Trump OMB Nominee Uncovered as Anti-Muslim

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday raised alarms about Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Ahead of a Senate Budget Committee hearing on his nomination, the ACLU pointed to Vought’s inflammatory comments about Muslims in a 2016 religious post.

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned,” Vought wrote.

Manar Waheed, ACLU legislative and advocacy counsel, said Vought’s nomination to the position was “disturbing” in its implications for religious freedom.

“It is vitally important that Americans have confidence that their public servants will serve our entire nation in good faith,” he said.

“We will watch Vought closely and press to ensure that those helping decide how public money is spent and the government is managed understand the vital importance of nondiscrimination,” he added.

OMB pushed back on the ACLU’s characterization of Vought’s comments, saying they were merely an internal theological discussion at his alma mater, which is a Christian school

“Russ Vought is here to serve the President and to help Mick Mulvaney advance this Administration’s priorities. If he is to be confirmed by the Senate, there is no doubt that he would afford all people with dignity and respect,” said OMB spokesman John Czwartacki.

[The Hill]

Betsy DeVos Would Not Agree to Bar Discrimination by Private Schools That Get Federal Money

President Trump’s budget proposal includes deep cuts to education but funds a new push for school choice.

When pressed by representatives at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the budget, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declined to say if, when or how the federal government would step in to make sure that private schools receiving public dollars would not discriminate against students.

She repeatedly said that decisions would be left to school districts and parents.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) stressed that Milwaukee’s school voucher program has resulted in years of failure. When he pressed DeVos on whether the federal government would hold recipients of public money accountable, DeVos punted.

“Wisconsin and all of the states in the country are putting their ESSA plans together,” said DeVos, referring to the Every Student Succeeds Act, a school accountability law. “They are going to decide what kind of flexibility … they’re allowed.”

“Will you have accountability standards?” Pocan asked.

“There are accountability standards,” DeVos said. “That is part of the ESSA legislation.”

That’s not true. ESSA’s regulations state that the law’s accountability rules do not apply to private schools.

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos about a Christian school in Indiana that gets state dollars through a voucher program but explicitly states that gay students may be denied admission.  “If Indiana applies for funding, will you stand up and say that this school is open to all students?” Clark asked.

DeVos said states make the rules.

“That’s a no,” Clark said. Then she asked what if a school doesn’t accept black students.

“Our [civil rights] and Title IX protections are broadly protective, but when our parents make choices,” DeVos started.

“This isn’t about parents making choices,” Clark interrupted. “This is about the use of federal dollars.”

After a few more rounds like this, DeVos said that her “bottom line” is that “we believe that parents are best equipped to make decisions for their schooling.”

Clark said she was shocked by this response.

DeVos’ staff later came to her defense, saying that the line of questioning in the hearing concerned a “theoretical voucher program” and indicated a “misunderstanding” about the federal government’s role in education.

“When States design programs, and when schools implement them, it is incumbent on them to adhere to Federal law,” DeVos’ press secretary Liz Hill said in an email. “The Department of Education can and will intervene when Federal law is broken.”

[Los Angeles Times]

Media

 

Trump Administration Cites Segregation-Era Ruling To Defend Its Travel Ban

In a brief defending its ban on citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department approvingly cited a segregation-era Supreme Court decision that allowed Jackson, Mississippi, to close public pools rather than integrate them.

In the early 1960s, courts ordered Jackson to desegregate its public parks, which included five swimming pools. Instead, the city decided to close the pools. Black residents of Jackson sued. But in 1971, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, decided that closing the pools rather than integrating them was just fine.

The dissents, even at the time, were furious. “May a State in order to avoid integration of the races abolish all of its public schools?” Justice William O. Douglas asked in his dissent.

“I had thought official policies forbidding or discouraging joint use of public facilities by Negroes and whites were at war with the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment, Justice Byron White wrote in another dissent. “Our cases make it unquestionably clear, as all of us agree, that a city or State may not enforce such a policy by maintaining officially separate facilities for the two races. It is also my view, but apparently not that of the majority, that a State may not have an official stance against desegregating public facilities and implement it by closing those facilities in response to a desegregation order.”

The ruling in Palmer v. Thompson didn’t explicitly uphold segregation. But it did call for courts to avoid investigating the constitutionality of officials’ motivations.

It is difficult or impossible for any court to determine the ‘sole’ or ‘dominant’ motivation behind the choices of a group of legislators,” the majority opinion said. “Furthermore, there is an element of futility in a judicial attempt to invalidate a law because of the bad motives of its supporters.”

The Trump administration emphasizes this in its citation of the case, arguing that looking into “governmental purpose outside the operative terms of governmental action and official pronouncements” is “fraught with practical ‘pitfalls’ and ‘hazards’ that would make courts’ task ‘extremely difficult.’”

But in some cases, such as the closure of the Jackson pools, officials’ motivations are clear, said Paul Brest, the director of Stanford University’s Law and Policy Lab.

“When it is absolutely clear that an official acted for unconstitutional purposes … [the courts] should be willing to strike down that decision because, even though the decision might have been reached legitimately, a public official violates the constitution when he or she acts for unconstitutional reasons,” Brest said. “It’s as simple as that. … Race discrimination is the best example of where courts are quite willing to take people’s motivations into account — or religious discrimination.”

Palmer is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever handed down in regards to race, said Michele Goodwin, the chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine.

“Citing Palmer is like citing Buck v. Bell for a premise of equal protection,” Goodwin says. (Buck v. Bell legalized eugenics.) She added that a case like Palmer also doesn’t hold up over time.

“[Palmer] doesn’t represent our view of how law, how people, how society [and] how equality has evolved in the United States,” she said. “To cite a case that, in and of itself, coheres ideas about inequality and explicit racism in spaces where racism could mean the end of someone’s life, then one would really have to question why a president would cite such a case — given how much it’s been refuted.”

John Paul Schnapper-Casteras, a special counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, wrote in a Sunday blog post that it’s “stunning” to see the Department of Justice approvingly cite a case that “at best allowed pretextual measures for avoiding racial integration ― and, more realistically, facilitated segregation by turning a blind eye to what was clearly going on in the City of Jackson.”

Justice Department lawyers know exactly what they’re doing ― citing different doctrines in an attempt to thwart any reason to examine what Trump on the campaign trail “said, very unambiguously, was to ban Muslims from coming into the country,” he told HuffPost.

“This is less about national security and more about them trying to find any way to insulate the motivation behind this order. Sometimes they invoke national security cases,” Schnapper-Casteras said. “In this case, they invoked a case about segregation.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Two Members of Alt-Right Accused of Making White Supremacist Hand Signs in White House After Receiving Press Passes

Two conservative journalists have sparked outcry on social media by making what some have interpreted as a white supremacist hand symbol at a recent visit to the White House.

Freelance journalist Mike Cernovich and Cassandra Fairbanks, a reporter for Russian news outlet Sputnik, posed for a picture behind the podium in the White House briefing room. In the photo, they are making a hand sign that can be used to signify “white power.”

“Just two people doing a white power hand gesture in the White House,” Fusion senior reporter Emma Roller tweeted, alongside a screenshot of the picture.

Ms Fairbanks, however, claims the hand gesture was not a reference to the white power movement. She pointed to her partial Puerto Rican heritage as evidence that she is not a white supremacist.

“White power!!!!!!! Except I’m Puerto Rican. Can it be PR power?!” she tweeted.

Ms Fairbanks’ supporters point out that the hand symbol is also used to mean “OK.” Photos show people of all races using the symbol to signify that everything is “alright.”

The symbol, however, has become more contentious with the rise of the alt-right – a far-right contingent in the United States that rejects both mainstream conservatism and liberal ideologies. The self-proclaimed founder of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, is a well-known white supremacist.

Alt-right journalist Lucian Wintrich, a writer for The Gateway Pundit, sparked outcry when he flashed the symbol in a similar picture at the White House in February. Notorious alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos also frequently flashes the symbol.

The resurgence of the symbol may be traced back to a popular alt-right meme, known as “smug Pepe,” which began circulating on alt-right, pro-Trump message boards in 2015. Mr Trump often uses the symbol when speaking, explaining its significance with the president’s supporters.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) characterises the symbol as a “racist hand sign.”

“Some white supremacists, particularly in California, may use a two-handed hand sign in which one hand forms the letter ‘W’ and the other hand forms the letter ‘P,’ to represent WP or ‘White Power,’” an entry in the ADL’s hate symbols database reads.

Ms Fairbanks joined notoriety when she moved from supporting Senator Bernie Sanders to supporting Mr Trump for president. She now frequently speaks out against Islamic terrorism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Her employer, Sputnik, applied for White House press credentials last month.

Mr Cernovich is the founder of the men’s rights blog Danger & Play, and author of the book “MAGA Mindset: Making YOU and America Great Again.” He received White House press credentials on 25 April.

(h/t The Independent)

Reality

Ms. Fairbanks claim that she is Puerto Rican therefor the alt-right signal can’t be a white power symbol, but the alt-right is a white power movement.

 

State Dept. Official Reassigned After Conspiracy Theory Attacks From Breitbart

The Trump administration has moved a second career government employee out of a top advisory role amid pressure from conservative media outlets that have publicly targeted individual staffers, questioning their loyalty to the new administration.

Some State Department officials believe the individual, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, was shifted because of the media attacks and are alarmed at the message such a move sends to civil service and foreign service employees, who are supposed to be protected by law from political retaliation.

“It puts people on edge,” said a State Department official familiar with Nowrouzzadeh’s situation.

Nowrouzzadeh, a civil service employee who helped shape the controversial Iran nuclear deal, had been detailed since last July to the secretary of state’s policy planning team, where she handled ongoing issues related to Iran and Gulf Arab countries. Her yearlong assignment was cut short earlier this month, after critical stories about her and others appeared in the Conservative Review and on Breitbart News, according to the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Nowrouzzadeh did not want to be reassigned, according to the official.

The State Department said in a statement that Nowrouzzadeh has returned to the Office of Iranian Affairs, but it would not specify her new role or address questions about why she was shifted. The department’s statement noted that Nowrouzzadeh “has an outstanding reputation in the department and we expect her to continue to do valuable work in furtherance of U.S. national security. We’ll decline additional comment on the internal [human resources] matters of career employees.”

Nowrouzzadeh declined to comment for this story.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A second person familiar with the situation confirmed that the conservative media attacks on Nowrouzzadeh had rattled people in the upper ranks of the Trump administration.

Nowrouzzadeh is an U.S.-born American citizen of Iranian descent who joined the federal government in 2005, during the George W. Bush administration. Stories published recently on conservative websites have questioned whether she should remain in her position, calling her a loyalist to former President Barack Obama and mentioning her past links to the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group that has come under criticism from the right.

Nowrouzzadeh is at least the second career staffer to be shifted after conservative media criticism.

Earlier this month, administration officials said Andrew Quinn, who had been appointed to the National Economic Council, was being sent back to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. No reason for the reassignment was given, but Quinn’s appointment to the NEC had drawn fire from Breitbart News and other conservative corners that noted the career government employee had helped the Obama administration negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal from which President Donald Trump has withdrawn.

Conservative media outlets first wrote about Nowrouzzadeh during the Obama years, when she served on the National Security Council and helped usher through the Iran nuclear deal, which was heavily criticized by many Republicans. Her name, which gives away her Iranian ethnicity, attracted attention from reporters, unusual for a lower-level staffer.

Multiple stories on Breitbart and other conservative sites pointed out that she once worked for the National Iranian American Council, which some critics allege has links to the Iranian government. But Nowrouzzadeh’s defenders note that she was merely an intern at NIAC as a college undergraduate, and that the advocacy group did not take positions on U.S. policy while she was there. NIAC, which is now more politically active, has denied working on behalf of Iran’s government.

Nowrouzzadeh is “very smart, deeply knowledgeable about Iran,” said Philip Gordon, who served as a top Middle East adviser to Obama and who has publicly defended Nowrouzzadeh in the past. “Like many civil service experts and career foreign service officers, she possesses just the sort of expertise political leaders from either party should have by their side when they make critical and difficult foreign policy decisions.”

Since Trump took office, a fresh round of stories in the Conservative Review, Breitbart and other outlets have raised questions about Nowrouzzadeh, as well as several other career government officials who have dealt with sensitive issues such as Iran, Israel and trade. Some stories have questioned why Trump kept the career staff in their roles, singling them out as “Obama holdovers,” even though some joined government years before Obama became president.

In general, U.S. law is supposed to protect career government employees from politically motivated firings and other retaliation not related to work performance. However, the political appointees of incoming administrations have wide latitude in terms of where to assign people or whom to promote, so it’s possible to shuffle people around without breaching their legal protections.

The State Department official familiar with the situation said there’s been no announcement about a replacement for Nowrouzzadeh on the policy planning team, which acts as an in-house think tank for the secretary of state.

When asked about the media attacks against her and others several weeks ago, a State spokesman said the stories in the conservative press contained a slew of misleading information. Some of the conservative media reports about Nowrouzzadeh, for instance, relied on Iranian state-run media, which often publishes “propaganda and falsehoods,” the spokesman said at the time.

Gordon said the conservative media attacks on individual government staffers may be roundabout attempts by some on the right to influence Trump’s policy agenda, especially on some sensitive issues that animate the Republican base.

“If people writing these pieces are not happy with the Trump foreign policy that may be because the president and vice president and Cabinet officers decided not to do things that are not in their interest,” Gordon said. “If Donald Trump hasn’t torn up the Iran nuclear deal, it may be because he realized that would be a bad idea. And it’s not because one of his policy planning staffers has a family of Iranian origin.”

(h/t Politico)

Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka is a Sworn Member of a Nazi Group

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward.

The elite order, known as the Vitézi Rend, was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary as a staunch nationalist from 1920 to October 1944. A self-confessed anti-Semite, Horthy imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands.

Gorka’s membership in the organization — if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant — could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Gorka — who Vitézi Rend leaders say took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their group — did not respond to multiple emails sent to his work and personal accounts, asking whether he is a member of the Vitézi Rend and, if so, whether he disclosed this on his immigration application and on his application to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2012. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.

But Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge who now teaches nationality law at Pepperdine University, said of this, “His silence speaks volumes.”

The group to which Gorka reportedly belongs is a reconstitution of the original group on the State Department list, which was banned in Hungary until the fall of Communism in 1989. There are now two organizations in Hungary that claim to be the heirs of the original Vitézi Rend, with Gorka, according to fellow members, belonging to the so-called “Historical Vitézi Rend.” Though it is not known to engage in violence, the Historical Vitézi Rend upholds all the nationalist and oftentimes racial principles of the original group as established by Horthy.

Einhorn said these nuances did not relieve Gorka of the obligation, if he’s a member, to disclose his affiliation when applying for his visa or his citizenship.

“This is a group that advocates racialist nativism,” said Einhorn. If Gorka did not disclose his affiliation with it, he said, this would constitute “failure to disclose a material fact,” which could undermine the validity of both his immigration status and claim to citizenship.

“It’s a material fact that, if disclosed, would have provoked a significant inquiry into the specific post-war role of this organization and Gorka’s activities in it,” he said.

Before serving 17 years as an immigration judge, Einhorn was deputy chief at the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. The unit, which has since been disbanded, was charged with finding and deporting Nazis and members of other extremist groups who entered America illegally by lying about or hiding their background. He noted that individuals who apply for both visas and citizenship are specifically asked to name all organizations they belong to due to the government’s interest in scrutinizing those affiliated with extremist groups, and in particular those on the State Department’s list.

If Gorka did not disclose his Vitézi Rend affiliation, said Einhorn, he thereby “foreclosed the opportunity for U.S. officials to pursue that inquiry with him.” No statute of limitations exists for such violations, he noted.

Einhorn stressed that Gorka would have defenses in such a case; he might argue the chances were small that immigration and naturalization officials — who are not extremism experts or historians — would have recognized the nature of the group and questioned him even if he disclosed his affiliation. “There would have to be clear and convincing evidence that had he told the truth… it would have led to a meaningful inquiry that could have kept him out of the country.”

But Einhorn stressed: “My view is that it would be a legitimate case — difficult and challenging, but I believe winnable.”

Gorka, who is a deputy assistant to the president, first provoked questions about his relationship to the Vitézi Rend after he publicly brandished its medal on his lapel at a presidential inauguration ball January 20. When questions were raised about this in February on the news website Lobelog and elsewhere, he explained it as a gesture of honor to his late father.

“In 1979 my father was awarded a declaration for his resistance to a dictatorship,” he told Breitbart News then. “Although he passed away 14 years ago, I wear that medal in remembrance of what my family went through and what it represents today, to me, as an American.”

But the Forward’s inquiry into Gorka’s relationship with the Vitézi Rend suggests that Gorka’s explanation is, at best, incomplete:

Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész — a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus — and Kornél Pintér — a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

“In today’s world it is rare to meet anyone as well-bred as Sebastian or his father, Pali,” he added.

If correct, Gorka’s membership in the order is notable because, as Pintér and other members explained, affiliation is possible only via a solemn initiation rite in which new members take an oath swearing undying allegiance to the Hungarian nation and the Vitézi Rend’s goals:

“I, Vitez [name], swear on the Holy Crown that I know the Order’s goals and code, and based on the orders of the Captain and Order Superiors will follow them for the rest of my life. I never betrayed my Hungarianness, and was never and am not currently a member of an anti-national or secret organization. So help me God.”

Several commentators also noted that in his 2008 doctoral dissertation at Hungary’s Corvinus University, Gorka presented his name as Sebastian L. v. Gorka. The “v.” is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend.

But Gorka did not use the initial only in academic papers.

In June 2011, Gorka testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee. His official testimony did not list his name as Sebastian L. Gorka, but rather as Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka.

“Of course, only after the oath,” György Kerekes, a current member of the Vitézi Rend, told the Forward when asked if anyone may use the initial “v.” without going through the Vitézi Rend’s application process and an elaborate swearing-in ceremony.

As the son of a member of the Vitézi Rend, Gorka is eligible to apply for membership. But membership is not bestowed automatically, and he cannot use the initial in his name without actively applying for membership and taking the formal oath to the organization.

Gorka’s self-identification to a congressional committee as Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka thus indicates that Gorka either misrepresented his identity to Congress in 2011 or is currently misrepresenting his affiliation with the Vitézi Rend, potentially having taken an oath to Hungarian nationalist and racist principles.

The Vitézi Rend, which was established in 1920 for Horthy’s loyal followers, is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist “criminal organizations” with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The group was among those Horthy rewarded with real estate taken from hundreds of thousands of Jews his government deported to Nazi concentration camps.

Dissolved in Hungary after World War II under the terms of the Allies’ armistice with Hungary, it was reconstituted by veterans’ groups in exile, including prewar members of the group appointed by Horthy. It was re-established inside Hungary after communism’s collapse in 1989. According to State Department guidelines, while Vitézi Rend membership “does not automatically render the alien ineligible for a visa, the applicant has the burden of establishing that, despite being a member of a designated criminal organization, he or she did not participate in activities that would fall within the purview of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The guidelines cite a provision of the act barring entry to the United States to “participants in Nazi persecution, genocide, or the commission of any act of torture or extrajudicial killing.”

Gorka, who is 46, could not have been part of any World War II killings. But the provisions reflect the State Department’s understanding of the Vitézi Rend’s historical nature.

The group’s mission emphasized not only loyalty to Hungary and nationalist ideas, but also an ideology of racial superiority. One of the original aims of the Vitézi Rend was to “ensure such might to the Hungarian race, which with tremendous power strikes every subversive state and anti-national movement,” Horthy said in a speech to new members in 1921.

The Hungarian dictator, whom Vitézi Rend members still lionize on their websites as the order’s founding leader and ideological guide, added, “Let the Vitézi Rend be the pride of the Turan race and our homeland, but if necessary, its sharp cutting sword.” “The Turan race” refers to Turanism, a theory popular among the country’s far-right and fascist groups whereby Hungarians are thought to be a race descended from tribes that migrated from Asia.

Members of the Vitézi Rend should practice “love of their race,” Horthy said in 1926, in a speech during a swearing-in ceremony for new members.

“Whoever lets another take his place is committing a crime against his race,” Horthy emphasized eight years later, in a June 1934 speech to members of the Vitézi Rend.

Nearly a century later, the Vitézi Rend has not left its legacy of racism behind. Horthy is revered among the organization’s members. His speeches are quoted on Vitézi Rend websites, and his original goals for the organization are highlighted.

As historian Eva S. Balogh notes, the organization’s formal slogan — “I believe in one God, I believe in one country, I believe in the divine everlasting truth, I believe in the resurrection of Hungary” — advocates a return to Hungary’s pre-World War I borders; a territory that includes parts of modern-day Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Serbia.

Today, the organization presents itself as a “conservative, right-wing” group independent of party politics. But some of the organization’s newer members also openly embrace racist and anti-Semitic views. Footage on YouTube of a 2012 swearing-in ceremony of new members reveals Zsolt Bayer, a publicist and writer known as one of Hungary’s most outspoken anti-Semites, being initiated as a member.

In 2013, Hungary’s highest court formally ruled that one of Bayer’s articles was anti-Semitic. In a 2016 article that earned the protest of Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, the Vitézi Rend member asked, “Why are we surprised that the simple peasant” didn’t interfere with the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps “when the ‘Jews’ broke into his village and beat the priests to death or hung them from lamp posts, the judge and everyone they didn’t like…?”

Though Gorka did not respond to inquiries about his relationship to the Vitézi Rend, when the Forward revealed in February that he had co-founded a political party together with former members of the Hungarian far-right Jobbik party and wrote articles for a Hungarian paper known for its anti-Semitism, the White House aide responded on Twitter by quoting a friend: “Sharing a room w Helen Keller does not make 1 blind; sharing a subway car w Albert Einstein does not make 1 a genius.”

But Einhorn, the immigration expert, stressed a larger moral principle was at stake.

“Gorka is part of an administration issuing travel bans against countries and people as a whole,” he said. “For someone who is part of this effort to not answer your question [about his membership] and yet support what’s gong on in the West Wing where he works is the height of hypocrisy. The administration that makes so much of protecting us from extremists while looping the guilty in with the innocent should at least require its officials tell the truth.”

Gorka’s inconsistent record on his affiliation with the Vitézi Rend is one of several ways in which the deputy assistant to the president may be misconstruing his past.

Adrian Weale, who served as a British Intelligence Corps officer in the 1980s, traced how Gorka’s claims to have worked on counter-terror issues for British Military Intelligence in Northern Ireland and on collecting evidence for the war crimes tribunal set up after the collapse of Yugoslavia are unlikely to be true. According to Weale, Gorka “has never been an operational practitioner of counter-terrorism.”

At the same time, Gorka’s credentials as an academic expert in terrorism have been widely questioned. His doctoral dissertation has been dissected by various academics who say he is not an expert in their field, has never lived in a Muslim-majority country, does not speak Arabic and has avoided publishing any serious, peer-reviewed academic research.

Gorka’s doctoral supervisor in Hungary, András Lánczi, is an expert on political philosophy and Hungarian politics, but has never worked on terrorism, counter-terror or Islam-related research.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl, a deputy assistant to former President Obama and national security adviser to his vice president, Joe Biden, noted that it appears Gorka does not currently possess Top Secret or a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance. Nevertheless, in his frequent appearances in the media Gorka presents himself as having insight into decision making and threat intelligence to which only someone with a clearance would legally have access.

Gorka, who worked in Hungary’s Ministry of Defense and served in the British military, became a U.S. citizen only five years ago.

Others before Gorka have become American naturalized citizens and have quickly taken on senior government roles. One example is Martin Indyk, who was born in London and raised in Australia but nevertheless became a special assistant to President Clinton and served on the National Security Council before becoming the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

But Gorka’s position is distinguished by his past work for foreign governments, involvement with nationalist and far-right groups and figures, and, perhaps most important, for security investigators, inconsistencies in how he portrays his own past.

(h/t Forward)

Sean Spicer Gets Confronted in Apple Store, Responds With Racism

White House spokesman Sean Spicer was accosted by an Indian-American woman — who peppered him with questions about committing “treason” and working for a “fascist” like President Trump — as he shopped in an Apple store over the weekend.

The encounter has since gone viral after the woman who filmed it, Shree Chauhan, 33, claimed online that Spicer had made a racist statement to her, saying: “It’s such a great country that allows you to be here.”

“Unlike this administration, I do not believe in ‘alternative facts.’ I believe in facts. I do not believe in accusing someone of this level of racism, when if in fact it was not,” Chauhan wrote Sunday in a lengthy post on Medium.

“So I watched the video over and over again,” she said. “And his words were clear…’Such a great country that allows you to be here.’ That is racism and it is an implied threat.”

Chauhan, who lives in Washington, D.C., filmed the interaction with Spicer on Periscope Saturday night after spotting the White House spokesman in the store. She had been there getting her iPhone fixed and said she ultimately felt the need to “speak truth to power.”

“It is customary to give public figures their space…However, given what Mr. Spicer and his boss are doing to this country, I do not believe they are entitled to these norms and customs,” Chauhan explained.

In the clip, the self-described “eternal optimist” can be heard asking Spicer a series of questions, including “How does it feel to work for a fascist” and “Have you helped with the Russia stuff?”

“We have a great country,” the press secretary replies, while appearing to try to ignore Chauhan.

“Have you committed treason too? Just like the president,” she asks. “What can you tell me about Russia?”

It is after this barrage that Spicer delivers his allegedly “racist” remark, saying: “It’s such a great country that allows you to be here.”

Chauhan wrote on Medium that the response left her disgusted.

“I am still stunned by the boldness of having my citizenship threatened on camera,” she said. “I was not polite. But when does being impolite mean that I should be thrown out of the United States of America? The country I was born in, the country I was raised in, the country I love despite its flaws.”

Speaking to the Daily Mail about the video on Sunday, Chauhan shot down claims that Spicer could have been referring to the First Amendment rights of all Americans to exercise free speech when he made the comment.

“He’s the press secretary for the president of the United States,” she said. “Don’t tell me what he probably meant because he also works for this administration that has done all of these things.”

Chauhan went on to note how Trump has signed executive orders temporarily banning refugees and asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.

“He could’ve said, ‘Such a great country that allows dissent,’” she told the Mail. “There’s a lot of way that could’ve been said. To have someone who speaks for the president of the United States tell me to my face that I shouldn’t be here and I was born here — that is a real thing.”

Chauhan added that she’s feared for her safety since the day Trump was elected.

“I woke up the day after the election in fear of what would happen to someone like me. And we’ve seen what happened,” she said. “We’ve seen what happened to Indians.”

Earlier this month, a 39-year-old Seattle resident of Sikh heritage was shot by a man who reportedly shouted “go back to your country” just before pulling the trigger.

Weeks before that incident, a pair of Indian engineers were targeted by a Navy veteran who told them the same thing before blasting away at them. One of the men ended up dying and the other was wounded.

“They’re gonna spin it however they want, but there is a palatable fear that people have in this country and it is warranted,” Chauhan said. “On a regular basis, Mr. Spicer consistently defends the actions — and I believe unconstitutional actions — and lies on behalf of this administration.

“Spicer has the protection of the podium when he’s in the press room,” she added. “I didn’t have time to sit there and ask questions I would ask if I was a reporter…Maybe having someone like a regular person ask those questions instead [of reporters] — that might work.”

(h/t New York Post)

Media

AG Sessions Says DOJ to ‘Pull Back’ on Police Department Civil Rights Suits

Donald Trump’s attorney general said Tuesday the Justice Department will limit its use of a tactic employed aggressively under President Obama — suing police departments for violating the civil rights of minorities.

“We need, so far as we can, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“So we’re going to try to pull back on this,” he told a meeting of the nation’s state attorneys general in Washington.

Sessions said such a move would not be “wrong or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.” Instead, he said people in poor and minority communities must feel free from the threat of violent crime, which will require more effective policing with help from the federal government.

While crime rates are half of what they were a few decades ago, recent increases in violent crimes do not appear to be “an aberration, a one-time blip. I’m afraid it represents the beginning of a trend.”

Sessions said he will encourage federal prosecutors to bring charges when crimes are committed using guns. Referring local drug violations that involve the use of a firearm, for example, to federal court can result is often a stiffer sentence than would be imposed by state courts.

“We need to return to the ideas that got us here, the ideas that reduce crime and stay on it. Maybe we got a bit overconfident when we’ve seen the crime rate decline so steadily for so long,” he said.

Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department opened 25 investigations into police departments and sheriff’s offices and was enforcing 19 agreements at the end of 2016, resolving civil rights lawsuits filed against police departments in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, New Orleans, Cleveland and 15 other cities.

On Monday, Sessions said he is reviewing the Justice Department’s current policy toward enforcing federal law that prohibits possession of marijuana, but has made no decision about whether to get tougher.

His opposition to legalization is well known, and he emphasized it during an informal gathering of reporters . “I don’t think America will be a better place when more people, especially young people, smoke pot.”

States, he said, can pass their own laws on possession as they choose, “but it remains a violation of federal law.”

The current policy, spelled out in a 2013 memo from former deputy attorney general James Cole, said federal prosecutions would focus on distribution to minors, involvement of gangs or organized crime, sales beyond a state border, and growing marijuana plants on federal land.

(h/t NBC News)

Kellyanne Conway Tweets Love to White Supremacist

Late Monday, coming off a long evening of responding to Gen. Mike Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway found solace in a tweet from a user named Lib Hypocrisy:

Conway not only retweeted the message but also wrote, “Love you back,” and wished her “Hapless Haters” a happy Valentine’s Day.

But there was just one problem: Lib Hypocrisy is an explicit promoter of white nationalism and other bigotry. This is evident from the account’s profile, which includes the hashtags “#WhiteIdentity” and “#Nationalist.” It features a cartoon image connoting Pepe the Frog, the adopted mascot of the racist “alt-right” movement, and a shout-out to Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician who wants to shut down mosques.

These are some of Lib Hypocrisy’s recent tweets and retweets:

Asked about her retweet of Lib Hypocisy by BuzzFeed on Tuesday, Conway implied that she hadn’t been in control of her account at the time. She said she “obviously” had no idea who Lib Hypocrisy was, adding, “I denounce whoever it is.” The tweets were soon deleted.

Conway’s move continues a long-standing pattern of Trump and his inner circle engaging with white nationalists and then claiming ignorance when confronted about it—as Mother Jones documented in multiple investigations since last summer. Other such “mistakes” include:

  • Trump failing to disavow support from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when asked about it repeatedly on CNN, and then blaming a “bad earpiece.”
  • Trump appointing a white nationalist leader as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and then blaming a “database error” for the move.
  • Trump tweeting an image of himself superimposed over a picture of WWII-era Waffen-SS soldiers, and then blaming a mistake by an intern.
  • Gen. Michael Flynn sharing a #NeverHillary tweet that said, “Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore,” and then claiming it was a mistake.

Those are just the cases in which Trump and his backers have backpedaled. There are many other similar instances in which they haven’t even bothered to explain or apologize:

The most charitable interpretation of this behavior is ineptitude. Regardless, the result is clear: According to one study of 10,000 Twitter accounts that followed Trump, more than a third also followed the account of at least one prominent booster of white nationalism—a movement now widely regarded as having a direct line into the Oval Office.

(h/t Mother Jones)

 

A Dangerous Troll Is Now Reporting From The White House

The internet’s most hapless political blogger now has his own White House correspondent — a regular contributor with little reporting experience but ample ties to “alt-right” harassment — sitting in the White House press briefing room.

At the January 19 “Deploraball” event before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Gateway Pundit founder and “dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft announced that his outlet would have a White House correspondent with the Trump administration, and that Lucian Wintrich would fill the position. On February 13, Hoft posted a “reader alert” that Hoft and Wintrich will be attending the day’s White House press briefing. Hoft confusingly wrote, “Please look for us and keep your fingers crossed that one of us is asked a question.”

Hours later, Hoft tweeted a photo of himself and Wintrich standing behind the lectern in the White House press briefing room, displaying a hand signal associated with the racist “Pepe” meme. The tweet itself also included the hashtag “Pepe” and a frog emoji, commonly understood to invoke the hate symbol.

Referencing this Pepe the Frog meme:

Hoft’s political blog has often served as the single source for completely unfounded reporting that nonetheless catches fire in the right-wing internet world, until it becomes what Kellyanne Conway might deem an “alternative fact.” The frequency with which he posts hoaxes and complete fabrications as fact suggests Hoft either has a reckless and total disregard for the truth or is so incompetent he cannot separate fact from fiction.

Most recently, Hoft’s total negligence for the truth led to an internet harassment campaign against Washington Post home-page editor Doris Truong, who he wrongly reported was captured taking secret photos of Rex Tillerson’s notes at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state on January 11. Truong was not at the hearing; she is, however, an Asian-American woman (like the person photographed at the hearing), and that was seemingly enough for Hoft to run with. Truong had already been subjected to extensive racist trolling by the time Hoft quietly corrected his post. This is Hoft’s pattern: decide what a random photo or document means without obtaining any supporting evidence, post it as factual news, watch the “alternative fact” spread, quietly change the post or claim yet another mistake, then repeat.

The Gateway Pundit’s new White House correspondent is now attending press briefings, and it’s unclear how “brand strategist and digital creative” Lucian Wintrich, who frequently refers to the new president endearingly as “daddy,” will approach this responsibility. If his past actions and social media persona are any indication, Wintrich will follow the Gateway Pundit formula for irresponsible and dangerous reporting, and perhaps even more explicitly incite harassment from his new White House platform.

Wintrich Is Not A Reporter

Wintrich is a “gay conservative mouthpiece” primarily known as the artist behind a “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit that debuted at the GOP convention last summer. He explained that he aims to be “the first rational voice that the American people have had in White House press in ages.” He recently wrote on social media, “I don’t consider myself a journalist, I consider myself the future of journalism.”

Indeed, Wintrich does not appear to have much experience as a political reporter prior to joining The Gateway Pundit; a Nexis search of his name for the last five years reveals only a handful of articles in which he is quoted, and no bylined pieces. He has authored one opinion piece, describing his pro-Trump art, posted on The Hill last fall. Wintrich has now written about a dozen posts for The Gateway Pundit in the past few weeks; he was previously the subject of several posts on the blog, as well as on Breitbart.com, before beginning this correspondent position.

Wintrich is also the founder and “creative director” of Rabble Media, which bills itself as “a new type of media brand providing its audience with original reporting, underserved stories, interesting perspectives, thought-provoking proposals and occasionally, breaking news.” Wintrich says he launched Rabble in late summer; the site appears to have stopped posting articles at the end of September.

Wintrich’s experience as a writer seems to have begun with his tongue-in-cheek approach to personal harassment in college. According to a VICE profile of Wintrich, “his writings were rejected by the student newspaper” at Bard College while he was a student there, so Wintrich subsequently started a rival blog, which posted an anonymously written column referring to a fellow student’s vagina as “cold and damp” and linking to her personal Facebook page. VICE noted that “Wintrich claims that a lawyer for the school told him that his blog was perceived as a sexual threat, though he doesn’t recall why. ‘I think there was a joke about a vagina or something. It was infantile. I totally forget it.’”

Wintrich Seems To Thrive At The Misogynist “Alt-Right” Harassment Nexus

Here’s what else we know about Wintrich: He is close with figures of the racist and misogynist so-called “alt-right” who are known for launching online harassment campaigns that frequently target women. Wintrich’s art exhibit featured “contributors” like Breitbart.com editor and transphobic serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos, “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, misogynist and racist conservative troll Gavin McInnes, and deluded “citizen journalist” vigilante James O’Keefe, among others, when he brought it to New York City in October. “We’re bringing back the Rat Pack,” Wintrich captioned a photo of Shkreli, himself, and Yiannopoulos. This group also regularly tweets about and directly at each other, praising and participating in one another’s misguided projects.

Wintrich himself has also encouraged harassment of individuals on Twitter, posting Gizmodo writer William Turton’s personal information after Turton wrote a post criticizing pro-Trump Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s business partner. Wintrich has since deleted his tweet about Turton, which listed Turton’s personal address, phone number, and email. It read, “I think that [Turton] would love a call about what you think of his villainization of Trump supporters and attacks against Thiel.” Wintrich has also repeatedly tweeted photos of Mic.com writer Jack Smith, attempting to connect Smith to the dangerous #Pizzagate conspiracy theory and tweeting, “Someone needs to investigate.” According to Wintrich, Smith’s reporting on Wintrich’s art show may have led an LGBT veterans group to reject a potential donation Wintrich planned to make from the show’s proceeds.

Wintrich’s Social Media Is Riddled With “Jokes” About Women’s Equality, The Transgender Community, And Sexual Assault

Wintrich’s Twitter account has included disparaging comments about women and hate rhetoric aimed at transgender individuals, as well as jokes about sexual assault:

 

(h/t Media Matters)

 

 

 

 

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