Protest On Trial: Six defendants arrested during Disrupt J20 protests on Inauguration Day fighting felony charges in court

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Katie Aguilera

On November 20, 2017, trial began in Washington DC superior court for six defendants arrested during the protests that took place on Inauguration Day.  More than 200 people were arrested that day after a small number of protesters clashed with police, smashed windows, and committed other acts of property destruction.  Six police were injured, and an estimated $100,000.00 in damage resulted from the violence.

The six now on trial are the first of over 200 arrested on Inauguration day who have all been charged with felonies.  Those charges include conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, inciting a riot, and multiple property damage charges, and come with a maximum ten-year prison sentence for each count.  Some have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and some have had the charges dropped.  But nearly 200 people still face felony convictions, and possible 60-year sentences, if found guilty.

The prosecution in this first trial has made it clear they don’t intend to prove that any of the six defendants personally caused any property damage or injury, but rather that all who face charges are guilty because they are all collectively responsible for the actions of a few.  US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff said in her opening statement, “though there is no evidence the defendants caused any of the damage directly, the government considers the entire group of protesters to be responsible.”

 “The prosecution is pursuing a somewhat unusual strategy: Rather than trying to prove that any of individual defendant was personally guilty of destruction, prosecutors are arguing that all demonstrators present that day were aware and supportive of the violent intentions of the others.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff, in her comments, has repeatedly referred to the ‘black bloc tactics’ of the protesters as part of a message that everyone participating in the protest came with either the intention to commit violence or the knowledge that violence was part of the plan.”

Ashraf Khalil, Associated Press November 21, 2017

The government is arguing that all of the defendants conspired to cause the violence and rioting, regardless of whether they participated in any advance planning.  They argue that the defendants intended for the property destruction and violence to occur even if they didn’t cause damage themselves.  They argue that by continuing to move together down the street as some in their midst engaged in criminal behavior, everyone arrested became responsible for the resulting damage.

This idea of collective liability is what makes this trial so important, and all Americans should be paying attention.  The mere act of charging so many, with the possibility of such severe punishment, threatens to stifle legitimate protest and first amendment activity.  If exercising one’s right to peacefully protest comes with the risk of felony charges for the criminal behavior of others, many will opt to stay home.  If these six are convicted, it sets a very dangerous precedent.

Kris Hermes, an organizer of a support group for the defendants called Defend J20, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “what the government is saying to us is, dissent is not an acceptable form of expression in this country, and if you choose to go out on the street and express yourself, then you risk being arrested and seriously prosecuted.”

Eoin Higgins wrote in an October 25, 2017 article for the Intercept, “by charging everyone together with conspiracy counts, the government seems intent on making an example of the J20 protesters.”  He also writes, “that the government’s case does not differentiate between actors and bystanders could be an indication of future clampdowns on protest.”

There are other very important aspects of this case, such as the tactics used during the arrests, the arrests of journalists covering the protests, the methods of evidence gathering employed in the months after the arrests, etc.  But the very fact that these defendants face these charges when there is no evidence they personally caused any damage should have us all very concerned.  Any threat to an individual’s first amendment right is a threat to all of our first amendment rights.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

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Ammon Bundy released from prison, Cliven Bundy refuses release, and Ryan Payne granted release pending approval from Oregon judge

In what seems a sudden and surprising reversal of her prior denial of release for the Bundys and Ryan Payne as their trial proceeds in Nevada, Judge Gloria Navarro has granted release from prison for Cliven and Ammon Bundy, and Ryan Payne.  She had previously reversed her decision to deny Ryan Bundy release, allowing him to move to a halfway house on November 13, 2017.

This decision to release the defendants came after a sealed hearing, details of which are still not publicly available.

Ammon Bundy walked out of the courthouse early Thursday with his family to be greeted by a crowd of supporters and the press.

Cliven Bundy has refused the conditions of release, opting to remain in prison.  His attorney, Brett Whipple, stated, “to be released, he would have to agree to conditions.  In his opinion, he’s not willing to take a deal with the government when he hasn’t done anything wrong to begin with…. He’s very principled and he doesn’t want to violate those principals and I respect that.”

Ryan Payne was also granted release, pending approval from Judge Anna Brown in Oregon federal court.  Payne still faces sentencing in Oregon for his role in the 2016 Malheur Wildlife refuge occupation.  A hearing is scheduled for 3:00pm today (Friday) in the Portland federal courthouse.

The trial in Nevada is expected to resume December 11, 2017.

Update, 12/2/2017:  Ryan Payne was released Friday, 12/1/2017.  It looks as though there will be a release hearing for Dave and Mel Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, and Jason Woods on Monday.  Here are the conditions for release.

 

Rumors of release from custody for Bundys in Las Vegas

Rumors are flying today that Cliven, Ammon, Mel, and Dave Bundy, and Ryan Payne, will be released from custody today as their trial continues in Las Vegas.  Supporters of the Bundys have made Facebook posts such as this one and this one that appear to confirm the rumors.  This information comes after the court room spent the morning in a sealed hearing.

Fox 5 Las Vegas confirmed that Judge Navarro would release the defendants in a tweet this afternoon.

Update 1:36pm: this [that article appears to have been removed] article from Las Vegas Now confirms the Bundys are to be released for the duration of the trial.  It does not mention Ryan Payne.

12/1/2017: The above Las Vegas Now article appears to have been removed and that link no longer works.  Here is an Oregon Live article from 11/29/2017 with more details.

Shadow World, a documentary about global arms dealing, airs tonight

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Shadow World, a documentary based on the book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, by Andrew Feinstein, will air tonight, November 20, 2017, on Independent Lens on PBS.  I highly recommend watching it.  I also highly recommend reading the book.

Here is a portion of the description from the book’s cover:

“The Shadow World is the behind-the-scenes tale of the global arms trade, exposing in forensic detail the deadly collusion that all too often exists among senior politicians, weapons manufacturers, felonious arms dealers, and the military–a situation that compromises our security and undermines our democracy.

There is so much information in this book that is helpful to understanding what drives war and conflict around the world.  If the documentary includes even a fraction of that information, watching it will be an eye-opening experience.  Don’t miss it!

The Trouble With Today

 

cereals-100263_1920Katie Aguilera

Veterans Day is hard for me.  I am not a veteran.  I’m not close with very many veterans.  And, I don’t believe we should be fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all the other places around the world where we have troops active.  But, I care very much for all the lives affected by war.  So, the trouble with today is how to express that care without celebrating or glorifying war and militarism?

A simple “thank you for your service” feels hollow, it doesn’t feel genuine.  Because, I don’t feel thankful for what my country is doing around the world with its military.  I do, however, feel immense gratitude for people who are willing to serve their communities and countries, in large and small ways.

Some say that opposing the war on terror somehow suggests that those who have died fighting died for nothing.  I myself have felt this, a heart-breaking sadness that young men and women have died senseless deaths for no good reason.  I don’t believe that anymore, though the sadness is no less heart-breaking.  I don’t believe soldiers have died fighting over there to protect my freedoms.  I do believe that soldiers die, not for nothing, but rather for each other.

I don’t know how to make peace with all the lives lost to those caught in the middle.  I don’t know how to make peace with the fact that our Congress refuses to do anything to bring this war on terror to an end.  I don’t know how to make peace with the apathy of the American public, who largely seems to forget we are still at war.  But, I make peace with Veterans Day by reflecting back to the original intent of creating a holiday on November 11th.

The cessation of hostilities of World War I officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  A year later, November 11th was declared Armistice Day in commemoration of that.  The war to end all wars was over, and the world celebrated peace.  President Woodrow Wilson stated, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

On May 13, 1938, Armistice Day became an official holiday, “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”  In 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to honor those who served in World War II and the war in Korea as well World War I.

Veterans For Peace states,

“Almost a hundred years ago the world celebrated peace as a universal principal. The first World War had just ended and nations mourning their dead collectively called for an end to all wars. Armistice Day was born and was designated as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated.”

After World War II, the U.S. Congress decided to rebrand November 11 as Veterans Day. Honoring the warrior quickly morphed into honoring the military and glorifying war. Armistice Day was flipped from a day for peace into a day for displays of militarism.”

In today’s world of never-ending conflict, it’s hard to imagine celebrating genuine world peace.  But today, Veterans Day, to all who have served and are serving in the military, I pray you have a day of peace.  For the world, I pray we find the courage to put a stop to the fighting.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Bill introduced in the Senate to ban assault weapons

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A bill to ban the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of 205 military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines was introduced today by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and a number of other senators.

The announcement states, “We’re introducing an updated Assault Weapons Ban for one reason:  so that after every mass shooting with a military-style assault weapon, the American people will know that a tool to reduce these massacres is sitting in the Senate, ready for debate and a vote.”

It goes on to assert that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 should have been extended in 2004, that it was, “just starting to show an effect when the NRA stymied its reauthorization.”

The bill “includes a grandfather clause that exempts all weapons lawfully possessed at the date of enactment.”

The bill would ban “any assault weapon that accepts a detachable ammunition magazine, and has one or more military characteristics including a pistol grip, a forward grip, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel, or a folding or telescoping stock.”  Also included in the ban, “magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds without needing to reload,” and “bump-fire stocks and other devices that allow semi automatic weapons to fire at fully automatic rates.”

Also, the bill would “require a background check on any future sale, trade, or gifting of an assault weapon covered by the bill,” and that “grandfathered assault weapons are stored using a secure gun storage or safety device like a trigger lock.”  The transfer of high-capacity magazines would also be prohibited.

Feinstein’s announcement states, “to my colleagues in Congress, I say do your job.”  (Just not this one).

 

When You Don’t Make the Cult

Why I No Longer Support Newsbud

Katie Aguilera

Two years ago, I was involved in the early stages of the development of Newsbud, an online news and media platform with the stated goals of being 100% people funded, unbiased, and non-partisan.  My involvement, like that of many others, was short lived.  Recently, I publicly made some comments about my change of heart regarding Newsbud, and I have also decided to remove nearly all content from this blog that promoted the organization*.  As a result, I feel that I should explain why I no longer support Newsbud.

I have been hesitant to discuss my experience with Newsbud, and have told few people the details behind my decision to leave the team.  It is not my intention now to pen a vindictive, personal attack on Newsbud or its founder, Sibel Edmonds.  I know that I have readers who support Newsbud, and I’m not writing this with the goal of changing anyone’s mind based solely on what I have to say.  People need to come to their own conclusions.  I am writing this to explain why I no longer endorse the site, why it has lost credibility in my view, and why I feel guilty for promoting it and supporting it in its early stages.

The Beginning

Several years ago, the research I was doing for the novel I am writing led me to a series of interviews posted on YouTube with James Corbett and Sibel Edmonds.  That was how I first discovered Boiling Frogs Post, or BFP, and Sibel’s work.  Her story in her book, Classified Woman, aligned really well with the sort of things happening in the plot of my novel, and I began to follow the work at BFP.

When Sibel announced the idea for Newsbud, I contacted her and offered to help any way that I could with the project.  I explained that I didn’t have much to offer, I had no related experience, and wasn’t sure what I could do, but I wanted to help if I could.  I knew that I can write, but at that point I had yet to even start my own blog.  I don’t consider myself an expert of any sort, and I had never published anything.

I was surprised by the offer to be a regular contributor to Newsbud, and I jumped at the chance.  First and foremost because I genuinely believed in the idea of what Newsbud was supposed to be, based on how it was presented.  Also, because I was excited to get to know and work with Sibel Edmonds, who I had come to respect and admire greatly.  And, of course, it was an opportunity to get published and earn some extra money.

Newsbud launched a series of Kickstarter fundraising campaigns, the first one on February 14, 2016.  The goal of the campaign was nearly one million dollars, and ultimately it was unsuccessful.  It was during this campaign that I experienced my first hint of doubt about the direction Newsbud was going.

First Doubt

It started with this article in which Sibel makes some startling claims.  I was asked to do some research and fact checking on the suspicious letters discussed in the article after it was published.  I researched, I made phone calls, I spoke by phone with an FBI spokesperson about the matter, I attempted to contact Sheriff Glenn Palmer.  He never returned my phone call.  I found a phone number for the person who sent the suspicious letters, and I passed the information on to Newsbud.  I thought the logical next step would be to contact the letter sender but I was unwilling to do that from my private phone.

In the end, my research led me to the conclusion that there really was no more to the story than what had been reported in the local news, and with no comment from Sheriff Palmer, I couldn’t confirm his reported version of the event.  I was unable to find any evidence that would prove his claims, or that there had been any sort of substance in any of the letters.  I was also unable to find evidence that the letter sender was targeting Palmer specifically.

Pretty quickly I was informed that my conclusion wasn’t satisfactory and to stop researching the story.  Shortly thereafter, this video of an interview with Dr. Fred Whitehurst was released.  When that video aired, initially I felt that what I had reported to Sibel about my conversation with the FBI spokesperson was misrepresented.  Much later, when I watched it again, I also felt as though Dr. Whitehurst was manipulated in the interview because he wasn’t given all the information.  I didn’t understand why they did not mention any attempt to contact the letter sender, or Sheriff Palmer.  So, I messaged my concerns to Spiro Skouras of Newsbud, and asked why they had pursued the story the way they did.  I got no response from him that night.

Not long after, I received a request via email from Sibel to schedule a Skype conference call with her and Spiro.  I don’t remember all of the ways in which I was informed that I had failed during that call, but I do remember the main point, that I had missed the big piece of the story.  Sibel explained her reasons for that, and shared some links, and she was right, I hadn’t found what she had found online.  Upon reflection, I didn’t see it as proof of her claims, though I didn’t say so.

Perhaps I did miss a smoking gun, perhaps Sibel knew much more than she had published in her article and video.  However, what continued to bother me was that there was never any follow up, they never published any further evidence to support her startling claims.  They never informed me, or publicly stated, that they ever tried to contact the letter sender.  While attempts other than my own may have been made to contact Sheriff Palmer, there was no public mention of it from Newsbud.

After what felt to me like sensational claims that begged for further proof, that was basically the end of it.  That left me feeling as though the purpose of the story was to draw clicks, to capitalize on the related media furor occurring at that time over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, and Sheriff Palmer himself.  This would become a pattern I have since noticed repeatedly with stories discussed at Newsbud.

Staying In

Unfortunately, I ignored my instincts.  I still believed in Newsbud, and I didn’t want to admit that my faith in Sibel’s credibility had just taken a significant hit.  I convinced myself that, with my lack of experience, I had screwed up, and I moved on.  Newsbud launched a second Kickstarter campaign for a significantly lower goal, and with a very different team, because many on the original team had already left for reasons I didn’t fully learn until later.  This time it was successful.  This is when I began receiving payment from Newsbud, and I published an article a week for about two months.

Around this time, the attempted coup in Turkey took place, and Newsbud launched its “Confront NBC” campaign.  I was supportive and helped to promote this because I felt (and still do) that it is really important for news outlets and journalists to retract erroneous reporting.  I also agreed that the timing of the false information was suspicious with regards to the coup attempt.  (Not to mention this very real problem.)  But, the entire thing began to feel like a publicity stunt.  Looking back, it felt like a publicity stunt that went too far, and felt uncomfortably too pro-Erdogan.  And, it led to this attack on FAIR.org.

I was asked to email FAIR, and follow up with a phone call, requesting comment from them on the Confront NBC story, and also information about their sources of funding (something I would like to see more transparency on from Newsbud).  I truly did not want to do this.  I have a lot of respect for FAIR.org and other organizations that work to hold news outlets and journalists accountable.  I was embarrassed to be involved in an attack on them.  However, I made the call, and I’m sure I sounded like a complete idiot to the man at FAIR that I spoke with.

A Way Out

This was the point that I finally began to lose, or let go of, some of my belief in Newsbud.  I realized I no longer wanted to tell anyone that I wrote for Newsbud.  I increasingly felt that, in order to fit the mold, I had to find some sort of “conspiratorial angle” to everything I wrote for Newsbud, and even here on my blog.  I was going along with things I didn’t always agree with, in order to stay with Newsbud.  It felt dishonest, like I was putting on an act.  I wasn’t being honest with myself.  I wasn’t being honest to all the people I was promoting Newsbud to.  I wasn’t being honest with Newsbud or Sibel either, because I didn’t address these concerns with them.

The final straw (or straws) came after I published this story here on my blog.  I submitted a shorter version of the story to Newsbud, and initially was told it would be published.  Later, I was told that it wouldn’t be published for several reasons.  I was disappointed, but I understood that Sibel didn’t like the story and she had the ultimate say on what was published on Newsbud.  I moved on.  However, shortly after that, I received an email that finally ended my willingness to remain on the team.

In that email, Sibel questioned my recent sharing of a GoFundMe campaign by someone that she didn’t like, and she informed me that I shouldn’t be following a certain journalist on social media.  Basically, what it came down to was that my behavior was reflecting negatively on Newsbud, and I was damaging Newsbud’s credibility.

I replied that I had no desire to cause Newsbud any harm, and if she didn’t want me on the team that was fine.  It was a way out, and I took it with relief.  I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hurt by the things Sibel said to me, but I did not, and do not, have any desire to argue with her, or defend myself to her.  It wasn’t worth it to me to be told who I could or could not follow, who I could or could not share support for, who or what I could write about.  I had already watched other team members leave, even just disappear from the team, with no explanation.  What Newsbud had become was absolutely not what I supported in the beginning.

Ironically, after I responded that I didn’t want to harm Newsbud, I was told my behavior not only reflected negatively on Newsbud, but on myself, that it would hurt my credibility.  That was indeed true, but not about the behavior Sibel was referring to.  What would reflect negatively on me would be to continue to support what I no longer believed in.  Continuing to work with and promote Newsbud would hurt my credibility.

It is my opinion that Newsbud has gone the way of another well-known alternative media (infotainment) site that thrives on click bait, unsupported sensational claims, and false information.  I know Newsbud has deleted negative and oppositional comments from their site in what looks like attempts to shield their supporters from anything contradictory.  I know they asked numerous dissenting commenters to unsubscribe.  I see no integrity in this.  There are other things I could point to, but that and skepticism born out of my own brief experience working with Sibel, are the most important reasons why I no longer support Newsbud.

Coming Clean

It has taken me a long time to decide to write about all of this.  It took some time to admit to myself that the entire experience felt very cultish, and even longer to feel ready to admit it publicly.  I held a cult-like faith in Sibel, and that affected my judgement.  I don’t blame Sibel or Newsbud, I blame myself.  At the time, as I was still trying to make sense of the overwhelming information I was searching through online, I was especially susceptible.  But, I know that I have learned a lot from this experience.  In the chaos of today’s news cycle, the fake news, the social media trolling and bot manipulation, and endless sites spreading misinformation for profit, my experience at Newsbud, even though I regret it, does have value for me.

The following, from an International Cultic Studies Association article titled, Characteristics of Cults and Cultic Groups, describes how I feel about my experience with Newsbud perfectly:

“…the group claims to pursue lofty goals (e.g., salvation, bringing enlightenment to the world for the sake of peace, or solutions to specific world problems and injustices), …but a close look at the group’s accomplishments will invariably show that these publicly proclaimed goals are not reached, or that they mask less noble goals, such as massing monetary wealth, gaining power and control over the followers, and feeding the leader’s need for adulation.”

So, when I saw this tweet which reads, “they’ve been throwing fits due to not making the cut when it comes to Newsbud,” I laughed.  I knew immediately that I had the perfect title for this story.  I didn’t make the cult, and for that, I am so thankful.

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*This decision was made because I can’t in good conscience keep content posted that promotes Newsbud.  If that bothers you and you want to know what those posts contain, just ask me.  I’ve kept copies of them all.  Also, I recently noticed that all of my work has been removed from Newsbud’s site, for which I am grateful.  I have reposted most of the articles here on Seeking Redress.