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Elected Officials, Police Chiefs On Leaked Oath Keepers List

The Oath Keepers is a loosely organized conspiracy theory-fueled group that recruits current and former military, police and first responders.

The names of hundreds of U.S. law enforcement officers, elected officials and military members appear on the leaked membership rolls of a far-right extremist group that’s accused of playing a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism pored over more than 38,000 names on leaked Oath Keepers membership lists and identified more than 370 people it believes currently work in law enforcement agencies — including as police chiefs and sheriffs — and more than 100 people who are currently members of the military.

It also identified more than 80 people who were running for or served in public office as of early August. The membership information was compiled into a database published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.

The data raises fresh concerns about the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military who are tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the U.S. It’s especially problematic for public servants to be associated with extremists at a time when lies about the 2020 election are fueling threats of violence against lawmakers and institutions.

“Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up,” the report says.

Appearing in the Oath Keepers’ database doesn’t prove that a person was ever an active member of the group or shares its ideology. Some people on the list contacted by The Associated Press said they were briefly members years ago and are no longer affiliated with the group. Some said they were never dues-paying members.

“Their views are far too extreme for me,” said Shawn Mobley, sheriff of Otero County, Colorado. Mobley told the AP in an email that he distanced himself from the Oath Keepers years ago over concerns about its involvement in the standoff against the federal government at Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, among other things.

The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, is a loosely organized conspiracy theory-fueled group that recruits current and former military, police and first responders. It asks its members to vow to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” promotes the belief that the federal government is out to strip citizens of their civil liberties and paints its followers as defenders against tyranny.

More than two dozen people associated with the Oath Keepers — including Rhodes — have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. Rhodes and four other Oath Keeper members or associates are heading to trial this month on seditious conspiracy charges for what prosecutors have described as a weekslong plot to keep then-President Donald Trump in power. Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers say that they are innocent and that there was no plan to attack the Capitol.

The Oath Keepers has grown quickly along with the wider anti-government movement and used the tools of the internet to spread their message during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. But since Jan. 6 and Rhodes’ arrest, the group has struggled to keep members, she said.

That’s partly because Oath Keepers had been associated so strongly with Rhodes that the removal of the central figure had an outsized impact, and partly because many associated with the group were often those who wanted to be considered respectable in their communities, she said.

“The image of being associated with Jan. 6 was too much for many of those folks,” she said.

Among the elected officials whose name appears on the membership lists is South Dakota state Rep. Phil Jensen, who won a June Republican primary in his bid for reelection. Jensen told the AP he paid for a one-year membership in 2014 but never received any Oath Keepers’ literature, attended any meetings or renewed his membership.

Jensen said he felt compelled to join because he “believed in the oath that we took to support the US Constitution and to defend it against enemies foreign and domestic.” He wouldn’t say whether he now disavows the Oath Keepers, saying he doesn’t have enough information about the group today.

“Back in 2014, they appeared to be a pretty solid conservative group, I can’t speak to them now,” he said.

ADL said it found the names of at least 10 people who now work as police chiefs and 11 sheriffs. All of the police chiefs and sheriffs who responded to the AP said they no longer have any ties to the group.

“I don’t even know what they’re posting. I never get any updates,” said Mike Hollinshead, sheriff of Idaho’s Elmore County. “I’m not paying dues or membership fees or anything.”

Hollinshead, a Republican, said he was campaigning for sheriff several years ago when voters asked him if he was familiar with the Oath Keepers. Hollinshead said he wanted to learn about the group and recalls paying for access to content on the Oath Keepers’ website, but that was the extent of his involvement.

Benjamin Boeke, police chief in Oskaloosa, Iowa, recalled getting emails from the group years ago and said he believes a friend may have signed him up. But he said he never paid to become a member and doesn’t know anything about the group.

Eric Williams, police chief in Idalou, Texas, also said in an email that he hasn’t been a member or had any interaction with the Oath Keepers in over 10 years. He called the storming of the Capitol “terrible in every way.”

“I pray this country finds its way back to civility and peace in discourse with one another,” he said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.


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Biden To Host Unity Summit Against Hate-Fueled Violence

By Associated Press
August 19, 2022

Biden will deliver a keynote speech at the event, which the White House says will include civil rights groups and victims of extremist violence.

President Joe Biden will host a White House summit next month aimed at combating a spate of hate-fueled violence in the U.S., as he works to deliver on his campaign pledge to “heal the soul of the nation.”

The White House announced Friday that President Biden will host the United We Stand Summit on Sept. 15, highlighting the “corrosive effects” of violence on public safety and democracy. Advocates pushed President Biden to hold the event after 10 Black people were killed at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in May, aiming as well to address a succession of hate-driven violence in cities including El Paso, Texas; Pittsburgh; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

“As President Biden said in Buffalo after the horrific mass shooting earlier this year, in the battle for the soul of our nation ‘we must all enlist in this great cause of America,'” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “The United We Stand Summit will present an important opportunity for Americans of all races, religions, regions, political affiliations, and walks of life to take up that cause together.”

President Biden will deliver a keynote speech at the gathering, which the White House says will include civil rights groups, faith leaders, business executives, law enforcement, gun violence prevention advocates, former members of violent hate groups, the victims of extremist violence and cultural figures. The White House emphasized that it also intends to bring together Democrats and Republicans, as well as political leaders on the federal, state and local levels to unite against hate-motivated violence.

President Biden, a Democrat, has frequently cited 2017’s white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, with bringing him out of political retirement to challenge then-President Donald Trump in 2020. He promised during that campaign to work to bridge political and social divides and to promote national unity, but fulfilling that cause remains a work in progress.

Sindy Benavides, the CEO of League of United Latin American Citizens, said the genesis of the summit came after the Buffalo massacre, as her organization along with the Anti-Defamation League, the National Action Network and other groups wanted to press the Biden administration to more directly tackle extremist threats.

“As civil rights organizations, social justice organizations, we fight every day against this, and we wanted to make sure to acknowledge that government needs to have a leading role in addressing right-wing extremism,” she said.

The White House did not outline the lineup of speakers or participants, saying it would come closer to the event. It also would not preview any specific policy announcements by President Biden. Officials noted Biden last year signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and released the nation’s first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.

Benavides said President Biden holding the summit would help galvanize the country to address the threats of hate-inspired violence but also said she hoped for “long-term solutions” to emerge from the summit.

“What’s important to us is addressing mental health, gun control reform, addressing misinformation, disinformation and malinformation,” she said. “We want policy makers to focus on common sense solutions so we don’t see this type of violence in our communities. And we want to see the implementation of policies that reduce violence.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.


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How Mass Shootings Have Rattled The American Jewish Community

Many recent mass shootings have largely hit Jewish communities, and now the communities have had to come to grips with tragedy.

It’s been exactly one month since a gunman opened fire at the 4th of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Seven people died in the attack, with dozens more suffering injuries.

The shooting rocked the community, with a diverse set of victims. They included a 78-year-old Latino grandfather, a 63-year-old Jewish synagogue employee and a couple in their 30s who died protecting their two-year-old son.

It’s a story where Highland Park joins the list of communities that are now synonymous with tragedy: Uvalde, Buffalo, El Paso, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine.

These communities found strength in the aftermath of mass shootings. In a lot of those cases, it comes from houses of worship. In recent years, many attacks have hit largely Jewish communities.

Roughly half of Highland Park’s population is Jewish. To be clear, law enforcement officials have not announced a motive for the shooting, but posts connected to the suspect have included hateful comments about multiple minority groups, including Jews.

Regardless of the motive in Highland Park, a rise in the number of anti-Semitic attacks have left American Jews on edge.

A survey released in April by the Jewish civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League found that anti-Semitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2021, with the number of incidents nearly tripling since 2015.

Last fall, polling done by SSRS for the American Jewish Committee found that 90% of American Jews felt anti-Semitism was a problem in the U.S., with 82% saying they thought anti-Semitism increased in the previous five years.

These fears translate into tragedy and loss of life. In the last few years, there have been several attacks on synagogues in the U.S.

In January, a gunman took four people hostage during a service at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.

In April 2019 on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, an openly anti-Semitic shooter killed a woman and wounded three others, including a rabbi, at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, not far from San Diego.

That attack followed an attack in October 2018, where a shooter with anti-Semitic beliefs killed 11 people and wounded six others in a shooting during a Saturday morning service at the Tree of Life synagogue in the heavily Jewish Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. 

Three congregations shared the synagogue, all of whom had to come to grips with tragedy.

“We knew that obviously something terrible had happened, and we sort of knew who,” said Stephen Cohen, New Light Congregation co-president. “It was the terrible things that happened, too, but it wasn’t until later in the evening that the coroner’s office actually was willing to release and confirm who survived and who did not that day. The following week was spent attending funerals.”

“One funeral after the other, after the other, if you could even get into the funeral homes,” said Barbara Caplan, New Light Congregation co-president.

New Light Congregation lost three of its members that day – Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein and Melvin Wax. Each of the congregations that had been using Tree of Life Synagogue moved out.

But in the weeks afterward, members still sought the connection to their faith. 

“People were looking for reassurance that we were all still going to be able to be together,” Caplan said. “They wanted the reassurance we could still be there to hug each other, be there for services.”

In Squirrel Hill, healing has become more than just a matter of faith. Government officials, synagogues and nonprofits came together to form a partnership that provides mental health options to the community.

“There’s really no one way to heal,” said Ranisa Davidson, 1027 Healing Partnership program manager. “There’s no one right way to heal, so what works for somebody is not going to work for another. When you have a community trauma like the mass shooting that occurred in Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find ways for an entire community to heal.”

That healing can cut across communities and bring places that suffered tragedy back together. In Squirrel Hill, members who were invited to Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which suffered a mass shooting of its own in 2015, remembered how connected they felt.

“The pastor called us up to the front of the room, and we expected him to say benediction or something nice,” Cohen said. “Instead, he called up the entire congregation to come and hug us. There must have been about about 500 people in the room, and we are probably about 10 to 15 individuals. We were just surrounded by love, by compassion, and it’s events like that that make you feel that you know that we are family, that we are all one. We are all trying to face this together and to try to move on.”

Synagogues have a role to play in healing for the community, even when the attacks aren’t explicitly anti-Semitic.

They can provide help in the weeks, days, sometimes even the immediate moments after a mass shooting. 

Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, Florida saw that firsthand when his synagogue became an emergency place of refuge during the 2018 mass shooting, less than a mile away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“When it all began, because we’re only a half a mile from the synagogue and the synagogue being a vibrant center for our youth in the first place, they thought to run to the synagogue, even though the non-Jewish kids went to Dunkin Donuts and 7-Eleven and other places,” Rabbi Boxman said. “Our kids came here. They knew that this would be their they’re their their home where they could be taken care of.”

Rabbi Boxman said that a rabbi has a major role to play in guiding communities through the immediate aftermath. Parkland, similar to Highland Park, has a large Jewish population. Five of the 17 victims in the Parkland shooting were Jewish, and four of them had connections to the synagogue. 

“I think in any trauma, you run on adrenaline,” Rabbi Boxman said. “I learned as a rabbi that the most important thing I can do is to try to be the calm in the midst of the storm, and you deal with your pain and sorrow afterwards. But a leader, I think, has to kind of absorb a lot of that, and so just trying to get the families through the first days and weeks of mourning.”

He’s quick to point out that it’s about more than just healing and care in the moment; congregations can also help push for change.

He and several young members who later helped organize the March for Our Lives movement against gun violence spoke with Florida officials and protested at the state legislature.

“I understand that they say that religion is there to to comfort the afflicted but also to afflict the comfortable,” Rabbi Boxman said. “Coming out of the reform Jewish tradition, that’s the prophetic tradition. I believe strongly that… we live by standing up for the values that we cherish, and if we just speak them idly in the synagogue, that they don’t manifest themselves in real action outside the synagogue, then we are false to ourselves. So, we’ve had to walk a line.”

Sometimes, that advocacy does lead to change. Florida passed a “red-flag law” to tighten gun purchases.

After Highland Park, the House of Representatives passed a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, but that bill may not make it through the Senate. 


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Why Are Experts Warning About Extremism In Gaming?

and Brandi Scarber
July 23, 2022

Video games, including those targeted at children, have been the subject of a new phenomenon in extremism.

World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Roblox, Rocket League — these immensely popular games, many with child audiences, have been the subject of a new phenomenon in extremism.  

Some critics say online gaming and adjacent chat-based platforms are being used to expose and possibly recruit users to potentially dangerous ideologies.  

What remains to be seen is how widespread the problem really is. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League, three-fifths of gamers between the ages of 13 and 17 reported experiencing harassment while playing online games. Minority and LGBTQ+ gamers reported higher levels of harassment than their counterparts. Keeping up and detecting those instances of hate speech is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not always clear if and when someone exposed to extremist ideology recognizes it.  

Some experts said the games can be used to foster relationships through things like voice chat and in other private conversations. 

Others believe extremist ideas can be normalized through the lens of gaming, though there is a lack of conclusive research on the topic. 

All of the experts Newsy spoke with said it would take a mixture of civil, governmental and platform enforcement to deal with the problem of any potential extremism.


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Fox News Intensifies Its Pro-Trump Politics as Dissenters Depart

Fox News once devoted its 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. time slots to relatively straightforward newscasts. Now those hours are filled by opinion shows led by hosts who denounce Democrats and defend the worldview of former President Donald J. Trump.

For seven years, Juan Williams was the lone liberal voice on “The Five,” the network’s popular afternoon chat show. On Wednesday, he announced that he was leaving the program, after months of harsh on-air blowback from his conservative co-hosts. Many Fox News viewers cheered his exit on social media.

Donna Brazile, the former Democratic Party chairwoman, was hired by Fox News with great fanfare in 2019 as a dissenting voice for its political coverage. She criticized Mr. Trump and spoke passionately about the Black Lives Matter movement, which other hosts on the network often demonized. Ms. Brazile has now left Fox News; last week, she quietly started a new job at ABC.

Onscreen and off, in ways subtle and overt, Fox News has adapted to the post-Trump era by moving in a single direction: Trumpward.

amounted to an existential moment for a cable channel that is home to Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham: the 2020 election.

Fox News’s ratings fell sharply after the network made an early call on election night that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, would carry Arizona and later declared him the winner, even as Mr. Trump advanced lies about fraud. With viewers in revolt, the network moved out dissenting voices and put a new emphasis on hard-line right-wing commentary.

the network fired its veteran politics editor, Chris Stirewalt, who had been an onscreen face of the early call in Arizona for Mr. Biden. This month, it brought on a new editor in the Washington bureau: Kerri Kupec, a former spokeswoman for Mr. Trump’s attorney general William P. Barr. She had no journalistic experience.

opinion shows at 7 and 11 — with segments that lament “cancel culture” and attack Mr. Biden — are attracting bigger audiences than the newscasts they replaced. And the niche right-wing network Newsmax has failed to sustain its postelection audience gains.

In some ways, the Murdochs are making a rational business decision by following the conservatives who have made up the heart of the Fox News audience; recent surveys show that more than three-quarters of Republicans want Mr. Trump to run in 2024.

But under Roger Ailes, the network’s founder, who shaped its look and feel, Fox News elevated liberal foils like Alan Colmes, a Democrat who shared equal billing in prime time with Mr. Hannity until the end of 2008, and moderates like Mr. Williams.

Credit…Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

“Roger’s view was you had to have some unpredictability and you had to challenge the audience; you couldn’t just be reading Republican talking points every night,” said Susan R. Estrich, a Democratic lawyer and former commentator on Fox News who negotiated Mr. Ailes’s exit from the network amid his sexual misconduct scandal.

Ms. Estrich recalled that Mr. Ailes had defended Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, attacked her in misogynist terms. Now, she said, “instead of trying to broaden their audience, Fox News is narrowing it and digging in.”

Rick Santorum, after he was criticized for remarks about Native Americans.

Ms. Brazile said she had left Fox News of her own accord.

“Fox never censored my views in any way,” she wrote in an email. “Everyone treated me courteously as a colleague.” Ms. Brazile added: “I believe it’s important for all media to expose their audiences to both progressive and conservative viewpoints. With the election and President Biden’s first 100 days behind us, I’ve accomplished what I wanted at Fox News.”

an outcry from the Anti-Defamation League.

A pro-Trump drift at Fox News is not new: George Will, a traditional conservative who opposed Mr. Trump’s candidacy, lost his contributor contract in 2017. Shepard Smith, a news anchor who was tough on Mr. Trump, left in 2019.

Some Fox News journalists, though, say privately that they are increasingly concerned with the network’s direction. Kristin Fisher, one of the network’s rising stars in Washington and a White House correspondent, left Fox News last month despite the network’s effort to keep her. She had faced criticism from viewers in November after a segment in which she aggressively debunked lies about election fraud advanced by Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

The longtime Washington bureau chief, Bill Sammon, resigned in January after internal criticism over his handling of election coverage, around the time that Mr. Stirewalt was fired. (Mr. Stirewalt was let go along with roughly 20 digital journalists at Fox News, which the network attributed to a realignment of “business and reporting structure to meet the demands of this new era.”)

Mr. Sammon has effectively been replaced by Doug Rohrbeck, a producer with extensive news experience on Bret Baier’s newscast and Chris Wallace’s Sunday show. Still, some Fox journalists were surprised when the network hired Ms. Kupec, the former Barr spokeswoman, to work under Mr. Rohrbeck. (In 2019, CNN hired Sarah Isgur, the spokeswoman for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as a political editor. After protests from staff, she was shifted to an on-air role and later left the network.)

Fox News International, a streaming service available in 37 countries in Asia and Europe.

Despite continuing criticism from liberals, Fox News remains a financial juggernaut for the Murdoch empire; it is expected to earn record advertising revenues this year, the network said.

Even as its programming decisions seem aimed at attracting Trump supporters, Fox News does face one roadblock: Mr. Trump. The former president has maintained his stinging criticism of Fox News, which, he has claimed, betrayed him by calling the election for Mr. Biden.

On Friday, after criticism from Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, Mr. Trump wrote that “Fox totally lost its way and became a much different place” after the Murdochs appointed Mr. Ryan to the Fox Corporation board.

“Fox will never be the same!” Mr. Trump wrote.

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How a Jeopardy! Contestant’s Hand Gesture Became Part of a Conspiracy

“Thank you for reaching out regarding your concern over a Jeapardy [sic] contestant flashing what you believed to be a white power hand signal,” wrote Aaron Ahlquist, of the A.D.L., according to text posted to the group by the contestant who had emailed the group. “We have reviewed the tape and it looks like he is simply holding up three fingers when they say he is a three-time champion. We do not interpret his hand signal to be indicative of any ideology. However, we are grateful to you for raising your concern, and please do not hesitate to contact us in the future should the need arise.”

The A.D.L.’s response provoked fury among former contestants who had signed the letter.

“Is anyone else feeling gaslit?” asked one two-time champion, according to the screenshots. “We saw it. We know we did. But a lot of people (including the goddamned ADL) are telling us we didn’t. That’s some classic gaslighting.”

These are, I should stress again, a bunch of nice, thoughtful people. I found them mostly on LinkedIn, where they tend to have well-curated profiles and avatars of themselves against the show’s blue backdrop. The signers of the letter I spoke to seemed convinced that Mr. Donohue had been flashing a white power sign of some sort. They were particularly concerned that producers had missed it — and that the show, reeling from the death of its iconic host, Alex Trebek, might be “in decline,” as a 2007 champion from northern Canada, Brett Chandler, told me.

Mr. Chandler was one of several letter signers I spoke to who remained convinced that the other traces of Mr. Donohue’s online presence, as well as his use of the word “Gypsy” in an earlier episode, meant he was sending a coded signal. Many said that, even as they acknowledged how improbable it seemed.

“He wouldn’t have known he was going to win three, so the logic falls apart a little bit there,” Mr. Chandler said.

The letter’s main co-authors asked not to be named because they feared harassment on social media. One, a lawyer, said in a LinkedIn message that the letter’s “overarching point is that the production staff should have headed off this controversy” by editing out the gesture. That interpretation requires a pretty careful reading of the letter, which began with a focus on Mr. Donohue and included speculation about the significance of a photograph of Frank Sinatra on his personal Facebook page.

I should stress again that these are smart people, who were in general more polite than the journalists who reluctantly take my calls most weeks. And that, I think, is the point here. The contestants’ investigations of Mr. Donohue had all the signal traits of a normal social media hunt gone awry — largely, that you assume your conclusion and go looking for evidence. And they followed the deep partisan grooves of contemporary politics, in which liberals believed the absolute worst of a Trump supporter. But they also contained a thread of real conspiracy thinking — not just that racism is a source of Trumpian politics, but that apparently ordinary people are communicating through secret signals. It reflects a depth of alienation among Americans, in which our warring tribes squint through the fog at one another for mysterious and abstruse signs of malice.

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