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Jussie Smollett, hate crimes, and the ignored white ‘domestic terrorist’

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“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was charged in Chicago Thursday on one felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. The judge set Smollett’s bond at $100,000, which he posted almost immediately. The gay African American actor was then released from custody late afternoon, silently escorted by bodyguards through a gaggle of reporters as he left Cook County Jail.

“I am left hanging my head and asking, ‘Why? Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, also African American, fumed in the press conference earlier that morning, describing the rope Smollett alleged had been placed around his neck by attackers supposedly wearing MAGA hats and screaming racist and homophobic slurs.

“How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”

Johnson also said Smollett had faked a letter using racist and homophobic language a week prior to his alleged attack. When that didn’t get him the attention he was apparently seeking – including from the FBI Chicago field office — Smollett then allegedly orchestrated the attack against him with the Osundairo brothers, who he knew. One brother was an extra on “Empire” and the other was Smollett’s personal trainer. The actor allegedly paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the attack, apparently because Smollett was “dissatisfied with his salary,” investigators claimed.

“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.”

President Trump responded early to reports of Smollott ‘s emerging legal troubles, tweeting:

Trump tweeted nothing, however, about self-proclaimed white nationalist in Greenbelt, Maryland— U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Christoper Paul Hasson — who was arrested Friday, Feb. 15, on firearm and drug charges that prosecutors called “the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” according to court documents. FBI agents arrested Hasson, 49, and found a stockpile of weapons and ammunition at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. Hasson appeared before a US District Court Greenbelt Division judge for a detention hearing on Thursday.

“The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.  He is a white nationalist who “intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.”

The U. S. attorney’s office told Federal Magistrate Judge Charles Day that Hasson had drafted an email discussing biological attacks and had what appeared to be a hit list that included prominent California Democrats House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Maxine Waters, and presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris. He also targeted media personalities such as gay CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Court filings indicate that Hasson has held white supremacist views for a while. In a September 2017 draft letter written to a neo-Nazi leader, Hasson “identified himself as a White Nationalist for over 30 years and advocated for ‘focused violence’ in order to establish a white homeland,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing. In a June 2017 draft email, Hasson wrote that he was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,” and thought about how he could secure anthrax and toxins to create deadly biological attacks.

Hasson was ordered held without bail while federal prosecutors continue to gather evidence to support more serious charges involving what they characterized as a domestic terror plot.

Both the Smollett and Hasson incidents reflect an alarming trend that has occurred with greater frequency since 2016, especially in incidents involving the LGBTQ community, according to a number of hate crime experts.

As the effect of both cases continues to reverberate, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, in response to the Smollett case released this statement Thursday afternoon;

“The clients that walk into our offices every day are surviving a culture of violence against LGBTQ people, especially people of color and those of trans experience. It’s unfortunate if anyone, especially someone with this large of a platform, would falsify any parts of a story of hate violence. Still, the reality is that far too many survivors aren’t believed and don’t get justice for the violence they experience.

That’s why we are quick to affirm and believe survivors when they share their stories. For many LGBTQ people across this country, hate violence on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and a combination of all of those identities is a daily experience. Increasingly, these experiences with hate violence end up being fatal.

The reports collected through the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs show that the severity of violence reported by LGBTQ people has increased recently, and that those living under multiple forms of oppression face disproportionate rates of violence. These truths mustn’t be overshadowed under these unique circumstances.”

The LA LGBT Center also talked about hate crimes:

“The confusing and deeply unfortunate circumstances surrounding Jussie Smollett should not cloud the sobering facts about hate crimes in our nation. According to a report released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes in our country’s largest cities increased for the fifth consecutive year in 2018—with Los Angeles receiving its highest level of hate crime reports in a decade. Do not be distracted by Mr. Smollett’s alleged staged attack. Hate crimes, particularly against people of color and the LGBT community, are real and on the rise. These facts should alarm all of us.”

In fact, the Center on Hate and Extremism at California State University documented approximately two dozen confirmed or suspected instances of false reporting “hoaxes” of hate crimes from 2016 – 2018.

Speaking with the Los Angeles Blade Thursday afternoon, Heidi Beirich who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which publishes the award-winning Intelligence Report and the Hatewatch blog, said:

“While the FBI hate crimes statistics show a disturbing uptick in hate crimes being reported across the county and has reported an increased by 30 percent in the three-year period ending in 2017, we know that hate crime numbers are severely under-reported and an average of 250,000 people are victimized by hate crimes every year. The phenomenon of false reporting is rare and is a tiny number compared with the many thousands of hate crimes that the federal government says go unreported.”

The Smollett case aside, some critics point to the attitudes expressed by Trump as a major contributing factor to the uptick in hate crimes with the president “giving the white supremacists and racists cover,” one U.S. Justice Department official told the LA Blade under request of anonymity.

Smollett’s attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, issued a statement to ET: “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”

The reaction to what appears to be a mound of evidence indicating that Smollett may have faked the hate crime to get attention varies, with many expressing profound disappointment while others are giving him the benefit of the doubt as he exercises his legal due process.

“This touches all the buttons,” out GMA anchor Robin Roberts said on Thursday. “It’s a setback for race relations, homophobia, MAGA supporters. I cannot think of another case where there is this anger on so many sides and you can understand why there would be.”

Actor Wilson Cruz got into a heated exchange on Twitter. “Well, I know the character of the person which is why I find this very hard to believe,” he tweeted. “I am, at the very least, going to give him his day in court. From what I remember from my high school civics class, it’s THE AMERICAN THING TO DO.”

Longtime friends such as Phill Wilson are sticking by him. Wilson wrote on Facebook:

I have not previously spoken out publicly on the Jussie Smollett case because I couldn’t bear to enter the social media feeding frenzy. I have no first-hand information about what happened to Jussie that night, but here is what I do know.

I met Jussie when he was 15 years old and I’ve developed a deep affection and respect for him. In the two decades that I’ve known him, he has always conducted himself with honesty, integrity, and basic decency. Long before Empire, before the fame, and before anyone in the public cared what he thought, said or did, Jussie volunteered his talent and time to helping people, raising awareness and money to fight HIV/AIDS in the US and South Africa. Once his career started to take off, Jussie expanded his activism and charity work to include dozens of non-profit causes. Jussie has been a tireless champion on behalf of LGBTQ people, Black people, immigrants, victims of gun violence, HBCUs and many others.

I also know the history of the Chicago Police Department, especially when it comes to Black folk. I know this not only from reading news stories and history books. I was born and raised in Chicago, and I watched a Chicago police officer lie under oath and accuse a member of my own family of a crime we were able to prove he did not commit.

I’ve worked with countless numbers of celebrities, elected officials and others over the years. I have never worked with anyone who was more willing than Jussie to lend his talent, time and money to help other people. Whatever the truth is, or whether we ever really find out the truth, our brother is in trouble. The current accusations are not consistent with the man I have known for over 20 years. I, for one, am not ready to abandon him.

And that is a concern—that victims of hate crimes may now fear coming forward. The LA LGBT Center offers help: “If you—or someone you know—have experienced an anti-LGBT hate crime, discrimination, harassment, or police misconduct, the Los Angeles LGBT Center can help protect and empower you. We provide comprehensive and affirming services, which includes assistance in filing a police report, to survivors of violence. For help or more information, contact the Center’s Anti-Violence Project at [email protected] or 323-993-7673.”

Staff reports contributed to this story

 

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The White House

White House, Don’t Say Gay law: “This is discrimination, plain and simple”

“State officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (The White House)

WASHINGTON – The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4th holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers, and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.”

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Florida

Florida county’s school policy critics say “essentially targets LGBTQ+ kids”

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident

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Screenshot/YouTube students in a classroom generic news coverage

TALLAHASSEE – The Leon County School Board this week unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide” after a rancorous and at times heated debate Tuesday. At the heart of the new policy are guidelines that critics charge will harm LGBTQ+ youth in the school system.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported what drew the most debate was a provision that a school will notify parents — by form — if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. 

Some teachers and students during the Tuesday night meeting said the policy will “out” LGBTQ+ students — revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. 

While the policy language does explicitly say a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission,”  advocacy groups and activists claim that in “real world” application the policy’s danger to Outing LGBTQ+ kids remains regardless.

Los Angeles-based writer and actor Benjamin Siemon took to Twitter angrily noting that the policy “essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings.”

Supporters of the school board’s new policy included the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty, a national far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist group which has sought to ban LGBTQ+ books and curriculum nationwide. But the sticking point for the group is the provision doesn’t go far enough.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sharyn Kerwin, head of the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty and who also served on the advisory committee to the School board as it crafted the new policy, told board members and the audience Tuesday: “Any attempt to withhold information from a parent or try to influence a child in a knowing way is against Florida law.”

Kerwin and other parents argued that the Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law requires school administrators to notify parents and many in the audience Tuesday citing biblical verses maintained discussions about sexual orientation have no place in schools.

Opponents charge that this policy will effectively weaponize bigotry and target LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans youth.

Critics of the notification policy say the district’s language is equating “gender identity” with LGBTQ sexuality. They note that even someone who is “straight” expresses themselves via their clothing choices or appearance and can be “open about their gender identity,” the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident. 

In the end, even with the policy approved, none were happy with the outcome as one side claiming not enough consideration was given to parental rights and opponents charging this will simply increase bullying of LGBTQ+ kids.

“Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” school board Vice Chair Alva Striplin noted adding, “Well, tonight we had everyone against.”

The school board voted to approve the guide unanimously 4-0.  According to the Tallahassee Democrat school board members will schedule another meeting to revisit the guide in six months to adjust the policy if needed. 

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The White House

White House announces 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

The nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom will be presented to those named at the White House on July 7, 2022

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Megan Rapinoe, an Out Olympic gold medalist is among those named ((Screenshot/YouTube via U.S. Soccer )

WASHINGTON – The White House today released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor,  the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7, 2022.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the Out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ+ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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