Another day, another right-wing conspiracy theory about guns. This time it's that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not running for President because she must be nefariously involved in the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Fast and Furious program. Of course, Clinton has consistently said she will not seek the presidency in 2012 since long before Fast and Furious became public.
The details of the ATF's operation Fast and Furious are certainly worthy of the investigations being undertaken in both Congress and Department of Justice's office of the Inspector General. But since Fast and Furious became public, right-wing blogs, Fox News reporters and gun lobbyists have all pushed a variety of baseless conspiracies related to Fast and Furious.
Right-wing media has previously claimed that Fast and Furious was funded by the stimulus bill; not true. They also thought Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned Fast and Furious in a speech; again not true. They've long asserted Holder and the White House must have known/approved of the program early on despite a lack of evidence; Bush-appointed former ATF acting director Michael Sullivan said that wasn't necessarily the case. They've gone as far as to suggest, again without evidence, that Fast and Furious has deliberately set up with the intention of arming the cartels to justify increased gun control.
So no surprise that today gun blogger Mike Vanderboegh asserts that Hillary Clinton's recent statement that she is not running for president against President Obama must be caused by her being somehow implicated in the Fast and Furious program.
Does anybody seriously believe that Hillary has lost her appetite for power? If this "reluctance" is so, it is because she's got some dirty Gunwalker underwear she doesn't want outed in public.
Of course, Clinton's comments are not new.
It's a strange quirk of politics that, with the death penalty coming to the fore as an issue in the 2012 presidential race, the incumbent president is from Illinois while the frontrunner for the Republican nomination is a Texan.
Texas, as we've all come to know of late, is America's capital punishment capital, with a record 234 inmates executed during the Rick Perry administration. Illinois, on the other hand, just recently abolished the death penalty. A spate of 13 overturned death sentences at the beginning of last decade succeeded in bending the conscience of then-governor George Ryan, also a Republican, who suspended all executions and commuted the sentences of the remaining 167 death row prisoners to life. The state passed a series of reforms, and Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the ban into law in March.
For the media reporting on last night's U.S. Supreme Court-mandated stay of execution for Texas inmate Duane Buck, Illinois' struggles with capital punishment should be instructive.
The court is reviewing Buck's original sentencing hearing, during which an expert witness for the state, Walter Quijano, testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. Texas has already retried six other death penalty cases in which Quijano testified. Despite a growing chorus of calls to reconsider Buck's case (including a plea from one of the prosecutors) the state of Texas repeatedly rejected Buck's attorneys' requests for a new sentencing hearing.
If Buck's death sentence is overturned, his case will be just the latest indication that the Texas system for doling out death is plagued by prejudice and ineptitude. The Perry administration has already seen the exoneration of at least five death row inmates. The 13 overturned death sentences in Illinois sparked sweeping reforms to the state's death penalty system that led, ultimately, to its abolition. In Texas, how many more will it take?
The prisoners freed from death row in these states had allies and advocates working doggedly on their behalf -- and they also had remarkable good fortune. It's inconceivable, with so many exonerations over the past decade, that there aren't more wrongly condemned prisoners whom the system has failed awaiting executions they don't deserve because they lack representation.
Duane Buck's ultimate fate is still up in the air, but last night's Supreme Court action, the example of Illinois, and the slow stream of innocent men walking out of death row make clear that the system of capital punishment in Texas is a tragically corrupted enterprise in desperate need of reform. And it's time the media start taking note of that.
Federal prosecutors in the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia case filed new court documents last week shedding light on the origins of the far-reaching investigation of Fairbanks, Alaska militia leader Schaeffer Cox, who allegedly masterminded a plot to murder Alaska State Troopers and a Fairbanks judge.
According to the new documents, FBI agents began investigating Cox following a series of speeches he gave in Montana in 2009 and 2010. During that period, Cox regularly spoke at Tea Party and militia gatherings in the western states.
Cox and several of his followers were arrested in March of this year. They're charged with federal weapons violations and state charges of conspiracy to commit murder, among other serious felonies.
During one speech in Montana on March 24, 2009, Cox informed the audience that his militia and others in Alaska had established their own court system, a "common law court," whose authority superseded that of the official Alaska Court System.
(Common law courts are a hallmark of the violent, anti-government Sovereign Citizen movement; its adherents believe they are quite literally above the law.)
Cox told the Montana gathering that his group's common-law court was designed to supplant the Alaska and federal court systems, according to the court filing. It contains a partial transcript of Cox's speech, including his candid response when asked what sentence his court would hand down in the case of a convicted murderer.
... common law jurisprudence says that in the case of murder that person has forfeited their right, and at that point the victim can choose. If the pain they went through is so horrible if they want to spare other people the pain by deterring others, by putting that person to death, that's up to the victim or the victim's family. They can do that, and that person can be hung; or they can sell that person into slavery for the rest of their life. That person is owned by the person they violated, and they can sell him or they can kill him. And these concepts are right out of the Old Testament. That's where it comes from. Now, maybe people don't believe in the Bible, but you know what, that's all right, it's still plenty good for that. So we can at least agree on that. So that's where we're at. We haven't ventured into that; we're just still building, still building, you know. And I hope those don't come too quick but they might show up sooner than we like.
From the September 14 edition of Fox Business' Freedom Watch:
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It seems that no law is safe from Fox's efforts to help the Republicans' anti-regulatory agenda - not even landmark civil rights legislation.
This week Fox News is helping the Republicans' push for deregulation by running a series of reports the network is branding "Regulation Nation." On Tuesday, Fox host David Asman issued a call for "substantive deregulation before the next election." Fox News then scrolled through a list of laws under the heading "Regulation Nation" - a list that included Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act:
|Robert K. Brown at the NRA's |
2011 annual meeting.
When I was in sixth grade my parents took away my collection of Soldier of Fortune magazines. This was in the mid-1980s, the Rambo-era heyday of the "journal of the professional adventurer." The seizure was preceded by a parent-teacher conference at which exhibit A was a recent two-page essay I'd written about wanting to be a mercenary when I grew up. Or a ninja.
I remember Soldier of Fortune articles in those days being a macho-to-the-max amalgam of firearms reviews, anti-gun control rants, Vietnam POW conspiracy theories and gory first-hand reporting on Cold War proxy wars, military coups and revolutions in Second and Third World nations. But what made Soldier of Fortune so enticing in my 11-year-old mind was less its editorial content than its infamous advertising.
Along with ads for mail-order brides, bounty hunter training manuals, surveillance electronics, Secrets of the Ninja lessons (including "mind clouding" and "sentry removal"), Nazi memorabilia, machine guns, silencers, and sniper rifles, Soldier of Fortune advertised the services of guns for hire.
"It's directed at professional mercenaries -- men who will fight for pay and those who want to hire them," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko in March 1984. "But since mercenaries represent only a tiny portion of the reading population, the magazine tries to broaden its appeal to include those who might be called war fans, weapon-lovers, fanatic anti-commies and Walter Mitty types who enjoy the vicarious thrill of reading about blood and guts."
Royko left out elementary school D&D geeks. For my Dungeons & Dragons buddies and I, reading Soldier of Fortune was like perusing a Dungeon Master's Guide or Monster Manual. It was a portal to a fantasy world. We talked about killing commies the same way we talked about slaying orcs. Then we grew out of it.
Robert K. Brown never did. Brown, the founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, has long rocked "Kill a Commie for Mommie" t-shirts with no sense of irony. But unlike a dungeon master, Brown invited his readers to live out their armchair warrior daydreams in places where people died for real.
For several years after Brown founded Soldier of Fortune in 1975, the magazine ran full-page recruiting ads for the Rhodesian Army, which employed foreign mercenaries to defend the apartheid-style regime of prime minister Ian Smith.
|This recruiting poster for the |
Rhodesian Army often appeared in
Soldier of Fortune in the 1970s.
The January 1976 issue of Soldier of Fortune included a classified ad placed by Daniel Gearhart, a 34-year-old Vietnam veteran with money trouble. It read, "Wanted: Employment as mercenary on full-time or job contract basis. Preferably in South or Central America, but anywhere in the world if you pay transportation."
Seven months later, Gearhart was executed by firing squad in Angola. Advertising his services in Soldier of Fortunehad led to his being hired by the losing faction in a civil war. The People's Revolutionary Tribunal judge who sentenced Gearhart and three other foreign mercenaries to death (nine others received long prison terms) called them "dogs of war with bloodstained muzzles who left a trail of rape, murder and pillage across the face of our nation." (Gearhart was arrested less than a week after setting foot in Angola. He denied ever firing a shot there, let alone raping and pillaging.)
Since the mid-to-late 1970s era of promoting mercenary work in African bush wars, Soldier of Fortune has distributed what CBS' 60 Minutes called a "political warfare journal," published classified ads that resulted in no fewer than five murders-for-hire on American soil, and helped to equip paramilitary border vigilantes who terrorized Latino immigrants.
Yesterday, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, the National Rifle Association (NRA) sent out an e-mail titled "Remember September 11." The e-mail sent from NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre began by recounting the bravery of fireman on 9-11 and American troops in Afghanistan, some of whom "share their memories" in the next issue of one of the NRA's many magazines. Then it asked people to text donations to the NRA Foundation to "help us tell more stories like theirs."
I guess we all remember 9-11 in different ways.
(Section highlighted. Full e-mail below)
"Freedom itself was attacked" read another NRA e-mail sent to members on September 10. The appropriate response according to the NRA: buy a some stuff from the NRA store to help fund the gun lobby.
The e-mail read:
American freedom remains under attack. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, preserve your right to self defense and promote our national defense by continuing your commitment to America's foremost defender of liberty - The National Rifle Association of America.
Then they tried to unload some "Don't Tread On Me" mugs. According to the email, "100%" of profits from sales "go directly to support vital NRA programs."
From the September 9 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the September 8 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Last night's Republican presidential debate generated no shortage of headlines and much coverage of the record number of prisoner executions during the administration of Texas governor Rick Perry.
Asked by NBC's Brian Williams if he struggles with the idea that any one of those executed prisoners might have been innocent, Perry answered: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. ... In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."
Much of the coverage thus far has focused on the theatrics of Perry's staunch defense of Texas' system for capital punishment, rather than the substance. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote this morning that Perry was one of the "losers" last night, but "salvaged the second half of the debate with a very strong answer on the death penalty." For those wondering what was so "strong" about it, tough luck: Cillizza didn't explain. In today's Politico "Playbook," Mike Allen counseled Perry to "give the same answer on executions in every debate."
A few media outlets have noted Texas' controversial record on capital punishment, and some even spotlighted the case of Cameron Todd Willingham as a counterpoint to Perry's faith in the Texas criminal justice system. Willingham, convicted of murdering his three daughters by arson, was put to death in Texas in 2004. Perry denied a stay of execution to allow the state to review evidence that the fire science used to convict Willingham was spurious. In 2009 he abruptly replaced several members the state forensic science commission just before it was scheduled to hold hearings on the matter.
Willingham's case is an important one, but we should also be talking about the many wrongly convicted prisoners freed from death row in Texas in the last ten years. They, more than the unresolved Willingham case, demonstrate conclusively not just that the Texas criminal justice system is capable of making catastrophic errors when meting out capital punishment, but also that such errors happen with appalling frequency.
Yesterday's mass shooting at an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada was the latest in the long line of attacks involving the use of high-capacity magazines. In addition to the multiple 30-round magazines, the shooter reportedly employed an AK-47 assault weapon.
The presence of high-capacity magazines was ignored by several media outlets, some not even mentioning the high number of bullets fired. But one witness' account that was widely covered provided insight about how assault weapons can make defensive intervention, armed or unarmed, impossible.
Gun advocates are always quick to take to the airwaves blaming gun free zones and suggest more guns could have prevented virtually any shooting. But like the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) this mass shooting wasn't in a gun free zone and an armed civilian was present but unable to prevent the shooting.
Local store owner Ralph Swagler considered intervening, but was deterred by the assault weapon wielded by the shooter. As reported by The Associated Press:
Ralph Swagler said he grabbed his own weapon, but said it was too late to stop the shooter, who charged into the IHOP through the front doors."
I wish I had shot at him when he was going in the IHOP," said Swagler, who owns Locals BBQ & Grill.
"But when he came at me, when somebody is pointing an automatic weapon at you -- you can't believe the firepower, the kind of rounds coming out of that weapon."
Promoting concealed carry of guns generally and particularly in places such as bars is a primary goal of the gun lobby. Their justification is that more guns would deter or enable intervention against criminals. But they also lobby strongly against prohibitions on assault weapons, such as AK-47s and their variants.
One can clearly see the NRA's goal of promoting easy access to assault weapons and concealed carry come into conflict as a legal assault weapon deterred civilian intervention.
Law enforcement is currently examining if the gun in question was fully automatic or semiautomatic. If Swagler was mistaken it was an understandable mistake.
Popular and low cost AK variant GP WASR-10
Norway mass murder Anders Behring Breivik obtained 10 high-capacity magazines from the United States. In America, high capacity magazines were used in the mass shooting at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson and many others.
From the September 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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National Review Online blogger Ed Whelan attacked the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division for assigning two gay attorneys to the team of attorneys working on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, a case in which the Supreme Court will address the extent to which religious organizations can engage in discrimination without running afoul of sex discrimination law.
In a blog post, Whelan quoted discredited research from Pajamas Media to attack one of the attorneys, Aaron Schuham, for his previous position with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization dedicated to preserving the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
But Whelan then went a step further, stating that Schuham has a "same-sex partner [who] is ... Chris Anders, federal policy director for the ACLU's LGBT Rights project." Whelan further reported that another Justice Department attorney working on the case, Sharon McGowan, "was also a staffer on the ACLU's LGBT Rights project" and that she is married to a woman who is "the Family Equality Council's 'federal lobbyist on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender family issues.' "
Whelan then used this information to spin a conspiracy theory about the Justice Department possibly using the discrimination case as a step in their agenda to "have gay causes trump religious liberty":
Thus, insofar as personnel is policy,* it may well be that the Obama DOJ's hostility to the ministerial exemption in the Hosanna-Tabor case is part and parcel of a broader ideological agenda that would have gay causes trump religious liberty.
So, in Whelan's opinion, should all gay lawyers have been barred from working on a case that deals with the application of anti-discrimination laws to religious freedom, or just the ones who were previously gay-rights activists or have same-sex partners who are gay-rights activists? Or is it OK to assign gay lawyers to the case, but only if the Justice Department takes a position more to Whelan's liking? Whatever Whelan meant, it's a ridiculous argument.
Kevin William Harpham, a Washington State resident with long-standing ties to the white supremacist movement, pled guilty today in connection with the attempted Martin Luther King Day parade bombing in Spokane last January.
According to the Justice Department press release announcing the plea:
On March 9, 2011, Harpham was arrested and charged by complaint with the crimes of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device. Today, Harpham pleaded guilty to two counts of a superseding indictment, charging Harpham with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempt to commit a federal hate crime. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March was attended by hundreds of individuals, including racial minorities. The explosive device placed by Harpham was capable of inflicting serious injury or death, according to laboratory analysis conducted by the FBI.
The backpack bomb planted by Harpham along the parade route contained shrapnel dipped in rat poison, and was discovered minutes before parade marchers arrived.
Harpham's plea agreement calls for a sentence of 27 to 32 years in prison and for lifetime court supervision following his release.
In March, we reported on Harpham's white supremacist ties:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Harpham was a member of the National Alliance, an infamous neo-Nazi organization, in late 2004. It's not clear when he joined the National Alliance or whether he's still a card-carrying member.
But an individual identifying himself as Kevin Harpham, who says he's a neo-Nazi who lives near Spokane, has been active on the crudely racist, anti-Semitic website Vanguard News Network since joining the online forum in November 2004.
Since then, Harpham has posted 1,069 comments to VNN using the moniker Joe Snuffy, slang for a low-ranking U.S. soldier. (Kevin William Harpham was apparently in the army in 1996-1997 and was based at Fort Lewis, Wash., the Southern Poverty Law Center reported earlier today.)
Harpham last posted to VNN on January 16, the day before the attempted MLK Day parade bombing.
Harpham is part of a wave of right-wing domestic terrorist plots in recent years, many conducted by similar "lone wolves."
Earlier this morning, a lone gunman, identified by law enforcement as Eduardo Sencion, opened fire at and around an IHOP in Carson City, NV, killing three people and injuring eight more before turning the weapon on himself.
According to law enforcement, he was using an AK-47, which is currently being examined to determine if it is semiautomatic or automatic.
From the Reno Gazette-Journal:
Authorities say gunman Eduardo Sencion used an AK-47 assault rifle in an IHOP attack that killed three people, including two members of the National Guard.
Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong says they're analyzing the weapon to determine whether it is automatic or semi-automatic.
Authorities at the scene reportedly "found one empty 30-round magazine and two more still containing rounds on the ground."
The gunman's motives are currently unclear, but law enforcement officers are reportedly attempting to determine whether he was targeting five uniformed National Guard members who were shot in the attack, with two fatalities.
As the Violence Policy Center has noted, while the 1994 federal assault weapons ban attempted to ban the AK-47, gun manufacturers quickly evaded the restriction "by making slight, cosmetic design changes to banned weapons." The ban subsequently expired in 2004. A 2003 VPC study found that one in five law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty from 1998 to 2001 were killed with an assault weapon.