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Suspect in Hanukkah machete attack at rabbis NY home not fit for trial, judge rules

34 0 21 Apr 2020

The man accused of stabbing five people during a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, in December, has been found incompetent to stand trial.

Grafton Thomas, 37, “is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to assist properly in his defense,” according to federal court documents dated Sunday.

The judge ordered that Thomas be hospitalized to see if he can be treated and restored to competency.

Thomas is charged with both federal hate crime charges and state counts in the deadly attack. The judge’s order on competency and hospitalization applies to the federal counts.

Thomas is accused of barging into the rabbi’s home as a group was observing the seventh night of Hanukkah, armed with a machete and attacking people there.

One of the victims, Josef Neumann, 72, died in March from injuries he suffered in the Dec. 28 attack, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas E. Walsh II said in a statement. At the time, Walsh said his office would seek an indictment for second-degree murder.

The Rockland County District Attorney’s Office said it is reviewing the federal judge’s ruling and its effect on the case, NBC New York reported.

Investigators found handwritten journals in Thomas’ home that contained anti-Semitic writings, including writings about “Nazi culture” and Adolf Hitler and a drawing of a swastika, a federal criminal complaint said.

Michael H. Sussman, Thomas’ attorney, has said that his client could be described as mentally ill, was hospitalized multiple times in 2019 and was on a variety of medications.

Sussman has also said that Thomas is not anti-Semitic, but mentally ill and in need of treatment, NBC New York reported.

Thomas’ family said in a statement that he had “a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations.”

Caught on video: Car goes flying into side of Southern California home

42 0 21 Apr 2020

An out-of-control car launched into the side of a suburban Los Angeles house, a spectacular crash caught on the home’s security camera, authorities said Monday.

A family was asleep inside its Rowland Heights home, about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, when a Toyota Camry hit a driveway slope and went airborne at about 4:40 a.m. on Saturday, according to the California Highway Patrol.

No one inside the house was hurt as the car slammed through living room and kitchen walls, officials said. The Toyota’s driver and passenger were recorded fleeing on foot seconds later.

“They may or may not have been injured,” CHP officer Marcos Iniguez told NBC News on Monday, attributing their flight from the scene to a likely adrenaline rush.

The Toyota in the crash was reported stolen by its owner later on Saturday, officials said. There had been no arrest by late Monday afternoon.

“In response to the recent question asking the CHP why we are enforcing speed laws amidst the challenges of COVID-19,” the CHP said of the incident in the 2000 block of Blakeman Avenue.

The CHP posted a picture of the crashed car, and prompted one follower to compare the scene to “The Dukes of Hazzard,” an early 1980s TV hit that featured totaled vehicles in virtually every episode.

“Looks like those Duke boys are still at it,” the Instagram follower quipped.

Saudi Arabia executed record number last year, Amnesty report finds

31 0 21 Apr 2020

Saudi Arabia put 184 people to death in 2019, the highest number Amnesty International has ever recorded in a single year in the country, despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s public commitment to reducing the number of executions.

Amnesty International released a 59-page report Monday that found that while global executions last year hit a 10-year low, falling by 5 percent compared to 2018, executions in Saudi Arabia increased by 23 percent, from 149 in 2018.

The London-based rights group Reprieve reported this month that Saudi Arabia had carried out its 800th execution since King Salman bin Abdulaziz assumed power in 2015, and that the rate of executions has doubled under his reign.

As of last week, Amnesty had recorded 789 executions under the king.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the country’s death penalty record.

The kingdom’s judicial system is opaque and the numbers of people executed over the years varies slightly, as do rights groups’ records as to which year had the highest execution toll prior to 2019. Amnesty International said it started publishing annual reports on executions and death sentences in 2008.

For Saudi analysts and dissidents abroad, the uptick in the number of executions is further evidence that Saudi rulers have declined to rethink the country’s commitment to human rights in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

“All those figures point to the general deterioration in human rights across the board that we’ve monitored for some time in relation to arrests, the use of torture and other human rights abuses,” said Josh Cooper, deputy of director of London-based ALQST, which advocates for human rights in Saudi Arabia.

“The death penalty is another violation which has gone in line with that trend of a real deterioration in civil and political rights.”

It also comes after Prince Mohammed told Time in 2018 that the kingdom was working to reduce its number of executions. Asked whether there was an initiative to do so, the crown prince responded: “Yeah, of course it’s an initiative. But we will not get it 100 percent, but to reduce it big time.”

The majority of executions recorded by Amnesty in the kingdom last year were for drug-related offenses and murder. However, the rights group also documented the increased use of the death penalty as a political weapon against dissidents from the country’s Shiite Muslim minority. Saudi Shiites have long complained of discrimination in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Last April, 37 men were executed at once, 32 of whom were Shiite. Eleven were convicted by the country’s notorious Specialized Criminal Court for spying for Iran, and 14 for participating in anti-government protests, according to Amnesty International.

The court was established in 2008 to try terror-related cases, but rights groups and Saudi dissidents say it has increasingly been used to quash dissent. They say defendants tried by the court have faced unfair trials without lawyers and some have been convicted based on “confessions” extracted through ill-treatment or torture.

Since being appointed crown prince in 2017, Prince Mohammed has presented himself as a reformer eager to transform the kingdom’s deeply conservative society. He has instituted a series of social reforms such as allowing women to drive and loosening strict male guardianship laws, which prevent Saudi women from making important decisions without the consent of a male relative.

But he has also presided over sweeping crackdowns on dissent, arresting intellectuals, clerics, women’s rights activists and members of the royal family. In October 2018, the international community shuddered with revulsion when details of the Khashoggi’s murder came to light. The CIA concluded that Prince Mohammed had ordered the killing, according to a person briefed on the agency’s assessment.

Adullah Alaoudh, whose father, Salman Alaoudh, a popular cleric in the kingdom, is in custody in Riyadh and could face the death penalty, said he felt numb when confronted with Saudi Arabia’s growing list of judicial executions.

“It seems [the way] things are going, we have witnessed mass executions, have witnessed the death penalty, have witnessed everything, so I guess we’re kind of used it,” said Alaoudh, 36, who is in self-imposed exile in the United States where he is a senior fellow at Georgetown University.

Salman Alaoudh, who has millions of followers on Twitter, had argued that the country’s rulers should be more responsive to the population’s desires. In 2017 he was arrested and later charged with 37 counts, including affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamist group founded in Egypt, that Saudi Arabia has designated a terrorist organization, according to Amnesty International.

The prosecutor has called for him to be sentenced to death, but his son said his hearings have been postponed with no date currently set.

Prince Mohammed’s “grip is already tightened,” Alaoudh said, “but he’s tightening it even more.”

U.S. crude oil futures for May plummet to minus $37 — lowest price in history

29 0 21 Apr 2020

U.S. crude oil prices dropped by almost 300 percent to turn negative for the first time as plunging demand pushed storage facilities to their limits.

May delivery for the U.S. benchmark crude, West Texas Intermediate, sank to a new low of minus $37.63 a barrel by the close of the oil market Monday, a staggering level that essentially means producers would be paying buyers to take oil off their hands.

Oil set to be delivered in May was hit hardest, because that futures contract expires Tuesday. The June contract also fell, although by a far smaller amount, 18 percent.

Social distancing lockdowns across the world have slashed demand to almost zero as much of the world’s industry and travel have ground to a halt. Even a historic production cut agreement between OPEC and its allies did not provide the momentum to stanch the surplus, as producing countries continue to pump oil ahead of the May 1 implementation.

In addition, tanks, ships and pipelines are almost full, complicating the calculus for many U.S. producers who want to hold on to their oil until the outbreak subsides and there is greater demand.

The oil market is the latest sector of the economy to sustain serious — although temporary — damage from the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of the OPEC deal, prices had plunged to 1991 levels and were struggling to recover amid a paralysis of the global economy.

The energy economy is forcing U.S. companies to make tough decisions. They are struggling to stay afloat as falling prices make them less competitive, and they are laying off workers.

“Even if we get the COVID-19 shelter-in-place protocols lifted by April 30 and we start to see some pop in demand, you are going to have so much oil sitting in tanks that, regardless of production cuts, you are still looking at a massive glut of oil going into the third quarter,” Stephen Schork, founder of The Schork Report energy newsletter, told NBC News.

You may have been exposed to the virus: What to expect when a contact tracer calls you

37 0 21 Apr 2020

From San Francisco to Massachusetts, local and state health departments across the country have begun rolling out efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus by tracing the contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease it causes.

The initiative, known as contact tracing, aims to first locate the infected person, log where they went and with whom they’ve been in contact, then follow up with those contacts to see how they are feeling, if they have been tested and to determine if they should quarantine.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

The desired outcome: break the chains of transmission of the contagious disease, empower health departments to know where it resides in a community, and ultimately, use that knowledge to know where and in what capacity to lift isolation orders and reopen the economy.

While contact tracing on a national level could cost in the billions of dollars and require hiring more than 100,000 people, public health experts say it’s an important step, along with increased testing, to stopping the spread of the virus. To accomplish this, a combination of interviewing the infected — whether by telephone, text or a mobile app — and technology, including using smartphones, to track and monitor people will be needed.

San Francisco plans to use a workforce of 140 people, including medical students from the University of California, San Francisco, librarians and staff from the city attorney’s office, to go through lists of people who have tested positive for the virus and interview them. Such laborious sleuthing has been done in the past to understand outbreaks of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and other respiratory illnesses, including SARS.

As the 15th-largest city in the United States, with more than 880,000 residents, San Francisco currently has more than 1,100 COVID-19 cases and recorded at least 20 deaths as of Monday, comparatively lower numbers that reflect what officials say has been a “flattening of the curve.”

Every clinician in the city who cares for someone with COVID-19 and every laboratory that processes a positive test must report the case to the Department of Public Health, which is how San Francisco is building out its database of contacts.

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The city’s health department is employing software developed by Dimagi, a Massachusetts-based tech company. The firm says its real-time tool isn’t tracking people through Bluetooth technology, as tech giants are proposing to do, but rather allows the contact tracers to follow a set of prompts during interviews and keep a queue of cases and the status for each.

The city’s public health director, Dr. Grant Colfax, said that participation in contact tracing is voluntary and no one will be asked about their immigration status or for their Social Security number or bank details. While English and Spanish language options are available, he added that the system would also include Cantonese, Mandarin and Tagalog.

What contact tracers want to know

While contact tracing will vary depending on one’s local or state health departments, San Francisco’s program is being eyed as a blueprint for other places ramping up the effort.

Contact tracers typically begin their work with a “pending first case.” The case is based on someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and provided the information of others they’ve identified being in contact with, which usually starts with a family member, roommate or partner.

The tracer attempts contact, usually by telephone, and will tell them, “You are being called because you have been identified as a close contact to a person with a confirmed novel coronavirus infection. Do you know who that person might be? If so, please state their name.”

If the contact does not know the name of the positive case on file, then the tracer must explain that “nonetheless, we would like to ask you some questions since we think you may have been exposed to the virus.”

To protect privacy, the contact is not told the name of the person who tested positive, although they usually have an idea of who the person is, Dr. Michael Reid, an infectious disease specialist in San Francisco who is running the contact tracing program, said.

The tracer then asks a series of demographic-related questions, including date of birth, preferred language, race and if they live with the person who tested positive. The tracer also asks if they’ve been tested for COVID-19, and if not, do they require help in getting a test, their occupation and what their living situation is: Do they reside in a single-family home or an apartment complex, homeless shelter or are incarcerated?

Knowing a person’s living situation is important so that the city can determine if they need resources to find an appropriate place to quarantine, Lucía Abascal, a contact tracer in San Francisco, said during a recent demonstration of the tool for reporters.

Tracers also assess a contact’s current health, checking for physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, a sore threat and cough, if they’re immunocompromised, which puts them at a higher risk, and if they have any underlying health conditions.

A clinician would follow up with a person who is classified as high risk in seven to 14 days.

Tracers then ask for details about a person’s potential exposure with the positive case. If the patient shows no symptoms, they will still be asked to quarantine for 14 days if they haven’t started already.

Tracers inquire if the person has enough food and medication for those two weeks, and if not, they will be referred to the health department for help.

The contact can consent to receiving daily text messages, and they are then put into the system as either high or low risk. Any contact who yields a positive test result would then be followed up with to provide contacts whom they may have potentially exposed.

For San Francisco, Reid said, the “ambitious goal” is to create a case file for everyone who tests positive and build out their contacts from there.

“If we ever want to move beyond shelter-in-place,” he told reporters, “we have to accurately capture all of that contact information.”

Coronavirus could hurt women the most. Heres how to prevent a patriarchal pandemic.

44 0 21 Apr 2020

Now that the reality of self-isolation, social distancing and quarantines is setting in, so, too, is a growing awareness that women, the culture-holders of care, are stressed to the limit. The novelty has worn off, as has much hope of getting our “normal” lives back anytime soon. Because women do the bulk of unpaid domestic and care work, they are also particularly hard hit by public health crises and pandemics. And this one is no different.

A study released in March described the potential consequences this pandemic could have for women’s lives and gender equality more broadly.

A study released in March described the potential consequences this pandemic could have for women’s lives and gender equality more broadly. Women’s economic lives, the authors predict, will be negatively affected disproportionately over time. Women are more likely to lose jobs, need more flexibility to take on more care, and take longer to recoup job losses. On the positive side, the researchers wrote, “there are also many fathers who now have to take primary responsibility for child care,” which may help force changes in social norms that perpetuate unfair distribution of work related to care and domestic life.

Despite moves toward more equitable domestic partnerships, taking care of people’s bodies is still overwhelmingly understood to be “women’s work.” This is true both in terms of unpaid and paid labor. Women make up more than half of low-wage workers in every state, leaving them in particularly vulnerable positions as the economy sheds jobs at an unprecedented rate. Almost 90 percent of nurses are women, as are the majority of child care workers, housekeepers, cleaners, maids, nursing assistants and home health aids in elder care and rehabilitation facilities.

Additionally, food preparation and service jobs are held mainly by women. This means many of the job sectors dominated by women, particularly low-wage women of color, are being hit hard by layoffs. To date, women make up more than 60 percent of workers who have lost jobs because of the coronavirus, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Many if not most of these women, working for pay or not, have families to take care of. In both the short and long term, these gendered expectations increase women’s exposure to harm across the board. Studies of long-term effects on women and their equality, drawn from earlier epidemics and disasters, don’t bode well.

At home, women feel the imbalances acutely. A few years ago, almost half of all women reported doing housework, compared to one-fifth of men. Women and girls still average two hours more in chores and domestic work in families. Roughly 70 percent of children in the U.S. live in families with two parents. In heterosexual households with children, mothers spend nearly twice as long as fathers on unpaid domestic work. Additionally, more than 40 million Americans, mostly women, provide care for older adults and relatives. As this pandemic unfolds, this caregiver second shift is becoming a third and fourth shift. Children are home from school, partners are home from the office, and elderly parents are at high risk of COVID-19 infection.

As this pandemic unfolds, this caregiver second shift is becoming a third and fourth shift.

And so as social distancing and under-quarantine measures drag on, it becomes even more important to think about how to avoid patriarchal gender stereotypes at home. Being self-sequestered provides the opportunity to develop new routines and habits that create a fair and equitable balance. This means being clear about what work has to be done and establishing a schedule if possible. If you live with kids, make sure chores do not get classified using gendered language. Studies show that, even in LGTB families, chores are often done along “masculine” and “feminine” lines: for example, men and more masculine people taking the garbage out and changing light bulbs versus women doing the vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms and cooking. Feminine people aren’t born with a natural affinity for scrubbing toilets or changing diapers, and yet here we are, doing most of the toilet scrubbing and diaper changing.

Not only is there nothing inherently gendered about chores, there are many benefits to crossing traditional lines. Studies have found that daughters of men who do “women’s work” are more ambitious and diverse in their ambitions and that girls and boys whose parents are egalitarian grow up to be more fair about allocating housework as adults. If you pay kids an allowance for doing housework, make sure you are paying girls and boys equally. Boys tend to get allowances more often and also get higher allowances. One study of 10,000 families found that boys earn, on average, twice what girls earned for chores. They were also, somewhat disturbingly, more likely to be paid to brush their teeth and bathe.

There is one area of unpaid work that has become more egalitarian over time: nurturing children and caring for elderly family members. While girls still do more unpaid work at home than their brothers do, during the past 10 years, girls and boys have been spending roughly the same time caring for siblings, parents or grandparents. More involved fathers and sons are showing boys and girls that men can do work that many people believe women “naturally” gravitate toward doing.

There is nothing fair or healthy about patriarchal norms and the expectations they generate, so why perpetuate them in our families? This is a stressful time for absolutely everyone and there is little that we can control about the circumstances that we are now living in. We can, however, control the gap between what men and women do at home. In families that cultivate intimacy, kindness and mutual respect, closing gendered gaps is about taking care of one another. It is about developing empathetic interdependence.

Changes like these in our homes also have significant pervasive effects. Sexism in homes predicts societal sexism. Societies that value women and their time, work and health tend to be the world’s healthiest, for women, children and men. The United States is not among them.

The idea of focusing on gender may seem superficial or unnecessarily stressful right now, particularly when families are facing dire situations, impoverishment and illness. There is nothing trivial about the problem, however, and women already report more than twice the levels of stress related to the cultural expectation that they care.

This also isn’t just about who makes the bed or empties the trash. It’s critical to understanding the risks we currently face. Take, for example, the fact that men seem more likely to die from the coronavirus. Scientists debate what exactly it is about our biology that is effecting this outcome, but according to professor Sarah Hawkes, director of the Centre for Gender and Global Health at University College London, gender norms may have a significant impact. Men smoke and drink at much higher levels, resist being told what to do and are far less likely to wash their hands, all factors that increase infection and mortality. They also tend to be outside more and to take higher risks, often to validate their masculinity. Risk assessment and response are very much related to gender roles, responsibilities and experiences. They are consequential whether we are sitting in our kitchens or around a COVID-19 Task Force conference table.

Gendered power relations are also recognized as among the most powerful determinants of individual and societal health inequalities over lifetimes. They ground and compound the effects of systemic racism, xenophobia, ageism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia. If we “set aside” these issues in our own homes, we reinforce and reproduce, by default, unhelpful, unfair and unhealthy patterns.

This pandemic, a slow-motion disaster, will ripple through our lives for years to come. But global crises also tend to spur unprecedented social changes. We are all participating in an experiment that affords us the opportunity to consider how we want to live and move forward after this crisis passes. In a time when life can feel overwhelming and apocalyptic, there is a lot to be said for the power of small changes.

Conservative activist family behind grassroots anti-quarantine Facebook events

42 0 20 Apr 2020

Protests against state stay-at-home orders have attracted a wide range of fringe activists and ardent Trump supporters. They have also attracted a family of political activists that some Republicans lawmakers have called “scam artists.”

A family-run network of pro-gun groups is behind five of the largest Facebook groups dedicated to protesting the shelter-in-place restrictions, according to an NBC News analysis of Facebook groups and website registration information.

The groups were set up by four brothers — Chris, Ben, Aaron and Matthew Dorr — and have amassed more than 200,000 members collectively, including in states where they don’t reside, according to an NBC News analysis based on public records searches and Facebook group registrations.

The Dorr brothers are known in conservative circles for running pro-gun and anti-abortion Facebook groups that bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by antagonizing establishment conservative leaders and activists.

Their usual method is to attack established conservative groups from the right, including the National Rifle Association, and then make money by selling memberships in their groups or selling mailing lists of those who sign up, according to some conservative politicians and activists who have labeled those efforts as scams.

The Washington Post first reported on the Dorrs’ role in the events.

The pages are just part of the more than 100 state-specific Facebook groups that have been created in the last two weeks to protest the stay-at-home orders, according to an unpublished analysis by First Draft, an organization that researches disinformation. Those pages have organized at least 49 different events. Most of the groups are similarly named and have attracted more than 900,000 members in total.

The Dorrs’ pages, however, follow a particularly uniform naming system, according to information openly available on Facebook. A Dorr brother created or is an administrator for groups Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine, Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine, New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine, Minnesotans Against Excessive Quarantine and Ohioans Against Excessive Quarantine.

Chris, Ben, Aaron and Matthew did not return requests for comment.

Ben Dorr told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the claims his efforts are scams are “fake news” and that he plans to continue his work.

The network

The Facebook groups started by the Dorrs each promote state-specific websites, which were registered with the same private registrar, and use similar language in their descriptions.

“It’s time to OPEN UP PENNSYLVANIA and STOP Gov Wolf’s Excessive Quarantine!,” Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine’s “About” section reads. “Politicians are on a power trip, controlling our lives, destroying our businesses, passing laws behind the cover of darkness and forcing us to hand over our freedoms and our livelihood!”

Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantines, a private Facebook group with some 97,000 members, is hosting a rally called “Operation Gridlock” in Madison next week. At least 300 people have indicated they will go to the event, which lists Ben as its creator.

A protesters sign lays on the ground outside of the Ohio State House in Columbus during a protest against stay-at-home orders on April 18, 2020.Megan Jelinger / AFP – Getty Images

The websites, such as ReOpenPA.com and ReOpenMN.com, were initially shared by the same network of pro-gun and anti-vaccination sites, regardless of region, according to an analysis using the Facebook analytics tool CrowdTangle, which lets people track the spread of content on the platform.

For example, ReOpenPA.com and ReOpenMN.com were both initially shared by the Dorr-affiliated Facebook groups Ohio Gun Owners, Pennsyvlania Firearms Association, New York Firearms Association, a pro-Trump group called Ohio First, and an anti-vaccine group called VaXism.

The Dorrs

The Dorrs’ network of pages uses a strategy of data harvesting that is common in activist circles.

Their groups drive users to petitions on Dorr-registered websites, which collect users’ email and home addresses. The groups repeatedly warn users not to use off-site petition platforms like Change.org.

The websites ask users to enter their information as a way to push for change.

“Want to stop the madness? Want to stop Walz? The direct connect tech in the link below was very costly but we’re providing because it was SO EFFECTIVE,” one post on Minnesotans Against Excessive Quarantine wrote. “Please, if you do nothing else. SEND. THAT. EMAIL.”

The site then collects the user’s name, home and email addresses.

Aaron and Ben — residents of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively — are administrators of New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine, which has more than 23,000 members organizing against stay-at-home orders in New York.

Renee DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said that the Dorrs’ setups “ensure that they’re in control of the audience, and not so much a large infrastructure for feedback to the state.”

This sort of Facebook activity is common, DiResta said, and allows for a small group with money and media manipulation skills to simulate the appearance of a much larger movement. It also allows that group to harvest email addresses for future political campaigns, which can be bought and sold.

NBC News found no evidence that the Dorrs had made money off the data collected through the groups.

But DiResta said that these tactics are often used to capitalize on legitimate political activism.

“In this particular case, there’s real momentum from grassroots people who are angry,” she said. “Recognizing that people are going to be searching for that, it provides an opportunity for someone who wants to piggyback on that outrage for, in this case, it seems like, outreach for future campaigns.”

Data harvesting

The Dorr brothers are known among mainstream conservative activists for inflammatory campaigns that harvest data.

The brothers are the founders, directors or advisers of a string of nonprofit organizations across 12 states that have raised millions of dollars and made enemies of local party Republicans and Second Amendment activists. The best-funded Dorr operations are Minnesota Gun Rights, Ohio Gun Owners and Iowa Gun Owners, according to tax filings. They founded a national organization in 2019, American Firearms Coalition, which attacks the NRA as being too soft on gun rights issues.

A 2019 investigation from a local Fox station in Minneapolis-St. Paul found that Minnesota Gun Rights continued to raise funds through memberships, boasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual donations, though the IRS had revoked the group’s tax-exempt status in 2016 for failing to file 990s. The IRS reinstated its tax-exempt status in 2019. According to tax documents, the group raised $273,000 in 2018, the most recent year for which it filed.

In February, Minnesota’s Senate Republican Caucus launched a website warning voters against the Dorr-backed “scams.”

Hundreds of protesters against stay-at-home orders gather outside Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s residence in St. Paul on April 17, 2020.Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune via AP

“Over the last few years, several scammers have popped up in conservative politics in Minnesota,” the website reads. “On their face, it looks like they are doing the Lord’s work – advocating for Second Amendment rights, pro-life views, election integrity and even supporting President Trump. But a little investigation reveals they are actually just building their own brand and raising money by cashing in on unsuspecting Minnesotans sympathetic to their message.”

According to the state Republicans, the Dorrs create pro-gun, anti-abortion and pro-Trump Facebook groups as part of a fundraising scheme, but offer nothing in return.

Another Dorr-operated Facebook page and organization, Minnesota Right to Life, was called out by the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, which said they made false allegations against conservative legislators and fundraising for an unpassable bill that they claim would immediately end abortion.

“The Dorr brothers are established scam artists,” an article on Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life’s website reads. “Nothing they say can be believed, and giving them your money will not advance the pro-life cause in any way.”

Supreme Court rules jury verdicts must be unanimous

36 0 20 Apr 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that jury verdicts in trials for serious crimes must be unanimous.

Two states, Louisiana and Oregon, allowed defendants to be convicted on divided votes. Monday’s decision tossed out the conviction and life sentence of a Louisiana man, Evangelisto Ramos, who was found guilty of murder by a 10-2 jury vote. He will likely get a new trial.

Louisiana recently changed its law to require unanimous verdicts, but that change did not apply to some previous convictions, such as the Ramos case. Nonunanimous verdicts were still permitted under Oregon law, however. That state’s attorney general told the court that striking down the practice could invalidate hundreds of convictions. But on Monday, she called the decision good news.

“It is an embarrassment to our otherwise progressive state that we are the only state in the country with a law in our constitution that allows criminal convictions without juror unanimity,” the attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, said.

The ruling will affect defendants whose appeals are still working their way through the courts. For others, whose cases were resolved earlier, a new round of lawsuits would be required to determine if the decision would invalidate their convictions too.

“We are heartened that the court has held, once and for all, that the promise of the Sixth Amendment fully applies in Louisiana, rejecting any concept of second-class justice,” said Ben Cohen, Evangelisto’s lawyer. “In light of the COVID-19 crisis, it is essential that prisoners who are wrongfully incarcerated be given the chance for release as soon as possible.”

By a 6-3 vote, the court said the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires unanimous verdicts. The majority opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch traced the requirement back to English common law. He said the nation’s founders believed verdicts must be unanimous and noted that the Supreme Court recognized the requirement as early as 1898.

The nonunanimous systems adopted by Louisiana and Oregon, Gorsuch said, had their roots in racial prejudice, allowing white jurors to make the votes of a few African Americans on juries meaningless.

Monday’s ruling reversed the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision allowing nonunanimous verdicts to continue in Louisiana and Oregon. Gorsuch said it was a badly fractured ruling that relied on the deciding vote of then-Justice Lewis Powell, who said the Sixth Amendment did not fully apply to the states.

Three members of the court dissented from Monday’s decision — conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito and liberal Elena Kagan. They said the 1972 decision should be upheld because Oregon and Louisiana have relied on it to conduct their criminal trials.

The ruling “imposes a potentially crushing burden on the courts and criminal justice systems of those states,” Alito wrote for the dissenters.

Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz reach agreement to form unity government in Israel

38 0 20 Apr 2020

After three inconclusive elections held within the span of a year, Israeli political rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz broke a persistent political deadlock and announced Monday they had reached an agreement to form a unity government.

“At this time, an agreement was signed for the establishment of a national emergency government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Chairman, Maj. Gen. (res.) MK Benny Gantz,” Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a tweet.

The announcement comes after Gantz, a former military chief of staff, was voted in as the speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on March 26.

“These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions,” Gantz, who nominated himself for the role as speaker, said after the vote last month which paved the way for an agreement between the two camps to be reached.

However, the move has also cost him the unity of his centrist Blue and White alliance, an umbrella group compromised of three smaller parties, that has battled to take power from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party in the last three elections.

Leader of Israel’s Blue and White electoral alliance Benny Gantz became speak of the Knesset on Thursday. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Getty Images

The latest nation-wide vote held on March 2 saw neither Likud nor Blue and White capturing enough seats to form a majority government even with the backing of smaller parties.

Blue and White’s co-leaders Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon filed a request to split from the rest of the alliance in the Knesset moments before the vote on Gantz’s nomination as speaker last month.

“Benny Gantz decided today to break apart Blue and White in order to crawl into Netanyahu’s government. It’s a disappointing decision,” Lapid said.

Blue and White had intended to nominate another lawmaker as speaker, who was part of a different faction of the alliance, and to use the position to push for legislation that would prevent an indicted lawmaker from becoming prime minister.

In November, Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

But Likud hit back saying if Blue and White pursued this approach it would put an end to any discussions to form a unity government between the two camps — a move that could have seen Israel dragged into an unpopular fourth election.

The political crisis in Israel has persisted even as the country tackles the outbreak of the contagious coronavirus that is afflicting much of the world.

The stakes are particularly high for Netanyahu who was meant to go on trial for his corruption charges last month but managed to postpone his court date due to the outbreak.

Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest serving prime minister, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust, according to legal experts.

He has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

16 dead, including officer, in shooting, Canadian authorities say

38 0 20 Apr 2020

A gunman killed at least 16 people, including a police officer, and evaded authorities for hours while dressed as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in rural Nova Scotia in what was Canada’s deadliest shooting in three decades, officials said Sunday.

The suspect, identified as Gabriel Wortman, 51, was killed after a lengthy manhunt, said Chris Leather, the criminal operations officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nova Scotia.

Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman identified the officer as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force. She was married with two children. Another officer was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, Bergerman said.

“The impact of the incident will extend from one end of the province to the other,” Bergerman told reporters.

Earlier Sunday, authorities said Wortman had killed at least 10 people and later revised the number to 16.

Gabriel Wortman.RCMP Nova Scotia

Police went to a home in the small rural community of Portapique on Saturday night in response to multiple 911 calls, Leather said. On arrival, they found several bodies inside and outside the home but no suspect, Leather said. Police said additional bodies were found at other locations.

The relationship between the victims and the suspect wasn’t immediately clear. Leather declined to specify a potential motive, saying it was too early in the investigation. He said the shooting appeared to be random, but he added that Wortman was wearing a police uniform and driving a “mock-up” of a Mountie cruiser when he fled the scene.

Authorities believe he may have targeted his first victims but then began attacking randomly.

An initial search for Wortman led to multiple structures that were on fire, Leather said. The search later continued to “multiple” communities around Nova Scotia.

Wortman was located Sunday morning and is now dead, Leather said. Authorities didn’t say how he died, but did say there was an exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police.

Tom Taggart, a council member in the Municipality of Colchester County, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Portapique was a “beautiful, quiet, rural community” with about 100 to 250 residents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a written statement that he was “saddened” by the loss of life. “As a country, in moments like these, we come together to support one another. Together we will mourn with the families of the victims, and help them get through this difficult time,” he said.

The shooting is one of the worst in Canada’s history. The country overhauled its gun-control measures after a gunman killed 14 women and himself at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. This weekend’s shooting is the deadliest since then.

CORRECTION (April 19, 2020, 8:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a council member in the Municipality of Colchester County, Nova Scotia. He is Tom Taggart, not Taggert.

Elisha Fieldstadt and Associated Press contributed.