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Conspiracy theorists arrested for alleged threats at site of Texas church shooting

Robert Ussery charged with making terroristic threat after allegedly threatening to ‘hang’ pastor whose daughter was killed

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Conspiracy theorists arrested for alleged threats at site of Texas church shooting” was written by Sam Levin in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 7th March 2018 19.29 UTC

Conspiracy theorists were arrested at the site of the Sutherland Springs church shooting after harassing families and survivors with death threats and taunts about their loved ones, residents said.

Robert Ussery, 54, was charged on Monday with making a “terroristic threat” after he showed up to the First Baptist church in Texas and and allegedly threatened to “hang” the pastor, whose 14-year-old daughter died when a gunman killed 26 people in November. Ussery shouted profanities at the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and demanded proof that his daughter had died and that the shooting was real, according to witnesses. Jodie Mann, a woman who accompanied Ussery, was also arrested for trespassing.

The case appears to be the latest example of viral online conspiracy theories leading to real-world harassment and abuse of gun violence victims and grieving families in the US. In recent years, conspiracy theorists have repeatedly spread false claims that mass shootings were staged and have attacked survivors as “actors” – a form of harassment that has intensified in the wake of the recent Florida high school shooting.

“He [Ussery] taunts people on the internet and in person,” Sherri Pomeroy, the pastor’s wife, told the Guardian on Tuesday. “He says, ‘Produce me a death certificate,’ like we have to prove something to him. He was spouting all this hatefulness.”

The small town of Sutherland Springs, which has a population of just a few hundred, was thrust into the national spotlight last year when a gunman killed 26 worshippers in one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history. In recent months, Ussery – who is from Lockhart, Texas, an hour north of the church – has repeatedly targeted Sutherland Springs residents with harassing comments, in town and online, according to Sherri Pomeroy and other locals.

Robert Ussery and Jodi Mann.
Robert Ussery and Jodi Mann. Photograph: handout

“We’ve been on heightened alert,” Pomeroy said. “Lives have been turned upside down not only because of the shooting, but because of this guy.”

Ussery and Mann arrived at the church on Monday morning, refused to leave, were “belligerent” andswore at the officers who arrested them for trespassing, according to police reports. Mann also had a “wire and a small video camera on her” when she was arrested, police said. Prosecutors alleged that Ussery had committed a “terroristic threat”, a misdemeanor, after he threatened to kill Pastor Pomeroy and Rod Green, another victim who was present.

Green, 71, said: “He had been warned to get off the property.” Green, who called Ussery a “sick individual” and a “fool”, said he called 911 and “just tried to ignore” Ussery, who he said was yelling about birth certificates and demanding they take lie-detector tests to prove the shooting was real.

Green is a member of the church who was not inside the building when the gunman opened fire in November. He added: “We’ve been through enough. This is evil.”

Ussery told the pastor that he would hang him on a tree and urinate on him, according to Sherri, who was not present for the confrontation.

The San Antonio Express-News, which first reported on the arrests, says Ussery runs a conspiracy theory website where he calls himself a “journalist” and promotes his “investigations” by falsely claiming that the government staged recent mass shootings. Mann also allegedly works with Ussery and spreads the conspiracy theories online.

After publication of this article, Ussery said in an email that he and Mann were “100% innocent of all charges”, except for a marijuana possession charge. He further claimed that there were “never any specific threats made by us”, but at the same time noted that they had said they “hoped one day to see the people hang those involved for their treason against the American people”.

Sherri said Ussery had filmed himself harassing people and has published highly edited videos that don’t include his taunts. She said he had often tried to push the boundaries without breaking the law, making it difficult to stop him: “He is yelling and cussing, saying he knew his constitutional rights and could do what he wanted to.”

The situation has made it difficult at times for Sherri to feel safe in her own town, she said, adding: “This is making our town rally together. … Even the people that aren’t part of the church are rallying together to protect the church.”

The church is working on getting a restraining order following the arrest, she said.

The situation resembles the attacks after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, including conspiracy theorists sending death threats to parents whose children died. Last year, one woman who harassed an outspoken father was sentenced to five months in prison.

In 2016, a gunman motivated by a fake news story known as “Pizzagate” ended up firing his weapon inside a restaurant because of conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the pizza shop. Google, Facebook and YouTube have also faced intense scrutiny in recent years for providing a platform and helping spread these kinds of beliefs, which can lead to online abuse and even real-world violence.

“People are frightened,” said Green, adding that he hoped the conspiracy theories and harassment would not have a long-term impact on the town: “We’re recovering very strong.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died

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Buckingham Palace has announced that The Duke of Edinburgh has died.

Philip Mountbatten, the rakish naval officer who captured the heart of a young Elizabeth Windsor and became the lifelong consort to the British queen, has died aged 99.

The death ends the longest marriage of a reigning monarch in British history, an enduring alliance that outlasted the Cold War, war and peace in Northern Ireland and the painful divorces of three of their four children.

Reacting to the death, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;

“Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the UK, across the Commonwealth & around the world.

He was the longest serving consort in history & one of the last surviving people in this country to have served in WW2.”

Prince Philip never held the official title of Prince Consort, but he was Queen Elizabeth II’s closest confidant, most reliable political advisor and the undisputed master of the royal household for more than six decades.

Philip was known equally as a curmudgeon and a charmer who could quickly put nervous guests at ease with an easy one­liner.

The Queen, on the event of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, said of her husband: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”

The Duke is survived by his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, and his children Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

While Elizabeth presided over affairs of state, Philip championed dozens of charities, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which has promoted self­reliance, physical development and other personal accomplishment for more than 6 million youths all over the world.

(more…)
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Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow

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The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.

The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan. 

The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.

In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.

Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.

“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”

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Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President

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(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.

Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.

Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.

It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.

Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.

Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.

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