Aysha Qamar

'ConspiracyTok’: The right-wing’s newest attempt at spreading conspiracy theories on social media

As social media platforms finally take to cracking down on conspiracy theories, right-wing propaganda has found a new home. Conspiracy theorists are flooding TikTok, a popular social media application known for its short videos, with misinformation and alt-right propaganda.

While this seems harmless as propaganda is not new to social media, the issue is these videos are making their way to a number of audiences because of TikTok's recommendation algorithm. The algorism encourages users to follow accounts that are in their area or similar to their interests, by pushing multiple conspiracy theory accounts, TikTok's algorithm is spreading extremist misinformation at a rapid rate, according to Media Matters. As a result, far-right conspiracy theories are creating massive communities on and offline.

The videos are mostly known on the platform as "ConspiracyTok" come from a community that regularly discusses conspiracy theories. According to Media Matters, while some accounts are dedicated to theories of why the earth is flat others are more harmful and spread misinformation about cultures and identities, including COVID-19. That in itself is harmful to the country specifically, Asian Americans who have been discriminated against and targeted due to these theories, however as TikTok's algorithm promotes these videos more harm is done as misinformation reaches broader and often more vulnerable audiences.

A majority of TikTok users are GenZ users that are subject to influence from social media, as algorithms target youth members misinformation can have dire consequences. A fact it seems many alt-right TikTok users are taking advantage of. It only takes one video for a person's entire feed to be filled with "ConspiracyTok." The way TikTok's account recommendation algorithm works is individual users are recommended to one another by not only distance but potential interest.

Meaning if you accidentally even stumble on one video you most likely will end up seeing more in the future. Additionally, if a user follows someone they are more likely to get recommendations of similar accounts. This has caused the massive spread of not only anti-vax misinformation but, QAnon-related theories, COVID-19 denial, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Of course, TikTok is working to ban and has banned many alt-right users from spreading misinformation but the issue is that this misinformation is not always easy to catch.

According to Media Matters, many conspiracy theorists pose as harmless users by posting a variety of content. This prevents them from being flagged as not all their content is controversial. For example, "Conscious Content" is an account with over 11,300 followers, whose bio reads: "Learn and inspire!" With videos about TV shows and other random information, one would never assume that this account belonged to a conspiracy theorist, but a deeper dive shows that the user suggests conspiracies such as believing that Jeffery Epstein was an Israeli spy.

This is not a sole example, other users have similar patterns of camouflage, Media Matters reported. As TikTok and other social media platforms crack down on alt-right individuals, they are coming up with more unique ways to push their agenda.

Under the guise of anything, alt-right community members are spreading misinformation and pushing conspiracy theories on not only the government but health and other issues. An easy way to find these users is by noting the hashtags they commonly use on videos, but again the issue comes down to these users cleverly diversifying their feeds to include different types of content and different tags as well. Doing so not only protects them from being tagged as a conspiracy account but also allows them to reach a broader audience.

If an account describes itself as a lifestyle account, a person who follows similar accounts may unknowingly follow it not realizing it is meant to spread conspiracy theories. In this way slowly when the account does post the theories in its agenda, a user will see them without having had the intention to.

This has been documented throughout TikTok's history with COVID-19 misinformation especially being a huge documented problem. While at first videos focused on COVID-19 and its spread they now focus on misinformation to do with the vaccine. "This shot will rearrange your DNA. They've planned this for one hundred years, it is the mark of the beast," one user ember_inside_me1 said. The account has over 27,500 followers.

According to research published in 2014 by the University of Chicago, about "half of the American public consistently endorses at least one conspiracy theory." So one is likely to come across conspiracy theories in one way or another, but the issue is how harmful they can be to the development of some individuals, especially if they are not aware. Studies have found that many youth and young adults get their news from social media, with the spread of misinformation poses a risk of whether or not some understand the difference between fact and conspiracy. Because many conspiracists gain the trust of social media users by depicting a multitude of content, conspiracy theories are more likely to be accepted by them when shared.

By not addressing the issue more thoroughly, TikTok is failing its users. According to Media Matters, while many extremist users on the app, including the ones mentioned in this report, are banned it does not prevent their content from being circulated. TikTok needs to do better, especially to protect its youth. Of course, it is impossible to remove all conspiracy from the view of social media users, more needs to be done to make users aware of what content they are seeing. TikTok's algorithm does more harm than good and needs to be redeveloped to consider the potential risks it poses.

State lawmaker forced to apologize after he said Asian Americans 'have never been discriminated against'

A Connecticut lawmaker is under fire after making a xenophobic comment during a public hearing before the Planning and Development Committee meeting on Monday. The public hearing was meant to discuss potential legislation that addressed segregated housing.

In response to a discussion on why Greenwich doesn't have a larger Black population and the Greenwich Housing Authority board chairman Sam Romeo arguing that minorities make up 37% of the city's population, Democratic Rep. Michael Winkler said: "You count Asians and other minorities that have never been discriminated against." Winkler made the comment in an attempt to argue with Romeo, who claimed racism was not a reason why the town had housing segregation because minorities accounted for 37%. But while doing so he erased the discrimination minorities including Asians have faced.

According to CNN, the comment left other officials and lawmakers shocked and outraged that a state representative would downplay the racism Asian Americans are currently facing and have faced throughout history.

"I will just pause just for a moment and say I think that there have been a number of minority groups who have faced discrimination over time, and particularly, I think, in light of what happened in Atlanta last week," Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said in response to the comment.

Others chimed in including Republican Sen. Tony Hwang who called the comments absolutely "unacceptable." "Let me be clear, racism against anyone, and bias, is never acceptable," Hwang said demanding an apology.

While Winkler did eventually apologize, he initially did not have any intention to and stood his ground. He claimed that every immigrant group in the country has been discriminated against but his focus is on "the most oppressed." He failed to realize the xenophobia present in his comment which erased discrimination faced by Asian Americans and other groups.

"Every immigrant group that has come in has risen through and above the Blacks, while other immigrant groups, one after the other—the Polish, the Irish, whatever—came in and rose up. Blacks have always been at the bottom and remain there." Winkler said. "And so, they're the group that I look to when I'm trying to judge how well people are doing for the most downtrodden, the most oppressed."

The exchange continued with Hwang sharing he was "appalled" that Winkler didn't "feel a compulsion or an understanding to apologize to Asian Americans that you just disparaged because you believe they have been discriminated less."

Later in the meeting when Winker finally apologized, he noted that "discrimination against Asian Americans is very real. And I never meant to indicate otherwise."

But despite this late apology, what Winkler said cannot be erased. In a statement released on Tuesday, Attorney General William Tong called Winkler's comments ignorant and said he "cannot believe that Representative Winkler would say that Asian-Americans do not count and have not been discriminated against."

"Let me assure you that Asian-Americans count and the hate and discrimination against us is real, and it has gotten people hurt and killed," Tong said. "The history of bias and hate against Asian-Americans in this country is long and largely visible, an unfortunate reality that has been highlighted by the ignorant comments made by Rep. Winkler," he continued.

Tong referenced historical examples of discrimination and racism the AAPI community has faced including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the beating death of Vincent Chin, alongside the horrific Atlanta shootings from last week.

"The myth of the so-called 'model-minority' is a dangerous fiction that for too long has allowed this country to erase and ignore this shameful history. I invite Representative Winkler to seize this moment as a teaching opportunity, to educate himself by speaking to his Asian-American neighbors and colleagues, and to commit to joining me and others in fighting discrimination in all forms," Tong said.

Following the backlash from community members and lawmakers, Winkler shared the following statement with CNN in an effort to apologize to the APPI community: "My comments are inexcusable, especially with the recent rise in violence against Asian Americans," he said. "There is a long, painful history of Asian-Americans experiencing racism in this country, and I sincerely regret that I ignored that history and those experiences in my comments.

"Moving forward, I want to work to ensure that I truly understand and recognize the experiences of those who unfortunately know what it's like to be discriminated against in areas such as work, education, housing and more," he added.

The AAPI community has faced generations of violence in the U.S. Stereotypes can be traced to what scholars call the "yellow peril," an ideology from the 19th century, where white folks claimed things from Asia were a great threat to the white world. Historians and other academics found that this ideology, amongst other xenophobia, influenced U.S. policies on the basis "that Chinese people as a race, no matter where they are, are disease carriers." As a result, anti-Asian laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 were enacted to block Asian immigration, Daily Kos reported.

While the Black community has no doubt faced extreme and consistent discrimination in this country and continues to be victim to state-sanctioned and other violence, that does not mean other communities are not being discriminated against. In order to highlight and address the discrimination one community is facing we do not need to downplay what others have or are experiencing. The ranking or judging of one group's experience of discrimination to another is not appropriate and not the right way to address issues faced by minority communities. Black Lives Matter and the fight for justice for Black communities will continue despite efforts to address issues faced by other minorities as well. Claiming a group has "never been discriminated against" just to highlight the injustices Black people have historically faced is unacceptable. There are other and better ways to address violence against Black people without minimizing the trauma of other communities. America must do better.

India officials target Rihanna and Greta Thunberg for showing support of Indian farmers’ protest

Things in India just seem to be getting worse as officials resort to violence in response to the ongoing farmers' protest occurring nationwide in the country. Internet access restrictions, cellphone signal restrictions, and media restrictions have been enacted for several days in multiple districts as the government cracks down on advocates and others protesting injustices under the guise of "maintaining public safety and averting public emergency."

For months, thousands of farmers have marched and protested against three bills passed in India's parliament in September. Protests have spread from the Indian capital of New Delhi to other parts of the country and garnered global attention with well-known icons like Rihanna and Greta Thunberg tweeting about the issue. While thousands have applauded the two for engaging prominent Western figures in the cause silenced by many Indian stars, Hindu nationalists, and conservatives in India have launched campaigns against the two celebrities for spreading misinformation and propaganda.

Within hours of Rihanna's tweet linking to a CNN story on the issue and questioning why people weren't talking about the protests, the ministry of external affairs released a statement criticizing "celebrities and others" for their "neither accurate nor responsible" comments. In support of the Indian government, some Bollywood celebrities tweeted against "propaganda" that threatened India's unity and body-shamed Rihanna.

The worst of it comes from Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a vocal supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu-nationalist group one could say is equivalent to the Proud Boys. In a series of tweets, Ranaut not only criticized Rihanna's work, but her appearance and even her skin color. Honestly, Ranaut's disgusting behavior should have gotten her removed from Twitter.

"Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken," Anurag Srivastava, a spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement on Wednesday. "The temptation of the sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible."

But the negative and false narratives right-wing conservatives spread in India, including calling Rihanna a "porn star," did not stop her tweet from going viral and spreading awareness of the farmers' protests. Both Western celebrities and athletes followed suit in sharing that this issue should not only be spoken about but supported. Wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers Juju Smith-Schuster even donated $10,000 to provide medical assistance to farmers in need, many of whom have been protesting outside despite deadly cold temperatures.

Rihanna was also supported by Thunberg, who tweeted that she stood "in solidarity with the #FarmersProtests in India," and that "no amount of hate threats or violations of human rights will ever change that." Thunberg even shared a link to register objections to the new laws and a toolkit, in response to which Delhi police said they were investigating whether there was an international campaign to damage India's reputation. The toolkit, Thunburg said, was to "enable anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing farmers protests in India to better understand the situation and make decisions on how to support the farmers based on their own analysis."

In response to the support Rihanna and Thunberg created online for the farmers protesting, India's government and alt-right officials resorted to violence, as they have done in the past. Indian government officials not only burned photos of Rihanna and Thunberg, but issued arrest warrants for them on the basis that they were inciting terrorism. Tweets shaming the two from Bollywood celebrities quickly gained attention, and headlines in local Indian newspapers highlighted the two by saying they were inciting propaganda and trying to negatively impact India.

Rihanna's tweet couldn't have come at a worse time for India's government. In the last few weeks, global attention towards the farmers' movement has resulted in criticism towards India's handling of the protests by both the United Kingdom and Canadian officials. Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly been criticized for his support of Donald Trump and similar tactics of encouraging violence at peaceful demonstrations. According to NBC News, as farmers are not only a key part of India's economy but one of the most influential voting blocs in India, Modi faces challenges in any upcoming elections.

Rihanna's tweet has resulted in the issue becoming a topic of conversation in the U.S. and more awareness being created. Advocates have consistently urged that action to be taken to no avail. hile it is sad that it took a Western celebrity tweeting about the issue for it to garner more attention, it is also laudable that Rihanna took the time to do so. It sheds light on the fact that injustice cannot go unremarked upon.

It also gives activists hope that change can come and that there is support at all levels. While multiple Indian celebrities have been silencing the issue and calling the protests terrorism for their own comfort, Western celebrities raising their voices puts pressure on Indian officials to take action because of the global attention.

As of this report, an injunction issued by India's Supreme Court has temporarily paused implementation of the new laws, but farmers stand strong in demanding total appeal.

"The government treats us like thieves but we are fighting for our rights," Harbachan Singh, a farmer from Punjab who is managing a community kitchen at the Singhu border, told The Guardian. To learn more about the bills in question, check out this quick explainer on why the protested laws are not just an Indian issue but a global issue.

Did the Proud Boys know that their leader was an FBI informant? They do now

In a weird turn of events, Enrique Tarrio, a chairman for the extremist organization Proud Boys, who organized a massive event in Portland, Oregon, last year, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, Reuters reported. A federal court proceeding transcript from 2014, obtained by the outlet, found that Tarrio had been working undercover for investigators since his arrest in 2012.

During the Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, and Tarrio's lawyer detailed Tarrio's undercover work and claimed he had helped authorities prosecute at least 13 people in multiple cases involving drugs, gambling, and human smuggling.

However, in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Tarrio denied working undercover and providing information on others. "I don't know any of this," he said, referring to what was shared in the transcript. "I don't recall any of this."

According to the transcript, both the prosecutor and Tarrio's defense attorney requested a reduction in Tarrio's prison statement due to his involvement as an informant. While Tarrio acknowledged the reduction in his sentence from 30 months to 16 months, he insisted it was made because he and his co-defendants cleared up questions about their own case.

In regards to a smuggling case, Jeffrey Feiler, Tarrio's attorney, said that Tarrio, "at his own risk, in an undercover role met and negotiated to pay $11,000 to members of that ring to bring in fictitious family members of his from another country. "

Oddly enough, not only do the court transcripts contradict Tarrio's denial, but so do statements from the federal prosecutor.

"He cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes," prosecutor Vanessa Singh Johannes confirmed to Reuters.

Tarrio gained public attention after becoming the national chairman for the Proud Boys in 2018. The group began gaining further national attention after Donald Trump mentioned the hate group during a presidential debate. Instead of denouncing white supremacy as he was asked to do, Trump gave the group orders: "Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by," he said. "But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing [problem]."

As a violent Trump supporter, Tarrio organized protests and other events and encouraged a "war" after Trump lost the election last year. While he was arrested on Jan. 4, two days before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, by Washington police, at least five Proud Boys members were charged in the riot. Tarrio was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a protest in December. It's interesting how convenient it was that he was arrested before other serious crimes took place. While there is no evidence that he has cooperated with federal authorities since his Miami hearing, the timing of his arrest makes one wonder if he was still working with the FBI.

Additionally, the documents discovered by Reuters shed light on the fact that the leader of the Proud Boys group has repeatedly said in interviews he would never let police know of Proud Boys' plans, but he may have been collaborating with criminal investigators on multiple occasions in the past.

"Well if you're in the Proud Boys, you've gotta be pretty nervous," said Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, according to NBC News. "Because if this person was working as a confidential informant, almost like an undercover agent or secret agent, you are wondering, 'What is it that he could be saying about us some day?'"

If he was, there is no doubt that Tarrio has now denied helping law enforcement out of fear of backlash.

In a statement to Reuters, Johannes noted that she was surprised to see that the defendant, who she prosecuted in the past, has been a key contributor to violent political movements. "I knew that he was a fraudster, but had no reason to know that he was also a domestic terrorist," she said.

Officials are still in the process of investigating the role extremist groups like the Proud Boys played in the insurrection of the Capitol. While Tarrio wasn't present during the incident, he did make a trip to Washington, D.C. days prior. Who knows what his plans were then. Even if he did help investigators in the past, that does not dismiss the actions he has carried out or encouraged in these last few years.

So far, at least 150 people have been charged in association with the crimes committed at the Capitol at the start of this month. Despite what charges the rioters who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6 face, the conspiracy theories, groups, and ideology they followed still remain. Until those factors are addressed, violence of this nature will continue.

Off-duty cops across the US identified as participants in Capitol insurrection

Following the violent Capitol takeover on Jan. 6, members of the FBI and Washington, D.C. police are asking people to identify anyone who may have been involved in the attack. As names and photos continue to be shared on social media and other platforms, the truth that the rioters were not only working-class or "blue collar MAGA" is coming to light. Some Trump supporters who wreaked havoc have been identified as not only lawyers and CEOs but off-duty police officials. Off-duty and former law enforcement officers were identified from at least six states including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California, Texas, Virginia, and Washington State. The individuals have either faced suspensions or been referred for internal reviews following social media posts, The New York Times reported.

Many of the posts in question were made and shared by the officers themselves. According to The Root, the increasing number of investigations into officer attendance and conduct follows an announcement from the Seattle Police Department on Friday. The announcement confirmed that two officers were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their involvement in the Capitol invasion.

While being present outside the Capitol building while riots took place is not a criminal activity, those who participated in invading the building did take in criminal actions. Investigators are working to examine whether or not the officers identified took part.

According to Politico, a current Metro D.C. police officer shared a Facebook post in which he noted that off-duty officers and members of the military who participated in the riots flashed their badges and I.D. cards in an attempt to invade the building. "If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment, you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms," the officer wrote on Facebook. Capitol police noted that more than 50 law enforcement officers who responded to the violence on Wednesday were injured by the white supremacists.

Additionally, two Black officers who were on duty during the attack told BuzzFeed News that off-duty officers were among the rioters. One of the Black officers, who requested to remain anonymous, shared that off-duty officials not only flashed their badges but attempted to explain that this movement was supposed to help them.

"You have the nerve to be holding a Blue Lives Matter flag, and you are out there fucking us up," the officer said he told one group of protesters inside the Capitol. "[One guy] pulled out his badge and he said, 'We're doing this for you.' Another guy had his badge. So I was like, 'Well, you gotta be kidding.'"

The second officer recalled that he and other officers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in an attempt to fight off mob members and were outnumbered 10 to one. "We were telling them to back up and get away and stop, and they're telling us, they are on our side, and they're doing this for us, and they're saying this as I'm getting punched in my face by one of them … That happened to a lot of us. We were getting pepper sprayed in the face by those protesters, I'm not going to even call them protestors, by those domestic terrorists," the officer told BuzzFeed News.

Police officials were not the only public service members found taking part in Wednesday's riots. NBC News reported that the names of multiple members of the New York Fire Department have been turned over to the FBI based on photographs of them participating in the failed coup. Members of the Sanford Fire Department in Florida are also being investigated after photos emerged online.

According to Reuters, at least one firefighter has been placed on administrative leave. Dozens of people have been criminally charged as the FBI seeks more information from the public to identify the criminals involved. Officials have urged media companies to preserve photos, videos, and other data related to the riots and crime scenes.

'Murder the media': Photographers release terrifying video of the mob attack outside the Capitol gates

As violent Trump supporters terrorized the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, members of Congress were not the only people they were looking to intimidate. These terrorists also targeted journalists and press under Donald Trump's message of declaring the news and media an "enemy of the people."

"Murder the media," was written on a door of the Capitol while terrorists took over and attacked a group of reporters. In one incident John Minchillo, a photographer of the Associated Press, was attacked by a mob of Trump supporters outside the Capitol building. The violent incident was captured on video and shared by another photographer on Twitter. Local photographers and reporters were present at the break of the horrific violence that took place Wednesday. Footage shared on social media depicts the consequences of words bigots like Trump use to incite violence on communities and spaces.

"Please use this moment to reflect on the importance of journalism as a conduit between us. We tell stories. That's our mission. We have the privilege to shepherd moments over time and space. Please subscribe to your hard working local papers, support their vocation," Minchillo replied to the video of his attack being shared on Twitter.

(WARNING: This story contains violent video, photos, and language that may not be suitable for all readers.)

In a thread of photos posted on Twitter, BuzzFeed News reporter Paul McLeod captured photos of equipment left behind by the Associated press after crowds attacked reporters. According to McLeod, one man yelled "We are the news now, as a crowd damaged the equipment. McLeod also reported that a noose was fashioned from a camera cord and hung from a tree.

The Associated Press confirmed that its equipment had been stolen and destroyed and noted that none of its staff members had been injured.

In another video posted on Twitter, the terrorists again attempted to target individuals they thought were from CNN. While it is unclear whether the journalist was from CNN, the fact that these journalists were assaulted is not okay.

But the violent Trump allies were not the only ones after journalists on Wednesday. Reporters for The Washington Post were shortly detained by police while reporting on Tuesday night, following a pattern of law enforcement officials arresting reporters for doing their work throughout this year.

The reporters arrested were identified as Zoeann Murphy and Whitney Leaming. The two shared on Twitter that they were safe after quickly being released. "I have heard from so many journalist friends/colleagues who were at or around the Capitol today that they are 'fine'. This is a lie," Leaming tweeted. "They are not fine but they push aside their physical safety and mental health to focus on the story at hand [because] one of the most important rules of journalism is that the story is not about you. Just please remember that and maybe not threaten their life, I beg you."

According to The New York Times, media officials were threatened and surrounded for hours, those inside the Capitol building were forced to find shelter in secure locations to avoid assault. A reporter with The Los Angeles Times recalled her experience hiding in the House gallery during an armed standoff.

Sarah D. Wire of The Los Angeles Times wrote:

I heard a ruckus behind me and turned and saw a dozen reporters being ushered into the gallery from press offices. Then police shut and locked the doors. Police interrupted the proceedings to announce that tear gas had been deployed in the rotunda.
A staff member handed me an evacuation hood, a cumbersome plastic bag that filters out tear gas and chemicals. She told me to pass it and others down the row until everyone had one. Reporters were not the only ones in the gallery. Staff members were monitoring the proceedings. More than a dozen lawmakers had also taken seats in the public galleries overlooking the House floor. Now we were locked in the room together.

The rioters driven by Trump's hate clearly had no fear of police involvement. CBS News reporter Chip Reid, who has worn protective gear he last wore while covering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted that a rioter told him law enforcement officials would not protect journalists. "There were no police around us—we were on our own," Reid said. "We high-tailed it out of there."

Of course, Trump later addressed the crowd in a video statement Wednesday but continued on his claims that the election has been "stolen." The video removed by many social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter is predicted to incite further violence. As Trump continues to target anyone who calls out his lies, his zombies continue to ready for battle.

"Rioters at the Capitol called for violence against members of the news media, destroyed news equipment and verbally harassed journalists as the 'enemy of the people's—actions that not only pose a dire threat to those working tirelessly to bring information to our communities, but also to the press freedom that is a bedrock value of our nation," Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement.

"These actions are the direct result of years of this language stoking fear and hate for one of our most vital institutions. Our free press is crucial to democracy, and indeed, one of the pillars that will help keep it standing beyond this moment."

Here's why you should care about the thousands of farmers protesting in India

2020 has been a year of ongoing protests and demonstrations for change across the globe. It has also been the year the world saw not only the largest but longest single protest to date. For almost a month now, tens of thousands of farmers in India have marched and protested against three bills passed in India's parliament in September. Since their start in late November, the protests have spread from the Indian capital of New Delhi to other parts of the country and garnered global attention. More than 250 million people across India have participated in not only the ongoing protest but in 24-hour strikes to show solidarity. According to Reuters, nearly 30 people have died as a result of freezing temperatures and at least 10 have died in accidents near protest sites

Despite the severe cold weather, farmers from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan have vowed to stay camped outside of national highways until the laws are repealed. "It's very difficult to camp out in this weather, but we aren't scared," Balbir Singh, an octogenarian from the Patiala district of Punjab, told Reuters. "We won't go back until our demands are met. Even if we have to die here, we will."

The bills in question include the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. While the first two laws expand on the marketing infrastructure provided by India's state-level governments and enable direct marketing of farm products to processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, and exporters, the third law works to facilitate the production, movement, and distribution of farm produce by removing existing regulatory barriers. As a result, farmers' already depressed wealth is further reduced.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi argues that under these laws the agricultural system will be streamlined and farmers will have more freedom to sell their goods at any price directly to private businesses, as opposed to having to sell their produce through auction, known as the "mandi system." However, farmers argue that these bills will collectively privatize the agricultural system, making them vulnerable to corporate exploitation.

Additionally, under the new laws large corporations can dominate the market by driving down prices and diminishing any advantage farmers had at setting their own produce prices. This will add to India's growing unemployment and the debt the farming community is already facing.

According to Al Jazeera, many farmers argue the current state-controlled "mandi system" needs reform within the food supply chain to give farmers more options to sell their crops to make a profit, and that these new laws will only further disempower farmers economically and within the agricultural system as a whole.

Despite consistent development in the tech sector, agriculture still remains the largest source of income for most Indians, employing more than one-half of the subcontinent's workforce. However, despite feeding a significant portion of India's economy and people, farmers themselves have struggled for years, often bearing debts and losses as a result of not only marketed goods but severe weather changes resulting from climate change.

While Modi and his corrupt government maintain that these laws will protect farmers, these farmers, who are often elderly, refuse to stop protesting until their demands are met. "We're worried no one will buy our produce, and that we'll go into debt," Harinder Singh, general secretary of a Punjabi farmers union, told NPR. "We want the government to repeal these laws."

Similar to protests in the U.S. in which peaceful demonstrators are met with police-induced violence, protesters in India have faced harsh and violent retaliation from the government. At the start of the protest on Nov. 25 when marchers first reached New Delhi, police officials not only used tear gas and water cannons against protesters but damaged roads outside the city to prevent them from entering. Photos and videos went viral on social media depicting the brutal tactics police officials were using, including beating protesters. Despite this, farmers and their allies continued to march on and were even filmed feeding some of the officers who beat them.

As a result of global attention and the ongoing protest being the largest and longest one in human history, talks between representatives of a farmers union and government officials are scheduled to take place this week. This has come as a shock to many South Asians, as the Modi government is not known to talk about issues and instead inflict violence on protesters of its policies.

While these protests are taking place mainly in India and are in favor of Indian farmers, it is important to note that they impact conditions and people outside of the country. "The pandemic has shown us that there are two economies," Simran Jeet Singh, a scholar of religion and history currently teaching at Union Seminary, told CNN. "Essential workers across the world are suffering. The farmers in India represent all of them, and their resistance to unjust legislation that privileges the uber-wealthy corporations is a resistance that speaks to so many of us all over the world."

Not only is India one of the world's largest producers and exporters of spices, but the places in which these protests are happening lead the world's export in Basmati rice and milk. Outside of food, these herbs are used for homeopathy and medical practices as well. Odds are that something in your home was made in India and would not have been had these farmers been protesting earlier. These protests impact not only the livelihood of farmers in India but also how you receive the goods you use on a daily basis, whether it be spices or cotton found in your clothing or bed sheets.

"Even if you don't feel a personal connection to India or the farmers out there like many of us do, as a human being who lives on earth you should be concerned about exploitation of the people who feed you everyday," Ramanpreet Kaur, a Sikh Punjabi woman in New York, told CNN.

People from all across the world including the U.S. are partaking in solidarity movements with these farmers because even if you do not consume the goods they produce, this is a humanitarian issue. Human beings should always be valued over corporations. A number of nonprofit organizations like Khalsa Aid are working to provide protesters and organizers with food and other supplies. Even if you cannot protest, you can help these farmers in a number of ways, including donating to organizations that help the families impacted such as Sahaita. Whether you are Indian or not should not matter: Exploitation should not be ignored.

A Black man was shot three times for carrying a Subway sandwich outside of his home in Ohio

After a 23-year-old Black man was killed outside of his home in Ohio by a veteran SWAT deputy, local activists are questioning what really happened that led to the incident. The man killed, identified as Casey Goodson Jr., was neither a suspect nor the focus of any investigation, according to Buzzfeed News.

Officers were said to be looking for a suspect nearby when Goodson drove by, said Peter Tobin, the U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, on Friday at a press conference. The Franklin County Sheriff's Office confirmed in a statement Sunday that veteran and Franklin County Sheriff's deputy Jason Meade shot Goodson for allegedly waving a gun from his car. However, Goodson's family said that Goodson was shot three times in the back while entering his home carrying a Subway sandwich after returning from a dentist appointment.

Tobin claimed that Goodson was outside of his vehicle when he was approached by deputies, who ordered him to drop the gun. After refusing to drop his weapon, he was shot and taken to Ohio Health Riverside Methodist Hospital where he later died, Tobin said according to USA Today. He added that Goodson was not the suspect the task force was looking for, but the shooting was justified. Tobin's narrative not only failed to mention where Goodson was shot, but left out other details essential to the incident.

The inconsistency in the recollection of events has caused outrage across the country. Activists are demanding the release of body cam footage, police reports, and an investigation into the incident in order to hold officers accountable. While the sheriff's office statement did not clarify whether or not Goodson drew his weapon at officers or was holding one when shot, it was claimed that the weapon was found at the scene, but the statement failed to specify where.

Additionally, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, Marc Gofstein, alleged that officers do not have body cameras, USA Today reported.

"Casey was not a target of that task force and his death is completely unrelated to that investigation," Walton + Brown, the law firm representing the Goodson family, said in a statement Sunday. "While police claim that Casey drove by, waving a gun, and was confronted by the deputy after exiting his vehicle, that narrative leaves out key details that raise cause for extreme concern."

Goodson not only had a clean record but was licensed in Ohio to carry a concealed weapon. Family members shared that Goodson only carried a gun for protection and had not used it for "violence or ignorance."

"At this point, witness testimony and physical evidence raise serious concerns about why Casey was even confronted, let alone why he was shot dead while entering his own home," the law firm said.

Goodson's sister, Sani Payne, told BuzzFeed News that Goodson's grandmother and two children witnessed his death. "They ran in the kitchen to my brother on the floor bleeding," Payne, who wasn't home at the time of the incident, said. Payne added that at the time that her brother was shot, he was carrying a Subway sandwich, his keys, and a mask while opening the door to his home.

"Even hours after his death, the keys that he used to let himself in the house as he was shot and killed hung in the door – a reminder to his family of how close he was to safety," the family's attorneys said in a statement.

Kaylee Harper, Goodson's other sister, created an online fundraiser for his funeral and posted on Facebook to share her thoughts on the incident. "My brother literally walked across the yard, walked into the back fence to get to the side door, had his Subway (sandwich) and (COVID) mask in one hand keys in the other, unlocked and opened the door and stepped in the house before (police shot) him," Harper wrote. "If he was such a threat," she continued, "why did you wait so long to shoot?!"

Activists are not only concerned about the inconsistency the authorities have been prone to in this case, but about the rising number of Black folks killed by the police nationwide. "He had a family ... and was living his life as a person and was shot down by the police," said Aramis Sundiata, executive director of the People's Justice Project.

A White House spokesman let slip a damning admission of callous disregard for Trump's own voters

We're less than a week away from election night and the Trump administration is set on spreading the novel coronavirus to anyone it can get its hands on. Nationwide the U.S. is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases following visits from Donald Trump's campaign. As rallies for Trump continue daily, some states are reporting more than 50% increases in COVID-19 cases.

Despite this, the White House claimed Tuesday that Trump has ended COVID-19 and does not plan to take any action on stopping the spread. Interesting how rising hospitalizations and the country facing its highest number of per average cases a day is equivalent to ending the coronavirus for the Trump administration. The reality is Trump isn't ending the coronavirus pandemic, he's spreading it.

The only break Trump has taken in visiting states to campaign is when he himself was diagnosed with COVID-19. Mike Pence, however, took a different approach: instead of quarantining responsibly as one of the nation's leaders, he continued to campaign despite having been in close contact with individuals who tested positive for COVID-19.

When asked about Pence's visit to a state with increasing cases and full capacity hospitals, a member of the Trump administration told CNN Wednesday that an increase in cases and lack of hospital space will not deter the Trump campaign or Pence from visiting.

CNN's Alisyn Camerota: "Hospitals in Wisconsin are near capacity. Does that give you any pause about going there and holding a big rally?"
Trump 2020 Press Sec. Hogan Gidley: "No, it doesn't … the VP has the best doctors in the world around him. ...The fact is we are seeing some good news about coronavirus."
It's mind-boggling that the Trump administration is calling increases in cases across the country "good news." Additionally, answering CNN's question with only acknowledgment of Pence and his safety as opposed to the American people who will be present at this rally is disturbing. It shows the clear lack of concern the Trump administration has for not only the American people but even its supporters. The lack of masks, social distancing, and the potential of spread at these categorized as "high risk" rallies is extreme. Ignoring the safety of Wisconsin residents and thinking only of Pence, who has access to "the best doctors," is profound.

As of Oct. 27, at least 5,331 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wisconsin. The state's average has increased by 46% in the last two weeks resulting in an average of 4,221 new cases per day. As of this report, there have been at least 217,447 cases and 1,896 deaths in Wisconsin since the beginning of the pandemic, according to The New York Times database.

CNN's Wednesday interview follows an interview with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday during which he said the White House is "not going to control the pandemic." That statement is probably the only truthful thing the Trump administration has told. The rising number of cases nationwide is proof that the Trump administration has done nothing to and will do nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. has seen an increase of 39% in its average from two weeks ago in cases per day. More than 8.8 million Americans have been infected with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in March. With an average of 73,094 new COVID-19 cases per day the U.S. is failing to protect its citizens from this virus. The deadly coronavirus pandemic is far from over and if elected again Trump will only increase this death toll and infection numbers.

Nashville confirms more than 200 new cases of COVID-19 within 24 hours of maskless religious event

Despite increases in COVID-19 cases across the country, some people are committed to large gatherings. Christian pastor Sean Feucht has once again hosted a prayer protest at which he claims thousands were in attendance. The Sunday protest entitled "Let Us Worship" included live music with no social distancing between packed, unmasked crowds. Individuals gathered at the city's Public Square Park to protest safety measures in place in religious institutions in efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Footage of the event has gone viral on social media with no masks in sight as people gather around what looks like a concert stage. "We had THREE venue changes and so much resistance BUT THE CHURCH WILL NOT BE SILENCED!" Feucht said in a tweet Sunday about the event.

According to The Tennessean, California-based Feucht hosted the event in Nashville despite not having a permit to do so. As a result, the Metro Public Health Department is investigating the incident. "We have worked very hard to slow the spread of COVID by taking a measured approach to protect the community," the health department told The Tennessean. "The Health Department is very concerned by the actions that took place at the event and we are investigating and will pursue appropriate penalties against the organizer."

Nashville has limited gatherings without city approval to 25 people, CBS News reported. Approved events can have a maximum of 500 people, but masks are required. Dr. Alex Jahangir, leader of the city's coronavirus task force, expressed concern about the gathering, especially during a time when the state has seen an increase in cases. Jahangir told The Tennessean he was unaware of the event until Monday morning. "Any time there are a lot of people together, without masks, I have concerns, and that holds true in this scenario," Jahangir said. "From the pictures I saw online, good Lord, did you see people wearing masks? I didn't. That is not helpful to our cause."

Police Chief John Drake also noted the irresponsible behavior as the police department was not present at the event. "I am greatly disappointed that the organizer of Sunday's event and those in attendance did not better prioritize their health and the health of others through social distancing and the wearing of face coverings," he said Monday, according to NBC News. "Personal responsibility is a necessity regardless of the purpose for a public event."

Last month Daily Kos reported on other events hosted by Feucht, including an event described as a rock concert in California where thousands attended without COVID-19 precautions. According to Feucht's website, he also hosted an event in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday and plans to host more in South Carolina, Missouri, and Washington, D.C. Feucht's "Let Us Worship" tour is spreading more than freedom of faith across the country—it's spreading COVID-19.

As my colleague Marissa noted, some religious leaders across the country have resorted to ignoring coronavirus regulations. COVID-19 cases nationwide have been linked to these events, which often violate public health rules, including social distancing, mandatory masks, and limits on those in attendance. Just a day after the event's occurrence, The Tennessean reported an increase of more than 250 cases within 24 hours; this has resulted in health officials being "very concerned" about the increase in numbers this event will bring.

A video from the event shared on YouTube depicts a crowd of all ages gathered at the Nashville courthouse Sunday:

#LETUSWORSHIP - Sean Feucht - Nashville, TN youtu.be


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