BRONYGATE: The World of the Stupid in the USA ...
This ‘Conservative News Site’ Trended on Facebook, Showed Up on Fox News—and Duped the World
How do Marco Chacon’s fake articles and ‘leaked memos’—which parody the craziest alt-right conspiracies—keep fooling the conservative press and Trump’s followers?
10.28.16 5:15 AM ET
Marco Chacon had only spent about $20 on his conservative news website, RealTrueNews, when he heard his words in prime time on Fox News’ The Kelly File.
“Yeah,” Chacon said. “That was an accident.”
Just as he’d done for the last few months, Chacon had read the latest explosive conservative news—this time it was Hillary Clinton’s leaked speeches to Wall Street banks—and typed up an imagined transcript of his own.
“So in the transcript, she’s explaining Bronies to the Goldman Sachs board of directors,” said Chacon. “Do you know what Bronies are?”
Bronies are hard-core, usually adult fans of the cartoon My Little Pony.
“In this one, Bronies are part of a threat of subalterns who are going to take over the election. And people believe all this,” he said. “And I’m just… I’m telling people, ‘How can you believe this!?’”
Somewhere in the middle of that block of text about My Little Pony, Chacon’s transcript contained the phrase “bucket of losers,” attributed, falsely of course, to Clinton, which legitimate conservative news websites picked up as real.
Sure enough, by 9 p.m. that day, Trace Gallagher was on Fox News telling viewers that Clinton had “apparently called Bernie Sanders supporters a ‘bucket of losers.’” (Megyn Kelly later apologized after the Clinton campaign vehemently denied Clinton said it.)
Taking official-looking documents at face value isn’t just burgeoning among alt-right media. It’s a tactic now endorsed by the Republican candidate for president.
Two weeks ago, GOP nominee Donald Trump implored supporters in a speech in Colorado Springs to “forget the press. Read the internet.”
The internet is filled with verifiable information from journalists at places like The New York Times and The Washington Post, who face real consequences if a story turns out wrong. But, especially this election cycle, the web is equally saturated with factually inaccurate disinformation, verified by no one, turning up on Facebook and Twitter feeds across all demographics and party lines with no way to stop it.
An analysis conducted by BuzzFeed last week found that Facebook posts from 38 percent of right-wing and 20 percent of left-wing news sites “published false or misleading information.”
Chacon, a 47-year-old veteran infantryman, father, bank executive, and moderate Republican, saw it all over his Facebook feed, and he was sick of it.
“I saw something posted sincerely with a headline like, ‘Obama Issues Executive Order to Take Over U.S.,’” he said. “How do you counter that? You can try to debunk it, but nobody cares about that. They just say it’s liberal media bias.”
So, three months ago, after a conversation with a childhood friend, he bought a domain name, RealTrueNews.org. He was going to come up with the most ludicrous right-wing conspiracy theories he could think of, give them a narrative and timeline, and put them into quasi-official looking documents.
Then he and that childhood friend, Mike, would post the website on his alt-right friends’ Facebook walls to prove how ridiculous they looked.
That was it. That was the whole plan.
It’s two weeks before the election now and those documents have accrued millions of views across his website, the document drop site Scribd, and various social media accounts. They’ve appeared on cable news. They’ve trended on Facebook and Twitter. Two polling companies, barraged with hatemail from Trump supporters about “leaked” memos created for RealTrueNews articles, have had to put out official statements denying the existence of such memos. Chacon’s stories are regularly accepted as fact in the pro-Trump message board canon. YouTube videos with tens of thousands of views exist solely to reinforce sentences and ideas Chacon dreamed up on his laptop in the middle of the night.
How did this happen?
“I don’t know. I’m stunned,” said Chacon. “If you can, maybe call Monmouth (University polling) and see if they’d accept an apology.”
Mike Klasfeld has known Marco Chacon for 30-plus years. They went to middle school together and never really lost touch, especially on Facebook, where they have a “couple of mutual friends who are very right-wing.”
“Every time I opened up my Facebook page there would be 20 new, complete bullshit right-wing articles,” said Klasfeld. “Either the title would be an outright lie, or the article would have nothing do with the title.”
Most of them, Klasfeld said, came from a website called TruthFeed. “Nothing in TruthFeed had any truth in it,” he said. So he thought it’d be funny if he and Chacon had a right-wing blog of their own, called “Truthinessfeed,” like the Stephen Colbert-coined term about how feelings are the new facts. Klasfeld even bought the domain name.
But by the next day, Chacon had already cooked something up. “What do you think of this?” he asked. It was a fake right-wing news article, replete with forged documents to back it up.
“I said, ‘Holy shit, this is good!’” Klasfeld said.
RealTrueNews was born. And right away, the stories were obviously too good to be true.
“I am absolutely not trying to fool people the way some of these conservative sites are. Everything on there is satirical. It’s all funny,” said Chacon. “Well, it’s supposed to be.”
Chacon is right: Most of it is a pretty obvious gag, filled with traditional, bang-you-over-the-head obvious references to the occult. One of his documents is filled out on Illuminati letterhead.
“I know conspiracy stuff cold. But this is all 30 years of Dungeons & Dragons,” he said. “There’s stuff in there that’s just obviously fiction. I don’t mean absurd potential news. I mean, there’s no shred of believability. One of the nations that’s ‘paying for Hillary’s hitmen’ is the one Doctor Doom runs.”
But here’s where it gets messy. After years in IT and white collar jobs, it turns out Chacon is very, very good at the Microsoft Office Suite. Nothing fancy—PowerPoint, Excel, that kind of thing. But when he would upload those documents to RealTrueNews’ Scribd page—a sort of document-dumping cloud service that makes PDFs and PowerPoint presentations visible in your browser—that’s where those good-looking documents lost all satirical context.
From RealTrueNews’ Scribd page, anybody can screenshot a somewhat believable portion of the document and post it on Twitter, then link to the full document, which nobody takes the time to read.
Then all hell breaks loose.
The first time it happened was in August, when Chacon created a fake Public Policy Polling “internal memo” that talks about “purchasing Republican Disapproval from policymakers” and shows that Donald Trump has a secret 74 percent lead in Florida.
Notably missing from these screenshots? The conclusion section, which includes these sentences.
“The question is going to be how far we can maintain this charade. It might be time to find other jobs. I bet those fuckers at Monmouth are living it up with their interns,” it reads. “I also have some contacts at Quinnipiac. I hear they’re all smoking up Bernie-grade weed. Fucking College polls.”
Still, many Trump-backed message boards and Twitter supporters believed the “memo,” and began bombarding PPP’s Twitter account, demanding answers.
“Hey @ppppolls saw a post that had this on Scribd…any comment?” wrote one user.
“Yes,” PPP’s Twitter account replied. “It’s really a commentary on the credulity of Trump supporters that so many think this memo could be real.”
Monmouth Polling, when faced with a RealTrueNews “leak” of its own, took it a lot more seriously. Chacon’s fake Monmouth memo had Hillary Clinton losing in the polls to “a potato.”
One alumnus, an assistant campaign manager for the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, demanded answers from the university for a memo it didn’t create.
“If it’s true then it’s a disgrace and there needs to be action,” said Tyler Vandegrift. “He is potentially sacrificing the academic reputation of my Alma Mater in favor of partisan politics. People need to have faith in polls.”
“For the record, the purported Monmouth University poll memo being circulated is a photoshopped fake—and not a very good one at that,” the Monmouth poll’s Twitter account wrote. The Washington Post even wrote the whole thing up, calling RealTrueNews a pro-Trump site. Scribd forced Chacon to pull the memo down.
He felt bad about that one. And the Megyn Kelly story, which happened a month later.
After all, Chacon is a guy with young kids writing truly ludicrous fanfiction on the internet. It’s only being construed as fact by people who really, desperately want to believe the world is run by a shady, nefarious cabal.
There’s no better proof than the source material for one of his latest “leaks,” focused on a failed “coup” attempt by Mike Pence and Paul Ryan to take over the Republican ticket. One pro-Trump message board posted about 100 messages about the “leak” until an anonymous user noticed something fishy.
“He signed one email ‘-Chase, No Job Is To [sic] Big,’” wrote the user. “Chase is a character from a popular kids show called Paw Patrol, their motto is ‘no job’s too big, no pup’s too small.’”
Chacon’s kids watch Paw Patrol, which is on Nickelodeon.
The countless pages of commenters agonizing over his leaks on websites like 4chan and Reddit have started to make more sense to Chacon over the course of the last few weeks.
“I’m sympathetic. I have family that are Trump supporters. This makes people’s lives more exciting. From reading these posts, it seems like people get energized and kind of excited,” said Chacon, who said he was a lifelong Republican until the party “lost him at Sarah Palin.”
“They’re researching them all as sort of an augmented reality game, and the goal is to catch the bad guys. Like Hillary Clinton and the Illuminati.”
But Chacon’s goal isn’t just to get the people who fall for it on Facebook to be discerning, although he admits that would be nice. He’s trying to catch websites who play to their userbases’ wildest fears on Facebook and Twitter—and do it for profit.
Chacon has only twice ever seeded his documents to websites like 4chan, an anonymous white supremacist message board where Trump is referred to as “God Emperor.” But screenshots of his documents frequently wind up there and on Reddit’s /r/The_Donald anyway, where they’re met with reverence and not much skepticism.
A screenshot of Chacon’s latest “leak” appeared on those sites before landing on conservative news sites and prominent alt-right Twitter feeds earlier this week. The document appears to show a “confidential memo” from pro-Clinton super PAC Correct the Record imploring staff to flood Reddit and Twitter with “high-frequency recent polls.”
In the memo, he calls the practice “poll-flogging.”
“I thought ‘poll-flogging’ would be a pretty obvious joke, but I guess it wasn’t,” said Chacon.
Duped by this, again, was Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at the alt-right conspiracy website Infowars. His tweet of the screenshot received thousands of retweets and, hours later, that same screenshot appeared on conservative blogs like YoungConservatives and Gateway Pundit, who later corrected their stories. Watson pulled the tweet about a day later.
Eleven months ago, Trump himself appeared on Infowars’ daily online video show to give the website a half-hour interview and sing its praises.
“I just wanted to finish by saying that your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down,” said Trump. “You’ll be very, very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”
But this wasn’t the first time Infowars fell for Chacon’s intentionally fake news. The website also fell for “Bucket of Losers” before wiping the story off its website without a correction. (The story still appears on Watson’s Infowars sister site, PrisonPlanet.)
The Daily Beast repeatedly asked Watson if he had time to be interviewed on the phone.
“No, I don’t. I’d rather boil my own nuts in a pan of steaming hot water,” Watson responded via email. “If you’d have been honest in the first email and admitted it was a hit piece, I would have done it. This is why no one trusts the media. You suck, you lie and you mislead people. You’re dishonest, smarmy and two faced.”
The Daily Beast then asked if he didn’t “want [his] readers to know information that you can prove was incorrect.”
“I’ll correct it when your publication corrects itself and admits that Clinton is a warmongering, continent destroying, ISIS-arming, migrant crisis starting, Saudi Arabia money taking, fake feminist, child molester defending, corrupt as fuck, Wall Street owned, career politician cunt,” said Watson.
“Compared to that, a mistaken tweet about a hoax story pales.”
He then screenshotted the exchange, and posted it on his Twitter account.
Chacon had always been into elaborate pranks, Klasfeld remembers. When Chacon and his identical twin brother, Eric, used to work at the same white-collar job in their 20s, Klasfeld said, there was one guy who acted like he was better than the place and didn’t much like either of them.
So they decided to drive him insane.
Chacon confirmed this account. “He was a slightly arrogant guy who went to MIT,” he said. “We made it look like there was some mysterious force sending messages from inside the network directly to him.”
“It kept escalating and escalating, but this guy didn’t have a clue,” said Klasfeld. “At one point in time, he actually thought it was them, but he said something like, ‘This is beyond your abilities.’ And that just coaxed them into making it all the worse.”
That’s basically how it went, Chacon remembers.
“He did say, ‘I suspect you guys are doing this, but you’re not smart enough,’” he said. “When it was all over, he was kind of pissed for a couple of days. Then he was like, ‘Damn, that was kind of cool.’”
And RealTrueNews, Chacon said, isn’t much different from that prank. It was a gag with a mission of dragging people away from their own extreme self-importance by deploying brilliant stupidity. Chacon called it art.
The website, Chacon said, will end after the election, but he has one more big story in him. If Clinton wins, he says, this will be the headline:
On Wednesday, 13 days before the election, Infowars already beat him to it.
Its headline? “DONALD TRUMP HAS WON THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
on: Today at 10:32 AM
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on: Today at 08:36 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to contribute in the way you have. All that you have said is right on.
God Bless, Rad
on: Today at 08:30 AM
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Kristin is away right now so I thought I would answer what you have asked about.
1. Does Ganika remember anything of her past lives or are you seeing all this in her natal chart? There is so much past life information here it's amazing. I cannot imagine being so intuitive as to actually see someone's past lives just from the symbols. (I know there are people who can do this, but they are few).
What is important in EA is not to know the specific prior lives of anyone, unless you have that capacity to see such things, but to understand the archetypal dynamics that the soul has created in past lives, and the reasons for them. Every thing that we have been discussing here about her is perfectly symbolized within the archetypes in her birth chart.
Kristin asked me about some of the specific past lives that correlated to the skipped steps in her chart for the purpose of this thread to help us learn. But, again, it is not necessary to know the specific or actual past lives of anyone to do EA correctly: only the evolutionary dynamics within the Soul, and the reasons for them.
2. "There are also themes that would have followed a life such as this, where she feared becoming a nanny for the obvious reasons." Assuming Ganika could not remember her past life as a nanny in following lives, would that fear have manifested in her consciousness as just a vague fear, such as, "I feel afraid of taking a nanny job and I don't know why? Or did she actually have some memory of her past life trauma involving the nanny job?
Ganika has been born with unresolved trauma, PTSD, that is symbolized by the 11th House in her chart, the square to the Jupiter in Pisces in the 8th which is the ruler of her N.Node in the 5th. This PTSD relative to the skipped steps manifests in the various ways we have been discussing including a desire to work psychologically and emotionally with children. That desire reflects her underlying orientations towards children which is a reflection of her own inner child. Children are magnetically drawn to her which reflects this desire, but also because of her need to heal the past life dynamics linked with other lifetimes. This is the natural ‘gods’ way of doing things.
Because of the unresolved past life traumas resulting being born with PTSD reflected in the skipped steps she would have had reoccurring dreams in her life in which the nature of the past life traumas would be basis of these dreams. Dreams in EA correlates with Pisces, Neptune, and the 12th House. It is very common for Souls that do have unresolved skipped steps to have such reoccurring dreams for this reflects the Souls need and desire to address and deal with the skipped steps. So reoccurring dreams manifest for this reason. Dreams can be a way of understanding what has taken place in other lives, or in this one as well.
When one becomes skilled in EA, and understands such things, the EA astrologer can then learn to listen to the stories of whatever client, their life stories, and then understand and interpret correctly the symbols in the birth chart that correlate with the underlying evolutionary and karmic dynamics with whatever the life stories are of whatever client. Ganika shared much of her life story with Kristin; some of which is reflected in what we have been discussing.
3. "it killed her to make choices like this, but it was enough for her to keep her own life afloat." I am wondering about Ganika's intention here. Was her intention to just survive (the baby representing too much extra responsibility), or was her intention to abandon the child believing the baby would be better taken care of by someone else? Or was it some combination of both? It feels to me like intention is important.
The answer is both: to survive as well as making every effort to place the babies in the best situation possible.
Just being honest here, but I am having a hard time feeling the connection between the themes we have been talking about. I intend to re-read everything that has been stated about Ganika's chart so far and reflect on the symbols. Thanks again to everyone for comments. DDD
One of the things that JWG taught and emphasized was the need to understand the depth of the archetypes in the signs, houses, and planets. This is the core of astrology. Within that understanding to then overlay the EA paradigm in any birth chart which then reveals the evolutionary journey of any Soul. All that has been discussed concerning Ganika is totally reflected and symbolized in the archetypes that we have been focusing upon.
God Bless, Rad
on: Today at 06:49 AM
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Clear evidence emerges of outrageous militarized police collusion with Big Oil at #StandingRock
Sarah Lazare, AlterNet
28 Oct 2016 at 04:48 ET
Today’s militarized crackdown on water protectors in Cannonball, North Dakota stems from high levels of coordination between the extractive industry, state officials and police departments. It was waged against a frontline camp seeking to block the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which would cross beneath the Standing Rock Sioux reservation’s main drinking water source and bisect the community’s burial grounds. The attack took place under cover of a media blackout, with reports emerging that police were disrupting cellular phone reception.
Water protectors have already endured dog attacks, military-style checkpoints, low-flying surveillance planes, invasive strip searches, national guard deployments and mass arrests. “What’s happening today is a travesty on the human rights of Indigenous people,” Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told AlterNet. “I see this as glaring evidence that the law enforcement of this county and state is more concerned about protecting corporate rights of the extractive industry than tribal nations.”
There is evidence of close coordination between the companies backing the $3.8 billion crude-oil Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and police departments. Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company for Dakota Access LLC, said Tuesday that it intends to work with police to forcibly clear a frontlines water protectors’ camp. Energy Transfer Partners threatened that “in coordination with local law enforcement and county/state officials, all trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and removed from the land.”
Challenging the company’s charges of trespassing, the frontline Sacred Stone Camp says they are taking back “unceded territory affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land under the control of the Oceti Sakowin.”
“We have never ceded this land,” Joye Braun, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a press statement. “If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland.”
Today’s events indicate that Energy Transfer Partners is not bluffing when it says that police are siding with the company. And in fact, law enforcement has vocally rallied behind DAPL, which is backed by Enbridge. “At some point the rule of law has to be enforced,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. “We could go down there at any time. We’re trying not to.”
The companies backing DAPL already have private security under their employ. Dakota Access LLC confirmed to AlterNet in September that it had hired the notorious multinational security firm G4S during a period that overlapped with the protests, but would not state where its forces were located. Attorneys representing the Standing Rock encampments identified the companies behind the Dakota Access company’s brutal dog attacks, captured on video, as private security firm 10-Code Security, LLC and attack dog contractor Frost Kennels.
But according to Peter Kraska, professor and author of Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police, the extractive industry is also has taxpayer-funded security, in the form of police.
“We have romantic notions of the relationships between government and the private sector and tend to think the old days of police supporting owners of capital—the railroad companies instead of the workers—are from a bygone era,” Kraska told AlterNet. “Situations like these show that corporations and energy interests are exercising a monopoly on violence to continue the fossil fuel industry unabated.”
Steven Salaita, professor and author of the forthcoming book Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine, put it this way: “The current buildup of tremendous force at Standing Rock should be understood as a military invasion of a sovereign nation on behalf of a foreign oil company.”
The heavy-handed response does not stem from local coordination alone. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said in a press statement released Sunday that, “Due to escalated unlawful tactics by individuals protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Morton County has requested additional law enforcement assistance from other states. The state of North Dakota made an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) request to states for assistance on October 7th.”
Remarkably, the EMAC program is supposed to be used to allow “states to send personnel, equipment, and commodities to help disaster relief efforts in other states.”
According to the Morton Sheriff’s Department, “Several states have responded and have arrived or will be arriving to support Morton County. States that are currently assisting Morton County are: Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Indiana and Nebraska.” AlterNet could not immediately reach Morton County.
In Minneapolis, news that local law enforcement officers were being sent to Standing Rock sparked protests on Wednesday. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that, “At the request of the State of North Dakota, and as approved by the State of Minnesota, on Sunday, Minnesota Sheriff’s Deputies from the Hennepin, Anoka, and Washington Counties’ Sheriff’s Offices were deployed to assist in Morton County, North Dakota.”
Those counties cover the bulk of the Twin Cities area, where local police been accused of placing protesters in danger, through a far-reaching culture of incitement against the Black Lives Matter movement. In just one incident, St. Paul police officer Jeff Rothecker was forced to resign in February after he was caught encouraging drivers to run over Black Lives Matter protesters slated to gather for a Martin Luther King Day mobilization. Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the Minneapolis Police Officer’s Federation who has ties to a white-power-linked biker gang, has repeatedly referred to protesters as “terrorists.”
As police departments around the country send reinforcements to North Dakota, the appeals of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe for federal protection from law enforcement violence appear to have had no effect. In a letter sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier this week, the water protectors asked the Department of Justice to intervene.
“To many people, the military tactics being used in North Dakota are reminiscent of the tactics used against protesters during the civil rights movement some 50 years ago,” the letter states. “But to us, there is an additional collective memory that comes to mind. This country has a long and sad history of using military force against indigenous people—including the Sioux Nation.”
on: Today at 06:47 AM
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AT&T spying program is ‘worse than Snowden revelations’
October 26, 2016
A for-profit surveillance program carried out by telecommunications giant AT&T was more serious than the 2013 NSA spying revelations, according to digital rights advocates.
AT&T’s Project Atmosphere was unveiled Tuesday by the Daily Beast to be secretly selling customer data to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of investigating everything from murder to medical fraud.
Digital rights group Fight for the Future says that making customer data available to local police departments without a warrant goes beyond the government-level surveillance revealed by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden.
“AT&T customers are outraged but this affects everyone,” Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, tells Newsweek. “AT&T went far beyond complying with legal government requests and actually built a powerful data mining product to sell our private information to as many government agencies and police departments as they could.
“The for-profit spying program that these documents detail is more terrifying than the illegal NSA surveillance programs that Edward Snowden exposed... If companies are allowed to operate in this manner without repercussions, our democracy has no future.”
To gain access to the Hemisphere program, authorities pay anything between $100,000 and millions of dollars. Only an administrative subpoena is required to access it, which does not need to be obtained by a judge.
Greer and other advocates have called for AT&T to shut down the program and for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the use of the Hemisphere software.
In response to this week’s revelations, AT&T issued the following statement: “Like other communications companies, if a government agency seeks customer call records through a subpoena, court order or other mandatory legal process, we are required by law to provide this non-content information, such as the phone numbers and the date and time of calls.”
on: Today at 06:35 AM
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Former Miss Finland is 12th woman to accuse Trump of sexual assault
Ninni Laaksonen, a former Miss Finland in the Miss Universe competition that Trump once owned, alleged that he ‘grabbed my butt’ during a photo shoot
Thursday 27 October 2016 21.28 BST
A former beauty queen has become the 12th woman to openly accuse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of sexual assault.
Ninni Laaksonen, a former Miss Finland in the Miss Universe competition that Trump once owned, alleged in an interview with the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that Trump groped her before an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2006.
“Before the show we were photographed outside the building,” Laaksonen said, according to a translation provided by The Telegraph. “Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt. He really grabbed my butt.
“I don’t think anybody saw it but I flinched and thought: ‘What is happening?’”
Laaksonen said that she had been told at other events that year that Trump found her attractive because she reminded him of his wife, Melania, whom he had married the year before.
“Somebody told me there that Trump liked me because I looked like Melania when she was younger,” Laaksonen said. “It left me disgusted.”
Trump’s campaign has denied the previous 11 allegations of sexual assault and further examples of sexual impropriety leveled against the candidate.
The lies Trump told this week: from Mosul 'disaster' to leaked Clinton emails
The businessman’s thoughts on the battle to liberate Mosul suggest a dearth of military knowledge, while he fudged who said what in Clinton’s hacked emails
Friday 28 October 2016 12.00 BST
“The attack on Mosul is turning out to be a total disaster. We gave them months of notice. US is looking so dumb. VOTE TRUMP and WIN AGAIN!” – 23 October, Twitter
“They announce four months ago, three months ago, that we’re going into Mosul … guess what, 12 minutes later, the leaders, they left.” – 24 October, St Augustine, Florida
Not even two weeks into the battle for Mosul, Trump has declared it “a total disaster”. Commanders have disagreed. So far, Kurdish peshmerga have captured dozens of towns only a few miles from the city center, Iraqi forces have made steady progress from the south, and on Thursday a US general said up to 900 Isis militants had been killed. Since the campaign began, commanders have warned it could last months, though they have expressed cautious optimism.
Isis leaders are believed to be fleeing the city, but the Pentagon has refused to speculate publicly on the location of the terror group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Inside the city, an anti-Isis group has said it plans to rise up against the jihadis.
And despite Trump’s insistence that the coalition should have used “the element of surprise”, Isis leaders have known ever since the US began air strikes, two years ago, that it would likely mount an attack on Mosul. Iraq’s government has been encouraging civilians to flee the city for over a year. The US has dropped leaflets on the city in recent weeks, too, to warn civilians to flee or find safety, depending on the coalition’s strategy for strikes and assaults.
Trump’s declaration of “disaster” is premature, and his claim that “surprise” would be a more effective strategy suggests a dearth of knowledge about military strategy and risks to civilians.
“As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton allowed thousands [of undocumented migrants], I mean, all of them, thousands, to be released because their home countries wouldn’t take them back.” – 21 October, Fletcher, North Carolina
Trump wrongly blames Hillary Clinton for releasing migrants when the government is in fact required to do so by law. In 2001, the supreme court barred the US from holding undocumented people, including those convicted of crimes, for longer than six months if their native country refuses to take them back.
George W Bush and Barack Obama have followed that ruling and when countries have refused to accept deportees, both presidents have declined to enact punitive measures on those countries. Secretaries of state can deny visas to countries that refuse to accepted convicted migrants, but this action is rarely used and when it is it is usually against small countries with limited relationships with the US. This summer, Trump correctly noted that the supreme court decision was responsible. He has since turned the claim into a false one that pins blame on his opponent rather than the ruling.
Trump’s campaign eventually sent the Washington Post a statement saying the businessman was accusing Clinton of failing to take punitive action against countries that refused US deportation requests.
“The emails also show her staff saying ‘she has no core’.” – 22 October, Cleveland
Trump is here quoting an email that itself quoted Republican strategist Karl Rove, who in 2014 wrote that Clinton has “no core message” – not that she has “no core”. One of Clinton’s aides, Joel Benenson, cited Rove’s accusation in a question about the Clinton campaign’s central theme, especially when compared to Bernie Sanders’ clear rallying cries against Wall Street and money in politics.
In a hacked email, Benenson asked: “Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?”
“Hillary Clinton has ‘bad instincts’. This guy Podesta’s a nasty guy.” – 23 October, Naples, Florida
Trump claims to be quoting from an email released by Wikileaks, which acquired hacked emails of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman. But the email he is alluding to to was not written by Podesta but by Neera Tanden, another campaign staffer.
The email’s context shows that Tanden was speaking about a dispute on the campaign’s Twitter strategy.
She had praised a Podesta tweet about that day’s battle in the Democratic primary. Podesta told her he was angered that his tweet was delayed a day by someone in the organization. “I am passed [sic],” he wrote.
“You mean pissed?” Tanden replied. “Got held by who? Hillary. God. Her instincts are suboptimal. Pretty typical though. I would not be surprised if wjc [Bill Clinton] told him to do it. Just as I’m pretty sure Mark Penn a former strategist for the 2008 campaign didn’t do his cocaine rang [sic] against Obama without some higher up approval.”
“You know the protesters? I used to think I had some of these violent protests. These turned out to be paid, you know, came out through Wikileaks and it came out through the documentary. These turned out to be paid people. They were giving them 1,500 [dollars], people to go in there and start fistfights.” – 24 October, in an interview with New Hampshire radio
The “documentary” Trump alludes to is a 16-minute, heavily edited video released by James O’Keefe, a conservative activist whose tactics led to a misdemeanor conviction in 2010 and whose organization was paid $10,000 by the Trump Foundation last year.
In the video, a Democrat activist named Scott Foval, working as a contractor for a consultant named Robert Creamer, appears to discuss recruiting protesters to disrupt Trump events.
The heavily edited video has Foval speaking approvingly of goading Trump supporters to “freak the fuck out” and discussing “conflict engagement in, in the lines at Trump rallies”, adding: “We’re starting anarchy here. If you’re there and you’re protesting and you do these actions, you will be attacked at Trump rallies.
“That’s what we want. The whole point of it is, we know Trump’s people will freak the fuck out, the security team will freak out, and his supporters will lose their shit.”
He mentions “a script of engagement” and “agitator training”, but does not talk about committing violence.
“They’re starting confrontations in the line, right? They’re not starting confrontations in the rally because once they’re inside the rally they’re under secret service’s control. The key is initiating the conflict by having leading conversations with people who are naturally psychotic … You can message to draw them out and message them to punch you.”
Two other activists, Zulema Rodriguez and Aaron Minter, claim credit for a March protest in Chicago. The former says she “did the Chicago event” and the latter says: “When they shut all that, that was us.”
Foval was contracted by the Democratic National Committee months after the Chicago protest, and the video does not link him to Rodriguez or Minter. Campaign finance reports show the Clinton campaign paid Rodriguez $1,610 in late February, though the video makes no mention of it. The Clinton campaign has said Rodriguez’ employment ended in late February and pertained to her organizing work in Arizona. Rordriguez also worked for MoveOn.org, which took partial credit for the Chicago protest.
The out-of-context remarks were damning enough that the current chairwoman of the DNC, Donna Brazile, immediately condemned them. Foval was laid off and Creamer said he would be “stepping back” from work with Democrats.
Trump’s claim conflates quotes into a large, sinister story, but we lack facts to actually support most of it and the heavy editing of the video forces viewers to draw their own conclusions. There might be more to this story, but neither O’Keefe or Trump have shown clear proof for it.
4 New Polls Suggest That Republicans Are On The Cusp Of A Total Election Disaster
By Jason Easley on Thu, Oct 27th, 2016 at 4:55 pm
Four new swing state polls of North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Virginia reveal that Donald Trump is leading in none of them as Republicans are on the verge of complete disaster.
According to Quinnipiac University:
Four-way races which list both presidential and vice-presidential candidates, except Georgia and North Carolina, where Green Party candidate Jill Stein is not on the ballot, show:
Georgia: Trump at 44 percent to Clinton’s 43 percent, with 8 percent for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. This compares to a 47 – 40 percent Trump lead September 22;
Iowa: A 44 – 44 percent Clinton-Trump tie, with 4 percent for Johnson and 1 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Trump led Clinton 44 – 37 percent September 22;
North Carolina: Clinton edges Trump 47 – 43 percent, with 5 percent for Johnson. On October 3, Clinton had 46 percent to Trump’s 43 percent;
Virginia: Clinton tops Trump 50 – 38 percent, with 4 percent for Johnson and 2 percent for Stein. Clinton was up 45 – 39 percent September 22.
Contrary to some Republican hopes, Donald Trump’s slide has not stopped. Trump continues to lose support with men in Iowa and Georgia. North Carolina appears to be slipping away from Trump, and the Republican nominee has blown his leads in Iowa and Georgia.
The Trump campaign has gone as far as to admit that if they lose Florida, they will lose the election, but the signs are evident in the polling that the Republican Party is much closer to experiencing a landslide than they are to winning the White House in November.
A Trump landslide defeat could trigger a disaster for Republicans that leads to additional Democratic Senate pickups beyond the four seats needed to take back the majority. Republicans could see their current record House majority gutted in a Clinton landslide.
The election is not getting better for Republicans. The landscape is getting worse. If this polling continues for another week at the state level, Democrats could be looking at their best case scenario of a Democratic White House, House and Senate being in play.
Trump Proposes Canceling Election, Calls Black Communities ‘Ghettos’ At Ohio Rally
By Sean Colarossi on Thu, Oct 27th, 2016 at 7:42 pm
Just another day in the life of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
It was a standard day in the life of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as the Republican nominee spent much of his time on the campaign trail Thursday making outrageous and insulting comments.
This was on clear display at a rally in Toledo, Ohio, when Trump proposed one of his most ridiculous ideas yet: Cancel the election and just anoint him president.
Trump jokes: “We should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right? What are we even having it for? Her policies are so bad!” pic.twitter.com/Stz46iDbpf
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) October 27, 2016
“I’m just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right?” Trump asked the crowd. “What are we even having it for? … Her policies are so bad.”
Despite Trump’s plea to cancel the election as he continues to struggle in the polls, it will be the voters who decide which candidate has the better policies – thankfully.
The remark also aligns closely with other recent comments in which Trump claimed the process is rigged against him, and he will only accept the outcome of the election if it’s favorable for him.
But Trump wasn’t done at his Buckeye State rally. He also made sure to take a dig at minority communities.
Help me out there. Did Trump just say “we’re going to work on our ghettos” before mentioning inner cities, violence and African Americans? pic.twitter.com/v9KqZSLbh6
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) October 27, 2016
We’re gonna work on our ghettos … take a look at what’s going on where you have pockets of, areas of land, where you have the inner cities, and you have so many things, so many problems, so many horrible, horrible problems – the violence, the death, the lack of education, no jobs. We’re gonna work with the African-American community and we’re going to solve the problem of the inner city … You can’t walk out the street. You buy a loaf of bread and you end up getting shot.
The Republican nominee’s “ghetto” comment is the newest addition to what is the standard Trump narrative that black communities are hellscapes. This particular set of remarks comes a day after he visited North Carolina for a rally and told supporters – mostly white – that he would enact “a new deal for black America.”
In the closing days of this election, Donald Trump is once again showing that there is no better version of who he is. The man who built a campaign on racial resentment is doubling down on it as this election season comes to a conclusion.
Trump’s Campaign Backfires As Hillary Clinton Attracts Millions of New Voters
By Jason Easley on Thu, Oct 27th, 2016 at 2:18 pm
Donald Trump promised that he would bring millions of new Republicans voters into the election, but polling in swing states shows that it is Hillary Clinton who is getting new voters out to support her.
Within their discussion of a new Pennsylvania poll showing Clinton leading Trump by 7 points, The New York Times reported:
Mrs. Clinton has an 18-point lead among voters who did not participate in the 2012 election, according to our estimates, which are based on a combination of the poll results and voter file data. She fares even better among white voters who didn’t vote in 2012 than she does among white voters who did. It’s a pattern that has been true across all of the Upshot/Siena surveys in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
There has not been an influx of new voters who might help Mr. Trump. According to our estimates, Mrs. Clinton has a 16-point lead among newly registered voters.
The idea that Trump was bringing millions of new voters to the Republican Party was always a myth.
Donald Trump got the most votes of any candidate in a Republican presidential primary. Trump also set the record for most votes cast against in a Republican primary. Trump is one of the few nominees in history to have a majority of his party’s primary ballots cast against him.
Hillary Clinton is the candidate who is attracting millions of new voters, and without a doubt, some of those voters have been motivated by Donald Trump’s campaign.
Trump was right. He has brought millions of new voters to the polls. What he neglected to tell Republicans is that they are coming for Hillary Clinton.
on: Today at 06:21 AM
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Pig Putin dismisses claims of meddling in US election
Russian president denies that Donald Trump is Kremlin’s favoured candidate but praises his campaign
Shaun Walker in Moscow
Thursday 27 October 2016 18.02 BST
Pig Putin has denied that Russia has interfered in the US election, claiming that those who believed Moscow could influence the vote were implying the US was a “banana republic”. Putin dismissed claims of Russian meddling as “hysteria” and lectured the US on democracy. He also denied that Donald Trump was the Kremlin’s favoured candidate, though he praised the tycoon’s controversial campaign.
In a speech to an annual gathering of Russian and foreign politicians and analysts in Sochi on Thursday, Putin attacked the US over its foreign policy in recent years. “Does anyone seriously think that Russia can affect the choice of the American people? What, is America a banana republic? America’s a great power. Correct me if I’m wrong,” he said.
The US government has formally accused Russia of hacking into the Democratic party’s servers, and there has been scrutiny of Russian links among some of Trump’s former and current campaign staff.
The Russian president criticised the tone of the US campaign and suggested there was little difference between the candidates. “Elections have ceased to be an instrument of change, and are all about scandals, about blackmail, and discussion of who groped whom and who is sleeping with whom,” he said.
Asked whether Trump was the Kremlin’s favourite, Putin said this was a fake narrative cooked up by western media. “It’s total nonsense. It’s just a form of manipulating public opinion,” he said. Nevertheless, Russian state media has made no secret of its preference for Trump, and has suggested the election may be rigged in Hillary Clinton’s favour.
Putin also praised Trump’s style and campaign: “He chose his own way of reaching voters’ hearts. Of course he’s behaving extravagantly, but I don’t think it’s necessarily without reason. I think he is representing the interests of that part of the American electorate, and it’s a significant part, that is tired of the same elite who have been in power for decades. He is representing the interests of ordinary people.”
At the same time, he claimed there was little difference between Trump and Clinton: “If you look at the programmes of the different candidates, you get the feeling that they are all tailored in the same way, and that the differences between them are insignificant, and in reality there are no differences.”
Putin said the US had a number of problems, including huge debt and gun crime, and that politicians had no answers. “There is nothing to calm society with, and so it’s easier to distract people with supposed Russian hackers, spies and agents of interest.”
on: Today at 06:17 AM
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Nato and Russia playing dangerous game with military build-up
Russia wants to detract from problems at home and position itself as a superpower, and Nato troop movements can only help
Thursday 27 October 2016 17.58 BST
It has been billed as Nato’s biggest military build-up on Russia’s borders since the cold war. Britain is sending fighter jets next year to Romania. The US is dispatching troops, tanks and artillery to Poland. Germany, Canada and other Nato countries also pledged forces at a meeting on Wednesday of defence chiefs in Brussels.
The move comes after Russia has been busy deploying hardware of its own. Earlier this month, Moscow said it was stationing nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic exclave. This week, two Russian warships armed with cruise missiles slipped into the Baltic sea.
Meanwhile, the hulking Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov has been belching its way through the Channel en route to Syria. Spain said Moscow had withdrawn a request to refuel on Spain’s north African coast, amid western suspicions the Russian fleet will be used to flatten civilians in Aleppo.
Nato’s apparent goal here is to deter future acts of aggression on European territory by Vladimir Putin’s revanchist Russia. After a period in which Nato has seemed slow to react, and lacking in backbone, the alliance is now sending out a robust message. As the US defence secretary, Ash Carter, put it this week, these deployments are all about deterrence.
In particular, Nato wants to signal to Moscow that it is prepared to defend the embattled Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In May, Britain will send an 800-strong battalion to Estonia, supported by the French and Danes. By next summer, about 4,000 troops from Nato countries will face off against 330,000 Russian soldiers stationed on Moscow’s western border.
None of this means Europe is on the brink of an imminent east-west conflict. Or - as Donald Trump and some commentators have suggested apocalyptically - that the world is gearing up for a third world war. It isn’t. Speaking at a conference in Sochi on Thursday, Putin agreed. He told a group of western experts that it was “stupid and unrealistic” to think Russia might attack anyone in Europe.
Despite the cold war atmospherics, then, there’s little prospect of Russian tanks rolling across the border into the Baltic states anytime soon.
Rather, Russia’s latest sabre-rattling is part of a hybrid Kremlin strategy. Abroad, the goal is to project Russian military power and strength – “willy-waving” in the words of one analyst. Since Putin became president in 2000, he has been determined to restore Moscow’s superpower status, with Russia as a global co-equal of US “hegemony”.
Putin wants to show that no international problem can be solved without the Kremlin’s views being taken into account. That goes for the Middle East and Syria – where Russia has staged its first large-scale military action outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since communism.
And it goes for Ukraine, the neighbour Putin covertly invaded in 2014, and whose territory Crimea he annexed. Far from not attacking anyone in Europe, about 10,000 people have perished in eastern Ukraine in a war that the Kremlin kicked off and sustained.
Russia’s armed forces play a key role, but television is important, too. At home, Russian state channels have recently floated the prospect of nuclear war with Washington. (Russia’s military is inferior to that of the US, but in nuclear weapons it has parity.) Many Russians now dangerously believe their country is already in a state of almost-war, or pre-war, with the west.
This war rhetoric, of course, is designed to deflect attention from Russia’s domestic woes, which are numerous. They include a worsening economy, western sanctions, recent rigging in Russia’s parliamentary election and massive state corruption, led from the top by Putin and his billionaire cronies. At home, the propaganda has broadly worked.
Russia’s president sees Nato is an implacably hostile and aggressive bloc. Paradoxically, Nato’s newest deployments in eastern Europe merely serve to confirm the story that Putin and state television have been telling Russians for so long: that the west is hell-bent on “encircling” Russia and bringing it to its knees.
The danger now is not from an open military conflict. Rather with troops deployed in big numbers, and with Russian jets routinely buzzing US aircraft carriers, and other assets, the greater danger is from an accident or collision. In September, a Dutch investigation concluded that it was a Buk missile smuggled across the border from Russia that shot down Flight MH17 in 2014, killing 298 people.
For much of the 1990s, Nato had lost its rationale. In recent years, it has been short of cash. The US has repeatedly complained that many member states are unwilling to pay the price of collective European security. For better or worse, Nato now has a purpose: to contain a growing and unpredictable Kremlin threat.
on: Today at 06:14 AM
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Free school meals a recipe for success for young learners in Liberia
As Liberia faces acute food insecurity, the work of a UK charity is encouraging school attendance by ensuring children don’t have to learn on an empty stomach
Nadene Ghouri in Montserrado
Thursday 27 October 2016 13.02 BST
Satta Kallon sits beneath a thatched roof stirring a pot of rice that bubbles over an open fire. The 52-year-old is cooking, as she does every day, in the outdoor kitchen at Diaspora community school in Montserrado county. Together with three other women, she works without pay. All of them have children or grandchildren in the school.
“I do it because I want to encourage the children to learn. When they have food in their bellies they are happy. When they go into class after eating, they feel good,” she says.
The food and cooking facilities are provided by Mary’s Meals, a Scottish charity that operates across Liberia. The organisation provides a daily school meal to about 140,000 children in 466 public and privately-run schools countrywide.
The meals provided are typically rice and peas, or corn-soya blend – a vitamin-enriched maize porridge – with a portion of greens, often grown in the school’s gardens with guidance and support from the charity. To qualify for the programme, local communities and parent-teacher associations must agree to provide adequate cooking facilities, safe and secure food storage areas and local volunteers to prepare the food.
Food insecurity across Liberia is acute, particularly in rural areas, where more than half the population lives.
Diaspora community school is a private institution, operating on a shoestring budget with a mix of paid and voluntary teachers. Many Liberian parents prefer to send their children to small, community-managed private schools of this kind in the belief that standards are higher than in state-run free schools.
Fees are set to cover costs, ranging from 4,000–5,000 Liberian dollars (£35-£45) for an academic year. For many parents, however, this is still a struggle.
“Right now, a quarter of our pupils are out of school because they haven’t paid fees,” says the principal, Pastor Abraham Sesay. “We can’t allow them to take their exams if they are out of school. It is hard but if we aren’t strict we can’t keep the school going.”
Asatu Massaley, 16, is one of the brightest students in her fifth-grade class. Her education has been badly disrupted by poverty and the Ebola crisis, but she dreams of becoming a nurse so she can provide for her extended family.
That ambition will only be realised if she can afford to pay school fees all the way through to 12th grade. Orphaned during the Ebola outbreak, Asatu now lives with her elderly grandmother, Fatu, who is struggling to look after several grandchildren, the offspring of two daughters who both died from the virus.
Fatu, who makes a small income selling tobacco, says: “I am old but there is no one else to take care of these children. There is no one to help me. The children have to share food from one small plate. Every day we do not have enough to eat.”
For Fatu, sending Asatu to school each morning with a pre-packed meal or providing her cash to buy lunch locally is impossible on top of finding money for fees, books and a school uniform. Food is often the lowest on the priority list. But effective learning is difficult on an empty stomach.
The World Bank and the World Food Programme have vouched for the benefits of school feeding programmes, citing evidence that such schemes increase school attendance, cognition, and educational achievement.
Research carried out by Mary’s Meals in Malawi, where the charity runs its largest programme, underlines the positive impact of a daily school meal for children growing up in some of the world’s poorest communities. Similar impact assessment studies are under way in Liberia and Zambia.
Alex Keay, head of programmes policy, said: “The Malawi results demonstrate that a daily meal increases school enrolment numbers and improves attendance, allows children to concentrate better, promotes wider access to education for marginalised children, increases support for community education and makes children happier.”
Sesay agrees. “Since they started working with us, I can see we have really seen an improvement. Before they came, we had hungry children who couldn’t concentrate. Now they have lunch they come to class with eager minds.
“Regular attendance has improved because if parents know they are getting fed here, it takes pressure off them at home and encourages them to make sure their children come daily.”
At Manivalor Mesila public school in Grand Cape Mount county, facilities are even more sparse. Here, 450 pupils learn in just six classrooms with little in the way of furniture or basic learning materials and no access to water or sanitation. In the nursery class, more than 40 children sit on broken wooden benches waiting for a volunteer teacher to arrive. A faded blackboard is the only classroom resource.
“This is the only school nearby and some pupils come from different areas so face a long journey here,” says Isaac Nathaniel, school feeding officer for Mary’s Meals. “For many pupils, the meal we provide is their only meal of the day because there is nothing to eat when they get home at night. Without it, many children just wouldn’t be able to come because their parents wouldn’t bother to send them or because they would be too weak to walk here.”
Mambu, 12, started school when he was eight. “I saw my friends studying here and I was encouraged to come too. My mother is a widow and was worried how we would manage it because it is far, but when I told her that I would receive a daily meal here she agreed for me to come.”
Nathaniel believes that without the feeding programme the school would probably have closed due to lack of numbers. It used to be an Islamic school, teaching only a Koranic education in Arabic. Now it offers a mainstream English curriculum, teaching both Christian and Muslim children together.
“The promise of a meal really boosted the intake, that in turn encouraged the school to offer a wider curriculum,” he says. “Now that pupil numbers are secure, we can work with the school to help them improve in wider areas and bring in other NGOs to help with things like the building or sanitation. Feeding pupils is our main purpose but our impact goes beyond that.”
Bookshelves at a primary school in Montserrado county lie empty apart from a few papers, some green twine and a handbell. The government is pinning its hopes of improving education provision on a controversial scheme to privatise all Liberia’s schools.
Suleiman Braimoh, Liberia representative for the UN children’s agency, Unicef, says a number of commendable efforts across Liberia are focusing on promoting registration and retention in schools.
“Yet, for Liberia’s children to be able to achieve their full potential, we need to make sure the efforts are multi-faceted, holistic and act in concert with, and reinforce each other,” says Braimoh. “Children should be protected from preventable diseases and be healthy enough to attend school, they need to have early childhood education at homes and in communities, and sustainable quality education services need to be available and accessible, no matter what economic background the child comes from.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to provide that environment, be it families, communities and the government and its partners.”
on: Today at 06:09 AM
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'It savaged my life': military sexual assault survivors fighting to become visible
Sexual assault within the ranks has reached shocking levels and while some awareness around female service members’ has belatedly begun, the 52% of male victims still struggle to get justice – and redemption
Spencer Ackerman in Southlake, Texas
27 October 2016 11.00 BST
Squinting so he could drive through the vodka and the pills, Heath Phillips searched for a tree he could wrap his truck around.
It was a frigid February day in 2009, some 200 miles north-west of New York City, on a road Phillips drove every day to get to work. He describes this moment as his rock bottom, but it was not his first suicide attempt. Twenty-one years earlier, Phillips had first tried to kill himself aboard the ammunition ship USS Butte after his shipmates repeatedly raped him.
Phillips enlisted in the navy days before his 17th birthday. He had dreamed of serving since he was a little boy and looked forward to a 20-year career in the military. Instead, the trauma of his repeated sexual assault shattered him and forced him to leave after barely a year.
If he could have stayed, Phillips would have been retired with a military pension by the time he drove his Nissan Pathfinder for what he thought would be the final time.
Phillips says he “was not a good person” in the aftermath of his assault. “I’ve been in and out of jail. I’ve been arrested. I have been homeless. I have older sons who know me but we’re not close, because I don’t know how to be close to them.” He continues: “I did what I knew how to do: I drank. From drinking, I started popping pills. I couldn’t hold a job because I couldn’t handle being near anybody. I couldn’t be near men. If they reminded me of something, I’d walk off a job … All I cared about is: I want to be drunk, I don’t want to remember this,” he told the Guardian.
Phillips never found the tree. The next thing he remembers is waking up in his truck. That day, he dumped out all of his drugs and alcohol – even his cigarettes – and began a long struggle to reclaim his life.
Heath Phillips holding a photo of himself when he was in the Navy.
Phillips is closer to the typical survivor of sexual assault in the US military than he is a deviation from it. According to the most recent statistics from the Pentagon, of the 20,300 service members sexually assaulted in 2014, 10,600 were men – a rate over 52%.
Sexual assault within the military has reached shocking levels. In 2013, one in four women using the Department of Veterans Affairs’ healthcare screened positive for military sexual assault. While awareness around female service members’ ordeal lags far behind solutions, it has belatedly begun, in part due to efforts from US senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill and the award-winning documentary The Invisible War.
Yet male service members who experience military sexual assault remain even less visible. Studies by the Rand Corporation and the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ research arm, indicate that only 40% of women service members report their sexual assaults, compared with just 13% of men.
This lack of visibility can be partly blamed on common narratives within the military, which often diminish the threat to female service members and erase the threat to male ones outright.
One of those faulty narratives was reaffirmed by someone seeking to be their commander-in-chief. During a presidential forum last month, Donald Trump defended a 2013 tweet asking: “what did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”, adding “the best thing we could do is set up a court system within the military” (and, in doing so, described the system already in place).
Trump wouldn’t be able to walk a mile in my shoes
Nearly eight years after he nearly ended his own life, Phillips laughs when asked what he would say to Trump should they be face to face.
“I’d have to regroup my composure,” he begins.
“He’s very, very ill-informed. He doesn’t know more than the commanders know. He doesn’t know more than the sexual assault survivors know. He wouldn’t be able to walk a mile in my shoes.”
In the affluent Dallas suburb of Southlake, Annie Kendzior, 26, sips an iced coffee as she recounts the multiple times her fellow midshipmen at the US Naval Academy raped her. We sit on the patio overlooking her family’s huge backyard, with her loquacious and passionate father, Russ, beside her. At times seething as she shares her story, he interjects and vows to shame the US military into reform.
Kendzior was a star high-school soccer player with a 3.8 grade point average. The Naval Academy, incubator of the officer corps of the navy and marines, recruited her in her junior year. Steeped in pro-military Texas culture and her grandfathers’ second world war service, Kendzior figured an education at the academy, followed by a commission in the navy, would prepare her for the challenging life in the business world she ultimately sought.
Kendzior entered the Annapolis, Maryland-based academy in 2008 and immediately encountered an atmosphere of machismo. She overheard still-juvenile young men refer to certain women as “dubs”, an acronym for dumb ugly bitches. At her first off-campus house party, Kendzior got drunk faster than she expected as a result of boot camp and her soccer regimen. She didn’t want to pass out on a puke-covered floor, so when a second-year midshipman told her there was a bed she could sleep in, she took the chance.
“I woke up to it happening,” she remembered.
Later, still in shock, Kendzior messaged the man on Facebook. He elided what he had done to Kendzior and, since he was a year above her, made it an issue of fraternization, a punishable offense. “Keep your mouth shut, don’t say anything, or we’ll both get in trouble,” he said. She dealt with it by putting it out of her mind as best she could. “There was a lot of that shame built in, like I shouldn’t have been drinking,” she says. Because he was in her company, she had to see him at every meal for weeks on end.
A month later, she was raped for a second time by two different midshipmen on the varsity basketball team.
Thinking an upperclass midshipman was trying to hook her up with a classmate she considered a friend, Kendzior went to hang out with them at a nearby hotel (something midshipmen do to drink away from prying eyes). Less than halfway through a red cup full of a drink they had mixed for her, Kendzior blacked out.
“The next thing I know, I realized I was being raped by this upperclassman,” she said. She was only awake for a few seconds before passing out again, and would later learn the man she thought was her friend joined in.
For two and a half years, Kendzior did not report the incidents. She encountered what appeared to be studious avoidance at the academy. When doctors asked her if she had ever been assaulted, she answered affirmatively, but they did not ask follow-up questions.
Her depression compounded until she had a breakdown in March 2011, complete with thoughts of suicide. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, something that would be brought up when she ultimately decided that year to report her rape.
The navy convened a panel in the summer of 2011, attended by approximately 25 naval officers, and, extraordinarily, put her medical file on a screen. It exposed her struggles with depression, the antidepressants the navy doctors prescribed her, and her suicidal ideations (such carelessness for her privacy would be clearly illegal for a civilian organization). In other words, the navy was calling her crazy.
The panel lasted approximately an hour and concluded she was unfit to continue. Kendzior’s military career was over before she was ever even commissioned. The three men who raped her, as far as she knows, became navy officers.
A family friend, retired navy captain and Naval Academy alum Jack Reape, considers the hearing a disgrace, calling the assembled navy officers “cowards” and growing emotional when recounting it.
In an interview, Reape told the Guardian: “It is one of my great regrets in the navy that I didn’t get on an airplane, fly up there and tell those sons of bitches, ‘You think you’re going to take on a 20-year old girl?’”
A lawsuit against the navy and the defense department leadership went nowhere. Kendzior decided against suing her rapists directly, as “once you do that, you give them the microphone”. Instead, she has crusaded against military sexual assault in a high-profile fashion – ESPN even ran a story in 2013 on her fight against the Naval Academy – while serving as a project manager for a Dallas-area IT company and working toward her MBA.
“I know I didn’t do anything wrong. If I leave without a fight, that’s me giving up and then they win. You have to fight back,” she said.
Yet this is how the Naval Academy described Kendzior in her official separation papers: “She does not display leadership or maturity expected of a senior midshipman and I do not believe she is capable of reaching ‘officer-level’ maturity without professional psychological treatment.”
Rape prosecutions within the military are rare, and convictions rarer still. The survivors advocacy network Protect Our Defenders found that in 2015 only 20% of eligible cases made it to prosecution. Of those, 9% yielded a conviction.
“No one ever tells you what you would feel if you went through the whole process and then didn’t get the result,” said a woman the Guardian will call Sara.
In 2012, Sara was at a friend’s house not far from Fort Hood, Texas, where she was stationed. She had drunk some recreational Robitussin and, high, didn’t feel comfortable with the male strangers hitting on her. To get home, she did as she was instructed during the pre-weekend safety briefs and called her squad leader. The squad leader took her back to his apartment and raped her.
For months, Sara told hardly anyone what had happened. Her unit had gone through a previous sexual assault episode and she remembered everyone, “myself included”, refusing to believe the victim out of a sense of camaraderie. The anxiety she developed gave way to panic attacks she didn’t want to explain, and the army assigned her the sedative Klonopin.
Sara transferred out of her battalion to avoid seeing her attacker. Her future husband, who encouraged Sara to report the rape, ended up deploying with him. His increasing anger toward the attacker led to the end of his deployment, and at that point, Sara felt she had to come forward for his sake. Without counsel and “zombied out” from the Klonopin, she gave a hazy statement to the army’s criminal investigation division that would end up significantly different from a subsequent statement that wasn’t influenced by the drug.
Prosecutors, friends and others encouraged Sara to proceed with court-martialing her attacker. They told her that unless she came forward, he would be free to hurt others. Yet the trial featured techniques familiar to civilian women who do the same. “They said I was mentally ill,” Sara recalled, even using her father’s mental-health history to sow doubt among the jurors.
Worse, her former friends lined up as character witnesses for her assailant, an unanticipated consequence of Sara leaving the bond of her old unit.
Over a year after her attacker’s acquittal, Sara regrets coming forward. “A huge part of the hurt I still feel from what had happened is now related to what had happened through the court martial and the whole reporting process,” she said.
In Brian Lewis’s case, reporting his own assault to command led to reprisals.
Lewis, 36, joined the navy in 1997 and became a submariner. He recalls his days aboard subs with pride. Only when he was moved to the USS Frank Cable, a submarine tender, was he raped, pierside, aboard the ship.
For over two weeks while their ship was under way, Brian Lewis had nowhere to escape from his attacker, a senior noncommissioned officer. They were in the Pacific Ocean, steaming away from their Guam homeport. Lewis became fearful of going to sections of the USS Frank Cable required for his job. He began cutting himself and ended up needing medical evacuation to Japan.
“It’s kind of hard to hide when you only have 600 feet or so to run from somebody,” he said.
Lewis, who was 20 in 2000, took the attack to his command. He was told to let it drop. It was the era of don’t-ask-don’t-tell, and the infamous policy of closeting LGBT service members had a perverse effect on sexual assault victims. “You know,” Lewis remembers an officer telling him, “homosexual activity is grounds for discharge.” Out of fear, Lewis followed his command’s advice not to report the rape.
Lewis had no prior psychiatric problems, but the PTSD resulting from the rape “savaged my life”. When he complained about receiving no medical treatment other than a perfunctory pill prescription – a situation echoing the heavy medication given to Kendzior and Sara – Lewis received a diagnosis of a personality disorder, followed by a discharge from service.
“If the military has to medically retire you, they’re on the hook for payouts for potentially the remainder of your life, as well as healthcare. So there’s a monetary savings there,” he said. “In my case, it was retaliation for complaining about the lack of medical treatment I was receiving at the time … the fact that I had talked to my command about being a victim and then for saying, ‘Look, you need to do more than simply give me pills.’”
Lewis joined the military so he would have money for college. Phillips also came from a working-class background, but while he wanted to help his family financially – even dropping out of school to enlist early so his mother would have one fewer mouth to feed – serving had always been his dream.
Phillips’s father and stepfather were both Vietnam veterans, and as he grew up in the 1980s steeped in pro-military pop culture, he worked out a plan. First he’d join the navy and then he’d transition to the army, like his father and stepdad. Even boot camp in 1988 was a dream come true: “It was like family. We worked together, these people helped me, I was pampered.”
So when his shipmates from the ammunition ship USS Butte invited him to hang out in New York City, Phillips didn’t hesitate. It was his first time in the city and Times Square wowed him, especially when the men he wanted to be like started pouring him drinks back at their hotel. Phillips was no novice to drinking, but something in his beer made him groggy.
“The next thing you know, I’m waking up, I’m on the floor, and what’s waking me up was the tug of my pants. Soon as I open up my eyes – I was laying on my back – I open up my eyes and there’s this guy standing above me with his genitals in his hand,” Phillips remembered, while another man had a hand on Phillips’s own genitals. When he ran to the bathroom to escape them, he heard his shipmates laughing at him.
When Phillips got back to the Butte, he immediately told the master-at-arms what had happened. The master-at-arms asked if Phillips was homesick. He denied it. “I think you’re lying. I think you just want to go back home,” Phillips remembers being told.
The New York assault was a prologue of what Phillips was in for aboard ship. His shipmates threw urine on him, stuffed his pillow with feces, threw him out of his bunk and pulled his mouth open. They would force their genitals inside, telling Phillips that if he bit down, they would kill him. No one interfered to protect him.
“These guys were not doing this to sexually be gratified,” but rather to dominate him, Phillips said. “I’m 45 years old and I still have nightmares from this. I’m 45 and there are still things that spark my memory, and I’m shaking and I’m scared.”
After weeks of escalating attacks, Phillips walked to a storage area and tried to hang himself. It didn’t work. A petty officer came across him and helped him down before “smacking the crap out of me. He told me I needed to buck up and become a man and fight back.” The rape was anything but a secret aboard the ship.
I’m 45 years old, and I still have nightmares from this
Suicidal, humiliated and alone, Phillips went Awol. He returned to his upstate New York home, living in abandoned cars or on the streets to dodge the police knocking on his parents’ doors to find him. That didn’t work either: Phillips ended up jailed, and from there, transferred to a naval brig.
Soon, he was back aboard the Butte, where the attacks got worse. He was now known as a snitch. When his shipmates raped him in the shower with a shampoo bottle and a toilet brush, the infirmary informed him that he had suffered a hemorrhoid rupture.
Phillips would never have the military career of his boyhood dreams. His navy service was a cycle of rape and incarceration until he received an other-than-honorable discharge. He was back home at just 18 years old, where he turned to drugs and alcohol.
It took Phillips two decades to reach his rock bottom, that night on the road. His recovery has seen him extensively research sexual assault in the military; fight a veterans affairs department that maintains his trauma is not related to his service; and try to help others who went through what he did.
Now, Phillips is the executive director of Mr MST, or Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma, a group Lewis co-founded. On 21 September, they spoke at a briefing in Washington hosted by the bipartisan chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.
A report last year from the Government Accountability Office raised alarms about the military addressing male sexual assault. The Pentagon’s health affairs office has not “systematically identified whether male victims have any gender-specific needs”, it found, nor has it “established goals or metrics to gauge sexual assault-related issues for male servicemembers.”
“The perception in DC is that they understand military sexual trauma,” Phillips said, “but they didn’t understand that it’s a man’s issue.”
Men and women who have survived military sexual assault have concrete ideas for the Pentagon on how to fix this crisis. Many back a measure championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, to take prosecuting rape out of the chain of command, an effort at removing a conflict of interest for commanders who have to weigh a servicemember’s value to a mission or unit against an accusation of assault.
But the Pentagon is wary of any measure changing the chain of command, the backbone of military discipline and effectiveness, and Gillibrand’s effort was defeated in June.
Kendzior said she doesn’t understand why the services will undergo extensive testing for changes in uniform camouflage patterns but won’t pilot a sexual assault prevention program free of the influence of command in a non-deployment atmosphere, like a service academy.
“This epidemic is undermining our military and its ability to attract our nation’s best,” Kendzior said. She said she has heard from talented young women who are ruling out military service to avoid being sexually harassed or assaulted.
Kendzior and her father Russ back Gillibrand’s bill. So does Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
Kendzior’s father, Russ, has a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN sign in one of the rooms of his house. He doesn’t trust Clinton – “her husband is a predator,” he said – and supports Trump. Although he concedes Trump has “sexist views”, he hopes that Trump’s mantra of change will extend to stopping military rape.
“Dammit, he better put up. I want to put him on the spot: Mr Trump, I’m leaning in your direction. You prove to me and my daughter, who is a victim of sexual assault, and all the Annies and Andys out there, that you are going to make a change,” said Russ Kendzior.
Other sexual assault survivors do not share the same faith in the Republican candidate.
Lewis finds Trump’s statements abhorrent. “Mr Trump demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge on the issue of military sexual assault in particular and on sexual assault generally,” he says. “The issue of military sexual assault is not one that’s gender-specific, and the integration of men and women together in the units is not the primary cause or any cause of sexual assault in our military.”
He continues: “We still contend with a stigma. Whether true or not for an individual, we [male survivors] are still seen in some quarters as homosexual. Unfortunately, that’s a societal stigma as a whole, but still, that perception adds to the sense of isolation and vulnerability that exists as part of the American definition of masculinity.”
“By failing to acknowledge that 53% of victims are men in our armed forces, Mr Trump has effectively excluded a majority of victims – men – from the conversation regarding how to address this particular issue.”
After Trump stood his ground during a forum in September, retired air force colonel Don Christensen, the president of Protect Our Defenders, said: “Mr Trump’s destructive victim blaming shows he fundamentally misunderstands the problem. It diminishes women’s enormous contributions to our nation’s defense and ignores the fact that more than 50% of the victims are male.”
“His tweet was despicable. What can you say?” added Susan Burke, a prominent lawyer who has represented military sexual assault survivors, including Kendzior. “We were all quite disappointed that President Obama did not support the [Gillibrand] legislative fix. We are hopeful that President Clinton will.”
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. The Safe Helpline for victims of sexual assault in the military is 877-995-5247. Protect Our Defenders also provides help for survivors.