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Upheaval In The Government As U.S. Capitol Riot Fallout Spreads

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 13:21

The riot at the U.S. Capitol at the South Lawn will be remembered a dark day in Legislative history. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, DC — Dozens of Legislators led by House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D), called for the Vice President to remove Executive powers from the President as the country reeled from the Wednesday riots at the U.S. Capitol. Lead Democratic Lawmakers said they would start impeachment proceedings against President Trump on Monday if Vice President Pence did not act quickly to remove the President under provisions of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Some Legislators are calling the riots an attempted coup while others are demanding those involved be charged with sedition.

Legislators placed the blame for the riots squarely on the White House and President Trump for comments during his “Save America” speech at the White House ellipse before some of his followers dissolved into a mob and entered the Capitol. The President attacked the election procedures in swing states and the “fake news media”.

“We will never concede. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” the President said to thousands who traveled from across the country. His comments meandered on a theme of baseless election fraud conspiracies as he has repeated for 2 months. He has refused to concede the election result. Trump urged his followers to “Fight like hell,” before telling them to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and give our Republicans, the weak ones…the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.” Trump said that he would go to the Capitol with his followers. He did not go with them. Instead, he remained at the White House to watch the mob action on a screen.

Mob Breached U.S. Capitol During Electoral College Vote Count

His speech was timed to precede by an hour an ongoing joint Congressional session to count Electoral College votes which began at 1:00 PM. The mob arrived at the U.S. Capitol during this vote count and breached the House Chamber where a session was in progress to debate the Electoral College votes of the State of Arizona.

House members sheltered in place as security alarms went off. Some members evacuated through tunnels to a secure bunker while a mob of several hundred pushed through multiple security checkpoints at one of the most protected buildings in Washington DC.

Video published by Insider shows U.S. Capitol Police Officers standing by impassively as dozens of the unorganized mob entered the building. One officer is seen recording video from a cellphone while the mob entered matter-of-factly from the South-side entrance. Another officer tells a journalist, “You’re not allowed to be in here,” while standing and doing nothing to respond to the mob breach.

Video shows U.S. Capitol police shooting a woman attempting to gain entrance to a locked office was released Friday. The woman, who was identified as Ashli Babbitt, and an avid Trump supporter, attempted to climb through an office window with a U.S. Capitol Police officer moving towards her as he fires his weapon.

Video of the West-side of the U.S. Capitol shows police finally taking decisive action to clear the mob off the steps leading to the police headquarters of the Capitol.

Government Cooperation Deeply Fractured

The mob confronted police on the West-side near the police entrance. Photo: John Zangas

Two branches of government have been thrown into upheaval as recriminations between Congressional members flew on Twitter and White House resignations continued on Thursday night and Friday afternoon.

U.S. Representative Member Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) (D) sparred with Texas Congressman Ted Cruz (R) over an email Sen. Cruz sent to solicit donations in the riot aftermath. Sen. Cruz responded calling her “a liar.”

A spate of high-profile resignations included seven White House political appointees who left their positions citing the President’s “Save America” speech, the ensuing Capitol riot, and its bloody aftermath on Wednesday. They were followed by resignations from two key Cabinet positions — Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Also on Thursday, the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate Capitol Police, Michael Stenger tendered his resignation as a result of a failure by Capitol Police to maintain security. Early on Friday Chief of Capitol Police, Steven Sund, also submitted his resignation, effective January 16, as Senator Chuck Schumer threatened to fire him the moment he is sworn in as Senate Majority Leader on January 20.

Late Thursday night U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from injuries sustained during the mob attack  inside the Capitol. It brought to 5 the number of deaths as a result of what is now being called an attempted coup. Two others died of medical circumstances outside on the Capitol grounds during the riots and another unlawful trespasser died inside under circumstances not yet certain. A video of dramatic confrontations at one entrance on the South-side (Parapet where Inaugurations are held) shows a 30 minute siege between police and rioters. It is believed this video depicts the incident involving officer Sicknick. The Capitol is the scene of a large-scale federal investigation as police agencies piece together Wednesday incidents.

Questions remain about how and why U.S. Capitol Police failed to secure the building as they have previously done for many other First Amendment assemblies. Many demonstrations of a much smaller threat magnitude have been met with adequate U.S. Capitol police preparation. These events include Democracy Spring, Democracy Rising, Occupy Congress, Environmental actions, Pipeline Protests, Black Lives Matter Demonstrations, Actions by CODEPINK, Extinction Rebellion, the Million Man March 20th Anniversary, and many others.

Right-Wing Antagonists Involved In Riot


The ransacked office of the Senate Parliamentarian. The office of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi was also breached. Photo (screen-grab): Ali Zaslav

Far-right wing operators were among those photographed inside the Capitol during the riot, looting, and destruction. Over 80 have been arrested so far. Video posted on social media by members of the mob is aiding in their own arrests.

Richard Barnett, a right-wing Trump-supporter, was among those who breached the Capitol and went into Nancy Pelosi’s office, sat on her chair with his feet on her desk, and later bragged about removing mail from her office. He was arrested Thursday.

Another in the mob was identified as Jake Angeli, a Qanon conspiracy supporter from Arizona dressed in buffalo horns and a pelt on his head. He was arrested and faces multiple charges for unlawful entry and entry into a secure building.

West Virginia Delegate Derick Evans (R) filmed himself entertaining the Capitol, saying, “We’re in, we’re it! Derick Evans is in the Capitol” as he entered the legislative. The West Viginia Legislative Body is considering what actions to take against him, according to a published report.

The far-right antagonists and self-proclaimed patriots rioting in the Capitol wrought destruction in the Capitol not seen since the War of 1812 when the British assaulted Washington and burned down the Capitol in 1814.

A published report implicated police officers from Seattle in the riots. Komo News reported two officers were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Radical Right-Wing Impunity Led To Riots

The Charlottesville riots of 2017 and subsequent Proud Boy mayhem in Washington, DC, during the November and December “Make America Great Again“ rallies warned of what was to come. Social media application Parlor, a preferred right-wing platform, was replete with the statements of far-right wing operators discussing their intentions for the march to the Capitol on Wednesday. Monitoring such sites should have provided law enforcement with advance notice to prepare for contingencies before the riots.

Some were comparing police enforcement at the U.S. Capitol police to police enforcement at Black Lives Matter demonstrators. It is self-evident that activists in Washington, DC and other cities experiences with law enforcement were more harsh than the police enforcement of the mob at the Capitol. The recent Proud Boy mayhem in Washington, DC also saw lax police enforcement and demonstrates again inequity in law enforcement application between Black Lives Matter Activists and the mob at the Capitol. The protests and unrest following the police killing of George Floyd resulted in thousands of arrests. The two events compare as U.S. Capitol police at times stood by impassively watching the mob penetrate the U.S. Capitol, destroy furniture, looted, and defecated in its halls.

News personality Joy Reed commented on the variance in law enforcement, saying, “If that was a Black Lives Matter protest in DC, there would be people shackled, arrested, or dead.” Reed also lambasted the two tiered police posture in America for failure to prosecute with equality.

The 25th Amendment May Not Soon Settle An Anxious Nation

The President has already lost the confidence of the Speaker of the House and at least two members of his cabinet and innermost circle as they resigned. Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shulman have already called on Vice President Pence to convene a meeting with remaining Cabinet members to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment but the Vice President has either decided not to act on their request or he is still considering it. With under 14 days until the Inauguration it remained a question as to Vice President Pence’s willingness to split with Trump and force the issue on Trump’s Cabinet.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment provides guidance for transfer of power in the case of a President who may be unable to fulfill his constitutional role but cannot or will not step aside. In this circumstance the Vice President and the Cabinet would presumably reach a decision on the matter. It also provides for the option of the Congress to designate a body to consider transfer of power. But Congress is deeply split after years of partisanship and acrimony along party lines.

The 25th Amendment was signed in 1965 and ratified by the States in 1967 to iron out ambiguity in the succession clause of the Constitution. The amendment was invoked during Watergate and several times during the George W. Bush Administration while the President was undergoing medical procedures and power was temporarily handed to Vice President Cheney. But the 25th Amendment has been shown its impotence during the present discord between government branches and within the Legislature.

The Fall Of The House of The Republican Party

This latest episode of government upheaval is by far the worst situation Congress has dealt with in decades, including the recent incidents during the tumult of Trump’s term. It goes far past the chaos of the final days of the Nixon Administration as the Watergate scandal of 1973-4 led to his resignation. Those of the GOP and closest Trump supporters who stuck with Trump and challenged the result of the November 6 election, both in the press and in the courts, and those who remained silent altogether, risked democratic norms in their ambition for power. The results have contributed to growing frustration and anger among their supporters and base and the blowback will be difficult to quell. Plans are already afoot among Trump’s supporters to return to D.C. on January 17 in preparation for the inauguration on the 20th.

Key members of Congress and over 100 members of the House have supported and encouraged belief in conspiracies about the 2020 election. These conspiracies about what they consider the rigged elections include fake mail-in ballots, hacked vote machines, stuffed ballot boxes, and dead people voting. Over 60 court cases challenging the election have been lost, causing their supporters and donors great disappointment. Frustration within that base has further abraded trust in the GOP.

Wednesday’s events ended GOP efforts to derail the election. But deep resentment among Trump’s base remains. The party is now splintered between Trump supporters and traditional conservatives and has effectively lost control of two branches of the government which it enjoyed when Trump was elected. Blindly aligning behind a charismatic but divisive leader for the sake of power has cost the GOP much of its political influence. It could take a generation before it regains the trust of Trump’s base and the branches of government it has lost. In that time the demographics of the country will have shifted towards minority influence as more states turn blue. Minorities have traditionally found their voices in the Democratic party.

Update: on Friday night Twitter permanently shut down Trump’s account and preferred method of communication with his supporters and followers who number over 80 million. Twitter safety cited Trump’s continued efforts to incite violence following a temporary suspension on Wednesday.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence. In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action,“ the Twitter account stated.

This will silence Trump’s voice and diminish his sway over his base on an what has been his influential media node.

Trump was also banned by Facebook and Instagram on Thursday.

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Trump Supporters Riot, Breach U.S. Capitol – Violent Clashes Cause Death and Injuries

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 22:47

The U.S. Capitol was the scene of an unprecedented civil unrest as two were shot inside during a breach as the Legislative Body counted Electoral College votes. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, DC — In one of the darkest days in U.S. legislative history, Trump supporters rioted and breached the North side of the U.S. Capitol today as thousands rallied outside urging the Congress to overturn the result of the Presidential election. The Trump mob penetrated the building by force while a joint session of Congress was already in session to count the certificates of U.S. States, finalizing the votes of the Electoral College, as provided by the Constitution.

Capitol police allegedly responded with teargas and a volley of live fire inside the legislative body. Details on injuries and deaths continue to be murky. One woman died on the scene from a gunshot wound in her neck or her chest. Three others died by “medical emergency” according to Capitol Police, one of whom had reportedly been crushed by the crowd. One individual was reportedly stabbed but it is unclear who was responsible for this incident. Several police officers were injured and one US Capitol police officer died.

Rioters breached the House side of the Legislative Body while it was in session. They also rampaged through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

The incidents were shortly thereafter followed by more Trump supporters breaching the police entrance at the West side of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Capitol Police successfully blocked the breach about 10-feet into the entrance. About 30 minutes later police responded with flash-bangs, teargas and batons, beating back the mob of hundreds who were by then breaking windows and entering the building. Dozens fought with police as they were pushed back and off the steps of the West side. Over 100 U.S. Capitol Police outfitted with riot gear formed cordons as they deployed flash bangs and teargas. There were no arrests observed at the West side of the Capitol during this subsequent breach.

DC Mayor Declared Curfew

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a 6 PM curfew as a result of the Trump supporters’ mob actions. Trump supporters identified themselves as travelers from States across the country, including North Dakota, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and other States. The mob consisted of visitors to DC who were egged on by unsubstantiated Presidential proclamations that the election was stolen.

Earlier in the day, a group of conservative legislators objected to the certificate of Electoral College votes from the State of Arizona. This resulted in suspension of the vote counting procedures and forced a House debate on the objection. It was about this time that the mob breached the Capitol building, causing the Legislature to adjourn for the test of the day. At the time of this publication the vote tally is still incomplete.

Trump Twitter Account Locked For “Severe Violations”

At 7 PM, Twitter responded to a series of three Presidential messages posted on its platform earlier in the day, by locking Trump’s account for the first time. Twitter announced the account would be locked for 12 hours following the removal of the messages. “If the messages are not removed the account will remain locked,” the announcement read.

Twitter locked Trump’s account for violating terms of service, effectively muzzling him. Screen grab: Twitter.

“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, DC, we have required the removal of three [presidential] tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our integrity policy,” a subsequent message from the Twitter Safety account read.

The President’s Twitter account has been the preferred gateway for policy changes and cabinet personnel hirings and firings. The president’s account remains locked as of this posting.

Violence Spills Into Black Lives Matter Plaza

Later in the evening, Trump supporters descended into the downtown K Street area of Washington, DC where they continued violent confrontations at Black Lives Matter Plaza. A group of Trump supporters challenged and fought with a group of activists who were already in the Plaza. The fighting resulted in several injuries. A brick was thrown injuring one man in the leg and a Trump supporter was knocked out (video).

Today’s events mark a pivot point and a dark testimonial to a fractious democracy. The keystone of the democratic process in this country appears to be falling under its own weight. It should be noted that for years the Legislative Body has been unable to work past its own partisanship and to guide itself past its own internal squabbles. It may very well take the country down with it..

We will update this story as new developments are learned.

This article has been updated to verify reports of injuries and deaths that occurred at the U.S. Capitol.

Thousands of Trump supporters mobbed the U.S. Capitol as scores breached the legislative body. Two were shot, allegedly by U.S. Capitol Police. One youth died. Photo: John Zangas

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Proud Boys Vandalize Churches and Clash with Antifascists in DC

Sun, 12/13/2020 - 17:54

Antifascists clash with Proud Boy hate group in DC. Many were injured in hand-to hand conflict. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC-A night of confrontations and violent clashes followed a day-long rally of MAGA, the followers of the defeated Trump Administration. Proud Boy hate groups led roving groups of pro-Trump MAGA followers through downtown DC, looking to vent their frustration over a lost Presidential election.

Proud Boys tore down Black Lives Matter signs on several churches and businesses and attempted to penetrate police lines to attack anti-fascist opposition. Confrontations began early in the day at Black Lives Matter Plaza where an anti-fascist group, Black Lives Matter Civil Rights organizations, and allied groups gathered to protect the plaza from a repeat of Proud Boy vandalism which occurred on November 7.

Trump flew in his Air Force helicopter over the MAGA Freedom Plaza rally multiple times before departing for the Army-Navy game. His fly-over egged on the MAGA crowd and fueled their suspicion that he was victim of a rigged election wrought with mailed ballot fraud, ballot theft, and fake signature balloting, resulting in his defeat.

Earlier it was reported that the leader of Proud Boys had been to the White House for a tour. Typically such visits require vetted credentialing before admission is permitted.

After the rally at Freedom Plaza, Proud Boy groups marched downtown towards Black Lives Matter Plaza. And as night fell more Proud Boys poured from area hotels they had booked and brought with them a wave of violence to the streets. They were easily identified by their yellow and black clothing and slogans written on them.

Venerable Historically Prominent Churches Vandalized

Proud Boys tore down a Black Lives Matter sign attached to the grounds of Asbury United Methodist Church at 11th K Streets, and burned it in the street. Senior Reverend Ianther Mills responded to the vandalism in a letter published early Sunday morning. “For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings. Sadly we must point out that if this had been a group of men of color marauding through the streets and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” she wrote.

Senior Reverend Ianther Mills responded to the vandalism in a letter published early Sunday morning.

The Asbury United Methodist Church has been in existence since before the Civil War and has served as a node of resistance to racism since it was founded 184 years ago.

Another church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 15th and M Streets NW, was also vandalized when its Black Lives Matter sign was torn down by Proud Boys. It was the church that held the funeral of Frederick Douglas, whose home was in Anacostia, MD.

Dr. Cornell William Brooks, a member of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, wrote on Twitter, “On my Sabbath I wake up to the disgusting image of Proud Boys tearing down a Black Lives Matter banner from my church. Will Trump who held a bible up in front of a church bless not condemn this racist vandalism against Metropolitan AME church?”

Dr. Cornel William Brooks condemned the church vandalism. Screen shot from Twitter.

Luther Place, a third church vandalized, which supported the Civil Rights movement and Peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s, was also attacked on Friday night when its Black Lives Matter sign was torn down. Saturday night several supporters affiliated with Luther Place stood guard near a Black Lives Matter sign replacement under its head steeple. It is not known who was responsible for the vandalism at Luther Place on Friday night.

Religous leaders responded with support to the congregations of those churches vandalized, condemning actions of Proud Boys and demanding the Trump Administration also condemn it. DC Police Tactics Largely Ineffective
For their part police stood in lines to separate the clashing groups but their tactical positions were primarily bureaucratic. In many instances groups of Proud Boys easily broke through lines by flanking police lines through alleyways. Then Proud Boys sought out anti-fascist opposition by attacking through those alleys. And even where police lines faltered, groups clashed and fought hand-to-hand while police were observed making no arrests at those particular points of conflict.

The violence continued unabated for hours in multiple locations throughout downtown. Four were reportedly stabbed and in serious condition at hospital. There were 23 arrests throughout the night. Many others were beaten and injured. Proud Boys confronted and attacked small groups caught out in the open.

At one point on 14th and K Street, just a few hundred feet from the Washington Post building, Proud Boys pushed past police bicycle lines and poured onto K Street to fight with an anti-fascist counter group. For unexplained reasons police made no arrests at that site of confrontation.

Proud Boy Hate Group Growing Under Trump

The Proud Boy hate group is new but their violence is not new in this country. It is a twist of roots to white supremacy with hoods off in the form of a gang. The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 and involved in the riots of Charlottesville in 2017. They have shown up for hate rallies in New York, Portland, Olympia, and Boston. They are classified as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center. They are tracked by groups such as One People’s Project, a group that specializes in tracking hate groups.

Some of the anti-fascist shields used to protect opposition during the conflict. Photo: John Zangas

Daryl Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project said that the Proud Boys played themself out Saturday night when they attacked historic churches and harmed random people on the streets. “There’s going to be a reckoning over this. When you take down and burn the Black Lives Matter banner from the church where Frederick Douglas had his funeral thats going to be a big problem,” he said.

Jenkins, who was in Washington DC to observe the MAGA groups and Proud Boys as part of his work said also that police were forced to react to the mayhem Proud Boys brought to DC after the November MAGA rally. He still gave police a “D-minus” rating for allowing the sustained violence and damage to chruches in downtown DC.

“Even the CATO institute is coming after them,” he said. The CATO institute is a libertarian think tank that advocates and influences conservative political policy.

Mainstream media was not visible during the clashes and did not video record these incidents. Independent media coverage was continuous and immediately posted to social media.

There is certain to be backlash over the Proud Boy vandalism at Washington DC area churches. We will update this story as developments are learned.

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America Starts New Chapter As Election Called For Biden-Harris

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 18:28
There was a spontaneous celebration and jubilant dancing as thousands celebrated the election outcome. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC-The streets around the White House erupted into joyous celebration Saturday as thousands converged following an AP report calling the race for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Motorists blew horns and thousands quickly swarmed to the few open areas around the White House not gated and fenced in. They carried with them Biden-Harris signs and banners. Several held life sized caricatures of Biden and Harris.

The country waited anxiously for five days while a handful of states counted mailed ballots mostly from Democratic urban areas, tilting the final counts toward the Democratic ticket, By early Saturday afternoon the outcome shifted resolutely towards the Biden-Harris ticket and was called by the Associated Press. Two critical swing-states, Nevada and Pennsylvania netted 26 electoral college to Biden Harris giving them 290 total; 20 more than needed to win.

Dancing In The Streets

Groups dominated mostly by youth joined in euphoric dance, cheer, and embraces, while others shed tears of joy. A group called Refuse Fascism set up speakers in Black Lves Matter Plaza and a DJ spun favored songs of celebration while thousands danced as if they were one family.

Several climbed atop street lights and showered crowds with champagne and threw cans of beer to waiting arms. Wave after wave of celebrants pushed closely together to join the commotion on H Street. It was not possible to get close to the White House grounds because 15-foot fencing has closed Lafayette Park long Black Lives Matter Plaza, scene of intense skirmishes between police and protesters in June. The joyous celebration continued late into the night.

Youth climbed traffic poles and popped champagne corks, spraying the crowd below. Photo: John Zangas

A woman who has been protesting at Black Lives Matter Plaza, since June, said she never expected to see a day of so much joy. She waved a banner while wearing a mask labeled ‘Madam Vice President.’ “I’m happy I no longer have to come down here to protest,” she said. Others held signs of discontent for the last 4 years of leadership. Among them were “You’re Fired,” a play on the Apprentice TV show, “Trump is Over,” and “Fuerda Ya,” a Spanish expression for (get) out already.

As late afternoon set in the crowd grew, making it impossible to adhere to the 6 foot social distancing limit. Nearly every person was wearing a mask but the COVID pandemic is at its highest spread rate with over 120,000 new cases nationally yesterday alone.

A Defeated Trump Refuses To Abdicate

Trump did not break character and therefore he did not concede. His all caps message on Twitter that he had won by getting more votes largely fell mute in the press and was ignored in the celebration outside the White House. He had previously said he would not concede even if he did lose.

Some dressed in characters. Women of CODEPINK dressed in theater to clean up the mess left behind by the administration.

The election soundly rejected trumpism. The outgoing Administration’s grip on power will soon fade. Trump was moving towards authoritarianism with multiple indications institutional democracy itself was unraveling. His response to the COVID crisis, or lack thereof, and politicization of the Department of Justice were clear signs of autocratic rule. Violations of the emoluments clause in the constitution and the appointment to key cabinet positions and ambassadorships of those who made sizable contributions to Trump’s 2016 campaign were just a few of the issues raised in the press.

Biden Harris Election Will Attempt To Revitalize Democratic Institutions

Biden held his victory speech at 8:30 pm in Delaware with a promise to reunite the country and govern for everyone. His commitments largely rejected the tribalism of the outgoing administration. He promised to make science based policy and to appoint a team of doctors and scientists to tackle the pandemic and climate emergencies. He will rejoin the Paris climate accords the day he is inaugurated. He thanked Black Americans for their support in the election and said he would “have their back” for it.

This is an historic election. For the first time a woman of color will occupy the Vice Presidency and executive branch of government.

A celebratory mood has put to rest fear of riots and destruction. Block after block of boarded up government buildings and businesses may soon take down their facades of plywood and the National Park Service will remove nearly two miles of fencing encircling the White House sometime after the inauguration.

This divisive period may be recorded as the moment democracy almost ended here. And it is also likely to be remembered as an affirmation of the constitution’s durability and a testimonial to its authors.

Issue Number One: Climate

An overarching issue is the climate emergency. No other issue, not whether the Supreme Court remains conservative or liberal, whether democratic institutions are restored to former dignity, whether the economy expands or contracts, or whether democracy lives or dies, is as important longterm than the climate emegency. Future generations will look back at this inflection point and wonder why it took so long for our civilization to begin in earnest the work needed to recalibrate energy policy. Obama acknowledged climate but followed with near inaction as fracking methane gas took over from coal as a “bridge fuel.”

The earth recorded its warmest year since record-keeping began. More hurricanes hit the U.S. coast than ever before in a single hurricane season and this was the year of la nina, a weather pattern that typically signals a weak hurricane season. Arctic ice mass diminished to its second lowest record for this period of the year according to a report by NASA. Scientists attributed the delay to warming ocean currents. The strongest typhoon ever recorded slammed into the Philippines, with 195 mph winds.

The celebration will not last long as the incoming administration has many urgent isses to deal with. Photo: John Zangas

Biden has inherited multiple urgent issues: a spreading pandemic, a cratered economy, a climate emergency, inflamed racial tensions, fractured democratic institutions, and more. His administration will need to work fast to fix these issues. There will be little or no grace period for Biden and Harris.

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Washington DC Locks Down and Boards Up As Nation Braces For Election Result

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 18:33
The scene near the White House was nervous anticipation several hiurs before the first poles closed. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, DC-Businesses, Unions, and News Services were busy boarding up windows and lobbies across the nation’s capital on Monday in anticipation of a contested presidential election result. As election night fell, construction crews were still attaching and reenforcing sheets of plywood to windows at the news headquarters buildings and union offices near the Capitol. Many other businesses followed suit. Never before has Washington DC been boarded up for an election as if a hurricane were approaching.

At the White House and Executive mansion, the office of the Vice-President, construction crews erected a 15-foot fence late Monday night. The fence is an addition to an iron wrought fence installed at the North side of the White House earlier this year. With existing fencing already in place on H Street and along 15th street since the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the White House has a dubious appearance of being under siege. And maybe it is.

Steve Cochran, a foreman who was supervising a team of workers boarding up a building across from the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue, said he had never seen it like this before an election. He has lived in Washingtonian all his life and has seen Administrations come and go since John F. Kennedy. “I have not seen so much fear at the possibility of how this election could come out,” he said.

Steve Cockran said at the end of the day we all have to come together. Photo: John Zangas

The presidial election is usually welcomed as a time honored democratic process ushering leadership change . It is a ritual and the foundation of constitutional power sharing. That is the intended nature of democracy here-that the trustees of power know they are temporary brokers and accept their power with a precondition to cede it at the will of the voting public.

But this election day is different. And as the public scrutiny over the election process intensifies, many are asking questions about the conduct of the Administration, the process of electing a leader, and the surety of that process, especially as it relates to the electoral college and whether it should be abolished altogether.

The President has previously been unwilling to say he’d cede power if he were not reelected. This has created nervousapprehension of the election result and never before has a president seemingly clung to power so ardently.

The temperamental state of the union is not well either. Parties have attacked each other in the media with a toxic sludge of accusations. The Administration has repeatedly asserted, without basis, voter fraud is inherent with mailed ballots. At the same time it began to decommission mail processing machines at the post offices in swing states. This has resulted in first class mail delivery delays of 40 percent in Philadelphia.

The debates were largely a reality TV spectacle and social media is a raging political inferno. Gone are the days when favorites on Twitter and Facebook included videos for fun of cats playing pianos or of babies laughing at nothing.

A published report said researchers determined the U.S. is as close to civil war as it has been since the 1860s “based on a number they call the ‘political stress indicator’ [which] can warn when societies are at risk of erupting into violence.” Their assessment is based on five indicators: wage stagnation, national debt, competition between elites, distrust in government, urbanization, and the age structure of the population . Imbalances in these categories leads to inequality they argue, which has been building for decades, long before the current Administration moved into the White House.

Both major election campaigns have “lawyered up” as they vie for advantage in swing states to litigate dozens of cases over the legality of vote processes. Some last minute changes based on concerns over COVID, such as curbside voting in Harris County, Texas, have dealt the GOP a stinging defeat. But the age of vote challenges in the courts is leaving many to ask themselves if their vote will count. One to also left to wonder if court challenges will resolve future elections.

So it should be no surprise that election day would see the nation’s capital locked down and boarded up.

Media companies and businesses boarded up in anticipation of the election result. Photo: John Zangas

The government of Washington DC, for all its critics and criticisms (what government is without them?) has gotten one thing right this election. Due to the COVID crisis it mailed every registered voter in the District an absentee ballot with clear instructions on how and where to vote. It has also gave mailed ballots a grace period of 10 days past election day to be counted, provided voters have mailed and post-marked ballots by the end of election day. It is a model other states could follow. Maybe such a model is what all states should follow

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Fashion Designer Fosters Community Spirit With An Eye For Empowerment

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 01:06
Jason C. Peters has been involved in community activism for 2 decades. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC-Most fashion designers are in business to plug their clothing line and to promote their image. But designer Jason C. Peters, put his skills to work for a different purpose on Saturday. He held a public fashion show in Black Lives Matter Plaza centering DC communities with positive messages designed to empower and uplift them.

Peters brought his skills with him from New York to Washington DC to show that the Black Lives Matter Movement derives its primary power from the grassroots of its communities. His models converted the plaza into a runway wearing colorful signs along with their apparel as the drum group ‘Drumline Elite’ performed an array of inspirational drum tracks..

Following the show Peters gave out clothing packages to the needy in a philanthropic gesture to the community while Drumline Elite continued playing an extended ensemble of tracks it created.

Tyree, a spokesman for Drumline Elite said his group formed after graduation from Eastern SeniorvHighschool in Washington DC and had been together for several years. “We started out doing it for fun but we got plenty of smiles and we’ve been playing seriously for two years now,” he said.

Drumline Elite performed tracks they created over the past several years that they have been in existence. Photo: John Zangas

Peters wanted to highlight the importance of community involvement in ongoing political discourse and encourage residents to get involved directly in the political forces shaping their communities. He has been involved in activism for several decades and decided to merge his design talents with activism in response to the forces undermining Black communities. His idea to merge fashion with activism came to him after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by a security guard. What better way to do that than by dressing up models with the messages of resistance, he thought.

“It was important to do it right in front of the White House in Black Lives Matter Plaza to keep people inspired right before the election,” he said. Peters said inspiring others and giving back to the community were his passions.

Models wore messages of empowerment and resistance. Some models wore ‘Vote’ over their mouths. Photo: John Zangas

Models dressed in the signs they created. One wore ‘Stop Caging Kids,’ while another wore ‘Black Hair Is Cool.’ Several wore ‘Vote’ over their mouths in a statement of engagement by action not just words. Peters himself wore ‘Vote Him Out.’ Some of the models had no experience doing runway but were activists who wanted to get involved. They ranged in age from 6 to their early 20s. All models wore masks, in itself a fashion statement as every community continues to confront the COVID pandemic.

Peters has put on shows in communities such as Ferguson, New York, and Chicago and wherever communities have faced struggle with oppression.

“I belive it is important to fight for justice and equality for anyone who feels shunned by society because of the color of their skin,” he said. He said he is looking forward to putting on more shows in communities facing challenges with police brutality and struggling with economic conditions.

He can be teached on Instagram @JasonCPeters and accepts donations in support of his philanthropic efforts to distribute clothing to those in need.

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Architects Build Society’s Cage On National Mall In Bold Statement Of Racial Strife In America

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 21:50
Society’s Cage is an Architect’s rendering of racial inequality in America. Photo: John Zangas Washington DC – A group of five designers at the internationally known SmithGroup Architecture firm set up a metallic cubic structure on the National Mall to frame the struggle of Black Lives in America. The public display titled “Society’s Cage” is a 14 foot cube pavilion timed for the 57th anniversary of the March On Washington and is made from the hidden components of sky scrapers. It depicts an architect’s visualization of ongoing racial inequality in the United States and asks the question, “What is the value of a Black life in America?”

The cube is constructed from 483 vertical rusted conduit pipes attached to a large metal plate, supported by four large metal supports on a pavilion, resembling a cage. One in four bars are connected to the floor, representing the rate Blacks will be incarcerated. A four-part, 8 minute, 46 second music composition, the same time length of time of George Floyd’s tragic murder, sets the mood. The floor is captioned with quotations of prominent civil rights activists while the pavilion’s parapet contains statistics of Black lives within the justice system. As night falls lights shimmer through the conduits, illuminating the display.

The observer is invited to walk through the cube and between the uneven hanging conduit pipes to experience the visual and acoustical expression of systemic injustice through the eyes of Black lives. “How long can you hold your breath,” greets the observer at its entrance. One enters and hears a concert of instruments accented with the cries of a child, police sirens, moans of the Black mother whose child was killed by police, the rising and falling tones of voices marking societal iniquities. Through the conduit bars one sees the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, lending more context to the design’s statement: Is a Black life really free? Does a Black life really have equal access under the law in this democracy?

Julian Arrington, one of five designers, commented on the meaning of Society’s Cage and its impact of project development on him. “The cube depicts equity and perfection and is a symbol of equality,” he said. But he described its inner structure rendered as a critique of the broken justice system. “The bars are interrupted and converge with four datasets representing different forms of racism and state violence,” he said.

Julian Arrington was one of the lead designers of Society’s Cage. He described the design as a critique of racial bias in the justice system. Photo: John Zangas

Arrington described the four data sets as mass incarceration, police brutality in the form of police killings, capitol punishment, and lynching. He suggested the display is a visual display of the continuing pattern of this systemic racism imbued within society because it was as evident today as it was 400 years ago and studies and statistics bore that out.

On one side of the parapet reads “One in ten Black people are killed by police while unarmed. Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than Whites.” Another side reads, “Out of over 2600 people absolved of crimes since 1956 nearly half have been Black. In America Black people are far more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.”

Doug Dahlkemper, one of the principals at SmithGroup, said that the design was the Architectural firm’s contribution to a national discussion of racial issues. He said the firm supported and gave all of the designers, who are minorities, lead roles in the project. “I think we all have to be a part of this issue, Black, White, no matter what race and creed you are,” he said.

Dahlkemper credited the design team as “very skilled designers” who not only envisioned and designed Society’s Cube, but also planned the logistics and organized the fundraising needed to complete the project.

Arrington took pride in describing the project and the symbolic meaning of its constituent parts. He derived hope from the fact that his firm supported it. “The opportunity to have something on this site speaks volumes in terms not only the breath within my organization of people who want to see change but also those who sponsored and contributed financially to it,” he said.

As the sun set and the conduit lights came on to mark the end the first day of the display, someone left a bouquet of roses and lillys on the welcome table. After several of the support team swept dust from the floor of Society’s Cage, Arrington carefully laid the flowers on the four corners of the parapet.

As the sun set lights In the conduits illuminate the captions and bars touching the floor. Photo: John Zangas


Society’s Cage will be displayed on the National Mall across from the Smithsonian Castle and near the L’Enfant Mall metro entrance until Labor Day.

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Antifascist Comedian Mike Gamms Gets New York Green Party Nod for NY27 Congressional Race

Sun, 02/23/2020 - 21:09

An anti-fascist comedian has earned a Green Party nomination to run for the New York 27th District Congressional seat. The New York State Board of Elections announced Mike Gamms’ candidacy on Friday, February 20, after the Green Party of Erie and Monroe counties nominated him. He is running in a special election to be held on April 28, 2020, for a seat vacated by disgraced Trump supporter Chris Collins, who resigned after pleading guilty to insider trading.

Gamms is well known in anti-fascist social media circles as a funny-bone. He focuses attention to social issues with his videos by creating comical drama around them. He has upended neo-nationalist and conservative rallies by poking fun at them. He’s often used comedy as a tactic to push back against narrow ideologies with parody and ad hoc theatrical performances. He has dressed up as a flamboyant superhero and as an “anti-Christ” devil and appeared at KKK and nationalist rallies to challenge racist and homophobic rhetoric.

He’s not very imposing but that makes him more effective in his craft. A slender frame and all of “129 lbs., 5 foot 7 3/4 inches tall in ‘girls’ clothing,” many just giggle at him. And they have. But then he starts his routine and the targets are easily distracted by his comedy. He trolls fascists, nationalists and the KKK. He lambasted the police at the Standing Rock Pipeline fight while activists stood-off against the paid police proxy of TransCanada’s Dakota Access Pipeline. ”I use comedy as my weapon because it’s the only one I have,“ he said.

He uses comedy to make light of serious situations. “I use comedy as my weapon because it’s the only one I have.” Photo: Mike Gamms

He realizes the issues he’s confronting are no laughing matter. “I am running on a platform eco-socialism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, and anti-capitalism,” said Gamms. He expressed pride in having been chosen to represent Distruct 27 but knows there’s a lot of work to be done to restore confidence in the fractured political system of his district.

Republican Congressman Chris Collins won New York District 27 in 2013. He also served on Trump’s 2016 election transition team. He was forced to resign on September 30, 2019 before pleading guilty to insider trading. Collins is among a growing number of discredited public figures connected to the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign and subsequent transition team.

Gamms, a self-described radical insurgent and anti-fascist, plans to center issues important to the marginalized at the front of his campaign as he works to empower them in his community. He is running to challenge the political standard of entrenched entitlement.

“I don’t see myself fitting into this political system and that’s exactly why I’m running,” said Gamms. “I don’t like the label ‘progressive’ as it has been co-oped by pseudo-progressive incrementalists who stand in the way of justice.”

As a self-described bisexual extremist, he comes out in support of federal decriminalization of sex work, the repeal of SESTA/FOSTA, and proposes extending standard workers rights to sex workers. He is the first openly bisexual male comedian ever nominated for United States Congress.

He supports classifying crimes against sex workers as a hate crime. “This is important because so many violent crimes are against sex workers. They are seen as less than human,” he said.

“I am also calling for a federal ban on all conversion therapy on children. This includes both gay conversion therapy, and applied behavioral analysis conversion therapy on autistic children. Furthermore, Autism Speaks and any other group who push these practices must be classified as a hate group,“ he said

He is also standing against the growing military budget and its cycle of military industry financial donations to buy political favor. He argues it has siphoned public funding for programs where people are suffering most: health care, education, and housing. “We spend trillions of dollars committing mass murder and ecocide around the world for the profits of a few at the expense of the planet and everyone on it. We need to redistribute billionaires’ wealth and redistribute the military budget,” he said.

Gamms was active in the enviromental movement at Standing Rock where he participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline battle in 2016-7. He has traveled around the country advocating for environmental protections in communities needing support.

Healthcare reform and Medicare for all is another issue Gamms strongly supports. As a comedian searching for a break through moment he has no health plan because he can’t afford one and has experienced first hand the costs of not having healthcare. After a hard-arrest during an environmental action he was videotaping, he was forced to pay out of pocket expenses for bruises and cracked ribs.

He lost a comedian friend, Raghav who just like him had no health insurance or means to pay for care. Raghav couldn’t afford the prescriptions or visits for his severe depression. Gamms was moved by his struggle and decided he would do something about it if he ever got the chance. About ‘45,000 people in the US die every year from not having health insurance,’ reads a published Elle story written by Raghav’s former girlfriend, Kate Willett.

Gamms believes healthcare is a human right, “Not a privilege for those who can afford it.” He endorsees healthcare for those who are in need regardless of their status. Photo: Mike Gamms

He believes healthcare is a human right, “Not a privilege for those who can afford it.” He endorsees healthcare for those who are in need regardless of their status. “My republican opponent, Chris Jacobs opposes Medicare for All, while my democrat opponent, Nate McMurry claims to support Medicare for all but adds ‘until everyone in my town, state, or county has full healthcare, we can’t give it to the world.’” Both are unacceptable options to him as they allow the healthcare industry to deny care to those who can’t afford it.

His platform includes eco-socialism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. He plans to do “whatever is necessary” to shake up the political system that looks away as the environment is ruined and benefits from corruption with businesses.

“The system is right to be afraid of us,” he said. “I believe in disrupting the political system, the status quo and business as usual. As long as warmongers continue to control our lives, millions of people will continue to suffer.

You can donate to his campaign here.

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#ShutdownDC: District Brought to Standstill over Inaction on Climate Emergency

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 22:02

Washington, DC — Over two dozen environmental and justice groups coordinated a massive shutdown of twenty major locations in the District, snarling traffic and business operations and creating chaos for commuters as they brought the nation’s capital to near gridlock. The unprecedented action involved a series of coordinated nonviolent civil disobedience actions which included blockades of key freeway ramps, a yacht launch on K Street, a van blockade and multiple demonstrations with sit-ins on city streets.

The actions come in response to worsening global climate and government inaction or business initiatives to tackle or even acknowledge the existence of global heating and its fallout. A key issue prompting the shutdown was corporate policies of business-as-usual and failure to implement even bare-minimum renewable energy solutions.

Youth-led groups included the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, 198 Methods, and 350 DC. Other groups included Beyond Extreme Energy, Black Lives Matter DMV, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Code Pink, and Friends of the Earth Action, Friends Meeting in Washington Social Concerns Committee. Friends Meeting House of Washington, DC provided critical space support for the activists.

The shutdown had been planned for several months and involved as many as 2,000 activists from a variety of groups which have traditionally not coordinated actions on such a large scale. The success of the shutdown demonstrated that groups have found new confidence that they can cooperate in a large scale actions and demonstrate to authorities they are no longer going to accept business-as-usual as the climate crisis worsens.

This action was different from protest actions of the past when thousands marched along permitted prearranged routes, holding signs and delivering keynote speeches. The actions of the past generally led to inaction from government and business comfortable with maintaining the status quo of a fossil fuel-based economy.

These actions represent a new direction of ramped-up pressure against the administration and its cabinet of climate denier industrialists and the fossil industry businesses enthrall to them.

In this action, many groups consolidated their efforts to respond as if they were one group with one voice and a wide power base. The groups realized over the last few years that they must include social justice issues at the center in the climate movement, because they are the core issues often overlooked by environmentalists in their fight against the fossil fuel industry.

Among social justice groups spearheading the actions was Black Lives Matter DMV–a collective of activists fighting for minority social justice in Washington, DC–which organized a shutdown of a key intersection near the U.S. Capitol by setting up a mock medical aid station.

“Black people in frontline communities are always most impacted by climate change, by climate disaster, but are often the last that people think about,” said April Goggans, a lead organizer of Black Lives Matter DMV. “We are highlighting environmental racism in DC to remind folks we cannot be erased. You cannot talk about saving the Earth for future generations if you cannot talk about those who have been suffering the longest,” she said.

Goggans pointed out that those frontline communities of color in the Bahamas, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and the Philippines which were recently hit by massive hurricanes still have not and may never recover. “It is a social justice issue, because housing is a climate issue,” she said.

A group of about 60 students aged 19 to 22 from five universities, shut down a key access to the I-295 tunnel and interchange at New York Ave., where 27 people were arrested. They were released within hours on post and forfeit bonds after being charged with obstructing an access road.

Jeremy Liskar, a student from George Washington University, who was arrested but later released, said that his generation is in a fight for their future and willing to do what they need to do to change the fossil fuel-based economy. “It’s not like this is something we want to do, skipping school to get arrested, but we feel it’s a moral imperative,” said Liskar

Liskar said that if he were speaking to the Congress he would tell them: “We are on a timeline. We can’t be debating whether this is happening because it is happening. We need to start talking about how we’re going to fix it,” he said.

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$10 Million Defamation Lawsuit Filed Against Rockwool, Allies

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 12:48

A civil complaint was filed yesterday in Circuit Court in Jefferson County, W.Va., alleging that Rockwool Group, one of its employees and former members of the local development authority slandered a local resident. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

The attorney of plaintiff David Levine, a tech entrepreneur living in Shepherdstown, argues that Levine suffered harm to his reputation and business as a result of personal attacks on him, which began a year ago when he expressed opposition to the Rockwool mineral wool factory. His two articles critical of Rockwool on the website of Forbes magazine made him the target of retaliation, he says, by a senior executive of the Rockwool organization and local officials who had paved the way to bring heavy, polluting industry to the bucolic area.

The complaint names as defendants the Rockwool Group and its senior VP Björn Andersen. It also names Dan Casto, Stephen Stolipher, Ray Bruning and Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., the group which these three men helped form after they resigned from the Jefferson County Development Authority. The JCDA worked with the West Virginia Development Office to offer Rockwool tens of millions of dollars in incentives if it located its factory in Jefferson County.

The complaints lists numerous examples of alleged defamatory statements, which originate from social media posts, email and text messages. They assail Levine’s character and business practices. Defendants allegedly called Levine a liar, “fraud,” and “con artist”–one who “ripped off an entire town.” They claimed that Levine committed securities fraud and is a swindler on par with Bernie Madoff.

One Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., post describes Levine as “celebrating the death of police officers, getting high on mushrooms, and throwing bombs at police,” according to the complaint.

The complaint further alleges that the defendants conspired in a “joint scheme” to defame Levine “in furtherance of a preconceived plan.” Their goal was to “destroy Levine’s personal and professional reputations and advance the goals of Rockwool,” the complaint says.

Local newspaper Spirit of Jefferson was accused of participating in this conspiracy, although it was not named as a defendant.

None of the defendants contacted for comment have responded by time of publication. Any statements will be published as we receive them. The Spirit of Jefferson also has not yet responded to request for comment.

David Levine, pictured with his daughter Zoe, is suing Rockwool and Jefferson County for Prosperity for defamation.

Levine’s attorney Steven Biss said that he has collected 762 Facebook posts, texts and other documents containing defamatory statements.

“We screenshotted everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of malice in the posts, a lot of venom.”

He described one of the effects of defamation as inflicting “a permanent scar on Levine’s reputation,” which has taken and will continue to take a toll on his business as an entrepreneur.

“These are highly incendiary, highly defamatory statements. The only thing they didn’t accuse him of is kicking the cat,” Biss said.

Rockwool’s motive in targeting a critic of their mineral wool manufacturing plant is simple greed, he said. In criticizing Rockwool’s proposed factory, Levine was “chopping down the money tree.”

Jefferson County Prosperity lists the Rockwool facility among the “Prosperity Projects” it supports. Its Facebook page has been the platform for many alleged defamatory statements. JCP wants to “stomp out the opposition [to Rockwool], that’s their goal,” Biss said.


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Columbia Gas Denied Right to Take Public Land for Potomac Pipeline

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 17:06

A federal court judge today denied Columbia Gas the right to move forward with construction of a gas pipeline through public land in Washington County, Md. The ruling is a blow both to Columbia Gas and to the pipeline’s main intended customer, the Rockwool insulation factory in West Virginia, now under construction.

The TransCanada subsidiary had filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland in June in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to force access to the Maryland Rail Trail, a necessary piece to construct a 3.7-mile pipeline from Fulton County, Pa., through a thin slice of Maryland. In January, the Maryland Board of Public Works, which included Governor Larry Hogan, denied Columbia Gas an easement.

Columbia Gas’s lawsuit was unusual in that a private company tried to use the power of eminent domain to take public land. It claimed that power by virtue of the permit granted to the project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The judge denied Columbia Gas injunctive relief because it found no substantive case, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said in a statement delivered by live stream after the ruling. Private industry doesn’t have the right to file an eminent domain case against the state of Maryland, the judge found, because the state has sovereign immunity, he said.

Opponents of the pipeline project were jubilant outside the courthouse following the judge’s ruling.

The judge determined that the economic loss to Columbia Gas with a denial of access is insignificant in comparison the loss of sovereignty immunity by the state of Maryland, according to Walls.

A light display outside the Capitol building in Annapolis in Feb. 2017 hoping to pressure Gov. Larry Hogan to stop the Potomac Pipeline. He voted against granting the Md. Rail Trail easement.

The case may have gone forward if the Secretary of the Interior had filed the lawsuit on Columbia Gas’s behalf, the judge said, according to Walls.

The judge has expedited the case the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, if Columbia Gas chooses to take up an appeal.

The Potomac Pipeline has drawn vociferous protest over the last three years. Environmental groups have objected to the potential risks of drilling under the Potomac River in unstable karst geology using a process requiring millions of gallons of drilling fluid. Community groups in West Virginia have supported landowners who have been adversely affected by the construction of the gas distribution line which would have hooked up to the Potomac Pipeline’s supply. And, over the last year, a new constituency of protest has grown around the intended use for most of the pipeline’s capacity—gas to heat the furnace at the controversial Rockwool factory.

The sands have shifted from the time they started fighting Columbia Gas’s pipeline, from the perspective of Tracy Cannon of Eastern Panhandle Protectors. “Opinion about pipelines is changing—and we will win,” she said.

The judge may agree with them. “This is a new era,” he said, according to the pipeline opponents.

Walls offered his interpretation, saying he believed the judge was referring to the increased build-out of pipelines and the number of battles being fought over them in court.

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Factory Opponents Call AIA and Rockwool ‘Partners in Pollution’

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:45

Opponents of the under-construction Rockwool factory in Jefferson County, W.Va., today took aim at the insulation manufacturer’s “green” image with a protest at a key professional association in the construction and building industry. Appealing to the core values articulated by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Washington, DC, members of community organization Resist Rockwool expressed their outrage and heartache through song and speech about Rockwool’s construction of a polluting factory in the vicinity of 30% of the county’s schoolchildren.

Last month, Resist Rockwool sent a letter to the AIA, asking it to live up to its commitment to prioritize policies and design practices which promote energy conservation, community health and resiliency. If the AIA takes the manufacturing process into consideration and no longer recognizes Rockwool’s product as “sustainable,” their hope is that the AIA will “deny Rockwool access to an important segment of the construction and building industry,” the letter says.

The group points to the 156,000 tons of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions permitted for the factory, which is sited directly across from an elementary school and within only two miles of three other county schools. The facility also sits atop porous karst geology, which has led to fears that retaining ponds for coal ash and other waste materials will leak into the ground water.

Milo Levine plays Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC/Photo by Monica Larson

But, the AIA responded unfavorably to their appeal, calling Rockwool its “corporate partner” and telling the Jefferson County residents to take their concerns to their local officials. Resist Rockwool in turn is calling the AIA and Rockwool “partners in pollution.”

About a dozen people approached the AIA building on Wednesday and attempted to enter, but were rebuffed by security personnel. The “Sing Out” then assembled on the steps of the plaza outside the entrance. For about twenty minutes, they serenaded AIA employees and staff with songs about West Virginia, its history of coal mining and how—like the Tom Petty lyric—they would not “back down.” In the makeshift ampitheater, the amplified music resonated all the way to the upper floors of the AIA building. (Video here.)

The group sang “County Roads,” a John Denver song written specifically about the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley where Rockwool is constructing its planned factory. Zoe Levine performed an original composition celebrating the deep ties she feels to her birthplace: “West Virginia, the song of my heart, my home/Land of plenty, land of birdsong,” she sang.

Her brother, Milo Levine, also performed. He lamented that his infant might not be able to experience the natural environment in Jefferson County in the pristine state that he enjoyed as a child.

“The AIA talks about the importance of communities, the importance of health, and yet, they are supporting the greenwashing of Rockwool,“ said their father David Levine. ”Our way of life is at risk. We asked the AIA to stand up for the principles they espouse, and instead, they sent us a letter most likely written by Rockwool, their corporate partner. They took their blood money.“

Jefferson County resident Mary Reed said that Rockwool “picks out the weak to attack,” referring to the Title 1 school across the road from the Rockool construction site. The “Significant Impact Area,” she said, expands in a 35-mile radius and includes 710,000 people. “I call it the sacrifice zone,” she said.

Rockwool has exploited poor and vulnerable people in the 45 countries where it has built factories, asserted Stewart Acuff. “This institute of architects is the biggest hypocrite in Washington, DC today, because they say they stand for a green future, they say they stand for a healthy cllimate, and then they turn around and support Rockwool, a dangerous corporate polluter and marauder,” he said.

Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey asked the AIA to reconsider what she described as a “dismissal” of their concerns.

“The AIA needs to make a decision about who they are and what they support. We’re fighting for our lives here, we’re fighting for our community, and we’re not going anywhere,” she said.

Photos by Monica Larson

Click to view slideshow.

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‘Drop Rockwool’: Retailers Urged to Boycott Insulation Maker

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 19:55

Several Jefferson County, W.Va., residents demonstrated at home improvement retailers in Gaithersburg, Md., in an effort to pressure them to ban Rockwool insulation products from their shelves. They object to Rockwool North America, a division of the Danish Rockwool Group, siting a mineral wool factory in their county–one which will burn coal and gas in close proximity to public schools.

This was the first in a series of demonstrations at Lowe’s and Home Depot stores regionally, organizers of Resist Rockwool say. The opposition group has launched a boycott campaign and sent letters to CEO’s of both Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Pulling bright red bales of Rockwool insulation from the shelves at the back of the Lowe’s store, the eight protesters built a replica factory, complete with two towering smokestacks and a chimney billowing clouds of pollutants. A state agency has granted a permit allowing the factory to emit 153,000 tons per year of greenhouse gasses and nearly 3,000 tons per year of pollutants, including formaldehyde, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sulfur dioxide.

Tireace Johnson explains the potential hazards of the Rockwool factory in Jefferson County in front of the replica factoy made of bales of insulation products./Photo by John Zangas

Store security asked them to leave, but they persisted.

“This is what Rockwool is doing in our community. They’re just throwing a factory in the middle of our county where things are beautiful and where we have children across the street,” Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey said.

“Welcome to our life. Welcome to our world. This is what they’re doing to us,” she said.

Tireace Johnson read from an informational flyer which they were handing out to employees and customers. Burning more than 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic ft. of fracked gas daily, she said, will “cause chronic and fatal diseases of the lungs, liver, kidneys, brain and heart. Not only is it going to effect the children who are within less than one mile radius—going to a public school—but it’s going to destroy all of our beauty, recreation, clean air and clean water.”

Tracy Danzey, who suffered severe consequences from DuPont’s Teflon factory, wants people to protect children now so illness doesn’t happen later./Photo by Anne Meador

Rockwool maintains that the facility will not cause adverse health effects. The company also says it was invited to Jefferson County by local and state government and will provide about 150 jobs.

The demonstrators also visited the Home Depot store in Gaithersburg, where they stood outside the door in nearly 100-degree heat, spoke on a bullhorn and again handed out information to customers.

As part of its boycott campaign, Resist Rockwool urges Home Depot to cancel a contract agreement made with Rockwool. Michael Zarin, VP of Rockwool Group Communications, couldn’t confirm the existence of such a contract, saying the company does not disclose details of commercial agreements with retail customers. Home Depot did not respond to an inquiry.

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Organic Farm in W.Va. Imperiled by Gas Pipeline Construction

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:24

In the four years since finding stakes mysteriously implanted in the ground of their newly acquired farm, Neal LaFerriere and his family have worked as best they could with Mountain Valley Pipeline representatives to preserve the integrity of their organic farm. Having no choice but to sign an easement to allow the gas pipeline to go through their land, LaFerriere and his wife Beth have tried to hold MVP to the management plan it filed with a federal agency.

“We have always been willing to sit down at the table and meet with them to try to work out the issues,” LaFerriere said.

But even before clearing for construction started on the right-of-way on Monday, the effects of MVP’s actions on the family’s business have been catastrophic, he said, threatening the farm’s organic certification and bringing such financial hardship that their ownership of the farm is in jeopardy. And, already this week, a clumsy accident involving heavy machinery has resulted in a spill of contaminating fluids on the organic farm.

A passion for organic farming and medicinal plants led the LaFerrieres to purchase land in Summers County, W.Va., in 2015 and move there with their three of their children to create Blackberry Springs Farm. A week after closing, they found a portion of the land staked out and had to do some research to find out what was going on. To their surprise, they discovered that a gas pipeline was routed through a portion of the property. The pipeline–the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline–originates in West Virginia and continues through southwestern Virginia to the border of North Carolina.

They resisted signing an easement, but MVP threatened to use the power of eminent domain. “They were starting to say, we’ll just take your property and do it anyway,” LaFerriere said.

He describes persistent problems with MVP and with their attitude toward landowners in general. When the company got permission to clear trees from the right-of-way last year, he asked them for 72 hours notice so they could move some materials. They failed to give notice and felled trees on the materials, which were ruined, he said. MVP had to pay to replace them.

“it looks like they just don’t care, that they’re in such a rush to get this done, they’ll just run over anybody and ignore any rule and not have any common courtesy to try to work with the landowner,” he said.

Far worse was to come for the LaFerriere farm. One day last September, he, his wife, four of their children and an intern were harvesting ginseng about a quarter mile away from the right-of-way, when suddenly, a helicopter flew overhead. Little blue pellets started raining down on them, and they were struck on the face and head, resulting in contusions and lacerations on his two daughters’ faces. He called MVP, but the helicopter continued to make several more passes over the farm.

The blue pellets dropped on Blackberry Springs Farm are an erosion control product./Photo courtesy of Neal LaFerriere

The blue pellets were an erosion control product called Earth Guard Edge. He also called state agencies in addition to MVP, but they were unwilling to hold the pipeline company accountable, he said. Someone at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) called him back 8 days later, and a few days after that, FERC and MVP representatives finally came to the farm bringing MVP’s environmental specialist. The specialist said there was nothing they could do to mitigate the damage. Once the pellet gets wet, it gets into the soil.

“We’re going to make sure this never happens again,” LaFerriere said MVP land agents told him. But the very next morning, a helicopter again flew over, showering more pellets on the remainder of the property. LaFerriere hired an attorney to file a cease-and-desist letter, and only then did the bombardment on his farm stop. It continued on neighboring property.

Earth Guard Edge contains acrylamide, a carcinogen. Because the soil is now contaminated with it, the LaFerrieres stopped selling organic products, fearing someone would get sick. They have “shifted focus a little bit,” but the loss of business has put the farm in jeopardy. The LaFerrieres entered into litigation with MVP over the erosion control pellets in March of this year.

“It’s devastated us. It has hurt us in ways that it’s hard to put into words,” he said.

After she was battered with pellets, the LaFerrieres’ 8-year-old daughter began to have recurring nightmares that the pipeline would explode and kill her family.

“It goes beyond the financial. This property was our hope, our dream, our future, our children’s future. With the way that MVP has just run over the top of us, we don’t even know if we can call this place home any more,” LaFerriere said.

On Monday, MVP workers brought heavy construction equipment to begin clearing, trenching and laying the pipeline through the property. After receiving notification from MVP that they were going to begin construction on July 12, LaFerriere sent an email to MVP to cease and desist work on his property–which it ignored. Workers came onto the farm without “my permission, my inclusion or consultation,” he said.

MVP is required to adhere to an Organic Management Plan it filed with FERC, but LaFerriere said they still hadn’t provided him with any information with regard to its implementation. He hasn’t been allowed to speak with the expert from the International Organic Inspectors Association hired by MVP–who has been out to the property twice–and he still hasn’t received a complete list of materials that MVP would be using on the farm, he says.

MVP also wouldn’t tell him much about the pale green coating on the 42“ diameter pipeline. His concern about the coating degrading and contaminating the soil and water is shared by FERC, which last week sent a letter to MVP asking about its safety after two years of sitting in the sun.

Natalie Cox, Communications Director for EQT Midstream Partners–the lead partner of the Mountain Valley Pipeline joint venture–claims that MVP did provide LaFerriere’s attorney with a site-specific implementation plan for his property as well as an initial list of materials reviewed by the project’s organic consultant. MVP set up a cleaning station outside of an “organic buffer,” she said, and MVP has retained an organic consultant to train workers and environmental inspectors and monitor construction activities and remediation.

LaFerriere said that no monitors or inspectors have been introduced to them, and he has not seen anyone on site that he can identify as a organically trained monitor.

Construction workers started out “grubbing”—removing trees and brush from the right-of-way. He was worried because the workers were using air compressors to decontaminate equipment instead of a wash station, and contaminates were being blown into the air and drifting onto the farm’s organic soil.

Laferriere believed MVP wasn’t honoring its Organic Management plan Requirements, so he sent a second cease-and-desist email on Tuesday. Later that morning, MVP representatives agreed to meet with him at 1 pm. At the last minute, they cancelled.

Only an hour later, an excavator operating on the right-of-way tipped over onto its side. The excavator was on relatively flat terrain, not on a steep hill or slope, LaFerriere said. Fluids spilled out, and he counted nearly 20 workers bagging soil that was contaminated. He didn’t observe any barrier or protective silt socks put in place to contain the spill.

An excavator used for pipeline construction tipped over onto its side at spilled contaminating fluids./Photo courtesy of Preserve Floyd

The driver was able to exit the excavator and walk away with the assistance of co-workers. (The driver is employed by a contractor of Mountain Valley Pipeline, and EQT Midstream Partners was unable to release any information about his medical condition.)

Problems with MVP construction have not been limited to Blackberry Springs Farm. MVP was cited with more than 300 violations by the end of 2018 alone. As a consequence, many of the pipeline’s permits have been revoked. FERC has approved 125 requests by MVP to deviate from its original work plan, and most appear to be related to efforts correct erosion events.

“We have witnessed sediment-laden water flowing off the right-of-way and into adjacent streams, roads buried in up to a foot of mud, and even one erosion event so extreme that two segments of steel pipe – each weighing just over 13,000 pounds – skidded hundreds of feet from a worksite and onto private property,” reads an op-ed in the Virginia Mercury this week.

After heavy rains in June, at least a dozen timber mats from MVP construction sites washed down the Blackwater River into Smith Mountain Lake. A member of the local Board of Supervisors told the Roanoke Times that there could have been “a catastrophe” if a wooden plank had hit a boat.

Virginia attorney general Mark Herring filed a civil lawsuit against MVP last October, alleging that it violated numerous environmental laws by failing to control storm water and sediment run-off. Herring, however, has refused to issue a stop-work order, and construction of the pipeline continues.

More delays have been caused by protesters, who have repeatedly delayed tree-clearing on the route and pipeline construction with blockades, obstruction of easements, equipment lock-downs and tree-sits lasting for months. Multiple arrests have not deterred them.

A pipeline fighter locked himself to an excavator on an MVP site on June 26, stopping work there for more than 6 hours/Photo courtesy of Appalachians Against Pipelines

MVP asserts that permit issues will soon be resolved, and the pipeline will go into operation later this year.

Virginians and West Virginians affected by pipeline construction deeply grieve the defilement of their land by MVP. “The heartbreak of the people that have lived here for generations, to see their land taken against their will, to see it chopped up, split up, divided, tore up,“ LaFerriere said.

“It makes you question the sanity of the entire American Dream, because ultimately, isn’t that all our dream, is to own this one place that we can call our own, that is our sanctuary, that is our base of strength, where we have a foundation not only for ourselves but for our family? And then they come in here and rip that out.”

Feature photo courtesy of Preserve Floyd

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School Board Drops Bid to Obtain Rockwool Property by Eminent Domain

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 20:06

Ranson, W.Va.–The Jefferson County Board of Education will no longer pursue condemnation of Rockwool’s property to build a educational center to provide services for student with special needs. The school board abandoned its bid to obtain the Rockwool site via eminent domain in a settlement agreement announced today by the two parties. Rockwool in turn dropped its lawsuit against the Board of Education which sought to block the condemnation.

The Board of Education proposed to build a Regional Student Support Center on the Rockwool site across from North Jefferson Elementary to provide services for special needs students. Rockwool will contribute $250,000 toward the purchase of property for the RSSC as part of the settlement.

Rockwool is constructing a mineral wool manufacturing facility across the street from North Jefferson Elementary and within two miles of public schools which serve 30% of the county’s schoolchildren. The energy intensive process to heat rock and slag to 2,700 degrees in a furnace, then spin the lava into fibers for insulation products will require burning 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic feet of gas a day. An air permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection allows for the factory to emit 156,000 tons of pollutants per year, including formadehyde (a neurotoxin), three known carcinogens, and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

Rockwool said it “reaffirms its commitment” to fund an air monitoring program for three years with the installation of air monitors at two elementary schools, according to a press release.

Board of Education President Kathy Skinner declined to comment on the settlement.

The Board of Education—along with the County Commission, the City of Ranson, the economic development council and others—signed a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with Rockwool in 2017.

Rockwool filed its lawsuit against the Board of Education in federal court. In a preliminary hearing, Judge Gina Groh sided with Rockwool against the school board, ruling that it could not proceed with condemnation in state court and that a reasonable jury would conclude that the Board of Education was “motivated by bad faith.” She was persuaded that the school board voluntarily entered into an agreement with Rockwool with the signing of the PILOT.

“Private property rights should be protected from bad faith and arbitrary government action,” she said.

Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson testified at the hearing that there has been a 25% increase in students diagnosed with autism in Jefferson County since 2017, and a 300% increase in high needs students. These figures include those in general population who are affected by addiction and domestic violence, and many of them have been hospitalized for self-harm. The RSSC would provide social and emotional support, she said.

The Board of Education was unsuccessful in using eminent domain, but Rockwool will not go into operation without the power of eminent domain used for its benefit. Mountaineer Gas was granted the power of eminent domain to condemn properties in the Eastern Panhandle to build a gas pipeline which will service Rockwool if it goes into operation.

Patricia Kesecker stands in front of the right-of-way of the Mountaineer Gas PIpeline, which cuts through her 100-acre farm in the Eastern Panhandle./Photo by Anne Meador

Prime land on Patricia Kesecker’s farm in Morgan County was condemned by Mountaineer Gas. She and her husband challenged the condemnation in court, but a judge ruled against them.

After the Maryland Board of Public Works denied Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TC Energy, an easement across the Maryland Rail Trail to build a pipeline that would cross the Potomac River, the company is attempting to use eminent domain to force the state to yield the land. The certificate granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the basis for their claim. The pipeline would feed gas to the Mountaineer Gas pipeline, which would then transport it to the Rockwool factory.

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‘Demand Free Speech’ Rally Downplays Participants’ White Supremacy

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 22:17

Far-right celebrity personalities—individuals known for hate speech, Islamophobia, homo- and transphobia, racism and celebrating “white identity”—were featured speakers at a rally on July 6 at Freedom Plaza demanding “free speech” and equal access to social media platforms. A few hundred people attended in sweltering heat, many wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps and patriotic garb.

More than a thousand people gathered nearby at Pershing Park, where Black Lives Matter DC and antifascist groups held a counterprotest and rally on the theme “Mute White Supremacy,” along with a concert of GoGo music.

The “All Out DC” and “Mute White Supremacy” rally at Pershing Park countered the “free speech” rally/Photo by Anne Meador

Memories of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.—where Alt-Right and neo-Nazi groups clashed with antifascists and a young woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd—were still vivid. Police closed off the streets surrounding the rallies with large trucks to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

While the Demand Free Speech rally was in progress, black-clad and masked antifascists formed a black bloc and marched toward Freedom Plaza, breaking into a run on F St. Some antifa nearly breached the police cordon behind the rally stage. The bloc and the crowd following it were repelled by a swarm of bicycle cops yelling, “Get out of the street!”

Masked antifa take the streets./Photo by Anne Meador

Verbal conflicts between sides broke out from time to time but little violence. In the evening after the rally, the mood changed, as antifa followed rally-goers to the Trump International Hotel where they were holding an after party. One Trump supporter attacked a man and knocked him down. Police arrested the man who was attacked.

A white supremacist group also carried out a flash-mob in Old Town, Alexandria, Va. late in the day. Members of the American Identity Movement—formerly Identity Evropa—demonstrated in front of the courthouse in Alexandria, Va., with banners and balls of flame. The group has targeted parts of Alexandria and south Arlington with flyers several time in the past.

With Proud Boys shut down by antifascists in Portland recently, Washington antifa was ready to “welcome” Proud Boys, who were playing a prominent role in the Demand Free Speech organizing. Metropolitan Police officers were once again caught displaying their sympathies for white supremacists, when they were shown on video fist-bumping Proud Boys on DC streets on an evening prior to the rally.

In response to claims that the Proud Boys are a violent gang, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes told the rally attendees that he wished he controlled “a secret gang of violent right-wing activists.”

“If I did, you’d be dead,” he said referring to his anti-fascist critics. “You wouldn’t be around. I wish I was El Chapo.”

McInnes compared the fighting prowess of the Proud Boys to German soldiers under Hitler who killed large numbers of Russian soldiers early in World War II. He also complained about Trump supporters who aren’t willing to fight or get arrested.

“Let’s get in trouble. Let’s fight,” he said.

In his speech, Milo Yiannopoulos–former editor of Breitbart, who has incited violence against transgender people and been an apologist for pedophilia–attacked Will Sommer, a journalist for The Daily Beast, who has written about how the Proud Boys is a violent organization. “Will, do you think if the Proud Boys were a gang that you’d still be alive?” Yiannopoulos said, suggesting the group wants to kill the reporter.

Displays of patriotism are a shield against being called out for fascism./Photo by Anne Meador

Another far-right celebrity, Laura Loomer, complained about the relatively small turnout for the rally. “There ought to be a lot more people here,” said Loomer, who described executives at Google as “communists.”

Several speakers at the far-right rally, including Loomer and Yiannopoulos, have been banned from social media platforms. “The times we are living in are the times of Nazi Germany,” Loomer said, comparing her treatment to how the Nazis treated Jews, communists, anarchists and other groups of people.

Yiannopoulos urged the crowd to report more moderate conservatives, whom he described as elite or “Vichy” conservatives, so they would care about their extremist comrades’ predicament. “The movement requires it. Get them banned. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what we need,” Yiannopoulos said.

Massaging public image to gain re-entry to media platforms where some had been banned for hate speech seemed to be a goal of the rally. Rally speakers portrayed themselves as victims of a society out to get them, influenced by elite liberal education and its suffocating “safe spaces” and political correctness. They played up their support of President Trump, patriotism and Christian heritage, while protesting that they were not actually racists, fascists or white supremacists. To do so, they presented speakers who were gay or Hispanic, and pointed out the black people in the crowd wearing “Make America Great” caps.

Efforts were made to mask the ugly image and conceal offensive beliefs. “The white supremacists in DC have definitely been coached to keep from broadcasting their overtly fascist beliefs,” tweeted @wyattreed13. “Higher-ranking proud boys usher them away when one starts showing off his white pride tattoo and I try to get him to explain how white pride is different from nazism.”

“It was obvious who they were. We saw people wearing white power t-shirts. I saw someone wearing a Generation Identity shirt. It was all phony,” said antifascist Daryle Lamont Jenkins. When he went to Harry’s Pub, a hangout for the far-right crowd, he also saw someone with an American First Committee for White Supremacy flag.

“If you are at a point where your crew has to be escorted by police for a bar crawl, then something’s wrong with your group,” Jenkins said. “And the police should have better things to do but they’re not. They need to check themselves on that, they’re supposed to be impartial, and they just showed everybody that they weren’t,” he added.

Jenkins disputed that groups participating in the rally were being denied free speech. “The fact of the matter is, they’re not being censored. They are being marginalized. They can start their own social media platforms and they have,” he said.

“They have a right to say what they want and we have a right to say what we want and that’s what we want and that’s all that happened here. We said our piece and they said theirs and we were gone,” he said.

Jenkins called out the fascists for using people of color as shields. “They tried to play the whole thing that we can’t go after them because they’re not racist.” If you do, “you’re going to be the one that’s racist,” he said.

“It’s insulting when they try to use someone with skin color to excuse the reprehensible ideas, but it’s expected. They use them regularly to protect them from these kind of charges,” he said.

He had harsh words for the people of color who attended the “free speech” rally. “It doesn’t matter if they were black, it doesn’t matter if they were Hispanic, it doesn’t matter if they were Asian, they are a part of something that has been detrimental to this world, society, and country, and it doesn’t magically change when you’re black. We won’t forget that. They are just as much of a problem as any white person that says that stuff,” Jenkins said.

Many people are critical of how antifascists respond to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but Jenkins disagrees. “I believe in confrontation. I support confrontation one hundred percent. You do have to be aggressive with the Proud Boys. They were formed to engage in physical confrontation and physical violence,” he said, defending antifa tactics.

“You are going to have to be defending yourselves, and that’s the point where folks are frustrated—that we have to do something about this element growing. You have to have that freedom of speech, but you can’t keep telling us what not to do. We have to have solutions and no one is providing them and we have to say, okay, we’ve got to come up with our own,” Jenkins said.

“If you do not like the way that they approach things, and if you think what antifa is doing is wrong, you go out there and do what’s right. It’s that simple.”

Click to view slideshow.

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DC Transgender Community Fighting for Equality 50 Years After Stonewall

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 18:41

Washington, DC – Members of the transgender community led a rally on Friday afternoon at Freedom Plaza, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising on Christopher Street in New York City. About a dozen transgender organizers and activists delivered a petition to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office and the City Council, demanding passage of the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019. The rally was led by advocacy group No Justice No Pride, HIPS (Sex Workers Advocates Coalition), and CAS trans activists who gave testimonials of how their lives would be improved with passage of the bill.

No Justice No Pride (NJNP) was organized as a social justice collective to provide resources and support for the trans community and recently created a refuge for them. NJNP also advocates on behalf of trans and queer persons and lobbies the city government.

A contingent of trans activists lobbied for the DC Judiciary Committee to convene a hearing on the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 and for the City Council to pass the bill. Then they joined about 200 allies at the rally in Freedom Plaza, across from the John A. Wilson Building which houses the Mayor’s and City Council’s offices of the District of Columbia.

If passed, the bill would decriminalize sex work and allow transgender sex workers to live safely in the community. It would also benefit the community at large by allowing the creation of safe spaces for the transgender community, improve community health and safety, and remove the need for policing them, something advocates say needlessly oppresses them with abusive police tactics. It would also enable basic resources for the transgender community to leave the sex work industry altogether and elevate their economic standing.

Dee says the City Council should decriminalize sex work/Photo by John Zangas

The decriminalization of sex work–the removal of criminal penalties for consensual sex between adults for exchange–is not a new or radical approach to addressing issues related to sex work and community concerns. There are fifteen countries that have already legalized sex work. Among them is New Zealand, a country that has reported improvements in the health and safety of its communities. A report in BJT, a healthcare professional publication, reported that legalized sex work in counties that adopted such measures realized improvements in community health and safety.

Job options for trans individuals are limited due to discrimination, making sex work one of the only options open for their economic viability, according to many of the advocates who spoke at the rally.

But it is not just about employment and economics, it is about survival and human rights. Two Black trans women have been slain in the DMV region recently, including Zoe Spears who was shot on June 13, 2019, and Ashanti Carmon who was slain on March 30, 2019. Trans women also often face violence and threats in their daily routines.

Emmelia Talarico, a lead organizer at NJNP, related an incident she recently experienced when attacked by several men during a hate crime. She was chased by assailants, who began throwing rocks at her home. DC police were called but took over 45 minutes to arrive and “had an attitude,” she said.

“A lot of folks get stuck thinking we can trust police or thinking the police will respect us, that they won’t have biases, but we’re here to tell you ‘no,’ they’re out there on K Street in plainclothes trying to get sex from sex workers, trying to lock them up—and that’s not okay,” she said.

Emmelia Talarico, right/Photo by John Zangas

Talarico said that was one of the main reasons NJNP was advocating for the bill, so Black trans sex workers would not have to live in fear of police oppression.

A study report by Urban Institute found that 7 U.S. cities generated between $40 and $390 million annually in sex work trade, equivalent to a multi-billion-dollar underground economy. The report rationalized a need for legalization for community safety and health, as well as well as the safety and health of those in sex work and their customers.

Dee, a trans sex worker in her 60s, spoke about the challenges facing black trans youth trying to find work. “Being trans is not an issue, but suppressing our right to live is an issue,” she said. Dee decried the Mayor and Council for not acting on the decriminalization of sex work bill. “I say to the City, the Mayor and City Council, if you’re not going to promote decriminalization of sex work then give us a damn job.”

Nona, a Program Manager at CAS, said that trans women of color want employment and to work alongside their cisgender counterparts. “Trans women of color may not have job function skills, but it’s only due to not being hired yet. We are eager to learn,” she said.

To support, volunteer or donate to efforts to provide accommodations for the transgender community visit NJNP website.

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How Kai Newkirk’s ‘Extractive Activism’ Left Destruction in Its Wake

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 15:31

A nationally known activist returned to his West Virginia hometown earlier this year to join the fight against the construction of a major industrial facility that posed significant health risks to the community. The activist, Kai Newkirk, gained the trust and admiration of residents opposed to the insulation factory proposed by Danish company Rockwool. By the time he left five months later, though, the community was riven in two, mistrust was rampant and the group’s ability to work effectively was significantly compromised.

But there was something that no one in this rural West Virginia county knew about Newkirk: He has a long history of toxic behavior, creating chaos and sowing discord.

After conducting two dozen interviews that include progressive organizers associated with Black Lives Matter, Democracy Spring, and the Mobilization for Health Campaign we think our findings will shed light on whether Kai Newkirk, a prominent progressive activist, should be allowed to continue in leadership positions. Furthermore, we hope our investigation will provide better context for understanding an upsetting—if not disturbing—series of events in a community facing an existential threat. Revealing the internal politics and workings of a community that has invested its trust in us is typically something we work very hard to avoid, but it is our belief that Resist Rockwool’s crisis was exceptional and requires exceptional reporting from us.

Rockwool, the proposed industrial polluter, came to Jefferson County, W.Va. in stealth. It wasn’t until after the official groundbreaking for the mineral wool insulation factory that the vast majority of residents heard the name Rockwool for the first time. Disguised initially as “Project Shuttle,” the local economic development authority kept the Rockwool project on the down-low. It was upon discovery in the summer of 2018 that Jefferson County residents scrambled to find out what this new industrial neighbor foisted on them was all about and whether they had a say in it now.

Sustained by agriculture, tourism, education and the equine industry, and on the outskirts of the metropolitan Washington, DC area, Jefferson County is the most prosperous county in a very poor state. But now, Rockwool’s factory, currently under construction at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley (the very part of West Virginia celebrated by John Denver’s song “Country Roads”) threatens to transform the county’s economy and rural character.

To produce its “green” and “sustainable” insulation products, Rockwool will burn 1.6 million cubic feet of gas and 90 tons of coal per day in its furnace to heat basalt rock and slag to 2,700 degrees until it melts into lava, blows the substance into fibers and spins it with binders to produce insulation products. Two 21-story smokestacks and a third 11-story stack will rise high above the fields, marring the skyline and the viewshed of the Appalachian trail. The factory could produce up to 156,000 tons of polluting emissions a year–including fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde—in an area where typical weather conditions would cause pollution to remain trapped in the valley, rather than to disperse.

Rockwool is sited right across the street from an elementary school and within two miles of three other schools, putting 30% of the county’s schoolchildren at risk. State regulations prohibit the building of schools in the area of industrial activity, but perversely, there was nothing stopping a heavy industrial facility from building next to North Jefferson Elementary.

Deception and underhanded dealing were part and parcel of the plan to bring the Danish company to Jefferson County and create all of 150 jobs with so-so pay plus benefits. The West Virginia Development Office supplied an obscene amount of cash and subsidies—about $37 million—for the county development authority, or JCDA, to offer Rockwool, while zoning laws were changed and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement was sold to the County Commission, no questions asked. The JCDA’s president continued to conceal Rockwool’s existence even beyond the groundbreaking and official press release. When a group of concerned citizens demanded to know where the gas for a proposed pipeline was going, he swore there was no customer lined up for it.

Worst of all, Rockwool was simply a Trojan horse, the first of several industrial neighbors to be invited to occupy a planned 1,000-acre industrial park, supplied by all the infrastructure—sewer, water, gas—initially put in place to service Rockwool’s needs.

Anger was palpable as Jefferson County mobilized to oppose Rockwool and rid itself of this threat to its air, water and health. Feelings of betrayal and disillusionment were the natural outcome of discovering that your home was part of a scheme to provide the dying coal industry a last hurrah and that the very people who are supposed to be looking out for you—your elected officials and their appointees on both the state and local levels—were either negligent or actively working to destroy your quality of life.

A community member described the raw emotions that the situation evoked. (She preferred to remain anonymous so she could speak frankly and not jeopardize valued relationships. We’ll call her Sarah.):

“That’s what you have around here, people who have trust that the neighbors around them will take care of them. The people who helped negotiate Rockwool coming in, it’s a blow to the heart and the gut when I see the names that I see attached to this stuff. I didn’t like you anyway, but it sucks to have it confirmed that you are as awful or worse than I thought you were. It’s like, we all grew up here, how can you look at everything that we have here and fight to protect and throw it all away?”

Along with betrayal, there has been gaslighting. Because Rockwool got a permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, it must be safe, never mind that data submitted in the application was inaccurate and the WVDEP is headed up by a coal executive. In an opinion piece published in a local paper, County Commissioner Patsy Noland claimed that because she grew up next to a source of pollution and has remained healthy, then nobody is going to get sick from Rockwool’s emissions, never mind that peer-reviewed science indicates that there are increased health risks for populations living in proximity to facilities like Rockwool. Because Rockwool’s brand is all about “sustainability” and saving the planet from the ravages of climate change, never mind that your home is going to become a sacrifice zone.

Despite the fact they were late to the game, Jefferson County residents threw themselves into defending their home. “No Toxic Rockwool” signs sprung up everywhere. Lawsuits were filed. Every county commission and city council meeting was packed to the gills, week after week. State agency hearings lasted for hours while members of the public demanded to have their say. Local elections swept out many of the Rockwool supporters, and immediately afterwards, most of the JCDA members responsible for bringing Rockwool to the county resigned.

Still, several months into the fight, conventional means of recourse–while not exhausted–were having limited returns. It was time to escalate. Into this milieu of exhaustion, heightened emotions and anxiety about the future entered a man, a native son of the county but long absent and a stranger to most. But soon, many would call him “brother” and make him the most visible leader of the Rockwool opposition.

In fall 2018, Kai Newkirk called up Shepherdstown resident David Levine, an acquaintance he had worked with during the 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign, and asked if he could stay with him and join the Rockwool fight. Newkirk is best known for his role in organizing Democracy Spring in 2016, a protest at the U.S. Capitol to get big money out of politics.

He arrived in January and together with Levine, he co-founded the group Resist Rockwool, which went on to use more assertive protest tactics to up the game against the Danish company. Many community members seemed to appreciate his experience, framing of situations as moral questions and devotion to nonviolent civil disobedience. They took on his habit of calling each other “brother” and “sister.”

But by the time Brother Kai left five months later, Resist Rockwool had been rocked by a power struggle and internal crisis, David Levine had been attacked, publicly shamed and ostracized, and a schism had divided the group, leaving almost everyone emotionally shattered. Precious weeks waging the campaign against Rockwool were lost due to infighting when construction was proceeding apace.

Many pointed the finger at Levine as the cause of all this turmoil and credited Newkirk, on the other hand, with good leadership and wise guidance. But who was Brother Kai anyway? When several individuals in our network raised red flags about Newkirk, DC Media Group decided to find out, not knowing exactly where an inquiry would lead.

Newkirk declined to be interviewed by phone, saying he was busy and preferred to speak in person when he was in West Virginia at a later date. DCMG has offered to add a statement if he provides one.

“Progressive Savior”

Newkirk pumped his fist and squinted into the May sun as he addressed the 300 people assembled before him on the grassy hill near the entrance to the Rockwool construction site, building the audience’s energy with a rhythmic call-and-response. “Are we here with love for our neighbors today? We’re here in love with our home, is that right?” With each rhetorical question, the crowd clapped and yelled “Yes!” with upraised fists.

A skilled speaker, Newkirk copied the style of Black religious and civil rights leaders, borrowing some of the language of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—with a little word salad thrown in. Like a stump speech, it was scripted, memorized and meticulously rehearsed. Newkirk then led marchers belting out civil rights anthems like “Marching into Freedom Land” over a bridge toward the site entrance. Twenty-four people sat down in the middle of the road, where one by one they were arrested by police for obstruction.

Kai Newkirk heads up a march during Democracy Spring in 2016./Photo by John Zangas

Civil disobedience actions leading to arrests like these are Newkirk’s calling card. He is best known for being a lead organizer of Democracy Spring, in which 1,300 people were arrested on the U.S. Capitol steps in 2016 to pressure Congress to curtail the influence of big money in politics.

He was employing mass arrests as a tactic as far back as 2009, when he was hired by the Mobilization for Health campaign to slow momentum for the Affordable Care Act to advance single payer as the best option for Obama’s healthcare initiative. Kai helped developed the campaign for protests at insurance companies across the country, said Kevin Zeese, who headed the campaign along with Dr. Margaret Flowers. “Scores of people were arrested,” Zeese said.

As the focus shifted to Congress, Kai suddenly had a change of heart and supported the ACA. It was at a “key moment,” Zeese said. They had achieved some success, but they could have done more if Newkirk had not “divided and confused things,” he said.

“He sees himself as the rebirth of Gandhi,” Zeese said.

Democracy Spring arose out of 99Rise, which Newkirk co-founded with Paul Engler. The mass arrests spanning one week at the Capitol during April 2016 didn’t achieve their goal of prompting Congress to clamp down on corruption, but it did gain publicity and laid claim to bragging rights for being the greatest number of people arrested at the Capitol in a single day. Newkirk remains Founding Mission Director of Democracy Spring.

Many young activists were attracted to Democracy Spring, which had intentions of building on the momentum of the April week of action to become a decentralized nationwide movement demanding fundamental democracy reform. One of those activists was Taralei Griffin. Newkirk invited her to come back in May and help organize the next stage of Democracy Spring.

Democracy Spring was all about restoring the full power of the vote by ending the corrupting power of money in politics./Photo by Anne Meador

But Democracy Spring, under the leadership and administration of Newkirk, created hardship for many of its young staff members because it failed to compensate them or cover expenses related to their work. With few exceptions, staff working full-time did not receive wages or a stipend and were only provided group housing in “movement houses” in suburban Washington and Philadelphia. For Griffin, this resulted in lasting consequences.

Living in Nashville at the time, Griffin flew back to Washington, DC at her own expense to rejoin Democracy Spring. She did not sign an employment contract or agreement and was essentially regarded as a volunteer, even though she fulfilled the role of the “DOC,” or director of communications. She estimates that she worked about 60 hours per week. Democracy Spring promised to reimburse her for food, travel and other expenses, she said, but not in writing.

When Democracy Spring kept putting reimbursement off, Griffin opened two new credit cards to cover even more expenses. She estimates that she racked up $4,200 in debt from May to August 2016, attributable to expenses of the type she says the organization promised to pay for. She was eventually reimbursed about $1,000. She is still paying off the debt three years later.

In July, Democracy Spring organizers headed to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to agitate for democratic reforms and urge nominee Hillary Clinton to sign its declaration.

Newkirk seemed insensitive, if not oblivious, to the dynamics of a group of twenty-something, mostly white activists setting up shop in an AirBNB in the middle of a poor majority black neighborhood in Philadelphia, more than one source said.

“There goes the neighborhood,” said one resident as he walked by the house, as related by Angela Vogel, a local organizer who was called in to conduct anti-oppression training.

Local organizers were also ignored. This, apparently, wasn’t terribly unusual for many of the protest groups flocking to Philly for the DNC, except that Newkirk wasn’t receptive to amending his plans in consideration of others. He once “triple-booked over the black community and immigrant community” and diluted the effect of all of their protests, according to Desiree Kane, who was hired to do press and public relations during the DNC. “There was no work to find out when their actions were,” she said.

Newkirk also showed lack of concern for Democracy Spring activists’ safety. On one occasion, Newkirk ignored Griffin’s advice, she said, and this resulted in Democracy Spring members—who professed nonviolence–showing up for an “escalated” march, where they ended up getting pepper-sprayed by police. Newkirk then blamed her for not reaching them in time to notify them to leave before it started, she said.

Newkirk devised a scheme to infiltrate the convention center by taking ladders and climbing over a high gate with electric fencing. Young activists were on board with this, but Kane knew that police would immediately go after them. “Was he trying to get people shot?” she asked. She put a stop to the plan, then quit over the matter, she said.

“There were a number of things that they attempted to do that could have been really stupid,” Vogel said. “The actions were incredibly poorly planned, last-minute decisions. What they were doing had no strategic value whatsoever.”

Griffin believes Newkirk discounted her and other women organizers’ opinions and suggestions and preferred the counsel of white male organizers. She began to stand up to him on certain matters, and then found some of her housemates becoming hostile to her and gaslighting her.

She experienced a “creepy and uncomfortable” episode in which Newkirk put his arm around her at a bar. She had gone there in the first place because he had avoided her efforts to talk to him about a work matter, and found it difficult to get away when she might not have another opportunity to talk, she said.

Later, others reported to Griffin that Newkirk “groomed” young activists in a similar manner. Newkirk had a consensual sexual relationship with an organizer in the Philly movement house, a young woman of color about 21 years old at the time, according to several sources. Newkirk was 35.

Griffin experienced significant health problems during that summer, ultimately leading to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Kai would be sympathetic, she said, then almost immediately expect her to shoulder full duties.

Newkirk didn’t deal with disagreement with his views very well and tended to act unilaterally. During the DNC, while the organization was publicly pressuring Clinton to sign its declaration, behind the scenes–unbeknownst to his own staff–Newkirk was negotiating a compromise with a Clinton aide, according to Griffin.

She found Democracy Spring’s attendance at the DNC problematic in the first place when the organization claimed to be nonpartisan but did not protest or participate in the Republican National Convention as well. Her objections were ignored.

But non-partisanship became a flashpoint after the convention when Democracy Spring changed its stance and advocated for “strategic voting,” essentially endorsing Hillary Clinton. This did not sit well with Bernie Sanders supporters, who were still bruised by the DNC’s collusion with Clinton and their ill treatment at the convention. Clinton, moreover, was “the face of everything we are fighting against,” as Griffin described it in an article she penned in early September, not long after she had left Democracy Spring in exhaustion. 

Her post gained some traction and Democracy Spring felt compelled to implement damage control. In communications with her, Newkirk laid the guilt trips on thick. One of his texts reads:

“After all we’ve done for you… brought you into our FAMILY… I’m the one who reached out and asked you to come to the movement house, and we’ve supported you… why would you do this? I just don’t understand. You’ve hurt me, and you’ve hurt the movement.”

Soon after Griffin started a Facebook group for people to share their disappointments in Democracy Spring’s new direction, Newkirk sent another message that he was “aware” of the group. “To see you counter-organizing is painful, Taralei,” he texted.

Saying that he wished she had brought up more of her concerns earlier (when she was ignored), he continues:

“I have to get back to work building this movement. I hope you will not hinder our efforts … while acting with appreciation for our intentions of service and all that we have sacrificed to build to this time.”

Griffin said that she sought Newkirk’s approval for her work, and she “never knew whether he would even look at me.”

“It sucked when he acted like I was just a problem among all his other burdens of being a progressive savior,” she said.

Griffin said Newkirk could be exclusive, not inclusive, when it came to his movement. He “alienated” women, people of color and older activists, she said, and she linked that practice to his occasional remark that “not all people” are needed to make a movement work.

“In various ways, he reveals a certain elitism” and preoccupation with appearances, DC organizer and activist Andrew Batcher told DC Media Group. He decided that he would no longer work with Newkirk after he signaled that he didn’t want well-known activist Barry Knight to participate in an action at the Supreme Court “because Barry was a long-haired hippie and didn’t look right.” Knight says he participated in the protest and was never discouraged from attending.

Kane said Newkirk cares very much about the “social capital” wealthy white social networks can bring him. On the other hand, in spite of using lofty rhetoric, “he doesn’t really care about actual poor people because they can’t bring him social capital.”

Kane, a Native American, was disturbed to hear that Newkirk intended to go to Standing Rock in October 2016 and bring Democracy Spring activists with him, who intended to wear items with Democracy Spring logos. She blocked him from coming, she said. She says that he practices “extractive activism,” showing up and getting what he wants with charisma and “sex magic,” then leaves.

Both Kane and Kira Young, an indigenous water protector and Appalachian environmental organizer, expressed serious reservations about Newkirk’s use of mass arrests as a tactic. Newkirk “was feeding that system” of oppression by sending activists to jail and funneling scarce resources to police, Young said.

Zeese estimated that Democracy Spring arrests at the Capitol required $65,000 for bail, all of which all went to the U.S. Capitol police. Griffin agreed with that estimate.

“In plenty of other realms [civil disobedience arrests have] made an impact with the media, but now we need our best and brightest to be out here,” Young said. “We need it to serve a strategic end goal.”

Banned from DC Organizing Circles

Many people who participated in Democracy Spring felt misled and cheated, according to several accounts. Under Newkirk’s leadership, local groups were not supported, and the promised nationwide movement infused with Democracy Spring’s “DNA” was not materializing. Many of those most intensely involved say they are still feeling the psychological after-effects today.

After Democracy Spring, Newkirk showed up in other movements in Washington, DC, where his bad reputation and toxic behavior eventually compelled local organizers to run him out of town in 2017. They have scathing words to describe him, and in addition, many have alleged that Newkirk had sexual relationships with young women when he held positions of authority over them.

“Kai Newkirk is an egotistical piece of trash who uses positions of power to seduce new activists. Do not work with Kai Newkirk,” said Jason Charter, a longtime DC organizer and activist. “I can only say from personal experience that he is an egotistical, narcissistic, self-centered bastard who doesn’t deserve anyone’s time.”

“When he was running Democracy Spring, he was running it as his own personal cult of personality. He would be luring in young women and then toss them aside when he was done with them,” said DC activist and community organizer Legba Carrefour. Democracy Spring did nothing about it, he said, and “it was people from outside the group that forced him to leave the city.”

Screenshot of a Facebook post by Legba Carrefour referring to the “takedown” by April Goggans.

Prominent Black Lives Matter organizer April Goggans said she and others refuse to work with Newkirk, and she advises everyone else do the same.

“Folks all but put out an entire website on him. He will fuck the effort up directly or indirectly. I personally would not let him anywhere near any community fighting for any kind of justice,” she said.

Goggans was instrumental in effectively banning Newkirk from operating in DC. She called out Newkirk on Facebook and a slew of people piled on. (The post is no longer accessible.) Word spread among the activist community in DC, and he was no longer welcome.

“He doesn’t give a fuck about the people. He’s a narcissist and opportunist of the worst kind. Cult leader-ish to be honest. He’s dangerous,” she said.

Newkirk has admitted to having a sex addiction and reportedly has sought help for it. A sex addict can substitute sexual gratification with emotional exploitation, according to to psychotherapist Lynn Turner, Ph.D., LCSW.

The Undermining of Resist Rockwool

In Jefferson County, Newkirk’s charisma made him the natural front man for Resist Rockwool. “If he hadn’t come to town, I don’t think we would have gotten organized,” David Levine said.

Newkirk made people feel good and purposeful by using the language of love and morality. “He was more interested in making impressions, inspiring and motivating others under a banner crafted from dreams” than attending to practical matters, community member Ana Prillaman said. When conversation turned toward goals or intentions, he would “nod his head and behave as if he was burdened by feelings,” then redirect energy toward “vague and spiritual ambitions,” she said.

Newkirk continued to pursue his favorite protest tactic–nonviolent civil disobedience resulting in mass arrests. The first action Resist Rockwool attempted was a sit-in at Senator Joe Manchin’s office in Washington. They demanded to speak to him and get him off the fence regarding Rockwool. It was an inconvenient day for Manchin to accommodate them, even if he had wanted to. Congress was voting on a spending bill to end the government shutdown. The group could have given Manchin more time to respond, but Newkirk decided preemptively to escalate the action by moving the small group willing to risk arrest into a position in the hallway where they blocked the office doors. 

About 50 people conducted a sit-in of Sen. Joe Manchin’s office to compel him to take a stand on Rockwool. Newkirk along with 10 others were arrested blocking the office doors./Photo by Anne Meador

Resist Rockwool then decided to “take the fight to Denmark” and make a “moral appeal”–in Newkirk’s language—to the Danish ambassador. Rockwool, after all, could not build a coal- and gas-fired factory next to an elementary school in Denmark because of the country’s stricter regulations. After a rally at the Washington embassy, 21 members of the group blocked the entrance gate and were arrested.

Newkirk was beginning to apply pressure to community members to get arrested in these civil disobedience actions. This didn’t sit well with Stewart Acuff, a union organizer who retired to Martinsburg. His experience goes back decades to ACORN in the 1970s, and he did union organizing in Georgia with Reverend James Orange and other civil rights figures. Later, he became the National Organizing Director for the AFL-CIO.

“We should not make people feel like they’re not doing their duty if they don’t get arrested,” he said. He began to think that Newkirk was manipulating people by framing everything as a moral question, then making himself the moral arbiter.

He was speaking to Newkirk about leadership one day, and he remarked how a young woman in the movement was growing and distinguishing herself. “Not until she takes an arrest,” Newkirk said, according to Acuff.

“Arrests [for him] are a vehicle to his stature,” Acuff said. “Dr. King didn’t teach that.”

Newkirk arranged for an interview with Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks, a news and commentary program, and he wisely included this young woman, Morgan Sell. Feisty, sensitive and pretty, and the mother of two young children—one of whom has asthma—Sell was an ideal choice to represent the anti-Rockwool struggle. (DC Media Group requested an interview with Sell, but she declined.)

The problem was, she had little or no experience with this kind of interview, and Newkirk didn’t prepare her, or even remind her to turn off her cellphone. He started off by talking to Uygur for two minutes straight. When Sell did get the opportunity to speak, Newkirk looked pained. She didn’t appear to be prepped by Newkirk to be ready to tell her story.

Acuff was distressed by the interview. “A real organizer never puts developing leaders into situations that are over their head,” he said.

Conflict between them began to escalate during planning for Rockwool’s next event, the rally and civil disobedience at Rockwool’s gate.

“That night when I realized he was a con artist, he spent 15 or 20 minutes begging people to get arrested. In fact, it got down to this really sick and sad and pathetic thing where everybody in the room was begging poor old [name redacted] who’s broken in about a thousand places in his old body to get arrested. It was just bizarre,” Acuff said.

Kira Young was also disturbed. “I noticed more and more vulnerable people were agreeing to get arrested, and I didn’t see the strategic value of having such a vulnerable part of our community getting arrested,” she said. “I noticed older people on medication going, ‘I don’t know if can get spend a night in jail, because I need my medication.’”

Acuff confronted Newkirk and got angry, which in turn made people angry at Acuff. Levine tried to intervene and got caught in the crossfire.

By April, tensions had developed between Newkirk and Levine, and he was no longer a guest at Levine’s house. Some of his self-centered behavior had been unsettling. For example, he went to the Sundance Film Festival and came back furious for an odd reason. He had gone to the premiere of a documentary about his romantic partner—a well-known immigrant rights activist—and her mother, and found that all the footage that included him in it ended up on the cutting room floor. By his own account, he skipped the after-party because he was upset, and he sulked and complained about it for quite a while, Levine said.

Complaints about Levine began to arise in Resist Rockwool’s steering committee, and these complaints soon became accusations of serious offenses. (DCMG requested interviews from some steering committee members, but the interviews were put off several times.) Levine acted unilaterally, they said. He refused to listen to other people and treated them disrespectfully. He repeatedly disrespected and sometimes verbally abused two female steering committee members, who later resigned. (Levine denies this.) He refused to remove the treasurer, who mistrusted him, as a signatory of the bank account. (Levine states that he offered to replace himself as signatory with the organization’s vice president.)

Newkirk wanted to make sure he wasn’t replaced by Acuff as the leader of the rally. “He wanted to be the unchallenged leader and the star of the demonstration and civil disobedience,” Acuff said.

As the mid-May rally approached, Levine was uncomfortable with the level of conflict between Newkirk and Acuff, who stated that he would not follow Newkirk’s lead anymore.  Acuff and Levine felt compelled to resign, which Levine characterized as “stepping aside” until after the event to avoid any confusion over the leadership for the event.

Levine provoked more complaints by allegedly trying to fire the attorney who had been hired to provide legal representation to those arrested at the civil disobedience action, including himself. (He denies this, stating he was simply requesting information about the attorney’s engagement agreement.) The steering committee, in the meantime, had “managed” the resignations of Levine and Acuff by saying they had moved to another project and wished them well.

Nevertheless, things were building toward a crisis. Levine was still technically president of Resist Rockwool, and he was concerned about the legal responsibility for the event, and therefore rescinded his resignation, provoking an outcry. But even if all the accusations against him were justified, the animus toward Levine was growing out of proportion in intensity.

At first, the narrative about the conflict was “David, Stewart and Kai got into it, and they need to work it out,” Young said. “But I saw their narrative change. I saw people move from reasonable to ‘Lord of the Flies’ in two weeks.”

“All these bad things were happening. [Two steering committee members] were attacking me constantly. And everybody in the group, it was this constant thing that I was the problem, but I didn’t know that that was all coming from Kai,” Levine said.

Newkirk seized the moment to consolidate power and remove Levine and Acuff rather than risk a confrontation  after things settled down and the May protest was behind them.

“Kai wanted to make sure he was the unchallenged leader and the star of the demonstration and civil disobedience,” Acuff said.

Newkirk had picked up the threads of earlier slurs made against Levine by a pro-Rockwool group led by former economic development authority members who had worked to bring the factory to Jefferson County. These slurs and hit pieces by the local pro-Rockwool newspaper planted the seeds that Levine, a tech entrepreneur, was a dishonest businessman who had bilked his investors and couldn’t be trusted.

This was just one piece of the narrative. “Kai would cite this as part of my pattern of behavior of just going and doing things,” Levine said. “For him, everything that was done was group consensus, though it was ‘modified consensus,’ meaning that if I disagreed I could be overruled. So it wasn’t just making the individuals feel empowered, it was making this steering committee feel incredibly important and powerful. And Kai always controlled the agenda in terms of what was considered and how decisions were made.”

Newkirk also undermined Acuff by discounting his decades of organizing experience and calling his methods old school and obsolete. Newkirk focused on his few outbursts of anger to discredit him, rather than support Acuff as an important asset to the movement.

At a training to prepare for civil disobedience, Levine says he “talked up” Acuff in an introduction, and as he did so, one woman cried out, “Let’s not forget Brother Kai!” Later, in informal conversations, Levine’s supposed disregard for Newkirk, who was not speaking or doing training that evening, was cited as one of his greatest crimes.

Called on the carpet several times for the same offenses, Levine could not convince the steering committee that he was responsive to their concerns. He asked Newkirk more than once for a mediation between them as individuals, but Newkirk demurred.

“I would say, we really need to work this out, and he would say, that seems really heavy, this is too heavy. All about how he felt about it, not about getting through the heaviness,” Levine said. Newkirk also insisted on working things out “in the group,” where he would have unconditional support and not have to face Levine one-on-one.

Finally, a mediation was scheduled, where they presented one option to Levine: resign as President right away. He listened to them again, he said, but he refused. His reason was put an orderly transition in place first, he said.

“By the time we got to this idiotic mediation, Kai just painted this whole story about how I’d hit bottom. When I resigned and nobody wanted me back, I started acting out, I started trying to destroy the rally, I started undermining things. This is basically the narrative he presented,” he said.

Levine also said that he was told several times that they were being “really easy” on him because they hadn’t called him out publicly, and they “held him hostage” by the threat of it. He was told that if he didn’t resign immediately, he would be publicly exposed and ridiculed.

“They had gotten to this point that Kai had made them feel everything in the world that was wrong was because of me,” Levine said. “I can see him, his body language, in the meetings, like he was in pain, caused by anything I said. He was building a moral argument against me, in exactly the same way you build a moral argument against Rockwool for presentation to the Danish ambassador. Somehow he got it to the point that I was Rockwool. He was conducting rallies, sit-ins and protests against me.”

At the end of the so-called mediation, Levine said someone told him as he left, “I’m sorry you are the victim.” Eventually, he took this to mean that through his own fault, he made himself the victim and compelled them to do something cruel.

Prior to the crisis event–what Young describes as the meeting “when they went full-on Lord of the Flies”–a delirium took hold of some people. They were in such distress, it was like they had to cut a cancer out which was causing them unbearable pain. And the cancer was Levine.

“Kai created fear of David to deflect from his own inadequacies, that’s what smear campaigns are,” Young said. “They’re to create chaos so that you don’t have time to look at how shitty of an organizer he is. He creates all this drama and everything looking at David, meanwhile he’s just throwing all of the resources of the organization at the police.”

Two things were announced for the Resist Rockwool public meeting agenda on May 29: a review of the rally and civil disobedience and a discussion of strategy. The unannounced agenda item was a public shaming.

Sarah (not her real name) was attending a Resist Rockwool meeting for the first time. When she walked in a little late, she noticed that there was a good cross-section of the community there, and also, that David Levine was standing in the middle of the circle and people were yelling at him.

“This is not how these people [normally] behave,” she thought.

For a while, he wasn’t allowed to respond, Sarah said. “He seemed to be respectfully receiving the grievances. He was genuinely sorry that this has gotten to this point, and is willing to take responsibility for whatever it is that has gone wrong.”

She was confused and thought that others would be as well. “This was supposed to be strategy meeting, and I was very upset because I thought, some adult in this room should be standing up and saying, ‘We see there are a number of people here who are not here for this part of the meeting. We should have this conversation elsewhere at another time,’” she said.

Emotions were running high. “Morgan had been crying, Stewart’s voice broke as he described his feelings about trying to heal a broken community. … David got upset when he tried to explain that he did these things for the good of the organization,” she said.

Levine didn’t point fingers, she said. He explained what his rationale had been for some of the decisions he made.

“David Levine is extraordinarily intelligent, aware of how things work. His brain moves faster than most other people,” Sarah said. “David is able to see a bigger picture and is able to bring people together, and I think he works a lot from the heart, so he is genuine and passionate about whatever is going on.”

Newkirk stayed quiet. “At no time did I hear Kai say anything. The fact that Kai’s name came up multiple times but that he didn’t speak, didn’t take the time to say, I want to say my piece,” Sarah said.

“It seemed like it had gotten to the point [that it might end]. It seemed to calm down, David seemed to take responsibility for certain things. Then this woman stood up and said, ‘This is all your fault.’” Sarah then left.

It went downhill from there.

“There were two facts that they kept coming back to, that he called a lawyer and he already resigned. But then it was just gratuitous cruelty. They slung everything at him,” Acuff said.

He also said he had experienced hostility during union campaigns in Georgia, “but they did nothing like what they did to David, nothing like the vitriol, the illogical cruel gratuitous vitriol, it was … really, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

“When I saw the Lord of the Flies incident, I was like, this is a full-on cult scene,” Young said. “Afterward, people kept saying the same things: ‘We got to a better place.’”

“Public shaming is only justified in pretty extreme situations when there isn’t any other possible alternative to reconcile the situation,” said Kelly Canavan, an experienced facilitator for activist groups. “For example, a violent offense, racism, spreading hateful ideology, those might be reasons you would publicly shame a person.”

“But using it as a tool of attack is a terrible idea. You don’t want to publicly shame as a tool of attack. It’s more a tool of last resort and a tool of protection,” she said.

“One of the things that was just so stupid about the public cruelty they showed towards David is, you just don’t do that,” Acuff said. “You just don’t take somebody out who’s responsible for bringing everyone together and creating this collective vision. He was the host. He was the one who brought all of us in.”

After everyone had gotten their punches in, they took a vote on whether to remove Levine as president immediately or in three weeks. They voted to remove him immediately.

The next day, Newkirk made an announcement:

“It’s an unfortunate fact that we’ve also had an incredibly difficult leadership conflict going on for weeks. That happens in movements and organizations sometimes. All of us share some responsibility for it. Huge amounts of time and energy were spent trying to resolve it internally. Regretfully, we failed to do so, so it was brought to the members last night. Without a resolution, multiple people who have put countless hours of work into our fight over months would have resigned to form something else or find another way to be involved.

“At last night’s meeting, a collective decision was made by the assembled membership. By the secret ballot vote of all assembled members, 25-9 with 8 abstentions, it was decided after a full and open airing of views and experiences, that David shall resign immediately as President of RR…. David, you have not been banished, brother. You remain a dearly valued member of RR, a dearly-loved friend to me, and you will always be a co-founder of Resist Rockwool.”

If the steering committee believed that it would vanquish Levine by shaming him, it backfired. At first he intended to resign, he says, but he changed his mind when he found that there were other Rockwool resistors who would join him and Acuff to “get things done.” Levine also considered the public process of confronting a member and calling for a vote to remove them to be outside the norms of acceptable organizational behavior, he said.

He had offered a plan for appointing a Board and governing council during a transition period that the steering committee had rejected. Levine, who had served on corporate boards and in companies where investors and management fought for control, implemented the plan anyway. He convened the Resist Rockwool board, which dissolved the steering committee, dismissed all the officers, and appointed a new president and secretary, the only administrative roles required by the State of West Virginia.

The steering committee viewed Levine’s actions as illegitimate, and resigned en masse. They called it a “hostile takeover” by Levine and issued a letter to membership denouncing him. They announced they were starting a new organization.

The day after Levine’s public shaming, Newkirk announced his intention to transition to a support role and leave West Virginia to reunite with his partner.

A Toxic Agenda

Newkirk helped the opposition to Rockwool in Jefferson County escalate and adopt protest tactics, arguably a necessary step, and maybe it would not have done so otherwise.

And, not even all of his critics doubt his organizing abilities. “I think deep down Kai is elitist and allied with the state. But I also think he’s a committed activist. I mean, with 99Rise he didn’t come in to disrupt but built it from the ground up. I saw it,” Andrew Batcher said, with the caveat that “problematic people don’t have to directly work for our enemies to support our enemies.”

But there are some things which suggest that Newkirk may have returned to West Virginia with an agenda other than helping to protect the county’s schoolchildren from an industrial polluter.

Newkirk promotes himself on his website where he solicits donations. (He never used his prominence or social media reach to fundraise for Resist Rockwool.) The feature photo of him on the website could easily be transposed with an actor or TV host from central casting. He’s rolling up his sleeves, but for what?

Newkirk had floated a potential run against Joe Manchin for Senate in the 2018 Democratic primary on Facebook, and contacted Levine to ask him to weigh in on the idea. Levine counseled against it at the time, citing Paula Jean Swearengin as a strong progressive challenger.

David Levine allowed Newkirk to lease a room in an office building he owns in Martinsburg, and he was able to get a West Virginia driver’s license using the address. He also listed the Martinsburg address as the location of a nonprofit called For All that he registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office on the day after the Manchin action. It was even the address denoted on the arrest report following the civil disobedience action in May, when Newkirk and Levine were on bad terms. The rent was $350 a month, which Newkirk never paid. Levine evicted him this month.

Newkirk wanted to establish residency in West Virginia, which would make it possible for him to run for political office, according to Levine. The office building address, nonprofit 501(c)(4) political organization and driver’s license would have been a first step.

He’s now also got a devoted following in the Eastern Panhandle willing to support and campaign for him. The region was pivotal in re-electing Senator Joe Manchin in 2018.

“Kai has always seen Resist Rockwool as a way to reassert himself on the national scene,” Acuff said. Before the May protest, Newkirk circulated a sign-on letter to national progressive leaders and celebrities that was never published.

“He would like for his brand to be the embodiment of nonviolent civil disobedience. He is today’s Dr. King, and with the brand he is trying to create, he is the embodiment of the King tradition,” said Acuff.

“If you watch, he’s usually posing, often imitating the iconic image of Che Guevara with chin lifted, eyes gazing,” he added.

“There’s nothing there. It’s like a cheese puff. It looks like it’s going to satisfy your hunger for something, but then you crunch into it, and it’s gone. What does he stand for?” Young mused.

Mostly, Newkirk seems to have perfected the art of being vague, while pretending to be profound. In pursuing his ambition wrapped in pious wisdom, he spreads chaos and discord. Newkirk’s sudden departure after he vanquished his enemies fits Kane’s definition of “extractive activism.”

“You don’t come in, extract off their suffering, build your platform and leave,” Kane says.

To give Newkirk the benefit of the doubt, he may have made sincere efforts to address the abusive and toxic behaviors of his past. But Kane thinks self-improvement is irrelevant, especially when patterns of toxicity continue into the present.

“We don’t have time for that anymore. We don’t have time to wait for goddamn Kai Newkirk to better himself and stop being predatory. We don’t have that luxury,” she said. “He is stifling out positions where true leadership of and for the people can emerge. He’s blocking the road.”

Sarah understands the psychological blocks her fellow West Virginians are facing when it comes to corporate polluters. “West Virginia is a funny place. This is a state with so much trauma—it’s a generational trauma,” Sarah said. “People in West Virginia don’t believe they deserve anything more than what they have, so they won’t fight for it. They’re almost crippled by trying to justify it. Do we deserve clean drinking water, do we deserve not to have a slurry up above a school?” she asks.

A community facing an existential threat like Rockwool, especially a threat to their children, inhabits in a precarious state of mind. Even perceptive, intelligent, kindhearted people in such a community might be susceptible to someone like Kai Newkirk playing on their anxieties, fears and hopes.

“The emotional and intellectual health of this movement has become, in my opinion, irrevocably damaged by [Newkirk’s] influence,” said Ana Prillaman.

Resist Rockwool has a new president, Tracy Danzey. She grew up in Parkersburg, W.Va., and became a victim of toxic pollution from DuPont’s Teflon plant. For 50 years, DuPont covered up the fact that its plant released the chemical C8 into the water in Parkersburg–the very water where Danzey swam frequently.

“I literally spent my childhood swimming in Teflon,” she says.

Due to the toxic exposure, she developed a rare form of osteosarcoma which required the amputation of her leg at the hip socket.

While she previously lived in Shepherdstown, recently she has been living in Florida with her husband and two children. But she decided to move back to Jefferson County and join the fight against Rockwool.

Of the two out-of-town arrivals, Newkirk and Danzey, there could be no greater contrast: the attention-seeking extractive activist versus the victim of the very kind of corporate polluter she’s come to battle.

“We simply cannot continue to sacrifice vibrant communities for the benefit of corporations and their shareholders. We cannot afford to continue poisoning our air and water, and decimating our health, in the name of economic development and corporate profits,” she writes in a call to boycott Rockwool products.

Rockwool–which may someday spew carcinogens and neurotoxins dangerously close to schoolchildren–is a legitimate source of anxiety for Jefferson County residents. Scott Sarich is documenting the voices of residents who are potentially affected by Rockwool. His appeal for unity poetically illustrates the threat Jefferson County faces:

We’re at a crossroad here in Jefferson County, the likes of which we have never seen before. Our way of life is being threatened in such a way that in due time, we may not remember what it once was, all we will have is broken memories of a time past when clean air and water were taken for granted in the most innocent way. We are faced with a great invader who knows his [Rockwool’s] path, as he has conquered before. He knows our weaknesses … His greed proceeds him like day does to night, and with no conscience, no love for others, no care for anyone other than himself to slow him down, as he is driven only by profits and promises to those who support his lies and deceit. … He has done this before and he will do it again, unless we stand directly in his way.

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Parks & Rec Accepts Rockwool’s Money for Fireworks

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 01:17

Harpers Ferry, W.Va.—The Board of the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation on May 22 voted down a motion to reject a donation of $8,000 from Danish company Rockwool for fireworks for the local Fourth of July celebration. The vote came after hearing public comments for more than an hour and discussing legality, precedent, public perception and Rockwool’s potential for harm to the community.

Seven board members voted against the motion, two for, one abstained and one recused herself because she is a Rockwool employee. The board has never rejected a donation.

More than a hundred people gathered outside the board meeting to voice their disapproval of Rockwool’s sponsorship and 22 of them made public comments during the meeting. Three people urged the board to accept Rockwool’s underwriting of the fireworks.

Rockwool’s construction of a coal- and gas-burning factory in Jefferson County 2,000 feet from an elementary school was not viewed favorably by most board members. After a presentation by Dr. Michael Glen on the facility’s air pollution controls and permit, several board members remarked how they were troubled by the insulation factory’s potential emissions and how they might affect the health of the county’s schoolchildren.

But in the end, the Board took a pragmatic approach and put faith in the state’s permitting decisions and the county’s contractual agreements. Board president Toni Milbourne said the executive committee recommended voting against the motion. “Rockwool was solicited by the county. It’s not our place to insert ourselves in a political disagreement of this magnitude,” she said.

Rockwool is a legal business and “checked all the boxes,” said one board member. “Accepting their donation doesn’t mean I agree.”

“Whether we agree with it or not, these decisions have to be with others. We have to run a park system on limited funds,” said another board member.

Paul Marshall put forward the motion. He called sponsorships a form of advertising and a quid pro quo. “Rockwool is not a good neighbor,” he said, adding that he “did not want to be a party to it.”

After the vote, Marshall said he was disappointed in the outcome but happy the process was done publicly with comments.

Opponents of Rockwool said they believed that putting Rockwool’s name on the Fourth of July celebration was an endorsement of the company and the harmful impacts it might have on the community. Rockwool, furthermore, was using a cherished holiday for public relations purposes.

“You’re in the business of kids,” said Scott Sarich of Shepherdstown. If the board accepts Rockwool’s money, then “all you are is a pawn in the game,” he said.

Some board members had reservations about discriminating between businesses, but Barbara Stiefel of Harpers Ferry compared Rockwool to the Sackler family, who made billions of dollars from opiate pharmaceuticals. The Tate Gallery, for instance, has rejected donations from them because of the Sacklers’ role in creating the opioid crisis.

Tim Ross, a shareholder in Rockwool, said he had called investor relations, but they wouldn’t tell him what donations Rockwool had made in the community, calling it “operational information.” The company’s charity, Ross said, is really “just another part of their operation.”

Supporters of the board’s allowing Rockwool to fund the fireworks display painted it as a commonsense decision and bad precedent to reject it.

“It boggles my mind that anyone wouldn’t accept the donation. [Opponents] are engaged in single-minded zealotry. Every donation helps and principles cost money,” said Mark Everhart.

Ray Bruning called the debate “ludicrous” and not controversial when nearly all county residents “don’t care either way,” in his estimation. “You might as well take their money. They’re going to be here for a while,” he said.

Before the hearing closed, Susan Pipes raised an objection to Board Vice President Ann Mountz’s divulging her intention to vote not to reject Rockwool’s donation in advance of the meeting in an online conversation on the Facebook page of Jefferson County Prosperity, a pro-Rockwool group. In her opinion, this could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Board member Katie Osantowsky recused herself because she is an employee of Rockwool, but she remained seated during discussions on the motion and participated in them by speaking and reacting to other board members.

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Venezuelan Embassy Protectors Experienced ‘Scary Nights’ But Persevered

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 15:46

Washington, DC –The last four holdouts in a siege at the Venezuelan Embassy experienced one of the most difficult times of their lives, they said, but survived by talking to each other about how they were feeling and shared their love and respect for one another.

The Embassy Protection Collective was formed when Venezuela’s Consulate in New York was taken over by those opposing President Nicolás Maduro. They did so with the blessing of the Trump administration, which is trying to facilitate a coup in Venezuela to topple the Maduro government and install Juan Guaidó. Embassy Protectors began sleeping in the Embassy of Venezuela in Georgetown, Washington, DC.

Guaidó supporters, often called “the opposition,” arrived at the embassy on April 30 when Guaidó initiated a coup attempt on April 30. They appeared to be trained in military psy-ops techniques, which they employed to harass those inside the embassy and their supporters on the ground. The Secret Service appeared to be aiding them by ignoring assaults on embassy protector supporters, blockades of food deliveries, multiple break-in attempts and 24-hour-a-day noise in the heart of Georgetown.

On May 15, federal agents broke into the embassy, in contravention of international law. The four remaining embassy protectors (of about 50) were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

This week, the four embassy protectors sat down for an extended interview with DC Media Group (video below) to explain their motives for remaining in the embassy, how they lasted so long, and how their efforts can help other social justice movements.

Kevin Zeese, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Adrienne Pine, and David Paul drew on a variety of experiences they gained over their years working in other social justice movements. Their actions may have changed the course of events in Venezuela. They lasted longer than anyone expected and believe they may have put enough pressure on the U.S. government to stop its support of the coup in Venezuela and keep it from reaching fruition.

They were quick to mention that many others took part in the Embassy standoff, and the assistance they received from supporters outside helped them successfully maintain their stay inside despite the State Department shutting off electricity and water and the opposition blockading food and supplies.

They had harsh words for the pro-Guaidó agitators outside the embassy, comparing them to neoliberal fascist dictatorships where human rights abuses are institutionalized. They suffered through daily threats of violence and rough treatment from them but said it made them even more determined to remain in the embassy.

Standing Up to a World Superpower

A quote by Howard Zinn is their motto and advice for other activists: “Go where you are not supposed to go, say what you are not supposed to say and refuse to leave when they tell you to go.”

They wanted to stay another week to get the U.S. administration to enter into a Protection Power Agreement because momentum was beginning to move to their side, Zeese said. It was possible such an agreement would be arranged within a week—there were efforts going on behind the scenes–but they ran out of time. “It was unlikely but possible if we could have developed enough pressure. I think we had a real chance of winning that,” he said.

The federal raid on May 15 ended hope for a Protective Power Agreement. “But the way it turned out, I think that rather than protecting the embassy we’re going to actually end the coup [attempt], and I think this case is the reason why,” said Zeese.

Stay Extended by Rationed Meals and Water Conservation

Dr. Margaret Flowers said they were there in solidarity with the Venezuelan people. They had traveled to Venezuela earlier in the year so they felt a connection to them. “As U.S. citizens our responsibility to impact our government, to stop our government from violating the Vienna Convention which would set a terrible and dangerous precedent that would put all embassies at risk around the world,” she said.

Flowers said the electricity and water shutoff and food blockade at the embassy created conditions similar to those in Venezuela. In effect their experiences inside the embassy were similar to conditions in Venezuela where the coup supporters attacked the power distribution grid and U.S. sanctions caused food and medicine shortages.

They rationed food to two small meals per day and limited water to one liter a day per person. They gave larger portions to the younger activists since they had higher metabolisms. “When [the opposition] stopped the food deliveries, we cut down to two small meals and had a lot of discussions about fasting,” she said.

Flowers said that they adapted to the changing conditions thrown at them. “When they cut off the power we just dealt with it. We went to bed when it was dark and woke up when it got light.”

They activists anticipated they may lose their water after the power was shut off. “When we lost our water, we kinda saw that coming-we filled every container that we could find in the embassy. We were very careful about bathing. We used rainwater for that,” she said. Activists used plastic bag liners for large containers and collected rainwater for bathing.

Another issue they had to overcome was dealing with human waste. “About going to the bathroom, we set up a makeshift bathroom in the garage we could use where it would go directly into the drain,” she said.

Flowers spoke about the economic coercive measures in Venezuela and how they felt a deep solidarity with the Venezuelan people. “Everything they threw at us we knew our people in Venezuela had been experiencing the same thing,” she said. She said they were committed and prepared to stay “for months” if it came down to such a scenario.

Venezuela Could Be Another Honduras

Adrienne Pine, another of the final four remaining activists, worked in Honduras as an anthropologist for 20 years and joined the Embassy Protection Collective because of what she witnessed in Honduras. “In 2009 there was a U.S. supported coup that was carried out against the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras,” Dr. Pine said. She believes the same blueprint is being used by neoliberal supporters of privatization in Venezuela.

The 2009 coup in Honduras was orchestrated by powerful economic elites who were “tied in with the United States’ economic interests, State Department and military,” she said. She described how they overturned the democratically elected government and instituted a neoliberal fascist regime under that sought to privatize and deregulate public infrastructure and strip indigenous people of their land rights.

The regime that came to power in Honduras created a breakdown of its economy, instability, a rise of gangs, and waves of refugees, according to Pine. “Given what I’ve seen in Honduras, and given how horrible the situation is today as a direct result of the U.S. supported coup where we see people leaving by the tens of thousands migrating north, they’re not leaving because of some American Dream–they’re leaving to save their lives,” she said.

Pine compared the history of the U.S.-backed coup in Honduras to the U.S. support for a coup in Venezuela. “Given what I’ve seen in Honduras, the implications for Venezuela are even more dire,” she said.

David Paul, also an activist of many years, saw the Embassy Protection Collective as a way to stand up against the government usurping the power of another democratically elected government.

Paul was known as the “food czar” among the collective for his skill at devising techniques to conserve water and organize food rationing. He worked on a human waste system which was critical for keeping the embassy clean and preventing illness. His knowledge about conservation could have extended their stay by months if federal agents from the Federal Protection Service had not raided the embassy.

Video Interview – Part I

The four activists speak about their personal reasons for staying in the embassy and their backgrounds in social and economic justice movements. Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese explain the political forces prompting Venezuelan diplomats to invite them to the embassy and why international law was on their side. Dr. Adrienne Pine draws a parallel between the 2009 U.S. supported coup in Honduras and the attempted 2018-9 U.S. supported coup attempts in Venezuela.

Video Interview – Part II

Dr. Margaret Flowers describes how they took on roles and shared responsibilities and how knowing they were justified in being there kept up their courage. They worked as a team and trusted supporters to make the right decisions. David Paul worked on food and water logistics. They beat opposition hatred and abuse by showing love and respect for each other. This is just one chapter in a long term campaign, says Kevin Zeese.

Video Interview – Part III

They explain why U.S. mainstream media blacked out the Venezuelan embassy story or created false reporting about it. Dr. Adrienne Pine explains why mainstream media reports a corporate narrative while suppressing messages beneficial to people. They relate the events of the night federal agents raided the embassy and how they persuaded the agents to leave. They also preview the next chapters in the anti-war movement.

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