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Dig Investigative nuggets from the staff of Reveal

The Hate Report: First he threatened a mosque, then CNN

Add CNN to the long list of organizations, from mosques to synagogues and churches, currently being threatened by unhinged Americans.

The news network reportedly was called and threatened 22 times by a Michigan man, Brandon Griesemer, who said, among other things: “I’m coming to gun you all down.” Griesemer also is accused of using racial slurs against African Americans and making disparaging comments about Jews in his calls, and a former classmate told The Washington Post that Griesemer identified with Adolf Hitler and suggested “the Holocaust was exaggerated.”

Griesemer also recently made derogatory comments to a Michigan mosque over the phone, according to court documents filed by the FBI.

CNN long has been a whipping boy for President Donald Trump, who has called the network “fake news.” Griesemer allegedly used the term in several of his calls.

Despite the numerous violent threats to CNN, Griesemer swiftly was released on $10,000 bail and, as commentator Shaun King noted in The Intercept, he was “out of jail in time for dinner.”

As we examined in this story last year, violent threats by white men often aren’t taken as seriously as threats from people claiming to be Islamist extremists.

We got in touch with a man who identified himself as Griesemer’s brother, Justin. He messaged on Facebook: “My brother is a normal, stable individual. This should not get blown out of proportion.”

In a follow-up phone call, he wouldn’t answer most questions, but he denied his brother had any extreme or far-right views.

The Griesemer case comes a... Read More >

Netflix original and CIR-produced documentary ‘Heroin(e)’ gets Oscar nod

“Heroin(e),” the story of three women battling the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short subject. Directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon, the film follows efforts to break the devastating cycle of drug abuse in Huntington, a city with an overdose rate 10 times the national average.

The Netflix original documentary was co-produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and Requisite Media. It was part of CIR’s Glassbreaker Films initiative, funded by the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, which supported women in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism.

This is the first Academy Award nomination for Sheldon.

“Being part of the Glassbreaker initiative was an invaluable opportunity to not only get my work funded – a huge barrier to making documentaries – but also an invitation into a supportive, creative and talented collective of women filmmakers and journalists,” Sheldon said. “As an independent documentarian, having the support of my Glassbreaker colleagues, and the editorial and journalistic chops of The Center for Investigative Reporting, had a huge impact on the success of ‘Heroin(e).’ ”

“With Glassbreaker Films, we set out to produce films by powerful women about powerful women,” said Christa Scharfenberg, Reveal’s acting CEO. “As a West Virginia native herself, Elaine brought sensitivity, insight and respect to her story about a community easily ignored by the rest of the country. We are honored that ‘Heroin(e)’ is being recognized with an Academy Award nomination and grateful for the partnership with Netflix to bring this inspiring film to a worldwide audience.”

Oscar recipients... Read More >

The Hate Report: The Nazis are coming for your children

Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin admits that he’s trying to target – and brainwash – “pubescents” into believing his views; what happens when racists find out they’re not white; and some good news from Kansas.

“My site is mainly designed to target children – 11 through teenage years, through high school. Middle school through high school.”

What website is being described here? One dedicated to pop music perhaps? Or fashion? Fidget spinners?

Nope. The man keen to reel in your children is Andrew Anglin, founder of The Daily Stormer, a website that spews neo-Nazism and racism on a daily basis. Anglin, who is currently being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center for his role in releasing a torrent of abuse on a Jewish family, made the statement on a podcast devoted to “common sense extremism.”

(A hat tip to Newsweek reporter Michael Edison Hayden, who flagged the statement this week – somebody has to listen to this stuff, and we’re glad it wasn’t us this time.)

Christopher Cantwell Credit: (Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail via AP)

Anglin made the statement during a rambling discussion with fellow neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell (of VICE News fame). He initially tried to temper the statement by equivocating that he was seeking to influence “young adults.” But then he further clarified by saying “pubescents.”

Cantwell and Anglin spent much of the two-hour program discussing how best to reel children into their hateful views – whether by spreading racist memes or using racist humor to introduce kids to ideologies that they will then hold for the rest of... Read More >

The Hate Report: How white supremacists recruit online

This week: An inside look at how white supremacists recruit online, what the FBI is doing about antifa and neo-Nazis, and how often young white people feel discriminated against. 

Brad Galloway had a clear process for recruiting new members into his white supremacist group.

Galloway typically found new recruits through websites like Stormfront, which act as gateways into the movement, he told us in an interview. Galloway would study their posting behavior and invite them into a private forum exclusively for his group. From there, he could arrange to meet a new recruit in person.

These meetings, which would usually happen in public settings with a group of members, were largely about seeing what the new recruit could bring to the organization. Galloway wanted to find out things like if they were physically tough, knew how to build websites or were especially knowledgeable about a particular white supremacist ideology.

That in-person contact was crucial. Meeting in real life cements those bonds in ways no amount of internet chatter can replicate. The decision to invite someone into the group was not made lightly.

“We looked at things like the number of posts they made, what their avatar was, how extreme they seemed to be in their views,” he said. “If someone only has two or three posts and they’re all of a sudden asking, ‘Is your group engaged in violence?’ that’s a red flag.”

People who seemed too aggressive, trafficked in extreme rhetoric or featured Nazi iconography in their profile pictures were passed over... Read More >

New documents about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ sex abuse begin to leak out

Dozens of confidential documents apparently leaked from Jehovah’s Witnesses archives appeared online Tuesday, providing a rare window into how the religion’s child abuse policies favor accused sexual predators at the expense of the victims.

FaithLeaks, a group pushing for more transparency in religious organizations, posted the documents in tandem with a story published by Gizmodo.

The documents detail the accusations of two sisters who say they were sexually assaulted by their father when they were growing up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. One says her father tied her down and molested her. The other says her father raped her repeatedly over a period of years.

Most of the 33 documents are letters between local leaders and the religion’s global headquarters in New York, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. They show how the alleged perpetrator was able to attend a congregation with one of his alleged victims, in violation of a restraining order, while leaders admonished a member for reporting the violation to police.

The Watchtower’s written policies direct leaders to keep sexual abuse allegations away from authorities and handle them internally, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.  

While Reveal could not independently verify the new documents immediately, the details found in them are consistent with dozens of other documented cases. For example:

Face your accuser: Jehovah’s Witnesses elders establish their own tribunals to determine whether members accused of wrongdoing are guilty. Historically, accusers – even those who were still kids – had to confront their abusers face-to-face or else... Read More >

We’re suing the government over border wall spending records

Nearly 10 months after we asked the federal government for records detailing how much it has spent to build a border wall, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting is suing for that information.

Last March, reporter Andrew Becker asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection for records showing the costs of buying land and building fence along the country’s 2,000-mile southern border. After the government dragged its feet for months on our request, we filed suit in U.S. District Court this week seeking the records.

We sued because the federal Freedom of Information Act requires the government to release records in a timely manner. There are a few narrow exceptions to releasing records and this case isn’t one of them.

President Donald Trump made building a wall along the border with Mexico a signature campaign promise, repeatedly vowing to make Mexico pay for it.

Turns out Mexico wasn’t on board with that plan, so Trump issued executive orders shortly after taking office demanding construction of the wall and recently asked Congress for $18 billion to pay for it, according to news reports. On the campaign trail, Trump had estimated the wall would cost $8 billion.

While some members of Congress and Trump try to work out funding for the project, the government is moving ahead with prototypes for a massive new wall.

Officers who’ve worked along the border and directed policy for Customs and Border Protection said the project wasn’t needed, with one calling it “an incredible waste of taxpayer money.” Some... Read More >

How has severe weather affected you?

From Texas to Puerto Rico, catastrophic weather events are becoming a routine part of American life. Last year’s hurricane season was the most destructive on record, flinging storm after storm at the Caribbean and the Southern United States.

As this week’s episode explains, Americans aren’t insulated from the effects of climate change; in some cases, they’re on the front lines.

We’re keeping a close eye on the issue of climate change and the people it’s displacing. And we want to hear from you. Has severe weather forced a change in your life? Tell us your story using the form below. We’ll feature your responses in our weekly newsletter and on our social media channels.

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Kobach wants DHS to pursue voter citizenship tests, internal docs show

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump disbanded a White House commission tasked with looking into unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud. In a statement, the president indicated that the commission’s work would continue through the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS’ involvement may initially seem perplexing, because the agency has traditionally had little to do with administering elections.

However, documents unearthed in a lawsuit against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who led the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, provide clues about why the project has been moved to DHS. They suggest the Trump administration’s ultimate goal may be to push for citizenship tests for people when they register to vote.

In Kansas, where a similar system is already in place, the citizenship checks have had the effect of preventing approximately 1 in 7 people who attempted to register to vote from getting onto the rolls.

In its suit over Kansas’ citizenship test, the American Civil Liberties Union sought a document that Kobach had been photographed holding after his interview with Trump for the top Department of Homeland Security job. Kobach turned over a heavily redacted version of the document, titled Department of Homeland Security Kobach Strategic Plan For First 365 Days.

The one item on the list not blacked out falls under the heading “Stop Aliens From Voting” and reads, “Draft Amendments to National Voter Registration Act to promote proof-of-citizenship requirements.”

The second document lists potential changes to law that would more easily allow states to adopt citizenship checks similar to... Read More >

The Hate Report: When internet trolls kill

In this week’s roundup: Young white men with an interest in the far right and white supremacy are connected to killings, white supremacists thrive in the Pacific Northwest and a mosque pays the fines for a man jailed for vandalizing its holy space.

The teenage boy allegedly mowed a 40-foot swastika into a neighborhood lawn. Two months later, his girlfriend’s parents confronted him about a hate-filled Twitter account they believed he controlled. Then he shot and killed them, police say.

The details are sketchy, but The Washington Post spoke with relatives of the slain couple and a detective working on the case, who said the couple reported their daughter’s boyfriend to the private school he attended. Then, in a confrontation Dec. 22, the 17-year-old shot both his girlfriend’s parents and himself. HuffPost later published a story identifying the teen’s social media account.

The double homicide in Reston, Virginia, is a harrowing case. But it is hardly unique.

Young white men with a strong interest in neo-Nazi and far-right thinking have been arrested in or charged with multiple mass shootings and other killings in recent weeks.

About a week after the Virginia shooting, 37-year-old Matthew Riehl shot five sheriff’s deputies, killing one, before he was killed in a shootout with police in Colorado. Riehl had been sharing racist and far-right memes on his Facebook page, homegrown extremism expert JJ MacNab soon discovered.

Two weeks before the Virginia shootings, 21-year-old William Atchison shot and killed two students at a high school in New Mexico before... Read More >

The Reveal playlist: 10 stories from 2017

We told a lot of stories in 2017 and got to work with a lot of talented and generous newsrooms. Here’s a totally incomplete list of some of the podcasts, documentaries and scoops we want to make sure you didn’t miss:

Pizzagate: A slice of fake news

Come with us as we try to figure out how the big hoax went viral, along with Rolling Stone and The Investigative Fund. It all starts in search of a woman named Carmen with a cat in Missouri.

The smuggler

A reporter decides to smuggle a Sudanese refugee into France, on foot, through the Alps.

Too many pills

A Drug Enforcement Administration insider tried to stop drug distribution companies from flooding America with truckloads of pain pills. Reporters from The Washington Post find he got foiled by Congress.

Street fight: A new wave of political violence

With the rise of the alt-right have come violent street clashes with anti-fascists. Our journalists accidentally ended up in the middle of one.

Deadly waters

The Navy and other federal agencies award big business to shipbuilders with proven records of putting workers in harm’s way.

Heroin(e)

Follow three women – a fire chief, a judge and a street missionary – as they battle the devastating opioid epidemic in America’s overdose capital: Huntington, West Virginia.

Hate on the march: White nationalism in the Trump era

We analyze the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; the people behind it; and their relationships to the president.

They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in chicken plants

Criminal justice reform has unwittingly created a new class... Read More >

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