Monday, August 31, 2020

WHITE Americans divided over armed civilians at protests

Associated Press

Boise, Idaho — The scenes have become commonplace in 2020: People gathered at state Capitols with semiautomatic long guns strapped across their chests. A couple near St. Louis emerging from their mansion brandishing firearms as Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched by the house. Men roaming the streets with rifles during protests over racial inequality, punctuated by two people being killed in Wisconsin and another in Portland over the weekend.

The coronavirus pandemic, protests against racism and police killings, a rancorous election year and a perception that cities are being overrun by violent mobs have brought about a markedly more aggressive stance by some gun owners and widened the divide over firearms in America.

WHITE Americans are turning out more often and more visibly with guns, a sign of the tension engulfing the country.

Last week’s arrest of a 17-year-old accused of killing two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with a semiautomatic rifle is just the latest flashpoint. Then over the weekend, a caravan of President Donald Trump supporters streamed into Portland, resulting in a clash with protesters in which a supporter of a right-wing group was fatally shot.

The teenager and other gun-toting protesters have been denounced as radical vigilantes who benefit from a double-standard — that if they were Black gun owners brandishing their firearms, the police would use deadly force against them.

To others, FOX NEWS VIEWERS, they are patriots seeking to bring law and order to cities that have been overtaken by extremists. 

“I would have done the same thing, to be honest with you,” Todd Scott, of Covington, Georgia, said of the teenager in Kenosha. He’s viewed video of the teen, Kyle Rittenhouse, being chased by protesters and believes he was acting in self-defense.

Scott himself once used his gun to break up violence, becoming a bit of a local hero in 2015 after a gunman killed a clerk and a customer at the liquor store where he was picking up beer. Scott fired on the suspect before he fled.

Kat Ellsworth, who heads the Liberal Gun Owners club in Illinois and who lives in Chicago, is appalled by those who have converged on protests and are openly carrying firearms. She believes those gun owners have been emboldened by Trump, who has made law and order a central part of his re-election bid.

The scenes of primarily white men walking around city streets openly carrying firearms, or of those who have flocked to state Capitols to protest pandemic business restrictions, are a demonstration, she believes, of white privilege. She’s convinced that a group of Black gun owners with AR-15s in public would be dealt with much differently

“I view them as instigators and I view them as people looking for an excuse to shoot people of color,” said Ellsworth, who is white.
The killings in Kenosha almost immediately opened up a new front in the culture wars over guns. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson called the episode a result of authorities refusing to bring law and order to the city.

“How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”

Around the same time last week, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who were seen outside their St. Louis home brandishing a rifle and a handgun, were given a coveted prime-time slot at the Republican National Convention, where they defended their right to bear arms.

In the first half of this year, the turmoil has fueled an unprecedented buying spree of firearms.

Every month so far has smashed last year’s numbers of background checks. In a few instances, the number of background checks have soared past previous records set by a background check system that began in 1998.

So far this year, nearly 23 million background checks have been conducted, though not all checks were for firearm purchases. Still, the gun industry estimates that 40% of firearm purchases have been made by first-time buyers, or about 5 million people.

Ed Turner, a former police officer from metro Atlanta who now owns gun shops in Georgia, said he cringes seeing people openly carrying firearms. If someone is truly worried about their own safety, he said, concealing the weapon is “a much better approach than walking around like John Wayne.”

Among the people flocking to his gun shops, he has seen mostly women, African Americans and Latinos concerned about their personal safety and buying a firearm for the first time.

He considers their concerns justified amid calls to “defund the police” and riots that have some cases led to police stations being attacked.

“I am stunned that that behavior is allowed to go on,” he said.

Gun-control activists have viewed the situation in Kenosha, as well as the other protests that have drawn people openly carrying firearms, as a direct result of Trump’s firebrand rhetoric.

“It is because of an extreme world view that has been only encouraged at the highest levels of government, and by the gun lobby that has condoned their presence there,” said Nick Suplina, the managing director of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “The presence of armed militia at these protests are not there merely to protect property but are there to intimidate protesters, to chill speech and sometimes worse,” said Nick Suplina, the managing director of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety.
'Trump stokes violence in our cities, he can't stop it because he's fomented it' - Joe Biden

Biden condemns opponent as 'toxic' and denounces violent protest

Speech: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alexandra Jaffe, Joseph Lemire and Will Weissert
September 01 2020 

Declaring Donald Trump a "toxic presence," Joe Biden forcefully condemned the violence at recent protests while also blaming the US president for fomenting the divide that's sparking it.

"He doesn't want to shed light, he wants to generate heat, and he's stoking violence in our cities," Mr Biden said. "He can't stop the violence because for years he's fomented it."

Biden attacks Trump for 'fomenting violence'

In one of his sharpest attacks on the president yet, Mr Biden went on to call Mr Trump a "toxic presence in this nation for four years" and accuse him of "poisoning the values this nation has always held dear, poisoning our very democracy".

"In just a little over 60 days, we have a decision to make: Will we rid ourselves of this toxin? Or make it a permanent part of our nation's character?" Mr Biden asked.

The speech marked a new phase of the campaign as the Democratic challenger steps up his travel after largely remaining near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And, after focusing his candidacy on accusing Mr Trump of mishandling the pandemic, Mr Biden is making a broader push to argue Americans won't be safe if his opponent wins re-election.

That was an effort to blunt Mr Trump's line of argument that a Biden presidency would mean more violence and rioting in the streets, part of the law and order message the president is emphasising as some protests against racial injustice have become violent.

The Trump campaign has sought to keep that focus because a sense has taken hold in his camp that the more the national discourse is about anything other than the virus, the better it is for the president.

The president tweeted: "The Radical Left Mayors & Governors of Cities where this crazy violence is taking place have lost control of their 'Movement.' It wasn't supposed to be like this, but the Anarchists & Agitators got carried away and don't listen anymore - even forced Slow Joe out of basement!"

Mr Trump and his Republican allies have falsely accused Mr Biden of ignoring the violence committed by some protesters at recent demonstrations after people were shot at protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon in recent weeks.

Yesterday Mr Biden denounced violence and looting at protests.

"It's lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted," he said.

He also accused Mr Trump of being too "weak" to call on his own supporters to stop acting as "armed militia". And he leaned on his own 47-year career in politics to defend himself against Republican attacks.

"You know me. You know my heart. You know my story, my family's story," he said. "Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?"

Mr Biden hit Mr Trump on everything from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to the economy to relations with Russia.

He declared that even as the president is "trying to scare America", what was really causing the nation's fear was Mr Trump's own failures.

Mr Biden pointed to a rise in murders this past year, the tens of thousands dead from the coronavirus and the economic damage done by the pandemic. "You want to talk about fear? They're afraid they're going to get Covid, they're afraid they're going to get sick and die," Mr Biden said.

In Kenosha, Wisconsin, the National Guard was deployed to quell demonstrations in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, that have resulted in some looting, vandalism and the shooting deaths of two protesters.

One of Mr Trump's supporters was shot at a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, prompting multiple tweets from the president.

Portland has seen nearly 100 consecutive nights of Black Lives Matter protests, with vandalism to federal and city property.

Mr Trump and other speakers at last week's Republican National Convention frequently highlighted incidents of violence at protests that were sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last May, predicting that if Mr Biden is elected in November such incidents will become the norm.

Mr Biden in turn has accused his opponent of viewing the violence as a "political benefit."

"He's rooting for more violence, not less," Mr Biden said last week.

Neuralink put a chip in Gertrude the pig’s brain. It might be useful one day

Screenshot from Neuralink video

September 1, 2020

A recent demonstration video released by Elon Musk’s firm Neuralink might not look like much at first. In the video, a pig named Gertrude eats snacks from a person’s hand, while an accompanying computer screen displays blue lines that peak and trough, accompanied by some musical bleeps and bloops.

But this is no ordinary pig. Gertrude has been surgically implanted with a brain-monitoring device and, as the video’s narrator explains, the bleeps and bloops represent data being collected from the implanted device (in this case, extra contact with the snout means more bleeps and bloops, and bigger peaks in the visual data).

The important thing here is not the data itself collected via the Neuralink device in Gertrude’s brain. It’s no surprise that touching a pig’s sensitive snout causes neurons to fire in its brain.

The most interesting thing is how free Gertrude is to move around while the implanted chip collects the data.

Credit: Neuralink.

Not stuck to a hospital bed

This video shows Neuralink has created an implant device that can deliver brain recordings to a computer in real time while the brain’s owner is moving around and interacting with the world.

That’s a pretty big step forward, and it’s definitely an element that has been been missing from the research on brain-computer interfaces thus far. While some other wireless brain implants exist, they require major surgeries to implant and are typically either bulky or limited in where in the brain they can be placed.

There is a lot of research on how to decode data from the brain and the readings generated from more traditional brain-monitoring devices, but we don’t have good ways to collect that data.

So if Neuralink can get this device into humans, and it works, that would be hugely exciting for researchers.

Read more: Linking brains to computers: how new implants are helping us achieve this goal

Taking a breather

In terms of what data you can get from Neuralink’s device, however, things are a bit less exciting. This device covers data collected from a tiny part of the cortex from a small number of neurons. In humans, we know important brain functions typically use many parts of the brain at once, involving millions of neurons.

To use a device like this to, for example, help restore some mobility to a person who is quadriplegic, you’d need it to collect much more data, from a much bigger area of the brain.

It’s also worth taking a breather to remind ourselves that there is still so much we don’t understand about how to decode data collected from brain-computer interfaces.

Neuralink aims to develop brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers. Shutterstock

While we’ve come to understand a lot about how the brain works, there is currently no way to predict what makes any specific neuron fire or not fire.

We don’t fully understand the complex patterns produced in brain monitoring. We can say “this area of the cortex seems to be involved in such-and-such function”, but we don’t always know exactly how it is involved or how to make it work “better”.

So we are not yet at the point where Neuralink’s device puts us on the cusp of being able to improve memory or attention, or to use our brains to send a hands-free message to your partner’s phone.

But the device might help us towards exciting steps such as restoring the ability to talk, or move a wheelchair or robotic arm using signals from the brain. And for people in those situations, any incremental progress is very promising.

It’s like Neuralink has invented the wristwatch before the clock itself has been fully invented.
A new stage

Musk told reporters the company is preparing for first human implantation soon, pending required approvals and further safety testing.

Today, I am in my lab working on experiments that aim to train people to improve their visual attention. I observe them trying to focus their attention on a task, and giving them feedback on how well they are doing based on the signals I can see in their brains in real time.

But these people are not free to move around the lab or go about their daily lives - they are bound, by necessity, to the machines I need to use to do my research.

If, one day, researchers like me could use a device like Neuralink’s to collect data without my subjects being so constrained, that would represent a new stage in this area of research.

Read more: Brain-machine interfaces are getting better and better – and Neuralink's new brain implant pushes the pace


Angela Renton
PhD candidate (Cognitive Neuroscience/ Neuroengineering), The University of Queensland
Disclosure statement


Coronavirus missteps from CDC and FDA worry health experts
"If you don't trust the agencies that are telling you to do this, then you don't have your key weapons to fight against a pandemic," one doctor said.
A health care worker helps a motorist with a nasal swab test at a drive-in coronavirus testing center at M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism in Los Angeles on Aug. 11.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Aug. 31, 2020 By Denise Chow

Dr. Stephen Hahn, the embattled head of the Food and Drug Administration, offered an assurance Monday: Any vaccine for public use will be approved "on the basis of science and data."

"We will not make that decision on the basis of politics," he said in an interview with "CBS Evening News." "That's a promise."

Hahn made the pledge after a series of recent public missteps involving the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — two of the federal agencies critical to the U.S. coronavirus response — which have damaged their reputations at a time when they are needed the most, according to seven prominent doctors and scientists who spoke to NBC News. They say that the recent events are clear signs of political interference from the White House and that they have shaken their trust and confidence in the leadership of the agencies.

"It's an enormous scandal," said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington who has become an outspoken critic of the U.S. pandemic response and has written extensively about misleading health information. "What it looks like at this point is you have a White House altering public health advice to improve election chances to the detriment of American lives."

In an interview published Sunday in The Financial Times, Hahn said the FDA could fast-track a coronavirus vaccine by issuing an emergency use authorization before the end of Phase 3 clinical trials. The comments were met with an outcry from public health experts, prompting him to clarify in the CBS interview that a vaccine wouldn't be politicized.

Before that, Hahn misrepresented data about convalescent plasma, leading him to apologize for having overstated the potential treatment's benefits. He also ousted the agency's chief spokesperson over the fiasco, The New York Times reported.

FDA head open to authorizing a COVID-19 vaccine before end of Phase 3
AUG. 31, 202001:19

The CDC sparked its own crisis when it inexplicably changed its guidance on COVID-19 testing in a way that ran contrary to the best available scientific evidence, Bergstrom said. The updated recommendations, posted on the agency's website Aug. 24, suggested that people exposed to the coronavirus "do not necessarily need a test" unless they exhibit symptoms, are older or have existing medical needs that make them especially vulnerable to the virus.

But it has been known that infected people can be contagious before they experience symptoms and that people can also spread the virus even if they remain asymptomatic.

The CDC's director, Dr. Robert Redfield, backtracked and issued a statement saying that "all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients" may consider getting tested.

Loren Lipworth, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said the recent developments are troubling because they undercut the CDC's mission.

"As epidemiologists, the CDC has always been who we turn to for guidance and for the data," she said.

Bergstrom said anything that compromises clear public health messaging could be very damaging, especially because scientists learn new things about a virus and its effects on humans as a pandemic evolves. About eight months into the worst pandemic in more than a century, research has shown that staving off the coronavirus relies on three pillars that work in concert: testing widely, social distancing and wearing masks.

"If you don't trust the agencies that are telling you to do this, then you don't have your key weapons to fight against a pandemic," he said.

With the FDA commissioner's blunder, Lipworth said, it's particularly important for the person leading the agency responsible for overseeing the development of potential coronavirus treatments and vaccines to convey information correctly.

FDA chief apologizes for his COVID-19 plasma exaggeration — but the damage is done

The situation has only furthered concerns that the agencies have been politicized. The spokesperson who was let go from the FDA was previously a reporter for One America News Network, a far-right media outlet that has been a strong supporter of President Donald Trump.

Beyond the obvious dangers of mischaracterizing data about a potential treatment, Lipworth said, it's still too early to know whether convalescent plasma is, in fact, beneficial. While the therapy has been shown to be safe, clinical trials to test its effectiveness continue, including at Vanderbilt University.

"The evidence is certainly not conclusive whether or not Dr. Hahn communicated it correctly," she said. "But even if he had, we're still not at a point where we can say there's conclusive evidence of the benefits."

All of the doctors and public health experts who spoke to NBC News expressed concern that Hahn's misrepresentation could tarnish the FDA's reputation. The erosion of trust could be especially problematic at the FDA, the agency responsible for evaluating the safety and effectiveness of vaccine candidates, said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa.

"It's a real worry, especially when we have people who don't trust the government and don't want vaccines and barely believe that this virus is causing a problem," he said.

Dr. Steven Goodman, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Stanford University, said the recent incidents may cause people to question the motives of the federal agencies that respond to public health emergencies.

"It reduces confidence that they are without political influence," he said. "Any statement that the FDA makes that they have to amend or qualify, or any hint that they are lowering their standards, makes future statements more suspect in the eyes of the public."

And while public health has been shaped by politics throughout history, the recent events raise a different sort of red flag, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who is an investigator for Moderna's coronavirus vaccine clinical trials.

"Politics has always played a role in public health — think about HIV, for example — but it should not be partisan," del Rio said. "It should never favor one party over another."

The missteps add frustration for scientists and public health experts who are already operating in a politically charged environment rife with misinformation.

"I've been concerned before, but this elevates it to angry," Goodman said.

Dr. David Dowdy, an associate professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called the recent events a "tremendous blow" to the credibility of the CDC and the FDA. He said he hopes the damage isn't permanent.

"Long term, I hope that this is not something that will tarnish them too greatly if and when we have a political situation where science is not a political issue anymore," he said.

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on the environment and space.
Osaka wears mask in memory of Breonna Taylor at US Open


Naomi Osaka, of Japan, wears a mask in honor of Breonna Taylor as she celebrates after defeating Misaki Doi, of Japan, during the first round of the US Open tennis championships, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK (AP) — Before and after her first-round victory at the U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police.

It’s just one of seven face coverings, each in honor of a different person, that Osaka brought to Flushing Meadows — the same number of wins it takes to claim a Grand Slam trophy. The world’s highest-earning female athlete hopes she can get the chance to raise awareness about racial injustice by using each mask during her stay in New York.

“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I’ll get to the finals so you can see all of them,” said Osaka, the champion at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open.

“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story. Maybe they’ll, like, Google it or something,” Osaka said. “For me, (it’s about) just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
On the court, she overcame some uneven play late Monday night to beat 81st-ranked Misaki Doi 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in an all-Japanese matchup in an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The No. 4-seeded Osaka’s movement was an issue at times; she is coming off a left hamstring injury that forced her to withdraw from the final of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday.

“Physically I feel like I could be better. But I can’t complain because I won the match,” Osaka said. “During the match, it slowly got a little bit worse. Yeah, I just feel like there’s some recovery time that I’m lacking that I wish I could get back. For the most part, I’m managing.”

It was during the Western & Southern Open last week that Osaka took a public stand by saying she would refuse to play her semifinal, joining athletes in various other sports who walked out to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Wisconsin.

Osaka’s move prompted tournament organizers to halt action entirely for a day. When play resumed, Osaka agreed to compete, after all, because the day off for the Western & Southern Open brought additional attention to the issue.

Osaka walked out on court for her match Monday night with a black mask and white lettering with the name of Taylor, a 26-year-old who was fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation in March.

Osaka put the mask back on for her postmatch interview.

“A lot of people ask me if I feel more stressed out ever since I started speaking out more. To be honest, not really,” Osaka said. “At this point, like, if you don’t like me, it is what it is. You know what I mean?”

Against Doi, Osaka wound up with 38 unforced errors, 13 more than her winners total. But after a forehand into the net gave the second set to Doi, Osaka quickly went ahead in the third by breaking in the opening game.

Doi never has been past the fourth round at any Grand Slam tournament. She is now 1-8 for her career at the U.S. Open and 0-18 against opponents ranked in the top 10.

Osaka is now 34-1 in Grand Slam matches when taking the first set; the only loss came against Simona Halep at the 2016 French Open.

Next up for her is a match against Camila Giorgi of Italy.

“She’s very unpredictable for me,” Osaka said, “so I guess I just have to be on my toes.”


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at

Japan reacts to tennis star Naomi Osaka’s protest in support of Black Lives Matter

Posted 31 August 2020

“Naomi Osaka on leading tennis to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.” Screencap from August 28, 2020, from ESPN official YouTube channel.

On August 27, Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka briefly suspended her participation in the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in the United States following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Osaka's “new voice” against racism drew accolades and, predictably, criticism in Japan.
Jacob Blake's shooting in Wisconsin on August 23, 2020, part of a historical pattern of violence against Black and BIPOC people by police in the United States, has provoked massive criticism and civil disobedience across the United States.

Numerous athletes and sports teams staged wildcat strikes to protest Blake's shooting. In a tweet on August 27, Osaka stated she would withdraw from the Western & Southern Open tournament to “get a conversation started in a majority white sport” (tennis):
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) August 27, 2020

Following Osaka's announcment, tournament organizers announced a pause in play on Thursday, August 27, with play to resume on Friday, August 28. Osaka then announced she would rejoin the tournament, returning to the tennis court wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

Statement made.

Quite the 48 hours from @naomiosaka ✊🏿
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 28, 2020

In a statement to multiple news outlets, Osaka said:

As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence. […] I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent. However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) and USTA (United States Tennis Association), I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement.

Naomi Osaka, widely considered the top women's tennis player in the world, is a Japanese citizen with both Japanese and Haitian heritage, who grew up in the United States speaking Japanese and Creole. In order to conform with Japanese citizenship requirements, which do not permit dual-nationality, and represent Japan in the 2018 Olympics, Osaka relinquished American citizenship.
Osaka is a popular figure in Japan, thanks to her winning record on the tennis courts, and her playful online persona. However, Osaka has endured racist online attacks, sometimes for seemingly innocuous tweets, at other times for supporting and raising awareness about #BlackLivesMatter in Japan.

One popular Twitter user, who describes herself as a “Japanese-American Hapa” (a person who is partially of Asian or Pacific Islander descent), in a tweet shared tens of thousands of times rounded up the various criticisms made against Osaka in Japan:







— あんな (@annaPHd9pj) August 27, 2020

The Japanese-language comments about Naomi Osaka's decision to boycott her tennis matches are absolutely terrible:

“I guess she isn't really Japanese, after all.”

“Think of the hardship her sponsors are facing.”

“Boycotting the matches doesn't do anything.”

“The guy who got shot by police deserved it.”

Yamaoka Tetsuhide, a prominent ultra-conservative commentator, chided Osaka in English, going so far as to use the diminutive and condescending honorific “chan” when addressing the global tennis superstar:

Naomi Chan, I know what you must feel but I think it’s a totally separate issue. You can freely express your concern by all means but please don’t walk away from tennis court as you are professional tennis player we love.


— 山岡鉄秀 (@jcn92977110) August 27, 2020

However, many more people in Japan showed their support of Osaka, including Fukuyama Kazuhito, a prominent lawyer and mayoral candidate in Kyoto.




— 福山和人 (@kaz_fukuyama) August 27, 2020

Ms. Naomi Osaka:

“Before I'm an athlete I am a black woman. And as a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”

Probably a tough choice. I support Naomi Osaka.

Huffington Post: “Naomi Osaka announces boycott of match to protest police shooting black man”

Ishigaki Noriko, a municipal councilor from Sendai and member of a prominent opposition party in Japan:




— 石垣のりこ (@norinotes) August 28, 2020

Thanks to Naomi Osaka's protest and activism, the tournament was postponed by tournament organizers as a “statement against racism and social injustice.” Osaka is not contradicting herself when she agreed to resume participation, since the tournament responded (to Osaka's message).

I stand in solidarity with the protest against all structural racism.

NHK article: “Naomi Osaka resumes participation in tennis tournament.”

When Osaka resumed play on Friday, August 28, she was forced to quickly withdraw once again, due to a pulled hamstring.

Written by Nevin Thompson
Expert breaks down 'militias' involved in Kenosha, Portland shootings

The notion of a teenager crossing state lines with a semiautomatic rifle in hand to uphold public order shocked many Americans, but to some experts, it was the latest sign in a disturbing trend.

By BEN SALES/JTA Jerusalem Post 

A man on a bike rides past a city truck on fire outside the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S., during protests following the police shooting of Black man Jacob Blake August 23, 2020.

Last week, a researcher who focuses on extremism said he was concerned that the fatal shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, could start a trend of similar deadly incidents at protests.
Then, three days later, something like it happened in Portland, Oregon: One man was killed following a night of clashes between supporters of President Donald Trump and counterprotesters.

The alleged Kenosha shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, did not appear to be linked to any far-right organizations when he traveled there with an AR-15 rifle and killed two people on Aug. 25 amid ongoing protests sparked by the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake.

Multiple videos capture an incident in which Rittenhouse, of Illinois, appears to trip while running down a street and then shoots two people who are converging on him. Rittenhouse has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum.

The notion of a teenager crossing state lines with a semiautomatic rifle in hand to uphold public order shocked many Americans. But to Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, it was the latest sign of a disturbing trend — armed men showing up to scenes of unrest and, without training or a mandate, acting as self-appointed guardians of law and order.

That, Friedfeld says, isn’t that different from the Portland shooting. Police have not identified a suspected shooter or the victim there, though the latter has been identified as wearing a hat with the insignia of Patriot Prayer, which the ADL calls a far-right group

The Anti-Defamation League is perhaps best known for its efforts to document and combat antisemitism, but its analysts actually monitor many interrelated forms of extremism. That’s why Friedfeld and his colleagues at the ADL and other anti-extremism groups have been closely monitoring for months as Black Lives Matter protests have swept the country. And with tensions sure to rise as the November presidential election nears, Friedfeld worries that others may follow Rittenhouse’s example.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke with Friedfeld about the Kenosha shooting, what it suggests about extremism in America and how the rising militia movement intersects with threats to Jews. Following the Portland shooting, JTA spoke with Friedfeld again about how the two shootings are related. That question-and-answer is appended at the end of this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

JTA: What are your reactions to the Kenosha killings and the circumstances surrounding them?

Friedfeld: What happened on Tuesday night was something that we have been kind of concerned about over the last few months, particularly since the outbreak of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since that point, you know, we have seen what’s essentially armed vigilantes.

Sometimes they form up as more formalized groups, but often it’s just armed individuals or a few guys going out and linking up with other people, without a mandate or any certification or qualifications for this moment. They are tasking themselves with the responsibility of what they believe is keeping the people and their local communities safe.

But again, they’re taking it upon themselves. They are not police officers. There is no sense that they have the training to handle this right.

And so you’ve got these armed individuals who are inserting themselves into these very tense situations. And it creates the possibility that if things go south, if there is an escalation, that they’ll find themselves outmatched or unprepared for the moment. And that’s when bad things happen, especially when they’re carrying firearms.

No one should have let a 17-year-old kid patrol the streets while there are protests going on. He was in a position where he could actually kill people. And that should never have happened.

What’s the connection between Rittenhouse and the far-right militias and other extremist groups you research?

We have been tracking vigilante groups and militias that have been showing up at these protests across the country to provide security for local residents and their businesses.

And the Kenosha Guard [an independent militia that patrolled the protests on the night of the shooting] is one of these types of groups. They’re not linked with the other ones, but it’s that same type of local security watch that we’re seeing rise to prominence in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

They put up this call basically saying we need to protect our city from thugs, from looters, from rioters. What these calls do is they normalize this idea that it is OK and proper for armed vigilantes to patrol the streets of America’s towns and cities in order to protect people and property.

On their pages, you can find these anti-Black Lives Matter sentiments. And that’s pretty common among these vigilante groups. They will go out in public and say that they are there to protect all residents and to protect all businesses, and they just want to protect people’s right to protest. But when you actually look at the words that they say on their pages, you often find very staunchly anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric.

In general, when you look at groups like the Kenosha Guard, do they tend to affiliate with the same anti-government extremist ideologies that other right-wing militias ascribe to?

The closest thing that we tend to find is that these groups will often align with the militia movement, and the more conspiratorial elements of the militia movement. But the fact is, a lot of these groups are really new. And because they were formed in response to Black Lives Matter, they tend to focus on Black Lives Matter, and we haven’t seen as much evidence that they talk about the conspiracies that animate the militia movement.

These groups are more vulnerable to those more classic militia movement conspiracies because they fit into that network. The mindset basically is that there is someone out there that wants to destroy America, and that they are the ones that have to resist it.

Does that lead to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, that the ones who want to destroy America are the Jews?

I don’t usually see overt antisemitism in terms of someone saying the Jews are behind it, but you do see [references to Jewish financier and progressive philanthropist] George Soros. I don’t even know if you call it a dog whistle at that point. But it’s that coded language, George Soros being the most popular one. I mean, how many times over the last few months have we seen these conspiracies that George Soros is paying for Black Lives Matter?

The implicit message there is that he is paying to cause unrest to destroy American cities and towns. So you don’t usually see overt antisemitism in the way that you would among white supremacists. But there is absolutely that coded language, particularly when it comes to conspiracies about George Soros and folks like that, that tries to pin the blame on them.

There’s something that is extreme that people feel that it’s OK to take guns into the streets with the implicit message of violence that that sends, that you’re carrying a firearm that is loaded, that can hurt a lot of people in the street. That is something that is extreme, and they are in the streets inherently portraying a political message.

This idea that people feel comfortable to bring a gun into public [space], with all the messaging and inherent threats that come along with that, that’s an act of extremism.

What are your thoughts on the way the Kenosha police reacted to the shooting?

I can’t speak to the Kenosha police. They’re still investigating.

What I can say though is the fact that the police did not immediately try and get rid of these guys, push these guys off the street or just say “You can stay here, but put your guns away,” that is concerning.

They weren’t breaking any laws by carrying the guns. But if you have a chaotic environment, I would think you would want to reduce the amount of guns.

Are you worried about shootings like this one becoming a trend?

The environment and conditions that made this shooting possible still exist. Nothing has changed to prevent this from happening anywhere else. So that’s not to say that another shooting like this will occur. But those underlying conditions are still there. It is certainly possible, as summer turns to fall, that we see another incident like this.

There was nothing particularly special about Kenosha that resulted in the shooting happening there. As the election nears and people get even more heated and the stakes get even higher, these events [could] attract more hotheads, attract more of this extremist element.

It’s not like in the wake of this we have seen guards say, Oh, wow, we need to stand down or something like that. Or we need to change the way we do these things to make sure that the people who are standing with us, we know who they are, we know that they are trained, or whatever. Or that police have come out and said, you know, we are not going to let armed men stand in the streets anymore. No one has responded like that.

The potential for this to happen still exists until we as a society take those steps, to say no more armed men in the streets that are not law enforcement.

How have militias responded to this?

The Kenosha Guard tried to distance themselves. I think, in general, a bunch [of militias] have come to his defense and said that he was in the right, that he was being attacked and he acted in self-defense.

Are these groups’ numbers on the rise since the start of recent Black Lives Matter protests?

That’s where we started to see a lot of these groups starting to form. They were formed in response to BLM. Their reason for being is usually protecting the city from Black Lives Matter protesters and antifa.

What this incident revealed is just how deadly the stakes can be by participating in these events. I think this incident revealed the danger that exists when you have a bunch of armed men standing around with little training in a situation that they are not prepared for. And firearms make that toxic mix even deadlier.

How does the Portland shooting relate to the Kenosha shooting? You said last week you were worried that something like the Kenosha shooting would happen again, and then something like it happened again.

I think this is another example of what we’ve been witnessing over the course of the summer, which is the rise in street violence. Militias are this environmental problem of there is this increasing amount of street violence that can affect anybody.

We’re witnessing an increasing politicization of this violence. Rather than standing together as protesters and saying we will not condone the use of violence, people are blaming the other side for what happened. Rather than condemning the cycle, they’re perpetuating it.

When you view everything though the lens of almost-life-or-death struggles, committing an act of violence no longer seems as unreasonable.
A preacher with sneakers coming soon to TBN: Steven Furtick to replace Kenneth Copeland, says network

Pastor Steven Furtick delivers a sermon titled “I’m Not What I Thought” on Aug. 16, 2020, at Elevation Church in North Carolina. Video screengrab
August 19, 2020
(RNS) — Trinity Broadcasting Network said it will no longer air the daily Texas-based Kenneth Copeland Ministries program known as “Believer’s Voice of Victory.”
Instead, the network will replace it with programming by Steven Furtick, a megachurch pastor who is widely known for his appearances on PreachersNSneakers, an Instagram account that features influencer pastors and their expensive shoes.
The change will be effective Oct. 2.
Nate Daniels, Trinity Broadcasting Network’s marketing director, said the move is part of a number of changes the network “has been making over the last several years.”
“Just like the world in which we live, TBN is constantly evolving, seeking to provide exclusive programming that is uniquely built for the challenges facing Christians in this moment,” Daniels said in a statement provided to Religion News Service on Wednesday (Aug. 19). “As the leading global religious broadcaster, we want to provide our viewers with compelling and dynamic preaching, teaching, news and entertainment.”

Kenneth Copeland Ministries announced it on Facebook on Monday. However, Copeland had already said as much in a blog post on Aug. 3 on the Kenneth Copeland Ministries website. In that blog, Copeland said he’s partnered with Trinity Broadcasting Network for 40 years.
“This is a big change, but one we are ready for because we understand change,” Copeland wrote.
“We are exploding with vision. We are experiencing His power, and we have embraced the greatest changes we have ever seen,” he continued in the post. “Change is a good thing because everything that is alive changes in order to grow.”
Copeland, a prosperity gospel televangelist, hosts “Believer’s Voice of Victory” with his wife, Gloria Copeland. The show teaches on righteousness, healing and prosperity — principles the Copelands say are the foundations for victorious living through Jesus Christ.
Copeland, who with his wife served on President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the 2016 campaign, has come under fire for his luxurious lifestyle.
In 2019, he made headlines when he told an Inside Edition reporter that he wouldn’t be able to do his work without the use of extravagant planes.


Televangelist Kenneth Copeland speaks with Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrero. Video screengrab via Inside Edition
Copeland has also come under fire amid the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the pastor declared “judgment” on the coronavirus pandemic in a widely shared YouTube video that has more than 1.7 million views.
“I demand a vaccination to come immediately,” Copeland shouted in prayer. “I call you done. ... You come down from your place of authority.”
And, in early August, despite mounting coronavirus cases nationwide, Kenneth Copeland Ministries held the Southwest Believers’ Convention in Fort Worth as religious events in Texas have been largely exempt from COVID-19 executive orders, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The newspaper noted many attendees were not wearing masks or keeping 6 feet apart.
Meanwhile, Furtick has associated himself with other megachurch pastors such as Joel Osteen, James MacDonald, Ed Young Jr., Perry Noble and T.D. Jakes, some of whom have also been criticized for promoting a prosperity gospel.
Furtick leads North Carolina’s Elevation Church, a diverse and youthful congregation described as one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. The church, as The Charlotte Observer noted, carries an “orthodox Christian message that comes wrapped in a thoroughly modern package.”
Clad in streetwear, Furtick, who holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, conducts lively sermons that sometimes resemble rap songs with beats playing in the background while he preaches.
“Have you ever felt too churchy to be wordly, but a little too wordly to fit in some churches?” Furtick said in a recent sermon.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib joins Congressional Freethought Caucus

Rep. Rashida Tlaib claps in celebration on July 22, 2020, after the House of Representatives voted 233-183 to repeal several travel bans against African and Muslim-majority nations put in place by the Trump administration. Screengrab from a tweet shared by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib
August 20, 2020
(RNS) — Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, has joined the Congressional Freethought Caucus.
Launched in 2018, the caucus seeks to promote secular government, separation of church and state, freedom of conscience and policy “based on reason, science, and moral values,” and to oppose discrimination against nonreligious people, or the so-called nones.
Members do not need to identify as nonreligious. Tlaib is Muslim.
“Supporting religious freedom, church/state separation, and evidence-based public policy aren’t simply constitutional,” said atheist advocate and author Hemant Mehta, who first reported the news at Friendly Athiest. “Those principles represent the best path forward for the country. Rep. Tlaib also understands that those values are perfectly aligned with her faith.”
The Congressional Freethought Caucus was organized by Rep. Jared Huffman, who identifies as humanist and is Congress’ only openly nontheistic member, along with Reps. Jamie Raskin, Jerry McNerney and Dan Kildee.
It now has 13 members, all Democrats. Members include Reps. Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal, Steve Cohen, Hank Johnson, Zoe Lofgren, Susan Wild, Sean Casten and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Mehta said he hoped Tlaib’s participation spurs other members of Congress to also join the caucus.
“As an atheist, I know it’s not always easy for members of Congress to openly express support for non-religious people,” Mehta said. “I genuinely appreciate her support of Secular Americans — and secular values — across the country.”
Tlaib’s office did not respond to a request for comment.