February 19, 2017

Number of Hate Groups on the Rise Second Year in a Row

                         A Neo-Nazi in the United States – Photo: Froofroo, via Wikimedia.
A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center finds the number of hate groups in the United States has increased for the second year in a row. SPLC, which conducts a yearly census of hate groups and other extremist organizations, attributes part of this increase to the rise of the “radical right,” which they say was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump.
According to the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, he most dramatic increase occurred in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups, which almost tripled in number, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016. SPLC notes that the growth in anti-Muslim groups has accompanied a number of crimes targeting Muslims, including the burning of a mosque in Victoria, Texas just hours after the Trump administration issued an executive order suspending travel from a list of seven Muslim-majority nations.
The total number of hate groups currently operating in the United States is up to 917, up from 892 in 2015. While the number of hate groups reached its peak in 2011 — when there were 1,018 active groups — this year’s total number of hate groups is still high by historical standards.  
“2016 was an unprecedented year for hate,” Mark Potok, an SPLC senior fellow and editor of the Intelligence Report, said in a statement. “The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists. In [Presidential Adviser] Steve Bannon, these extremists think they finally have an ally who has the president’s ear.”
The Intelligence Report finds that there are 52 active groups whose mission is expressly anti-LGBT, though other groups typically associated with white nationalism, Neo-Nazism, or other causes may also hold anti-LGBT views. Locally, there are five anti-LGBT hate groups listed for the D.C./Virginia/Maryland region: the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the Center for Family and Human Rights, in Washington; Public Advocate of the United States (run by notorious anti-LGBT former Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio) in Falls Church, Va.; and Mass Resistance Virginia, in Yorktown, Va.
There are 21 recognized hate groups in total whose operations are centered in Washington, D.C., 18 in Maryland, and 39 in Virginia — most of which are located in Northern Virginia or the Hampton Roads areas. Some of the more infamous ones in our area include ACT for America, an anti-Muslim organization in Leesburg; American Renaissance/New Century Foundation, in Oakton; the Southern National Congress, in Alexandria; the East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire, in Annapolis; the League of the South, in Clements, Md.; and the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist group based in Silver Spring, Md.
SPLC notes that the number of hate groups likely understates the level of organized hatred in America, as a growing number of extremists operate mainly online and are not formally affiliated with recognized hate groups.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

Tanzania Blows a Fuse over Selling of Gay Sex~Will Publish List

Tanzania announced plans on Saturday to publish a list of gay people allegedly selling sex online. This comes just days after the government shut down dozens of AIDS clinics accused of promoting homosexuality.

Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kigwangalla wrote on Twitter that his government was investigating “the homosexuality syndicate" and would arrest and prosecute those involved in the gay sex business.
  "I will publish a list of gay people selling their bodies online," Kigwangalla wrote. "Those who think this campaign is a joke, are wrong. The government has long arms and it will quietly arrest all those involved. Once arrested, they will help us find others."
Under the Tanzanian penal code, sex between two males is highly punishable, ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment. There is, however, no such ban on lesbian relations.
Compared to its neighbor Uganda, Tanzanian politicians had not been focusing much on the gay community, until the recent increase of anti-gay rhetoric by the government.
Men suspected of being gay have been detained and taken to the hospitals for an anal test to find out if they are homosexuals. On Thursday, the government announced it was stopping many private health centers from providing AIDS-related services, accusing them of providing services to homosexuals.
 "We have suspended the provision of HIV and AIDS services at at least 40 drop-in centers operated by NGOs countrywide, after it was established that the centers were promoting homosexuality, which is against Tanzania's laws," Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said in a press conference.
Last year, Mwalimu said it was estimated that 23 percent of men who have sex with men in Tanzania were living with HIV/AIDS. 
abj,cl (AFP/AP)  

“Homosexuality is an Enigma” (Mike Wallace 60 Min.Documentary)

 Mike Wallace of 60 minutes commenced his documentary on Gays
 with the words “homosexuality is an enigma

This was posted on the New York Times with the tittle “When we Rise”: Stories Behind the Pain and Pride of Gay Rights

Fifty years ago next month, CBS broadcast “The Homosexuals,” an unsettling documentary about a subject “that people find disturbing,” as Mike Wallace, the anchor, put it. For nearly an hour, viewers saw a gay man in shadows describing the tragedy of his life, psychiatrists who depicted homosexuality as a debilitating mental illness and a harrowing clip of a distraught 19-year-old soldier being driven to jail after his arrest on a charge of soliciting sex in a public restroom.

“The average homosexual — if there be such — is promiscuous,” Mr. Wallace told his audience. “He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.”

A more contemporary examination of gay life in America comes to network television later this month, in an eight-hour avalanche of prime time spread across four nights, and with a decidedly different take on the subject. Written by a prominent gay filmmaker, Dustin Lance Black, “When We Rise” is a 50-year history of the gay rights movement beginning on Feb. 27, told through four characters who suffer — and often triumph over — family rejection, landlord discrimination, gay-bashing, police harassment, legislative defeats and AIDS. 
But the world is a different place than it was when ABC first commissioned the project four years ago. Barack Obama was in the White House, and gay leaders were celebrating a series of court and statehouse victories, which would soon include the Supreme Court’s recognizing a constitutional right to marry by same-sex couples. After President Trump’s election, questions that seemed largely settled about gays in American society — same-sex marriage, equal treatment in the workplace and in housing — suddenly seem in doubt.
Mr. Trump is hardly a champion of gay rights, and Mike Pence, his vice president, has a record of explicit opposition to gay rights measures. Mr. Trump could well end up altering the ideological composition of the Supreme Court that handed down the marriage decision.

Still, as celebration has given way to intense anxiety, Mr. Black argues that the election’s outcome has made the mini-series even more urgent.

“We did not create this series for half a nation,” Mr. Black said. “I believe that most Americans, including Americans who voted for Donald Trump, will fall in love with these real-life families and absolutely relate to their stories when they tune in.” 
There have been no shortage of gay characters and gay-themed television shows and films in recent years, be it “Queer as Folk,” “Modern Family” or “Will & Grace.” And ABC was the network that showed what was at the time a groundbreaking gay-themed television movie, “That Certain Summer,” in 1972. But there has never been anything quite as sprawling or historical devoted to this particular topic, a project that is drawing comparisons to “Roots,” the 1977 ABC mini-series that traced the history of African-American slavery.

“We’ve reached the stage in the L.G.B.T. movement when a network not only feels comfortable taking this on — but doing so in a big way,” said Eric Marcus, a gay historian who produces the Making Gay History podcast and is preparing his own multipart documentary on the movement.

Torie Osborn, a longtime gay and lesbian rights leader who was active in San Francisco during struggles depicted in the movie, said, “I hope this is a moment for our allies to learn about our history and young gay men and lesbians to learn about their history.”

“This is a story that could have been told before,” she said, adding: “Better late than never.”

Sipping a cup of tea after flying in from his home in London, Mr. Black, 42, teared up here as he recounted learning that ABC would devote a four-night block of prime time to his work. (“When We Rise” originally was set for four consecutive nights; the second episode has now been delayed a day to make way, fittingly enough, for Mr. Trump’s first State of the Union address.)

It was a far cry from the struggle he endured to get a movie made of his screenplay for “Milk,” the story of Harvey Milk, the openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who was assassinated in 1978. Mr. Black said that he went nearly broke financing it and that a studio committed to it only after Sean Penn had signed on to play the title character. Mr. Black won an Academy Award for best original screenplay.
“When We Rise” is the latest in a series of works by Mr. Black focusing on gay issues. He wrote “8,” a play based on the closing arguments over the constitutionality of a voter initiative in California in 2008 prohibiting the marriage of same-sex couples. The production of the play was used to raise money for the legal battle that resulted in the initiative’s being thrown out of court.

“Listen, if I wanted to write movies about people with capes and fangs, I could,” he said. “My good, military, conservative, Mormon mother always said, ‘Wake up every morning and make the world better.’ That’s what I was trying to do.”

Still, telling that story was hardly easy. The history of the gay and lesbian movement is diffuse and complicated, with endless debates over where and when it really began, who its leaders are and, most fundamentally, what the battle was — is — about. Its center of gravity bounced across the country. There are few, if any, people who have risen to define the movement: Figures tend to appear and recede to the sidelines, because of death or the challenges of leading a fractious group of what was, at least initially, outcasts. 

This has long presented a challenge for anyone seeking a neat narrative arc for this history. “By necessity if you’re going to tell the story of the L.G.B.T. civil rights movement, you are only going to be able to tell a slice of a slice of a slice,” Mr. Marcus said. “What invariably happens is there will be people screaming that it doesn’t tell the whole story. Well, it can’t tell the whole story.”

Mr. Black focuses largely on San Francisco — familiar ground, since that was where “Milk” was based. But other cities were arguably as politically significant — New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Minneapolis among them — and are largely absent from this account.

The four characters who form the frame of Mr. Black’s story may not be the four most important figures in the movement. They were chosen over (just to pluck a few names at random from a very long list) leaders like Arthur Evans, a founder of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York; Virginia Apuzzo, a former nun and early leader of the National Gay and Lesbian Rights Task Force; Steve Endean, a founder of the Human Rights Campaign Fund; Barbara Gittings, a founder of the Daughters of Bilitis in New York City; and Morris Kight, who fought in the trenches of Los Angeles for close to 25 years.

But Mr. Black needed characters whose lives spanned the contours of this history, who would give continuity to a long story and who are, in three cases, played by different actors at different stages of their lives.

Central among them is Cleve Jones. He worked for Mr. Milk when he was a county supervisor, was there the day he was assassinated and went on to become a founder of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, an emotionally wrenching commemoration of the people lost to the epidemic, in 1985. Mr. Jones, a historical consultant to this mini-series, stayed in Mr. Black’s home in the Hollywood Hills while writing his own memoir, “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement.”
Mr. Jones, who is played as an adult by Guy Pearce, said that while some details in the production were not true to what he experienced, “When We Rise” captured the spirit and themes of the movement that has absorbed much of his life. “It could be truthful without being accurate,” he said.

“When We Rise” grapples with some of the more difficult chapters of the movement, including the tense relationship between men and women in the early days, and later, how lesbians stepped up to help gay men deal with the health and political ramifications of the AIDS epidemic. Part of that is told through Roma Guy, an early feminist leader in San Francisco, played by Mary-Louise Parker. And it does not avoid the racial discrimination common in gay male bars in the 1970 and 1980s, told through the story of an African-American community organizer in the Bay Area, Ken Jones, played as an adult by Michael K. Williams (Omar, of “The Wire”).

As the production moves into the 1990s and turns to the Clinton White House and its mixed record on gay issues, a fascinating story within a story emerges involving Richard Socarides, who was President Clinton’s gay liaison: He is played by his younger brother, the actor Charles Socarides.
And their father is Charles W. Socarides, a psychiatrist who was one of the most vocal proponents of the view that homosexuality was a pathological disorder. Dr. Socarides is an expert witness, as it were, both in “When We Rise” and in the CBS documentary of 1967.

The fraught relationship between Dr. Socarides and his gay son has been the subject of several articles (including one I wrote in October 1995 for Out Magazine). But Mr. Socarides said there are details about his coming out to his father that he decided to share for the first time with Mr. Black.

“In that interaction with my father, my father takes out a gun and puts it to his head and threatens to shoot himself,” Mr. Socarides said. “Which actually happened. No one ever knew about it. It was really intense. I hadn’t told anybody that ever, because I was trying to protect him, or I guess in some way I was embarrassed or ashamed of myself. I felt enough time had passed.”

The tussles President Clinton had with gay leaders — in particular, over his support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman — seem tame in this political environment, where gay leaders are girding for Mr. Trump, and Republicans who control state legislatures, to roll back protections for gays and lesbians. Still, this new climate does not appear to have shaken ABC.

“That doesn’t change things for us,” said Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment. “This is a true story involving actual events, involving real people. We are not coming at this from a political place or trying to make a political statement. This feels like an emotional story that we just want to share.”

Mr. Black said that if he had learned anything from this work, it is that the gay rights movement is a story of triumphs followed by setbacks. Mr. Trump’s election, he said, is just another turn in this road.

“We are in a period of backlash right now,” he said. “I would give anything for this to be less topical. But this series shows our history is a pendulum, not a straight line.”

A version of this article appears in print on February 19, 2017, on Page AR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Stories Behind the Pain and Pride  

Trump Could Be The Worse Mistake Putin is Made so Far??

“The madness of Supporting a mad man is He Could Turn on You as Fast as He embraced You” *unknown

 Trump in his mind is more important than any next guy next to him

A funny thing happened in Russia this past week: President Trump’s face, once ubiquitous on the talk shows and evening news programs that tack closely to the Kremlin’s political agenda, was suddenly absent. Gone.

“Like they flipped a switch,” said Alexey Kovalev, a journalist at the Moscow Times who covers Russian state media. 
It’s not hard to guess why. Engulfed in scandal over contacts between senior aides and Russian officials, the Trump administration has sought to put daylight between itself and the Kremlin.
In a single week, Washington has complained that Russia is violating a 1987 nuclear treaty and accused the Kremlin of meddling in various foreign elections. Scandal has forced out a national security adviser sympathetic to Moscow. Trump’s tone has seemed to harden on issues like Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

For the Russians, it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. 
U.S. intelligence agencies released a declassified version of their report on Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. election on Jan. 6, just hours after President-elect Donald Trump was briefed by American officials. (Video: Peter Stevenson: The Washington Post/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post).

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian hackers directed by President Vladimir Putin sought to put Trump in the White House instead of Hillary Rodham Clinton, seeing the New York businessman as far friendlier to Moscow’s interests. The Kremlin denies the charge. 

If it’s true, what did it get the Russians? Moscow bristled this week when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Washington should negotiate with Russia from a “position of strength.” It could have been just another day under the Obama administration.

“There is disappointment for many people,” said Vladimir Posner, a prominent Russian television journalist who hosts an interview program on Channel One Russia. “Along with disappointment comes anger. Why did [Trump] lie to us? Why did he make us think that he wants things to get better?”

[5 times Donald Trump’s team denied contact with Russia]

Trump’s election brought euphoria to Moscow. Partly that came from the defeat of Clinton, a nemesis of Putin’s. But it also reflected the promise of a Trump administration: a chance to hammer out deals with a U.S. president who would allow Russia to consolidate power in its region and edge back toward great power status.

Some of the tough U.S. talk toward Russia reflects the fact that American military and diplomatic officials continue to reflect their standard positions — like the allegation that Russia has been violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Russia denies the charge)

February 18, 2017

Three Different FBI Investigations into Russia’s Election Hacking

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing at least three separate probes relating to alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential elections, according to five current and former government officials with direct knowledge of the situation.

While the fact that the FBI is investigating had been reported previously by the New York Times and other media, these officials shed new light on both the precise number of inquires and their focus.

The FBI's Pittsburgh field office, which runs many cyber security investigations, is trying to identify the people behind breaches of the Democratic National Committee's computer systems, the officials said. Those breaches, in 2015 and the first half of 2016, exposed the internal communications of party officials as the Democratic nominating convention got underway and helped undermine support for Hillary Clinton.

The Pittsburgh case has progressed furthest, but Justice Department officials in Washington believe there is not enough clear evidence yet for an indictment, two of the sources said.

Meanwhile the bureau’s San Francisco office is trying to identify the people who called themselves “Guccifer 2” and posted emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, the sources said. Those emails contained details about fundraising by the Clinton Foundation and other topics.

Beyond the two FBI field offices, FBI counterintelligence agents based in Washington are pursuing leads from informants and foreign communications intercepts, two of the people said.

This counterintelligence inquiry includes but is not limited to examination of financial transactions by Russian individuals and companies who are believed to have links to Trump associates. The transactions under scrutiny involve investments by Russians in overseas entities that appear to have been undertaken through middlemen and front companies, two people briefed on the probe said.

Reuters could not confirm which entities and individuals were under scrutiny.

Scott Smith, the FBI's new assistant director for cyber crime, declined to comment this week on which FBI offices were doing what or how far they had progressed.

The White House had no comment on Friday on the Russian hacking investigations. A spokesman pointed to a comment Trump made during the campaign, in which he said: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people."

During a news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump said he had no business connections to Russia.

The people who spoke to Reuters also corroborated a Tuesday New York Times report that Americans with ties to Trump or his campaign had repeated contacts with current and former Russian intelligence officers before the November election. Those alleged contacts are among the topics of the FBI counterintelligence investigation.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in San Francisco and Mark Hosenball, John Walcott and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Tomasz Janowski)

On ElectionA/M Russian SecOfficer Found Dead on Floor of Consulate

 NYC Morgue workers come in thru service entrance

In NEW YORK — He was found just before 7 a.m. on Election Day, lying on the floor of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side.

The man was unconscious and unresponsive, with an unidentified head wound — “blunt force trauma,” in cop parlance. By the time emergency responders reached him, he was dead.
Initial reports said the nameless man had plunged to his death from the roof of the consulate. As journalists rushed to the scene, consular officials quickly changed the narrative. The anonymous man had not fallen dozens of feet from the roof of the consular building, they said, but rather had suffered a heart attack in the security office, and died.

By the time the man’s body left the morgue the next day, Donald J. Trump was president-elect of the United States.

By the time the man’s body left the morgue the next day, Donald J. Trump was president-elect of the United States. It was the culmination of a sensational, bitterly divisive political campaign that US intelligence agencies would later say Russia actively sought to manipulate and skew in Trump’s favor. With the election results, the world had turned upside down, and the death of the man at the consulate quickly faded from view.

Police officers said the death of Sergei Krivov — his name revealed here publicly for the first time — looked natural, and listed the case as closed.
But who was Krivov? And how did he really die? Three months after he was found dead, as tensions between the US and Russia reach a fever pitch, the New York City medical examiner isn’t sure he had a heart attack after all.
As far as paper trails go, dying is a messy thing, even under normal circumstances. But in the months since Krivov’s death, it’s proven nearly impossible to find out how he died, who he was, and how, if at all, federal authorities were involved in any investigation.

English-language news reports said Krivov, identified then only as a 63-year-old Russian national and Manhattan resident, was a security officer. But a November report from Sputnik, the English-language Russian media outlet, says he was a consular duty commander.

That position is no ordinary security guard. According to other public Russian-language descriptions of the duty commander position, Krivov would have been in charge of, among other things, “prevention of sabotage” and suppression of “attempts of secret intrusion” into the consulate.
In other words, it was Krivov’s job to make sure US intelligence agencies didn’t have ears in the building.
As far as paper trails go, dying is a messy thing, even under normal circumstances.
The duty commander would also have had access to the consulate’s crypto-card — the top secret codebreaker used to encrypt and decrypt messages transmitted between the consulate and other Russian channels. It was likely Krivov who helped transmit cables in and out of the heavily guarded building.

Despite being described as a Manhattan resident by the NYPD, Krivov is a phantom in public records. No one with his name, or any iteration of it, has lived in Manhattan for years, and the only other two Krivovs listed in New York state didn’t return calls asking if they knew a Sergei (in the NYPD’s files, Krivov’s name is not transliterated as “Sergei” or “Sergey” but as the less common “Cergej”). Neither were listed as related to one. An NYPD officer looking at the case file told BuzzFeed News no family was listed.

The NYPD told BuzzFeed News the responding officers were in contact with “whoever was in charge of the consulate” for information regarding Krivov.
But when BuzzFeed News went to Krivov’s address, listed in the NYPD’s files, at 11 E. 90th St., it wasn’t a residence. It’s a Smithsonian-owned office building for its neighboring Cooper Hewitt design museum. It’s located a block behind the Russian Consulate, which is at 9 E. 91st St. One of the consulate’s public entrances is 11 E. 91st St.

Asked about the discrepancy, the NYPD insisted that 11 E. 90th St. was the address they had been given for Krivov, apparently by Russian consular officials.
“No one is living here — this is where my desk is right now,” a Smithsonian employee at the address said when BuzzFeed News called.

It’s unclear how thoroughly or for how long the NYPD investigated Krivov’s death. Multiple officials declined to offer any details about the investigation. Several officers told BuzzFeed News the case is listed as “closed.”
“The narrative of the story is kind of vague, it’s not saying much,” one officer said, scanning the incident report with BuzzFeed News on the phone. “With all cases like this, it is investigated by the detective squad,” he said. “For some reason it was closed out.”

A separate officer said the case was listed as “no criminology suspected, natural causes.”
The medical examiner’s office, though, says their investigation of Krivov’s death remains open.
“The cause and manner of death are pending further studies,” said Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the office. “There are no results to share yet.”

After BuzzFeed News published this story, the Medical Examiner’s office said that, while it did continue investigating the cause of death, the office had determined Krivov died naturally.
“This is a natural death,” Bolcer said. “We are doing advanced studies to characterize the details of the underlying disease.”

Further, the office said it is not unusual for the NYPD to close the case despite the lack of a clear cause of death, since the office had said the death was not suspicious. Toxicology tests were completed, the office continued, and the results were not going to be related to the death.
But others who spoke with BuzzFeed News said his disconnect between the medical examiner’s office and the NYPD is not normal. In standard practice, a death investigation would not be formally closed by police officers until the medical examiner had reached a determination on the death.

“It’s open until you can get a cause of death….there has to be a complete circuit with a case,” said Marq Claxton, a former NYPD investigator. “That case is going to stay open until there’s a final determination, it could be a homicide, it could be something, it could be accidental or whatever.”
A separate medical examiner official said Krivov’s body had been released the day after his death, but declined to say to whom the body was released. That the medical examiner no longer has the body, but testing continues, suggests toxicology screening of tissue or blood samples.

It’s not necessarily uncommon for toxicology tests to take weeks or even months to come back. The medical examiner’s office would not specify the kind of further testing being done.
None of the five major funeral chapels or funeral homes in upper Manhattan knew of any recently deceased person named Krivov. The New York City Health Department declined BuzzFeed News’ request to search for records related to Krivov’s death, saying that by standard practices, any search had to be requested by a family member. The city’s burial desk, which tracks documentation from funeral homes, said it only files paperwork and doesn’t have a searchable database.

The NYPD denied BuzzFeed News’ request for the incident report, saying the request did not contain enough details, including the date, precinct, and location of Krivov’s death, or the incident number. BuzzFeed News’ request in fact included all of that information. A separate denial said the incident report “is not a public record and can only be obtained through due process of law (Court Ordered Subpoena).”
According to experts and former police officers, incident reports are not generally withheld by the NYPD.

“The incident report, after an investigation is closed, typically that is releasable,” said Michael Morisy, the founder of MuckRock, a nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency and records laws. “It’s really weird that they would categorically state that was rejected…incident reports are not broadly exempt from public records law.”

In a last-ditch effort to find where Krivov’s body may have been taken, BuzzFeed News called Aeroflot airlines, the only major carrier with direct flights between New York and Moscow. Aeroflot would not say whether it had flown a body from New York to Russia in the days following Nov. 8. Information about body transports, it said, was classified and could only be released by a government entity.

As police made their way to the consulate that Election Day morning, Americans’ interest in Moscow had reached a fever pitch of Cold War–era proportions, fueled by a near-constant barrage of reports detailing a wide-ranging Russian intelligence operation that the US intelligence community says was designed to undermine the US election.

It stands to reason that Krivov, who was nearing the upper end of the mortality curve for Russian men, may have died a completely natural death, and that much of the hand-wringing over the incident is due to bureaucratic red tape rather than suspicious circumstances.
But given the unique circumstances — and a backdrop of plummeting US–Russia relations — the lack of information has done little to quell theories. The more questions that were asked about Krivov, the less people wanted to talk.

“No one seems to want to discuss this,” one law enforcement source said, after reaching out to other law enforcement officials to see what they had heard about the case.
In the hours following Krivov’s death, the NYPD had said it would identify him following notification of his family. When BuzzFeed News asked for his identity months later, police immediately said the request would have to go to through the US State Department.

The State Department, after being initially responsive, abruptly told BuzzFeed News it wouldn’t help, and said the information would have to come from the Russian Consulate.
“No one seems to want to discuss this.”
“I’m not sure why they would or would not want to share this,” one State Department official said in a follow-up phone call, referring to the NYPD and the State Department. A New York police officer eventually gave BuzzFeed News Krivov’s name.

The incident — and the lack of information surrounding it — has raised eyebrows in Washington.
Two sources to whom BuzzFeed News spoke, who requested anonymity to discuss the probe, said Krivov appeared to be a heavy drinker, which law enforcement concluded led to his natural death.
“I don’t think there’s anything there,” one US intelligence official said.
The State Department also refused to say whether Krivov was registered as a foreign agent, how long he had been in the US, what his immigration status was, and whether they had any contact with the Russian mission regarding his death.
When asked about the incident, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Are you serious?” She continued: “He had heart problems, he had heart attacks. It’s weird that your outlet is interested in this.”

“The employee of the Consulate General of Russia Sergei Krivov passed away on November 8, 2016,” the consulate told BuzzFeed News. “An American doctor that was admitted to the Consulate General stated without a doubt that the death was by natural reasons. Medical examiners are currently establishing the cause of his death, but it is believed that the man suffered a heart attack.”
The FBI said it was not involved in investigating Krivov’s death. It declined to comment further and deferred to the NYPD.

The NYPD did not give BuzzFeed News an official comment on the investigation. BuzzFeed News spoke with the NYPD several times for this story, including with the precinct involved in the incident and the NYPD’s public affairs office.

Krivov’s place of employment — a palatial stone compound in Manhattan’s posh Upper East Side — has long been one of the premiere spy hotspots in the decades-old espionage war between the US and Moscow. Where many aficionados would understandably expect Washington, DC, to be prime real estate for cloak-and-dagger theater, New York City is oft-trodden territory, not least for its hosting of the United Nations.

It is unknown whether Krivov worked with Russian or US intelligence agencies. His work may not have even put him near any intelligence operations that were being run out of the consulate.
According to FBI court documents from 2015, the foreign arm of the Russian intelligence service, the SVR, likely keeps a secure office space inside the Manhattan consulate where Krivov worked.
In criminal documents filed against Evgeny Buryakov, Igor Sporyshev, and Victor Podobny — three undercover Russian foreign intelligence agents working in New York City — the bureau described “a secure office in Manhattan used by SVR agents to send and receive intelligence reports and assignments from Moscow (the ‘SVR NY Office’).”

The criminal complaint does not say specifically that the “SVR NY Office” is in the Manhattan consulate, but the document does say it is “located within an office maintained by the Russian Federation in New York, New York.”
It’s an open secret, US intelligence officials say, that the consulate is a staging ground for Russian intelligence operations. It’s also a coveted target for US agents. And its importance, officials say, has been underscored as US intelligence agencies try to get their arms around the Russians’ sweeping operation to manipulate the US election.

“That’s always a target,” the US intelligence official said of the Manhattan consulate.
In an unprecedented report issued in early January, on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, the intelligence community writ large detailed the concerted Russian effort to manipulate and undermine the US election. Key to the intelligence community assessment were a multitude of intelligence channels, including signals intelligence — or SIGINT — like intercepted electronic communications or IP addresses. The specifics of where that SIGINT came from, and what it consisted of, remain secret.

BuzzFeed News has filed a FOIA request with the NYPD for the police report on Krivov’s death, and any related paperwork. That request was received, but a determination has not yet been made as to whether the department will provide them.
Maybe those documents will provide insight into a death that, for now, remains a mystery. Nov. 8 began with his death, and ended with one of the most contentious political upsets in history. After that, Sergei Krivov simply vanished. ●

Ali Watkins is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.
Contact Ali Watkins at  ali.watkins@buzzfeed.com.

Chairman Rep.Chaffetz is Going Back to Investigate Clinton Emails

(CNN)House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz is asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into the staffer who helped set up former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server.

In a letter sent Thursday evening, Chaffetz recommends former Clinton IT aide Bryan Pagliano for prosecution over failure to show up in person to his committee in compliance with a subpoena. Pagliano became a key player during the investigation into Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state.

“If left unaddressed, Pagliano's conduct in ignoring a lawful congressional subpoena could gravely impair Congress's ability to exercise its core constitutional authorities of oversight and legislation," Chaffetz wrote.

The law Chaffetz accused Pagliano of violating is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine between $100 and $1,000 as well as between a month and a year in jail.
CNN has reached out to Pagliano for comment.

The Utah Republican said the committee requested Pagliano's testimony at a September 2016 hearing and that Pagliano's lawyer told the committee he would "not appear voluntarily" and if he did appear, he would plead the Fifth -- the right to not answer questions to avoid potentially incriminating oneself.
The letter to Sessions said Chaffetz issued a subpoena served electronically to Pagliano. The original hearing was recessed and a back and forth ensued between Chaffetz and Pagliano’s attorneys, according to the letter.

Pagliano never showed, and the committee voted on party lines to hold him in contempt.
At the time, Pagliano’s lawyers said Chaffetz's demand "betrays a naked political agenda," saying the subpoena served no valid legislative purpose.

Chaffetz, however, argued otherwise at the time and in his letter on Thursday.
“There is no legal basis for Pagliano's refusal to appear before the committee," the letter read.

At a deposition with the conservative group Judicial Watch earlier in 2016, a spokeswoman from the group said Pagliano invoked the Fifth about 125 times. He also invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in a closed door session with the House Select Committee on Benghazi in 2015.

As part of the Justice Department investigation into Clinton's email practices, Pagliano accepted an immunity deal. The FBI never pursued criminal charges against Clinton or others over the arrangement. But the FBI closing its investigation and the end of the election hasn't stopped Chaffetz's dogged pursuit of the Clinton email saga. On Inauguration Day, he shook her hand and later wrote, “The investigation continues."

February 17, 2017

This is How Congress is Dealing with The Russian Investigations




Drama is building on Capitol Hill over current and potential investigations into Russia's alleged interference in last year's election and the pre-inauguration contacts between President Donald Trump's national security adviser and Russia's ambassador.

At the end of a week's worth of new revelations and a resignation, FBI Director James Comey held a closed-door meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee Friday.

No member entering or leaving the afternoon briefing would say what the meeting was about or whether it was requested by the senators or the FBI.

It was a case of deafening silence from members who emerged refusing to even acknowledge that a meeting was happening — even though reporters saw Comey enter the same room as the senators. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did send out a tweet that hinted at Russia:

The busy week began with the resignation of Trump's national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, over phone calls with Russia's ambassador to the United States, communications that reportedly involved discussions of sanctions leveled against the Russia during the Obama administration.

It ended with several committees in Congress, some of which were already investigating alleged Russian cyber-attacks and interference in the U.S. election, either broadening their scope or contemplating new inquiries.

But not every committee is created equal. Some committees have more authority on the issue and some have more incentive to investigate.

So, amid the flurry of investigations and calls for investigations, here's a breakdown of how Congress is responding to Flynn and Russia.

Senate Intelligence Committee
The Senate Intelligence Committee has the the most cohesive and robust of an investigation going so far, with both the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member similarly minded about its purpose and scope.

The committee opened their probe in early January into alleged Russian interference in U.S. election. At the time, the committee said that part of the investigation would include any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Committee members have acknowledged that the controversy surrounding Flynn's transition contacts would be a natural extension of the investigation.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and ranking member of the committee, has said he wants Flynn to testify before the committee, a move that Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the top Republican, said could happen "eventually."

Both members have said they would like to see the transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The House Intelligence Committee
The House Intelligence Committee is less bullish about its investigation than its counterpart in the Senate.

While it is investigating Russian interference in the election, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is a close ally of Trump's and has been lukewarm about an aggressive probe into Flynn. Nunes said that the ongoing investigation could be expanded to include Flynn if "it all falls under the umbrella."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is skeptical of House Republican commitment to investigate.

"They are stonewalling this," Pelosi said. "The speaker is saying it's up to the Intelligence Committee — the chairman of the Intelligence Committee is saying don't look at me, I'm not doing any of this. the American people deserve better."

The Leaks
Like President Trump, congressional Republicans have expressed concerns about the leaks of intelligence to the media regarding Flynn and his phone call with Kislyak. While Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has said that those who leak "belong in jail," he has not yet committed to investigating them.
 Chaffetz on Calls for Russia Investigation: 'That Situation Has Taken Care of Itself' 1:01
House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, said the House Intelligence Committee should look into it.

"What I do worry about, though, is if classified information is being leaked. That is criminal," Ryan said. And so I think there should be an investigation as to the leaks of information leaving, wherever they're coming from."

Trump has focused on the leaks, saying that the leaks are more scandalous than the Flynn controversy.

The top Republicans of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Department of Justice inspector general regarding "potential inadequate protection of classified information."

"We request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here," the letter said.

And the Senate Intelligence Committee is reluctant to open a probe into leaks. Burr said that leaking should be investigating by the FBI because of the criminal component to it, adding that the Intelligence committee doesn't have prosecutorial authority.

Russian Payment to Flynn
In the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Democrat Elijah Cummings sent a joint letter to the Department of Defense asking about payments Flynn received from the Russian government for a trip in 2015.
"We are attempting to determine the amount Lieutenant General Flynn received for his appearance, the source of the funding, and whether he may have received payments from any other foreign sources for additional engagements," they wrote.

Bipartisan Briefing
The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee have jointly written a letter asking that the FBI brief them on the circumstances leading up to Flynn's resignation.

While the Judiciary Committee does not deal with classified material, both Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are interested in preservation of documents and to be able to see unclassified version of related materials, potentially opening another investigation from this committee.

While it's not bipartisan, in the House, Democrats are also calling on the Director of National Intelligence to brief them. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schif, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a letter that they’d like an “immediate briefing on the counterintelligence implications of these alarming actions." 

A Bipartisan Commission
While most Republicans are opposed to either a select committee created specifically to investigate the Russia issue or an independent commission, at least one Republican has come out in support of the Democratic idea of a bipartisan commission.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has signed on to a Democratic bill creating a 12-member bipartisan commission. Without the blessing of the Speaker Ryan, however, the bill will likely go nowhere.


Even the Most Anti LGBT Manages to Have at Least One Gay Friend

I would like to add something to the tittle, not only homophobic anti gay individuals not only say they have at least one gay friend but anti gay gays actually have a ton of them. (an anti gay gay is someone who stand for everything that would hurt gays in general like opposing gay marriage for all, gay rights and they usually back Trump even though the last one they tend to keep a secret but they will unfriend you if they catch you repeating something Trump said).

 Milo, he knows a few gays. They are readers of his magazine which gave us Bannon and the Trumpets

These days, it’s hard to find a conservative who doesn’t have a gay friend on speed dial.
As heartwarming as anecdotes like this may seem, they are utterly meaningless. There’s no shortage of powerful conservatives who have actively worked against equal rights for LGBT people even while claiming to have gay friends. Ted Cruz, who made anti-transgender bathroom bills a central focus of his 2016 presidential run, held a fundraising event at the home of two gay men. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who likened same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia, once waxed nostalgic about a “wonderful conversation” he had with lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge as proof of his LGBT equality bonafides.
Even Mike Huckabee, who has branded homosexuality “unnatural” and a “dangerous public health risk,” once claimed that his circle of friends is open to the gays.

In fact, Republicans digging up just about any queer person they can to vouch for the fact that they’re totally OK with the whole LGBT thing has become something of a meme over the past year. These days, it’s hard to find a conservative who doesn’t have a gay friend on speed dial.

When questions came up about the anti-LGBT past of Betsy DeVos, whose family has donated thousands of dollars to efforts to repeal equal rights legislation across the U.S., a profile in the Times approvingly noted that the recently appointed secretary of Education went to a gay wedding one time. Trump, who was applauded throughout the 2016 race for being less overtly hostile to LGBT rights than the other Republican candidates, himself attended a same-sex union without burning down the reception hall. In extremely on-brand fashion, the POTUS called the ceremony “beautiful.”

That didn’t stop the president, though, from pledging to sign the First Amendment Defense Act if it crosses his desk — a bill that would make anti-LGBT bias the law of the land.

The false notion that bigotry is magically cured by passing acquaintance with a member of a marginalized community is often referred to as the “friend argument.” Hypothetically, let’s say that a co-worker gets called out for having bigoted beliefs — like that Asians are bad drivers or that gay men are inherently promiscuous. After having his viewpoints criticized, the individual might claim, “I can’t be racist; I have Asian friends,” or “I’m not a bigot; my brother is gay!”

It’s a fallacy, but a surprisingly effective one: A 2016 study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal showed that when a person is viewed as having a more diverse friend group, others are less likely to view their actions as motivated by bias toward minorities.

Psychologists call our ability to hold seemingly conflicting beliefs — such as liking a gay person while continuing to harbor anti-LGBT sentiments — cognitive dissonance, but it’s not as contradictory as it seems. While studies have shown that voters are less likely to cast a ballot against the rights of minority populations when they know a member of said community, that’s not always the case. If a bigot becomes friends with an LGBT individual, he might view them as “different” or “not like other gay people.” Instead of forcing him to confront his deep-seated homophobia, it may serve to reinforce it.

Countless surveys show that more Americans know an LGBT person than ever, including Republicans. If the “friend argument” were valid, that would mean conservative legislators would be passing fewer bills targeting queer and trans populations as they increasingly come into contact with these emerging communities.

The opposite is true: Last year, over 200 anti-LGBT bills were filed at the state level. Advocacy organizations like Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union have warned that even more pieces of legislation could be considered this year. Just six weeks into 2017, Texas has already introduced nine, including an anti-trans bathroom bill. 

All the gay friends in the world won’t stop legislators — and even seemingly supportive Supreme Court justices — from targeting our civil liberties. Even if Gorsuch isn’t as outwardly intolerant as the man whose shoes he was tapped to fill, he and Scalia have one unfortunate trait in common: They’re both “originalists.” That means that Gorsuch believes the Constitution — which was written in 1787, a time when most Americans weren’t aware gay people even existed — is set in stone rather than a document that can evolve as society changes.

Gorsuch’s originalism has been key in determining how he adjudicates cases. In 2015, he ruled against a transgender woman who lobbied for access to hormones through the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. And despite alleged support for his LGBT colleagues, he also claimed in a 2005 article for National Review that court cases surrounding gay marriage are part of the liberal “social agenda.” This was before Gorsuch became a judge, but it’s far more telling than any personal anecdote.

As any queer person with an anti-gay family member knows from personal experience, having an LGBT friend or relative doesn’t mean that you aren’t homophobic. What makes you an ally of LGBT people is what you do, not who you know. Gorsuch can have as many gay friends as he likes, but it doesn’t tell us a thing about how he will serve as a Supreme Court judge.
Edited Source: LA Times

100,000 National Guard Troops For Immigration Round Ups

“Hell’s Threshold," by Nadia Werbitzky(1941)

The Trump administration is considering a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up immigrants in the U.S. illegally, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by the Associated Press.

The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Ore., and as far east as New Orleans, La.

Almost immediately after the Associated Press published its report, the White House issued a denial. “That is 100% not true. It is false," Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters aboard Air Force One before President Trump headed to South Carolina to tour a Boeing plant later Friday.

“There is no effort at all to round up, to utilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants," Spicer said. He said he couldn't deny altogether that the subject had never been discussed in the administration,  The White House has noted before that many proposals have been drafted on a range of issues, but not all are under serious consideration.
This year, find a flavorful solution to your new year’s resolutions. From breaking bad habits, to building new ones, this bold flavor has your back. So go ahead, ditch sugar. 2016 isn’t looking.
Four states that border Mexico are included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Governors of the 11 states would decide whether to have their guard troops participate, according to the memo, written by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general.

While National Guard personnel have been used to assist with immigration-related missions on the U.S.-Mexico border before, they have never been used as broadly or as far north.

The memo is addressed to the then-acting heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It would serve as guidance to implement the wide-ranging executive order on immigration and border security that President Trump signed Jan. 25. Such memos are routinely issued to supplement executive orders.

Also dated Jan. 25, the draft memo says participating troops would be authorized "to perform the functions of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension and detention of aliens in the United States." It describes how the troops would be activated under a revived state-federal partnership program, and states that personnel would be authorized to conduct searches and identify and arrest any immigrants who crossed the border illegally.
The draft document has circulated among DHS staff over the last two weeks. As recently as Friday, staffers in several different offices reported discussions were underway.

If implemented, the impact of the program could be significant. Nearly one-half of the estimated 11.1 million people residing in the U.S. without permission live in the 11 states, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on 2014 Census data.

Use of National Guard troops would greatly increase the number of immigrants targeted in one of Trump's executive orders last month, which expanded the definition of who could be considered a criminal and therefore a potential target for deportation. That order also allows immigration agents to prioritize removing anyone who has "committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense."

Under current rules, even if the proposal is implemented, there would not be immediate mass deportations. Those with existing deportation orders could be sent back to their countries of origin without additional court proceedings. But deportation orders generally would be needed for most other immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The troops would not be nationalized, remaining under state control.

Representatives for the governors of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon and New Mexico said they were unaware of the proposal, and either declined to comment or said it was premature to discuss whether they would participate. The other three states did not immediately respond to the AP.

The proposal would extend the federal-local partnership program that the Obama administration began scaling back in 2012 to address complaints that it promoted racial profiling.

The 287(g) program, which Trump included in his immigration executive order, gives local police, sheriff's deputies and state troopers the authority to assist in the detection of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally as a regular part of their law enforcement duties on the streets and in jails.

The draft memo also mentions other items included in Trump's executive order, including the hiring of an additional 5,000 border agents, which needs financing from Congress, and his campaign promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The signed order contained no mention of the possible use of state National Guard troops.

According to the draft memo, the militarization effort would be proactive, specifically empowering Guard troops to solely carry out immigration enforcement, not as an add-on to the way local law enforcement is used in the program.

Allowing Guard troops to operate inside non-border states also would go far beyond past deployments.

In addition to responding to natural or man-made disasters or for military protection of the population or critical infrastructure, state Guard forces have been used to assist with immigration-related tasks on the U.S.-Mexico border, including the construction of fences.

In the mid-2000s, President George W. Bush twice deployed Guard troops on the border to focus on non-law enforcement duties to help augment the Border Patrol as it bolstered its ranks. And in 2010, then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced a border security plan that included Guard reconnaissance, aerial patrolling and military exercises.

In July 2014, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered 1,000 National Guard troops to the border when the surge of migrant children fleeing violence in Central America overwhelmed U.S. officials responsible for their care. The Guard troops' stated role on the border at the time was to provide surveillance but not make arrests.

Associated Press

February 16, 2017

No Documentation Gen.Flynn Flying to Moscow Dining with Putin, Gifts

Chaffetz and Cummings question payments to Trump's ex-national security adviser.

 Michael Flynn, Seen as another Russian asset

The Pentagon has informed lawmakers that there are no records of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s 2015 trip to Moscow, when he dined with Russian President Vladimir Putin and may have accepted unconstitutional payments from a foreign government for his attendance.

In a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House oversight committee delivered Tuesday, acting Army Secretary Robert Speer confirmed that Flynn — a retired lieutenant general — filed no documentation of his trip.

In response, House oversight committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the committee, sent a letter that suggests Flynn may have inappropriately accepted payments from the Russian government or its agents in exchange for his attendance. Scrutiny is growing on Flynn’s trip and whether his payment violated the Constitution’s Emolument’s Clause, which prohibits any person holding an “office of profit or trust” in the federal government from accepting foreign payment. The prohibition has long been considered to apply for retired military officials.

The letter is addressed to Leading Authorities, the speaker’s bureau that Flynn has suggested coordinated his payment for the event. Chaffetz and Cummings ask for the company to turn over all documents pertaining to Flynn’s trip to Russia, as well as any sources of payment for his appearance. They also seek any documents about Flynn’s other appearances connected to Russia Today, the Kremlin-aligned news outlet with which he’s had a relationship.

Chaffetz’s decision to join the inquiry — initially made by Cummings on Feb. 1 — comes a day after he called for a probe of intelligence community leaks that have been damaging to the Trump White House.

He's so far resisted pressure from Democrats to investigate reports that Trump associates had routine contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Chaffetz has, however, pursued inquiries into whether Trump is in violation of his lease of the Old Post Office Building, which houses his D.C. hotel, and whether senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway violated ethics laws to hawk Ivanka Trump’s apparel line in a TV appearance from the White House.

State SupmeCourt: Flower Shop Discriminated Against Gay Couple

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.

“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.

Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.
Stutzman called the ruling “terrifying when you think the government is coming in and telling you what to think and what to do.”

In its decision, the state’s highest court rejected Stutzman’s claims that since other florists in the area were willing to provide flowers, no harm resulted from her refusal.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud said, “We emphatically reject this argument. We agree with Ingersoll and Freed that ‘this case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases were about access to sandwiches.’ … As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace.”

The court also rejected Stutzman’s claims that her floral arrangements were a form of artistic expression and so protected by the First Amendment. Citing the case of a New Mexico photographer who similarly refused to take pictures at a gay marriage, the court said, “while photography may be expressive, the operation of a photography business is not.”

In December 2012, soon after the state legalized gay marriage, Ingersoll and Freed began planning a large wedding. Stutzman, who had provided flowers to the couple numerous times over the years, refused, citing her religious belief that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman.

The couple went ahead with their wedding, but they had it at home with 11 guests and flowers from another florist, instead of the larger event they had envisioned.

The couple, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) sued Stutzman under the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer-protection laws in what became a high-profile case that highlighted the clash between the right to be treated equally under the law and the free exercise of religion and speech.

A Benton County Superior Court judge last February ruled that Stutzman’s religious beliefs did not allow her to discriminate against the couple and that she must provide flowers for same-sex weddings, or stop doing weddings at all. The trial court also imposed a fine of $1,000 and legal fees of just $1.

Thursday’s state Supreme Court ruling upheld the lower court.

Ferguson on Thursday hailed the decision, saying, “It is a complete, unequivocal victory for equality in the state of Washington and sends a clear message around the country as well.”

Speaking with Ferguson at a news conference in Seattle, Michael Scott, the ACLU attorney for the same-sex couple, said the decision recognizes “human beings and their lives” while upholding the “core value of American law” regarding human dignity.

Scott said he would be surprised if the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, citing a century of unbroken legal precedent. “It’s not groundbreaking law,” he said.

“If this case were about an interracial couple we wouldn’t be here today,” he added.

Scott said the fact that the state Supreme Court was unanimous carries extra weight.

“They’re sending a message that I think is loud and clear,” he said.

Ferguson, noting Stutzman’s attorneys had suffered “defeat after defeat,” said he was confident the decision would be upheld in the high court if it does hear the case.

He also said his office would closely scrutinize any executive order issued by Trump to undermine the decision.

Lambda Legal Defense, a national group protecting gay rights, also praised the court ruling.

“Businesses must not discriminate against LGBT people and religious motivation does not change that,” said Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal’s director of law and policy and co-author of the group’s friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Stutzman, said that it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review Thursday’s ruling.

Stutzman acted consistently with her faith, an Alliance news release said, but state justices “concluded that the government can force her — and, by extension, other Washingtonians — to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree.”

In November, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, during a special session at Bellevue College.

Attorneys for Stutzman argued that a floral arrangement is a form of speech deserving of protection and that government cannot compel Stutzman to create an arrangement for a gay couple against her religious beliefs.

Her attorneys argued that the Benton County Superior Court’s ruling was unlawful government coercion and that the creative expression of floral arrangement deserves the same protection as free speech.

Ferguson urged the court to uphold state anti-discrimination laws and not to create an exception for religious beliefs. He noted that many people once held strong religious beliefs against interracial marriage, but the courts struck down those laws as discriminatory.

It’s one of several lawsuits around the country — including some involving bakers — about whether businesses can refuse to provide services over causes they disagree with, or whether they must serve everyone equally.

A Colorado case involving a baker who would not make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Lambda Legal. In 2014, the court declined to hear an appeal of a case out of New Mexico that went against a photographer who denied a same-sex couple service.



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