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Ahead of hearing, ACLU releases analysis of Sessions’ civil liberties record

The American Civil Liberties Union this week released its analysis of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions’ record on civil liberties issues ahead of the Jan. 10-11 confirmation hearing. Sessions is Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general.

The ACLU report examines Sessions’ handling of voting rights, police reform, immigration, mass incarceration, religious liberty, LGBT equality, privacy and surveillance, torture, abortion and sexual assault issues.

“The American people deserve a full vetting of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ record if he is to become the nation’s top law enforcement official,” ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said in a press statement.

He continued, “If the Senate does their job well, Congress and the American public will know if Sessions is the most qualified person to be the 84th attorney general of the United States of America. All Americans must have confidence that the highest law enforcement official in the country will protect them from discrimination and injustice. Trump and Sessions’ commitment to ‘law and order’ must embrace justice.”

This is from the introduction to the ACLU analysis on Sessions’ record:

More than thirty years ago, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, was in a similar situation as he will be on January 10 when he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing. Tapped by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship in 1986, Sessions sat before the very same committee for his previous confirmation hearing. Things did not go well.

Witnesses accused Sessions, then the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama, of repeatedly making racially insensitive and racist remarks. Thomas Figures — a former assistant U.S. attorney in Mobile, Alabama, who worked for Sessions — told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his former boss said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was okay until he learned members smoked pot. Sessions said the comment wasn’t serious. Figures, an African-American man, also alleged that Sessions called him “boy” and told him “to be careful what you say to white folks.” Sessions denied this, too. 

But Figures wasn’t alone. Visiting Mobile, Alabama, from Washington, D.C., a Justice Department lawyer heard Sessions call the ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” He also heard Sessions opine that ACLU and the NAACP “did more harm than good when they were trying to force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.” Sessions said he didn’t recall saying that but admitted he could be “loose with my tongue” at the office. Not surprisingly, a civil rights coalition of over 160 groups and members of the Alabama Legislature separately opposed the Sessions’ nomination and asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote no on the young attorney from Hybart, Alabama. In a bipartisan vote, committee members refused to confirm Sessions, making him just the second judicial nominee in 49 years to be denied confirmation by the Senate Judiciary Committee at that time.

Sessions recovered well. In 1994, he was elected as Alabama’s attorney general. Two years later, the people of Alabama sent him to the U.S. Senate. He’s never lost a reelection campaign since, and now he’s poised to become the head of the Department of Justice. But the same concerns that doomed Sessions’ shot at becoming a federal judge three decades ago continue to stalk him today, only they have been made more troubling when you add Sessions’ Senate record to the mix.

The ACLU as a matter of long-standing policy does not support or oppose candidates for elected or appointed office. However, questions regarding police reform, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice reform, Muslims’ rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, women’s rights, privacy rights, torture, and abortion rights must be asked of and answered by Jeff Sessions if the Senate is to be discharged of its duty and if Americans are to be fully informed of how the nominee is to serve as the nation’s highest law enforcement officer. The attorney general must be an individual who will steadfastly enforce the U.S. Constitution and protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans equally.

On the Web

The report can be found at https://www.aclu.org/report/report-confirmation-sessions.

Ivanka Trump to give makeover to the role of first daughter

Ivanka Trump was a key player in her father’s winning campaign, and people are closely watching the next moves by President-elect Donald Trump’s 35-year-old daughter.

She’s attended her father’s transition meetings with high-profile figures, including the Japanese prime minister and technology leaders, and has indicated her interest in working on policy issues such as child care.

The Trump Organization executive vice president also owns her own company that sells clothes and jewelry. While three of Donald Trump’s adult children are viewed as close advisers, he often highlights Ivanka and has made clear that he’d love to have her with him when he moves into the White House.

It’s not clear whether that would be in a formal position. But Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested this past week that there may be an exception to anti-nepotism laws for Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who runs a real estate and construction business.

Previous first daughters have played a social role in the White House.

During Harry Truman’s presidency, when his wife, Bess, was home in Missouri, their daughter Margaret would play hostess. But it would be “unprecedented” for Ivanka Trump to serve as a close adviser, said Katherine Jellison, who heads the history department at Ohio University.

“If there was ever a first daughter who played such a close advisory role to her dad, she really kept it under cover,” Jellison said.

What we know so far about Ivanka Trump:

THE BUSINESS
With the Trump family, everything comes back to the vast family business empire.

Ivanka Trump, one of Donald Trump’s three children with his first wife, Ivana, is an executive vice president of the business along with brothers Donald Jr., 38, and Eric, 32. Just how the president-elect will handle his business interests remains unclear. Trump has said he will turn management over to his sons and executives.

Ivanka Trump has her own business to consider as well. She recently drew criticism after her company promoted a $10,800 bracelet she wore during a 60 Minutes interview on CBS. The spokeswoman for the company later apologized.

Since then, Ivanka Trump has sought to put some distance between her and her fashion business. A letter posted on her website said that she would separate her social media accounts from her company’s.

But questions continue to come up. Earlier this month, a “Coffee with Ivanka Trump” was listed on a charity fundraising website. Offered by the Eric Trump Foundation, it was to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The auction — reported on by The New York Times — drew high bids, but also raised ethics questions.

The auction appeared to have been removed from the website Friday. Asked about the change, the Trump team provided a statement from Eric Trump: “The only people who lost are the children of St. Jude,” he said.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Trump’s team says no official decision has been made about Ivanka Trump’s role, and she was not made available for an interview for this story.

But the president-elect has made his wishes known.

“I think we’ll have to see how the laws read. I would love to be able to have them involved,” Trump said on Fox News of Ivanka Trump and her husband Kushner, who are Jewish. Key players in the Trump administration are virulently racist and anti-Semitic, including Steve Bannon, whom Trump named senior adviser and White House strategist. That appointment prompted tweets and messages of glee from neo-Nazi leaders and their websites. It remains to be seen how the Kushners adherence to Orthodox Judaism will play out with the Ku Klux Klan wing of Trump’s administration.

Congress passed an anti-nepotism law in 1967 that prohibits the president from appointing a family member to work in an office or agency the president oversees. But Conway said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the law has “an exception if you want to work in the West Wing, because the president is able to appoint his own staff.”

Still, Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said: “I don’t believe that this statue exempts the White House.” He said Conway’s interpretation would be reasonable policy because it would bring family members under conflict of interest rules, but added, “I’m just not convinced that’s what the statute says.”

POLICY PLATFORM
While much about Ivanka Trump’s future role is murky, her policy interests are quite clear.

Throughout the campaign she highlighted her interest in issues like child care, pay equity and maternity leave. Her father mentioned those issues rarely.

Ivanka Trump met with a group of Republican congresswomen on these issues in September. Since the election, she has reached out to members of Congress to continue the conversation, according to Sarah Chamberlain, the president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership, who said she has not heard from the future first daughter.

Republican consultant Katie Packer, who opposed Donald Trump, said she was welcoming “the spotlight that Ivanka Trump is going to put on these issues.” But Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director MomsRising, an advocacy group for women and families, said she was concerned that the president-elect’s conservative Cabinet picks don’t share those interests.

“Ivanka Trump is right that child care and paid family leave are national emergencies, but she was not elected to be president of the United States of America and her dad, who was, has taken the opposite approach,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said.

WHITE HOUSE HOSTESS
Throughout the campaign, Ivanka Trump played a more prominent role than Trump’s third wife, Melania, who has focused her attention on 10-year-old son Barron.

Donald Trump said last month that Melania and Barron Trump would not move from New York to the White House until the end of the school year. She could still come in for major events, but there is historical precedent for a daughter or sister to step in and shoulder some of the social responsibilities. President James Buchanan, who was unmarried and universally thought to be gay, had his niece Rebecca Lane Johnston act as First Lady or “Hostess” for her uncle, a lifelong bachelor and the 15th President from 1857 to 1861.

Since the election, Melania Trump has kept a low profile while Ivanka Trump has been a regular fixture at Trump Tower in New York. This past week she appeared in a photo with Kanye West.

Louis Weisberg contributed to this story.

Sixty years of Milwaukee movie censorship

Continue reading Sixty years of Milwaukee movie censorship

Trump tweets anti-Semitic image taken from neo-Nazi message board

[UPDATE] Mic News reported that the anti-Semitic image Trump tweeted of Hillary Clinton was taken from a neo-Nazi message board. According to Mic News, the site said the image appeared on an entry posted around June 22, more than a week before Trump’s team tweeted it yesterday.

The image, which pictured Hillary Clinton’s face against a backdrop of $100 bills next to a Star of David containing the words “most corrupt candidate ever,” was first tweeted by the Trump campaign yesterday morning. Yesterday was also notable in anti-Semitic history due to the death of the world’s most famous living Holocaust survivor.

Marc Lamont Hill, host of BET News and a CNN commentator, called Trump’s tweet “textbook anti-Semitic imagery.” Many other commentators reached the same conclusion.

After critics condemned the image as a “dog-whistle” appeal to anti-Semites and racists, the Trump campaign replaced the Star of David with a circle. That move prompted Jewish-American civil rights activist Michael Skolnik to tweet, “First appease anti-Semitic white supremacists, then pretend it never happened.”

Trump’s tweet went out just hours before the death of Auschwitz concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel was confirmed. The celebrated Jewish author and philosopher was 87.

Wiesel spent his life ensuring the Holocaust would not be forgotten through his writings and teachings. His autobiographical 1960 book Night became one of the 20th century’s most influential literary works. In it, Wiesel described the horrors of life in Nazi death camps and how his experiences led him to doubt God and question his own survival.

Weisel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The Nobel citation called Wiesel called him “a messenger to mankind.”

“His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief,” the Nobel Committee wrote.

Wiesel’s death will probably bring more attention to Trump’s tweet today and lead to renewed wariness of his perceived bigotry. The presumptive presidential nominee has attracted neo-Nazi groups and Ku Klux Klan followers with his condemnation of Mexicans and Muslims.

After he received the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke earlier this year, Trump declined to repudiate the endorsement, saying that he would need to learn more about Duke first.

“The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes in, we believe in. We want our country to be safe,” the Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan told a Richmond, Virginia, news station in late April.

Neo-Nazis have also expressed their support for Trump. Leaders of that movement have said they plan to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to protect Trump from protesters.

In a podcast last August, Stormfront radio co-host Don Advo expressed his admiration for Trump. He said Trump’s foes are “living on the pieces of silver that they get from their Jewish paymasters so that they can preside over our extermination, our disposition, and our ultimate disappearance from the face of the Earth,” Buzzfeed reported.

Stormfront is a white supremacist, neo-Nazi Internet forum that’s considered the Web’s oldest major racial hate site.

 

Activists plan protest to counter KKK rally in North Carolina

The Ku Klux Klan is planning an anti-immigration rally in the small town of Welcome, North Carolina, on Aug. 9. And civil rights advocates are planning to counter the hate group with a demonstration of their own.

The coalition planning the counter-protest includes GetEqual North Carolina, an LGBT group, and El Cambio, an immigrant rights group.

A statement from Get Equal said the organizers want to make clear that it is the Klan that isn’t welcome in Welcome, North Carolina.

The counter-protest is called “Hatred Not Welcome Here” and it will begin with a speak-out focusing on the impact of racism, homophobia and violence in North Carolina communities.

A statement from the groups said, “As immigrants and LGBT people, we have always valued the safety and survival of our communities. The Ku Klux Klan has been inciting terror toward oppressed groups in this country for over a century, and now they are turning their attention toward undocumented Americans, condoning physical violence and separation of families. Now is the time for our communities to join together to send a clear message that their hatred is not welcome in North Carolina. This rally is our community’s statement that we will no longer fall victim to hatred and violence — we are standing together to protect ourselves and our families, and to work to end hatred and discrimination whenever and wherever it arises.”

“To me, this action means a lot — we are letting the KKK and the town of Welcome know that we are all immigrants,” said Maura Pereira, 19, one of the organizers of the counter-protest. “Those who are coming to the U.S. are not here to steal our jobs but to be a part of America — a place where you can participate in the American dream and be treated with respect. Our truly welcoming community is strong, and we won’t allow any human to be treated inhumanely simply because of their immigration status.”

“I am angered and disappointed that groups like this still exist in our community,” Luis Aguilera, 20, lead organizer for GetEQUAL North Carolina, said of the KKK. “It feels like sometimes we are taking two steps forward and three steps back. We must defend ourselves and our community from living in fear of the hatred and intolerance being spewed out by groups like the KKK, and this counter-protest is a way of ensuring that we will bear witness to the love and inclusiveness of our community. We will not let fear overtake our lives or our communities.”

KKK calls for shooting children at border

The leader of a U.S. hate group says he wants to see corpses at the southern border as a way of protecting the United States from children seeking refuge in the United States.

Robert Jones, described as the Imperial Wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, gave an interview to Al Jazeera America dressed in his KKK robes on the subject of immigrant children threatening the “white homeland.”

Jones, in the interview that caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the president had “sold out the American people.”

He also said, “If we can’t turn them back, I think if we pop a couple of them off and leave their corpses laying at the border maybe they’ll see we’re serious about stopping immigration.”

Jones claimed that African-Americans in the United States are “waking up to this illegal immigration problem” and “agreeing with the Klan.”

SPLC, meanwhile, reported that right-wing militia members armed with assault rifles are again on border patrols.

News of police KKK ties stuns residents of Florida town

Residents of the small town of Fruitland Park, Florida have been stunned by an investigative report linking two city police officers with the Ku Klux Klan, the secret hate society that once was violently active in the area.

The violence against African-Americans that permeated the area was more than 60 years ago, when the place was more rural and the main industry was citrus. These days, the community of less than 5,000 residents northwest of Orlando has been infused by the thousands of wealthier, more cosmopolitan retirees in the area. Those who live in the bedroom community, which is less than 10 percent black, have reacted not only with shock, but disgust that officers could be involved with the Klan, the mayor said.

“I’m shocked, very shocked,” said Chery Mion, who works in a Fruitland Park gift shop next door to the mayor’s office. “I didn’t think that organization was still around. Yes, in the 1950s. But this 2014, and it’s rather disconcerting to know.”

Mayor Chris Bell says he heard stories about a Klan rally that took place two years before he arrived in the 1970s, but he has never seen anything firsthand. As recently as the 1960s, many in law enforcement in the South were members but “it’s exceedingly unusual these days to find a police officer who is secretly a Klansman,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.

But five years ago, Ann Hunnewell and her Florida police officer husband knelt in the living room of a fellow officer’s home, with pillowcases as makeshift hoods over their heads. A few words were spoken and they, along with a half-dozen others, were initiated into the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, she says.

Ann Hunnewell’s ex-husband, George Hunnewell, was fired, and deputy chief David Borst resigned from the 13-member Fruitland Park Police Department. Borst has denied being a member.

James Elkins, a third officer who Ann Hunnewell says recruited her and her husband, resigned in 2010 after his Klan ties became public.

While the Klan used to be politically powerful in the 1920s, when governors and U.S. senators were among its 4 million members, nowadays it is much less active than other sectors of the radical right and has less than 5,000 members nationwide, Potok said.

“The radical right is quite large and vigorous. The Klan is very small,” he said. “The radical right looks down on the Klan.”

Fruitland Park, though, has been dealing with alleged KKK ties and other problems in the police ranks since 2010, when Elkins resigned after his estranged wife made his membership public.

Last week, residents were told Borst and the Hunnewells had been members of the United Northern and Southern Knights Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, though its presence in their town wasn’t noticeable.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent the police chief a report linking the officers to the Klan based on information from the FBI. Both men didn’t return repeated phone messages to their homes, but Borst told the Orlando Sentinel he has never been a Klan member.

Ann Hunnewell — who was a police department secretary until 2010 — told Florida investigators that former Police Chief J.M. Isom asked her and her ex-husband to join the KKK in 2008, trying to learn if Elkins was a member. Isom, though, shortly after Elkins resigned, also quit after he was accused of getting incentive pay for earning bogus university degrees.

Police Chief Terry Isaacs said he took a sworn oath from Isom, who called Ann Hunnewell’s account a lie, and that there was no record of such an undercover investigation.

The disclosure of the officers’ Klan ties harkened back to the 1940s and 1950s when hate crimes against blacks were common. That era was chronicled in the 2012 book “Devil in the Grove.” Then-Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot two of four black men, dubbed the “Groveland Four,” who were dubiously charged with raping a white woman.

“Things have improved, of course,” said Sannye Jones, a local NAACP official who moved to Lake County in the 1960s. “But racism still exists, just not in the same way. People are not as open and not as blatant.”

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White supremacist held in killings at Jewish sites near Kansas City

A well-known white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader accused of killing three people Sunday in attacks at a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement complex near Kansas City was once the subject of a nationwide manhunt, The Associated Press reported.

Frazier Glenn Cross, of Aurora, Mo., was booked into Johnson County jail on a preliminary charge of first-degree murder after the attacks in Overland Park.

An official at the Olathe jail, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the case, identified the suspect as 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Cross, of Aurora, Mo.

According to police, the attacks happened within minutes of one another. At around 1 p.m. a gunman shot two people in the parking lot behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. He then drove a few blocks away to a Jewish retirement community, Village Shalom, and gunned down a woman or girl there, Overland Park police Chief John Douglass said at a news conference. Officers arrested him in an elementary school parking lot a short time later.

Police said the attacks at both sites happened outside, and that the gunman never entered any buildings. Douglass said the gunman also shot at two other people during the attacks, but missed.

Authorities declined to release the victims’ names pending notification of their relatives, and the identity of the person shot at the retirement community was still unknown early Monday. However, the family of the first two victims put out a statement identifying them as Dr. William Lewis Corporon, who died at the scene, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, who died at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.

They were both Christian, and the family thanked members of their church congregation, among other people, for their support.

Rebecca Sturtevant, a hospital spokeswoman, said family members told her Corporon had taken his grandson to the community center so that the boy could try out for a singing competition for high school students. Reat was a freshman at Blue Valley High School and an Eagle Scout.

Douglass said the suspect made several statements to police, “but it’s too early to tell you what he may or may not have said.” He also said it was too early in the investigation to determine whether there was an anti-Semitic motive for the attacks or whether they will be investigated as hate crimes. The Jewish festival of Passover begins Monday.

“We are investigating it as a hate crime. We’re investigating it as a criminal act. We haven’t ruled out anything. … Again, we’re three hours into it,” he said.

Although the suspect was booked under the last name Cross, he is probably better known as Frazier Glenn Miller. A public records search shows he has used both names, but he refers to himself on his website as Glenn Miller and went by the name Frazier Glenn Miller in 2006 and 2010 campaigns for public office.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said it reached Miller’s wife, Marge, by phone and that she said authorities had been to their home and told her that her husband had been arrested in Sunday’s attacks. Calls by The Associated Press to a number listed as Miller’s on his website were met by a busy signal or rang unanswered.

According to the law center, Miller has been involved in the white supremacist movement for most of his life. He founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was its “grand dragon” in the 1980s. The Army veteran and retired truck driver later founded another white supremacist group, the White Patriot Party, the center said.

Miller was the subject of a nationwide manhunt in 1987 for violating the terms of his bond while appealing a North Carolina conviction for operating a paramilitary camp. The search ended after federal agents found Miller and three other men in an Ozark mobile home, which was filled with hand grenades, automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Miller tried running for U.S. House in 2006 and the U.S. Senate in 2010, espousing a white power platform each time.

Michael Siegal, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in an emailed statement that “no community should have to face a moment such as this one.”

“Today, on the eve of Pesach, we are left to contemplate how we must continue our work building a world in which all people are free to live their lives without the threat of terror,” he said.

Associated Press writer Tim Jacobs in Chicago contributed to this report.

Bob Dylan faces insult charge in France after comparing Croatians to Nazis, KKK

French authorities have filed preliminary charges against Bob Dylan over a 2012 interview in which he is quoted comparing Croatians to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

The charges of “public insult and inciting hate” were filed against the musician in mid-November, Paris prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said on Dec. 3.

They stem from a lawsuit by a Croatian community group in France over remarks in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in September 2012.

Speaking about race relations in the United States, Dylan was quoted as saying: “If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

A lawyer for the Croatian group, Ivan Jurasinovic, said it is not seeking monetary damages but wants Dylan, “a singer who is liked and respected in Croatia, to present an apology to the Croatian people.”

He said the Croatian community in France was upset by the remarks, but said he did not know why Croatians in Croatia or the United States, where Rolling Stone is based, have not filed similar suits. France, home to about 30,000 Croatians, has strict laws punishing hate speech and racist remarks.

Representatives for Dylan, who performs in France regularly, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The charges were filed two days before Dylan received a French government honor at the Culture Ministry Nov. 13 but were not publicly confirmed until this week.

In other news, on Dec. 1, a majority of Croatians voted in a referendum to ban gay marriages in what is a major victory for the Catholic Church-backed conservatives in the European Union’s newest nation.

The state electoral commission, citing near complete results, said 65 percent of those who voted answered “yes” to the referendum question: “Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?” About 34 percent voted against.

The result meant that Croatia’s constitution will be amended to ban same-sex marriage.