Lynda Edwards

Russia now frontrunner to build nuclear reactors that Donald Trump ally Michael Flynn was negotiating

Since the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in August, Americans were reminded that Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and close friend and inaugural committee chairman Tom Barrack negotiated with Saudi Arabia to sell the kingdom the technology to build at least 14 nuclear reactors.

Whistleblowers were alarmed that the kingdom would use the technology for nuclear weapons and alerted Congress to the secret negotiations, resulting in a Congressional investigation. The White House did not cooperate with the investigation or share any requested documents.

But the House Oversight Committee obtained more than 60,000 pages of texts, emails, corporate memos and reports that offered a vivid look at how dangerous the Middle East could have become if the secret negotiations resulted in a sale.

Flynn wasn’t just negotiating on behalf of U.S. companies wanting to sell technology to the Saudis. He was also negotiating on behalf of Russia.

Like Trump, Flynn wanted to lift U.S. sanctions. Part of the deal he was pitching to the Saudis was that Russian construction and nuclear engineering firm OAO OMZ could sell its products and expertise to the kingdom

This summer, it looks as if Saudi Arabia is getting the technology it initially had wanted from Flynn and the Trump Administration– and Russia is in position to deliver it to the kingdom.

And one thing hasn’t changed since 2016 when Flynn first hatched his plan to get the Saudis nuclear technology: The Saudis still don’t want to agree to nonproliferation or inspections of any nuclear technology they buy.

This summer as Trump appears to have been refusing to return classified documents to the U.S. government, Saudi Arabia made an announcement the Western press didn't notice. It announced it was taking bids from China, Russia, France and South Korea to build several nuclear reactors across the kingdom. And Saudi Arabia still didn’t want to agree to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“That should set off alarm bells,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists warned in July. “Late in 2020, word leaked that the Saudis have been working secretly with the Chinese to mine and process Saudi uranium ore. These are steps toward enriching uranium—and a possible nuclear weapon program.”

The nukes' long, strange trip

While Trump was still on the presidential campaign trail in 2016, Flynn was negotiating a deal for the Saudis to get at least 14 – and as many as 40 – nuclear reactors from companies in America and Russia. As a Congressional investigation would discover, Flynn had close ties to IP3, a nuclear energy firm run by former U.S. generals, that would supply much of the materials, expertise and design.

Trump’s longtime friend Tom Barrack is a Lebanese American with business contacts across the Middle East. Barrack wanted Trump to appoint him a special envoy to the Middle East. Barrack helped Flynn push for the nuclear deal. Interestingly, Flynn recommended that Barrack be point man for the Saudi Arabian nuclear project rather than an official Trump’s Department of Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, would choose.

As Trump delivered his inauguration speech on January 20, 2017, Flynn texted one U.S. company that the plan was “good to go” and was “going to make a lot of very wealthy people.”

On January 22, 2017, Flynn was sworn in as national security adviser. In February, he was fired after proof emerged that he twice lied to Vice President Michael Pence about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Whistleblowers alerted Congress to how Flynn negotiated without properly briefing Congress or the State Department, alarming Republicans as well as Democrats.

But according to the Congressional investigative report, Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry continued after Flynn was fired.

Investigators found emails mentioning IP3 meetings with Perry and one with Perry and Trump after Flynn’s firing. A June 15, 2018 internal email, IP3 company officials referred to “ongoing meetings” with the DOE. Other IP3 executive emails refer to pressing the Trump Administration to let IP3 sell the kingdom nuclear technology. The report said IP3 executives seemed to think Perry favored the deal even without a nonproliferation agreement.

IP3 later issued a statement that rebutted the report by describing the meetings as routine efforts to explore new markets for American nuclear technology firms.

Interestingly, Trump demanded that Saudi Arabia be his first overseas presidential visit over the objections of his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Saudi Arabia spent an estimated $68 million entertaining Trump with sporting events, auto shows, a country music concert by singer Toby Keith, a projection of a five-story image of Trump’s face on the wall of his hotel, and a multimillion-dollar dinner in his honor.

Barrack’s role in the Saudi nuclear deal is now subject of a federal investigation.

Around Thanksgiving Day 2020, Trump pardoned Flynn who pleaded guilty for twice lying to the FBI. And Flynn’s post-pardon life has been vividly prosperous.

Gold and uranium paved roads

Flynn is now the star of Reawaken America, a road show of election denialists and Christian nationalists that brings election denialists, Oath Keepers, Christian nationalists, vaccine conspiracists, and other far-right celebrities to cities and towns across America. Flynn also promoted the Jan. 6 gathering-turned-lethal-riot with his own recruits. Flynn runs several lucrative consulting and politics-related companies. His Resilient Patriot LLC got paid $58,000 for a conference. An AP and “Frontline” examination of his finances found almost $300,000 in payments to Flynn and his businesses from candidates and political action committees since 2021.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia also made major progress toward its nuclear dreams even after Trump’s presidential defeat.

In August 2020, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Saudi Arabia, with China’s help, was building a nuclear facility in a remote, sparsely populated corner of the kingdom. The Journal said the facility was meant to extract uranium yellowcake from uranium ore but China had given the Saudis the designs needed to progress beyond that. The Saudi government claimed the facility was for “uranium exploration” only and didn’t violate any international agreements.

“‘Yellowcake’ is a milled form of uranium ore which occurs naturally in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries such as Jordan,” the Journal said. “It is produced by chemically processing uranium ore into a fine powder. It takes multiple additional steps and technology to process and enrich uranium sufficiently for it to power a civil nuclear energy plant. At very high enrichment levels, uranium can fuel a nuclear weapon.”

About a year later, June 3, 2021, news was announced via Russian news agency Tass that the Western press barely noted. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told a meeting of the Russian-Saudi intergovernmental commission that President Vladimir Putin was helping the Saudi kingdom develop several “nuclear power plants with low power reactors.” Tass refers to the reactors as small and “floating.”

They sound like the modular micro reactors that Trump ordered to be developed in an executive order that he signed the day before the Jan 6 riot.

The Tass article also said that Saudi Arabia would be taking bids from China, South Korea, France, the United States and Russia for its first big, “high powered” nuclear reactor.

Since then, industry analysts have tended to dismiss China as a contender because it doesn’t have the needed experience building in desert terrain to tackle such the ambitious Saudi project. France is deemed too expensive for the Saudi royals’ taste.

South Korea would face some legal complications because Korean nuclear reactors incorporate many elements of engineering, designs and technology owned by America’s Westinghouse, according to the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists. There were also questions about whether treaties and agreements with the United States would require South Korea to get an OK from America to proceed with a sale.

The odds for now favor Russia as the winner.

Donald Trump ordered a nuclear reactor on the Moon in his final days as president

In the final months of his presidency, Donald Trump ordered nuclear energy to be tested on the moon by 2027, as well as the development of nuclear-powered spacecraft that would orbit the Earth, the moon and outer space.

He also ordered the development of micro nuclear reactors small enough that they could fit inside a typical shipping truck that zips cargo along the highway.

During this period, the media was busy reporting on the Jan. 6 riots, insurrection and false accusations of voter fraud — and few paid attention.

However, these orders may offer clues about what was included in some of the ‘Top Secret’ folders squirreled away in Mar-a-Lago.

On Dec. 16, 2020, Trump signed the “Space Policy Directive-6,” which set the goal of testing nuclear energy on the moon by 2027.

Then on Jan. 5, 2021, — the day before the Jan. 6 insurrection — Trump signed Executive Order 13972, which directed NASA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to study the cost and technical feasibility of using nuclear-powered spacecraft and satellites.

Some of these spacecraft would orbit the Earth, but most of the nuclear-powered craft would be meant for deep space missions to Mars and further places that are light years away.

There are Trump supporters, including Tesla founder Elon Musk, who support the goal of using nuclear power to help humans set up mining operations on the moon and colonize Mars.

The Jan. 5 Executive Order also includes Trump’s direction to NASA and the Department of Defense to design and build micro nuclear reactors that could be transported on trains, planes or the typical trailer truck.

The Biden Administration has embraced a similar idea and is developing small reactors that could supply electricity for 1,000 to 10,000 soldiers in remote desert, jungle and mountain terrains. The microreactors could also be used to plug holes in America’s grid in transformers that fail due to terrorist attacks, wildfires or other natural disasters.

The new effort is called “Project Pele,” named after the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. The DOD recently announced that it would review proposed designs for “Project Pele" and choose a winner before building and testing it in Idaho.

In folktales, Pele could destroy a city or a beach by hurling lava and ash. Micro-nuclear reactors pose potential dangers, too. It could be catastrophic if terrorists got ahold of them, for example.

Although saving the coal industry was a focal point for Trump’s Department of Energy, whistleblowers were alarmed by his nuclear negotiations in 2018.

They claimed Trump secretly authorized the sale of nuclear technology, made by a company called IP3, to Saudi Arabia. The deal was intensely negotiated by Trump’s fired and disgraced advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who had close ties to IP3.

The deal Flynn negotiated didn’t require the Saudis to agree they wouldn’t use the technology to make nuclear weapons.

These whistleblowers went to Congress — and the reaction there was a rare bipartisan alarm.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) teamed up with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) of New Jersey to request the GAO investigate. The GAO noted that Congress and the State Department were left out of the loop in the negotiations. State diplomats would have been savvier about how Saudi Arabia’s shifting, complicated and secret alliances might put America at risk.

Interestingly, conservative think tanks recently issued reports detailing how entrenched anti-American Wahhabi extremists were inside the enormous Saudi royal family.

Investigators discovered that IP3 simply wrote one executive order that Trump could sign so his aides could simply cut and paste it onto White House stationery.

Trump’s Jan. 5, 2021 order and his December 16, 2020 order both stress the importance of letting private industry, rather than the government, take a leadership role in achieving America’s nuclear goals.

BILLIONAIRES, MICRO NUCLEAR REACTORS

For years, NASA has debated nuclear-powered craft to carry explorers to Mars. Nuclear craft could achieve faster speeds, cutting down the time astronauts spent traveling through high levels of radiation that would bombard them in outer space.

There are potential wealthy investors who see mining on the moon as a cosmic jackpot. PayPal founder Rod Martin, former special counsel to conservative tech billionaire Peter Thiel, appeared on a 2021 Right Response Ministries podcast to explain how God is directing Martin’s hedge fund to invest in colonizing the moon and Mars.

One incentive is what Martin described as the vast wealth of “Helium 3” — a rare substance needed in nuclear energy production — waiting to be harvested from the moon’s surface.

In the podcast, Martin announced he had created a certification process for financial advisors, taught at evangelical Liberty University. He also expressed admiration for Tesla billionaire Elon Musk’s efforts at space exploration.

But Martin promised listeners that his aerospace ventures would be guided by “Christian principles of liberty, security, values.”

He then urged listeners to tell their financial advisers to enroll in his certification courses and claimed his board of directors included retired Air Force and Space Force generals.

You can watch the podcast below or at this link.

Colonizing The Moon & Mars From A Biblical Worldview | with Rod Martin youtu.be

Ex-members of Christian 'cult' that preys on military begged FBI to investigate for more than 2 years

His persona could ricochet from sweetly paternal to icy menace whenever Rev. Rony Denis suspected disloyalty. Former followers said Denis reminded the disenchanted that his father was once a leader of Haiti’s vicious Tonton Macoutes — the legendary death squad named for a Haitian fairytale boogeyman who kidnaps and devours rebellious children. Denis warned malcontents that he learned from his dad how to destroy traitors, even those trained by the U.S. military.

Denis is the leader of the House of Prayer Christian Church, a nationwide network of 12 congregations, 11 of which are located near military bases where HOPCC recruited members. Founded in 2003, former members are now accusing HOPCC of being a cult. In June, the FBI raided at least four HOPCC churches in Texas, Georgia and Washington—all near military bases---seizing computers, files and records.

Although Denis forbade HOPCC members to use the Internet, former members now have a massive online site filled with complaints from former members. Some talked to Raw Story.

Former members accuse the church of targeting and defrauding soldiers out of their disability checks and housing allowances via rent-to-own scams with HOPCC-owned homes, pressuring vets to donate paychecks and deplete GI Bill funds by enrolling them in a bogus seminary.

They also claim the church used members’ social security numbers and birthdates to buy property that built itself a real estate empire while ruining their credit.

Several former members told Raw Story they had phoned the FBI and IRS years ago to offer evidence of wrongdoing.

The respected watchdog nonprofit, Veterans for Education Success, investigated HOPCC two years ago. VES estimates that HOPCC has gobbled up more than $7 million of taxpayers’ money. VES sent an 11-page report to the FBI and Veterans Administration documenting alleged illegal HOPCC activities in August 2020.

So, why did two years pass before the FBI acted?

“That’s a good question…I don’t know the answer,” VES vice president Will Hubbard replied.

The FBI did not respond to Raw Story interview requests. IRS spokesperson Anthony Burke sent Raw Story a link to IRS regs rather than grant an interview. Pastor Rony Denis and finance officer Anthony Oloans declined our requests for interviews.

But former HOPCC members shared their stories, despite what they describe as considerable risks.

“HOPCC men have run me off the roads near Hinesville, Ga. in their SUVs,” former member Gladys Jordan told Raw Story.

She says church members humiliate and defame rebels by plastering their neighborhoods with handmade posters featuring photos of former members captioned, “PEDOPHILE” and ”SEX OFFENDER.” Other former members said HOPCC had set up fake Facebook pages for former members then plastered them with porn.

All church exes interviewed by Raw Story said HOPCC forbids members to use the internet, watch TV, read newspapers, listen to radio or podcasts, read magazines or play video games. They were told not to socialize with non-HOPCC coworkers.

Outsiders may be baffled by why men and women brave and tough enough to survive Iraq and Afghanistan tolerated the restrictions.

The answer is, HOPCC chose targets carefully focusing on young men and women from low income, splintered, distant or dysfunctional families who never had college as an option. For them, the military was their sole path to the middle class and a chance to bond with a community.

Another common thread becomes clear during interviews: They were idealists, naïve romantics yearning to be part of a higher purpose.

“Right before I joined the military and met (HOPCC), my life was a mess—I was drinking too much, smoking too much and had way too many tattoos all over my arms,” Jesse Preston told Raw Story. “My marriage broke up. We married way too young and both of us came from crazy families. Neither of us had functional families for role models. I was barely able to graduate high school…I was ready to do anything to change my life.”

Preston joined the Army hoping to find a community of friends with sound moral compasses. When he arrived at Fort Stewart, Georgia, HOPCC recruiters were in the reception area greeting newly minted soldiers. They offered to drive soldiers to their Hinesville church eight miles away for home-cooked supper served by pretty girls.

TOUGH VETERANS AS CULT’S SOFT TARGETS

Preston said HOPCC recruiters roamed Fort Stewart’s PX (on base big box store) and barracks. A Fort Hood, Texas female soldier told Raw Story that Killeen, Texas HOPCC recruiters were keenly aware that sexual assault was a problem on the base before it hit national headlines. So, HOPCC urged female soldiers to rent a room in the church’s women-only housing where they’d be safer at night than they would be sleeping in the barracks.

Painfully shy, Preston was delighted by HOPCC’s diverse congregation where all races and ethnicities mingled as friends. He thought it was a bit odd that female HOPCC members all wore pastel ankle-length skirts and baggy blouses and their chats with men were monitored by elders. HOPCC insisted on handpicking wives and arranging marriages for young men seemed saner than trusting Tinder or Bumble to find his true love for strangers. Preston believed adhering to stringent rules helped him stop drinking and smoking and survive war zones.

Veteran Tomas Moreno joined HOPCC at age 15 when his sister, also an HOPCC member, brought him to the congregation near the Fayetteville, North Carolina military base in 2008. She and her husband took Moreno in after troubles with his parents and school. He saw Denis as the fatherly role model Moreno felt he desperately needed.

“Denis was a father figure for me; if your dad is loving but a little weird, you go along with him even if his ideas seem strange or old-fashioned,” Moreno told Raw Story. Moreno fondly remembers Denis giving him $10 occasionally for new shoes or clothes. He was glad Denis wanted him home schooled instead of attending public school. To avoid the internet, Moreno enrolled in distance learning so his textbooks and tests were shipped to him and he snail-mailed them back for grading.

Moreno donated a chunk of his paychecks to HOPCC. His marriage to an HOPCC-approved woman proved happy. When he took her on vacation to pretty Gatlinburg, the Tennessee Smoky Mountains resort town, HOPCC objected about them being far from the church’s eyesight. But Moreno swears the couple stayed true to HOPCC rules and never once turned on the hotel TV and never cruised the internet on the lobby computer.

Denis never Zoomed or used the internet for national meetings. Gladys Jordan remembers Denis bragging that his nationwide intercom system was like that of cult leader Jim Jones. She was alarmed, she claims, when Denis called Jones a “brilliant communicator.” (In 1978, more than 900 of Jones’ followers died when he ordered them to drink poisoned Kool-Aid after he had a U.S. Congressman murdered.)

From VES research, Hubbard concludes Denis was obsessed with money, not politics or launching Armageddon.

It may seem odd that veterans would turn to VES rather than the VA to complain about being defrauded of their GI Bill funds. But Hubbard thinks the way state departments of education and the VA monitor higher education may be confusing for a lot of Americans. And realistically, fighting a school for doing a lousy job can involve years of litigation and staggering legal fees.

For the state government and the VA, “it’s an unfair fight,” Hubbard said.

Initially, Moreno said his only problem with HOPCC was its demand that followers rent “raggedy, broken down apartments the church owned.”

HOPCC’s monthly rent was $800 and higher. Some apartments had broken plumbing, leaking roofs, holes in the floor and temperamental furnaces. When veterans complained, HOPCC told them to do repairs themselves. Moreno lost count of how many unpaid hours he spent fixing church apartments.

Moreno says he spent hundreds of dollars on the unaccredited HOPCC seminary. But he shrewdly earned a degree in a local college to be an electrician. With three kids to support, he wanted a skill set that would land him a job in the real world, not a gig as a minimally paid HOPCC pastor.

VES heard from veterans who spent years, up to a decade, in the HOPCC seminary. They said classes consisted of repairing and cleaning church properties and washing HOPCC leaders’ cars — with a bit of Bible study.

The veterans who contacted VES were usually the first in their working-class or working poor families to try and earn a college degree.

“They didn’t have the experience of visiting campuses with their parents to ask questions… they didn’t have guidance counselors explaining what the college classes were like,” VES vice president Will Hubbard said.

HOPCC kept members too busy to ponder over how it did business. “Soul winning” was the church’s term for walking streets, military bases or shopping malls to invite strangers to HOPCC suppers. And HOPCC required members to ‘soul win’ for several hours each day.

“We attended a mandatory 5:30 pm dinner at church, then some hours of soul winning, then back to the church for Bible study, then home,” said Moreno, whose wife is pregnant with their fourth child. “By that time, you’re really ready for bed and sleep.”

LOTS OF STICK, LITTLE CARROT

VES reports that Denis bought himself Florida mansions and luxury vacations. It doesn’t look as if he bribed ordinary members with sumptuous swag. His approach seemed “mostly stick, not much carrot,” Hubbard remarked. It’s difficult for an outsider to discern any rewards in HOPCC membership, since it sounds like zero fun.

But Denis, a U.S. military veteran, understood the battlefield camaraderie soldiers earn in war doesn’t evaporate when they leave the military. That intense sense of brotherhood is hard to duplicate in civilian life. When HOPCC’s demands and rules seemed dreary, a congregation composed of veterans boosted a soldier’s spirits.

“We’re brothers…guardians together of (our country) together…that bond doesn’t end when we leave a war’s frontlines,” said Darnell Emanuel.

Emanuel and his HOPCC-approved wife were a happy match. But they left the church last year after Emanuel became concerned about HOPCC business irregularities — and their daughter confided that she was beaten while attending an HOPCC day school.

Like Moreno, Emanuel studied to earn an electrician’s certificate. It got him a good job with Amazon. But he was wary of HOPCC retaliation. When he detailed how he planned his flight from HOPCC, it sounds like the way wives plan escapes from abusive husbands. He and his wife set up personal checking and savings accounts that HOPCC didn’t know about and chose a safe place to go to then fled by night.

Emanuel claims he recently caught an HOPCC member trying to break into his new home late one night.

Emanuel was luckier than Preston, who returned from Iraq with PTSD and a genuine desire to be a pastor. Preston loved listening to Denis discuss his dream of building “the greatest homeless housing ever with marble floors and counselors for everyone who was addicted.” So, Preston enrolled in the church’s seminary but worried about the lack of study. He also wondered why HOPCC’s only community service seemed to be biannual trips to bigger cities — usually Washington, D.C. or Chicago — to sing on sidewalks and give hotdogs to the homeless.

On the home front, HOPCC’s matchmaking was a disaster for Preston. His first arranged marriage was to a woman “who really didn’t like me. We had nothing in common except our daughter.”

Preston enjoyed being a father. But he says his ex took the girl with her when she left him. He got a pro bono lawyer to negotiate visitation but HOPCC leaders told him a custody battle might hurt the church. So, he gave up.

His second wife left him last month because Preston said she couldn’t accept his break with the church.

“It scares me. Denis always said divorce was a terrible sin, divorce would send you to eternal hell,” Preston said. “I can imagine hell real clearly…It’s real. I don’t want to go to hell!”

He still can’t afford a laptop or computer at home. But his awakening occurred when he bought an iPhone and finally visited the internet.

“I found out there’s such a thing as podcasts and I listened to one on religions and cults,” Preston mused. “When the podcast was over, I thought I was in a cult.”

He’s taking some big steps to rebuild his life. He went to the VA where a counselor made an appointment for him to get therapy for PTSD and help in building healthy relationships. He found a new, non-HOPCC church. And he’s trying to find a pro bono lawyer to help arrange visitation with his daughter.

Preston was smart enough to be promoted to staff sergeant in Iraq. But he says he spent 13 years and thousands of dollars on the HOPCC seminary and never got a degree. He now has a steady job as a Tacoma school bus driver.

CAN A CULT GET THE IRS TO DEEM IT A CHURCH? YES INDEED!

The After School Satan Club asked the IRS for tax-exempt church status in December 2016. The cult explained in its application that it wanted to teach children about critical thinking, logic and Lucifer. The IRS granted tax-exempt status ten days later. At that time, the right-wing Judicial Watch raged against the Obama Administration for encouraging leftist Satanism. But, the ease with which a “church” can win tax-exempt status should unite conservatives and liberals in outrage.

Last month, a new controversy erupted over the IRS granting tax-exempt status to the conservative Family Research Council — whose PrayVoteStand summit featured GOP presidential hopeful Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Congressman Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Josh Hawley.

ProPublica helpfully posted the Council’s application to show just how simple it was to fill out.

Bottom line: It’s relatively easy to get IRS tax-exempt status as a church and no agency in the federal government embraces the mission of busting bogus churches.

MinistryWatch president Warren Smith makes that clear. “We can’t rely on federal or state government for oversight; government has proven itself inadequate to police or investigate nonprofits,” Smith told Raw Story.

MinistryWatch is an investigative journalism organization and watchdog focused on churches and religious nonprofits. MinistryWatch’s work has prompted some Senators and Congressmen to launch investigations.

Smith estimates there are one million religious nonprofits in America and “less than half of one percent would ever get an IRS audit in any given year. And that would be a quick, cursory audit, not an investigation.”

In November 2007, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced a major investigation into the tax-exempt status of six televangelists — including Paula White. About a decade later, White would become chair of Trump’s evangelical advisory board.

MinistryWatch published a deep dive investigation of the six ministries. Smith says his staff worked closely with Grassley’s staff and the Senate Committee on Finance. Smith was hopeful that the investigation might prompt a move to create stricter oversight of corrupt charities and churches that abuse tax-exempt status.

But then the global economy collapsed in 2008.

“That pretty much sucked the oxygen out of the investigation; the Senate had bigger worries,” Smith said.

Some of the televangelists flatly refused to cooperate with the investigation, yet received no penalties. Grassley issued a final report in 2011 that questioned the televangelists’ personal use of church-owned airplanes, mansions and church credit cards and the hefty salaries pastors’ family members got for jobs with the media ministries. But as CBS reported, Grassley drew “no specific conclusions about whether the ministries violated IRS rules that bar excessive compensation for leaders of religious nonprofits.”

Democrats and Republicans should unite in exasperation over who gets tax-exempt status from the IRS. One big perk that comes with tax-exempt status is faith-based organizations aren’t required to file financial statements showing staff and leaders’ salaries and how donors’ money is spent. While some faith-based charities file statements with the IRS in an admirable effort at transparency, HOPCC does not. That perk comes at a hefty financial cost for taxpayers.

It may cost even more for Americans like Gladys Jordan, who worshiped at a church they assumed was legit.

She gets calls and texts from HOPCC members asking for her help in leaving the church. But she says her heart is broken over her son, who is still employed as an HOPCC pastor, the only job she says he’s ever had. He refuses to communicate with her in any way since she left HOPCC. She drives to the church almost every day hoping to glimpse him.

“When I see him, I call out, I love you. I will always love you,” her calm voice finally breaks into tears. “He never looks my way.”

Alabama city says releasing this bloody secret video may cause riots and expose cops to 'annoyance and embarrassment'

Just hours before his nightmarish death, Joseph Pettaway enjoyed a joyful backyard barbecue celebrating his good work on his buddy’s cute but dilapidated pink house in Montgomery, Alabama. Cresta Circle was a poor but friendly neighborhood and the little home’s tall windows, wooden shutters and shade trees gave the house charm. Pettaway’s friend, James Jones, paid Pettaway to add sheetrock, paint and clear debris so that Jones could move his girlfriend and baby girl into the home. That July Saturday, Jones and his sweetheart grilled venison sausage and hosted a feast at the pink house for Pettaway, a coworker and some neighbors.

Pettaway, 51, grew up in a big, close-knit Black family. He lived with his mom just three blocks from Cresta and was popular in the neighborhood.

But on July 8, 2018, the unarmed Pettaway was mauled horrifically by a police dog inside the pink house. The dog ripped open Pettaway’s femoral artery. An autopsy photo shows a gaping thigh wound two and a half inches long and so deep, with bone visible.

In depositions, police officers near the attack agree that Pettaway did not break any law, didn’t resist arrest and didn’t argue with police.

The tragedy leading to Pettaway’s death was captured by police bodycam video that has been kept confidential from the public and the press.

Police depositions describe Pettaway screaming, pleading that he’s trying to cooperate as the dog holds its bite on his groin for two minutes. One deposition describes the video as showing K9 officer Nicholas Barber forced to strangle his dog into unconsciousness just to get the dog’s teeth unclamped from Pettaway’s flesh.

Unlike George Floyd’s final moments, this video might never be seen publicly.

In court documents, Montgomery city attorney Christopher East reveals a controversial reason for keeping the video secret. The video has “the potential of creating and/or facilitating civil unrest based on the graphic images alone.”

East invokes the fear that riots like those that erupted after video of George Floyd’s murder went viral.

Pettaway’s brother, Walter, sued Montgomery police in 2019. It took Walter’s pro bono attorney, Griffin Sikes, two years to obtain the video so he could prepare for trial. Judge Emily Marks, appointed to federal court by ex-President Donald Trump, ordered the video kept under seal of confidentiality, meaning Sikes cannot share it with reporters or members of the public.

First Amendment expert and Columbia Law School lecturer Robert Balin told Raw Story he’s never encountered public safety as a reason to refuse to release bodycam video to the press.

Balin makes a clear distinction between fear of civil unrest and concern for national security.

“An imagined fear that riots that may happen if people react a certain way is very different from citing specific national security concerns like an undercover law enforcement agent’s life would be at risk if certain information is released,” Balin explained.

By contrast, the city of Montgomery argues the video would expose police to “annoyance and embarrassment.”

First Amendment access to police bodycam video looms as a huge issue as the Jan. 6 hearings unfold. Bodycam video shows how vicious, violent and dangerous the riot was for a vastly outnumbered Capitol police. It also shows how courageously police fought to protect members of Congress and a free election.

Try to imagine the hearings without the bodycam video as an impartial, unedited witness.

Pettaway’s killing has also spurred debate over whether it’s just too dangerous — for police officers as well as innocent bystanders — to weaponize dogs. Lawyers can tell you how much juries love police dogs. And there are plenty of examples of smart, brave canines completing heroic missions like sniffing out explosives and drugs, finding lost kids or hikers injured in the wilderness, even dogs who disarmed bad guys with guns.

But dogs aren’t robots or drones mindlessly obeying a human’s commands. They have emotions and feel stress, so much that some need to retire as early as 6 or 7 years of age. As Pettaway’s death demonstrates, during an attack, they might not heed or understand a handler’s commands.

What’s on the video?

The trial is finally scheduled for spring of next year.

Joseph Pettaway’s brother, Walter, says that when Joseph was young, he served seven years in prison for writing bad checks. Joseph was discouraged by the long sentence but determined to change his life.

“While he was incarcerated, Joseph mailed our mother certificates he earned in prison for good behavior, counseling other inmates, taking classes, volunteering, learning skills,” Walter said. “She was so proud of his certificates. When he got out, he lived with her and took care of her.” Having a prison record made finding longtime employment hard but “Joseph worked all the: construction, detailing and washing cars, day labor. He was smart, had lots of skills.”

Electricity and water were turned off while the little pink house was rehabbed. But Jones kept beds inside so he or his workers could sleep there overnight when they worked late. Walter says it was a great perk for his brother because if he was out late on a date night, he could sleep at the pink house rather than accidentally wake his mom up when he got home.

The July 8 picnic ended between 10 and 11 p.m. Walter said his brother probably hung out with friends until 2 a.m. then decided to sleep at the pink house. He knocked on the front door, not knowing whether Jones or his coworker, Gary Dixon (who also had permission to sleep over) might be inside. The door was locked. Joseph saw a window was open and climbed inside and went to sleep on a bed.

Joseph never realized Dixon was in another room. When Dixon heard someone in the house, he figured it was a burglar. He took a packet of cigarettes, went outside and called 911. He was on the sidewalk smoking when police arrived.

Police woke Jones to get permission to enter the house and let a police dog loose inside. Jones consented although he was puzzled by why a burglar would linger in a house containing nothing but two cots and some sheetrock. It didn’t occur to him that Pettaway might have dropped in.

K9 handler Nicholas Barber and his dog, Niko, went to the front door. Walter Pettaway’s attorney, Griffin Sikes, has viewed and listened to Barber’s bodycam video. Sikes insists that he found the warning Barber yelled to be unintelligible. Barber maintains that he identifies himself twice as police clearly but concedes that he didn’t give three warnings as Montgomery Police policy requires.

Barber agreed that he waited only one second for the person inside the house to respond before he released Niko into the house.

Sikes wonders why one of the four policemen who gathered at the pink house didn’t use the bullhorns or patrol car voice amplifiers to contact a person in the house.

“In Alabama, there’s a fetish around police dogs; a canine getting its first bite is a big rite of passage,” Sikes told Raw Story. “Barber’s dog hadn’t gotten his first bite yet and I think they wanted to be there for it.”

“Bull Connor’s ghost is alive in Alabama,” he added ruefully, referring to Birmingham’s white supremacist public safety commissioner who deployed police dogs against peaceful 1960s civil rights protesters.

Montgomery Police declined to comment on this story.

After Barber issued his warning, he opened the front door and shouted, “Voran!” (German for “ahead”) to Niko. According to Barber’s deposition, Voran commands the dog to “search, find and bite someone.”

The next sound was Pettaway’s terrified screams.

When Barber entered the house, he found Pettaway under the bed trying to escape Niko’s claws and jaws. Sikes says the bite lasted two minutes and Barber’s bodycam shook as he struggled to choke Niko into releasing Pettaway’s groin.

According to the video timeline, the unconscious Pettaway was left alone inside the house for four minutes. Then, as Barber takes a photo of Pettaway for official documentation, Barber says, “Awesome.”

At one point, a policeman asks, “Did you get a bite?”

“Sure did,” Barber replies, chuckling.

Police brought Pettaway to the sidewalk to wait about three minutes for medics to arrive. Jones had arrived on the scene. He recognized his friend and realized this was not a burglary but a terrible misunderstanding. Pettaway died at the hospital from loss of blood.

Walter Pettaway was shocked to learn from Lt. Andre Carlisle’s deposition that Montgomery police are not taught first aid, not even how to apply a tourniquet. Sikes consulted Texas trauma surgeon and Iraq/Afghanistan veteran Dr. Scott Trexler who testified that Pettaway’s life might have been saved if any officer had known how to apply pressure to an arterial wound to stop or lessen bleeding.

Sikes is exasperated that Montgomery doesn’t even require officers to take inexpensive Boy Scouts first aid courses that now cover injuries common to rural and urban settings.

“Montgomery patrol cars don’t even carry first aid kits in their cars which you’d think police would want in case an officer was wounded and needed help before EMTs could help,” Walter said.

Alabama police dogs attack

The Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine tracked about 3,600 Americans sent to emergency rooms annually from police dog bites from 2005 to 2013. There’s no national database tracking how often police dog bites happen.

Pettaway’s death inspired the Marshall Project and Invisible Institute, nonprofits focused on criminal justice research, AL.com and the Indianapolis Star to team up for a 2020 examination of police dogs’ use in 20 cities across America. They found no consistent policy for deploying dogs during arrests.

“Chicago almost never deploys dogs for arrests and had only one (bite) from 2017 to 2019,” the report stated. “Seattle had 23. New York City, where policy limits their use mostly to felony cases, reported 25.”

The project found dozens of cases where police dogs ignored commands to release their bite--including a California dog who tore off a man’s testicle and a dog who tore off an Arizona man’s face—and had to be strangled or hit on the head to get them off a person.

Ernie Burwell, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff canine handler explained to the Marshall Project that a police dog’s trainer has a huge impact on the dog’s behavior on the job.

“If the handler’s an idiot, the dog will be, too,” Burwell said.

Barber was not an idiot. He joined the U.S. Army at age 19, served from 2004-12 and was promoted to staff sergeant, joined Montgomery police in 2013 and was promoted to corporal in 2017. But Montgomery Police officials came to doubt his judgment so much that a captain investigating Barber’s behavior recommended that Barber be fired.

In his deposition, Barber explains how he got into trouble. He used his position as a police officer to get information about his girlfriend’s ex-lover. Barber wrote out a warrant for the man’s arrest on domestic violence charges, then arrested him during a traffic stop and sent him to jail. A judge dropped all the charges against the man and the police department investigated Barber’s actions.

He resigned after accepting a law enforcement job in a small Alabama town.

Alabama v the press

Police bodycam video is one of the newest forms of public records for the First Amendment to confront — and Alabama just made it harder for the press and public to see them.

Last year, Mobile’s weekly paper, The Lagniappe, fought all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court to obtain a law enforcement officer’s bodycam video after he was exonerated in a fatal shooting alongside Interstate-10. Only a redacted version was released.

Alabama’s highest court ruled that "investigative writings or recordings are privileged communications protected from disclosure."

It’s a new landmark precedent that Alabama journalists denounced as dangerous.

"(The Court’s decision) puts photographs, videos, documents, 911 calls, autopsy records, and correspondence related to any criminal investigation behind a shroud of secrecy. The opinion appears to say these records are to be hidden from the public regardless of the source…" read a statement by J. Evans Bailey, Alabama Press Association General Counsel.

None of this surprises Kevin Goldberg, First Amendment expert at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Freedom Forum. Goldberg is very familiar with Alabama’s laws related to public/press access to government records.

“Alabama’s open records aren’t very strong,” Goldberg told Raw Story. “And laws governing body cam video are all over the map…different laws in different states.”

But he believes the fear of riots cited by Montgomery as a reason for suppressing bodycam video is not valid.

Fear of “a generalized harm is not sufficient,” Goldberg said, explaining that the reason to withhold evidence must be “specified and narrow.”

Goldberg and Balin both take hope from the judge’s decision in the Pettaway case to leave the door open for the video to be released to the public after the trial starts.

If Montgomery settles the case out of court, Pettaway’s last moments of life may remain unseen by the public.

Fire, blood on the sidewalk

The Pettaway family’s pro bono attorney, Griffin Sikes, filed a motion asking Judge Emily Marks to recuse herself from the Pettaway case, His worry was that one of the key attorneys defending police, Winston Sheehan, Jr., was the judge’s mentor. Marks and Sheehan worked at the same law firm in Montgomery for years and were co-counsel on 21 cases. The motion for recusal observed that Sheehan seemed to be a mentor to Marks.

She refused to recuse herself. Her denial angrily noted that the only evidence Sikes had of mentoring was that Sheehan was 26 years older than her.

Marks was one of the judges showcased unfavorably in a 2021 Wall Street Journal investigation, “131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest.

Reporters found a case where a couple sued Wells Fargo because it foreclosed on property owned by the wife’s dying father. The couple said only one $695 mortgage payment was missed and they were ready to pay. After Marks was assigned to the case, the Wall Street Journal said Marks bought a lot of Wells Fargo stock---then ruled in favor of Wells Fargo, ordering the couple’s lawsuit to be dismissed.

The Journal article points out that Marks ignored recusal requirements related to financial conflicts.

Social and professional relationships are more ambiguous.

“It’s human nature for us all to believe we can be unbiased, put aside friends’ influence, think for ourselves,” Sikes said. “But humans aren’t always aware of their biases.”

Indian University law professor Charlie Geyh is an expert on recusals. He says the judge may be utterly free of a former colleague’s influence. But if a reasonable and prudent person might question her impartiality in a situation, it may be time to recuse.

“There is no hard and fast rule against judges presiding over cases in which lawyers at their former firms enter appearances,” Geyh wrote in an email to Raw Story. He added that most disqualification requests were meritless and “the judge in your case may well think she can be impartial and may likewise think that reasonable people would agree. But she is in a lousy position to make that call because most of us cultivate an exaggerated sense of our own impartiality and regard views to the contrary as unreasonable or ill-informed.”

Meanwhile, Walter Pettaway wonders what legacy Joseph, who had no children, will leave. Neighbors were angry after learning details of his agony. “I tried to calm them down, told them to wait for justice,” Walter says.

But 24 hours after Joseph died, a fire swept the little pink house. No one can see the care and craftsmanship he invested there. But, four years of rain haven’t washed away Joseph’s blood stains on the sidewalk.

Sikes says he’d learned that several Montgomery police officers are now taking first aid classes. That gives Walter hope that “my brother’s death may lead to lives being saved.”

Walter says his 89-year-old mother comforts herself by looking at the certificates Joseph earned while he was in prison, where he dreamed of being free and winning a new life with hard work.

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