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This Billionaire Governor Keeps Firing Top Officials When He Has a Crisis

Does not know how to work the state, so he is firing it – this time, people will die from his lack of real leadership.

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by Ken Ward Jr.

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In the midst of a billion-dollar road-building program last year, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice fired his transportation secretary. The two had disagreed about how to best spend the money.

A year earlier, while the state worked to recover from a major flood, Justice ousted his commerce secretary, the cabinet member who was leading much of the effort. The governor blamed him for delays in helping flood victims.

And as the COVID-19 pandemic raged this summer, Justice forced out his top public health officer. He faulted her for a lag in reporting how many virus patients had recovered.

“When something doesn’t go the way he wants, he finds somebody to blame and fires them,” said Woody Thrasher, the ousted commerce secretary.

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All governors make staff changes, but West Virginia political observers said that Justice has been particularly aggressive in this regard, looking for others to fault when things go wrong. In many ways, his governing style mirrors that of President Donald Trump, who has also cycled through more cabinet secretaries and top advisers in his first term than many of his predecessors.

“There seems to be a pattern that if there is a crisis, someone has to take the fall for it,” said Robert Rupp, a longtime state political analyst who teaches at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

For both Justice and Trump, the path to public service ran through owning large businesses, where their authority and decision-making was unchallenged. Rupp and other historians said Justice’s actions reflect his long career in business and little experience in government. Justice, a Republican, is running for reelection in November.

Rupp said that Justice’s actions may appeal to some voters who like the idea of the government operating more like a business, even in the way top officials are hired or fired.

“The problem is that the government is not a business in many ways,” Rupp added. “The governor being seen as a CEO has some problems, because in many ways, our government doesn’t give a governor as much power as a CEO.”

Justice’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Justice is ranked by Forbes as a billionaire and is West Virginia’s richest man. He owns a vast array of businesses, including coal mines, resort hotels and agricultural interests, many of them regulated by the state agencies that report to him. Though his children run the businesses day to day, Justice continues to guide his business holdings, despite promising to be a full-time governor.

“A business doesn’t function like a democracy,” said Chuck Keeney, a West Virginia historian who teaches at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. “The owner of a business hires and fires whoever they want at their own whim, sometimes based on whoever tells them what they want to hear.”

“The Smartest One in the Room”

Thrasher, a wealthy engineering firm owner who like Justice worked with and then grew his father’s business, said that Justice doesn’t value advisers who disagree with him. “He has to be the smartest one in the room and doesn’t want to hear anything else.”

Two years ago, Thrasher resigned his state job at Justice’s request, when the governor blamed him for a broad mismanagement of the relief effort following a June 2016 flood that killed two dozen West Virginians. Investigations found plenty of blame to go around, and Thrasher made his firing an issue in an unsuccessful Republican primary bid to unseat Justice this year.

Justice replaced Thrasher with Ed Gaunch, a retired insurance company executive who had lost his bid for reelection as a Republican member of the state Senate.

In an interview about his experience leaving the Justice administration, Thrasher pointed to what happened the following year to then-Transportation Secretary Tom Smith.

Smith, an engineer and career highways official, thought the state should spend millions from a road bond issue on bigger, longer-term highway and bridge projects. But under intense political pressure over potholes and other local road damage, Justice wanted to funnel the bond money to smaller projects and more routine maintenance.

Smith balked, saying funding routine maintenance should be done on a pay-as-you-go basis, with vehicle license fees and the like, rather than through debt that the state would pay off over decades.

The governor fired Smith. Justice was clear about his reasons. “I want a new direction to be taken with our Department of Transportation, a return to the core mission of maintaining the quality of our secondary roads and bridges,” the governor said in a statement. Smith could not be reached for comment for this story.

Smith’s replacement? Byrd White, a longtime business associate of Justice’s and former officer of several Justice family companies.

A Change in the Midst of COVID-19

Justice’s most recent high-ranking appointee to depart was Dr. Cathy Slemp, the state’s top public health officer.

Compared with many other places, West Virginia has dodged the worst of the pandemic and its economy has reopened under Justice’s plan, called “West Virginia Strong: The Comeback.”

But in late June, new cases of infection began cropping up, increasingly linked to nursing homes, churches and residents returning from vacation trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Before the month ended, the state would end up on a list of hot spots for the virus.

During a live press briefing, Justice blamed Slemp for overstating West Virginia’s active virus cases, saying it made him unnecessarily scare state residents with inflated numbers.

“If you don’t want me on your hind end, you best better get your numbers right to me,” Justice said at the time.

Within hours, the governor’s office announced Health Secretary Bill Crouch had asked for and received Slemp’s resignation after the governor “expressed … his lack of confidence” in her leadership.

The move drew criticism from national and state public health experts. It also came amid complaints that the governor’s own luxury resort allegedly was not following the state’s guidance for reopening safely.

Dr. Michael Brumage, who served for a short time as the state’s drug policy chief in 2018, praised Slemp and said the sorts of data-reporting issues the governor complained about weren’t valid grounds for firing a qualified public health professional.

“It’s a tragedy for our state to lose such a talented and highly regarded voice of science and reason at such a critical moment,” Brumage said.

Slemp has not talked publicly about her departure but has said that some weaknesses in the state’s response to the pandemic were caused by years of funding cuts that left public health agencies with inadequate staff, technology and other resources.

“We are driving a great aunt’s Pinto when what you need is to be driving a Ferrari,” Slemp told The Associated Press and Kaiser Health News.

The day after Slemp was pushed out, three top officials at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University — where Slemp earned her master’s in public health — issued an unusual statement to say they were “stunned and troubled” by the governor’s action.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security, said in a later interview that it appeared Slemp was “thrown under the bus” for a relatively small lag in data reporting.

“Cathy Slemp is a really respected person in the field of public health preparedness,” Inglesby said. “When you see something like that happen it’s very concerning.”

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The Boogaloo Bois Are All Over Facebook

Facebook out of control and as such endangers our Republic.

The anti-government Boogaloo movement is thriving on Facebook under an array of code names, where followers are circulating links to Google Drives containing manuals on bomb making, how to be a getaway driver, and how to murder people with your bare hands, an investigation by the Tech Transparency Project found.

The group, which tracks extremist movements on social media, identified 110 Boogaloo groups that were created since Facebook designated it a “dangerous organization” and banned it from the platform on June 30. At least 18 of them were created on a single day.

Some of those groups have already amassed thousands of members, and are distributing documents including “Al Qaeda kidnapping manual” and the “Army Sniper Manual,” as well as reports on bombings such as the 2005 attack on London’s transport system, which left 56 dead.

One such drive is labeled “For Duncan Lemp,” a reference to the 21-year-old anti-government extremist who became a martyr in Boogaloo circles when he was killed by Maryland police in March. Since then, Lemp’s face and name have become a mainstay of Boogaloo networks. So-called Boogaloo Bois have even appeared at Black Lives Matter rallies with signs demanding “Justice for Duncan Lemp.”

In some cases, the presence of the Boogaloo movement may be even more troubling than it was before. The distribution of entire folders containing instructions for violent acts is an escalation even compared to just a few months ago, when members were just pasting recipes for Molotov cocktails directly into Facebook groups.

“The biggest concern is the ability to reach such a large number of people,” said Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project. “That increases the number of people who may be unstable. One person could take these manuals, find them useful, and carry out a lone-wolf attack.”

Boogaloo started picking up steam last year on 4chan and other fringe sites as memespeak for a civil war or violent uprising. In the last six months, it’s grown into a sprawling movement that’s pulled in hard-line libertarians, shitposters, anti-government extremists, and some white supremacists.

Facebook was initially home base for the movement, as detailed in a report by the Tech Transparency Project in April — around the same time so-called Boogaloo Bois began showing up to anti-lockdown protests heavily armed, wearing Hawaiian shirts.

It wasn’t until the Boogaloo movement was linked to several acts of real-world violence that Facebook and other tech companies began scrambling to kick adherents off their platforms. For example, in late May, three men in Nevada were arrested for allegedly conspiring to throw explosives into a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas. Prosecutors said the men were aiming to provoke a violent standoff with police. All three arrestees had met on a centralized Boogaloo hub on Facebook, and then moved their discussion to smaller groups dedicated to action in Nevada. They’re now facing state terrorism charges.

Also in late May, two men who’d met on a Boogaloo Facebook group — including an Air Force staff sergeant— allegedly conducted an ambush attack on federal security officers in Oakland, killing one.

One key characteristic of the Boogaloo movement is its adaptability in the face of social media crackdowns. Back in January, well before the movement was on many extremism experts’ radars, Boogaloo groups had already adopted codes like “Big Luau” and “Blue Igloo” to make them harder to track.

Once moderators caught on to those codes, the groups adopted newer slang, such as “Alphabet Bois” (a reference to federal agencies like DHS, ATF, FBI, CIA), or just “[redacted]”. After Facebook’s action against the Boogaloos in June (it banned hundreds of Boogaloo groups and users), adherents reconvened on MeWe, an obscure app. There, they devised a plan to create new Facebook groups with new language — including references to CNN and VICE News.

“It’s a whole new theme for their movement,” said Paul. “They use words like ‘cameras and film’ instead of ‘guns and ammo’.” Some Facebook group administrators even police discussions to ensure nobody actually uses the word “boogaloo.”

Screenshot of Boogaloo Facebook group provided by Tech Transparency Project

Screenshot of Boogaloo Facebook group provided by Tech Transparency Project

On a press call in June, representatives from Facebook’s counterterrorism department acknowledged the challenges posed by the Boogaloo movement and its ever-evolving lingo. They said that while they’d try to stay on top of it, they’d also likely continue to lean on researchers and journalists to help them decipher terminology and determine what’s dangerous rhetoric versus sarcastic shitposting.

“Since we banned a violent network tied to boogaloo, we have seen continued changes in language and tactics to try to evade our detection.”

“Since we banned a violent network tied to boogaloo, we have seen continued changes in language and tactics to try to evade our detection,” a spokesperson for Facebook told VICE News. “Our team of experts has been expecting this behavior and we are updating the language and symbols we use to identify this network weekly to continue to enforce our policies.”

But Paul is skeptical, given the persistent presence of the Boogaloo movement on Facebook.

“Facebook has a counterterrorism team of 350 people,” she said. “These groups are not hard to find if you’ve been following the movement and understand what language they’re using. All you’d need is at least one dedicated person to make sure this movement stays deplatformed.”

Facebook says that there are specific specialists within that 350-person team who are focused on tracking trends in language and tactics from what they consider to be a violent core of the Boogaloo network. The company would not say specifically how many employees, if any, are focused exclusively on tracking the Boogaloo movement.

And yet companies like the popular gaming app Discord have managed to draw a hard line on boogaloo activity and have prevented the movement from reorganizing on the platform. “If journalists, researchers and Discord can track the movement without the same resources that a multibillion-dollar company like Facebook has, then Facebook is also capable of doing it,: Paul said.

Moreover, Boogaloo groups are easy to find because Facebook’s own algorithm recommends them, Paul said.

While the Boogaloo movement has established an infrastructure outside of Facebook, it clearly still relies heavily on mainstream social media platforms to recruit. “We’re on this disgusting medium to influence the normies,” one person wrote.

Screenshot of Boogaloo Facebook group provided by Tech Transparency Project

Screenshot of Boogaloo Facebook group provided by Tech Transparency Project

Some groups are relying on Facebook to fundraise for the movement. For example, in July, one group was selling Boogaloo stickers to raise money for Lemp, Breonna Taylor, and Mike Dunn, who has been coordinating Boogaloo and militia activity in Virginia but recently lost his job. On another page, a user suggested that all 500 members donate $20 apiece, which could help outfit small, active cells with tactical gear and weapons.

A month prior to Facebook’s decision to ban Boogaloo they adjusted the algorithms so that the company wouldn’t recommend Boogaloo pages or groups to users. But this hasn’t been effective either; Paul noted that many of the new Boogaloo groups included in the Tech Transparency Report were found thanks to Facebook’s suggestions.

A spokesperson for Facebook said they hadn’t seen the Tech Transparency Project report yet, so was unable to comment on specific findings, or able to say whether the groups included in the report these groups would fall under the “dangerous organization designation” applied to what the social media company describes as a core, violent Boogaloo network.

Cover: A gun-rights rally drew about a hundred Boogaloo Bois to downtown Richmond, Virginia on July 4, 2020. (Tess Owen/VICE News)

A Black Lives Matter Organizer Was Ordered Out of Her Home by Heavily Armed Cops

Calling the resident never occurred to police? – There was a spate of swatting incidents targeting celebrities in 2013. More recently, neo-Nazis have used swatting as a way to harass and intimidate activists, journalists, politicians, and people of color.

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A college professor and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement was apparently “swatted” Wednesday morning at her home in Los Angeles, causing a potentially dangerous encounter with heavily armed police.

Melina Abdullah, who co-founded Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, live-streamed the scene that unfolded outside her home: heavily armed and armored cops poised with their guns drawn, while a chopper circled overhead.

“The police are outside my house. They have guns pointed at my house,” Abdullah said, filming through the window. The stream has since been taken down.

Police later told her they’d received a call saying that a man had taken Abdullah and her children hostage and was threatening to kill them unless they handed over $1 million. The Los Angeles Police Department has not yet confirmed that the incident is being investigated as a swatting, which is considered an act of criminal harassment and can result in jail time.

“Swatting” is a dangerous prank where someone calls the police to report an incident at a private home — like a robbery or hostage situation — prompting the sending of heavily armed police to the address. A man in Kansas was killed by police in 2017 when they came to his house in response to a hoax 911 call placed by a “serial swatter.”

There was a spate of swatting incidents targeting celebrities in 2013. More recently, neo-Nazis have used swatting as a way to harass and intimidate activists, journalists, politicians, and people of color.

But it was clear from Abdullah’s voice on the live stream that she didn’t know what to make of the police surrounding her home and barking orders over a loudspeaker. And perhaps that’s not surprising, given the events of recent months: ongoing protests against policing; allegations of federal agents in unmarked vans detaining protesters in Portland, Oregon; and widespread suspicion that law enforcement are spying on Black Lives Matter activists.

Just last week, a Black Lives Matter organizer in New York City found himself surrounded by riot cops and about two dozen police vehicles, which had blocked off two streets around his apartment building while a chopper buzzed above.

“What did I do,” he said on an Instagram live stream. “I was born Black, that’s what I did.” They were there to question him about allegations that he’d assaulted a police officer by yelling in their ear with a megaphone.

Abdullah instructed her children to call neighbors and friends to let them know what was happening. She appeared so fearful and confused that at one point, she even gave out her home address to her approximately 60,000 followers on Instagram and asked for people to come there (the video has since been deleted). She also gave out the names of her lawyers, and asked someone to call them, explaining that she didn’t want to stop filming.

Abdullah eventually went outside and yelled toward the police that she was holding her phone, then told them that her kids were inside. From inside, her daughter could be heard begging her to put it down.

Some neighbors gathered outside on the street. The police yelled at Abdullah to come over.

“You guys watch the kids, OK? The kids are in the house,” Abdullah told her neighbors. “Everybody see this: I don’t want them barging in my house when the kids are there. I don’t know what will happen to my kids.”

When she approached, the police asked if she was in danger and explained that they’d received a call about a possible hostage situation.

“I’m fine,” she said. “My kids are petrified.”

Abdullah, a professor of pan-African studies at Cal State, was due to give a press conference later Wednesday morning about a petition circulating among faculty at the LA campus demanding that the university appoint her as the dean of ethnic studies.

Los Angeles Police Department did not respond to VICE News request for comment, and have not said whether the incident is being investigated as potential swatting.

Herb J. Wesson, president of the Los Angeles City Council, demanded “an immediate investigation” into the incident. “This appears to be an illegal act of swatting,” Wesson wrote on Twitter. “We need to hold whoever did this accountable.”

Cover: Melina Abdullah and attendees gather for a group photo at a Black Lives Matter event at Norman O. Hudson Park on Saturday, June 6, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Trump Ramps Up the Racism and Sexism After Harris Makes History

The “suburban housewife” will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge! @foxandfriends @MariaBartiromo

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2020
Cory Booker’s name misspelled

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One day after Joe Biden announced his decision to name Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, a history-making choice that saw the first Black woman and the first South Asian American woman to be nominated on a major party’s presidential ticket, President Trump is sticking to familiar terrain:

The “suburban housewife” will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge! @foxandfriends @MariaBartiromo

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2020

Let’s unpack this one. Right off the bat, Trump ramped up his use of outdated, sexist labels in order to make a blatant appeal to white suburban women—who by the way, overwhelmingly disapprove of the president these days. Continuing to stoke false and racist fears that America’s suburbs will be destroyed by a Biden presidency, he then suggested that Cory (note the spelling) Booker, the Black senator from New Jersey, would lead an effort to restore an Obama-era fair-housing policy that the Trump administration ended last month. (As my colleague Aaron Wiener explained when Trump first brought the issue to the forefront last month, Biden has embraced much of Booker’s housing plan for his own platform.) All this, Trump claimed, laid the groundwork for a suburban “invasion.”

The tweet is a generous serving of the racism and sexism we’ve long seen from this president. On the heels of the groundbreaking Harris news, it’s all the more glaring.

China relaxes entry restrictions for Europeans

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BEIJING • China has eased entry restrictions for nationals from 36 European countries, months after thousands were left stranded when the country closed its borders and slashed flights to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Almost all foreign nationals were forbidden from entering the country when Beijing imposed the measures in March, even those with Chinese work or residence permits or who have family living in the country.

But this week, China said it would relax some of the bureaucratic requirements for Europeans hoping to re-enter.

The new rules will allow European passport holders from 36 countries – including France, Germany and the UK – with a valid residence permit to apply for a Chinese visa without an invitation letter, according to a notice by the Chinese embassy in Berlin published yesterday.

Everyone returning to China has to reapply for a visa, since travel documents issued before the pandemic have been nullified.

Previously, China had allowed only a small number of skilled foreign workers to return, with special official invitation letters – a process which proved slow.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on Monday that European passport holders who qualify will now be allowed to “apply for a Chinese visa free of charge”.

Visitors are still subject to Covid-19 tests and a 14-day quarantine, and will still have to find a plane ticket, after Beijing ordered a drastic reduction in international air links at the end of March and ticket prices soared.

Some of these strict flight quotas are also being lifted, with Air France allowed to operate three weekly flights between China and France from the end of this month.

China has largely brought the spread of Covid-19 under control after the disease was first detected there late last year, but there has been a series of local clusters in recent months.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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‘Archbishop’ of Florida church selling bleach ‘miracle cure’ arrested with son

Mark Grenon and his son, Joseph Grenon, arrested in Colombia and expected to be extradited to the US for selling solution Trump mentioned at briefing

The self-styled “archbishop” of a purported church in Florida that sells industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for Covid-19 has been arrested with his son in Colombia and faces extradition to the US.

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Mark Grenon and his son, Joseph Grenon, arrested in Colombia and expected to be extradited to the US for selling solution Trump mentioned at briefing

The self-styled “archbishop” of a purported church in Florida that sells industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for Covid-19 has been arrested with his son in Colombia and faces extradition to the US.

Related: Revealed: leader of group peddling bleach as coronavirus ‘cure’ wrote to Trump this week

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