David Neiwert

The Proud Boys mark their threatening return in Oregon

When the Proud Boys and their far-right cohorts led the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, they did so largely operating under their longstanding belief that the police were on their side. This weekend, breaking their weeks of quiet amid a stream of post-Jan. 6 arrests, they held an armed "Second Amendment" rally in Salem, Oregon—without a whiff of police presence.

That meant that the Proud Boys, acting as gun-bearing "security" for the "One Nation, One God" rally on Saturday at Salem's Riverfront Park—an event that had no permit from the city—were able to close off access to anyone deemed undesirable, threatening both journalists and citizens with impunity. The only sign of law enforcement was a police helicopter hovering overhead.

Proud Boys threaten journalists, close public park for far-right May Day event in Salem, OR www.youtube.com

Journalist Tim Gruver of The CenterSquare Oregon was threatened by Proud Boys and refused entrance to cover the event. "Riverfront is a public park," Gruver noted on Twitter. "Families are gathered right next door."

A videographer who uses the nom de plume "Behind Enemy Lines" was also escorted out of the event by Proud Boys. "OK, gotta get you outta here," a masked Proud Boy can be seen telling him on video he published. "Roll it up." As he leaves, they make it clear that they believe he "doxxed" (revealed the identity of) a Proud Boy at a previous event.

Promoted online as a "May Day 2A Rally," the event drew 100-200 attendees, according to reporters. They were observed carrying semi-automatic pistols or rifles. And despite the lack of any authority to do so, they "closed" the public park to media and forced out anyone they believed didn't belong, including at least one elderly man who was just walking through the park.

Oregon Proud Boys have deep connections to the Jan. 6 insurrection, including two brothers who were arrested for their roles in the Capitol siege. Moreover, their participation in the invasion of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Dec. 21 was in many ways a powerful precursor of the Jan. 6 event, especially in terms of the far right's antidemocratic strategies.

The leading scheduled speaker for the event was Rep. Mike Nearman, the Dalles-based state House member who was seen on video opening a door to allow insurrectionists into the building on Dec. 21. Nearman has been charged with two misdemeanors—official misconduct in the first degree and criminal trespass in the second degree—for that act.

However, Nearman was a no-show. Instead, the best-known speaker Saturday was Jo Rae Perkins, the QAnon-loving Republican nominee for Oregon's U.S. Senate seat in 2020. Perkins called COVID-19 vaccines a "bioweapon," repeated false "stolen election" claims, and claimed the state is "going after your children."

"Let's take back Oregon, let's take back this country," she said.

A number of Salem residents remarked on the threatening and bullying behavior and the absence of a police presence on social media. "The Proud Boys are basically illegally taking over Riverfront park for the day and are forcefully ejecting people they don't like," tweeted one citizen. "They have weapons. Salem PD are doing nothing and have blocked me, a Salem resident, on this platform. This is not ok."

One elderly man posted a description of the scene on Facebook:

Just took a stroll through our Riverfront Park which Republicans and other fascists had commandeered for their meeting. A large number of men, mostly with sidearms, in Proud Boys uniforms, mainly military belts and camouflage, and also American flags and Trump paraphernalia.
The most noticeable aspect, which was my main reason for checking this out, was that there was absolutely no Salem Police present. Not only in the Park itself but also on the periphery, along Front Street. Not a one.
As I ambled through the venue I was accosted by a woman who demanded to know why I had a mask on. Then she demanded that I not take photos, and then insisted that I tell her my name. Turns out she was one of the "organizers".
After that I sat in the amphitheater area and listened to speakers, mostly Republicans. The atmosphere of hatred and blind, ignorant fury was unbelievable.
I was going to stay until Representative Nearman gave his speech but before we got to that part of the program four heavily armed and uniformed Proud boys sat down next to me and said they were going to escort me out of there, saying the "organizers" didn't want me there.
I naturally complied and as we were walking out I asked the one who seemed to be their spokesman what would happen if I didn't agree to leave as told, would they forcibly evict me. He said we could do it either way it was up to me.
Most of us, quite understandably, don't want to stay up at night worrying about these characters but at least believe that they have a serious agenda that involves violence and attacks on our governmental institutions. And the police will not be on our side.

Another Salem resident posted about his experience on Reddit:

I was walking past the fisherman statue towards the carousel with one of the kids I support when we saw a group of them walking by, so we cut through the grass towards the front of the carousel. I snapped a picture to post to snapchat and they started following me, yelling "give me that phone fucker." They started getting closer so we started hurrying to the gates. I had to stop when I got separated from the kid I support. They started shoving me telling me that I needed to go. One grabbed a hold of me so I tried to stabilize myself and one of them held me while a couple others started swinging at me. It felt like four or five were there but it was more likely only two or three of them involved in the scuffle. They smacked me in the head a couple times and got my ribs and back before throwing me on the ground. They wouldn't let me go back to the kid I support while she was still in the park so I had to walk along the train tracks and she had to follow me on the opposite side of the fence. She was being followed by somebody wearing a ballistic vest and holding a pistol at their side. We ended up back together at the parking lot by the gilbert house and they stopped following her.

The same man commented later that police did come to his home for a statement:

Police came by the house I'm working at and asked me questions. Dude spent the entire time basically trying to ask whether or not I was agitating them. Officer said "It's not normal for them to do that unprovoked, but you're not the first person they've thrown out today."

The Western States Center, a Portland-based social justice organization, issued a letter denouncing the event. It was cosigned by a coalition of religious and community groups, as well as the state's Democratic congressional delegation and Gov. Kate Brown as well as other elected officials. "We condemn the bigotry and racism that were always in our community, and that anti-democratic groups and some elected officials have emboldened," it read.

"The far-right actors behind the May 1 rally do not speak for Salem and they do not speak for Oregon," the letter went on. "Hate and intimidation has no place in our community, and those who explicitly or subtly encourage violence should be held accountable."

Idaho indulges in its traditional anti-environmental hysteria with new wolf extermination bill

Amid hysterical claims that wolves are driving ranchers out of business, Idaho's Republican state Senate this week approved legislation that would enable hired contractors to exterminate up to 90% of the state's wild wolf population. The bill, if signed (as expected) by GOP Gov. Brad Little would end tag limits on wolves and allow year-round trapping on private land.

It may have had the appearance of being a simple anti-environmental move by conservative Republicans taking advantage of a late-tenure maneuver by Donald Trump that green-lighted the state to kill more wolves. But it was also part of a long Idaho tradition of conspiracist fearmongering in which killing wolves is seen as a way of fighting back against the federal government and liberal environmentalists.

"These wolves, there's too many in the state of Idaho," declared Sen. Mark Harris before Wednesday's vote. "They're destroying ranchers; they're destroying wildlife."

Harris—whose southeastern Idaho district in Soda Springs is nowhere near any Idaho wolf habitat, which is primarily relegated to the central and northern parts of the state—repeated a tale of a "gentleman rancher" victimizes by a pack of wolves. He complained that Idaho's wolf management plan calls for only 150 wolves, and now over 1,500 wolves are believed to reside there.

The bill passed by a 26-7 vote. Little has not said whether or not he will sign it, but he did sign similar anti-wolf legislation in 2017.

The door to the legislation was opened by Trump's decision in late October 2020, just before the election, to hand wolf management decisions over to the states and local tribes. At the time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director claimed the wolf populations were fully recovered, though there was no scientific data to support that claim. The wolves officially lost their federal protection 60 days later.

This is nothing particularly new for Idaho. In 2014, then-Gov. Butch Otter signed legislation approving $400,000 in funding to kill as many as 500 of the state's estimated population of 650 wolves, leaving as few as 10 breeding pairs. Otter had made loathing of wolves a centerpiece of his political image.

Much of the antipathy is predicated on old fashioned fear about wolves, particularly given their predilection for preying on livestock and family pets in areas where humans inhabit their range, not to mention the potential threat they represent to human life. But there is also a powerful political element, particularly in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, that is fueled by far-right anti-government paranoia and conspiracy theories.

For years, wolf recovery efforts have been depicted in the rural West as the imposition of the "New World Order" on residents of the rural areas where the creatures roam. A number of far-right outlets, including the John Birch Society's magazine and the conspiracist website World Net Daily, have run pieces describing how wolf recovery is a key component of a plot by radical environmentalists on behalf of the United Nations to destroy private property rights in America. In the Mountain West, holding such views is not uncommon.

When militias were first organizing in Idaho and Montana in the early to mid-1990s, much of the anti-government sentiment that drove recruitment revolved around resentment for the just-instituted wolf recovery efforts.

"It was seen as direct government intervention into their way of life and telling them what they had to put up with and what they couldn't shoot," recalls Amaroq Weiss, wolf recovery director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization that has filed numerous lawsuits over the years to prevent the wolf hunts in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. "So this goes way back. The wolf has always been a surrogate for hatred for the federal government in the areas where the reintroductions took place."

The John Birch Society's house organ, The New American, published an article in 2001 more or less outlining this same conspiracy: "Simply put, the 'wolf recovery' program is a form of environmental terrorism. Thus while the U.S. government is working through the UN to fight a war against terrorism abroad, it is collaborating with UN-linked environmental radicals to wage an eco-terrorist campaign against rural property owners here at home."

The embodiment of the extreme nature of these sentiments came in the winter of 2013 when a group of men wearing Klan-like hoods posed with the corpse of a freshly killed wolf and an American flag and then posted it on Facebook. The page that published the picture belonged to a couple of Wyoming outfitters, who later explained that they were harkening back to Western vigilantism: "Trying to make a statement! ... Frontier Justice! Wyoming hunters are fed up!"

The reality of livestock depredation by wolves makes a very different picture. Wildlife Services, the agency that oversees the killing of wolves, has been reporting that wolf predation in Idaho has been reaching record levels. However, those numbers have also been questioned by a number of environmentalist critics.

The problem with Wildlife Services' numbers is that they were recently changed to be much broader, so that they now include killings even where there is no evidence of predation, injury, or struggle, since the Services claim—without scientific evidence—that cattle can die from overexertion hours or even days after encounters with wolves.

Moreover, wolf predation represents only a tiny portion of cattle losses each year. While proponents of the Idaho bill note that 753 cattle, 952 sheep, and 54 other animals were killed by wolves between 2015 and 2020, the state is home to some 2.5 million cattle; those losses represent less than 1% of that population.

Predation overall represents only 4% of all livestock deaths on an annual basis—and the largest portion of that predation (over 40%) is by coyotes. Wolves, at 4%, represent the second-smallest class of cattle predator (with bears coming in last).

The Humane Society of the United States called the Idaho bill "a blatant attempt to usurp state biologists tasked with managing Idaho's wolves.

"This bill doesn't just cross an ethical line; it sprints right past it. It is an embarrassment to the state of Idaho, and there is absolutely no scientific or ethical justification for this deeply misguided and dangerous legislation. In a race to slaughter one of America's most treasured animals, this bill allows fear and hate to win. Idaho's wolves deserve better; the environment deserves better. This bill must be vetoed by Governor Little if it comes to his desk."

‘Stop the Steal’ spread on Facebook enabled Jan. 6 insurrection: internal report

Facebook executives have been dismissive from the start about attempts to hold them accountable for their social media platform's role in inciting and organizing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—including CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress last month in which he evaded questions about his company's culpability, saying: "I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law and do the insurrection."

But an internal Facebook report uncovered by BuzzFeed shows that the company failed to take action against "Stop the Steal" and other accounts where false information about the election was widely propagated in an attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election, violence was encouraged, and where much of the insurrection was organized. Though the report was completed shortly after Zuckerberg's testimony, it essentially corroborated a report by the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz days before he testified that found Facebook's culpability in the Capitol siege extended to well over a year before the event.

BuzzFeed reports that the internal document, assembled by an internal task force studying harmful networks, acknowledges the role of Facebook activity by "Stop the Steal" activists, as well as pro-Trump groups associated with the brief attempt to organize a "Patriot Party" split from the GOP, in the violent events of Jan. 6. It also observes that insisting on an "inauthentic behavior" standard—rather than one based on the spread of misinformation and violent speech—hindered its attempts to take the appropriate preemptive steps.

"Hindsight is 20/20, at the time, it was very difficult to know whether what we were seeing was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy," reads the report. "But hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection."

"Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" wondered Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, in comments to BuzzFeed.

"For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to: Do you care? Do you care enough about democracy? Do you care enough about the fate of the nation to ensure that your product is not used to coordinate and overthrow the government?" she said. "There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events. And when they're organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes."

The report noted that while Facebook executives were pleased "at having made it past the election without major incident," that feeling was "tempered by the rise in angry vitriol and a slew of conspiracy theories that began to steadily grow" afterwards.

Donovan observed that the Stop the Steal organizing began long before Election Day, and that Facebook's failure to prepare illustrates how poorly it is able to protect democracy. Indeed, that was largely the thrust of the Avaaz report on Facebook's culpability in the insurrection published March 18, six days before Zuckerberg testified.

The Avaaz study found that over the eight months leading up to the election, there were an estimated 10 billion views on key top-performing Facebook pages that regularly and repeatedly shared false information about the election. There was also a marked lack of moderation on those pages, allowing the "false or misleading information with the potential to cause public harm" to flourish. Those pages, the study found, saw a nearly threefold increase in interactions from October 2019—when they had 97 million—to a year later, when they had 277.9 million. It also found that nearly 100 million voters saw false voter fraud content on Facebook.

"A poll conducted in October 2020 found that 44% of registered voters reported seeing misinformation about mail-in voter fraud on Facebook (that equates to approximately 91 million registered voters)," the report states. "The polling suggests that 35% of registered voters (approximately 72 million people) believed this false claim."

This growth particularly benefited pages backing the authoritarian QAnon conspiracy cult and, later, the Stop The Steal movement. The Avaaz study found 267 groups championing violence around the election with a combined following of 32 million—nearly 70% of which had Boogaloo, QAnon, or militia-themed names and content.

Facebook's reliance on algorithmic detection played a large role in its failures to act on these pages, Avaaz noted, since the company's policies also allow misinformation on their platform if it is being spread by politicians. It noted that political ads for the Georgia election featured misinformation that had been debunked by fact checkers nonetheless being spread by Republican candidates—permissible under Facebook policy.

"The scary thing is that this is just for the top 100 pages—this is not the whole universe of misinformation," Fadi Quran, a campaign director at Avaaz, told Time. "This doesn't even include Facebook Groups, so the number is likely much bigger. We took a very, very conservative estimate in this case."

Donovan pointed to Facebook's focus on "inauthentic activity," such as people using fake accounts, as the source of its failure. This problem was manifested earlier when Facebook attempted to clamp down on QAnon pages, but failed utterly because its takedowns were based on "coordinated inauthentic behavior," which describes accounts and pages that mislead people about their identity and intentions, regardless of whether the information they spread is accurate or not.

In other words, those QAnon pages were removed not because they spread wildly false smears but because the people operating them broke Facebook's rules about false or double identities. It's a peculiarly self-serving standard that uses truthfulness in creating accounts as a proxy for truthfulness in the content being promulgated. Moreover, as Donovan told BuzzFeed, it means that Facebook can ignore how its products create coordinated activity among real people, and the harm that can result, she said.

The internal Facebook report largely acknowledges this, explaining that the social media giant was outmaneuvered by coordinated accounts that formed a powerful network of groups promoting hate, inciting violence, and spreading lies about the election.

So-called "super-inviter" accounts—highly influential activists within these far-right movements—played key roles in the ability of Stop the Steal pages to spread even after Facebook banned the original group. The largest of these pages were fueled by 137 super-inviters who recruited some 67% of their members; and that many of these people coordinated with each other, lying about their locations and using private groups to organize.

"Because we were looking at each entity individually, rather than as a cohesive movement, we were only able to take down individual Groups and Pages once they exceeded a violation threshold," the report reads. "After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement."

The Avaaz report features a long list of recommendations, including reforms for the company to undertake on its own, such as "detoxing" the algorithms, submitting to audits and other forms of transparency, and proactively correcting the record when misinformation appears on its platforms. It also recommends that President Biden launch an initiative to build an anti-disinformation infrastructure.

However, given Facebook's refusal to accept culpability in the insurrection, it also makes sense for lawmakers to take steps. So the report urges an investigation into Facebook's role, both by Congress and by a proposed Jan. 6 Commission, which would "go beyond the actors involved in the insurrection, and investigate the tools they used, including Facebook's role in undermining the 2020 elections, and whether the platform's executives were aware of how it was being used as a tool to radicalize Americans and/or facilitate the mobilization of radicalized individuals to commit violence."

"This shows the company is anti-democratic at the very least," Donovan observed, "and at the very worst, it shows that they know the risks, and they know the harm that can be caused and they are not willing to do anything significant to stop it from happening again."

A 'lifetime member' of the Oath Keepers just sealed a cooperation deal in Capitol insurrection case

A self-described "lifetime member" of the Oath Keepers has become the first defendant in the Jan. 6 insurrection cases to enter a guilty plea as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, following a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Friday morning.

The plea bargain for Jon Schaffer, 53, a heavy-metal guitarist from Indiana who was photographed assaulting officers with bear spray and entering the U.S. Capitol, was approved by Judge Ahmit Mehta. Schaffer engaged in a long conversation with Mehta acknowledging that the deal requires him to "cooperate fully with the United States," which included providing evidence of known crimes and sitting for interviews with investigators.

Schaffer's guilty plea to two charges—obstructing an official proceeding and illegally entering the Capitol grounds—makes him the first participant in the insurrection to agree to provide evidence against his fellow rioters. Schaffer, who originally faced six felony charges, will enter the government's witness protection program as part of the deal.

According to an earlier filing, which was mistakenly made public, Schaffer in March began engaging in "debrief interviews." As The Washington Post notes, the plea bargain marks a critical step forward in the prosecution of the cases, as other defendants face similar choices in terms of providing evidence for prosecutors, particularly when it comes to the activities of the two key paramilitary organizations involved in the insurrection, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

"Whenever you have a large group of people arrested," criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it's common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. "They're going to start talking. They're going to start sharing information."

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was present in Washington on Jan. 6 but did not enter the Capitol, is one of the key figures being drawn into the net prosecutors are creating with conspiracy charges involving other members of his group. Though federal indictments handed down against his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys cohorts have not named him personally, he is referenced in several of them as "Person 1," a central player in what prosecutors are describing as a conspiracy to "stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote."

"I may go to jail soon," Rhodes recently told a right-wing rally in Texas. "Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you're found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don't like their political views."

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola's attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called "cooperating witness" was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that "anyone they got their hands on they would have killed," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence "if given the chance." The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that "they plan to kill every single 'm-fer' they can." That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.

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