, opened in 2012. It connects the flourishing downtown arts district to other neighborhoods.
“This project isn’t a big-ticket item like that, but it’s a solution to what’s a very challenging issue for many cities,” Reginelli said.
The Albany Skyway plans call for taking an existing highway ramp that has connections to the riverfront park and a downtown area in the midst of redevelopment, closing it to traffic and landscaping it as a half-mile-long aerial promenade with trees, gardens, seating areas and space for art installations, food vendors and events ranging from farmers markets to music festivals. City officials see it as a destination in itself as well as a route for walkers and bicyclists between downtown and the network of riverfront trails.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a boost to the project in March in announcing a $3.1 million state grant. The money is for final engineering and initial construction, slated to begin by late 2019 and be finished in 2020. Total cost estimates range from $5 million to $12 million, depending on design.
“It’s going to be a critical element for the city, a place people will want to come to,” said Jonathan Brust, who lives nearby and looks forward to extending his daily walks to the riverfront. “But we also need to find ways for it to pay for itself, like renting space for pop-up events and farmers markets.”
Rudy Giuliani booed at Yankee Stadium when announcer wishes him happy birthday
By Zachary Ripple
| NEW YORK DAILY NEWS |
May 28, 2018
Yankee fans gave Rudy Giuliani the Giancarlo Stanton treatment.
The former NYC mayor was at the Stadium to celebrate his 74th birthday on Memorial Day, with the announcer wishing him a happy birthday to the crowd.
The fans, however, greeted him with hearty boos.
Rudy Giuliani, choosing to celebrate his birthday at Yankee Stadium, was booed by those in attendance.
Giuliani, of course, has left his law firm to join President Trump’s arsenal of personal lawyers — something the majority of those in attendance didn’t seem to approve of.
The Yankees had reason to boo about the score, too. The Bombers went on to lose 5-1 to the Astros.
Evangelicals keep faith in Trump to advance religious agenda
May 3, 2018
Support for President Trump among Evangelicals is at an all-time high. On the National Day of Prayer, William Brangham talks with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference about why he says it’s a balancing act and where they differ.
President Trump marked this National Day of Prayer with an event in the Rose Garden, as his support among white evangelicals is at an all-time high.
The annual event stood in contrast to the other news of the day we have been discussing of Mr. Trump’s payments to an adult film actress.
William Brangham: Joining me now is a leader among American evangelicals, a man who has prayed with and prayed for President Trump.
Reverend Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and he has served as an adviser in various capacities to Presidents Bush, Obama, and now President Trump. Welcome to the “NewsHour.”
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.
William Brangham: So, the president was here for National Prayer Day. He met with many leaders of the faith community. You are in that inner circle. As we were saying before, the president has enormous support among the evangelical community. And I wonder if you could just help me understand, where does that support come from?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Public policy. Evangelicals experienced or felt that, in the past number of years, the past 10 years, issues of religious liberty, issues of advancing their Judeo-Christian value systems stood in a de facto and du jour manner, for that fact, threatened.
Sisters of the Poor, Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court cases that to evangelicals infringed their ability to advance the Gospel of Jesus. So, all of a sudden, we have President Donald Trump, and the public policy initiatives as it pertains to faith is much more favorable to the evangelical community indeed.
William Brangham: There’s many things on that one side of the ledger that would seem to alienate him from the evangelical community, three marriages, accusations of adultery, bragging about sexual assaults.
You’re arguing that the policy side of the ledger is enough to make people think that things don’t matter as much?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: No, I don’t think it’s ever to a point where it doesn’t matter.
I think it comes to the point where we don’t want to write anyone off. You don’t want to write off access to a president who can impact religious liberty, who can impact the sanctity of life. So it’s a matter of balancing these narratives in a way where we never sacrifice truth on the altar of expediency, but we likewise support policies that reflect our Judeo-Christian value system.
William Brangham: So, it was something much more fundamental to evangelicals? When they looked at this last election, President Trump vs. Hillary Clinton, they just felt much more fundamental was at stake that made them want to support him?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Some would argue the future of American Christianity. Some argued…
William Brangham: Is that right?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Absolutely. It became that sort of canopy. The impetus behind it, putting the personalities aside, the imperative, what’s at stake here, put it in perspective, religious liberty, sacrificing your conscience on the altar of politics, government obligating you to somehow put away your belief system if you worked in a hospital, whatever that may be. There were a number of issues that prompted 81 percent of evangelicals to support President Trump.
William Brangham: How much a role did abortion play, do you think?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Significant. And I mean arguably in the top two, right next to religious liberty. Even in the Latino evangelical community, there are 29, 30 percent, whatever number you want to embrace, of Latinos supported President Trump. When asked in the exit polling what drove Latinos to support President Trump, it was life.
William Brangham: There were, as you well know, many people in your own congregation that didn’t like your support of the president, largely on the issue of immigration, I believe. And I know you have differed with the president on some of his stances on immigration.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: I have.
William Brangham: What do you say to him?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: In my particular congregation, I pastor a very multiethnic congregation, 40 percent African-American, 40 percent white, 20 percent Asian and Latino. So I received — on a stack of Bibles — no pushback in my personal congregation, because they saw there with Obama.
William Brangham: No pushback to your support of Trump?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: No. I never endorsed Donald Trump or his presidency.
To me, it’s a continuum of George W. Bush, President Obama for eight years, and now President Trump. I disagreed with President Obama on a number of issues, I mean, really respectfully disagreed with him. But I love the man and respect the man, likewise with George W. Bush.
So, my congregation sees it as continuity in what they would deem as a prophetic role to speak truth to power, to advance an agenda of love, and truth, and grace, for immigration reform, educational equality, preserving life in and out of the womb. To them, there’s a continuum taking place here.
William Brangham: One of the issues with regards to immigration is the issue of DACA and these 700,000 or 800,000 young people that were brought to America as children. You described it as morally reprehensible, the way that they are treated now by our legislators. When you talk to President Trump about this, what would you say to him about that?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: I am able to speak to the president about these issues, and if not the president, his team. And the pushback — not even the pushback — that answer has been, “Reverend, I love these young men and women.”
William Brangham: He has used that language?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, the president looked at me and said, “I’m a father and a grandfather, Reverend, and I get it. And I don’t want to do anything to harm these young men and women,” to me.
So, I heard that from the president of the United States.
William Brangham: But then how do you also…
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: And then you heard him subsequently talk about a love agenda regarding these young men and women.
William Brangham: How do you reconcile then President Trump talking about a love agenda with regards to DACA with his other rhetoric about immigrants, which many have called toxic rhetoric?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Yes. And on a number of occasions, I have expressed, in a very respectful manner, my displeasure with comments and even wording, phrases that do not line up with what I believe is a viable, sustainable message of love, and hope and compassion.
So, it’s a conundrum. And there seems to be not a dichotomy, but there seems to be this sort of balancing act that takes place.
And, at the end of the day, what do I care about? Public policy. I care about, what has the president signed in the Rose Garden? Will these men and women who are created in the image of God be deported? Will they be protected? Will there be a pathway for legalization, inevitably for citizenship?
That’s right there is what drives me to do what I do. So, I understand it. It’s by the grace of God I’m there. But I have had conversations with the president where he has celebrated, affirmed, validated the immigrant community in America.
William Brangham: Reverend Rodriguez, thank you very much.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.
Evangelicals Are Comparing Trump To The Biblical King David
By Jake Thomas May 19
Evangelicals are comparing President Trump to King David again, and again the comparison simply does not fit.
With much media attention focused on the alleged affair between President Donald Trump and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, Evangelicals are again comparing Trump to the biblical King David.
Though such a comparison might seem fitting on its face, anyone who has delved into Scripture ought realize the only similarity between Trump and the Jewish king begins and ends with adultery.
Vox has a solid explanation of just how wrong Evangelicals have the story when it comes to King David.
To ignore or excuse the Daniels saga, some evangelical Christians are even using a biblical comparison to explain their continued support for Donald Trump: the story of King David. As one conservative talk show host put it, Trump and King David were both men “after God’s own heart.”
But what do we know about King David’s adulterous situation?
2 Samuel 11 and 12 tell the story of King David and Bathsheba, whose husband is Uriah.
While Uriah is off at war, King David notices Bathsheba while she is bathing and has her brought to his quarters. After sleeping with her, she becomes pregnant, and King David attempts to have Uriah also sleep with her to hide the affair.
But Uriah will not take time off from the battle and does not sleep with his wife, so King David has Uriah placed at the front lines where he is sure to die.
After Uriah is gone, King David takes Bathsheba as one of his wives and their son is born.
But here is where the most profound difference between King David and Trump arises: upon being confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sin against God, King David repents.
As part of his punishment, God takes the life of the child born to Bathsheba.
In Psalm 51, David says that he now has “a broken and contrite heart,” and tells God that he knows his sin “is always before me.” In short, King David humbles himself before God, asks for mercy, and tells God that he will live out his commandments in the future but knows that he will never forget his transgressions.
Trump on the other hand knows nothing of repentance, according to his own words.
Trump Falsely Claims Obama Did Nothing To Stop Russian Election Interference
By Guardians of Democracy Staff
Published on May 27, 2018
President Trump on Sunday falsely accused former President Obama of knowing about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and not doing anything to stop it, despite multiple reports that intelligence officials and Obama himself tried to prevent Russia from interfering.
“Why didn’t President Obama do something about the so-called Russian Meddling when he was told about it by the FBI before the Election?” Trump asked in a tweet. “Because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win, and he didn’t want to upset the apple cart!”
Despite Trump’s false claims, in September of 2016, President Obama pulled Russian President Vladimir Putin aside at the G20 meeting in Huangzhou, China, and warned him “to cut it out.” Weeks earlier, Obama had received a top-secret intelligence file detailing Putin’s direct involvement in Russian election meddling.
In October of 2016, Obama ordered his former Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, and former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to issue a public statement saying, “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
A recent Pew poll says Evangelicals feel the least concern for refugee children. Christ was a refugee child in Egypt.
Thessalonians. 2:3-4. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. Trump accepts credit for everything and responsibility for nothing. No lie too small or too big that Trump will not tell.
Remember when calling someone a “commie” was considered an insult? Now trump and his GOP supporters consider it a compliment!
“GOP-Trump trade fight boils over with threat to cars.” Trump wants a 25% tariff on imports, claims ‘National Security’.
Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller.
The FBI doing it’s job Investigating criminals and collusion with foreign powers to undermine America is now called spying if it’s done to a republican. What treason and stolen elections look like.
20,000 Republican voters just nominated an actual Nazi (Arthur Jones) to represent them in Illinois.
“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.” ~ Abigail Van Buren
American neo-Nazi just desecrated hundreds of gravestones at Memorial Day ceremony site
Published on May 26, 2018
The normalization of fascism under the Trump regime has been one of the most disturbing aspects of his presidency. From a resurgent Ku Klux Klan to the rise of the neo-Nazi alt-right, fascism is rising like a long-dead zombie from the grave we all thought it had been buried in for good.
A horrifying example of this trend manifested itself in Glen Carbon, Illinois about 19 miles east of St. Louis this weekend when over 200 gravestones at the Sunset Hill Memorial Estates Cemetery were vandalized with spray-painted swastikas last night.
The vandalism was discovered by groundskeepers this morning and seemed timed to have maximum impact over the busy Memorial Day weekend. The cemetery which contains the remains of over 1,300 veterans is usually filled with people paying their respects to departed loved ones over the holiday.
Mark Johnson, grounds superintendent at the non-denominational cemetery, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the perpetrator of the vandalism timed their action intentionally.
“I think they probably knew what they were doing,” he said of whoever committed the vandalism.
A photographer for the newspaper posted a video of the defaced graves on Twitter to show the damage to the headstones.
Besides the cemetery, the vandal is also believed to be responsible for swastikas also painted on homes and garages in the nearby town of Edwardsville.
Luckily, a home surveillance system managed to capture an image of the person painting the hateful images and led police to a 34-year-old man who has been arrested and is currently being held in custody until charges can be filed against him. No further details about the suspect are expected to be available until after his arraignment.
Meanwhile Mr. Johnson and his team of groundskeepers will be working overtime to power wash the headstones to remove the offensive graffiti before Memorial Day events on Monday.
The question to ask ourselves at this point can only be: what has Trump wrought with his fascist-friendly enabling of a hate-filled environment?
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business.
Washington Press is a political news website dedicated to providing our readers the most accurate, concise, and breaking political news of the day.
Right-Wing Extremists Are a Bigger Threat to America Than ISIS
By Kurt Eichenwald
The North Florida Survival Group teaches “patriots” of all ages to handle weapons and survive in the wild. Its goal is to defend “our Constitution against all enemy threats.”
Republican Party Conspiracy Theories
Inside a storefront Chinese restaurant in upstate New York, neon light from a multicolored window sign glowed on the face of an extremist plotting mass murder. He had been seeking backing for his attack and, at this small establishment in Scotia, was meeting with a man who had agreed to take part in his scheme to build a radiation device, a weapon of mass destruction that would slowly and painfully kill anyone who walked near it.
“Everything with respiration would be dead by morning,’’ the man who devised the attack told his confederate in tortured English. “How much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?”
But there would be no attack. The purported accomplice at Ming’s Flavor restaurant in June 2012 was an FBI informant, and the discussion had been recorded. In the months that followed, another man joined the plot. Finally, in June 2013, with the conspirators hard at work on their ghastly weapon, armed FBI agents swooped in, storming a warehouse in Schaghticoke and arresting them.
Conservatives Threaten Netflix Boycott Over Obama
Clearly, these were not the typical “Islamic terrorists” described in the boogeyman stories of American politicians who exploit fear for votes. Glendon Crawford, the industrial mechanic who conceived the plan, has all the panache of a Macy’s shoe salesman; Eric Feight, a software engineer who helped build the device, looks like a less impish version of Kurt Vonnegut. But their harmless appearance belies their beliefs—Crawford was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and the plot he hatched with Feight involved killing scores of Muslims, as well as officials at the governor’s mansion in Albany, New York and at the White House.
They and untold thousands like them are the extremists who hide among us, the right-wing militants who, since 2002, have killed more people in the United States than jihadis have. In that time, according to New America, a Washington think tank, Islamists launched nine attacks that murdered 45, while the right-wing extremists struck 18 times, leaving 48 dead. These Americans thrive on hate and conspiracy theories, many fed to them by politicians and commentators who blithely blather about government concentration camps and impending martial law and plans to seize guns and other dystopian gibberish, apparently unaware there are people listening who don’t know it’s all lies. These extremists turn to violence—against minorities, non-Christians, abortion providers, government officials—in what they believe is a fight to save America. And that potential for violence is escalating every day.
“Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face,” the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported this past June, based on surveys of 382 law enforcement groups.
The problem is getting worse, although few outside of law enforcement know it. Multiple confidential sources notified the FBI last year that militia members have been conducting surveillance on Muslim schools, community centers and mosques in nine states for what one informant described as “operational purposes.” Informants also notified federal law enforcement that Mississippi militia extremists discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim, then posting a video of the decapitation on the Internet. The FBI also learned that right-wing extremists have created bogus law enforcement and diplomatic identifications, not because these radicals want to pretend to be police and ambassadors, but because they believe they hold those positions in a government they have created within the United States.
The unusual—and often daffy—world view of some right-wing extremists was on daily display during the January armed takeover of federal facilities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Expressing dismay that two ranchers convicted of arson were ordered to serve out the remainder of their mandatory minimum prison sentences, members of various militia groups occupied a building at the wildlife refuge, declaring their willingness to fight the government and, if necessary, die for their cause. They proclaimed that the federal government was tyrannical, that the Constitution is under siege.
The Malheur occupiers were belittled on late night talk shows and social media as “y’all-Qaeda” and “yee-haw-dists,” but what was unfolding in Oregon wasn’t funny—it was frightening. These people speak of martyrdom, bloodbaths and killings, sentiments that can be heard on any Islamist recruitment video. And when law enforcement finally took action on January 26 in a mass arrest, one of the militia members, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum—who had proclaimed he would rather die than go to jail—was shot dead.
And while those right-wing militia members were occupying federal land, other extremists around the country were hard at work. Fliers seeking recruits for the KKK appeared on lawns and doors in Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey and Oklahoma. In Johannesburg, California, police discovered bombs and booby traps in the home of a man who threatened to blow up the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal buildings. In Colorado Springs, a white supremacist suspected of being connected to the 2013 murder of Colorado’s prison chief was shot and wounded in a firefight with police. In Lafayette, Louisiana, officials released the diary of the man who killed two people at a movie theater this past summer—it was filled with rage against the federal government and praise for a racist killer. In Oakdale, California, two honey farmers were charged with fraud involving a scheme by extremists who declare they are not bound by the laws of any government. And the day after the first arrests of the Malheur occupiers, a New Hampshire man who told an FBI informant he was part of a group that wanted to bring back “the original Constitution,” and had as much as $200,000 on hand for explosives and rockets, was taken into custody after he illegally purchased hand grenades.
Who are these right-wing militants? And what makes them believe Americans have to engage in armed combat with their own government rather than vote, kill their fellow citizens rather than tolerate differences, blow up buildings rather than just get a job? Billions of words have been written and spoken on violent Islamic extremists. The time has come to do the same for the good old-fashioned Americans who may pose the greatest threat to us all.
A Fairy Tale of Violence
They aren’t all like Timothy McVeigh.
McVeigh, the infamous anti-government extremist, murdered 168 people in 1995 when he detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But not all of these violent right-wing radicals agree with McVeigh’s beliefs or have the capability to execute such a devastating attack. In fact, these militants are a surprisingly diverse lot. Experts say there are three distinct groups, including some factions that despise one another.
According to Arie Perliger, director of terrorism studies at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the three ideologies within the violent American far-right are racist, anti-federalist and fundamentalist. Each has subgroups—the racists include white supremacy groups such as the KKK, neo-Nazis and skinheads, which can differ in subtle ways. The anti-federalists include militias, self-defined “patriot” groups and what are so-called “sovereign citizens,’’ who hold that they are legally bound only by their personal interpretation of common law and are otherwise not subject to federal, state or local laws. The fundamentalists are primarily Christian identity groups that believe the biblical war of good vs. evil is between descendants of Anglo-Saxon nations and all other ethnic groups. Tangential to the fundamentalists are the anti-abortion attackers, who also invoke religion as a foundational motive for their violence. These disparate groups of people—violent and nonviolent—pine for different versions of a highly idealized past.
The granddaddy of the three in the United States is the racist movement, the modern iteration of which is usually traced to the formation of the KKK in 1865. The Christian Identity movement began a few decades later, with the emergence of believers who subscribed to the theology of John Wilson, a British man who argued that the lost tribes of Israel had settled in northern Europe. The anti-federalists are much younger, exploding onto the scene in the early 1990s with prominent groups such as the Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia; many experts maintain that the movement was a product of the financial crisis for farms in the 1980s, rapid economic and cultural change, and the adoption of gun control and environmental protection laws. In recent years, an explosion in the number of militias has been linked by experts to the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 and the election of Barack Obama months later. In 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 42 militia groups; today, there are 276.
And although they are frequently dismissed as people with crazy beliefs, right-wing extremists often seem like the guy next door. While experts say many of these individuals are paranoid and narcissistic, with strong anti-democratic tendencies, “the most common trait among terrorists is normalcy,” says Perliger of West Point.
What drives them, according to studies, is not so much ideology as their social network. When friends and associates all proclaim that the government is destroying freedom, or that all Muslims are terrorists, or that minorities are dragging down the country, the social pressure to conform with that opinion is intense.
Making it worse is that many of these extremists base their views on falsehoods. At a 2009 speech in Hamilton, Montana, a militia leader told an assembled crowd, “You know how the Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism? ‘Government by intimidation.’ That is profound.” Not really, because it’s not true. Oxford defines terrorism as all other dictionaries do: “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” People setting off bombs to trigger a revolution meet this definition, while the government that clears the area after a blast does not. But those zealots in Hamilton were told a fairy tale and believed it.
The rationales and “facts” cited by the sovereign citizens are often so convoluted that they would be funny if they didn’t get people killed. The radicals base their beliefs on variations of this conspiracy theory: Many years ago, some outside force infiltrated the federal government and replaced it with an illegitimate and tyrannical one. Then, that “illegitimate government” enslaved all Americans by using the 14th Amendment to create “citizens of the United States” who had no rights. The sovereign citizens believe Americans are tricked into accepting their designation as citizens of the United States by carrying driver’s licenses and Social Security cards, which are hidden contracts surrendering personal sovereignty to the government. Some of these sovereign citizens won’t use ZIP codes, because they think that might constitute a contract with the illegitimate federal government. Others insert punctuation, like commas or periods, to separate their first and middle names from their last name, which they consider to be their government-given name.
And they can expound on the topic for hours on end, spinning words into a convoluted kaleidoscope of claptrap. “By metaphysical refinement, in examining one form of government, it might be correctly said that there is no such thing as a citizen of the United States,’’ wrote Richard MacDonald, one of the prominent ideologues of the movement. “But constant usage—arising from convenience, and perhaps necessity, and dating from the formation of the Confederacy—has given substantial existence to the idea which the term conveys. A citizen of any one of the States of the Union, is held to be, and called a citizen of the United States, although technically and abstractly there is no such thing.”
Some gullible people listen to the endless flow of arguments, peppered with “freedom” and “tyranny,” and come away believing they do not have to pay taxes, or have money to cover the checks they write or otherwise obey the law. As a result, lots of sovereign citizens end up under criminal investigation, leading to trials in which judges rub their temples while listening to droning about some grand conspiracy. But in the worst cases, all that simpleminded gibberish drives believers to violence, particularly against law enforcement during traffic stops. The most famous of those cases: the two Arkansas police officers killed by sovereign citizen Joseph Kane in 2010 after they pulled him over. Kane mowed them down with a variant of an AK-47.
Then there are the militia groups, whose pronounced fealty to the Constitution is exceeded only by their apparent refusal to read it. They too throw out a lot of sentences with “freedom” and “tyranny” (in fact, a decent portion of sovereign citizens are also militia members), then wave around their pocket version of the Constitution, but the Founding Fathers would be stunned to hear the mumbo jumbo mouthed by militia members about their greatest creation. Start with the obvious: The Constitution is not some philosophical tract composed with soaring words about freedom; it is the blueprint dictating how the American government is supposed to function, while the amendments are the enumeration of citizens’ rights. The recent flurries of militia madness, with camo-clad warriors spewing angrily about constitutional freedoms, run directly counter to the words of the document those people claim to cherish.
Consider the Bundy standoff in 2014. It began when the government decided to finally take action against Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who had grazed his cattle on federal lands for two decades while refusing to pay the required fees—racking up a bill in excess of $1 million. When Bundy sent his cattle back onto protected lands for a snack, officials with the BLM began to round them up. Bundy spoke publicly about this “outrage” using the words of the sovereign citizen movement, which led anti-federalist groups such as the Oath Keepers, the White Mountain Militia and the Praetorian Guard to come running, guns drawn. In no time, Bundy the scofflaw was a hero of the militia movement, as he declared he did not recognize federal authority over the land. The Constitution and freedom were at stake, he averred.
Except they weren’t. In fact, the issue beneath this battle of wills, with Bundy’s supporters proclaiming their willingness to murder federal agents if need be, is directly addressed in the Constitution. In Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2, the Constitution grants Congress full authority to make all rules and regulations for the management of federal lands. In the early 20th century, Congress used that power to direct the executive branch to handle the operations and planning for those lands. The Legislature, of course, still retains the constitutional authority to stop the president from playing any role in federal land management, but it has not. In other words, Bundy and his supporters, by proclaiming the federal government had no authority over federal land, were spitting on the Constitution.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy led a tense standoff with federal authorities in 2014 because he didn’t think he should have to pay for the privilege of grazing his cattle on federal land.
The same foolishness was behind the armed occupation at the Malheur refuge spearheaded by Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan. Soon after the occupation began, the issue of the ranchers who had been sent to prison for arson slipped in significance as militia members demanded that federal land be turned over to the people and urged ranchers to tear up leases through which they pay grazing fees. Once again, militia members claimed this was done in the name of the Constitution, despite the document’s words that make it clear their beliefs are wrong.
The Assault on Islamberg
Conspiracy gourmand Alex Jones trotted out a new theory for the listeners of his radio show on March 19, 2015: The federal government was preparing to invade Texas.
“This is going to be hellish,” Jones said. “Now this is just a cover for deploying the military on the streets…. This is an invasion.” The reason? Either an impending financial collapse or the first step in Obama’s plan to not relinquish the presidency at the end of his second term.
Message boards and other online forums for right-wing extremists exploded with the news. The military was undertaking what it deemed to be a training exercise, which it called Jade Helm 15. A map that had been printed in newspapers weeks before to inform residents about the exercise was declared to be a secret record that showed the military was calling Texas and Utah enemy territory—the kind of description any reasonable person would expect for documents in this kind of training mission.
Over the next week, the only media to take note of the online hysteria about Jade Helm were a couple of newspapers that mercilessly ridiculed it. Then, on March 26, Megyn Kelly, an anchor at Fox News, introduced the first national news story about the Jade Helm panic. “While the military says it’s just training soldiers for the realities of war, critics say the Army is preparing for modern-day martial law,’’ she said.
At about that same time, Robert Doggart, an anti-government extremist in Tennessee, was on the phone with a militia sympathizer in Texas. The two discussed Doggart’s evolving plan to launch an attack on a heavily Muslim community near Hancock, New York, called Islamberg. They thought martial law would be declared in Texas and probably Utah, and that development should play a big role in the plot.
“We’ll wait on, on, what happens in Texas, and the intelligence as it comes in,’’ Doggart said. “[A]s soon as the thing in Texas and Utah happens, then you hit it, right then. Right then, because it will divert the entire federal government into ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem in this other state.’”
Doggart—an ordained Christian minister in the Christian National Church who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2014 as a far-right-wing independent—bemoaned the fact that he and the 10 other members of his attack team would never be celebrated as heroes after their assault on Islamberg because history is all lies written by the winners. “But we’re still going to do this thing.”
All of Doggart’s words were recorded. The FBI had caught wind of the Islamberg plot and had placed a wiretap on his phone days before.
Doggart was arrested on April 10, but no one publicly linked his plan to the Jade Helm conspiracy theory. And so some politicians started playing games again, suggesting with winks and nods that perhaps Obama was about to impose martial law.
On April 28, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation to ensure constitutional rights and civil liberties wouldn’t be infringed. Days later, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced he had asked the Pentagon about Jade Helm and been assured it was a training exercise; still, he said, “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.” Republican Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas pumped the fire a little hotter, saying, “When leaders within the current administration believe that major threats to the country include those who support the Constitution…patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned.’’
Meanwhile, in Gastonia, North Carolina, two anti-government extremists—who had their fears about Jade Helm reinforced by the words and actions of politicians like Abbott, Cruz and Gohmert—were working to construct bombs they could use on American troops when martial law was declared. The plot was allegedly conceived by Walter Eugene Litteral, who had arranged for a pal to construct the bombs. Authorities say Litteral wanted to pack tennis balls with smokeless rifle powder and a binary explosive that can be detonated with a gunshot; then, for added destructive power, Litteral wanted to tape nails to the outside of the balls, so he could shoot them from a distance and blow shrapnel into a passing soldier. He planned to do the same with coffee cans, which he would load with ball bearings.
As the weeks passed, the swirl of rumors about impending martial law grew more intense in the extremist online forums. Authorities say Litteral acquired ammunition for a .338 caliber rifle, handheld radios with throat microphones for communication, military issue Kevlar helmets, body armor vests and cloth headgear designed to expose only parts of the face. A third conspirator joined up, agreeing to help build pipe bombs. But the attack never took place. Someone Litteral approached for help instead alerted the FBI, which arrested the men on August 3.
Once again, America got lucky.
There has been no new attack on the scale of the Oklahoma City bombing conducted by McVeigh. But that is not for lack of trying. There was the so-called “241 Plan” in 2011, which involved murdering two state officials if one militia member was killed. There was the right-wing extremist plot in 2014 to blow up buildings and power plants in hopes of sparking a widespread revolt against the government. Another foiled attack that same year intended to assassinate police officers and blow up the Tremonton Police Department in Utah, again with the expectation the public would rise up in the aftermath.
Then there was the Georgia militia plot—anti-government radicals planned the murder of government employees and began an effort to develop ricin, a deadly toxin, with the intent of spreading it in Washington, D.C. For months, as the FBI listened in with the help of a cooperating witness, the group talked about the best poisons, how to deliver them and the ways to kill the most people. And if nothing else worked, suggested Frederick Thomas, the ringleader of the group, they could always go back to the tried and true. “We’d have to blow the whole building, like Timothy McVeigh.”
Why Wasn’t Obama Arrested?
It’s possible the same factors fueling the growth in right-wing extremism are what’s tearing apart the Republican Party.
Statistics show that the violence of right-wing extremists goes up when Republicans control at least one house of Congress. The reason, according to an analytical report conducted for West Point, might be “relative deprivation, which occurs when the high expectations of far-right activists during a conservative Legislature are not fulfilled.” In other words, these radicals expect to be ignored when Democrats are in charge, but when Republicans in power fail to champion the extremist cause, attacking the government strikes them as the only remaining option.
If true, the deprivation must be monstrous now. Think back: How many times have Republican politicians told their followers Obama could be impeached? How many times did they suggest he was a Muslim or wasn’t born in this country? How many times did they say he lied to cover something up in Benghazi? How many times did they say his health care policy included death panels? How many times did they say he was committing crimes or shoving through policies that would kill people?
Then, in 2009, the Republicans directly—and almost certainly inadvertently—identified themselves as aligned with the dangerous radicals. The Department of Homeland Security produced an analysis saying that violent right-wing extremists posed the greatest terrorist threat to the country—a report since proved true. But Republicans used this to feed into another conspiracy theory, proclaiming that the Obama administration had just deemed conservatives as a terrorist threat. To those unaware of what the report actually said, it was more evidence of a coming ideological war. To those radicals who knew, it meant establishment Republicans agreed that conservatives and violent right-wing extremists meant the same thing. Congressional hearings ensued, and terrified bureaucrats shut down the Homeland Security division that conducted the analysis of right-wing extremism, just when their knowledge was most needed.
Republicans continued their drumbeat of conspiracy theories to bring out the base, capturing the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2012. And imagine what these right-wing extremists thought. Where were the impeachment proceedings? Why wasn’t Obama under arrest? The man was a murderer, a tyrant spitting on the Constitution, a fraud holding the presidency unlawfully. There were only two possible answers for the extremists: accepting that the Republicans had been lying to them, or deciding that these politicians had sold out the minute they won control.
And so, the far-right wing—including the violent militants—has turned on the Republican Party. The establishment Republicans now fumble about, trying to understand why their preferred candidates are being kicked aside in favor of Donald Trump, who rages about sellout politicians and makes promises to do things that radicals adore. Forums like Stormfront fulminate with praise and devotion to Trump, while all but spitting on the more traditional candidates.
The Republicans played a dangerous game by giving credence to all those conspiracy theories about Obama, a game that made them a target of the right-wing rage they engendered. They have been the author of the rise of the radicals, peaceful and violent, that in turn is tearing the party apart.
Meanwhile, the right-wing extremists continue their plotting against America.