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Archive for January, 2022

Wray Op-Ed Focuses on Law Enforcement Officers Killed in Line of Duty in 2021

FBI Director Christopher Wray

By Steve Neavling

One law enforcement officer was killed every five days on average last year, the highest number since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, FBI Director Christopher Wray wrote that the death toll “hasn’t received the attention it deserves.” A total of 73 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2021.

Among those who died in the line of duty were FBI Special Agents Laura Schwartzenberger and Daniel Alfin, who were killed while serving a search warrant at a home in Florida early last year.

FBI Task Force Officer Greg Ferency of the Terre Haute, Ind., Police Department also was killed in an ambush outside an FBI office in July.

Wray wrote:

“When I started as FBI director, I made it my practice to call the chief or sheriff of every officer intentionally killed in the line of duty. I have now made more than 200 such calls. Each conversation reminds me that behind the uniform, the badge, and, yes, sometimes the flashing lights in your rearview mirror, there are real people. With each call, I think about the families and friends who lost someone they loved, the children who will grow up without a parent, and the communities deprived of a public servant.  

“We owe it to them to redouble our efforts to take the most violent offenders off the streets and to make sure officers have the resources, equipment and training they need to do their jobs safely. Even more, we need to ensure the brave men and women know that the communities they serve have their backs. 

“Every day, officers willingly put themselves at risk not knowing what dangerous situation or traumatic event they might encounter. I won’t pretend every person who carries a badge is beyond reproach, but the overwhelming majority do the job with the professionalism and commitment to equal justice citizens rightly expect. ” 

To read the entire op-ed, click here.

Oath Keeper Leader Charged with Seditious Conspiracy for Role in Jan. 6 Riot

Alex Gakos/Shutterstock.com

By Steve Neavling

The leader and founder of the extremist far-right group Oath Keepers and 10 others were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracies and other crimes for their involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Stewart Rhodes, 56, was arrested in Little Elm, Texas. 

The Oath Keepers is a loosely organized group that focuses on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel. 

According to the indictment, the defendants were wearing paramilitary gear and using a military formation to navigate the crowds and enter the Capitol. 

They assaulted U.S. Capitol Police and conspired to storm the Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, prosecutors said. 

The indictment marks the first time anyone has been charged with sedition for participating in the riot. 

Since the riot, more than 725 people from nearly every state has been charged in connection with the insurrection. Of those, 225 have been charged with assaulting or impending law enforcement. 

CBP Asks Public for Help Fixing Problems Caused by Trump’s Border Wall

One proposed fix is protecting culverts with drainage measures. Photo: CBP.

By Steve Neavling

CBP is seeking the public’s input on how border wall construction has caused problems in three Arizona counties. 

The agency plans to address some of the problems caused by the Trump administration’s 30-foot steel border wall, Arizona Public Media reports.

In an interactive document released this month, CBP shows how the wall has impacted wilderness in Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties.

Among the measures mentioned in the document are installing and maintaining small wildlife openings at the bottom of the walls and protecting culverts with drainage measures. 

Many miles of the border wall were erected in wildlife refuges and national forests.  

“The maintenance of roads, the building of structures to make sure that patrol roads do not erode away, that’s what really appears to be the main objective here, and not one of trying to restore our wild borderlands,” Myles Traphagen with the conservation nonprofit Wildlands Network said.

TSA Reveals Top 10 ‘Good Catches’ of 2020, Including a Meth Burrito

By Steve Neavling

From a gun-shaped wine holder to methamphetamine stuffed in a burrito, TSA officers found some unusual items in 2021. 

TSA released its “Top 10 Catches of 2021,” which lists its most bizarre findings by airport security workers.

The list is revealed in a video, which counts down to the No. 1 strangest item, and each is accompanied by a clever quip. 

The idea is to remind passengers of the kinds of items they’re not allowed to take on a plane. 

Here’s the list: 

1. Chainsaw, found at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

2. A revolver-shaped wine bottle holder, found at Sacramento International Airport.

3. Fireworks, found at Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

4. A “heavy-duty” machete, found at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

5. Bear spray, found at Destin-Fort-Walton Beach Airport.

6. A “well-worn” cleaver, found at Harrisburg International Airport.

7. A firearm-shaped belt buckle, found at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

8. Meth hidden in a breakfast burrito, found at William P. Hobby Airport.

9. An antique revolver, found at Newark Liberty International Airport.

10. Bullets in a stick of deodorant, found at Atlantic City International Airport.

The 2020 list included firearms, a grenade, and a jar with a dead baby shark. 

Why ‘Cult Leader’ Donald Trump Should Be Indicted for Insurrection

The writer, a ticklethewire.com columnist, was an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006. He has a degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law and is author of a recently released book, “FBI Case Files Michigan: Tales of a G-Man.” 

By Greg Stejskal

Last February after former President Trump was acquitted of impeachment charges for inciting an insurrection, I wrote a column making a case for criminally prosecuting him.

Since then time, a bipartisan House committee has conducted a detailed investigation regarding the U.S. Capitol insurrection a year ago last week. The Department of Justice and the FBI have charged over 700 individuals for various criminal acts while participating in efforts to block transfer of power to President Biden.

Many of those individuals went to the Capital to “stop the steal” — to stop Congress from certifying electoral votes submitted by the states. Over 100 officers were injured, the Capitol was breached and property was destroyed. Threats to hang the vice-president were voiced. That is what they believed Trump told them to do.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week on the eve of the one-year anniversary: “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)

What follows is updated and revised version of my column from last February.

Many aspects of the impeachment process are foreign to me, but during my FBI career, I investigated and helped prosecute many diverse federal crimes — though not sedition or insurrection. I wondered if the incitement of insurrection charge against former President Trump could be prosecuted criminally, and if there had been analogous prosecutions. 

In August 1969, on successive nights, seven people were murdered in Los Angeles. Five died at the home of film director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate. Polanski was out of town but Tate, who was pregnant, and four friends were brutally murdered. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBlanca were stabbed to death in their home.

Initially there was no connection made between the murders on successive nights. But the crime scenes were both horrific. The principal weapons used were knives. The scenes were very bloody and there was graffiti on the walls, written with blood, including the words “Helter Skelter.”

An apt ‘cult leader’ analogy

Ultimately the murders were linked and dubbed the Manson Family murders. Four members of the Manson Family, three women and one man, along with Manson, were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (The other male, Charles “Tex” Watson, was convicted separately.) 

Charles Manson

At trial, which lasted nine and a half months, no evidence was presented that Manson participated in the murders or ever instructed any of the defendants to murder any of the victims. (Manson stayed at the Spahn ranch, where his “family” had established a commune, during the first night of the murder spree.) Manson was a charismatic leader of the cult and preached an eclectic philosophy grounded in white supremacy and from various sources – principally from his reading of the Book of Revelations that he believed foretold the coming of the Beatles. Manson told his followers that the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” denoted acts of mayhem and violence that would bring on an apocalyptic race war. 

The murders were meant to be attributed to Blacks and precipitate the race war. The three women and Manson were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder despite there being no evidence of Manson directly ordering the violence. The prosecution contended his convincing the cult of his bizarre philosophy constituted an overt act that propelled the conspiracy.

This is obviously an imperfect analogy as to what Trump did up to and following the election, which ultimately culminated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But Trump does seem to be a cult leader, with a significantly larger cult than Manson’s.

A certain segment of his supporters has unquestioning loyalty. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., characterized it this way: “Politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

Trump, since the beginning of his re-election campaign, had preached that mail-in balloting is inherently fraudulent, and if he were to lose, it could only because the election was “rigged.”

Trump did lose the election, by about 7 million votes and 306-232 electoral votes. Despite the results, Trump claimed that he had won the election, that it had been stolen from him due to massive fraud – the “Big Lie.”

No proof of substantial election fraud has been produced by Trump or any supporters. In addition to lying, Trump has refused to denounce the white nationalist militia groups and QAnon conspiracy aficionados – conspiracies that are every bit as loony as anything Manson dreamed up. These groups were well-represented among the insurrectionists who visited so much violence on the Capitol and its defenders.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, one the House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial, summed up the cult psychology of both Trump and Manson with a quote from Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

When Trump and his surrogates called for the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, it was becoming clear that it was a last-ditch effort to delay finalization of the election. Congress would certify the states’ electoral votes that day, and Vice President Mike Pence would preside.Trump had been trying to persuade Pence to disqualify the votes from some states where voting had been close but were carried by Joe Biden. Pence had told Trump that he had no constitutional authority to disqualify electoral votes. Trump reportedly told Pence, You can either go down in history as a patriot or you can go down in history as a pussy.

Rudy Giuliani previously on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

At the rally, several speakers warmed up the crowd with bellicose language. Rudy Giuliani told the crowd: There needed to be a trial by combat. When Trump took the stage, he thanked and praised the previous speakers, specifically naming Giuliani and in effect, endorsing their message.

Trump’s speech was also bellicose, with such phrases as: “We fight like hell.” He also said: “And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

He did temper his rhetoric somewhat, saying they would march to the Capital in a peaceful and patriotic manner. He also said he would march with them. He didn’t. He went back to the White House and watched the insurrection on television. As a former reality TV star, Trump might have thought watching it on TV was the same as being there.

So, did Trump and others intend to incite an insurrection?

‘Remember this day forever!’

Trump had shown he was willing to do anything to avoid relinquishing the presidency. He knew his last chance was to stop or disrupt Congress’ certification of the electoral votes. If that could be achieved by an insurrection at the Capitol, so be it.

President Donald Trump

Probably the best indication of Trump’s intent was that after learning the Capitol had been breached and Congress members and the vice president were under siege, he made no effort to stop it. Instead, he watched the insurrection on television at the White House.

During the uprising, Trump was asked to intercede by several aides, his children, Fox News hosts and members of Congress.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump and asked the president to tell the insurrectionists to stop. Trump first replied he had no control over the mob; they were “antifa.” McCarthy said that wasn’t true; they were Trump supporters but in more graphic terms. Trump replied: “Well Kevin, I guess they must care more about the election than you do.”

Trump did nothing to quell the insurrection. Finally, after several hours Trump recorded a message to the insurrectionists which ended with Trump telling them: We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You are very special. That was followed by Trump’s tweet:

“These are the things & events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Thanks to the DOJ/FBI investigation and prosecutions many of the participants will not be able to forget that day.

The House committee inquiry continues, as does the DOJ/FBI investigation. The case will get stronger, I believe. And based on the evidence already made public, I think that incitement of an insurrection and/or conspiracy to incite an insurrection are viable, prosecutable offenses that should be pursued against Donald Trump and others.

Trump had sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

DOJ to Launch Domestic Terrorism Unit Amid Alarming Rise in Cases

By Steve Neavling

The Justice Department is creating a new unit tasked with combating domestic terrorism. 

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen made the announcement during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, The Washington Post reports.

The move comes amid an alarming rise in domestic extremism. Olsen said the number of domestic extremism cases handled by the FBI have more than doubled since the spring of 2020. 

The new group will include a group of lawyers who will ensure that cases will be “handled properly and effectively coordinated” across the department and federal law enforcement .

“This group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are handled properly and effectively coordinated across the Department of Justice and across the country,” Olsen said.

More than 725 people have been charged for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray previously said that the number of agents and analysts working on domestic terrorism cases has more than tripled. 

Neo-Nazi Leader Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Threatening Journalists

Photo: Shutterstock

By Steve Neavling

A leader of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division was sentenced to seven years in prison for threatening journalists and activists who worked to expose his anti-Semitism. 

A federal jury convicted Kaleb Cole, 25, of Washington, of one count of interfering with a federally protected activity because of religion, three counts of mailing threatening communications, and one count of conspiring with other Atomwaffen members to commit three offenses against the U.S. – interference with federally-protected activities because of religion, mailing threatening communications, and cyberstalking.

“Threats motivated by religious intolerance are antithetical to American values, even more so when they aim to intimidate journalists and others who are working to expose bigotry in our society.” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement Tuesday. “The defendant led a multi-state plot by a neo-Nazi group to threaten and intimidate journalists and advocates who were doing important work to expose anti-Semitism around the country. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute these hateful acts.”

Cole and other members of Atomwaffen mailed threatening posters or glued the posters to the homes of the journalists and advocates, who were primarily Jewish or Black. The posters warned, “You have been visited by your local Nazis,” and contained threatening images, including a hooded figure throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house. 

“Kaleb Cole helped lead a violent, nationwide neo-Nazi group,’” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown for the Western District of Washington said. “He repeatedly promoted violence, stockpiled weapons, and organized ‘hate camps’. Today the community and those Mr. Cole and his co-conspirators targeted, stand-up to say hate has no place here. He tried to intimidate journalists and advocates with hate-filled and threatening posters, tried to amplify their fear. Instead they faced him in court and their courage has resulted in the federal prison sentence imposed today.”

Three co-conspirators have already been sentenced. 

FBI’s joint terrorism task forces in Seattle, Tampa, Houston, and Phoenix investigated, with assistance from the Seattle Police Department.

Secret Service Arrests New York Man Accused of Threatening to Kill, Kidnap Trump

President Trump

By Steve Neavling

The Secret Service arrested a Queens man accused of threatening to kidnap and kill then-President Trump if he refused to leave the White House following his failed 2020 election.  

Thomas Welnicki, 72, was charged with making threats against the president in cell phone calls to the Secret Service between July 2020 and last month, The New York Post reports.

“I am going to do anything I can to take out [Trump]. Oh yeah that’s a threat, come and arrest me,” Welnicki allegedly said on a Jan. 4, 2021, voicemail.

“I will do anything I can to take out [Individual-1] and his 12 monkeys,” Welnicki allegedly said in his voicemail. “If I had the opportunity to do it in Manhattan that would be awesome.”

In a call on Nov. 8, Welnicki allegedly called Trump “Hitler” and said “I will do everything I can to make sure [Trump] is dead.”

Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon ordered a $50,000 bond. 

During the hearing, his attorney Dierdre Von Dornum said Welnicki doesn’t own any weapons and hasn’t left New York City in 15 years. 

“If there were any actual danger here, I am certain that they would have arrested him sooner,” Von Dornum said.