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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Former CIA Director John Brennan warned his employees in an internal memo last December that some members of Congress did not “understand and appreciate the importance of gravity” of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, Buzzfeed News reported Thursday.

The memo, which Buzzfeed obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, did not mention the specific lawmakers who Brennan referred to by name. Three unnamed intelligence sources told the publication that the lawmakers in question were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), a particularly close ally of the Trump administration.

In the months since President Donald Trump took office, both McConnell and Cornyn have continued to downplay Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and any possible assistance the Trump team may have provided for that effort.

Brennan testified in May on the collective assessment that he and other intelligence leaders reached about Russia’s “brazen” interference in the 2016 race through bots pushing fake news and the release of emails hacked from Democratic Party organizations and operatives.

Under oath before the House Intelligence Committee, Brennan said that the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia warranted investigation. He also said that he left office with “unresolved questions” about whether Russian officials successfully convinced members of the campaign “to act on their behalf—wittingly or unwittingly.”

Four congressional committees and a special counsel are currently investigating Russia’s election interference and relationship with the Trump campaign.

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During his rambling rally this week in Phoenix, Arizona, President Donald Trump scoffed at the idea that anyone would label him a racist for his ever-evolving response to the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. All he wanted to do, he told a crowd of his supporters, was address his concern that an undefined “they” were attempting “to take away our history and our heritage.”

That language merely puts a presentable face on the racism that left counter-protesters bloodied on the streets of Charlottesville, according to former skinheads and law enforcement who’ve worked with them. Those individuals told TPM that Trump’s comments used the same rhetorical lures that white supremacists and other hate groups rely on to hook new members.

“It’s dangerous because it creates a distinction between us and them,” said Michael German, a former FBI special agent who during his time in law enforcement went undercover with neo-Nazi skinheads in southern California and anti-government militia groups. “When Donald Trump talks about us and our heritage he’s only speaking to one audience, and that audience then starts to view others who are fellow Americans as somehow the enemy.”

“The rhetoric draws people in because it makes them feel like they are losing something terribly important. It perpetuates the us vs. them mentality and serves no one,” echoed Angela King, a former skinhead who spent six years in prison for assisting an armed robbery of a Jewish-owned store. King went on to co-found Life After Hate, a nonprofit that works with former members of violent far-right groups.

The criticism that Trump is dog-whistling to disaffected whites is nothing new for a politician who kicked off his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans drug dealers and criminals, and who once proposed banning all Muslim immigrants to the U.S. The White House has brushed it off, insisting that Trump “of course” condemns “white Supremacists, KKK, neo-nazi and all extremist groups.”

“We have condemned these groups over and over again and will continue to do so,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a Thursday statement to TPM. “There is no place for hate and bigotry in our country.”

But after a week of flailing statements on the violence in Charlottesville that were cheered by the extremist fringe and criticized by just about everyone else, the President has landed on talking points that those same groups use to justify their movement and bring new people into the fold.

Trump’s remarks on George Washington offer one telling example. “George Washington was a slave owner. So will George Washington now lose his status?” the President asked reporters last week at Trump Tower. “Are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington?”

“How about Thomas Jefferson?” he added. “Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?”

On that same day, onetime GOP presidential candidate and nativist commentator Pat Buchanan made the very same point in a column republished by white nationalist publication American Renaissance. 

“Many Southern towns, including Alexandria, Virginia, have statues of Confederate soldiers looking to the South. Shall we pull them all down?” he wrote.”And once all the Southern Civil War monuments are gone, should we go after the statues of the slave owners whom we Americans have heroized? Gen. George Washington and his subordinate, ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee, father of Robert E. Lee, were slave owners, as was Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson.”

Conservative pundits have made similar arguments on Fox News couches in recent days. As Derek Black, the son of the founder of white supremacist website Stormfront, pointed out in a New York Times op-ed this week, few Americans would justify marching down the streets of a U.S. city brandishing a swastika flag, but many more feel comfortable lamenting what they are being told is the erasure of U.S. history.

“My dad often gave me the advice that white nationalists are not looking to recruit people on the fringes of American culture, but rather the people who start a sentence by saying, ‘I’m not racist, but …’,” Black, who has disavowed the movement, wrote of his father, Don. “The most effective tactics for white nationalists are to associate American history with themselves and to suggest that the collective efforts to turn away from our white supremacist past are the same as abandoning American culture.”

Frank Meeink, a former neo-Nazi who left the movement after a stint in prison as a teenager for kidnapping one man and beating another, told TPM that he used those sort of “common sense,” pseudo-academic appeals to recruit residents of his South Philadelphia neighborhood into his skinhead gang.

“It’s the biggest bait and switch. You’re down and out and people are saying, ‘Come be proud of your heritage, they’re telling you you can’t be, come join our group!’” Meeink said of his efforts to “pitch” to new recruits.

“You join the group and not once did these guys talk about their heritage in meetings,” Meeink went on. “Never went to a meeting where they were like, ‘Hey, let’s talk about Leif Erikson again!’ All we talked about was, ‘Look at what the Jews are doing to our culture,’ but we never talked about what our culture did, it was what they’re doing. You’re not taught about your heritage; you’re taught about why other heritages aren’t as good.”

Trump is hardly the first politician to fret over the preservation of southern history or to send winking signals to white nationalists. But that kind of pandering has almost always come from the fringiest members of Congress, if not obscure local and state-level politicians. Just Wednesday, the Republican Party of Virginia backed down after attacking the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, whose ancestors had owned slaves, for betraying his “heritage” by calling to move Confederate statues into museums.

Trump, who himself once argued in favor of removing the Confederate flag from public spaces, has showed no signs of contrition, lashing out at critics in the media and on Capitol Hill and defending his recent comments as inherently harmless. Speaking with the imprimatur of the White House, Trump has taken these bogus historical arguments mainstream.

German, the former FBI agent, emphasized that people don’t simply transform into white nationalists overnight, pointing to recent studies showing an increase in U.S. hate groups.

“I always ask myself, ‘Okay is it that people who weren’t racist yesterday decide, you know what, I think I’ll be a racist!’” he joked. “I don’t think so.”

“I tend to believe that these are feelings that a sizable segment of the population holds and is reluctant to express, because they know its not social acceptable to say these things,” he added. “When you have someone like Donald Trump say them from a campaign podium or platform, that makes it okay to say them. That has brought out a lot of this latent racism to full expression. And that expression then influences our policy and the way we enforce the law.”

This post has been updated.

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Anti-Muslim activists interested in rubbing shoulders with like-minded individuals at upcoming nationwide “America First” rallies were met with bad news Monday.

ACT for America, one of the country’s largest anti-Muslim groups, announced the cancellation of some 67 demonstrations in 36 states out of concern that “violence” could break out at those events. The organization shared the news with Breitbart that it would instead hold an online “Day of ACTion” for supporters.

“ACT for America is deeply saddened that in today’s divisive climate, citizens cannot peacefully express their opinion without risk of physical harm from terror groups domestic and international,” the organization said in a statement provided to Breitbart. “In recent weeks, extremist and radical organizations in the United States and abroad have overrun peaceful events in order to advance their own agendas, and in many cases, violence has been the result. Given the security issues of organizing public events, the responsible decision is to deny this opportunity to Neo-Nazis, Antifa, the KKK, and ISIS inspired individuals and groups.”

Although it didn’t mention any specific event by name, the statement appeared to reference the recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where one counter-protester was killed and at least 19 others injured in a car attack. Another event organized in Boston by the so-called “alt-right,” the broader and loosely affiliated group of racists, misogynists and anti-Semites, was largely peaceful, with an estimated 40,000 counter-protesters hugely outnumbering the rally attendees.

In a belated response Tuesday afternoon, ACT spokesperson Brian Glicklich told TPM that the cancellations were not “based on any single event.”

Instead, the decision was related to “the rapidly evolving landscape of threats and harassment directed at public free speech rallies,” Glicklich said. “We cannot justify putting our supporters in that kind of environment.”

The “America First” rallies were originally billed as opportunities for supporters of President Donald Trump to commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks, express support for law enforcement and promote “real protection over political correctness” in the fight against the Islamic State terror group. ACT has held similar rallies before, including June protests against what they see as the threat of “creeping” Shariah law. Brigitte Gabriel, who founded the group, is a vocal Trump supporter who in March shared photographs of herself at the White House that she said were taken during a meeting there.

The Southern Poverty Law Center designates ACT as a hate group due to its virulent rhetoric about Muslims and Islam.

Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for the anti-Muslim bigotry and civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, said in a statement that by canceling the rallies “ACT is essentially acknowledging that these types of events cause and incite violence.”

“The reality is that ACT for America’s supporters are no different than those who marched in and supported the Charlottesville events,” Ahussain continued.

City officials in some locations where events were planned had already pushed back against ACT, associating the organization with other far-right extremist groups.

“My message to them is ‘We don’t want you here,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told local ABC affiliate WISN this week. “We don’t want any Nazi groups here, any white supremacist or ‘alt-right’ groups who are coming because this is a city of inclusion. It’s not a city of exclusion, and it’s not a city of white supremacy so go somewhere else and bother the people there.”

Barrett’s office did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment on the rallies’ cancelation.

Resistance to the planned ACT rallies is just one aspect of the mass pushback against far-right and extremist groups after Charlottesville. Universities have canceled white nationalist events and major technology companies have booted them off their platforms.

Last week, the right-wing leaders of demonstrations organized to protest Google’s firing of James Damore, a male employee who wrote a memo arguing that women were biologically unfit for technical positions at the company, canceled events at Google facilities on account of what they said were “credible threats from known Alt Left terrorist groups.”

This post has been updated.

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The internet’s foremost purveyors of racist bile faced an unprecedented backlash in the wake of the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. White nationalists and other hate groups were kicked off of mainstream social media and web hosting sites in droves, pushing them onto platforms created to cater to their niche audiences.

But these sites, such as anti-censorship crowdfunding platform RootBocks and WeSearchr, the crowdfunding site co-founded by far-right blogger and agitator Chuck Johnson, have little name recognition and limited reach. That creates mini-echo chambers where a self-selecting group on the far-right fringe can trade memes and fund each others’ legal fees.

“It further pushes these people to the margins of the internet, not that they were anything more than marginal to begin with,” Hatreon founder Cody Wilson told TPM in a Monday phone interview. “Yeah, some of their stuff began to get purchase with Trump and campaign ’16 but again it’s always vastly overestimated.”

Hatreon, which describes itself as “a platform for creators, absent speech policing,” is a far-right take on Patreon, a platform that allows podcast hosts and other creators to solicit paid subscriptions from their fans. Wilson, whose primary occupation is running a company that develops and publishes open-source gun designs that can be 3-D printed, told TPM he was “sympathetic” to the “alt-right” but personally was “not right-wing.” He said he created the platform so that the loose band of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists who compose the “alt-right” could “have a leg in this conversation and not be banished from the internet.”

Jared Taylor, head of the white nationalist publication American Renaissance, complained of the “terrible setback” imposed by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other large-scale tech companies in preventing leaders of his movement from reaching new audiences.

“It is a reversion to the pre-internet days when in order to really have access to the public you had to own a newspaper or a magazine or a television network or radio station,” he told TPM in a recent interview. “The internet has vastly democratized this process and made it possible for people not just like us but like Donald Trump to bypass the gatekeepers. What we are going back to is a kind of snuffing out of dissident views. It reminds me of the Soviet Union.”

A number of extremist activists and leaders interviewed by TPM were optimistic that these new platforms would eventually gain more members and clout. But for now, the numbers speak for themselves.

Wilson claimed that he spends “$12 grand a month” of his own money to fund Hatreon as a passion project, saying the site “doesn’t make money” and estimating it has approximately 900 registered users. By contrast, Patreon has over 50,000 registered users and is on track to pay creators over $150 million in 2017, according to a recent company blog post. Facebook boasted some 2 billion users as of this summer; even social media sites with comparatively smaller user bases, like Twitter, with 328 million users, remain central to the national conversation, especially in the Trump era. White nationalists can’t get an accidental retweet from the President if they’re using a fringe platform he’s never heard of, after all.

The refusal of companies like PayPal and Amazon to process payments from certain sites also limits fundraising options for those groups. RootBocks, for example, only accepts cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Dogecoin at the moment.

As Taylor observed, “You can’t make a living just accepting donations only in Bitcoins.”

Peter Brimelow, founder of the site Virginia Dare, which features articles from white nationalist contributors, told TPM in an email last week that his site, which was booted from PayPal, was “earning significant income from Google Adsense [and] Amazon before they purged us.”

Companies have also been dropping the domains of white nationalist sites and shutting down their servers, and there’ve been claims of hacker collectives targeting those sites with spontaneous disruption of service campaigns. As Utsav Sanduja, chief communications officer and global corporate affairs director for Gab, a Twitter alternative popular among the far-right, told TPM, “We’ve actually been targeted by far-left social justice warrior mobs and groups that have been DDOSing us on a regular basis and trying to bring down our site.”

Sanduja, whose Gab bio features a nod to Trump, insists that his site is run by and open to people from a range of ideological backgrounds who want to engage in “politically incorrect discourse.”

“We want a discourse that is free and civil and peaceful as opposed to people getting censored and going to the dark web, where there is criminality,” Sanduja said. “We’re trying to moderate it, essentially, this dialogue, and prevent it from getting violent.”

Other sites are more focused in their target audience and demographics. TPM reached out to Pax Dickinson, who was fired as chief technology officer at Business Insider for his racist, misogynist views and went on to found Counter.Fund, a fundraising platform “built by and for the wider Alt-Right counter-culture.”

His response: “Fuck you, Talking Points Memo bullshit artist, I wouldn’t talk to you if you paid me.”

Wilson, of Hatreon, was flip when asked about the long-term viability of these alternative platforms catering to white nationalists.

“If they can’t find alternatives, they’re not mature enough as a group,” he said. “I think this severe reaction to them [from mainstream companies] is necessary. If they have something they really believe in, they should be able to overcome it.”

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The latest takedown of the thin credentials of Sebastian Gorka, President Donald Trump’s deputy assistant and a self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert, comes from his own dissertation adviser.

“I would not call him an expert on terrorism,” Stephen Sloan, a retired professor of political science who advised Gorka on the Ph.D. dissertation he completed at Budapest’s Corvinus University and considers the White House aide a friend, told CNN in a report published Friday.

TPM reported on Gorka’s lack of qualifications and name recognition among counterterrorism experts in February. The experts surveyed questioned his lack of Arabic language fluency, hardline diatribes against the threat of “radical Islam” and close ties to fringe figures like anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney.

“His level of expertise does not match the level where he stands in the White House,” Sloan told CNN, adding that Gorka “does a very good job being the bulldog” for the Trump White House “but as an adviser, I have some discomfort.”

Gorka prominently advertises his degree, going by the name “Sebastian Gorka DrG” on Twitter and requesting that Fox News introduce him as “Dr. Sebastian Gorka” in his frequent on-camera appearances.

He also has been criticized for his association with a far-right Hungarian nationalist group originally founded by a Nazi collaborator, although there’s no indication he personally holds anti-Semitic views.

Even Gorka’s West Wing colleagues have cast doubt on his competence, telling reporters that he contributes little to policy development and mostly hangs around the White House waiting to do his next cable news hit.

Gorka did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, and the White House press office refused the network’s questions about what Gorka does, who he advises and whether he holds the security clearance required to work on sensitive terrorism-related matters. BuzzFeed News reported in March that he had no such clearance.

With the Friday departure of Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and Gorka’s former boss at Breitbart News, multiple reports indicate that Gorka’s future in the White House is uncertain.

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While President Donald Trump spent the week generating goodwill among the varied white nationalist groups that descended on Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, a wide swath of corporations, universities and localities was pushing back against them.

PayPal, Patreon, Facebook, Squarespace, Spotify, Google, GoDaddy, Texas A&M University, the University of Florida, Michigan State University, and a mountain resort in Colorado are among the companies removing white nationalists’ accounts and venues canceling their planned events in the wake of violent street clashes that left three people dead and dozens injured on Saturday. By eliminating both the physical and virtual platforms that white nationalists use to promote their ideas, those companies and institutions have curtailed the avenues by which they could grow their reach.

“I can’t think of another incident to which the backlash has been nearly so widespread,” Mark Pitcavage, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, told TPM.

Most of the white nationalist, far-right and “anti-communist” groups that spoke with TPM acknowledged that squeeze, in addition to their association with a gory rally attended by neo-Nazis and decorated Ku Klux Klan members, as a setback. But the gloss they put on it varied widely: A number of group leaders insisted that the exposure they received through the “Unite the Right” rally is worth any ensuing hardship, and that other social media and web domain platforms will crop up to service their needs. Others described the ongoing backlash as a huge blow.

A Charlottesville organizer and white nationalist podcast host who goes by the pseudonym Caerulus Rex told TPM that his PayPal account had been terminated in the wake of Charlottesville. But Rex insisted that such moves would not “silence us.”

“There are already services stepping up to accept the money that paypal and the like dont want,” Rex said in an email. “Those companies that started refusing us service created an opportunity for tech savy [sic] individuals to profit by not being offended by the truth.”

The Charlottesville organizer behind the @AltRightVa Twitter handle, who declined to give his name, expressed a similar sentiment.

In a phone call, the organizer acknowledged that the “Unite the Right” rally “did not turn out the way we wanted it to.” But he was confident that white nationalists who had their PayPal, YouTube and other accounts canceled will either turn to other sites to get their message out, like the open source platform Minds.com, or create new platforms entirely.

“The market will provide a solution,” he insisted in a phone interview.

Other rally attendees made use of the pro-First Amendment arguments so often voiced by white nationalists to concede that private companies are within their rights to cut off service to any user.

“That is that company’s choice if they want to,” the publications director for the California-based Anti-Communist Action Group, who identified himself only as Seth, told TPM. “If we’re going to allow people to deny a gay couple their cake, we have to apply that standard universally.”

The extent to which white nationalist groups were affected by service denials and account terminations this week varied depending on their size, reach and how violent and virulent their views are. Andrew Anglin’s neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, was essentially wiped off the mainstream internet after GoDaddy, Google and CloudFare stopped providing domain registration in quick succession. Anglin has since relocated the site to the dark web, where it is only available via use of a Tor network, radically restricting his audience.

“His site is all he has,” the ADL’s Pitcavage observed. “He can’t even show his face ‘cause he’ll get served with lawsuits. So his site is basically his voice. He gets hurt a lot worse than someone else who has a lot of different avenues for expressing their ideologies and beliefs.”

Pitcavage said the squeeze was real, whether or not these groups want to acknowledge it.

“There’s only a limited number of ways to send money electronically over the Internet,” he said. “There are only a limited number of large social media sites—once you get away from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you’re really dropping off in terms of the numbers of membership.”

Some white nationalist groups who have been active for years see this week’s backlash, which has derailed several scheduled events, as devastating.

Though his website and PayPal account have gone untouched, Jared Taylor, the head of white nationalist publication American Renaissance, likened large social media platforms to “public utilities” in their monopoly of specific industries, saying, “If they kick you off because they don’t like the cut of your jib, it’s a terrible setback in how you want to get your message out.”

Taylor said that he was “driven to” hold his publication’s annual conference at state parks rather than in posh hotels because of what he deemed “illegal pressure tactics.”

“We used to have our meetings in first class hotels, convenient to airports, convenient to international travel,” he said. “Now we’re really limited to public facilities. That’s a huge blow; it’s a huge setback.”

The rally on the streets of Charlottesville and a slew of plans to hold events in public spaces on university campuses speaks to this squeezing of the white nationalist movement out of private spaces.

Cheyenne Mountain Lodge, a luxury resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this week canceled a planned 2018 conference organized by the white nationalist-aligned website Virginia Dare after public outcry. Still,  VDare founder Peter Brimelow told TPM that the conference hubbub, on top of PayPal dropping his account, led to “one of the strongest donor days ever” and claimed that “traffic is running double or triple usual pace.” According to Brimelow, that cable hosts like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson discussed VDare’s predicament on air helped, too.

Texas A&M this week canceled a September rally planned by activist Preston Wiginton, who had invited prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak, out of concern that the event would result in the same violence seen in Virginia.

Wiginton told TPM he’s in talks with the American Civil Liberties Union and private attorneys to take legal action against A&M. Given the high burden for a public university to prove that threats of violence will materialize at an event, some legal analysts say Wiginton has a strong case (The ACLU did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment).

Insisting he was just “making an observation,” Wiginton invoked a dark precedent: the formation of the Irish Republican Army.

“Historically if you look at the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, this is exactly how they were formed,” he said. “They were forced underground because of their views. That’s what America is playing with. I’m not advocating that at all, but in a society where you have people that have issues or are angry or something, our First Amendment makes it so they can express those views, come to a forum and discuss and find a solution to those problems.”

Battles over whether one may spew hate speech in public are likely to play out on university campuses and in city parks for years to come. As Pitcavage noted, what matters in terms of corporate and private backlash is whether it stands that test of time.

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After a Wednesday meeting with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is convinced that Russia did not leak emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. And he wants to tell the President all that and more.

The lengthy sit-down, first reported by the Daily Caller, was held at at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has taken asylum for the past five years after facing a sexual assault charge in Sweden.

“Assange emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved in the hacking or disclosure of those emails,” Rohrabacher said in a statement on the meeting, which he said lasted three hours.

The statement noted, as a point of pride, that Rohrabacher is “the only U.S. congressman to have visited the controversial figure “and that the California Republican planned to “divulge more of what he found directly to President Trump.”

Rohrabacher, who’s been dubbed “Putin’s favorite congressman” and who House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) once joked that he believes is one of “two people I think Putin pays” besides Trump, has been leading a lonely campaign to prove that Russia did not intervene in the U.S. presidential race since Trump won the White House in November.

Recently, he’s promoted a months-old report put out by retired intelligence officials that he claims offers incontrovertible proof that the “so-called hacking of the Democratic National Committee” was “an inside job made to look like Moscow’s handiwork.” The report, which came out before Trump’s inauguration, offers little evidence on this front, instead questioning the intelligence community’s collective analysis that Russia was the culprit.

Republicans leading congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election disagree with Rohrabacher’s assessment.

Rohrabacher’s spokesman, Ken Grubbs, confirmed to TPM that right-wing blogger and agitator Chuck Johnson was also in the meeting with Assange. Johnson told the Daily Caller that he arranged the conversation on Assange’s behalf because the WikiLeaks founder hopes to strike a deal with the U.S. that will allow him to finally leave the embassy.

Asked by TPM for comment on what this deal would entail, and why he is playing middleman, Johnson sent an email reading simply: “No thank you.” Grubbs declined to elaborate on Johnson’s relationship with Rohrabacher.

Johnson recently told the news site that he was contacted by the Senate Intelligence Committee in relation to its ongoing probe into Russia’s election interference.

This post has been updated.

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The family of the 23-year-old man arrested this weekend for allegedly trying to set off what he thought was a large car bomb outside an Oklahoma City bank has accused the FBI of knowingly entrapping an individual who suffers from severe mental health issues.

In the culmination of a months-long FBI sting operation, Jerry Drake Varnell, a 23-year-old Sayre, Oklahoma resident, was charged with planning to blow up the BancFirst building in an anti-government plot modeled after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing attack that killed dozens.

A federal criminal complaint against Varnell does not reference his history of mental illness, which is documented in state records related to a 2013 assault against his then-wife.

Varnell was charged with one felony count of domestic assault and battery by strangulation after sexually and physically assaulting his then-wife in the apartment they shared in February 2013, when he was a student at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

The woman told police that Varnell had a “schizophrenic episode” that caused him to believe “he would die at midnight and needed to impregnate her,” according to a probable cause affidavit. She told police that when she declined, Varnell smothered her face with a pillow until she passed out, and that when she awoke, he was “raping her.”

Varnell ultimately pleaded no contest and received a five-year deferred sentence. Plea documents show that he had received a diagnosis for schizophrenic affective disorder the month of his arrest on the assault and battery charge.

Varnell’s attorney, Terri Coulter, did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment from TPM. Melonie Varnell, the suspect’s mother, and Cade Varnell, the suspect’s brother, also did not immediately respond to Facebook messages seeking comment.

In a Monday interview with the Daily Beast, Melonie Varnell said that her son had been hospitalized six times since age 16 as a result of his schizophrenia, and that his alleged involvement in the bombing plot was brought on by the paranoia and conspiracies inherent to his illness.

“Without the Haldol, he thinks he’s Jesus, he’s tried to make gold before, he’s chased trolls. He’s very mentally ill,” Melonie Varnell told the Daily Beast, referring to the medication her son takes.

“I consider this entrapment,” she added. “They got him to do this. We live two hours from Oklahoma City.”

In a statement to HuffPost, Varnell’s mother noted that the well-equipped “bunker” the FBI said her son maintained in the backyard was just a “storm shelter” that the family used for storage.

Varnell faces between five and 20 years in prison for the alleged bomb plot, which came about after a confidential informant and an undercover FBI agent helped him gain access to what he believed were explosive materials, according to the complaint. He also allegedly made comments in support of the anti-government “III %” movement and repeatedly said he wanted to destroy federal property.

His detention hearing is set for Aug. 22.

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LATE UPDATE Aug. 17, 2017, 9:24 a.m.: VDare said in a statement that it had received a refunded deposit and check for “very significant damages” from Cheyenne Mountain Resort following the cancellation of its 2018 conference. Praising the “professionalism and courtesy” of the staff, founder Peter Brimelow called the cancellation proof of the power of the “Totalitarian Left” to “suppress a debate on immigration policy.”

Original story below

A resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado has cancelled plans to host white nationalist site Virginia Dare’s 2018 public conference.

“Cheyenne Mountain Resort will not be hosting the VDARE Foundation in April of next year,” resort spokeswoman Guadalupe Hirt said Wednesday in a statement to TPM. “We remain committed to respecting the privacy of guests at the resort.”

Virginia Dare, or VDare, had booked the luxury resort for a weekend of discussion about “patriotic immigration reform and American national identity” in April 2018, as Media Matters first reported earlier this month. The Southern Poverty Law Center labels VDare an “anti-immigrant hate site.”

Asked initially about its decision to host a group with direct ties to some of the country’s most prominent white nationalists, the resort told Media Matters that it would not comment on the “groups or individuals that hold meetings at the resort.”

TPM has reached out to VDare founder Peter Brimelow and his wife, Lydia, for comment. The link to the conference page on VDare’s website now informs visitors that the event was cancelled and that registered attendees would receive refunds.

That notice has replaced an invitation for the $225-per-person, three-day event, in which the group promised attendees access to the resort’s “naturally breathtaking landscape and exceptional hospitality,” as well as the opportunity to hear from a number of far-right luminaries, including Brimelow himself.

TPM screenshot of the invitation as it appeared last week.

Brimelow, the author of “Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster,” adamantly denies that his site has a white nationalist bent. But white nationalist writers like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor frequently contribute articles to the site. At a 2016 American Renaissance conference that a TPM reporter attended, Brimelow said that the “next time there are illegal alien demonstrations,” the federal government should “round them up and ship them out.”

Other planned speakers at the Dare event included former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), a Breitbart columnist who has said that “political correctness protests Muslim rape culture” and that Barack Obama was only elected President because the U.S. no longer had a “literacy test” for voting.

John Derbyshire, a longtime National Review columnist who was fired over an article suggesting white and Asian parents educate their children about the threats posed by black people, was also on the list of speakers. He has referred to himself as a “homophobe” and “a racist.”

VDare’s plan to convene in Colorado Springs was met with strong local pushback. Mayor John Suthers (R) said he could not stop the resort from hosting the group, but that the city would “not provide any support or resources to this event, and does not condone hate speech in any fashion.”

“The City remains steadfast in its commitment to the enforcement of Colorado law, which protects all individuals regardless of race, religion, color, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, harassment and physical harm,” Suthers said in a statement on his website.

A Change.org petition circulated this week to try to convince the resort not to host the conference and garnered over 4,0000 signatures.

VDare’s attempts to hold its first-ever conference have been thwarted before. After Media Matters informed Tenaya Lodge, a resort near Yosemite National Park, about the group’s views earlier this year, the resort canceled the conference, saying it was unaware “of the nature of” the organization.

Pushback against white nationalist groups and other hate groups has escalated in the wake of the chaotic “Unite the Right” rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left dozens injured and three people dead. According to its website, VDare also has had its PayPal account abruptly pulled, as happened to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer.

A number of the participants in the “Unite the Right” rally since have been dismissed from their jobs, and planned white nationalist events in Boston and at Texas A&M University have been canceled.

Correction: The original version of this post erroneously identified Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers as a Democrat. He is a Republican.

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At first blush, it seemed as if another shoe may be dropping for an associate of President Donald Trump in the investigations into Russia’s 2016 election interference when the news broke Monday night that a campaign adviser had repeatedly tried to arrange meetings with Russian contacts.

But according to the Washington Post’s report, that aide was foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, one of the youngest and least prominent members of Trump’s campaign.

In a phone call with TPM, a former Trump campaign adviser confirmed Papadopoulos made at least one effort to arrange meetings between Russian officials and Trump or senior members of his campaign that was swiftly rebuffed.

“I remember him raising that once and it never went anywhere,” the adviser said. “It was a nothing. It was a sort of comment or suggestion. I heard him make it, but it was sort of shot down and never really taken seriously.”

The former adviser repeatedly insisted Papadopoulos was not “a significant player” on the foreign policy team and described him as “probably the most junior guy,” saying he never saw evidence that Papadopoulos had successfully developed his own networks in the foreign policy community.

Papadopoulos, who has a nearly nonexistent online presence aside from a LinkedIn profile, did not respond to a message on that platform requesting comment for this story.

His mysterious emergence in and disappearance from the Trump orbit raises questions about why he made at least six attempts via email to broker meetings between Russian leaders and Trump advisers, according to the Post’s reporting, as well as about who his contacts were.

The only Russian individual named in the Post article is Ivan Timofeev, a senior official in the government-funded Russian International Affairs Council, who inquired in May 2016 about arranging a Moscow meeting between Trump and Russian foreign ministry officials. Both Sam Clovis, then the co-campaign chairman, and Paul Manafort swatted down the Timofeev inquiry, per the report.

Papadopoulos is a 2009 college graduate whose work experience includes stints at a handful of Washington, D.C. think tanks and a London-based oil and gas advisory firm. His youth and lack of policy experience were immediately called into question when Trump listed him as one of five foreign policy advisers during a March 2016 sit-down with the Post’s editorial board; he had previously briefly served as a campaign adviser to Ben Carson.

At the time, Trump referred to Papadopoulos as an “excellent guy.”

During his tenure on the campaign, Papadopoulos was not tasked with assisting with press interviews, nor did he make notable contributions to rolling out Trump’s foreign policy proposals, according to the former campaign adviser. He did conduct one September 2016 interview with independent Moscow news site Interfax, however, in which he said that U.S. sanctions “have done little more than to turn Russia towards China.”

Despite his apparently minimal involvement, Papadopoulos makes prominent reference to his tenure on the Trump team in his LinkedIn profile; his banner names him as a “former advisor at Donald J Trump for President” and his summary leads off with Trump’s words of praise to the Post.

Carter Page, another former member of Trump’s foreign policy team who has been interviewed multiple times by the FBI about his business ties to Russia, told TPM that questions about Papadopoulos’ work on the campaign were “irrelevant.”

Other former members of the foreign policy team, as well as representatives from the organizations listed on Papadopoulos’ LinkedIn, where he is currently listed as a New York City-based independent “oil, gas and policy consultant,” did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The head of the only organization Papadopoulos listed as a current affiliation, the Cyprus-based International Presidential Business Advisory Council, denied any connection to him.

“George Papadopoulos is NOT a member of IPBAC, never was and we have never worked together,” John Georgoulas, head of the organization, told TPM in an email, saying he’s “never met him.”

When TPM told Georgoulas that Papadopoulos had listed himself as a “member” of the group on his LinkedIn profile, Georgoulas noted that the former Trump aide had once added him as a connection, but said that Papadopoulos’ claim to membership was “weird and not true!”

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