Archive for February, 2019


 

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The US Government has said that Hoda Muthana, a 24 year old Alabama woman who fled to Syria in 2014 to join ISIS fighters will not be allowed to return to the United States.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Muthana is not a U.S. citizen, but her attorneys insist she does hold U.S. citizenship and was born in Hackensack, New Jersey.  She is now in a refugee camp in Syria with her 18-month-old son.

In 2014, Muthana, then a 20-year-old student, apparently left Alabama after first registering for classes and then withdrawing and getting a refund check.  She lied to her parents saying she was traveling to Georgia for a university event.  She went to Turkey instead and was then smuggled into Syria to join the Islamic State at the height of the Caliphate. She reportedly served as a recruiter and urged attacks on the West.

Muthana briefly made headlines again after her takfiri husband of 87 days was allegedly killed during an airstrike carried out by the Royal Jordanian Air Force on March 17, 2015.  Now, years later, with the militant group she belonged to driven out of Syria, she is hoping to return to the United States.  Along with 12 other Americans, mostly women and children, Muthana is being held by U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.  She claims she regrets her decision to join the group and is ready to face the consequences of her act -including jail time.  She said during a recent interview “I hope they excuse me because of how young and ignorant I was. Now I’m changed. Now I’m a mother and I have none of the ideology and hopefully everyone will see it when I come back.  I hope America doesn’t think I’m a threat to them and I hope they can accept me.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unprecedented statement declaring that Muthana was not a U.S. citizen with no legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States has been controversial.  Muthana, was in fact, born in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1994 which does make her a U.S. citizen via birthright.  Some believe she is not a U.S. citizen because her father was a Yemeni diplomat in the U.S. on official business.  The US Constitution grants citizenship to everyone born in the country – with the exception of children of diplomats, as they are not under US jurisdiction.

Muthana’s father has filed an emergency lawsuit asking a federal court to affirm that his daughter is a US citizen and to let her return along with her toddler son.  In the lawsuit, Muthana’s father said he was asked by Yemen to surrender his diplomatic identity card on June 2, 1994, as the Arab country descended into one of its civil wars.  Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey on Oct 28 of that year and the family later settled in Hoover, Alabama.  The State Department initially questioned her right to citizenship when her father sought a passport for her as a child because US records showed he had been a diplomat until February 1995, the lawsuit said.  The State Department accepted a letter from the US mission to the UN that affirmed that he had ended his position before his daughter’s birth, and granted her a passport.  The lawsuit said that Hoda Muthana was also entitled to citizenship due to her mother, as she became a US permanent resident, anticipating the loss of diplomatic status, in July 1994.

 

 

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In Aurora, Illinois, 45-year-old Gary Martin, used a Smith & Wesson handgun, in a 90 minute workplace shooting spree.  Martin killed five of his coworkers and wounded six others, including five police officers before being killed by police gun fire.  Martin had worked at the water valve manufacturer Henry Pratt Co. for 15 years and opened fire on his coworkers during a meeting, after learning of his termination.

Police said Martin, 45, likely brought his handgun to work because he knew he was being fired from his job.  Three of the victims were killed inside the meeting room and two others were killed nearby.  The victims were identified as Clayton Parks, a human resources manager who began working at Henry Pratt in November; Trevor Wehner, 21, a human resources intern on his first day with the company; Russell Beyer, a union chairman who worked at Henry Pratt for more than 20 years; Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and fork lift operator who had been with the company since 2006 and Josh Pinkard, a plant manager who had worked with the company for 13 years in Alabama before transferring to Aurora last year.

A sixth employee and five Aurora police officers were also shot and expected to survive.  Responding officers arrived at the shooting scene four minutes after the first 911 calls were placed.  Martin shot and wounded five officers during initial exchanges of gunfire. He then retreated into the 29,000 square foot building, where police found him roughly 90 minutes later. He again fired at officers and was fatally shot.

The five officers shot include a 39-year-old man with 13 years of service, a 52-year-old man with 25 years of service, a 52-year-old man with 24 years of service, a 53-year-old man with 30 years of service     and a 24-year-old man with almost four years of service.  A sixth officer, a 23-year-old man with two years on the job, was treated a knee injury sustained during the incident.

In 1995, Martin was convicted of felony aggravated assault in Mississippi and served less than two years in prison for a violent assault against a former girlfriend that included hitting her with a baseball bat and stabbing her with a knife.  Martin had previously been arrested by Aurora police officers on six different occasions, including for domestic violence and traffic incidents. His last arrest in Aurora was for violating an order of protection in 2008.  Martin was not legally allowed to possess a gun in Illinois because of his prior felony conviction in Mississippi.

However, in 2014, he successfully applied for an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card and bought a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun. When Martin tried to procure a concealed carry license that same year, the Mississippi conviction came up during a background check. Martin was denied a concealed carry license, his FOID card was revoked and he was notified to forfeit his firearm to local law enforcement.  Authorities never confiscated his gun.  His most recent arrest was in 2017 in Oswego, Ill., for disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property.

City officials in Aurora have started a GoFundMe account to help families who lost loved ones in the tragic shooting.  https://www.gofundme.com/f/aurora-strong-community-fund  The GoFundMe has a goal of raising $50,000 to “relieve the extreme financial burdens families are experiencing during this difficult time,” according to the city.

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As the measles outbreak continues into 2019, the World Health Organization has said that people who choose not to get themselves or their children vaccinated constitute a global health threat.  More than 270 people across the country, mostly small children, have been infected by the highly contagious and sometimes deadly pathogen since last fall with 100 of those cases being confirmed since the start of 2019.  Measles is a highly contagious disease that kills over 100,000 children worldwide each year and the virus had been eliminated in the US by the year 2000, thanks to the measles vaccine but as the Anti-Vax movement has grown, the disease has resurfaced in the US.

Many are blaming policy failure and calling for a re-examination of laws that allow people to opt out of the vaccines on behalf of their children.  Every state allows medical exemptions for people who might be harmed by a vaccine, such as those with weakened immune systems because of an illness or allergies to vaccine ingredients.  While all 50 states have legislation requiring vaccines for students entering school, almost every state allows exemptions for people with religious beliefs against immunizations.

Most of the people with measles right now weren’t immunized from the virus. They all live in places that permit a variety of nonmedical — religious or philosophical — exemptions from vaccines.  Eighteen states grant philosophical exemptions for those opposed to vaccines because of personal or moral beliefs.  Mississippi, California, and West Virginia have the strictest vaccine laws in the nation, allowing only medical exemptions.  Right now, in 45 states, even without an exemption, kids can be granted “conditional entrance” to school on the promise that they will be vaccinated, but schools don’t always bother to follow up on vaccination records.

In Washington State, where at least 55 cases were confirmed since the start of 2019, Governor Jay Inslee declared a public health emergency and lawmakers are considering changes to vaccination laws.  Public health officials say the recent rise in measles cases in the Pacific Northwest is due to laws in Washington and Oregon that allow parents to easily opt out of vaccinating their children. One-quarter of kindergarten students in Clark County, which is at the heart of the recent outbreak, did not receive all their recommended vaccinations.

In Oregon, where the Portland area has experienced a recent outbreak, the percentage of children unvaccinated for measles varies widely from school to school.  Most schools are at or near the 93% threshold protection levels that epidemiologists say keep the virus at bay.   Still, at some Portland schools, 10 to 20 percent or more of their students are unvaccinated for nonmedical reasons.  Around 7.5 percent of Oregon kindergartners are unvaccinated, according to the Oregon Health Authority — the highest rate in the country.  At least seven schools in the Portland area have measles vaccination rates below 80 percent, lower than some developing countries like Guatemala.  The rate of unvaccinated children is even higher in specialty and private schools with some having a low rate of only 40% of students vaccinated.  Oregon lawmakers are working on legislation that would eliminate a provision of Oregon law that allows parents to forego vaccinations for their kids because of religious or philosophical reasons.

El Chapo Found Guilty

 

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A New York City federal jury rendered a guilty verdict on all 10 federal criminal counts against notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, after a 3-month trial. The counts include conspiracy to launder drug money, international distribution of drugs, the use of firearms and engaging in a criminal enterprise.  The 61 year old faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for the guilty verdict of leading a continuing criminal enterprise, and a sentence of up to life imprisonment on the remaining drug counts.  He will be sentenced on June 25.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera once headed a criminal enterprise that spanned continents and triggered waves of bloodshed throughout his native Mexico, claiming more than 100,000 lives in drug-related violence.  During the more than 200 hours of testimony at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, 56 witnesses took to the stand with stories of murder, violence, spying, widespread corruption and even one tale of the drug lord escaping arrest in 2014 by climbing naked through a sewer alongside a former lover.   The kingpin is just as notorious for leading the violent cartel as he is for his extensive measures of escaping arrest and daring prison escapes.  Since Guzmán’s capture in 2016 and extradition one year later, he has been kept in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison with little to no human interaction for as many as 23 hours a day.

Over 2½ months, the partially sequestered and anonymous jury sat through testimony from 56 witnesses about unspeakable torture and ghastly murders, corruption at nearly every level of Mexico’s government, narco-mistresses, gold-plated AK-47s and monogrammed, diamond-encrusted pistols.  Fourteen of those witnesses — mostly admitted drug traffickers and cartel associates — cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of reducing their own prison sentences.  There were also surveillance photos, intercepted phone calls and text messages involving Guzmán, as well as evidence showing extravagant firepower and bricks of cocaine that dropped with the force of potato sacks.

The jury deliberated roughly 34 hours over six days before rendering guilty verdicts on all 10 counts.   Jurors did not look at the defendant, who reportedly pocketed nearly $14 billion in cash proceeds as the decades-long head of the Sinaloa cartel.  Under El Chapo, the Sinaloa cartel smuggled narcotics to wholesale distributors in Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York.  Federal prosecutors said they will seek a forfeiture judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.

One of Guzmán’s lawyers described him as “extremely upbeat” after the verdict, “He’s a fighter, he’s not done yet by far” defense attorney Michael Lambert said.  After jurors left the room, Guzmán waved and smiled at his wife, Emma Coronel, a former beauty queen and courtroom regular who smiled back and touched her hand to her heart.  Another member of the defense team, Jeffrey Lichtman, said they waged a vigorous defense and are disappointed in the jury’s verdict but they plan to file an appeal on a number of issues.

According to experts, his conviction will not diminish the power and reach of the Sinaloa cartel.  According to researchers, the violent crime group has not been affected despite the arrests of some of the cartel’s top leaders and important associates.    El Chapo created an extraodinary criminal organization that operates in more than 40 countries and was designed to carry on even in his absence.  Once El Chapo started running from authorities, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, who lead a faction of the cartel, made sure the cartel still functioned, which he still does to this day.

 

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An investigation led by Robert Downen, a Houston Chronicle reporter, reveals 20 years of sexual abuse allegations within the Southern Baptist Church (SBC).  The joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News- includes over 700 victims, including many children—some as young as 3 years old.  With about 15 million members, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the country and the shocking report has prompted calls for investigations into the church and their role in covering up and enabling the abuse.

Three hundred eighty Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have been accused of rape, abuse and various forms of sexual misconduct.  Around 220 of those have been convicted of sex crimes or were given plea deals.  Of those 220, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders.  The report also found that members of the church pressured some women to get abortions after becoming pregnant as a result of assault, or threatened to shun them from the church.

The investigation comes as other religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, face accusations of widespread sexual abuse of its members, especially children, over decades.  The investigation of the SBC began because of Debbie Vasquez, who was 14 years old when she was first molested by the pastor of her church and at 18 she became pregnant with the pastor’s child.   In 2008, she and others started asking SBC leadership to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers but the church’s leaders resisted such reforms.  As a result, Lise Olsen, deputy investigations editor at the Chronicle, says the newspaper created its own database of abusers.

Olsen says it was easier for the abuse to stay a secret because of the church’s culture which does not allow women in leadership positions or condone same-sex relationships.  She says many of the victims are either young women who are told it’s a sin to have sex before marriage, even if you’re forced to by your pastor or they’re young men who are being forced into homosexual acts with pastors and other leaders, and then are stigmatized.  These “purity teachings” leave victims feeling un-empowered to come forward, with some victims losing their faith and even becoming suicidal.

Abusers in religious organizations often don’t just groom victims, they groom communities, preparing them to rise up and protect them.  Those who speak out about sexual abuse in authoritarian religious communities are often shamed in an attempt to quiet them with accusations seeking attention or of trying to bring down a godly man.  They may be told they’re selfish — indulging in their own pain when they should be paying attention to the pain they are causing others, including the people who will turn away from the church and spend an eternity in hell because of the poor light they’ve portrayed the church in.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, who was elected last June, responded to the newspapers’ investigation with a series of tweets:  “The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil.”

“There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.  As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to ‘do better’ and expect that to be enough. “It’s time for pervasive change, God demands it. Survivors deserve it. We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care).”

 

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Protesters in New York City rallied throughout the weekend at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where more than 1,600 prisoners were forced to endure freezing temperatures during last week’s polar vortex, with no heat, no light and no hot water.   For several days, crowds gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to protest reports of freezing and dark conditions inside the jail after it partially lost power nearly a week ago.

Staff members and current and former prisoners at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center testified at a hearing that the heat at the federal detention facility started to fail as early as mid-January.  The hearing came following reports that quickly spread over social media that over 1,600 prisoners were being held without heat, hot meals or electricity, including during last week’s polar vortex.  Many inmates had been on lockdown in cells without electricity or heat during days of bitter cold temperatures.

After the hearing, Judge Analisa Torres visited the MDC herself to inspect conditions at the jail.  After more than a week without heat and power, conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn showed signs of improvement.  Emergency generators were on and heat had been restored to parts of the federal jail, but public officials and lawyers who toured the facility on Sunday February 3rd, told reporters that many cells still did not have heat and some inmates were going without their medication.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler said after touring several floors on Sunday, “It is very apparent that there is a massive failure of caring here, a massive failure of proper supervision, a massive failure of planning.”  Nadler said there was heat in several parts of the building, but many cells remained frigid. He said the warden told him 600 blankets from the city had been distributed.  But council member Lander, who was also on the tour, said he didn’t see any blankets in any of the cells they visited.  It was later revealed that the blankets were never distributed to the inmates.

Nadler said he spoke with the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, who seemed to be acting with more urgency after the protests began.  The NYCLU is calling on the Bureau of Prisons to allow family and legal visits immediately.  Executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement “The confrontation between the Bureau of Prisons and family members of inmates at MDC highlights the desperate need to address the dangerous, inhumane and unlawful conditions inside the facility,” “This has gone on for far too long.

The Department of Justice has said it would work with the Bureau of Prisons to prevent future issues.  “The electrical power at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility at MDC Brooklyn was restored at approximately 6:30 pm this evening. With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations. In the coming days, the Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also calling for a full investigation into what is happening at the facility.  Cuomo wrote in a statement “I am calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately investigate the circumstances at the Metropolitan Detention Center. New York State stands ready to provide any support necessary to keep the heat, hot water and electricity running at the Center and augment the investigation into those responsible for this mess.”

 

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An Alabama officer will not be charged in the fatal Thanksgiving Day shooting of 21 year old E.J. Bradford at a Birmingham area mall.  State Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that his investigation found the officer did not break the law and will not be charged in the death of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr.  The facts of the case demonstrate that the officer “reasonably exercised his official powers, duties, or functions when he shot E. J. Bradford on the night of Nov. 22, 2018,” the report states.

Bradford’s shooting happened as officers were responding to a report of gunfire at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover.  At 9:52 pm on November 22, 2018, an altercation involving four people occurred near the Footaction and JCPenney stores on the second level of the mall.  One of the men, Erron Brown, reportedly drew a weapon and shot 18-year-old Brian Wilson twice before fleeing the area.  Stray gunfire also hit a 12-year-oil Molly Davis.

According to the Alabama State Attorney General’s report, approximately five seconds after the shooting, two officers from the Hoover Police Department approached Bradford, who was “running toward the initial shooter and victim with a firearm visibly in hand.”  One of the officers fired shots at Bradford from behind, striking him 3 times in the head, neck and lower back.  The attorney general’s report says the officer mistakenly believed Bradford had fired the earlier shots and was justified in shooting him. The officer saw Bradford running toward the shooting scene with a gun and believed he was trying to kill the shooting victim, according to the report.

Police initially described Bradford as the gunman and said officers acted heroically to “take out the threat,” but later corrected themselves and identified Erron Brown as the alleged shooter.  Brown, 20, was arrested in Georgia a week later and charged in the shooting of Brian Wilson and Molly Davis.  The attorney general, whose office took over the investigation from the local district attorney in Hoover, also released surveillance video and other documents from the investigation.

E.J. Bradford had enlisted in the army in 2017 and completed basic training, but was administratively separated in August 2018.   He was a licensed gun owner and was reportedly attempting to protect the mall patrons when he was shot.  Bradford’s killing sparked weeks of protest last year and protests erupted again after the announcement that the officer would not be charged.  Bradford’s father called the attorney general “a coward” for the report’s finding.  “My son was murdered. And you think I’m going to let it go?,” Emantic Sr. told reporters Tuesday. “That was a homicide … You killed my son. You are a coward. You’re a coward too, Steve Marshall.”

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Bradford family, said officers stated in the attorney general’s report that they did not give Bradford any verbal warning.  “We don’t have any evidence whatsoever that E.J. ever knew the police officers were there whatsoever.  E.J. went to his grave not knowing who shot him three times in his back.”  Crump said that race played a role in Bradford’s death and that a civil lawsuit claiming wrongful death will be filed.

 

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Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage, was detained by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on February 3, 2019.  ICE says British-born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known by his stage name 21 Savage, overstayed his visa after coming to the U.S. at the age of 12 in 2005.   Lawyers for the rapper say he is being wrongfully detained and that his new visa application is currently pending.

Abraham-Joseph, 27, faces deportation after he was turned over to ICE by cops targeting his cousin, rapper Young Nudy.  Nudy, whose real name is Quantavious Thomas, was stopped by DeKalb County police and agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in a targeted stop.  Abraham-Joseph, happened to be riding with Thomas and has not been charged with any crime in connection with the stop.

ICE alleges that he entered the US legally in July 2005, when he was a minor but subsequently failed to depart under the terms of his nonimmigrant visa.   ICE says Abraham-Joseph became unlawfully present when his visa expired in July 2006.  “Mr. Abraham-Joseph is presently in ICE custody in Georgia and has been placed into removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts,” ICE said in a statement. “ICE will now await the outcome of his case before a federal immigration judge to determine future actions.”

His detention has provoked outrage among his fan base and has shone a spotlight on immigration proceedings.   An attorney for Abraham-Joseph said his representatives are working to secure his release.  “We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with the authorities to clear up any misunderstandings.”  His lawyers say that he was “left without legal status through no fault of his own” at the age of 13 and are arguing that his detention is based on “incorrect information about prior criminal charges.  They say that ICE is now refusing to release him on bond of any amount, despite the fact that he has a pending U-Visa application, and that he has relief from removal available to him.”  A U-Visa is available to crime victims who are willing to provide ‘helpful information’ to law enforcement.  His lawyer said that the feds have known his client’s address since he filed for the U-Visa in 2017 and questioned why they took no action until this weekend.

Abraham-Joseph, who has collaborated with some of the music world’s hottest stars, including Drake, Cardi B, Travis Scott and Post Malone, has had numerous encounters with the law and has never sought to hide his status from the authorities, his legal team say.  In 2014 he was convicted of drug possession in Fulton County  In 2016, he called the cops to report that someone had kicked in the door of his 10th Street condo, taking a Glock handgun, a Rolex and other jewelry, a Louis Vuitton bag and a safe containing $345,000.

His lawyers have argued that he is a “role model to the young people in this country, especially in Atlanta, Georgia, and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”  He will now likely miss the Grammy’s ceremony, where he is up for record of the year for Rockstar with Post Malone.

 

 

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A federal grand jury has filed 19 new charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and two counts of hate crimes involving attempted murder, as well as several others. Bowers, the accused gunman in last year’s mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, now faces 63 criminal counts.  The indictment against Bowers cited his online attacks on the Jewish charity HIAS, including posts from the day of the shooting.

On October 27, 2018, eleven Jewish worshipers were shot and killed in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.  Bowers, 46, allegedly opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and injuring 7 others.  He had made anti-Semitic comments on the extremist-friendly social network Gab shortly before the attack.  The Tree of Life synagogue housed three congregations and approximately 75 people were inside the building at the time.

As morning services were underway, just before entering, Bowers posted a final message to Gab, once again referencing the conspiracy theory. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Bowers entered the synagogue at 9:50am and opened fire.  By 9:54am police began receiving multiple calls from people barricaded in the building reporting the attack.  Survivors say Bowers was shooting for around 20 minutes and at one point yelled “All Jews must die!”

Police arrived at 9:59 am and Bowers fired on police from the entryway, apparently on his way out of the building.  Police returned fire, causing the gunman to retreat into the building.  At 10:30 a.m., tactical teams entered the building and exchanged fire with Bowers.  Bowers was wounded during the exchange and retreated to a room on the third floor of the synagogue.  Two SWAT members were also wounded during the exchange.  At 11:08 a.m., the Bowers crawled out of the room and surrendered.  Bowers was allegedly armed with three handguns and an AR-15.

In his posts on his Gab profile, Bowers called Jewish people “the children of Satan” and in the days before the shooting, Bowers authored increasingly anti-Semitic posts.  On October 10, he posted about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish charity that was hosting charity events for immigrants. One of the events was at the Dor Hadash congregation, which was housed at the Tree of Life synagogue.  Bowers accused HIAS and its associated congregations of bringing “hostile invaders to dwell among us.” The claim is part of a white supremacist conspiracy theory that falsely claims Jewish people are trying to promote immigration to make countries less white. Bowers also posted anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi memes.  He was charged in federal court that month with dozens of offenses including 11 murder charges. Bowers had previously pled not guilty to the charges against him in October. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.bowers.jpg

 

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Police have arrested five people over the devastating dam collapse in Minas Gerais, Brazil that killed at least 65 people, with nearly 300 still missing. Three of those arrested work for Vale, the mining company that owned and operated the dam. The other two worked for a German company that carried out inspections on the dam last year.  Attorney General Andre Mendonca said Vale is responsible for the disaster, the second of its kind in three years involving the mining company.

Authorities called the 2015 Mariana dam collapse the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. That collapse killed 19 people and wreaked havoc on the environment, leading mining company Samarco — a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton — to reach a deal in 2016 with the Brazilian government to pay up to $6.2 billion.  In a video over the weekend, Vale chief Fabio Schvartsman called the Brumadinho dam break “inexcusable” and asked the Brazilian public for forgiveness. He said the company will aid victims and noted that Vale put “immense effort” into improving its dams after the disaster in Mariana.

Soon after the most recent collapse, the state judiciary froze more than $260 million from Vale, with a presiding judge citing the company’s responsibility for the disaster. The money will be deposited into a judicial account to compensate for any costs to the state as a result of rescue operations or victim support. Minas Gerais state has fined Vale $99 million for damage caused by the dam break and said the money will be used for repairs.

The Civil Defense of Minas Gerais said 291 people were still missing and 192 people have been rescued from the area.  Authorities say 427 people were in the Córrego do Feijão mine in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais when the dam burst.  Hundreds of people are still missing and the collapse buried most of the mining town-Brumadinho.  The disaster shed light on potential risks at nearly 700 other mining dams in the state of Minas Gerais and drew attention to what some described as a lack of appropriate regulation.

The collapse unleashed a muddy sea of mining debris into the region and the extent of the damage is still being calculated.  Authorities temporarily halted search and rescue and placed 3,000 people under evacuation orders amid fears that another dam nearby was about to rupture. The orders were lifted after authorities determined dam VI was no longer at risk of bursting.  In an effort to find missing people, the Federal Attorney General’s Office obtained an injunction in the Federal Court of Minas Gerais ruling that mobile carriers should provide data from the cell phone signals of people who were in the region where the dam broke.

Officials say they expect to contain the sludgy mine waste known as tailings within two days. The Brazilian National Water Agency said they are monitoring the tailings and coordinating plans for supplying water to the affected region.  Officials said during a press conference that the priority now is assisting victims and their families. After that, officials said they’d focus on environmental damage and the mining process.

Several videos circulating of the disaster show the devastation of the dam collapse.  One video shows the exact moment the dam collapsed, sending a sea of mud and debris swallowing up the area as unsuspecting cars are scene, likely for the last time.   Videos of the rescue efforts show helicopters hovering feet above the ground as firefighters’ pluck people from the muck.