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German Officer Goes on Trial, Accused of Plotting Far-Right Terrorism

FRANKFURT — One of postwar Germany’s most spectacular terrorism trials opened Thursday, with federal prosecutors laying out their case against a military officer who they said had been motivated by a “hardened far-right extremist mind-set” to plot political murder in the hope of bringing down the country’s democratic system.

The case of First Lieutenant Franco A., whose surname is abbreviated in keeping with German privacy laws, shocked Germany when he was arrested four years ago and has since pushed the country to confront a creeping threat of infiltration in the military and the police by far-right extremists.

Franco A. was caught in 2017 trying to collect a loaded gun he had hidden in an airport bathroom. His fingerprints later revealed that he had a second — fake — identity as a Syrian refugee, setting off alarm bells and an investigation that would span three countries and multiple intelligence agencies. Prosecutors have accused him of planning terrorist attacks using that identity with the intention of stoking growing fears over immigration in Germany and triggering a national crisis.

The case has become the latest warning for a country that has spent decades atoning for its Nazi past but that also has a track record of turning a blind eye to far-right extremism and terrorism.

far more extensive than they had imagined.

One group, run by a former soldier and police sniper in northern Germany, hoarded weapons, kept enemy lists and ordered body bags, and is the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation. Another, run by a special-forces soldier code-named Hannibal, put the spotlight on the KSK, Germany’s most elite force. Last year, after explosives and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major, an entire KSK unit was disbanded by the defense minister.

In all these cases the authorities had failed to identify extremists inside the institutions, sometimes for years. Franco A. is no exception. He received glowing reports from superiors throughout his military career even as he wrote and publicly spoke about his far-right views.

In 2014, after submitting a Master’s thesis riddled with far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, he was asked to write another one. But he was never reported even though a military historian who had been asked to assess the thesis called it a “a radical nationalist, racist appeal.”

Ms. Weingast, the prosecutor, described Franco A.’s views as stemming from a “longstanding hardened far-right extremist mind-set” that was particularly hostile to Jews. Franco A., she said, was convinced that Zionists were waging a “race war” that would lead to the extinction of the German race. He considered Germany to be under occupation by the United States.

All this had motivated him to plan “a violent attack on life” that would “create a climate of fear,” Ms. Weingast told the court.

“This was the intention of the accused,” she said.

According to the indictment, Franco A. had gone beyond abstract plotting and in July 2016 had traveled to Berlin to visit the workplace of one of his alleged targets, Ms. Kahane, the Jewish activist. He drew a sketch of the location of her office and took several pictures of the license plates of cars in the parking garage.

Franco A.’s lawyer, Mr. Fricke-Schmitt, dismissed any suggestion that his client had a far-right mind-set. “He is interested in rowing,” he said. “He listens to punk music.”

But Franco A. kept a record of his far-right ideas in a diary and a series of audio memos on his phone. The New York Times has a transcript of these audio memos.

In them he praises Adolf Hitler, indulges in global Jewish conspiracies, argues that immigration has destroyed Germany’s ethnic purity, hails Russian President Vladimir V. Putin as a role model and advocates destroying the state.

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Why Liz Cheney Matters

The Republican Party’s big recent moves — the ouster of Liz Cheney from a leadership position and the passage of new state voting laws — do not have much immediate impact on Americans’ lives.

Cheney’s removal doesn’t change congressional Republicans’ approach to President Biden’s agenda, and the voting laws will mostly start to matter next year. With Biden in the White House, Democrats controlling Congress and many Americans still focused on Covid-19, internal Republican debates can sometimes feel like an exhausting partisan sideshow.

They are not. The last few months have the potential to be a turning point for the country because of what is happening inside the Republican Party.

I don’t say that lightly. Readers of this newsletter know that I don’t believe any political ideology has a monopoly on truth. Democrats have their own problems, including an elitist intolerance for debate about some subjects and a set of Covid fears that are at times disconnected from scientific evidence. But the issues inside the Republican Party — involving its attitude toward democracy — are of a different order of magnitude.

a defiant speech from the House floor before her ouster, Cheney said, “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law.”

It’s worth stepping back for a minute to think about what has happened since November.

After losing an election, many Republican leaders spread the lie that their opponent had cheated. On its own, this lie resembled the historical tactics of authoritarians, who often try to delegitimize any political party but their own. The similarity became starker when multiple elected Republicans either encouraged or excused a mob that violently attacked the U.S. Capitol.

A peaceful transfer of power involves both the peaceful part and a willing transfer. It depends on the ability to acknowledge defeat. Never before have so many elected members of Congress from one party tried to disrupt a clear victory by the other party.

At first, that Jan. 6 attack seemed as if it might cause party leaders, like Senator Mitch McConnell, to reassert the importance of democratic principles. Instead, Republicans who called out Donald Trump’s falsehoods found themselves marginalized. The central message of Cheney’s ouster is that Republicans must lie, or quietly endorse Trump’s “big lie,” to remain Republicans in good standing.

The same thing is happening in state Republican parties. In Virginia this week, Glenn Youngkin won the Republican nomination for governor. By résumé, he is a country-club Republican, having served as co-C.E.O. at the Carlyle Group, a well-connected investment firm. To win the nomination, though, Youngkin evidently decided that he needed to promote false conspiracy theories. So he did.

defensible on other grounds and others may have less impact than Democrats claim. But the intent of the laws is clear, and they will surely have some effect.

Provisions that target heavily Democratic areas — like Georgia’s limits on drop boxes — are particularly blatant. “The typical response by a losing party in a functioning democracy is that they alter their platform to make it more appealing,” Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, has told The Times. “Here the response is to try to keep people from voting. It’s dangerously antidemocratic.”

A few states have also given state legislators more power over election administrators, potentially making it easier for politicians to reject an election’s result. These provisions may be even more dangerous than the hurdles to voting, especially since they are an explicit response to Trump’s big lie, as Joshua Douglas of the University of Kentucky has written.

Could all of these moves come to little, much as Trump’s postelection flailing did? Yes, that’s one possible outcome. But it is not the only one. In a way that would have been unfathomable a few years ago, one of the country’s two major parties is taking steps that would allow it to overturn the outcome of a future election.

Anne Applebaum, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt — the most successful strategy for beating back a political party’s authoritarian shift has depended on defections among people who otherwise agree with that party. That’s why Cheney, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney and other Republicans criticizing Trump’s big lie are significant.

Jonathan Chait has written in New York magazine. “That fate of American democracy is the biggest issue in American politics.”

For more:

a Times column called Social Q’s, and he frequently gets a version of the question: How can I deal with the tensions around the resumption of social life? Many people are ready to return to prepandemic activities, while others are not.

Philip’s main advice: “Be nice to yourself, take care of the people you love and be as compassionate as you can.” That includes being honest about disagreements — and doing so in person or by phone rather than text.

And it’s OK to take it easy. As the author Celeste Headlee told NPR, “We have been under such a cognitive load over the past year or so that there just may not be the space for two things in one day.” — Claire Moses, a Morning writer

Related: “The lifting of pandemic restrictions represents a good opportunity to re-evaluate and make changes,” our colleague Tara Parker-Pope says. The Times has created a 10-Day Fresh Start Challenge, based on the science of beginnings.

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A New Covid Dilemma: What to Do When Vaccine Supply Exceeds Demand?

The decline in vaccine demand has coincided with a significant decline in coronavirus cases from mid-April, from about 70,000 cases a day to 42,000 on Sunday.

Still, Dr. Nuzzo said the reasons for holding off on getting a shot, like some level of skepticism, could also reduce as time goes on. As more people get vaccinated, those who are unsure will see that serious side effects are almost nonexistent.

The third group — those who are outright opposed to the vaccine, and especially those who have become convinced by disinformation and conspiracy theories — might be less likely to be persuaded by the lack of side effects. “The spread of disinformation online, we have to address,” Dr. Nuzzo said. “Never in my career have I seen the scope as large as it is.”

Promoting the idea of freedom for vaccinated people could be one effective way to encourage more vaccinations, particularly among those who are open to persuasion and still making up their minds, officials say. As hesitant people look for side effects — and find few, if any — they will also see their vaccinated friends and family members enjoying the luxuries of a prepandemic life like going to concerts and seeing older relatives, and doing all those activities without the lingering fear of getting sick or getting someone else sick.

Dr. Adalja said that federal health guidance should take care to avoid “underselling the vaccine,” and that federal officials appeared to be “several steps behind what infectious disease doctors like myself are telling people that are fully vaccinated what they can do.”

It is still unclear how the remainder of unvaccinated Americans break down into these three categories. On average, providers are administering about 1.98 million doses a day, down from a high of 3.38 million on April 13.

While the Food and Drug Administration is set to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents next week, it is unclear how much demand will increase as a result. The soon-to-be approved age group, 12- to 15-year-olds, may represent fewer than 20 million people, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Cleric Lifts Iraq’s Faltering Vaccination Effort, but Perilous Summer Awaits

BAGHDAD — In a country where most people believe that God will protect them but their government won’t, it has taken a popular Shiite cleric to give Iraq’s stumbling vaccination program a boost.

Iraq has been bracing for a dangerous summer, with widespread skepticism over coronavirus precautions, a limited vaccine supply and a troubled health care system.

But last week, Moktada al-Sadr, whose lineage from a revered Shiite family commands respect among millions of Iraqis, was shown on video rolling down his robe and baring his arm for a Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in the holy city of Najaf.

Vaccination clinics throughout Najaf Province had until then recorded only around 300 vaccinations a day. Two days after the video was released, that number climbed to almost 2,000 a day until clinics ran out of vaccines on Wednesday. They expect to receive more in two weeks.

Covax, the global vaccine-sharing partnership, has allocated 1.7 million doses for the country of 40 million people.

Covax, Chinese donations of Sinopharm, and purchases of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine funded through a $100 million World Bank loan.

The vaccination program was meant to start with the elderly, health care workers, those with chronic conditions and security forces. Yet a significant number of Iraq’s roughly 200,000 health care workers are refusing vaccines, according to officials.

a fire swept through a Baghdad hospital for Covid patients after an oxygen canister exploded, killing more than 100 people, most of them patients and their relatives. The hospital lacked smoke detectors or sprinkler systems.

The health minister was forced to resign and other officials were arrested. Iraqi ministries are divvied up among powerful political parties with the health ministry under the control of the Sadr political bloc.

Mr. Sadr, who has tried to portray himself as above politics while still playing a key role in Iraq’s political system, has said any officials convicted of wrongdoing should be punished.

The health ministry has struggled to get its message across.

“Some people still do not believe in the existence of the virus and they do not believe in the effectiveness of the vaccine,” said Dr. Ruba Falah Hassan, in the ministry’s media office.

At many vaccination clinics outside the Sadr strongholds, there has been so little demand that any Iraqi with ID or foreigner with a passport can be vaccinated after a few minutes wait.

Near central Baghdad’s Palestine Street, about 30 people waited for a Sinopharm vaccine on plastic chairs in the Al Edreesi health care center on Thursday. In this middle-class neighborhood most of those waiting appeared to be professionals or university students.

“We ask anyone who took the vaccine to send a message of reassurance in their groups. ” said Afraa al-Mullah, from the health center’s media department. “Anyone who took the vaccine must speak and say, ‘Here I am. I’m fine, get vaccinated.’”

The more that word spreads that vaccines are not harmful, she hopes, the more Iraqis would agree to be vaccinated.

“Iraq’s population is 40 million, 20 million must get vaccinated,” she said, calling the 400,000 who have been inoculated “a drop in the ocean.” She added: “We have people that do not believe in coronavirus. How can we convince them to vaccinate?”

Falih Hassan and Nermeen al-Mufti contributed reporting.

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What the Gates Divorce Means for the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started with ambitions that, by its lofty standards today, appear almost quaint: providing free internet access to public libraries in the United States. As its founders’ objectives grew in scope, so did the foundation’s reach, until it achieved its current position as the pre-eminent private institution in global public health.

With 1,600 staff members directing $5 billion in annual grants to 135 countries around the globe, the Gates Foundation set a new standard for private philanthropy in the 21st century.

All of that was thrown into question on Monday when the world learned that the foundation’s co-chairs, who had been married for 27 years, filed for divorce in Washington State. Grant recipients and staff members alike wondered what would happen and whether it might affect the mission.

The message from the headquarters in Seattle was clear: Bill and Melinda Gates may be splitting up, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation isn’t going anywhere. Their roles as co-chairs and trustees are not changing, and they will still set the agenda for the organization that bears their names. In an email on Monday, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive, Mark Suzman, reassured the staff that both Mr. and Ms. Gates remained committed to the organization.

observers noted that Ms. Gates had added her maiden name, French, to her Twitter profile.

The couple deployed their connections last year in response to the pandemic, calling leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi to drum up support for their plans. The foundation has committed $1.75 billion so far to its Covid-19 response, and played a key role in shaping the global deal to bring vaccines to poor countries.

That prominence has also brought a fair share of scrutiny, throwing a spotlight on Mr. Gates’s robust defense of intellectual property rights — in this case, specific to vaccine patents — even in a time of extreme crisis, as well as the larger question of how unelected wealthy individuals can play such an outsize part on the global stage.

“In a civil society that is democratic, one couple’s personal choices shouldn’t lead university research centers, service providers and nonprofits to really question whether they’ll be able to continue,” said Maribel Morey, founding executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences.

reported earlier by Bloomberg.

Before the news of the divorce broke, the Gates Foundation had been in the midst of a period of upheaval. The pandemic shuttered its headquarters in Seattle even as staff members drawn from the top ranks of government health agencies and the pharmaceutical industry worked to muster a response to the deadly, rapidly spreading new coronavirus.

And as his public profile during the pandemic grew, so did spurious conspiracy theories such as that the global immunization effort was a cover for Mr. Gates to implant microchips to track people, blatantly false but still damaging as misinformation increased vaccine hesitancy.

Then Mr. Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., also a foundation co-chair, died in September. The elder Mr. Gates had initially taken the lead on his son’s charitable endeavors while the younger Mr. Gates was still at the helm of Microsoft. Bill Gates Sr. was viewed by many as a calm voice and a moral compass within the organization, even as he had stepped back in recent years.

The third trustee, the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, turned 90 last year and has begun to discuss succession plans at his company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Dr. Morey said the recent changes could also present an opportunity to create a large, diverse board while increasing visibility into the foundation’s decision-making. “Part of the anxiety is coming from the lack of transparency in the day-to-day activities of the Gates Foundation,” she said.

Forbes estimates at $124 billion. The divorce won’t affect the money that has already been given to the foundation trust, but the couple may devote less money to it over time than they would have if they had stayed together.

“People are right to feel unmoored in terms of the direction of the foundation,” said Ms. Tompkins-Stange of the University of Michigan. “There’s a lot of ambiguity, as there might be in any divorce situation, but they seem committed to co-parenting the foundation.”

David Gelles contributed reporting.

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Russian Attempts to Expand Sputnik Vaccine Sets Off Discord in Europe

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — When Slovakia’s prime minister welcomed a military aircraft carrying 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia in March, he posed proudly for photographs on the tarmac in front of crates stuffed with what he expected to be his country’s medical salvation.

Slovakia at the time had the world’s highest per-capita death rate from Covid-19, and the arrival of the Russian vaccine offered a rare glimmer of hope. For Russia it offered big benefits, too: a small but symbolically important new market for its product in the European Union, which has so far declined to register the vaccine and urged member states to hold off on orders until approval is granted.

But the effort by the Slovakian leader, Igor Matovic, soon blew up in his face, costing him his job and almost toppling the whole government — just three months after it adopted a new security strategy rooted in unequivocal support for NATO and wariness of Russia.

The strongly pro-Western Slovak government, torn between its commitment to abide by European rules and desperation for a way out of the health crisis, spasmed in crisis for weeks.

Sputnik V, the world’s first registered vaccine, is the medical breakthrough proclaimed last summer by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but it has already proved itself to be remarkably effective in spreading disarray and division in Europe.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron talked to Mr. Putin recently about possible deliveries of Sputnik, which Mr. Macron’s own foreign minister derided as a “propaganda tool.” The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, furious that European regulators have been slow in approving Sputnik, has clashed with Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, over the bloc’s vaccination program, which so far involves only Western vaccines.

But Slovakia provides the most concrete example of how Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has had side effects that can be highly toxic.

The decision by Mr. Matovic, then the Slovakian prime minister, to order two million doses of Sputnik V set the country at odds with the European Union and brought one of Eastern Europe’s most stoutly pro-Western governments to the brink of collapse as junior partners in a fractious governing coalition, outraged by the import of Sputnik, defected.

said in a tweet in February that Mr. Putin offered Sputnik V to the world as a “weapon to divide and rule.” And Poland said it was considering buying Chinese vaccines, despite similar concerns about it, but would definitely not order Sputnik V.

A recent survey by the Globsec research group found that, among those willing to be vaccinated, only 1 percent of Poles and Romanians and 2 percent of Lithuanians would choose Sputnik over American and European brands. Even in Hungary, the lone European Union member to start inoculating its citizens with Russia’s product, only 4 percent want Sputnik V.

But in Slovakia, around 15 percent of those willing to be vaccinated expressed a preference for the Russian vaccine, offering Moscow an opportunity to break out of the quarantine imposed by deep suspicion elsewhere.

That Russia targeted Slovakia as a place to widen Sputnik’s narrow beachhead in Europe was evident long before Mr. Matovic decided to order the vaccine.

video on Facebook in January saying that he was ready to help broker a deal with Moscow for the delivery of Sputnik.

His pitch appealed to the generally Russia-friendly sentiments of many ordinary Slovaks, particularly those of an anti-establishment bent.

Martin Smatana, a former Health Ministry official in Bratislava, said he had been amazed by how many of his friends want the Russian vaccine and say, “Screw the system, use Sputnik.”

a report this past week, the European Union’s foreign service said that Russia’s drive to promote Sputnik abroad was aimed at “sowing distrust” in Europe’s medicines regulator and stoking divisions.

In response, the Russian state investment agency spearheading Sputnik’s export drive lamented that the vaccine, which it hails as a “vaccine for all mankind,” has fallen victim to “unfortunate daily information attacks.” On Friday, after Brazil raised concerns about Sputnik, complaining of inadequate data, the vaccine’s developer in Moscow, the Gamaleya Institute, issued an angry statement complaining that “unethical forces continuously attack the Sputnik V vaccine for competitive and political reasons.”

The testy arguments in Slovakia over the vaccine reached a peak in April when the country’s drug regulatory agency claimed that Mr. Matovic had fallen for a Russian bait-and-switch. It said the vaccine doses sent to Slovakia at a cost of around $2 million differed from the Sputnik V reviewed favorably in a peer-reviewed February article in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal.

The Slovak claim, denounced by Moscow as “sabotage,” cast doubt on Sputnik’s main selling point: a proven efficacy rate of over 90 percent against Covid-19. The Lancet gave the vaccine 91.6 percent efficacy in February, and Russian scientists have since claimed a “real world” rate 97.6 percent.

But the main issue with Sputnik has never been whether it works — most experts believe it does — but Russia’s repeated failure to follow procedure and provide all the data needed by foreign regulators to assess safety. Slovakia’s regulator made its damning statement not because it had discovered any specific problems with Sputnik but “due to the lack of data from the manufacturer, inconsistencies in dosage forms and inability to compare the batches used in different studies and countries.”

The 200,000 doses that Russia delivered in March were still all unused at a pharmaceutical company in eastern Slovakia as of last week. But Mr. Matovic said Russia had already returned the money paid by Slovakia.

Pavol Babos, a political analyst in Bratislava, said Mr. Matovic was “never pro-Russian” but “very naïve.” Desperate for a way to slow the pandemic and lift his own slumping ratings, the prime minister, Mr. Babos added, “fell into a trap set by Russian propaganda.”

But Mr. Matovic scoffed at accusations that Moscow had played him to promote its own geopolitical agenda. The Russians, he said, “wanted to help, but instead of thanking them we said, ‘You are stupid, and you are cheating people around the world.’”

Most at fault, Mr. Matovic said, was the State Institute for Drug Control, which asserted that the Sputnik V batches Russia sent to Slovakia did “not have the same characteristics and properties” as the version V reviewed by The Lancet. This, he said, “was an extremely incorrect political statement.”

Zuzana Batova, the institute’s director, who has received death threats from aggressive Sputnik fans, declined to be interviewed, saying she did not want to pour oil on the fire.

The head of the Biomedical Research Center, which carried out a series of 14 tests in Slovakia on the Russian vaccine, said she had no concerns over whether Sputnik V works but was troubled by Russia’s lack of transparency.

While the potential side effects of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been documented in detail publicly, the center’s chief, Silvia Pastorekova, said, “We know nothing about Sputnik’s side effects.”

The Russian vaccine, she said, passed all of her team’s tests but failed to win approval from the state regulator because more than three-quarters of the documents required to meet European norms had either not been submitted or were incomplete.

“We are part of the European family and we should accept the rules of the family,” Ms. Pastorekova said.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Kristina Hamarova from Bratislava.

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Newsmax Apologizes for False Claims of Vote-Rigging by a Dominion Employee

The conservative news outlet Newsmax formally apologized on Friday for spreading baseless allegations that an employee of Dominion Voting Systems had rigged voting machines in an effort to sink President Donald J. Trump’s bid for re-election last year.

In a statement posted on its website, Newsmax acknowledged that it had found “no evidence” for the conspiracy theories advanced by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, supporters and others that the employee, Eric Coomer, had manipulated Dominion voting machines, voting software and the final vote counts in the election.

“On behalf of Newsmax, we would like to apologize for any harm that our reporting of the allegations against Dr. Coomer may have caused to Dr. Coomer and his family,” the statement said.

Mr. Coomer, director of product strategy and security for Dominion, sued Newsmax and several pro-Trump figures in December, after he had been roundly vilified in the right-wing media sphere. In his lawsuit, which also names the Trump campaign, Rudolph W. Giuliani and the One America News Network, Mr. Coomer claimed that he had suffered harm to his reputation, emotional distress, anxiety and lost earnings as false accusations spread throughout the pro-Trump world that he was plotting to rig the election.

posted a photo of Mr. Coomer on Twitter, alongside the false claim that Mr. Coomer had said he would ensure a Biden victory. Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, said at a news conference that Mr. Coomer was a “vicious, vicious man” who was “close to antifa,” the lawsuit said.

And Sidney Powell, who was also one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, replied, “Yes, it’s true,” on Newsmax when she was asked if Mr. Coomer had said, “Don’t worry about President Trump, I already made sure that he’s going to lose the election,” according to the lawsuit.

As a result, Mr. Coomer received an onslaught of offensive messages, harassment and death threats, according to the lawsuit, which names Ms. Powell as a defendant.

“These fabrications and attacks against me have upended my life, forced me to flee my home, and caused my family and loved ones to fear for my safety, and I fear for theirs,” Mr. Coomer wrote in an opinion column published in The Denver Post in December.

a statement renouncing a number of false claims about Dominion and Smartmatic, another election technology company that had become the focus of conspiracy theories. The statement came after Smartmatic said it had sent Newsmax legal notices and letters demanding retractions for publishing “false and defamatory statements.”

Newsmax’s statement acknowledged that “no evidence has been offered that Dominion or Smartmatic used software or reprogrammed software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election.”

In February, a Newsmax host, Bob Sellers, cut off Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a vociferous Trump supporter, when he began attacking Dominion on air. As Mr. Lindell continued to talk, Mr. Sellers read a prepared statement saying the election results had been certified in every state.

“Newsmax accepts the results as legal and final,” Mr. Sellers said. “The courts have also supported that view.”

Fox News, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Lindell.

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German Intelligence Puts Coronavirus Deniers Under Surveillance

BERLIN — Germany’s domestic intelligence service said on Wednesday that it would surveil members of the increasingly aggressive coronavirus denier movement because they posed a risk of undermining the state.

The movement — fueled in part by wild conspiracy theories — has grown from criticizing coronavirus lockdown measures and hygiene rules to targeting the state itself, its leaders, businesses, the press and globalism, to name a few. Over the past year, demonstrators have attacked police officers, defied civil authorities and in one widely publicized episode scaled the steps of Parliament.

“Our basic democratic order, as well as state institutions such as parliaments and governments, have faced multiple attacks since the beginning of the measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement confirming that parts of the denier movement were under observation. The Interior Ministry oversees the intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

In announcing the decision to keep tabs on conspiracy theorists, intelligence officials noted the movement’s close ties to extremists like the Reichsbürger, who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the modern German state.

QAnon conspiracy theories, and protesters are frequently seen holding signs with anti-Semitic tropes.

The movement, called Querdenken, German for lateral thinking, communicates and recruits over social media and has a large presence on the encrypted chat service Telegram, where its main channel has 65,000 subscribers. Parts of AfD, a German right-wing populist party that is also under surveillance, have allied themselves with protesters.

Still, the Interior Ministry took pains to say that the danger from coronavirus deniers and conspiracy theorists does not fit the mold posed by the usual, politically driven groups, including those on the far left and right, or by Islamic extremists. As a result, the authorities are setting up a new department specifically tasked with handling cases that seek to delegitimize the state.

The news comes days after Germany instituted new virus rules that apply nationwide and allow the federal government to enforce lockdowns. (Such regulation had previously been in the hands of the country’s 16 states.) It also suggests that the authorities believe coronavirus denier groups could continue to flourish and pose a threat after the pandemic ends.

Germany has seen a persistently high number of new daily cases recently, averaging about 19,000, up from about 8,000 two months ago.

Last August, when restrictions were relatively light, the deniers drew 40,000 protesters to Berlin. While most were peaceful, even if eschewing masks and social distancing measures, a small number managed to jump police lines and climb Parliament’s outside stairs, a breach of security that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier characterized as an “attack on the heart of democracy.”

The national intelligence agency’s formal observation of the deniers’ group is the first step in a process that could lead to it being declared unconstitutional and ultimately banned.

Pia Lamberty, a psychologist and expert in the German conspiracy scene, warned of connections between the deniers and far-right extremists. “The danger of Querdenken,” she said, “has long been underestimated.”

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Germany Looks Into Covid Deniers’ Links With Far Right

The German domestic intelligence agency is keeping close tabs on a group of coronavirus deniers, who, in their protests against restrictions and tendency to believe in conspiracy theories, have found common cause with far-right extremists.

Government officials said the movement’s close ties to extremist organizations, such as the “Reich citizens” — or “Reichsbürger,” as they are known in German, referring to a group that refuses to accept the legitimacy of the modern German state — were troubling. Many of the coronavirus deniers say they also believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, and protesters are frequently seen holding signs with anti-Semitic tropes. A number of journalists have been attacked while covering the demonstrations.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a statement, “Our basic democratic order, as well as state institutions such as parliaments and governments, have faced multiple attacks since the beginning of the measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.” Several regional intelligence agencies have already been observing participants in the movement, he added.

The group of deniers, which started as a fringe movement last spring, has grown into a coordinated effort that organizes mass demonstrations across Germany. The rallies occasionally turn aggressive, and many have ended in scuffles with law enforcement officers.

AfD, a German right-wing populist party, have allied themselves with protesters. The national intelligence agency’s formal observation of the deniers’ group is the first step in a procedure that could lead to it being declared anti-constitutional and ultimately banned.

A week ago, about 8,000 people in Berlin protested the passing of a law that gives the federal government power to implement tougher restrictions. Germany has seen a persistently high average number of new daily cases recently, averaging about 18,000 a day, according to a New York Times database, up from about 8,000 a day two months ago.

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