Protests, vigils around US decry white supremacist rally in Charlottesville

SEATTLE (AP) — Protesters decrying hatred and racism converged around the country on Sunday, saying they felt compelled to counteract the white supremacist rally that spiraled into deadly violence in Virginia.

The gatherings spanned from a planned march to President Donald Trump’s home in New York to a candlelight vigil in Florida. In Seattle, police made arrests and confiscated weapons as Trump supporters and counter-protesters converged downtown.

Some focused on showing support for the people whom white supremacists’ condemn. Other demonstrations were pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments, the issue that initially prompted white nationalists to gather in anger this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Still other gatherings aimed to denounce fascism and a presidential administration that organizers feel has let white supremacists feel empowered.

“People need to wake up, recognize that and resist it as fearlessly as it needs to be done,” said Carl Dix, a leader of the Refuse Fascism group organizing demonstrations in New York, San Francisco and other cities. “This can’t be allowed to fester and to grow because we’ve seen what happened in the past when that was allowed.”

“It has to be confronted,” said Dix, a New Yorker who spoke by phone from Charlottesville Sunday afternoon. He’d gone there to witness and deplore the white nationalist rally on a Saturday that spiraled into bloodshed.

Protesters listen during a "Peace and Sanity" rally Sunday Aug. 13, 2017, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, during a rally about white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

In Seattle, hundreds of demonstrators and counter-protesters converged downtown. Police say they have made arrests and confiscated weapons. Police also ordered crowds at one downtown intersection to disperse.

Blocks away, a conservative pro-Trump group was rallying at Westlake Park in downtown. The rally organized by the conservative pro-Trump group known as Patriot Prayer — and a counter protest aimed at standing against hate — were previously planned for Sunday. Patriot Prayer has held similar events throughout the Pacific Northwest and they have been met by counter protests.

A barricade separated the groups of protesters as police officers stood by dressed in black riot gear. At one intersection, police ordered crowds to disperse.

The Seattle Times reported that officers used pepper spray on some marchers. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people had been arrested.

Protesters listen during a "Peace and Sanity" rally Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, during a rally about white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

In Denver, several hundred demonstrators gathered beneath a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in City Park and marched about two miles to the state Capitol. In Fort Collins, Colorado, marchers chanted “Everyone is welcome here. No hate, no fear.” One demonstrator’s sign said, “Make racists ashamed again.”

Other protests were planned later in the day in other places, including candlelight vigils in Winter Haven, Florida, and near the New Hampshire Statehouse. Other demonstrations centered on confederate statues on the state Capitol grounds in West Virginia and in Tampa, Florida; officials in Tampa have voted to relocate theirs.

The Florida chapter of the group Save Southern Heritage released a statement Sunday expressing “horror and disbelief” over the deaths in Charlottesville, Virginia, but also blaming news reports for “renewed attacks on Florida’s historical assets,” including the Tampa Confederate war memorial.

City Councilman Brad Lander, center, address protesters at a "Peace and Sanity" rally Sunday Aug. 13, 2017, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, during a rally about white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va., (AP /Bebeto Matthews)

Charlottesville descended into violence Saturday after neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists gathered to “take America back” and oppose plans to remove a Confederate statue in the Virginia college town, and hundreds of other people came to protest the rally. The groups clashed in street brawls, with hundreds of people throwing punches, hurling water bottles and beating each other with sticks and shields.

Eventually, a car rammed into a peaceful crowd of anti-white-nationalist protesters, killing a woman. A state police helicopter monitoring the events crashed into the woods, killing two troopers. In all, dozens of people were injured. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, who attended the rally, denied all responsibility for the violence. He blamed the counter-protesters and police.

Trump condemned what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” a statement that Democrats and some of the president’s fellow Republicans saw as equivocating about who was to blame. The White House later added that the condemnation “includes white Supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

Some of the white nationalists at Saturday’s rally cited Trump’s victory, after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric, as validation for their beliefs. Some of the people protesting Sunday also point to the president and his campaign, saying they gave license to racist hatred that built into what happened in Charlottesville.

“For those who questioned whether ‘oh, don’t call it fascism’ … this should resolve those issues,” Reiko Redmonde, an organizer of a Refuse Fascism protest planned in San Francisco, said by phone. “People need to get out in the streets to protest, in a determined way.”


State of Emergency Declared in Charlottesville After Protests Turn Violent

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville on Saturday as a protest of a plan to remove a statue of a Confederate general turned violent, leaving several people injured and threatening to plunge the area into chaos.

Protesters clashed in the historic college town, home to the University of Virginia, as white nationalists — some waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields — converged on the statue of Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park and the surrounding streets. The protest was the apparent culmination of more than a year of debate and division over the fate of the statue.

Saturday’s rally was supposed to start at noon, but the scene at the park had grown chaotic by late morning, with white nationalists and neo-Nazis facing off with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other counterprotesters. Inside the park, which was encircled with metal barricades and the police, hundreds of white nationalists gathered around the Lee statue, chanting phrases like “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.”

Outside the park, a huge mass of counterprotesters grew, shouting phrases like “Nazi scum.” By 11:35 a.m., the police had retreated, the barricades had come down and fights had broken out. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets. Pepper spray filled the air as the police attempted to contain the situation.

By 11 a.m., when the city declared the state of emergency, several people had been injured, including a University of Virginia police officer. It was unclear if the injuries were serious. The governor, Terry McAuliffe, followed with his own declaration an hour later.

“The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop,” Governor McAuliffe said on Twitter. “A right to speech is not a right to violence.”

Charlottesville has been bracing for what feels like an invasion of alt-right demonstrators, here for what they are calling a “Unite the Right” rally. On Friday night, hundreds of them, carrying lit torches, marched on the picturesque grounds of the university, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson.

University officials said one person was arrested and charged Friday night with assault and disorderly conduct, and several others were injured. Among those hurt was a university police officer injured while making the arrest, the school said in a statement.

Theresa A. Sullivan, the president of the university, strongly condemned the Friday demonstration in a statement, calling it “disturbing and unacceptable.”

Police shooting, protests prompt Seattle Jewish Federation to halt annual award

SEATTLE — Last week, the death of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old black woman, at the hands of police caused the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle to postpone its annual meeting along with a planned award ceremony for the Seattle Police Department. The killing also prompted a public petition from members of the Seattle Jewish community to rescind the award completely.

In May, the Federation announced that its annual Tikkun Olam Award would be given on June 22 to Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, on behalf of her department, for incorporating Holocaust education into police training and collaborating with Jewish groups on a real-time communications tool developed after a shooting attack at the Federation’s headquarters in 2006.

The Federation said in a written statement on June 21 that the postponement of the award ceremony came at O’Toole’s request “due to the fragile state of the Seattle community and the raw emotions around the police’s actions in connection with the death of Charleena Lyles.” The statement also affirmed that the award still stands, a decision at odds with an online petition drafted in the immediate aftermath of Lyles’ death that garnered over 750 signatures in 48 hours.

Calling themselves “Concerned Seattle Jews,” petitioners on the online platform wrote, “It is difficult to reconcile honoring Chief O’Toole with an award for tikkun olam — the idea that Jews share responsibility for repairing the world — while the Seattle Police Department is under a US Justice Department order and federal court supervision because of a history of excessive use of force and mistreatment of our fellow citizens, especially people of color. In the wake of Sunday’s police killing of Charleena Lyles, an African American mother who called the police for assistance and ended up dead, the idea of the Jewish Federation carrying through this award is especially appalling.”

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole at a 2014 event. (CC SA/Joe Mabel)

Lyles, a pregnant mother of four with a history of mental illness, called the emergency line 911 on June 18 to report a burglary. Two officers responded to the call and their dispatch system noted her mental health history. Inside her apartment, with her young children present, officers allege that Lyles became incoherent, threatened them verbally, and brandished a knife. The officers reportedly demanded that she drop the knife, and when she instead lunged at one of the officers, they opened fire.

Much of the public debate in the week since the incident has focused on whether or not the officers should have been carrying Tasers as a non-lethal force option. The officers, who said they left their Tasers in their lockers, were not wearing body cameras but there are audio recordings of the encounter. The investigation is expected to take at least several months.

Rabbi David Basior of the Seattle Reconstructionist Community. (Youtube screen capture)

Rabbi David Basior, who leads the Kadima Reconstructionist Community in Seattle, said that there had been immediate discomfort in his Jewish circles about the Federation’s decision to publicly acknowledge the police department since it was first announced, but that opinions were mostly confined to internal conversations. He called Lyles’ death “an awful catalyst” that forced the issue into the open.

His congregation has been studying the Movement for Black Lives and its manifesto — which controversially used the terms “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe Israel — for over a year. That text study, he said, led to an immediate consensus that “it’s not okay to give a tikkun olam award on behalf of the Jewish community in Seattle to the Seattle Police Department.” But, he continued, “The tightrope to walk was how to do that gently while being kind and strong to our brothers, sisters, elders, and youngsters at the Federation and not demonizing humans in police uniforms.”

Basior said there is no “rift” between the Jewish community and the Federation, but rather an opportunity for more robust dialogue between decision-makers and the community at large. “The Jewish community in Seattle needs to give each other tochecha,” Basior said, referring to the Jewish term for rebuke, or “criticism with love.”

“The Federation is still the only address in town where a Chabad rabbi, a Reconstructionist rabbi, someone who thinks Israel should annex the West Bank, and someone who thinks the occupation should end can sit in the same room and have a conversation about some Jewish topics — but not all,” he said.

Illustrative: Jewish activists in Boston marched for the Black Lives Matter movement, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace (photo credit: Ignacio Laguarda/Wicked Local)

Basior noted that the current disagreement over the tikkun olam award comes in a local climate where leftist activists, like the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, feel excluded from the Federation because of their politics. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle declined to comment for this story.

Those opposed to the award said they saw the merit in the specific Seattle Police Department programs that formed the Federation’s rationale. For example, the Seattle-based Holocaust Center for Humanity now hosts trainings using a national curriculum called “Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust” that examines how police were complicit in Nazi atrocities. Every Seattle police officer is expected to have completed the training by October. Basior called this partnership “a big win.”

Jewish Voice for Peace protest against Boeing in Seattle in 2014. (Alex Garland Photography)

Ultimately, however, the petitioners felt that those initiatives were overshadowed by the structural issues surrounding the department’s treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, which some felt reflected the Federation’s own blind spots.

“We need to be incredibly vigilant around anti-Semitism in our communities,” said Simone Adler, a community organizer on food justice issues. “We need to take seriously keeping the Jewish community safe, but that Jewish community includes people of color.”

That concern resonated strongly with Daniel Eliyahu, an Israeli-American student at the University of Washington whose mother is descended from the Jewish community of Cochin, India. He identifies as a Jew of color.

Illustrative: A woman faces off with a Seattle police officer on Capitol Hill during a May Day protest. (istockphotos)

“The label of tikkun olam means so much to so many people about creating justice and working towards a better world,” Eliyahu said. “To see such camaraderie with a police department that has such a track record of violence against people of color shows something that many Jews of color have seen with the Federation, which is that the Federation doesn’t see themselves as representing a multiracial community.”

Eliyahu’s concerns come at a time of rapid demographic change for the local Jewish community, which has grown 70 percent since 2001 in what is now the fastest growing city in the US.

The Federation, meanwhile, should expect the award activists to keep up the pressure.

A Seattle motorcycle policeman on the sidewalk. (istock photos)

“Awarding the police department for working on fighting anti-Semitism while not also challenging the police department on fighting racism is an incredible loss of an opportunity,” Eliyahu said.

Adler does not view the annual meeting’s postponement as a victory, but rather as “backing out from an opportunity to engage.” She and other activists had called for the meeting to go on — without the award ceremony, but with a prayer service and an opportunity to say the kaddish prayer for Lyles. Instead, a group of about 30 said prayers before a vigil on June 22 that attracted hundreds to downtown Seattle.

“In this moment there is nothing to celebrate when we are mourning a black pregnant mother of four who was killed in our city,” Adler said. “A victory would have been rescinding the award altogether.”

Trump said to cancel visit to Britain due to expected protests

US President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Britain may be on hold, according to British and American officials who spoke to the Guardian and New York Times dailies.

The proposed visit, which has not yet been scheduled, has drawn widespread opposition across the political divide in the UK.

According to the Guardian, Trump himself told British Prime Minister Theresa May he did not want to visit the country if his visit, which is tentatively set for October, would be accompanied by widespread protests.

The report cited a “Downing Street adviser who was in the room” during the call, which was made “in recent weeks.”

May’s office issued a denial of the report, saying, “We aren’t going to comment on speculation about the contents of private phone conversations. The queen extended an invitation to President Trump to visit the UK and there is no change to those plans.”

But The New York Times confirmed at least some details of the report from American officials, the paper’s White House correspondent Glenn Thrush tweeted on Sunday: “UK off Trump’s Europe trip for now, per two senior admin officials, not quite going as far as Guardian story. Still possible etc. Story soon.”

UK off Trump’s Europe trip for now, per two senior admin officials, not quite going as far as Guardian story. Still possible etc. Story soon

The news of the possible cancellation drew immediate praise from UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tweeted it was “welcome” due Trump’s attacks on Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan last week and his environmental policy: “Cancellation of President Trump’s State Visit is welcome, especially after his attack on London’s mayor & withdrawal from #ParisClimateDeal.”

Cancellation of President Trump’s State Visit is welcome, especially after his attack on London’s mayor & withdrawal from .

Khan last week urged the government to cancel Trump’s state visit following his public row with Trump over the terror attack in the British capital on June 3.

“I don’t think we should roll out the red carpet to the president of the USA in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for,” Khan told Channel 4.

“When you have a special relationship it is no different from when you have got a close mate. You stand with them in times of adversity but you call them out when they are wrong. There are many things about which Donald Trump is wrong,” he said.

In a series of tweets, Trump had criticized Khan’s leadership after the attack last Saturday in which three terrorists rammed a van into pedestrians on the London Bridge and then jumped out and proceeded to stab passersby and bar patrons, killing eight people and injuring dozens.

US President Donald Trump stands with British Prime Minister Theresa May next to a bust of former British prime minister Winston Churchill on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Khan had told Londoners there was “no reason to be alarmed” about an increased police presence in the coming days following the attack, a remark Trump mischaracterized in a tweet the following day, suggesting the mayor had said there was “no reason to be alarmed” by the attack itself.

Khan’s spokesman said he was too busy to respond to Trump’s “ill-informed” tweet and Khan later told the BBC that “some people thrive on feud and division. We are not going to let Donald Trump divide our communities.”

“Honestly, I’ve got better and more important things to focus on,” he told Sky News.

But the US president renewed his attack on Monday, accusing London’s first Muslim mayor of offering a “pathetic excuse” and “had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks at a vigil in Potters Fields Park in London on June 5, 2017 to commemorate the victims of the terror attack on London Bridge and at Borough Market that killed seven people on June 3. (AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

The war of words was the latest episode in a long-simmering feud between Trump and Khan, who was elected London’s mayor in May 2016. After his election last year, Khan tweeted criticism of then-candidate Trump’s rhetoric, saying that his “ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe. It risks alienating mainstream Muslims.” Trump later challenged Khan to an IQ test during an interview on Britain’s ITV.

His comments caused outrage among British officials.

May, the prime minister, was among those who came to Khan’s defense, though she declined to criticize Trump directly.

“I think Sadiq Khan is doing a good job and it’s wrong to say anything else — he’s doing a good job,” she told a press conference last Monday.

May invited Trump on the state visit in January while visiting the White House.

Venezuela Protests and Economic Crisis: What Is Going On?


Venezuela is in the grip of a major crisis. For the last month hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrating against the government of President Nicolas Maduro have been met by riot police almost daily. At least 37 people have died in the fierce crackdown by security forces, according to the Associated Press, some 700 wounded and more than 1,000 arrested.

NBC News breaks down what led to the turmoil, what could come next, and why it matters to America.

Why are people protesting?

The economy is a mess.

Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is suffering from a deep recession and hyper-inflation. Prices rose by 800 percent in 2016, with the International Monetary Fund predicting inflation could hit 2,200 percent by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the economy shrunk by 18.6 last year, according to Reuters.

Image: A man walks down the aisle of a destroyed grocery store
A man walks down the aisle of a destroyed grocery store in the capital Caracas. Miguel Gutierrez / EPA

At the same time, food and medicine shortages are creating a humanitarian emergency. Shoppers, forced to wait in long lines to buy basic supplies, are often met by empty grocery shelves. Hospitals are suffering from acute shortfalls of everything from antibiotics, to basic sanitation equipment like medical gloves and soap.

The current protests were triggered by a Supreme Court decision to strip power from the National Assembly, the opposition-held Congress — a move widely thought to be aimed at concentrating power in the hands of Maduro’s increasingly unpopular government.

For the last month people — from students to housewives and retirees — have taken to the streets to express their outrage, confronting National Guard troops armed with tear gas and water cannons. On Thursday, footage emerged of an armored car rolling over a defiant crowd.

Roberto, a 51-year-old Caracas resident who owns his own electrical supplies business, explained why his fellow Venezuelans were taking to the streets.

“It is common to find people scavenging for food at garbage dumps and everywhere people are eating off garbage cans,” said the father-of-one who spoke on condition that his last name was not used out of fear of government reprisal. “People are starving. You see misery everywhere.”

He said he sells “20 times less” than he used to and is just living off savings, which he fears may run out soon. Despite being tear gassed at recent demonstrations, he said he will continue to march because he has no choice.

“A lot of people have left the country, those that can have gone overseas. But for those like me that are still here, all we can do is fight,” said Roberto. “We are fighting for free and honest elections, we want to recover democracy.”

Gustavo Arnavat, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, told NBC News that these conditions “have produced a political and constitutional crisis that are precipitating the complete collapse of the state.”

“Even former supporters of Hugo Chavez are starting to turn against the government and policies of president Maduro,” he added, referring to the current president’s predecessor and father of “Chavismo” —a Latin American left-wing ideology following the principles of Simon Bolivar who fought for colonial independence from Spain.

What happened to Chavez?

For decades, the country was controlled by a small elite and there was extreme disparity between the rich and poor. Late president Chavez was elected in 1999 on the promise that he would share Venezuela’s immense oil wealth with the poor — the country derives 95 percent of its export earnings from petrochemicals.

Fueled by high oil prices that went from $10 barrel when he took office, to over $100 when he died of cancer in 2013, Chavez enacted a series of policies aimed at redistributing wealth. His government nationalized parts of the country’s economy — from oil rigs to telecommunications firms to banks — forcing many companies to flee the country.

As the self-proclaimed leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution,” Chavez frequently railed against the U.S. — famously calling President George W. Bush “the devil” during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2006.

Image: President Nicolas Maduro stands next to a placard depicting late leader Hugo Chavez
President Nicolas Maduro stands next to a placard depicting late leader Hugo Chavez during a rally on May Day in Caracas. CARLOS BECERRA / AFP – Getty Images

Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor, was elected by a thin margin in 2013, but came to power as oil prices plummeted by more than 50 percent.

“After Chavez’s death, Maduro has just continued and accelerated the authoritarian and totalitarian policies of Chavez,” said Shannon K. O’Neil, Senior Fellow for Latin American Studies at Council on Foreign Relations.

To analysts, the current emergency can be attributed to the economic crisis brought on by the fall in crude oil prices — which today are trading at about $46 a barrel — coupled with the gradual undermining of the country’s democratic institutions.

“If oil was still at $100 barrel, we would not be having this conversation,” said Arnavat.

What Maduro has chosen to do with the country’s reduced income precipitated the current troubles, according to O’Neil.

“There has been a conscious choice by the government to use the money it has to pay off international debts and not to pay for food and medicine,” she said.

How is Maduro hanging onto power?

This week Maduro called for an assembly to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.

Opposition leaders say this is just a bid to stay in power by putting off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential vote in 2018. Opinion polls have suggested the socialists would lose both.

“You wanted your elections,” Maduro said mockingly of the opposition while announcing the constitutional rewrite on Wednesday. “Here are your elections.”

Maduro has also moved several prominent military officers into positions of power within the government, a move O’Neil says is meant to “solidify their support so they don’t turn on him.”

The government has also steadily curtailed democratic freedoms — restricting the free press, imprisoning opponents and preventing them from running for office.

Why should Americans care if Venezuela becomes a failed state?

For one thing, the Venezuelan crisis could spill over its borders and undermine neighboring countries and the continent as a whole.

“One of the successes of the Western Hemisphere is that almost all the countries — Cuba excepted — are democracies. And that’s a model Americans believe in,” said O’Neil.

“That matters to the U.S.,” she added.

A disintegration of the government will also reverberate economically and in terms of security.

“A collapse of the state in Venezuela will produce financial, economic, regional and security risks for the United States,” said Arnavat, who also served as U.S. Executive Director at the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean, during the administration of President Barack Obama.

FROM MAY 1: Protesters Clash With Police in Caracas May Day Violence 1:18

There could also be a huge impact on oil prices in the U.S. If the government truly collapses, it could negatively impact oil production in Venezuela, a founding member of OPEC, which in turn could mean higher prices at the pump in the U.S. and worldwide.

There is also a fear that if there is a power vacuum, the country could become a safe harbor for terrorists and drug traffickers — which could have a destabilizing effect in the region and potentially even create a migration crisis in neighboring countries.

“From a humanitarian perspective, and given the presence of several hundred thousand residents in the U.S. of Venezuelan origin, the vast majority of which Iives in Florida, there will be an urgent call for action for the U.S. to step in and provide assistance,” said Arnavat.

What’s the U.S. stance on Venezuela?

The U.S. State Department condemned the dissolution of Venezuela’s National Assembly as “a serious setback for democracy” and the Trump administration is looking to put pressure on Maduro by considering stronger economic sanctions.

A group of Republican and Democratic senators also introduced a bill this week that would provide $10 million in humanitarian aid to the country, require the State Department to coordinate a regional effort to ease the crisis, and ask American intelligence to report on the involvement of government officials in corruption and the drug trade.

“It may be tempting to note that the administration has more important domestic and foreign priorities, but if Venezuela collapses, it will become a major priority,” said Arnavat. “And the ability of the U.S., as the world’s and region’s leader, to manage the crisis will establish a precedent and be part of President Trump’s legacy.”

How bad can it get?

“So long as the economic crisis and human suffering remains unabated, and no political solution is reached, things can only get worse,” said Arnavat.

Image: A demonstrator catches fire during clashes with police
A demonstrator catches fire during clashes with police at a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in the capital Caracas. Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP – Getty Images

Dr. Jennifer McCoy, a professor at Georgia State University who specializes in Latin American politics, also said the situation could get “much worse” and warned that “things could spiral very quickly if people don’t see significant electoral change.”

She pointed out that while the country has historically been very peaceful, Venezuelans are very well armed — particularly because of the violent crime wave that hit the country in recent years. The U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which aims to create effective security communication between American private sector interests worldwide and the U.S. State Department, called it “one of the deadliest countries in the world” in its 2017 Crime and Safety Report.

What’s next?

What happens now will depend on the people on the streets, “but also on the military,” said McCoy.

She added that Maduro’s call for a constitutional rewrite “looks like a gambit by the president to calm the current unrest in the streets and postpone elections that he fears he will lose.”

“The next step will depend on how big of an outcry there is in Venezuela and if the military continues to support the president or if there is international outcry.”

CFR’s O’Neil warned that a spiral downward could come swiftly.

“It’s a slow moving crisis — which can last longer than you think, but when they end, they end quickly,” she said.

Michigan synagogue cancels Noa concert in face of right-wing protests

A Detroit-area synagogue cancelled a scheduled appearance by the Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, known as Noa, claiming that threats attributed to right-wing Jewish protesters posed a security risk.

Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills informed its members of the cancellation of the concert in a May 4 letter obtained by the Detroit Jewish News.

“Several credible threats of protest and demonstration have been planned in response to the appearance of Achinoam ‘Noa’ Nini at Adat Shalom on Thursday, May 18,” according to the letter. “We have been working closely with law enforcement and our security advisers and have concluded that based on these threats there was a high potential for disruption to the concert. As a result, and in keeping the safety of our community, our congregation, and the performers as our highest priority, we have made the decision to cancel the concert.”

The letter continued that the event was intended “to present a concert of Israeli music at its finest” and was “not intended to reflect political viewpoints.”

The Jewish News reported that her critics in Detroit were a “vocal minority” of Jews “from the right-wing camp that hold opposing viewpoints.”

Nini, who has performed at least six times in the Detroit area since 1994, according to the Jewish News, has been outspoken in support of a two-state solution and Israeli-Arab co-existence. She has also voiced support for Israeli NGOs critical of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel’s actions in the West Bank.

Last year, Jewish National Fund of Canada withdrew its sponsorship of a concert featuring Nini, following a report in the Jerusalem Post, denied by the singer and later retracted, that she supports the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel.

“I am absolutely and completely against the BDS [campaign],” she responded at the time. “I see it as a hypocritical movement full of contradictions [that] will not bring peace to Israel nor help the Palestinians achieve their goals; very much on the contrary.”

Nini responded Friday to the cancellation of the Detroit-area concert in a statement issued by the New Israel Fund, on whose board of directors she sits.

“I’m saddened and outraged to see that this aggressive campaign of silencing, which we know too well from the extremist fringe in Israel, has made its way to the American Jewish community as well,” she said. “But I am not afraid. Fear and silence stand in the way of democracy, equality, peace, and our Jewish value of standing with the weak among us. I look forward to many more events with the American Jewish community of courage and conscience I know so well.”

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, attributed the cancellation to “[b]ullies and bigots.”

“This is a wake-up call and an opportunity for Jewish communities to refuse to cower to political persecution, and to welcome progressive voices and difficult but necessary conversations,” he said in a statement.

Nini is scheduled to perform later this month in Deal, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Venezuelans again take to streets as death toll jumps to 37

CARACAS, Venezuela — Students battled tear gas-throwing police officers in demonstrations across Venezuela’s capital Thursday as a two-month-old protest movement that shows no signs of letting up claimed more lives.

“We are students, not terrorists!” a mass of students chanted as they marched in Caracas.

Soldiers bathed hundreds of protesters in tear gas at the Central University of Venezuela, with medics in gas masks attending to students with bloodied faces and limbs.

“Do you know how many dead there are?” Rafaela Requesens, a student leader, shouted at a wall of National Guard officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder and stopping protesters from advancing. “They are your victims.”

Gunfire erupted at a student gathering in El Tigre, a city southeast of Caracas, leaving Juan Lopez, 33, dead and three others injured, according to the chief prosecutor’s office. Preliminary reports indicate an assailant fired at Lopez toward the end of the meeting and then fled on a motorcycle. Lopez was the president of a university federation.

The student leader’s death brought to at least 37 the number killed in Venezuela’s ongoing political turmoil.

Earlier Thursday, authorities announced a 38-year-old police officer in the central state of Carabobo had died of his injuries after being shot during a Wednesday protest that had hundreds of thousands of people on the street nationwide. Wednesday’s protest also left a 17-year-old student and musician dead.

More than 700 others have been wounded, no small matter in a country with crippling medical shortages. Opposition leaders said 30 were injured in Thursday’s student demonstrations. Overall, more than 1,000 have been arrested.

West of Caracas in Valencia, there were reports of looting at several businesses and at least one factory, the thieves taking off with plastic crates filled with bottles and even a forklift.

Protesters are demanding immediate presidential elections. President Nicolas Maduro accuses the opposition of attempting a coup, and has responded with an initiative to rewrite the constitution.

Walking through an agricultural expo where he pet goats and sampled cheese Thursday, Maduro repeatedly reiterated his call for a special assembly tasked with defining Venezuela’s future. He added that the yet-to-be-created constituent body would decide the South American nation’s destiny “for the next 50 years.”

International pressure on Maduro to hold elections is continuing to escalate amid his call for a constitution rewrite. A group of bipartisan U.S. legislators sent a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday urging him to apply new sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations and to push for the delivery of humanitarian relief.

Eight Latin American nations issued a statement decrying the excessive use of force by Venezuelan authorities against protesters, saying such actions only, “polarize Venezuelan society even more.”

And Venezuelan classical music maestro Gustavo Dudamel spoke out against events in his country, calling on Maduro to listen to the protesters.

In an online essay titled “I Raise My Voice,” he urged Maduro to reduce political tensions.

“We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis,” said Dudamel, who is serving as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s musical director.

Venezuelans and fellow classical music performers have blasted Dudamel in the past for being cozy with Maduro.

Berkeley protests peaceful as hundreds rally over Ann Coulter (White Slut, White Feminist)

BERKELEY, Calif. — Hundreds of people waving American flags and chanting “USA” held a raucous rally Thursday at a park in Berkeley — home of the free speech movement — to protest a canceled appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, but the expected violence did not materialize.

Scores of officers in riot gear lined up in preparation for possible violence between supporters and opponents of Coulter, but there were no major confrontations, largely because members of an anti-fascist group did not show up in force.

Coulter did not appear at the rally or show up at the University of California, Berkeley despite hinting that she might “swing by to say hello” to her supporters. Coulter had said she was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at the school. University officials said they had been unable to find a suitable and safe spot for her to speak, and offered a May 2 date.

She did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press, but she told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson after the event that she wasn’t going to say anything more inflammatory than calling for enforcement of immigration laws.

“Well, my seditious and hateful speech, the theme of it, obviously, it was going to be a searingly brilliant speech on immigration,” she said.

Thursday’s tensions were another example of how Berkeley has emerged as a flashpoint for extreme left and right forces amid the debate over free speech in a place where the 1960s U.S. free speech movement began before spreading to college campuses across the nation.

Berkeley student Joseph Pagadara, 19, said he had worried about violence and added that the university is caught in the middle of the country’s political divide.

“Both sides are so intolerant of each other. We are a divided country. We need to listen to each other but we’re each caught in our own bubbles,” he said.

As for Coulter, Pagadara said the university should have let her speak. “Now she’s making herself look like the victim and Berkeley like the bad guys,” he said.

University police erected barricades and refused to let any protesters enter the campus. Six people were arrested; one for obstructing an officer and wearing a mask to evade police, and another for possessing a knife.

Several hundred people gathered for the afternoon event supporting Coulter at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley.

“It’s a shame that someone can’t speak in the home of the free speech movement,” said Wilson Grafstrom, an 18-year-old high school student from Menlo Park.

He wore a military grade helmet with a “Make America Great Again” sticker across the back, goggles, a gas mask and knee pads. He blamed people opposed to Coulter and President Donald Trump for forcing him to gear up for problems.

Many at the park about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the university’s main Sproul Plaza also wore such helmets and body armor. Some had “Build That Wall” or Trump stickers across their headgear. One man had duct tape reading “Berkeley” over his mouth.

While the afternoon rally ended without serious conflict, police at one point formed a human wall in the street separating anti-Trump protesters from the park where pro-Trump groups were gathered.

Anti-Coulter protesters at the park held a banner that read: “It’s not about ‘free speech,’ it’s about bigots trying to normalize hate.”

Earlier, dozens of police wearing flak jackets and carrying 40 mm launchers that shoot “foam batons” flanked Sproul Plaza while a small group of protesters condemning Coulter staged a rally outside campus.

Officers took selfies with students in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media and founder of the pro-Trump “Proud Boys,” spoke at the park gathering later in the day. He said America doesn’t have an obligation to take people from other countries.

“We are here because Ann Coulter got canceled,” he said. “She is one of the most inspiring writers in America today. She is an American hero.”

On its Facebook page, the group calls itself a fraternal organization aimed at “reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.”


University officials said they feared violence on campus if Coulter spoke, citing “very specific intelligence” of threats that could endanger her and students. In a letter to the campus Wednesday, Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks said the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.

“This is a university, not a battlefield,” Dirks wrote.

Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.

In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.

Law Enforcement Using Facebook and Apple to Data-Mine Accounts of Trump Protest Arrestees

Law enforcement is compelling Apple and Facebook to hand over the personal information of users who were mass arrested at protests against the inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., AlterNet has confirmed. The tech giants appear to be complying with the data-mining requests, amid mounting concerns over the heavy-handed crackdown against the more than 200 people detained on January 20, among them journalists, legal observers and medics.

“This is part of an increasing trend of law enforcement attempting to turn the internet, instead of technology for freedom, into technology for control,” Evan Greer, the campaign director for Fight for the Future, told AlterNet. “This trend started long before Trump and seems to be escalating and growing in scale now.”

More than 200 of those picked up in the sweep at the anti-fascist, anti-capitalist bloc have been hit with felony riot charges, which carry penalties of up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Because the arrests took place in Washington, D.C., the cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is directly accountable to the Department of Justice, now overseen by the notorious white supremacist Jeff Sessions.

Mark Goldstone, a National Lawyers Guild-affiliated attorney who is representing numerous defendants in the case, told AlterNet that “several” of his clients have been contacted by Facebook and Apple and informed that their personal information has been requested by law enforcement.

AlterNet viewed a “customer notice” email sent on February 14 by Apple to one of the defendants, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing charges. “On 2017-01-27, Apple Inc. (‘Apple’) received a legal request from United States Attorney’s Office requesting information regarding your Apple account,” the message states.

The communication states that “Apple will be producing the requested data in a timely manner as required by the legal process.”

The individual who received the notice told AlterNet, “My phone wasn’t present at time of arrest and wasn’t taken.” That individual does not know whether the data has been handed over to prosecutors.

“I wasn’t surprised by it, but it was also very unsettling and made me feel very vulnerable and exposed,” the individual said. “That some federal grunt could be looking through old texts, personal stuff and selfies. This is exposing and gross and creepy.”

Goldstone emphasized, “It’s an outrageous overreach by the government to try to data-mine personal property that wasn’t even seized at the demonstration. This will be fought vigorously.”

AlterNet also viewed a statement sent from Facebook on February 3 to an anonymous defendant. “We have received legal process from law enforcement seeking information about your Facebook account,” states the email, sent from the company’s records office.

“If we do not receive a copy of documentation that you have filed in court challenging this legal process within ten (10) days, we will respond to the requesting agency with information about the requested Facebook account,” the letter continues. “We may need to respond to this legal request within less than ten (10) days if we have a reasonable belief that we are legally required to do so.”

Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told AlterNet that, in addition to Facebook and Apple, Google has also been sent requests for information by law enforcement. None of the companies responded to a request for an interview.

‘What is the government doing with the data?’

It is not immediately clear what information law enforcement has requested and under what legal justification.

“The most invasive form of surveillance is a warrant. A judge could authorize police to look through every bite of data on someone’s Facebook account,” Michael Price, counsel for the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told AlterNet. “A 2703(d) court order allows police to get metadata about communications, and that could possibly include location information about when communications took place and when a phone was connected to cell tower. A national security letter allows police to get that information but does not require a court order.”

According to Lacambra, law enforcement could be accessing “surface information like user names, the registration information that was collected and the metadata on the last time of login and duration of service.” Or, they could be searching “information stored in Apple iCloud, contacts, the content of emails, any number of photos that are stored there.”

“I don’t know the scope of information,” she said, “because I don’t know what legal instrument was used.”

Goldstone, the defense attorney, said he was not informed of what legal justification law enforcement invoked to seize the information. “No one has said or sent anything to me,” he explained.

The Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia both refused to comment, citing the pending investigation.

According to Price, “As a general matter, it is not uncommon for law enforcement to seek information from a third-party service provider like Apple or Facebook. It happens all the time.”

“One of my biggest concerns,” he said, “is that police will attempt to use electronic surveillance to get information about the people who were at the protest, in order to compile a list of the people who were present. Is that information going to be mined and used for other purposes? What is the government doing with the data? Are they going to store it? Are they going to send it to an intelligence analyst?”

Lacambra said the investigation raises disturbing questions. “Why is the Department of Justice trying to intrude into the digital lives of people exercising their rights to protest?” she asked. “Is this to intimidate, silence or threaten people for exercising their constitutional rights? When you arrest 230 people, some of whom are medics and legal observers, and try to systematically get to the content of their digital life, that is troubling.”

The anti-capitalist, anti-fascist bloc was part of a day of disruptive protests across Washington, D.C., and the world, to interrupt business as usual and register opposition to the rise of Donald Trump, whose cabinet has aggressively delivered on his white supremacist campaign pledges. Since Trump took the White House, millions have taken to the streets, flocked to airports and mobilized to defend their neighborhoods and communities against a multi-pronged assault.

‘People should be paying close attention’

Some of the arrestees were already suspicious that police had searched their phones, which were seized by police. Those phones are still being held as evidence, according to legal support volunteers.

AlterNet spoke with a journalist who was arrested on January 20 and requested anonymity. He sent AlterNet a screenshot of his Google account, which shows that while he was detained and his phone was in police custody, there was activity on his account. AlterNet confirmed that the login occurred while the phone was in police custody by viewing a property receipt issued to the journalist by the MPD. The journalist says his phone is password protected.

This mysterious account activity is similar to activity on the account of an unidentified medic, reported by George Joseph of CityLab. As in the case of the journalist, the medic spotted activity on his account while the phone was in police custody. Joseph notes that a screenshot of the activity “suggests that police began mining information from the captured cellphones almost immediately after the arrests.”

Goldstone, who has defended protesters in Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years, underscored that he has “never seen phones seized at protests, let alone phones that were not part of a protest.”

He also said that he has “never seen a felony riot charge in Washington, D.C., let alone more than 200 of them.” According to news reports, 214 people have been indicted for these charges so far, indicating that the prosecution plans to move forward with the bulk of the charges.

“We’re in a dangerous new world,” he declared.

Those arrested in the sweep already reported heavy violence at the hands of the MPD, which is overseen by Chief Peter Newsham, who has a troubling history of kettling and mass arresting people in the proximity of protests.

On January 20, Washington, D.C.-based lawyer Jeffrey Light filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of those detained charging that “Without warning and without any dispersal order, the police officers kettled all of the plaintiffs.” The lawsuit states, “Defendants John Doe MPD Officers and/or John Doe Park Police Officers deployed a large amount of chemical irritants against the plaintiffs, as well as struck multiple plaintiffs with their batons, and deployed flash-bang grenades.”

The anonymous journalist told AlterNet that, while covering the protests, he was sprayed in the face with what he believes was OC gas. “Two flash-bang grenades fell within three or four feet of me. I had tinnitus in my ears for a couple of minutes. I yelled out for a medic, and by the time I could see, we were completely kettled. I was incapacitated. I had a press badge and tried to tell them I was press.”

AlterNet spoke with one anonymous arrestee who said that, at the police academy where arrestees were taken for processing, he received a “two-knuckle-deep cavity search.” He noted, “I didn’t see any reason for it.”

According to Greer, the police crackdown is “unquestionably an attempt to silence dissent, frighten people and keep them off of the streets. But I wouldn’t call it new. Anyone who has been involved in activist movements for more than a few years has seen this before.”

In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced state-level bills aimed at criminalizing protests. One piece of proposed legislation in Washington state calls for certain acts of civil disobedience to be classified as “economic terrorism.” North Dakota lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it lawful for motorists to hit and kill protesters staging acts of civil disobedience obstructing highways, as long as the cause is “negligence.” The legislation is clearly aimed at the Black Lives Matter movement, which has staged acts of civil disobedience across the country.

Meanwhile, police departments have long been building up their capacity for surveillance. A 10-month investigation by, a project of The Atlantic, revealed earlier this month that “major police departments around the country are spending millions on cellphone spy tools that can be used to build up massive surveillance databases—with few rules about what happens to the data they capture.” According to the investigation, most of the major police departments in the United States have either cell phone interception devices and/or “cell phone extraction devices, used to crack open locked phones that are in police possession and scoop out all sorts of private communications and content.”

In light of this climate, the fact that tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook store large amounts of personal data is sparking concerns.

“Tech companies are building business models based on collecting large amounts of personal information and then failing to protect that information from the government and others who attempt to access it,” said Greer, who attended the January 20 protests in Washington, D.C. “People should be paying close attention and be concerned.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

Netanyahu to face protests on Australia state visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face a series of protests during a state visit to Australia this week, after a first stop in Singapore. He’ll be the first-ever sitting Israeli leader to visit these countries.

Netanyahu landed in Singapore overnight Sunday-Monday where he is expected to stay for two days before heading off to Australia.

“We will strengthen security, economic and other ties with these countries,” he said at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting before he left the country.

Over 60 prominent Australians signed an open letter opposing Netanyahu’s state visit, citing the Israeli government’s policies toward the Palestinians, and demonstrations are planned for Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

“It is time for the suffering of the Palestinian people to stop and for Australia to take a more balanced role in supporting the application of international law and not supporting Mr Netanyahu and his policies,” the signatories — including former politicians, legal professionals and clergy — wrote.

“Mr Netanyahu’s policies consistently aim to provoke, intimidate and oppress the Palestinian population which increase that imbalance [of power], thus taking Israel irretrievably further from peace. These policies are inconsistent with Australian values and beliefs and we should not welcome him here,” they added. Many of the signatories appear to be pro-Palestinian activists and the letter was made available by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

During his two-day visit to Singapore, Netanyahu will visit Istana, the small city-state’s presidential residence, for meetings with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Last year, Lee became the first Singaporean prime minister to visit Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seen during the welcome ceremony at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on April 19, 2016. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seen during the welcome ceremony at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on April 19, 2016. (Haim Zach / GPO)

After lunch with the prime minister and Singapore’s national security minister, Teo Chee Hean, Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the Maghain Aboth synagogue, one of the country’s two functioning Jewish houses of worship.

Israel-Singapore relations have long been solid, but have recently grown even closer.

“There is a deep friendship between Israel and Singapore. We have so much in common. We are small nations that leave a very large imprint on the world scene,” Netanyahu told Lee in April during his visit to Jerusalem.

Lee said that Israel is the second-largest contributor of foreign direct investments in Singapore from the Middle East. “We admire your technical prowess and ecosystem. You have the highest number of scientists, technicians, technologists, engineers per capita in the world. You have the third highest number of patents per capita, and I know that many Singaporean firms are interested in doing business with you, investing in Israel, as some have already done.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu will arrive in Sydney, Australia, where he will meet with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he is set to hold a joint press conference.

“In Australia I will, together with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, hold a meeting with businesspeople from both countries in order to increase trade between Israel and Australia,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet. “What we are doing to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world,” he added, “is to open new markets.”

After the meeting with Israeli and Australian businesspeople, the prime minister and his delegation are scheduled to visit the Great Synagogue of Sydney.

On Thursday, Netanyahu will again meet with Turnbull, who will be joined by his cabinet, at Sydney’s Commonwealth Parliament Offices, where the government convenes when it is not in the capital. (Netanyahu will not visit Canberra.)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on September 21, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on September 21, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The two prime ministers will then together visit Moriah College, a Modern Orthodox school founded in 1942.

On Friday, Netanyahu will meet the premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian. He will conclude his visit with a sit-down with Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian opposition.

Australia is arguably Israel’s best friend on the international stage after the United States. In recent years, Canberra has been unafraid to defy international consensus to shield the Jewish state from criticism of its settlement policy.

In December, Australia was the only country in the world, besides Israel, to denounce UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared Australia would have likely opposed the text and Turnbull later attacked it as “one-sided” and “deeply unsettling.”

Canberra first distinguished itself from the rest of the world in early 2014, when Bishop, in an interview with The Times of Israel, refused to call Israeli settlements illegal. “I don’t want to prejudge the fundamental issues in the peace negotiations,” Bishop said at the time.

Asked whether she agrees or disagrees with the near-universal view that Israeli settlements anywhere beyond the 1967 lines are illegal under international law, she replied: “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”