The Intercept Mon, 13 Mar 2023 20:36:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 <![CDATA[Trump’s Last Defense Secretary Has Regrets — But Not About Jan. 6]]> Sat, 11 Mar 2023 11:00:19 +0000 Chris Miller, a combat veteran, is battling critics who say he failed to send troops when a mob stormed the Capitol.

The post Trump’s Last Defense Secretary Has Regrets — But Not About Jan. 6 appeared first on The Intercept.

When bureaucrats get big promotions, they tend to receive congratulations from their friends, but after Christopher Miller landed the biggest job of his life, his wife and some of his colleagues were horrified.

It was November 9, 2020, the day President Donald Trump fired his secretary of defense, Mark Esper. It was widely assumed that Trump would install an acolyte who would do whatever was needed to help the defeated president stay in power. Esper, just days before, had confided to a journalist, “Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real yes man. And then God help us.”

Trump appointed Miller, an unknown whose rise was so far-fetched that the secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, had to Google his new boss to figure out who he was. Wikipedia was useless because at the time, Miller didn’t merit an entry.

After retiring from the Army as a Special Forces colonel in 2014, Miller moved from one mid-level job to another in Washington, D.C., a nobody in a city of somebodies. Things began to pick up after Trump’s election, and by August 2020, he was promoted to director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Just three months later, he was summoned to the Oval Office and put in charge of the world’s most powerful military.

“I’m at work on a Monday morning, and the phone rings, and they’re like, ‘Get your ass down here,’” Miller said in an interview, referring to the moment he was called to the White House. “I was like, ‘Oh, shit.’”

Miller knew his name was circulating in the White House, but the announcement came abruptly and was not greeted with warmth by his life partner. “Yeah, my wife is like, ‘The only thing we have is our name and you’re ruining it,’” Miller recalled. “She’s like, ‘You’re an idiot. I think this is the stupidest thing that’s ever happened.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes dear, I know that.’”

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller and wife Kathryn make pre-recorded remarks from the Pentagon Briefing Room for the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Induction Ceremony.  (DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and his wife Kathryn make prerecorded remarks for the Military Spouse Employment Partnership New Partner Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 4, 2020.

Photo: Department of Defense

As improbable Washington stories go, Miller’s blink-and-it’s-over journey from Beltway nothingness to what his detractors regard as a semi-witting participant in a plot to overthrow the constitutional order — well, it’s quite something. Miller was in charge of the Pentagon on January 6, 2021, and is accused of delaying the deployment of National Guard troops so the mob that beat its way into the Capitol might succeed in creating more than a pause in the Senate’s count of Electoral College votes. At a combative oversight hearing a few months later, Democratic members of Congress derided Miller as “AWOL,” “disgusting,” and “ridiculous,” to which he responded, “Thank you for your thoughts.”

As is customary, Miller has written a memoir of his extremely brief time in power, “Soldier Secretary,” published last month by Center Street, whose other authors include Newt Gingrich and Betsy DeVos. It’s a typical Washington book in many ways — revealing at times, suspect at others. For instance, Miller describes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as suffering a “total nuclear meltdown” during a phone call with him on January 6, but there is no evidence for that characterization. His book sticks closely to the Beltway norm of having a principal character who displays calmness and reason while others go nuts; the principal character is the author.

His rhetoric is a profane blend of MAGA and Noam Chomsky.

But just as Miller’s journey to the top is atypical, so too is his obscenity-flecked memoir, because the retired soldier emerges as a scorched-earth critic of the institution he served for more than three decades and presided over for 73 days. He wants to fire most of the generals at the Pentagon, slash defense spending by half, shut down the military academies, break up the military-industrial complex, and he describes the invasion of Iraq as an unjust war based on lies. His rhetoric is a profane blend of MAGA and Noam Chomsky.

“Today, there are virtually no brakes on the American war machine,” Miller writes. “Military leaders are always predisposed to see war as a solution, because when you’re a hammer, all the world’s a nail. The establishments of both major political parties are overwhelmingly dominated by interventionists and internationalists who believe that America can and should police the world. Even the press — once so skeptical of war during the Vietnam era — is today little more than a brood of bloodthirsty vampires cheering on American missile strikes and urging greater involvement in conflicts America has no business fighting.”

I was as surprised as everyone else when I heard the news about Miller’s appointment, but it’s not because I had to Google him. I knew who he was. We first met in Afghanistan in 2001, when he was a leader of the Special Forces unit that chased the Taliban out of their final stronghold, and I was reporting on that for the New York Times Magazine. I got to know him and wrote an article in 2002 about his Afghan combat and his preparations for the Iraq invasion the following year. With the publication of his memoir, Miller is now making the media rounds, so we got together again.

After more than two decades of the forever wars, Miller is pissed off in the way a lot of former soldiers are pissed off — and, I have to say, in the way a lot of former war reporters are pissed off too. It’s hard to have been a participant in those calamities and not feel betrayed in some fashion, as pundits attempt to whitewash the disaster and promotions are announced for officials who masterminded it. Miller’s evolution from Special Forces operator to Trump Cabinet member is a forever wars parable that helps us understand the moral injury festering in our political corpus.

Burke, Virginia  -- Tuesday, February 7, 2023 Christopher C. Miller ó who served as the Acting Secretary of Defense from Nov. 9, 2020 until Jan. 20, 2021 ó released his book Soldier Secretary on Tuesday, February 7, 2023.  CREDIT: Alyssa Schukar for The Intercept

Christopher Miller displays his recently published book “Soldier Secretary” on his home bookshelf on Feb. 7, 2023.

Photo: Alyssa Schukar for The Intercept

A Historic Error

Miller’s 9/11 journey got into literal high gear when he roared into Kandahar in a Toyota pickup with blown-out windows. It was December 2001, he was a 36-year-old major in the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Special Forces Group, and this was his first combat deployment.

I spotted Miller at the entrance to a compound on the outskirts of the city. Until a few days earlier, it had been the residence of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban who, after Osama bin Laden, was the most hunted man in the country. The scene was surreal because the compound was now the temporary home of Hamid Karzai, the soon-to-be leader of Afghanistan, whose security was guaranteed by Miller’s soldiers. These just-arrived Americans were dressed half in camouflage, half in fleece jackets, and they sported the types of accessories that ordinary GIs were prohibited from having, such as beards and long hair. Mixed among them were Afghan fighters with AK-47s who had fought with the Taliban not long ago but switched loyalties, which is an accepted practice in Afghanistan when your team is losing.

I struck up a conversation with Miller, a tall officer with bushy red hair and a wicked-looking assault weapon slung over his shoulder. Most of his soldiers were silent and grim — they weren’t happy about the journalists who had shown up — but Miller, who recognized my name because he had read my memoir on the Bosnian war, was friendly and answered a few questions. I asked if he had been to Bosnia, and he gave me a vague special operator laugh and said, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” As it turned out, he’d worked undercover in Bosnia in the late 1990s alongside CIA operatives tracking Serb war criminals.

I stayed in Kandahar for a while longer, as did Miller. We were both spending time around the city’s U.S.-installed warlord, Gul Agha Shirzai, whom Miller describes in his book as “a self-serving piece of shit,” which is totally accurate. After we both returned to America, I got Miller to invite me to spend a few days at his battalion’s headquarters at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We talked for hours about what happened in Afghanistan, about the soldiers he lost, about the Al Qaeda fighters he helped kill, and about the next war on the horizon (this was a year before the illegal invasion of Iraq). Miller was as friendly and transparent as I could hope for from a Special Forces officer. His favorite word was “knucklehead,” which he sometimes used to describe himself.

Miller didn’t know it at the time, but he was at the cusp of a profound disenchantment with the country’s military and political leaders, a disillusionment he shared with a lot of soldiers, thanks to the deceptions and errors embedded in the wars they fought. Miller is exceptional only in his Cabinet-level end point. While it’s important to remember that the vast bulk of these veterans are law-abiding, a small but influential group have been radicalized to violence rather than government service.

Veterans are one of the key subjects in historian Kathleen Belew’s lauded book about right-wing extremism, titled “Bring the War Home.” American history teaches us a consistent lesson: There will almost always be blowback at home from wars fought elsewhere. Of 968 people indicted after the storming of the Capitol, 131 have military backgrounds, according to the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Due to the respect military service generates among civilians in right-wing movements, veterans composed a disproportionately large number of the ringleaders on January 6, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy last year.

Soon after we met in 2001, Miller noticed omens of dysfunction in the American war machine. It began, he wrote in his book, with a visit to the airport that U.S. Marines seized outside Kandahar a few days after the Special Forces sped into town in their four-wheel-drive vehicles. Miller and one of his sergeants had to pick up supplies at the airport, and they saw Marines putting up a big tent. The sergeant told Miller, “Sir, it’s time for us to get the fuck out of here.” Miller asked why, and the sergeant replied, “They’re building the PX. It’s time for the Green Berets to leave.”

“We should have kept it to about 500 people, just let that be the special operations theater.”

He meant the military was settling in for the long haul. Sprawling bases would be constructed with Burger King and Pizza Hut outlets, staffed by workers flown in from Nepal, Kenya, and other countries. There would be more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the peak of President Barack Obama’s surge, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent in the country, yielding decades of full employment for generals and executives in the weapons industry. Miller had a front-row seat at this carnival. “We should have kept it to about 500 people, just let that be the special operations theater,” he told me. In other words, quickly arrange a power-sharing deal between Karzai and the Taliban rather than try to eliminate the Taliban and leave a small number of special operators to find and kill Osama bin Laden and the remnants of Al Qaeda.

I don’t think Miller sensed all this when he saw that tent going up; nobody knew what was going to happen that early in the game. And remember, you can’t trust Beltway memoirs; they’re a racket of myth construction. But locating the exact moment of Miller’s awareness is less important than the fact he eventually recognized, as most of us did, a historic error that he blamed on his leadership. “As soon as we went conventional, that war was lost,” Miller said. “That’s what I’ll take to my grave. As soon as we brought in the Army generals and all their big ideas — war was over at that point.”

The Betrayal

Like many veterans, Miller participated in not just the Afghanistan disaster, but also the one in Iraq. There he had an even stronger sense of betrayal.

As the invasion neared, Miller was responsible for operational planning for his Special Forces battalion, and he put together a blueprint for seizing an airfield southwest of Baghdad as an advance position for the capture of Iraq’s capital. He thought the buildup was a bluff to coerce Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein into giving up the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration insisted he possessed (though he did not). In Miller’s telling, it wasn’t until he was geared up in an MH-53 helicopter at night, heading deep into Iraq, that he knew it was on. The future acting defense secretary turned to a soldier next to him and said, “We’re really doing this. I can’t believe we’re fucking doing this.” According to Miller, the soldier replied, “Me neither.”

Miller and I were sitting in a café at the public library in Westport, Connecticut — he lives in northern Virginia and was visiting this wealthy suburb for a fundraiser for a play about the Special Forces. He was dressed in khaki pants and a casual shirt, and his shag of red hair from 20 years ago was gone; it had thinned out to a distinguished-looking silver. He is 57 years old now and looks no different from any other close-to-senior citizen killing time at a library (same goes for me, I should confess). He sipped his coffee and continued, “Invading a sovereign country is a big deal, you know. We typically don’t do that except in extenuating circumstances. I thought it was all coercive diplomacy. Then when it goes down, you’re like, ‘Damn.’” As he writes in his book, “I had been an active participant in an unjust war. We invaded a sovereign nation, killed and maimed a lot of Iraqis and lost some of the greatest American patriots to ever live — all for a god-damned lie.”

“You can mess up a piece of paperwork and get run out of the Army. But you can lose a damn war and nobody is held accountable.”

If your nation calls on you to send your comrades to their deaths in battle, you expect it will be for a good reason; soldiers have a lot more at stake than Beltway hawks for whom a bad day consists of getting bumped from their hit on CNN or Fox. That’s why Miller describes himself as “white-hot” angry toward the leaders who lied or dissembled and suffered no consequences; many have profited in retirement, thanks to amply compensated speaking gigs and board seats. “You can mess up a piece of paperwork and get run out of the Army,” Miller told me. “But you can lose a damn war and nobody is held accountable.”

If that line came from a pundit, it would be a platitude. But Miller described to me the case of a soldier he knew well who was forced out of the military for not having the paperwork for a machine gun he left in Afghanistan for troops replacing his unit. The soldier was trying to help other soldiers who didn’t have all the weapons they needed. It didn’t matter; he was gone, and Miller couldn’t stop it.

Miller trembled a bit as he narrated this story. Maybe he was on the verge of tears; I couldn’t be sure. There’s a saying in journalism that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. Never trust a source, especially one selling a book and an image of himself. As these things always are, our conversation was a bit of a performance by each of us, both trying to get out of the other as much as we could. Miller’s intentions were hard to pin down, but his anger was not. I had seen some of what he had seen.

In 2014, after three decades in the Army and more than a dozen deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bosnia, and elsewhere, Miller retired. He had a lot of baggage to deal with. As he writes, “For years I had been cramming unpleasant memories into a box and storing them on a shelf deep in the recesses of my psyche, knowing that someday I’d have to unpack each one.”

He set a goal: Complete a marathon in less than three hours. His long practice runs of 15-25 miles were, as he put it, therapy sessions to work through the wreckage of the wars he fought and “a simmering sense of betrayal that every veteran today must feel — the recognition that so many sacrifices were ultimately made in the service of a lie, as in Iraq, or to further a delusion.” After running that marathon, he entered a 50-mile race on the Appalachian Trail and finished in less than eight hours, ranking second in his age group.

There were no epiphanies at the end. Physical exhaustion would not eliminate his bitterness about Iraq and Afghanistan. “It still makes my blood boil,” he writes, “and it probably will until the day I die.”

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller walks with Lt. Gen. John Deedrick, Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan after arriving to Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, center left, walks with Lt. Gen. John Deedrick after arriving to Kabul, Afghanistan, on Dec. 22, 2020.

Photo: Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders/DoD

More Juice

While Miller describes himself as falling “ass-backwards” into the job of acting secretary of defense, you don’t rise to the top by mistake in Washington, and people who run ultramarathons don’t tend to be lily pads just floating along. Miller has a gosh-darn way of talking, and even his detractors describe him as affable, but he’s a special operator, and you shouldn’t forget that. After retiring from the military, he made a series of canny moves to join the National Security Council, at the White House and pair up with a key figure in Trump’s orbit, Kash Patel.

Patel became Washington famous in the first years of the Trump era because, as an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, he played a behind-the-scenes role in the GOP effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In early 2019, Patel was rewarded with a job on the NSC, reportedly on direct orders from Trump. Miller had joined the NSC the previous year as senior director for counterterrorism and transnational threats, and Patel became his deputy. Miller claims that initially, he was wary.

“I got online and Wikipedia’d him, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is the crazy guy,” he told me with a laugh.

What happened next could be a how-to guide for Beltway strivers.

“I just had convening authority,” Miller recalled of his time at the NSC. “I’m like, ‘That’s bullshit.’ So I went to the Pentagon and took a job as a political appointee because I needed to have money and people.”

It was early 2020 when he became deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism. This gave him greater influence over the hunt for ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists, which had been his obsession at the NSC. Yet it wasn’t enough. As Miller describes it, “Now I had people, now I had money, but still not being very successful. … I still need more juice.”

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 09: Kash Patel, a former chief of staff to then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, is followed by reporters as he departs from a deposition meeting on Capitol Hill with the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack, on December 09, 2021 in Washington, DC. Members of the committee and staff members have been meeting with Patel and Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander, who both say they are cooperating with the committee investigation. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Kash Patel, former chief of staff to then-Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, departs from a deposition meeting on Capitol Hill with the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack, on Dec. 9, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

One of his friends in the administration made a suggestion: Why don’t you shoot for a Senate-confirmed position?

“I was like, ‘That gives me more wasta, right?’” Miller said, using an Arabic word for clout. “And I’m like, ‘Shit yeah.’”

Trump nominated him to head the National Counterterrorism Center, and on August 6, the Senate confirmed him in a unanimous voice vote.

“So now I’ve got more fucking throw weight,” Miller continued. “Patel’s working in the National Security Council with the president. We’re starting to grind down the resistors.” The resistance, he said, was against a heightened effort he and Patel advocated to finish off the remaining leaders of Al Qaeda and rescue a handful of remaining American hostages.

Miller was invited for a talk with Johnny McEntee, the head of the White House Presidential Personnel Office. In the twilight of the Trump era, McEntee was one of the president’s most loyal confidantes; though just 29 years old at the time, he was described, in a magazine article, as the “deputy president.” Miller knew through the grapevine that he might be in line for Esper’s job because the administration had just a few Senate-confirmed officials with national security credentials. McEntee was sizing him up.

“I’m like, ‘Oh shit,’ because I didn’t want the job,” Miller told me.

This was part of Miller’s “ass-backwards” shtick. Why grind as hard as he did to stop short of the biggest prize of all? I pushed back, and he acknowledged that while the job might “suck really, really badly,” it could be worthwhile even if Trump lost the election. “I had a work list,” Miller said. “I thought, ‘I can get a lot of shit done.’” His main tasks, he told me, included stabilizing the Pentagon after Esper’s ouster; withdrawing the remaining U.S. forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia; and elevating special operations forces in the Department of Defense’s hierarchy.

Just before the election, he heard the shuffle was imminent.

“The word comes down: They’re getting rid of Esper, win or lose,” Miller said. “It’s payback time.”

On Monday morning, six days after Trump lost the election, Miller’s phone rang. Come to the White House, now.

WEST POINT, NY - DECEMBER 12: Acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher C. Miller, United States Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck, President Donald Trump, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy Lieutenant General Darryl A. Williams, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark A. Milley before the start of a game between the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen at Michie Stadium on December 12, 2020 in West Point, New York. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Pictured, from left, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, Vice Adm. Sean Buck, President Donald Trump, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley before the start of a game at Michie Stadium on Dec. 12, 2020, in West Point, N.Y.

Photo: Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Murderer’s Row

Miller suffered a literal misstep his first day on the job: Walking into the Pentagon, he tripped and nearly fell on the steps in front of the mammoth building. That prompted laughs online, but the bigger issue was the entourage that surrounded him as he took charge of the nearly 3 million soldiers and civilians in the Department of Defense.

He was accompanied by a murderer’s row of Trump loyalists. Patel was his chief of staff. Ezra Cohen, a controversial analyst, got a top intelligence post. Douglas Macgregor, a Fox News pundit, became a special assistant. Anthony Tata, a retired general who called Obama a “terrorist leader,” was appointed policy chief. Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was reportedly so alarmed that he told Patel and Cohen, “Life looks really shitty from behind bars. … And if you guys do anything that’s illegal, I don’t mind having you in prison.”

Miller, when I asked about his advisers, waved off the concerns and said, “Complete misappreciation of those people.”

Cutting the U.S. footprint overseas was one of his top priorities, the residue of his long journey through the forever wars. It was a big part of his support for Trump, who was far more critical of those wars than most politicians. In the 2016 primaries, Trump distanced himself from other Republicans by accusing the George W. Bush administration of manufacturing evidence to justify the Iraq invasion. “They lied,” Trump declared at a debate in South Carolina, drawing boos from the Republican audience. “They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.” This was an occasion on which Trump’s political interests — trying to embarrass front-runner Jeb Bush, the brother of the former president — aligned with something that was actually true.

Once he got to the White House, though, Trump didn’t make a lot of changes. Since 9/11, the generals who oversaw America’s wars had resisted when civilian leaders said it was time to scale back. And Trump actually quickened the tempo of some military operations by offering greater support to the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and taking an especially hawkish position on Iran. But he was stymied on Iraq and Afghanistan, not just by active-duty generals at the Pentagon, but also by the retired ones he appointed to such key posts as national security adviser, chief of staff, and secretary of defense. They were all gone by the final act of his presidency.

By the time Miller left the Pentagon when President Joe Biden was sworn in, U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq had been cut to 2,500 troops in each country (from about 4,000 in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq). The approximately 700 soldiers based in Somalia were withdrawn. But that would not be Miller’s most memorable legacy.

The Phantom Meltdown

It was mid-afternoon on January 6, 2021. A pro-Trump mob had bashed its way through police barricades and invaded the Capitol. Ashli Babbitt had been shot dead. The rioters who occupied the Senate chamber included a half-naked shaman wearing a horned helmet and carrying a spear. Where was the National Guard?

Miller was the one to know, which is why he was on the phone with Nancy Pelosi at 3:44 p.m.

“I was sitting at my desk in the Pentagon holding a phone six inches away from my ear, trying my best to make sense of the incoherent shrieking blasting out of the receiver,” he writes on the first page of his book. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on the line, and she was in a state of total nuclear meltdown. To be fair, the other members of congressional leadership on the call weren’t exactly composed either. Every time Pelosi paused to catch her breath, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Congressman Steny Hoyer took turns hyperventilating into the phone.”

That passage in Miller’s five-page introduction got a bit of attention on social media when it was first excerpted in January, and not all of it was positive. Wonkette described Miller’s account as “verifiably false” and pointed its readers to a video released by the January 6 committee showing Pelosi and other congressional leaders speaking in urgent but calm voices with Miller. They asked him to send troops immediately and demanded to know why it was taking so long. Pelosi is intense but not melting down; McConnell, Schumer, and Hoyer are not hyperventilating.

When I met Miller in Westport, I asked if he was aware of this discrepancy. He became slightly agitated.

“The one they show is a different call,” he replied. “The one used [by] the January 6 committee is a later phone call where they’re much calmer. The first call was frantic. Like literally losing their shit. … So that’s bullshit, dude.”

He told me to look into it.

The January 6 committee released partial footage of two calls that show Pelosi speaking with Miller. The first call, according to the time stamp on the committee’s video, occurred at 3 p.m. The sequence begins with Pelosi sitting near Schumer, who is holding a cellphone and saying, “I’m going to call up the effing secretary of DOD.” The next shot shows Schumer, Pelosi, and Hoyer huddled around the phone talking with Miller in measured voices; McConnell is not shown in this clip. The second call for which the committee released some footage is the one Wonkette pointed to. The participants in this second call are the ones mentioned by Miller in his book: McConnell is in this footage, along with Pelosi, Schumer, and Hoyer. There are no meltdowns. The committee’s time stamp for this call is 3:46 p.m., which is a nearly exact match for the time Miller provides in his book: 3:44 p.m.

What this means is that the phone call Miller described in his book almost certainly is the one Wonkette pointed to and did not occur the way Miller describes, unless there is an incriminating portion of the video we have not seen, which is what Miller claims. Yet that seems unlikely because there is no mention, in the multitude of testimonies and articles about that day, of Pelosi melting down at any moment. And that makes another passage in Miller’s introduction problematic too.

“I had never seen anyone — not even the greenest, pimple-faced 19-year-old Army private — panic like our nation’s elder statesmen did on January 6 and in the months that followed,” Miller wrote. “For the American people, and for our enemies watching overseas, the events of that day undeniably laid bare the true character of our ruling class. Here were the most powerful men and women in the world — the leaders of the legislative branch of the mightiest nation in history — cowering like frightened children for all the world to see.”

Except they weren’t cowering. They had been evacuated by security guards to Fort McNair because a mob of thousands had broken into the Capitol screaming “Where’s Nancy?” and “Hang Pence!” Miller makes no mention in his book of the speech Trump delivered on January 6 that encouraged his followers to march on the Capitol. There is no mention of the fact that while Pelosi and others, including Vice President Mike Pence, urged Miller to send troops, Trump did not; the commander in chief did not speak with his defense secretary that day. Although Miller has elsewhere gently described Trump’s speech as not helping matters, his book mocks the targets of the crime rather than criticizing the person who inspired and abetted it.

“Prior to that very moment, the Speaker and her Democrat colleagues had spent months decrying the use of National Guard troops to quell left-wing riots following the death of George Floyd that caused countless deaths and billions of dollars in property damage nationwide,” he writes. “But as soon as it was her ass on the line, Pelosi had been miraculously born again as a passionate, if less than altruistic, champion of law and order.”

Miller’s anger is real, but his target is poorly chosen, which is the story of America after 9/11.

This is unbalanced because the violence in the summer of 2020 — on the margins of nationwide protests that were overwhelmingly peaceful — did not endanger the transfer of power from a defeated president to his duly elected successor. The buildings that were attacked were not the seat of national government. And there weren’t “countless deaths” — there were about 25, including two men killed by far-right vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The rhetoric in Miller’s book has the aroma of reheated spots from Fox News.

The contours of his political anger comes into clearer focus after reading a passage from his chapter on Iraq. He recalled his pride in the swift capture of Baghdad, but as he flew home in a C-17 aircraft, he couldn’t fully enjoy the triumph, couldn’t really unwind. “The further we got from the war zone, the more my stress turned into burning white-hot anger,” he wrote. He returned to an empty house in North Carolina — his family was in Massachusetts for the July 4 holiday — so he worked out, drank some beer, and read a lot. It didn’t help much. There was, as he put it, “a rage building inside me” that was directed at two groups. The first was the group he regards as the instigators, “the neoconservatives who bullied us into an unjust and unwinnable war.” The second was Congress “for abrogating its constitutional duties regarding the declaring, funding, and overseeing of our nation’s wars.”

Miller’s homecoming was reenacted by a generation of bitter soldiers, aid workers, and journalists. His list of culprits is a good one, though I would add the names of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to the top, because they issued the orders that destroyed Iraq. Their omission from Miller’s list, combined with his rant against Pelosi, reveals how his outrage follows a strange path, focusing on a political party that, while energetically backing the wars, was not the one that started them. And Democrats did not foment the storming of the Capitol either.

Miller’s anger is real, but his target is poorly chosen, which is the story of America after 9/11.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: A video of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)  is played during a hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on October 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The bipartisan committee, in possibly its final hearing, has been gathering evidence for almost a year related to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. On January 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building during an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for President Joe Biden. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A video of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on a phone call with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, is played during a hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack, in Washington, D.C. on October 13, 2022.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Clusterfuck

Just as the Watergate scandal had its 18-minute gap, there’s a now-infamous gap of more than four hours between the storming of the Capitol and the arrival of National Guard troops around 5:30 p.m. Miller is at the center of the controversy because the singular status of the District of Columbia means the Pentagon controls its National Guard — and Miller was the Pentagon boss on January 6.

The January 6 committee, which deposed Miller and other military and police officials, said in its 814-page final report that it “found no evidence that the Department of Defense intentionally delayed deployment of the National Guard.” The committee blamed the delay on “a likely miscommunication” between multiple layers of civilian and military officials. The abundant depositions reveal that the committee was being extremely kind when it chose the word “miscommunication.” Soldiers have a special word to describe what seems to have happened at the Pentagon: a clusterfuck.

At 1:49 p.m., as pro-Trump demonstrators beat their way past police lines, the head of the U.S. Capitol Police force called the commander of the D.C. National Guard, Gen. William Walker, and notified him there was a “dire emergency” and troops were needed immediately. Walker alerted the Pentagon, and a video conference convened at 2:22 p.m. among generals and civilian officials, though not Miller. Walker told the January 6 committee that generals at the Pentagon “started talking about they didn’t have the authority, wouldn’t be their best military advice or guidance to suggest to the Secretary that we have uniformed presence at the Capitol. … They were concerned about how it would look, the optics.”

The “optics” refers to the Pentagon being sharply criticized after National Guard soldiers helped suppress Black Lives Matters protests in the capital on June 1, 2020. Lafayette Square, just outside the White House, was violently cleared in a controversial operation that even involved military helicopters flying low at night to disperse protesters. At one point, Trump triumphantly emerged from the White House with a retinue that included Defense Secretary Esper and Milley; later, both men apologized for allowing themselves to be connected to the crackdown. After that debacle, the Pentagon was reluctant to involve troops in any crowd control in the capital, and local leaders made clear that they opposed it too; there was no appetite to amass troops that Trump might misuse.

Yet the storming of the Capitol, taking law enforcement by surprise, created an emergency that justified using the Guard. As Walker told the committee, “I just couldn’t believe nobody was saying, ‘Hey, go.’” Walker testified that he admonished the generals and officials on the 2:22 p.m. call: “Aren’t you watching the news? Can’t you see what’s going on? We need to get there.”

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy — who two months earlier had to Google Miller’s name to figure out who he was — testified that he joined the 2:22 p.m. call and then ran a quarter mile through Pentagon hallways to Miller’s office, arriving there out of breath (“I’m a middle-aged man now,” he told the committee. “I was in a suit and leather shoes.”). At 3:04 p.m., Miller gave a verbal order for the mobilization of the D.C. Guard. It was an hour-and-a-quarter since the Capitol Police’s first plea for help, but it would take more than two additional hours for the troops to get there. This is the delay Miller has been particularly blamed for, though it does not appear to have been his fault alone.

Miller regarded his 3:04 p.m. order as final; Walker and his direct civilian commander, McCarthy, now had a green light to move troops to the Capitol, Miller testified. Some troops were already prepared to go there, according to the committee report. A ground officer, Col. Craig Hunter, was ready to move with a quick reaction force of 40 soldiers and about 95 others who were mostly at traffic control points in the area. Despite Miller’s 3:04 p.m. order, it would be hours before Hunter would be told to roll.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Members of the National Guard and the Washington D.C. police stand guard to keep demonstrators away from the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol earlier, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Members of the Washington D.C. National Guard arrive to keep rioters away from the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The committee’s report includes a 45-page appendix that’s a catalogue of recriminations among Walker, McCarthy, Miller, and others. Their depositions offer conflicting accounts of what was said in chaotic conversations that day, and they even disagree about whether certain conversations took place. They also express contrary views on who had the authority to issue orders, precisely what orders were needed, and what some orders even meant. The depositions were taken under oath, so despite their contradictions, they are the best record we have about what happened and far more reliable than most of the books and interviews that some of the principals have produced.

McCarthy prioritized the time-consuming task of drawing up an operational plan that doesn’t appear to have been necessary because Hunter’s troops were already equipped for riot control and knew what to do and where to go. McCarthy also spent a lot of time talking on the phone to politicians and journalists, as well as joining a press conference. As he told the committee, “So it went into the next 25 minutes of literally standing there, people handing me telephones, whether it was the media or it was Congress. And I had to explain to all of them, ‘No, we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming.’ So that chewed up a great deal of time.”

Meanwhile, Walker said he couldn’t reach McCarthy to find out whether he had permission to send his troops to the Capitol. Testifying on April 21, 2022, Walker said he was never called by McCarthy and was unable to contact him directly because the work number he had for McCarthy didn’t function: An automated message said, “This phone is out of service.” One of his officers happened to have McCarthy’s private cellphone number, but there was no answer on it. “The story we were told is that he is running through the Pentagon looking for the secretary of defense,” Walker testified. “That’s why he wasn’t answering his phone.” (McCarthy insisted in his testimony that they had talked.)

The delay wasn’t due to faulty telecommunications alone. McCarthy told the committee that he believed he needed another order from Miller, beyond the one issued at 3:04 p.m., before he could tell Walker to move. Miller issued an additional order at 4:32 p.m., but McCarthy failed to immediately inform Walker; the order didn’t reach the National Guard commander until 5:09 p.m., when a four-star general happened to notice Walker in a conference room and said, “Hey, we have a green light, you’re approved to go.” By the time Walker’s troops arrived at the Capitol, the fighting was over, and they were asked to watch over rioters already arrested by the bloodied police.

Toward the end of his testimony to the January 6 committee, Miller was asked why Walker had not scrambled his troops sooner. “Why didn’t he launch them?” Miller replied. “I’d love to know. That’s a question I was hoping you’d find out. … Beats me.”

Burke, Virginia -- Tuesday, February 7, 2023Christopher C. Miller ó who served as the Acting Secretary of Defense from Nov. 9, 2020 until Jan. 20, 2021 ó poses for a portrait at his home office on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. His book Soldier Secretary was released that day.CREDIT: Alyssa Schukar for The Intercept

Christopher Miller poses for a portrait in between media interviews at his home office on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. His book “Soldier Secretary” was released that day.

Photo: Alyssa Schukar for The Intercept

“Blah Blah Bluh Blah”

One of the people I interviewed for this story was Paul Yingling, who, in 2007, became famous in military circles for writing an article titled “A Failure in Generalship.” Yingling was serving as an Army officer at the time and broke the fourth wall of martial protocol by calling out his wartime commanders. In a line that’s been quoted many times since — Miller repeated a variation of it to me — Yingling wrote, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

Yingling wasn’t particularly flattered by Miller’s embrace of his idea. Miller is right about the generals, Yingling said, but “much of the criticism he’s made has been made elsewhere earlier and better. … It’s not original work.” That wasn’t Yingling’s main beef with Miller; he was incensed over what he regards as a fellow officer’s involvement in an effort to overturn a presidential election. “I don’t think he is aware of his role to this day,” Yingling said. “He has spun a narrative for himself that justifies his actions on J6. He was in over his head in a political world that to this day he doesn’t understand.”

Yingling mentioned the story of Caligula appointing his horse as a consul in ancient Rome. That myth goes to the strategy of discrediting and disempowering institutions by filling them with incompetent leaders (or beloved equines). And Yingling is certainly right that Trump appointed D-list characters to sensitive positions: the internet troll Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence, for instance, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser.

It’s also true that the January 6 clusterfuck seems to have had less to do with malignant decisions by Miller than with a parade of errors by officials under his command. As acting secretary of defense, he failed to ensure that his orders at 3:04 p.m. and again at 4:32 p.m. were carried out with greater speed, though Miller says he didn’t want to micromanage his subordinates. There may have been an element of subconscious bias, too.

“I’m African American,” Walker told the committee. “Child of the ’60s. I think it would have been a vastly different response if those were African Americans trying to breach the Capitol.”

Yet I hesitate to ignite the tinder around Miller. If we drop a match at his feet and walk away with a sense of satisfaction about the justice we think we’ve delivered, we have not changed or even recognized the political culture that gave us the forever wars and everything that flowed from them, including January 6. At some point in the future, we’ll just have more of what we’ve already endured, and perhaps it will be a variant of militarism and racism that’s more potent still.

At some point in the future, we’ll just have more of what we’ve already endured, and perhaps it will be a variant of militarism and racism that’s more potent still.

Look, for instance, at who Joe Biden chose to fill the seat kept warm by Miller: Lloyd Austin, a retired general who earned millions of dollars as a board member of defense contractors Raytheon Technologies and Booz Allen Hamilton. Look at Esper, who preceded Miller: He was a lobbyist for Raytheon Technologies, earning more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses. Look at who came before Esper: Jim Mattis, who was on the board of General Dynamics (as well as Theranos, the fraudulent blood-testing firm). And take a moment to read a few pages of Craig Whitlock’s “The Afghanistan Papers,” which uses government documents to reveal a generation of lies from America’s top generals and officials. The professional interests of these people have been closely connected to exorbitant defense spending and “overseas contingency operations” that account for the U.S. devoting more money to its military than the next nine countries combined — all while school teachers drive Ubers at night and people in Mississippi have to drink bottled water because the municipal system has collapsed.

Where are their bonfires?

A year ago, before Biden’s State of the Union address, Miller joined a press conference outside the Capitol that was organized by the GOP’s far-right Freedom Caucus and featured speakers against mask and vaccine mandates. The last to talk, Miller riffed for seven minutes, saying nothing about Covid-19 and focusing on Afghanistan instead. As he recalled being on a mountainside where an errant American bomb killed nearly two dozen U.S. and Afghan soldiers, a woman behind him shifted with visible unease as he angrily described in graphic terms what you don’t often hear from former Cabinet members: “I stood there and it looked as if someone had taken a pail of ground meat, of hamburger meat, and thrown it onto that hill. And those were the remains of so many who gave their lives on that day.”

Let’s agree, then, that Miller is a bit askew. One of his encounters with reporters in his final days as defense secretary was described by a British correspondent as a “gobsmacking incoherent briefing” that included the phrase “blah blah bluh blah,” according to the Pentagon’s official transcript. But if you’re not askew after going through the mindfuck of the forever wars, there’s probably something wrong with you. It’s an inversion of the “Catch-22” scenario in which the novel’s protagonist, Capt. John Yossarian, tries to be declared insane so that he can get out of the bomber missions that he knows are nearly suicidal, but his desire to get out of them proves he’s sane, so he’s not excused. In an opposite way, generals and politicians who emerge from the carnage of the forever wars without coarse passions, who speak in modulated tones about staying the course and shoveling more money to the Pentagon — they are cracked ones who should not operate the machinery of war.

So here we are, just a few days away from the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion on March 19, a cataclysm that killed hundreds of thousands of people, cost trillions of dollars, and began with lies. The Pentagon just decided to name a warship the USS Fallujah, after the city that suffered more violence at the hands of American forces than any other place in Iraq. And Harvard University has just decided to give a prominent position to Meghan O’Sullivan, a Bush administration official who helped design the invasion and occupation of Iraq and since 2017 has been a board member of — you may have heard this one before — Raytheon Technologies (for which she was paid $321,387 in 2021). It’s been 20 years and thanks in part to journalists who were complicit in spreading the first lies and were rewarded professionally for doing so, there has been neither accountability nor learning.

Individual pathologies determine how we medicate ourselves after traumatic events, and I think the politics we choose are forms of medication. Miller opted for service in the Trump administration, and while it strikes me as the least-admirable segment of his life since we met in Kandahar, he’s not an outlier among veterans. For as long as our nation is subordinate to its war machine, we’ll be hearing more from them. Forever wars do not end when soldiers come home.

The post Trump’s Last Defense Secretary Has Regrets — But Not About Jan. 6 appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Acting SecDef and wife make pre-recorded remarks for the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Induction Ceremony Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller and his wife Kathryn make pre-recorded remarks for the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 4, 2020. 20220207-IntMiller-0829 Miller displays his recently published book "Soldier Secretary" on his home bookshelf on Feb. 7, 2023. A/SD travels to Afghanistan Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, center left, walks with Lt. Gen. John Deedrick after arriving to Kabul, Afghanistan, on Dec. 22, 2020. January 6 Investigating Committee Holds Depositions Kash Patel, former chief of staff to then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, departs from a deposition meeting on Capitol Hill with the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack, on December 09, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Navy v Army Acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher C. Miller, left, Vice Admiral Sean Buck, President Donald Trump, Lieutenant General Darryl A. Williams, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark A. Milley before the start of a game at Michie Stadium on December 12, 2020 in West Point, New York. January 6th Committee Holds First Hearing Since July A video of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., taking a phone call with Acting Secretary of Defense Miller is played during a hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on October 13, 2022. Trump Supporters Hold “Stop The Steal” Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election Members of the Washington D.C. National Guard arrive to keep rioters away from the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. 20220207-IntMiller-0796 Miller poses for a portrait in between media interviews at his home office on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. His book "Soldier Secretary" was released that day.
<![CDATA[How to Save Yellowstone's Wolves]]> Tue, 28 Feb 2023 11:00:51 +0000 Biologist Doug Smith looks back on a quarter century leading one of the most historic and controversial government conservation initiatives of all time.

The post How to Save Yellowstone’s Wolves appeared first on The Intercept.

If you ever plan to dart a wild wolf sprinting over a snow-covered mountain from a low-flying helicopter, there are a few things you need to know. The wolf should be running away, and you should be aiming for the back or butt. Never take a shot at a wolf that’s facing you. The risk of injuring the animal with a dart to the face is too high. Also, a dart shoots hard but it’s not a bullet; you need to loft your shot. Try to keep the chase under a quarter mile. Push a distressed wolf much farther and you’re being cruel. Finally, while you’re leaning out over the helicopter’s landing skids focusing on the wolf, don’t forget the treetops rushing by under your feet. If you get snagged, you’re done.

These were the lessons Doug Smith took home after a trip to the Alaskan outback in 1999. Smith had recently become director of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, the research program that followed the reintroduction of wolves into the national park four years earlier. At the heart of the nascent program was the winter study, when Smith and his team would track packs deep into the park, collect predation data, and fix individual wolves with radio collars.

The study relied heavily on aerial darting. Smith grew up shooting guns but hitting a moving wolf from an aircraft was a different challenge. He phoned Layne Adams, a darting pro with the U.S. Biological Survey, who was doing work at Denali National Park, and asked if he could come to Alaska to study his craft. The pair spent a week in the air. Smith vividly remembers the first wolf he darted. It was an evasive alpha female. His first shot missed.

“Take those fucking gloves off!” the pilot shouted into his headset. Smith was wearing flying gloves. He ditched them. Below, the wolf stopped running, took shelter in a patch of brush, and faced the strange object hovering above her. The pilot was shouting at Smith to shoot. Smith was shouting at the pilot to reposition. The wolf took off. Smith can’t recall how many darts he fired, but he knows that the last one hit its mark.

Smith darted six more wolves in Denali that week. Back in Yellowstone, over the next two and half decades, he darted some 600 more. The captures became the backbone of the winter study — today a top contender for the world’s most respected predator research project. Smith spent all year waiting for the snow to come, thinking about what the last winter revealed, obsessing over how to improve. He took those lessons to heart. “I never computed my long-term average, but I was getting down to like 1.2, 1.3 darts per wolf,” he told me recently. “Two days in my career, I fired 10 darts and got 10 wolves.”

When future historians sit down to tell the story of how wolves regained a foothold in the United States after near total annihilation, they will find many names. Few, if any, are likely to surface as often as Doug Smith. For more than a quarter century, Smith was the face of one of the most historic and controversial government conservation initiatives of all time. In November, he retired.

When we met on an overcast morning in Bozeman, Montana, Smith was six weeks into his new post-Yellowstone life. His former colleagues were in the midst of their first winter without him. “It’s the first time since the beginning I wasn’t there to handle capture,” he said. Smith was not yet sure if stepping away was the right call. He wavered sometimes. “It was a very hard decision,” he said. “I’m still doubting it some days.”

Now free from the constraints of federal employment, the veteran biologist offered critical observations on the way wolves are seen, managed, and killed in the Northern Rockies, and the values that treatment reflects. Smith’s exit comes at a tumultuous time for wolves in the Northern Rockies and wildlife more broadly. Last winter, he and his colleagues recorded the deadliest season in Yellowstone history. With 25 wolves killed, more than double the previous record, roughly a fifth of the park’s entire wolf population was lost.

The killing was concentrated on Yellowstone’s northern border, which cuts into southwestern Montana. In the run up to the unprecedented season, a panel of wildlife commissioners appointed by Montana’s first Republican governor in a decade and a half, Greg Gianforte, abolished quotas that had limited the number of wolves that could be killed north of the park.

With its 2023 legislative session now underway, Montana’s new GOP supermajority remains intent on dramatically slashing the state’s wolf population with an array of highly controversial and recently legalized hunting and trapping methods. Many of the West’s most respected wildlife biologists have spoken out at what they see as a politicized wave of “anti-predator hysteria” sweeping the region. Meanwhile, mass habitat loss continues to fuel biodiversity loss at a staggering pace, leaving national parks like Yellowstone among the only places on Earth where large predators like wolves are both protected and studied in depth.

“Literally, if you get the wrong wolf at the wrong time, that pack can fall apart.”

In the weeks leading up to his retirement, Smith completed a major paper with more than a dozen biologists from national parks across North America. A decade in the making, the rare, interpark collaboration — titled “Human-caused mortality triggers pack instability in gray wolves” and published in “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment” in January — tackled the question of how wolf hunting outside of national parks impacts the social stability of wolf packs living inside them. The research showed that while wolf populations are remarkably resilient, the loss of a single wolf can be devastating to an individual pack. This was especially true in the case of leaders. “Literally, if you get the wrong wolf at the wrong time, that pack can fall apart,” Smith said. The study also found that despite living in the most protected environs available, wolves in national parks experience “high levels” of human-caused mortality. Last winter, Smith and his colleagues witnessed those effects firsthand at an unprecedented scale.

The paper was a fitting exit for one the country’s most celebrated biologists. The entirety of Smith’s Yellowstone career was bound up in questions of how the outside world shaped the bubble of preservation he signed up to study and protect. Under his tenure, the park’s wolf program became an exemplar of predator preservation and research worldwide. Taking advantage of Yellowstone’s unmatched observational opportunities, Smith oversaw studies detailing how the return of apex predators — not just wolves, but grizzly bears and cougars as well — helped usher in an era of ecological recovery rarely witnessed in the modern world. At the same time, while always keeping an eye on the science and planning for the next winter study, Smith’s work required navigating a social and political minefield. “Cross-boundary management is a bugaboo in wildlife management,” he told me. “Most of the time, people go, ‘They’re not our jurisdiction anymore, so we’re not going to do anything’ — that doesn’t benefit the resource at all.”

The borders invite questions that policymakers generally try to avoid asking.

The boundaries that divide national parks and states are more than a delineation between jurisdictions. Those invisible lines represent different worlds, both for the animals that cross them and for the human institutions on either side. The borders invite questions that policymakers generally try to avoid asking. After two and a half decades on the front line, Smith firmly believes those discussions, uncomfortable though they might be, must happen for wildlife to have any chance of survival. The study, in addition to its scientific revelations, was an attempt to spur those conversations. “That was the other reason we did it,” Smith said. “It was like, ‘Let’s shine a light on this.’ You have to expose painful topics to solve them.”


Doug Smith arrives on horseback to recover a tracking collar off a dead wolf with his team in Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 2, 2015.

Photo: Ronan Donovan/National Geographic

People Riding Around With Guns

Early in Smith’s Yellowstone career, a legendary park ranger named Jerry Mernin offered him a piece of advice he would never forget. “You’re not doing your job. No one gives a shit about your science,” Mernin told him. “What you gotta do is you gotta go in the mountains, on horseback, and talk to the people riding around with guns. That’s conservation.”

Mernin was referring to the outfitting camps that ring Yellowstone’s border, providing guided hunts for paying clients, particularly those in pursuit of elk. Along with livestock interests, the outfitters were among the most vocal opponents of the federal program to repopulate the West with wolves. They didn’t ask for it, they didn’t want it, and they saw the wolves as a threat to their bottom line. Smith could see that Mernin was right. He needed to talk to them. Together, they loaded up their horses and rode out.

Like his winter study, Smith’s visits to the camps became a tradition. As it was with darting, the learning curve was steep. Smith quickly discovered that riding in with a list of points to hammer home never worked. “Literally, you had to go in and just establish contact, a rapport, a relationship,” he said. “Listen more than you talk.” Smith did not expect to uproot deeply held convictions. The goal was subtler, more human. “If you let those guys go, they will go,” he said. “So most of the time, you’re just rapping, and you’re trying to establish that I’m not as bad as they think I am, and even though I’m a government employee, they shouldn’t hate me for that — because they hate the government.”

Nothing was ever perfect, tensions and resentments remained, but bit by bit relationships were built. “I continued that almost until the day I retired,” Smith said. “I would consider it to be one of the more effective conservation efforts that I did in my career.”

Raised in rural northeastern Ohio on a horse camp that his parents ran, Smith began working with wolves as a teenager. He earned his Ph.D. studying under the legends of the field, old-school biologists whose groundbreaking insights were the product of handwritten notes compiled while trudging through deep snow in remote places. Among his mentors was L. David Mech. In an email, Mech, who is considered by many to be the most authoritative wolf expert in the world, described Smith’s predation studies in Yellowstone as “the most intensive and extensive wolf-prey system ever scientifically investigated.”


Framed photographs show Doug Smith with wolves in Yellowstone that he helped protect during his long career.

Photo: Max Lowe for The Intercept

Smith lived for the science, but he also recognized that the most important decisions in wildlife management happen outside the realms of biology and ecology.

In 2011, facing a precarious vote in the upcoming midterm elections, Montana’s lone Democratic senator, Jon Tester, attached a rider to a must-pass budget bill reversing a federal judge’s order returning wolves in the Northern Rockies to the Endangered Species List. The move was unheard of — Congress had never intervened to remove an animal from the endangered species list before — and led to state authorization of wolf hunting and trapping seasons. The following year, Smith and his colleagues released a report unlike anything they had published before, documenting the then-unprecedented loss of 12 wolves to hunting and trapping, many just over the edge of the park’s boundary lines.

Smith understood well that the goal of the Endangered Species Act was delisting, and that delisting meant state management, and state management meant hunting. Still, there were elements to the way the states structured their approach that he found ethically unsettling. Smith was a lifelong hunter, using elk and deer to fill his fridge. The meat was the “resource value” of the animal he killed. A wolf’s resource value was ostensibly its pelt, and yet Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho — then and now — started their seasons during the transition from summer to fall, when wolves’ pelts were at their least valuable. “You’re killing for a full two months for what?” Smith asked, before answering his own question. “Hatred.”

Kira and Doug drawing blood

Doug Smith and Kira Cassidy begin drawing blood on three captured wolves from the Junction Butte Pack in Yellowstone National Park on Dec. 15, 2014.

Photo: Ronan Donovan/National Geographic

Boundary Lines

Following the deadly 2012 season, wolf advocates lobbied for hunting quotas north of Yellowstone. While most of the park’s boundaries lie in remote areas, well-removed from human settlement, Yellowstone’s iconic northern entrance is in the unincorporated community of Gardiner, Montana, where open access to wildlife moving out of the park is readily available. The region is but a tiny sliver of Montana. Still, opponents of wolf hunting quotas on Yellowstone’s boundary line argued that the park was pushing out its border and asked, with great frustration, where do you draw the line?

For Smith, it was the wrong question. Hard boundary lines didn’t make sense for wildlife in general and for wolves in Yellowstone specifically. The wolves spent 96 percent of their time in the park, with much of that time in Wyoming — meaning that killing those wolves to reduce Montana’s wolf population made little sense. There was limited livestock ranching in the pocket of Montana that the park pushed up against, and the state routinely reported healthy elk populations in the area. That meant two of the most common arguments for heavy wolf killing — livestock and elk protection — were shaky at best. Finally, because the wolves were born and raised in a national park, they grew up with little reason to fear humans watching them from a distance. This habituation raised serious ethical questions about the shooting of a wolf that stood 100 feet north of a line that it didn’t know existed by humans who it didn’t see as a danger. As an alternative, hunters and trappers in Montana still had access to the rest of the fourth largest state in the country, where they could stalk wolves that actually knew they were being pursued.

“They’re tolerant of having people watching, and so you can’t have an arbitrary line on a landscape — go from that, complete protection, to no protection,” Smith said. It was matter of fair chase, an ethical principle undergirding the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, a set of pillars revered by many hunters around the world. In a fair chase hunt, “an animal knows you’re after it,” Smith said. “You’re not riding a four-wheeler chasing it down. You’re not using walkie talkies to trap it. Those are all fair chase measures. This is one of them.”

In place of a hard line, Smith and others advocated for a zone of protection that gradually faded into the broader state management regime. For many, it was the economics of Yellowstone’s wolf program that served as the strongest argument for such an approach: According to an economic study published in 2022, wolf watching alone in Yellowstone generates $82 million a year in local ecotourism dollars.

Though he wouldn’t disagree with the value of ecotourism, Smith’s arguments tended to reflect his dual identity as a scientist and public servant. With the wolf reintroduction, Yellowstone, and by extension the broader public, gained an incomparable asset, allowing for deeper insights into the innerworkings of one of the last great ecosystems of North America. If there were ever an example of a National Park Service initiative achieving its mission of preservation and public access, it was the Yellowstone Wolf Project. “I believe in the mission,” Smith said. “I would argue — and I know the world does not work this way — don’t do a job unless you believe it.”

In his day-to-day work over the years, Smith routinely met with people whose opinions on that mission ranged from unaccommodating to outright hostile. For Kira Cassidy, who began her Yellowstone wolf career in 2008, it was Smith’s earnest interest in seeking out those conversations that made him indispensable. “For being such a science-focused person, he also has a very beautiful, philosophical way of looking at the human condition and human relationships with wildlife,” she said. “He’s not argumentative, but he’s convincing in what he believes.”

Gradually, through years of negotiations among an array of stakeholders, the number of wolves that could be killed in the two districts north of Yellowstone was pared down to one each. At the same time, statewide in Montana, wolf regulations were kept permissive, and hundreds of individual animals were hunted or trapped every year. Smith wasn’t an enthusiastic fan of the state’s wolf hunt, but he understood it as part of the complex world of trade-offs in which the Yellowstone Wolf Project was situated.

“That’s the give and take we need in our society,” he said. “The whole point here is reasonability, compromise,” he added. “I don’t think we’re being unreasonable by saying, ‘Look, you can kill them, you just can’t kill them all.’”


Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey weighs a dead wolf that was shot in the Tom Minor Basin by a ranch manager who felt the wolf was a threat to the horses on May 14, 2015.

Photo: Ronan Donovan/National Geographic

Mind Your Own Business

In 2016, the research into how human hunting affects wolves in national parks began to gather momentum. After a successful project with an Alaska-based biologist in Denali National Park, Smith and Cassidy began kicking around the idea of bringing in collaborators from around the continent. Eventually, they assembled a wide-ranging team of wolf researchers from Denali, Grand Teton, and Voyageurs national parks, as well as the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in remote eastern Alaska.

In addition to hunting, the biologists included vehicle strikes, poaching, lethal control by government agencies, and rare incidents of death during research capture in their analysis. With data stretching back to the 1980s, they had an extraordinary wealth of information to pull from. While Cassidy delved into the nitty-gritty of the research, Smith navigated the complexities of wrangling multiple national parks in a study that was inherently controversial.

“It was tough,” he said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Leave it alone. When they leave the park, they’re none of your business.’” To Smith, that response was premature. The research had not been done to determine the extent of the issue, so who was to say whether it was the business of national parks or not? “I’m OK with not doing anything,” Smith said. “But don’t you want the information to know?”

No adjustment to the status quo after reviewing data was one thing. “I’m actually OK with that,” he said. “But that’s different than ‘We don’t know, and everything’s fine.’”

As it turned out, everything was not fine. In August 2021, Montana eliminated the hunting quotas north of Yellowstone entirely. In the months that followed, the wolf project recorded an unprecedented 480 percent increase in mortality compared to previous seasons. Smith and Cassidy watched in real time as patterns they had traced for years emerged again and again across the park’s Northern Range.

The hunters would arrive at dawn or dusk, often with assault rifles, at known lookout points on the park’s border. They used predator calls to draw wolves over the line and often left the carcasses where they fell. Just as data coming in from parks around the country indicated, larger packs fared better in the face of the heavy human killing. Smaller packs did not.

The Phantom Lake Pack was a stark example. The pack was relatively small and traditionally held its ground on the northernmost edge of the park. Seven of its members were killed in two months. “We think that one of the first wolves that they lost during the hunting season was probably their breeding female,” Cassidy said. “They seemed to crumble after that.” With the Phantom Lake wolves gone, Yellowstone’s largest pack moved in. Though the Junction Butte Pack lost eight wolves to the hunt after taking the newly available territory, most of were pups or yearlings, and the pack had gone into the season with nearly 30 members. The pack persisted.

Most illustrative of all was the Eight Mile Pack. Unlike other packs in the park, the wolves were elusive and seemed to consciously avoid humans. Cassidy attributed the evasiveness to the seasoned alpha female that had led the pack for five years: “It seemed like for years she knew exactly how to avoid human-caused mortalities.” The wolf did not, however, appear to understand traps and was caught and killed late in the season. “Within 48 hours after the alpha female was trapped, the pack got up and traveled all the way until Lamar Valley,” Cassidy said. The journey was nearly 40 miles. “We have never recorded them doing that,” she said. “It seemed to be in reaction to this pretty severe disruption.”

As the biologists suspected, numbers alone failed to tell the full story of what happened inside packs when humans killed wolves. The process of confirming their hypothesis, however, was painfully grim. “This is the kind of study you don’t want to see succeed,” Smith said. “It relies on dead wolves being killed by people.”

The hunt marked the worst year of Smith’s career. It wasn’t just the loss of the individual wolves or the scientific setbacks, though both were brutal; it was also the damage done to the project of compromise and moderation in which he had invested so much time and effort.

Smith spent last summer working to convince the governor’s wildlife commissioners of the unique value of the Yellowstone’s wolf program and the important role quotas played in helping the Park Service achieve its mission. In August, at a hearing to establish this year’s regulations, he thanked the commissioners for hearing him out. In the end, the commissioners — some of whom had been prepared to begin another season with no quotas in place — agreed to a park proposal of a six wolf limit. Smith was sent to deliver the proposal. Following his remarks, a woman whispered to him that he had let the wolf advocates down. “That caused me to flinch,” he said.

At that point, the subject of retirement was already on his mind. Smith would be 62 soon, the age at which he and his wife had agreed to discuss a potential change in direction. Following the hearing, the couple took a canoe trip around Yellowstone Lake. The quotas may have been reinstated, but laws aiming to slash wolf populations in Montana and Idaho were still on the books. Smith knew that his words carried weight in the Northern Rockies. He thought hard on whether he should stick it out a little longer.


Doug Smith at home near Bozeman, Mont., on Feb. 22, 2023.

Photo: Max Lowe for The Intercept

Though he managed to hold onto his flying and winter study captures until the very end, the fieldwork and research that gave him purpose had been subsumed in recent years. “I had become a supervisor and administrator and a bureaucrat,” Smith said. “More and more of my job became keeping the show on the road, and less and less biology, ecology.” As he and his wife took in Yellowstone’s late summer beauty, Smith decided the time had come. Three months later, he retired.

“This is really the first time in 44 years I haven’t had my finger on the button,” Smith told me. “And you know, that’s hard. I’m still thinking about what that looks like.”

Just as the loss of a longtime leader can disrupt the most experienced pack, the loss of Doug Smith rattled Yellowstone’s tight-knit core of wolf researchers. “It was hard for us to even bring up really,” Cassidy said. The park’s 55th winter study was just gearing up and the project had lost its most seasoned darter: counting Smith, there were only two.

Smith was uneasy when their paper finally published. The concluding paragraphs called for a “renewed interest in interagency collaboration … defined by compromise and based on science.” To the layperson, the language would appear inoffensive, but Smith knew it would ruffle feathers. He worried he’d be seen as coaching his former colleagues from the sidelines. That was not his intent. As usual, he was looking to start a conversation. “I think it’s critical,” he said. Smith is not done with wolves — far from it. He’s itching to get back in the field, somewhere new perhaps. “Credit is not what I’m after,” he said. After a lifetime of studying wolves — and people — he still has questions. He’d like to find some answers. “I’m interested,” he said. “That’s what I’m after.”

The post How to Save Yellowstone’s Wolves appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 MM8341_150902_179306_RJ_Small_Flat Doug Smith arrives on horseback to recover a tracking collar off a dead wolf with his team in Yellowstone National Park on TK TK DSC_5436-doug-with-wolves Framed photographs show Doug Smith with wolves in Yellowstone that he helped protect during his long career. Kira and Doug drawing blood Doug Smith and Kira of the Yellowstone Wolf Project begin drawing blood on three captured wolves from the Junction Butte Pack. MM8341_150514_1198572 Montana state Fish, Wildlife and Parks veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey weighs a dead wolf that was shot in the Tom Minor Basin by a ranch manager who felt the wolf was a threat to the horses on May 14, 2015. DSC_5587 Doug Smith at home in Bozeman, Montana, on Feb. 22, 2023.
<![CDATA[E-mails internos mostram executivos da Jovem Pan lamentando prejuízo de R$ 838 mil com perda de anúncios]]> Mon, 13 Feb 2023 09:02:41 +0000 Emissora deixou de faturar valor em um único mês, após anunciantes cancelarem contratos por pressão do movimento Sleeping Giants Brasil.

The post E-mails internos mostram executivos da Jovem Pan lamentando prejuízo de R$ 838 mil com perda de anúncios appeared first on The Intercept.

Uma troca de e-mails internos entre executivos do Grupo Jovem Pan, de janeiro deste ano, mostra a insatisfação dos diretores da empresa com a perda frequente de receitas em anúncios publicitários.

As mensagens estão anexadas no processo que a própria Jovem Pan abriu contra o Sleeping Giants Brasil na justiça de São Paulo. O grupo, criado em 2020, promove campanhas para que empresas privadas deixem de patrocinar canais e veículos que propaguem discurso de ódio. Desde o ano passado, o movimento tem impulsionado a campanha #DesmonetizaJovemPan, para que os patrocínios à emissora sejam cancelados. “Ano passado, cinco pessoas morreram após terroristas invadirem o Capitólio para atacar a eleição. Recentemente, Brasília mostrou que seremos reféns de um novo Capitólio enquanto a Jovem Pan lucrar com discursos golpistas. Nos ajude a salvar a democracia”, divulgou o movimento na campanha.

Em um dos e-mails, uma supervisora de mídia que atende a conta da fabricante de automóveis Toyota no Brasil pede a suspensão imediata das propagandas que já estavam contratadas para veiculação na Jovem Pan. O motivo alegado na mensagem é uma norma interna que proíbe a vinculação da marca a “qualquer veículo que esteja relacionado a escândalos, sejam eles de ordem políticas, discriminação, entre outros”. Com isso, em valores líquidos, a Jovem Pan deixou de faturar R$ 109.113,28.

No mesmo mês, uma outra montadora de carros também rompeu um contrato publicitário. No e-mail anexado ao processo, no entanto, a chinesa Caoa Chery não chega a justificar a razão do cancelamento de quatro peças, que representariam R$ 728.634,00 aos cofres da Jovem Pan.

Ao todo, a perda dos dois contratos soma R$ 837.747,28, em um único mês.

Os e-mails foram encaminhados do departamento comercial para o jurídico, que os repassou aos advogados da empresa. “Vejam o tamanho do dano”, lamentou o diretor jurídico.

O Intercept procurou o departamento jurídico da Jovem Pan pelo e-mail disponível no próprio processo aberto pela emissora, mas não obteve resposta até a publicação desta reportagem. Enviamos e-mail para as pessoas responsáveis pelo contrato de anúncio da Toyota Brasil e Caoa Chery, mas também não tivemos retorno.

No processo, os advogados da emissora paulista escreveram que a Jovem Pan é vítima de perseguição e achaque pelo movimento Sleeping Giants Brasil e pediram a remoção imediata de todo conteúdo utilizado na #DesmonetizaJovemPan, além de solicitar que a justiça proibisse novos atos com objetivo de impactar as finanças da empresa, afastando “antigos, atuais e futuros patrocinadores”. Na peça jurídica, há prints da campanha cobrando uma posição de outros anunciantes da emissora, como Banco Safra, Bradesco, Boticário e Americanas. Os advogados pediram multa de R$ 20 mil por dia, caso a decisão fosse descumprida.

O Tribunal de Justiça de São Paulo, no entanto, não acatou em primeira instância a liminar proposta pela emissora para barrar a campanha do Sleeping Giants Brasil. A Jovem Pan, então, entrou com um recurso pedindo a suspensão imediata – o que foi novamente negado pela justiça.

Em seu site, o Sleeping Giants Brasil mantém ativo um contador que chama de “desmonetizômetro”, somando todos os valores em reais, provindos de contratos publicitários, que seriam repassados para empresas de mídia que propaguem desinformação, discursos de ódios ou teorias conspiratórias – mas que deixaram de ser pagos devido aos esforços do movimento. Pelas contas dos ativistas, em 2020, primeiro ano do movimento, foram quase R$ 15 milhões não repassados por anunciantes aos veículos denunciados. Em 2021, quase R$ 42 milhões — os números do ano passado ainda não foram contabilizados.

Investigada e desmonetizada

Além de cobrar publicamente eventuais patrocinadores, o Sleeping Giants Brasil também notificou extrajudicialmente o Google para que a plataforma interrompa ou desative a monetização de todo conteúdo produzido e disponibilizado pela Jovem Pan em seus canais. Pediu também que a plataforma desative a conta do AdSense da empresa— serviço de publicidade com lucros a partir da quantidade de cliques dos usuários.

Em outubro de 2020, surfando na onda golpista do governo Bolsonaro, a emissora chegou a ser considerada “case de sucesso no Google News”. Uma reportagem da revista piauí mostrou que a big tech impulsionou com 300 mil dólares a Jovem Pan, por meio de seu programa de incentivo ao jornalismo, o Google News Initiative.

A reportagem ainda contou que o então presidente da emissora, Antônio Augusto Amaral de Carvalho Filho, conhecido como Tutinha, e Roberto Araújo, que hoje ocupa o cargo, chegaram a viajar para uma apresentação na sede da empresa, em Palo Alto, nos EUA. Os dois conseguiram barganhar o direito de vender publicidade em seus vídeos, além de uma tolerância maior com violações nas políticas de conteúdo da empresa, segundo a piauí.

Mas, em novembro do ano passado, a pressão pública fez a parceria estremecer e o Google acabou desmonetizando os canais da empresa. Segundo o YouTube, o canal “Os pingos nos Is” incorreu “em repetidas violações” das políticas da empresa contra desinformação nas eleições e das “diretrizes de conteúdo adequado para publicidade, incluindo as relacionadas a questões polêmicas e eventos sensíveis, atos perigosos ou nocivos”.

O Sleeping Giants Brasil ingressou em janeiro deste ano com uma ação no Tribunal de Justiça de São Paulo solicitando que o Google Brasil salve os 2.390 vídeos publicados no canal da Jovem Pan no YouTube. Segundo eles, a empresa estaria apagando conteúdos veiculados com discursos de ódio e ataque às urnas eletrônicas, além de informações falsas sobre a vacina contra a covid-19 e incitação ao ódio. No levantamento feito pelos ativistas, a emissora já teria deletado 417 vídeos.

Esse número, no entanto, pode ser bem maior. O robô da Novelo, empresa de análise de dados que faz ronda por canais da direita, detectou que, em janeiro de 2023, só no canal do programa “3 em 1” 3.666 mil vídeos haviam desaparecido. O “Jovem Pan News” perdeu 77 vídeos. No total, 5.258 vídeos deixaram de constar nos canais da emissora. A maioria dos vídeos apagados voltou ao ar, mas 1.516 permaneceram indisponíveis. Foram colocados como “privados” pelo dono do canal – ou seja, não estão acessíveis para o público e não são detectáveis na busca.

Na ocasião, a Jovem Pan divulgou um comunicado afirmando que sofreu um ataque em seus canais, o que teria gerado a limpa em massa. Tudo isso aconteceu dois dias depois que o grupo virou alvo de uma investigação do Ministério Público Federal de São Paulo por espalhar notícias falsas contra a democracia brasileira.

O inquérito civil instaurado pelo MPF detalha uma série de conteúdos da emissora que incitaram atos antidemocráticos – em um processo que culminou no ato terrorista de 8 de janeiro, na sede dos Três Poderes, em Brasília. Para o órgão, a emissora veiculou “numerosas falas com potencial para incentivar e mesmo instigar atos antidemocráticos”.

A reação da emissora foi imediata. Um dia depois da abertura da investigação, a Jovem Pan anunciou a demissão de quatro comentaristas: Rodrigo Constantino, Zoe Martínez, Paulo Figueiredo e Marco Costa. Augusto Nunes e Guilherme Fiúza já haviam sido demitidos na semana seguinte à eleição de Lula. Outra consequência da investigação foi a renúncia de Tutinha do cargo de presidente da emissora.

The post E-mails internos mostram executivos da Jovem Pan lamentando prejuízo de R$ 838 mil com perda de anúncios appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[Israeli Army Battalion Puts U.S. Ban on Funding Abusive Units to the Test]]> Sat, 11 Feb 2023 11:00:40 +0000 A former member speaks out about the unit responsible for the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian American.

The post Israeli Army Battalion Puts U.S. Ban on Funding Abusive Units to the Test appeared first on The Intercept.

Just over a year ago, soldiers belonging to a controversial, ultra-Orthodox unit of the Israel Defense Forces stopped a 78-year-old Palestinian American man on his way home from visiting a relative in the occupied West Bank. When the man refused to cooperate with an identification check — insisting on his right to go home — soldiers forced him out of his car, blindfolded him, and zip-tied his hands behind his back. They then dragged him to a nearby yard, where they left him lying face down on the ground, according to witnesses.

Omar Assad had already stopped breathing when the soldiers left him, a man detained alongside him told reporters. When a doctor finally arrived, he found that Assad had been dead “for 15 or 20 minutes.” An autopsy found that he had suffered a fatal, stress-induced heart attack.

The brutal death of Assad, a U.S. citizen who had retired to his home village near the Palestinian city of Ramallah after four decades in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sparked widespread outrage. B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group, denounced the soldiers’ “utter indifference” in failing to provide first aid or call an ambulance; the U.S. State Department called Assad’s death “troubling.” Following an internal review, the IDF itself acknowledged that “the incident showed a clear lapse of moral judgment.”

Israel recently moved the unit involved in Assad’s death out of the occupied West Bank. But the soldiers’ treatment of Assad was not unusual. While hardly the only ones accused of human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, members of the Netzah Yehuda unit often committed gratuitous acts of violence, a former member of the unit told The Intercept in his first interview with an international news organization.

The Netzah Yehuda battalion was originally set up to allow ultra-Orthodox Israelis to serve in the military. But over the years, the unit has attracted not only some of the most religious soldiers, but also a growing number of far-right extremists, including many settlers. Unlike other units, enlistment in Netzah Yehuda is voluntary; until recently, it was deployed exclusively in the West Bank, where its members were in daily contact with Palestinians living under occupation. As such, the unit — whose name is an acronym for “Haredi Military Youth” — was known for getting “a lot of action,” the former member said.

The ex-Netzah Yehuda soldier asked not to be identified because of the enormous social cost associated with publicly criticizing Israel’s military. Since leaving the unit, he has come to reject the occupation and his own role in it. Netzah Yehuda has long been criticized in Israel — some senior political and military figures have even called for the unit to be disbanded — but testimonies from former members are rare. While The Intercept could not independently verify some of the incidents the former soldier described, he also spoke to Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli veterans who gather testimony from soldiers in the occupied territories.

The IDF did not answer a detailed list of questions for this story nor address the former soldier’s allegations on the record. But in a statement to The Intercept, a spokesperson wrote that the Netzah Yehuda unit was moved from the West Bank to the Golan Heights “to diversify the IDF’s area of operation and accumulate operational experience.”

The spokesperson also referred The Intercept to an earlier statement in which the IDF wrote that it is “considering filing indictments” against the soldiers involved in Assad’s death. “As part of the investigation, anomalies were found in the conduct of the commander of the checkup force and the commander of the soldiers that guarded the detainees,” that statement read. “It was also found that it is not possible to establish a correlation between these abnormalities and the death.”


An ex-Netzah Yehuda member, who requested anonymity because of the enormous social cost associated with publicly criticizing Israel’s military, poses for a portrait on Feb. 6, 2023.

Photo: Oren Ziv for The Intercept

U.S. Pressure

Even before Assad’s death last January, Netzah Yehuda members had been accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, and beatings, among other abuses. In August, the unit made headlines after a video of some members beating two young Palestinians went viral on TikTok. The IDF suspended the soldiers involved in that beating and opened a criminal investigation. It wasn’t the first time: According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, Netzah Yehuda soldiers have been convicted of offenses against Palestinians at a rate higher than those in any other IDF unit.

But it was the death of Assad — which came only weeks before the killing by a different IDF unit of another Palestinian American, journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — that put the unit on the radar of U.S. officials. The incident prompted calls for the U.S. government to impose consequences on a foreign military it supports to the tune of $3.3 billion a year. In particular, a growing number of critics have urged the Biden administration to apply U.S. legislation known as the “Leahy Law,” after recently retired Sen. Patrick Leahy, which limits the ability of the State and Defense departments to provide military assistance to foreign units that have a record of human rights violations. The law has never been applied to any units of the Israeli military, despite a number of cases — including the killings of several U.S. citizens by Israeli forces — likely meeting its criteria.

“The very least the US can do is to impose Leahy Law sanctions for the murder of an American against a repeat offender Israeli unit that has been killing and abusing Palestinians with impunity for years,” said Adam Shapiro, advocacy director for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now, a U.S.-based human rights group focused on the Middle East and North Africa. DAWN also submitted a complaint detailing a series of incidents involving the unit to the International Criminal Court, accusing its members and two of its commanders of war crimes. “While Netzah Yehuda might not be the worst abuser in the Israeli Army, its actions have been well-documented by Israeli and international media, offering a unique insight into the absolute unwillingness by Israeli governments to hold its soldiers accountable for violating international law and the Israeli army’s own rules of engagement,” the group noted last fall.

The State Department began looking into the unit’s record following Assad’s death, although officials would not confirm reports that they had asked the U.S. Embassy in Israel to draft an internal report on the unit’s conduct and begun interviewing witnesses. The IDF characterized the unit’s recent move out of the West Bank and its redeployment to the Golan Heights as an operational decision. But many have pointed out that the move followed increased U.S. scrutiny of the unit’s record. Israeli authorities have also opened a criminal investigation into Assad’s death and made a rare offer of compensation to his family — a signal, to some, that U.S. pressure was having an impact.

The State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Israel did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. At a press briefing in December, State Department spokesperson Ned Price did not directly answer a reporter’s question regarding calls to apply the Leahy Law to Netzah Yehuda but said, “We manage our security relationships around the world in the context of human rights and the rule of law and in accordance with U.S. legislation, including in this case with the Leahy vetting laws.”

Stanley Cohen, an attorney representing the Assad family in the U.S., told The Intercept that the family has repeatedly asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into Assad’s death but has received no response. “The U.S. government has an obligation at this point to initiate a grand jury investigation or certainly a preliminary FBI investigation of what happened and why and how,” Cohen said. “This is an elderly man, simply driving home, in a community filled largely with elderly Palestinians, many of whom are American Palestinians.” (The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.)

Cohen noted that the Assad family declined the Israeli government’s offer of compensation and rejected “Israel’s interpretation that the family only cared about money and not justice.”

“We didn’t have to press the so-called nuclear button in order to get accountability.”

For Shapiro, of DAWN, there is no question that U.S. pressure played a role in the redeployment and the compensation offer, even if those measures fall far short of Leahy Law requirements. “It wasn’t just a random decision to move this unit,” he told The Intercept. “For me, the biggest lesson of all of this is that when the U.S. does something even as minor as asking questions, there can actually be very positive results, though this is not a full, positive outcome yet.”

“Of course, we would like to see a cutting of aid,” Shapiro added. “But we didn’t have to press the so-called nuclear button in order to get accountability. There are things that can be done, and this is a perfect example of that.”

With Netzah Yehuda soldiers now out of the West Bank, however, it’s unclear whether the State Department will continue to investigate their record or demand accountability for their crimes. It also seems unlikely that U.S. officials will heed calls to finally apply the Leahy Law against a unit of the IDF.

“The fact that they moved the unit out of there was a positive step,” Tim Rieser, a senior foreign policy aide to Leahy, told The Intercept. “But they should have disbanded it altogether and punished the soldiers who were responsible.”

Troubled Youth

The Netzah Yehuda unit, originally known as Nahal Haredi, was established in 1999 to offer ultra-Orthodox Israeli men, who are usually exempt from mandatory military service, an opportunity to serve in the IDF while keeping to strict religious codes. No women are allowed in the unit or on its bases, which also adhere to strict kosher standards. A rabbi works with the unit, and soldiers’ terms of service are shorter than in other branches of the military so that members can focus on religious studies. But the 500-man battalion, which started with only a few dozen recruits, was also intended to provide discipline to young men with troubled backgrounds, including some who had been shunned by their families or who had violent and sometimes criminal pasts, the former soldier said.

He had been drawn to Netzah Yehuda because of its religious accommodations, he noted, but had also been impressed to learn that the unit had received a series of awards, including for thwarting several attacks and “neutralizing” alleged terrorists.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be boring,” he told The Intercept. “As a 19-year-old, that gets the testosterone going. It was ‘Black Hawk Down,’ that type of thing.”

“It put a lot of very problematic people in the same place.”

He soon realized, however, that putting troubled young men, many with ultra-nationalist views, in a position of power and with constant access to Palestinians was a recipe for abuse. “I think that the intentions of the rabbis that came up with this were in the right place. I get where they came from, but I don’t think that it panned out very well because it put a lot of very problematic people in the same place,” the former soldier said. “Some were very politically motivated, I would say the settlers were the most politically motivated. And then there were a bunch of teenagers who drew a short straw in life and tried to take it out on other people.”

“There’s definitely a problem with discipline,” he added. “Some officers would not take some people with them on missions because they knew that they might lose a couple of soldiers on the way, because they might just wander off in the middle of a Palestinian village and do whatever they want.”

While it wasn’t until years later that the former Netzah Yehuda soldier began to reevaluate and ultimately disavowed his time in the military, the racist beliefs and often unruly behavior of his peers were readily apparent. One of the soldiers, he recalled, said that the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1994, by an Israeli extremist was “justified.” The soldier was disciplined over the remark, “but most people in the unit didn’t understand why — because in the eyes of a lot of people there, it was obvious that the murder of Rabin was justified.”

There were other incidents that revealed the unit’s extremist tendencies. On one occasion, while he was stationed in the northern West Bank, a group of unit members slashed the tires of an Arab driver — a fellow member of the Israeli military — in a nod to the “price tag” attacks frequently carried out by Israeli settlers against Palestinians. The incident infuriated some officers, “but a lot of people thought it was completely fine,” the former soldier recalled. “They said that we shouldn’t have Arabs in the military.”

Members of the unit made no secret of their extremism. On Friday nights, after sharing their Shabbat meal, they would sing racist anthems about Jewish power, including songs glorifying Meir Kahane, the U.S.-born founder of the Kach party, an ultranationalist political group that until recently was listed as a terrorist organization in both the U.S. and Israel. Kahane’s grandson himself served in the unit. “I had no idea how he got into the military to begin with,” the soldier said. “Usually, they wouldn’t let someone like that in.”

The IDF does not “intentionally” recruit soldiers with a criminal background and launches investigations “in cases where criminal offenses are suspected,” the spokesperson wrote in the statement to The Intercept, which also noted that “the IDF is a stately body and prohibits any form of political expression.”

Israeli soldiers of the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox battalion "Netzah Yehuda" hold morning prayers as they take part in their annual unit training in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights, near the Syrian border on May 19, 2014. The Netzah Yehuda Battalion is a battalion in the Kfir Brigade of the Israel military which was created  to allow religious Israelis to serve in the army  in an atmosphere respecting their religious convictions. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA        (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli soldiers of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox battalion Netzah Yehuda hold morning prayers in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights, near the Syrian border, on May 19, 2014.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Collective Punishment and “Hannukah Parties”

The Palestinians who members of Netzah Yehuda met daily had been completely dehumanized, the former soldier added. While The Intercept could not independently corroborate details about the specific incidents he described, the episodes are well in line with the violence, harassment, and restriction of movement that Palestinians living under occupation are routinely exposed to and that human rights groups have documented for decades.

The former soldier said that he once witnessed a commander punch a Palestinian man in the stomach and shove him into a military car, apparently because the man was moving too slowly. Some of the soldiers were not allowed to guard Palestinian detainees, he added, because their superiors “didn’t trust everyone to do that without harming them.”

Some of the most violent incidents happened when the ex-soldier was stationed near a large settlement in the West Bank. Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law and, in some cases, even under Israeli law. Nevertheless, the military is routinely deployed to protect settlers there, even as settler violence against Palestinians has been on the rise.

One Friday, after a funeral for a man killed by the IDF in a Palestinian village near the settlement, a crowd of residents turned up to protest, the former soldier recalled. “Usually, it would just be a couple kids throwing rocks. We would shoot a couple of gas grenades back. There would be back and forth for half an hour, and then we would each go home,” he said. “But after this funeral a huge crowd came together, and when we got there, we had almost no crowd control equipment because all that ammunition, like the rubber bullets and the gas canisters, had run out. So all we had was live ammunition, and it’s very difficult to do crowd control with live ammunition. That day, they actually told us that we are not allowed to shoot at anyone, because they had just killed someone. And in a situation like that, when you start opening fire on a crowd, you can kill a lot of people, and that was going to be an even bigger problem.”

Instead, the soldiers were instructed to pour mounds of dirt over the main road to the village, essentially trapping its residents. “It was collective punishment,” said the soldier.

Another time, the former soldier recalled, a commander took a group of soldiers into a Palestinian village, where they went door to door, knocking and then throwing flash-bang and gas grenades into each home — retribution after some children from the village had thrown rocks on a nearby road earlier that day.

The former soldier, who said he was not directly involved in the grenade-throwing or some of the other, more egregious incidents he described, remembers being disturbed by the episode. “The company commander said, ‘Let’s throw them a Hanukkah party, because it was during Hanukkah,’” he told The Intercept. His fellow soldiers, he said, “were very excited about that whole thing. They would say, ‘You should have seen the face of the family when we opened the door. Everyone was sitting and watching TV, and all of a sudden, they got tear-gassed.’”

“A lot of soldiers were excited about being able to just walk into a stranger’s house with little to no consequences,” he said. “You couldn’t do that in Tel Aviv.”

No Accountability

The harassment and dehumanization of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation are a daily affair, and Netzah Yehuda soldiers are hardly the only culprits. But on some occasions, the unit’s actions in the West Bank escalated into gross human rights violations and potential war crimes. Since 2015, members of the unit have killed several Palestinians and beaten and tortured others with electric shocks, according to documentation submitted by DAWN to the ICC, which in 2021 opened an investigation into alleged crimes committed in the occupied territories.

In that time frame, Netzah Yehuda soldiers killed three Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, “in incidents in which soldiers used lethal force against unarmed civilians without justification,” DAWN charged. “In almost every case […] soldiers were found to be lying or covering up the incidents to suggest that they were acting in self-defense.” In October 2021, unit members were also accused of beating and sexually assaulting a Palestinian man they had detained in the back of a military vehicle and later at a military base. Four soldiers were arrested following that incident; one of them was demoted and sentenced to four and a half months in prison. In 2016, another Netzah Yehuda soldier received a nine-month sentence and demotion for torturing Palestinian detainees on two separate occasions. In one instance, the soldier had attached electrodes to the neck of a man who was blindfolded and handcuffed, increasing the voltage when the man pleaded with him to stop. He did the same to a second detainee a few days later, while fellow soldiers filmed the torture on a cellphone.

It’s unclear whether Netzah Yehuda’s abuses were on the State Department’s radar before last year, but after Omar Assad’s death, U.S. officials began making inquiries about the unit. In September, the State Department’s Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, Hady Amr, met with Assad’s family and publicly called for accountability for his death. Israel’s offer of a reported $141,000 settlement to the family and later the decision to move Netzah Yehuda out of the West Bank also coincided with a growing chorus of voices, including in Congress, calling for a U.S. investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera journalist who was shot in the head in May while reporting from the West Bank city of Jenin. Furor over the killing of Abu Akleh, who was wearing a clearly visible press vest at the time, eventually forced the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation — the first time the U.S. government has heeded demands for an independent, American investigation of an incident involving Israeli forces.

Whether growing demands for accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing or calls for Leahy sanctions against Netzah Yehuda — or both — factored into Israeli officials’ decision to move the unit is hard to establish. “I don’t know how much of this has to do with Israel being afraid of the Leahy Law versus Israel trying to manage a relationship with the U.S. after they have killed two U.S. citizens,” Brad Parker, a legislative consultant at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented the Abu Akleh family in the U.S., told The Intercept. The Leahy Law hardly seems to work as a deterrent when it comes to Israel, he added. “Even if it means absolutely nothing, a statement saying ‘This unit is problematic’ or something like that would be significant, given the fact that the U.S. really doesn’t do anything.”

Other critics argue that anything short of blocking U.S. financial support for Netzah Yehuda is not enough.

“What we need is the political will to apply the law, and thus far this administration has lacked that will.”

“That’s not accountability,” Matt Duss, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Intercept, referring to the unit’s redeployment and the compensation offer. “Some people might claim, ‘Hey, look, high five, we got the Israelis to do something,’ but that doesn’t begin to solve the systemic problem. What we need is the political will to apply the law, and thus far this administration has lacked that will.”

U.S. officials’ failure to apply their own laws against Israel has increasingly become a liability, Duss said, noting that while the U.S. “tends to be very serious about human rights in countries that don’t buy our weapons,” intervening in Israel and with some other allies is viewed as “too politically controversial … despite systemic abuses.”

For Rieser, Leahy’s longtime foreign policy adviser, that’s long been a cause of frustration. “The law has not been applied as consistently as Senator Leahy believes it should be with respect to Israel and some other key U.S. allies,” he told The Intercept. “I think that’s partly due to political calculations by the administration, whose job it is to apply the law.”

The sisters and relatives of Palestinian teenager Hamza Amjad al-Ashqar, shot dead by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus the previous day, mourn during his funeral at the Askar refugee camp east of Nablus on February 7, 2023. - The Palestnian health ministry said the 17-year-old was killed by a bullet in the face during a raid on Nablus and the Israeli army said he had fired on soldiers. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP) (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)

The sisters and relatives of Palestinian teenager Hamza Amjad al-Ashqar, shot dead by Israeli troops from a different unit in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, mourn during his funeral at the Askar refugee camp east of Nablus on February 7, 2023.

Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images

Leahy’s Legacy

There is no public record listing when and where the Leahy Law has been invoked, though public reports indicate that it has been applied to Colombian, Mexican, Turkish, Indonesian, and Pakistani forces, among others. The law is also used as basis for the State Department to vet thousands of foreign military personnel every year — a requirement for the provision of U.S. weapons and training.

More than two decades after it was first introduced, Leahy’s signature legislation “has been institutionalized to the point that it’s not going away,” said Rieser. “It has been built into the training and guidance of the State and Defense departments. It is permanent law. But Congress and human rights defenders still need to ensure that the law is applied as intended.”

Defense officials have at times resisted the law’s implementation. The Intercept reported last year on one of several programs set up to circumvent it. Before he retired, Leahy also worked to close a major loophole in the law that made it difficult to apply against countries that receive U.S. assistance in bulk installments, like Israel, whose security agreements with the U.S. are outlined on a 10-year basis. Previous arrangements made it hard for U.S. officials to know which units of the IDF received what — something Leahy addressed through a recent amendment to the defense budget. “We don’t know with certainty which IDF units receive U.S. equipment,” Rieser said. “We realized that was a loophole for countries that receive bulk shipments of equipment, and Congress modified the law to address that issue.”

The ultimate obstacle to the law’s implementation, however, remains a political one. “Many members of Congress or administration officials are reluctant to suggest that Israeli soldiers may have committed a gross violation of human rights,” said Rieser, noting that Leahy repeatedly called on multiple administrations to apply the law with respect to Israel. He noted that during the Trump administration, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, suggested that the law should not apply there.

The argument, Rieser noted, was that “Israel is a democracy, it has a credible justice system, and therefore the Leahy Law doesn’t apply.” But Israel’s investigations of alleged military misconduct are carried out by the IDF itself, he noted; they have often been cursory and rarely resulted in appropriate punishment. “The Israeli justice system, particularly the military justice system, is not perceived as being impartial in cases involving Palestinians.”

An Extreme Symptom

Shawan Jabarin, the general director of Al-Haq, a prominent Palestinian human rights organization based in the West Bank, told The Intercept that he first heard about the Leahy Law during a trip to the U.S. in 2001, a few years after the legislation was introduced. “We first called for Leahy sanctions to be applied against the IDF two decades ago,” he said.

Over the years, the State Department has flagged several incidents of human rights abuses committed by Israeli forces as potential Leahy cases, including the 2003 killing by an Israeli military bulldozer of American peace activist Rachel Corrie. (Last year, The Intercept published exclusive documents revealing internal deliberations about the law’s application to that case).

Yet none of those incidents resulted in sanctions against any unit of the IDF. “Nothing happened,” said Jabarin. “Nothing happened because this is Israel.”

Multiple U.S. administrations have in the past responded to Israeli abuses with measured words of condemnation, but the U.S. government has never publicly imposed consequences on Israel for its military’s misconduct — neither by applying the Leahy Law nor by threatening to withhold military assistance or limit arms exports under other U.S. statutes. A formal sanctioning of Netzah Yehuda would have only minor practical impact but would convey that the U.S. government is ready to draw a line.

“Israelis got very upset when Ben and Jerry’s said it didn’t want to have ice cream sold in settlements,” said the former soldier. A U.S. rebuke of Netzah Yehuda would likely renew calls to address its history of abuses, he noted, but warned that singling out one unit for censure risks giving a pass to the rest of Israel’s military apparatus.

“For the Israeli public, Netzah Yehuda is very convenient because it’s a group of people that are not very popular in Israeli society to begin with, the Haredim. So it’s very easy to scapegoat and say these Haredim and these settlers, they are the ones who are a problem, it’s not our kids from Tel Aviv and these other nice cities, who also go and kill Palestinians.”

Ori Givati, advocacy director at Breaking the Silence — the group of former Israeli soldiers who have denounced the abuses of Israel’s occupation — told The Intercept that “anything that pushes the U.S. to do anything is a step in the right direction.”

“Every unit that serves in the territories is violent toward Palestinians — every unit,” he said. “Some are documented less, some are documented more. Netzah Yehuda has maybe a tendency to be more violent than others toward Palestinians, but they are not worse than any other unit which invades people’s homes in the middle of the night. They’re not the problem; they’re maybe an extreme symptom.”

Jabarin, the Palestinian human rights activist, agreed that sanctioning Netzah Yehuda would have only symbolic impact — but would be important nonetheless.

“It’s not just the unit, it’s the system behind it,” he said. “Still, this is a test. Can [the U.S.] act according to its principles, its laws, the values they speak about?”

The post Israeli Army Battalion Puts U.S. Ban on Funding Abusive Units to the Test appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 448A3359 An ex-Netzah Yehuda member, who requested anonymity because of the enormous social cost associated with publicly criticizing Israel’s military, poses for a portrait on Feb. 6, 2023. ISRAEL-RELIGIONARMY-ULTRA-ORTHODOX-JEWS Israeli soldiers of the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox battalion "Netzah Yehuda" hold morning prayers in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights, near the Syrian border on May 19, 2014. PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-WESTBANK The sisters and relatives of Palestinian teenager Hamza Amjad al-Ashqar, shot dead by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus mourn during his funeral on February 7, 2023.
<![CDATA[Ministério do Meio Ambiente de Bolsonaro abriu mão de defender 8 milhões de hectares na Amazônia, Pantanal e Cerrado]]> Wed, 08 Feb 2023 09:01:47 +0000 Pasta não apenas se omitiu de buscar novas áreas para preservar como entregou de bandeja outras 39 que poderia transformar em unidades de conservação.

The post Ministério do Meio Ambiente de Bolsonaro abriu mão de defender 8 milhões de hectares na Amazônia, Pantanal e Cerrado appeared first on The Intercept.

As duas onças-pintadas começam esfregando os focinhos e as patas. Em pouco tempo, a brincadeira evolui para uma luta de mentirinha, com direito a amigáveis mordiscadas. A cena, que remete mais a gatos domésticos do que aos gigantes felinos, é tão rara que foi parar em artigo científico. Normalmente, o que as onças fazem é disputar território. Mas na Ilha do Sararé, as condições são tão favoráveis que elas até saem juntas para caçar peixes e jacarés pelas áreas alagadas do Pantanal mato-grossense.

“Isso indica que ali há ótimas condições de vida e fartura de alimentos”, resumiu Daniel Kantek, servidor do ICMBio há 15 anos, onde foi chefe da Estação Ecológica de Taiamã, vizinha à Ilha de Sararé. Juntas, a ilha e a estação registram a maior estimativa de concentração de onças-pintadas do mundo, de 12,4 onças a cada 100 quilômetros quadrados.

Por isso, há anos o ICMBio — instituto do Ministério do Meio Ambiente responsável por criar e administrar unidades de conservação federais — estudava meios de transformá-la em uma área protegida. Primeiro, como uma extensão da própria estação ecológica. Depois, como um parque nacional que incluiria outras áreas do entorno.

Para o governo Jair Bolsonaro, no entanto, o paraíso das onças-pintadas não merecia ser protegido — a julgar pela decisão do Ministério do Meio Ambiente de abrir mão de transformar a Ilha de Sararé em uma unidade de conservação.

A decisão tomada durante a gestão de Ricardo Salles, sem alarde e sem consultar o próprio quadro técnico, abarca não apenas a ilha, mas todas as 167 áreas da União nas quais o ministério havia demonstrado interesse para a criação de áreas protegidas na Câmara Técnica de Destinação e Regularização Fundiária de Terras Públicas Federais Rurais. Essas áreas ficam na Amazônia, no Cerrado e no Pantanal e englobam oito estados brasileiros, em três regiões do país — Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, Roraima, Rondônia, Tocantins, Maranhão e Mato Grosso.

“O representante do MMA [Ministério do Meio Ambiente] informou que realizou um trabalho de revisão nas suas áreas de interesse e declinou o interesse de todas as áreas, com exceção das unidades de conservação já homologadas”, registrou-se em ata da reunião da câmara técnica, em 26 de agosto de 2020.

Destaques retirados da ata da reunião da câmara técnica, realizada em 2020.

Destaques retirados da ata da reunião da câmara técnica, realizada em 2020.

O ministério não apenas abriu mão de todas as áreas com as quais um dia já havia demonstrado preocupação, como também comunicou ao colegiado, em 29 de outubro de 2020, que “não possui interesse em adquirir novas áreas para criação de unidades de conservação”. Já o Incra, responsável por promover a reforma agrária, não quis avaliar a possibilidade de criar assentamentos em nenhuma das mais de mil glebas ou pedaços de glebas analisadas pela câmara entre abril de 2020 e julho de 2022, ignorando as mais de 4 mil famílias acampadas à espera de um pedaço de terra em Rondônia, Roraima e Pará, segundo dados do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, o MST. O Intercept procurou o Incra, que não se manifestou até o fechamento desta reportagem.

Criada em 2013, a câmara é o espaço em que órgãos do governo podem manifestar interesse pelas áreas federais não-destinadas, ou glebas, como são chamadas as parcelas pertencentes à União que ainda não foram convertidas em unidades de conservação, terras indígenas, assentamentos, concessões florestais ou mesmo propriedades particulares. Como vimos na primeira reportagem da série Ladrões de Floresta, essas áreas se tornaram o alvo número um da grilagem de terras e do desmatamento na Amazônia.

A cada reunião, um conjunto de glebas é colocado em pauta. Então, os representantes de cada órgão devem dizer se têm ou não algum tipo de projeto para as áreas. A partir do sinal positivo de algum órgão, aquela área fica bloqueada no Sigef, o sistema de governança fundiária do Incra, não podendo ser mais destinada para imóveis privados.

A Funai, por exemplo, está ali para reivindicar territórios de ocupação tradicional dos povos indígenas. O Serviço Florestal Brasileiro é responsável por assegurar as áreas com potencial para criação de projetos de manejo florestal. E ao ministério e ao ICMBio, cabe — ou ao menos deveria caber — argumentar a favor da criação de novas unidades de conservação em áreas consideradas prioritárias do ponto de vista ambiental.

Por lei, a criação de terras indígenas e quilombolas, unidades de conservação e assentamentos da agricultura familiar deve ter prioridade sobre as demais formas de destinação.

Mas as atas dos encontros, obtidas pelo Intercept via Lei de Acesso à Informação, mostram um esforço do ministério para destinar o maior pedaço de terra possível para propriedades privadas e praticamente nada para a proteção da floresta. Mais de mil glebas ou pedaços de glebas foram analisados entre abril de 2020 e julho de 2022, e a pasta não se mexeu para proteger nenhuma.

Segundo o regimento interno da câmara, as áreas em que nenhum dos órgãos demonstrar interesse serão destinadas automaticamente para regularização fundiária, ou seja, privatização. A exceção são as áreas inalienáveis da União (como faixas de fronteira ou margens de rios federais), onde, por lei, é proibida a privatização.

Ministério abriu mão da Ilha do Sararé, no Pantanal mato-grossense, local com maior concentração de onças pintadas do mundo.

Ministério abriu mão da Ilha do Sararé, no Pantanal mato-grossense, local com maior concentração de onças pintadas do mundo.

Foto: Daniel Kantek

Estreitando direitos

Ameaças de morte, seguranças armados e cercas são alguns dos obstáculos à continuidade de um modo de vida que há oito décadas acompanha o sobe e desce das águas do Araguaia, no Mato Grosso. Quando o rio baixa, os retireiros levam o gado até as pastagens naturais que brotam na beira do rio. Quando sobe, voltam para suas casas na cidade. Um vai e vem que fica cada vez mais difícil com o avanço do agronegócio pelo Cerrado.

“O fazendeiro sempre vai adquirindo mais um pedaço de terra, daí a nossa área tá ficando menor”, contou o retireiro Josué ao Intercept.

Uma das alternativas para proteger a tradição dos retiros seria a criação de uma Reserva de Desenvolvimento Sustentável. A RDS é um tipo de unidade de conservação que abriga populações tradicionais. Mas o projeto, discutido há quase 20 anos no ICMBio, nunca saiu do papel em função da resistência política local.

“Enquanto isso, só vão estreitando os direitos da gente. Eu fico imaginando como vou viver sem essa vida que eu levo desde criança. O homem e a natureza, um respeitando o outro”, lamentou o retireiro.

Indiferente ao processo de criação da RDS, que segue tramitando no ICMBio, o Ministério do Meio Ambiente jogou uma pá de cal sobre o sonho de Josué ao incluir a área entre aquelas de que o ministério abriu mão.

“Isso mostra uma indiferença para com o direito territorial da comunidade tradicional e com a resolução de um conflito fundiário que é muito grave”, afirmou o procurador do Ministério Público Federal, Wilson Rocha, que atuou por quatro anos junto a essa comunidade.

Cruzando bases de dados do governo federal, verificamos que várias das glebas que o ministério dispensou já haviam sido transformadas em unidades de conservação ou terras indígenas, e outra parte estava bastante desmatada — fatores que, segundo especialistas, justificam a decisão do órgão de abrir mão de transformá-las em áreas protegidas.

Mas há pelo menos 39 áreas que não deveriam ter sido descartadas, e quem diz isso são os próprios técnicos do ICMBio. Tratam-se de grandes maciços florestais bem preservados, que somam mais de 8 milhões de hectares — quase o dobro do estado do Rio de Janeiro — e estão localizados nos estados do Mato Grosso (16), Amazonas (10), Pará (9), Rondônia (2) e Roraima (2).


Glebas das quais o ministério do meio ambiente abriu mão na câmara de destinação, contrariando parecer da equipe técnica, segundo ICMBio. A reportagem não conseguiu localizar as glebas Paru do Oeste, Erepecuru e Água Azul B-11, B-2, C-1, C-2 E C-3.

Júlia Coelho/The Intercept Brasil

Em 27 delas, já havia inclusive processos de criação ou ampliação de unidades de conservação em andamento no ICMBio. É o caso da Ilha do Sararé e da RDS dos Retireiros do Médio Araguaia, mas também de outras glebas, como a Amassanu. Uma área do tamanho de quase seis cidades de São Paulo, coberta por uma floresta praticamente virgem, localizada entre os rios Negro e Manacapuru, e onde há estudos para a ampliação do Parque Nacional do Jaú.

Outras 12 glebas estavam sobrepostas às Áreas Prioritárias para Conservação, Uso Sustentável e Repartição dos Benefícios da Biodiversidade, que são definidas pelo Ministério do Meio Ambiente após encontros com pesquisadores e com a sociedade civil, utilizando diversos critérios científicos.

“Essas áreas são uma política pública instituída por decreto e são usadas pelo ICMBio para avaliar a ampliação ou criação de novas unidades de conservação”, afirmou Ana Paula Prates, doutora em ecologia e analista ambiental do ministério que coordenou a última atualização das áreas prioritárias, em 2018. Licenciada, atualmente ela é diretora de políticas públicas no Instituto Talanoa, uma organização focada em produzir conhecimento para orientar a política climática.

Uma das glebas sobrepostas a áreas prioritárias é a João Bento, no sul do Amazonas, onde havia inclusive a indicação de criação de uma unidade de conservação de proteção integral — como mostramos na terceira reportagem da nossa série. Também é o caso da gleba Balbina, que fica ao lado da Reserva Biológica de Uatumã, a 130 quilômetros de Manaus. Balbina fica em uma área de prioridade de conservação extremamente alta, que abriga espécies ameaçadas de extinção, como o gato maracajá, o tamanduá-bandeira e o tatu-canastra, maior espécie viva de tatu.

Encostas de areia do rio Araguaia na Ilha do Bananal. Quando o rio baixa, os retireiros levam o gado até as pastagens naturais que brotam na beira do rio. Quando sobe, voltam para suas casas na cidade. Um vai e vem que fica cada vez mais difícil com o avanço do agronegócio pelo Cerrado.

Encostas de areia do rio Araguaia na Ilha do Bananal. Quando o rio baixa, os retireiros levam o gado até as pastagens naturais que brotam na beira do rio. Quando sobe, voltam para suas casas na cidade.

Foto: José Caldas/Getty Images


Os técnicos do ICMBio sabiam da importância de conservar essas áreas e foram enfáticos quanto à necessidade de mantê-las sob interesse do ministério na nota técnica que assinaram em 16 de novembro de 2022. O curioso é que a análise só foi solicitada mais de dois anos depois de a pasta já ter aberto mão das áreas, em agosto de 2020.

A nota técnica é assinada por Bernardo Ferreira Alves de Brito, então chefe da Coordenação de Criação de Unidades de Conservação do ICMBio, setor que concentra os dados e o conhecimento necessários para indicar se há ou não interesse em transformar determinada área em unidade de conservação.

Tradicionalmente, um servidor dessa equipe participava das reuniões da câmara técnica. Com a chegada de Bolsonaro, no entanto, esse espaço passou a ser ocupado por servidores comissionados de outros departamentos, como das coordenações de Regularização Fundiária e de Compensação de Reserva Legal e Incorporação de Terras Públicas.

“Os servidores responsáveis pelos estudos, pelas audiências públicas e pelas propostas de criação de novas unidades de conservação nem ao menos vinham sendo consultados”, contou Cleberson Carneiro Zavaski, analista ambiental do ICMBio cedido para a Comissão de Meio Ambiente do Senado.

No caso do Ministério do Meio Ambiente, pelo menos cinco pessoas passaram pela câmara desde de abril de 2020, entre suplentes e titulares. Quem mais participou das reuniões foi Antônio Carlos Tinoco Cabral, assessor da Secretaria Executiva do ministério, formado em administração de empresas. Antes de ir para a pasta, em 2019, ele trabalhou na administração de propriedades rurais e foi diretor de compras na Santa Casa de Misericórdia de Barretos, interior de São Paulo.

Outra representante assídua era Laura Andrea Chinaglia Abbá, advogada especialista em agronegócio e em regularização fundiária que, em 2020, foi nomeada para chefiar o Departamento de Áreas Protegidas do ministério. Entre os representantes do MMA no colegiado estava ainda o coronel da reserva José Leonardo Maniscalco, assessor especial do ministro do Meio Ambiente, que representou o órgão em duas reuniões.

O Intercept questionou a antiga gestão do ministério sobre as nomeações e a revisão nas áreas de interesse na câmara técnica, mas não obteve resposta. Também deixamos recados nos escritórios de Cabral e Abbá, mas não tivemos retorno. Não conseguimos contato com o coronel Maniscalco — no Ministério do Meio Ambiente não souberam informar seu telefone.

“Havia um comando de governo dizendo que não era para destinar mais nem um metro quadrado para indígenas, quilombolas e unidades de conservação. E isso foi levado a cabo a partir da nomeação de pessoas nesses órgão estratégicos que desconsideram pareceres técnicos”, disse Zavaski.

A decisão do Ministério do Meio Ambiente de abrir mão de todas as suas áreas foi sacramentada em novembro de 2022, no apagar das luzes do governo Bolsonaro, com a assinatura do termo de acordo 01/2021. O documento, que consolidou as decisões tomadas ao longo do ano anterior, confirma o que já havia sido sinalizado nas atas das reuniões: as áreas do interesse do ministério passaram a ter outras indicações de destinação, e o órgão não demonstrou interesse por nenhuma nova área durante todo ano de 2020.

Das 161 glebas passíveis de regularização fundiária analisadas ao longo do ano — outras 207 não podiam ser privatizadas, por serem inalienáveis —, 151, ou 94%, tiveram esse destino. Entre elas estão partes de sete glebas consideradas prioritárias para conservação, segundo a nota técnica do ICMBio, incluindo uma das áreas que abrigariam a Reserva de Desenvolvimento Sustentável dos Retireiros do Araguaia.

Outras 10 glebas citadas pelos técnicos e abandonadas pelo ministério passaram para a alçada do Serviço Florestal Brasileiro, que estuda a criação de áreas de concessão florestal.

O Intercept entrou em contato com a nova gestão do ministério, reformulado no governo Lula e rebatizado de Ministério do Meio Ambiente e Mudança do Clima, para verificar se eles irão tentar reverter essa decisão. De acordo com a assessoria da pasta, todos os atos mencionados “estão em análise desde 1° de janeiro e serão revistos”.

A gestão da ministra Marina Silva promete dar atenção especial às áreas não-destinadas, com a criação da Secretaria Extraordinária de Controle do Desmatamento e Ordenamento Territorial e Fundiário, que terá entre suas funções a destinação dessas áreas. “A mudança do governo é a única chance que a gente ainda tem, porque eu não tenho outro meio de vida”, afirmou o retireiro Josué. “Eu pediria para o novo governo olhar para as pessoas que realmente precisam da natureza, porque sem a natureza, ninguém vive”.

Câmara viciada

Criar unidades de conservação e terras indígenas é uma das maneiras mais eficientes de frear o desmatamento na Amazônia: um estudo do Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, o Ipam, concluiu que 87% das derrubadas acumuladas em terras públicas até 2020 aconteceram em áreas não-destinadas, contra 7% nas unidades de conservação e 6% nas terras indígenas.

Apesar da política deliberada dos últimos quatro anos de não criar novas unidades de conservação ou terras indígenas, a omissão não é uma exclusividade do governo Bolsonaro, avaliam especialistas. “Os processos de demarcação de terras indígenas se arrastam por 20, 30 anos”, contou Juliana de Paula Batista, advogada do Instituto Socioambiental.

Segundo levantamento da organização, o número de terras indígenas homologadas vem caindo desde o governo de Fernando Henrique Cardoso, do PSDB.

Já o ritmo de criação de unidades de conservação federais vem caindo desde o governo da petista Dilma Rousseff. Foram 77 na gestão de Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 75 nos dois governos Lula, 16 no período Dilma e 13 na gestão de Michel Temer — o levantamento não considera reservas particulares do patrimônio natural, as RPPNs.

Número de terras indígenas homologadas por governo

Presidente [período] TIs Homologadas
José Sarney [abr 85 | mar 90] 67
Fernando Collor [mar 90 | set 92] 112
Itamar Franco [out 92 | dez 94] 16
FHC [jan 1995 | dez 1998] 114
FHC [jan 1999 | dez 2002] 31
Lula [jan 2003 | dez 2006] 66
Lula [jan 2007 | dez 2010] 21
Dilma Rousseff [jan 2011 | dez 2014] 11
Dilma Rousseff [jan 2015 | mai 2016] 10
Michel Temer [mai 2016 | abr 2018] 1
Jair Bolsonaro [jan 2019 | dez 2022] 0

Fonte: Instituto Socioambiental (ISA)

Também não é de hoje que a câmara técnica de destinação prioriza a regularização fundiária em detrimento da proteção ambiental e dos povos originários. O Imazon compilou as decisões tomadas pela câmara até 2018 e concluiu que 70% das áreas analisadas nesse período foram destinadas à regularização fundiária, enquanto 17% foram para unidades de conservação. E menos de 0,1% para terras indígenas.

“O problema da câmara técnica é anterior ao governo Bolsonaro, porque a regra que rege o colegiado é ilegal”, afirmou Brenda Brito, pesquisadora do Imazon. Por lei, florestas públicas não podem ser privatizadas. Mas o decreto que regula o trabalho da câmara técnica subverteu essa norma ao restringir o conceito de floresta pública apenas às “áreas de interesse do Serviço Florestal Brasileiro”.

“Esse decreto gera essa distorção. O correto seria você ter um decreto que reforçasse que floresta pública não pode ser privatizada”, argumentou a pesquisadora.


Gráfico: Júlia Coelho/The Intercept Brasil

Sucessão de anistias

As atas das reuniões da câmara técnica de destinação também revelam as prioridades de outro órgão do governo, o Incra, durante o governo Bolsonaro: dedicar o máximo de áreas para privatização e absolutamente nada para assentamentos de reforma agrária. “O Incra […] aproveitou o momento para comunicar que seu interesse nas áreas não destinadas é para regularização fundiária”, informou a ata da reunião de 25 de maio de 2022.

“O Incra foi criado para implementar a reforma agrária, combater a desigualdade no campo e a concentração de terra”, explicou Claudinei dos Santos, da coordenação do MST de Rondônia e da Via Campesina. “Mas hoje o instituto está todo voltado para regularização fundiária”, completou.

Apesar do esforço em privatizar a maior quantidade de áreas públicas possível, até nisso o governo Bolsonaro fracassou. Segundo o Imazon, a emissão de títulos de terra despencou em 2019, quando apenas um título foi emitido, e a situação não melhorou muito nos anos seguintes — em 2020, foram emitidos 553 títulos, e 753 em 2021. Nos seis anos de governo Dilma, foram emitidos uma média de 4.499 títulos por ano.

“Há colonos que chegaram na Amazônia no começo da década de 1970 e até hoje não receberam título”, afirmou Maurício Torres, professor da Universidade Federal do Pará e doutor em geografia humana pela Universidade de São Paulo. O problema, segundo os especialistas, é continuar mudando a lei para contemplar novas invasões. “O cara invade a terra pública, derruba a floresta, faz lobby para mudar a lei, consegue anistiar a invasão e depois começa tudo de novo. Você cria leis que criam ilegalidades”, resumiu.


Gráfico: Júlia Coelho/The Intercept Brasil

Para o pesquisador, o primeiro a abrir a porteira para a grilagem foi o próprio presidente Lula, do PT, que agora volta ao Planalto. Em 2009, ele assinou a lei que anistiou as invasões de terras ocorridas até 2004 e com até 1,5 mil hectares. Em 2017, o presidente Michel Temer, do MDB, deu mais um incentivo à grilagem ao ampliar o marco temporal para 2011 e o tamanho da área passível de regularização para 2,5 mil hectares.

Em 2019, o presidente Jair Bolsonaro criou a expectativa de uma nova rodada de anistias com a edição da Medida Provisória 910, a MP da Grilagem, que depois de perder a validade acabou por ressurgir na forma de dois projetos de lei patrocinados pela bancada ruralista. Eles aguardam votação no Congresso.

“Isso cria a percepção de que a fronteira do desmatamento está sempre aberta para a expansão”, afirmou Brito.

Esta reportagem faz parte do projeto Ladrões de Floresta, que investiga a grilagem em terras públicas da Amazônia e conta com o apoio da Rainforest Investigations Network, do Pulitzer Center. Confira a primeirasegunda e terceira reportagem da série.

The post Ministério do Meio Ambiente de Bolsonaro abriu mão de defender 8 milhões de hectares na Amazônia, Pantanal e Cerrado appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Destaques retirados da ata da reunião da câmara técnica, realizada em 2020. Destaques retirados da ata da reunião da câmara técnica, realizada em 2020. onca-floresta-desprotegida-site Ministério abriu mão da Ilha do Sararé, no Pantanal mato-grossense, local com maior concentração de onças pintadas do mundo. MAPA-GLEBAS-MMA Glebas das quais o ministério do meio ambiente abriu mão na câmara de destinação, contrariando parecer da equipe técnica, segundo ICMBio. *A reportagem não conseguiu localizar as glebas Paru do Oeste, Erepecuru e Água Azul B-11, B-2, C-1, C-2 E C-3. Banks of the Araguaia river showing sand slopes – fluvial Encostas de areia do rio Araguaia na Ilha do Bananal. Quando o rio baixa, os retireiros levam o gado até as pastagens naturais que brotam na beira do rio. Quando sobe, voltam para suas casas na cidade. Numero-de-UCS-criadas-por-cada-governo Linha do Tempo
<![CDATA[The FBI Paid a Violent Felon to Infiltrate Denver's Racial Justice Movement]]> Tue, 07 Feb 2023 18:54:31 +0000 Mickey Windecker encouraged violence, accused activist leaders of being police cooperators, and tried to draw demonstrators into elaborate stings.

The post The FBI Paid a Violent Felon to Infiltrate Denver’s Racial Justice Movement appeared first on The Intercept.

As racial justice protests broke out nationwide in the summer of 2020, a man driving a silver hearse became a regular at the demonstrations in Denver.

He was a paunchy 5-foot-7 with a ruddy complexion and wore military fatigues with patches on the sleeves. By activist standards, he was an old-timer: pushing 50 as he swaggered through crowds of teens and 20-something protesters, a cigar clamped in his lips.

“I didn’t know much about him, but he drove a hearse,” said Zebbodios “Zebb” Hall, a Black activist in Denver. “Inside this hearse was a lot of guns: AR-15s and all other kinds of shit.”

The driver of the hearse filled with guns was Michael Adam Windecker II. He went by the nickname Mickey and boasted of having been a soldier for the French Foreign Legion and the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force known most recently for battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He claimed to have traveled to those battlefields and trained antifascist activists there in weapons, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives.

“He was just this badass dude talking about how he worked in a foreign military and how he was for the Black Lives Matter movement,” Hall remembered.

Denver was a hot spot during the summer of 2020, with protesters enraged not just by George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis but also by the senseless death of Elijah McClain, who was forcefully subdued by police in 2019 in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and injected with a lethal dose of ketamine.

Trey Quinn, a muscular Black activist with a beard and large-framed glasses, led some Denver protests. One night, after Quinn had addressed a group of demonstrators, several young activists introduced him to Windecker.

“Hey, this guy’s really, really dope. He’s legit. He knows his shit,” Quinn remembered being told by the fresh-faced activists. “You should let him sit in, and he could probably help you out.” Windecker was “really pushy,” Quinn told me, “trying to put himself at the forefront.”

Bryce Shelby, another Black activist, remembered seeing Windecker walking around the protests. He had a GoPro camera strapped to his chest, which Shelby initially thought was suspicious. “He de-escalated any type of suspicion because he would start flashing his prison badge,” Shelby said. “So yeah. You know what I mean? OK, he’s not a fed.”

But Shelby and many other activists in Denver were wrong about the man behind the wheel of the silver hearse. Windecker was a fed. The FBI paid him tens of thousands of dollars in cash to infiltrate and spy on racial justice groups during the summer of 2020.

For the last year, I’ve been investigating Windecker and his work for the FBI. I tell that story in detail in a new 10-episode documentary podcast, “Alphabet Boys,” from Western Sound and iHeartPodcasts. As part of this investigation, I reviewed more than 300 pages of FBI reports and hours of FBI undercover recordings, as well as publicly available videos recorded by Denver demonstrators and by Windecker himself. I also examined dozens of court files related to Windecker’s past and interviewed more than three dozen racial justice activists who encountered Windecker during the summer of 2020.

The FBI declined to comment on Windecker and the investigation in Denver and refused to respond in writing to a list of questions I sent.

Windecker wouldn’t tell me much either. After I left a note at his old apartment south of Denver explaining that I wanted to interview him about his work for the FBI, he called me. “I do not work for the FBI,” he said. “I’ve never worked for the FBI. If you get proof of me working for the FBI, then I’ll say otherwise. But there’s no proof, because I didn’t work for them.”

I explained that I had FBI reports and recordings to the contrary.

“I don’t talk to the press, I don’t talk to politicians, and I don’t talk to police,” Windecker told me, before hanging up.

Windecker became an organizer of Denver’s racial justice demonstrations and ultimately undermined the social movement gaining momentum there.

FBI payment receipt records signed by Windecker show that he was paid more than $20,000 for his work during the summer of 2020, when the FBI aggressively pursued racial justice and left-wing activists based on nothing more than First Amendment-protected activities. The story of the bureau’s infiltration of racial justice activist groups is particularly relevant now, as House Republicans launch a new committee chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, that seems exclusively focused on the FBI’s alleged targeting of right-wing groups.

The FBI’s work in Denver, with Windecker as its eyes and ears on the street, demonstrates the falsity of that narrative.

While on the FBI payroll, Windecker became an organizer of Denver’s racial justice demonstrations and ultimately undermined the social movement gaining momentum there by deploying the same controversial tactics the FBI used to devastating effect against Black political groups during the civil rights movement.

Until now, little has been revealed about the FBI’s actions in the summer of 2020. The Denver undercover probe involving Windecker provides the first look behind the scenes at how the FBI viewed and investigated racial justice groups during that turbulent summer.

Mickey Windecker, sitting in his silver hearse in these stills from FBI undercover video, infiltrated racial justice groups in Denver.

Mickey Windecker, sitting in his silver hearse in these stills from FBI undercover video footage, infiltrated racial justice groups in Denver.

Credit: FBI

“I Got a Song for You Guys”

Any accurate description of Windecker sounds like a cartoon. With tattoos all over his body, a scraggly goatee, garishly large rings on his fingers, and a soggy cigar in his mouth, Windecker was hard to miss as he drove the streets of the Mile High City in his silver hearse.

One rainy summer afternoon after becoming a paid informant, Windecker met with his FBI handler, Special Agent Scott Dahlstrom. The federal agent clicked on a hidden camera device.

“It is August 28, 2020, at approximately 4:02 p.m.,” Dahlstrom said into the FBI recorder before handing it to Windecker. The video is part of more than a dozen hours of FBI recordings I obtained documenting Windecker’s work investigating racial justice activists.

Dahlstrom asked Windecker if he remembered his tasking orders — which involved enticing a Black racial justice activist into committing a felony.

“Yep, I got it,” Windecker said. “Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.”

Windecker walked to his silver hearse, placed the camera on the passenger seat, and started the ignition. Dahlstrom and his FBI colleagues watched the live feed from their black sedan.

“I got a song for you guys,” Windecker said, looking into the camera lens and speaking directly to the FBI agents. He turned up the volume on the silver hearse’s stereo and played “America (Fuck Yeah!),” the theme song from the puppet comedy movie “Team America: World Police”:

America, America

America, fuck yeah!

Comin’ again to save the motherfuckin’ day, yeah

America, fuck yeah!

Freedom is the only way, yeah

Terrorists, your game is through

’Cause now you have to answer to

America, fuck yeah!

As the song ended, Windecker turned to the camera again, as if on a stage, confident that the FBI agents were watching him.

“America,” Windecker said.

The United States of America had become Windecker’s new employer, and the FBI was paying him to spy on activists that summer day as he barreled down the road. According to internal FBI reports I obtained, Windecker began attending demonstrations in May 2020. He witnessed firsthand what millions of Americans saw on their screens at home: protests turning violent, clashes between left-wing and right-wing activists, demonstrators and instigators setting fires and vandalizing storefronts.

Windecker offered to give the FBI information about protesters. In an internal report, the FBI claimed that Windecker’s motivation for becoming an informant was “to fight terrorists” and that he believed “people who participate in violent civil unrest are terrorists.”

Bureau documents detailed Windecker’s history as both an informant and a criminal, with prior arrests in Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Florida.

In their report adding him to the bureau’s more than 15,000 informants, FBI agents described Windecker as something of a good Samaritan — a kind of volunteer Captain America. But that notion was undercut by other bureau documents, which detailed Windecker’s history as both an informant and a criminal, with prior arrests in Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Florida for crimes including sexual assault.

When Windecker was 20, he had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old he met at a roller skating rink. Windecker, who claimed he didn’t know the girl was underage, pleaded the case down to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

In another case, for felony menacing with a weapon in 2001, Windecker stuck a gun in a woman’s face and claimed to be a police officer looking for a suspect. That incident resulted in a felony conviction, and Windecker served two years. While he was in prison, according to FBI internal reports, another inmate tried to hire him to murder someone; instead of committing the crime, Windecker became a cooperating witness and helped convict the people who’d sought to enlist him.

In addition to criminal charges, Windecker has had four protection orders filed against him in Colorado, the most recent in 2021. In a petition for a protection order filed in 2016, a friend of Windecker’s alleged that Windecker had presented a fake police badge and threatened to kill him and his family.

Windecker claimed to have been a fighter for the French Foreign Legion and the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force in Iraq. He often said he had diplomatic immunity in the United States due to his association with the Kurds. In 2015, the Daily Beast reported that he was disliked by other volunteer Peshmerga fighters. One American fighter was reported to have described him as “a compulsive liar.”

I spoke to several volunteers who were with Windecker in Iraq; few of them wanted to be publicly associated with him. One of those fighters told me that Windecker claimed to be a demolitions specialist. “Dude was going around literally cutting wires off of IEDs,” he said, referring to improvised explosive devices, also known as roadside bombs. “So he could have gotten anybody killed in the vicinity.”

Alan Duncan, a Scottish volunteer fighter with the Peshmerga, told me that he hadn’t fought with Windecker but knew his reputation from the other fighters. Windecker was better known for taking pictures with dead bodies, long after the fighting was finished, than for engaging in combat, Duncan told me. “He was floating about taking a few photos with the Pesh,” Duncan said. “It’s easy to claim to be Peshmerga. But claiming to be Peshmerga and actually being Peshmerga are two different things.”

Cassie Windecker, Mickey Windecker’s third ex-wife, told me that during one of his tours with the Peshmerga, Kurdish fighters had contacted her online to say that he was vacationing more than fighting.

When they first started dating, she recalled, Windecker sent her a picture of thousands of dollars in cash spread over a bed. “Do you want to come home to this every day?” Cassie remembered Windecker asking her. She said that she never knew Windecker to hold down a job during their marriage, but he often had a lot of cash in his pockets.

Cassie had long suspected that her husband was secretly working for the police in some capacity. She said she’d seen him visit local police stations to meet with cops. “Why do you have so much money?” Cassie, who was an exotic dancer at the time, would ask him. “I bust my ass, literally, on a pole. What are you doing?” She told me that Windecker would never give her a straight answer.

In July 2017, after she and Windecker separated, Cassie went to the apartment they had once shared to pick up her mail. In the apartment, Windecker allegedly grabbed Cassie by the neck, slammed her down on a table, and stood over her holding a gun. Cassie screamed as she ran out of the apartment; police arrived and arrested Windecker. The responding officers were wearing body cameras, and I obtained those videos. “He slammed me on my back, on the table, like freaking WWE-style,” Cassie told the cops, her voice breaking with fear.

While in jail following that arrest, Windecker revealed his talents as an informant, according to the police body camera footage.

“One of the officers said that you had to speak to me about a murder?” the arresting officer said to Windecker, speaking through the jail cell door about two hours after the arrest.

“Well, here’s the thing,” Windecker replied matter-of-factly. He then offered information about a murder, and the arresting officer told him he’d have to talk to a detective.

“Hang tight, all right?” the officer said as he walked away. The body camera footage then ended.

While in the hospital for her injuries, Cassie said she received a text from Windecker: “Hey bitch, I’m out.”

Cassie said police officers were still taking her statement in the hospital when the text arrived. “And I showed them the text, and they were just like, ‘We don’t know how he’s out,’” she said.

There is no record in Colorado court files of Windecker being charged, and Cassie said she was not contacted by police or prosecutors following her discharge from the hospital.

Three years later, in the summer of 2020, Windecker approached the FBI, claiming to have unique information about racial justice activists.

Participants stand on Lincoln Avenue and taunt Denver Police during a protest outside the State Capitol over the death of George Floyd, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Denver. Protests were held in U.S. cities over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Participants stand on Lincoln Avenue facing Denver police during a protest outside the state Capitol over the death of George Floyd, on May 30, 2020, in Denver.

Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

“We Don’t Investigate Ideology”

As protests broke out in cities like Minneapolis; Denver; and Portland, Oregon, the FBI’s second-in-command, David L. Bowdich, compared the demonstrations to the 9/11 attacks. “When 9/11 occurred, our folks did not quibble about whether there was danger ahead for them,” Bowdich wrote in a memo first obtained by the New York Times. “They ran head-on into peril.” Bowdich described the racial justice demonstrations throughout the country as “a national crisis” whose “violent protesters” were “highly organized.”

Agents suspected these demonstrators could fit into a domestic terrorism ideology the bureau had defined during the first year of the Trump administration as “Black Identity Extremism”: a controversial, widely criticized catchall label for any domestic extremist ideology that drew a Black following. (The FBI has since abandoned the term in favor of a new category called “Racially Motivated Violent Extremism,” which combines white supremacist violence with so-called Black Identity Extremism.)

What’s been publicly known about the federal government’s activity during the summer of 2020 is astonishing: The Justice Department charged hundreds of people for their roles in First Amendment-protected demonstrations; the Department of Homeland Security deployed more than 750 agents, dressed in military-style uniforms, to Portland and abducted demonstrators in unmarked vans; and the Drug Enforcement Administration, using surveillance powers intended to stop drug runners, spied on more than 50 racial justice groups nationwide, among them a peaceful group that held a vigil on a public university campus in Florida.

The official position of the FBI, whose undercover activities during the summer of 2020 have been largely unknown until now, is that agents do not open investigations based on First Amendment-protected activities. “We don’t investigate ideology. We don’t investigate rhetoric,” the FBI’s director, Christopher Wray, told a Senate committee in 2019. “It doesn’t matter how repugnant and how abhorrent or whatever it is.”

But internal reports I obtained suggest otherwise. These documents show that Windecker’s information was about speech, and this apparently justified hiring him as an informant and launching the undercover investigation. He reported that one local activist, Zebb Hall, used incendiary rhetoric in conversations with other demonstrators, claiming that Hall said: “We need to burn this motherfucker down.”

Windecker also secretly recorded a conversation in which Hall spoke vaguely of violent revolution and a desire to train for combat. Windecker encouraged Hall with fantastical claims of training antifascist activists in Iraq and Syria as part of what he called the “Red Star Brigade.”

“My type of training that I do is anything from, like, I teach how to shoot a gun to, you know—”

“Hand-to-hand combat?” Hall interrupted.

“Yeah, hand-to-hand combat all the way to blowing up fucking buildings and guerrilla warfare tactics and sabotage,” Windecker replied.

Windecker, secretly working for the FBI, quickly became well-known among Denver’s most committed activists.

“He came off as maybe being a [rookie], but really being into the movement,” Brian Loma, who livestreamed many of the area’s demonstrations that summer, told me.

One of Loma’s videos from July 2020 shows demonstrators marching down a street in Aurora. “Our streets!” they chant. “Our streets!” Windecker’s slow-moving silver hearse can be seen upfront in the video, clearing the way for the demonstrators.

By the next month, Windecker had become a leader of Denver’s racial justice movement. The demonstrators had given him a nickname: Drill Sergeant.

With his military-style jacket and trademark cigar, he’d strut confidently in front of a line of demonstrators, some dressed in homemade armor.

“I can’t hear you!” Windecker would yell.

“No justice! No peace!” the demonstrators would chant back loudly.

Trey Quinn, one of the organizers of Denver's racial justice demonstrations, speaks on the steps of Denver City Hall on June 29, 2020. Mickey Windecker and the FBI targeted Quinn as part of the undercover probe.

Trey Quinn, one of the organizers of Denver’s racial justice demonstrations, speaks on the steps of Denver City Hall on June 29, 2020. Mickey Windecker and the FBI targeted Quinn as part of the undercover probe.

Photo: Kevin Mohatt/Reuters

“They’re Preparing for a Genuine Battle”

In 1975, a Senate committee led by the late Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho investigated the FBI’s civil rights-era domestic surveillance program known as COINTELPRO. Among the FBI abuses documented by the so-called Church Committee was the practice of informants becoming leaders in the organizations they were surveilling, and then accusing the real leaders of being informants themselves — a subversive technique known as “snitch-jacketing.”

While COINTELPRO no longer exists, some of its methods remain inside the FBI. This is clear from the bureau’s investigation of racial justice activists in Denver during the summer of 2020.

As Windecker gained prominence among the protesters, eventually rising to a leadership role, he was accusing real activists of being FBI informants. These baseless accusations sowed mistrust and undermined some of the most effective organizers in the community.

Trey Quinn, the Black activist leading protests in Denver, was among the first to suspect that Windecker might be an informant. Quinn devised a way to test Windecker: Speaking in hypotheticals, he asked him about burning down a neighborhood. Could we get it done?

“And he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I got the right guy for the job,’” Quinn said. “This is how he’s talking.”

While COINTELPRO no longer exists, some of its methods remain inside the FBI.

Windecker’s enthusiastic response fueled Quinn’s suspicions, but he didn’t have proof, so he didn’t warn other activists then. But Windecker, appearing to view Quinn as a threat to his cover, started telling activists that he suspected Quinn was working for the FBI.

“Mickey seemed super concerned that Trey was an informant,” Hall said. “Then I started getting concerns about it.”

Suddenly, Quinn found himself on the outside. His fellow activists stopped communicating with him. As Quinn was being marginalized, Windecker encouraged protesters to become more militant and go on the offensive against the police.

In late August 2020, Hall went to an apartment that served as a base for Windecker and the young allies he’d recruited. Inside, Hall saw a table covered with guns. “I’m like, ‘Holy fuck,’” Hall recalled.

Another activist, who was with Hall in the apartment but asked not to be named because she fears retribution for speaking publicly, confirmed Hall’s account. “There are guns, weapons, medical supplies, literally looking like they’re preparing for a genuine battle,” she told me.

From August 22 to August 29, 2020, a series of demonstrations in Denver morphed into assaults on police stations, with protesters carrying homemade shields and hurling rocks and fireworks at police. The demonstrators called one of these events “Give ’Em Hell.” More than 70 police officers were injured that week.

The police response was ferocious. Officers in riot gear broke bones and fired pepper balls and rubber bullets. One man was hit in the head with a lead-filled bag fired from a police shotgun. A stingball grenade exploded next to a woman, knocking out her teeth. In the first civil judgment awarded at trial for police brutality in response to protests triggered by the Floyd killing, Denver police were forced last spring to pay $14 million to 12 protesters.

According to more than a dozen activists I spoke to in the Denver area, Windecker, the FBI’s informant, helped organize and promote these protests, which quickly turned violent.

Denver police officers fire canisters to disperse a protest outside the State Capitol over the Monday death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver police officers fire canisters to disperse a protest outside the state Capitol, May 28, 2020, in Denver.

Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

“You Need to Have an Objective”

A pervasive social media and cable news narrative in the summer of 2020 was that racial justice and antifascist activists were becoming increasingly violent and destructive.

“The violence and vandalism is being led by antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” President Donald Trump said. Right-wing news media reinforced and amplified that message. “Violent young men with guns will be in charge,” Tucker Carlson told his large audience on Fox News, adding: “You will not want to live here when that happens.”

Michael German, a former FBI agent, watched from his home in California as this narrative took hold. “It was frustrating for me to see how ably — usually that’s not a term that you use when you’re referencing former President Trump — but how ably he was able to make this boogeyman out of antifa,” German, now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, told me.

According to FBI files and videos, Windecker’s mandate from the FBI wasn’t just to provide information about racial justice protesters — though his “intelligence” about activists filled dozens of reports — but also to try to set up protesters in a conspiracy that would have supported Trump’s claims.

On orders from the FBI, Windecker targeted two Black activists: Hall, whose incendiary rhetoric Windecker had first reported to his handlers; and Bryce Shelby, a slender man with a reputation for giving fiery speeches with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Windecker invited both men to lunch in late August 2020 at a barbecue restaurant. Windecker said he’d brought them together because they were “talking about the same shit,” by which Windecker meant the prospect of protests turning violent. Windecker told them he had a friend — “an outlaw biker buddy” — who could supply whatever they needed, including weapons.

“You need to have an objective of what you’re gonna do,” Windecker told the two men. “If Bryce is planning on like, ‘OK, I want to blow up a motherfuckin’ courthouse,’ I need to know what the game plans are.”

But Windecker’s operation in Denver failed to generate a headline-grabbing conspiracy. Hall declined to participate in a violent plot. Windecker introduced Shelby to his supposed outlaw biker buddy — an FBI undercover agent who went by the nickname “Red” — and together they drove to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s home. As a hidden camera recorded them, the undercover agent encouraged Shelby to commit to a plot to assassinate Weiser, and even suggested they could hire a hitman for as little as $500. Still, Shelby refused to move forward with any plans and immediately cut off contact with Windecker and the undercover agent. Although Shelby was not charged with a crime, local prosecutors used the FBI’s undercover recordings to convince a judge to seize Shelby’s guns under Colorado’s red flag law.


Zebbodios “Zebb” Hall was among the Denver activists who became close to Mickey Windecker, not knowing he was a paid FBI informant.

Photo: Trevor Aaronson

“I Was Just Afraid of Him”

A week after trying to rope Hall and Shelby into a violent plot, Windecker had drawn enough suspicion that an antifascist activist group in Colorado Springs, south of Denver, posted a Twitter thread detailing its concerns. “Be careful around this dude,” the group wrote on Twitter. “Probably wise not to let him in your protest space.”

Although the group didn’t have evidence that Windecker was an informant, the public allegation threatened to damage his cover. Activists in Colorado took the claim seriously.

“You heard through different groups: ‘Kick his ass on sight.’ ‘Fuck him.’ ‘Don’t let him around the groups,’” Hall remembered.

Windecker gathered his allies, including Hall, at the apartment in Denver where activists had seen the table covered with guns. Windecker wanted to record a video and post it to YouTube in response to the allegations. He created a stage for the video: a flag for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and an AR-15-style assault rifle propped against the wall behind him, and, on the table before him, a ball-peen hammer and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

“He had a cigar and was acting all tough,” Hall said.

After an anti-fascist group in Colorado accused him of being an informant, Mickey Windecker posted a video response to YouTube in which he denied the accusation. "I will be polite and professional, but I have a plan to kill everybody in the fucking room if need to be," Windecker threatened.

After an antifascist group in Colorado accused him of being an informant, Mickey Windecker posted a video response to YouTube in which he denied the accusation. “I will be polite and professional, but I have a plan to kill everybody in the fucking room if need to be,” Windecker threatened.

Credit: YouTube

Wearing a custom-made black Punisher T-shirt, Windecker stared into the camera.

“This propaganda shit you guys posted doesn’t mean fuck all to me,” Windecker said in his gravelly voice, sounding furious. “But understand this: I will be polite and professional, but I have a plan to kill everybody in the fucking room if need to be … If you’re trying to implicate that I’m a fucking snitch, check this out. Three things I ain’t: a punk, I ain’t a bitch, and I ain’t a fucking snitch.”

Watching as Windecker recorded the video, Hall was struck by how defensive he seemed. He finally accepted what he’d long thought impossible: Windecker, the activist leader encouraging everyone to become more militant, must be a secret government informant.

That created a problem for Hall. Windecker had given Hall money days earlier and asked him to buy a gun. Hall had agreed and bought a Smith & Wesson handgun for Windecker, despite knowing that Windecker was a convicted felon. Hall didn’t think he had a choice in the transaction. He believed that Windecker, who made the looming prospect of violence part of his identity, would come after him if he refused. “I was just afraid of him,” Hall explained. “I was fucking terrified of this guy.”

After he made the video, Windecker and his silver hearse disappeared. In July 2021, nearly a year after he’d bought the gun for Windecker, federal agents arrested Hall. He pleaded guilty to a felony firearms violation — for buying a gun, with the government’s money, for the government’s informant — and received three years of probation. That was the extent of the plot Windecker and the FBI succeeded in engineering among the racial justice activists that summer.

Many of the activist groups in Denver have splintered or disbanded. There was a lot of distrust. Activists there told me they suspected government agents had infiltrated the groups to encourage the violence that occurred, but until now, they’d never had proof.

“The FBI caused violence here,” Hall said. “They don’t want people to know that.”

The post The FBI Paid a Violent Felon to Infiltrate Denver’s Racial Justice Movement appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Windecker-in-Hearse Mickey Windecker, sitting in his silver hearse in these stills from FBI undercover video, infiltrated racial justice groups in Denver. Minneapolis Police Death Protests Denver Participants stand on Lincoln Avenue and taunt Denver Police during a protest outside the State Capitol over the death of George Floyd, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Denver. Trey Quinn addresses a crowd of concerned citizens who gathered at the steps of Denver City Hall after city council canceled a planned council meeting stating concerns with social distancing after Black Lives Matter groups organized citizens to sign up fo Trey Quinn, one of the organizers of Denver's racial justice demonstrations, speaks on the steps of Denver City Hall on June 29, 2020. Mickey Windecker and the FBI targeted Quinn as part of the undercover probe. Minneapolis Police Death Denver Protest Denver police officers fire canisters to disperse a protest outside the State Capitol, May 28, 2020, in Denver. zebb-hall Zebbodios "Zebb" Hall was among the Denver activists who became close to Mickey Windecker, not knowing he was a paid FBI informant. Windecker-YouTube-Video-embed After an anti-fascist group in Colorado accused him of being an informant, Mickey Windecker posted a video response to YouTube in which he denied the accusation. "I will be polite and professional, but I have a plan to kill everybody in the fucking room if need to be," Windecker threatened.
<![CDATA[How a Grassroots Revolt in the Iconic Retirement Community Ended With a 72-Year-Old Political Prisoner]]> Mon, 06 Feb 2023 01:37:43 +0000 A slate of reformers unleashed the fury of the Florida GOP and its business elite, and left two men facing garbage felony charges.

The post How a Grassroots Revolt in the Iconic Retirement Community Ended With a 72-Year-Old Political Prisoner appeared first on The Intercept.

The trouble began in 2019 when residents of The Villages were suddenly hit with a 25 percent hike in their property taxes. In the master-planned retirement community of 130,000 across Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties in central Florida, many are on fixed incomes. The math they had done in plotting out their golden years had not accounted for a massive jump in taxes.

If the new taxes were intended to cover new amenities or upgrades for the Villagers, perhaps a hike would be worth the sacrifice. But the money was instead destined to subsidize further sprawl south of The Villages, ultimately benefitting the entity known locally either as “the developer” or “the family,” which could then escape paying the fees associated with the impact of their development.

“This place has grown like crazy,” said Oren Miller, who would go on to run for a seat on the county commission. “The developers pay no impact fees for schools, for fire, for EMS, for police, for parks and recreation, for government buildings. The only impact fees they do pay are for roads, and they only pay 40 percent of the recommended amount.”

The developer is a spaghetti bowl of LLCs doing business collectively as The Villages, which is still owned by the Morse family, descendants of Harold Schwartz, who founded what became the community in the 1970s as a trailer park. The family owns the robust local newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun; owns the radio station, which pipes Fox News and right-leaning updates through speakers in common areas and at pools; owns the glossy magazine; and also owns local politics.

But a group of fed-up Villagers decided to fight back through the only remotely democratic chink left in the armor of The Villages, the county commission. The deck was stacked against candidates challenging the family and its allies, but there still had to be elections. Backed by the Property Owners’ Association, three Villagers stepped up to run: Craig Estep, Oren Miller, and Gary Search. They ran as a ticket under the clever moniker EMS, promising to rescue The Villages.


A photograph of Oren Miller

Photo: Courtesy of Angie Fox

All three had moved south for the same reason as their neighbors: to retire and live the good Florida life. Miller had never been involved in politics before retiring, while Search had been a commissioner in South Whitehall Township in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, as well as a public school guidance counselor. Estep, a longtime Texan, had a successful career in emergency response management. The three ran as Republicans in opposition to the tax increase, arguing that businesses that profit from the development should instead shoulder the burden with an impact fee. They also vowed to reverse an initiative that had made it easier for the family to keep control of local politics and thereby return some power to rural areas outside the community. And Miller, whose wife was a committed opponent of the local high-kill animal shelter, added a promise to bring a no-kill shelter to The Villages, which won the support of the area’s animal rights supporters, concerned about what might happen to lost pets. While the population of The Villages had exploded, the capacity of the shelter system remained the same.

The amount of money at stake was eye-watering, well into the hundreds of millions for the developer. The Villages did more than $2 billion in revenue in 2021 alone, according to a Florida trade publication.

Contractors for the developer, led by the firm T&D, which primarily works for The Villages, swooped in to fund the campaigns of the incumbents who had enacted the tax increase, lavishing close to $200,000 on them, but it wasn’t enough. In November 2020, the EMS slate won in a landslide, giving them a 3-2 majority on the commission.

EMS immediately faced an onslaught from the Daily Sun, which portrayed the new commissioners as borderline communists set to destroy The Villages’ way of life. The paper accused them of “championing a reversal of the county’s longstanding pro-business strategy.”

A top official with The Villages made clear to the commissioners how rough a road they were about to go down, Search later told a meeting of the Property Owners’ Association. The day he was elected, he said, “I had a higher-up here at The Villages put his finger in my face and say, ‘Search, just remember one thing: I’m a big person, you’re a little person. I can squash you anytime I want.’”

“I said, is that a threat? And he said no, it’s a promise.” Search was later asked about his charge in a deposition and reaffirmed under oath that it happened.

The higher-up was Gary Lester, vice president of community relations for The Villages, Search separately told at least four other Villagers. Lester has been appointed to numerous boards by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and served on the commission that vets judicial nominations. (Asked if it was indeed Lester who issued the threat, Search told me, “I’m not going to say it was, but I’m not going to say it wasn’t. People know who it is.”)

Lester told Search that he had the personal phone number for DeSantis, telling him he could get the governor on the horn at any moment, Search later told his fellow commissioner Miller, according to Miller. “He indicated that he has the personal phone number of Ron DeSantis and can reach him at any point in time he deems that necessary,” Search confirmed. Lester did not respond to emails or messages left with his assistant.

Cracks formed early, with Estep, who became chair, drawing fire for going wobbly on the size of the impact fee needed, and the speed with which they could do the property tax rollback. But the trio quickly moved to make their campaign promises reality. By a 3-2 vote in March 2021, they hit businesses with a 75 percent increase in impact fees — less than what Miller and Search wanted, but a substantial amount nonetheless — to cover the cost of future development. There was no good reason, they argued, for residents to subsidize the cost of further development for the Morse family. If the family wanted to expand The Villages, they could fund it themselves. Estep didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.

It seemed like an open-and-shut case of democracy in action: Residents had banded together to make their voice heard and changed the direction of their community, rejecting a cozy arrangement between the area’s political and business elites. Next up was the property tax rollback.

None of that, of course, could be allowed.

The first counterpunch came in January 2021, from Tallahassee, with a push for statewide legislation that would block local officials from significantly increasing impact fees. The Villages had an ally in the right place. In 2018, Brett Hage, then the president of T&D, the main contractor, had been elected to the state House, beating his opponent — Oren Miller — by some 40 percentage points in the Republican stronghold. After his election, The Villages hired Hage directly, paying him $141,000 the first year and $350,000 the next, according to his disclosures, as vice president for residential development. (Previous disclosures had not included such income.)

On January 9, 2021, Hage, still on The Villages’ payroll, introduced legislation to block the proposed impact fee hike. On June 4, 2021, DeSantis signed the bill into law. The governor and the Morse family have close ties, with DeSantis frequently visiting for fundraisers, and The Villages and its executives bankrolling DeSantis. Crucially for The Villages, the law was retroactive.

The Daily Sun spiked the football. “The Estep-Miller-Search tax increase dismissed the warnings of economists, business owners and community leaders,” its report on the bill’s passage reads. “This law is a big win for new businesses and homeowners in Sumter County, where three newly elected commissioners reneged on a promise to study road impact fees over the summer and instead raised them by 75% last month.”

The article is broken into sections that leave readers no doubt how the Daily Sun feels about the commissioners and their tax hike: “Law stymies freshmen commisssioners,” [sic] followed by “Conservatives lead charge,” “Understanding economic therory,” [sic] and “Locals applaud new law.”

Meanwhile, Hage had gotten a hefty raise. His 2021 disclosure shows his pay had jumped to $925,096 in the year leading up to Hage introducing the legislation. Though his state House pay is only $29,697 a year, his net worth, according to those same disclosures, had climbed from less than $900,000 to $2.2 million — a total of nearly a million and a half dollars since getting elected to office. In April 2022, Hage announced he wouldn’t be running for a third term. His work in Tallahassee was done.

If the pushback from The Villages, aided by DeSantis, had ended there, it would represent a brazen flow of cash from a developer directly to the personal bank account of a state lawmaker, who passed legislation saving the developer hundreds of millions and instead spreading the costs to tens of thousands of Floridians. If that was all it was, it would be an outsized, unusually lucrative version of politics-as-usual that many cynics expect from their lawmakers, even if they shake their head at it while reading the paper.

But it didn’t stop there. In fact, it only escalated.

On January 30, 2023, a gaunt, 72-year-old Oren Miller — by then a former commissioner, ousted from his seat by a DeSantis decree — was brought handcuffed into the Marion County Courthouse. He had lost 20-plus pounds in the 75 days he spent jailed awaiting sentencing on a felony charge for, essentially, nothing. Or, perhaps more accurately, for fighting back against a powerful, well-heeled ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“It’s a very complicated story,” Angie Fox, Miller’s wife, told me when I first reached out to her. But it’s also a simple one. “Bottom line, he is a political prisoner.”


Angie Fox outside her home on Jan. 14, 2023, in The Villages, Fla.

Photo: Elise Swain/The Intercept

The governing structure of The Villages would be familiar to anybody who has lived under the thumb of an aggressively run American homeowners association, complete with its busybodies, covenants, restrictions, and the type of infighting iconically portrayed in “Seinfeld”’s fictional Del Boca Vista, the retirement community of Jerry’s parents. Del Boca Vista, like The Villages, had its own newspaper, The Boca Breeze.

Oren Miller moved to The Villages about a decade ago, after 40 years at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet, Illinois. His grandfather and father had worked at the same plant, and Miller had risen to logistics manager. But by his 60s, he’d had enough. He retired “on a Thursday and left Friday morning,” he later told investigators.

“My goal nine or 10 years ago was to retire, come down here, golf three days a week, watch some TV, read some books, mind my own business,” he said. “Then about five years ago, I decided to get actively involved in what was going on in the county, and I still golf two or three days a week.”

In the summer of 2018, Michael Grunwald, reporting for Politico magazine, traveled to The Villages and happened to interview Miller. Miller was just becoming involved in local politics, deciding to run for state representative. He told Grunwald that he had recently been talking to neighbors at a block party, and he mentioned to them how nice it was that a Black neighbor of theirs had taken it upon herself to pick up litter on her daily walk. It was something to be emulated and admired, he thought. “People responded with pure racism,” Miller told Grunwald. “I thought we were past that in America.”

The magazine noted that he and his wife had founded the group Lost Pets of The Villages that would try to connect lost pets with their owners before the kill shelter found adoptive homes or else euthanized them, as it would do as a matter of policy within days. The magazine also reported that Miller, alongside his state representative campaign, became commander of the Community Emergency Response Team, a group of residents who’d quickly respond in the event of a health emergency for another Villager. “I’m doing a very bad job of minding my own business,” he said at the time.

The developers were largely able to pick the commissioners.

Miller knew going in that, with power vested in a network of corporations acting in coordination with a political party and with control of the media, democratic decision-making potential is extremely limited. Even the area’s county commission had been tweaked to benefit The Villages by a clever bit of election reform. When the community got started, it needed significant upfront investments in infrastructure, something the existing population was uninterested in subsidizing. The wealthier Marion County to the north effectively kept the The Villages out, but the developers were able to make their moves in Sumter County. The company backed a ballot initiative called One Sumter that reorganized the county commission: No longer would each area of the county have a representative on the board. Instead, every commissioner would be elected countywide. With the Daily Sun trumpeting the measure, The Villages muscled through the reform, and in the elections hence, the developers were largely able to pick the commissioners, with the rural areas outside The Villages effectively disenfranchised.

Miller knew he never had a shot against any Republican for state House but ran for the experience. Brett Hage beat him in a blowout in the 2018 election, 70 to 30 percent. But the next year, when The Villages successfully muscled through its property tax increase, Miller decided to run for county commission.


Residents enjoy an outdoor street fair at Lake Sumter Landing in The Villages on Jan. 14, 2023.

Photo: Elise Swain/The Intercept

To understand how Miller went from newly elected commissioner to under investigation by a Florida state attorney, a little background about Florida’s sunshine laws is required.

The state prides itself in its government transparency laws: the Government in the Sunshine Act and the Public Records Act. The Sunshine Act contains two relevant principles for Miller’s saga: County commissioners are not permitted to discuss county business privately with other commissioners; they can only do so publicly at official meetings. And the commissioners may not use a “third-party conduit” for those communications either. The commissioners were sworn in on November 2020 and received a series of trainings on sunshine laws over the next several months.

On February 16, 2021, the county board met at The Villages Sumter County Service Center. The main order of business was a recommendation by the county administrator, Bradley Arnold, that the commission not raise impact fees on businesses but instead negotiate a voluntary impact fee from the developer. The idea was voted down 4-1, according to minutes from the meeting.

As a final order of business, Miller turned to a simmering war between local animal rights advocates — of which he and his wife were two — and supporters of the local kill shelter. He proposed a reconciliation group be formed, and suggested Gary Search as the mediator, based on Search’s background in psychology. (Search is from Allentown, Pennsylvania, as am I, and coincidentally was my sister’s guidance counselor before he retired and moved to The Villages, though I never met Search before reporting on this story.)

“This is news to him, I’m blindsiding him with this,” Miller said of his nomination of Search at the hearing.

“Yes, you are,” Search said, sounding exasperated.

“If you don’t wanna do it, I’m OK. I’m saying he’s got a background in mediation and negotiating, and there’s some strong personalities in that group,” Miller said — referring to a group that included his wife, Angie Fox.

After some discussion among the board members, the county administrator, Arnold, interjected. “There’s a conflict that’s associated with sunshine law issues,” Arnold announced. “The problem that we had was, I had a meeting with Commissioner Search, and he relayed his conversation with Angie Fox that was advocating for this very solution to be presented to the board.”

Arnold, in other words, was accusing Miller of having communicated with Search about the proposal via his wife, in alleged violation of the Government in the Sunshine Act — a conspiracy to break the law in order to create a reconciliation committee aimed at cooling tensions around a high-kill shelter.

Arnold unspooled the evidence he had collected about the conspiracy. “I then had a directive email from Commissioner Miller that said go and do this and use Commissioner Search for that specific purpose,” Arnold continued. “That indicates clearly that Angie Fox is a conduit of communication between two commissioners, which is a violation of open records.”

Arnold said the committee idea should be put on hold awaiting a potential investigation. And he all but encouraged somebody in the audience to file a complaint, and two of them did. “My concern is that, where you have something that unfortunately I became a witness to a violation, that becomes an ethics-related issue,” Arnold said. “If that is filed by someone and the investigation occurs, my concern is, is that you may want to wait until that activity has happened and an investigation has been concluded before you’re involved in anything involving Angie Fox, who’s currently acting as a conduit.”

That, at least, was Arnold’s version of events.

Behind the scenes, however, not only was Arnold already aware that Miller would bring the idea to the board, but Arnold himself — according to an email he sent to the county attorney that was obtained by The Intercept — had also directly encouraged Miller to do so.

On February 11, 2021, Miller had written to Arnold about his idea, according to emails obtained through an open records request by Fox. “I was out golfing today and Angie talked to Commissioner Search,” he wrote. “I don’t know what the conversation was, and I don’t want to know. I just know his background would come in handy to act as a mediator. I don’t know if he would be willing to do this or not, but I think he would.”

“That is a good thought, but I will need Board direction,” Arnold responded, suggesting a future date.

Arnold forwarded it to the county attorney, Jennifer Rey. “I am asking that he bring this issue to the Board,” he said.

“It was a setup,” Fox concluded.

Arnold, in an interview with The Intercept, said that his intervention in the meeting kicked off the resulting investigation. “That’s what ultimately led to the complaint with the State Attorney’s Office,” he said.

“It was a setup.”

Arnold had a backup plan if Miller didn’t bring it up. “If that had not been raised by him at the meeting, it was the plan of the county attorney to share how dangerously close the commissioners are coming to a potential open meetings violation,” Arnold told me. “But before [the county attorney] could provide that support, [Miller] had already proceeded. And then that basically met all of the conditions from my concern that I had raised with the county attorney.”

In other words, Arnold was planning to bring up an allegation of open records violation whether Miller brought up his proposal or not.

But when I asked Arnold if he had encouraged Miller to bring the issue to the board, he flatly denied having done so. “No, absolutely not,” he said.

Presented with the email, Arnold said, “That communication preceded my discovery of the open meetings issue which is covered in the meeting minutes.” However, Miller’s own email alerted Arnold to the fact that his wife and Search had spoken, adding that he didn’t know what they spoke about. Arnold later told Search, according to Search’s testimony, that he had tried to discourage Miller from bringing it up, but no evidence supports that claim. Arnold “said he was disappointed that [Miller] brought it up because he felt his conversation with Mr. Miller indicated that he should not bring it up,” Search said.

A third complaint was filed by former Circuit Court Judge George G. Angeliadis, who had put his name forward to DeSantis in August 2020 for a state Supreme Court opening. That complaint was even more absurd than the other two: Angeliadis had filed an open records request for the documents associated with an animal rights Facebook group run by Fox. Fox explained that the group was public, and Angeliadis could view any of it he liked. He demanded printouts of the entire page, and Fox’s attorney told him she would gladly do so but would need to charge a standard per-page and per-hour rate. He declined and filed a Public Records Act complaint instead, leading to a back-and-forth interrogation of Miller by the local prosecutors over the nature of a Facebook page versus a group. It later came up in court as evidence of Miller’s evasiveness.

Oddly, the three complaints bypassed typical ethics procedures and went directly to Republican State Attorney Bill Gladson. (A more appropriate venue would be the state ethics commission, housed in Tallahassee.) At that point, Miller and Search were on extremely unfavorable terrain. Gladson himself had been elected under unusual circumstances. Just before the deadline to file for reelection in 2020, long serving GOP State Attorney Brad King said that he would not be running for reelection. Gladson’s deputy was ready with his paperwork, and voilà, he became the area’s top prosecutor unopposed.

Also unusually, Gladson took personal control of the rather minor complaints, which, again, focused on the question of whether Fox was acting as a conduit between the two commissioners. In August, Gladson and a team of prosecutors interviewed Search. Estep was also invited to answer questions, but he declined, and the prosecutors never followed up. Citing a potential appeal, Gladson declined to comment on the prosecution.


Angie Fox kisses Jaydon, one of her dogs, at home on Jan. 14, 2023, in The Villages, Fla.

Photo: Elise Swain/The Intercept

A transcript of Search’s interrogation reveals a room full of Florida men struggling with the peculiar concept of a woman acting independently of her husband. Fox, Search told, had been warned by Miller multiple times that there were concerns that she was acting as a conduit for him, and that she should be careful in how she talked to commissioners. But Fox insisted that she was a taxpayer and entitled to lobby her commissioners on behalf of the cause she cared about most deeply: ending the high-kill shelter’s slaughter of local animals.

Search told investigators about a call he had after a January board meeting in which he had declined to second a motion from her husband, Miller, about a new pet tethering ordinance he was suggesting. The investigators asked how long they had spoken. “Ms. Fox does not talk for a short period of time. I can’t tell you how long it went,” he said, but added that he told her, “You’re Commissioner Miller’s wife, we should not be talking.”

She told him, “I’m not calling you about Commissioner Miller as a wife, I’m calling you as the president of the Lost Pets of The Villages and I’m calling you as a constituent,” Search recalled. “I said, OK, I’ll listen,” Search said. “She just ranted for a while about tethering and things like that.” During the conversation, Fox had mentioned an idea for a reconciliation group to ease the tensions, and Search passed on word to the county administrator, Bradley Arnold, and the county attorney, Jennifer Rey, about the conversation. About two weeks later, in an email to Arnold, Miller proposed a different version of a group, this one with Search moderating it. That’s when Arnold suggested he bring it up at a board meeting.

That may be too much detail, but it’s worth understanding the context that led to the complaint, which itself led to the interrogation about Fox acting as a conduit between the two. During Search’s interrogation, one prosecutor asked Search if he thought Fox was acting of her own volition. “From your seat and from your perspective, is he asking her/telling her to knock it off, or is he using her as a conduit?”

“In my speculation, and it’s pure speculation of watching this the last, I’ll say, year before the election until now, is that Angie is a tremendously free spirit who no male is going to tell her — including a husband — what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and what to say. And a husband who is not going to go down that path,” Search answered.

“I get it,” said the prosecutor.

“No, you really wouldn’t get it unless you really met her,” Search said.

“I don’t think my wife is a conduit for me. I might be a conduit for her.”

In October, Miller was subpoenaed by the state attorney, despite repeatedly attempting to schedule a meeting in response to an invitation. The subpoena added to the breathless coverage in the Daily Sun.

Under oath, he told Bill Gladson the same thing as Search. His wife was her own woman. “I don’t think my wife is a conduit for me. I might be a conduit for her. She was the big animal rights advocate to begin with and I’m kind of supporting her on those issues. She brought those concerns to me, not me to her,” he tried to explain.

The prosecutors expressed confusion. “For the life of me I can’t understand why you don’t see that this was clearly a conduit situation; I mean, you know all about the positions she’s on, you know about the emails she’s sent, you know she’s having communications with other county commissioners because you’ve seen these emails,” said one prosecutor.

“Right,” said Miller, “but she’s a voter, she’s a taxpayer. She’s not telling me how to vote or what to vote or — she’s not controlling me, she’s trying to be a citizen and a voter and a constituent.”

Apparently recognizing the cul-de-sac they’d found themselves in, prosecutors never went forward with the conduit charge.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on the coronavirus crisis during an appearance at the drive-through testing site at The Villages, Fla., Polo Club, Monday, March 23, 2020. The testing site is being operated by UF Health, with University of Florida medical students performing the tests. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at The Villages on March 23, 2020.

Photo: Joe Burbank/TNS via Getty Images

In mid-October 2021, Ron DeSantis returned to The Villages for his 20th visit since becoming governor. He had even signed the state’s budget at The Villages. He was there this time to award the county a $6 million grant for road improvements.

Search saw Gary Lester, The Villages vice president who had previously promised to squash him like a bug, and reached out to shake his hand. “Get away from me, you liar,” Lester told him, Search recalled. He waited until after the event and asked him why he had said that.

“Why would you even do that as a fellow Christian brother?” Search asked.

“Don’t get religious with me,” Lester replied, according to Search, who asked again what he was trying to say.

“You’re gonna find out soon enough why you’re a liar,” Search said Lester told him. “And I said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Lester, but I haven’t lied about anything.’ And he said, ‘You’re gonna find out.’ And I kind of just took that tongue in cheek, like, OK, I’m not gonna get anywhere with this person.” At lunch after the event, he said, he told Bradley Arnold about the exchange, and Arnold told him not to worry about it, that Lester was just unhappy that Search was on the commission. (Arnold didn’t respond to request for comment on that exchange.) Search was disturbed enough by the encounter that he told his friend Gilbert Windsor from New Covenant United Methodist Church about it that evening, Windsor told me.

In December, Search would come to suspect what Lester seemed to be hinting at. Prosecutors had instead decided to charge both Search and Miller with perjury, saying they lied about the nature of their phone calls with each other. “I never put two and two together until two months later when you get the phone call,” he said, describing the moment he learned he was being charged with perjury. “And it’s like, wait a second, how would he — he had to have known? And why in the world would the state attorney be talking to him?” (Gladson declined to comment.)

Search and Miller, phone records showed, spoke somewhat frequently from November 2020 to February 2021. And, they readily admitted, they had occasionally discussed commission business before they were fully trained and understood that doing so ran afoul of sunshine laws.

The transcript of Gladson’s interview with Miller includes the supposed crime he is convicted of committing:

Miller: We got elected in November, the phone calls probably stopped in January or February when we all realized that could be an issue.

Gladson: Got it.

Miller: So I can’t give you the exact date they stopped, but it was somewhere in there.

Another prosecutor added: “Of more concern, sir, is that I asked you — I think a specific question: Do you have phone conversations with Mr. Search?”

Miller: Yes.

Prosecutor: OK.

Miller: I did.

Prosecutor: After January?

Miller: No.

Miller’s “no” to “After January?” would be used as the basis for a perjury charge, despite his having said multiple times elsewhere in the interview that he’s uncertain about when the calls stopped.

Gadson and his deputies showed Miller some phone records, showing calls in January, and also one on February 17, and another in March, and asked what they were about.

“In all honesty, I do not know what it was about, I don’t.”

“But you had phone conversations with him?”

“Yes, I promise you we had phone calls.”

“So it could have been county business?”

“We did not discuss anything the county was working on, anything we voted on or anything we were going to vote on, or anything that was coming up in front of us,” Miller said.

“Well, how do you know? You don’t remember what the phone calls were about.”

“Because we know from the ethics training we couldn’t do that,” Miller explained.

In the moment, Miller said he didn’t remember what most of the calls were about, and prosecutors didn’t show him a calendar or give him any heads up that might have let him cross-check his schedule. But some of the calls, Miller recalled, were about a golf outing. Some were to arrange who was going to bring apple fritters from Dough J’s for the staff at meetings. (The fritters took up an inordinate amount of time in Miller’s interrogation. Dough J’s was way out of the way, so the pickups had to be coordinated.) Some of the calls, he said, were about church functions or Covid relief. But none, after their training, were about active commission business, he said.

Scott Fenstermaker, a retired attorney and former FBI agent who lives in The Villages, knows both Search and Miller, and would talk to them about county business, he told me. “They would both say, don’t tell me what these other guys have said to me because I don’t want people to think you’re a conduit,” Fenstermaker said. “They were being very careful to observe the Sunshine Act.”

Miller’s lawyer later noted in a motion to vacate the conviction that Miller readily admitted to having violated the Sunshine Act, at least until January and February — undermining the idea that he lied to avoid implicating himself in breaking the law. The perjury charge, in other words, concerned when the calls stopped, but that fact is actually irrelevant to the question of whether they violated the law. And, again, prosecutors never charged either Miller or Search with violating any sunshine laws.

DeSantis stepped in and issued executive orders removing them from the commission.

Yet in December 2021, Gladson charged both commissioners with felony perjury, punishable by up to five years in prison. DeSantis stepped in and issued executive orders removing them from the commission.

“Two things are happening here: intimidation and humiliation,” Search said in January 2022, addressing The Villages’ Property Owners’ Association. “The second thing is … to intimidate any other candidate from running against the local government that they’ve controlled for so long.”

Throughout the whole episode, the Daily Sun routinely published Search’s and Miller’s mugshots. And the opposition to The Villages’ political machine was quickly eroding. Cliff Weiner, president of the Property Owners’ Association, spoke after Search. “I had a lot of people who were lined up to run in 2022 for the two seats that were open. Andrew is the only one who’s still standing,” he said, referring to a candidate in the audience Search had pointed out. “And some people that were gonna run in 2024 in other offices, slowly but surely they’re all dropping. They don’t want to go through what Gary and Oren are going through right now. That’s a sad state of affairs that we live in a community that people are afraid to run because if you win, you’re on the wrong side.”

“I’m also very disappointed in our governor,” Search added. “He made a financial move, but I think a very terrible political move. Hopefully when these charges are dropped, because they are all false, I hope the governor and I have a long talk.”

Soon, Search and Miller were drowning in legal bills. Search also had surgery scheduled, plus his medication schedule made a prison term less than ideal. He cut a deal with prosecutors to testify at Miller’s trial in exchange for avoiding prison and ending the legal battle. The deal barred him from for running for office for six months, blocking him from the next election.

But Search’s testimony was not, in the end, damning to Miller. Search confirmed that the two of them had spoken by phone after January or February, but they weren’t discussing commission business. They would, for instance, coordinate on who would bring which snacks to a meeting. Search did admit to bringing up the no-kill kennel plan with Miller sometime in the summer of 2021, cutting against their claims that they stopped discussing county matters privately after January or February. But that conversation didn’t happen by phone, so it isn’t relevant to the perjury charge.

Miller’s jury was empaneled on November 14, 2022, by Judge Anthony Tatti, who had previously put his name forward to DeSantis, hoping for an elevation to the state Supreme Court. The judge did two things. First, he empaneled the jury on a Monday but delayed the trial until Friday. Then he told them that under no circumstances should they go home and read coverage of the case in the local Daily Sun. Doing so might bias them, he said.

Miller’s attorney, Dock Blanchard, was flabbergasted, and later objected, showing the judge the biased coverage that he had elevated to the jury’s attention. “This is a newspaper, not a motion,” the judge told him, overruling his objection.

Not a single prosecution witness presented evidence that Search and Miller had talked about commission business on the phone after the time they said the calls stopped. But the existence of the calls themselves — perhaps coupled with relentless Daily Sun coverage — was sufficient circumstantial evidence to convict, the jury of six found.

Miller was floored. His attorney asked that he be allowed to go free on bond to await sentencing, but the judge rejected it, sending the 72-year-old out of the courtroom in handcuffs on the afternoon of November 18.


The Village’s local newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun, on Jan. 31, 2023.

Photo: Ryan Grim/The Intercept

Two and a half months later, and some 20 pounds lighter, Miller was back before Tatti for sentencing. The Daily Sun had run a front-page story that morning on the sentencing, calling Miller a “convicted felon.” Dozens of his friends and supporters packed the courtroom as Miller, cuffed again, was escorted in. He was hunched over, now bearded, wearing an orange-and-white striped jumpsuit.

The last 74 days had been an ordeal. There are about 1,800 people in the county’s lockup facility; Miller was in a pod with 80, he said, but there were just 56 seats for meals. On his first day, a jailmate offered to adopt him and get him a seat at meals in exchange for some of his food, a bargain he eagerly accepted. On the second day, he said, he won protection from a gang leader. “Oren Miller, you are protected in here because you’re a senior citizen,” the man said, according to Miller. “‘But understand, don’t cross any lines.’ … And so I minded my p’s and q’s.” Violence broke out regularly, Miller recounted, and he watched two men beaten nearly to death. He moved to try to break up the first fight, but two men held him back, explaining that if he got involved, he’d be called later as a witness, and you don’t want to be a witness against somebody who sleeps in the same open room as you. So he let them fight.

Miller went days without his heart or thyroid medication, and grew weak and dizzy. Complaining of chest pain, he was eventually given an EKG, which the staff told him showed no problems. “My EKG hasn’t been good in 15 years,” he said. “I will never have a good EKG. I’ve got an irregular heartbeat all the time.” He said they gave him medication despite claiming to detect no heart trouble — the same type of heart medication he’d been prescribed but hadn’t been getting.

His logistics training from Caterpillar came in handy, and he devised a system for the headcount process which worked so well that the unit’s numbers were correct more often, meaning they rarely got punished for the wrong count anymore. He could see the guard coming from a neighboring unit, and Miller would yell “Headcount!”: a signal for the men to move to the predesignated places to be counted. He taught his jailmates how to document abuse and negligence when it occurred, so that if they later filed a complaint, they’d have something to stand it up. When he left the unit for what he hoped would be the last time, he turned around and yelled to the men: “Headcount!”

They all shouted back: “Headcount!”

Tatti began by acknowledging Miller’s motion for a new trial and quickly dismissing it. The judge reprimanded Miller’s attorney, Blanchard, for Facebook posts from Miller’s supporters saying that he had been “railroaded,” and asked if that was the argument Miller was planning to make at sentencing. It was not, Blanchard said, and asked to call three character witnesses.

Fox, ahead of the sentencing, had put out a request for testimonials. What came back shocked even her. If Miller saw somebody eating alone in a restaurant, friends said, he’d pay for their meal. If service was particularly good, he’d insist on speaking to the manager to compliment the staff. If he saw a veteran in a grocery store, he’d pay for their groceries. (“Oren doesn’t have much money,” Fox told me afterward, her pride mixed with a little financial concern.)

A 19-year-old young man from southern Sumter County, outside The Villages, took the stand to call him “the greatest man I’ve ever met,” saying Miller had mentored him since he was 14, including sitting with him as a loved one passed. The last time he saw him for lunch, Miller brought him a stack of used iPads he had collected, and instructed him to take them to a local repairman (at Miller’s expense) and donate them to local high school students in need.

When a family lost their home to a fire, Miller organized the effort to rebuild their lives. When Hurricane Irma hit, Miller didn’t wait for the winds to have fully died down before organizing recovery efforts. There didn’t seem to be a church charity program he wasn’t involved in or leading. Another man described the emergency response team Miller had set up. The first time he got a call, he said, he rushed to the distressed home in two minutes max, but when he got there, he found Miller already in the bathroom, doing chest compressions on a man in cardiac arrest. If somebody lost a pet, said another friend, Miller and Fox would drop everything and go searching immediately. “If it was 2 a.m., they wouldn’t say, we’ll be there at 7. They’d be there right away,” said one woman.

There was no victim, no violence, and Miller had no record. The pre-sentencing report called for time served and 30 months probation. The prosecution, in a subtle nod to the absurdity of the penalty, asked for less: time served and 24 months of probation. But Assistant State Attorney Sasha Kidney still laid into him. “The defendant has shown zero remorse,” said Kidney.

In the hallway, I asked her if she felt like justice was served in the case. “I think the jury listened to the evidence that was presented and returned a verdict based on that, and it was up to them and they made their decision,” she said.

The Daily Sun, also in the hallway, wanted more blood, and asked if the original investigation into sunshine law violations was still open. “Not to my knowledge at this point,” she said. The Daily Sun reporter pressed the question again. “I can’t really answer that question. It may still be open. I don’t know,” she said.

The next morning’s coverage of the sentencing, above the fold on the front page, would headline “Convicted Felon Miller Released from Jail: Legal Woes Not Over.” The article used the assistant state attorney’s answer to hang a new sword over Miller’s neck, reporting: “Prosecutors have not yet said they have closed the investigation into Miller’s potential Sunshine Law violations, and he remains under investigation by the state’s Commission on Ethics over an online fundraiser he created for the public to bankroll his lawyers.” (His GoFundMe to cover legal fees for his appeal remains open and is accepting contributions.)

Back in the courtroom, Tatti decided to add 200 hours of community service to Miller’s sentence, too, but he had a problem: How to punish a man with forced service who gives the bulk of his time in service to the community already? The judge’s solution: On top of going above the sentencing recommendation to give him 36 months of probation, Tatti ordered him to perform his community service at the local landfill.

Update: February 6, 2023

An earlier version of this story reported that The Villages was founded in the 1980s by Gary Morse. Morse’s father, Harold Schwartz, built a trailer park on the spot called Orange Blossom Gardens in the 1970s, which Schwartz and Morse transformed into The Villages.

The post How a Grassroots Revolt in the Iconic Retirement Community Ended With a 72-Year-Old Political Prisoner appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Oren Oren Miller photographed in TK angie-fox Angie Fox outside her home on Jan. 14, 2023 in The Villages, Fla. DSC0420 Families enjoy an outdoor street fair at Lake Sumter Landing in The Villages on Jan. 14, 2023. angie-fox_ Angie Fox kisses one of her dogs at her home with Oren Miller on Jan. 14, 2023 in The Villages, Fla. Central Florida coronavirus response Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at The Villages, Fla., on March 23, 2020. IMG_5086 The Village's local newspaper the "Daily Sun" on Jan. 31, 2023.
<![CDATA[Como manchas de calor e prêmios em dinheiro ajudam a tornar a polícia mais violenta na periferia de Salvador]]> Tue, 31 Jan 2023 09:00:42 +0000 Programa do governo da Bahia usa tecnologia para mapear crimes e premiar redução de mortes violentas – mas exclui estatísticas de violência policial nos monitoramentos.

The post Como manchas de calor e prêmios em dinheiro ajudam a tornar a polícia mais violenta na periferia de Salvador appeared first on The Intercept.

A presença constante da polícia é rotina em Tancredo Neves, bairro periférico de Salvador. A vizinhança, que abrigava o antigo Quilombo do Cabula, tem 86% da população negra – e um histórico de luta pelo reconhecimento da territorialidade negra. Ali, até dentro das escolas públicas é comum encontrar a presença de policiais.

Não é por menos. Tancredo Neves é um dos mais de 20 bairros que compõem a 11ª Área Integrada de Segurança Pública da Bahia, uma das regiões contempladas no ano passado pelo Prêmio de Desempenho Policial, o PDP, mecanismo de incentivo à produtividade dos agentes criado em 2017 pela Secretaria de Segurança Pública do estado. Em 2021, houve uma redução de aproximadamente 36,2% nas taxas de crimes violentos na região – o que gerou recompensas financeiras para policiais e servidores que atuam na área.

O alardeado sucesso da atuação dos agentes, no entanto, tem um custo: o bairro de Tancredo Neves é um dos campeões em violência policial na Bahia, segundo um relatório da Iniciativa Negra por uma Política sobre Drogas, publicado em 2021. Uma das razões para isso é o fato de que o sistema usado para mapear e coletar dados da produtividade das polícias leva em conta apenas os crimes violentos que acontecem nas regiões – e excluem os praticados pelas próprias polícias, revelou ao Intercept um dos responsáveis por coletar os dados. 

No ano passado, um relatório do Instituto Fogo Cruzado em parceria com a Iniciativa Negra também destacou que os bairros pertencentes à 11ª AISP apresentam um alto índice de letalidade policial. Os dados, referentes ao período de 100 dias entre julho e outubro de 2022, mostram que pelo menos 18 pessoas foram mortas após intervenções policiais nos bairros da região. O bairro Arenoso, por exemplo, teve oito tiroteios, com seis mortes e um ferido; Sussuarana teve dois tiroteios com quatro mortes. Os demais bairros da AISP acumulam um total de oito mortes, aponta o relatório.

Os dados coletados pelo Monitoramento da Violência da Rede de Observatórios da Segurança, levantados entre os anos de 2019 e 2021, destacam cinco indicadores que refletem a espacialização das dinâmicas de violência policial: ações de policiamento; mortes em ações de policiamento; violências, abusos e excessos pelo Estado; linchamentos e chacinas. De acordo com a Rede, durante esse período houve 368 eventos violentos monitorados na AISP Tancredo Neves.

Manchas criminais

Conjuntamente com Sussuarana, Arenoso, Mata Escura, Cabula, Pernambués, Saramandaia, Engomadeira e outros bairros, Tancredo Neves está no que a Secretaria de Segurança Pública chama de “mancha de calor”, uma região no mapa que concentra uma maior densidade de crimes de violência letal intencional, segundo mapeamento realizado pelo Núcleo de Cartografia e Geoprocessamento da Secretaria de Segurança Pública da Bahia.

Mapa de crimes violentos letais intencionais coletados pelo Núcleo em 2020.


O núcleo, criado em 2013, funciona a partir de uma retroalimentação com as unidades policiais. As informações a serem georreferenciadas vêm dos boletins de ocorrência. O núcleo também atende a demandas apresentadas pelas unidades policiais para fins específicos – por exemplo, o fornecimento de mapas para o planejamento tático de ações. As informações são tratadas com tecnologias de geoprocessamento e estatística.

O foco principal é o acompanhamento de crimes violentos – homicídios, feminicídios, latrocínios e lesões corporais seguidas de morte. Outros delitos, como assaltos a instituições financeiras, transportes coletivos e roubos de veículos e de carga também são acompanhados.

No portal do sistema, coordenado pela Secretaria de Segurança Pública da Bahia, está escrito que “há vários anos a criminalidade vem evoluindo nesses locais, tornando necessário que suas peculiaridades sejam entendidas mediante o uso das tecnologias disponíveis para que se possa, daí, apresentar planos para a otimização da investigação policial dos crimes ali praticados”. Para o governo estadual, o geoprocessamento criminal ajuda a “entender os fenômenos que contribuem para a violência e criminalidade”e a “avaliar de que forma o meio urbano influencia na criminalidade” na região.

A análise geográfica-criminal do núcleo é feita a partir das AISPs e também das Regiões Integradas de Segurança Pública, as RISPs, agrupamentos de municípios, distritos ou bairros, organizados de forma a “aumentar a eficácia policial”, segundo o decreto que regula o tema. Após o tratamento, análise e processo de georreferenciamento, os dados refinados são repassados para as instâncias superiores a partir de relatórios criminais que podem ser apresentados semanalmente, quinzenalmente ou até mensalmente, a depender da demanda.

De acordo com o núcleo, esses dados servem para orientar a atuação da segurança pública em operações policiais, incursões, instalação de bases comunitárias, bases móveis de policiamento ostensivo, itinerário de rondas e presença de contingente policial em geral, além do pagamento do Prêmio de Desempenho Policial, o PDP.


Ilustração: Gustavo Magalhães para o Intercept Brasil

Violência policial de fora

Em 2017, o governo da Bahia criou o Prêmio de Desempenho Policial, um bônus que vai de R$ 557 a R$ 2,4 mil aos agentes que atuam nas áreas e regiões integradas que apresentaram uma redução de 6% ou mais dos números de crimes violentos. O reconhecimento com abono salarial foi instituído pelo Pacto pela Vida, programa basilar da atuação da segurança pública na Bahia, e tinha como objetivo ser um incentivo para que as instituições policiais se empenhassem em reduzir os números de crimes de violência letal intencional no estado.

É o Núcleo Cartografia e Processamento do estado o responsável por fornecer os dados que orientam o destino dos prêmios. Em 2021, uma das áreas premiadas foi a 11ª Área Integrada de Segurança Pública – que engloba o bairro de Tancredo Neves. No total, no ano passado, o governo anunciou um pagamento de R$ 10 milhões a serem distribuídos para 11,3 mil servidores que atuam nas áreas premiadas – entre eles, 9,2 mil policiais militares. 

‘Existe uma opção pela guerra. Apesar de ser justificada pela guerra às drogas’.

Questionada pelo Intercept sobre a ausência de violência policial na contabilização do prêmio, a Secretaria de Segurança Pública da Bahia confirmou que “as mortes resultantes de resistência à atuação policial não são computadas para fins de pagamento”. De fato, não faria sentido premiar policiais violentos – mas, no mecanismo de premiação, não há sequer prejuízo para os agentes que abusam da truculência. “As mortes decorrentes de auto de resistência são classificadas no Código Penal como excludentes de ilicitude, por este motivo não são contabilizadas como homicídio”, justificou o órgão. 

A secretaria evoca o artigo 23 do Código Penal, o excludente de ilicitude, que determina algumas circunstâncias para excluir a culpabilidade – no caso de policiais, o estrito cumprimento de dever legal ou o exercício regular de direito. O mesmo Código Penal, no entanto, também prevê que eventuais excessos – intencionais ou não – podem ser punidos.

Um capitão da Polícia Militar da Bahia conversou com o Intercept na condição de anonimato. Ele afirmou que acredita que os indicadores que orientam o pagamento do prêmio não conseguem dar conta da realidade multifacetada da segurança pública. “A mancha somente não é suficiente para haver uma interpretação do fenômeno delitivo e suas causas no território. Me parece que a análise criminal precisa avançar, a ponto de entender, a partir de outros suportes de dados, de investigação e de inteligência, sobre a real causa dos fenômenos ali estabelecidos”.

Para o policial, os índices de crimes violentos letais intencionais não necessariamente traduzem um potencial de segurança ou insegurança do local. “São necessários outros suportes de dados para se interpretar, inclusive, a causa dos fenômenos, cuja mancha não consegue dar conta”.

Lógica de guerra

Denis é líder comunitário e morador do bairro de Sussuarana – também pertencente à 11ª AISP. De acordo com o jovem, a atuação da Polícia Militar no bairro é violenta e acompanha a lógica do racismo estrutural. Apesar de algumas tentativas de diálogo da instituição policial com o bairro, como ações sociais de distribuição de cestas básicas realizadas pelos agentes, a dinâmica de vigilância se mantém de forma ostensiva e truculenta. 

No ano passado, a Bahia registrou quase duas mortes por dia por intervenção policial. Em 2021, 100% dos mortos pela polícia eram negros. 

Denis ainda relata que já foi constrangido por uma das várias abordagens que ocorrem cotidianamente no bairro, pautadas pela lógica do racismo que determina o comportamento policial nos bairros de maioria negra e de periferia. 

“Eu estava no Uber, saindo de uma localidade de Sussuarana, quando o carro da polícia passou ao lado do meu carro. Eles fizeram a volta e pararam o nosso carro. Tava eu e mais duas pessoas pretas, e o motorista do Uber também era preto. Estávamos dentro do carro e ele foi parado, no meio da pista, no meio da principal, na frente de diversos pontos. Foi pedido que a gente saísse do carro com a mão na cabeça, porque éramos suspeitos e estávamos saindo de uma localidade suspeita”.

‘O prêmio de desempenho policial é um incentivo às práticas delitivas dentro das corporações.’

Para Dudu Ribeiro, porta-voz da Iniciativa Negra por uma Nova Política de Drogas, a cartografia dos crimes tem fornecido subsídio para a diferenciação na atuação do estado nos territórios e para o incremento do processo de repressão e violência dos governos contra a população negra e periférica. 

“Em vez do gestor pensar ‘vou mandar então mais escolas, mais teatros, mais pistas de skates, mais praças de esportes’, ele pensa ‘vou mandar mais polícia, mais viatura’. Não é uma relação eficácia-eficiência, isso é uma opção do estado por manter uma lógica de guerra nos bairros periféricos e negros da cidade de Salvador e da Bahia como um todo”, analisou. 

Para o pesquisador, que também é coordenador da Rede de Observatórios da Segurança na Bahia, a opção pela guerra em um determinado território é crucial para a compreensão dos fenômenos da violência naquela localidade. “Existe uma opção pela guerra. Apesar de ser justificada pela guerra às drogas – porque a polícia da Bahia, segundo o nosso monitoramento, é a que mais justifica suas operações baseada na ideia da guerra às drogas –, você não consegue captar o fenômeno por inteiro porque você tira uma parte fundamental, que é a ação provocada pelo estado naquele território. Como essa não entra na conta, a gente fica com uma mancha incompleta”.

O pesquisador avalia que o prêmio, da maneira como é aplicado, acaba incentivando a violência policial. Para ele, os policiais sabem quais lugares vão ser premiados e sabem que seu próprio homicídio não vai ser contabilizado – e isso pode afetar a taxa de forma artificial. “Se a gente estivesse falando de incentivos para atuações e possibilidades de polícia comunitária, de fato relacionada com o território, procurando soluções fora da lógica da violência, faria algum sentido. Mas não é isso. O prêmio de desempenho policial é um incentivo às práticas delitivas dentro das corporações”.

O capitão da polícia que conversou com o Intercept acredita que o prêmio “é um fator estimulante da prática, da operacionalidade”. Ele se preocupa, no entanto, quando o incentivo vem desatrelado de um indicador de qualidade da atividade policial.

Para o agente, é necessário que haja uma reflexão sobre os impactos dessas premiações em um contexto onde não há a construção de uma ética de trabalho e respeito aos direitos humanos que norteie a atuação policial. Para ele, o problema reside no fundamento político que rege a atuação policial. “Não importam os corpos que estão morrendo, não importam os corpos que são atingidos pela prática policial – isso é um fundamento político”.

Essa reportagem é fruto das Bolsas de Tecnoinvestigações para Repórteres Negros, uma iniciativa do Intercept em parceria com Conectas, Data Privacy Brasil e Data Labe.

The post Como manchas de calor e prêmios em dinheiro ajudam a tornar a polícia mais violenta na periferia de Salvador appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Mapa de crimes violentos letais intencionais coletados pelo Núcleo em 2020. violencia-premiada_corpo
<![CDATA[Defensoria pede para proteger feto de menina de 12 anos grávida pela segunda vez após estupro no PI – e juíza aceita]]> Mon, 30 Jan 2023 09:01:25 +0000 Conselheira tutelar afirma que menina de 12 anos, grávida pela segunda vez, teria tentado suicídio no abrigo onde está com o bebê da primeira gestação.

The post Defensoria pede para proteger feto de menina de 12 anos grávida pela segunda vez após estupro no PI – e juíza aceita appeared first on The Intercept.

Atualização: 14 de fevereiro
No último dia 8, as Defensorias Públicas de 14 estados emitiram uma nota afirmando que a nomeação de curadores para fetos não tem respaldo legal e ameaça o direito ao aborto nos casos já permitidos.

Uma criança de 12 anos, grávida pela segunda vez em um ano após vários estupros, está sendo mantida em um abrigo em Teresina há quatro meses. Ela deixou claro que queria o aborto legal ao ser levada ao hospital, com cerca de 12 semanas de gestação, mas foi liberada sem fazer o procedimento. Hoje, a menina está com o filho de 1 ano no colo e com cerca de 28 semanas de gravidez – segundo uma conselheira tutelar, ela teria tentado suicídio.

Em 6 de outubro do ano passado, a juíza Elfrida Costa Belleza, de Teresina, nomeou uma defensora pública para representar os interesses do feto, a pedido da defensoria. No dia seguinte, Maria Luiza de Moura Mello e Freitas, juíza responsável pelo caso, proibiu a publicação de notícias sobre o processo no estado, também a pedido da defensoria. Freitas atua como juíza auxiliar no Tribunal Regional Eleitoral e, por conta das eleições, Belleza assumiu as determinações a partir daquela semana.

A nomeação de um curador para o “nascituro” está prevista no Estatuto do Nascituro, projeto de lei proposto por deputados conservadores que quase entrou na pauta de votação na Câmara no final do ano passado. Discutido há mais de 15 anos, o estatuto tornaria o aborto ilegal até em casos de estupro de crianças. Além de não estar em vigor, o estatuto não tem base legal diante da Constituição e do Código de Processo Civil, que asseguram que apenas as pessoas nascidas com vida podem ter direitos e deveres plenos na sociedade.

“A defensoria não está atuando na proteção da criança, cumprindo o Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente, e está criando essa anomalia”, criticou a advogada Beatriz Galli, do Comitê Latino-Americano e do Caribe para a Defesa dos Direitos das Mulheres e do Ipas, duas das 10 organizações que denunciaram o caso à Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos da Organização dos Estados Americanos, a CIDH. “A gente não tem previsto que o direito à vida começa desde a concepção e que o nascituro teria os mesmos direitos de uma criança nascida. É bastante preocupante esse precedente”.

Ainda que não seja requisito legal para a realização do procedimento, já que o aborto em casos de estupro e risco à vida da mãe já é permitido pela lei brasileira, um alvará autorizando o procedimento foi expedido em 28 de outubro pela juíza Elfrida Costa Belleza, da 2ª Vara da Infância e da Juventude de Teresina. A decisão, porém, foi suspensa pelo desembargador José James Gomes Pereira, em 12 de dezembro, a pedido da mãe da menina e da defensora do feto. “O direito está previsto no Código Penal desde 1940, então não tem como ser revogado com uma sentença judicial”, explicou Galli.

Mesmo ciente de que a gravidez da menina é decorrente de estupro e oferece risco à sua vida, o desembargador argumentou contra o aborto ao revogar a autorização para o procedimento. “Uma intervenção médica destinada à retirada do feto do útero materno pode representar riscos ainda maiores tanto à vida da paciente quanto à da criança em gestação (que, a meu ver, já atingiu formação suficiente para eventual sobrevida após o nascimento)”, escreveu Pereira. “Uma intervenção médica, a esta altura, corresponderia a um verdadeiro parto, não havendo como se autorizar a realização do aborto”.

Rosemary Farias, advogada, integrante da Frente Popular de Mulheres Contra o Feminicídio do Piauí e do Coletivo Advocacia Popular Piauiense, questiona o fato de a defensoria ter atuado em duas frentes antagônicas: “A tese vencedora foi a da defensora que atuou pelos interesses do nascituro, tanto que foi revogada a decisão. Por que a defensoria não atuou de forma a garantir o interesse dessa criança, conforme o ordenamento jurídico nos permite?”.

Em sua decisão, o desembargador Pereira citou um relatório psicológico que apontou que a menina consentiu em manter a gravidez para entregar o recém-nascido para adoção. “A vítima mostrou-se equilibrada emocionalmente apresentando uma linguagem clara, objetiva e colaborativa. Durante o atendimento a adolescente relatou o desejo de continuidade da gravidez e de entregar a criança para adoção, trazendo a fala: ‘Não quero abortar’ e que a ideia de abortar a criança traz muito sofrimento”.

‘Ela estava abraçada com uma boneca, se balançando de cabeça baixa. Pouco ou nada ouvia do que falei’.

Três pessoas ligadas ao caso, no entanto, contestam o argumento e afirmam que a menina está abalada psicologicamente. Em 14 de setembro, após a constatação de que ela sofria estupros recorrentes, a criança foi acolhida no abrigo, onde passou a ser medicada, segundo a conselheira tutelar Renata Bezerra. “Percebi que a menina estava sendo dopada e questionei por que ela estava tomando medicação. As funcionárias responderam que ela havia tentado se matar. Eu perguntei à menina, e ela disse que não sabia por que estava tomando a medicação”, me contou a conselheira.

A advogada Jéssica Lima Rocha, membro da Comissão de Direitos Humanos da OAB do Piauí, também disse ter encontrado uma situação de estresse ao ir até o abrigo conversar com a menina. “Essa criança estava abraçada com uma boneca, se balançando de cabeça para baixo. Pouco ou nada ouvia do que eu falei ou do que eu tentei falar”.

Segundo o presidente do Conselho Municipal da Criança e do Adolescente, André Santos, a menina teve uma crise de ansiedade ao saber que os pais não aprovaram o aborto e precisou de medicação. “Ela trata o bebê [filho de 1 ano] como boneca, isso choca a gente. São tantos direitos violados, é um crime institucional. O Judiciário não fala, a Secretaria de Saúde não fala, ninguém fala sobre a situação, porque querem esconder a omissão do estado. Quem está sendo prejudicada é a criança, que tem prioridade absoluta”, afirmou.

Os relatos sobre o estado da menina são contemplados na denúncia feita à CIDH. Nela, afirma-se que há “evidências de automutilação e outros sintomas de efeitos na saúde mental da menina, sem clareza quanto ao atendimento médico recebido”. Segundo a conselheira tutelar Renata Bezerra, a criança precisou ser medicada para ansiedade por algumas semanas, mas já parou de tomar os remédios.

Procurada, a assessoria de comunicação do Tribunal de Justiça do Estado do Piauí informou que não se manifesta sobre o teor das decisões dos juízes ou desembargadores, ressaltando que, segundo a Lei Orgânica da Magistratura Nacional, os profissionais devem se manifestar apenas nos autos processuais.

Urso de pelúcia em varal na casa de uma criança de 11 anos de idade, vítima de estupro em Teresina (PI).

Bichinho de pelúcia seca no quintal da criança sobrevivente de estupro.

Foto: Renato Andrade/Folhapress

Suspeita de exploração sexual

Na última sexta-feira, dia 20, dois suspeitos de estuprarem a criança foram presos preventivamente. Um deles é o tio da menina, apontado pelo exame de DNA como responsável pela primeira gravidez. O segundo preso é um vizinho da avó paterna da menina.

Com ou sem o aborto, a polícia irá recolher o material genético necessário para cruzar com o dos acusados, que negam o crime. “Os presos podem ser pais da criança da segunda gravidez ou não, mas que eles estupraram a vítima, isso é certo. Caso não seja um desses dois acusados, significa que houve um terceiro”, me afirmou a delegada responsável.

A menina mora na zona rural de Teresina com a avó paterna, o tio e o pai – que, segundo a delegada, está afastado da mãe em cumprimento a uma medida protetiva por ter praticado violência doméstica contra ela. “A vítima morava dentro do covil. Não estou acusando a avó, mas era muito cômodo para o acusado ficar ali. E a família, embora suspeitasse, não denunciava, porque todo mundo ali era parente. Foi preciso a vítima engravidar novamente para virem à tona todos os abusos”.

Na avaliação da delegada, há sinais de exploração sexual pelo grau de vulnerabilidade social e econômica que contextualiza os frequentes abusos. “Uma vítima vulnerável socialmente, sem teto, porque morava na casa da avó, não havia sustento para ela, vira presa fácil. ‘Te dou um pacote de leite’, e ali, ela muita nova, já com um filho no colo, você imagina a dificuldade”, presumiu Vidal.

Médicos teriam tentado barrar aborto

Quando chegou ao hospital acompanhada da conselheira tutelar, em 9 de setembro, a menina expressou o desejo de interromper a gravidez porque queria voltar a estudar. Ela, que completou 12 anos três dias depois, deixou a escola no quinto ano para cuidar do primeiro filho, fruto de outro estupro.

“Na hora que [o teste de gravidez] deu positivo, ela falou: ‘Tia, me tira dessa situação, como eu faço para sair dessa situação?’ Eu falei com a médica, e ela disse: ‘Você sabe que existe aborto legal? Basta a vítima ou um dos membros da família querer, ou o pai ou a mãe’. Quando eu mandei buscar o pai, a médica mudou de ideia e disse que a menina teria que passar por sessões com uma psicóloga, com não sei quem, para fazer tudo legal”, relatou a conselheira.

Em conversa com o Intercept e o Portal Catarinas, a mãe da menina afirmou que desistiu de autorizar o aborto por conta da fala de uma médica da Maternidade Dona Evangelina Rosa. “A médica do serviço falou para nós que, se ela abortasse essa criança, poderia morrer no procedimento”, disse a mãe, que está convencida a entregar o bebê à adoção após o nascimento. “A gente optou por continuar com a gravidez para não acontecer o pior com ela”.

Em 3 de novembro, após a autorização para o aborto ser derrubada, o defensor que representa a menina e seu pai teve uma conversa presencial com ele, que reiterou a decisão de realizar o aborto. No mesmo dia, por meio de videochamada “informal”, segundo o defensor apontou em documento a que tivemos acesso, a criança manifestou ao pai e ao defensor o desejo de interromper a gestação.

‘Tem muita gente envolvida para que ela continue com a gravidez’.

Acionado pelo defensor, o promotor Thiago Belchior ficou responsável por conduzir a menina ao Atendimento às Mulheres Vítimas de Violência Sexual para realização do aborto. Mas, em 8 de novembro, ela teria manifestado uma mudança de opinião na presença de pessoas do abrigo e de Belchior. “Acreditamos que o caso foi solucionado, uma vez que a juíza proferiu sentença, contudo, a vontade da adolescente modificou, e, a gravidez não foi interrompida”, escreveu o defensor público em documento a que tivemos acesso.

O pai me contou que foi persuadido a assinar um documento desautorizando o procedimento – e que a médica que atendeu a menina teria ido ao abrigo para convencê-la a desistir do aborto. “A médica me induziu, dizendo que a menina [já] tinha um filho, que se ela aguentou, poderia ter outro”, comentou. “Depois que falaram com ela, ela disse: ‘Não, papai, eu vou ter o bebê’. No início, ela disse que não queria a gravidez, que queria estudar. Aí passou dois meses, três meses, cinco meses. Tem muita gente envolvida para que ela continue com a gravidez”.

Mãe da criança de 11 anos estuprada pela segunda vez, que teve o direito ao aborto negado, vivia antes de ir para um abrigo, em sua casa, zona rural , em Teresina.

A casa onde a menina vivia em Teresina antes de ser estuprada.

Foto: Renato Andrade/Folhapress

A advogada Jéssica Lima Rocha ainda suspeita que a igreja também pode ter tido um papel na mudança da vontade da menina. “Esse abrigo é católico, cuidado por freiras. E, obviamente, a gente já compreende: não dá pra ter um caso desse sendo acolhido por um abrigo religioso”.

Desde que o caso veio a público, organizações da sociedade civil tentam garantir o direito da menina ao aborto, cobrando respostas oficiais dos órgãos do estado. Diante da falta de ação, em 3 de dezembro, foi feita uma comunicação ao Ministério Público Federal denunciando o contexto das violações institucionais. Entramos em contato com o MPF para saber do andamento do caso, mas não obtivemos resposta até o fechamento da reportagem.

Procurado, o Ministério Público do Piauí informou que a “eventual coação dos médicos” está sendo analisada pela Promotoria da Saúde, e “estão sendo adotadas as providências cabíveis para assegurar à adolescente a garantia da manifestação de sua vontade, bem como todas as outras medidas de proteção previstas no ECA”, referindo-se ao Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente.

A assessoria de imprensa da Maternidade Evangelina Rosa afirmou que qualquer posicionamento partiria da Secretaria de Saúde do Estado. Por sua vez, a Sesapi afirmou estar “colaborando com o caso, que corre em segredo de justiça, e dará uma resposta definitiva assim que concluir toda a análise médica e jurídica”.

Já a Defensoria Pública do Estado do Piauí assegurou atender a menina desde que foi informada sobre o caso e ter conseguido uma decisão judicial determinando a realização do aborto. “Após recurso, houve decisão da magistrada mantendo a decisão que determinou a interrupção [da gravidez], procedimento que não foi realizado pelo serviço médico”, comunicou. A instituição afirmou ainda que a nomeação de uma defensora exclusiva para o feto “aconteceu no trâmite processual, com o deferimento do Juízo de pedido em audiência”.

O órgão se esquivou do pedido que fez à justiça para que o caso não fosse coberto por veículos de imprensa, resumindo-se a dizer ser notório que, “em regra, o processo deve ser público para quem não faz parte dele, porém existem hipóteses constitucionais e legais de mitigação desta publicidade”.

Em nota enviada em 1ª de fevereiro, as juízas explicaram: “Em virtude de um acúmulo de funções da titular da 1ª Vara, Juíza Maria Luiza de Moura Mello e Freitas, como juíza auxiliar da Corregedoria do Tribunal Regional Eleitoral (TRE) em ano eleitoral, os demais atos praticados no processo ocorreram sob a responsabilidade da Juíza Elfrida Costa Belleza Silva, titular da 2ª Vara da Infância e da Juventude de Teresina. Portanto, a determinação para curadoria especial e todas as etapas subsequentes foram de determinação da magistrada Elfrida Costa Belleza”.

As magistradas escreveram ainda que “não houve até aqui nenhum pedido de Providência referente ao ABORTO”. Contudo, um documento da Defensoria Pública do Piauí afirma: “sentença proferida (28/10/2022) pela procedência do pedido de reconhecer legal o aborto”. Mais à frente, o documento detalha que foi julgado procedente “o pedido para reconhecer a situação da adolescente enquadrada no art. 5°, inc. III, da C.F. [Constituição Federal] c/c o artigo 128, inciso II, do Código Penal”.

Os artigos citados estipulam, respectivamente, que ninguém pode ser submetido à tortura ou a comportamentos degradantes e que vítimas de estupro têm direito ao aborto legal. Em seguida, menciona-se a necessidade de respeito à Portaria 2.561/2020, que cria regras para a autorização do procedimento.

Correção: 1º de fevereiro, 15h37
Uma versão anterior deste texto afirmava que Maria Luiza de Moura Mello e Freitas, primeira juíza responsável pelo caso da menina, nomeou a curadora para o feto. Na verdade, a nomeação foi feita pela juíza Elfrida Costa Belleza, que a estava substituindo. O texto foi atualizado ainda com informações de uma nota enviada pelas magistradas nesta data.

Colaboração: Daniela Valenga, Jess Carvalho e Kelly Ribeiro.

The post Defensoria pede para proteger feto de menina de 12 anos grávida pela segunda vez após estupro no PI – e juíza aceita appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Casa de menina de 11 anos vítima de estupro em Teresina (PI) Legenda. Casa da mãe da menina de 11 anos grávida após estupro pela segunda vez na zona rural de Teresina Legenda.
<![CDATA[A Biologist Fought to Remove Grizzlies From the Endangered Species List — Until Montana Republicans Changed His Mind]]> Sun, 29 Jan 2023 11:00:04 +0000 Former U.S. wildlife official Chris Serhveen lost faith in delisting when Montana’s GOP revealed its anti-bear “hysteria.”

The post A Biologist Fought to Remove Grizzlies From the Endangered Species List — Until Montana Republicans Changed His Mind appeared first on The Intercept.

When Chris Servheen speaks to skeptical audiences across the Northern Rockies, he holds one goal above all others. The famed bear biologist aims to fix his lessons in the mind of the hunter. He wants his words to return in that critical moment when the hunter is alone in the wilderness, with a grizzly in his sights, and no one to witness what comes next.

“The decision is made when you’re looking through the scope and there’s a grizzly bear there,” he says. “Are you gonna shoot him or not? You think, ‘I can get away with it. I don’t like grizzly bears. I can do this.’ Or do you think, ‘It’s worthwhile to have these animals around — I shouldn’t do this’? That’s where the bears live or die.”

For now, the solitary hunter in the crosshairs of Servheen’s speeches is choosing between letting the grizzlies be or poaching them — but that could soon change. While grizzlies are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, Republican lawmakers across the Northern Rockies are pressing the Biden administration to turn management of the bears over to the states, thus allowing for the opening of legal hunting seasons.


Bear biologist Chris Servheen.

Photo: Courtesy of Chris Servheen

For 35 years, Servheen led the U.S. government’s effort to bring the iconic bears back from the brink of extirpation in the lower 48 states. He has a no-bullshit demeanor befitting a scientist who has spent his life on the front lines of one of the most politically charged battles in the American West. With a wide handlebar mustache, a doctorate in wildlife biology and forestry from the University of Montana, and a deep understanding of the region’s competing constituencies, he’s had the distinction of being both cursed by ranchers and sued by environmentalists.

By the time he retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016, Servheen had become a prominent advocate of the view that federal grizzly bear recovery efforts had worked and the time for delisting had come. Now the president and board chair of the Montana Wildlife Federation, the state’s oldest and largest conservation organization, Servheen’s position on the delisting question has turned 180 degrees. The reason is rooted in politics, and what he sees as a wave of fact-free “hysteria” sweeping the Rocky Mountain West.

In the past two years, Servheen watched with horror as a right-wing takeover in state politics — from Gov. Greg Gianforte’s 2020 election to the establishment of a Republican supermajority in 2022 — has radically reshaped Montana’s relationship to wildlife policy, particularly in the cases of protected predators that some Westerners see as living symbols of federal overreach.

“It’s a clown car of absurdities here. The people that are coming up with these ideas are totally misinformed about what really is going on.”

The first wave of the assault targeted wolves. During Montana’s last legislative session, in 2021, Gianforte — with the help of handpicked wildlife commissioners representing trophy hunting, outfitting, and livestock industries — signed bills to deregulate wolf-hunting techniques. The state also did away with hunting quotas on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, leading to the deadliest winter the park’s biologists have ever recorded, with roughly a fifth of Yellowstone’s wolves killed in a matter of months.

With a new legislative session now underway, Servheen — who also serves as co-chair of the North American Bears Expert Team for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — and other veteran wildlife biologists across Montana are profoundly concerned that Republican lawmakers are angling to apply the same regressive approach on grizzly bears.

“It’s a clown car of absurdities here,” he told me. “The people that are coming up with these ideas are totally misinformed about what really is going on, and it’s all based on their misconceptions and their crazy feelings about ‘I hate predators.’”

In Montana, the effort to delist grizzlies is led by Gianforte and his fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines. The pair bonded in the 1990s, working at RightNow Technologies, a tech company Gianforte co-founded with financial support from Daines’s father.

RightNow was purchased in 2012 for a reported $1.8 billion. The sale helped transform Gianforte and Daines from very wealthy to ultra-wealthy. A decade later, the two men are Montana’s most prominent Republican lawmakers, attending the same evangelical church in Bozeman, itself a node in the rapid rise of Christian nationalism fast transforming the state’s political landscape.

“As we await final delisting, we must do all that we can to ensure public safety, to stop the risks to human life, and to prevent further livestock depravation that is devastating Montana agriculture,” Daines said in a 2020 interview concerning the bears’ status in the state.

Though grizzlies do occasionally prey on livestock, the Republicans’ claims of widespread and devastating financial impacts overstate the scale of the problem. According to the Montana Department of Livestock, grizzly bears were responsible for killing 143 of Montana’s more than 2.7 million sheep and cattle in 2022, contributing to a loss of .0052 percent of the state’s livestock.” The state paid ranchers $234,378.37 to compensate for those losses.

In his many years dealing with the conflicts that arise from expanding human and grizzly populations, Servheen has learned to separate positions from interests.

“I talk to many people about bears. Many times what they say is that: ‘I hate bears. We don’t want the federal government telling us what to do. We don’t like the Endangered Species Act. We don’t want grizzly bears to be in this area or around my property.’ Those are all positions,” he said. “The position discussions are worthless because you end up hitting a wall.”

Interests, like not wanting to lose livestock to grizzlies, are a different story. In the half century since grizzlies were added to the endangered species list, Servheen and a wider community of researchers and conservationists have developed an array of conflict management practices to address the inherent challenges of living with grizzlies: from compensation for ranchers, to the installation of electrified fences and food storage containers, to the relocation — and in some cases, removal — of problem bears.

“Trying to key in on what those interests are to people, and listening to them as opposed to telling them — I found that to be the most productive approach,” Servheen said.

Once interests are addressed, the work of underlining the value that large predators bring to an ecosystem — the kind of conversations that may prevent a hunter from becoming a poacher in a moment of unsupervised opportunity — can begin.

At the time of his retirement, Servheen believed the future of grizzly recovery was on solid ground. Conflict resolution efforts were catching on and succeeding; Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, or FWP, still hung on to its reputation for considered wildlife management; and the bear populations in northwest and southwest Montana were growing. Servheen felt that his life’s work was in good hands. That confidence has been shattered in the years since.

Servheen’s theory of recovery and change turns on a respect for science. It requires a willingness to moderate and move on from long held but out-of-date positions, and it demands that state wildlife professionals operate free from political pressure and influence. In Montana, Servheen argued, those prerequisites have been blown to bits.

“I couldn’t have seen this coming,” the veteran bear biologist said. “For years, I was leading the recovery program and advocating that we should recover grizzly bears and delist the bears and turn them over to state management because I had a lot of faith in the state, that the state was making management decisions based on science and facts.”

That’s no longer the case.

“I can’t support that given the politicians doing what they’re doing,” Servheen said. “And this has just happened in the past two years. It’s totally new.”

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 18: Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., waves to constituents at the Crow Fair in Crow Agency, Mont., on August 18, 2018. Gianforte is being challenged by Democrat Kathleen Williams. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Then-Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., left, waves to constituents at the Crow Fair in Crow Agency, Mont., on Aug. 18, 2018.

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Wildlife governance in Montana, like most states, is managed by a panel of commissioners. Appointed by the governor, the commission sets regulations for the fish and wildlife agency — in this case, FWP. Montana law requires that those appointees be selected “without regard to political affiliation” and “solely for the wise management of the fish and wildlife of the state.”

Despite the apolitical requirements, Gianforte, Montana’s first Republican governor in a decade a half, populated his commission with a former running mate and a collection of high-dollar campaign donors — none of whom possessed professional wildlife management experience. He also tapped Henry “Hank” Worsech, the former executive director of the Montana Board of Outfitters, the licensing authority for Montana’s powerful political constituency of outfitters and guides, as director of FWP.

In years past, Democratic governors would veto the more extreme bills introduced by Republican lawmakers eager to liberalize wolf killing in Montana. Gianforte, by contrast, signed those measures into law. Worsech directed FWP to come up with plans for implementing the measures, and the commission gave them the green light. International outrage followed, as well as an ongoing federal review to determine whether wolves should be returned to the endangered species list.

Along with the many anti-wolf bills passed last session, Republican lawmakers also zeroed in on bears. Part of the push came from Republican state Rep. Paul Fielder, who also serves as the Montana Trappers Association’s liaison to FWP. Fielder hails from Thompson Falls, a tiny community in northwest Montana, a remote region with a reputation for attracting anti-government types that’s recently become awash in MAGA-inspired politics.

With Gianforte’s support, Fielder secured the re-legalization of hound hunting for black bears, a practice that Montana outlawed a century ago.

“He wrote this bill for something that was not happening in Montana for generations, and the Legislature, because it was proposed by a Republican, they all voted for it, and the governor signed it,” Servheen said.

Like the legalization of snares to catch and kill wolves — which Fielder sponsored and Gianforte signed — the hunting of black bears with hounds can also impact grizzlies, leading to dangers for the hounds, hunters, and grizzlies alike. (Fielder did not respond to an interview request.)

“It’s a minuscule number of people that want to do this,” Servheen said. “They’re a super isolated special interest, and the Legislature is going in and granting these people privileges to do things which are harmful to grizzly bears.”

“They’re a super isolated special interest, and the Legislature is going in and granting these people privileges to do things which are harmful to grizzly bears.”

Another bill signed by Gianforte in 2021 prohibited FWP from relocating problem bears, raising the possibility that first-time-offender bears would be shot on site. A third authorized ranchers to kill bears that they deemed as a threat to their livestock and left it to ranchers to define what constitutes a threat.

The onslaught prompted Servheen to speak out. In the heat of the 2021 legislative session, he wrote an op-ed for the Mountain Journal, a Bozeman-based conservation news website, connecting the Manifest Destiny-inspired thinking that led to mass predator extermination in the 1800s to Montana’s present moment.

“If this is allowed to continue,” he warned, “we stand to lose all that we have gained to build and maintain healthy natural ecosystems and repair the historic wrongs done to wildlife and nature by past generations.”

With a new legislative session underway, Republican lawmakers are pushing for further deregulation of predator hunting. Building on his 2021 black bear hound-hunting legislation, Fielder is now pursuing a bill that would eliminate the FWP commission’s authority to designate where that hunting occurs, increasing the likelihood of hound hunting in grizzly bear recovery zones.

“This is crazy,” Servheen said. “The commission is supposed to be the managers of wildlife. They’re supposed to be making those decisions. The Legislature should not be getting into the weeds of making detailed decisions about where wildlife are taken and how they’re taken. That is really inappropriate. They’re not experts in this.”

Grizzly near Swan Lake; Neal Herbert; Catalog #20189d; Original #ndh-yell-8939

A grizzly near Swan Lake in Yellowstone National Park on June 6, 2015.

Photo: Neal Herbert/NPS

The big question now is whether the Northern Rockies states will win the right to manage their grizzly populations themselves.

As wildlife species listed under the Endangered Species Act recover, states must submit plans showing that they can manage the animals in such a way to sustain viable populations. Last month, FWP released a draft grizzly management plan for public review that sketched out a new framework for managing the bears.

The final decision on the delisting will fall to Martha Williams, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A veteran of the Montana wildlife management scene, Williams was director of FWP before joining the federal government. A lawyer by training and an expert in the Endangered Species Act, Williams was central in Montana’s efforts to attain state management of wolves more than a decade ago. Her appointment to head U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received enthusiastic support from Daines and his Democratic counterpart, Jon Tester.

Some wildlife advocates, though, have questioned the legality of Williams’s appointment. She lacks a scientific degree, which is required under federal law. Others worry that Daines’s support for her appointment could be a sign of her potential openness to delisting grizzlies.

Servheen pushed back on the notion that U.S. Fish and Wildlife is certain to give Montana Republicans their long-standing dream of legalized grizzly hunts.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion,” he said.

While it’s true that Montana has petitioned for delisting, Williams and her team have yet to determine whether that petition merits a review. The process for removing an animal from the endangered species list goes beyond raw numbers, Servheen pointed out. He argued the laws on the books and those being considered — the hound hunting and authorizing private citizens to kill grizzlies any time they feel their property is threatened — make it impossible for Montana to satisfy requirements to ensure continued grizzly recovery.

Grizzly bears have one of the slowest reproduction rates of any large mammal on the planet. They don’t bounce back from heavy human-caused mortality the way wolves do.

“You could have dead bears everywhere, and you would be way beyond the sustainable limit,” Servheen said. “Fish Wildlife and Parks has no ability to control it, therefore you don’t have an adequate regulatory mechanism.”

“They would treat the grizzly bear just like they’re now treating wolves. That’s what would happen.”

While the laws could be tweaked to please U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the federal agency considers the delisting question, Republicans in Montana have already revealed their anti-predator intentions, Servheen argued.

“As soon as the bear was delisted, then what’s to stop the Legislature from putting those laws right back in place?” he asked. “There’s nothing to stop them from doing that and given where they are and where they’re coming from and what they’re doing — it’s a clear indication that’s probably what they would do.”

“They would treat the grizzly bear just like they’re now treating wolves,” he said. “That’s what would happen.”

The current moment is as decisive as any in the history of grizzly bear recovery in the United States. A half-century of hard work that for many symbolizes the best of what conservation can be hangs in the balance. Servheen and others are fighting to turn the tide, but he worries it won’t be enough.

“I don’t see things getting any better,” he said. “I just see them getting worse, unfortunately.”

The post A Biologist Fought to Remove Grizzlies From the Endangered Species List — Until Montana Republicans Changed His Mind appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 CHRIS-SERVHEEN TKTK Montana Politics Then-Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., waves to constituents at the Crow Fair in Crow Agency, Mont., on August 18, 2018. Grizzly near Swan Lake A grizzly near Swan Lake in Yellowstone National Park on June 6, 2015.
<![CDATA[Encontramos clubes de tiro na Amazônia em fazendas de acusados de invadir terras indígenas, lavar dinheiro e até caçar onças]]> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 10:15:01 +0000 Maioria dos novos clubes na região está em áreas rurais – e pelo menos seis estão em unidades de conservação da floresta.

The post Encontramos clubes de tiro na Amazônia em fazendas de acusados de invadir terras indígenas, lavar dinheiro e até caçar onças appeared first on The Intercept.

Quando foi resgatada, em 2005, a onça Gavião pesava 100 quilos. Passou 11 anos de sua vida amarrada como um cachorro em um cabo de aço de 20 metros. Teve suas garras cortadas. Com ela, os policiais encontraram uma grande quantidade de armas. Naquele dia, a força-tarefa com Ibama, Ministério Público Federal e a Polícia Federal buscavam caçadores de onças na fazenda São Jorge, em Lambari do Oeste, no Mato Grosso.

Um vídeo com cenas de matança durante a caça de três onças havia sido vazado para o programa do Ratinho. A força tarefa foi atrás dos caçadores ilegais, mas não encontrou ninguém na fazenda – além de Gavião e das armas. A onça foi levada a um abrigo. Um veterinário chamado Éderson Viaro, conhecido como Dersão, foi apontado como o responsável pelos maus-tratos e pela caça ilegal.

Quase duas décadas depois, foi na fazenda de Viaro que encontramos o Clube de Caça e Tiro Esportivo do Estado de Mato Grosso.

Já mostramos no Intercept que os estados da Amazônia Legal tiveram uma explosão de clubes de tiro nos últimos anos. A expansão desse tipo de estabelecimento seguiu a rota do agronegócio e explodiu sob Bolsonaro. Os clubes cercam indígenas, municiam agromilícias e ajudam a explicar a violência acima da média da região. Agora, um novo levantamento feito com base em dados fundiários, cruzados com os registros de clubes de tiro do Exército, traz uma nova camada de informação: a maioria desses clubes fica em zonas rurais – e muitos dentro de fazendas, algumas com histórico comprometedor.

Encontramos, por exemplo, clubes de tiro em fazendas ligadas a sojeiros, políticos e acusados de diversos crimes, como lavagem de dinheiro e invasão de terras indígenas – além da caça ilegal.

Em 2004, um caçador preso em Cáceres apontou Dersão, dono da Fazenda São Jorge, como seu patrão. O fazendeiro teria conseguido escapar do flagrante da Fundação Estadual do Meio Ambiente no Parque Estadual do Guirá, região do Pantanal. Na ocasião foi informado que Dersão era considerado um caçador experiente e tinha autorização do Exército para transportar armas, sob a justificativa de fazer parte de clube de tiro, podendo conduzir o armamento para participar de competições.

Dersão também foi acusado de maus tratos contra animais silvestres depois da divulgação da notícia que a onça Gavião foi mantida em cativeiro em sua propriedade por pelo menos 11 anos. Vídeos divulgados na época mostravam até a participação de estrangeiros nos safáris organizados por ele e o uso de cachorros para auxiliar na caça.

Dersão foi acusado de maus tratos – uma onça foi mantida em cativeiro por ele durante 11 anos.

Foto: Reprodução

O Clube de Caça e Tiro Esportivo Mato Grosso foi fundado poucos anos depois das denúncias, em 2010. É presidido pelo advogado Marcelo Barroso Viaro, filho de Dersão. Em 2022, Dersão chegou a assinar um Termo de Ajustamento de Conduta com o MPF em 2022 em que se compromete a parar de caçar animais silvestres e realizar safáris.

A página do clube está desatualizada e o site, fora do ar. O advogado Marcelo Barroso Viaro foi procurado no número que consta em seu cadastro no Conselho Nacional da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, mesmo telefone que consta no site do clube de tiro. Em contato pelo Whatsapp, informaram que o celular não era dele.

Outro histórico preocupante no Mato Grosso é o clube Associação de Tiro de Alta Floresta, fundado em 2018, que fica na zona rural da cidade mato-grossense de mesmo nome. Seu presidente, André Bianchini Serafin, é também sócio da Brasil Tropical Pisos, uma fabricante que, segundo seu site, exporta pisos e decks de madeira maciça “para mais de 35 países”. O clube está localizado em um lote rural em nome da empresa.

A Brasil Tropical Pisos é ré em uma ação civil pública em que o Ministério Público Federal a acusa de fazer parte de um grupo que invadiu o Parque Nacional do Juruena. O espaço, criado em 2006, fica em uma área próxima à divisa do Mato Grosso com o Amazonas, em pleno arco do desmatamento.

A região ainda está em vias de ser delimitada como território indígena. Um despacho da Fundação Nacional do Índio, de 2011, aprovou as conclusões para reconhecer os estudos de identificação e delimitação da Terra Indígena Apiaká do Pontal e Isolados, onde moram indígenas das etnias Apiaká, Munduruku e por um grupo de indígenas isolados “cuja filiação étnica resta desconhecida”.

A Brasil Tropical Pisos foi condenada em primeira instância a deixar a área do parque em que se localiza a Fazenda Soberana, de 18 mil hectares, e não fazer novas ocupações na área. Em um recurso em abril deste ano, a empresa alega que o decreto de criação do parque caducou, sob o argumento que o processo não foi concluído, com o pagamento de indenizações aos antigos proprietários das terras. A Brasil Tropical afirma ainda que já deixou o local, além de ter ingressado com um processo de desapropriação indireta para receber pela área.

O presidente André Serafin não foi incluído na ação, sob o argumento que a empresa tinha patrimônio próprio para responder na justiça. O Intercept tentou falar com Serafin no telefone do clube de tiro, mas não houve retorno do contato.

Clube de um, fazenda do outro

O levantamento feito pelo Intercept também encontrou um clube de tiro funcionando dentro da Fazenda Santa Bárbara, uma produtora de soja que nos registros do Incra consta como pertencente à Amaggi, empresa da família do ex-governador do estado e ex-ministro da Agricultura Blairo Maggi.

Ao Intercept, a Amaggi afirmou que “foi compromissada” a venda da Fazenda Santa Bárbara em junho de 2018 e “desde então transmitida a posse” e que as atividades econômicas na área “vêm sendo realizadas pelo comprador” – razão pela qual afirmam não ter “nenhuma relação com o referido clube de tiro”. O Cadastro Ambiental Rural do imóvel foi cancelado, mas nele consta o nome da Rotta Agropecuária, uma produtora de soja, algodão e gado.

Localizado em Sapezal, no Mato Grosso, o Clube de Tiro e Caça Patriotas foi fundado em outubro de 2021, em meio ao boom de estabelecimentos do tipo no governo Bolsonaro. O clube de tiro não tem relação direta com os sócios da Rotta e nem da Amaggi – ele é presidido pelo empresário Henrique Caceres Ribas, dono de uma construtora no município de Sapezal.

Só no Mato Grosso, ainda encontramos outros cinco clubes de tiro dentro de fazendas – em quatro deles, os presidentes dos clubes são diferentes dos administradores das propriedades rurais.

A mesma situação acontece em Roraima. Lá, o clube de tiro Associação Desportiva Hubertus é presidido por Luiz Antonio Araujo de Souza e fica em uma área da Wilt Empreendimentos. A empresa está em nome da família do médico Jan Roman Wilt, morto em outubro deste ano. Ele foi preso durante a Operação Exodus da Polícia Federal em 2006, ao lado de outros seis empresários e de José Evandro Moreira, à época presidente da Companhia de Água e Esgoto de Roraima, e cunhado do então governador Ottomar Pinto, morto em 2007.

Wilt é apontado também como dono de hospital e hotel. Assim como outros presos na ação, foi acusado de crime contra o sistema financeiro, lavagem de dinheiro, evasão de divisa e formação de quadrilha, com a movimentação de dinheiro não declarado em offshores. A suspeita era de que o dinheiro teria se originado de desvio de recursos públicos e contrabando de diamantes, segundo a imprensa noticiou na época. O médico era um atirador premiado, com participação em diversos campeonatos nacionais.

A Wilt Empreendimentos e a Associação Desportiva Hubertus foram procuradas no telefone que consta em seus cadastros. O número, no entanto, pertence a um escritório de contabilidade onde não souberam informar o contato dos responsáveis por ambas.

Clubes em unidades de conservação

O levantamento do Intercept, feito pelo geógrafo Eduardo Carlini, especializado em cartografia, aponta que aproximadamente seis em cada dez novos estabelecimentos abertos entre 2019 e 2021 na região Amazônica ficam em áreas rurais, e não em cidades, onde há mais concentração populacional.

O número de novos clubes abertos em áreas rurais não é preciso porque a definição do que é área urbana e área rural em cada município é definido por legislação municipal, explica Carlini. A estimativa leva em conta a interpretação das imagens de satélite das regiões e o fato de alguns desses clubes estarem localizados em áreas identificadas como pertencentes a imóveis rurais, de acordo com o Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária, o Incra.

Nem todos os clubes de tiro rurais apontados na pesquisa são abertos ao público.

A análise aponta ainda que existem seis clubes construídos dentro de unidades de conservação: três deles no Amazonas, dois em Rondônia e um no Acre, algumas delas em áreas públicas. São os casos da Área de Proteção Ambiental Lago do Amapá, no Acre, da Floresta Estadual de Rendimento Sustentável Periquito e do Rio São Domingos, em Rondônia, e das áreas de proteção ambiental da Margem Direita do Rio Negro – Setor Panuari-Solimões, Tarumã/Ponte Negra e Presidente Figueiredo/Caverna do Maroaga, no Amazonas.

Também existem 17 clubes de tiro dentro de antigos assentamentos. Em geral, aponta o geógrafo, não são os assentamentos de reforma agrária, mas sim antigos instrumentos de colonização usados pela ditadura brasileira, como o Projeto de Assentamento Rápido, o Projeto Integrado de Colonização e o Projeto de Assentamento Dirigido. Foram seis casos constatados no Mato Grosso, seis em Rondônia, três no Pará, um no Acre e outro em Roraima.

Nem todos os clubes de tiro rurais apontados na pesquisa são abertos ao público. Em agosto de 2021, tentei visitar dois deles em Rondônia. Para tentar chegar, usei aplicativos como o Google Maps, mas o acesso terminava em porteiras fechadas, sem qualquer informação na entrada. Nem mesmo os vizinhos sabiam da existência desse tipo de atividade no local. Rondônia, como o Intercept já mostrou, é o estado em que mais clubes foram abertos no governo Bolsonaro e também onde mais houve assassinatos de camponeses em 2021.

The post Encontramos clubes de tiro na Amazônia em fazendas de acusados de invadir terras indígenas, lavar dinheiro e até caçar onças appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 amazonia-sitiada-clubes-de-tiro-fazendas-ederson-viaro Legenda.
<![CDATA[José Múcio mantém militares de confiança do governo Bolsonaro na cúpula do Ministério da Defesa de Lula]]> Fri, 20 Jan 2023 13:01:13 +0000 Homens próximos a Braga Netto e Villas Bôas responsáveis pelo assessoramento direto ao ministro da Defesa seguem intocados nos seus cargos.

The post José Múcio mantém militares de confiança do governo Bolsonaro na cúpula do Ministério da Defesa de Lula appeared first on The Intercept.

N“Não é uma reação”, apaziguava, na terça-feira passada, dia 17, o ministro da Casa Civil, Rui Costa. Na fala a jornalistas, na porta do Ministério da Defesa, em Brasília, ele buscava desvincular os ataques terroristas de 8 de janeiro da pauta do almoço que acabara de ter com o anfitrião José Múcio Monteiro e os comandantes das Forças Armadas.

O tom conciliatório de Costa foi recebido com sorrisos por um grupo de servidores em cargos de confiança do primeiro escalão do Ministério da Defesa, naquela tarde ensolarada e quente. Tratam-se de seis militares que têm relações diretas ou próximas com o ex-candidato a vice-presidente de Jair Bolsonaro, Walter Braga Netto, filiado ao PL, e o ex-comandante do Exército, Eduardo Villas Bôas.

Os dois generais da reserva são partes fundamentais da engrenagem que colocou o Exército de volta na política, elegeu Bolsonaro e é suspeita de participar da tentativa de golpe do último dia 8. Braga Netto, segundo o repórter Caio Junqueira, fez reuniões para planejar um (até agora) fracassado golpe de estado.

Mas, decorridos 10 dias dos ataques terroristas – e mais de um mês de sua indicação como ministro de Lula –, Múcio mantém em cargos de confiança gente da estrita confiança do candidato derrotado a vice. Compõem o grupo o subchefe e um assessor do gabinete ministerial, os assessores de Planejamento, Comunicação, Atos e Procedimentos e o secretário de Controle Interno.

Os ocupantes de cargos dessa natureza são habitualmente trocados logo que se inicia um novo governo, para que o ministro empossado monte uma equipe alinhada às políticas públicas que irá executar. Porém, enquanto Lula esbraveja contra os generais para a grande imprensa, ordena a demissão de militares bolsonaristas do Palácio da Alvorada e do Gabinete de Segurança Institucional, o GSI, os homens de Braga Netto e Villas Bôas vão ficando, sem alarde, no primeiro escalão da Defesa.

A pasta foi criada em 1999 por Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Seu objetivo é colocar sob civis a definição das políticas públicas a serem executadas pelas Forças Armadas, além do controle de seu funcionamento – algo corriqueiro em democracias maduras. Porém, sem a criação de uma carreira de servidores civis especializados em políticas de defesa, o ministério nunca funcionou a contento.

Após a queda de Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer a entregou a um ministro militar, jogando no lixo a função para a qual a pasta foi criada. Com Bolsonaro, os militares se entrincheiraram de vez ali. Devolver o controle ao governo civil é uma das missões esperadas do governo Lula – e sobre a qual Múcio até agora desconversa.

“Zé Múcio é meu amigo de muitos anos, é uma pessoa em quem confio, de muita habilidade política. Ele é um homem que sempre que possível tenta evitar qualquer conflito”, disse Lula, em entrevista à jornalista Natuza Nery. É em meio a esse cenário que Rui Costa agendou para essa sexta-feira, dia 20, uma reunião entre o presidente, Múcio e os comandantes das três forças.

Perguntamos a Múcio, por intermédio de assessores, se ele conhecia as ligações de sua equipe próxima com o bolsonarismo e sua agenda e, nesse caso, por que não fez mudanças. Também o questionamos sobre seu conhecimento da missão do Ministério da Defesa – o controle civil das Forças Armadas. Ele preferiu não responder.

É provável que haja mais gente ligada a Bolsonaro em cargos de nomeação política de escalões inferiores da Defesa, a exemplo da Secretaria-Geral – que não são objeto desta reportagem. A lista a seguir, portanto, não dá conta de toda a situação da pasta.

Soldados brasileiros integrantes do contingente de manutenção da paz da Missão das Nações Unidas para a Estabilização do Haiti (Minustah) durante patrulhamento em Port-au-Prince.

Soldados brasileiros integrantes do contingente de manutenção da paz da Missão das Nações Unidas para a Estabilização do Haiti (Minustah) durante patrulhamento em Port-au-Prince.

Foto: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Os ‘haitianos’ de Múcio

Cinco dos seis dos assessores diretos de José Múcio nomeados durante o governo Bolsonaro são oficiais do Exército. Três deles serviram na Missão das Nações Unidas para a Estabilização do Haiti, a Minustah, patrocinada por Lula em seus primeiros mandatos. Tratam-se do tenente-coronel da reserva Jorge Luiz Mendes de Assis, assessor de gabinete; do chefe interino da Assessoria Especial de Comunicação Social, o coronel da reserva Neyton Araujo Pinto; e do capitão reformado Geraldo Calixto de Araújo, assessor de Atos e Procedimentos da Defesa.

A Minustah, acusada de crimes contra civis e violência exacerbada, é vista por pesquisadores das Forças Armadas brasileiras como um laboratório para as operações de Garantia da Lei e da Ordem, as GLOs, que colocaram sob o Exército o comando de atividades eminentemente políticas, como a segurança pública do Rio de Janeiro – com Braga Netto.

O tenente-coronel Mendes foi nomeado adjunto da Assessoria de Apoio para Assuntos Jurídicos do comandante do Exército pouco depois de voltar do Haiti, em 2015. À época, Villas Bôas acabara de assumir, escolhido pela presidente Dilma. Mais tarde, como se sabe, o comandante do Exército foi protagonista da prisão de Lula ao ameaçar o Supremo Tribunal Federal, via Twitter, na véspera do julgamento de um habeas corpus do hoje presidente da República. A Villas Bôas, Bolsonaro já disse dever a eleição em 2018.

Mendes seguiu no posto, segundo o currículo disponível no site da Defesa, até 2021. Em 21 de maio daquele ano, foi chamado para trabalhar no ministério, onde tem salário mensal bruto de R$ 10.373, que se somam aos R$ 22.725 a que tem direito como militar da reserva.

Atual chefe da Assessoria Especial de Comunicação Social, o coronel Neyton Araujo é outro homem de confiança de Braga Netto. Por convite dele, pediu para ser mandado à reserva a fim de se tornar seu assessor na Casa Civil, em abril de 2020. Dois meses antes, o general havia se tornado o primeiro militar a comandar a pasta desde a ditadura. Com a entrega do governo Bolsonaro ao Centrão, Braga Netto foi tornado ministro da Defesa, e levou Araujo a tiracolo.

Quando Braga Netto deixou o governo para ser candidato a vice-presidente com Bolsonaro, Neyton permaneceu na Defesa, onde passou a assessorar outro general truculento, Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira – conhecido pelas ameaças e mentiras sobre o sistema de votação, proferidas sempre aos berros. Neste início de ano, ele aproveita as conversas com jornalistas para também defender a atuação de Bolsonaro na pandemia e uma alegada autonomia das Forças Armadas ante o Ministério da Defesa. Tal qual Mendes, recebe R$ 10.373 mensais pelo cargo político, acrescidos ao soldo de R$ 26.108, brutos, de militar da reserva.

Terceiro “haitiano” de Múcio, o capitão Calixto serviu na Minustah entre 2012 e 2013 – à época, o chefe dela era o general Luiz Eduardo Ramos, outro ex-ministro de Bolsonaro e um dos mais radicalizados entre os generais que foram fazer política no Planalto. Segundo seu currículo, depois de voltar do Haiti, Calixto passou a cuidar do orçamento das Forças Armadas na Assessoria Parlamentar do Ministério da Defesa – a turma responsável pelo lobby fardado junto a deputados e senadores, e que atua em coordenação com o Comando Geral. Deixou o posto em 2018. A se depreender do que está informado no site da Defesa, o capitão Calixto teve cargo de confiança na pasta ao longo de todo o governo Bolsonaro – e assim permanece sob Lula e Múcio.


Apresentação de José Múcio como ministro da Defesa em 2 de janeiro.

Foto: Ministério da Defesa

‘Exército do futuro’ – que nunca chega

O general de três estrelas da reserva Walmir Almada Schneider Filho está no Ministério da Defesa desde 2019, segundo seu currículo. Ainda no governo Dilma Rousseff, entre 2011 e 2015, ele comandou a 7a subchefia do Estado-Maior do Exército, dedicada a “formular as normas e diretrizes para contribuir com a construção do Exército do Futuro”.

São dessa época reportagens que profetizavam um “Exército totalmente reequipado”, a partir da Estratégia Nacional de Defesa elaborada anos antes nos governos petistas – sob a coordenação de dois ministros civis, Nelson Jobim, da Defesa, e Roberto Mangabeira Unger, da Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos. “O ano de 2022 é considerado um marco temporal para nós. Pretendemos que o processo de recuperação termine até lá”, prometia Schneider em uma delas.

A partir de 2012, porém, os militares passaram a revisar sistematicamente a estratégia – tarefa em que a 7a subchefia teve papel relevante. Em 2022, como se sabe, o Exército brasileiro estava mergulhado na política, com milhares de oficiais ocupando cargos destinados a civis na administração federal. E, nesta sexta-feira, uma nova “proposta de modernização” deve ser apresentada a Lula.

Apesar disso tudo, o general Schneider segue chefiando a Assessoria Especial de Planejamento do do Ministério da Defesa desde, pelo menos, abril passado. Serviu a um ministro – Paulo Sérgio – muito mais preocupado em fazer política, inclusive antidemocrática, que em assuntos estratégicos. O cargo lhe rende R$ 13.623 mensais, acrescidos aos R$ 31.908 do soldo de general da reserva, em valores brutos.

Atual subchefe de gabinete do ministro Múcio, o coronel da reserva Alexandre Carlos Magnus de Lara desempenhou o mesmo papel sob os três ministros da Defesa de Bolsonaro. Segundo seu currículo, Magnus se formou aspirante a oficial na turma de 1993 da Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras. Fez uma carreira discreta, cujo ápice foi o comando do 32o Grupo de Artilharia de Campanha, a mais antiga unidade de Artilharia do Exército, atualmente sediada em Brasília. Desde dezembro de 2020, é subchefe de gabinete do ministério – serviu, portanto, a Braga Netto e Paulo Sérgio.

Único militar da lista que não é do Exército (e o único na ativa), o vice-almirante Luiz Roberto Basso é secretário de Controle Interno do Ministério da Defesa desde meados de 2022. É outro que ingressou na pasta sob o ministro Paulo Sérgio. Antes, presidiu o conselho fiscal da Amazônia Azul Tecnologias de Defesa S.A., a Amazul, estatal criada pelos militares para “promover, desenvolver, transferir e manter tecnologias sensíveis às atividades do Programa Nuclear da Marinha e do Programa de Desenvolvimento de Submarinos”, o Prosub. Os salários brutos de Basso somam R$ 40 mil. Ele recebe R$31.892,64 como militar e R$ 8.174,03 no cargo civil.

The post José Múcio mantém militares de confiança do governo Bolsonaro na cúpula do Ministério da Defesa de Lula appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 HAITI-UN-MINUSTAH-BRAZIL-PATROL Soldados brasileiros integrantes do contingente de manutenção da paz da Missão das Nações Unidas para a Estabilização do Haiti (Minustah) durante patrulhamento em Port-au-Prince. 22505891-high-jose-mucio-lula-militares Legenda.
<![CDATA[Exército fez ‘casinha’ para terroristas se protegerem, mostram depoimentos de presos em flagrante]]> Thu, 19 Jan 2023 14:17:35 +0000 Presos disseram à Polícia Civil que buscaram proteção com os militares quando a polícia chegou – e houve embate entre as forças de segurança.

The post Exército fez ‘casinha’ para terroristas se protegerem, mostram depoimentos de presos em flagrante appeared first on The Intercept.

As bombas de efeito moral do Batalhão de Choque explodiam em frente ao Palácio do Planalto, onde estava o baiano J.C.P, autônomo de 38 anos, na tarde de 8 de janeiro. Então, “pessoas ligadas ao movimento” o orientaram a entrar no prédio e buscar proteção com o Exército, segundo depoimento dado à Polícia Civil após ser preso. No palácio, ainda segundo seu relato, ele e outras pessoas se ajoelharam e rezaram para os militares. Então, em determinado momento, “o Exército fez uma ‘casinha’ para os manifestantes, que ficaram encurralados com a chegada da tropa de choque”, ele narrou. Os policiais jogaram gás lacrimogêneo e deram voz de prisão a todos.

Mais de 20 depoimentos de golpistas presos em flagrante contam a mesma história de J.C.P.: os militares protegeram os bolsonaristas dentro do Palácio do Planalto durante a invasão golpista.

Trecho de depoimento do preso J.C.P.

Segundo L.C.B, de Brasília,”militares do Exército acenaram para os manifestantes chamando-os para se abrigar no Palácio do Planalto”. Outro terrorista, o paraense A.K.P.C, de Marabá, disse que o Exército “orientou que os manifestantes se sentassem e aguardassem o gás se dissipar”. Eles, então, se sentaram em frente ao cordão dos militares. P.A.S, também preso em flagrante durante os ataques aos prédios públicos na capital federal, afirmou que os militares mandaram todos se deitarem “porque eles protegeriam os manifestantes”.

Alguns golpistas disseram que ficaram sentados, outros ajoelhados, e passaram a rezar para os militares do Exército. Então, chegou a Tropa de Choque da PM. Os relatos dão conta de que houve discussão entre os policiais militares – que são acusados de agir com truculência pelos terroristas – e o Exército.

PROCESSO: 1000919-83.2023.4.01.3400 - AUTO DE PRISÃO EM FLAGRAN

Trecho de depoimento do preso G.B.S.

“O pessoal do Exército ficou na frente tentando fazer contato com os policiais militares, momento em que os militares do Exército e a Tropa de Choque da PM entraram em uma discussão”, declarou L.C.B. O paulistano G.B.S fez um relato semelhante. Ele contou que, ao entrar no prédio e encontrar os militares, fez o mesmo que os outros: “postou-se de joelhos rogando ajuda”. Na sequência, houve um “embate entre os militares do Exército e os militares da tropa de choque da PM”.

Segundo outro golpista preso, houve confusão porque a “polícia agiu de forma mais truculenta, enquanto o Exército foi mais cuidadoso com as pessoas”.

Em outro momento, o golpista mineiro F.A.S, de Sacramento, afirmou que um homem vestido de camisa social branca tentou intervir no trabalho da Tropa de Choque. “Aparentou ser uma pessoa importante, uma autoridade, possivelmente do Exército Brasileiro”, relatou. De acordo com ele, o sujeito conseguiu segurar os policiais por algum tempo. A paulista L.B.S, de São José dos Campos, parece ter visto o mesmo homem, que ela disse ser um “servidor da casa”, ao subir ao primeiro andar do palácio. “Ele estava de roupa social, cor branca, baixo, cabelos castanhos, quando o Exército entrou e mandou todos descerem”. Segundo seu relato, o homem bem-vestido forneceu uma garrafa de 1 litro de água aos golpistas. Ela obedeceu o homem e, posteriormente, se ajoelhou diante dos militares.

Outros depoimentos relataram a mesma devoção dos golpistas aos militares e o mesmo apoio do Exército. “O Exército já estava lá dentro deixando as pessoas com a sensação de estarem seguras”, informou o paulista D.S.N, de Carapicuíba. Já G.A.D, de Ipora, em Goiás, “ficou abaixada no pé do pessoal do Exército até ser presa pela Polícia Militar que entrou no ambiente”.

Enquanto o Exército orientava e cuidava do bem-estar dos terroristas, poltronas, cadeiras e outros objetos públicos eram arremessados – isso ainda de acordo com os mesmos relatos. Ao som do caos, de bombas e estilhaços, somavam-se os gritos de socorro, “fora Lula”, “presidiário”, trechos do hino nacional e louvores. Em seu depoimento, I.I.P., mineira de 57 anos de Cambuí, imaginou que “se tivesse muita gente, teria o apoio do Exército para evitar a instalação do comunismo no Brasil”.

Questionado pelo Intercept sobre alguns relatos e sua conduta diante da depredação, o Centro de Comunicação Social do Exército afirmou apenas que “o fato está sendo apurado pelas autoridades competentes”.

Trecho de depoimento do preso I.I.P.

Conciliada e gradual

Os depoimentos dos terroristas presos vão na mesma linha dos relatos de dois outros personagens-chave no caso. Em um depoimento à PF na quinta-feira, dia 12, o ex-comandante da Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal, coronel Fábio Augusto Vieira, afirmou  que o Exército estava mobilizado para não permitir a entrada da PM no acampamento golpista. Ele disse também que, após os ataques, o Exército teria atuado para “impedir prisões”.

O governador afastado do Distrito Federal, Ibaneis Rocha, também afirmou em depoimento à Polícia Federal que, além de sabotagem da própria polícia, o Exército impediu o desmonte do acampamento golpista ainda no dia 8, em uma reunião tensa. O Exército exigiu que o acampamento fosse desmontado apenas na manhã do dia seguinte aos atos nos prédios dos Três Poderes, o que foi executado pela PM do Distrito Federal. Mais de 1,2 mil pessoas foram detidas no desmonte do QG golpista. Não se sabe, porém, quantos deles deixaram o acampamento enquanto o Exército fazia corpo mole.

Na Polícia Federal, não há dúvidas de que a guarida do Exército aos golpistas que se refugiaram no acampamento impediu a prisão de alguns dos principais responsáveis pela invasão aos prédios dos Três Poderes no dia do ataque.

Chamou a atenção dos policiais federais, por exemplo, a grande quantidade de moradores de rua detidos na manhã de 9 de janeiro, quando finalmente a PMDF pôde entrar e efetuar prisões na área do acampamento. Muita gente que vive pelas ruas do Plano Piloto encontrou no acampamento golpista um local para usar os banheiros químicos, tomar banho e descolar uma refeição. Trata-se de um indício de que àquela altura restavam no acampamento, principalmente, pessoas tão alheias à realidade que não se deram conta da possibilidade serem presas pela suspeita de participarem da destruição.

Vale lembrar, ainda, que o Exército poderia ter desocupado o QG golpista ainda em dezembro – mas duas ações foram suspensas, segundo os militares, por causa do risco de confronto com os acampados. A orientação seria uma retirada “conciliada, lenta e gradual”, segundo interlocutores ouvidos pela Folha. O ministro da Defesa, José Múcio Monteiro, respaldou a abordagem. “Aquelas manifestações no acampamento, e eu digo com muita autoridade porque tenho familiares e amigos lá, é uma manifestação da democracia”, ele garantiu no discurso de sua posse, em 2 de janeiro. Poucos dias depois, os golpistas destruiriam o Palácio do Planalto, o Congresso Nacional e o Supremo Tribunal Federal.

Colaboraram: André Uzêda, Guilherme Mazieiro, Rafael Moro Martins e Tatiana Dias

The post Exército fez ‘casinha’ para terroristas se protegerem, mostram depoimentos de presos em flagrante appeared first on The Intercept.

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<![CDATA[Unredacted NIH Emails Show Efforts to Rule Out Lab Origin of Covid]]> Thu, 19 Jan 2023 10:00:17 +0000 Virologists close to the NIH initially believed the Covid virus could be genetically engineered. Unredacted emails show how their thinking evolved.

The post Unredacted NIH Emails Show Efforts to Rule Out Lab Origin of Covid appeared first on The Intercept.

As Covid-19 was spreading fear and spurring lockdowns across the United States in early 2020, the scientific journal Nature Medicine published a paper on March 17 titled “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2.” Written by five renowned academic scientists, it played an important early role in shaping the debate about a fiercely controversial topic: the origin of the virus that has killed millions since it emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Did it spill from animals to humans in nature, on a farm, in a market? Or did it leak from a lab like the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a leading center of coronavirus research in China? Drawing on “comparative analysis of genomic data,” the paper’s authors wrote that “our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated construct.” Toward the end of the paper, they added, “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible” in explaining the origin of the virus. Instead, the scientists strongly favored a natural origin, arguing that the virus likely spilled from bats into humans, possibly by way of an intermediate animal host.

The peer-reviewed paper proved to be hugely influential. Dr. Francis Collins, then the director of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, announced its findings in a post on the agency’s website in late March 2020. When asked during an April 17 press briefing at the White House about concerns that SARS-CoV-2 had come out of a lab in China, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently stepped down as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, referenced the paper, describing its conclusions and calling its authors “a group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists.” The paper has been accessed online more than 5.7 million times and has been cited by more than 2,000 media outlets. ABC News, for instance, ran an article on March 27 titled “Sorry, Conspiracy Theorists. Study Concludes Covid-19 ‘Is Not a Laboratory Construct.’” In that article, one of the paper’s authors, Robert Garry, is quoted saying, “There’s a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories that went to a pretty high level, so we felt it was important to get a team together to examine evidence of this new coronavirus to determine what we could about the origin.”

What that quote didn’t quite convey was that Garry and several of the paper’s other co-authors were themselves initially suspicious that SARS-CoV-2 may have emerged from a lab. They communicated their suspicions to Fauci, Collins, and others in late January and early February 2020, and what ensued was a period of intense and confidential deliberation about the origin of the virus.

Unredacted records obtained by The Nation and The Intercept offer detailed insights into those confidential deliberations. The documents show that in the early days of the pandemic, Fauci and Collins took part in a series of email exchanges and telephone calls in which several leading virologists expressed concern that SARS-CoV-2 looked potentially “engineered.” The participants also contemplated the possibility that laboratory activities had inadvertently led to the creation and release of the virus. The conversations convey a sense of anxious urgency and included speculation about the specific types of laboratory techniques that might have caused the virus’s emergence. After roughly a week of debate and data collection, one of the key figures involved in the deliberations characterized the focus of the group’s work as follows: “to disprove any type of lab theory.” Several of the scientists on the calls and emails then went on to write and publish “Proximal Origin.” It became one of the best-read papers in the history of science.

The records presented here were made public by the NIH in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by this reporter. Their release in late November came as Fauci prepared to leave the agency after decades of service, and as Republicans in Congress, in anticipation of their imminent control of the House, geared up to launch oversight investigations into the origin of Covid-19.

Many of the documents analyzed in this article were first obtained in 2021, in heavily redacted form, by journalist Jason Leopold. Some of them were later presented to Congress, where staffers were allowed to look at them and take notes but could not keep full copies. It was only after more than a year of litigation that the NIH released these documents without redactions. Their contents have been met with widely divergent interpretations by the participants in the often vitriolic debate about the origin of Covid-19. What most people seem to agree on, however, is that the documents are a valuable record of the early days of the pandemic and belong in the public domain.

“These documents are important, and they should have been available earlier. The public has a right to know,” says Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, who favors a natural origin explanation for SARS-CoV-2 but doesn’t rule out the possibility of a lab origin. “All the world has suffered from Covid-19, and we deserve to have all information open and transparent, with a rigorous evaluation of what the cause was.”

Professor Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of NSW, Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome Trust, and Dr. Anthony Fauci (from left to right).

Left to right: Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney; Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome Trust; and Dr. Anthony Fauci, former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Photo: Louie Douvie/Getty Images; ddp images; William B. Plowman/Getty Images

Wild West

On January 31, 2020, Fauci received an email from Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, an influential health research foundation based in the U.K. “Tony, really would like to speak with you this evening,” he wrote.

“Will call shortly,” came an emailed response from Fauci’s assistant.

Farrar then wrote to Fauci: “Thanks Tony. Can you phone Kristian Anderson [sic] … He is expecting your call now. The people involved are: Kristian Anderson … Bob Garry … Eddie Holmes.” Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research, Robert Garry of Tulane University, and Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney are all eminent biologists and virologists, and all three would go on to be co-authors of “Proximal Origin.” Garry and Andersen have both been recipients of large grants from the NIH in recent years, as has another “Proximal Origin” author, W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University.

Fauci had his phone call with Andersen that night, and what he heard clearly disturbed him. In an email to Farrar after the call, he wrote the following: “I told [Andersen] that as soon as possible he and Eddie Holmes should get a group of evolutionary biologists together to examine carefully the data to determine if his concerns are validated. He should do this very quickly and if everyone agrees with this concern, they should report it to the appropriate authorities. I would imagine that in the USA this would be the FBI and in the UK it would be MI5.”

What were Andersen’s concerns? And why were they so dire they might merit a call to the FBI?

Andersen laid them out plainly in an email to Fauci that same evening. “The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered,” Andersen wrote in the email. “I should mention,” he added, “that after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory. But we have to look at this much more closely and there are still further analyses to be done, so those opinions could still change.”

Thus began a scramble to probe in private the origin of SARS-CoV-2. The following day, Saturday, February 1, Farrar organized a conference call with Fauci, Andersen, Holmes, Garry, and several other scientists, including Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh and Ron Fouchier, a prominent Dutch virologist whose work experimenting with the H5N1 influenza virus has sparked controversy in the past. Also invited on the call were Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government, and Collins. This “close knit group,” as Farrar later described it, was to treat their discussion “in total confidence.”

Fauci spent part of the morning before the 2 p.m. ET conference call brushing up on what sorts of grants and collaborations his agency was involved in with research institutions in China. In an email to his deputy Hugh Auchincloss, he wrote: “It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on. … You will have tasks today that must be done.”

In a recent deposition, Fauci said he emailed Auchincloss before that afternoon’s conference call because he “wanted to be briefed on the scope of what our collaborations were and the kind of work that we were funding in China. I wanted to know what the nature of that work was.”

In the deposition, Fauci was asked if he was concerned that the work he had funded in China “might have led to the creation of the coronavirus.”

“I wasn’t concerned that it might have,” he responded, “but I didn’t like the fact that I was completely in the dark about the totality of the work that [was] being done, and I was going into a phone call with a larger group of established scientists and I wanted to have at my fingertips just what we were and were not doing.”

If he wasn’t aware of the details already, Fauci may have learned that morning that the NIH, via a U.S. nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance, had provided money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Among other things, the NIH helped fund experiments at WIV that infected genetically engineered mice with “chimeric” hybrids of SARS-related bat coronaviruses in what some scientists have described as unacceptably risky research. As The Intercept has reported, these particular experiments could not have sparked the pandemic — the viruses described in the research are too different from SARS-CoV-2 — but it does raise questions about what other kinds of experiments were going on in Wuhan and haven’t been disclosed. Key details of these U.S.-funded experiments were made public only after The Intercept filed a FOIA lawsuit.

This general view shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021, as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, visit. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province, on Feb. 3, 2021.

Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

When the conference call kicked off later that day, it provided a forum, according to Farrar, to “listen to the work Eddie, Bob and Kristian have done. Question it and think through next steps.” The specific contents of the conference call are unknown, but emails sent among the participants during and after help fill in the picture.

On February 2, for instance, the scientists and health officials sent a series of emails explaining their views on the virus’s features and its possible origin. The possibility that the virus emerged from a lab release was top of mind for some of the scientists. In one email to Fauci, Collins, and another NIH official, Farrar wrote, “On a spectrum if 0 is nature and 100 is release—I am honestly at 50!”

Farrar then summarized the perspectives of several other scientists, including Michael Farzan, of UF Scripps Institute. Farzan, Farrar wrote, was particularly puzzled by the presence in the virus’s genome of a furin cleavage site, which is a feature that has not been found in other SARS-related coronaviruses. The furin cleavage site plays an important role in helping the virus infect human airway cells. Farzan was “bothered by the furin site and has a hard time explaining that as an event outside the lab (though, there are possible ways in nature, but highly unlikely).” On the question of whether the virus had a natural origin or came from some sort of accidental lab release, Farrar reported that Farzan was “70:30” or “60:40” in favor of an “accidental-release” explanation and that “Bob” — an apparent reference to Robert Garry — was also surprised by the presence of a furin cleavage site in this virus. Farrar quoted Bob saying: “I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature. … it’s stunning.”

Several other scientists, including the Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier, offered very different perspectives. In a lengthy February 2 email, Fouchier wrote, “It is my opinion that a non-natural origin of [the virus] is highly unlikely at present. Any conspiracy theory can be approached with factual information. I have written down some of the counter-arguments.” Among other things, he explained that a “natural origin of the furin site is certainly not impossible.” He also warned his colleagues that further debate about the “accusation” that SARS-CoV-2 may have been engineered and released into the environment by humans “would unnecessarily distract top researchers from their active duties and do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular.” He expressed doubt that a follow-up discussion about the origin question “needs to be done on very short term,” given other pressing issues.

Throughout these exchanges, the scientists and health officials showed keen awareness of the growing public interest in and social media discussion about the question of Covid-19’s origin.

“I agree that we really cannot take Ron’s suggestion about waiting,” Fauci wrote on February 2. “Like all of us, I do not know how this evolved, but given the concerns of so many people and the threat of further distortions on social media, it is essential that we move quickly.”

“Hopefully we can get [the World Health Organization] to convene,” he added. Fauci, Farrar, and Collins had decided to alert top WHO brass to the concerns about the origin of the virus and ask the organization to convene a group to explore the matter. WHO apparently declined to do so at the time.

“Critical that responsible, respected scientists and agencies get ahead of the science and the narrative of this and are not reacting to reports which could be very damaging,” Farrar wrote that same day.

By February 4, after a brief period of debate and data collection, Edward Holmes and some of the other scientists involved in the calls and emails had written up a rough summary of their deliberations. “It’s fundamental science and completely neutral as written,” he explained in an email. “Did not mention other anomalies as this will make us look like loons.”

In contrast to the scientists’ concerns a few days prior that the virus looked potentially engineered, the summary definitively stated that the “deliberate engineering” of the virus could be ruled out with a “high degree of confidence as the data is inconsistent with this scenario.” Instead, it laid out two main hypotheses for the virus’s emergence: that it evolved via natural selection in an animal host or that it emerged accidentally from a laboratory practice known as “selection during passage.” “It is currently impossible to prove or disprove either,” the summary stated, “and it is unclear whether future data or analyses will help resolve this issue.”

Holmes sent the summary to Farrar, who forwarded it to Fauci and Collins. It sparked a speculative discussion among the three men about the kind of laboratory work that could have inadvertently created the virus. Their speculations centered on “serial passage” or “repeated tissue culture passage,” a practice in which a virus is evolved in a lab by repeatedly passaging it through mice, other lab animals, or cell culture. In some cases, this technique involves passing viruses through the bodies of mice that have been genetically altered to express certain human proteins. The technique can also make it possible for scientists to “fairly rapidly select for more pathogenic variants [of a virus] in the laboratory,” as Garry would note in a later email.

After reviewing the summary document from Holmes and his team, Collins wrote: “Very thoughtful analysis. I note that Eddie is now arguing against the idea that this is the product of intentional human engineering. But repeated tissue culture passage is still an option—though it doesn’t explain the O-linked glycans,” another feature of the virus that the scientists scrutinized.

Farrar replied in an early-morning email: “Being very careful in the morning wording. ‘Engineered’ probably not. Remains very real possibility of accidental lab passage in animals to give glycans.” The scientists seem by this point to have made a sharp distinction between a scenario in which the virus was deliberately engineered in a lab and a scenario in which the virus was generated during serial passage experiments in a lab.

“Eddie would be 60:40 lab side,” Farrar added. “I remain 50:50.”

“Yes, I’d be interested in the proposal of accidental lab passage in animals (which ones?),” Collins wrote.

“?? Serial passage in ACE2-transgenic mice,” Fauci responded.

“Exactly!” Farrar replied.

“Surely that wouldn’t be done in a BSL-2 lab?” wrote Collins, referring to biosafety level 2 labs, which do not have the most stringent safety protocols.

“Wild West…” was Farrar’s response, an apparent reference to lab practices in China or possibly to the Wuhan Institute of Virology itself.

In the above exchange, the health officials seem to be contemplating the possibility that the repeated passage of a coronavirus through genetically modified mice in an insufficiently secure lab could have resulted in the accidental emergence and release of SARS-CoV-2. In a later email exchange, Farrar, quoting Garry, noted that serial passage in animals had been proved to result in the appearance of furin cleavage sites in other viruses, specifically the H5N1 flu virus. “There are a couple passage of H5N1 in chicken papers—the furin site appears in steps.”

A Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), also known as the Malayan or Javan pangolin, upon its release into the Cardamom Mountain Rainforest by Wildlife Alliance staff, on June 7, 2019, in Koh Kong, Cambodia.

A Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), also known as the Malayan or Javan pangolin, upon its release into the Cardamom Mountain Rainforest by Wildlife Alliance staff on June 7, 2019, in Koh Kong, Cambodia.

Photo: Joshua Prieto/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty Images

Trying to Disprove Lab Theory

In the days after February 4, the summary document written by Holmes and his colleagues continued to circulate among the scientists and health officials, including Collins and Fauci, as it was revised and reworked. The scientists were now contemplating three main hypotheses for the virus’s origin: two involving a natural spillover event and one involving a lab origin. They hypothesized that it jumped from its original host, likely a bat, directly into humans, where it evolved its pandemic potential; that it spilled from its original host into some intermediate animal host before jumping into humans; or that it was the result of some sort of lab accident involving serial passage. The scientists wrote that “current data are consistent with all three” scenarios.

On February 7, Farrar notified Fauci and Collins that new preliminary data had come in from China concerning coronaviruses found in pangolins, one of the world’s most heavily trafficked mammals. It seemed to excite the scientists: “Reports coming out overnight that Chinese group have pangolin viruses that are 99% similar,” Farrar wrote. “This would be a crucially important finding and if true could be the ‘missing link’ and explain a natural evolutionary link.”

“That will be VERY interesting,” Collins responded. “Does it have the furin cleavage site?”

The pangolin data, it turned out, did not provide an explanation for the scientists’ central concerns about the furin cleavage site, and the viruses isolated from some pangolins were not 99 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2, but the data did show that coronaviruses circulating in pangolins shared other key features with the pandemic virus. This seems to have played an important role in shifting the scientists’ thinking away from the lab hypothesis.

Holmes, who had been described in an earlier email as being “60:40 lab side,” wrote, “Personally, with the pangolin virus possessing 6/6 key sites in the receptor binding domain, I am in favour of the natural evolution theory.”

 “Are we working on debunking our own conspiracy theory?”

The scientists and health officials began debating whether to publish their work and how to address the issue of a possible lab origin. On February 8, Farrar wrote to several of the scientists asking for their views on the revised summary document and seeking their advice on potential publication.

Christian Drosten, a scientist from Germany, responded. Among other things, he wrote: “Can someone help me with one question: didn’t we congregate to challenge a certain theory, and if we could, drop it?”

“Who came up with this story in the beginning?” he added. “Are we working on debunking our own conspiracy theory?”

Holmes replied, in part: “Ever since this outbreak started there have been suggestions that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, if only because of the coincidence of where the outbreak occurred and the location of the lab. I do a lot of work in China and I can you [sic] that a lot of people there believe this and believe they are being lied to.”

Kristian Andersen, who would end up being listed as the first author of “Proximal Origin,” also weighed in on February 8. “The fact that Wuhan became the epicenter of the ongoing epidemic caused by nCoV [novel coronavirus] is likely an unfortunate coincidence, but it raises questions that would be wrong to dismiss out of hand,” he wrote. “Our main work over the last couple of weeks has been focused on trying to disprove any type of lab theory, but we are at a crossroad where the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive enough to say that we have high confidence in any of the three main theories considered.”

“As to publishing this document in a journal,” he added, “I am currently not in favor of doing so. I believe that publishing something that is open-ended could backfire at this stage.” Andersen suggested that the scientists wait and collect more evidence so they could publish some “strong conclusive statements that are based on the best data we have access to. I don’t think we are there yet.”

Though it is unclear from the documents what convinced them to do so, the scientists decided to publish the final paper the following month. On March 6, Andersen wrote to Farrar, Fauci, Collins, and others announcing that “Proximal Origin” had been accepted for publication. “Thank you for your advice and leadership as we have been working through the SARS-CoV-2 ‘origins’ paper,” he wrote. “We’re happy to say that the paper was just accepted by Nature Medicine and should be published shortly (not quite sure when).”

“Thanks for your note,” Fauci replied. “Nice job on the paper.”

Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité in Berlin, is looking at samples at the Institute of Virology, where research on the coronavirus is underway, 23 Jan., 2020, Berlin, Germany.

Christian Drosten looks at samples at the Charité’s Institute of Virology, where he is director, on Jan. 23, 2020, in Berlin.

Photo: Christophe Gateau/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

No Definitive Data

“The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” was published on March 17, and its findings were much more conclusive than those of the earlier summaries circulated among the scientists. The summaries had not taken a strong stand on whether the virus had emerged from a natural spillover or was the result of selection during passage in a laboratory. The final version explicitly favored a natural origin: “Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features … in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.” The earlier summaries had also included a direct reference in the text to labs in Wuhan: “Basic research involving passage of bat SARS-like [coronaviruses] in cell culture and/or animal models have been ongoing in BSL-2 for many years across the world, including in Wuhan.” The reference to Wuhan was cut from this sentence in the final paper, among other changes.

Holmes would later describe the evolution of the paper as the scientific process at work: “I’ve absolutely no problem with people knowing that my views on this issue have evolved as more data have appeared. That’s science,” he wrote in a document obtained via FOIA request. “Indeed, I’ve told this to many people: the way see [sic] it is that we set-up an hypothesis and then tested it. As far I [sic] can tell we are only ‘guilty’ of following the proper scientific method.”

Scientists interviewed for this story had varied interpretations of what the unredacted documents show. Stephen Goldstein, a postdoctoral research associate and evolutionary virologist at the University of Utah, called them a “valuable addition to the body of knowledge surrounding these discussions.”

“In these e-mails we can see science in action—while initially alarmed by certain genomic features, the authors of The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2 consult with accomplished experts in coronavirus biology, which substantially improves their analysis of the viral genome,” he wrote.

“That said these e-mails also clearly reveal just a fraction of the work that would have gone into producing ‘Proximal Origin,’” he added, noting that many of the conversations that informed the paper are likely not captured in the recent FOIA release.

“I think they did what was reasonable given the information they had at the time and given the pace they were moving at here,” said Michael Imperiale, a virologist at the University of Michigan. “This is the way the scientific process works — we make conclusions based on what we know and modify as we learn more.”

Others, however, have a less sanguine view about what these unredacted emails contain. Sergei Pond is a computational virologist at Temple University who is “agnostic” on the question of the virus’s origin. He described reading this new batch of emails as a “revelatory experience” and likened it to watching the TV show “Breaking Bad,” in which the main character, through a series of small, understandable decisions, ends up in a bad place. He sees in the emails a desire to downplay the deep concern about the possibility of a lab origin.

“It started out being a fairly careful discussion, with anomalies being aired out and people saying multiple times that there is simply not enough data to resolve this,” he said in a recent interview. “But at some point, I think there was such strong pressure that they went from ‘Let’s just wait to get more data’ to ‘Let’s publish something that has a very strong opinion favoring one explanation over another without acquiring any new data.’”

“The big question,” he said, “is why did this happen?”

Pond added that there was no data then, and there is no data now, that would definitively indicate that a lab origin like the one contemplated in “Proximal Origin” is not at least plausible.

David Relman, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and medicine at Stanford University, also has critical words for the paper, arguing that it rests on “flawed assumptions and opinion” and doesn’t fairly contend with the possibility of a lab-associated origin, which he believes is as plausible as a natural origin.

“When I first saw it in March 2020, the paper read to me as a conclusion in search of an argument,” he said. “Among its many problems, it failed to consider in a serious fashion the possibility of an unwitting and unrecognized accidental leak during aggressive efforts to grow coronaviruses from bat and other field samples. It also assumed that researchers in Wuhan have told the world about every virus and every sequence that was in their laboratories in 2019. But these [unredacted emails] actually provide evidence that the authors considered a few additional lab-associated scenarios, early in their discussions. But then they rushed to judgment, and the lab scenarios fell out of favor.”

“It appears as if a combination of a scant amount of data and an unspoken bias against the [lab origin] scenario diminished the idea in their minds,” he added.

Several academic scientists who were asked to comment for this article expressed their gratitude that these documents are now public but declined to speak on the record given the rancor surrounding this subject. Others, including all five authors of “Proximal Origin” as well as Fouchier and Farzan, declined to comment, did not respond to queries, or were otherwise unavailable. The NIH did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The Wellcome Trust declined to make Farrar available. In December, WHO announced that Farrar would be its new chief scientist. Also that month, Republican members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent letters to Andersen, Garry, Fauci, Collins, and others seeking documents and testimony concerning the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

As the search for that origin continues, both in Congress and in the scientific community, it is unclear whether dispositive evidence to support either the lab or natural origin theory will ever emerge. Georgetown’s Lawrence Gostin, for his part, is not optimistic, noting that the Chinese government has foreclosed the possibility of a rigorous, transparent, and independent investigation into the emergence of the virus in Wuhan.

“I think it is extraordinarily sad for humankind that we probably will never know for sure,” he said. “But I lay much of that in the hands of China.”

The post Unredacted NIH Emails Show Efforts to Rule Out Lab Origin of Covid appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 holmes-farrar-fauci-covid Professor Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of NSW, Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome Trust, and Dr. Anthony Fauci (from left to right). CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS The Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. AP21140541800230-sunda-pangolin A Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), also known as the Malayan or Javan pangolin, upon its release into the Cardamom Mountain Rainforest by Wildlife Alliance staff, on June 7, 2019, in Koh Kong, Cambodia. GettyImages-1195536237-drosten-covid Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité in Berlin, is looking at samples at the Institute of Virology, where research on the coronavirus is underway, 23 Jan., 2020, Berlin, Germany.
<![CDATA[Com Bolsonaro, Ministério do Meio Ambiente abriu mão de área na Amazônia onde madeireiros derrubaram 45 mil caminhões de árvores]]> Tue, 17 Jan 2023 15:01:26 +0000 Ipês e jatobás têm sido constantemente derrubados usando brechas de órgão estadual e falhas do Ministério do Meio Ambiente.

The post Com Bolsonaro, Ministério do Meio Ambiente abriu mão de área na Amazônia onde madeireiros derrubaram 45 mil caminhões de árvores appeared first on The Intercept.

Para quem olha do alto, a impressão é de uma serpente se embrenhando na mata. Mas basta se aproximar para visualizar a estrada aberta pelos tratores, ampla o suficiente para a passagem de um caminhão. É a partir dela que os operadores de motosserra entram na floresta para derrubar as espécies mais valiosas, como o ipê e o jatobá, cujos metros cúbicos são vendidos a 3 mil e a 1,5 mil dólares no mercado internacional, respectivamente. Abatidas, as árvores são trazidas até os caminhões pelo skidder, uma máquina com um grande gancho na ponta — perfeito para pinçar e arrastar as enormes toras.

Como cupins abrindo trilhos floresta adentro, os madeireiros saquearam 45 mil caminhões carregados de toras de uma área da União localizada no município de Lábrea, no sul do Amazonas — uma região que se tornou o epicentro do desmatamento da maior floresta tropical do mundo. Colocados um atrás do outro, os veículos formariam uma fila de 450 quilômetros, o equivalente à distância entre São Paulo e Curitiba. Um saque que não aconteceu à revelia das autoridades ambientais, mas sim entre a bênção e o desinteresse de órgãos que deveriam zelar pelo meio ambiente.

O volume retirado da área pública equivale a cinco operações Handroanthus, na qual a Polícia Federal, a PF, fez a maior apreensão de madeira ilegal da história. Em 2020, ano em que a maior quantidade de madeira foi retirada da gleba (200 mil metros cúbicos, 30% do total explorado), o órgão ambiental do Amazonas, o Ipaam, já havia sido alertado das irregularidades nos planos de manejo florestal sustentável da região, os PMFS – documento que detalha quantas e quais espécies de árvores podem ser derrubadas em uma determinada propriedade. A informação estava em uma recomendação do Ministério Público Federal, o MPF, de 2018. Enquanto o Ipaam ignorava as medidas propostas pelo órgão para estancar a sangria, os madeireiros aumentavam a ferida na floresta.

“Nesse meio tempo praticamente se esgotou todo o volume que tinha para ser explorado nos planos de manejo fraudulentos e essa madeira, que é ilegal, entrou no circuito de madeira como se fosse um produto legal“, afirmou Nilo D’Avila, pesquisador sênior do Greenpeace.

Do tamanho de duas cidades de São Paulo, a João Bento é uma área não-destinada, ou gleba — como são chamadas as terras públicas que não foram convertidas em áreas indígenas e quilombolas, unidades de conservação, assentamentos, concessões florestais ou propriedades privadas — e que se tornaram o alvo número um dos grileiros, como mostramos na primeira reportagem da série Ladrões de Floresta.

A estimativa da extração na gleba federal foi feita a partir das cicatrizes deixadas na mata pelos madeireiros, visíveis nas imagens de satélite, e abrange um período de nove anos, de 2013 a 2021. O levantamento foi feito com exclusividade para o Intercept pelo Center for Climate Crime Analysis, o CCCA — uma ONG que atua para responsabilizar judicialmente empresas que colaboram para o aquecimento global — e se baseou em taxas de exploração de madeira por hectare utilizadas em planos de manejo florestal da região. Na prática, o prejuízo pode ser bem maior, já que na extração ilegal o volume explorado pode ser até duas vezes superior àquele autorizado pelos órgãos ambientais.

 Análise do CCCA da exploração florestal na gleba João Bento. Em amarelo, área de floresta que foi alvo de extração madeireira. Em vermelho, área que foi alvo de extração madeireira e depois totalmente derrubada.

Mapa: Júlia Coelho/The Intercept Brasil

De mãos dadas com a grilagem de terras, a ação dos madeireiros alimentou uma máquina de desmatamento que já colocou abaixo quase metade dos 295 mil hectares da gleba, que é a última barreira antes de um vasto bloco de áreas protegidas, onde há inclusive registros de indígenas isolados — o mais recente foi descoberto em 2021 na Reserva Extrativista do Médio Purus.

“Esta região abriga os últimos grandes maciços de floresta que temos na Amazônia, porque o resto já está muito fragmentado”, afirmou Antonio Oviedo, pesquisador do Instituto Socioambiental, o ISA.

Mapa: Júlia Coelho/The Intercept Brasil

As árvores saqueadas da gleba abasteceram dezenas de serrarias instaladas ao longo da BR-364, no trecho da rodovia que liga Porto Velho a Rio Branco. A região, conhecida como Ponta do Abunã, já foi alvo de diversas operações do MPF e da PF, que revelaram desde a existência de uma associação de madeireiros ilegais, em 2011 — com direito a CNPJ, estatuto social e pedágio para controlar o acesso à área pública —, até uma vaquinha da propina, em que os madeireiros juntavam dinheiro para subornar fiscais ambientais, em 2019.

No mesmo ano, também foi preso Chaules Pozzebon, dono de mais de 120 madeireiras na região norte e condenado a 99 anos de prisão pelos crimes de organização criminosa e extorsão. Em novembro deste ano, uma nova operação da PF e do Ministério Público de Rondônia desbaratou uma quadrilha que se utilizava de milícia privada para manter as atividades dos grileiros na Ponta do Abunã.

Vista aerea de estradas de retirada ilegal de madeira  nas proximidades da Aldeia Buriti na Terra Indigena Kaxarari, localizada proximo ao distrito de Vista Alegre do Abunã, dritrito de Porto Velho, Rondonia. 09 de agosto de 2022. Foto: Bruno Kelly

Caminho aberto por madeireiros no meio da floresta no sul do Amazonas.

Foto: Bruno Kelly para o Intercept Brasil

Benção de um, desinteresse do outro

As análises do CCCA mostram que parte dessa madeira saiu da gleba de forma totalmente clandestina. Outra parcela, no entanto, foi extraída com a autorização do Ipaam, em uma fraude cuja origem está na grilagem de terras.

Provar a propriedade do imóvel é um dos pré-requisitos para a  aprovação do PMFS. “Se a terra não é sua, você não pode fazer manejo florestal nem nenhuma outra atividade”, esclareceu Alexandre Saraiva, delegado da PF que coordenou a Operação Arquimedes, a maior investigação já realizada no Brasil contra o comércio ilegal de madeira. “Por isso, a grilagem de terras é o primeiro passo”.

Em teoria, nenhuma licença poderia ser emitida na gleba João Bento, área da União situada na faixa de fronteira com o norte da Bolívia, e onde os processos de regularização fundiária não foram concluídos, segundo o Incra. Mesmo assim, o Ipaam emitiu licenças no Amazonas com base em documentos auto declaratórios que não têm validade como registro de terra, como é o caso do Certificado de Cadastro do Imóvel Rural, o CCIR.

Além de emitir licenças em terras griladas, o Ipaam o fez em uma área federal, extrapolando sua competência de órgão ambiental do estado. E esse problema está longe de ser exclusivo da gleba João Bento. Em 2018, uma análise do MPF concluiu que mais da metade dos 11.423 PMFS registrados no Amazonas estavam em áreas de interesse federal: 4.479 estavam sobrepostos a glebas federais; 1.130 sobre assentamentos do Incra; 420 sobre unidades de conservação federais; 116 sobre terras indígenas e 21 sobre áreas quilombolas. “A conduta do Ipaam trouxe nulidades insanáveis aos processos, porque as licenças foram emitidas sobre uma terra que foi roubada. É terra da União”, disse Saraiva.

A constatação das irregularidades levou o MPF a recomendar, ainda em 2018, que o Ipaam tomasse medidas administrativas em relação a todos os planos de manejo em sobreposição a áreas de interesse federal. Mas o órgão só foi agir dois anos depois, no final de 2020, quando a segunda fase da Operação Arquimedes revelou um esquema de pagamento de propina a servidores do Ipaam em troca da liberação dos planos de manejo

Nesse meio tempo, a exploração explodiu na gleba João Bento, dentro e fora dos planos de manejo aprovados pelo Ipaam. Segundo o Greenpeace, parte dessa madeira foi vendida para a Madeireira Atalaia, de Vista Alegre do Abunã, em Rondônia, e depois exportada para Portugal, Bélgica e França.

“Se o órgão gestor ambiental não dá um recado dizendo que a partir de agora a regra do jogo mudou, o sujeito vai derrubar ainda mais”, lamentou Herbert Dittmar, perito criminal federal da PF.

Caminhao sem placa e sem identificação é flagrado transitando com toras de madeira na rodovia BR364, proximo a Vista Alegre do Abunã, distrito de Porto Velho (RO). 08 de agosto de 2022. Foto: Bruno Kelly.

Madeira retirada da gleba João Bento é levada pela BR 364 até as serrarias da Ponta do Abunã.

Foto: Bruno Kelly para o Intercept Brasil

Com a ajuda do Greenpeace, o Intercept identificou oito PMFS sobrepostos à gleba João Bento, dos quais pelo menos três acabaram suspensos pelo Ipaam entre o final de 2020 e o início de 2021. Procurado, o Ipaam não esclareceu quantas licenças foram suspensas por recomendação do MPF do Amazonas, nem por que demorou tanto tempo para fazê-lo.

Em nota enviada ao Intercept, o MPF afirmou que o Ipaam não cumpriu na íntegra a recomendação de adotar medidas contra as licenças sobrepostas a áreas federais, levando-o a abrir uma ação civil pública contra o órgão ambiental do Amazonas, que segue em tramitação.

Enquanto o órgão ambiental estadual autorizava a retirada ilegal de madeira da gleba João Bento, o órgão federal, responsável por proteger a área, deixava o desmatamento correr solto para depois abrir mão do poder de garantir proteção efetiva ao território. Em 2020, o Ministério do Meio Ambiente desistiu da prerrogativa de destinar a área para uma unidade de conservação em uma reunião da Câmara Técnica de Destinação e Regularização Fundiária de Terras Públicas Federais Rurais, cujo objetivo é justamente destinar essas áreas.

A decisão contraria as orientações do próprio ministério, cujos estudos concluíram que parte da gleba João Bento está em uma área de prioridade extremamente alta para a conservação da Amazônia e onde deveria ser criada uma unidade de conservação de proteção integral — por decreto, o mapa das áreas prioritárias de conservação deveria orientar as decisões do órgão sobre a criação de novas áreas protegidas. Questionado por email, ainda na gestão de Jair Bolsonaro, o ministério não respondeu ao Intercept.

Para trás, os madeireiros deixam uma floresta em pé, mas mutilada pelo corte de espécies inteiras. O corte seletivo, como é chamado, é um crime menos aparente e costuma ser ignorado pela sociedade — apesar de o Brasil já ter capacidade de detectar esse tipo de exploração.

“O que a gente vê na TV normalmente é o corte raso, que é quando está tudo derrubado e queimado. Só que o corte seletivo também é gravíssimo e a população não está enxergando”, alertou Dittmar. “O tamanho da área degradada anualmente na Amazônia brasileira é igual ou maior que o tamanho da área desmatada. E essa floresta vai perdendo biodiversidade e a capacidade de prover serviços ecossistêmicos, como a absorção de carbono e a regulação dos ciclos hídricos”, completou Clarissa Gandour, coordenadora de avaliação de políticas públicas de conservação do Climate Policy Initiative, o CPI, uma organização ligada à PUC-Rio que produz dados para orientar políticas ambientais.

Ramal da Anta, localizado na divisa dos estados de Rondonia e Amazonas, no municipio de Labrea (AM) e em Vista Alegre do Abunã, distrito de Porto Velho (RO). 08 de agosto de 2022. Foto: Bruno Kelly.

Madeireiros continuam atuando na gleba João Bento.

Foto: Bruno Kelly para o Intercept Brasil

Pressa para faturar

Com menos de seis quilômetros quadrados de área urbana e pouco mais de quatro mil habitantes (segundo o último censo, de 2010), Vista Alegre do Abunã concentra cerca de 15 serrarias. Basta observar imagens feitas por um drone para enxergar os pátios com diversas pilhas de toras, que do alto parecem palitos de fósforos, e os montinhos de fumaça saindo das estufas onde a madeira passa pelo processo de secagem.

Aproximar-se destes estabelecimentos, no entanto, pode criar problemas, como o enfrentado por nossa equipe quando fazíamos imagens da entrada de uma das serrarias. Sem se identificar, uma funcionária começou a gravar a placa do nosso carro com o celular, nos obrigando a deixar a localidade às pressas — possivelmente, em pouco tempo, aquele vídeo estaria no Whatsapp de todos os madeireiros da região.

É neste distrito de Porto Velho, um dos quatro da Ponta do Abunã, que começa o ramal Jequitibá, como é conhecida uma das estradas de terra mais utilizadas pelos madeireiros para acessar a gleba João Bento — em 2011, os empresários chegaram a instalar ali um pedágio para controlar o acesso à área.

O avanço pela via se mostrou um passeio didático e progressivo por diferentes estágios de expropriação do patrimônio público. Próximo à BR-364, onde começa o ramal, já há algumas áreas de cultivo de soja, na borda da gleba federal. Em seguida, vêm vastas fazendas ocupadas por rebanhos bovinos e, depois, imensas áreas recém-desmatadas — algumas com o chão ainda quente da queimada mais recente. Adentrando ainda mais a área da União, já nas proximidades do bloco de unidades de conservação, observamos os túneis típicos da exploração madeireira abertos na mata.

“Esse é o processo clássico do desmatamento na Amazônia”, explicou Heron Martins, coordenador do Laboratório de Análises Geoespaciais do CCCA. “Começa com a exploração madeireira e a degradação florestal, depois o corte raso para a criação de gado e, em regiões com contexto favorável, o cultivo de soja, que empurra as atividades anteriores cada vez mais para dentro da floresta”.

Gado e visto em area desmatada e queimada no ramal da Anta, localizado na divisa dos estados de Rondonia e Amazonas, no municipio de Labrea (AM) e Vista Alegre do Abunã, distrito de Porto Velho (RO). 08 de agosto de 2022. Foto: Bruno Kelly.

Área recém queimada na João Bento. Metade da gleba já foi transformada em pastagem.

Foto: Bruno Kelly para o Intercept Brasil

Mas esse passo a passo nem sempre é seguido à risca. Vastas áreas da gleba João Bento foram convertidas diretamente em pasto, sem passar pelo processo da retirada seletiva de madeira. E, assim como em outras partes do bioma, o desmatamento nunca foi tão intenso quanto no governo Bolsonaro: dos 135 mil hectares derrubados na gleba João Bento, 68.911, o que corresponde a 51%, vieram abaixo entre 2019 e 2022. “É impressionante a velocidade de abertura da área”, constatou  Martins. O Ibama, responsável pela proteção das áreas federais, não retornou nossos contatos.


Avanço do desmatamento na gleba João Bento

Imagens: USGS/NASA Landsat/Earthrise

A pressa em desmatar, que leva os grileiros a colocarem fogo na maior parte da madeira, está associada à expectativa de lucrar ainda mais com a venda da terra. Afinal, essa é uma das regiões do Brasil onde o hectare mais valorizou nos últimos anos. “Nesses casos, o que importa é assegurar a posse da área para então especular com a terra”, disse Martins.

Para Dittmar, a aptidão da região para a lavoura acentua ainda mais essa corrida dos grileiros. “Como o relevo é plano, as áreas não inundáveis são um convite ao plantio de soja. Esse é um dos motivos pelos quais Lábrea está sendo grilada e devastada”.

A destruição na gleba federal é apenas uma mostra do que acontece na região conhecida como Amacro, que fica na fronteira entre o sul do Amazonas, o norte de Rondônia e o leste do Acre. Dos 15 municípios da Amazônia Legal com maior incremento de derrubadas entre 2020 e 2021, sete estão nesta área. Lábrea, onde fica a gleba João Bento, foi o quarto município com maior aumento na área desmatada em 2021. “O que aconteceu em Lábrea é um desastre ambiental”, lamentou Saraiva.

Esta reportagem faz parte do projeto Ladrões de Floresta, que investiga a grilagem em terras públicas da Amazônia e conta com o apoio da Rainforest Investigations Network, do Pulitzer Center. Confira a primeira e a segunda reportagem da série.

The post Com Bolsonaro, Ministério do Meio Ambiente abriu mão de área na Amazônia onde madeireiros derrubaram 45 mil caminhões de árvores appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-exploracao-gleba-joao-bento Análise do CCCA da exploração florestal na gleba João Bento. Em amarelo, área de floresta que foi alvo de extração madeireira. Em vermelho, área que foi alvo de extração madeireira e depois totalmente derrubada. amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-gleba-joao-bento-areas-protegidas amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-caminho Caminho aberto por madeireiros no meio da floresta no sul do Amazonas. amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-caminhao Madeira retirada da gleba João Bento é levada pela BR 364 até as serrarias da Ponta do Abunã. amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-gleba-joao-bento Madeireiros continuam atuando na gleba João Bento. amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-area-recem-queimada Área recém queimada na João Bento. Metade da gleba já foi transformada em pastagem. amazonia-madeireiros-ipe-jatoba-avanco-desmatamento Avanço do desmatamento na gleba João Bento
<![CDATA[Guccifer, the Hacker Who Launched Clinton Email Flap, Speaks Out After Nearly a Decade Behind Bars]]> Sun, 15 Jan 2023 11:00:56 +0000 Before Russian intelligence cribbed his handle, Marcel Lehel Lazar hacked celebrities and Sidney Blumenthal. Now he's back home in Transylvania.

The post Guccifer, the Hacker Who Launched Clinton Email Flap, Speaks Out After Nearly a Decade Behind Bars appeared first on The Intercept.

Marcel Lehel Lazar walked out of Federal Correctional Institute Schuylkill, a Pennsylvania prison, in August 2021. The 51-year-old formerly known only as Guccifer had spent over four years incarcerated for an email hacking spree against America’s elite. Though these inbox disclosures arguably changed the course of the nation’s recent history, Lazar himself remains an obscure figure. This month, in a series of phone interviews with The Intercept, Lazar opened up for the first time about his new life and strange legacy.

Lazar is not a household name by unauthorized access standards — no Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning — but people will be familiar with his work. Throughout 2013, Lazar stole the private correspondence of everyone from a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell.

“Right now, having this time on my hands, I’m just trying to understand what this other me was making 10 years ago.”

There’s an irony to his present obscurity: Guccifer’s prolific career often seemed motivated by an appetite for global media fame more than any ideology or principle. He acted as an agent of chaos, not a whistleblower, and his exploits provided as much entertainment as anything else. It’s thanks to Guccifer’s infiltration of Dorothy Bush Koch’s AOL account that the world knows that her brother — George W. Bush — is fond of fine bathroom self-portraiture.

“I knew all the time what these guys are talking about,” Lazar told me with a degree of satisfaction. “I used to know more than they knew about each other.”

Ten years after his email rampage, Lazar said that, back then, he’d hoped not for celebrity but to find some hidden explanation for America’s 21st century slump — a skeleton key buried within the emails of the rich and famous, something that might expose those causing our national rot and reverse it. Instead, he might have inadvertently put Donald Trump in the White House.

When Guccifer — a portmanteau of Lucifer and Gucci, pronounced with the Italian word’s “tch” sound — breached longtime Clinton family confidant Sidney Blumenthal’s email account, it changed the world almost by accident. Buried among the thousands of messages in Blumenthal’s AOL account he stole and leaked in 2013 were emails to, Hillary Clinton’s previously unknown private address. The account’s existence, and later revelations that she had improperly used it to conduct official government business and transmit sensitive intelligence data, led to something like a national panic attack: nonstop political acrimony, federal investigations, and depending on who you ask, Trump’s 2016 victory.

In the end, the way Guccifer might be best remembered was in the cooptation of his wildly catchy name for a Russian hacker persona: Guccifer 2.0. The latter Guccifer would hack troves of information from Democratic National Committee servers, a plunder released on WikiLeaks.

Eventually, a federal indictment accused a cadre of Russian intelligence operatives of using the persona Guccifer 2.0 to conduct a political propaganda campaign and cover for Russian involvement. As the Guccifer 2.0 version grew in infamy, becoming a central figure in Americans’ wrangling over Russian interference in the 2016 election, the namesake hacker’s exploits faded from memory.

When I reached Lazar by phone, he was at home in Romania. He had returned to a family that had grown up and apart from him since he was arrested by Romanian police in 2014.

“I am still trying to connect back with my family, with my daughter, my wife,” Lazar said. “I’ve been away more than eight years, so this is a big gap, which I’m trying to fill with everything that takes.”

He spends most of his time alone at home, reading about American politics and working on a memoir. His wife supports the family as a low-paid worker at a nearby factory. Revisiting his past life for the book has been an odd undertaking, Lazar told me.

“It’s like an out-of-body experience, like this Guccifer guy is another guy,” he said. “Right now, having this time on my hands, I’m just trying to understand what this other me was making 10 years ago.”


Marcel Lehel Lazar, known as Guccifer, opened up to The Intercept for the first time about his new life and strange legacy.

Photo: Nemanja Kneževi? for The Intercept

Lazar has little to say of the two American prisons where he was sentenced to do time after extradition from Romania. Both were in Pennsylvania — a minimum-security facility and then a stint at the medium-security Schuylkill, which he described simply and solemnly as “a bad place.” He claimed he was routinely denied medical care and says he lost many of his teeth during his four-year term.

On matters of his crime and punishment, Lazar contradicted himself, something he did often during our conversations. He wants to be both the righteous crusader and the steamrolled patsy. He repeatedly brought up what he considers a fundamental injustice: He revealed Clinton’s rule-breaking email setup and then cooperated with the Department of Justice probe, only to wind up in federal prison.

“Hillary Clinton swam away with the ‘reckless negligence’ or whatever Jim Comey called her,” Lazar said. “I did the time.”

Lazar was quick to rattle off a list of other high-profile officials who either knew about the secret Clinton email account all along or were later revealed to have used their own. “So much hypocrisy, come on man,” he said. “So much hypocrisy.”

And yet he pleaded guilty to all charges he faced and today fully admits what he did was wrong — sort of.

“To read somebody else’s emails is not OK,” he said. “And I paid for this, you know. People have to have privacy. But, you see, it’s not like I wanted to know what my neighbors are talking about. But I wanted to know what these guys in the United States are speaking about, and this is the reason why. I was sure that, over there, bad stuff is happening. This is the reason why I did it, not some other shady reason. What I did is OK.”

“I was inspired with the name, at least, because my whole Guccifer project was, after all, a failure.”

Though he takes pride in outing Clinton’s private email arrangement, Lazar said he found none of what he thought he’d uncover. The inbox fishing expedition for the darkest secrets of American power instead mostly revealed their mediocre oil paintings and poorly lit family snapshots. He conceded that Guccifer’s legacy may be that Russian intelligence cribbed his name.

“I was inspired with the name, at least,” Lazar said, “because my whole Guccifer project was, after all, a failure.”


Marcel Lehel Lazar shows old photos and his current ID photographs in his wallet while walking around Arad, Romania, on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Nemanja Kneževi? for The Intercept

It can be difficult to tell where the Guccifer mythology ends and Lazar’s biography begins. Back in his hometown of Arad, a Transylvanian city roughly the size of Syracuse, New York, Lazar seems ambivalent about the magnitude of his role in American electoral history. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about me,” he told me. When I pressed in a later phone call, Lazar described 2016 as something of an inevitability: “Trump was the bullet in the barrel of the gun. He was already lingering around.”

While Lazar says former FBI Director James Comey’s October surprise memo to Congress — that Clinton’s emailing habits were still under investigation — was what “killed Hillary Clinton,” he didn’t deny his indirect role in that twist.

“Everything started with this mumbo jumbo email server, with this bullshit of email server,” he said. “So, if it was not for me, it was not for [Hillary’s] email server to start an investigation.”

Lazar now claims he very nearly breached the Trump inner circle in October 2013. “I was about to hack the Trump guys, Ivanka and stuff,” he told me. “And my computer just broke.”

How does it feel to have boosted, even accidentally, Donald Trump, a bona fide American elite? Though he described the former president as mentally unstable, a hero of Confederate sympathizers, and deeply selfish, Lazar is unbothered by his indirect role in 2016: “I feel like a regular guy. I don’t feel anything special about myself.”

At times, the retired hacker clearly still relishes his brief global notoriety. I asked him what it felt like to see his hacker persona usurped by Russian intelligence using the “Guccifer 2.0” cutout: Was it a shameless rip-off or a flattering homage? Lazar said he first learned that Russia had cribbed his persona from inside a detention center outside D.C. He perked up.

“I was feeling good, it was like a recognition,” he said. “It made me feel good, because in all these 10 years, I was all the time alone in this fight.”


A sculptural sign along a highway announces the city of Arad in Romania on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Nemanja Kneževi? for The Intercept

Lazar described his fight — a term he used repeatedly — as a personal crusade against the corrupt and corrupting American elite, based on his own broad understanding of the idea pieced together from reading about it online. It’s hard to dismiss out of hand.

“Look at the last 20 years of politics of United States,” Lazar explained. “It’s all lies, and it went so low in the mud. You know what I’m saying? It stinks.”

The quest to find and expose some smoking gun that could explain American decline became an obsession, one he said kept him in front of a computer for 16 hours a day, guessing Yahoo Mail passwords, scouring his roughly 100 victims’ contact books, and plotting his next account takeover. He understood that it might seem odd passion for a Romanian ex-cabbie.

“I am Romanian, I am living in this godforsaken place. Why I’m interested in this? Why? This is a good question,” he told me. “For us, for guys from a Communist country, for example Romania, which was one of the worst Communist countries, United States was a beacon of light.”

George W. Bush changed all that for him. “In the time after 2000, you come to realize it’s all a humbug,” he said. “It’s all a lie, right? So, you feel the need, which I felt myself, to do something, to put things right, for the American people but for my soul too.”

It’s funny, Lazar told me, that his greatest admirers seemed to have been Russian intelligence and not the American people he now claims to have been working to inform. “We have somehow the same mindset,” Lazar mused. “Romania was a Communist country; they were Communists too.”

Hackers are still playing a game Guccifer mastered.

Since Lazar began this fight, the playbook he popularized — break into an email account, grab as many personal files as you can, dump them on the web, and seed the juiciest bits with eager journalists like myself — has become a go-to tactic around the world. Whether it’s North Korean agents pillaging Sony Pictures’ salacious email exchanges or an alleged Qatari hack of Trump ally Elliott Broidy exposing his foreign entanglements, hackers are still playing a game Guccifer mastered.

Despite having essentially zero technical skills — he gained access to accounts largely by guessing their password security questions — Lazar knew the fundamental truth that people love reading the private thoughts of powerful strangers. Sometimes these are deeply newsworthy, and sometimes it’s just a perverse thrill, though there’s a very fine line between the two. Even the disclosure of an innocuous email can be damaging for a person or organization presumed by the public to be impenetrable. When I brought this up to Lazar, his modesty slipped ever so slightly.

He said, “I am sure, in my humble way, I was a new-roads opener.”


A portrait of Marcel Lahel Lazar in Arad, Romania, on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Nemanja Kneževi? for The Intercept

The Lazar I’ve met on the phone was very different from the Guccifer of a decade ago. Back then he would send rambling emails to Gawker, my former employer, largely consisting of fragmented screeds against the Illuminati. The word, which he said he’s retired, nods to a conspiracy of global elites that wield unfathomable power.

“I’d like to call them, right now, ‘deep state,’” he said. “But Illuminati was back then a handy word. Of course, it has bad connotations, it’s like a bad B movie from Hollywood.”

Unfortunately for Lazar, the “deep state” — a term of Turkish origin, referring to an unaccountable security state that acts largely in secret — has in the years since his arrest come to connote paranoid delusion nearly as much as the word “Illuminati” does. Whatever one thinks of the deep state, though, the notion is as contentious and popular among internet-dwelling cranks — especially, and ironically for Lazar, Trump followers. Whatever you want to call it, Lazar believed he’d find it in someone else’s inbox.

“My ultimate goal was to find the blueprints of bad behavior,” he said.

Some would argue that, in Blumenthal’s inbox, he did. Still, after a full term of the Trump administration, the idea of bad behavior at the highest levels of power being something kept hidden in secret emails almost feels quaint.

While Lazar’s past comments to the media have included outright fabrications, racist remarks, and a reliance on paranoid tropes, he seemed calmer now. On the phone, he was entirely lucid and thoughtful more often than not, even on topics that clearly anguish him. Prison may have cost him his teeth, but it seems to have given him a softer edge than he had a decade ago. He is still a conspiratorially minded man, but not necessarily a delusional one. He plans to remain engaged with American politics in his own way.

“I don’t care about myself,” he told me, “but I care about all the stuff I was talking about, you know, politics and stuff.” He said, “I’m gonna keep keeping one eye on American politics and react to this. I’m not gonna let the water just flow. I’m gonna intervene.”

This time, he says he’ll fight the powers that be by writing, not guessing passwords. “I am more subtle than I was before,” he tried to assure me.

“I’m gonna keep keeping one eye on American politics and react to this. I’m not gonna let the water just flow. I’m gonna intervene.”

At one point in our conversations, Lazar rattled off a sample of the 400 books he said he read in prison, sounding as much like a #Resistance Twitter addict as anything else: “James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Michael Hayden, James Clapper, all their biographies, which nobody reads, you know?”

While he still makes references to the deep state and “shadow governments” and malign influence of the Rockefeller family, he’s also quick to reference obscure FBI brass like Peter Strzok and Bill Priestap, paraphrase counterintelligence reports, or cite “Midyear Exam,” the Department of Justice probe into Clinton’s email practices.

It’s difficult to know if this more polished, better-read Lazar has become less conspiratorial, or whether the country that imprisoned him has become so much more so that it’s impossible to tell the difference. Lazar is a conspiracy theorist, it seems, in the same way everyone became after 2016.

Lazar, the free man, alluded to knowing that Guccifer was in over his head. He admitted candidly that he lied in an NBC News interview about having gained access to Clinton’s private email server, a claim he recanted during a later FBI interview, because he naively hoped the lie would grant him leverage to cut a better deal after his extradition. It didn’t, nor did his full cooperation with the FBI’s Clinton email probe.

When I asked Lazar whether he worried about the consequences of stealing the emails of the most famous people he could possibly reach, he said he believed creating celebrity for himself, anathema to most veteran hackers, would protect him from being disappeared by the state. In the end, it did not.

“At some point,” he said, “I lost control.”

The post Guccifer, the Hacker Who Launched Clinton Email Flap, Speaks Out After Nearly a Decade Behind Bars appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 2023_MarcelLehelLazar_TheIntercept_NK_-12 Lazar, known as Guccifer, opened to The Intercept for the first time about his new life and strange legacy. 2023_MarcelLehelLazar_TheIntercept_NK_-22 Lazar shows old photos and his current ID photographs in his wallet while walking around Arad, Romania on Jan. 8, 2023. 2023_MarcelLehelLazar_TheIntercept_NK_-42 A sculptural sign along a highway announces the city of Arad in Romania on Jan. 8, 2023. 2023_MarcelLehelLazar_TheIntercept_NK_-6 A portrait of Lazar in Arad, Romania on Jan. 8, 2023.
<![CDATA[PM do Distrito Federal é comandada por colegas de turma de homem de confiança de Bolsonaro]]> Fri, 13 Jan 2023 13:30:41 +0000 Quatro coronéis da cúpula da corporação suspeita de ser cúmplice de terrorismo são próximos de Jorge Oliveira, presenteado por Bolsonaro com cargo no TCU.

The post PM do Distrito Federal é comandada por colegas de turma de homem de confiança de Bolsonaro appeared first on The Intercept.

Quando o coronel Julian Rocha Pontes furou a fila para tomar a vacina contra a covid-19 e, por isso, acabou demitido do comando da Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal, em abril de 2021, abriu-se uma oportunidade que políticos próximos ao presidente Jair Bolsonaro não deixaram passar.

Àquela altura, Júlio Danilo Souza Ferreira havia acabado de ser empossado como novo secretário de Segurança Pública do Distrito Federal. Ferreira é homem de confiança de Anderson Torres, seu antecessor no cargo – e, como ele, delegado licenciado da Polícia Federal. Torres tinha sido chamado havia poucos dias para ser ministro da Justiça de Bolsonaro. Com as bênçãos do governador Ibaneis Rocha, do MDB, aceitou o convite, mas cuidou de deixar o posto no governo do DF para seu antigo número dois, Ferreira. Que, nos primeiros dias no cargo, escolheu o coronel Márcio Cavalcante de Vasconcelos como novo comandante da PM.

Com Vasconcelos, em poucos dias a cúpula da corporação foi tomada por oficiais que têm com ele algo em comum. Todos foram colegas e são próximos, desde a Academia da Polícia de Brasília, de uma figura central do projeto de poder de Bolsonaro. Trata-se de Jorge Antônio de Oliveira Francisco, ex-ministro-chefe da Secretaria-Geral da Presidência da República entre 2019 e 2020, em seguida nomeado ministro do Tribunal de Contas da União pelo presidente.

Jorge Oliveira, como é conhecido, é oficial da reserva da PMDF: entrou na corporação em 1993 como aluno do curso de formação de oficiais da Academia da Polícia de Brasília. Exigência imposta pela Constituição de 1988, a formação superior dos oficiais da PM começou no Distrito Federal em 1990. Oliveira foi, portanto, aluno da que é conhecida internamente como a “quarta turma” – oficialmente, a Turma Benjamin Constant. Nela, conheceu e se tornou amigo de Vasconcelos – e de outras figuras de destaque no falho esquema de segurança que permitiu os ataques terroristas de domingo, 8 de janeiro.

No meio militar, a turma em que se formam os oficiais é fundamental para entender as ligações, conexões e amizades entre eles, porque a progressão na carreira é feita por antiguidade. Assim, colegas que se formam juntos irão progredir juntos até o penúltimo degrau da carreira. Nas PMs, só a promoção para a patente de coronel, a mais alta, é feita por merecimento.

Ibaneis, Torres e Oliveira são figuras-chave para entender a influência não apenas do bolsonarismo, mas do próprio Bolsonaro na cúpula da PM do Distrito Federal ao longo de pelo menos a última década. Não se trata de uma polícia militar como outras quaisquer. Por ser responsável pela segurança da capital do país, sede dos Três Poderes e de dezenas de representações diplomáticas de todo o mundo, é financiada integralmente pelo governo federal – nada menos que R$ 10 bilhões estão previstos no orçamento para 2023. Com isso, é também a mais bem paga do país – o salário líquido médio é de quase R$ 10 mil mensais. Ainda assim, falhou miseravelmente – ou, ainda pior, se omitiu – em uma de suas principais missões.


Amigos para sempre: reunião de colegas da quarta turma da Academia de Polícia de Brasília no 29o aniversário de formatura, em 2022.


Da PM ao Tribunal de Contas da União

A quarta turma da Academia da Polícia de Brasília se formou em 1995. Poucos anos depois, em 2003, o oficial Oliveira mergulhou na política. Tornou-se assessor parlamentar da PMDF na Câmara. Na prática, um lobista dos interesses da corporação no parlamento federal. Não demorou nada para que se tornasse íntimo do mais vocal defensor da pauta militar na casa: o então deputado federal Bolsonaro, que iniciava o quarto de seus sete mandatos na casa. Para além do alinhamento ideológico, havia uma questão familiar. O pai do policial, o capitão do Exército Jorge Oliveira Francisco, foi chefe do gabinete de Bolsonaro por longos 20 anos.

Em 2013, já formado em Direito, Oliveira pediu para ir à reserva – isto é, para se aposentar – da PM do Distrito Federal. Àquela altura, já era major, a terceira mais alta patente nas PMs. Mas não deixou a Câmara: foi contratado como assessor jurídico do gabinete de Bolsonaro.

A lealdade canina a Bolsonaro foi recompensada. Em 2019, o presidente não deixou Oliveira na mão e lhe entregou a chefia de gabinete do filho e deputado federal Eduardo – de quem também viria a ser padrinho de casamento. Mas ele não ficaria muito tempo com o 03. Em junho, Bolsonaro se lembraria de Oliveira quando teve de escolher seu terceiro ministro-chefe da Secretaria-Geral da Presidência em menos de seis meses no cargo, procurando apagar a crise que se havia iniciado ainda em fevereiro com a demissão do primeiro deles, Gustavo Bebianno.

Assim, Oliveira virou ministro. Em pouco tempo, passou a ser visto em Brasília como o auxiliar com mais influência sobre o presidente. O que lhe rendeu, menos de um ano e meio depois, uma das cadeiras mais cobiçadas de Brasília: a de ministro do Tribunal de Contas da União, um cargo vitalício – e, novamente, por indicação de Bolsonaro. (No TCU, por ironia, ele substituiu outro personagem central dos ataques terroristas de domingo, o atual ministro da Defesa José Múcio Monteiro.)


Jorge Oliveira, ladeado por Ibaneis Rocha (à esquerda) e o ministro Dias Toffoli, do Supremo Tribunal Federal.

Foto: Alan Santos/PR

Os homens de Oliveira

Empossado como comandante da PM do Distrito Federal em 3 de abril de 2021, o coronel Márcio Cavalcante de Vasconcelos não é apenas bom amigo de Jorge Oliveira. É também próximo de Anderson Torres e, segundo noticiou à época da nomeação o site Metrópoles, já havia feito “serviços de inteligência” para o governo Bolsonaro.

Em edição extra publicada poucos dias após sua nomeação, em 7 de abril de 2021, o comandante-geral da PM indicou novos ocupantes para seis postos-chave da corporação – o subcomando geral e os comandos do Estado Maior; do Departamento Operacional; do Departamentos de Controle e Correção; do Departamento de Logística e Finanças; do Departamento da Diretoria de Execução Orçamentária e de Finanças; e da Seção de Pessoal. Para todos eles, indicou colegas da quarta turma. A dele mesmo – e de Jorge Oliveira. Poucos dias depois, o ministro do TCU fez uma visita ao amigo que começava a comandar a PM.

Um desses nomes é extremamente relevante: o do coronel Jorge Eduardo Naime Barreto, escolhido por Vasconcelos para chefiar o Departamento Operacional da corporação. É a ele que cabe planejar operações especiais de segurança, como a que deu muito errado no domingo passado. (A favor do oficial, é preciso dizer que ele também esteve à frente da estratégia de policiamento em momentos sensíveis, como a posse de Lula e Geraldo Alckmin e os protestos golpistas de 7 de setembro de 2021 e 2022 em Brasília.)

Naime é mais um oficial cuja proximidade com Oliveira é patente. Foi recebido por ele para encontros fechados no TCU em duas ocasiões, em fevereiro e agosto de 2022 – novamente, sem que haja registro da pauta das reuniões.

Antes de chegar ao comando-geral da PM, Vasconcelos liderava uma área nevrálgica da Segurança Pública distrital: a Subsecretaria de Operações Integradas, conhecida pela sigla Sopi, diretamente subordinada a Torres. O antecessor de Vasconcelos na Sopi é outro personagem dessa história a colocar a PMDF na esfera de influência de Bolsonaro, o coronel Carlos Renato Machado Paim.

Paim embarcou no governo da extrema direita em abril de 2020, quando passou a ser secretário nacional da Segurança Pública, um dos cargos mais importantes do Ministério da Justiça. Foi nomeado por Walter Braga Netto, o general da reserva do Exército que tentaria ser vice-presidente na fracassada tentativa de reeleição de Bolsonaro. Àquela altura, Jorge Oliveira já era tido como o auxiliar mais próximo do presidente. Já ministro do TCU, ele recebeu no gabinete Paim, seu colega na quarta turma, em janeiro de 2022. O portal da transparência não informa o motivo da reunião.

Pouco depois de Paim, chegou ao governo federal outro coronel da PMDF: André de Sousa Costa – também da quarta turma –, tido como um dos oficiais mais radicais à direita da corporação. Em junho de 2020, ele ganhou o cargo de assessor-chefe adjunto na Assessoria Especial de Bolsonaro. Menos de um ano depois, em abril de 2021, foi promovido a chefe da Secretaria Especial de Comunicação Social, a Secom, do Ministério das Comunicações. Já na Secom, Costa também foi recebido por Oliveira em seu gabinete no TCU. Novamente, não se sabe qual a pauta da reunião.

Empossado na chefia da Secom, Costa mandou buscar outro coronel formado na quarta turma para ser seu braço direito como secretário-adjunto: Anderson Vilela. Foi mais um a se sentar para uma conversa privada e de teor não divulgado com Oliveira no TCU, em agosto de 2021. Costa e Vilela também foram registrados, juntos, em visita à cúpula da TV Record, simpática ao governo Bolsonaro.

Além da provável influência em nomeações que envolvem PMDF, Oliveira é tido como um dos responsáveis pela ascensão de Anderson Torres ao grupo de auxiliares próximos de Bolsonaro. Os dois se conheceram na Câmara por volta de 2015, quando Torres foi ser chefe de gabinete do deputado federal Fernando Francischini, do União Brasil do Paraná, outro delegado bolsonarista da Polícia Federal que virou político (ele acabou cassado por distribuir mentiras sobre as urnas eletrônicas).

Àquela época, Torres estava desgastado na PF por ter sido acusado de sequestrar e torturar os suspeitos de terem assaltado colegas da corporação. Assim, viu na política – e, logo, em Bolsonaro, para quem Oliveira já trabalhava – sua chance de crescer. Com a saída de Sergio Moro do Ministério da Justiça, em 2020, Oliveira trabalhou para fazer de Torres o novo delegado-geral da Polícia Federal. Aquela tentativa não vingou, mas ele acabaria ministro quando o sucessor de Moro, o terrivelmente evangélico André Mendonça, ganhou uma vaga no Supremo Tribunal Federal. Por isso, tornou-se um soldado fiel de Bolsonaro, disposto até a melar eleições pelo chefe (ou, no mínimo, fingir que não viu, o que é crime de prevaricação para quem ocupava seu posto).

Via assessoria de imprensa do TCU, perguntei a Jorge Oliveira quais foram as pautas das reuniões com os colegas da PMDF em seu gabinete, e porque elas foram omitidas, o que contraria a lei. Questionei-o, ainda, sobre sua eventual interferência nas nomeações de oficiais para o comando da PMDF e de policiais da corporação para cargos de indicação política no governo Bolsonaro. Ele respondeu que não faria comentários.


Anderson Torres e Bolsonaro: uma proximidade pavimentada por Jorge Oliveira.

Foto: Pedro Ladeira/Folhapress

Chega o interventor – mas a quarta turma fica

Em abril do ano passado, o coronel Vasconcelos deixou o comando da PM para se aventurar na política. Resolveu erguer a bandeira da truculência policial em busca de uma mandato parlamentar. Candidato a deputado federal pelo MDB de Ibaneis Rocha, fez pífios 3.363 votos e acabou suplente da bancada. (Para efeitos de comparação, Alberto Fraga, do União Brasil, um ex-oficial da PM distrital que é deputado federal desde 1999 e fundador da bancada da bala, teve 28.825 votos e quase não conseguiu renovar seu mandato.)

Para o lugar, Ibaneis e o secretário Ferreira mandaram buscar o coronel Fábio Augusto Vieira, que estava no comando da Sopi após a promoção de Vasconcelos. Vieira é mais um colega de Oliveira na quarta turma da Academia de Polícia. Após os ataques terroristas de domingo, foi um dos que tiveram a prisão decretada pelo ministro Alexandre de Moraes, do Supremo Tribunal Federal.

Já Anderson Torres, que havia voltado ao comando da Secretaria de Segurança Pública após o fim do governo Bolsonaro, fugiu para os Estados Unidos um dia antes dos ataques aos Três Poderes. Também por ordem de Moraes, será preso assim que pisar no Brasil. Na casa dele, a Polícia Federal encontrou um esboço de documento que serviria para Bolsonaro melar a eleição. No Twitter, Torres anunciou em 10 de janeiro que voltará ao país para se entregar e cuidar de sua defesa.

A cordialidade com que a PM assistiu Brasília ser destruída no domingo levou o presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a decretar, ainda naquele dia, intervenção federal na Secretaria de Segurança Pública de Júlio Danilo Ferreira (horas depois, o ministro Moraes também afastou Ibaneis Rocha do cargo de governador por ao menos 90 dias).

Nomeado interventor, o jornalista Ricardo Cappelli chegou já com a missão de nomear um sucessor para o coronel Vieira. A escolha dele foi conservadora: o coronel Klepter Rosa Gonçalves, primeiro na linha da sucessão – era, desde outubro passado, o subcomandante-geral da corporação. Klepter é mais um oficial formado na quarta turma e havia sido alçado pelo coronel Vasconcelos, em 2021, a chefe do Departamento de Gestão de Pessoal.

No mesmo decreto em que levou Klepter ao comando da PM, o interventor Cappelli retirou do coronel Naime a chefia do Departamento Operacional. Outros oficiais subordinados a ele também caíram, entre eles o coronel Paulo José Ferreira de Sousa Bezerra, o número dois do departamento.

‘Tenho plena confiança nas forças de segurança do Distrito Federal, diz o interventor.

Dois experientes coronéis da PM do Distrito Federal com quem conversei para esta reportagem veem como um problema a hegemonia de uma turma da Academia de Polícia no comando. Argumentam, com a ressalva de se tratarem de visões pessoais, que a convivência entre oficiais de gerações diferentes enriquece a corporação, e que dificilmente uma só turma terá os policiais mais preparados para chefiar as diferentes áreas e especialidades da atividade. Entre os 30 coronéis em atividade na corporação, há oficiais formados em quatros diferentes turmas – da segunda, de 1991, à quinta, de 1994.

Enviei à PMDF questões sobre a proeminência da quarta turma de oficiais e sua relação com Jorge Oliveira, mas ouvi, numa resposta por telefone, que a corporação não iria comentar o caso por estar sob intervenção. Já o interventor Cappelli, que recebeu as mesmas perguntas, respondeu o seguinte: “Tenho plena confiança nas forças de segurança do Distrito Federal”.

Seja como for, apurar qual a influência de Jorge Oliveira, braço direito de Jair Bolsonaro, sobre os oficiais que foram colegas dele e comandavam a tropa nos atos de domingo não será a única missão do interventor Cappelli. André de Sousa Costa e Anderson Vilela, os dois coronéis da quarta turma que passaram pela Secom de Bolsonaro, retornaram à PM e podem ser reintegrados à tropa. (Carlos Renato Machado Paim, que passou pelo Ministério da Justiça, já foi para a reserva.)

Mas debelar a influência de Jair Bolsonaro na Polícia Militar do DF é uma tarefa que dificilmente será realizada em curto prazo.

Colaborou: Guilherme Mazieiro

Correção: 13 de janeiro de 2022, 15h56
O coronel André de Sousa Costa também é da quarta turma, e não da terceira. O texto foi corrigido.

The post PM do Distrito Federal é comandada por colegas de turma de homem de confiança de Bolsonaro appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 BJ-CONSTANT Legenda. 48123447482_2e58f9b951_k Cerimônia de Posse do Ministro de Estado Chefe da Secretaria-Geral da Presidência da República, Jorge Antonio de Oliveira e do Presidente dos Correios, Floriano Peixoto. bolsonaro-e-anderson-torres
<![CDATA[Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release]]> Sat, 07 Jan 2023 11:00:23 +0000 He was promised his freedom, but, with no U.S. pressure, his host country systematically denied him any semblance of normal life.

The post Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release appeared first on The Intercept.

“I’m trying to be OK,” Sabri al-Qurashi texted me one afternoon after I asked how he was. Al-Qurashi has made it through a lot, but he’s increasingly depressed, tired, and has become desperate for his living conditions to change. By now, he has spent two decades feeling trapped with no end in sight.

Al-Qurashi lived the nightmare of languishing in a cage as a detainee at the notorious U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He never expected he’d be living in another version of a cage after he was released in 2014. For nearly a decade, he has found himself stuck in Kazakhstan. Promises once made to him of starting a life and starting a family after Guantánamo have now been all but shattered. His life now feels like one of permanent purgatory as he holds no form of basic identification at the mercy of the Kazakh government. With no hope or patience left, al-Qurashi is now threatening a hunger strike.

“Truly, my life now is just as bad as w­­hen I was in Guantanamo, and in many aspects even worse. At least there, I knew I was in prison and that I would get out one day,” al-Qurashi wrote in an account shared with The Intercept, which is set to be published by CAGE, a group that advocates for “war on terror” victims and detainees. “Now I’m living as if I’m dead and being told I am free when I am not.”

“Now I’m living as if I’m dead and being told I am free when I am not.”

When al-Qurashi met with representatives from Kazakhstan’s government while still at Guantánamo, he was optimistic about being sent to a new strange home. He agreed to a secretive resettlement deal negotiated by the U.S. State Department.

Unable to return to Yemen because of the country’s instability, al-Qurashi said he was offered a good life elsewhere. His understanding, and that of his legal team, was that, after living under some restrictions for two years, he would be a free man, with all the same rights as Kazakh citizens. It is a Muslim country, he was told, and he would be treated as a member of society. Instead, he said now he finds himself without the most basic needs.

“I have no official status, no ID card, no right to work or education, and no right to see my family,” al-Qurashi said. “I have been married for eight years, but my wife is not allowed to come and live with me.”

Al-Qurashi lives under conditions that are in stark contrast to the stability that the State Department had tried to guarantee in his deal. “The United States’ goal in resettling former Guantánamo detainees was to create conditions for these men to integrate into their new societies and give them the opportunity to start a new life in a manner that protected the security of the United States,” a former State Department official familiar with the Obama administration’s efforts to transfer Guantánamo detainees told The Intercept. “Among other things, successful resettlements entailed housing, access to medical care, educational opportunities, the ability to work, and the opportunity to start or reunify with their families.”

In an interview with The Intercept, al-Qurashi said that he has been repeatedly told over the years that his wife and other family are not allowed to visit, much less join him, from Yemen because he is “illegal.” He said he was told, “You have no rights.” According to a message viewed by The Intercept, the Red Crescent Society is currently negotiating with Kazakh officials for al-Qurashi’s wife to finally be allowed a brief first visit. “We are waiting for a reply. I will keep you informed,” an International Committee of the Red Cross representative working on al-Qurashi’s behalf texted him in late October. Al-Qurashi hasn’t heard anything since.

A spokesperson for the State Department said that once security agreements around resettlement expired, responsibility for treatment of the former detainees fell to the host governments. “Repatriation or resettlement of former detainees is a carefully negotiated process between the United States and receiving countries based on mutually reached security and humane treatment assurances. While security assurances are time-limited, assurances related to humane treatment do not expire,” said Bureau of Counterterrorism spokesperson Vincent Picard in a statement. “While host governments are encouraged to consult with us, the U.S. government does not exercise any sort of custody over the treatment of resettled individuals. We encourage all host governments to exercise their responsibilities humanely and with consideration of appropriate security measures.” (The Kazakh Embassy to the U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.)

For al-Qurashi to have gone so long without even documentation of his identity, in defiance of the diplomatic efforts of the State Department, is something his legal advocates never imagined.

“Ultimately, he never received proper identification to be a documented individual in the country, and that poses problems in any country,” Greg McConnell, al-Qurashi’s pro bono counsel, said. “That’s something that was never appropriately fulfilled in the way that we understood it would be by the Kazakh government.”

Following the broken promises, al-Qurashi now feels that no one cares about him. With the ICRC financing his apartment, food, and even a place to paint, al-Qurashi worries that Kazakh officials may ask, “What more could you possibly want?” For al-Qurashi, though, the new life he signed up for was one where his wife could join him, and they could build a home together. His existence now, he said, is sustained by aid, but it isn’t really life at all.

“Of course, I try not to give up,” he said, “but everything is against me.”


Sabri al Qurashi’s painting, made while imprisoned at Guantanamo in 2014, shows an airplane in the sky, seen through a broken, enmeshed chain-link fence.

Illustration: Sabri al Qurashi

Al-Qurashi maintains a calm confidence. His infectious smile is matched by a warm hospitality that can be felt through our WhatsApp video calls. His big hands wave around and often stop suddenly, palms up toward the ceiling when he emphasizes his most exasperating moments. When he’s not caught up in despair, his humor shines through.

On a call one afternoon in late fall, he asked me where I was sitting. “It’s a little backyard, like a garden,” I said, panning the laptop around my ground-floor, concrete yard in Brooklyn.

“Oh, I’ve got a garden too,” he said. “Let me show you.” He walked through a stark apartment and plunges the camera into the saddest-looking attempt at an indoor herb garden I’ve ever seen. Small green seedlings of basil and mint fight for life in a halved plastic water jug. A big laugh follows, his face transformed by a joyful moment of self-deprecation. A few weeks later, all the plants were dead.

For years, al-Qurashi has tried to keep himself sane by painting; his illustrations are sophisticated and conceptual, and his talent, discovered at Guantánamo, is immense. The power of escape afforded by making art, however, has diminished lately. “Even drawing, which is the best thing in my life, and I love it — I’m no longer enthusiastic about it,” he told me.

Al-Qurashi opened up about his youth in a series of interviews. Born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, he spent all his youth in Hafar al-Batin, doing odd jobs for vendors at the market so he could run home with 10 or 20 riyals in his pocket after school. With dreams of becoming a “rich man,” he began selling perfume oils in the Saudi markets in his mid-20s. Eventually, he took a trip to the wholesale factories in Pakistan, his first such solo visit. That’s when the 9/11 attacks happened. In a desperate attempt to leave the country while security forces were rounding up foreigners, al-Qurashi was grabbed in a raid of the apartment he was staying in.

“It is in my nature that I forgive even those who have wronged me.”

At the time, the U.S. government was doling out up to $5,000 to Afghan warlords and to the government of Pakistan for capturing suspected members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban and turning them over. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 86 percent of the men jailed at Guantánamo were sold for a bounty. Al-Qurashi had no idea he was about to join hundreds of men handed over to American intelligence by Pakistani officials.

At the American makeshift prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, al-Qurashi said he was stripped naked, shaved, intimidated with dogs and deprived of water, warmth, and basic dignity. The worst day of his life, he said, was the flight to Cuba. He waited for his captors to realize their mistake, but the day never came. Through brutal interrogations, hunger strikes, and solitary confinement, he maintained his innocence.

Al-Qurashi said he feels no bitterness about what happened to him, even expressing gratitude for the friends he’s made along the way. I asked if he forgave the people who tortured him. “Of course,” he responded without hesitation. “It is in my nature that I forgive even those who have wronged me.”


A painting by Sabri al-Qurashi of a snowy landscape scene in Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, in 2021.

Illustration: Sabri al-Qurashi

Another Prison

By the end of 2014, three Yemenis, including al-Qurashi, and two Tunisian men arrived in Kazakhstan from Guantánamo Bay — the first and last group to be sent to the former Soviet country. The destination may seem odd, but Kazakhstan is majority Muslim and could address the U.S.’s security concerns about a handoff. Harsh treatment, intensive surveillance, and harassment started immediately, as documented in a Vice investigation shortly after the men arrived.

Al-Qurashi and Lotfi bin Ali, a 6-foot-8 Tunisian, were first placed along the Russian border in Semey, a small city in the shadow of the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapon testing site. The men expected to be welcomed in a Muslim country, but instead they found outward hostility.

Al-Qurashi struggled to learn Kazakh from a non-Arabic-speaking teacher, in a city that mostly spoke Russian. Lotfi, at the time, couldn’t find a winter coat that fit his huge frame.

Bin Ali frequently spoke to reporters about his conditions in Kazakhstan and, perhaps because of the embarrassing media reports, was resettled again in Mauritania, along with fellow Tunisian, Adel Hakimi. Never having returned home to Tunisia, bin Ali died on March 9, 2021, after struggling to find adequate medical treatment for heart disease.

“The State Department didn’t even pretend to give a shit,” said Mark Denbeaux, bin Ali’s former lawyer. “All they wanted to do was get people out of Guantánamo. They dumped them in Kazakhstan and didn’t care what happened.”

Another former Guantánamo detainee shipped to Kazakstan — Asim Thabit Al Khalaqi, a Yemeni without documented health problems — died four months after the transfer from a sudden severe illness. Friends and family allege medical malpractice and say his body was never returned to Yemen or properly buried.

Al Qurashi, too, now struggles to find adequate medical care for an injury he sustained three years ago, when a man violently assaulted him on the street. Struck in the face and left with nerve damage, he was told after the attack that he could not report the incident or have any sort of day in court. The police said al-Qurashi, because of his lack of status in the country, did not have standing to bring charges. His treatment for the partial facial paralysis is ongoing — he’s been given acupuncture and a jar of blood-sucking leeches — but he needs a complicated surgery that he is afraid to have performed because of how he’s been treated so far.

In addition to leaving his body in peril, the Kazakhs authorities’ approach to al-Qurashi has left him virtually unable to make meaningful social contact with those around him, he said.

“I have no basic dignity or freedom to move even in the streets around my apartment,” al-Qurashi explained in the CAGE account. “The government harasses anyone I get in contact with which makes it impossible to socialize. The government deters people from associating with me by telling us that we are terrorists and dangerous. Because of not wanting to put anybody in harm, I have stopped attempting to integrate with locals.”

Because of his lack of identification, al-Qurashi is unable to do basic things like send and receiving money, packages, or mail. He is unable to work. When he wants to leave his apartment, for instance to go fishing nearby, he must call the Red Crescent office and ask for his assigned chaperone to accompany him. Sometimes the wait is days long. He cannot leave his neighborhood, let alone drive or travel outside Kyzylorda, his open-air prison. “I exist in life, but I do not live it,” al-Qurashi told me.

The experience echoes those of other former prisoners speaking out against the relentless stigma of life after Guantánamo. “When they leave Guantánamo, it’s not as if they’re exonerated, it’s not as if the United States says that they’re innocent or that they were wrongfully detained,” said Maha Hilal, author of “Innocent Until Proven Muslim” and a scholar of the effect of the so-called war on terror on Muslims. “And so, obviously, they leave Guantánamo with the stigma of ‘terrorist’ on their back.”

Al-Qurashi said, “I have been treated like a terrorist since the day I stepped off the plane here.”

Of the five detainees sent to Kazakhstan, only al-Qurashi and Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, who declined to comment, remain today in Kyzylorda.

Whose Responsibility?

When the Obama administration ended, so, too, did the diplomatic effort of the State Department working with men cleared for release from Guantánamo. The Trump administration disbanded the office responsible for the resettlements, then called the Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facilities. Former Guantánamo prisoners were left with no support to hold their host countries to account for mistreatment. The men cleared for release from Guantánamo remained in prison as President Donald Trump canceled all outbound transfers.

Once the two-year deal between a host country and the State Department expired, there was no longer a means for maintaining that the hosting countries would treat the resettled detainees with basic human rights, said Martina Burtscher, a fellow at the human rights group Reprieve who works on Guantánamo issues. (“Once security assurances have expired, and pending any specific renegotiation of assurances, it largely falls to the discretion of the host country to determine what security measures they continue to implement,” said Picard, the State Department spokesperson.)

The complete collapse in communication and lack of diplomatic pressure allowed host countries like Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, and Senegal to do whatever they wanted with the resettled detainees — including imprisoning them and, in the case of Senegal, forced repatriation to Libya.

“This is not the solution the U.S. wanted, but [it happened] because of lack of care and lack of resources,” Burtscher said. “I understand that they need to empty Guantánamo. But they also have a responsibility to follow up.”

“They implanted these men in countries where they have no family, no friends, no connections, don’t speak the language, have nothing,” she continued. “The very least they can do is make sure that they have a solid legal status.”

“They implanted these men in countries where they have no family, no friends, no connections, don’t speak the language, have nothing. The very least they can do is make sure that they have a solid legal status.”

After Joe Biden assumed the Oval Office in 2021, the State Department created a desk with a mandate similar to the old special envoy, now the office of the Senior Representative for Guantánamo Affairs. Tina Kaidanow was appointed in August.

For resettled men like al-Qurashi, the appointment makes them no less desperate for their host country’s mistreatment to radically change. Through his lawyer, Greg McConnell, al-Qurashi sent a message to Kaidanow asking for help in his case. “Please, I’m asking you to review my case,” al-Qurashi wrote. “If I stay in Kazakhstan, I must be given the right to live and work as a free man, have legal status, be able to travel, and be allowed for family visits. If this is not possible in Kazakhstan, please, help [me] be relocated to another country where I can live as a free man.”

As al-Qurashi’s advocates continue to request legal status for him in the country, al-Qurashi said the only offer on the table from Kazakh officials is a trip back to Yemen — an offer that may violate the international law of nonrefoulement, Burtscher said. He has so far refused, the stigma of being branded an Al Qaeda terrorist by the U.S. potentially making him a target for various factions in the Yemeni civil war.

The State Department’s new office could conceivably intervene — should they make it a priority over transfers of detainees out of Guantánamo — and negotiate for al-Qurashi to be transferred to a more hospitable country.

Al-Qurashi, however, said he would stay in Kazakhstan if the authorities give him legal residence and allow his wife to live with him. “If I were given my freedom and rights, I could achieve so much more here,” he told me.

So far, the new State Department office has seemed slow to act. “Having the ambassador named is helpful and that certainly shows some level of commitment from the Biden administration,” McConnell said. “I have yet to really hear anything meaningful from them about what’s happening to remedy this situation. They’re very polite, very appreciative, and absorb a lot of information — and I get nothing back — and that hasn’t changed in a long time.”

Mansoor Adayfi, another Yemeni that was formerly held in Guantánamo, said nothing will happen without meaningful U.S. moves. “His case needs the U.S. government to get involved again to fix the problem. And either they need to talk to Kazakhstan to guarantee legal status, so he can see his wife, be able to get permission to work and live legally, like anyone else,” Adayfi said. “Or they should send him to a better country so he can build his life.”

McConnell said, “This was something of their making. It’s failed. And they need to help rectify it.”

The post Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 sabry_gtmo_chainlink_fence Sabri al Qurashi's painting, made while imprisoned at Guantanamo in 2014, shows an airplane in the sky, seen through a broken, enmeshed chain-link fence. kazakhstan_sabri_2022 A snowy landscape scene painted by Sabri al Qurashi of Kzylorda, Kazakhstan, in 2021.
<![CDATA[How Jan. 6 Brought Frontier Violence to the Heart of U.S. Power]]> Tue, 03 Jan 2023 14:33:11 +0000 The rioters had the aspect of barbarians ready to sack the Capitol. So who was manning the gates?

The post How Jan. 6 Brought Frontier Violence to the Heart of U.S. Power appeared first on The Intercept.

“The battle between good and evil has come now.”
— Senior staff member in the U.S. Senate

In the Cormac McCarthy novel “Blood Meridian,” a man called Captain White leads a mounted company of American irregulars into northern Mexico on a mission to plunder and lay the groundwork for further U.S. expansion. “We are to be the instruments of liberation in a dark and troubled land,” he tells his men. As they ride, White notices dust clouds on the horizon. Through his spyglass, he sees a massive herd of cattle, mules, and horses being driven toward the company by what he takes for a band of stock thieves. They seem to pay his men no mind as the herd rumbles past. Then, suddenly, hundreds of mounted Comanche lancers and archers appear:

A legion of horribles … wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners … one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador.

I first read those lines 14 years ago, in a hostel bunk bed amid the wanderings of my early 20s. I was in Naples, where my great-grandfather had boarded a ship to America, and though faces on the streets looked eerily familiar, I felt only a tenuous connection to the city. The novel’s lines about a distant frontier, in contrast, instantly resonated, though I struggled to understand why. There was shocking clarity in the violence: The attackers butcher the Americans, “passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads.” The description of their garish attire, with its funhouse mockery of the would-be conquerors, left me with a lingering sense of vulnerability.

These lines resurfaced in my mind after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, an event whose meaning I’ve found myself continuing to interrogate as we approach its two-year anniversary. At the start of 2021, I was married, with one small child and another on the way, and living in a brick-house suburb of Washington, D.C. I’d covered conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, then returned, in 2017, to report on the sort of militant-minded Americans who ended up storming Congress. I had traveled to pre-election meetings with Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader later convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role that day, and I’d been at a previous “Stop the Steal” rally, in November 2020, watching pot-bellied Proud Boys march around like Catholic school kids in matching polo shirts. On the morning of January 6, however, I stayed home. I was sick of it all: the crowds, the Covid risk, the threats of violence. I’d seen my share of real war at the margins of the U.S. sphere of influence and couldn’t stand another day of listening to comfortable Americans talk about inflicting such violence at home. It wasn’t just them, though. It was also me. In the interludes between my trips around the country, contemplating America’s breakdown from the desk in my sunroom, I’d found I no longer understood what my role was supposed to be.

Protesters exit the Capitol after facing off with police in the Rotunda in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building.As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A woman draped in an American flag near a broken window in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux

Then the riot commenced. The Capitol was breached. I thought, if this is something that will overturn the republic — if it’s a real revolution — then my path is clear again, and there will be time to get to the Capitol tonight, tomorrow, and probably for days.

I was right and wrong. The riot was over in a matter of hours. Congress reconvened to certify the election result that night. But I thought the attack had struck a deeper, psychological blow whose impact was hard to see clearly. I felt it in the reactions from friends and neighbors, in the hysteria in the news, and in my own unease. The answer seemed to lurk behind the nature of the freakout. Turning back to the passage from “Blood Meridian,” I reconsidered what was so unnerving about it and wondered if the rioters, perhaps without realizing it, had tapped into the same anxiety the scene had animated in me years earlier. It conjures a fear about the edge of empire that has always lurked in the American mind, in which the frontier is the place where the violence and suffering the nation has inflicted as the terms of its expansion and sustainment bend back on us, and we encounter our demons. There’s an air of reckoning as the legion descends on Captain White’s company. The first weapons they brandish against the Americans are “shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass.”

“They came dressed for chaos,” read the New York Times the day after the Capitol was attacked, “in red, white and blue face paint and star-spangled superhero outfits, in flag capes (American, yes, but also Confederate and Trumpian) and flag jackets and Donald Trump bobble hats. One man came as a patriotic duck; another as a bald eagle; another as a cross between a knight-errant and Captain America; another as Abraham Lincoln. They came in all sorts of camouflage, in animal pelts and flak jackets, in tactical gear.” Other writers noted the “seditionist frontiersmen” and “revolutionary cosplayers” and “Confederate revivalists.” The ghosts were rising up from across the American centuries. Solemn-eyed Christians with their wooden cross. The gallows with its noose. Militants dressed like our modern Forever War soldiers. Some of them, indeed, had been those soldiers, and here they were in their battle attire. A writer for The Atlantic described spending time among a group of protesters that included two men in camouflage and Kevlar vests, along with a woman in a full-body cat suit. He was confronted by a sense of mystery. The event, he wrote, was “not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics.” No — the meaning lay in the subliminal. What these people were describing were their nightmares about the edge of empire, come to life, and massing in the heart of Washington, D.C.

The legion advanced holding up a mirror, and I looked at my reflection. It clarified the unease that had been troubling me at my desk. If that side had the aspect of barbarians ready to sack the Capitol, then my side might be manning the imperial gates.

Protesters storm the Rotunda, inside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building.As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A rioter filming with an iPhone is seen in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux

Five days after January 6, a writer who uses the pen name John Mosby, after a famous Confederate guerrilla, posted an essay about the attack online. It began with a question he said a friend had asked him that day: “Ever see a government starting to totally lose control and just flail ineffectually?”

Mosby describes himself as a Special Forces veteran who deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11, though he is guarded about specifics. His friend’s question was rhetorical: Part of the job of a Green Beret is to operate in the chaos of broken countries. One thing that serving in or otherwise witnessing recent U.S. wars can also show you, though, is America’s own weakness, laid bare in the yawning gap between what it promised in those wars and what it was able to achieve. For more than a decade on “Mountain Guerrilla,” Mosby’s blog and now Patreon page, and in survivalist and tactical guides that people in militant and prepper circles discuss with reverence, he has laid out an apocalyptic understanding of the world centered on the idea of America’s decline and eventual collapse.

Two aspects of Mosby’s post are striking in relation to January 6. The first is his starting point: America is an empire. Prominent U.S. thinkers once wrestled with this idea, with Mark Twain and others making the Anti-Imperialist League a political force during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. These days, the concept often seems relegated to the Noam Chomsky-citing hard left or pockets of the far right, but a shift in perspective can sharpen the picture. “To an outsider, the fact that America is an empire is the most obvious fact of all,” the British journalist Henry Fairlie, who spent 25 years in the U.S., wrote during the Vietnam era. America emerged from a revolt against an imperialist power, giving its citizens an aversion to “the mere suggestion that they may themselves be an empire,” Fairlie noted. “Call it, then, by another name … but the fact will remain.”

The modern blend of America’s economic might, military alliances, and borderless campaigns of surveillance, drone attacks, and commando raids makes its version of empire look different from those that preceded it — and from the blunter attempts at power grabs in Cuba and the Philippines that mobilized Twain and his allies. Mosby, however, also subscribes to the idea that the country itself is a patchwork of far-flung places tied together by conquest. The distance from London to Rome, he notes, is less than from Denver or Austin to the White House. So the U.S. decline Mosby sees is imperial decline, both at home and abroad. He derides the idea that America’s technological advances and the comforts of its globalized economy will help it escape the fate of every empire that came before it. In fact, he believes that the excesses of contemporary U.S. capitalism will only speed that fate along. He titled his post about January 6 “The Hubris of Technophilia.”

Secondly, in Mosby’s view, Donald Trump existed outside the true power structure of this crumbling empire even when he controlled the presidency. The real authority lay somewhere else. This was the authority that revealed its weakness on January 6. It wasn’t the breach of the poorly guarded U.S. Capitol that told him this. (“I could give two shits about that, and in fact, was surprised that we didn’t see smoke billowing out the windows.”) He saw it in the agitation of the politicians and talking heads and the panicked talk about insurrection in the news. It was in the frenzy of a kicked beehive.

What you’re watching, right now, is the mechanisms of imperial power — the government, the legacy media, and the oligarchs, of social media and big business — lashing out ineffectually, in the throes of panic, because the collapse of the imperial hegemony just became readily apparent to even the willfully blind … They’re NOT in control, and at their core, they know it. They’re not in control in Afghanistan. They’re not in control in Iraq. They’re not in control in Syria. … Hell, they’re not even really in control in Washington, DC.

If you ask me, Trump embodies the worst of U.S. empire and is exactly the fallout that critics of its runaway capitalism, militarism, and nationalism have predicted. He campaigned on stealing oil and indiscriminately bombing ISIS territory, and on demonizing Muslims, who for 20 years have been the state-sponsored enemy, as well as by fearmongering over migrants at the southern border. It wasn’t just talk: Trump ramped up drone attacks and embraced secret wars and loosened airstrike rules designed to limit civilian casualties. Large corporations and defense contractors raked in profits during his presidency. I recognize in the January 6 movement the same alliance between a supposedly anti-establishment grassroots and the super-rich that I remember from the tea party. My goal, however, is to look in the mirror, and Mosby’s writing shows how the Democratic side of the political divide can also be portrayed as aligned with the centers of entrenched power. After January 6, many liberals looked to Big Tech for more censorship and to financial institutions for help blocking funding streams. They embraced the government agencies that had managed the war on terror and pushed them for domestic remedies, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s short-lived disinformation board and a new law to give the FBI more tools and funding to counter domestic extremism. Maybe some of this was justified, given the stakes, but one goal in psychological operations is to get your opponent to act like the enemy you want to fight.

Mosby’s prescriptions seem somewhat apolitical: He sees America’s collapse as unavoidable and advocates a retreat into austere survivalism. There are plenty of people on the right, however, who are keen to harness the January 6 crowd’s momentum to enact radical change. This includes an expanding constellation of anti-democratic thought that can draw on similar notions of empire and the modern right’s place outside its hierarchies. Thinkers in this space have posited that liberal authority is so ingrained that America is already in or approaching a form of autocracy; this was the concept behind the former private equity executive Michael Anton’s 2016 case for Trump in his widely circulated essay “The Flight 93 Election,” which gave conservatives an ultimatum: “Charge the cockpit or you die.” Anton became a National Security Council official in the Trump administration and is now at the Claremont Institute, an influential right-wing think tank. Curtis Yarvin, a writer often cited as a favorite of Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel, has also deployed the declining empire frame. He has called for an “American Caesar” to rescue the country from its liberal masters. “Certainly, our choice in the early 21st century — if we have a choice — is one of two fates: the fall of the Roman Republic, or the fall of the Roman Empire,” he wrote. “Don’t let anyone hate on you for preferring the former — or being willing to learn from it.”

Jake Angeli, self described QAnon Shamen, confronts police officers as a pro-Trump mob storms the Capitol in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building. As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

Jake Angeli, a self-described QAnon shaman, confronts police officers in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux

Let’s consider a different moment when protesters massed in the heart of Washington, D.C, the crowd stretching out by the tens of thousands. There are militants in helmets among them, along with the frumps and strivers of the middle classes in jeans. And then there are the freaks. They have come decked out in various costumes, including furs and animal skins. These are the legions of the anti-war left, assembled for their October 1967 march on the Pentagon.

In “The Armies of the Night,” his book about the march, Norman Mailer described the spectacle. “They came walking up in all sizes,” he wrote, “perambulating down the hill, many dressed like the legions of Sgt. Pepper’s Band, some were gotten up like Arab sheikhs, or in Park Avenue doormen’s greatcoats, others like Rogers and Clark of the West, Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone in buckskin.” He counted hundreds of hippies in Union blue and Confederate gray marching beside samurais, shepherds, Roman senators, “Martians and Moon-men and a knight unhorsed who stalked about in the weight of real armor.”

With this absurdist show of force, Mailer hoped the left had found the momentum to challenge not only the war in Vietnam but also what he called “the authority” behind the version of America that he called “technology land,” where the horrors of napalm, Agent Orange, and nuclear bombs were tied in some intrinsic way to all the stifling domestic corruptions.

Their radicalism was in their hate for the authority. … this new generation of the Left hated the authority, because the authority lied. It lied through the teeth of corporation executives and Cabinet officials and police enforcement officers and newspaper editors and advertising agencies, and in its mass magazines, where the subtlest apologies for the disasters of the authority … were grafted in the best possible style into the ever-open mind of the walking American lobotomy.

The movement’s power, the book suggests, was born of a refusal to accept, at home, what America manifested overseas, and a determination not to lose sight of the immediacy of burned forests and dead civilians. It challenged the authority by refusing to play on its terms. This was the energy behind the idea of such a horde preparing to march, with no coherent plan, against the annihilating structure of the Pentagon, a building that encompasses 6.5 million square feet of office space and 7,500 windows. “[T]he aesthetic at last was in the politics,” Mailer wrote, rejoicing that “politics had again become mysterious.”

In the end, the marchers streamed across the Arlington Bridge and descended on the Pentagon, where some managed to break in and run amok for a while. Hundreds were arrested. The world seemed to spin on. Mailer felt, however, that a psychological blow had been dealt — because the event, he wrote, was one “that the authority could not comprehend.”

One essential tactic of the 1960s left, in fact, was to screw with the squares just by being their opposite: the freaks.

The protesters, it seems to me, were trying to reach into the subliminal reserve of guilt and fear that Americans keep buried, and in doing so, they took on the role of McCarthy’s legion of horribles. One essential tactic of the 1960s left, in fact, was to screw with the squares just by being their opposite: the freaks. The system was run and staffed by squares, policed by squares, and supported by squares, the unquestioning drones of empire. There was power in the ability to interrupt the programming, to jolt them with a sense of dislocation. It’s an ethos captured in miniature in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” when he recounts standing in the men’s room of a popular nightspot and spilling LSD powder onto his flannel sleeve. A stranger walks in and begins to suck the powder from Thompson’s arm: “A very gross tableau,” he writes, that makes him wonder if a “young stockbroker type” might walk in and see them. “Fuck him, I thought. With a bit of luck, it’ll ruin his life — forever thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red Pendleton shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.”

During the protest at the Pentagon, the hippies held an exorcism, trying to levitate the building and drive out the demons within it. The new generation of the left, Mailer wrote, “believed in LSD, in witches, in tribal knowledge, in orgy, and revolution.” Now it’s the new right reaching for magic — black magic, maybe, but magic nonetheless. They believe in international conspiracies of pedophiles, in Satan worshippers, and Anderson Cooper drinking the blood of babies. These are terrible, dangerous fantasies, yes, but they also contrast with a left whose anti-establishment impulses often seem to go corporate, like rock and roll and weed, and executives with hired shamans preaching psychedelic healing. One side believes in apocalypse and ivermectin horse paste, and God, and bleach. The other believes in grown-up generals and congressional committees, rules and norms, and the FBI.

A crowd on the Mall in Washington, D.C., listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021 A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building. As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A man wearing a helmet and tactical vest listens to a speech by President Donald Trump during the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux

I recently was reading one of the books to which liberals flocked in the Trump era — actually, even more on-brand, I was listening to the audio version while buying groceries in the middle of a weekday. It was “How Fascism Works,” by Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale. Stanley details contemporary problems that can be understood as aspects of fascist politics: male chauvinism, unreality, the demonization of minorities, the glorification of an imagined race or ethno-centric history, attempts to divide people into “us” and “them.” He also expands the discussion to other traits of U.S. conservatism: being against abortion, for example, or paternalistically regressive. He writes that a 2016 tweet by Mitt Romney — in which Romney called Trump’s sexist comments on the “Access Hollywood” tapes “vile degradations [that] demean our wives and daughters” — evokes the Hutu power ideology behind the Rwanda genocide, suggesting that Romney’s description of women “exclusively in traditionally subordinate roles” supports the paradigm of “the patriarchal family in fascist politics.” Academics who advocate for so-called “great books” programs centered on the works of white Europeans, he warns elsewhere, citing a “Mein Kampf” passage on the supposed dominance of Aryan cultural heritage, are at risk of finding themselves in the company of Hitler.

I breezed along with my shopping, until I thought I felt Stanley reach for me. Other key features of fascism, he writes, using Rush Limbaugh as a foil, are the undermining of “expertise” and attempts to create a climate in which “experts have been delegitimized.” Wait a minute, I thought, pulling out my earbuds. Which experts does he mean? (And is Stanley one of them?) Aside from calls to defend science and academia from right-wing onslaughts, he leaves the category mostly undefined. Limbaugh’s attacks on all sources of information that ran counter to his own hyperpartisan propaganda were transparent enough, and easy to disdain; this has also become part of the Trumpian playbook. At the same time, however, many among the sprawling class of elites and experts in America have used Trump’s specter to shield themselves from challenges to their authority that may well be justified. Whoever has been guiding the country through the three-plus decades of my lifetime, at least, hasn’t been doing a good job of it, and we clearly have more than just conservatives to blame. This is apparent in any statistical indicator that tracks the worsening of, say, climate change or economic inequality over time, the persistent discrimination faced by Black Americans, or their continued killing by our militarized police. However inadvertently, broad defenses of elites and experts support the status quo, while nurturing an increasingly dangerous American reverence for authority. Now more than ever, it seems, we should be leaning into the opposing tradition of vibrant skepticism as we seek to discern and constantly reevaluate which purported expertise is worthwhile and which we’d be better off dismissing.

The book dissects how problems from racism and inequality to inhumane treatment of immigrants have seeded the potential destruction of American democracy. It makes only passing mention, however, of an example of elite failure that’s essential to the discussion: the disaster of U.S. foreign policy. Nothing has bred hyper-nationalism like the post-9/11 wars, or inflamed a reactionary sense of cultural superiority, or fed the worship of violence and power, or eroded the rule of law, or indoctrinated people in a constant, searching fear of new threats and enemies, or encouraged them to turn, for relief, to industry, technology, and the security state. The wars and their knock-on effects, including surveillance and civilian casualties that continue to this day, have been supported by both political parties and sustained by a top-down culture of unreality based on encouraging people to look away. An edifice of official secrecy, staffed by experts and elites, has been built upon layers of classification, obfuscation, and denial that hide information we’d rather not see anyway, helping us avoid a full view of our own reflections.

Hannah Arendt, born in pre-war Germany, is widely considered one of the foremost scholars of that country’s descent into Hitlerism. She devoted a third of “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” which analyzed the conditions that gave rise to the Nazi and Soviet regimes, to imperialism. Tyranny deployed abroad, she noted, “could only destroy the political body of the nation-state,” and while imperialism alone didn’t spawn Hitler’s rise, it was essential to creating the right conditions. Arendt immigrated to the U.S. in 1941 and tracked the overseas adventurism that has defined the era of American dominance. In her 1971 essay on the release of the Pentagon Papers, “Lying in Politics,” she observed that the Vietnam War was the province not only of flag-waving nationalists but also of seemingly well-intentioned experts and bureaucrats, the so-called problem solvers who’d helped to support the war and lent it a sheen of respectability. “Self-deception is the danger par excellence,” she wrote. The experts ended up living in the same unreality they foisted on the public. For all their acumen, they became gears in a machine that was grinding forward unthinkingly: “One sometimes has the impression that a computer rather than ‘decision-makers’ had been let loose in Southeast Asia.”

These decision-makers were taking direction from Robert McNamara, the former president of Ford Motor Company who served as defense secretary under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Some detractors saw the “problem solvers” and their technocratic counterparts across government as dangerous progressives. Some of the technocrats’ critics on the left, however, believed that, rather than truly changing the power structure, they were trying to alter it just enough to be comfortable in it — and that this applied more broadly to the Kennedy-Johnson coalition. In “The Armies of the Night,” Mailer wrote of his unease at a pre-march party at the home of an academic who was both against the war and, as Mailer saw it, one of the empire’s unwitting supporters.

If the republic was now managing to convert the citizenry to a plastic mass, ready to be attached to any manipulative gung ho, the author was ready to cast much of the blame … [on] the liberal academic intelligentsia. They were of course politically opposed to the present programs and movements of the republic in Asian foreign policy, but this political difference seemed no more than a quarrel among engineers. Liberal academics had no root of a real war with technology land itself, no, in all likelihood, they were the natural managers of that future air-conditioned vault where the last of human life would still exist.

The enemies on the right were more obvious; here Mailer was concerned with the trickier battle within liberalism. He saw that you can’t start a revolution, which is what pulling down the edifices of empire would be, if the people on your side are so ingrained in the power structure that they can’t even see it.

Protesters storm the Rotunda, inside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building.As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

Protesters swarm the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux

In June, I traveled to a town called Eureka, just shy of the Canadian border in the pines of northwest Montana, and stopped at a cluster of storage units off the main road. At the entrance to one of them, Dakota Adams, 25, the eldest child of Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader, took out a ring of keys and opened the padlock to the roll-up door. Inside, amid belongings piled halfway to the ceiling, were remnants of the many years his father had spent preparing for the revolution: rifle cases, old ammunition boxes, helmets, recruiting flyers, smoke grenades. Adams waded through the pile, dug around for a bit, and lifted up a camouflage vest heavy with bulletproof plates. “Ah,” he said. “My childhood body armor.”

Adams had been brought up in the militant movement, immersed in meetings and trainings hidden away in the surrounding pines. Then, recently, he’d broken from it and from his father as well, following a long process that he called “deprogramming,” during which he also changed his surname. All around were obscure and dusty books that had belonged to his father: “The Coming Battle,” by M. W. Walbert; “Firearms for Survival,” by Duncan Long; “Rawles on Retreats and Relocation,” by James Wesley Rawles; “Tracking Humans,” by David Diaz; “Boston’s Gun Bible,” by the pseudonymous Boston T. Party. Though Adams couldn’t find it, he was sure that “The Reluctant Partisan,” one of John Mosby’s books, was also buried somewhere in the clutter. The militant movement believes that it takes only a small vanguard to start the revolution, Adams told me, but its preparations for political violence have also been married to efforts to bring as many people as possible to its side. I found another type of book among the piles: “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto” and “How to Win a Local Election: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide.” The Oath Keepers, in the end, were just one of many pieces that came together on January 6, but Rhodes had been tapping for years into the momentum that fueled it. He’d recognized that “a meandering energy” is on the loose in America, Adams said. “People want structure and they want to feel a part of things.”

“The alternative is ending up with a system that’s even worse than what you have.”

Maybe there’s no choice, at the moment, but to defend the system we have in hopes of staving off a much darker fate. That’s what Michael Podhorzer, the former political director of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of labor unions, told me. He has been credited with helping to organize the liberal defense against Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 vote, sounding the alarm for months ahead of time and then, when the coup attempt was on, playing a coordinating role in the response. That response involved mobilizing the grassroots left and institutional liberals alike — and yes, the retired security officials, tech and business executives, bureaucrats, experts, and elites who are part of the wealthy, educated demographic that increasingly votes Democratic. The larger effort to stop Trump from overturning the vote brought establishment Republicans and big corporations into the fold as well, Podhorzer noted; the AFL-CIO even released a joint letter with the Chamber of Commerce to support the election result. History has shown, he told me, that right-wing authoritarianism can only be defeated when all of civil society — including corporations and the center-right — is aligned against it: “The alternative is ending up with a system that’s even worse than what you have.”

This is probably true. It might even be heroic, in its own way. It also means manning the imperial gates. Our demons from the frontier are here, running rampant, and there’s no one left to turn to but the people who loosed them in the first place — to get in line with the squares. Nothing shows that a system has been victorious like the inability of even its opponents to imagine an alternative. I suffer from this fate. Even my critiques of U.S. empire, I often think, exist so comfortably within its confines as to make me just another part of it. It reminds me of a term I heard in countries I covered overseas: controlled opposition.

This was the dilemma that had been plaguing me over those long months of suburban comfort as January 6 approached. And it’s why, watching the chaos unfold at the Capitol, I felt, amid the dread, a hint of clarity, as if perhaps a fog were about to lift. If the coup happened, I’d be able to charge at last against the authority like the revolutionary I’d imagined I might be back when I was bouncing through hostels with a backpack full of books. The thought provided some comfort, but returning to the passage from McCarthy, I arrived at another set of questions. What if the battle between good and evil had already been settled in America? And if the latter had won, what would be the use in guarding the gates?

The protagonist in “Blood Meridian” is a nameless, wandering youth called “the kid,” who is traveling with Captain White’s company when it’s wiped out by the Comanches and survives by lying among the dead. Moving onward through the frontier’s netherworld, he falls in with a man who makes Captain White’s brand of violence seem quaint. The Judge is a towering figure, nearly seven feet tall, and apparently civilized; “this man of learning,” as he’s described, is well traveled and erudite, with an expansive knowledge of languages, history, science, and law. He also unleashes a machine-like violence capable of wiping out entire settlements of men, women, and children as they sleep. “It makes no difference what men think of war,” the Judge says. “War endures.”

Eventually, belatedly, the kid revolts against him. “You’re the one that’s crazy,” he says weakly. The book ends in a violent hug, with the kid trapped in the Judge’s arms, smothered “against his immense and terrible flesh.” When I first read this in Naples, it left me confused. Now, though, I can feel the familiar embrace of patrimony.

The post How Jan. 6 Brought Frontier Violence to the Heart of U.S. Power appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 Mob incited by President Trump storms Capitol An insurrectionist draped in an American flag is seen by the broken windows of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Mob incited by President Trump storms Capitol A rioter filming with an iPhone is seen in the Rotunda after the "Stop the Steal" rally stormed thee building on January 6, 2021. Mob incited by President Trump storms Capitol Jake Angeli, self described QAnon Shamen, confronts police officers as a pro-Trump mob storms the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. Mob incited by President Trump storms Capitol A man wearing a crusader helmet and tactical vest that reads "USA Patriot" on the Mall in Washington, D.C., listens to a speech by President Trump during the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021. Mob incited by President Trump storms Capitol Protesters breach the Capitol and swarm in the Rotunda, in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.
<![CDATA[A Competitor Put the FBI on Haoyang Yu's Trail. The Investigation Didn't Go as Planned.]]> Thu, 22 Dec 2022 15:32:34 +0000 Federal intelligence agencies ran a sting and dug through the trash of a Chinese American engineer they envisioned as a sophisticated technological spy.

The post A Competitor Put the FBI on Haoyang Yu’s Trail. The Investigation Didn’t Go as Planned. appeared first on The Intercept.

Paul Blount started small. When he set up a semiconductor chip company in his basement in 2006, he was the only employee. He had spent a decade at the chip behemoth Hittite Microwave Corporation, and he saw room in the market for a boutique design outfit.

About a decade later, a man named Haoyang Yu did almost exactly the same thing, setting up his own lean chip company, Tricon, in Lexington, Massachusetts, just 30 miles from Blount’s home. A tipster, whom Blount would later acknowledge was linked to his company, went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, writing that their new competitor “smells a bit fishy.”

The tipster said it was suspicious that no one in their orbit had heard of Yu. “None of us here know this person or this company and there is 100% no way that they could come up with this product line in 6 months,” wrote the tipster. Both Yu and Blount marketed tiny, mass-produced chips called monolithic microwave integrated circuits, or MMICS, which can be used in everything from cellphones to military radar systems. Some MMICs are under export controls, which means that they can only be sent to certain end users and destinations with a license from the Commerce Department. Without evidence, the tipster hinted that Tricon might be violating export control regulations. “They are most likely reselling someone else’s part and what makes me nervous is that at least one is 3A001.b.2.d part,” the tipster wrote, referring to an export control classification number covering certain MMIC chips.

Yu, who also goes by Jack, was in fact no stranger to the industry. He had moved to Amherst in 2002 to study engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduation he stayed in New England, eventually settling in Lexington with his wife and two young children. He worked at Hittite after Blount left, staying on after the company was acquired by Analog Devices in 2014. The year Yu started Tricon, he left Analog to work as a software engineer at a company that counts MMIC makers among its clients. At one point, he had even visited Blount’s company, Custom MMIC, to demonstrate software to a group that included Blount.

Nonetheless, the tip to the FBI set off a cascade of events that would upturn Yu’s world. Investigators came to see him as a national security threat, zeroing in on what they imagined were unsavory links to China, where Yu, now a U.S. citizen, was born. They mounted a secret camera on a pole outside his house and enlisted the local trash company to set aside his family’s garbage after collecting it so agents could covertly rifle through it. In May, after spending five nights in jail, three months with a clunky ankle bracelet tracking his movements, and over two and a half years in legal limbo, he stood trial for a slew of felonies, including export control violations, immigration fraud, and wire fraud. Prosecutors also accused Yu’s wife, Yanzhi Chen, of wire fraud after she refused to cooperate.

Then, just as quickly as it had come together, the case against the couple seemed to unravel. The U.S. government largely failed to convince a Boston jury, which in June acquitted Yu on 18 of 19 counts. Shortly after the trial, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins dropped all charges against Chen, saying in a statement that the decision was a result of a “continuing assessment of the evidence.”

Early on in the investigation, a Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency agent labeled Haoyang Yu as a national security threat.

Early on in the investigation, a Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency agent labeled Haoyang Yu as a national security threat.

Screenshot: The Intercept/United States District Court

Court documents reveal a series of missteps, including a confounding export control classification and a failed sting operation. The lone charge of which Yu was ultimately convicted, possessing stolen trade secrets, had no connection to China.

“There were so many mistakes,” Chen told The Intercept recently. “We have had three very dark years.”

What prosecutors did have was evidence that Yu had transferred prototype chip design files onto his Google Drive while working at Analog Devices, naming two of the files Pikachu and Dragonair after Pokémon characters. Analog later abandoned the prototypes, some of which Yu had worked with while at the company, and in all but one case, the jury was unconvinced that the designs constituted trade secrets.

Yu’s lawyers contend that such a case would have normally been dealt with through a low-stakes civil lawsuit filed by Analog Devices. That didn’t happen, they argue, because of Yu’s ethnicity. “Yes, he had some files on his computer that should have been deleted,” said Yu’s attorney William Fick of Fick & Mark in his closing statement at trial. But for the U.S. government, “[i]f you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

“The root problem behind a specific set of cases remains: the way that our own government still sees foreignness as a threat.”

Federal prosecutors, working closely with the FBI and large corporations, have brought dozens of cases over the last decade involving alleged technology theft by China. In 2018, amid rising tensions with Beijing, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave the crackdown a name: the China Initiative. The initiative was scrapped earlier this year, following concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian American advocacy groups that it entailed racial profiling, but the biases that contributed to the program’s downfall endure, activists say. “The root problem behind a specific set of cases remains: the way that our own government still sees foreignness as a threat,” said Aryani Ong, co-founder of Asian American Federal Employees for Nondiscrimination. FBI Director Christopher Wray said in January that the bureau has over 2,000 open investigations involving China and technology. And perhaps no technology is more pivotal to geopolitical strategy than semiconductor chips, which are essential components of electronic devices and important to breakthroughs in computing.

“MMICs have cutting-edge military applications ranging from electronic warfare to signals intelligence to military communications,” said Emily de La Bruyère, a co-founder of Horizon Advisory, a consulting firm focused on China. “China and the U.S. are locked in a battle — not just for advanced semiconductor technology, but also for influence over the global semiconductor value chain.” In just the past few months, President Joe Biden signed into law the CHIPS Act, which is aimed at strengthening domestic semiconductor chip manufacturing, and the Commerce Department unveiled unprecedented new restrictions on the sale of semiconductor technology to entities within China. Last week, Reuters reported that the Chinese government was readying an infusion of 1 trillion yuan ($143 billion) into its semiconductor industry.

Convictions in China Initiative and related cases have led to years of prison time. But many cases have fallen apart because prosecutors made inappropriate leaps, activists say.

“We are deeply concerned that the Yu case is yet another continuation of biased targeting policies and practices,” said Jeremy Wu, founder of APA Justice Task Force, a group formed in the wake of several botched prosecutions of Chinese American scientists. “His case exemplifies another tragic ordeal.”

For Yu and Chen, the ordeal is not yet over. For his sole conviction, Yu now faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His lawyers are trying to get the charge thrown out ahead of sentencing, arguing that prosecutors inflated a workplace dispute into a national security threat and that the entire investigation was tainted by bias. A judge will soon rule on whether the government is selectively enforcing the law by targeting Yu for his ethnicity, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Yu, his lawyers, and a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing legal proceedings. When asked about the case by phone, Blount declined to comment and quickly hung up.

Haoyang Yu at Boston Veterans day parade 2022.

Haoyang Yu at the Boston Veterans Parade in November 2022.

Photo: Courtesy of Yanzhi Chen

“We Make Business”

Chen and Yu met online in the early aughts, when they were students pursuing graduate degrees in different parts of the United States. He was from the north of China, and she was from the south. He struck her as whip-smart and diligent, and after dating long-distance for a year, they married and settled in New England. They had two kids, and Chen stayed home to raise them while Yu worked as an engineer.

In 2013, they moved to Lexington for its excellent public schools, buying a house on a quiet street near the town’s Great Meadow. They grew to love the historic Boston suburb, which two and a half centuries after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War is now a wealthy bedroom community with a large Asian American population. Chen volunteered at her kids’ school and for local groups, and at her urging, Yu ran unsuccessfully for a seat on Lexington’s Town Meeting.

Initially, Chen told The Intercept, Yu’s goals for Tricon were modest. Yu registered the company in Chen’s name — a structure sometimes used to protect assets — and listed a box at a nearby UPS Store as the company’s mailing address. Business was slow. Chen advised him to focus on recouping his investment, not turning a profit. Since Yu was happiest when he was busy, she said she recommended the Town Meeting candidacy partly as a distraction.

“I never expected it to bring so much trouble,” she said of Tricon.

The investigation into Yu began in earnest a month after the complaint linked to Blount, when the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency received a second tip about Tricon. A DCSA agent compiled an internal report, which was later entered into the court record, describing the second tipster as a government contractor with a security clearance. The contractor speculated that Yu “could be using” the contractor’s “products pictures and datasheets to market for HIS own company.” The agent labeled the report as involving foreign intelligence, China, and a “person reasonably believed to be an officer or employee of, or otherwise acting on behalf of, a foreign power” — presumably, Yu.

MMIC is often pronounced “mimic,” and copying competitors’ products is common in the chip industry, as are allegations of theft. Shortly before the tipster went to the FBI, Yu’s previous employer Analog Devices had accused three former employees of taking proprietary material upon leaving the company. That case took the form of a lawsuit against the former employees’ new workplace, Macom, and the matter was handled in civil court, with Analog paying its own legal fees. It quickly ended in a settlement.

But Yu’s case was different. Because the U.S. government alleged that it involved a potential national security threat, four federal intelligence agencies conducted the sprawling 18-month investigation. And while Analog Devices provided information, federal prosecutors ultimately decided which charges to press, and U.S. taxpayers covered the ballooning investigative and legal costs.

Agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Commerce Department, and U.S. Navy worked together to bring down a man they envisioned as a sophisticated technological spy.

Agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Commerce Department, and U.S. Navy worked together to bring down a man they envisioned as a sophisticated technological spy. In addition to putting Yu under surveillance, they followed Chen around town as she drove their kids to and from sports practices and obtained a search warrant to comb through Yu’s email accounts.

From the start, the U.S. government’s investigation didn’t go quite as planned. Early on, an undercover agent with DHS’s Homeland Security Investigations force wrote to Yu, posing as representative of a potential buyer named “XY Atallah” from Jordan. The agent asked about a chip with specifications close to those that fall under export controls. “If good price, we can make business,” he wrote. The agent repeated the stereotypical phrase in a follow-up email the next day: “We make business.”

Yu suggested lower-frequency chips that could be legally exported to Jordan without a license. When the undercover agent posing as Atallah declined, insisting on the higher-frequency chip and saying he could pay upfront, Yu walked away from the deal. Agents also found emails that Yu had exchanged with a potential buyer in Spain. After the buyer asked about controlled chips, Yu noted that he did not have an export license for the products and asked if the buyer had a licensed representative in the United States — a legal way of moving the product overseas, provided that Spain was the final destination. That deal didn’t go through, either.

Nor did the investigation uncover solid evidence of crimes involving China. In March 2019, an HSI agent alleged in an internal report that Yu had stolen designs and technical data from his former employer to produce his own MMIC chips and sell them to entities in China in violation of export control regulations. The agent also contended that Yu had consulted for a Chinese company, claiming that the payment was evidence of “additional export violations to China.” Eventually, though, the government dropped both allegations.

The HSI agent also claimed that Tricon had illegally exported one chip without seeking an export license. But a semiconductor industry expert hired by Yu’s lawyers would later show that the relevant export control classification had only been issued at the request of an investigator after Yu came under scrutiny.

Companies that suspect their technology or designs have been taken generally “want to set an example for their own employees,” said Matthew Brazil, a former export controls official and resident fellow at the Jamestown Foundation focused on Chinese intelligence operations, after reviewing some of the court documents in Yu’s case. “That’s often a corporate response. But it’s not clear where the espionage component was in this case.” (Yu was never charged with espionage, but the U.S. government has in the past charged export control violations in cases alleged to involve spying or technology transfer.)

“It backfired because they turned non-criminal cases into criminal cases. And that never ends well.”

One reason that investigators pressed the national security angle may have to do with timing. In November 2018, less than a year after Yu came under investigation, Sessions announced the China Initiative. Yu’s name does not appear on a list of sample initiative cases released by the Justice Department and last updated in November 2021, but the effort was clearly important for Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney in Boston at the time. He was one of a handful of federal prosecutors on the initiative’s steering committee. Lelling, who is now in private practice, declined to comment on this and several other issues.

“If your name is tied to it, then you want to see it succeed,” said Robert Fisher, an attorney with Nixon Peabody in Boston who successfully defended a China Initiative case brought by Lelling’s office. The priority placed on China-related cases led to an uptick in flimsy charges around the country, Fisher said. “It backfired because they turned non-criminal cases into criminal cases. And that never ends well.”


Then-U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, center, speaks outside federal court on Jan. 23, 2020, in Boston.

Photo: Charles Krupa/AP

“You Lied to Us”

Early one morning in June 2019, shortly before Yu’s family was scheduled to fly back to China to see relatives, Chen returned home from dropping off their children at school to find cars lining the street. Their house was swarming with agents and local police, around 20 officers in all.

Agents from the Commerce Department and Homeland Security approached and asked her to get inside their vehicle, she said. In the car, according to a transcript of the interview, they drilled her about Tricon.

Chen told the agents that her husband was an uptight engineer, always doing everything by the book. Although the business was in her name, she said that he only let her do basic tasks for the company, not because he had anything to hide but because he wanted them done perfectly. “He’s a control freak,” she said, adding that she had helped him mail chips to sites in Europe and the United States but that he insisted on packing all the materials himself. She said that she didn’t really understand MMIC technology.

“Yeah, neither do I,” one of the agents admitted.

Later in the interview, the other agent accused her of lying. “I don’t want to see you get in trouble for anything, you know, that you lied to us about,” he said.

“I was so confused,” Chen told The Intercept. While she didn’t understand the technology he worked with, she did know that her husband’s business was little more than a side project.

Meanwhile, inside their house, agents were rummaging through the family’s belongings as another pair of investigators from the Commerce Department and Homeland Security questioned Yu. When he asked whether he needed a lawyer, they brushed off the question. Over the course of the interview, Yu mentioned an attorney five more times. But instead of stopping so that he could contact one, the agents kept questioning him.

When Yu declined to answer a query, musing that his remarks could be misinterpreted, one agent launched into a heated speech. “I appreciate that you want to try to protect yourself, but Haoyang, we’re past that. The question now is, are you willing to do the right thing?” The agent offered a sample confession: “Like, ‘Yes, I did it. I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I shouldn’t have done it. I had financial problems and I was trying to do the best thing I could for my family and this is the way that I saw to get out of that. It was a terrible choice.’ Like — whatever.”

But Yu stayed quiet.

Inside the agents’ vehicle, Chen said she watched, stunned, as he was led away in handcuffs. “I didn’t know why they took my husband away,” she said. “It is a really weird feeling.”

After the street cleared out, she walked into her house and surveyed the aftermath. The agents had taken their computers, cellphones, and papers printed with Chinese characters that had no connection to Yu’s business, she said, including notes on potential travel destinations and the addresses of her college classmates. In the kitchen, a chipmunk scurried across the floor. The back door had been left open during the raid, and the animal had found its way inside. She shooed it out and sat down to cry. Then she forced herself to get up and put the house in order before her kids arrived home from school.

Later that day, Lelling’s office issued a press release describing Yu as “a Chinese born naturalized US citizen.” “Theft of trade secrets from American companies is a pervasive economic and national security threat,” Lelling was quoted as saying. The press release continued: “Yu is charged with a massive theft of proprietary trade secret information.”

Singled Out?

As the couple’s cases moved toward trial, Yu’s defense team hired a semiconductor expert, Manfred Schindler, a consultant who had worked with several leading chip companies. Schindler wrote in an affidavit that small outfits like Tricon were common in the MMIC industry, and that companies commonly reverse engineer one another’s chips. “[M]ultiple manufacturers commonly sell individual items with very similar or even identical designs and performance characteristics,” he wrote. (Schindler declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with Yu’s lawyers.)

More explosively, Schindler took issue with the export control category that the U.S. government said governed one of Tricon’s chips. At the time, three of the charges against Yu hinged on that classification. The designation was unusual, Schindler wrote, because chips with similar specifications — including the one that prosecutors alleged Yu had copied — typically do not trigger export controls. He determined that the U.S. government had introduced the designation at the request of an agent investigating Yu and had never publicized the rule. The rule seemed to have been tailor-made for Yu.

Another setback came in January of this year, when the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts dropped charges in a controversial China Initiative case against Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Gang Chen (no relation to Yanzhi Chen). He had been charged with wire fraud and accused of omitting affiliations with Chinese institutions on Department of Energy grant applications that he submitted electronically. Prosecutors abandoned the charges after determining that some of the alleged affiliations did not exist and that Chen had no obligation to declare the others. Gang Chen’s defenders alleged that he was the victim of blatant racism and bias; 170 MIT faculty members signed a statement in his defense. The Justice Department scrapped the China Initiative the following month.

Rollins had inherited both the Gang Chen and Yu cases from Lelling. Yu’s lawyers hoped to get charges thrown out in his case as well.

Instead, Rollins’s office went ahead with the prosecution. But by the time Yu stood trial, the allegations against him had changed. Prosecutors dropped the export control violation charges connected to the chip that Schindler had flagged after the Commerce Department reclassified it as not requiring a license. In a superseding indictment, they charged Yu with new export control violations, for sending two chip designs to a foundry, or chip factory, in Taiwan.

Yu’s Tricon was what’s known as “fabless,” meaning the company didn’t fabricate the chips in-house. Instead, Yu designed chips which were then manufactured in foundries. In recent years, Commerce Department officials have grown more aggressive about how they interpret regulations with regard to the export of design files, but historically, companies including Analog Devices have at times not sought licenses for similar exports. “[Fabless] suppliers often use off-shore fabs and package houses, yet most US military contractors don’t seem to care about this,” the industry publication Microwaves 101 notes in an explainer on MMIC suppliers. “Go figure!”

Using files found in Yu’s Google Drive and on devices seized from his home, prosecutors alleged that he had stolen the designs for “dozens” of chips from Analog Devices. And, in a sort of legal hall of mirrors, they tacked on charges that depended on other charges sticking. In his interview ahead of becoming a U.S. citizen in February 2017, Yu had asserted that he’d never committed or tried to commit a crime for which he had not been arrested. Prosecutors alleged that this was fraud because he had committed a crime: trade secrets theft, the crime they were charging him with.


A detail shot of the semiconductor chip that was developed for use in car radar systems. Photos taken at Analog Devices in Wilmington, Mass., on July 5, 2011.

Photo: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

 “Why Are You Challenging Him?”

The drama began even before the trial started, when a prosecutor tried to ensure that an Asian American man was not chosen for the jury. The judge questioned the prosecutor’s motive. The potential juror, the judge noted, “is Asian; why are you challenging him? I see no reason to challenge him.”

When the prosecutor replied that the objection was based on the man’s profession, the judge asked what that was. Silence ensued. “You don’t even know what the profession is,” the judge admonished the prosecutor. (Court documents, which give only the man’s first name and last initial, reveal that he worked as a nurse and paraprofessional for a public school system.) The government ended up withdrawing the objection, and the man remained on the jury.

As the trial got underway, prosecutors returned again and again to the Pokémon characters. “[N]o one names things after Pokémon characters at work when they intend to be found out,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Beck. They accused Yu of adopting a fake name because, in his work with Tricon, he used the English name Jack. They emphasized his use of multiple email addresses, claiming that it was a signature of criminals violating export controls. They suggested it was odd that Yu had registered Tricon in his wife’s name rather than his own and used the address of a UPS store for the business rather than his home. And they called as a witness an employee of Win Semiconductors, the Taiwanese firm that had manufactured Yu’s chips, who testified that the designs Tricon had sent the firm appeared unoriginal.

Then, halfway through the trial, Blount, Yu’s Boston-area competitor, took the stand. In 2020, he had sold Custom MMIC for a reported $96 million. He later started a new company, Kapabl Engineering. When cross-examined by the defense, Blount admitted that he had met Yu before, though he said he did not remember the encounter. He conceded that Kapabl Engineering was, like Tricon, registered in his wife’s name. Just as Tricon had a bare-bones website, Kapabl Engineering had a site that Blount conceded was “rudimentary.” And much as Tricon had sent designs to Taiwan to be manufactured without obtaining an export license, Custom MMIC had sent designs to France without a license until 2019, the year Yu was arrested.

“Custom never got an export license to send the GDS to France?” asked Fick, Yu’s attorney, referring to a chip design file.

“We did not, no,” Blount answered.

“And is that because you were intentionally violating the law?” Fick asked.

“No,” Blount said.

Blount also admitted that he was connected to the tip to the FBI. “We brought this matter to the FBI back in 2017,” he said.

The jury deliberated for five hours. After they largely cleared Yu of the charges, Rollins’s office boasted in a press release about the single charge that had stuck, calling it “the first-ever conviction following a criminal trial of this kind in the District of Massachusetts.” Few observers saw it as a win for the government, though. The trade publication Law360 recently listed the trial among a string of losses by the U.S. attorney’s office.

“The verdict revealed this case for what it truly is: a trumped-up civil dispute between a multibillion-dollar, global technology company and its former employee concerning alleged trade secrets,” wrote Yu’s attorneys in a recent filing. “The government’s relentless pursuit of Mr. Yu was driven, at least in part, by its baseless and offensive assumption that he was a Chinese spy, secretly loyal to China and, thus, a danger to the national security of the United States.”

If Yu had been white, his attorneys contend, the trade secrets spat might have been handled through a lawsuit in civil court, without the threat of prison time.

Yu’s attorneys now argue that the law has been selectively enforced, and that the U.S. government gave too much weight to information provided by Blount and Analog Devices. If Yu had been white, they contend, the trade secrets spat might have been handled through a lawsuit in civil court, without the threat of prison time — as had happened when Analog Devices accused the three former employees of taking proprietary material to Macom. That lawsuit, in fact, involved data for several of the exact same Analog Devices products at issue in Yu’s case, with the difference that the Macom engineers were accused of stealing much more data than Yu, and that, according to Yu’s attorneys, one of them actually confessed to taking trade secrets.

Proving that Yu was singled out will be a challenge. Traditionally, the burden of proof for a selective enforcement motion rests on the defense, and no lawyer has successfully argued it in a China Initiative or related case. But in November, Judge William G. Young reversed an earlier decision on the topic, ordering the U.S. government to turn over to the defense additional evidence connected to Yu’s prosecution.

In one filing, Yu’s lawyers cited comments Lelling made to Science in 2020, in which they say he acknowledged that prosecutors were seeking out ethnic Chinese defendants. “[U]nfortunately, a lot of our targets are going to be Han Chinese,” Lelling said at the time. “If it were the French government targeting U.S. technology, we’d be looking for Frenchmen.’”

In an email to The Intercept, Lelling took issue with that interpretation. “No one was targeting people based on ethnicity — we were looking for conduct,” he wrote.

Chen’s hopes now center on the judge dismissing the case. But she is clear-eyed about Yu’s chances. “The success rate is very low,” she said, adding, “I don’t know why the government has invested so much on us. We are just normal people.”

Meanwhile, in August, Analog Devices finally filed a civil lawsuit against Yu. By the time it winds through the courts, he may be in federal prison.

The post A Competitor Put the FBI on Haoyang Yu’s Trail. The Investigation Didn’t Go as Planned. appeared first on The Intercept.

]]> 0 unclassified-document-final Early on in the investigation, a Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency agent labeled Haoyang Yu as a national security threat. haoyang-final Haoyang Yu at Boston Veterans day parade 2022. AP20023801013407 United States Attorney Andrew Lelling, center, speaks outside federal court, Jan. 23, 2020, in Boston. GettyImages-119892117-final A detail shot of the semiconductor chip that was developed for use in car radar systems. Photos taken at Analog Devices in Wilmington, Mass. , July 5, 2011.