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FBI investigating hacking former OC Democratic candidate

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Over the past year, agents from the FBI’s Cyber-Crime Units in Washington D.C. and Southern California have been investigating a series of cyber-attacks launched against one of the Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Republican Congressmember Dana Rohrabacher, according to an expose published Wednesday by Rolling Stone Magazine.

The target of these attacks, Dr. Hans Keirstead, a stem-cell scientist and the CEO of a biomedical research company, finished third in California’s top-two “jungle” primary on June 5th, falling 125 votes short of advancing to the general election in one of the narrowest margins of any congressional primary this year. He has since endorsed Harley Rouda, the Democrat who finished in second place and will face the longtime anti-LGBT Rohrabacher in the November election.

Rohrabacher, a 15-year incumbent representing California’s 48th congressional district in Orange County, has often been chided as “Putin’s favorite congressman” by his critics. As a vehement opponent of LGBT equality, he recently came under fire for remarks made May 16 when he told a delegation of the Orange County Association of Realtors at a meeting in Washington that “homeowners should have the right to refuse to sell their property to LGBT individuals.”

The hacking attempts and the FBI’s involvement are described in dozens of emails and forensic records obtained by Rolling Stone.

Kyle Quinn-Quesada, who was Keirstead’s campaign manager, told Rolling Stone that the campaign is now going public about the attacks for the sake of voter awareness.

“It is clear from speaking with campaign professionals around the country that the sustained attacks the Keirstead for Congress campaign faced were not unique but have become the new normal for political campaigns in 2018,” Quinn-Quesada says. He added that the Keirstead campaign did not believe the cyberattacks had an effect on the primary election results.

Cybersecurity experts told the magazine that it’s nearly impossible to identify who was behind the hacks without the help of law enforcement or high-priced private Cybersecurity firms that collect their own threat data. These experts speculate that the hackers could have been one of many actors: a nation-state (such as Russia), organized crime, so-called e-crime or a hacktivist with a specific agenda. The FBI declined to comment.

In a phone conversation with a source at Google Wednesday evening, the Los Angeles Blade asked if these types of attacks had become enough of a persuasive element that would lead to encouraging more political campaigns to tighten up their Cybersecurity.

“I think that Rolling Stone is pointing out that there is a very real danger now in the process,” the Google source said. “It still appears as if not enough staffers and campaign workers realize just how pervasive and successful these attacks have become even after the 2016 elections.”

A cybersecurity specialist who works for Microsoft Corporation and asked to not be publicly identified, told the LA Blade Wednesday that the timing of the attacks is significant. He described anti-hacking efforts by Microsoft designed to impede attempts to attack candidates for elected offices in the 2018 election cycle. Politico magazine reported on those efforts last month: “Earlier this year, we did discover that a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president for security and trust, at the Aspen Security Forum. “And we saw metadata that suggested those phishing attacks were being directed at three candidates who are all standing for election in the midterm elections.”

In the case of Keirstead’s campaign, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to tell Rolling Stone if Keirstead was one of three people targeted by hackers, citing “customer privacy.”

The serious nature of these cyber-attacks was underscored last month when the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the warning lights for future cyber-attacks aimed at the U.S. were “blinking red.”

Reporting by the staff of the Los Angeles Blade, Rolling Stone, Politico, and NPR.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Suspended prosecutor files suit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

“What’s happening here is, he’s trying to throw out a free and fair election,” Warren said on CNN early Wednesday

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren (R) (Screenshot/YouTube WFTX-TV, Fox 4 News Cape Coral)

FORT MYERS, Fl. – Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, an elected Florida prosecutor removed from office by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for signing a national pledge to not prosecute women and doctors for violating Florida abortion statues or families seeking treatments for transgender minors, filed suit Wednesday in United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Governor DeSantis’ office issued a statement two weeks ago saying: “We are suspending Soros-backed 13th circuit state attorney Andrew Warren for neglecting his duties as he pledges not to uphold the laws of the state.”

DeSantis’s move, per a clause in the state’s constitution, would have the effect of removing Warren from office. 

“DeSantis’s Order does not identify any actual conduct by Warren related to his official duties involving alleged criminal activity for seeking gender-affirming healthcare or abortion,” the lawsuit said. “DeSantis’s Order does not identify any other conduct by Warren or other reason sufficient to justify a suspension.”

“What’s happening here is, he’s trying to throw out a free and fair election,” Warren said on CNN early Wednesday. “Even my 8-year-old understands this.”

Warren described the pledge circulated by prosecutors around the country as “a value statement,” not a definitive decision on how he might handle any particular case. He also noted that Florida’s new ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation has been ruled unconstitutional and that the state doesn’t even have a law against hormone treatments for transgender minors.

“The First Amendment protects the right of elected officials to speak out on matters of public controversy, and in fact, it does so because it’s so important that the voters who choose these elected officials know where they stand on these issues,” Jean-Jacques Cabou, a lawyer for Warren, said in a phone interview with Fox affiliate WFTX-TV, Fox 4 News Cape Coral.

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Utah

Prosecutors announce hate crime charges in attack on gay teenage couple

A 17-year-old was charged with assault, the 19-year-old was charged with criminal mischief & both youths with hate crime enhancements

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Christian Peacock (L) and Jacob Metcalf (Screenshot via KUTV 2 CBS Salt Lake City

SANDY, Ut. – Christian Peacock and his boyfriend Jacob Metcalf were standing at the end of Peacock’s driveway in this suburban Salt Lake City town hugging and quietly chatting in “a long goodbye for the night,” two weeks ago when a Nissan-Infinity sedan with five young male occupants rolled by slowing down and one of them yelled “Fuck you, faggots.”

Minutes later the Infinity returned and one of the young males got out and continued act aggressively using homophobic epithets and then when Christian Peacock stepped in to protect his boyfriend, he was punched sending him to hospital that left him with a mild concussion and brain swelling.

Earlier this week the Salt Lake City Tribune reported that a 17-year-old boy has been charged with allegedly punching Peacock sending him to hospital.

Sgt. Greg Moffitt with the Sandy Police Department told media outlets that the 17-year-old suspect’s friend, Hayden Perry Stowell, 19, also faces charges, after he went back and allegedly vandalized the LGBTQ Pride flags displayed in front of the Peacock home in retaliation for his friend’s arrest.

Prosecutors have added hate crime enhancements added to both of their other court charges.

The Tribune reported that the 17-year-old was charged in juvenile court with assault, a third-degree felony; and initiating a riot, a second-degree felony.

Stowell has been charged in 3rd District Court with retaliation against a witness, a third-degree felony; and criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor.

The charging documents for the 17-year-old say he told police he approached the couple and “clearly targeted” them due to their sexual orientation, the Tribune reported.

He allegedly also told officers that he didn’t like that Peacock and Metcalf were displaying physical affection openly in their driveway. The 17-year-old refused to identify anyone who was in the car with him at the time of the attack, the charges state.

A witness later identified Stowell as also one of the occupants of the car during the attack on Peacock.

Peacock’s boyfriend had recorded portions of the incident which was later posted to social media. According to the Tribune, Jocelynn, 19, Peacock’s sister grabbed her phone and started taking pictures of the alleged assailant and the others in the car. She also chased the car down the street and captured the license plate number. She then shared both on her Instagram and Snapchat pages.

One of her friends recognized the car and knew the person who drove it and gave Jocelynn the kid’s address. Jocelynn went there and spoke to the mother of that boy.

“Do you know what your son has done?” she asked, according to Peacock and Metcalf, who went with her.

The Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets in the Salt Lake region generally do not identify minors who have been charged with crimes, unless they have been charged and bound over for trial in adult court.

The case could become a test of the state’s new hate crime law, which hasn’t been used extensively since it was put in place in 2019 after a Latino father and son were attacked at their tire shop, the Tribune noted.

A community group had put up Pride flags to show support for Peacock and his boyfriend Metcalf in their neighborhood but surveillance footage taken two weeks after the attack — shows Stowell, the suspected vandal, outside the victim’s home, according to the Sandy Police Department.

Stowell allegedly pulled out the flags, which were found “strewn about” the front yard and the street, police said, and at least one flagpole was broken, the Tribune reported adding that Stowell allegedly “ripped down the pride flags” 12 hours after his 17-year-old friend was booked into juvenile detention in connection with the July 30 assault, charging documents state, noting that the suspected vandal’s “only clear purpose” was to “further intimidate and harass” the victim’s family.

Both the teenage victim and his sister have been “struggling with anxiety and fear since the assault on July 30, 2022,” charging documents note, “and with the continued intimidation they felt by the damage to their flags.”

An attorney for the Peacock and Metcalf families sent KUTV 2News a statement Tuesday afternoon:

“There can be no place in Utah for hate crimes. We appreciate the swift and continuing efforts of the Sandy Police Department, Sim Gill, and the District Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute the hate crimes that targeted our family. We also thank our friends and neighbors in Sandy, including Mayor Monica Zoltanski, for standing by us and making clear that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Sandy.”

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Massachusetts

Boston Children’s Hospital targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ violent threats

Anti-LGBTQ LibsofTikTok, which has often promoted the “groomer” label attacking the LGBTQ community, spread the lies about Children’s 

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Screenshot/YouTube WBZ CBS 4 Boston

BOSTON – Anti-LGBTQ+ far right extremists are targeting Boston Children’s Hospital threatening its employees and medical staff after falsehoods and disinformation spread online recently about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth.

In a statement posted online, a spokesperson for Boston Children’s wrote: “In response to commentary last week critical of our Gender Multispeciality Service (GeMS) Program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails including threats of violence on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”

The statement notes that the false information, with special attention being cast on the lies that Boston Children’s was performing hysterectomies (transgender gender care related) on minors. The age of consent for that gender-affirming procedure is 18.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narratives upon which they are based,” the hospital continued. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families, and the broader Boston Children’s Hospital community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”

Journalist Martha Bebinger with WBUR,  Boston’s NPR news station, noted the campaign started last week with criticism of a video posted on the hospital’s website about hysterectomies. Several conservative social media accounts shared posts about the video on Twitter. The hospital performs hysterectomies on patients 18 and older, but not on children as some of the posts claimed.

The social media account LibsofTikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. One allegation included the lie about Children’s offering gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.

Surgeons at Boston Children’s have said they would consider performing other procedures, including phalloplasty, or penis construction, on 17-year-old male transgender patients. But hospital staff say that hasn’t happened because no 17-year-old has met required legal and other criteria.

Conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo, who has helped incite white Christian nationalist right-wing uproar over the critical race theory being taught in the nations’ secondary schools and also fabricated a story that queer theory was also being taught to kindergarteners up through high school, took aim at Boston Children’s in a tweet Wednesday.

Then adding to the far-right extremist pile-on, Media Matters for America reported Wednesday that anti-Trans pundit Matt Walsh also attacked the hospital.

Christina Buttons, a Nashville-based radical anti-LGBTQ far-right journalist for the Canadian anti-LGBTQ conservative publication, the Post Millennial, which features other transphobic writers, attacked NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny on Twitter over her reporting on Boston Children’s.

A spokesperson for Twitter told the Blade Wednesday afternoon that the company support team was looking into the reports of harassment.

NBC’s Brandy Zadrozny reported: Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in the YouTube videos from Boston Children’s Hospital, leaving vulgar and harassing comments on their social media accounts and flooding their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital staff have since made their social media profiles private.

This isn’t the first time that far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical institutions — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.

Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that investigates the effects of policy on trans health, said the hospital was also a target in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care amid a similar wave of targeted harassment on medical facilities.

“The original organized network that jump started the clinic protests has been slowing down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said over email. “Local pockets will still operate here and there, but they’re less connected to a central organized push than the original ones. Now we’re seeing new faces rallying the cause — including the likes of Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”

A spokesperson for the Boston Police said the department is aware of the threats and is working with Boston Children’s staff.

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