ProPublica

The federal government will now give PPP loans to borrowers in bankruptcy

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: The Pandemic Economy

Fiscal Responses to COVID-19

The federal government has quietly reversed course on a policy that had kept thousands of businesses from applying for pandemic economic aid, with only weeks to go before funds are expected to run out.

In late March, ProPublica reported on a Small Business Administration rule that disqualified individuals or businesses currently in bankruptcy from getting relief through the Paycheck Protection Program, an $813 billion pot of funds distributed to small businesses in the form of loans that are forgiven if the money is mostly spent on payroll. The agency had battled in court against several bankrupt companies attempting to apply for PPP loans, and did not change course even after Congress explicitly passed legislation in December allowing it to do so.

Referencing ProPublica's story, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys wrote a letter to newly installed SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman urging her to follow Congress' suggestion and tell the Executive Office for U.S. Trustees — a division of the Justice Department that oversees most American bankruptcy courts — to allow debtors to receive PPP loans.

The agency has not yet contacted the Justice Department. But on April 6, the SBA released new guidance as part of its frequently asked questions for the program, redefining what it means to be “presently involved in any bankruptcy." Under the new interpretation, debtors who filed under Chapter 11, 12 and 13 — which cover businesses, family farms and individual consumers, respectively — are eligible for PPP loans once a judge has approved their reorganization plan. A spokesperson for the SBA said the explanation had been added for “clarity."

A reorganization plan specifies the debtor's path to paying off obligations to creditors, and is monitored by a trustee. In simple cases, a judge can confirm it within a few months of filing. This is what often happens in consumer Chapter 13 cases, about 279,000 of which were filed in 2019, as well as in relatively straightforward Chapter 11 cases that don't require extensive litigation. About 5,500 companies filed for Chapter 11 in 2019.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts doesn't track how many of those companies have confirmed reorganization plans in place, but it's estimated to be in the thousands. Now, companies on the road out of bankruptcy — which usually takes years to complete — can apply for PPP loans before the program's May 31 deadline. With $50 billion left after several extensions, PPP funds are likely to run out before then.

Ed Boltz, a bankruptcy attorney on NACBA's board who circulated the organization's letter, said he believes the SBA changed its position after becoming “aware of the foolishness of the prior administration's position."

The change would not have helped all the companies that sued the SBA over its policy. Florida-based Gateway Radiology Consultants, for example, didn't have a confirmed reorganization plan before it applied for a PPP loan last year, prompting a lawsuit. But the bankruptcy lawyer in that case, Joel Aresty, said plenty of his current clients could benefit.

“If they were lucky enough to already be confirmed, they could freely qualify for a PPP loan — the fact that you were in bankruptcy is no longer a deterrent," Aresty said. “It's amazing how difficult they made such a simple proposition, really."

The new definition may now help Mark Shriner, a coffee shop owner in Lincoln, Nebraska, who filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2018 following a divorce. His plan was confirmed the same year. The SBA's exclusion of debtors from the PPP originally prevented him from applying, forcing him to take on higher-interest loans to keep his doors open.

His cafe likely would have qualified for up to $25,000, and Shriner said he could have used some of the money to improve his online ordering or devise a takeout-friendly menu. Even now, he said, getting PPP money would help him plan for the future and bring back more staff.

Informed of the change last week, Shriner sent an application to his bank, which said it would hear back from the SBA within a couple weeks.

“Wow," Shriner said. “That would be great."

'I felt hate more than anything': How an active-duty airman tried to start a civil war

by Gisela Pérez de Acha, Kathryn Hurd and Ellie Lightfoot, Berkeley Journalism's Investigative Reporting Program

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. This story was originally published by ProPublica

Series: The Insurrection

The Effort to Overturn the Election

It was 2:20 p.m. on June 6, 2020, and Steven Carrillo, a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant who belonged to the anti-government Boogaloo Bois movement, was on the run in the tiny mountain town of Ben Lomond, California.

With deputy sheriffs closing in, Carrillo texted his brother, Evan, asking him to tell his children he loved them and instructing him to give $50,000 to his fiancée. “I love you bro," Carrillo signed off. Thinking the text message was a suicide note from a brother with a history of mental health troubles, Evan Carrillo quickly texted back: “Think about the ones you love."

In fact, Steven Carrillo had a different objective, a goal he had written about on Facebook, discussed with other Boogaloo Bois and even scrawled out in his own blood as he hid from police that day. He wanted to incite a second Civil War in the United States by killing police officers he viewed as enforcers of a corrupt and tyrannical political order — officers he described as “domestic enemies" of the Constitution he professed to revere.

Now, as he texted with his brother and watched deputies assemble so close to him that he could hear their conversations, Carrillo sent an urgent appeal to his fellow Boogaloo Bois. “Kit up and get here," he wrote in a WhatsApp message that prosecutors say he sent to members of a heavily armed Boogaloo militia faction he had recently joined. The police, he texted, were after him.

“Take them out when theyre coming in," the text read, according to court documents.

Minutes later, prosecutors allege, Carrillo ambushed three deputy sheriffs, opening fire with a silenced automatic rifle and hurling a homemade pipe bomb from a concealed position on a steep embankment some 40 feet from the deputies. One deputy was shot dead, and a second was badly wounded by bomb shrapnel to his face and neck. When two California Highway Patrol officers arrived, Carrillo opened fire on them, too, police say, wounding one.

“The police are the guard dogs, ready to attack whenever the owner says, 'Hey, sic 'em boy,'" Carrillo said in an interview, the first time he has spoken publicly since he was charged with murdering both the deputy sheriff in Ben Lomond and, a week earlier, a federal protective security officer at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Oakland.

When Carrillo was finally subdued on June 6, cellphone footage captured him shouting at deputies as they led him away, “This is what I came to fight — I'm sick of these goddamn police."

For Carrillo, that final frenzied expression of rage marked the culmination of a long slide into extremism, a journey that had begun a decade earlier with his embrace of the tea party movement, libertarianism and Second Amendment gun rights, before evolving into an ever-deepening involvement with paramilitary elements of the Boogaloo Bois. The militant group is known for the distinctive Hawaiian shirts its members wear at protests, often while brandishing AR-15s and agitating for the “Boog" — the group's shorthand for civil war.

Carrillo's arrest was also an omen of something larger and even more ominous: the rise of a violent insurrection movement across America led by increasingly extreme and aggressive militias that seek out opportunities to confront and even attack the government. Examples of this broader insurrection abound, from October's foiled plot to abduct Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the leading role militia groups such as the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers played in the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

While militias have long been active in the United States, groups tracking extremist violence have reported notable increases in paramilitary activity over the past year, and the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence have all issued stark warnings in recent months about an elevated threat of violence from domestic extremist groups.

ProPublica, FRONTLINE and Berkeley Journalism's Investigative Reporting Program also uncovered new evidence that some military service members have embraced extremist ideology. The news organizations identified 15 active-duty members of the Air Force who, like Carrillo, openly promoted Boogaloo memes and messages on Facebook. On Friday, the Pentagon announced new measures to combat extremism inside the military. The Biden administration, meanwhile, is increasing funding for preventing attacks by militias, white supremacists and other anti-government groups, The New York Times reported this month.

“These groups want to be instigators, the frontline of the civil war that is going to happen in this country," said John Bennett, who was the special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco Division at the time of Carrillo's arrest.

“The scary thing," he added, “is a lot of people in these groups that we're seeing now are your neighbors."

An examination of Carrillo's life and his path to radicalization, based on extensive interviews with him, his family, his friends and his fiancée, along with a review of hundreds of pages of court records, previously undisclosed text messages and internal militia documents, revealed startling new details about the threat posed by the Boogaloo Bois.

Experts in extremist militia groups have long regarded the Boogaloo Bois as having no real hierarchy or leadership structure. But in piecing together Carrillo's activities and militia contacts, law enforcement officials were stunned to discover the extent of coordination, planning and communications within the group.

Not only was Carrillo in regular contact with a wide range of prominent Boogaloo Boi figures around the country, records and interviews show, but two months before his arrest Carrillo had joined up with a heavily armed, highly organized and extremely secretive Boogaloo militia group in California that called itself the “Grizzly Scouts."

“This group was different," Jim Hart, the sheriff of Santa Cruz County, where Ben Lomond is located, said in an interview. “There was a definite chain of command and a line of leadership within this group."

In a federal indictment unsealed on Friday, prosecutors said Carrillo and four members of the Grizzly Scouts, including its leader, “discussed tactics involving killing of police officers and other law enforcement." The indictment also alleges that the same four Grizzly Scouts tried to thwart a criminal investigation into their activities by destroying evidence of their communications with Carrillo and each other.

In nearly two hours of interviews conducted in Spanish and English, as well as in a letter dictated to his fiancée from Santa Rita Jail east of Oakland, Carrillo talked about the evolution of his anti-government ideology. While he would not discuss any of the criminal charges against him, Carrillo spoke at length about his continuing allegiance to the Boogaloo Bois and patiently explained how the movement's “revolutionary thought" could offer a rationale for attacks against law enforcement officers who he or any other Boogaloo Boi thinks are violating the Constitution. “I pledged to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic," he said.

Not once did Carrillo express pity or remorse over the deaths of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, the deputy sheriff, whose wife was pregnant with their second child, or David Patrick Underwood, the security officer at the Oakland federal building, who made a habit of donating to local baseball youth organizations.

Becoming a Boog

Born in Los Angeles in 1988, Carrillo had an early childhood marked by episodes of domestic violence. According to family members, his father, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who worked as a tree trimmer, repeatedly assaulted his mother, who was from Burbank, California. Given up by his parents as a toddler, Carrillo and Evan, his older brother, were taken in by other members of their family, and at age 5 he was sent with his brother to a tiny rural village in Jalisco, Mexico, where they lived on their grandparents' farm. A couple of years later, the Carrillo boys returned to California to live with their father, eventually settling in Ben Lomond, a remote two-stoplight town in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After graduating from San Lorenzo Valley High School, Carrillo said he joined the Air Force in 2009, the same year he married his childhood sweetheart. In an interview, Carrillo's father denied the family's allegations of domestic violence, but otherwise declined to comment. Carrillo's mother would not speak on the record for this article.

According to Carrillo, his ideas about politics and the role of government began to take shape in the Air Force. “Before, I was confined to a little bubble," he said in an interview, referring to his upbringing in Ben Lomond, population 7,000. Once he joined the Air Force and met others from around the world, “talking to people changed my whole views," he said. He followed a well-worn path that began with a fierce attachment to gun rights, which in turn led him to libertarianism, and then an enthusiastic embrace of the tea party movement.

By 2012, Carrillo was a registered Republican who supported Gary Johnson, the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, and Ron Paul. He attended Second Amendment rallies and advocated for expanded gun rights on a Facebook page set up for a group of self-described Christian “patriots."

In 2015, while stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, Carrillo was in a car accident that left him hospitalized with a concussion and head lacerations. Family and friends said the crash affected his mental health. “He wasn't himself," Evan Carrillo said in an interview. “He was usually very talkative, very social. I was the quiet one. And now it was like talking to a wall."

At the time, Carrillo was a security forces officer in the Air Force. According to his siblings, his mental health issues were serious enough that the Air Force took Carrillo's gun away for several months. (The Air Force said it could not immediately locate the records it needed to comment about this incident.)

He became even more withdrawn, family members said, after his wife committed suicide in 2018 shortly after he confessed to cheating on her yet again. He spoke of wanting to kill himself and started living out of a van, leaving it to his in-laws to look after his two young children. “He was just in complete disconnect of how people should live and who he was," said his sister, Ruby.

And yet months after his wife's suicide, Air Force records show, Carrillo was serving as an apprentice in Phoenix Raven, an elite Air Force security unit that is dispatched to protect aircraft and air crews in global hotspots. At the time, Carrillo was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California, but his apprenticeship with the Ravens also gave him special training in combat techniques, explosives and advanced firearms proficiency at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst near Trenton, New Jersey.

According to the Air Force, Carrillo completed the 24-day Phoenix Raven qualification course in New Jersey in late 2018, then returned to Travis Air Force Base to become “fully mission qualified as a Raven." From July to November of 2019, Carrillo served as a Phoenix Raven Team Leader in Kuwait and other countries in the region, the Air Force said.

In an interview, Carrillo said he was introduced to the political ideology of the Boogaloo Bois through friends in the Air Force and on the internet. The 15 active-duty airmen identified by the news organizations as openly promoting Boogaloo content on Facebook worked at bases around the world, including eight who, like Carrillo, served in the Air Force security branch.

When asked about these active-duty airmen, the Air Force said in a statement that personnel who participate in extremist groups are in “direct violation" of Defense Department regulations. “Supporting extremist ideology, especially that which calls for violence or the deprivation of civil liberties of certain members of society, violates the oath every service member takes to support and defend the Constitution of the United States," the Air Force statement said.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the Pentagon to take a series of immediate steps to counter extremism in the military.

It is unclear precisely when Carrillo began associating with the Boogaloo Bois, but according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent he was in direct contact with prominent figures in the group by December 2019.

The next month, prosecutors allege, he bought a $15 device that converts AR-15 semiautomatic rifles into fully automatic machine guns, making the purchase through a website that advertised to Boogaloo Facebook groups and promised to donate some of its profits to the family of Duncan Lemp, who became a Boogaloo martyr after he was killed in a police raid. Carrillo also began incorporating popular militia memes and imagery into his Facebook posts, and was in touch online with a growing circle of Boogaloo Bois. “A lot of people in the movement knew who Steve was," Mike Dunn, the leader of a Boogaloo faction in Virginia that calls itself the Last Sons of Liberty, said in an interview.

Carrillo's girlfriend, Silvia Amaya, said she noticed a distinct shift in Carrillo's behavior at around this time. He struggled with insomnia and was increasingly “shut off in his own world," she said in an interview. He talked frequently about how “a war would start soon," echoing the core belief of Boogaloo followers.

The Grizzly Scouts

On March 14, 2020, prosecutors allege in court filings, Carrillo received a text message from Ivan Hunter, a Boogaloo Bois leader in Texas. The message reads like an instruction to get ready for action. “Start drafting that op," Hunter wrote to Carrillo. “The one we talked about in December. I'ma green light some shit." In response, Carrillo wrote, “Sounds good, bro!" Soon after, Carrillo sought to join the Grizzly Scouts, a newly-formed California militia group that had proclaimed its “affinity for Hawaiian shirts," the best-known symbol of the Boogaloo Bois, in its profile page on mymilitia.com.

The Grizzly Scouts, also known as the 1st Detachment of the 1st California Scouts, are based in Turlock, a small city about 100 miles southeast of San Francisco. According to federal prosecutors, the Grizzly Scouts had a Facebook group called “/K/alifornia Kommando" that proclaimed their desire “to gather like minded Californians who can network and establish local goon squads." (Among the Boogaloo Bois, the word “goon" refers to a single member.)

On April 10, 2020, according to records obtained by the news organizations, a member of the Grizzly Scouts who goes by the alias BoojerBro1776 emailed Carrillo an extensive packet of application materials, 31 pages in all. (“On boarding," read the email's subject line.) The documents, never before publicly disclosed, are an odd blend of corporate instruction manual and chilling playbook for armed military action.

New recruits were asked to abide by a social media policy and to sign both a non-disclosure agreement and a release of liability. The application itself offered this bit of corporate boilerplate: “If this application leads to employment, I understand that false or misleading information in my application or interview may result in my release."

At the same time, the documents make clear that the Grizzly Scouts intended to do more than simply meet up in the woods for occasional target practice. A policy on the Grizzly Scouts' dress code begins this way: “Since the time man realized we could kill each other to gain something, men have donned uniforms and have gone to battle." The documents, which describe the Grizzly Scouts as an “armed Constitutional militia," go on to decree that black will be worn “while conducting covert/clandestine operations," and stress the importance of wearing approved Grizzly Scout uniforms “to mitigate any potential battlefield confusion."

“Our Areas of Operations can take us from the dirt to downtown in a blink of an eye," the document states.

The documents also make clear that Carrillo's military background, in particular his advanced combat and weapons training, provided exactly the qualities the Grizzly Scouts wanted in its recruits. The Grizzly Scouts' members — law enforcement officials say the group had attracted 27 recruits — were given military ranks and roles based on their level of military training and prior combat experience. Some Grizzly Scouts were designated “snipers," others were assigned to “clandestine operations," and some were medics or drivers. Whatever their role, all were expected to maintain go kits that included “combat gauze" and both a “primary" and “secondary" weapon.

Two weeks after receiving his application materials, Carrillo joined the Grizzly Scouts for a weekend of training — or “church," in the group's vernacular. In keeping with the Grizzly Scouts' desire for secrecy, Carrillo was vague with Amaya, his girlfriend, about where he had been and whom he was with. Aware of his history of cheating, Amaya imagined the worst and insisted he take her along the next time he planned to meet with his mysterious new friends. “I was very angry and jealous," she said.

On May 9, the couple loaded their car with guns and bulletproof vests and headed toward a ranch in Mariposa County, not far from Yosemite National Park, to meet the Grizzly Scouts for another training session. Along the way they met up with Jessie Rush, the “detachment commander" of the Grizzly Scouts, whose LinkedIn profile says he is a U.S. Army veteran now employed by a private security company. Rush, also known as “Grizzly Actual," reminded them not to take photos, but otherwise raised no objections to Amaya's presence as the Grizzly Scouts went through various shooting drills.

Rush, one of the four Grizzly Scouts now charged with concealing evidence of their communications with Carrillo, declined to comment.

When asked in an interview about his involvement with the Grizzly Scouts, Carrillo responded evasively. “How did you figure that out?" he asked in Spanish when first pressed about his ties to the group. Later, Carrillo professed little understanding of either the aims or activities of the Grizzly Scouts. “We were just getting to know each other," he said.

According to prosecutors, however, Carrillo held the rank of “staff sergeant" in the Grizzly Scouts, and, as with other members of the group, he was given an animal nom de guerre: “Armadillo."

Combat Mode

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25, 15 days after Carrillo's last training session with the Grizzly Scouts, galvanized the Boogaloo faithful. In online postings, they spoke of Floyd's death not only as an example of egregious police misconduct but as an opportunity to stoke chaos that could be blamed on the Black Lives Matter movement. The resulting racial unrest, they hoped, would accelerate the long-awaited “Boogaloo" — the final conflict, a second Civil War.

Two days after Floyd's death, Carrillo's Boogaloo friend Ivan Hunter drove from Texas to Minneapolis. Armed with an AK-47-style semiautomatic rifle, Hunter fired off 13 rounds into an abandoned Minneapolis police precinct where hundreds of protesters had gathered, prosecutors allege. Prosecutors say Hunter yelled, “Justice for Floyd!" before disappearing into the night with several other Boogaloo Bois who had come to Minneapolis to provoke civil strife. Hunter, eventually arrested in San Antonio, was charged with participating in a riot and is being held without bail; his defense lawyer declined to comment.

For Carrillo, Floyd's death confirmed his view of the police as little more than willing instruments of a corrupt and tyrannical political order bent on destroying the Constitution. “I felt hate more than anything," he said in an interview when asked about Floyd's killing.

“The Boogaloo revolution is against the government," he explained, “but the police is basically the government's dog on a leash."

Amaya said Floyd's killing “unleashed the worst" in Carrillo, who in the days that followed behaved, she recalled, like a man who was preparing for battle. “It's a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois," Carrillo wrote on his Facebook page on May 28, using Boogaloo slang for federal law enforcement agencies. That night he shocked Amaya by proposing marriage, presenting her with a $25 turquoise blue silicone ring and promising to replace it with a diamond ring later.

The next day, Carrillo left Amaya's house. According to prosecutors, he picked up another Boogaloo Boi, Robert Justus Jr., and drove to downtown Oakland. It was 9:15 p.m., and crowds had gathered on Oakland's streets to protest and mourn Floyd's death. Meanwhile, blocks away, the two men drove a white Ford van around Oakland's federal courthouse, where David Patrick Underwood, a federal protective security officer, staffed a two-person guard hut. Prosecutors say Carrillo was in the back seat near the sliding door, carrying a short-barreled rifle, a “ghost weapon" with no serial number, making it almost impossible to trace. According to the FBI, it was an illegal machine gun optimized to fire bursts of shots automatically, with an added silencer.

Hours before, Carrillo had posted on Facebook that if “it's not kicking off in your hood then start it." Now, according to prosecutors, Justus drove toward the guard hut while Carrillo slid the van's door open and fired multiple bursts, killing Underwood and seriously wounding a second guard. “Did you see how they fucking fell?" Carrillo said as the van drove off, according to an account Justus gave investigators after turning himself in.

“In his mind, Steven was on a mission just like in the Air Force, except the enemy was the police," Amaya said.

A lawyer for Justus, who has been charged with aiding and abetting Underwood's murder, declined to discuss his client's alleged involvement with the Boogaloo Bois. Instead he pointed to court filings that describe what Justus told investigators. According to those records, Justus insisted to investigators that he felt he had to participate because he was “trapped in the van." He also claimed he told Carrillo, “I am not cool with this," and tried to think of ways to “talk Carrillo out of his plan," only for Carrillo to respond by pointing a rifle at him and asking if he was “a cop or a rat."

The shooting of both guards aligned neatly with Boogaloo ideology. “Use their anger to fuel our fire," Carrillo had written on Facebook that morning. “We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage." Sure enough, some conservative commentators rushed to blame Underwood's murder on antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters.

Four hours after Underwood's death, Carrillo received a text message from Hunter urging him to attack police buildings, court records show.

Carrillo's response: “I did better lol."

That weekend, when Carrillo returned to Amaya's house, he seemed “on edge and distracted," she recalled. He asked for a week's leave at Travis Air Force base and sent $200 to Hunter, congratulating him for “doing good shit out there." Most of the time, she said, Carrillo was glued to Facebook, following the news and commenting on viral videos of police clashing with protesters. “Who needs antifa to start riots when the police do it for you," read one of his posts.

In the days after the Oakland shooting, Carrillo communicated regularly with Rush and other members of the Grizzly Scouts on a WhatsApp group they called “209 Goon HQ," prosecutors say. (The area code for Mariposa County, home turf of the Grizzly Scouts, is 209.) Via WhatsApp, they repeatedly made references to the “Boog" and “discussed committing acts of violence against law enforcement," prosecutors allege.

On Saturday, June 6, Carrillo drove to his father's house in Ben Lomond. It was about 2 p.m. when Gutzwiller, a sergeant in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, and two more deputies arrived at the property, which was guarded by a dog wearing a bulletproof vest and monitored by security cameras. They were responding to a call from a passerby who had spotted a suspicious white Ford van loaded with what appeared to be firearms and bomb-making material. When the deputies learned the van was registered to Carrillo's father, they pulled up to his house to question him.

The deputies did not realize Carrillo was above them, perched just 40 feet away in a covered, well-concealed position up a steep embankment, aiming the same “ghost" weapon that prosecutors say he had used in Oakland.

Based on the WhatsApp text messages that prosecutors say he sent at this time, Carrillo appeared to be trying to guide his fellow Grizzly Scouts on how they could join forces with him in a coordinated attack on the law enforcement officers gathering to search for him.

“Theyre waiting for reenforcements," he texted.

And this: “Theres inly one road in/out. Take them out when theyre coming in."

According to police, Carrillo “sniped" Gutzwiller, killing him with a single shot to the chest. Another deputy was also shot in the chest, but was saved by his bulletproof vest.

During the mayhem and bloodshed that followed, Carrillo engaged in a running gun battle with law enforcement officers, hurling pipe bombs and hijacking vehicles. In his own blood, he scrawled “BOOG" and “I became unreasonable" and “Stop the Duopoly" — all common Boogaloo slogans — on the hood of a car he had stolen. And at some point, he sent one more WhatsApp message to his fellow Grizzly Scouts: “Dudes i offed a fed."

For all of Carrillo's urgent appeals for reinforcements, there is no indication any Grizzly Scout tried to come to his aid. While questioning Carrillo's fiancée in August, Henry Montes, an investigator for the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office, offered a possible explanation. Some members of the Grizzly Scouts, he said, had told investigators that Carrillo was too extreme for them. “The things that he was saying made them think he wants to kill policemen," Montes told Amaya, according to a recording of the interview obtained by the news organizations.

“We spoke with some people who were no longer part of that group because they were afraid of Steven," Montes said.

A Jailhouse Wedding

In interviews, Carrillo's siblings describe a brother who suffered from years of severe mental health problems and didn't get the support and medical treatment he needed from the Air Force. “I could see his pain," Carrillo's sister, Ruby, said.

Over two hours of interviews, Carrillo himself did not attribute any of his actions to mental illness. Instead, he forthrightly proclaimed his support for the Boogaloo Bois and repeatedly challenged what he views as misconceptions about the group.

“I just want to say, the Boogaloo movement, you know, there's a lot in the paper that I feel like people don't understand," he said. “And that is the Boogaloo movement, it's all inclusive. It includes everyone. It's not a thing about race. It's about people that love freedom, liberty, and they're unhappy with the level of control that the government takes over our lives. So it's just a movement, it's a thought about freedom. It's just a complete love for freedom."

Meanwhile, as Carrillo sits in jail awaiting trial, his political evolution continues. In a letter he wrote to reporters in October, he referred to Joe Biden as a man who “sniffs kids," echoing QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory that falsely accuses the Democratic Party of running a Satan-worshipping child sex-trafficking ring.

Carrillo's defense lawyers declined to comment.

Amaya continues to stand by Carrillo. “I know him, and I think he can change," she said.

On Christmas Day the couple exchanged vows through a video call from the Santa Rita Jail. “I love your lips, baby," Carrillo told her.

She promised to love him “forever and always."

Trump officials skirted rules to reward politically connected and firms with huge pandemic contracts: documents

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: Coronavirus

The U.S. Response to COVID-19

A top adviser to former President Donald Trump pressured agency officials to reward politically connected or otherwise untested companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts as part of a chaotic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the early findings of an inquiry led by House Democrats.

Peter Navarro, who served as Trump's deputy assistant and trade adviser, essentially verbally awarded a $96 million deal for respirators to a company with White House connections. Later, officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency were pressured to sign the contract after the fact, according to correspondence obtained by congressional investigators.

Documents obtained by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis after a year of resistance from the Trump administration offer new details about Navarro's role in a largely secretive buying spree of personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

But they also show he was among the first Trump officials to sense the urgency of the building crisis, urging the president to push agencies and other officials to “combat the virus swiftly in 'Trump Time'" and cut through the red tape of the federal purchasing system.

In another communication, Navarro was so adamant that a potential $354 million contract be awarded to an untested pharmaceutical company that he told the top official at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, “my head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved."

Navarro did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The committee's work backs up investigations by ProPublica and other news outlets into the more than $36 billion the federal government has awarded, much of it without traditional bidding and with little scrutiny, to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least five of the committee's lines of inquiry are exploring issues reported by ProPublica, including the $96 million no-bid deal for respirators that was ordered by Navarro, a $34.5 million deal signed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that fell apart and ended with a contractor pleading guilty to fraud, a contract for masks awarded to a former Trump administration official, and the revelation that FEMA had paid millions to a contractor with a history of fraud allegations for unusable and unsanitary fake test tubes.

In a letter describing the subcommittee's findings, Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina and members of the committee told President Joe Biden's emergency response team that Trump's lack of action worsened the health crisis.

“The President rejected calls from governors to ensure that the country had sufficient (personal protective equipment) and other supplies to address the crisis, leading to severe shortages and forcing states and cities to compete on the open market," they wrote.

The committee asked officials overseeing FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with the director of the National Archives, to provide records detailing Navarro's actions and the circumstances behind several questionable contracts awarded in response to the pandemic, which has left more than 550,000 Americans dead and many more suffering.

“In the absence of a coordinated national plan, various White House officials pursued ineffective, ad hoc approaches to procuring certain supplies. Recently obtained documents show that White House officials pushed federal agencies to issue non-competitive contracts for certain pharmaceutical ingredients and other items — some of which would not be ready for many months or even years — even as acute shortages for surgical masks, nitrile gloves, gowns, and other items continued," members of the subcommittee wrote.

The respirator deal, with Airboss Defense Group, a subsidiary of Canadian company Airboss of America, was reported by ProPublica in April 2020 after a highly unusual entry in federal procurement data indicated the contract had been directly ordered by the White House. The Trump administration provided few answers about the award, but records the company provided to Congress indicate the firm used an influential consultant to connect Navarro with Airboss CEO Patrick Callahan.

Retired four-star Army Gen. John Keane, whom Trump had recently awarded the Medal of Freedom, reached out to Navarro on behalf of Airboss and the company got a phone meeting with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, emails show. The emails indicate that the company delivered an initial batch of respirators to FEMA before any contract was awarded, and the company upped its production on the promise that the White House, and Navarro, would make a contract official. Emails indicate the company expected to be paid upfront, at contract signing. The federal government typically doesn't pay until a contract is agreed to and a product is delivered.

Airboss' parent company nearly tripled its sales in large part because of the deals Navarro helped broker, the subcommittee wrote, and saw a $12 million increase in profit from April to June 2020. The company said it hadn't seen the subcommittee's letters but defended its work with FEMA.

An Airboss spokesperson said in a statement that the company is “proud of its successful efforts to rapidly respond to the urgent requests of the then White House Coronavirus Task Force to help supply the U.S. Government with urgently-needed PPE equipment to save lives, and protect our front-line healthcare professionals in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Within days of the request, ADG mobilized its extensive U.S. PPE manufacturing capabilities, and vast supply chain network to produce and begin delivering this critical equipment."

In a separate contract negotiation, this time for generic pharmaceuticals, Navarro pressured FEMA and officials leading the effort to beef up a depleted national stockpile to award a potential $354 million deal to Phlow to make drug ingredients. In an email pressing BARDA officials Navarro wrote:

“This is a travesty. I need PHLOW noticed by Monday morning. This is being screwed up. Let's move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can't move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed."

Democrats on the subcommittee noted that Phlow had never before received a federal contract and had incorporated just a couple months earlier, in January 2020. ProPublica left a message with a company spokeswoman, who has not yet responded.

In another public letter this month, the subcommittee expressed concern that Robert Stewart, the CEO of Federal Government Experts LLC, which was awarded a no-bid $34.5 million contract with the VA and a smaller deal with FEMA, wasn't cooperating with its investigation.

This contradicts statements his lawyer made before a federal district judge just weeks before, that Stewart was helping congressional investigators, as he pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud. Stewart did not immediately respond to calls and text messages.

How a federal agency excluded thousands of viable businesses from pandemic relief

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: The Pandemic Economy

Fiscal Responses to COVID-19

Like every other storefront in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, the Coffee House — a cavernous student hangout slinging espresso and decadent pastries since 1987 — saw its revenue dry up almost overnight last spring when the coronavirus pandemic made dining indoors a deadly risk. Unlike most, however, the business wouldn't have access to the massive loan fund that Congress made available for small enterprises in late March.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica,.

The reason had nothing to do with the business itself, which had been having one of its best years ever, according to its owner, Mark Shriner. Rather, it all came down to one box on the application for the Paycheck Protection Program money, which asked whether the company or any of its owners were “presently involved in any bankruptcy." Shriner had filed for Chapter 13 in 2018 after a divorce and was still making court-ordered debt payments, so he checked “yes." He was automatically rejected and lost about $25,000 in payroll and other costs that the program would have covered.

“My money is my store's money. When I got divorced and she was entitled to half, it's not like a company can raise money real quick," Shriner said, noting the way in which many small businesses are structured as pass-through entities that pay taxes on any profits as individual income. “All these businesses that had a tough time and are trying to make payments at the same time are getting kind of hosed."

Thousands of people file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy every year — 282,628 did so in 2019 alone. Although it's not clear how many of them own businesses, all of those individuals were barred from the PPP program, along with the thousands of businesses currently working through a reorganization plan under Chapter 11 and the family farms that file under the lesser-known Chapter 12.

In December, Congress allowed the Small Business Administration to give exceptions to some debtors. But so far the SBA has stuck to its position that debtors in bankruptcy aren't entitled to government aid. “Currently, the SBA is administering the law as written," SBA spokeswoman Shannon Giles emailed in response to questions.

Although Shriner did receive the $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance payment, which doesn't have to be repaid, the SBA turned him down for a larger Economic Injury Disaster Loan because of his personal credit. Instead, he took out two loans worth $107,000 from Square — with total fees of nearly $12,000 — to keep the lights on and the staff paid as they operated on a drastically limited basis, still down by more than half since before the pandemic.

“The biggest consequences are that we haven't had the time to take a week and shut down and plot our way forward, come up with a to-go menu or some new things, because we're busy working the counter trying to save money," Shriner said. “A lot of other businesses that got PPP have been able to hire people to help them head in a different direction, get apps made, fix their websites, that kind of thing."

The prohibition on PPP loans going to debtors began with the SBA's original concept for the program: It extended its 7(a) loan program, its most common credit offering for small businesses, which already bars bankrupt companies. New pandemic relief measures were basically grafted on to those rules, which reflect an agency position dating back to its beginnings in the 1950s that bankrupt companies were more likely to default.

“SBA has an institutional prejudice against people who file bankruptcy," said Ed Boltz, a North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer who serves on the board of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. “The attitude of government in a lot of things is, 'Bankruptcy is hard and confusing and these people are probably bad people.'"

Almost immediately, this position was challenged in courts across the country. In Hidalgo County, Texas, for example, an emergency medical transportation company in bankruptcy sued after it was denied a PPP loan. A bankruptcy judge issued a temporary injunction against the SBA, saying it was in the public interest during the pandemic to make sure the company's trucks and helicopters could keep ferrying patients to hospitals. In June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that decision, saying the judge had exceeded his authority.

Meanwhile, the SBA hastily published a rule explicitly barring companies in bankruptcy from participating in its pandemic relief program. “The Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, determined that providing PPP loans to debtors in bankruptcy would present an unacceptably high risk of an unauthorized use of funds or non-repayment of unforgiven loans," the rule read. “In addition, the Bankruptcy Code does not require any person to make a loan or a financial accommodation to a debtor in bankruptcy."

Around the same time, a Florida radiology center also serving COVID-19 patients received a PPP loan, even though it was reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it filed for approval with its bankruptcy court to take on the additional debt, the SBA objected again. The bankruptcy court found in favor of the radiologists in June, writing that “it is plain Congress did not intend to exclude chapter 11 debtors from the Paycheck Protection Program." In December, however, the 11th Circuit overturned the lower court and sided with the government.

Maury Udell, the radiology company's lawyer, said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. The PPP is more of a grant than a loan, he argues, since all companies had to do in order for the money to be forgiven is spend most of it on payroll. Bankrupt companies are arguably more likely to do so, given that they're on court-ordered plans for how they must manage their expenses. Besides, the program did not require that companies demonstrate their ability to repay — plenty of businesses on very shaky footing applied for and received funding, sometimes filing for bankruptcy later.

“The SBA's argument for not allowing Chapter 11 debtors is that the risk of nonpayment is high," Udell said. “That's not a factor in whether you were approved. It's just as high as anyone else, because there's no other underwriting guidelines."

Frustration with the SBA's position mounted through the fall until December, when Congress passed a fresh round of $900 billion in pandemic-related relief, along with the regular budget. It included $285 billion for a second draw of PPP loans, and a bit of potential relief for debtors: an amendment to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that allows PPP loans to businesses that have filed for bankruptcy under Chapters 12, 13 and Subchapter V, a new category for small businesses established in 2019. (Chapter 11 debtors were left out.)

However, there was a catch: In order to trigger the exemption, the SBA would have to write a letter to the Executive Office of the U.S. Trustee, an division of the Justice Department that oversees U.S. bankruptcy courts, alerting it to the change. So far it has not done so, even as Congress has extended the deadline for PPP applications to May 31, with $103 billion in authorized funds yet to be expended.

President Joe Biden's choice to run the SBA, Isabella Guzman, was confirmed on March 16. The SBA would give no indication of whether she plans to change course. Spokespeople for senators on the committees of jurisdiction either had no comment or said they were looking into the issue.

Last week, as his hope of getting a PPP loan waned, Mark Shriner set up a GoFundMe page to try to keep his doors open. More than $21,000 has flowed in. Meanwhile, he also learned about the Restaurant Revitalization Program established by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. So far, since it's a straightforward grant rather than a loan, it doesn't seem to prohibit applications from companies — or company owners like him — who've filed for bankruptcy. But he's not counting on anything, since aid programs have been so disappointing.

It's a difficult contrast, he said, when he looks around town and sees all the federal money that helped people who didn't always need it.

“I'm not a wealthy person at all, but I have many millionaire friends who own businesses, insurance firms, architecture firms," Shriner said. “These millionaires got money and money and money and money from the government, and they're all driving on the golf course. It is tough when I think about it."

Mo Brooks compared Biden's election to the s​tart of the Civil War. Now he wants a Senate seat

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: The Insurrection

The Effort to Overturn the Election

Mo Brooks, the Alabama congressman who is about to launch a campaign for Senate, has officially said he condemns the Capitol riot and opposes violence.

This article originally appeared at ProPublica.

But in hours of right-wing media interviews before and after the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, he repeatedly raised the prospect of violence as a possible response to Donald Trump losing the 2020 presidential election.

“This is pretty much it for our country," Brooks said in a December podcast interview that has not been previously reported. “In my judgment, it rivals the election of 1860," he added, referring to the election of Abraham Lincoln, “and we saw what ensued from that" — meaning the Civil War.

Brooks' office didn't respond to requests for comment for this article.

Brooks was outspoken in baselessly accusing Democrats of “stealing" the presidential election and seeking ways to keep Donald Trump in power. Now he is hoping those statements will springboard him to higher office in a Senate race that will test the endurance of Trumpism in the Republican Party and show what political consequences lawmakers may face for openly advocating anti-democratic ideas.

The Alabama congressman is expected tonight to announce his campaign to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring. Brooks is set to make his announcement alongside Stephen Miller, the former White House adviser who drove Trump's hardline immigration policies, including family separation. As an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Miller frequently drew from white nationalist and white supremacist websites, according to emails revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brooks and Miller have been allies since they worked together to defeat a bipartisan immigration compromise in 2013.

Brooks' remark about the 1860 election came on an episode of Sean Hannity's podcast that was guest-hosted by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and aired on Dec. 22. Though the episode was billed as “Previewing the Class of 202‪1‬" in Congress, Gohmert dedicated the entire 99 minutes to promoting conspiracy theories and falsehoods about Joe Biden's victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Brooks joined Gohmert toward the end of the show, along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, all leaders of the plan to object to Congress's certification of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. The four members of Congress discussed how Trump supporters were mobilizing for a massive demonstration in Washington.

“On Jan. 6, this is somewhat akin to the Alamo," Brooks said, referring to the famous battle in 1836 where Mexican troops wiped out rebelling Texans at a fort in San Antonio. “Although I hope we will survive."

Brooks' invocation of historical violence was a preview of the speech he gave on Jan. 6 at the rally on the Ellipse. Before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol and fought their way inside, Brooks asked if people were ready to lay down their lives for their cause.

“Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history," Brooks said. “So I have a question for you: Are you willing to do the same?"

After the crowd turned violent — leading to five deaths and hundreds of injuries, endangering lawmakers and disrupting the congressional proceedings — Brooks faced blowback. House Democrats introduced a formal censure motion, and billboards in Alabama demanded his resignation.

Brooks defiantly denied any responsibility for the violence on Jan. 6. At the same time, he said he welcomed the criticism because he viewed it as helpful to his political prospects.

“That's a good thing," Brooks said in a Feb. 3 radio interview in response to a question about the billboards. “I don't want to discourage it, because I think it's beneficial, at least in the state of Alabama, where winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the general election."

“Congress Decides"

On Dec. 2, Brooks became the first member of Congress to say he would object to the Electoral College votes from key states that delivered Biden's victory. While the Constitution and federal law do establish a procedure for Congress to certify the Electoral College votes, many of Brooks' fellow Republicans recoiled at the idea of trying to use it to overturn an election whose outcome they didn't like. The certification in Congress is usually an uneventful formality after states have already certified their election results.

But Brooks himself presented it as a serious plan for keeping Trump in office despite losing the election. “Ultimately, Congress decides who won the White House, not the courts," Brooks said in a Nov. 10 radio interview.

In dozens of right-wing media interviews between the Nov. 3 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection, Brooks spelled out his idea. If Congress rejected enough Electoral College votes to prevent either candidate from winning a majority, the presidency would be decided by the House of Representatives. The House would vote by state delegations, a majority of which were in Republican hands. All it would take for this plan to work, according to Brooks, was for enough Republicans to join him.

“In the United States Congress, we control who the president of the United States is," Brooks said in an interview with the Epoch Times posted on Nov. 18. “The House would be in a position to elect a Republican to the White House."

In Brooks' telling, keeping Trump in power was just a question of political will. “No question it's an uphill climb, because I'm not sure how many Republicans we have that are willing to do what's necessary," he said on Fox News on Dec. 4. “You have no idea who's going to win the political fights or any other fight until you fight them."

As precedent, Brooks cited the disputed election of 1876, which Congress resolved by electing Rutherford Hayes in exchange for ending Reconstruction.

“It was on the heels of hundreds of thousands of Southerners being killed in the war of Northern invasion, as a lot of Southerners viewed it back then," Brooks said in a Dec. 17 talk radio interview. “Hayes cut that deal. Then he was elected president of the United States, and he was honorable, so he kept his promise and he withdrew the Northern forces and Reconstruction ended."

“We Need to Fight and Take It Back"

Brooks' rhetoric continued to escalate in the runup to Jan. 6. In some interviews, he talked about fighting in terms of voting and pressuring lawmakers, the way that many politicians use the word without meaning literal combat.

“How it plays out, quite frankly, is dependent on the American people," Brooks said on Fox News on Jan. 3. “To the extent they contact their senators and their congressmen and demand honest and accurate elections, then we're going to win this fight on Jan. 6. But if the American people do not rise up, if they don't contact their senators, if they don't contact their congressmen, demanding that their congressmen and senators do the right thing for our republic, well then, we're not going to win on Jan. 6. So I urge all Americans to participate in this fight on behalf of their country."

At other times, however, Brooks spoke of fighting as armed struggle, foreshadowing his speech at the Ellipse.

“When it came time to fight in the Revolutionary War, beginning in 1776, people actually put their lives at stake," Brooks said in a Newsmax interview aired on Dec. 17. “All throughout history, American history, there have been time after time where American men and women have stood strong and fought for their country, often losing their lives in order to keep our republic, keep our liberty, keep our freedoms. And the bedrock of all those things are accurate and honest elections. And right now, the socialist Democrats have successfully stolen those from the American people in 2020. And we need to fight and take it back."

Brooks indicated in media interviews that he chose his words carefully. “If I'm on the radio, I know that every word that I say is going to be recorded forever," Brooks said in a Jan. 4 radio interview, in the context of defending Trump's pressuring of Georgia officials to reverse that state's election results in a phone call that the president didn't know was being recorded.

Brooks met with Trump at the White House in December, along with Biggs and Gosar, to discuss their plans for Jan. 6. As Brooks recounted in a Dec. 29 Fox News interview, Trump told the representatives that a senator would join their objection, the necessary step for a debate and vote in both chambers. The next day, Dec. 30, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., became the first senator to announce he would object.

Brooks, Biggs and Gosar also, according to “Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander, came up with the plan to amass a crowd outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. “We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," Alexander said in a video that he later deleted, “so that who we couldn't lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

Spokespeople for Brooks and Biggs have denied working with Alexander. Gosar, who appeared at earlier eventswith Alexander in Arizona, hasn't commented on their relationship. Spokespeople for Biggs and Gosar didn't respond to requests for comment, and Alexander couldn't be reached.

Brooks made clear that his ultimate goal was to keep Trump in office.

“Kind of like bowling a 300 game or hitting a hole-in-one, that's actually reversing the election fraud effort on the part of the Democrats such that Joe Biden is not sworn in on Jan. 20, Donald Trump is," Brooks said in a Jan. 4 Newsmax interview.

“We Did Not Have Ultimate Success"

Once rioters breached the Capitol, Brooks immediately blamed left-wing agitators whom he called “antifa." “You have to ask yourself, who would be motivated to distract from our message," Brooks said in a Newsmax interview on the night of Jan. 6, while waiting for the certification proceedings to resume. “I don't believe that's in the interest of the Trump supporters."

Brooks continued this effort to shift blame in a radio interview the next day. “Too many Trump supporters were angry and allowed themselves to be manipulated or orchestrated by fascist antifa types," Brooks said.

The interviewer, Dale Jackson, pressed Brooks to acknowledge and condemn the violence by Trump supporters. “Why are you trying to make this about antifa as opposed to about the clear, obvious Trump supporters?" Jackson asked. “Why are we trying to diminish this?"

Brooks shot back, “That is the political spin that the fake news media and the socialist Democrats are trying to put on this."

“Well, I'm not the fake news media, I'm not a socialist Democrat," Jackson countered. “Why don't people just condemn this and stop trying to find reasons why it happened? … Your Facebook and Twitter page I guarantee is filled up the same way mine is with people talking about this in this way. And I just say we've got to be more forceful, I think. Am I wrong?"

Brooks didn't answer directly. “I don't know what's on my Facebook page," he said with a laugh. “That's something that my staff does, not me."

“My point is this," Jackson concluded, giving Brooks one last chance to unequivocally condemn the violence by Trump supporters before the interview ended. “I see too many of them saying, 'Yeah, see, it's antifa, it's not this,' and they're using this as a reason. And I just don't think that's a good — that's not helpful in any way."

Brooks demurred. “Well, I think the main message, which we've diverted from, is the fight we had last night in the House of Representatives and the Senate to try to protect and promote honest and accurate elections," he said. “And it's most unfortunate that whomever was able to divert attention from that, and unfortunate that while we made progress, we did not have ultimate success."

In an interview with ProPublica, Jackson said he understood Brooks to be condemning the violence. “The only disagreement we were having was whether antifa was a key driver of this thing," he said. “It wasn't whether or not it shouldn't have happened or was wrong. I think we all agree on that."

“You Can Resist, Often Through Violence"

Brooks elaborated on his views on violence in another radio interview on Jan. 7.

“Might I suggest that over history, when you're in a republic, and there is no longer confidence in the election system, you have three options," he said in the interview, which was reported on at the time by The Intercept. “You can emigrate from that country, which is what a lot of people did in the 1920s and 1930s, in socialist Germany, with Adolf Hitler. You can submit, which is also what a lot of people did in Germany. Or you can resist, often through violence. None of those three options are good."

“Wait a minute," the host, Matt Murphy, interrupted. He pressed Brooks to clarify: “You said we must emigrate, leave?"

“No, I'm telling you what has happened historically over time when a republic loses confidence in its election system," Brooks said. “What do people, individual people do?"

They continued going back and forth, with Murphy giving Brooks more opportunities to walk back from raising the specter of violence and Brooks sticking to it.

Finally, Murphy tried: “When you bring up one of your options to be violence, it brings us directly to your words yesterday, Mo. And I'm wondering if you regret saying what you said at the rally yesterday?"

“Absolutely not," Brooks said.

Murphy, who didn't respond to a subsequent request for comment, then suggested the need to reckon with the ideas that motivated Trump supporters to attack the Capitol. “We better be willing to have serious discussions about what led to the level of frustration and anger that would cause people to allow their emotions to bubble over to the point that they would engage in something like this," he said.

Brooks' response was to explain that people were losing faith in voting — a view he had spent months promoting, and which he said left violence as one of three options. “It's pretty clear," he said, “people are getting frustrated, and they're losing confidence in the honesty and accuracy of the election system."

Brooks also shared a version of this view on Twitter that morning, writing that people who come to believe that voting can no longer get the results they want may be “FORCED" to “fight back with violence."

“How Can You Misinterpret My Intent?"

Weeks later, Brooks distanced himself from the violence of Jan. 6. At a home-state rally on Jan. 23, Brooks defended his speech at the Ellipse by accusing journalists of twisting his words.

“The news media, which is supposed to be the safeguard of any republic, has to a large degree become nothing more than a socialist propaganda puppet that rivals those in Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao Zedong's Communist China, and socialist Germany's 1920s and 1930s," Brooks said, repeating his unusual way of avoiding the term “Nazis." “The fake news media and the socialists deceitfully suggest I intended to incite a riot when my words prove the exact opposite."

Brooks explained that when he said on Jan. 6, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," he was referring to voting in the 2022 and 2024 elections. He said his meaning was clear because as he said those words, he swapped out a camouflage Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus cap for one that read “Fire Pelosi."

“How can you misinterpret my intent?" Brooks said, drawing cheers.

But what Brooks did not acknowledge or attempt to explain was the next sentence that immediately followed “kicking ass": the line asking those assembled whether they were willing to sacrifice “their blood" and even “their lives."

“My answer is yes," Brooks said on Jan. 6. “Louder. Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?"

Here's how to file your state and federal taxes for free in 2021

by Kristen Doerer for ProPublica, Justin Elliott and Karim Doumar

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: The ProPublica Free Tax Guide

Free, Fact-Checked Tax Information. That's All.

Most Americans are eligible for free tax-preparation services, but the truly free options can be hard to find. If you're not careful, you could end up using a service that says it's free but demands payment after you've spent time entering your information.

Now that the IRS haspushedthe deadline for 2020 taxes to May 17, you have even more time to make sure you're using the service that's right for you.

How do you file online for free?

If you make less than$72,000 a year, you can find free tax filing options at the IRS Free File webpage.

Here are Free File options from TurboTax, TaxSlayer and others. (H&R Block has left the Free File program since last year.)

Each site has its own eligibility requirements, so be sure to find one that will be free for you.

It can take a bit of effort to find an option that fits your situation. Try using the IRSlookuptoolto find the right one. Most of the options provide tax prep for both federal and state returns.

Best for: People who make less than the income cap and want a convenient and easy way to file online.

If you make more than $72,000 a year, you may have access to free options offered by several commercial tax prep companies, like Intuit (TurboTax), H&R Block or TaxAct.

But buyer beware: Some companies use a variety of tactics to try to wring money out of you, often only throwing up a paywall after you've gone through the trouble of inputting most of your information.

The widely advertised “free" options are typically only really free based on which tax forms you need to file. Which forms are free and which will trigger a demand for a fee depends on the company. So read the fine print before you decide.

  • Here is the list of forms supported by H&R Block's “free online" version.
  • Here is the list of forms supported by TaxAct's “free" offer. Click the tab labeled “forms."
  • Here is the list of forms supported by TurboTax “Free Edition."

Credit Karma also offers a free tax filing service for “all supported forms," but the company tries to monetize your personal tax data by using it to target you with advertising.

Best for: People who don't qualify for Free File but have income only from a standard job and perhaps a bank account, and who want to file online.

If you're in the military, you can use MilTax, a service provided by the Department of Defense that uses a version of H&R Block's tax software. It is available for free to active-duty service members as well as those in the National Guard or the reserves, as well as their families. There are no income or tax form restrictions. There are also free, in-person options to get tax help if you are in the military or family — see the section below.

You can also get free advice from a professional who understands tax issues specific to the military. The phone number is 800-342-9647, or you can live chat with them.

Best for: People in the military, guard or reserves and their families.

How can I get personal tax help for free?

You can qualify for the IRS'Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program if you:

  • Make less than around $57,000 a year, OR
  • Live with a disability, OR
  • Speak limited English.

You can qualify for the IRS'Tax Counseling for the Elderly program if you:

  • Are at least 60 years old.

These programs match you with IRS-certified volunteers across the country who can help with free basic income tax preparation and electronic filing. You can use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance locator tool or call 800-906-9887 to find someone to help you. Keep in mind that some locations may require an appointment.

Best for: People who are confused by the tax process and want someone to help walk them through the process.

If you're in the military and want individual tax help, you can get freein-person tax help on many U.S. military bases worldwide. Military.com's base guide is a good place to start.

Best for: People in the military and their families who want advice from someone who knows the ins and outs of military tax filing.

Why is TurboTax charging me?

If you make less than $39,000 a year (or $72,000 if you're in the military) and TurboTax is telling you it costs money to file, you are probably using the wrong version of TurboTax. Don't worry, there is a way to access the truly free version.

As ProPublica reported in 2019, TurboTax purposely hid its Free File product and directed taxpayers to a version where many had to pay, called the TurboTax Free Edition. If you clicked on this “FREE Guaranteed" option, you could input a lot of your information, only to be told toward the end of the process that you need to pay.

You can still accessTurboTax's Free File version. This version is offered through the Free File agreement.

TurboTax's misleadingadvertisingandwebsite designdirected users to more expensive versions of the software, even if they qualified to file for free. After our stories published, some people demanded and got refunds. Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, faces several investigations and lawsuits over this practice. The company has denied wrongdoing, and has moved to acquire other free tax-preparation companies like Credit Karma.

Following ProPublica's reporting, the IRS announced an update to its agreement with the tax-preparation companies. Among other things, the update bars the companies from hiding their Free File offerings from Google search results. It also makes it so each company has to name their Free File service the same way, using the format: IRS Free File Program delivered by [COMPANY NAME].

What's the difference between TurboTax's “Free Guaranteed" and IRS Free File Delivered by TurboTax?

TurboTax Free Edition is not always free. It has only been free for tax returns that the company defines as “simple." That often means people with student loans and freelance income actually have to pay to file. Look for Intuit's “IRS Free File Program delivered by TurboTax." This year, you are eligible if you:

  • Make less than $39,000 a year, OR
  • Make less than $72,000 a year and serve in the military.

What is Free File, and who is the Free File Alliance?

The Free File Alliance is actually a group of tax companies that — contrary to the name — is in the business of charging people to help them file their taxes. They spent a lot of money to make sure that the IRS didn't develop its own free tax filing service that would compete with what they have to offer. As part of the new Free File Alliance deal, the IRS is now able to offer a competing service, but it's not doing so this year.

The Free File Alliance companies have agreed to offer free tax filing for a certain percentage of the population based on income. Head to the IRS website to see which option is the best for you. These are the companies in the alliance:

  • 1040NOW Corp.
  • ezTaxReturn.com
  • FileYourTaxes
  • Free Tax Returns
  • Intuit
  • OnLine Taxes
  • TaxACT
  • TaxHawk
  • TaxSlayer

About this guide:

ProPublica has reported extensively about taxes, the IRS Free File program and the IRS. Specifically, we've covered the ways in which the for-profit tax preparation industry — companies like Intuit (TurboTax), H&R Block and Tax Slayer — has lobbied for the Free File program, then systematicallyundermined it with evasive search tactics and confusing design. These companies also work to fill search engine results with tax “guides" that sometimes route users to paid products. This guide is not personalized tax advice, and you should speak to a tax professional about your specific tax situation.

Here's why America's drinking water is surprisingly easy to poison

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

This article first appeared on ProPublica.

On Feb. 16, less than two weeks after a mysterious attacker made headlines around the world by hacking a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida, and nearly generating a mass poisoning, the city's mayor declared victory.

“This is a success story," Mayor Eric Seidel told the City Council in Oldsmar, a Tampa suburb of 15,000, after acknowledging “some deficiencies." As he put it, “our protocols, monitoring protocols, worked. Our staff executed them to perfection. And as the city manager said, there were other backups. ... We were breached, there's no question. And we'll make sure that doesn't happen again. But it's a success story." Two council members congratulated the mayor, noting his turn at the press conference where the hack was disclosed. “Even on TV, you were fantastic," said one.

“Success" is not the word that cybersecurity experts use to describe the Oldsmar episode. They view the breach as a case study in digital ineptitude, a frightening near-miss and an example of how the managers of water systems continue to downplay or ignore years of increasingly dire warnings.

The experts say the sorts of rudimentary vulnerabilities revealed in the breach — including the lack of an internet firewall and the use of shared passwords and outdated software — are common among America's 151,000 public water systems.

“Frankly, they got very lucky," said retired Adm. Mark Montgomery, executive director of the federal Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which Congress established in 2018 to upgrade the nation's defenses against major cyberattacks. Montgomery likened the Oldsmar outcome to a pilot landing a plane after an engine caught fire during a flight. “They shouldn't celebrate like Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl," he said. “They didn't win a game. They averted a disaster through a lot of good fortune."

The motive and identity of the hackers, foreign or domestic, remain unknown. But Montgomery and other experts say a more sophisticated hacker than the one in Oldsmar, who attempted to boost the quantity of lye in the drinking water to dangerous levels, could have wreaked havoc. They're skeptical of the city's assurances that “redundant" electronic monitors at the plant protected citizens from any possible harm. “If the attackers could break into the lye controls," Montgomery said, “don't you think they could break into the alarm system and alter the checkpoints? It's a mistake to think a hacker could not introduce contaminated water into our water systems." Oldsmar officials, citing the ongoing investigation, declined ProPublica's requests for an interview or to address emailed questions about the city's cybersecurity practices.

The consequences of a major water system breach could be calamitous: thousands sickened from poisoned drinking water; panic over interrupted supplies; widespread flooding; burst pipes and streams of overflowing sewage. (This is not merely theoretical. In 2000, a former municipal wastewater contractor in Australia, rejected for a city job, remotely manipulated computer control systems to release 264,000 gallons of raw sewage, which poured into public parks, turned creek water black, spilled onto the grounds of a Hyatt Regency Hotel and generated a stench that investigators called “unbearable." The man was sentenced to two years in prison.)

In congressional testimony on March 10, Eric Goldstein, cybersecurity chief for the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, described the Oldsmar incident as illustrating “the gravest risk that CISA sees from a national standpoint." He said it should be “a clarion call for this country for the risk that we face from cyberintrusions into these critical systems."

Grave warnings have sounded for years. As far back as 2011, a Department of Homeland Security alert advised that hackers could gain access to American water systems using “readily available and generally free" internet search tools. Such admonitions have abounded in recent years. Booz Allen Hamilton's 2019 “Cyber Threat Outlook" called America's water utilities “a perfect target" for cyberattacks; a 2020 Journal of Environmental Engineering review found “an increase in the frequency, diversity, and complexity of cyberthreats to the water sector"; and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission's March 2020 report warned that America's water systems “remain largely ill-prepared to defend their networks from cyber-enabled disruption."

Despite the warnings, and some high-profile breaches dating back a decade, the federal government has largely left cyberdefense to the water utilities. For years, it relied on voluntary industry measures, dismissing any need for new regulation. Then, in 2018, Congress included a provision addressing cybersecurity in a 129-page water bill that covered everything from river levee repairs to grants for school water fountains.

The requirements were less than demanding. Every U.S. water system serving more than 3,300 customers was obliged to conduct a self-assessment of the risks and resilience of its physical and electronic systems and prepare an emergency-response plan. Different-sized utilities got different deadlines; for the smallest covered by the law, such as Oldsmar, the self-assessment must be done by June 30, 2021, more than two and a half years after the law was signed. (Oldsmar had completed its cybersecurity review by early November but hadn't yet incorporated its recommendations in the city's emergency response plan before the February hack, according to a statement provided by the city manager.) Tens of thousands of U.S. water systems with fewer than 3,300 customers were exempted entirely from the law's requirements.

Those utilities required to perform a self-assessment were not obliged to submit a report to any government agencies. The utilities merely had to attest to the Environmental Protection Agency that they had conducted the assessment. The 2018 legislation also provided $30 million for grants to help water districts deal with “risk and resilience" problems, including cyberattacks. But Congress never appropriated that money.

The water provisions fall far short of federal requirements (including penalties for violating those rules) and funding aimed at protecting electricity infrastructure, according to Montgomery. “An assessment's a good thing," he said. “But this is well short of what we require from energy companies. We have developed a tool for self-identification of problems. But if you're really bad at cybersecurity, I'm not sure your self-identification is going to solve the problem."

He also pointed to low staffing at the EPA's Water Security Division. “The water security office is a handful of people, probably three," Montgomery said. “It historically has not done much, if any, cybersecurity work. This is the product of 20 years of low prioritization." The agency's most recent report to Congress on “Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs," submitted in 2018, identified $472.6 billion in long-term priorities, but it didn't mention the word “cybersecurity" once in its 75 pages.

An EPA official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agreed that the agency had only “a small team" devoted to water cybersecurity but said Oldsmar “and other recent incidents have highlighted the importance of the priority and the investments we need to make."

The origins of the problem are clear. The vast majority of the nation's water systems are small and publicly owned, with limited resources and aging infrastructure. As they turned to digital systems and monitors to boost efficiency while saving money and staff, they failed to install the safeguards and carry out employee training needed to secure the resulting vulnerabilities. “Every one of them had one guiding principle over the last 50 years: increased automation to lower the size of the workforce to keep costs down," Montgomery said. “Along with that, there should have been an investment in the cybersecurity of the infrastructure. But that did not happen."

Traditionally focused on physical risks, such as natural hazards, burst pipes and on-site intruders, most water systems also have little or no in-house IT staff. The pandemic, which encouraged remote management, has only made the problem worse. In testimony last month to the House Homeland Security Committee, former CISA Director Chris Krebs called Oldsmar's vulnerability “probably the rule rather than the exception. ... These are municipal facilities that do not have sufficient resources to have robust security programs. That's just the way it goes."

The industrial control systems that water districts use to manage valves, pipes and other infrastructure are notoriously open to attack. A 2018 study by IBM and a private security company found 17 major vulnerabilities in equipment widely deployed in “smart cities," a term that refers to municipalities that manage a wide array of their systems — anything from water treatment plants to parking meters and street lamps — via the Internet. Among the security problems: Every product the group examined was still using the default passwords (such as “admin") they came with in the box, allowing “even the most novice hacker to easily gain access to these devices." A 2018 study by the firm Positive Technologies reported that it was able to penetrate nearly three-fourths of industrial organizations it investigated, revealing gaps offering hackers “plenty of opportunity to access critical equipment." The most common vulnerabilities: remote-access networks, obvious passwords and software so old that the manufacturer had stopped making fixes to protect against intruders. The report found that vulnerabilities known for years often “remain untouched, because organizations are afraid to make any changes that might cause downtime."

These industrial control systems are considered such obvious targets that hacking contests use them as quarry. At the DEFCON computer security conference, an “ICS Village" let curious programmers try to break into devices set up inside a Las Vegas hotel room — demos not connected to real-life systems — in an effort to expose weaknesses. At the event in 2018, one water pipe control system, likely used for a commercial building, had its computer screen defaced with graffiti-type messages.

The exact number of attacks on water utilities remains unknown. Many go undetected or unreported, and no federal law requires disclosure, even to regulators or law enforcement. Michael Arceneaux, managing director of the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry group promoting cybersecurity, said water systems often refuse to reveal breaches, even to his group, out of fear that they will somehow reveal their vulnerabilities to other hackers. “It's not something members wanted potentially floating around in some database."

The episodes that have been made public reveal a growing array of threats, from random vandalism and disgruntled employees to identity theft and ransomware.

In Oldsmar, for example, the FBI and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which are jointly investigating, have already revealed multiple lapses. The attack took place at the city's water treatment plant, which purifies groundwater for drinking using filters and chemicals, including small amounts of sodium hydroxide. Commonly known as lye, it is used to reduce the water's acidity. (In considerably stronger concentrations, sodium hydroxide is also a chief ingredient in drain cleaner.)

The hack began around 8 a.m. on Feb. 5, when a plant operator noticed someone had remotely accessed the computer system that monitors and controls the chemical levels added to the water. The hackers entered through a remote access software program called TeamViewer. The city had actually replaced TeamViewer six months earlier, but it never disconnected the program, according to county Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Logging into the system remotely was a breeze: The water plant's computers all used a single shared password, required no two-factor verification and had no firewall in place protecting the controls from the internet, according to FBI findings described in a Massachusetts state advisory. A final vulnerability: All the computers were still running on Windows 7, a decade-old, discontinued operating system; Microsoft had stopped issuing regular software updates to plug its security vulnerabilities in January 2020.

After noticing the hacker's morning log-in, Gualtieri later said at the press conference, the plant operator “didn't think much of it" and didn't contact anyone since other city employees routinely accessed the system remotely. (It's not clear why the attacker's use of the replaced TeamViewer software didn't immediately raise concern.)

The hacker reappeared about 1:30 p.m., this time visibly taking over the computer, mousing around for three to five minutes and opening the plant's control system software. After ratcheting up the water's sodium hydroxide level from 100 parts per million to 1,100 parts per million, the intruder departed.

After watching all this, the Oldsmar plant operator quickly lowered the sodium hydroxide level and called his boss. The city contacted the county sheriff's office nearly three hours later, at 4:17 p.m., according to an incident report on the event.

Oldsmar officials maintained that the public was never in danger. They noted that it would have taken at least 24 hours for poisoned water to start flowing out of kitchen taps, and that even if the onsite operator hadn't intervened, the plant had backup systems monitoring the water's chemical balance that would have sounded alarms long before then.

A small number of other incidents present the nightmarish “what-if" scenarios that scare experts, particularly from so-called state actors. Both Russia and Iran have been implicated in such accounts, according to government reports and legal actions. One such episode occurred in 2013, when a state-backed hacker sitting at his keyboard in Iran breached the computer controls at the Bowman Dam in suburban Rye, New York, with a presumed plan to open the sluice gates. The gates happened to have been manually disconnected at the time for maintenance, and the dam was actually just a narrow, 20-foot-high structure holding back a babbling brook. Federal intelligence officials speculated that the Iranians had actually intended to seize controls at the massive Arthur R. Bowman Dam in Oregon, where similar actions would have flooded thousands of homes. A federal indictment later charged that the Bowman Dam hacker worked for Iran's Revolutionary Guard and was part of a seven-man team that successfully breached America's biggest banks, paralyzing their computer servers and blocking customers from accessing their accounts online. The hacker remains at large, and on the FBI's “most wanted" list. In 2019, Revolutionary Guard hackers struck again, deploying malware to launch an ultimately unsuccessful attack on a municipal water system in Israel.

In recent years, three U.S. states — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — decided to go beyond the federal rules and adopted tougher cybersecurity measures for the water utilities within their borders. After passing new legislation, New Jersey required all public water systems with internet-connected controls to develop a cybersecurity risk-mitigation plan within 120 days, submit it to the state, create a process for reporting all cyberattacks and join a special state-government clearinghouse promoting strong cybersecurity practices. Connecticut launched a “Cybersecurity Action Plan" and began holding private annual meetings with each of the state's largest water (and other) utilities to scrutinize the adequacy of their cyberdefenses.

For its part, New York amended its public health law to require water systems to conduct assessments of their susceptibility to cyberattacks and submit them to the state within a year. A team at the state comptroller's office has also conducted seven cybersecurity audits of municipal water systems, in each case posting the audit publicly while reserving some findings for confidential briefings to avoid offering hackers a road map of vulnerabilities. Its audit of the city of Syracuse's water system, for example, found shared user passwords and accounts that hadn't been disabled long after employees left the city. The Binghamton audit discovered a video on the water department's own webpage showcasing the treatment plant's controls.

“There's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to shore up the systems," said assistant New York state comptroller Randy Partridge, who oversees the water system audits. Since January 2019, he said, his auditors have issued 239 findings at various municipal facilities (including water systems) regarding weak password security alone. “It's a health and safety risk for any resident that lives in our local government. No community can really survive for any length of time without access to potable water."

Arthur House, who served as Connecticut's chief cybersecurity risk officer, said: “I hope it doesn't take the poisoning of a lot of people or a catastrophic shutdown for people to say, 'Omigosh, this is serious.' The federal government has to have a role on this. You cannot leave something that would cripple us as a country solely in the hands of 50 different states."

This billionaire governor's coal companies owe millions more in environmental fines

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Series: Big Jim

West Virginia's Conflicted Governor

The federal government is seeking to collect nearly $3.2 million in fines from coal companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice after the firms violated the terms of a major water pollution settlement, according to documents filed Thursday in federal court.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys said in their filing that Southern Coal Corp. and two related companies failed to renew required water pollution permits, leading to unauthorized discharges at three mining sites in Tennessee and one in Alabama. Those permits are required so regulators can limit the runoff of everything from mud to toxic metals from coal operations.

The companies' actions triggered fines under the terms of a 2016 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. As part of the deal, the governor's companies had agreed to resolve more than 23,000 water pollution violations by paying a $900,000 fine, spending millions of dollars on new pollution controls, and covering automatic penalty amounts — known as “stipulated penalties" — for any future violations.

The DOJ's new court filing indicated Justice's companies have so far paid nearly $2.9 million in stipulated penalties, but the firms have repeatedly failed to honor the other terms of the settlement, either delivering late or not at all on site improvements and fines, continuing what federal attorneys called a “long history" of environmental violations.

A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment beyond the Thursday court filing.

Representatives for Justice's companies and the governor's office did not respond to requests for comment.

The new court filing, in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, comes three months after another one of Justice's companies reached a separate pollution settlement with environmental groups, which sued over excess discharges of selenium, a mining byproduct that can be toxic to fish, at a strip mine in southern West Virginia.

In that deal, Bluestone Coal Corp. paid a federal fine of $30,000 and contributed $270,000 to a conservation group, settling a case brought by the Sierra Club and other citizen groups. The maximum federal penalty for Bluestone Coal could have been nearly $170 million.

Justice, a billionaire listed by Forbes as the richest person in the state, owns a vast empire of businesses, including coal mines, resort hotels and agricultural interests, many of them regulated by the state agencies that report to him. While Justice's adult children have day-to-day control over the family's business operations, the governor has continued to guide the empire.

Last year, an investigation by ProPublica found that, over the last three decades, the governor's companies have accumulated more than $140 million in judgments and settlements in cases brought by vendors and other businesses and government entities over unpaid bills. (The governor and his representatives say that his companies always eventually pay their bills.) Many of the cases involve Justice's mining companies.

Last spring, about two dozen of those mining companies reached a deal with the DOJ to pay more than $5 million in delinquent mine safety penalties, some of them dating back more than five years.

The 2016 water pollution settlement at issue in this week's filing was announced just weeks before that year's general election, in which Justice, then a Democrat, won the governor's race. Last year, Justice, now a Republican, was reelected to another four-year term.

On Thursday, the federal government asked U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad to order Justice's companies to stop the unpermitted discharges and to pay the outstanding fines. Attorneys said they have been seeking compliance since September 2020.

As part of the 2016 settlement, the federal government took the unusual step of requiring Justice's companies to put up $4.5 million, in the form of a bank line of credit, that the DOJ could access so it could pay to have mine cleanup work done if the governor's companies failed to complete it. In December 2020, with promised work at mine sites in Tennessee unfinished, the U.S. withdrew $1.5 million from that account.

A lawyer for the companies objected to the amount of the government's withdrawal and asked that the matter be taken up through a dispute resolution process spelled out in the settlement.

Here are 6 questions officials still haven't answered after weeks of hearings on the Capitol attack

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This article originally appeared on ProPublica.

Series: The Insurrection

The Effort to Overturn the Election

After two weeks of congressional hearings, it remains unclear how a rampaging mob of rioters managed to breach one of the most sacred bastions of American democracy on Jan. 6.

During more than 15 hours of testimony, lawmakers listened to a cacophony of competing explanations as officials stumbled over themselves to explain how America's national security, defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies allowed a homegrown enemy to put an entire branch of government in danger during the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The continuing questions surrounding the attack have prompted calls for a more sustained inquiry than has so far taken place. House Democrats have proposed setting up an outside commission to investigate, similar to what followed the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, but so far Republicans have held up the proposal. Among the key questions yet to be answered:

1. Why did national security officials respond differently to Black Lives Matter protesters than to Trump supporters?

Last week, deputy assistant defense secretary Robert G. Salesses was sent to explain to Congress the Defense Department's decision-making on Jan. 6.

Salesses said the National Guard had been criticized for being too aggressive during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, and that played into the more restrained response to the insurrection.

But his personal involvement in the insurrection response was limited. Much to the frustration of the senators questioning him, he wasn't able to provide details on why the guard took so long to arrive on Capitol grounds that day. This leaves some of the most alarming blunders of the day unexplained.

Last June in Washington, demonstrations calling for police reform following the death of George Floyd became a priority for top Defense Department officials. District of Columbia National Guard commander Maj. Gen. William Walker told Congress on March 3 that the head of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, spent almost a week by his side at the D.C. Armory to facilitate the guard's response to those protests.

Nothing similar happened for the planned protests on Jan. 6.

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund had to plead for guard support during a series of phone calls during the insurrection. Walker said McCarthy was “not available" for one crucial conference call at about 2:30 p.m. Rioters were minutes from the House chamber at that point, but the defense officials on the call were still skeptical. Walker said they were worried about how it might look to send troops to the Capitol and whether it might further “inflame" the crowd.

“I was frustrated," Walker said. “I was just as stunned as everybody else on the call."

It took more than three hours for the Pentagon to approve the request. During the Black Lives Matter protests, Walker said such approval was given immediately.

Salesses told Congress that McCarthy wanted to know more about how exactly the guard would be used at the Capitol.

An Army spokesperson did not answer specific questions about McCarthy's decision-making during the Black Lives Matter protests or on Jan. 6, but said the guard's posture on Jan. 6 was based on a request from the mayor of Washington.

“The Department of Defense Inspector General is now reviewing the details of the preparation for and response to the Jan. 6 protest and attack on the U.S. Capitol," she said. “We intend to allow that process to proceed independently."

2. Did lawmakers, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, play a role in security decisions?

Both the House and the Senate have a position known as a sergeant-at-arms, an official responsible for protecting the lawmakers. These officials oversee the Capitol Police chief, and while staff in lawmakers' offices frequently maintain contact with the sergeants-at-arms about security plans and briefings, there are still questions about the details of consultations held before or during the Jan. 6 attack. Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael Stenger, his equivalent in the Senate, resigned along with Sund following the riot.

The pair reported to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, respectively. Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, told ProPublica that prior to Jan. 6, the speaker's staff asked Irving questions about security and were assured on Jan. 5 that the Capitol complex had “comprehensive security and there was no intelligence that groups would become violent." McConnell's spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator was involved in any security preparations before Jan. 6. Staffers for both lawmakers told ProPublica they did not learn of the request for the guard until the day of the attack.

Sund has said that he began asking his superiors for guard assistance on Jan. 4.

Irving and Stenger dispute that. In their congressional testimony, they said Sund merely relayed an offer from the National Guard to dispatch a unit of unarmed troops to help with traffic control. They said the three of them together decided against it.

Irving and Stenger also said they did not discuss the guard with Pelosi or McConnell's staff until Jan. 6, when the riot was well underway. But the details of those conversations remain vague.

Sund said he called Irving and Stenger to ask them to declare an emergency and call in the guard at 1:09 p.m. that day. In his written testimony, he said that Irving told him he would need to “run it up the chain of command" first.

Irving disputed that too. He said he granted the request as soon as Sund made it and Irving simply told congressional “leadership" they “might" be calling in the guard.

Sund also said in his written testimony that as they were waiting for the guard, Stenger offered to ask McConnell to “call the Secretary of the Army to expedite the request."

Asked about his conversations with Congress, Stenger said only that he “mentioned it to Leader McConnell's staff" on Jan. 6. No one asked him to elaborate.

In an emailed response to questions, Hammill said that at approximately 1:40 p.m. on Jan. 6, Irving approached Pelosi's staff near the House chamber, asking for permission to call in the guard. Pelosi approved the request and was told they needed McConnell's approval, too. Pelosi's chief of staff then went to Stenger's office, where McConnell's staff was already meeting with the sergeants-at-arms.

Hammill said there was shared frustration at the meeting. “It was made clear to make the request immediately," he said. “Security professionals are expected to make security decisions."

A spokesman for McConnell did not answer questions about whether he was in fact asked to call the Army secretary, as Sund's written testimony suggested. He referred ProPublica to an article in The New York Times. The story describes McConnell's staff learning of the guard request for the first time at the meeting with Stenger and staffers being confused and frustrated that it was not made sooner.

3. Was law enforcement unprepared for the attack because of an intelligence failure?

Last week, FBI leaders told Congress that the bureau provided intelligence on the threat to both the Capitol Police and local D.C. police. They also referenced more general warnings they've issued for years about the rise of right-wing extremism.

Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the bureau's counterterrorism division, told Congress that leading up to the riot, the FBI had made Jan. 6 a priority for all 56 of its field offices.

But acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress on Feb. 25 that the agency had received no actionable intelligence.

“No credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol," Pittman said, echoing a common position among law enforcement on the lack of persuasive intelligence going into Jan. 6. As a result, she said, her department was ready for isolated violence, not a coordinated attack.

A Jan. 5 intelligence bulletin from an FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia, has generated significant attention. First reported by The Washington Post, it described individuals sharing a map of tunnels beneath the Capitol complex and locations of potential rally points, and quoted an online thread calling for war: “Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in .... Get violent." But the FBI itself has emphasized that the intelligence had not been fully vetted.

Pittman, who helped oversee the Capitol Police intelligence division at the time but was not yet the acting chief, also downplayed the memo. She said that while her department received the bulletin the evening before the riot, it never reached anyone in leadership. Reviewing the document later, though, she said the information was consistent with what the department already knew and that the memo specifically requested that agencies receiving it not "take action" based on its contents. “We do not believe that based on the information in that document, we would have changed our posture," Pittman said.

4. Or was it a security failure?

Congress has not focused as much on the culpability of Capitol Police leadership.

Last month, ProPublica published an investigation drawing on interviews with 19 current and former members of the Capitol Police. The officers described how internal failures put hundreds of Capitol cops at risk and allowed rioters to get dangerously close to members of Congress.

“We went to work like it was a normal fucking day," said one officer. Another said his main instruction was to be on the lookout for counterprotesters.

On Feb. 25, Pittman acknowledged that the department's communication system became overwhelmed during the riot. But fending off a mob of thousands would have required “physical infrastructure or a regiment of soldiers," she said, and no law enforcement agency could have handled the crowd on its own.

She said that on Jan. 6, the department had roughly 1,200 officers on duty out of a total of over 1,800. On a normal Wednesday, she said, there are more than 1,000 officers on duty.

5. Was the National Guard ready?

Last week, Walker, the National Guard commander, offered startling testimony on what he called “unusual" restrictions limiting what he could do on Jan. 6.

He said that on Jan. 4 and 5, he was told he would need approval from top defense officials to issue body armor to his troops, use a “quick reaction force" of 40 guardsmen, or move troops stationed at traffic posts around the city.

In his testimony, Walker said he had never experienced anything like it in his nearly four decades in the guard.

At one point, the Metropolitan Police, D.C.'s police force, asked Walker to move three unarmed guardsmen one block to help with traffic control. To do it, he had to get permission from McCarthy, the man running the entire U.S. Army.

More frustrating, Walker said, was that he could have sent roughly 150 National Guard members to the Capitol within 20 minutes if he had received immediate approval. That “could have made a difference," he said. “Seconds mattered. Minutes mattered."

So far, the only Pentagon official who has testified publicly is Salesses, who had little direct involvement in the Jan. 6 response.

“I was not on the calls, any of the calls," Salesses said.

Instead, Salesses stated that acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller was at the top of the chain of command and “wanted to make the decisions."

“Clearly he wanted to," Sen. Rob Portman said. “The question is why."

6. How did officer Brian Sicknick die?

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died the day after the insurrection. That evening, the Capitol Police released a statement saying he had died from injuries sustained in the riot. Law enforcement officials initially said Sicknick had been hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. Several Capitol Police officers told ProPublica the same. ProPublica also spoke with members of Sicknick's family shortly after he died. They said Sicknick texted them after fending off the mob to tell them he had been hit with pepper spray. The family told ProPublica that Sicknick later suffered a blood clot and a stroke. “This political climate got my brother killed," his eldest brother said.

But the exact cause of Sicknick's death remains unclear. On Feb. 2, CNN published a report citing an anonymous law enforcement official who told the news outlet that medical examiners did not find signs of blunt force trauma, reportedly leading investigators to believe he was not fatally struck by a fire extinguisher. On Feb. 26, The New York Times reported that the FBI has “homed in on the potential role of an irritant as a primary factor in his death" and has identified a suspected assailant who attacked several officers, including Sicknick, with bear spray. The D.C. medical examiner has yet to conclude its investigation into the exact cause of Sicknick's death.

On March 2, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if a cause of death had been determined and if there was a homicide investigation.

Wray said there is an active investigation into Sicknick's death, but the bureau was “not at a point where we can disclose or confirm the cause of death." He did not specify whether it was a homicide investigation.

Pittman was also questioned about Sicknick.

“I just want to be absolutely clear for the record," said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Virginia Democrat. “Do you acknowledge that the death of officer Brian Sicknick was a line-of-duty death?"

“Yes ma'am, I do," Pittman responded.

6 questions officials still haven’t answered after weeks of hearings on the Capitol attack

After two weeks of congressional hearings, it remains unclear how a rampaging mob of rioters managed to breach one of the most sacred bastions of American democracy on Jan. 6.

During more than 15 hours of testimony, lawmakers listened to a cacophony of competing explanations as officials stumbled over themselves to explain how America's national security, defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies allowed a homegrown enemy to put an entire branch of government in danger during the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The continuing questions surrounding the attack have prompted calls for a more sustained inquiry than has so far taken place. House Democrats have proposed setting up an outside commission to investigate, similar to what followed the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, but so far Republicans have held up the proposal. Among the key questions yet to be answered:

1. Why did national security officials respond differently to Black Lives Matter protesters than to Trump supporters?

Last week, deputy assistant defense secretary Robert G. Salesses was sent to explain to Congress the Defense Department's decision-making on Jan. 6.

Salesses said the National Guard had been criticized for being too aggressive during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, and that played into the more restrained response to the insurrection.

But his personal involvement in the insurrection response was limited. Much to the frustration of the senators questioning him, he wasn't able to provide details on why the guard took so long to arrive on Capitol grounds that day. This leaves some of the most alarming blunders of the day unexplained.

Last June in Washington, demonstrations calling for police reform following the death of George Floyd became a priority for top Defense Department officials. District of Columbia National Guard commander Maj. Gen. William Walker told Congress on March 3 that the head of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, spent almost a week by his side at the D.C. Armory to facilitate the guard's response to those protests.

Nothing similar happened for the planned protests on Jan. 6.

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund had to plead for guard support during a series of phone calls during the insurrection. Walker said McCarthy was "not available" for one crucial conference call at about 2:30 p.m. Rioters were minutes from the House chamber at that point, but the defense officials on the call were still skeptical. Walker said they were worried about how it might look to send troops to the Capitol and whether it might further "inflame" the crowd.

"I was frustrated," Walker said. "I was just as stunned as everybody else on the call."

It took more than three hours for the Pentagon to approve the request. During the Black Lives Matter protests, Walker said such approval was given immediately.

Salesses told Congress that McCarthy wanted to know more about how exactly the guard would be used at the Capitol.

An Army spokesperson did not answer specific questions about McCarthy's decision-making during the Black Lives Matter protests or on Jan. 6, but said the guard's posture on Jan. 6 was based on a request from the mayor of Washington.

"The Department of Defense Inspector General is now reviewing the details of the preparation for and response to the Jan. 6 protest and attack on the U.S. Capitol," she said. "We intend to allow that process to proceed independently."

2. Did lawmakers, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, play a role in security decisions?

Both the House and the Senate have a position known as a sergeant-at-arms, an official responsible for protecting the lawmakers. These officials oversee the Capitol Police chief, and while staff in lawmakers' offices frequently maintain contact with the sergeants-at-arms about security plans and briefings, there are still questions about the details of consultations held before or during the Jan. 6 attack. Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael Stenger, his equivalent in the Senate, resigned along with Sund following the riot.

The pair reported to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, respectively. Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, told ProPublica that prior to Jan. 6, the speaker's staff asked Irving questions about security and were assured on Jan. 5 that the Capitol complex had "comprehensive security and there was no intelligence that groups would become violent." McConnell's spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator was involved in any security preparations before Jan. 6. Staffers for both lawmakers told ProPublica they did not learn of the request for the guard until the day of the attack.

Sund has said that he began asking his superiors for guard assistance on Jan. 4.

Irving and Stenger dispute that. In their congressional testimony, they said Sund merely relayed an offer from the National Guard to dispatch a unit of unarmed troops to help with traffic control. They said the three of them together decided against it.

Irving and Stenger also said they did not discuss the guard with Pelosi or McConnell's staff until Jan. 6, when the riot was well underway. But the details of those conversations remain vague.

Sund said he called Irving and Stenger to ask them to declare an emergency and call in the guard at 1:09 p.m. that day. In his written testimony, he said that Irving told him he would need to "run it up the chain of command" first.

Irving disputed that too. He said he granted the request as soon as Sund made it and Irving simply told congressional "leadership" they "might" be calling in the guard.

Sund also said in his written testimony that as they were waiting for the guard, Stenger offered to ask McConnell to "call the Secretary of the Army to expedite the request."

Asked about his conversations with Congress, Stenger said only that he "mentioned it to Leader McConnell's staff" on Jan. 6. No one asked him to elaborate.

In an emailed response to questions, Hammill said that at approximately 1:40 p.m. on Jan. 6, Irving approached Pelosi's staff near the House chamber, asking for permission to call in the guard. Pelosi approved the request and was told they needed McConnell's approval, too. Pelosi's chief of staff then went to Stenger's office, where McConnell's staff was already meeting with the sergeants-at-arms.

Hammill said there was shared frustration at the meeting. "It was made clear to make the request immediately," he said. "Security professionals are expected to make security decisions."

A spokesman for McConnell did not answer questions about whether he was in fact asked to call the Army secretary, as Sund's written testimony suggested. He referred ProPublica to an article in The New York Times. The story describes McConnell's staff learning of the guard request for the first time at the meeting with Stenger and staffers being confused and frustrated that it was not made sooner.

3. Was law enforcement unprepared for the attack because of an intelligence failure?

Last week, FBI leaders told Congress that the bureau provided intelligence on the threat to both the Capitol Police and local D.C. police. They also referenced more general warnings they've issued for years about the rise of right-wing extremism.

Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the bureau's counterterrorism division, told Congress that leading up to the riot, the FBI had made Jan. 6 a priority for all 56 of its field offices.

But acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress on Feb. 25 that the agency had received no actionable intelligence.

"No credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol," Pittman said, echoing a common position among law enforcement on the lack of persuasive intelligence going into Jan. 6. As a result, she said, her department was ready for isolated violence, not a coordinated attack.

A Jan. 5 intelligence bulletin from an FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia, has generated significant attention. First reported by The Washington Post, it described individuals sharing a map of tunnels beneath the Capitol complex and locations of potential rally points, and quoted an online thread calling for war: "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in .... Get violent." But the FBI itself has emphasized that the intelligence had not been fully vetted.

Pittman, who helped oversee the Capitol Police intelligence division at the time but was not yet the acting chief, also downplayed the memo. She said that while her department received the bulletin the evening before the riot, it never reached anyone in leadership. Reviewing the document later, though, she said the information was consistent with what the department already knew and that the memo specifically requested that agencies receiving it not "take action" based on its contents. "We do not believe that based on the information in that document, we would have changed our posture," Pittman said.

4. Or was it a security failure?

Congress has not focused as much on the culpability of Capitol Police leadership.

Last month, ProPublica published an investigation drawing on interviews with 19 current and former members of the Capitol Police. The officers described how internal failures put hundreds of Capitol cops at risk and allowed rioters to get dangerously close to members of Congress.

"We went to work like it was a normal fucking day," said one officer. Another said his main instruction was to be on the lookout for counterprotesters.

On Feb. 25, Pittman acknowledged that the department's communication system became overwhelmed during the riot. But fending off a mob of thousands would have required "physical infrastructure or a regiment of soldiers," she said, and no law enforcement agency could have handled the crowd on its own.

She said that on Jan. 6, the department had roughly 1,200 officers on duty out of a total of over 1,800. On a normal Wednesday, she said, there are more than 1,000 officers on duty.

5. Was the National Guard ready?

Last week, Walker, the National Guard commander, offered startling testimony on what he called "unusual" restrictions limiting what he could do on Jan. 6.

He said that on Jan. 4 and 5, he was told he would need approval from top defense officials to issue body armor to his troops, use a "quick reaction force" of 40 guardsmen, or move troops stationed at traffic posts around the city.

In his testimony, Walker said he had never experienced anything like it in his nearly four decades in the guard.

At one point, the Metropolitan Police, D.C.'s police force, asked Walker to move three unarmed guardsmen one block to help with traffic control. To do it, he had to get permission from McCarthy, the man running the entire U.S. Army.

More frustrating, Walker said, was that he could have sent roughly 150 National Guard members to the Capitol within 20 minutes if he had received immediate approval. That "could have made a difference," he said. "Seconds mattered. Minutes mattered."

So far, the only Pentagon official who has testified publicly is Salesses, who had little direct involvement in the Jan. 6 response.

"I was not on the calls, any of the calls," Salesses said.

Instead, Salesses stated that acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller was at the top of the chain of command and "wanted to make the decisions."

"Clearly he wanted to," Sen. Rob Portman said. "The question is why."

6. How did officer Brian Sicknick die?

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died the day after the insurrection. That evening, the Capitol Police released a statement saying he had died from injuries sustained in the riot. Law enforcement officials initially said Sicknick had been hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. Several Capitol Police officers told ProPublica the same. ProPublica also spoke with members of Sicknick's family shortly after he died. They said Sicknick texted them after fending off the mob to tell them he had been hit with pepper spray. The family told ProPublica that Sicknick later suffered a blood clot and a stroke. "This political climate got my brother killed," his eldest brother said.

But the exact cause of Sicknick's death remains unclear. On Feb. 2, CNN published a report citing an anonymous law enforcement official who told the news outlet that medical examiners did not find signs of blunt force trauma, reportedly leading investigators to believe he was not fatally struck by a fire extinguisher. On Feb. 26, The New York Times reported that the FBI has "homed in on the potential role of an irritant as a primary factor in his death" and has identified a suspected assailant who attacked several officers, including Sicknick, with bear spray. The D.C. medical examiner has yet to conclude its investigation into the exact cause of Sicknick's death.

On March 2, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if a cause of death had been determined and if there was a homicide investigation.

Wray said there is an active investigation into Sicknick's death, but the bureau was "not at a point where we can disclose or confirm the cause of death." He did not specify whether it was a homicide investigation.

Pittman was also questioned about Sicknick.

"I just want to be absolutely clear for the record," said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Virginia Democrat. "Do you acknowledge that the death of officer Brian Sicknick was a line-of-duty death?"

"Yes ma'am, I do," Pittman responded.

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