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UCF fraternity suspended a second time after 2 students arrested on suspicion of gang rape

VICE News - 4 hours 7 min ago

A fraternity at the University of Central Florida has been suspended for the second time in less than a year after two students were arrested and charged in connection with an alleged gang rape at an off-campus party.

The victim said she blacked out and awoke to the men, David Anthony Kirk, 20, and Jack Ryan Smith, 26, taking turns forcing her to have oral and penetrative sex on Friday night, according to the arrest report, which was reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel. One of them even said, “my turn, my turn,” according to the report.

Soon after, Kirk and Smith were arrested and have since been charged with sexual battery. The fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega, expelled Kirk in January, the frat’s national office said, although officials wouldn’t say why. Smith “is not now, nor has he ever been a pledge or a member ATO,” the national office added in a statement provided to VICE News.

Alpha Tau Omega’s second suspension smears the national organization’s reputation, which has a presence at around 150 campuses, at one of the largest universities in the country and the largest in the state of Florida.

The chapter at the University of Central Florida had been suspended another time last summer, when a woman said two men sexually assaulted her at a “New Year’s in July” party the frat hosted, according to the Sentinel. The next month, the University of Central Florida put the frat on “temporary suspension.” But its status went back to normal within a few months, and the two students accused of rape eventually had their charges dropped.

Now, the university has put the frat on “interim suspension” again. That means the brothers are “prohibited from participating in on- or off-campus fundraisers, socials, mixers, intramural competitions, recruitment, receptions, service projects, conferences, etc,” according to university documents. A hearing has been scheduled for May 7.

The national Alpha Tau Omega office said that although the five people who live at that house are members of the frat, the chapter didn’t officially sanction the party. “I also want to clarify that the incident that sparked the student conduct action took place off-campus,” Courtney Gilmartin, a communications officer with the university, told VICE News in an email.

“Alpha Tau Omega supports the woman alleging sexual assault at a UCF party, and the fraternity will work with university and local authorities in their investigation,” the national frat’s statement read.

Smith bonded out of jail, while Kirk remains behind bars, according to the Associated Press. Their attorneys aren't listed on jail records, and the two men couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Cover image: David Anthony Kirk (left), 20, and Jack Ryan Smith, 26 (Orange County Jail via Orlando Sun Sentinel)

Cambridge Analytica researcher says the Facebook data is still out there: “someone did not delete it”

VICE News - 4 hours 8 min ago

The Cambridge University researcher at the center of the Facebook data scandal says he deleted his version of the data, but cannot guarantee others did too.

Aleksandr Kogan was working for Cambridge University when he designed a personality testing app that gathered the data of tens of millions of Facebook users. That data was passed on to political consultancy Cambridge Analytica without user consent, and is alleged to have been used to influence voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Despite assurances from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook that they deleted the files, Kogan believes the data could still be out there.

"Someone did not delete it, which is alarming," he said. "Facebook talks about auditing folks, but the idea of an audit is mostly ridiculous because what you're going to catch are good actors trying to do the right thing. What you are not going to catch is bad actors who decided to put that data on a hard drive and stick it under their mattress."

Since being branded a liar by Facebook for his role in the affair, Kogan has been on a road to try and clear his name.

"I mean I lost my career for sure," Kogan told VICE News. "Like It’ll be very difficult for me to ever be an academic anywhere."

VICE News joined Kogan before — and after — his visit to Britain's parliament.

This segment originally aired April 24, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

The Taliban just rejected peace talks and partly blamed Trump

VICE News - 5 hours 16 min ago

The Taliban on Wednesday rejected an offer for peace talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as it announced the launch of its annual spring offensive, which it said would target U.S. forces in the conflict.

Ghani extended an olive branch to the Islamist group in February, offering to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political actor “without preconditions,” in a bid to end the 17-year war.

In a statement Wednesday, the Taliban rejected that offer as a “conspiracy” intended to divert public attention “from the illegitimate foreign occupation of the country.”

The group pledged that its 2018 campaign, named Al Khandaq after a battle waged by the Prophet Mohammed, would focus on the U.S. military.

“Its primary target will be the American invaders and their intelligence agents. Their internal supporters will be dealt with as a secondary target,” the statement said, adding, “The Americans have no serious or sincere intentions of bringing the war to an end.”

“Rather they want to intensify and prolong it by engulfing Afghanistan as well as the whole region in its flames, thus securing chances of their further influence and interference,” it said.

The United States has ramped up its military posture in Afghanistan under the Trump administration, reversing the previous policy of a phased withdrawal from the conflict. Thousands more troops have been deployed, and commanders have been given greater scope to order airstrikes.

But the strategy hasn’t worked to break a lengthy stalemate on the battlefield, with the government controlling only 56 percent of the country, according to Pentagon estimates, and the Taliban able to carry out attacks on urban centers seemingly at will.

The Taliban noted the more aggressive Trump strategy in its statement Wednesday.

“Besides sustaining the ongoing illegitimate occupation, the newly adopted war strategy of Trump has been ruthlessly implemented in the villages and rural areas against our oppressed Afghan people for the past nine months,” it said. “Thousands of additional foreign forces are being deployed inside Afghanistan and they are supplied with new devastating weapons and vast military authorities.”

The statement represents a hardening of the group’s public position toward U.S. forces. In February, it had published a 2,800-word open letter to America, calling on Washington to come to the negotiating table and end the war.

“Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue,” the letter read, warning that the alternative was a war that would grind on indefinitely. Publicly, the U.S. military was dismissive of the offering, with a spokesman for the NATO-led military mission saying the Taliban’s continued bomb attacks showed it wasn’t genuine about peace.

Although Wednesday’s announcement marked the symbolic launch of the fighting season, the wave of attacks had already increased in recent days. At least 11 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed Tuesday in separate Taliban attacks in Farah and Ghazni provinces; a day earlier, the group killed 18 members of security forces in the west of the country.

The country is also facing attacks by the rival Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed an estimated 60 people at a voter registration center in Kabul Sunday. On Monday, officials in the eastern province of Nangarhar said Islamic State fighters had beheaded three brothers, all of them medical professionals, accusing them of having links to the government.

Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on America?s military involvement in Afghanistan at the Fort Myer military base on August 21, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia. (Mark Wilson/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Trump has banned Muslim refugees. These numbers prove it.

VICE News - 5 hours 19 min ago

One of President Donald Trump’s most controversial campaign promises was to enact a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. Despite a slew of legal challenges, including a case that's being heard Wednesday by the Supreme Court, it’s clear that he’s delivering on his pledge, at least when it comes to keeping out Muslim refugees.

The latest data from the State Department, which oversees the U.S. refugee program, shows that 1,891 Muslim refugees have been allowed to enter the country so far in the 2018 fiscal year. That’s a 90 percent drop from the same period last year, when the U.S. admitted 18,342 Muslim refugees.

The numbers are especially dramatic when it comes to Syria, where more than 5 million people have fled horrific violence in a civil war that recently entered its eighth year. Just 44 Syrian refugees have been resettled in U.S. in the first six months of the fiscal year — compared to 5,839 over the same period last year. Of those 44 Syrians, only 27 identified themselves as Muslim.

The trend coincides with an overall gutting of the U.S. refugee resettlement program by the Trump administration, resettlement experts say. The White House has near-total authority to limit the flow of refugees into the country, and the administration has set a cap of 45,000 for the current fiscal year. That ceiling was already going to be the lowest in recent history, but so far the U.S. is only on pace to admit 23,000 refugees, which would be the lowest total since the modern U.S. refugee program was established in 1980.

Read: Trump is quietly winning his war against refugees

A State Department spokesperson said it’s “too early to determine” how many total refugees will be resettled in the U.S. in the 2018 fiscal year, and noted that the U.S. has provided “nearly $7.7 billion in humanitarian assistance” for displaced Syrians.

Refugee resettlement experts weren't nearly as generous in their appraisal of Trump’s refugee resettlement efforts, and say the data paints a remarkably clear picture.

“What we’re seeing from the administration is an effort to systematically dismantle the refugee program writ large, with a particular target and focus on an immediate and drastic reduction in resettlement from Muslim-majority countries,” said Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project. “That includes refugees from Syria where the U.S. is involved in military action, and it includes Iraq, where the refugee program is the primary path to safety for individuals who assisted the U.S. military.”

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Trump v. Hawaii, the legal challenge to the travel ban that dates back to Trump’s first week in office. The first iteration of the ban targeted six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen — and halted all refugee resettlement. Trump claimed it was not a "Muslim ban," but the state of Hawaii and others sued, claiming it was discriminatory. Trump twice fine-tuned and re-issued the ban after suffering losses in lower courts, and the justices allowed the latest version to stand while the court decides whether it’s constitutional.

Read: “Why haven't you come for me?” A family torn apart by Trump’s travel ban.

The International Refugee Assistance Project is among the groups that have sued Trump, but Fisher said even if the Supreme Court were to strike down the ban, it wouldn’t necessarily stop Trump from continuing to choke off the flow of refugees. Such a ruling could impact future litigation, she said, but current law gives the president such broad discretion over refugee resettlement that it would require an act of a Congress to change the rules.

“It’s massive bureaucratic strangulation.”

“A decision that strikes down the travel ban could strengthen the claim that refugee restrictions are also discriminatory and call into question efforts to limit immigration and Muslim immigration specifically,” Fisher said, noting that her organization has sought documents on the Trump’s “decision making process” on refugees through a separate lawsuit in California.

Trump's administration has introduced new vetting measures of foreigners entering the U.S., but they've been thin on specifics on what that actually looks like. Several people familiar with the refugee resettlement program told VICE News that the administration has required more stringent screening for refugees — who already faced up to three years of rigorous vetting — while simultaneously devoting fewer resources to performing the newly required checks.

“It’s massive bureaucratic strangulation,” said Nazanin Ash, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee. “These are countries where they have to undergo additional review, so you undergo the additional reviews, and then while you’re under the review your previous clearances expire so you’re at the back of the line.”

Ash and others specifically singled out a vetting procedure called the Security Advisory Opinion or SAO. Previously, SAOs were only required for certain nationalities and age groups, but it’s now mandatory for all refugees from 11 countries, mostly Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and Africa. Four sources in the refugee community said SAOs simply aren’t being conducted in a timely manner, which has caused clogged the system.

Read: Trump has already harmed refugees regardless of Supreme Court ruling

At the same time, the administration has also drastically cut back on the number of “circuit rides,” where immigration officials travel abroad to conduct in-person interviews to determine whether refugees are eligible for resettlement. That means fewer people are being allowed into the resettlement “pipeline,” which could reduce the number of refugees who are eligible to come to the U.S. for years to come.

“It’s ground to halt and people aren’t clearing,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. “It’s a cruel reality. This is how the administration appears to be strangling the program.”

“Extreme vetting really means no refugees.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not provide responses to questions from VICE News about the refugee vetting process. A State Department spokesperson acknowledged the slowdown. “Processing time may be slower as we implement additional security vetting procedures; each refugee's case is different,” the spokesperson said.

“The United States continues to resettle vulnerable people who are fleeing persecution and conflict while upholding the safety and security of the American people,” the spokesperson said.

Trump and officials in his administration have maintained that additional vetting procedures are necessary to prevent terror attacks and preserve national security, but that claim has been challenged as part of the Supreme Court case involving the travel ban. In an amicus brief to the court, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, noted that “no refugee admitted since 1980 has killed anyone in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.”

“If anything,” the brief stated, “available evidence indicates that refugees have historically been less likely than other foreign nationals—and even U.S. citizens—to kill in terrorist attacks in the United States.”

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

The administration has also axed or scaled back pathways to refugee status. In November, the White House canceled the Central American Minors program, which had allowed young people from violence-plagued countries such as El Salvador and Honduras to apply for protection without trekking to the U.S.-Mexico border and claiming asylum. The move closed the cases of 3,800 children.

Even Muslims who helped the U.S. military wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been spared from the Trump administration’s refugee crackdown. These Iraqis and Afghans helped U.S. forces with translation and reconnaissance, and as a result they are especially vulnerable to retaliation in their home countries.

Even though Iraqis are eligible for a special program, State Department data shows only 106 have been resettled so far this fiscal year. With a backlog of more than 58,000 cases, the International Refugee Assistance Project estimates that at the current rate it would take more than 200 years for an Iraqi applying today to be resettled.

“Refugees will ask, ‘What did we do?’ We have to explain, ‘You didn’t do anything. We’re the ones who have changed, our country has changed and we’re not offer protection the way we used to,’” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of public affairs at the refugee resettlement agency HIAS.

“Extreme vetting really means no refugees,” Nezer added. “It’s code for no refugees.”

Correction (April 25, 12:07 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated the total number of Muslim refugees allowed into the U.S. so far in the 2018 fiscal year. The total is 1,891, not 1,257.

Cover image: Ten-year-old Syrian Amjud Moustafa Rifat uses his shirt to wipe away tears on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio, as he and his 18-year-old sister, Fatima, listen to a song their brother, Hasib, wrote for the family. Hasib, 16, is still in the Middle East and has been separated from his family for more than 18 months as he awaits a U.S. visa. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

Iran's president slams Trump as a “tower constructor” who can’t grasp complex deals

VICE News - 5 hours 44 min ago

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at President Donald Trump on Wednesday as a “tradesman” who lacks the experience to grasp complex international agreements.

Rouhani was responding to Trump’s earlier remarks in Washington where he blasted the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran as “insane” and “ridiculous,” claiming it “should have never been made.”

Trump has spent two days in talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who traveled to Washington in a bid to stop Trump from pulling out of the deal.

Rouhani, however, dismissed Trump’s ability to alter the agreement.

“You don’t have any background in politics. You don’t have any background in law. You don’t have any background in international treaties,” Rouhani blustered in a speech on state TV. “How can a tradesman, a merchant, a building constructor, a tower constructor, make judgments about international affairs?”

The U.S. is one of seven signatories to the deal, with China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany all seeking to keep the agreement in place.

The accord saw Iran agree to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Despite Trump’s ranting, it appeared Tuesday he could be open to a “new deal” proposed by Macron.

“We could at least have an agreement among ourselves fairly quickly,” Trump said. “I think we are fairly close to understanding each other.”

Macron’s proposals include blocking Iranian nuclear activity until 2025, limiting its ballistic missile program and curbing Tehran’s role in neighboring countries such Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria.

“The discussions we have had together make it possible to pave the way for a new agreement,” Macron said. “I constantly said that we needed to find a framework so that together, with the powers of the region and the Iranian leaders, [we can] find a deal.”

Trump has warned the other signatories to “fix” the “terrible flaws” in the deal before May 12, or he will enforce new sanctions on Iran, a likely death knell for the agreement.

Cover image: President of Iran Hassan Rouhani during a joint news conference with President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan following the meeting in Ankara. (Michael Klimentyev / Sputnik via AP)

A Republican judge slapped down Trump’s bid to kill DACA because it doesn’t make sense

VICE News - 5 hours 50 min ago

A federal judge has rejected the White House decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Judge John Bates became the third judge to slap down Donald Trump’s move to kill the program — and more significantly the first to order officials to begin accepting new applications.

In a 60-page ruling issued Tuesday, the judge, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, called the decision to end the immigration program “arbitrary and capricious.”

He added that the legal arguments put forward by the Department of Homeland Security “failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful.”

Judges in San Francisco and Brooklyn had previously ruled the legal basis for the termination was invalid and ordered DHS to accept renewals of the two-year permits issued by the program.

However, Bates went a step further, ordering the administration to begin accepting new applications for the program giving protections to people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Read: Trump has already banned Muslim refugees. These numbers prove it.

Bates, who was appointed by George W. Bush, is the first Republican appointee to rule against the end of DACA.

However, his ruling will not take effect immediately, as the judge gave the DHS 90 days “to allow the agency an opportunity to better explain its rescission.”

The Justice Department responded to Bates’ ruling by saying nothing has changed. “DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend benefits to this same group of illegal aliens,” Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner.”

On Sept. 5, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DACA program would end in six months, and in the ensuing period Democrats and Republicans in Congress failed to reach an agreement on what to do next.

Cover image: Demonstrators protest President Trump's attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive action made by President Obama that protected minors known as Dreamers who entered the country illegally from deportation, outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA on March 5, 2018. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

"They are not alone”: Germans are wearing yarmulkes to protest rise in anti-Semitic attacks

VICE News - 6 hours 49 min ago

Germans are donning yarmulkes and rallying in the streets Wednesday in solidarity with the country’s Jewish community, after a recent attack in Berlin that reflects a trend of rising anti-Semitism.

At least 1,000 people, including senior political and religious figures, are expected to attend a “Berlin wears the kippah” rally Wednesday evening in front of the Jewish Community Center in the capital, with other demonstrations scheduled in Erfurt, Potsdam, Magdeburg and Cologne. German media outlets are supporting the initiative, with Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper printing a cut-out, make-your-own yarmulke for readers to wear in solidarity.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas hailed the initiative Wednesday. “Today a sign of solidarity is to be set. Good! If young men are threatened just because they wear a kippah, we must show them: They are not alone,” he tweeted. “Every attack on Jewish life is an attack on us all.”

The protests are follow a high-profile anti-Semitic attack on two men wearing yarmulkes in Berlin’s upmarket Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood last week. Mobile footage of the April 17 assault, in which the attacker whipped at his victims with a belt, yelling “Yahudi,” the Arabic word for Jew, went viral, sparking outrage at the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country responsible for the Holocaust.

In the wake of the attack, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said Tuesday that he advised people visiting large German cities against wearing yarmulkes, for their own safety.

The assault was condemned at the highest levels of the German government, with Chancellor Angela Merkel promising to respond "with full force" to what statistics show is a growing problem. According to data from Germany’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the German capital increased 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 947 cases recorded.

“This is the highest number since we began collecting data,” project director Benjamin Steinitz in a statement. “People in Berlin are confronted on a daily basis with anti-Semitism. On average we find out about two to three incidents a day.” Concerningly, the problem was especially noticeable in schools.

Police said Thursday they had arrested a suspect in the attack, a 19-year-old refugee from Syria. The far-right populist and anti-immigration party, the Alternative for Germany, has seized on the case as proof that the influx of mostly Muslim migrants and refugees since 2015 is bringing a new wave of anti-Semitism. “Germany is the world's leading importer – of Muslim anti-Semitism,” tweeted party co-chairman Jörg Meuthen.

But Merkel and anti-Semitism researchers have pushed back against this argument, with the German leader cautioning that anti-Semitism was found throughout society. “The problem didn't start in 2015,” Steinitz told German broadcaster DW.

It came to light that neither of the victims in the April 17 attack were Jewish, but had donned the yarmulke in a bid to prove a point to a friend that the city wasn’t as anti-Semitic as people said.

The military community is starting to admit it was wrong about sexual assault

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 8:27pm

When Steven Kiernan was a young Marine in the mid-2000s, neither he nor any of his friends believed a female Marine when she said she had been raped by a commander. They ignored her, Kiernan said, and sat around and did nothing while other Marines shared vulgar stories and fantasies about her. They said she only said she been raped because she had been fooling around with the commander and got caught.

“I don't remember any of us taking her claims seriously at the time,” Kiernan said.

Years later, a Marine who had been on duty that night disclosed to Kiernan that he had seen her looking disheveled and frightened, and that there was no doubt in his mind that she had been assaulted.

Today, Kiernan’s willing to say "#IWasWrong," joining in on a new movement that's bubbling up in the military community.

“Some people have told me that I was just some 18-year-old private first class, I couldn't have made any difference,” Kiernan said. “But truth is, that's no excuse. I was taking part in that toxic culture and no matter where I was on the ladder, I bear that responsibility and helped in her silencing.”

A growing chorus of veterans are speaking out on Twitter, using the hashtag to add to what’s becoming a chilling log of the many ways people have been complicit in the culture of misogyny plaguing the U.S. Armed Forces.

The confessions span rank, service, and gender.

“I would pride myself as better than some women because I told myself I could handle the degrading jokes, sexism, & misogyny. And it worked to be trusted as 'one of the guys.'” Jennifer Dolsen, an Army veteran, tweeted. “I regret not being a more supportive ally & friend to women.”

“As a leader in the Marine Corps I helped perpetuate a culture of sexual violence and victim-blaming. I wanted to protect my Marines, and so I echoed sentiments and beliefs to them that I now know to be wrong,” a Marine Corps veteran tweeting under the handle "TheWarax" wrote. “It's my greatest failing as a leader and I want to talk about it.”

“As I look back on my career in the Army and now my career working with the Army as a civilian I know #iWasWrong far too many times as I listened silently to conversations among peers that have no place in the military or any workplace. #NeverAgain,” Gabrielle Morris, an Army veteran tweeted.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are pervasive issues in the military, and no branch of service is immune. In 2016, one in four women, and one in 15 men faced “severe and persistent sexual harassment or gender discrimination,” according Protect Our Defenders, an organization dedicated to ended sexual assault and harassment in the military.

READ MORE: #MeToo is coming for the U.S. military

Kiernan said he came to terms with his actions after so many years because of the #MeToo movement, which forced him to reconsider the way people are treated in the military and its systemic culture.

“The MeToo movement has brought a lot of attention to the issue and got me thinking a lot more on my own role in the problem,” Kiernan said. “What I did or didn't do to help spread it or keep it hidden. There's a lot I'm ashamed of.

But Andrea Goldstein, a Navy veteran who has been outspoken on gender bias in the military, says there’s another element why veterans are coming out with their stories now.

“The era of Trump has done two things,” Goldstein said. “It has made a lot of people feel a lot safer to make these jokes, but it has made people a lot safer to raise opposition to it.”

“That’s kind of the irony,” she added.

Still Goldstein points to yet another side to the story — one that many, women in particular, have been voicing in the comments on Twitter. “The part of it [the #IWasWrong movement] that can be very emotional, that can very difficult to witness is that it can be like, where the hell were you when I needed you?” she said.

Cover image: U.S. Military competitors prepare for their 12mile foot march during an Best Competition at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, South Korea, on 12 April 2018. (Photo by Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

All the allegations threatening to derail Ronny Jackson's Senate confirmation

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 7:39pm

Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s pick for Veterans Affairs secretary, saw his confirmation hearing postponed Tuesday after a slew of allegations of misconduct unwound in the press. The White House has so far stood by Jackson, but as reports continue to roll in and information is turned over to lawmakers, will the support last?

The top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana told NPR on Tuesday that more than 20 military employees have made allegations of misconduct, including that Jackson drank on the job, created a hostile work environment, and routinely handed out prescription drugs to staff.

The news of the last-minute and as-of-yet unsubstantiated allegations reached President Trump's press briefing with French President Emmanuel Macron, where he seemed to suggest he'd advised to Jackson to withdraw.

“I told Admiral Jackson a little while ago, ‘What do you need this for?'” Trump said. “This is a vicious group of people that malign you.”

“It’s totally his decision,” Trump added.

Just a day before Jackson’s confirmation hearing scheduled for Wednesday, lawmakers on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee sent a letter to the president asking the White House to turn over 12 years worth of documents about the nominee, including any communication between the White House and the Pentagon about “allegations or incidents” involving Jackson.

"We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation," the chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Tester, said in a statement. "We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review."

Tester told NPR his committee heard from individuals who alleged Jackson had been drinking on the job as far back as during his time working for the Obama administration.

"We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk on while duty where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world," Tester said. "That's not acceptable."

Jackson also allegedly handed out sleeping pills on overseas trips.

"Most of them are the ones that make you want to sleep and then make you wake up," Tester said. "These are basically doled out, and by the way, we had 20 military folks and retired military folks tell us these stories, these were doled out on overseas trips where there are a lot of time zone changes.”

The Associated Press also reported Tuesday that a 2012 watchdog report found Jackson and another physician had engaged in “unprofessional behaviors” while working for the White House’s medical division.

“There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells,’” the report found, according to the AP.

But the White House, at least so far, is standing by Jackson, and several lawmakers have said they need more proof before making a judgement call. “I don’t know if the allegations are credible. If they are it’s a serious matter,” said Senate majority whip John Cornyn of Texas, according to Politico

Prominent national veterans organizations came out against Jackson when his nomination was first announced, fearing he would bow to conservative pressure to privatize the VA and displeased that he lacked managerial experience.

Police recreated the Parkland shooting with this simple but horrifying animation

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 4:29pm

Within 17 seconds of walking into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15, the gunman shot and killed his first victim, a new animation of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, shows.

In the next six minutes, he’d kill 16 more people.

The video, created by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, gave the first meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission a chilling glimpse of the tragedy that struck on Feb. 14. During the meeting on Tuesday, a Broward Sheriff’s Office detective used the animation to lay out where and when the gunman, shown by a black dot, shot each of his victims.

The victims, also depicted as dots, change color when they’re injured or killed. Students, in green, and teachers, in blue, turn yellow if they’re hit with a bullet, according to the sheriff’s office. When someone is fatally shot, their dot turns people.

“I knew which dot was my daughter, so it was pretty brutal for me to watch,” said Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was murdered in the shooting, according to the Sun Sentinel, which first reported the animation. The Broward Sheriff's Office provided the video to VICE News.

Pollack is one of the members appointed to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was formed to analyze information from the Parkland school shooting and other mass shootings in Florida to make recommendations about how the system could be improved.

One of the main questions raised at the first meeting on Tuesday was about the design of the classrooms, according to the Sentinel. When the gunman attacked the high school, teachers had to lock classrooms doors from the outside. Windows in the rooms also allowed the shooter to look inside and aim without entering them.

“I want everyone in Broward to know what happened,” Pollack said.

Cover image: Screenshot of the video, provided by the Broward Sheriff's Office.

A judge ordered "Smallville" actress Allison Mack not to talk to her sex cult friends

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 4:29pm

"Smallville" actress and alleged sex trafficker Allison Mack can’t talk to any of the people in the alleged sex cult she reportedly helped build, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The judge also set her bail at $5 million during the hearing for Mack, who was arrested on Friday on sex trafficking charges. She was placed under house arrest at her parents’ home in California, pending her trial in New York, after her mother put up her house as collateral for the bail.

Prosecutors say Mack played a central role in recruiting members for Nxivm (pronounced “nexium”), a “professional development” organization that is also, according to prosecutors, a notorious sex cult centered around its leader, Keith Raniere. He was arrested in March after being apprehended in Mexico.

Prosecutors say Raniere kept women as sex slaves and branded them with his own initials, a practice that was reported by the New York Times in October.

Both Mack and Raniere have pleaded not guilty to the sex trafficking and forced labor charges.

It’s looking increasingly likely that Mack will cut a deal and flip on Raniere. Since her arrest, the defense and prosecution have been “engaged in plea negotiations, which they believe are likely to result in a disposition of this case without trial,” according to a court filing submitted Friday.

In the wake of Mack's arrest, Clare Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor empire, is rumored to be running the Nxivm operation. The cult is apparently jam-packed with famous and semi-famous members, including “Battlestar Galactica” actresses Nicki Clyne and Grace Park, and India Oxenberg, the daughter of “Dynasty” star Catherine Oxenberg.

Before her arrest, Mack made no secret of her recruiting efforts, repeatedly tweeting propaganda at social media influencers like Emma Watson and Teen Vogue editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay.

Meek Mill is about to be a free man

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 3:32pm

Meek Mill is almost finally free.

The 30-year-old Philadelphia rapper, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, was expected to leave prison Tuesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted his release on bail.

“I’d like to thank God, my family, and all my public advocates for their love, support and encouragement during this difficult time,” Williams said in a tweet.

He had been sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation on an almost decade-old gun and drug case in November.

Read more: Meek Mills might be getting a new trial

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, headed by Larry Krasner, said last week that they wanted to give Williams a new trial because of questions related to the arresting officer’s credibility, including allegations that he provided false testimony during the trial.

The officer later appeared on a District Attorney’s list of two dozen officers suspected of lying under oath, racial bias, and brutality.

Read more: The Philly cop who jailed Meek Mill was on a secret watch list kept by the DA

Last week, Judge Genece Brinkley refused to hear arguments about releasing Williams on bail, opting instead to schedule another hearing for June.

“I gave you break after break, and you basically just thumbed your nose at this court,” Judge Brinkley told Williams during his sentencing. Neither city prosecutors nor Williams’ probation officer had recommended sending him back to prison.

Looks like Meek Mill will get out in time to celebrate at tonight’s Sixers-Heat NBA game.

Cover image: WASHINGTON, DC - May 25th, 2012 - Meek Mill performs on the Club Paradise Tour at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

"He is perfect": A history of the Trump-Macron bromance

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 2:47pm

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump put their famous friendship to the test this week when Macron came to the White House for the first official state visit of Trump's administration.

Trump and Macron have grown increasingly close over the last year. Following Trump’s July visit to France, the U.S. president said of his French counterpart: “I like him. He’s a friend of mine. Emmanuel! He’s a great guy, his wife is fantastic. I like him a lot.”

Still, the two leaders disagree on major issues, like climate and foreign policy. Macron, who's criticized Trump’s stance on the Paris Climate Accord in the past, brought a young European sessile oak as a gift during his state visit. The two presidents posed for a photo op as they planted the tree in the White House lawn with their wives.

Despite the tensions, Trump and Macron continued their bromance — or at least the appearance of one. The two greeted each other with a European-style kiss, and at one point Trump brushed some dandruff off Macron's lapel. "We have to make him perfect," Trump said. "He is perfect."

“We're fed up”: Meet the protesters dying for change on the streets of Nicaragua

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 2:22pm

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans flooded the streets of Managua on Monday, as demonstrations against pension reforms escalated into mass calls for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega.

Protesters carried flags and photos of those killed by security forces in recent days, chanting “President out!” as they moved through the city.

“We want Ortega out of the country and a return to a democratic system with a free media and the right to protest,” said Leina Garcia, a journalist with El Nuevo Diario.

Demonstrations began peacefully last Wednesday in opposition to Ortega's proposed reforms to Nicaragua’s crisis-hit National Social Security Institute (INSS). The president sought a 5 percent tax to pensions and disability living allowances, and an increase to contributions paid by employees and employers.

For many Nicaraguans, Ortega's latest demand was yet another example of government overstep, though not entirely surprising. But the level of violence exhibited in the government’s response jolted many who hadn’t joined the original protests out onto the streets, generating a nationwide movement against Ortega’s 12-year corrupt and authoritarian rule. Students played a lead role, occupying university buildings and resisting eviction by building barricades and defending them with homemade weapons.

At Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI) still protestors occupy campus buildings even after a series of clashes with the police over the weekend left several students dead. The violence there has made UPOLI a symbol of resistance to government repression.

Reynaldo, an 18-year-old engineering student, was on the front line as police advanced on Sunday night.

“We set up barriers and confront them with stones, Molotovs, and homemade firearms,” he said. “They throw teargas and shoot at us, sometimes with rubber bullets, sometimes live ammunition.”

Cases of molotov cocktails prepared by protestors. Protests turned violent over the weekend after government forces shot and killed demonstrators on the streets of Managua.

Doctors volunteering inside the Polytechnic University told VICE News that 30 students had died in clashes with security forces since the occupation began Thursday, although this could not be independently confirmed. The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) has identified 26 deaths across the country since violence broke out, mostly the result of government security forces firing on demonstrators.

“We can say 26 with certainty, but there are undoubtedly more,” said Vilma Nunez, founder and president of CENIDH. “This is an atypical situation because it’s not just police repression; the government also deploys gangs of young men, usually armed with clubs or bats. We have evidence that these gangs have been ordered to loot shops and justify the government’s repression of legitimate protesters.” Footage shows members of one such group, the Sandinista Youth, assaulting protesters while police look on.

The true death toll from the weekend of violence remains unknown, but accounts across the country tell a vivid story of shocking state violence. With the government cracking down on media coverage of the protests, Nicaraguans are sharing evidence of abuses on social media using the #sosnicaragua hashtag.

On Thursday, a 15-year-old was shot in the throat at a demonstration near a shopping mall in Managua. In the city of Bluefields, on the country’s Caribbean coast, a journalist was shot dead while live-streaming protests. A father of two children was shot while protesting by members of the Sandinista Youth. Two UPOLI students were killed as they fought alongside Reynaldo on Sunday night.

In addition to deaths, human rights groups have documented 428 injuries and more than 100 arrests or disappearances since the protests began. Shops have been looted and public buildings burned to the ground, including part of the National University in Leon and the city hall in Granada. The government has also cut the signal on critical media channels and intensified censorship elsewhere, leading to the resignation of six journalists.

Student protesters in Managua hold photos of young people killed by security forces during demonstrations against government repression. Toby Hill for VICE News

Yet Ortega’s forceful attempts to contain the spread of anti-government protests is only fueling greater opposition. As key allies lined up against his pension reforms, including the private-sector body COSEP, Ortega withdrew them on Sunday.

His attempts at reconciliation proved too little too late.

“People began by protesting corruption and wasted resources in the INSS,” said Nunez. “But now the movement has picked up the force of all the rage accumulated by people who for years have been repressed, who haven’t been able to protest or speak out against the government.”

Ortega, a commander during the Sandinista Revolution, has been in power since 2006. In that time, he’s centralized power over key institutions and made his wife vice president.

“There’s no independent judicial power. The supreme electoral council doesn’t function,” said Nunez. “Combined with control over the police and the army, this leaves people with no access to justice. There’s huge impunity. This creates the conditions for systematic human rights violations, for the repression and deaths we’re seeing right now.”

In 2009, the Supreme Court, controlled by Ortega’s party, overturned a constitutional ban on the president serving two consecutive terms. Since then, Ortega has gutted opposition parties and hounded prominent critics, including several former Sandinista leaders. A 2014 reform put him in direct control of the police and neutralized a second constitutional safeguard preventing the president from using the army for domestic security.

On Monday, ex–Sandinista Chief of Staff Joaquin Cuadra Lacayo used a newspaper interview to warn Ortega that having the army repress protesters “would be a historic error."

Protesters voiced mixed views on what will happen next, some insisting they’ll stay on the streets until Ortega resigns, others demanding action on transparency and accountability to ensure free elections in two years’ time. But it’s clear that years of simmering anger are not going to be easily suppressed.

“We need elections to choose a new leader and overhaul our congress, which hasn’t even opened its mouth during this crisis,” said bank cashier Ronnie Obando.

“We’re fed up with phantom elections, phantom salaries, phantom consultants, the fact you can’t get good work unless you have connections with the right people,” said Belem, a doctor volunteering on the UPOLI campus who withheld her last name for security purposes. “Everyone knows this, but no one’s been able to say it, because we’d lost the right to have an opinion. Until now.”

—————

Cover image: A demonstrator takes part in a protest as Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega cancelled a planned overhaul of the welfare system in a bid to end protests in Managua, Nicaragua, April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

Toby Hill is a freelance journalist reporting on social and environmental issues in Latin America and the UK.

There's no clear end in sight in the increasingly bitter Florida-Georgia water war

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 1:50pm

For decades, the states of Florida and Georgia have been fighting over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, a shared source to which both sides have asserted claim. But now the end of their water war may be in sight.

The long-simmering argument over who can take from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, and how much, begins in northern Georgia, where water is predominantly used for public and industrial use in metro Atlanta. As the river flows south, water is used to irrigate crops like cotton and peanuts in the state’s large agriculture industry.

Finally, the basin lets out in Apalachicola, a small fishing town in Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But the catch in Apalachicola, once known as America’s oyster capital, is dwindling as less freshwater makes its way to the bay and sea life like oysters, crabs, fish, and shrimp struggle to populate in its high-salinity waters. Things finally came to a head when Florida governor Rick Scott sued Georgia directly in the Supreme Court. This summer, the court may once and for all decide on the fair way to divvy up the river.

But that's just a solution on paper. It’s still not exactly clear how a verdict will change the way water is distributed between the two states.

To understand the future of the waters, VICE News traveled up the basin, meeting with all of the stakeholders.

This segment originally aired April 17, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Cover image: Carissa Henderson

German neo-Nazis are trying to go mainstream with MMA and music festivals

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 1:01pm

OSTRITZ, Germany — Their chants could be heard even before they came into view: 40 or so white men, most of them sporting shaved heads, and pumped up on beer, fascism, and a pack mentality. They wore T-shirts that barely coded their radical politics: “Brown, even without the sun,” read one slogan. One man was even more blunt: He had the German word for “racist” tattooed across his cheek.

“If you don’t love Germany, you should leave Germany,” the neo-Nazis chanted as they advanced on the police force that was brought into the town to maintain the peace.

The troublemakers were among the 1,000 neo-Nazis from across Europe who descended on the German town of Ostritz over the weekend for a far-right festival held to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The two-day event turned this picturesque village of some 2,400 people into a tense battlefield, and revealed new strategies used by Europe’s most militant right in their quest for relevance.

Organized by a fringe ultra-nationalist political group, the National Democratic Party (NPD), the “Shield and Sword” festival promised attendees a broad lineup of far-right attractions, including political speeches, a rock concert by extremist bands, an MMA tournament from a far-right promoter, and stalls for popular far-right streetwear brands. Organizers said the event had drawn people from 15 countries, including the U.S., Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary.

The festival highlighted two major strategies being pursued by Europe’s violent far-right as it attempts to broaden its appeal beyond the margins: The movement's concerted efforts to coordinate across international borders and capitalize on the rapidly growing sporting juggernaut of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to broaden its appeal to young people.

Both far-right experts and festivalgoers say the strategy is bearing fruit, injecting fresh blood into extremist networks; there was an alarming number of young faces at the festival, many wearing the T-shirts of a far-right German MMA promotion, prompting grumbles from some of the grizzled scene veterans about the straight-edge values of their new comrades.

Neo-Nazis and NPD members surged toward police barricades in the town of Ostritz, Germany over the weekend. Tim Hume for VICE News.

“Our goal has been to create an event that unites everything: politics, art, music, and sports,” said festival organizer Thorsten Heise, the NPD’s chair in the neighboring state of Thuringia. While organizers were careful to make no mention of Hitler or Nazi politics — to do so would have been against German law — attendees who spoke to VICE News openly identified as such, and acknowledged that the event was a celebration of Hitler’s birthday.

“We’re not saying it officially, but of course it is,” said Uwe Meener, a 53-year-old Berlin resident and veteran of Germany’s far-right scene.

Asked if he identified as a Nazi, he said it was a fair label. “If you want to call me that, that’s OK,” he said. “I am for an authoritarian state, with a social basis. I’m an enemy of democracy.”

Competing for relevance

The NPD, an extremist political organization typically described as a neo-Nazi group, is hardly a party on the up. Its membership has nearly halved to about 4,000 in the past decade, with its support eaten away by the stunning rise of the more populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which won 12.6 percent of the vote in last year’s federal elections. Last year, Germany’s Supreme Court rejected a bid to outlaw the NPD, finding that, while it sought to undermine democracy and bring about an authoritarian German ethno-state, it lacked the ability to pose any real threat.

“The younger people, they’re attracted to the fighting and the music.”

But the party has deep roots in a far-right extremist scene that is only rising, and it hopes to tap into these networks to spur a political renaissance, spreading its ideology through the right-wing rock and MMA scenes in a bid to draw new recruits.

“The different wings of the movement, the different streams, are all coming together here,” said Meener, adding that he considered the festival a success.

In particular, he was buoyed by what he saw as the pendulum swinging in his political direction, in the same global lurch to the right that brought the world President Trump and Brexit — even if his party’s far-right rivals, the AfD, are the prime beneficiaries for now.

“Look at the AfD… they completely paralyzed the system out of nowhere,” he said admiringly. “Or you look at Trump or Brexit… It’s because of migration – that’s what connects us all.”

Modernizing with MMA

Neo-Nazis at the festival, held under the motto “Reconquista Europe,” told VICE News that the new faces were being drawn to far-right politics by two major factors: anxieties over Muslim immigration into Europe, and the scene’s efforts to modernize and broaden its subcultural appeal beyond the skinhead rock scene that defined the far-right in previous decades.

Organizers of “Shield and Sword” Festival sought to fuse extreme right-wing politics with the MMA subculture. Roman Kutzowitz for VICE News.

“We’re trying to connect the cultural and the political worlds,” said Meener. “The younger people, they’re attracted to the fighting and the music.”

Specifically, the concerted push by far-right networks into the sport of MMA — co-opting straight-edge values, a body-conscious outlook, and a “warrior” mentality — was helping to draw more young men into fascism, both the far-right and its opponents say. The Shield and Sword festival featured an MMA tournament by Kampf der Nibelungen, a German MMA promotion affiliated with a network of other explicitly far-right MMA tournaments across Europe, in France, Greece, Italy, and Russia.

“It’s a question of fashion,” festival chair Heise told VICE News. “We’re seeing lots of young people in Europe not interested in drugs, they’re interested in fighting — in the ring, with rules. Especially in the nationalist scene, it’s the style — to be fit, to have a nice body. We love that, and the MMA fighters all love this also.”

But not all within the far-right scene are comfortable with the new dynamics in the movement. Drinking beer with his friends on a footpath outside the festival, Martin, a 31-year-old self-employed painter from near Saxony’s state capital, Dresden, told VICE News he was not a big fan of the influx of foreign extremists at the event, or the young MMA fanatics who were entering the scene.

“They come here even though they are seen as a joke by the other Nazis.”

Martin — who wouldn’t give his last name, citing fear of blowback on his business — is a skinhead who is an 18-year veteran of Saxony’s active far-right scene. He was dismissive of the straight edge lifestyle many of the younger MMA fighters advocated, and said he found their obsession with their physiques narcissistic. “They’re all me, me, me,” he said, complaining that the mentality conflicted with the scene’s value of brotherhood above all.

He was also wary of the festival becoming too cosmopolitan, with the presence of so many foreign neo-Nazis. “I think they come because they envy the strength of what we have in Germany,” he said.

At a counter-demonstration a short distance away, Mateusz Piątkowski, a left-wing activist from Gdansk, Poland, said he found the involvement of Polish and other foreign skinheads in the event baffling, given the obvious xenophobia of the German neo-Nazis. Polish neo-Nazis had cancelled their own planned celebration of Hitler’s birthday to attend the festival, despite the fact one of the performers on the bill having lyrics in his back catalogue that read: “Since when do Polacks belong to the Aryan race?”

“They come here even though they are seen as a joke by the other Nazis, and some of the bands that are playing claim that Poles are a lower race. It’s absurd for me,” said Piątkowski.

But it seemed these national differences were largely overridden by the shared animosity towards a group seen as an external enemy, he said. “They’re driven by hate, towards Muslims — they see them as the primary enemy and they don’t see anything outside that,” he said. “This is what fuels them.”

New styles, old ways

Saxony’s police responded to the presence of 1,000 neo-Nazis in Ostritz with their largest operation in the state in a decade, effectively locking down the sleepy border village in an attempt to prevent skinheads from attacking locals, antifa or members of the press.

Organizers had registered it as a political event, meaning that journalists legally had the right to enter; earlier in the week, Heise had pledged that journalists would be allowed in, accompanied by police and security, for an hour-long window on Saturday. But, after a German journalist was assaulted entering the venue Friday night, the offer was withdrawn Saturday. Police said that due to their intelligence about the individuals inside, and the heightened threat level they posed, they advised journalists not to try to enter, and would not provide a security escort.

According to far-right monitoring groups at the event, members of Germany’s most dangerous skinhead networks, including those who provided logistical support to the National Socialist Underground, the country’s most notorious far-right terrorist group — were present. Police would not comment on the claims or provide further details on who was inside.

Organizers of the “Shield and Sword” Festival designed an event fusing far-right politics with performance by extremist rock bands and an MMA tournament. The event resembled a traditional music festival, with attendees camping in tents on the festival grounds. Roman Kutzowitz for VICE News

Outside a few isolated skirmishes, more widespread violence never materialized, but the extremists cast a menacing presence over the town, with neo-Nazis stalking the streets in packs. At one point, a skinhead lunged across a barrier and slapped my phone out of my hands as I photographed him. “We’ll see each other later,” he threatened as he was led away by police.

“When they leave the festival, they feel stronger. When they go to their cars and start to make their way home, that’s the most dangerous time.”

As the beer took hold, the neo-Nazis also became more brazen about flirting with, sometimes steamrolling over, the various red lines created by Germany’s strict hate speech laws. The display of symbols like the swastika or the SS insignia is illegal in Germany and many attendees had sections of their tattoos wrapped in tape to cover such images.

But the laws still leave a lot of wiggle room, and the extremists openly skirted the boundaries. While displaying the swastika is illegal, attendees wore T-shirts with the logo “HKNKRZ” (“hakenkreuz” is German for swastika) with no issues. Others were spotted flirting with the illegal Roman salute, flashing it briefly before repeatedly opening and closing their hand quickly as if they were waving to a child, to stay on the right side of the law.

Other times they couldn’t resist crossing the line. Police in Saxony said they registered about 70 criminal charges over the weekend, the majority of them for displaying “anti-constitutional symbols.” VICE News saw one skinhead detained by the police after giving the Roman salute; on another occasion, a group taunted journalists by pointing their loudspeakers in our direction and blaring a recording of a Hitler speech.

Such shows of menacing bravado are typical for far-right events, which play an important role in boosting scene morale, experts say. “It raises their morale when they get together and have a lot of people saying ‘Sieg Heil’,” said Michael Nattke, a former neo-Nazi who is now a researcher for Kulturbüro Sachsen, an extremist monitoring group in Saxony.

“When they leave the festival, they feel stronger. When they go to their cars and start to make their way home, that’s the most dangerous time.”

Cover image: Neo-nazis took over the small town of Ostritz, Germany last weekend to celebrate Hitler's birthday and recruit new members. Roman Kutzowitz for VICE News.

Exclusive: Toronto van driver Alek Minassian was a member of the Canadian Army

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 1:00pm

The accused Toronto van attacker, Alek Minassian, was a recruit who served for two months in the Canadian Armed Forces, VICE News has learned.

“Alek Minassian, the accused in the recent incident in Toronto, was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for 2 months in late 2017 – from 23 August until 25 October,” National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande told VICE News in an email on Tuesday.

“He did not complete his recruit training and requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF after 16 days of recruit training. For privacy reasons, we will not comment further on Alek Minassian’s service in the CAF.”

In a statement on Facebook by Minassian’s made before the attacks, he says he is “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161.”

VICE News learned that “00010” is the actual trade number for the Canadian infantry, and "C23249161" seemed like a legitimate service number.

This article originally appeared on VICE News CA.

6 things Facebook's community guidelines just revealed you can’t do

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 10:41am

You can’t compare someone to a “disease” on Facebook, according to the network’s newly released content guidelines. Don’t use words like “retarded” or “slutty” either, and definitely don’t call anyone “cheap,” or “stupid,” or an “idiot.”

Facebook has long evaded questions about when and why its moderators remove content from pages or groups, but the social media network just released 27 pages of its content moderation guidelines, a document used by its army of contracted moderators. The extremely detailed list touches on almost everything forbidden on Facebook, from instances of racism to references of sexual acts.

Another big update revealed in the newly released guidelines is that users who feel their posts were wrongfully removed can request an appeal. Before Tuesday, there was only an appeal process for removed pages or profiles.

Facebook has always toed the line between serving as an open forum and keeping its users safe and free from hatred. But in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where 87 million users’ data was harvested to target them with political ads, Facebook has become a little more open. CEO Mark Zuckerberg even recently testified before Congress for the first time ever.

Here’s what’s not allowed on Facebook, according to the guidelines:

No cannibalism, in any context

Users aren’t allowed to post photos of victims of cannibalism or discuss eating people, at all. But there’s one exception: if they’re being treated in a medical setting. Even if you have a fetish that involves any sort of cannibalistic activity, fantastical or not, don’t post about it. That’s expressly forbidden.

No nudity — minus a weird exception for public figures

Do not post nudes — unless you’re photoshopping a “visible anus and/or fully nude close-ups of buttocks” onto a public figure. That’s apparently allowed.

The rest of the bullying policies don’t apply to public figures, either. Unless posts include a credible threat against a public figure, they’re allowed.

Female nipples are only allowed in certain cases

Photos of women’s uncovered nipples are banned on Facebook — “except in the context of breastfeeding, birth-giving and after-birth moments, health (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness, or gender confirmation surgery), or an act of protest.”

Posting about “crisis actors” is definitely not allowed

The “fake news” section of Facebook’s content guidelines seems deliberately vague. The network says it's working with academics to fix the problem but wants to continue to allow free and open discourse about all issues on its platform.

But there’s an exception, listed under the harassment section of the report: Contacting people or claiming that they’re “lying about being a victim of an event” is expressly forbidden.

After several mass shootings in the last several years — most recently the Parkland school shooting — claims have circulated on Facebook and elsewhere that the victims weren’t actually victims but planted actors pretending to be suffering through the tragedy of a mass shooting.

“Hate groups” aren’t welcome

After VICE News questioned Facebook about the presence of hate groups on its platform last week, the network subsequently kicked the so-called “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer off. Facebook had previously refused to define what “hate group” meant.

But now that definition is public:

“A hate organization is defined as: Any association of three or more people that is organized under a name, sign, or symbol and that has an ideology, statements, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, serious disease or disability.”

Based on that definition, Facebook has a lot of hate groups.

There’s a difference “serial murderer” and “mass murderer”

Facebook’s guidelines suggest that moderators appraise content about different types of murderers differently, although it’s not entirely clear what these distinctions mean.

For example, the guidelines distinguish between a “serial murderer,” someone who has committed “two or more murders over multiple incidents or locations,” and a “mass murderer,” who’s responsible for “four or more deaths in one incident.”

Cover image: Life-sized cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wearing 'Fix Fakebook' t-shirts are displayed by advocacy group, Avaaz, on the South East Lawn of the Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, ahead of Zuckerberg's appearance before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Toronto van driver charged with 10 counts of murder for “deliberate” attack

VICE News - April 24, 2018 - 10:19am

TORONTO — The man who allegedly drove a van through a crowded Toronto street on Monday afternoon has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Alek Minassian, 25, appeared briefly in a packed Toronto courtroom on Tuesday morning. He spoke loudly, with confidence and clarity as he provided his name to the court.

Given the nature of the charges, Minassian will continue to be detained. His next court date is scheduled for May 10.

No information has been released on Minassian’s motive behind the attack, but Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters yesterday there was no doubt the actions were “deliberate.” Saunders said that Minassian was not known to police.

At least 10 people have died and 15 others were injured as a result of the incident at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue. A woman named Anne Marie D’Amico is the first victim to be identified. According to CBC News, she was an employee at Invesco, U.S. based investment management firm, who worked at the company’s Canadian headquarters on Yonge Street.

Reporters swarmed an elderly man believes to be Minassian’s father after the court had adjourned, following him to his car. He appeared to be distraught and overwhelmed. At one point, he said he was “very sorry,” before getting into his car and driving away.

Details about Minassian’s personal life are beginning to emerge through news reports.

He reportedly resides in Richmond Hill, Ontario, a suburb north of Toronto, and attended Seneca College.

The Globe and Mail spoke to those who knew Minassian who described him as a socially awkward computer nerd with no known political or religious ties.

Those who knew him from Seneca College described him as someone who appeared to suffer from a social or mental disability who could never learn to drive.

A man named Ari Bluff told CBC News that he and Minassian attended Grade 10 computer science class together at Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill.

“It would not be, I don’t think, a misstatement to say that he wasn’t overly social,” Bluff said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday morning to express his condolences for the victims and their families.

“All Canadians continue...to have questions about why this happened,” Trudeau said. “All Canadians stand with Toronto today.”

This article originally appeared on VICE News CA.

‘I didn’t always know he was innocent’: The reporting that helped exonerate a prisoner of 22 years

Columbia Journalism Review - April 24, 2018 - 10:00am
Plenty of journalists can tell you about a story that seemed to take over their lives. But for that story to last seven years, with little promise of an easy resolution? That’s crazy talk. Meet Steve Fishman. In his new podcast Empire on Blood, the former contributing editor at New York magazine teamed up with […]

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