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Aug. 20 2017 7:21 PM

Some Liberty University Graduates Returning Diplomas to Protest Trump  

A small, but apparently growing, group of Liberty University alumni are launching a campaign to return their diplomas to the evangelical Christian school to protest its alignment with President Donald Trump. The group began organizing after Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a group letter, the group criticizes the head of the university, Jerry Falwell Jr., for praising Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people” protesting on both sides. Falwell Jr. characterized the comments as “bold” and “truthful.” “This is incompatible with Liberty University's stated values, and incompatible with a Christian witness,” notes the open letter.

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"I'm sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists," Chris Gaumer, a 2006 Liberty University graduate, said. "And in defending the president's comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit.”

Another 2006 Liberty University graduate said that “I think all of the alumni have been troubled by Jerry Falwell Jr.’s intense defense of Trump.” The closed Facebook group for Liberty alumni to discuss this issue says they will be mailing their diplomas back to the offices of Falwell on September 5 “with letters expressing our reasons for revoking all support.”

It doesn’t seem Falwell is too concerned about the angry alumni though and he went on ABC’s This Week to double down on his support for Trump, going as far as to say that the reason why Trump could say there were “fine people” on both sides in Charlottesville was because as commander in chief he “has inside information.”

“I don't know if there were historical purists [at the protests] who were trying to preserve some statues. I don't know,” Falwell said of the president. “I think he saw videos of who was there. I think he was talking about what he had seen … He had information I didn’t have.”

Falwell also said that his tweet supporting the president has been misinterpreted. “The bold and truthful statements I was referring to were his willingness to call evil and terrorism by its name, to identify the groups, the Nazis, the KKK, the white supremacists,” Falwell said. “And that's something a leader should do. And I admire him for that.”

Aug. 20 2017 6:00 PM

Trump Will Unveil New Strategy for Afghanistan in Prime-Time Address Monday

It has been months in the making and now President Trump is building up the drama in anticipation, with the White House saying that the commander in chief will announce “an update on the path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia" on Monday at 9 p.m. The setting will be made for television as Trump is set to deliver his message directly to armed forces at the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia.

Although the White House is remaining tight lipped, Trump is expected to announce an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The address will come after top Pentagon and White House officials considered whether the U.S. military needs to take a more aggressive role in Afghanistan and add to its current footprint of around 8,400 troops. Earlier, reports claimed Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was set to push for a plan to deploy as many as 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

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On Sunday, Mattis said that Trump had come to a decision on the country’s strategy for Afghanistan, but he refused to provide any details. “I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a pre-set position,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him to Jordan. “The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people.” The review was led by National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who has lots of experience in Afghanistan.

Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to announce that the strategy for Afghanistan was one of the issues he decided with top officials at Camp David on Friday.

Earlier this year, Mattis famously told a Senate panel that the United States is “not winning in Afghanistan.” At the time Sen. John McCain harshly questioned Mattis about the lack of a strategy for the war. “We want a strategy, and I don’t think that’s a hell of a lot to ask,” McCain said at the June hearing. “We’re now six months into this administration. We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy. We know what the strategy was for the last eight years: Don’t lose.”

If the president does end up approving more troops for Afghanistan it would mark quite a change in his way of thinking from a few years ago. Trump had advocated for U.S. troops to “leave Afghanistan immediately” to prevent “more wasted lives.”

Aug. 20 2017 2:26 PM

Trump Approval Rating Is Below 40% in Three States That Propelled Him to Presidency

In what could mark the first clear signs that support for President Donald Trump is dropping in the Rust Belt battleground, a new set of polls shows people in three key states aren’t so fond of the commander in chief. Support for Trump stands at below 40 percent in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to recent NBC News/Marist polls. In all three states more than 60 percent of voters said Trump’s conduct as president embarrassed them, compared to 25 percent who say it has made them proud.

Perhaps even more significant is that Democrats enjoy clear advantages when voters are asked who they want to control Congress after the 2018 midterm elections. In Michigan, almost half—48 percent—of voters say they would prefer a Democratically controlled Congress, compared to 35 percent who want it to stay in Republican hands. In Pennsylvania, 47 percent want Democrats to control Congress, compared to 37 percent who favor Republicans while in Wiscosin the Democratic advantage is 46 percent-38 percent.

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The three states in question are seen as particularly significant because they were key to Trump’s victory as he became the first Republican to win all three of them since 1980s. But now the mood seems to be shifting. In Wisconsin, only 34 percent of voters approve of Trump’s job performance, compared to 36 percent in Michigan and 35 percent in Pennsylvania. The polls were conducted Aug. 13-17 and some cautioned that the extent of the president’s unpopularity could be exaggerated due to his much-criticized response to the violence that descended on Charlottesville on Aug. 12.

This latest poll contrasts slightly with a national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University that showed an uptick in Trump’s approval rating. According to the poll that was released Thursday, Trump’s approval rating increased to 39 percent from a record low of 33 percent in part due to optimism on the economy.

Aug. 20 2017 1:13 PM

Breitbart Uses Photo of German Soccer Star to Illustrate Human Trafficking Story

Mere days after Steve Bannon returned at the helm, the far-right website Breitbart seemed to identify German international soccer star Lukas Podolski as some sort of human trafficking victim. The website posted a photo of Podolski on the back of a jet ski (making a peace sign!) to illustrate a story headlined “Spanish police crack gang moving migrants on jet-skis.”

It’s not just that Breitbart didn’t seem to know who one of Germany’s most famous soccer stars was, but also that the photo in question wasn’t even taken at the Spanish coast. In fact, the photo is from 2014 World Cup in Brazil and depicts a moment of levity when the German team was enjoying a day off at the beach.  

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As could be expected, social media had a field day with Breitbart’s “epic fail” of a mistake. “Breitbart thinks that Lukas Podolski (yes, the footballer) has a jet-skiing army that goes around the Med rounding up immigrants,” wrote someone on Twitter. Another Twitter user noted that while Podolski “was criminal for Arsenal … that’s a bit extreme.”  

Breitbart quickly pulled the photo and then issued a correction, or rather, a strangely defensive “editor’s note”:

A previous version of this story included an image of Lukas Podolski on a jet ski. This image appeared as an illustration of a person on a jet ski. Breitbart London wishes to apologise to Mr. Podolski. There is no evidence Mr. Podolski is either a migrant gang member, nor being human trafficked. We wish Mr. Podolski well in his recently announced international retirement.

Aug. 20 2017 11:33 AM

Spain Terror Cell Had 120 Gas Canisters and Was Planning Much Bigger Attack

As the manhunt continues for the missing fugitive of the terrorist cell that carried out two vehicle attacks that killed 14 people in Spain, officials are warning the extremists were planning a far deadlier attack. Police say the 12-member terror cell had 120 butane gas canisters at a house in the Spanish town of Alcanar but it accidentally blew up on Wednesday night. Law enforcement officials believe the terrorists were planning to fill up three rental vans with the explosives and carry out far deadlier attacks with reports claiming the ultimate target was the famous cathedral Sagrada Família.

Police are still on the hunt for the driver of the van in Barcelona that killed 13 people and injured at least 120. But officials said on Sunday that Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old born in Morocco, may have slipped across the border into France. His mother made an emotional plea on Spanish television urging her son to turn himself in: “I prefer him going to jail before him dying.”

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Investigators search the rubble of a house, where suspects of this week's twin assaults in Spain were believed to be building bombs, in Alcanar on August 20, 2017.

AFP/Getty Images

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Abouyaaqoub is one of three members of the 12-person terror cell who remain unaccounted for, although officials believe two were killed when the house in Alcanar exploded Wednesday. Five of the suspected terrorists were shot dead while they were carrying out another attack in the seaside town of Cambrils, where they killed one person. Officials believe the terrorists actually wanted to carry out a knife attack in a popular area of Cambrils but were stopped by law enforcement.

There is also increased attention on Abdelbaki Es Satty, a part-time Muslim preacher in the small town of Ripoll, which was home to most of the attackers. Police are trying to determine if his DNA can be found in the rubble of the blown up house in Alcanar and they’re increasingly suspecting he may have played a key role in radicalizing the young jihadis. That’s what some of their parents also seem to believe. “I don’t know what’s happened, I don’t know how to feel, they’re my sons but look at the evil they’ve done,” said Hechami Gasi, father of Mohamed and Omar Hychami, two of the suspected jihadis who were shot dead by police in Cambrils. “The imam must have put these ideas in their heads. They were good boys.”

On Sunday, hundreds, including King Felipe and Queen Letizia, gathered at the Sagrada Família to mourn the victims of the attacks. The government has called for a march against terrorism in Barcelona on Saturday.

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People attend a mass to commemorate victims of two devastating terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, at the Sagrada Família church in Barcelona on August 20, 2017.

AFP/Getty Images

Aug. 20 2017 10:16 AM

Police Arrest 39 Over Neo-Nazi March in Berlin That Was Blocked by Protesters

A group of protesters on Saturday prevented more than 500 neo-Nazis from marching to the spot where Rudolf Hess died 30 years ago. Hundreds of leftist protesters chanted “Nazis out!” and “You lost the war” as the white supremacists marched in the Spandau area of Berlin to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Hitler’s deputy.

Hess, the last survivor of the 19 German officials convicted at Nuremberg, is held in particular reverence by neo-Nazis because he never renounced his beliefs. In fact, one of the banners that the neo-Nazis carried on Saturday quoted Hess’ last words before his Nuremberg sentencing: “I do not regret anything.”

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Protesters affiliated with neo-Nazi and extreme right groups marched through the street of Berlin's Spandau district in commemoration of 30 years to Rudolf Hess's death, on August 19, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

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Police said on Sunday that 39 people were arrested in connection with the demonstration, 35 of whom were part of the neo-Nazi march while the other four were taking part in the counterprotest. A dozen of the neo-Nazis are being investigated for displaying forbidden symbols while the rest were held for other crimes such as assault, resisting arrest, and drug offenses, among others.

German officials very controversially allowed the march to move forward but they set out very specific guidelines, including forbidding any sort of marching music. No one in the march to the site of Spandau Prison could display a Swastika or any type of Nazi symbol and only one in every 25th person could carry an imperial German flag. "Though I would have liked to ban the demonstration, we have very carefully reviewed this and determined that the liberal and democratic fundamental order unfortunately also holds for assholes," Andreas Geisel, Berlin's state interior secretary told radio station RBB.

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Participant of a neo-Nazi march pass by the European flag and a sign reading "Spandau Doesn't Like Nazis" on August 19, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

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The protesters who blocked the neo-Nazis from reaching the site of the prison where Hess died in 1987 were not the only ones who expressed their opposition. Residents in the area also countered the protest by playing loud music from their balconies, including Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.”

Some of the counterprotesters specifically cited the recent clashes with white supremacists and President Trump as a reason why it was important for them to attend the demonstration. “The rats are coming out of the sewers,” a 64-year-old protester said. “Trump has made it socially acceptable.” There were a few skirmishes between the neo-Nazis and protesters but the approximately 1,000 police officers who had been deployed to the area largely managed to keep the two groups apart.

Aug. 19 2017 5:58 PM

Trump Describes Boston Protesters as “Anti-Police Agitators,” Misspells Heal Four Times

President Trump weighed in on the massive anti-white nationalist protest that took place in Boston on Saturday but it seems he had a bit of trouble getting his thoughts in order. His first instinct? Describe the anti-fascist, anti-racist, largely peaceful demonstrators that descended on Boston by the tens of thousands on Saturday as “anti-police agitators” while law enforcement officers were “looking tough and smart!” Shortly thereafter he sent another tweet in support of the police and even the city’s mayor.

It seems someone may have whispered in the president’s ear that maybe characterizing all the protesters (including many with great sign game) as nothing more than anti-police agitators was not the greatest idea so he tried to send out a tweet that noted sometimes protests are necessary “to heal, & we will heal.” Except it took him three tries to get it right. The commander in chief wrote “heel” in two separate tweets first, which he quickly deleted.

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The president then seemed to do a complete shift from his initial tweets, writing to “applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate.”

The time span between the first “anti-police agitators” tweet and the applause for the anti-hate protesters? One hour and 19 minutes.

Boston police did confirm that protesters did throw rocks, “urine” and “bottles” at officers but Police Commissioner William Evans said those who caused trouble were decidedly in the minority. A total of 27 people were arrested, mostly from disorderly conduct and a few assaults on police officers. “99.9 percent of the people were here for the right reason and that’s to fight hate and bigotry,” he said.

Evans increased the estimates of protesters who descended on Boston to 40,000, saying it was a “very successful day” for the city and police officers alike. “Overall I thought we got the First Amendment people in, we got them out, no one got hurt, no one got killed,” he said.

Aug. 19 2017 3:53 PM

The Best Signs From the Massive Counterprotest in Boston

Some 15,000 people marched to the Boston Common on Saturday to protest against white supremacists and a planned “Free Speech Rally” made up of right-wing activists. Although the organizers of the rally insisted they had nothing to do with the Neo-Nazis who had descended on Charlottesville last week, there was still lots of concern that these extremist groups would use the so-called “Free Speech Rally” to spew their hate. In the end, the counterprotesters vastly outnumbered the few dozen conservatives who gathered for the rally that quickly “fell apart,” as one of the scheduled speakers put it. But even if most counterprotesters didn’t actually come across any self-identified white supremacists, they still had lots of messages for them. And what better way to express them than through some awesome signs? Here are some of the best of the day:

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RYAN MCBRIDE/AFP/Getty Images

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Aug. 19 2017 2:19 PM

“Free Speech Rally” Cut Short After Thousands of Counterprotesters Flood Boston

Around 15,000 counterprotesters marched through the streets of Boston on Saturday to condemn neo-Nazis and white nationalists as right-wing activists planned a “Free Speech Rally.” There were hundreds of police officers on hand to prevent a repeat of the violence that descended on Charlottesville last week and left a woman dead, but in the end the rally seems to have disbanded early after the conservative activsts were vastly outnumbered by the counterprotesters.

Organizers of the “Free Speech Rally” had distanced themselves from white supremacists but there was still widespread fear that violent neo-Nazi groups would show up in Boston. In the end, only a couple of dozen conservative activists went to the rally that was held on Boston Common and they left early as thousands of counterprotesters descended on the downtown city park. Police escorted the few dozen attendees out of the area and into police cars for their own safety. One of the scheduled speakers at the rally said the whole thing quickly "fell apart," noting that he didn't realize "how unplanned of an event it was going to be."

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Thousands of counter-protesters march to a planned "Free Speech Rally" on Boston Common on August 19, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Earlier, the rally organizers took pains to emphasize that they were not looking for trouble and blamed “media hysteria” for the connection between their events and the violent white supremacists who were in Charlottesville last week. “I think we've taken pretty much every precaution, not only with [Boston police], but with the other organizers, to make sure our message is clear, it is unified, and it is one that is anti-hate and pro-peace,” rally organizer John Medlar told WBUR earlier on Saturday. But the connection was also based on experience. A previous “Free Speech Rally” that had been held in Boston in May included lots of the same white supremacist groups that were present in Charlottesville. That rally at the time went largely unnoticed. Now many felt a renewed sense of obligation to make it clear they were not OK with this type of gathering. “Ignoring a problem has never solved it,” one of the organizers of the march said. “We cannot continue to ignore racism.”

Many of the counterprotesters said that regardless of what the organizers said, the rally that was supposedly for “free speech” was really all about hate speech. “I think as a country you have a right to free speech,” Boston resident Beth Chandler told NBC. “But there’s a difference to me with hateful speech and free speech. And a lot of what the separatists are saying is hateful speech and there’s not a place for that in our country.” As they chanted things like “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA,” counterprotesters carried signs that read “Resist” and “Get the hell off my lawn, you bigots.” One column of marchers carried a sign that took up almost the entire width of a street that read, “Which side are YOU on?”

Aug. 19 2017 1:01 PM

Duke University Removes Robert E. Lee Statue Days After it Was Vandalized

Duke University removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee early Saturday morning a few days after it was vandalized. The statue, which had been damaged on Wednesday, stood alongside other historical figures at the entrance of Duke Chapel. In an email to students, staff, and alumni, the president of the university, Vincent Price, explained that he decided to remove the statue in part to “ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there” but more importantly “to express the deep and abiding values of our university.”

“The removal also presents an opportunity for us to learn and heal,” Price added. “We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.”

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The statue was removed under the cover of darkness at 3 a.m. and no decision has been made on where exactly it will be kept. But it won’t be going to the dumpster, and rather “will be preserved so that students can study Duke's complex past and take part in a more inclusive future.”

The decision to remove the statue came days after activists toppled a Confederate statue outside the Durham County, North Carolina courthouse Monday. On Thursday Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger wrote to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt calling on her to petition the state’s historical commission to remove the statue of a Confederate soldier from campus. “The statue presents a danger to students on campus and the Chapel Hill community,” the mayor wrote.  

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said earlier in the week that all Confederate monuments on public property should be taken down across the state. “We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery,” Cooper wrote. “These monuments should come down.”

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