In this week’s roundup: The connection between white nationalist political candidates and the U.S. government, an alt-right street protest erupts into violence and more.
A number of government officials have donated money to the political campaign of white nationalist Paul Nehlen, reports Sludge, a newly launched news site focused on money in politics.
Sludge reporter Alex Kotch discovered donations to Nehlen from an employee of the State Department, a local elected official in Wisconsin and a pair of public university professors.
For example, Matthew Gebert, who works for the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, gave a total of $225 to Nehlen’s campaign.
Nehlen gained national attention in his unsuccessful primary campaigns against GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan. He was banned from Twitter after making a racist post about Meghan Markle, the biracial actress who married the Prince Harry. He’s also published a list of his political enemies, specifically pointing out which of them he believed were Jewish. In addition, he’s posted favorably about the white supremacist slogan, “It’s okay to be white.”
Nehlen has a complex relationship with the conservative movement. While he’s been shunned by the GOP mainstream, Nehlen’s efforts to unseat Ryan got the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Last year, he gave a speech onstage at a campaign rally for failed GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.
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Gebert also gave money to Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for a Virginia Senate seat. Stewart is a neo-Confederate, fighting against efforts to remove the Confederate flag from public spaces. Stewart also appeared at a public event with Jason Kessler, who organized the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. When that event erupted in fatal violence, Stewart refused to condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who held the event.
Douglas Kiester, a professor of orthopedics at the University of California Irvine, has given $1,150 to Nehlen since 2017. “Staff and faculty have the freedom to make personal political donations,” a UC Irvine representative told Sludge. “These actions do not represent the university.”
Is the federal government tracking the violence of MS-13?
Last week, we highlighted studies disproving the racist narrative that immigrants are responsible for significant increases in crime. But we were still curious about something.
The Trump administration pointed to the violence committed by the Central American street gang MS-13 as a reason to make fundamental reforms to the immigration system. But how much violence is MS-13 actually doing on America’s streets? And how much of that violence can be directly tied to undocumented immigrants?
That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. As far as we can tell, the federal government isn’t tracking the number of murders conducted by MS-13 in anything approaching a comprehensive manner.
We reached out to the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the FBI, the U.S Marshals Service, the White House and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but none of them were specifically tracking the violence of MS-13.
An ICE official directed us to the agency’s list of press releases mentioning prosecutions of transnational gangs, but that’s far from comprehensive. The FBI pointed us to a collection of publications with aggregate crime statistics compiled from submissions from local law enforcement agencies, but we couldn’t find anything specific about MS-13.
In response to President Donald Trump’s claims that ICE had “liberated” towns from the grip of MS-13, BuzzFeed reporter Kevin Collier reached out for specifics, but ICE refused to provide details.
The only database of MS-13’s crimes we could find is maintained by a nonprofit group called the Center for Immigration Studies, which sourced its information from media reports. CIS listed 23 murders linked to MS-13 for all of 2017.
It’s important to note that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled CIS a hate group for promoting the writings of white nationalists and pushing misleading stories linking immigrants and crime. (CIS has pushed back against the designation.) CIS has installed some of its alumni in the Trump administration, but it’s not part of the government.
MS-13 is certainly violent, and much of that violence is truly horrific. But it is notable that the federal government doesn’t appear to be making an effort to measure the scope and character of the problem, while also using that violence as a justification to make sweeping changes to the immigration system.
In a recent story, ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier, who has spent the past year covering MS-13, noted:
MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.
The federal government is a big, messy leviathan full of seemingly endless moving parts, many of which don’t actually talk to each other. If you have any ideas about where this data is being collected, drop us a line.
Portland alt-right protest gets bloody
An alt-right protest in Portland last weekend devolved into chaos as members of the far-right groups assaulted counterprotesters with violent attacks.
The “Freedom and Courage” rally was organized by the group Patriot Prayer, which has been responsible for a series of rallies across the West Cost that often spiral into violent chaos.
The approximately 100 people who showed up for the rally, with a strong showing by the alt-right men’s group the Proud Boys, were met with about an equal number of counterprotesters. When those two groups clashed, the counterprotesters were assaulted with wooden rods and PVC poles. They responded by throwing gravel, eggs and firecrackers.
David Neiwert, a reporter who has written extensively on far-right extremism, said the fracas was marked by groups of Proud Boys pummeling individual counterprotesters. Fighting in the streets with political opponents – couched in the context of self-defense – is a key tenet of the Proud Boys’ belief system. It means being prepared for violence that’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes wrote, “We don’t start fights, we finish them.”
Amid the violence, law enforcement officials revoked the protesters’ permit midway through the event.
As one reporter who attended the event tweeted:
A handful of people were hospitalized due to injuries from the event, including one police officer.
In a statement, Deputy Portland Police Chief Bob Day said officers had confiscated weapons from the protesters prior to the demonstration, but Willamette Week noted local law enforcement subjected the two sides to different treatment:
Marchers with the right-wing protest group Patriot Prayer beat antifascist protesters with wooden and PVC pipe flag poles that federal police had allowed the group to keep.
Portland police policy is to confiscate all possible weapons, and they did not allow the antifascist protesters to have flag poles. At least one protester was severely injured in the brawl and lay motionless on the ground after police broke up the altercation.
Patriot Prayer organizer “Tiny” Tusitala Toese was one of the four people arrested during the event.
Far-right groups have spent recent years mounting public events where they expect, and prepare for, violent clashes. Bishop was a central player in the Bay Area protests that became violent last summer, which we covered closely as part of a full Reveal show.
This phenomenon shows no sign of abating.
Black senators want to make lynching a federal hate crime
In 2005, Congress passed a resolution apologizing for never passing anti-lynching legislation.
Nevertheless, over a decade later, lynching is still not listed as a hate crime.
A bipartisan coalition of three African American senators – Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Tim Scott – have introduced a bill that would change that.
Between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,742 people were lynched in America and perpetrators largely escaped consequences. The bill reads, “the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.”
If successful, the bill would allow prosecutors to seek greater criminal penalties in lynching cases.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced a similar bill a few weeks ago.
However, the legislation faces an uphill battle.
Efforts to make lynching a federal hate crime date back at least a century. The first anti-lynching bill was introduced by a Missouri Republican back in 1918.
As the New York Times notes, between 1882 and 1986, over 200 anti-lynching bill were introduced into Congress, but not a single one of them were ever signed into law.
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