Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Sept. 22 2014 5:56 PM

White House Fence Jumper Had 800 Rounds of Ammo In His Car

Omar Gonzalez, the Iraq war veteran who scaled a fence before breaking into the White House on Friday night, had more than 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets, and a machete in his car when he was arrested, prosecutors said today. He'd previously been stopped in August while carrying a hatchet in front of the White House, and was arrested in July with a cache of weapons. From the New York Times:

In July, Mr. Gonzalez was arrested after he led Virginia troopers on a high-speed pursuit along Interstate 81 in Southwest Virginia in his Ford Bronco. After being stopped, police found the vehicle filled with weapons, according to a release by the state police.
Among the items found in Mr. Gonzalez’s vehicle in July was a mini-arsenal of 11 guns including two shotguns and four rifles, some equipped with scopes and bipods that a sniper would use and “a map of Washington, D.C., with writing and a line drawn to the White House,” law enforcement officials said. He also had four pistols, three of them loaded, and a revolver. The inventory of Mr. Gonzales’ vehicle listed by the Virginia State Police indicates the items were found stored in his vehicle’s “bulky floor.”
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It appears that the charges against Gonzalez in Virginia are still pending. He is currently being held without bail.

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Sept. 22 2014 4:38 PM

Miss America Winner Was Kicked Out of College Sorority for Abusive Hazing

Newly crowned Miss America Kira Kazantsev was kicked out of a Hofstra University sorority for perpetrating abusive hazing practices, Jezebel reports. The site says "a tipster close to Kazantsev" reports that the new paegant queen, while acting as "Recruitment Committee President" for Alpha Phi, supervised a process in which "pledges in the incoming class were called names, berated for their perceived physical flaws and imperfections, and made to perform physical tasks to the point of bruising and exhaustion." The administration became involved after a tip:

When someone reported Kazantsev and her friend for "dirty pledging," Hofstra didn't turn a blind eye. After a months-long investigation into their actions, our source says, the pair was expelled from Alpha Phi in late 2013 and told they could no longer participate in any sorority activities, including the end-of-year formal.
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Jezebel says other students confirmed this account, and the Miss America organization acknowledged Kazantsev's "termination" from Alpha Phi in a statement.  

Sept. 22 2014 2:53 PM

ISIS Attacks on Syrian Kurds Create 100,000 Refugees in Two Days

An onslaught of ISIS attacks in recent days has suddenly pushed more than 130,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees into Turkey—which has already taken in more than a million Syrians in the three years since the country began its descent into civil war. Syrian Kurds have for now been able to hold the northern city of Ayn al-Arab, which appears to be the main target of ISIS's attack, but some villages have been abandoned because they were not feasible to defend. A United Nations official told Reuters that as many as 100,000 people may have crossed the border in a two-day period.

Turkey, which is a member of NATO, appears to have welcomed all the refugees seeking safety. But it has closed at least one border crossing to Syria to prevent independence activists from Turkey's Kurdistan Workers’ Party from joining the war. That party is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

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The Syrian Kurds, like the members of ISIS, are Sunni Muslims, but that has not prevented the militant group from attacking them and, reportedly, committing war crimes in seized territory. "They cut off the heads of two people," a doctor speaking from Ayn al-Arab told Reuters. "I saw it with my own eyes."

Sept. 22 2014 12:22 PM

Times Error Envisions Alternate Universe Even Worse Than Our Own

The New York Times ran a story this weekend on Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who is carrying a mattress around campus to protest the school administration's handling of her sexual assault allegation against another student. The piece's author compared Sulkowicz's mattress to other public symbols of dissent, including the Guy Fawkes masks worn by Anonymous hacktivists. The section on Anonymous included an erroneuous statement requiring a correction:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to protests by the hactivist group Anonymous. The group appeared at protests against the Church of Scientology and against the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It did not protest against the Church of Scientology for the killing of Mr. Brown.
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Yipes.

Sept. 22 2014 11:23 AM

Three Afghan Soldiers Are Missing in Cape Cod

Odd: three soldiers from an Afghan army unit visiting Cape Cod for a military exercise have gone missing. From Boston.com:

The three men, who speak English, were last seen Saturday while chaperoned to the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis. The Department of Defense has not officially released photos of the soldiers.
Federal and military officials said the men are not considered a threat to the public.
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The Cape Cod Mall is about 20 miles away from Camp Edwards, where the men were staying.

Also odd: this is the second time in about a week that visiting Afghan personnel have gone missing. Two Afghan policemen taking part in DEA training in Quantico, Virginia last week disappeared and were later found in Buffalo, where they may have gone to visit a relative.

Sept. 22 2014 10:43 AM

Senator Who Told Kirsten Gillibrand He Liked "Chubby" Girls Was Hawaii's Daniel Inouye

The Senate colleague who told New York's Kirsten Gillibrand not to lose too much weight because he liked "chubby" girls was the late Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the New York Times reports in a blog post:

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York caused a commotion this month when she revealed in a memoir how her male colleagues felt free to comment rather vividly on her weight. The senator came under pressure to reveal the names of the perpetrators, but declined, setting off a guessing game in Washington.
Probably the most egregious incident was when a senior senator squeezed her waist and told her: “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!”
It turns out the senator was the late Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, the decorated veteran and civil rights hero, according to people with knowledge of the incident.
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In 1992, a Republican campaign worker secretly recorded Inouye's hairdresser alleging that he had forced her to have sex. But he won re-election that year, was never formally implicated in a crime, and continued to serve in the Senate until his death in 2012. (He was first elected in 1962.)

Sept. 21 2014 2:21 PM

Afghanistan Finally Has a New President but Vote Totals Kept Secret

After months of tensions due to accusations of fraud from both sides, Afghanistan’s election commission finally named a new president on Sunday, hours after the two leading candidates signed a power-sharing deal that was seen as the only way to resolve all the legal wrangling that followed the April and June elections. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was named as the winner of the election while Abdullah Abdullah would be the next chief executive, which will give him powers very similar to that of a prime minister. But in the announcement, the commission withheld details about the number of votes each candidate received “despite an exhaustive and costly audit process overseen by the United Nations and financed by the American government,” notes the New York Times.

Keeping the vote totals under wraps appears to have been a key part of the power-sharing deal because Abdullah says the election has been broadly tainted by fraud. The head of the country’s election commission said the results would be provided at a later date but did not specify when that would be and acknowledged the audit was not enough to weed out all the vote-rigging. “Although the audit was comprehensive ... (it) could not detect or throw out fraud completely,” he said, according to Reuters. Although some were quick to see it as a glass-half-full situation, emphasizing that it was Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of power, “democracy advocates were aghast at the whole process,” details the Times. Considering all the fraud that even the organizers recognize took place during the election, “to persuade people to come back and vote again will be very hard,” said Nader Nadery, chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan.

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Under the deal signed earlier Sunday, Ghani and Abdullah will share control over the leadership of key institutions. The BBC’s David Loyn explains:

The new Afghan government will have a cabinet of ministers, including the CEO and two deputies, chaired by the president who will take strategic decisions. Day-to-day administration will be carried out by a new Council of Ministers, chaired by the CEO, and including all ministers.
One major issue that divided both camps was over appointments. Abdullah Abdullah won the fight to be able to appoint senior positions on terms of “parity” with Ashraf Ghani, and “the two teams will be equally represented at the leadership level.”
But appointments further down will be “equitably” shared—so there will not be a one-for-one handout of jobs across the country. Ashraf Ghani is impatient to make major reforms, and has secured the wording he wants on the formation of a “merit-based” mechanism to appoint senior officials.

Sept. 21 2014 1:22 PM

Protesters Take to the Streets to Sound Alarm on Climate Change in New York, Across the World

People are gathering in more than 160 countries on Sunday to demand urgent action on climate change ahead of this week’s U.N. climate summit. The first big march took place in Australia, continuing on in several European cities. In Berlin, for example, protesters organized a silent parade, as organizers said marchers would sync their MP3 players and dance through the city, reports Al Jazeera. The climax of the day is taking place in New York, where organizers expect 100,000 people to show up to the People’s Climate March. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also expected to join what is being described as the largest gathering against climate change in history. Numerous celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Brand, and Mark Ruffalo have also vowed to show up, as did several politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, reports NBC News.

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Enviromental protesters gather in a park in Sydney.

Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

“You can’t fight climate change sitting on your couch and holding your breath,” said Jamie Henn, spokesman for 350.org, which is one of the organizers of the event.

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Almost 500 buses brought marchers from across the country to join the New York event, while a “climate train” transported people from California. The New York Times reports from the ground:

With drums and tubas, banners and floats, the People's Climate March turned Columbus Circle, where the march began just before 11:30 a.m., into a colorful tableau. The demonstrators represented a broad coalition of ages, races, geographic locales and interests, with union members, religious leaders, scientists, politicians and students joining the procession.
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A climate protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds a banner on the Republique's statue during a demonstration in Paris.

Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio got in the spirit of the day and unveiled a plan that will seek to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, taking 2005 levels as a baseline.

All of this action comes ahead of a climate change summit that the United Nations will host a on Tuesday, where leaders are expected to continue negotiations on an agreement to slow down greenhouse gas emissions. A final deal is not expected until late 2015, reports Reuters.

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A child holds a banner reading "Mommy, can I go play outside" in Bordeaux.

Photo by MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images

Sept. 21 2014 12:00 PM

Knife-Carrying White House Jumper is Vet Who Feared “Atmosphere Was Collapsing”

The man who made it into the White House grounds Friday night and managed to sprint into the executive mansion—the first time that has ever happened—was carrying a pocket knife. More specifically, 42-year-old Omar J. Gonzalez was carrying a “VG-10 black folding knife,” which is a knife with a 3.5-inch serrated blade, according to an affidavit filed in court by a Secret Service officer, reports the Wall Street Journal. The affidavit contradicts initial reports by the agency that the man was unarmed.

Gonzalez served in the military for 18 years and did three tours in Iraq, according to a public defender cited by the Washington Post. Gonzalez reportedly spent six years in Iraq with the Army Special Forces as a sniper. The Army released information on Gonzalez's service on Sunday. The Associated Press with the details:

Gonzalez enlisted in July 1997 and was assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. At the time, he listed his home as Puerto Rico.
He was discharged in September 2003 after completing his service obligation.
Gonzalez enlisted a second time, in July 2005, and served until his retirement in late 2012.
During this period, he was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and the 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ford Hood.
Gonzalez served in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008, according to the Army.
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He appears to have a clean record with no convictions or arrest warrants. And he tested negative for drugs on Saturday. “This is someone who has provided service to his country and shown commitment in his life,” Assistant Public Defender Margarita O’Donnell said.

After he was apprehended, Gonzalez told a Secret Service agent he feared “the atmosphere was collapsing and needed to get the information to the president of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people,” according to the affidavit.

“He’s a very good guy. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” his former stepson, Jerry S. Murphy, said. “I don’t believe he had any intention in hurting anybody. He has served his country for years.” Murphy said Gonzalez has been living out of his car for the past two years with his two dogs.

Lawmakers said they would investigate the incident. "How anyone, especially in these days of ISIS, when we're concerned about terrorist attacks, someone could actually get into the White House without being stopped is inexcusable," Republican Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. "He could have had a body bomb, he could have had a vest on. As we know he did have a knife. So this demands a full investigation."

This post has been updated with new information since it was originally published.

Sept. 20 2014 1:37 PM

Secret Service Under Fire After Intruder Jumps Fence, Makes it Inside White House

The Secret Service is launching a full security review after an intruder managed to scale the White House fence and was able to get through the front door of the mansion before he was stopped. The embarrassed agency is coming under bipartisan criticism from those who say it marks the latest in a string of incidents that put into question its ability to adequately protect the president. “Unfortunately, they are failing to do their job,” said Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, reports the Associated Press. “These are good men and women, but the Secret Service leadership has a lot of questions to answer.”

President Obama and his daughters had left the White House minutes before 42-year-old Omar J. Gonzalez of Texas scaled the north fence and sprinted nearly 200 yards across the lawn into the residence. Officers quickly evaluated he was likely mentally disturbed, and there was no indication he posed an immediate threat that would have warranted a shooting. But the big question is: What happened to the dogs? The Washington Post details that if a jumper ignores a call to stop, a trained dog is supposed to be released to stop the person. But that never happened on Friday night. “We’re asking, why not release the dog?” a law enforcement source said. “That would have stopped this.”

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The latest incident comes a little more than a month after a toddler made news after he squeezed through the White House gates, recalls the Wall Street Journal. “We were going to wait until he learned to talk to question him, but in lieu of that he got a timeout and was sent on way with parents,” a spokesman for the Secret Service said at the time.

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