House makes lynching a federal crime, 65 years after Emmett Till

WASHINGTON – Sixty-five years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in the U.S. state of Mississippi, the House has approved legislation designating lynching as a hate crime under federal law.

The bill, introduced by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation and after dozens of similar efforts were defeated.

The measure was approved 410 to 4 on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed virtually identical legislation last year, although that bill wasn’t named for Till. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill, which designates lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison, a fine, or both.

Opposers to the bill included 3 Republicans and 1 Independent politician. Sixteen political leaders abstained from the vote. Results of the vote, and all others, are made viewable at the official website for the House. The results of this vote can be viewed here: Final House Votes for Roll Call 71.

Rush, a Democrat whose Chicago district includes Till’s former home, said the bill will achieve justice for Till and more than 4,000 other lynching victims, most of them Blacks or African Americans.

Till, who was black, was brutally tortured and killed in 1955 after a white woman accused him of grabbing her and whistling at her in a Mississippi grocery store. The killing shocked the country and stoked the Civil Rights Movement.

“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,” said Rush, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “From Charlottesville to El Paso, we are still being confronted with the same violent racism and hatred that took the life of Emmett and so many others. The passage of this bill will send a strong and clear message to the nation that we will not tolerate this bigotry. ”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who represents the area where Till was abducted and murdered, called the anti-lynching bill long overdue, but said: “No matter the length of time, it is never too late to ensure justice is served.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., used similar language to urge the bill’s passage. “It is never too late to do the right thing and address these gruesome, racially motivated acts of terror that have plagued our nation’s history,” he said, urging lawmakers to “renew our commitment to confronting racism and hate.”

Two of the four representatives who opposed the bill—Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky.—explained their reasoning for doing so.

Gohmert said he supported the bill’s concept, but preferred that those accused of lynching in Texas be tried in state court, where they could face the death penalty.

Massie said he opposed the expansion of federal hate-crime laws. “A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice,” he said in a statement. “Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech.”

Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, called lynching a lasting legacy of slavery.

“Make no mistake, lynching is terrorism,” she said. “While this reign of terror has faded, the most recent lynching (in the United States) happened less than 25 years ago.”

Although Congress cannot truly rectify the terror and horror of these acts, Bass said, a legislative body that once included slave owners and Ku Klux Klan members will belatedly “stand up and do our part so that justice is delivered in the future.”

Gunman opens fire in Milwaukee before suicide

MILWAUKEE – An employee opened fire Wednesday at one of the nation’s largest breweries in Milwaukee, killing five co-workers before committing suicide, police said.

The assailant who attacked the Molson Coors complex was identified as a 51-year-old Milwaukee man who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

“There were five individuals who went to work today, just like everybody goes to work, and they thought they were going to go to work, finish their day and return to their families. They didn’t—and tragically they never will,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Authorities offered no immediate motive for the attack and did not release details about the shooter or how the shooting unfolded.

In addition, none of the victims were identified. Police, who were still contacting relatives, said identities would not be released for at least 24 hours. No one was wounded beyond those who were killed, authorities said.

Police officers worked for hours to clear the more than 20 buildings in the complex where more than 1,000 people work. They announced at a late evening news conference that their work was done and all employees had been allowed to go home. Police Chief Alfonso Morales said authorities believe the shooter acted alone.

President Donald Trump addressed the shooting before speaking at the White House about his administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

“Our hearts break for them and their loved ones,” President Trump said. “We send our condolences. We’ll be with them, and it’s a terrible thing, a terrible thing.”

The attack occurred at a sprawling complex that includes a mix of corporate offices and brewing facilities. The complex is widely known in the Milwaukee metropolitan area as “Miller Valley,” a reference to the Miller Brewing Co. that is now part of Molson Coors.

Gavin Hattersley, CEO of Molson Coors, called the shooter “an active brewery employee.”

“Unfortunately, I am devastated to share that we lost five other members of our family in this tragic incident,” he wrote in an email sent to employees. “There are no words to express the deep sadness many of us are feeling right now.”

During a news conference outside Molson Coors, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said, “We shouldn’t accept this.” He took up the issue later on social media, tweeting: “Another avoidable uniquely American tragedy. It’s not normal, we should never accept it, and we should never relent when ‘leaders’ offer hollow thoughts and prayers but choose inaction.”

His comments come amid the tenuous debate over the Second Amendment.

Colorado to become 22nd state without death penalty

DENVER – Colorado is set to become the 22nd U.S. state to abolish the death penalty after lawmakers on Wednesday approved a repeal bill that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis pledged to sign into law.

The bill, passed by the Democrat-dominated state senate in January, would apply to offenses charged starting July 1 and would not affect the fate of the three men on Colorado’s death row who face execution by lethal injection. But Polis has suggested he might consider clemency for them if asked.

“All clemency requests are weighty decisions that the governor will judge on their individual merits,” said Polis spokesman Conor Cahill.

Wednesday’s vote came after lawmakers spent three days engaging in somber and often emotional death penalty discussions that touched on morality, faith, deterrence, discrimination against defendants of color, and wrongful convictions.

Many Western states have opted to abolish capital punishment or put it on hold in recent years, and no inmates have been executed in any state west of Texas in the past five years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in the District of Columbia.

Wyoming’s conservative legislature came close last year, and another initiative there this year had 26 Republican sponsors out of the 78 Wyoming Republican state lawmakers serving in its 100-member legislature.

And Washington State lawmakers are trying to remove the death penalty from state law with a measure that seeks to make permanent a 2018 state supreme court ruling that struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased.

In 2019, New Mexico’s supreme court set aside the death penalty for the final two inmates awaiting execution after the state’s 2009 repeal of capital punishment.

New Hampshire was the last state to repeal the death penalty, doing so last year.

Neo-Nazi leaders face conspiracy charges

FALLS CHURCH – Leaders of a neo-Nazi organization have been charged with conspiring to harass journalists, churches and a former Cabinet official, prosecutors on both U.S. coasts announced Wednesday.

Some of the alleged conspirators were charged with cyberstalking and sending Swastika-laden posters to journalists, telling them, “You’ve been visited by your local Nazis.”

“These defendants from across the country allegedly conspired on the internet to intimidate journalists and activists with whom they disagreed,” John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, published in a written statement.

John C. Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, was charged in U.S. District Court in Virginia with a series of hoax bomb threats that prosecutors said were aimed at drawing a heavy police response to the homes or offices of the group’s targets.

Denton was arrested on Wednesday in Texas along with Kaleb J. Cole, 24, who moved to the state after he came to the attention of authorities in his home state of Washington. Both Denton and Cole appeared in federal court in the city of Houston and remained in custody pending further proceedings.

Cole was one of four defendants charged in Seattle. Prosecutors say he and the three others, as well as Denton, were members of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.

“Atomwaffen” is a German term meaning “atomic weapons.”

According to an affidavit unsealed Wednesday, Denton was a founding member and former leader of Atomwaffen. He used the names “Rape” and “Tormentor” in online conversations while holding a day job as a mortuary worker, prosecutors said. They said his targets included a predominantly African American church in Alexandria and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Charging papers do not identify the former Cabinet official targeted, but a “swatting” call involving the Alexandria, Virginia, home of then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was made in January 2019, when prosecutors say the conspiracy was active.

Another man who prosecutors say is a member of Atomwaffen, Andrew Thomasberg, faces sentencing for unrelated weapons crimes in Alexandria on Friday.

In Seattle, the members cyberstalked and sent Swastika-laden posters to journalists and an employee of the Anti-Defamation league, telling them, “You have been visited by your local Nazis,” “Your Actions have Consequences,” and, “We are Watching.”

The criminal complaint includes lengthy excerpts from encrypted text conversations. Investigators warned several of the intended victims before they received the intimidating communications, indicating that they were monitoring the people making the threats.

Seattle police obtained an “extreme risk protection order” against Cole last fall, seizing nine guns from his residence. They said Cole had “gone from espousing hate to now taking active steps or preparation for an impending ‘race war.'”

Those steps including organizing paramilitary-style “hate camps” in Nevada and Washington State, investigators said.

The others arrested in Washington State were Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington; Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 20, of Spring Hill, Florida; and Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona. Shea made an initial appearance in court, where his lawyer declined to comment. It was not immediately clear if the other two had attorneys who could speak for them.

Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge Ray Duda said Cole and the other three “posed a legitimate and escalating threat to anyone who dared counter or tried to expose their activities” and “crossed the line from protected ideas and speech to illegal acts of intimidation and coercion.”

Chris Ingalls, a reporter with Seattle’s KING-TV who had reported on the group, said Wednesday that about a month ago he received a poster in his home mailbox that featured a figure wearing a press badge and the words, “Death to Pigs.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was already monitoring the group, had warned him it might be coming, he said; at one point, members of the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force had staked out his home to protect him and his family. Ingalls said Wednesday he was nevertheless frightened because he knew of the Atomwaffen Division’s affinity for Charles Manson, whose followers wrote “Death to Pigs” with a victim’s blood when they killed actress Sharon Tate and others.

“Atomwaffen is not just a bunch of Nazis running around in the woods,” Ingalls said. “They’re following the ‘helter skelter’ teachings of an insane killer from the 1960s. … The exposure of these guys is extremely important to me.”

Federal authorities have paid close attention to the group: at least 13 people linked to Atomwaffen Division or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with crimes in a federal court since the group’s formation in 2016. Another two men who were members of Atomwaffen are facing murder charges in state courts.

These attacks come amidst the polarized Democratic and Republican nominations for 2020’s presidential election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Unity urged among Democrats

WASHINGTON – Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday urged party unity amid Bernie Sanders’ surge in the presidential race, even as House Democrats worry about a volatile election season that could put a self-described democratic socialist atop the ticket and threaten their majority.

“I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president, we wholeheartedly embrace that person,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told the House Democratic caucus at a closed-door meeting. “We cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity,” she said, according to a Democratic aide who attended the session. The aide was not authorized to discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The urge for unity comes amid chaos at the Democratic Debates.

Down-ballot jitters are apparent as Sanders takes an increasingly commanding lead in early voting and withstands the constant pummeling by rivals who have been unable to slow his rise.

With South Carolina’s primary on Saturday, followed by the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, House Democrats are navigating how best to hold onto their seats while opponents try to lasso them to Sanders’ socialist label.

Many first-term Democrats are counting on their own well-crafted brands, not the party’s eventual presidential nominee, whoever that may be, to see them to reelection. The House majority was built by lawmakers who come from districts where President Donald Trump is popular, and his campaign operation will be turning out voters in the fall. But in a campaign cycle full of unknowns as the party tries to unseat Trump, they are relying on the backgrounds that pushed them to office in the first place to do it again.

“I will go into my race with the same degree of confidence, no matter who is at the top of the ticket,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a freshman Democrat from a competitive New Jersey district who supports former Vice President Joe Biden in the primary for the Democratic nominee.

Malinowski said he will “absolutely” support Sanders if the senator becomes the party’s nominee. But the congressman said Democrats need to simplify their message and seize the moment with a candidate who can topple Trump. “Why we would risk this extraordinary opportunity by nominating somebody who has a tendency to divide our own side is beyond me,” he said.

Other Democrats, though, are more open about their fears of a Sanders nomination.

First-term Rep. Elaine Luria, who defeated an incumbent Republican in 2018 in a swing district in coastal Virginia, said a Sanders candidacy would be “incredibly divisive” and could endanger more centrist members of Congress like herself.

Her opponents are already trying to tag Luria, a former Navy commander and Naval Academy graduate, as a “socialist,” she said. Luria rejects the label as “ridiculous.”

“Bernie Sanders just adds fuel to that fire,” Luria said.

She has endorsed Biden but had praise for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, calling both of them politicians who “build bridges rather than break them down.”

Hoping to propel Biden’s lagging candidacy in a state he has pledged to win, the No. 3 House Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, an influential leader and the highest-ranking African American in Congress, announced his endorsement on Wednesday.

Veteran Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said of Biden: “There’s not a congressional district in this country he couldn’t campaign in.”

Divisions run deep among House Democrats, whose primary preferences span the party’s ideological reach as a de facto big tent party, from the most liberal and progressive members backing Sanders to those preferring Biden, Bloomberg or the other more centrist candidates.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is one of Sanders’ most high-profile backers in the House. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is a Sanders campaign co-chairman.

Many liberals say Sanders is the only candidate able to energize base voters and take on Trump. His commitment to curbing income inequality and his bold policy proposals, including “Medicare for All” and tuition-free college, are galvanizing voters, they say. They point to Sanders’ strong showing in Nevada as a snapshot of the coalition he could build nationwide against Trump.

Campaigning Wednesday in South Carolina, Sanders warned that a “conventional campaign” like Biden’s won’t defeat Trump.

In Tuesday night’s presidential debate, candidate Pete Buttigieg warned of the potential down-ballot consequences in Congress if Sanders won the nomination. Senate Democrats are struggling to flip the chamber from Republicans, who have a slim majority, while House Democrats are working to retain their advantage.

Pelosi said she thinks that “whoever our nominee is, we will enthusiastically embrace — and we will win the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

House Democrats hold a modest majority, and while Trump is eager to have his party in control of the chamber, House Republicans have seen a rush toward the exits with retirements. The House GOP is still recruiting candidates to challenge the Democrats and has lagged in fundraising.

Pelosi said lawmakers will have a briefing Thursday at the Democratic National Committee headquarters about the nominating process. The party convention is in July.

Democrats changed the nominating rules to reduce the power of “superdelegates”— lawmakers and other VIPs—to choose the nominee.

If no candidate secures the nod outright on the initial round of voting at the convention, the superdelegates, including lawmakers, may have a role to play in casting votes.

At an earlier debate in Las Vegas, the 2020 presidential candidates were asked whether the candidate with the most delegates should be the nominee, even if that person lacked a delegate majority. Almost every candidate suggested that the convention process should work its way out.

Sanders, who helped force the changes to the nomination process this year and expects to take a significant delegate lead in the coming weeks, was the only exception.

“The person who has the most votes should become the nominee,” he said.

House Democrats, particularly the freshmen, are being told to chart their own course as they did running in 2018.

In much the way some House Democrats won their seats as they distanced themselves from Pelosi, they may be faced with running for reelection by distancing themselves from the party nominee.

“This is tough,” Pelosi told the House caucus. “We have to win.”

Surely for the Democratic Party to win this year’s election, unification is vital, and it would appear the moderates of the left are keyholders toward fighting President Trump, though Sanders and his supporters have argued otherwise.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

2020 relaunch of HCN Networks

DALLAS – Hail Columbia News has officially relaunched in 2020, forming part of a new unincorporated non-profit entity known as Hail Columbia News Networks.

The relaunch of the news agency comes amid the 2020 election for President of the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 census, the 2019 Coronavirus epidemic, and renewed interest in supporting independent, non-biased journalism throughout the United States.

Airbnb bans ‘party houses’

ORINDA – Airbnb’s chief executive officer said the company was taking actions against unauthorized parties in the wake of a deadly shooting at a Halloween party held at an Airbnb rental home in California.

In a series of tweets, Brian Chesky said Saturday the San Francisco-based company is expanding manual screening of “high risk” reservations and will remove guests who fail to comply with policies banning parties at Airbnb rental homes.

He also said the company is forming a “rapid response team” when complaints of unauthorized parties come in.

“We must do better, and we will. This is unacceptable,” he tweeted.

Five people died after a Thursday night shooting that sent some 100 terrified partygoers running for their lives in the San Francisco suburb of Orinda.

The four-bedroom home had been rented on Airbnb by a woman who told the owner her dozen family members had asthma and needed to escape smoke from a wildfire, a person with knowledge of the transaction informed local and national news agencies. A fire burning in Sonoma County about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Orinda earlier in the week fouled the air over a wide area.

The owner was suspicious of a one-night rental on Halloween and before agreeing reminded the renter that no parties were allowed, said the person with knowledge of the transaction, who was not authorized to publicly disclose the information and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The owner, Michael Wang, said his wife reached out to the renter Thursday night after neighbors contacted them about the party. The renter said there were only a dozen people at the home but Wang said he could see more people on video from his doorbell camera.

“We called the police. They were on the way to go there to stop them, but before we got there the neighbor already sent us a message saying there was a shooting,” he attested.

No arrests had been made and there was no immediate word on a motive for the attack. Two guns were found at the property, authorities said.

Three people, all from the Bay Area, died at the scene and a fourth died at the hospital, authorities initially said. The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office identified them Friday evening as Tiyon Farley, 22, of Antioch; Omar Taylor, 24, of Pittsburg; Ramon Hill Jr., 23; and Javin County, 29. The sheriff’s office identified a fifth victim, 19-year-old Oshiana Tompkins of Vallejo and Hercules, late Friday night, saying she died at a hospital.

Taylor’s father, Omar Taylor Sr., said his son was hired to play music at the party.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” he said.

Other people were wounded by gunshots or injured in the panic that followed, authorities said.

The party at the four-bedroom house apparently was advertised on social media as an “Airbnb mansion party.”

Orinda, with a population of about 20,000, requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city annually and pay an occupancy tax. The maximum occupancy is 13 people.

Orinda city documents show officials issued violations in March for exceeding the home’s maximum occupancy and illegal parking. City Manager Steve Salomon said the homeowner had resolved previous complaints lodged in February over occupancy and noise and in July over overflowing trash.

Airbnb is “urgently investigating” what happened, spokesman Ben Breit said in an email.

Airbnb has banned the renter from its platform and the home has been removed as a listing, he said.

One attendee said he was enjoying the music and watching people dance when he heard shots and people started running.

The screaming seemed to last forever, said Devan, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared for his safety.

“Everybody started running, scrambling,” he said. “People were just collapsing and friends were helping friends. It was a scary situation and then as everyone is panicking and stuff, there were more shots.”

Devan shot a video posted to Instagram that showed a wounded man on the ground and a police officer standing over him and a woman saying she needs to go to the hospital “because my hand’s been blown off.”

On Friday, police tape surrounded the block as people came to collect their cars and other belongings. One woman in tears told reporters the father of her child had been killed. She left before giving her name.

Romond Reynolds picked up the car of his son, 24-year-old Armani Reynolds, who he said was left comatose by the shooting.

“All I know is that he’s a victim and was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Reynolds said.

Neighbor Shahram Saki, 61, said in a phone interview that some fleeing partygoers hid in the bushes in his front yard and others begged to be let into his home.

“They were screaming for help. I told them, ‘You gotta get out of here,'” Saki said. “I was scared to death, anything could have happened.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.