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Army Sergeants at Fort Hood Fear for the Safety of Their Soldiers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 2:31am in

Seven noncommissioned officers responsible for the training and welfare of soldiers at Fort Hood, the sprawling U.S. Army base in Killeen, Texas, said the environment there has become so dangerous that they fear for the safety of their soldiers.

The five sergeants and two staff sergeants described a toxic leadership culture at Fort Hood that tolerates rampant drug use, sexual harassment, and misconduct on base, and in some instances, has allowed service members accused of sexual assault to remain within their ranks. Three of the NCOs said they’ve witnessed young soldiers in crisis who were ignored by their commanding officers and later attempted suicide.

Since January, there have been 28 deaths at Fort Hood, including five homicides and eight suicides. Four of the deaths are still being investigated, including the most recent on September 2 of Pvt. Corlton Chee, 25, who collapsed during a training exercise and later died. Over the last five years, more soldiers stationed at Fort Hood have been murdered on and off the base than killed in battle.

“I would be scared to send my kid to Fort Hood,” said a sergeant who has served in the Army for nearly a decade. “I don’t think the leadership here at Fort Hood is doing a good job, or any sort of job, to protect their soldiers.”

“I would be scared to send my kid to Fort Hood.”

The NCOs, who were interviewed individually over a span of several weeks, agreed to speak with The Intercept on the condition that they remain anonymous, fearing retribution. They said they were compelled to come forward out of concern that no meaningful change will come from the military and congressional investigations launched in the wake of public outcry over the murder of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillén, a specialist in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment who was killed by another soldier at Fort Hood in April. Guillén’s family has charged that leaders at Fort Hood mishandled the investigation into her disappearance, as well as reports that she had been sexually harassed prior to her murder.

“The public needs to know what’s going on here,” said one of the sergeants. “Because I have no more faith in the federal system or the Army.”

In early August, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy apologized for failing Guillén and her family in a press briefing at Fort Hood, which he characterized as having “the most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation of the U.S. Army.” McCarthy also said that an independent review would be conducted by five civilian consultants — four veterans and a former FBI agent — into Fort Hood’s leadership culture.

Major General Scott Efflandt, III Corps and Fort Hood Deputy Commander, at a news conference at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, in early July 2020.

Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt at a news conference at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, in July 2020.

Photo: TNS via ZUMA

Three weeks after McCarthy’s briefing, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, base commander at Fort Hood, was removed from his post and reassigned as deputy commanding general for support at the base. At the same time, Army Futures Command Gen. John Murray announced an in-depth investigation into the conduct of the chain of command after Guillén’s disappearance, to accompany the review by the independent panel, which is scheduled to issue its final report on October 30.

But the problems being publicized now involve more than just one leader on post and have been years in the making, said the NCOs, who described an entrenched culture among the chain of command that is openly hostile toward enlisted soldiers and either punishes or ignores those who report harassment or other grievances to their superiors. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘Fuck the Joe’ here,” said the longtime sergeant, using military slang for a private. “It’s a common phrase in the platoon office with all the sergeants. The privates are scared to come out and be like, ‘Hey, this is what’s wrong,’ because they know that if they do, nothing’s going to be addressed, nothing’s going to change because nobody in leadership cares.”

The NCOs, enlisted soldiers who have been promoted through the ranks to train soldiers for combat, said that Fort Hood has a reputation in the Army as a place where problematic leaders from other installations are sent and “careers go to die.” Many of them still thought, however, that they could make a difference individually with their soldiers and help change the leadership culture. They now believe their thinking was naive.

“I came here with the mentality of ‘I’m going to be the change. I’m going to be the fix,’” said the longtime sergeant, who was transferred to Fort Hood after serving overseas. “But within the first week, I was warned by another sergeant, ‘You can try as hard as you want, but you’re not going to change what is going on here.’ And then he just walked away, and I was really taken aback by that.”

Another sergeant said that what he’s witnessed in his time at the base “is just crazy. There’s a lot of drugs in the barracks: marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine. There was even a meth lab for a while, until they were finally caught,” he said. “In the climate here, it’s treated as no big deal.”

Higher-ranking officers who are caught using drugs or accused of sexual harassment or assault are often reassigned to other positions rather than punished, the NCOs said, sending a message of impunity that stokes a climate of fear and distrust on the base.

Candles and flowers decorate a makeshift memorial for US Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen at Power House Gym on August 14, 2020, in Houston, Texas.

Candles and flowers decorate a makeshift memorial for U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén at Power House Gym on Aug. 14, 2020, in Houston.

Photo: Mark Felix/AFP /AFP via Getty Images

Nowhere to Turn

Fort Hood, which has 36,500 active service members spread across the more than 214,000-acre installation in Central Texas, has reported 163 deaths since 2016 — 73 of them ruled as suicides, according to Fort Hood’s public affairs office. The base has the highest number of suicides of any Army base with a comparable or larger population, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, which has more than 52,000 active-duty soldiers and reported 63 suicides during the same period.

The NCOs said they suspect the high number of suicides is due to bullying and harassment, as well as neglect from commanding officers when a soldier is in crisis. “We get these kids who don’t know anything about anything, and then they have all these crazy adult issues. If I know how to help them, and I can take all that stress off of them, then I should,” said one of the sergeants. “But most who are being promoted don’t care enough to help them.”

The Army provides mental health treatment at its Embedded Behavioral Health clinics, but the NCOs said soldiers are often encouraged not to use these services by leaders concerned it will reflect badly on their own records. “They worry that their own bosses will ask why they have so many soldiers that need to go to EBH,” another sergeant said. “So they try to handle it themselves in house.”

Soldiers who file grievances or seek help are quickly labeled as “crazy or weak,” the sergeant added, and told that it will affect their career.

Fort Hood has reported 163 deaths since 2016 — 73 of them ruled as suicides.

Three of the sergeants described incidents in which soldiers didn’t get the help they needed and then tried to kill themselves. One said he had to physically restrain a soldier from harming himself with a knife.

The sergeant said he went to check on a soldier who was not under his command, but who he knew was having marital problems. “There were signs that something was going to eventually come to a head with this soldier,” he said. After arriving at the soldier’s house and spending time with him and his wife, “He just flipped,” said the sergeant. “I had to wrestle a knife out of his hand, and I was just very lucky that I didn’t get cut.”

Another sergeant said he received a call from a 17-year-old soldier one night who said he was in crisis and needed help. “I asked him why he hadn’t talked to his current team leader, and he told me, ‘Because basically they don’t give a fuck.’ I brought it up to his platoon sergeant and told him, ‘Hey, this dude’s not doing too good.’ And he was like, ‘I deal with my own problems. He can deal with his.’ This is a grown man talking about a 17-year-old,” the sergeant said, still angered by the exchange. “He ended up trying to swallow three bottles of pills and nearly killing himself.”

One of the worst incidents, said the third sergeant, was a troubled young soldier who was ignored by his chain of command after becoming suicidal and overdosed on pills. The soldier survived the suicide attempt, but afterward, in a group chat, his superiors joked about how he should have tried harder to kill himself. A screenshot of the exchange was later sent to the young soldier, who shared it with the other privates in his barracks. “Now none of those soldiers have any trust in anybody that’s over them,” said the sergeant.

A complaint was filed with the Army’s Office of the Inspector General about the incident, the sergeant said, but “we never saw an investigation.”

When Somebody Goes Missing

The NCOs responsible for the well-being of soldiers under their command said it’s also difficult to work in an environment where soldiers disappear from base, and no one knows whether they’re alive or dead. Army protocol is that if someone leaves base and doesn’t return, they are listed as AWOL, then after 30 days as a “deserter.” But the Army, per military policy, doesn’t extensively search for soldiers once they’ve left the base.

Since January, according to Fort Hood’s public affairs office, 95 soldiers have gone AWOL from the base, 25 of whom never returned and were listed as deserters.

“There’s only so much I can do if somebody goes missing,” said one of the sergeants. “We had a kid go AWOL a month ago. We still don’t know where he is. The company commander was in contact with his family, but they don’t seem worried.”

Vanessa Guillén, who went missing in April, was labeled as AWOL by the Army even though her disappearance was suspicious, said the sergeant, who said he never knew Guillén but her disappearance and murder have been the talk of Fort Hood for months. “Her phone is left behind, her car keys,” he said. “This just screams foul play, right?”

Yet it took the command at Fort Hood several weeks to take Guillén’s disappearance seriously. And it was only because her family was so insistent and was able to get the attention of Congress, the sergeant said.

“What’s even crazier,” said another sergeant, “is that in the search for Vanessa Guillén, they found another soldier in a shallow grave.”

Patriot Guard Riders salute as military members carry the casket of Army Private Gregory Wedel-Morales at Green Hill Cemetery in Sapulpa on July 23, 2020.

Patriot Guard Riders salute as military members carry the casket of Army Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales at Green Hill Cemetery in Sapulpa, Okla., on July 23, 2020.

Photo: Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP

The body that local police and Army investigators discovered was that of Pvt. Gregory Morales, a 24-year-old soldier who had gone missing from Fort Hood almost a year earlier. Morales was just days away from being honorably discharged when he disappeared in August 2019, and the Army listed him as a deserter. His death is now being investigated as a possible homicide.

“The military failed him by not looking,” Kimberly Wedel, Morales’s mother, told the Washington Post after her son’s body was identified in June. “They just assumed the worst and let it go.”

Because of the number of soldiers who go AWOL, it would be difficult to launch an extensive search for every soldier, said one of the sergeants. “A lot of the time, it’s just that they don’t want to be in the Army anymore and they leave,” he said. “It’s kind of a touchy subject. But what I think should happen is you file them AWOL, and you file a missing person’s report at the same time, in case something bad did happen.”

Army officials in Washington, D.C., and at Fort Hood would not comment on the NCOs’ allegations other than those regarding Guillén and Army policy regarding missing soldiers who are classified as AWOL. An Army spokesperson told The Intercept that the Army is changing its policy regarding AWOL soldiers, and he said that an extensive search was launched for Guillén after her disappearance on April 22. “More than 500 soldiers searched for Guillén throughout Fort Hood, while CID agents participated in numerous ground, water, and air searches throughout Central Texas,” the spokesperson wrote in an email, referring to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.

Despite these searches, Guillén’s body was not found for more than two months, and her family has accused the Army of indifference and lack of transparency in its criminal investigation into her disappearance. In mid-October, Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, announced in a press conference that the Army would implement a new policy categorizing soldiers as missing until it could determine whether they left their post intentionally, or whether foul play was involved. Guillén’s case “affected us all,” McConville told reporters, according to Stars and Stripes. “And quite frankly, we didn’t take care of her.”

You Just Get Blamed

The Army’s motto for Fort Hood is “The Great Place” because of the purported quality of life it provides to enlisted soldiers and their family members. But the NCOs said that sexual harassment and assault are tolerated on base, and that victims are often retaliated against if they report it to their chain of command.

A female sergeant stationed at Fort Hood described the environment for women as one of almost constant sexual harassment and fear of sexual assault. “People get raped all the time here. They don’t do anything about it,” she said. “They just make you feel like shit, like you are the problem, like females shouldn’t be here.” In June, an Army review team sent to Fort Hood found that more than one-third of the female soldiers surveyed had experienced sexual harassment at the base.

It’s no surprise that complaints are brushed aside by higher-ranking officers, the female sergeant said, because they are among the worst offenders.

“No one trusts anyone here. … We are training a whole generation of bad sergeants.”

Not long ago, she said, a sergeant major drugged and raped her off base. She didn’t report it because she didn’t think it would be taken seriously and worried she would be retaliated against. “It’s scary reporting those kinds of things, because it’s usually the woman who gets demoted and gets in trouble,” she said. “You just get blamed.”

If a female soldier makes a sexual assault or harassment complaint against a higher-ranking male soldier, she said, military investigators will frequently side with the man. “They just say that you’re crying wolf about it, because either you didn’t get your way about something or you didn’t want to go do some kind of training.”

One of the staff sergeants said he was disturbed by how allegations of sexual assault are handled, citing the case of a soldier in his platoon who was charged with seven counts of rape or sexual assault while at Fort Hood. One alleged victim was a service member and two were civilians, according to another sergeant familiar with the case. The soldier was held in a civilian jail for several months but was acquitted of the charges in a military trial. He is now back on base.

“The CID couldn’t even put a nail in wood,” said a second staff sergeant. “That’s how useless they are.”

The first staff sergeant also described an incident in which another staff sergeant in his platoon groped a subordinate female soldier as she was preparing to go to sleep. After the soldier filed a complaint, the staff sergeant was demoted, but only for a few months. “He’s now again at the same rank, and in the same squadron as the female soldier,” the first staff sergeant said. “That just breeds an environment where soldiers don’t feel safe.”

The staff sergeant said one reason leadership is willing to look the other way is that Fort Hood is desperate to retain its soldiers. “I would rather go to a deployment undermanned than have somebody that I can’t trust,” he said.

Media outlets gather outside the Bernie Beck gate at Fort Hood on June 3, 2016 in Fort Hood, Texas.

The Bernie Beck gate at Fort Hood on June 3, 2016, in Fort Hood, Texas.

Photo: Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

No One Trusts Anyone

Soldiers who attain a rank above staff sergeant are basically untouchable in the Army and protect one another to the detriment of those beneath them, the NCOs said.

“Once you hit a certain rank, everything just gets kicked under the rug,” one of the staff sergeants said. “And unfortunately, these toxic leaders, they just get passed around on this installation, and they just taint another unit.”

“The ones who are sitting in the office all day and saying, ‘Fuck the Joe,’ those are the people who are getting promoted, not the people who actually care about the privates,” the longtime sergeant said. “As a sergeant, I’m not actually shooting when we’re attacking the enemy. I’m telling them to shoot. I’m telling them where to go. So my thinking is they’re the most important asset I have. While a lot of the other sergeants getting promoted, they don’t even go out and have interactions with their guys. They just text them and tell them what to do, and then yell at them when they do something wrong.”

This toxic leadership is learned on base, and it creates an unsafe environment for everybody, the sources said. Even worse, it makes them vulnerable on the battlefield. “No one trusts anyone here. There’s no brotherhood. No camaraderie. It starts with the NCOs and goes all the way up the chain of command,” said the longtime sergeant. “We are training a whole generation of bad sergeants, and that’s going to affect lethality and deployment.”

The NCOs said they are doing everything within their power to be transferred from Fort Hood. Two of them are planning to quit the Army altogether. “My grandfather was at Fort Hood before WWII, and it was the highlight of his life,” said the longtime sergeant. “He loved the Army, and so did I before I was sent here. I really thought I would make a career of it. But when I told him about my experiences at Fort Hood, he was the one who rationalized it for me and told me I should get out. ‘That’s not the Army I grew up in, and it’s clearly not the Army you grew up in,’ he told me. ‘Do you want to be responsible for someone else’s death, because someone else didn’t care?’”

The post Army Sergeants at Fort Hood Fear for the Safety of Their Soldiers appeared first on The Intercept.

Dan Oakes, Witness K and Bernard Collaery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 6:05am in

Dear Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, please demonstrate that the decisions whether or not to prosecute, and the decisions to continue the prosecutions of Collaery and K, are not influenced by possible political advantage, disadvantage or embarrassment to the Government.  … Continue reading →

Metcalfe Park: Black Vote Rising

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 3:00am in


Justice, Politics

Mother-daughter team Danell Cross and Melody McCurtis are determined to prevent what America witnessed during Wisconsin’s April primary election from happening again. It is estimated that the primary, held despite Covid-19 concerns, disenfranchised almost 16 percent of Black voters in Milwaukee, the largest city in a key swing state. “Metcalfe Park: Black Vote Rising” follows Danell and her daughter, Melody, as they organize their Black community of Metcalfe Park to not just prepare for reduced polling stations and see through disinformation campaigns, but to find a way to vote amid the challenges of job loss, furloughs, school closure, and illness. As they canvass door-to-door to reach people who are missed by digital social media campaigns, they deliver food and Covid-19 safety kits along with voting instructions. And they try to convince cynical and distrustful neighbors to vote despite their tested faith in the system and legitimate musings about what a president will do to change things on their block.

This project was supported by the journalism non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and was made in association with Wisconsin Watch and the PBS World Channel.

The post Metcalfe Park: Black Vote Rising appeared first on The Intercept.

Department of Homeland Security Sued for Chemical Weapons Use

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 9:15am in

Environmental groups sued the Department of Homeland Security and its acting secretary, Chad Wolf, in federal district court today over their use of what the suit called “a vast arsenal of weapons” on Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland. The weapons deployed by the federal agents during what the Trump administration dubbed “Operation Diligent Valor” pose potentially grave health and environmental hazards, according to the suit, which the ACLU Foundation of Oregon filed on behalf of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Willamette Riverkeeper, Cascadia Wildlands, Neighbors for Clean Air, and 350PDX.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among the weapons mentioned in the complaint are rubber bullets; CS tear gas; OC spray, also known as pepper spray; and hexachloroethane smoke grenades. As The Intercept reported earlier this month, the U.S. military began phasing out the smoke grenades years ago because of their toxicity. Along with a thick smoke, the grenades release chemicals associated with short- and long-term human health effects, including nausea, vomiting, central nervous system depression, kidney and liver damage, and cancer.

The groups detail the serious risks of CS tear gas, citing a 2014 report that showed it had “a profound effect on the respiratory system” and that U.S. Army recruits exposed to the tear gas in basic training had a nearly 2.5 times greater risk of acute respiratory illness. The complaint lists symptoms associated with the gas, including eye injuries, chronic pain, cough, neurodegeneration, and menstrual irregularities. And it presents evidence that “[e]ven at low concentrations, CS gas presents a risk of irreversible or other serious, long-lasting adverse human health effects.”

According to the suit, the Department of Homeland Security violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the “potentially severe environmental and human health impacts” of the weapons. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to weigh the impacts of proposed actions that “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” And the suit lays out evidence that, in addition to imperiling protesters, who have described weight loss, lung damage, exhaustion, and other symptoms after being exposed to gas and smoke released by the federal agents, the weapons may harm the environment. Several of the chemicals released by the munitions are harmful to aquatic life, according to their safety data sheets.


Federal agents deploy tear gas and fire other munitions in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland on July 16, 2020.

Photo: Doug Brown, ACLU of Oregon

The federal agents used so much tear gas and other weapons during the face-offs with protesters that its residue was visible on streets, sidewalks, and plants near the federal courthouse and ICE detention center where they were used. There are at least seven stormwater drains near the Justice Center and the ICE detention center, where the agents were stationed, and at least two of the drains feed directly into the nearby Willamette River. According to the suit, plaintiffs have identified “tear gas and other chemical munitions floating over the Willamette River” and have seen DHS agents “power washing” the residue from tear gas and other chemical weapons into the storm drains. The environmental groups conclude that the chemicals have likely already entered the nearby Willamette River.

While officials in Portland have acknowledged that residue from tear gas and other chemical munitions used by the Department of Homeland Security entered the city’s storm drains downtown, the federal agency has not provided a list of tear gas and chemical munitions used against protesters to the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, according to the complaint. It also says that the federal government has denied the city environmental agency access to a catch basin behind the federal agents’ barrier where they want to test stormwater there for the presence of chemicals.

Operation Diligent Valor began when Department of Homeland Security Agents descended on Portland in July. But DHS agents remain in the city and have used chemical munitions as recently as October 18, when a thermal fogger released gas into a crowd of protesters gathered outside an ICE facility. The suit asks the court to stop DHS from using such weapons in Portland until its violation of the law is corrected.

The post Department of Homeland Security Sued for Chemical Weapons Use appeared first on The Intercept.

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.


Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

David D. Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition & Italian Fascism (University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary socialism that seeks to overthrow the liberal state and replace it with a society based on the trade unions in which they run industry. It was particularly strong in France, and played a major role in Catalonia and the struggle against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has also been a strand in the British labour movement, and produced a peculiar British form, Guild Socialism, whose leaders included the great socialist writer and former Fabian, G.D.H. Cole.

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

Fascism was a strange, heterogenous mixture of different, and often conflicting groups. These included former syndicalists, radicalised veterans from the First World War, ultra-conservative Nationalists and the Futurists, an aggressive modern artistic movement that celebrated war, speed, violence, masculinity, airplanes, cars and the new machine age. Some of these groups shared roughly the same ideas. The war veterans were deeply impressed with the corporative constitution drafted by Alceste de Ambris for D’Annunzio’s brief regime in Fiume, the Carta de Carnaro. Superficially, the Fascist syndicalists shared the same goal of creating a corporate state to govern industrial relations and run industry. However, they approached this from very different directions. The Nationalists, led by Alfredo Rocco, were ultra-Conservative businessmen, who attacked liberal democracy because of the corruption involved in Italian politics. At the same time they feared the power of the organised working class. As Italy modernised, it underwent a wave of strikes. In response, Rocco recommended that the state should take over the trade unions, using them as its organ to discipline the workers, keep the masses in their place while training them to perform their functions efficiently in the new, industrial Italy. The syndicalists, on the other hand, wanted the trade unions to play a role in industrial management and at the same time draw the working class into a fuller participation in politics. The working class had been excluded from the liberal state, but through their economic organisations, the unions, they could play a much fuller role as these governed their everyday lives. They saw the corporations and the corporate state as a means of increasing democracy and popular participation, not limiting it.

Fascist Corporativism

The corporations themselves are industrial organisations rather like the medieval guilds or trade unions. However, they included both the trade unions and employers organisations. There were already nine of them, but by the end of the regime in 1943 there were 27. Under Rocco’s Labour Charter, the Carta del Lavoro, strikes and lockouts were forbidden in the name of industrial peace and class collaboration. The corporation were required to settle labour disputes. However, if management and the unions were unable to reach agreement, then the dispute was to be referred to labour magistracy for settlement in special labour courts. Mussolini also reformed the Italian parliament, transforming the Chamber of Deputies into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. In practice the corporate state never amounted to very much. It never won over real working class support, and the corporations were never given real legislative power. It merely added another layer of bureaucracy and acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp to pass the policies Mussolini had already made. And he seems to have used it as ideological window dressing to give the impression that here was more to Fascism than his personal dictatorship.

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

The book argues that the corporate state was a genuine attempt to solve the deep problems of Italian unification left over from the Risorgimento. At the same time, it was also a radical response to the crisis, breakdown and revision of Marxist socialism and the failure of Marxist syndicalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The process of unification has produced an attitude of deep alienation from the state and politics amongst Italians, and Fascism was partly a response to this. This alienation isn’t confined to Italians, but it is particularly acute. Social studies in the 1970s showed that Italians are less likely than Americans, Brits or Germans to become politically involved. They regard the state as distant with little interest in them. At the same time, there is also an expectation that the bureaucrats in Rome will help them.

Like Germany, Italy was unified by military force and the invasion of the other, constituent states. However, for reasons of speed and a determination to preserve the new nation’s fragile unity, the other Italian states were simply annexed by Piedmont to be governed from there. There was supposed to be a constituent assembly in which the other states were to have their say in the creation of the new Italy, but this simply didn’t happen. At the same time, the industrialisation promoted by Italian liberals was concentrated in the north, so that the south remained backward and agricultural. The franchise was extremely restricted. It excluded illiterates, so that originally only 2 per cent of the population could vote. This was later extended to 7 per cent. At the same time, Italy’s leaders prevented the formation of proper political parties by taking over individuals from different parliamentary factions in order to form workable governing majorities. At the same time there was discontent and widespread criticism of the protectionism imposed to help the development of Italian heavy industry. Middle class critics believed that this unfairly benefited it at the expense of more dynamic and productive sectors of the economy. This led to the belief that Italy was being held back by class of political parasites.

This backwardness also led to an acute sense of pessimism amongst the elite over the character of the Italian people themselves. The Americans, British and Germans were disciplined with proper business values. Italians, on the other hand, were lazy, too individualistic and defied authority through lawlessness. This meant that liberalism was inadequate to deal with the problems of Italian society. ‘This English suit doesn’t fit us’, as one Fascist said. But this would change with the adoption of Fascism. One of Mussolini’s minions once declared that, thanks to Fascism, hard work and punctuality were no longer American, German and British values.

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

By the 1890s there was a crisis throughout Europe in Marxist socialism. Marx believed that the contradictions in capitalism and the continuing impoverishment of working people would lead to eventual revolution. But at this stage it was evident that capitalism was not collapsing. It was expanding, wages were rising and the working class becoming better off. This led to the reformist controversy, in which socialist ideologues such as Bernstein in Germany recommended instead that socialist parties should commit themselves to reforming capitalism gradually in order to create a socialist society. The syndicalists were originally Marxists, who looked forward to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, they became increasingly disenchanted with Marxism and critical of the leading role of the working class. They originally believed, as with the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, that the class-conscious workers would be a new source of values. But they weren’t. They also believed that this would only be achieved through a long process of education through general strikes. They were horrified by the biennio rosso, the two years of strikes and industrial unrest that came after the end of the war, when it seemed that the Italian labour movement was going to follow the Russian Bolsheviks and create a revolution for which Italy and it working class were not ready.

At the same time, they came to reject Marxism’s doctrine that the political was determined by the economic sphere. They believed that Italy’s political problems could not be reduced to capitalism. Hence they believed that capitalism and private industry should be protected, but made subordinate to the state. Work was a social duty, and any industrial who did not run his company properly could, in theory, be removed and replaced. They also sought to give the workers a greater role in industrial management. This led them to go beyond the working class. They found a new revolutionary group in the Italian war veterans, who were radicalised by their experiences. These would have joined the socialists, but the latter had been strongly neutralist and as a result rejected and ridiculed the former soldiers for their patriotism. These found their ideological and political home with the syndicalists. At the same time, the syndicalists rejection of Marxist socialism led to their rediscovery of other, non-Marxist socialist writers like Mazzini, who also rejected liberalism in favour of a tightly knit Italian nation. Their bitter hatred of the corruption in Italian politics and its parasites led them to join forces with anarchists and other sectors of the Italian radical tradition. They believed that for Italy truly to unite and modernise, the workers should join forces with properly modernising industrialists in an alliance of producers.

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

Looking at the development of Italian Fascism, it can seem that there was a certain inevitability to the emergence of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the totalitarian Fascist state. But this argues that there was nothing inevitable about it, and that it was forced on Mussolini in order to stop his movement falling apart. When Mussolini entered parliament and took over as prime minister, he seemed to be transforming what was originally a movement into the very type of party that the Fascist rank and file were in revolt against. Fascism was reconstituted as a party, and when the future Duce met the kind, he wore the top hat and frock coat of an establishment politician. Worse, Mussolini had started out as a radical socialist, and still seemed determined to work with them and other working class and left-wing parties. He signed a pacification pact with the Socialists and Populists, the Roman Catholic party, stopping the Fascist attacks on them, the trade unions and workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives. This horrified the syndicalists, who saw it as a threat to their own programme of winning over the workers and creating the new, corporatist order. As a result they pressurised Mussolini into rescinding that pacts, Mussolini and Fascism moved right-ward to ally with the capitalists and industry in the destruction of working class organisations.

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

But it seems that the syndicalists were serious about defending the working class and giving it a proper role through the corporations in the management of industry and through that, political participation in the Italian state. Left Fascists like Olivetti and Ugo Spirito believed that the Italian state should operate a mixed economy, with the state running certain companies where appropriate, and the trade unions owning and managing cooperatives. Some went further, and recommended that the corporations should take over the ownership of firms, which would be operated jointly by management and the workers. This never got anywhere, and was denounced by other left syndicalists, like Sergio Pannunzio, one of their leaders.

From Internationalism to Imperialism

The book also raises grim astonishment in the way it reveals how the Syndicalists, who were initially quite internationalist in outlook, came to support Fascist imperialism. They shared the general Fascist view that Italy was being prevented from developing its industry through British and French imperialism. The two powers blocked Italy from access to trading with their colonies. They were therefore also critical of the League of Nations when it was set up, which they saw as an attempt by the great powers to maintain the international status quo. The Nationalists, who were formally merged with the Fascists, went further and demanded that Italy too should have an empire to benefit its industry, but also to provide land for colonisation by the surplus Italian population. Without it, they would continue to be forced to emigrate to countries like America and Britain, where they would become the lowest and most despised part of their working class. The syndicalists were also acutely aware of how low Italians were regarded and exploited in these countries, even by other members of the working class.

The syndicalists during the war and early post-war years criticised the Nationalists for their militarism and imperialism. Instead of looking forward to perpetual war, as the Nationalists did, they wanted to see instead the emergence of a new, federal European order in which nations would cooperate. This new federal state would eventually cover the world. They also looked forward to a new, equitable arrangement over access to the colonies. Pannunzio did support colonialism, which he believed was bringing civilisation to backward areas. But he also believed that colonies that were unable to become nations in their own right should be taken over by the League of Nations. Pannunzio declared ‘Egotism among nations is a material and moral absurdity; nations … cannot lived closed and isolated by must interact and cooperate’. This changed as time went on and Mussolini established the corporate state. This was always fragile and tentative, and accompanied by concessions to other sectors of Fascism on the right. In order to defend their fragile gains, the syndicalists gave their full backing to the Second World War and its imperialism, which they saw as a crusade to bring the corporate state, the great Italian achievement, but a backward world.

Workers Should Have a Role In Government, But Not Through Totalitarianism

I have to say I like certain aspects of the corporate state. I like the idea of trade unionists actively involved in the management of industry and in a special department of parliament, although as Sidney and Beatrice Webb point out in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, there are severe drawbacks with it. But any such corporatist chamber would have to be an expansion of liberal democracy, not a replacement for it. And I utterly reject and despise Fascism for its vicious intolerance, especially towards socialism and the working class, its rejection of democracy, and especially the militarism, imperialism and racism. Like Nazism it needs to be fought everywhere, in whatever guise it arises.

And the book makes very clear that the corporate state was an exaggerated response to genuine Italian problems, problems that could be solved within liberal, democratic politics.

Perhaps one day we shall see the return of trade unionists to parliaments reformed to allow them to play their proper role in government and industry. I make this recommendation in my booklet, For A Worker’s Chamber. But it should never be through any kind of autocratic, totalitarian regime.

Homeless LA Residents Face Heat, Wildfires, and Covid-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 3:06am in



Residents without housing in Los Angeles now also have to contend with Covid-19, record heat, and smoke-filled air from wildfires.

The post Homeless LA Residents Face Heat, Wildfires, and Covid-19 appeared first on The Intercept.

RT America’s Lee Camp Raises Questions about Starmer’s Connection to British Deep State

Mike’s put up a number of pieces discussing and criticising Starmer’s demand that Labour MPs abstain on the wretched ‘Spycops’ bill. If passed, this would allow members of the police and security services to commit serious offences while undercover. Twenty Labour MPs initially defied him and voted against it, with several resigning in protest from the shadow cabinet. The Labour whips’ office has also broken party protocol to issue written reprimands to the rebels. If they defy party discipline, they will face a reprimand period of six months, which will be extended to twelve if they continue to break the whip. These letters have also been shared with the parliamentary committee, a group of backbench MPs elected by the parliamentary Labour party and currently dominated by the right. This committee will decide whether or not to inform the rebel MPs’ constituency parties and the NEC. The information could then be considered if an MP seeks reselection in preparation for a general election. As one MP has said, it’s intimidation, pure and simple. And a number of those MPs, who received the letters, are talking to union officials.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/10/17/starmers-tory-supporting-crackdown-on-his-own-party-makes-him-a-danger-to-people-with-disabilities/

Starmer’s conduct shouldn’t really be a surprise. He’s a Blairite, and Blair’s tenure of the Labour leadership was marked by control freakery as he centralised power around himself and his faction away from the party’s ordinary members and grassroots. But Starmer is also very much an establishment figure. He was, after all, the director of public prosecutions. In this video below, comedian and presenter Lee Camp raises important and very provocative questions about Starmer’s connections to the British establishment and the deep state. Camp’s the presenter of a number of shows on RT America, which are deeply critical of the corporate establishment, and American militarism and imperialism. The video’s from their programme, Moment of Clarity. The questions asked about Starmer are those posed by Mac Kennard in an article in The Gray Zone. RT is owned by the Russian state, as it points out on the blurbs for its videos on YouTube. Putin is an authoritarian thug and kleptocrat, who has opposition journalists, politicos, activists and businessmen beaten and killed. But that doesn’t mean that RT’s programmes exposing and criticising western capitalism and imperialism and the corrupt activities and policies of our governments aren’t accurate and justified.

Camp begins the video by explaining how there was a comparable battle in the Labour party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as there was in the American Democrat party over Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the presidency. Just as Sanders was opposed by the Democrats’ corporate leadership and smeared as a Communist in a neo-McCarthyite witch hunt, so Jeremy Corbyn – a real progressive – was opposed by the corporatists in the Labour party. He was subjected to the same smears, as well as accusations of anti-Semitism because he supported Palestine. Camp states that there are leaked texts showing that leading figures in the Labour party were actively working to undermine him. Jeremy Corbyn has now gone and been replaced by Keir Starmer, about whom Kennard asks the following questions:

1. why did he meet the head of MI5 for drinks a year after his decision not to prosecute the intelligence agency for its role in torture?

Camp uses the term ‘deep state’ for the secret services, and realises that some of his viewers may be uncomfortable with the term because of its use by Trump. He tries to reassure them that the deep state, and the term itself, existed long before Trump. It’s just something the Orange Generalissimo has latched onto. Camp’s not wrong – the term was used for the network of covert intelligence and state law enforcement and security services long before Trump was elected. Lobster has been using the term for years in its articles exposing their grubby activities. More controversially, Camp believes that the deep state was responsible for the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK. JFK was supposedly assassinated because he was about to divulge publicly the deep state’s nefarious activities. This is obviously controversial because the JFK assassination is one of the classic conspiracy theories, and one that many critics of the British and American secret states don’t believe in. It may actually be that JFK really was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone gunman. But Camp’s belief in this conspiracy theory doesn’t on its own disqualify his other allegations and criticisms about the secret state.

2. When and why did Starmer join the Trilateral Commission?

The Trilateral Commission was set up in 1973 by elite banker David Rockefeller as a discussion group to foster greater cooperation between Japan, the US and western Europe. According to Camp, it was really founded to roll back the advances of the hippy era as the corporate elite were horrified that ordinary people were being heard by governments instead of big businessmen. They looked back to the days when President Truman could listen to a couple of businessmen and no-one else. The Commission published a paper, ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, which claimed that democracy was in crisis because too many people were being heard. Ordinary people were making demands and getting them acted upon. This, the Commission decided, was anti-business. They made a series of recommendations themselves, which have since been implemented. These included the demand that the media should be aligned with business interests. Camp states that this doesn’t mean that there is uniformity of opinion amongst the mainstream media. The various media outlets do disagree with each other over policies and politicians. But it does mean that if the media decides that a story doesn’t fit with business interests, it doesn’t get published. The Commission also wanted the universities purged of left-wing progressives. The Commission’s members including such shining examples of humanity and decency as Henry Kissinger and the former director general of US National Intelligence, John Negroponte.

3. What did Starmer discuss with US attorney general Eric Holder when he met him on November 9th, 2011 in Washington D.C.?

Starmer was the director of public prosecutions at the time, and met not just Holder, but also five others from the Department of Justice. This was at the same time the Swedes were trying to extradite Julian Assange of Wikileaks infamy. Except that further leaked documents have shown that the Swedes were prepared to drop the case. But Britain wanted him extradited and tried, and successfully put pressure on the Swedes to do just that.

4. Why did Starmer develop such a close relationship with the Times newspaper?

Starmer held social gatherings with the Times’ staff, which is remarkable, as Camp points out, because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch like Fox News in America.

Camp goes on to conclude that, at the very least, this all shows that Starmer is very much a member of the corporate establishment, and that the deep state has been working to assure that same corporate elite that he’s safe, just as they worked to reassure Wall Street about Obama. At the time Obama had only been senator for a couple of years, but nevertheless he succeeded in getting a meeting with a former treasury secretary. But now the corporate establishment in the Democrats and the Labour party has won. Jeremy Corbyn has been ousted and replaced with Starmer, while Sanders can’t even get a platform with the Democrats. This is because the Democrats have surrendered the platform to the Republicans because Trump contradicts himself so much they just can’t follow him.

While these are just questions and speculation, they do strongly indicate that Starmer is very much part of the establishment and has their interests at heart, not those of the traditional Labour party. His closeness to the Times shows just why he was willing to write articles for the Tory press behind paywalls. His role in the British state’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange and meetings with Holder also show why Starmer’s so determined not to oppose the ‘spycops’ bill. He is very much part of the British state establishment, and sees it has his role and duty to protect it and its secrets, and not the British public from the secret state.

As for the Trilateral Commission, they’re at the heart of any number of dodgy conspiracy theories, including those claiming that the American government has made covert pacts with evil aliens from Zeta Reticuli. However, as Camp says, his membership of the Commission does indeed show that he is very much a member of the global corporate elite. An elite that wanted to reduce democracy in order to promote the interests of big business.

As a corporate, establishment figure, Starmer very definitely should not be the head of a party founded to represent and defend ordinary people against exploitation and deprivation by business and the state. Dissatisfaction with his leadership inside the Labour party is growing. Hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s ousted in his turn, and the leadership taken by someone who genuinely represents the party, its history and its real mission to work for Britain’s working people.

The Hidden Cruelty of Trump's Executions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 10:00pm in



On the morning she buried her son Christopher Vialva, Lisa Brown arrived at Affordable Burial and Cremation Service, a small funeral home in a strip mall in Killeen, Texas. Her older sister was waiting, along with the funeral director, who wore a suit and a mask. The last time Brown had seen her son, he was lying under a blanket on a gurney in Terre Haute, Indiana, where a federal official had declared his time of death. Now he lay in a casket in a blue pinstripe suit, a prayer shawl, and a kippah he crocheted himself.

“I walked over to the casket and put my hand on his chest,” Brown recalled. It was the first time she had touched her son in more than 20 years. Looking down, she saw something she’d noticed inside the execution chamber. “The whole back of his hand was bruised,” she said. The funeral director said it was probably where they had inserted his IV. “And I said, ‘I know it was.’”

Brown moved her hands to Vialva’s hands and face. She touched him all over, so eagerly, the funeral director “probably thought I was mauling my son,” she chuckled. “I was thankful that he said he was an understanding man.” Brown’s sister did the same thing. “She was hugging on him and she was touching his chest. She kissed him on the forehead.”


A portrait of Stacie and Todd Bagley on the tombstone of Stacie Bagley’s grave in Dyersburg, Tenn., on Sept. 18, 2020.

Photo: Liliana Segura/The Intercept

Vialva had been executed one week earlier, on September 24, for the carjacking and murder of two youth ministers from Iowa in 1999. He was 19 years old when he shot Stacie and Todd Bagley on the grounds of Fort Hood, not far from the funeral home. Vialva’s co-defendant, Brandon Bernard, was only 18 at the time. Both were sentenced to death. After the Trump administration restarted federal executions following a 17-year pause, Vialva became the seventh man killed in the Terre Haute death chamber since July.

Even to those paying close attention, the loved ones of the condemned had remained largely invisible in Terre Haute. Although the Bureau of Prisons books travel and accommodations for the families of the victims — and arranges for them to address reporters following the executions — no such help is given to relatives of those facing execution. Until Vialva, none of the condemned had arranged for family to attend.

Brown was disturbed by the lack of communication from prison officials. After confirming that she would be in attendance, they did not speak to her until the day before he was to die. Brown was on an elevator leaving the prison after her last visit with her son when Vialva’s case manager told her that the Crisis Support Team was waiting to brief her. Answering her questions in the lobby, they were courteous, almost overly polite. “They almost seemed nervous. You know, like it was a new thing for them. Which it probably was.”

By the time she woke up on the morning of her son’s death, Brown had done as much as she could to prepare herself. She had even read the filings in a lawsuit over lethal injection, which warned that autopsies from executions carried out using pentobarbital showed clear evidence that the condemned had experienced pulmonary edema: the filling of their lungs with fluid. “For me, knowledge is power,” Brown said. “The more I’m aware of what can go wrong, the more comfortable I am.” Still, it wasn’t easy to read that Vialva might suffer a sensation akin to being waterboarded — “that same panic, suffocating, drowning feeling.”

There were also things she could not prepare for. Nobody told her that, after reporting to the parking lot of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office and being taken to the prison, she and her sister would spend two and a half hours inside a van, waiting to be taken to the death house, with just a port-a-potty and a cooler of water bottles nearby for comfort. Nobody warned that, once they were finally escorted into the witnessing room, the shades would go up so quickly, revealing her son on the gurney. “I didn’t even have a chance to sit down.”

Brown knew where her son would be positioned. She had told him, “Look at me. Look to your left.” He did. Like his mother, Vialva practiced Messianic Judaism and was deeply devout. His last words were a prayer for the family of his victims. Then he said, “I’m ready, Father.” After the drugs began to flow, she saw him open his eyes wide. “Then, once it starts affecting their lungs, they like blow their cheeks out,” she said, imitating the sound. “He did that twice. And then he yawned once, which is another sign of the drug, because they’re trying to get more air.”

Brown described the execution calmly, matter of factly. But this particular memory spilled out in an anguished sob. “What took me aback so much was that when he yawned, it took me back to when he was a baby,” she said, “when he would yawn when he was ready to go to sleep.”

“My sister was holding my hand,” Brown said. They saw no signs of struggle. Instead, she said, she felt an overwhelming feeling of peace wash over her. “I prayed for the Father to allow me to feel his spirit leave him and he answered my prayer,” Brown wrote in a text message later that night. “He was looking at me when he died.”

The next morning, Vialva’s lawyers dropped off a box of things for Brown at the Drury Inn & Suites in Terre Haute. Arriving home in Killeen close to midnight, she went through the contents before going to sleep. There were photos she had sent him over the years, along with some Bible teachings and legal records. Vialva’s best friend on death row had suggested that it might be comforting for his mom to receive some of the clothes he’d worn in his last days. On his shirts and sweatshirts, she could smell the prayer oils he used to use, which she had ordered for herself.

Finally, the box contained two letters and a CD. One letter was to be read at his funeral. The other was for her. She inserted the CD into her computer and watched her son reading the second letter. He told her how sorry he was for his crime and the weight it had placed on her life for so long. “Now is the time to lay down your burden,” he said. “No more money wasted on monthly allowances. No more long drives for prison visits. No more crying over the unknown. The deed is done and I am in the care of the Father.”

 Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty.'  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ron Kaz of Charleston, S.C., helps organize the Abolitionist Action Committee’s annual protest and hunger strike against the death penalty outside the U.S. Supreme Court on July 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A Well-Oiled Death Machine

Amid a global pandemic, national protests, and the impending presidential election, news of the federal executions had been largely eclipsed since they began this summer. Vialva had been dismayed by the lack of national media attention as the men around him went to their deaths. After the execution of Lezmond Mitchell on August 26, he wrote to a friend that they had mentioned him on the CNN crawl, but that was it. “A man’s life is taken by the government but not even a segment to talk about it,” he said.

“They are a well-oiled death machine now,” he went on. “It was sad watching them walk Mitchell right past me so they could drive him to the death house. Everything was so clinical.”

Vialva’s execution was a painful blow to those who knew and worshipped with him on death row. “I just want everyone to know that Chris was the real deal when it came to his faith and being sorry for all he had done,” one neighbor wrote to his own supporters in late September. As with every round of executions, a wave of anxiety spread across the Special Confinement Unit after Vialva died. “We don’t know when they will pick someone else, but we believe it will be 3-5 more people in the coming months.”

On September 30, the Department of Justice announced the next execution date. Orlando Hall, 49, is scheduled to die on November 19. He would be the second Black man killed in the federal execution chamber this year. In a media release, his lawyers noted that Hall was sentenced to death by an all-white jury, one of myriad ways in which the federal death penalty mirrors the same flaws and inequities of state systems. On October 16, the DOJ announced execution dates for two more people. One is Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. The other is Vialva’s co-defendant, Brandon Bernard.

Politicians on both sides have remained almost completely silent about the federal executions. Although it was the Trump administration that was preparing to take his life, Vialva was particularly critical of the Democrats before he died. The party has enshrined opposition to the death penalty as part of its platform, yet ignored the issue during the Democratic National Convention. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was instrumental in the expansion of federal death row but now claims to disavow capital punishment, has said nothing about the executions. Neither has vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, despite touting her opposition to the death penalty.

Two days before Vialva’s execution, as the DOJ prepared to kill William LeCroy on September 22, activists with Death Penalty Action gathered for a press conference in front of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Faith leaders were present from different religious denominations. They spoke out against the executions and called out Attorney General Bill Barr, who was scheduled to be honored the next day during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

The event featured New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat, the sponsor of a bill to abolish the federal death penalty introduced last summer. A parallel bill was brought forward by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who last year called for an investigation into the federal government’s lethal injection plans.

“We’ve gotta be louder about this,” Espaillat said. He echoed a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center, linking the death penalty to the legacy of slavery and lynching in the United States. Not only are Black people overrepresented on death row today, he said, “defendants convicted of killing white victims are executed at a rate 17 times greater than those convicted of killing Black victims.” Indeed, of the seven men executed in Terre Haute, almost all of their victims were white.


Activist and attorney Ashley Kincaid Eve leads a vigil across from the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., moments before the execution of Christopher Vialva on Sept. 24, 2020.

Photo: Liliana Segura/The Intercept

Later that day, activists under the banner of the Terre Haute Death Penalty Resistance returned to the grassy field next to the Dollar General on Route 63, directly across from the federal penitentiary. Ashley Kincaid Eve, a lawyer and activist from Indianapolis, was leading the protests that week, although she still harbored hope that Vialva’s execution would not go forward. Eve had developed a close friendship with Vialva after he saw her on the news and wrote to thank her for caring enough to protest the executions. “We are here because people decided that we are trash to be thrown in the dumpster,” he said in his first letter. But over the years, “I have listened to men sing the praises of their children, mourn the loss of their loved ones, talk about their ambitions while knowing they will not come to fruition, discuss their spiritual journey, and lament the decisions that put them here.”

Eve had previously spearheaded a successful lawsuit against the Indiana State Police, who barred the activists from the area across from the prison during the first round of executions in July. It was one of many ways in which authorities tried to tightly control what the public was able to see. In a nod to the First Amendment, the BOP had designated two spots in the fields along Route 63 for protesters on either side of the issue, but required participants to be transported by government buses hours in advance. No phones or electronic devices would be allowed. In the briefings for press before each execution, BOP spokespersons have repeatedly told reporters that no one has shown up to protest the executions.

BOP officials have been tight-lipped with journalists. For media witnesses, who have waited long hours on prison grounds to carry out their assignments, there are few explanations or updates. In contrast to death penalty states where prison officials routinely provide detailed descriptions about the last meals of the condemned, the BOP refuses to disclose even such trivial information. But Vialva had told Eve about LeCroy’s last meal. He had asked for KFC but his request had been rejected, she told me. The bones in the chicken presented a security risk, he was told. So, like Vialva, he requested Pizza Hut instead.

Victims on Both Sides

LeCroy’s execution went later than planned. Although it was scheduled for 6 p.m., he was not declared dead until after 9 p.m. LeCroy had been sentenced to death for the brutal killing of a nurse practitioner named Joann Lee Tiesler. Court records showed that LeCroy, who had a history of mental illness, said he had killed her in the mistaken belief that she was a former babysitter who had molested him when he was a child. In a clemency application for LeCroy, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his attorneys pointed out that LeCroy’s own family had lost his brother, a Georgia state trooper, to murder in 2010. “The pain and sorrow felt by the LeCroy family at potentially losing two of their sons is unimaginable,” they wrote.

Tiesler was engaged to be married when she was murdered; her fiancé witnessed LeCroy’s execution, as did her father, Tom Tiesler. In a written statement, Tom Tiesler thanked Trump and Barr for restarting federal executions. LeCroy “died a peaceful death in contrast to the stark horror he imposed on my daughter Joann,” he wrote. “He was allowed to live nineteen years longer than Joann, with us taxpayers paying for his food, shelter and medical care. I am unaware that he ever showed any remorse for his evil actions, his life of crime, or the horrific burden he caused Joann’s loved ones.”

LeCroy had prepared a lengthy statement of his own, which he mailed to Sister Barbara Battista, a Catholic nun who served as his spiritual adviser, to read at his execution. But it did not arrive on time. Two days later, on the morning of Vialva’s execution, Battista brought the letter to a press conference outside the Dollar General. It began with a quote from the poet W. H. Auden. “‘Those to whom evil is done do evil in return,’” it read. This was not an excuse, he said. “Yet it describes many of us human beings in our primitive emotional states as children. It is a fact that some abuse — physical, emotional, and/or sexual — can stunt emotional growth. … We feel that we are what happened to us, that we cannot be that which we desire to become. And we lash out in anger. … We did things that we were unable to take back, harmed another human being, ourselves, and so many who loved us.”

Activists stood behind Battista as she read the letter, holding signs and wearing masks. They were joined by Lisa Brown. In a purple mask, a black headscarf, and a gold Star of David pendant, she came forward after Battista was done, to say a few words about her son. “This is really hard,” she said, her voice breaking. “This is the first venue that I’ve had in which I could say to Todd and Stacie’s family, I am so sorry for your loss. I’ve never been able to tell you that because I was told I could not have access to you.”


Lisa Brown addresses reporters on the morning of her son’s execution. Christopher Vialva was executed on Sept. 24, 2020, at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. He was the seventh person executed by the Trump administration.

Photo: Liliana Segura/The Intercept

Brown emphasized that her son was remorseful for his crime. But she also shared a story she told me the first time we spoke. Like LeCroy’s family, she had experienced the legal system from both sides of the courtroom. “In 2009, my daughter’s ex-husband attempted to murder her,” she said. “He bludgeoned her in the head with a hammer, poured gasoline over her and set her on fire. She survived with second and third degree burns over 80 percent of her body. And she forgave her attacker shortly after it happened. … And she taught me that I had to forgive. And it changed my life from being in a perpetual state of victimhood to a life that I can put that behind me, and see that there is peace in that.”

Later that day, as Brown reported to the parking lot of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office, Eve returned to the same spot at the Dollar General to set up for the protest against Vialva’s execution. She had said goodbye to Vialva on the phone the night before, hoping to convince him to let her file a last-minute challenge to his execution. But he asked her not to. Everyone on death row had seen what happened to Daniel Lewis Lee, the first man to be executed in Terre Haute this year: Lee was lying on the gurney for four hours before the government took his life, as lawyers fought over his fate. Vialva did not want that to happen to him.

“He’s lost faith in our courts and I don’t blame him,” Eve said. “I’ve lost faith in our justice system. But I haven’t lost faith in humanity.” In the last several weeks, she had heard from people all over the world who were moved by his story.

It was just after 6 p.m. when Eve introduced the final speaker, a woman named Katie, who had traveled to Terre Haute from Minnesota. “I don’t know Chris personally,” Katie said. But she knew Vialva’s younger sister, Audrey. The two had met at a retreat for survivors of domestic violence, where Audrey had shared the story of how her ex-husband tried to kill her. “I am at risk of being a murder victim,” Katie said. Before going to prison for violating a restraining order, her own abuser beat, choked, and sexually assaulted her, she said. He is no longer incarcerated — and he could still kill her one day, she said. But she does not want his life.

Katie pointed to the penitentiary complex behind her. “Do you think that what’s going on behind us right now is going to save my life?” she asked. “Do you think he knows that this is happening and it’s going to deter him from anything he wants to do? It’s not.”

At 6:48 p.m., a BOP spokesperson sent out an email to reporters. “Please report back to the Media Center at this time if you choose to,” he wrote. The execution had been carried out. At the media center, officials handed out a statement from the mother of Todd Bagley. She said she was “hurt and disappointed” by the coverage of the case that morning, which focused on Vialva and how he had changed. Todd and Stacie also touched many lives, she wrote. “We will never know how many people they could have influenced for good if they had been given the chance.” She was heartened by the fact that they were in Heaven, she said. “I know without a doubt we will have a glorious reunion with them one day!”


Lisa Brown with her son Christopher Vialva and his younger sister, Audrey, in 1988.

Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Brown

The Ultimate Price

On October 1, a few dozen guests gathered at the Killeen City Cemetery for Vialva’s funeral. His gray casket was covered in white lilies and chrysanthemums. His mother and sister sat in the front row. Eve, who drove down from Indianapolis, sat behind them under the tent.

Vialva’s 11-year-old nephew read a tribute from Vialva’s best friend on death row. Then Vialva’s sister Audrey delivered his eulogy. She shared childhood memories: how they would break the rules and ride their bikes to Walmart; how he would tickle her, play freeze tag with her, and have water balloon fights with her every summer. As he got older, she said, Vialva started spending more time playing video games and listening to music with his friends. But she remembered the time they stayed up all night memorizing the lyrics to the 1994 song “Funkdafied” by Da Brat. “He kept hanging his head off the top bunk asking why it was taking so many playbacks for me to get it,” she said. “His memory was always better than mine.”

Brown read the letter Vialva had written for his funeral. He was no longer the angry 19-year-old he had been, he wrote. “If you have written me a thousand letters or only just sat and thought about me from time to time, I appreciate it. If you came to visit me once a year or just saw my mother in passing and told her to tell me hello, I appreciate it. … If anyone here feels they could have done more, don’t. You did what you could and that is all that matters. So, thank you for those mercies and for your attendance today.”

The funeral director, Robert Falcon, was moved by the service. It was not the first time he had presided over the burial of a man executed by the state. Often times, he told me, such families “want to arrange something very private, something very, very quiet,” he said. “I’ve had services where nobody shows up. … There may be a representative from the family, a minister, and the funeral director. And that’s it. And Christopher’s situation was quite unique in that there was about 40 people present. And I’ve never seen that.”

Falcon did not minimize the pain of the victims in cases like Vialva’s. In his decades helping families bury their loved ones, he had seen his share of murder victims. He knew that their families continued to hurt after an execution, he said. But “sometimes we forget that the person has now paid the ultimate price for their crime, and now that family is left to hurt.”

Five days after her son’s funeral, Brown spoke to the mother of Orlando Hall, the next man in line to die in Terre Haute. She learned that he has six children and a number of grandchildren. Hall’s mother is in poor health and was not sure whether she will attend the execution, Brown said. “I told her, I want to be able to help facilitate their peaceful transition through this process,” Brown said. “And she said, ‘Oh thank you, Jesus.’ She says, ‘You just made my day, Miss Lisa.’ That blessed me.”

Brown has not yet spoken to the mother of Brandon Bernard. But she feels called upon to support other families as their loved ones get execution dates. “There are so many more like me,” she said. It is also what her son would have wanted. Over the phone, she read from a card that was waiting in the mail when she returned from Terre Haute. “I know this is hard for you,” he had written. “I would even go so far as to say that it’s harder on you than me. … I just want you to stay strong. I need you to do that for me. If they do take me away, then you can let them know how much it hurts. Maybe one day your love will change things.”

The post The Hidden Cruelty of Trump’s Executions appeared first on The Intercept.

Border Patrol Leaves Migrants in Remote Town as Deaths Rise

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 3:24am in



With migrant deaths approaching levels not seen in years, humanitarian aid volunteers in southern Arizona say that the U.S. Border Patrol is using Covid-19 as a pretext to quietly dump large numbers of immigrants in one of the most remote and potentially dangerous communities in the Sonoran Desert.

Volunteers who have visited the dusty community of Sasabe, in the Mexican state of Sonora, in recent weeks, say that they have witnessed U.S. immigration agents continually off-loading large groups of people throughout the day, overwhelming the town’s limited immigration resources and placing individuals at significant risk of being targeted by organized criminal groups.

“We believe that Border Patrol is getting away with these horrible deportation numbers because no one knows,” Dora Rodriguez, a Tucson-based humanitarian aid volunteer, told The Intercept. “It is really easy for them to just dump people there and that’s it. Nobody says anything.”

Rodriguez and a growing group of humanitarian volunteers began turning their attention to Sasabe in mid-September, making biweekly visits to bring food and water to migrants after learning of the explosion in arrivals to the resource-strapped community. With a population of approximately 2,500 and a single town store, the port of entry at Sasabe has long been described as one of the quietest official crossings in the state. There is no migrant shelter in the town, and the influence and power of organized crime in the area is well known.


View of the border between Mexico and the U.S in the community of Sasabe in Sonora state, Mexico, on January 13, 2017.

Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

In recent visits, Rodriguez has been joined by Sister Judy Bourg, a nun with the Sisters of Notre Dame, and Gail Kocourek, a volunteer with the Tuscon Samaritans, one of Arizona’s longstanding humanitarian groups. The women told The Intercept that they have personally seen groups of migrants numbering in the dozens gathered outside of Sasabe’s tiny immigration office. Through a visit to a local stash house and conversations with local contacts, the women were told that the Border Patrol is dropping upwards of 100 to 120 people in the community each day.

“We totally didn’t expect this,” Kocourek, a longtime volunteer in the Sasabe area, told The Intercept. “We’ve got hungry people being dumped into this community by the hundreds.” Kocourek added that Border Patrol enforcement activity in the area is unlike anything she has ever seen before. “It’s just tremendous right now,” she said. “I’ve never seen so much activity in that area.”

Operating under an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in March the Border Patrol began rapidly expelling migrants at the border in the name of defending against the spread of Covid-19. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, however, pressure to enact the order did not come from public health officials, but instead from Stephen Miller, the president’s ultra-hardline immigration adviser. Miller, who recently contracted Covid-19 himself, has long sought to connect immigrants to disease as means to close off immigration at the border.

“We’ve got hungry people being dumped into this community by the hundreds.”

It’s not only Mexican nationals who are being dropped in Sasabe, Rodriguez said, noting that she had she met Salvadorans, Hondurans, and a father from Guatemala, who had been expelled with his 16-year-old son, during recent visits. “I understand when there are tons of people in Nogales and in Tijuana and in Sonoyta,” she said, referring to more well-known border communities where the Border Patrol often deposits migrants. “But they have resources — even if they’re limited, there are some resources. But in Sasabe, it’s nothing.”

Rodriguez and the other advocates say that the expulsions are making an already dangerous situation worse. Following a blistering hot summer — in Phoenix, the hottest in recorded history — more human remains have been recovered in the Arizona desert this year than at any point since 2013. On top of the rising death toll, the expulsions have come at a time of escalating tension in the desert, with the Border Patrol executing two militarized raids on a humanitarian aid station in the region in three months, federal agents arresting and tear-gassing Indigenous activists protesting border expansion on sacred lands, and the state’s for-profit immigration detention centers becoming some the nation’s leading hot spots for Covid-19.

Generally lasting no more than a couple hours from encounter to removal, the so-called Title 42 expulsions have radically altered the shape of migration and immigration enforcement along the border. The Border Patrol has long relied on a deterrence strategy that funnels migrants into the border’s deadliest terrain, pushing its land checkpoints deeper into the interior of the country and forcing migrants to walk further into the desert in the hopes of linking up with a ride. Agents will sometimes track a group of migrants for days before making an arrest, allowing physical exhaustion to assist in their apprehension efforts. Now, with the expulsions in effect, those exhausted migrants can be swiftly booted from the country. According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the government has expelled more than 147,000 people along the southwest border using the order.

While Mark Morgan, the senior official performing the duties of the commissioner of CBP, has described the expulsions as a “game changer,” advocates say that the expulsions rob migrants of due process rights and subject them to extreme danger when their removals involve being dumped in unfamiliar and remote communities with entrenched organized crime. Bourg, who has spent a decade providing humanitarian on the border, told The Intercept that the expelled migrants whom she met on a recent visit to Sasabe looked physically depleted. “They came in beat-up looking,” she said. Their eyes were red and glassy, she added. “They didn’t just cross and walk for half a day.”

In the past week, The Intercept has repeatedly requested a breakdown of the Border Patrol’s data on expulsions in the agency’s Tucson sector, as well as an interview with an official who could explain how determinations are made as to which ports migrants will be expelled through. The Border Patrol has provided neither. In April, an agency spokesperson acknowledged that Sasabe was seeing a “mild uptick” in expulsions but provided no numbers to assess the claim.


Immigrants walk in line through the Arizona desert near Sasabe, Sonora state, in an attempt to cross the Mexican-U.S. border, on April 6, 2006.

Photo: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

A Grim Milestone

While the Border Patrol’s expulsion protocol remains unclear, what is evident is that 2020 has been a particularly deadly year for migrants attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert. For years, the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner has shared its data on suspected migrant death cases with Humane Borders, a humanitarian group that charts the data on an interactive online map.

As of this week, the medical examiner’s office has logged 181 cases of suspected migrant deaths recovered in its area of operations this year. The last time the office saw a higher total was in 2013, when 186 sets of human remains were recovered. The record for most human remains recovered in a single year was set in 2010, when 224 were found. With two and a half months yet to go in the year, advocates worry that 2020 could exceed that grim milestone.

“I think by the end of year, it’ll be the highest since 2010,” Mike Kreyche, the mapping coordinator with Humane Borders, told The Intercept. “I hope we don’t get up that high, but I think we’re going to approach it.”

This year, there has been a marked increase in the recovery of remains indicating a recently deceased individual, particularly in the brutally hot summer months.

What’s particularly alarming about this year’s data, Kreyche explained, is the column of information labeled “postmortem interval,” the estimated amount of time between an individual’s death and the discovery of their remains. In recent years, that number has generally been more than six to eight months — in some cases, remains discovered in the field could be years old. This year, however, there has been a marked increase in the recovery of remains indicating a recently deceased individual, particularly in the brutally hot summer months. In September, roughly two thirds of the recoveries recorded by the medical examiner’s office suggested a death in the prior three months. Overall, the 2020 data show that more than half of the recoveries of suspected migrant remains — 107 of 181 cases — indicate a death that occurred at some point less than six to eight months prior.

“There have been a lot more deaths,” Kreyche said, “particularly recent deaths.”

Montana Thames, a volunteer with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, said the past several months have been “very active” for volunteers providing aid on the ground. With temperatures continuously breaking 100 degrees, “people need help, people need aid,” Thames told The Intercept. “There have been a lot of people who haven’t made it.”

Last week, the Border Patrol raided No More Deaths’ humanitarian aid station outside of Arivaca, Arizona, approximately 25 miles northeast of Sasabe, for the second time in three months. The first raid was launched in the middle of a heat wave and featured members of the Border Patrol’s tactical team, known as BORTAC, pointing rifles while agents slashed through the organization’s tents with knives, confiscated sensitive medical records and dumped out gallon jugs of water.

Efforts to engage in a dialogue with the Border Patrol since then went nowhere, Thames said, and last Monday night BORTAC was again deployed in a heavily militarized operation that involved agents in night-vision goggles trashing the organization’s belongings. Twelve migrants were arrested, including some who were chased through Arivaca before being taken into custody. While the raid was “shocking” and unacceptable, Thames noted, “This is literally the everyday reality of migrants and undocumented communities in general.”

Rodriguez visited Sasabe the morning after the raid on the No More Deaths camp. She described witnessing multiple rounds of expulsions and said that at one point, as many as 50 people were gathered outside the overwhelmed Mexican immigration office. She was told that some of the migrants in town that day were among those arrested in the raid the previous night. Rodriguez spoke to one young man from El Salvador. His shoes were tattered, and his toes poked through at the ends. He said that he had spent 15 days in the desert. Rodriguez, who nearly died crossing the border as an asylum-seeker herself in 1980, was both moved and troubled by the young man’s story. “They are putting these people in the most horrible danger,” she said. “They have nothing.”

Driving back into the U.S. last Tuesday, Rodriguez and the other advocates encountered an enormous Border Patrol caravan heading south. “That road always has a lot of Border Patrol, but this was exceptional,” Bourg said. Rodriguez said the area was “like a war zone,” adding, “They’re running their own show over there and it’s a secret.”

Although humanitarian aid volunteers are now coordinating food and water supply runs sufficient to support 700 people in Sasabe each week, Rodriguez said more must be done. She believes the Border Patrol’s expulsions into the town need to stop.

“It’s like a playground for BP,” she said. “No one is making them accountable for this.”

The post Border Patrol Leaves Migrants in Remote Town as Deaths Rise appeared first on The Intercept.