Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Color guard displays, enlistment ceremonies, military appreciation nights: These were among the many displays of “paid patriotism” that NFL teams once regularly carried out as part of lucrative contracts with the U.S. Defense Department. But what about standing during the national anthem?

Questions swirled about whether those contracts had anything to say about requiring players to stand during the pre-game ceremonies after President Donald Trump forcibly inserted himself into an ongoing debate about players protesting racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Given what’s known about the DOD and the NFL’s once-cozy patronage relationship, the widespread social media speculation is understandable; both entities say standing during the anthem is voluntary, however, and there’s no evidence of any contract requiring players to do so.

The controversy dates back to early 2015, when Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) drew attention to the tens of thousands of dollars that the New Jersey Army National Guard paid the New York Jets for military-related “advertising and promotion,” calling it an “egregious and unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars.” Flake followed up with a report co-authored with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that excoriated both the NFL and the military for allowing members of the armed services to be used as a “marketing ploy.” It ran through specific team’s contracts in detail, finding 14 teams received $5.4 million in taxpayer money from 2011-2014 for the so-called “patriotic displays.”

The report ricocheted through the media, and fans questioned what exact role the national anthem played in these lucrative deals after then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem in the summer of 2016 to protest police brutality.

At the time, Comcast Sportsnet New England’s Tom E. Curran published a story that observed “prior to 2009, players being on the field for the national anthem wasn’t even standard practice.” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Curran that though this practice did date back to 2009, players were never told how they had to position their bodies during the song.

“As you know, the NFL has a long tradition of patriotism,” McCarthy told him. “Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem.”

McCarthy appeared to provide a bit more detail after Trump forced the issue back into the headlines at a September campaign rally, where he said that any “son of a bitch” who refuses to stand during the anthem should be fired. As Snopes reported, he explained that an adjustment in network timing issues allowed players to come out onto the sidelines for the anthem during primetime games, whereas they had previously waited in locker rooms. Being on the field for the anthem was already standard practice for daytime games, according to that report.

But despite internet rumors suggesting a connection, it seems unlikely the U.S. military had anything to do with these shifting practices. The McCain-Flake report looked at contracts dating back to 2011, not 2009, and made no specific reference to the military requesting that players stand during the anthem.

Anthem-related requests that pop up in the contracts typically involved having state national guard members perform it, or having soldiers come onto the field or participate in a color guard ceremony during the performance. None mention player behavior.

The DOD recently denied requesting that athletes from any professional sports league take part in the anthem.

“DoD does not require or request that athletes be on the field during the playing of the national anthem when military members are part of the patriotic opener,” Pentagon spokesman Army Major Dave Eastburn told CNN in a statement.

“Community relations participation, such as flyovers, color guards, and military band support, are unpaid activities,” Eastburn added. “DoD does not pay outside parties to host such community outreach activities.”

Some of the most egregious taxpayer funded displays of patriotism at NFL games have come to an end: The league returned over $700,000 of money paid to teams for military tributes last year, and Pentagon higher-ups have issued guidance banning sports marketing contracts for some of these “paid patriotism” activities, including national anthem performances.

Still, the financial ties between the two bodies run deep, with the league describing supporting the military as “part of the fabric of the NFL” in a description of its “Salute to Service” partnership, which funnels proceeds to non-profit partners like the Wounded Warrior Project. On the NFL’s online store, fans can purchase “Salute to Service” gear like a $99.99 camouflage-toned pullover, emblazoned with the logo of their favorite team.

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New York prosecutors had investigated Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. for allegedly giving false information to prospective buyers of condo units in their troubled Trump SoHo development, according to a joint investigation out Wednesday from ProPublica, WNYC and The New Yorker.

While the report found prosecutors gathered significant evidence for a criminal case, no indictment ever came down against the siblings. As the report revealed, Mark Kasowitz, one of Trump’s longtime personal attorneys who had donated thousands of dollars to the reelection campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, asked Vance to drop the investigation. The district attorney ultimately did so, overruling his own prosecutors.

The existence of a criminal investigation into the Trump SoHo project was first reported by the New York Times last year. Buyers were angry that the Trump family had publicly insisted that the development was selling units like hotcakes, when it actually was hobbled by a bursting real estate bubble, an odd zoning situation and press reports on the involvement of a Trump associate with a felony record: Felix Sater.

The Trump Organization ultimately settled a civil suit related to the development in 2011, admitting no wrongdoing but agreeing to refund much of the deposits, as the Times reported.

But the new collaborative reporting project is the first to reveal that prosecutors were focused on Trump’s eldest children; that they had email evidence; and that Kasowitz may have had a hand in how the case shook out.

The evidence accumulated by Vance’s team included emails in which the Trump siblings discussed how to coordinate misleading information they would provide to people interested in their condo units, according to the report. Trump Jr. told a broker in one message that no one would ever find out about those false statements because the deception was kept strictly within the Trump Organization, according to a person who saw the email.

One of the individuals who viewed the emails told reporters that the Trump children “approved, knew of, agreed to, and intentionally inflated the numbers to make more sales” and that “they knew it was wrong.”

The investigation into the siblings originated in the D.A.’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau in 2010. It dragged on through 2012, with Trump Organization attorneys reportedly arguing that the siblings’ exaggerations did not amount to criminal misconduct.

Kasowitz donated $25,000 to Vance’s reelection campaign in January 2012, and Vance returned that money so as not to accept funds from a donor with a case before his office, according to the report. Shortly after Vance returned his donation, Kasowitz met with the district attorney in May to repeat the defense’s arguments that there’d been no wrongdoing; Vance dropped the case three months afterward, and Kasowitz subsequently donated and helped raise an additional $50,000 for Vance’s campaign.

Both men denied to the reporters that there was anything improper about how the case played out.

Read the full report here.

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Michael Cohen, the longtime friend and personal attorney to President Donald Trump, had two previously unreported business contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post.

The newspaper reported Monday that documents detailing those interactions had been turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller and to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

Per the report, Cohen exchanged emails shortly before the Republican National Convention with a business associate and old friend, Felix Sater, about attending an economic conference in Russia alongside the country’s financial and government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin. Late in 2015, a billionaire Russian real estate mogul also reportedly pitched Cohen on having the Trump Organization construct a residential building in Moscow.

These communications contextualize another campaign-season project involving Cohen and related to Russia: a separate 2015 effort to finally construct a Trump-branded luxury hotel and condo building in downtown Moscow. While that effort, like the two newly reported contacts, never yielded anything, the same characters played prominent roles in trying to coordinate them.

Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization associate, emailed Cohen in June 2016 with an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, according to the Post. Anonymous people familiar with the message told the Post that the notoriously braggadocious Sater, a convicted felon with a rocky history, wrote to Cohen that he could be introduced to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and even possibly to Putin at the event.

Sater and Cohen had teamed up on a 2015 effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow, and Sater boasted in previously reported emails that the project, along with assistance from “all of Putins team,” would help secure Trump’s electoral victory. Though Trump signed a letter of intent in October 2015 to move forward with the project, it ultimately stalled after Cohen threw a Hail Mary by emailing Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, urging him for assistance with the “important” development.

It was that failed project that prompted this other, newly surfaced Moscow proposal to go unexplored. Russian billionaire Sergey Gordeev had contacted Cohen through an intermediary in Oct. 2015, according to the Post, but Cohen turned him down, saying the Trump Organization was already committed to the proposal involving Sater.

Cohen told the Post Monday that he did not attend the economic conference in St. Petersburg and has “never been to Russia.” Robert Wolf, an attorney for Sater, declined the newspaper’s request for comment.

Mueller and lawmakers on Capitol Hill will review these exchanges as they try to determine whether anyone associated with the President worked with Russia to try to influence the election. Cohen and the Trump campaign have insisted Cohen had no formal role with the campaign, even though the Trump Organization attorney was serving as a surrogate on TV and at campaign rallies while working on the Moscow deal.

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Updated: 12:29 p.m. ET.

Less than twelve hours after he allegedly fired a fusillade of bullets onto an outdoor country music festival from a Las Vegas hotel room, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 500 others before turning a gun on himself, little has emerged about the man suspected of carrying out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, did not appear to have any social media accounts associated with his name. The few details that have trickled out from law enforcement and family members about Paddock’s life offer little insight into why he allegedly opened fire Sunday night on the Route 91 Harvest festival. Indeed, Paddock seems to have targeted the very things he enjoyed: country music and concerts at hotels on the Las Vegas strip.

“We are in complete shock, bewilderment and horror,” one anonymous relative who spoke to the Washington Post said. “We have absolutely no idea how in the world Steve did this. Absolutely no concept. There was nothing secret or strange about him.”

Unidentified relatives told the newspaper that Paddock, who lived in a retirement community in the sleepy desert city of Mesquite, some 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, lived a quiet, uneventful life. He enjoyed country music and visited Sin City frequently to gamble and attend concerts at the flashy hotels that line the Strip, the relatives said.

Paddock had in the last few weeks made several large gambling transactions in “the tens of thousands of dollars,” anonymous law enforcement officials told NBC News. NBC reported that it wasn’t immediately clear if those transactions were losses or wins.

His brother Eric Paddock told NBC that his father, Benjamin Hoskins Padgett, was a bank robber who was once on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List. An individual with that name is included in the FBI database of the agency’s most wanted fugitives, noting that he was removed in 1977 because he no longer fit the “‘Top Ten criteria.'”

The suspected gunman was a license pilot who at one point owned two planes, and he also had a hunting license from Alaska, according to NBC.

TPM’s attempts to contact Paddock’s relatives at publicly listed telephone numbers and through Facebook were unsuccessful.

Ten rifles were found in the hotel room his brother had checked into on Thursday on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas Police Chief Joe Lombardo reported. Lombardo said that police had completed the investigation of the room, where officers found Paddock dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Mesquite, Nevada police spokesman Quinn Averett said in a press conference that “some weapons” and “maybe some ammunition” were found in Paddock’s home, where officers executed a search warrant.

“He might have had a gun or two, but he didn’t have a huge stock of guns,” his brother Eric Paddock, who lives in Orlando, Florida, told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

“He’s just a guy who lived in Mesquite who liked burritos,” Eric Paddock said in a separate interview with CBS News.

Authorities had also learned that Paddock “additional property in northern Nevada” and were coordinating with the FBI to respond to and serve a search warrant at that location, according to Lombardo. He had no criminal history in Las Vegas except for a minor traffic citation, the police chief confirmed.

Mesquite Police Department spokesman Averett said that his officers had never had any interactions with Paddock, either. Averett described Paddock’s house as “a newer home, it’s a new subdivision and it’s a nice, clean, home” on a quiet cul-de-sac.

Paddock shared the residence with his girlfriend Marilou Danley, a 62-year-old woman identified by authorities as a person of interest in the investigation. Lombardo said she had been contacted outside of the country and that his department intends “to engage her” upon her return to the U.S.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena compelling a business associate of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Turkish lobbying client to testify before a grand jury earlier this month, ProPublica reported Friday.

Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, a Turkish equity investor, was ordered to appear on Sept. 22 before the grand jury in Washington, D.C., according to the report.

“The grand jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act, among other offenses,” read a letter accompanying the subpoena, which was obtained by ProPublica.

Korkmaz is reportedly a close ally of Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who entered into a $600,000 contract with Flynn Intel Group, Flynn’s now-defunct lobbying firm, to lobby for Turkish interests late in the 2016 campaign. The firm belatedly registered with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for that work, conceding that it “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

Korkmaz did not return ProPublica’s requests for comment. But an unnamed source close to the investigation told the publication that Korkmaz’s relationship with Alptekin could be the reason he was asked to testify, as Mueller’s team wants to suss out the original source of the money behind the lobbying effort.

That campaign involved researching and producing negative PR materials about exiled Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims coordinated a failed coup against him in summer 2016. Flynn’s failure to register under FARA for that work is one of several areas of interest for Mueller’s investigators. They’re also looking into Flynn’s failure to disclose both meetings with Russian officials and funds he received from Russia-linked firms.

Korkmaz apparently has his own business interests in Russia. His company, SBK Holding, has “major investments” in the Russia energy sector, according to ProPublica. The publication also noted that some of Korkmaz’s previous colleagues and investing partners have been investigated for criminal activity by U.S. authorities.

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It’s been a bad few weeks to be a white nationalist.

The racist far-right has been flailing since descending on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August for a rally that participants deemed a success for its huge turnout—until it turned deadly. Groups plan events and then cancel them in rapid succession, and people point fingers on Twitter at who they perceive to be leading the movement astray. An event intended to “Unite the Right” ended up doing the exact opposite.

“If this was initially seen as a victory for the movement, it’s actually been one of abject devastation,” Heidi Beirich, expert on extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told TPM. “Look at the infighting that came in the wake of the event over whether it was the right tactics, if they should have been there in the first place, the groups that came, and the violence, obviously.”

“It was very painful to them and there’s a lot of reticence to go down that road again,” Beirich added. “They certainly don’t want to have a Charlottesville 2.0.”

The last thing the far-right wants right now is another sprawling rally brimming with heavily-armed participants in a public place. The Anticommunist Action Network on Thursday abruptly canceled an event along those lines being planned for Charlotte, North Carolina, after white nationalist leader Richard Spencer dropped out and white supremacist websites cautioned their followers against going.

White supremacist Andrew Anglin wrote on his Daily Stormer website that after Charlottesville, marching with guns through a park in Charlotte was a “recipe for disaster” that would invite police backlash and mass arrests. Neo-Nazi Internet troll Weev took direct aim at Spencer in his own blog post, framing him as an attention-seeking opportunist and “source of catastrophic loss for all who stand beside him.”

This sort of mutual mistrust and infighting is not new to far-right movements, according to experts on the subject.

“In this extremism world, and I’ve been doing this for over three decades, there have always been these internecine battles that take place, and jealousies, and personalities,” said Brian Levin, director of the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

But Levin said he believes there is a real splintering now, as many groups that showed up to Charlottesville—and even some that didn’t—set about dissociating themselves from the event and its violence.

Movement leaders of varying stripes all are saddled with the baggage of having attended an event where Ku Klux Klan leaders flew their banners, and where an ideological sympathizer rammed a car into a group of peaceful protesters, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer and injuring many more. The damage is particularly great for the so-called “alt-right,” a loosely defined group of white nationalists, anti-Semites and online trolls whose project has been putting a presentable, buttoned-up face on racism.

“The concept of the alt-right is to create a sort of mainstream version of an old hatred,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “When violence occurs at their events, it does undermine their effort to try to recruit and attract people to their cause as if it was somehow mainstream.”

Even more cutting for a cohort obsessed with projecting aggressive masculinity, the event made many of them “appear as laughingstocks,” Segal said. Social media lit up with videos of “alt-right” personality Baked Alaska calling for milk after getting pepper-sprayed in the face. And Spencer and other alt-right leaders disavowed Charlottesville organizer Jason Kessler after he was chased from his own impromptu press conference after the event and later sent what he claimed was an alcohol, Ambien and Xanax-fueled tweet insulting Heyer.

Kessler is hardly the only Charlottesville participant to see his life fall to pieces over an event condemned by virtually everyone, with the notable exception of President Donald Trump. The Daily Stormer’s Anglin, who is in hiding as he faces a pending lawsuit, has been booted from multiple web hosting services. Others were doxxed, kicked off social media and Paypal or fired from their jobs. Some participants who injured counter-protesters have been jailed. And as FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in a Wednesday congressional hearing, his agency has “about 1,000 open domestic-terrorism investigations,” many related to the white nationalist movement.

Those in the white nationalist community acknowledge that they’ve taken a serious hit.

Evan McLaren, executive director of Spencer’s National Policy Institute, described Charlottesville as “traumatic for a lot of people,” telling TPM it was “natural” that those in the “alt-right” “are now seeking explanations.”

Echoing tweets from Spencer, McLaren said that the movement should redirect their attention to private venues where counter-demonstrators can’t enter or to “flash mob-type events not announced beforehand.”

There are other spillover effects. Concerns about “violence” and “alt left terrorist threats” recently derailed nationwide rallies planned by anti-Muslim group ACT! For America and far-right Internet personality Jack Posobiac. And former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ plan to host a “Free Speech Week” in Berkeley imploded.

As the SPLC’s Beirich put it, “The public sympathy has dissipated.”

“Milo is of course not directly connected with what happened at Charlottesville, but I think a lot of people on the right who’d normally have come out to make a fuss about free speech rights have taken a second look at this argument,” she added.

Both extremists and the experts who study them caution that those on the racist fringe are simply down, not out. But with leaders squabbling over tactics and a fired-up countermovement tracking its every move, the right may not unite again in the near future.

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A congressional request for information on White House adviser Jared Kushner’s private email use ended up in CNN’s hands on Thursday after his high-powered D.C. attorney accidentally forwarded it to an Internet prankster.

As CNN reported, Kushner had apparently never disclosed his personal email account to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, irritating lawmakers who only learned of its existence from press reports. His attorney, Abbe Lowell, received an indignant email from the committee asking Kushner to turn over all relevant documents from his “personal e-mail account described in the news media as well as all over accounts, messaging apps, or similar communications channels you may have used or that may contain information relevant to our inquiry,” according to CNN.

That’s where things took a wrong turn. Instead of forwarding the letter to his real client, Lowell accidentally sent it to a British prankster who had punked Lowell a few days ago, who in turn passed it along to CNN.

This is the second time this week that Lowell has been caught up in a private email-related snafu with this prankster, who goes by the handle @SINON_REBORN on Twitter.

In the previous exchange, the Kushner imposter expressed concern about “adult content” buried amid his private emails, including videos of “half naked women on a trampoline” and one that came with with the hashtag “#standingOnTheLittlePeople.”

Lowell appeared to take the messages seriously, asking “Kushner” to be sure he had shared with him all of the emails on his personal account and cautioning him not to delete any.

Lowell has said that the messages sent and received on the real Kushner’s non-White House address were mostly related to media coverage and event planning.

Below are the full letter, courtesy of @SINON_REBORN, and CNN’s report on the mishap.

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UPDATED Sept. 28, 9:40 a.m.

In what is becoming something of a pattern, a far-right event slated to take place just after Christmas in Charlotte, North Carolina lost support even before planning really got underway.

Infighting, mistrust and the dark stain of August’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia appears to have derailed a “March Against Communism” rally scheduled for Dec. 28. At least one slated headliner already pulled out earlier this week, while other white nationalist figureheads warned their followers not to participate.

On Thursday morning, just two days after telling TPM it planned to move ahead with the event, the group Anti-Communist Action (Anticom) announced the rally was cancelled due to “safety concerns.”

“In light of safety concerns, we’ll no longer be holding an event in Marshall Park,” the group said in tweet pinned to the top of its page. “This was agreed upon by both organizers and guests.”

An Anticom spokesman who identified himself only as Seth declined to elaborate on the tweet, saying the group wanted to “keep future planning private.” On Tuesday, he had described his high hopes for the rally to TPM.

“A good way to describe this is what ‘Unite the Right’ should have been, in the non-violent sense,” Seth said, referring to the Charlottesville rally.

Though the spokesman acknowledged he was “sad to see” white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, whose name was listed on an initial announcement circulated by Anticom, pull out of the event, he expressed confidence that his relatively low-profile group could still draw a big coalition of white nationalists, militia groups, libertarians and far-right icons to North Carolina.

The parallels between Anticom’s planned rally and Charlottesville were clear. Aside from the name of the city where the “March Against Communism” will be held—Anticom’s Seth said it was “just an unfortunate coincidence”—there was a planned torch rally through the city’s streets, and many of the exact same participants who showed up to “Unite The Right” were invited.

Those similarities kept some would-be participants away. The Charlottesville rally led to the slaying of counter-protester Heather Heyer; to companies cutting off access to white nationalist and other extremist groups’ social media accounts and funding sources; to days of damning news headlines; and to a number of participants getting fired from their jobs or winding up in jail.

Spencer confirmed to TPM in a text message that he had pulled out of the Charlotte event, expressing concern about the outdoor venue.

“Cville proved that we simply can’t fully trust mayors and chiefs of police,” he said. “I don’t want to simply repeat Cville. We’ve got to learn from Cville and create better models.”

Others who Anticom said were invited to the event were out in force at Charlottesville, including animal-sacrificing former Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus; white nationalist group Vanguard America; neo-Confederate group League of the South; and Matthew Heimbach, head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party. None of those invitees responded to TPM’s requests for comment.

Some in the community called for a boycott of the event, suggesting that it might be a setup and questioning the motives of the low-profile Anticom organizers. White supremacist Andrew Anglin, who has apparently resuscitated his Daily Stormer website on an Icelandic domain after being booted off a number of U.S. hosting services, told readers: “Urging people to attend a purposefully provocative event with unknown planners who have openly called on people to bring guns to the event is, in our view, utterly irresponsible.” White supremacist hacker Weev echoed those warnings in his own blog post, accusing Spencer of “trying to get some of your fool asses killed” by initially agreeing to participate in an event with weapons organized by “virtually unknown parties.”

Outrage and accusations flew with even more fervor on the 4chan /pol/ message board, where many Charlottesville attendees and supporters had once coordinated planning. Posters speculated that Spencer was “a plant of some sort”—a “Bolshevik” or undercover federal agent trying to undermine their movement:

Much of this festering suspicion stemmed from the wording of the original invitation from Anticom, which encouraged attendees to bring their “torches, guns, armor, gear, and flags” to the “nonviolent” event in the Charlotte, which has a growing minority population.

Unlike in Virginia, visible and, in most cases, concealed firearms are forbidden at protests in North Carolina. Seth, Anticom’s group’s spokesman, told TPM that he had provided updated guidance on carrying firearms an that the group would closely follow police instructions on whether attendees could bring other weapons, like flagpoles, and shields.

While Seth told TPM the group had been in conversation with the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department about those issues, police spokesman Rob Tufano told TPM that “no one from the organization” had been in touch with the department. If Anticom moves forward with the rally, all it’ll need to do is file for an amplified sound permit to use a speaker system and stick to city streets during the torch march, offering advance notification to the local Department of Transportation.

The “March Against Communism” also will face some competition for media attention. A counter-rally coordinated in response to the event is seeing a flood of support, according to “Charlotte Against Racism/White Supremacy” organizer Jibril Hough.

“I’ve never tried to organize something that’s gotten so much interest so early,” Hough, an activist and spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, told TPM of his interfaith event, which also will be held in the city’s Marshall Park.

Hough said he plans to hold his rally, which will feature live music and politically-oriented speeches, “even if they don’t show up,” saying it will “allow us to show our diversity and a united front.”

Already, hundreds of people have added themselves to Facebook groups for Hough’s event and for a similar one organized by Indivisible Charlotte.

For now, it looks like the counter-protesters will be the only ones there.

Pictured above: In this Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 photo, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Va. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

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The Justice Department on Tuesday waded into the debate over free speech on college campuses, filing a statement of interest on behalf of an evangelical Christian student who sued his Georgia university over alleged First Amendment violations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DOJ’s statement in the case during an address promoting campus free speech at Georgetown University Law Center, telling the small, invitation-only crowd that his agency would “enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression from whatever end of the political spectrum it may come.”

As he spoke, faculty and students who were denied entry to the event protested outside, some with tape placed over their mouths.

Sessions made clear Tuesday that the interest in the evangelical student’s case was just the start of the DOJ’s newly-launched campus free speech crusade, promising that his department would be weighing in on more cases “in the weeks and months to come.”

The renewed commitment begins at a particularly charged moment in the national debate over free speech. Students have organized mass protests to keep certain controversial speakers from addressing their peers, and those speakers have capitalized on the contention to secure media attention in turn.

One such speaker is white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who has enlisted the help of Georgia State University grad student Cameron Padgett to manage his speaking tour of college campuses across the country. Padgett has sued Michigan State University on First Amendment grounds for refusing to allow Spencer to come speak, after successfully suing Auburn University to allow Spencer to speak there.

National attention is likely to be trained on how the case that drew the DOJ’s interest, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, plays out given the Attorney General and other Trump administration officials‘ recent remarks on the subject of free speech.

At issue in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski is Georgia Gwinnett College’s use of two “free speech expression areas,” which are made available to students for a total of 18 hours a week. Student Chike Uzuegbunam filed suit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in December, charging that school officials had violated his First Amendment rights by telling him to stop preaching his evangelical beliefs and distributing fliers about his faith within one of those zones. Officials allegedly told him that his evangelizing amounted to “disturbing the peace” because a number of students had complained about his comments, according to court documents.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit representing Uzuegbunam, has argued that this stance violates both the student’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The DOJ concurred in its statement of interest, pointing to decades of court precedent falling strongly in favor of strong free speech protections in public spaces like state university campuses.

“Colleges and universities must protect free speech and may not discriminate out of a concern that listeners might find the content of speech offensive or uncomfortable,” the statement reads, noting that there is a heightened interest in this case because of the “allegations of disparate treatment based on religion.”

U.S. Judge Eleanor Ross is currently considering a motion to dismiss the case filed by Georgia Gwinnett College.

Read the DOJ’s full statement of interest in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski below:

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Amid the torrent of tweets President Donald Trump has sent in recent days attacking NFL players and owners for protesting the national anthem on bended knee was an image of a wounded veteran. Above the photograph of the heavily decorated double amputee was a caption asking what “this BRAVE American would give to stand on his OWN two legs just ONCE MORE for our #Anthem,” along with the hashtags “#MAGA” and “#NFL.”

That veteran, retired Marine Staff Sgt. John Jones, told TPM on Tuesday that he takes no issue with NFL players’ protests—but he’s not enthused about being dragged into the politics of whether someone should stand or not stand for the national anthem.

As he drove to his job as director of development at Workshops for Warriors, a California-based non-profit that trains veterans to be certified machinists, the two-tour veteran of the Iraq War explained that while he would not personally choose to protest the anthem in that way, he disagreed with the idea that doing so was “not acceptable,” as Trump has insisted.

“I went over there and I fought for the rights and freedoms of everybody to do whatever they wanted to do in a lawful manner,” Jones said. “So if the NFL as a whole wants to protest the flag and protest America, then so be it, that’s your right.”

“Keep it peaceful, keep it respectful and I don’t care what you do,” he added.

The players who started the “take a knee” protests say they’re taking a stand against police brutality and racial inequality; San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid lamented in a Monday New York Times op-ed that their actions were “still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel.”

The portrait of Jones in the meme that Trump retweeted was taken by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders for the 2007 HBO documentary, “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq.” Jones, who lost both legs in a landmine explosion while traveling in a Humvee convoy through Anbar province, said this is not the first time the image has been circulated on social media by people promoting their own political agendas.

He likened his experience to the use of the portrait of Pat Tillman, an NFL player and Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002. Tillman and his family eventually became outspoken critics of the War on Terror and Bush administration. Nevertheless, Trump retweeted Tillman’s photo to bash the NFL, prompting Tillman’s widow, Marie, to issue a statement urging “our leaders” not to “politicize” her husband’s service to advance their views.

Jones had a slightly more generous take. Joking that few people in the U.S. can say that the President has shared their photo, he told TPM he doesn’t take issue with Trump retweeting an existing meme. But he said he wishes his likeness wouldn’t be used as a partisan football without his blessing.

“So many people have taken that photo and never even contacted me, never found out who I was or anything to say, ‘Hey can I utilize your photo for this?’” Jones said.

He said he only gets involved and tries to “shame” people for doing so if they use his photo in a “derogatory” manner.

But Jones wishes he could maintain a bit more control of his image and be left to focus on his work of helping veterans find gainful employment and stability as they transition out of the armed services.

“I don’t like being utilized in the whole political debate of whether you should stand or whether you should not stand,” he said.

This post has been updated.

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