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BuzzFeed, Find Your New Favorite Thing
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    Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted away from the Berkeley campus last month.

    Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images

    A new generation of Republicans is being raised on the terms of a debate set by Milo Yiannopoulos.

    Here’s how it’s happened the last few years: Some campus group, often a College Republican organization, will invite the right-wing provocateur — known by his first name and for his racist stunts and social media trolling — to campus. Offended classmates will plan protests. Wary administrators, citing security concerns, will roll out the red tape. And Milo will become a rallying cause for young conservatives eager to paint their liberal counterparts as free-speech hypocrites.

    The popularity of Milo and others like him in this regard is the manifestation of years of frustration uncorked by students almost always in the minority among their peers. Their rebellion coincides with a national GOP uprising led by President Donald Trump, and with a moment in US politics when even grown-up Republicans define winning by their ability to antagonize the other side.

    The fight against politically correct campus culture has energized College Republicans like never before, many activists told BuzzFeed News. But the energy is not always positive. Where Milo and other far-right figures go, the threat of dangerous confrontations is likely to follow. (One protester was shot earlier this year during the demonstrations surrounding Milo’s visit to the University of Washington.)

    There also are unavoidable questions about what happens when an emerging crop of Republican leaders is focused on the free speech issue above all else, and whether these organizations can end up, intentionally or not, harboring outright racists.

    Notably, some of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer turned out to be…College Republicans.

    One participant has since resigned his post as president of the Washington State University chapter. Another attendee, photographed among the torch-wielding mob, brought unwelcome publicity to the chapter at the University of Nevada, Reno, where months earlier he was photographed with club members and Sen. Dean Heller.

    “Our current College Republican chapter has kind of gone into hiding because of these last one-and-a-half months,” said Miranda Hoover, chairwoman of the Nevada Young Republicans and former president of the College Republicans at UNR.

    After Charlottesville, one UNR student wearing a College Republicans shirt was heckled as she walked to class, Hoover said. Now other members don’t want to wear their shirts. “It’s just been really bad,” she added.

    At Washington State, the new College Republicans president is trying to distance the organization from his predecessor: “Nothing that he did, alleged or otherwise, was as a representative of the club,” said Amir Rezamand. “Anything he does on his private time is him as a citizen.”

    But not everyone is in hiding or on the defensive. On many campuses, there remains an appetite for an in-your-face free-speech fight, one that stems from years of feeling like outcasts in institutions filled with liberal administrators, liberal professors, and liberal classmates.

    “Over my four-year tenure, I did see that it got worse,” said Alex Smith, who this year finished a stint as head of the College Republican National Committee. “College Republicans and other conservative groups have always faced what I call an institutional bias on campus.”

    “It was almost comical,” Smith added. “Whenever there was any gathering of College Republican leaders, you could count on a good administration-screwed-me-over story.”

    No one can pinpoint when, precisely, this became a defining issue for College Republicans. Over the last five years, debates over language — the words we use to describe identity and politics, who can use those words, what should be a fireable offense — have dominated college campuses and the ever-accelerated social conversation. There are some sharp generational divides about free speech, and particularly around the concept of physical space: Should a university host a certain kind of speaker? As that dynamic has become more prevalent, more and more college conservatives have reacted strongly.

    Smith’s successor at the CRNC, Chandler Thornton, for instance, attributes the shifting dynamics to “the rise of trigger warnings and safe spaces” — two relatively recent watchwords. “Those words were not really used in the last 10 years before, to my knowledge,” Thornton said.

    Into this charged situation came Milo, a colorful character with Breitbart credentials and shock value, an openly gay avatar of the alt-right who frequently uses that aspect of his identity as a cudgel to say whatever he wants.

    And Milo has been complicated for a long time. Twitter permanently suspended him more than a year ago after he helped lead a harassment campaign against Saturday Night Live and Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, who is black. He came to internet prominence through Gamergate, and has written fairly extensively about the alt-right. Pushback against Milo, for example, has intensified over the last year, especially after he appeared to condone pedophilia.

    A report published Thursday — based on emails and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News — detailed the close ties and communication Milo has kept with alt-right figures. The story featured a previously unreleased video of Milo performing “America the Beautiful” at a karaoke bar as a crowd that included white nationalist Richard Spencer raised their arms in Nazi salutes. The story also notes emails that make mention of Milo passwords that were apparent allusions to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

    None of that has really stopped his popularity as a speaker, at least not yet. His Dangerous Faggot Tour has led to dozens of invitations, usually from College Republican groups. Last fall, students at Florida State University even favored Milo over Trump when voting on who their guest speaker should be.

    "It was overwhelming, people really wanted to hear Milo," the FSU College Republicans president told the student newspaper at the time. "Milo has a lot of popularity, not necessarily because people 100% agree with him, but over the last couple of years we've been trying to get behind the idea of free speech."

    The idea for a prospective college hosting a speaker like him: There’s the promise of scandal, there’s some built-in mystery about what Milo’s really about, there’s the lofty idea that it’s technically in service of free speech, and then there’s the reality that, frankly, Yiannopoulos is more relevant for a campus Republican than a think tank fellow or a Reagan appointee. He’s interested in the battles on campus — feminism, political correctness, social justice — that are more salient than, say, entitlement reform.

    “I think that one of the most appealing things about him is ... he speaks like people in the 18-to-25 age range speak,” said Rezamand, the College Republican leader at Washington State, where in January a Milo speech was canceled due to bad weather. “I’ve heard many, many very well-regarded conservative speakers and libertarian speakers that are pretty much universally respected, and I love it. I live for this type of thing. But for your average slightly right-leaning guy, maybe he’s interesting for an hour, he’s interesting for the first time. Someone like Milo is such a charismatic figure and such a well-spoken and entertaining figure.”

    (Rezamand, who made those comments before the Thursday story by BuzzFeed News, declined to comment on the record Friday when asked if the report changed his thinking.)

    Others see Milo more as an imperfect messenger for a righteous cause.

    “Candidly, I never found Milo to be helpful,” said Smith, the former CRNC chief. “What I will say, though, is I think the appeal to some of these College Republicans is that he was just a giant middle finger to the kind of escalating illiberal attitudes that were pervading campuses.”

    These fights aren’t new obviously: The 1960s saw an explosion of campus activism and clashes, sometimes violent, from the free speech movement in California and anti-Vietnam War activism to a significant outpouring of conservative energy following Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign. All of that significantly affected politics in both parties for decades. Fifty or so years later, with campus battles ebbing and flowing in the interim, Trump’s win last year has only escalated the tension of recent years.

    And while Republicans actually control everything in Washington and have long dominated statehouses across the country, the college campus is one of the few domains they haven’t conquered, a political reality that motivates young conservatives and liberals alike.

    “The left is no longer in power, and they’re reacting,” said Niraj Antani, a former Ohio State University College Republicans leader who, at 26, is the youngest state lawmaker in Ohio. “They’re reacting in places where they’re in power — on college campuses.”

    A police officer stands behind a barricade at the University of Utah, where conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke last month following massive protests when he spoke at the University of California.

    George Frey / Getty Images

    Cancellations seem to be just as common as invitations these days, though. Trump joined the fray in February, suggesting on Twitter that federal funds be withheld from the University of California, Berkeley, after officials there nixed a Milo event because of violent protests. “I mean, shoot,” said Alex Guerrero, treasurer of the University of Washington College Republicans, “after Trump got elected, it seemed like every week there was protesting that Republicans are racists.”

    Michael Moroz, codirector of the editorial board for the University of Pennsylvania College Republicans, sees a connection between university officials taking public stances against Trump’s policies — such as hardline immigration positions — and university officials throwing up roadblocks to conservative speakers on campus. Even if not everyone in the College Republicans loves Trump (and on this point, many of the Republicans who spoke with BuzzFeed News repeated the same mantra about a diversity of opinions), the perception that everything is one way gets the College Republicans up in arms.

    “As long as the university is trying to create a monopoly on ideology on campus, you’re going to have speaker shutdowns,” Moroz said. “You’re going to have a trend against free speech. It’s simply inevitable.”

    Others, like Paul-Anthony Cuesta of the New York Federation of College Republicans, report a tougher time receiving budget approval for things such as trips to CPAC, the huge annual gathering of conservative activists.

    And it's obviously not only Milo who is drawing protests. A recent speech at Berkeley by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro — hardly a provocateur in Milo’s mold — turned into a scene.

    Rick Santorum, the conservative former senator and two-time presidential candidate, “was shouted down the whole time” during a speech at Cornell University after last year’s election, said Olivia Corn, then-president of the College Republicans chapter there. “I was screamed at when I tried to introduce him.” (Corn found Santorum preferable to Milo: “I don’t think he really provides valuable commentary.”)

    Gavin McInnes — the Vice Media cofounder and self-styled anti-feminist, or “proud boy,” as he calls those that hold his views — caused an uproar during his February visit with College Republicans at New York University. Eleven people were arrested as a result of protests and clashes outside an NYU building upon his arrival. McInnes was drowned out by student protests during his talk and called an administrator a “dumb liberal asshole” before leaving early.

    Some College Republican leaders say it’s time to shift their priorities.

    Elena Hatib, president of the NYU chapter, said the club has decided to change its invitee selection in favor of less incendiary personalities. “I think going forward,” Hatib said, “we’re going to focus on free speech, but I want speakers who — instead of being provocateurs, instead of speakers who just want to put on a show, we’d rather have speakers of substance.”

    Guerrero, whose University of Washington organization has hosted Milo, has a similar goal. He said he would like to bring “more relaxed” or “conventional” speakers to campus. He mentioned Jordan Peterson, the conservative Canadian academic, as one possibility.

    “Last year was sort of the coming out moment,” Guerrero added. “Kind of like, ‘Hey, Republicans exist on this campus, too, and we deserve a right to bring in our speakers.’ So this year is more of the year where we’re like, ‘Hey, conservatives are here to stay’ and we’re sort of, like, normalizing conservative culture on campus.”

    But Milo remains in demand: He has a Halloween event scheduled at Cal State Fullerton and had been scheduled to speak two days before that at San Diego State University, but College Republicans there say administrators canceled the event, citing extensive security demands.

    If senior Republicans are worried about what Milo's prominence means for their party’s future or have any advice for their juniors, they’re not sharing these thoughts publicly. BuzzFeed News reached out to more than a dozen GOP officeholders, operatives, and activists. The list included prominent former College Republicans (tax-reform advocate Grover Norquist, strategist Karl Rove, and House Speaker Paul Ryan); Trump critics (Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse); and officials with the Republican National Committee. Nearly all declined to comment or did not respond to requests. And in the case of the RNC, a spokesperson showed interest before suggesting interviews with two College Republican leaders.

    Ed Brookover, a GOP strategist who worked on Ben Carson’s presidential campaign last year and was an Otterbein College Republican leader in the 1970s, was a rare exception.

    “I don’t think so,” Brookover said when asked if party leaders should be concerned about the influence Milo might have on young Republicans. “I think that most folks make their own decisions on their own sets of issues. This has not led either party or side into a rabbit hole.”

    Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, believes the alt-right has had minimal impact on young conservatives.

    “I think the appeal is just the outrageousness and having the right sort of enemies,” Lowry said. “It’s just sort of a way to poke a stick in the eye of the other side and maybe generate some publicity for him and for your club. That’s not a very elevated rationale.”

    Lowry believes College Republicans should seek to host more informative, sober individuals rather than entertaining provocateurs who happen to lean right. “If you want to make a point about free speech,” he said, “you don’t need to go the route of just being outrageous for outrageousness’ sake.”

    But to many, making a point is the point.

    “If our audience shows a hunger for Gavin McInnes or a hunger for Milo Yiannopoulos, then I will make an honest effort to bring them,” Washington State’s Rezamand said.

    “That is the hill that we die on.” ●

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    Pence in Las Vegas last week

    Ethan Miller / Getty Images

    US Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett doesn’t believe it's essential to the US Virgin Islands recovery efforts that Donald Trump visit the island territory devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

    Plaskett a week ago, amid a crisis of a lack of media and attention on the extensive damage of her territory, expressed alarm that the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s had warranted a visit from President Trump, but that the US Virgin Islands seemed like an apparent afterthought. She made her concerns known in an national appearance with MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid.

    Trump tweeted that he "will hopefully be able to stop at the U.S. Virgin Islands" but never made the trip. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Plaskett said she was able to impart her concern about the American territory's recovery to someone else close to Trump with whom she had been quite impressed: Vice President Mike Pence.

    Plaskett’s satisfaction with Pence’s visit comes just days after Trump visited San Juan, accenting his arrival by flicking several packages of paper towels into an audience of onlookers as if shooting a basketball at a hoop.

    She said a solemn Pence visited a small white church that had had two sections of its roof blown off, leaving water and debris all over the floor.

    “It has been heartbreaking to see the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria on the Virgin Islands,” the vice president said before his wife offered residents comfort from the book of Colossians.

    In addition to attending a briefing on the recovery effort, the Pences also visited a shelter and participated in a helicopter tour to survey the damage on all three of the US Virgin Islands.

    “I think you can tell when someone is putting on a show, but I believe the conversations [the Pences] had with people, young people, the workers, the volunteers were genuine,” Plaskett told BuzzFeed News in an extended interview about the federal government’s response and the recovery effort. “I think that is something that comes across from them. I think because he's been a governor he understands the human element of supporting people and understanding the day-to-day lives of people who have elected you. And I think that moves him and motivates him and that was clearly evident.”

    Plaskett said her constituents are part of the “American experience” and take their role as Americans seriously. To have a sitting US president visit the US Virgin Islands would be “very gratifying” to residents, she said — and indeed a signal that their calls for relief and assistance from the federal government are being taken seriously.

    “But is it necessary for us to move on in terms of our rebuilding?” Plaskett said. “I don't think so.”

    Plaskett said she told Pence and his staff that the federal government has an opportunity help overhaul the island’s infrastructure, while there have been struggles with the federal government’s initial response. “When I have had conversations with officials from FEMA going into and talking to people in neighborhoods, we're seeing the issues people are having getting supplies, and getting support in a timely fashion," said Plaskett.

    “There were challenges that the federal government had that I don't think we were ready for.”

    Plaskett said federal workers were used to providing temporary roofing to homes that were partially destructed but weren't used to providing that type of assistance to people whose roofs had been totally ripped off.

    “This is a test for the people of the Virgin Islands as a whole,” said Plaskett. “And it's also a test for the United States and the African diaspora to get engaged to ensure that we're not forgotten in that rebuilding.”

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    Ahn Young-joon / AP

    President Trump would like you to believe he’s about to score his first major legislative victory by passing tax reform before the year ends. He'll then pass a bipartisan deal to protect DREAMers, convince Democrats to help repeal Obamacare, all while decertifying the Iran deal and playing good cop-bad cop with American diplomacy toward North Korea.

    But the actual reality — and severity of the situation — is becoming clear: one where the president blasts an influential senator he'll need on tax reform and is criticized in turn in sharply personal terms; presents fantasy immigration principles that are dead on arrival in Congress; and where the president is limited to engaging in stunts, most recently sending his vice president on a $250,000 taxpayer-funded mission to an NFL game, which he promptly left in supposed indignation because some players wouldn't stand for the national anthem. All of this is taking place as Americans and world leaders worry that Trump could set off North Korea's unstable leader with tweets calling him "little rocket man," along with a suggestion that the only option may be war.

    This is the Trump alternate reality show, one that seems to be getting more outlandish and unbelievable, as the White House inches toward all-out war with a GOP-controlled Congress.

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    The clash between realities played out during a call White House adviser Stephen Miller held Sunday night with immigration hardliners and Trump surrogates to walk them through the administration’s new immigration principles, which would drastically alter the US immigration system in exchange for offering some protections for young undocumented immigrants. Miller, a source on the call said, did his best General Patton impression, imploring his brothers in arms to push forward because “we will not be deterred.”

    No one on the call even brought up the possibility that the hardline wish list, which includes curbs to legal immigration, would have difficulty passing through Congress.

    “People were very happy, it was, ‘How do we sell this? How do we get this done?’” the source on the call said. “They think they can get everything.”

    That thought process seems out of line with the actual reality in Washington. Congressional Democratic leaders, who had gleefully announced the broad parameters of a deal with Trump on protecting DREAMers from deportation last month, immediately condemned the new proposal, which seemed to discard what they had discussed. And a source close to the administration said the framework was Miller’s “aggressive wish list that is clearly not going to happen.”

    Strains between the world as Trump presents it and the world Republicans in Washington are experiencing also came into focus Sunday, when Sen. Bob Corker responded to criticism from Trump on Twitter by calling the White House an “adult day care center.” The Tennessee Republican followed up that comment during an interview with the New York Times, saying he wasn’t alone in his comprehension of the situation. “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said his colleagues.

    Corker also pricked Trump's version of events around why the senator decided not to run for reelection. "I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true," Corker said. "You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does."

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    Several congressional Republicans — who were out of Washington Monday for the Columbus Day holiday — declined to comment on their relationship with the president or did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ requests for an interview. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended Corker to the Associated Press Monday, calling him an “important part of our team.” McConnell did not mention the president. And in a statement to BuzzFeed News, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman praised Corker for his “unwavering integrity” and stressed the need for Republicans to come together: “If we’re going to accomplish our economic and national security agenda we’re going to have to work together, period.”

    Trump spent at least some of his holiday working another Republican senator: He golfed with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, where according to the White House the two went over the administration’s “very aggressive fall agenda,” including on tax reform and health care.

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    But concerns about the deepening rift with congressional Republicans — and Trump’s version of his presidency — are now front and center, even for the president’s supporters.

    "I’m insanely concerned, to be honest,” said a source close to the administration, nearly mimicking words Corker used in his interview with the Times. “I'm somewhat pessimistic on tax reform because the clock is ticking," the source said, adding that while the lion's share of blame is on "selfish, entitled" Senate Republicans, Trump hasn't done himself any favors by openly feuding with Corker. "I don’t know why the president felt the need to poke him at this juncture, it’s going to be a tightrope to get this done. The optics have to look like we can get something through legislatively, eventually."

    Another source close to the administration said that Trump’s Twitter war with Corker is not “the way to influence or make friends.” But the president doesn’t want Republicans to take him for granted, the source said, adding that has become more evident in his recent willingness to chat with Democratic leaders.

    White House aides, the source said, are getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of any legislative accomplishments in Trump’s first year, but are trying to focus their energies and faint optimism on tax reform. Republicans unveiled a framework for tax reform last month, and while there is agreement on broad principles, the details will be tricky to hammer out. Corker, for example, along with other GOP lawmakers, has already raised concerns about the proposed overhaul adding to the deficit. And Trump targeting the Tennessee senator on Twitter won’t help in getting him on board.

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    But top administration officials are working to push Trump’s vision. In recent weeks, officials have been assuring major Republican donors that tax reform will be easier than the health care debacle, as money to the National Republican Senatorial Committee dries up. “Hope springs eternal,” said one such donor who has been briefed by White House aides. “The pressure on lawmakers to pass something is huge.”

    Jack Kingston, a former congressman and Trump surrogate on CNN, said lawmakers should compartmentalize any attacks on them from the president and not see criticism as an indictment of the US Senate itself. He did, though, acknowledge that the administration is upset with congressional Republicans.

    “There is general White House frustration with a body that said for seven years it would repeal Obamacare and hasn’t done it, and general frustration that with a very rare opportunity — maybe once in a decade, where you control the House, Senate, and White House — our own party is involved in a circular firing squad,” Kingston said.

    The firing squad only stands to get more intense once midterms get closer, and Trump and his allies have the opportunity to primary disfavored Republican incumbents, like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. A national GOP strategist said the president’s feud with Congress hasn’t had as much of an impact yet on specific races, but if it continues to translate to lack of legislative accomplishments, it will. “To me this is all part of the Trump show and less to do with what’s going to happen with these campaigns on the ground,” the strategist said.

    “It sucks right now. They need to get something done.”

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    For now, that something may just be relegated to stunts, like Vice President Mike Pence’s ordered exit from this weekend’s Indianapolis Colts game. While some Trump supporters roll their eyes at the president’s belittling of Corker, they said they had no problem with his war with the NFL, which has conflated players kneeling over racial inequality in America with being anti-American and anti-military, and they don’t feel the focus on the fight takes away from his legislative agenda.

    “That’s actually picking the right type of enemy,” said a source close to the administration, calling NFL players “smug, entitled millionaires,” before noting that would fit for any professional athletes in any major sports league.

    “It’s an important fight when you have boots on the ground in hostile places, troops getting killed, and these millionaires are taking a knee,” Kingston said.

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    But Democrats say the battle over players kneeling in the NFL is a distraction from the fact that Republicans run every chamber of government and can’t get anything done legislatively.

    “The NFL fight is popular with part of Trump’s base, but as we get closer to the 2018 elections Republicans are going to have to answer for their inability to deliver for their constituents,” said Symone Sanders, a strategist for Priorities USA and CNN commentator. “What the Trump White House is orchestrating and concocting with Trump tweets, Pence at the game, Melania’s fight with Trump’s ex, and the NFL, none of these things make life better for the American people.”

    @realDonaldTrump / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

    Henry J. Gomez contributed reporting to this story.

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    Jemele Hill earlier this summer

    Leon Bennett / Getty Images

    The organizers of the Women's March called ESPN's suspension of Jemele Hill the silencing of a black woman speaking out against systemic oppression in America and "proof of how deeply entrenched racism is within our institutions."

    ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks on Monday, saying that she had violated the company's social media guidelines.

    Hill had tweeted that if fans didn't like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' decision to bench players that kneel during the national anthem, they should boycott team advertisers. "If you feel strongly, about [Jones'] statement, boycott his advertisers," she tweeted.

    Hill later clarified her comments, saying that she was not calling for a boycott.

    The Women's March organized one of the largest protests in history beginning in January, a day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump; since then, the organizers have also protested the perceived blacklisting of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

    "The suspension of Jemele Hill is a despicable attempt to silence a Black woman speaking out against systematic oppression in this country," the organizers wrote in a statement.

    Hill has become a flash point this fall: Some critics say she should have been punished for calling the president a white nationalist, or that there should be no surprise ESPN objected to tweets about NFL advertisers. Her defenders, many with sizable Twitter followings, have expressed frustration with ESPN's sensitivity over the NFL, contend that the network doesn't really get the reality of including black voices, and say that Hill should be allowed to have her voice heard without fear of punishment — especially given that she's the host of an opinion program and paid to give an opinion.

    To that end, the Women's March strongly characterized how they believed ESPN's actions should be interpreted Monday: "This suspension is proof of how deeply entrenched racism is within our institutions."

    The statement continued, "Jemele’s comments to encourage consumers to let advertisers know how they feel, reflect the feelings of many of us. Millions of Americans understand the importance of protecting our first amendment right to free speech and of using this sacred right to express legitimate fear about the current climate of racism and bigotry."

    In a statement, ESPN addressed its decision to suspend Hill by alluding to a piece she wrote for one of ESPN's properties focusing on the black experience in America. "Since my tweets criticizing President Donald Trump exploded into a national story," she wrote in that piece, "the most difficult part for me has been watching ESPN become a punching bag and seeing a dumb narrative kept alive about the company’s political leanings."

    ESPN's statement appeared to reference that piece: "She previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet. In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision."

    Women's March organizers are finalizing plans for its first convention, to be held in Hill's hometown of Detroit.

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    Clinton and Weinstein in 2012.

    Larry Busacca / Getty Images

    In a statement released five days after news broke about sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the film producer and one of her longtime donors and fundraisers, Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she was "shocked and appalled by the revelations."

    "The behavior described by women coming forward cannot be tolerated. Their courage and the support of others is critical in helping to stop this kind of behavior," read the statement, released in a tweet by press secretary Nick Merrill.

    Last Thursday, a New York Times report detailed multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein. On Sunday, he was fired from the company he cofounded, the Weinstein Company. By Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Merrill's tweet, new investigations in the New Yorker and New York Times related more stories of more unwanted advances, including forced oral and vaginal intercourse.

    Democrats in the US Senate rushed last week to condemn Weinstein and donate any contributions received from the movie executive to charities.

    The Clintons, who have taken thousands of dollars from Weinstein since at least the 1990s, including more than $35,000 in last year's presidential campaign, have made no such commitment — nor has former president Barack Obama, who also benefited from Weinstein's fundraising and donations.

    Asked about donating the 2016 campaign contributions, Hillary Clinton's vice presidential running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, told CNN on Tuesday, "The campaign is over."

    Obama has yet to speak about the allegations against Weinstein.

    LINK: Many Democrats Are Now Donating Harvey Weinstein's Campaign Contributions To Charity

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    Jemele Hill and Michael Smith earlier this year.

    Paras Griffin / Getty Images

    The leader of a group advocating for black sports journalists says he disagrees with ESPN’s decision to suspend Jemele Hill for two weeks.

    Sherrod Blakely, a Boston-based basketball writer and president of the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force, told BuzzFeed News in an email that he disagreed with ESPN’s decision to suspend Hill. He said that NABJ’s relationship with ESPN — the network is, for instance, listed as a partner to NABJ’s conference this year, and the network and organization cosponsor an internship — has no bearing on decisions as it relates to Hill.

    “How many people ESPN employs that are members of the NABJ Sports Task Force didn't play a factor in the positions I have taken in the past in relation to Ms. Hill or our other members, and that will not change,” Blakely said in the email to BuzzFeed News.

    NABJ President Sarah Glover did not respond to an email inquiry from BuzzFeed News regarding why NABJ hasn't commented publicly on Hill’s suspension.

    Black journalists in sports media are grappling with how to address Hill’s situation — that of a prominent journalist disciplined for sharing strong opinions on race, sports, and the sports industry. President Trump’s Tuesday morning declaration that Hill’s presence on ESPN is the reason why ESPN’s rankings are tanking, a source inside the organization said, has made other black journalists even madder than they were over Hill’s suspension.

    ESPN is one of, if not the, largest employers of black sports journalists. But Blakely signaled that the task force is prepared to deal strongly with ESPN should it come to that.

    “As far as advocating for Ms. Hill, I believe my track record speaks for itself,” wrote Blakely. “When Ms. Hill was being attacked on several fronts, including [from] the White House, the Sports Task Force was the only group who made it clear to all that she had our support which led to me quickly garnering the backing of the National NABJ board to support our position.”

    After Hill described Trump as a white supremacist, the task force along with NABJ commented on Hill’s standing as a well-respected veteran journalist and a consummate professional. “That withstanding, the National Association of Black Journalists supports Hill’s First Amendment rights on all matters of discussion, within and outside the world of sports, as they do not impinge on her duties as a host and commentator,” the NABJ statement said.

    Current ESPN employees declined to speak on the record about Hill or Trump. But privately, many black journalists have expressed dismay at the difficulty of providing sports coverage in the current climate when black athletes are under attack for protesting inequality, police brutality, and racism — all deeply personal issues animating the national conversation and the subtext of the current NFL season.

    Blakely’s statement is important; several journalists expressed anger at having no outlet for their frustrations because they weren’t authorized to speak about them publicly or on social media.

    NABJ had not yet given a public position on Hill’s suspension, leading some to speculate that they would not be weighing because Trump calling Hill out by name escalated the situation — or that the importance of ESPN would affect their willingness to do so.

    “Any media association that partners with NABJ knows one of our goals is to represent our membership,” said a former board member still close to the organization’s leadership. “I’m confident that our relationship history with ESPN will continue to evolve. I am sure Jemele would say she does not want to have any negative impact on the Mentor Breakfast that ESPN has sponsored for years because of what it does to help our young, aspiring journalists. But I know the Task Force leadership will address any concerns with the ESPN if the occasion arises.”

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    Via Twitter

    An organization that “supports the advancement and growth of women” in sports media is silent after one of its own, ESPN’s Jemele Hill, was disciplined for violations to the company’s social media policy and then targeted and personally attacked by the president of the United States.

    After an email inquiry about the national attention around Hill, to a generic organization email account, BuzzFeed News received an unsigned response: “AWSM has not released a statement on Jemele Hill.”

    Hill was warned by ESPN after tweeting that President Trump was a white supremacist, and this week was suspended for two weeks after suggesting that if fans wanting to make a statement to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should boycott advertisers because “change happens when advertisers are impacted.”

    She later stated that she was not, in fact, advocating for any sort of a boycott, but rather offering commentary. The suspension came immediately. AWSM’s Lydia Craver, the chair of the board of the organization and an ESPN employee did not immediately respond to an email from BuzzFeed News seeking comment.

    Referring to the email sent from the nameless account, Jenny Dial Creech, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, said, “Thanks for your email. I believe Meghan Montemurro got back to you yesterday.”

    AWSM has featured Hill prominently on its website and sent a press release saying that she and ESPN colleague Cari Champion was set to participate in its annual conference this spring. In the recent past, it has quickly responded, for instance, to the press conference of Carolina Panthers quarterback in which Cam Newton said it was “funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

    “AWSM is very discouraged by Cam Newton’s disrespectful remarks and actions directed to a female reporter during today’s Carolina Panthers press conference,” the organization said that day. “As a watchdog group, AWSM demands fair treatment and positive workplace environments for women working in sports media.”

    In the release about Hill and Champion taking part in the conference in Texas, AWSM noted that ESPN, a “platinum-level” sponsor and “longtime supporter of the organization and has more AWSM members than any sports media outlet.”

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    Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP

    Robert Pruett, 38, was executed Thursday night for the 1999 murder of a Texas corrections officer, Daniel Nagle, while Pruett was serving a life sentence for another crime.

    The US Supreme Court denied his last attempts to get the execution halted earlier Thursday.

    At the time of Nagle's murder, Pruett was serving a 99-year sentence after being convicted as a party to a murder committed by his father, when Pruett was 15-years-old. His father remains incarcerated for that crime.

    In December 1999, Nagle wrote a disciplinary charge against Pruett for trying to take his lunch to the recreation center in violating of prison rules.

    Later that day, Pruett stabbed Nagle eight times with a shank made of a metal rod while he was in his office, according to court documents. Nagle, 37, died of a heart attack from the trauma of multiple stab wounds, the autopsy report said.

    The state's theory was that Pruett murdered Nagle because he was upset about being reprimanded for carrying a sandwich into the recreation area. The only piece of evidence linking Pruett to the crime was torn up pieces of the disciplinary report Nagle wrote for Pruett that were found near his body.

    In his final statement before being put to death, Pruett said he was sorry for hurting so many people, the Associated Press reported.

    “I’ve had to learn lessons in life the hard way,” he said.

    After telling friends who were there to witness the execution that he loved them, he said: "I’m ready to go. Nighty night. I’m done, warden."

    In multiple state and federal appeals after his conviction in 2002, Pruett has steadfastly maintained his innocence in Nagle's murder. His lawyers have said there is a "complete lack" of physical evidence tying Pruett to the crime.

    They also say that Pruett was framed by others who had a "powerful motive" to want Nagle dead because Nagle was working on a grievance complaining, among other things, of corrupt officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's unit where he worked.

    At Pruett's trial, the only eyewitnesses to the crime who testified were inmate informants, whose "so-called snitch testimony is notoriously unreliable," Pruett's appeals state.

    In 2015, Pruett avoided execution after a trial judge granted his motion for DNA testing to be conducted on the metal rod that was used to stab Nagle. The DNA tests proved inconclusive, but a swab of the metal rod revealed DNA belonging to an unknown female, who was likely someone involved in the previous DNA testing of the rod, authorities said. His execution was rescheduled for October.

    In appeals since then, courts have denied his requests for additional DNA testing. In two separate appeals filed on Tuesday, Pruett's lawyers asked the US Supreme Court to stop his execution.

    The requests state that Texas courts have denied Pruett his due process and seeks additional DNA testing. One of the cases is seeking review of a decision from the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The other is an original petition at the Supreme Court, asking the court to rule on whether the Constitution "prohibit[s] a State from carrying out the execution of someone who is actually innocent" and, if so, how federal courts enforce that and what standards are used to do so. Texas opposes both requests.

    The court denied the requests on Thursday, shortly before the execution was scheduled to take place. Although the vote count for such requests is not made public, justices can note their disagreement with the court's decision. None did so on either of Pruett's requests on Thursday.

    Chris Geidner contributed to this report.

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    Craig Ruttle / AP

    Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon slammed Republican Senator Bob Corker for his public sledging of the Trump White House as "an adult daycare center," declaring him a "real piece of work" in a speech at a conservative summit on Saturday.

    "Bob Corker has trashed the Commander-in-chief of our Armed Forces, while we have young men and women in harm's way," said Bannon at the Values Voter summit, a highly conservative political convention in Washington, DC.

    Bannon, who returned to his role as executive chairman at Breitbart News after leaving the White House in August, declared it a "season of war" in the GOP.

    He argued repeatedly that it was particularly bad for someone to insult the president while the country has troops fighting in wars.

    "Some US senator in a position of that authority, for the first time in the history of our Republic, has mocked and ridiculed a commander-in-chief, and we have kids in the field," he said.

    Meghan McCain, daughter of Republican Sen. John McCain, tweeted "give me a break" after reading Bannon's comments.

    Trump has previously said of McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam: "He’s not a war hero...I like people that weren’t captured."

    Jake Tapper from CNN noted that it was definitely not the first time a US president had been mocked by a senator during wartime, noting that previous stories about senators mocking President Barack Obama ran on Bannon's own Breitbart.

    Bannon's most recent comments came after a week of tit-for-tat between the president and the Republican senator from Tennessee.

    Trump tweeted last Sunday that he refused to give Corker his endorsement for re-election (a claim Corker's camp denies) and that Corker "didn't have the guts to run!"

    Bannon added on Saturday that he thought Corker was scared because he knew voters wouldn't re-elect him.

    Last Sunday, Corker told the New York Times his concerns that Trump is leading the country "on the path to World War III."

    He added: "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

    Earlier on Sunday, Corker tweeted that "the White House has become an adult day care center"

    On Friday he told the Washington Post that Trump's comments about Rex Tillerson effectively "castrate" the Secretary of State.

    Bannon's speech on Saturday railed against the GOP establishment, calling it a "civil war inside the Republican party," and slammed those who didn't defend the president from Corker's comments, naming John Barrosso of Wyoming, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

    "Have I seen [John] Barrosso come to a stick and condemn that?" he asked.

    "Let me give a warning to you: no one can run and hide on this one. The days of taking a few nice conservative votes and hiding is over," declared Bannon.

    Bannon referenced an Associated Press story about his speech headlined "In war on GOP establishment, Bannon enlists his troops."

    “This is not my war. This is our war,” he declared.

    “You didn’t start it. The establishment started it. But I’ll tell you one thing: you all are going to finish it.”

    Bannon's speech focused heavily on his favored topics of populism and anti-globalism. But he also confidently declared Trump will win the next election comfortably.

    "President Trump is going to win with 400 electoral votes in 2020," predicted Bannon.

    He also referenced Trump's apparent personal wealth, but appeared to not know how much the president is worth.

    "Worth billions of dollars. I don't know if it's four, five, seven, eight, ten. At some point you've got to quit counting, right?" asked Bannon.

    Forbes estimates that as of February 2017, Trump, who has not released his tax returns, is worth $3.5 billion.

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    Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

    During a press conference at the White House on Monday, President Trump said he had not yet called the families of four US soldiers who died in an ambush attack in Niger almost two weeks ago because he wanted "a little time to pass."

    Trump also made a claim that previous presidents, including Barack Obama, didn't make calls to the families of soldiers who had died.

    "The traditional way if you look at president Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls," the president said in the White House Rose Garden.

    Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former aide to President Obama, called the claim "a fucking lie" on Twitter.

    Mastromonaco, a former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in the Obama administration, added: "to say president obama (or past presidents) didn't call the family members of soldiers KIA - he's a deranged animal."

    Four US Army soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in an ambush by a group believed to be affiliated with ISIS on October 4, near the Niger-Mali border. All soldiers involved in the ambush were members of the US Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets.

    The president also claimed that he had written letters to the families, saying they would "either go out today or tomorrow."

    "I've written personal letters. They've been sent or they're going out tonight, but they were during the weekend," the president said.

    "I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it," President Trump added. "They have made the ultimate sacrifice so generally I would say that I like to call. I'm going to be calling them."

    President Trump called the phone calls "a very difficult thing."

    "It gets to a point where you make four or five of them in one day, it's a very tough day and for me that's by far the toughest," he said.

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Trump's comments earlier in the day were not critical of former president's actions, and instead, said that he was stating that presidents chose to pay their respects to fallen soldiers in different ways.

    "The president wasn't criticizing his predecessors, but stating a fact," Sanders said. "Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet the family member in person. This president, like his predecessor, has done each of these."

    LINK: The Pentagon Has Identified The Fourth Elite US Soldier Killed In An Ambush In Niger

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    William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

    In remarks Monday, Republican Senator John McCain implicitly excoriated President Trump's administration and supporters, saying that "to refuse the obligations of international leadership ... for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism ... is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past."

    He added, "We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil."

    "Blood and soil," a 19th-century German Nazi slogan, was among the chants used by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white nationalist demonstration in August, in which one counterprotester was killed when a demonstrator ran his car into the crowd.

    McCain made the comments as part of an acceptance speech for the 2017 Liberty Medal, which he received for 60 years of public service, from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

    Several of the other speakers at the event, including former Vice President Joe Biden, spoke of the need for bipartisanship.

    Said the senator, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

    "To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history."

    McCain was elected to Congress in 1982 and has served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In July, he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer.

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    Eric Schmidt earlier this year.

    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    Two Google executives donated to senators serving on the senate intelligence committee that began investigating Russian election meddling in January.

    In March of this year, according to federal election filings, general counsel Kent Walker made four donations totaling $5,400 to both Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich and independent Sen. Angus King. In May, he donated $2,700 to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member of the intel committee.

    In April of this year, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and the executive chairman of Alphabet, also donated $2,700 to Heinrich.

    Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook have faced the scrutiny from Congress over the role of the platforms during the 2016 election, and how foreign actors may have tried to use them.

    Last month, Google and other tech giants (including Twitter and Facebook) were called to testify before the congressional intelligence committees. A Google official confirmed to BuzzFeed News that representatives from the company will testify before Congress on Nov. 1.

    Much like donations made by Facebook executives to intel committee members reported by BuzzFeed News earlier this month, the donations aren’t particularly large, are isolated to a small number of the committee’s fifteen members, and Walker has donated to Heinrich and Warner in the past. (He gave $1,000 to Warner in 2007 and $1,000 to Heinrich in 2012.) Both Schmidt and Walker have long track records of donating to Democrats. In this cycle both executives have supported Sen. Claire McCaskill (whose campaign has raised more than $2.9 million between July and September for the tough re-election bid she faces in 2018, according to the Associated Press), and Walker gave two donations totalling $5,400 to Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican from Arizona.

    “We have clear policies in this area. Employees can make personal political contributions in their own capacity, these personal donations do not represent Google support for a candidate or issue,” a spokesperson for Google told BuzzFeed News.

    Senators Warner and Heinrich also received donations from Facebook executives in 2017.

    A spokesperson for Warner declined to comment on the donations made to his campaign and offices for the other senators did not immediately respond for comment.

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    Roger Goodell

    Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

    Officials inside the National Football League are characterizing Tuesday’s meeting in New York City between players, league officials, and representatives from the NFL as an important step in a process that began 14 months ago — and are hoping that the league actively backing bipartisan legislation that seeks to drastically limit mandatory-minimum sentences will be a major change.

    But plenty of questions remain about the rest of the regular season and the relationship between players, owners, the league, and politics.

    The NFL will not require players to stand for the national anthem, and commissioner Roger Goodell has said publicly that the players who demonstrate are not trying to disrespect the flag. But he said it was his intention to get the number of players demonstrating openly to zero.

    The kneeling issue didn’t come up Tuesday, the league sources said. For all of the momentum going into today’s meeting, the league sources insist that it’s still up to each individual player whether to kneel in protest during the national anthem. Goodell said Wednesday that ultimately, a half-dozen players have been consistently kneeling and that the goal of the dialogue between the league and players is to get that number down to zero. “We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem. We think our fans expect us to do that.”

    The sources confirmed that the player coalition in the meeting invited former quarterback Colin Kaepernick but he did not show. The league sources said there was a sense in the room that they should focus on “who's in the room and not on who's not.”

    On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the NFL policy statement "a step in the right direction," before Trump chimed in with an authoritarian-style message that has irked NFL players and coaches around the league: “@NFL: Too much talk, not enough action. Stand for the National Anthem.”

    The meeting Tuesday was led by former player and executive vice president of NFL football operations Troy Vincent. According to a pair of league sources present in the meeting, the league and players’ coalition centered any progress moving forward around three main focal points: refining a policy platform and ways to amplify it as a follow-up to players’ protests; creating ways for NFL players and entities to participate and engage in education inside communities; and creating partnerships to assist players in addressing public policy.

    The pair of league sources said that over the past 14 months, Goodell has gotten “a great deal of clarity on what’s driving players to take a knee on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays,” and that one of the issues is criminal justice reform. To that end, Goodell went on a ride-along with police in Miami as well as a “listen-and-learn” session in Philadelphia.

    The league sources said the NFL had been particularly interested in one part of the bill that creates a commission that would review the entire criminal justice system. One player in particular, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, was the driving force behind trying to get the league to support the legislation, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Baldwin, a Stanford graduate, is said to have impressed league brass with his knowledge of the issue.

    Goodell, asked Wednesday at a press conference to address his understanding of the players’ concerns, failed to include anything in his answer anything about police brutality. In fact, police brutality — especially tragic encounters concerning black Americans like Philando Castile and Sandra Bland — has especially animated players in the NFL, and was the stated reason Kaepernick initially knelt during the national anthem.

    “Communities of color have also had to watch video after video of unarmed black men and women being handled without regard for their lives or well-being,” Eagles defensive player Malcolm Jenkins wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “As a black man, I see these images and I see myself; I wonder whether this will happen to me or one of my loved ones. In honor of their names, we are joining the fight for change. We are demanding police transparency and accountability so we can build trust and work together to make our communities safer.”

    The sentencing overhaul bill, by Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Dick Durbin of Illinois, aims to limit mandatory-minimum prison sentences, limiting the steepest penalties to drug and violent offenders and the most serious drug crime offenders.

    At the very least, the meetings this week add some new elements into the what has become familiar this fall: demonstrating during the national anthem. A source with knowledge familiar with the discussions told BuzzFeed News that the NFL might create something unheard of in professional sports: its own racial justice platform.

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    Fatido / Getty Images

    Protests after the death of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man killed by a police officer last year in North Carolina, were fresh on the minds of activists eager to change their community — so another rally didn’t seem unusual.

    “All the details are right here,” read the message from a group called BlackMatters — with a link to a Facebook event page. “It should start at 2 PM on Saturday.”

    In private Facebook messages that a source said they received from BlackMatters, the group sent a speaking schedule, the names and phone numbers of the coordinators, and a poster (“BROTHERS AND SISTERS! JOIN THE NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST”).

    The group only had one request.

    “Thank you for attending! It’s an honor to work together with you,” reads a private message sent hours after the protest on Oct. 22, 2016. “If you have any pictures, please share with us.”

    In reality, there wasn’t anything normal about the protest: A Russian troll farm is believed to be behind BlackMatters, according to a major investigation published by Russian outlet RBC.

    The Facebook page for the event is no longer online (though the source was able to access private messages they said the group had sent). Facebook suspended the BlackMatters account, which RBC reported was part of a sweeping crackdown on foreign accounts, something a Facebook spokesman said he “was not able to confirm.” The RBC investigation, based on interviews with current and former employees of the troll farm as well as a source close to its leadership and internal documents, found that BlackMattersUS was linked to the Internet Research Agency, and that Russians spent thousands of dollars before and after the 2016 election — including on the Charlotte protest — in order to show the United States in disarray.

    People who attended the rally were stunned by the reports.

    It’s “sickening” to think that anyone would use the social justice movement for their personal or political gain, said Percy Fleming, one of the activists who spoke at the October rally last year.

    Attendees were told that anyone who had something to say could speak, said Fleming, a member of JustUs LEAGUE, a local advocacy group. He said he didn’t know any details about who had invited JustUs LEAGUE to the event.

    Message provided to BuzzFeed News

    Raven Solomon, another speaker at the rally in Charlotte, said she was invited to speak at the event by the BlackMatters group Facebook page. She said the invite she received didn’t include any of the awkwardly-worded English found on some BlackMatters pages.

    Solomon was shocked when she learned that Russians appeared to be behind the event.

    “For any group to collude to take advantage of the pain & anguish that African Americans — or any group — are experiencing in this country in order to sow further discord is disappointing & revolting,” Solomon told BuzzFeed News in a Facebook message. “As an American who was simply seeking to inspire a better America for all citizens through shedding light on that pain, I feel taken advantage of and deceived by this fake group.”

    Another activist told BuzzFeed News earlier this week that the group had contacted him through a Facebook message. Conrad James, the activist, told BuzzFeed News he had (unaware of the group’s reported origins) helped organize the Oct. 22, 2016, rally in Charlotte, which was held in concert with protests all over the country, in addition to an earlier rally in September.

    The Russian efforts, first uncovered by RBC, also included recruiting and paying people to teach self-defense classes in black communities. Instructors were asked to take photos and videos, one person told BuzzFeed News.

    Some prominent activists reached by BuzzFeed News weren’t stunned by the reports this week.

    “Many people dismissed the allegations of Russian interference as a distraction or conspiracy theory,” said DeRay Mckesson, a leading organizer and activist of the group Campaign Zero, “whereas we are now uncovering new instances every week where the Russians clearly worked to influence the election.”

    Ashley S. Williams, the young activist who confronted Hillary Clinton in South Carolina over her past use of the racially charged and debunked term “super predators,” said that while she was skeptical over some of the circumstances of apparent Russian involvement in movement activity, that she, too had been approached by an individual who wanted to get involved.

    “I remember being reached out to by someone wanting to have a protest here but they didn’t live here,” said the Charlotte-based Williams, who added that she simply ignored the correspondence. “I wasn't alarmed. I thought it was strange.”

    But others reached by BuzzFeed News were surprised enough by the idea that Russians tried to exploit the larger black activist movements that they didn’t know what to say.

    So taken aback about Russian interference was Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online civil rights group, he told BuzzFeed News he was sending its report around to his staff as “mandatory reading.”

    LINK: These Americans Were Tricked Into Working For Russia. They Say They Had No Idea.

    LINK: Twitter Was Warned Repeatedly About This Fake Account Run By A Russian Troll Farm And Refused To Take It Down

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    Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    John Kasich is taking a subtle but significant step toward a possible 2020 presidential campaign.

    The Republican governor of Ohio met privately Thursday with several national security and foreign policy experts, several sources familiar with Kasich’s moves told BuzzFeed News.

    The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details, described the discussions in Columbus as the first in a series of meetings on domestic and foreign policy and aimed at keeping Kasich current in global affairs.

    Kasich, who competed unsuccessfully for last year’s GOP presidential nomination, has been one of President Donald Trump’s most persistent critics. He has not ruled out challenging Trump in a 2020 primary. He also has stirred speculation that he could run as an independent or even as part of a unity ticket with John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado.

    Sources would not divulge names of all attendees, though they described those on hand as veterans of past presidential administrations and political staffs. King Mallory, who advised Kasich's 2016 campaign on national security issues, helped coordinate the meeting, which went on for hours throughout the day.

    Two of the sources acknowledged that the gathering was to help prepare Kasich for another bid, should he decide to run again. But they stressed that nothing is definite.

    Kasich earlier this week joined Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for a forum at the University of Delaware. The topic: Civility in politics.

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    Then-candidate Donald Trump is joined onstage by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a campaign rally in Iowa on January 26, 2016.

    Brian Snyder / Reuters

    A federal judge on Thursday refused to toss out the underlying guilty verdict in former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal contempt case in the wake of President Trump's pardon of the sheriff.

    "The pardon undoubtedly spared Defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed," US District Court Judge Susan Bolton wrote. "It did not, however, 'revise the historical facts' of this case."

    Arpaio had been found guilty of criminal contempt for repeatedly refusing to halt a policing tactic to catch undocumented immigrants despite court orders to do so. He had not, however, been sentenced when Trump issued the pardon in August.

    After he received the pardon, Arpaio asked the court to dismiss his case and to vacate all of the earlier orders in the case — including his guilty verdict. Bolton had let it known that she was uncertain if she could go as far as that, asking in September for additional briefing in the case.

    Bolton earlier agreed to dismiss the case, but held off her opinion on whether the earlier orders also would be vacated. In Thursday's order, Bolton denied his request that she do more than dismiss the case.

    As to the effect of a presidential pardon, Bolton explained, "It does not erase a judgment of conviction, or its underlying legal and factual findings," citing a prior case from the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — where an appeal of Arpaio's request would be heard.

    LINK: President Trump Has Pardoned Controversial Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

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    DNC chair Tom Perez and deputy chair Rep. Keith Ellison earlier this year.

    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    LAS VEGAS — A rumor that pro-Bernie Sanders Democrats have proposed removing three prominent black women as at-large members of the Democratic National Committee set off a fury here at the party’s fall meeting, lighting up tensions between anti-establishment progressives and chairman Tom Perez as Democrats rushed late Thursday to find out where the rumor had come from and what motives drove it.

    In the chandeliered ballrooms of Bally’s casino, Democrats spent the first two days of their meeting whispering in large part about Perez’s appointments to the DNC. His 75 chosen at-large members, a diverse selection that included a young woman protected under the DACA program as well as a black transgender woman, also became a point of contention and speculation when longtime Democrats were removed from their posts.

    James Zogby, a key Sanders ally and a longtime DNC member who found out he would lose his spot on the party’s executive committee, was among several progressives who cast the move as a form of retaliation against those who did not support Perez in his bid for chair earlier this year.

    By Thursday afternoon, two days after Perez announced his appointments, the rumor was this: Zogby and other pro-Sanders Democrats wanted to flout Perez’s picks for at-large DNC members by proposing an alternate slate, one that would swap out three prominent black women. The names circulating among Democrats were Leah Daughtry, former DNC convention chair; Minyon Moore, veteran Democratic strategist; and Symone Sanders, former national press secretary to Bernie Sanders. By Thursday evening, the rumor was Daughtry, Moore, and former DNC chair Donna Brazile.

    Zogby flatly denied the rumor in an interview early on Thursday evening.

    He has known Daughtry, Moore, and Brazile for years, he said, in large part through his work on the 1984 and 1988 Jesse Jackson campaigns. “I would never turn against those three women. That is not what I've done,” Zogby said. “These are friends of mine who I care about. And I simply find it deplorable that someone would start that rumor in order to create a deeper wedge to absolve themselves from the crappy decision they've made.”

    Zogby, a DNC member since 1993 and a member of the party’s Unity Reform Commission, said he will likely “reintroduce” his candidacy as an executive member later on in this week’s meeting. “We haven't worked out the mechanics of it,” he said. “But it was never these people instead of those people. It was never that at all, ever.”

    The rules require that the full body of the DNC be notified seven days in advance of a slate, according a party adviser.

    Two Democratic sources said Zogby and Jane Kleeb, another prominent Sanders supporter and the chair the Nebraska Democratic Party, discussed plans to introduce an alternate slate of 75 at-large members. One of those Democrats said the alternate slate would be less diverse than the one put forward by Perez earlier this week.

    Kleeb dismissed the rumor broadly as a smear attempt by establishment forces. “Whoever’s doing it [is] this little cabal of people who just love to create drama, especially around Bernie folks, who they see as some threat,” she said.

    In a statement, DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told BuzzFeed News, “We are proud of the unprecedented diversity of this year’s slate of at-large DNC members. We must come together in unity and embrace our diversity in order to win elections up and down the ballot.”

    The infighting comes at a sensitive time for the party, as Perez presides over his first party-wide meeting as chair after closely watched race against the candidate favored by progressives, Rep. Keith Ellison, who now serves as deputy chair in a still-divided party. The incident also comes off the heels of an open letter black women leaders sent to Perez titled, “There’s Too Much at Stake to Ignore Black Women.”

    “The Democratic Party has a real problem,” read the letter, signed by seven members of Congress. “The data reveals that Black women voters are the very foundation to a winning coalition, yet most Black voters feel like the Democrats take them for granted. The Party’s foundation has a growing crack and if it is not addressed quickly, the Party will fall even further behind and ultimately fail in its quest to strengthen its political prospects.”

    Zogby spoke with the three women on Thursday to try to clear up the rumor, which quickly reached Daughtry in Las Vegas — and even Moore and Brazile in Washington. As he talked about his history with Brazile, a relationship that dates back to 1983, her name lit up in a text to his phone, asking what was going on and why she was involved. Before the start of the DNC’s eastern regional caucus meeting, Zogby waited by the door for Daughtry. The two hugged and exited the room to talk privately. Later, Daughtry said she believed Zogby, and would support his bid for executive committee, but wanted to uncover the source of the rumor.

    “I’m gonna get to the bottom of it,” she said. “If my name isn't Leah Daughtry.”

    Moore, the longtime Democratic strategist named alongside Brazile and Daughtry, called Zogby an “honorable man” whom she respects. She said she didn’t believe would do something like this. But she also expressed concern about what it said about the Democratic Party’s feelings about its base if it feels that black women are disposable.

    “If they think targeting black women who have committed themselves to this party as an avocation and not a vocation and have given more than they’ve gotten, is a smart idea, then God bless them,” Moore said.

    After publication late Thursday, Symone Sanders told BuzzFeed News in a statement that “clearly" there is still work to be done when it comes to "respecting" the contributions of black women. “Perhaps if we stopped tying our politics to people and started to look at the issues, we could put the battles of the 2016 primary behind us. That’s what I did and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

    "But for the life of me I still can't figure out how black women continue to get the brunt end of the stick in this party," she added. "It's disgraceful."

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    Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

    A top Democratic lawmaker says the National Football League doesn’t seem to really be listening to what players are saying when they kneel before the national anthem.

    This week, after more than a year of escalating protests before games, the NFL endorsed legislation meant to ease sentencing laws around certain kinds of drug convictions.

    That move, says Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, is inadequate.

    “Biased-based policing was one of the motivating factors behind the NFL protests,” Conyers said. “The failure of the owners or NFL management to address them raises serious questions about whether they are really listening to what the players have to say.”

    During a press conference earlier this week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not mention policing at all when asked about his evaluation of what the players’ concerns were.

    A Conyers spokesperson pointed out that the major player-activists didn’t protest over sentencing in the criminal justice system. The player who first knelt — Colin Kaepernick — made it explicit his cause was police violence inflicted on black people. Michael Bennett, a defensive player for the Seattle Seahawks who has sat during the national anthem this year, has said he was targeted by a police officer in Las Vegas.

    Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has spent years working on criminal justice issues — especially in recent years as a bipartisan group of advocates and lawmakers tried to shift away from the tough-on-crime policies that dominated the 1980s and ’90s, and were again championed by President Trump as a candidate. Last year, for instance, Conyers and House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte formulated a working group to examine excessive force, police accountability, and targeted violence against police officers.

    The NFL has, partly in the hopes of moving forward as protests continue to dominate coverage of the season, backed the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. In a joint letter, Goodell and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin endorsed the bill.

    LINK: NFL Reaches Out To Players And Waits For Protests To End

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    DNC chief technology officer Raffi Krikorian last year when he was with Uber.

    Alex Brandon / AP

    LAS VEGAS — When Democratic state chairs gathered here in Las Vegas, they were met with a stern warning from the party's new chief technology officer: When it comes to cybersecurity, Raffi Krikorian told them in a meeting, "you gotta up your game."

    Krikorian, a leading Silicon Valley engineer who joined the Democratic National Committee as CTO this summer, has been working for months to strengthen electronic security at the party's headquarters in Washington, leading an ongoing internal assessment that will shape DNC protocol on email management and move staffers toward more office-wide encrypted messaging.

    This week, at the DNC fall meeting in Las Vegas, he gathered state chairs in one room to talk about the hacks that compromised Democrats in 2016 and could pose a threat to 57 party committees across the country, some of whom are dragging far behind in their own security practices, according to Krikorian.

    "The problem is that it's a pretty big spread. Some state parties are pretty on top of it," he said in an interview.

    "On the other end of the scale — and I'm not gonna name names — there are definitely state parties that will get on the phone with me and I'll be like, 'Wait, what? Can you say that one more time?' That's really a problem. There are 57 of them and the spread is pretty big."

    The 39-year-old former Twitter and Uber engineer cited the Minnesota Democratic Party as one state that is "seriously on top of all this stuff." The party there has hired a security firm and has worked to strengthen its email management, he said.

    Within the DNC, the national arm of the Democratic Party, Krikorian has tried to create a far-sweeping "culture change" around cybersecurity, increasing education, implementing regular simulated phishing attacks, moving the office's email management to cloud services, and weighing a move to what's known as end-to-end encryption for chat, voice, and video communication. The other Democratic committees have already made the move to Wickr, an end-to-end encryption software for the workplace that makes messages indecipherable to third parties.

    When it comes to the states, however, the DNC has no authority over those party entities. "My ideal world is that we're all on the exact same systems: that we all just use the same technology, and we're all in the same place," he said. "But the reality of the situation is that I don't have control of state parties. All I can do is make really stern recommendations."

    One of those ideas: simulated phishing attacks for state parties. The reception to that idea and others, Krikorian said, was largely positive, noting that state party chairs in the audience took pictures of his presentation and reached out to him afterward.

    Until a state party is secure, Krikorian said, he has instructed DNC staffers to communicate with them using apps like Signal rather than by email. "If I know they haven't implemented a lot of stuff, by default we have to treat them effectively adversarial when it comes to electronic communication," he said. "Do not trust anything that comes over the email lines."

    "Even if I secure my boundary, if one of them have a problem, they might be a way in."

    Krikorian said since he joined the DNC earlier this year, he's known of no state parties have been hacked or compromised. "I don't think anyone's explicitly been, but at the same time, it's arms race," he said. "It's just a matter of time. The DNC is constantly under some form of attack in some way. Generally, you assume that everyone is a target in this world."

    "It's the world we live in," he said. "Good times."

    LINK: The DNC Begins Cybersecurity Effort To Try To Make Sure 2016 Doesn’t Happen Again

    LINK: Email Was The Soft Underbelly Of The Democratic Campaign. It Still Will Be.

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    Doug Stroud / Via Danica Roem campaign

    Danica Roem, 32, didn’t want her campaign for the Virginia General Assembly to become about her being transgender. But to some extent, it was inevitable.

    Roem would be the first out transgender politician to win and get seated in any state legislature, and her opponent, Republican Del. Bob Marshall, recently sponsored a bill to restrict transgender people’s access to bathrooms. Plus, Marshall keeps bringing up the issue.

    On a conservative radio show last month, Marshall said Roem “clearly is a male,” calling her “he” and saying her behavior “goes against the laws of nature and nature's God.”

    Roem brushed off the jabs this week, saying data collected by her campaign shows her race is very tight, and noting she ran a TV spot that addresses being trans head-on. “I’m dealing with it,” the former journalist told BuzzFeed News. “I’m a big girl — I can take care of myself.” She’s also managed to out-fundraise Marshall by tens of thousands of dollars, and she’s welcomed help from state Democrats and labor unions.

    And now, she’s welcoming help from a new type of backer — the first of its kind in the United States.

    The Breakthrough Fund, which launched this week, is a political action committee run by transgender activists and tailored specifically to elect transgender people to office. It’s starting with $60,000 to spend in four races, including Roem’s, according to the group’s co-chair, Hayden Mora. The PAC, an offspring of the group Trans United Fund, is attempting to raise another $120,000 before Election Day.

    “We know what it’s like to have someone slam the door in our face and say, ‘I don’t vote for people like you, honey.’"

    “Because they are transgender, they face different obstacles,” Mora told BuzzFeed News of the candidates. The new group is not exclusively focusing on fundraising — Mora said the organization is assembling a small army of paid staff and volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls to identify likely Roem voters, then turn those voters out by Nov. 7.

    “We know what it’s like to have someone slam the door in our face and say, ‘I don’t vote for people like you, honey,’” he said.

    In this role, Mora said the PAC’s leadership can serve as both tactician and counselor. “We talk to our candidates after 10 o'clock at night, so they can get out the next day to make the case to be elected. We don’t let transphobia and bias get in the way.”

    “Most campaigns never have to manage an opponent, and an opponent’s allies, aggressively trying to disparage them for being transgender,” Mora said.

    In addition to spending money this fall in Minneapolis, where Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham are running for city council, the Breakthrough Fund will back Kristen Browde for town supervisor in New Castle, New York.

    Browde told BuzzFeed News that the Breakthrough Fund is “calibrated to deal with the pushback” inevitable for transgender candidates, adding by email, “We crafted a message that has largely taken gender out of the discussion.”

    Indeed, one challenge for trans candidates is shifting the focus toward traditional local issues. Roem, a policy wonk from her political reporting career, has oriented her campaign around unclogging Route 28, which runs from the suburban 13th District into Washington, DC.

    Roem's TV spot.

    “While she has talked about her gender identity, she is also trying to focus on certain bread-and butter issues, like traffic congestion, which is a big deal in Northern Virginia in particular,” Kyle Kondik, who analyzes elections for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told BuzzFeed News.

    Any yet, it would be “historic” for Roem to prevail, he said, both because she’s trans and because incumbents are rarely defeated in Virginia House races.

    Marshall, an 11-term incumbent who won the seat in 1991, has sponsored a firehouse of bills appetizing to the Evangelical right. Among them was the state’s law banning same-same sex couples from marrying; he later introduced a bill to bar transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity in government facilities (it died in committee). But the district has shifted purple in recent years, going for Hillary Clinton last year by 15 points.

    “It would be symbolic if she were to win — a transgender woman winning this election against someone like Bob Marshall, who’s so diametrically different than her,” Kondik said.

    The absence of high-profile transgender politicians has created a self-perpetuating barrier, Mora said. The public’s lack of familiarity with transgender people can make candidates more vulnerable to smears, in turn making it harder to win elections — or discouraging them from running at all.

    “Increasing the representation of transgender folks in public office is crucial to help the public know who trans people are, and counter the fear-mongering and lies the far right tells about who we are,” he said.

    As an example, Mora pointed to an automated phone call early this month voters in the 13th District received from the American Principles Project. The robocall said Roem wants to “allow boys to play on girls’ sports teams and compete in girls’ leagues,” the Washington Post reported.

    Marshall did not respond to a request from BuzzFeed News to comment on his statements about Roem’s gender identity and the claims from his supporters.

    For her part, Roem is grateful for the Breakthrough Fund’s support in the final heat, in addition to support from other LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign. "Trans people are trying to give themselves a voice in politics when they have been shut out for so long,” she said. “Getting one of our own elected, it means we have a seat at the table, from transportation politics to civil rights.”