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Downtown Seattle. (iStock / Getty Images) (SEASTOCK/)
Tech-industry experts, city planners and even Gov. Jay Inslee have touted self-driving cars as a panacea, cutting congestion and vehicle emissions while reducing collisions.
But an announcement Monday from Amazon’s self-driving car unit Zoox that it will soon start testing its autonomous vehicles in downtown Seattle drew criticism from transportation-safety advocates. The early promise of the technology, they said, has been overshadowed by a string of crashes and near-misses, due in part to lax oversight of the rapidly growing sector.
“A lot of people have bought into the hype of self-driving cars, that they’ll cure the tradeoff between safety and speed,” said former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, now the director of pedestrian advocacy group America Walks. “But safety requires moving slowly and stopping at signs of danger.”
“That’s been a challenge for self-driving vehicles to do in urban setting with pedestrians and bikes,” McGinn continued.
In the coming months, Zoox plans to test-drive as many as four Toyota Highlander SUVs retrofitted with the company’s autonomous-driving technology and sensors in Seattle’s Belltown, South Lake Union and downtown neighborhoods, city Department of Transportation spokesperson Ethan Bergerson said. Human drivers will be in the cars to take over in the event of a possible collision, Zoox said in a news release Monday.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Zoox co-founder Jesse Levinson said the company had obtained all relevant regulatory approvals to test its cars in Seattle.
That required paperwork, though, amounts to a one-page self-certification filed with Washington state’s Department of Licensing, in which Zoox lists its insurance information, checks a box noting that a human driver will be present and agrees that the driver will monitor the vehicle and take over “if assistance is required.”
Zoox did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon acquired Zoox in 2020. The autonomous vehicle company, headquartered in California’s Bay Area, has said it aims to create a fleet of driverless taxis.
Self-driving cars have been hailed as a way to remove human drivers — by nature somewhat unpredictable, and occasionally impaired — from behind the steering wheel, reducing a major risk factor for traffic collisions.
Autonomous vehicle companies, including Tesla and Google sister company Waymo, and until recently Uber and Lyft, anticipated a future of driverless robotaxis by as early as 2020.
Technological challenges and legal headaches have complicated those grand plans. So far, an entirely driverless car remains out of reach. Autonomous vehicle companies, though, continue to test-drive their latest designs on public roads.
The risks of such tests were violently demonstrated in 2018 when a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona during a test drive. Documents later released by the National Transportation Safety Board showed Uber had not programmed the car to anticipate jaywalkers. Last month, a video circulated widely on social media that showed a Tesla operating in still-under-development autopilot mode careening towards pedestrians blocks away from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.
Amid gathering skepticism over the feasibility of self-driving technologies, Uber and Lyft sold their autonomous vehicle divisions within the past year at what some analysts said were fire-sale prices.
A lack of independent review of crashes in which self-driving cars were involved also makes it difficult to judge the companies’ safety claims, said Angie Schmitt, the author of “Right of Way,” a book about pedestrian deaths.
“They’re using pedestrians as guinea pigs in an experiment that can be deadly,” Schmitt said. “We would never allow experimental drugs to be tested this way on people who have not explicitly consented, but for some reason, we just haven’t applied the same sort of ethical parameters to cars.”
Self-driving cars aren’t just risky from a safety standpoint, said Anna Zivarts, who serves on the executive committee of the Washington State Autonomous Vehicle Work Group, which was created in 2018 by the Legislature to prepare the state for self-driving cars. Continuing to pour attention and money into these cars distracts from proven solutions to issues like pedestrian safety and traffic congestion, she said.
“We should be investing in things we know work,” Zivarts said, “like transit and sidewalks.”
In this file photo from Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, talks about the approaching midterm election during an interview with The Associated Press, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file) (J. Scott Applewhite/)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is expected to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. It’s up to the Justice Department, and the courts, to determine what happens next.
As lawmakers ready a Thursday vote to send a contempt referral to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, there’s considerable uncertainty about whether the Justice Department will prosecute Bannon for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, despite Democratic demands for action.
The outcome could determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation, but the strength of Congress’ power to call witnesses and demand information — factors that will certainly be weighing on Justice officials as they determine whether to move forward. While the department has historically been reticent to use its prosecution power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are exceptional as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries.
If Congress can’t perform its oversight job, the message sent to “the general public is these subpoenas are a joke,” said Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor and former Justice Department official. He said if Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former federal judge whom Saltzburg regards “as one of the most nonpartisan people I know,” doesn’t authorize a prosecution, “he’s going to be letting the Constitution, it seems to me, be placed in jeopardy. And it’s way too important for him to let that happen.”
Democrats are pressuring Justice to take the case, arguing that nothing less than democracy is at stake.
“The stakes are enormous,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the panel. “The Congress of the United States under Article One has the power to investigate in order to inform our deliberations about how to legislate going forward. That’s what this is about.”
Still, prosecution is not a given. Assuming his post after a turbulent Trump era, Garland has prioritized restoring what he has called “the norms” of the department. On his first day, he told rank-and-file prosecutors that they should be focused on equal justice and not feel pressure to protect the president’s allies or to attack his enemies. He has repeatedly said political considerations shouldn’t play a role in any decisions.
And his deputies pushed back — hard — when President Joe Biden suggested to reporters last week that Bannon should be prosecuted for contempt.
“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop,” Garland’s spokesman, Anthony Coley, said on Friday, in response to the president’s comments.
The Jan. 6 panel voted Tuesday evening to recommend the contempt charges against Bannon, citing reports that he spoke with Trump before the insurrection, promoted the protests that day and predicted there would be unrest. Members said Bannon was alone in completely defying his subpoena, while more than a dozen other witnesses were at least speaking to the panel.
If the full House votes to hold Bannon in contempt on Thursday, as expected, the matter will be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington. It would then be up to prosecutors in that office whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. The office is run by Channing Phillips, an acting U.S. attorney who had previously served in the position in the Obama administration. Another attorney, Matt Graves, has been nominated for the post, but his nomination is pending in the Senate.
“If the House of Representatives certifies a criminal contempt citation, the Department of Justice, as with all criminal referrals, will evaluate the matter based on the facts and the law, consistent with the Principles of Federal Prosecution,” said Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.
The Justice Department has in the past been wary of prosecuting congressional contempt cases, especially when the White House and the House of Representatives are controlled by opposing political parties.
The department in the Obama administration declined to prosecute then-Attorney General Eric Holder and former IRS official Lois Lerner following contempt referrals from the Republican-led House, while George W. Bush’s Justice Department declined to charge Harriet Miers after the former White House counsel defied a subpoena in a Democratic investigation into the mass firings of United States attorneys.
In addition, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has said in multiple opinions — including one from the 1980s involving Anne Gorsuch, the mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who refused to turn over documents in her capacity as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency — that the Justice Department has discretion on when to prosecute for contempt, even when receiving a referral from the House.
Still, the Bannon case is different, as Democrats hold both Congress and the White House — and because the committee is investigating a violent insurrection of Trump’s supporters who beat law enforcement officers, broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory.
“What we’re talking about is this massive, violent assault on American democracy,” Raskin said.
Thomas Spulak, a former Democratic counsel to the House, said there are arguments that could be made for and against a Justice Department prosecution. On one hand, he said, “Some have suggested that perhaps this Justice Department doesn’t want to get caught up in a continuation in the saga that went on in the last administration over subpoenas with the House.”
But, given the severity and historic nature of Jan. 6, “This is a significant matter for the House and the House is going to press this very hard — and it might be difficult for the administration to not act on it.”
Even if the department does decide to prosecute, the case could take years to play out — potentially pushing past the 2022 election when Republicans could win control of the House and end the investigation.
And if they don’t prosecute, then the House will likely find another route. A House-authorized civil lawsuit could also take years, but force Bannon and any other witnesses to defend themselves in court.
Another option available to Congress would be to try to imprison witnesses who defy them – an unlikely, if not outlandish, scenario. Called “inherent contempt,” the process was used in the country’s early years but hasn’t been employed in almost a century.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, another member of the panel, says if Justice prosecutes the case it will have “a vigorous effect in terms of other potential witnesses’ willingness to cooperate” or face consequences.
“I think the criminal justice system, when it has a mind to, can move very quickly,” Schiff said. “And we hope that it will.”
Dave Chappelle’s controversial comedy special is a catalyst for change as Netflix walkout leads to calls for reform
People protest outside the Netflix building on Vine Street in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Critics and supporters of Dave Chappelle's Netflix special and its anti-transgender comments gathered outside the company's offices Wednesday, with "Trans Lives Matter" and "Free Speech is a Right" among their competing messages. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (Damian Dovarganes/)
Netflix employees at the streaming giant’s campuses around the world walked off the job Wednesday in protest of Dave Chappelle’s latest special, the company’s defense of the comedian and its dismissal of concerns that the content was dangerously transphobic.
A crowd of dozens gathered outside the streamer’s West Hollywood offices to denounce both Chappelle and the company’s chief executive, Ted Sarandos, who has stood by “The Closer” after employees, LGBTQ organizations and the platform’s own talent likened the special to hate speech. Some supporters of Chappelle also attended the rally, clashing with protesters as they urged Netflix not to limit speech and held up signs with messages such as “Jokes are funny.”
“We’re here today not because we can’t take a joke,” Ashlee Marie Preston, a media personality and the walkout’s organizer, told rallygoers. “We’re here today because the jokes are taking lives.”
The one-day walkout followed weeks of simmering complaints and punctuates the collision of the comedian’s popularity with the growing movement to protect the rights of transgender people.
The issue exploded after the Oct. 5 release of the comedian’s special, in which he compares being trans to wearing blackface, makes jokes about transgender people’s genitalia and declares he’s “team TERF” - which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist - because he believes “gender is a fact.” He compares the struggles of the Black community directly with the LGBTQ community. “I can’t help but feel like if slaves had baby oil and booty shorts,” he tells the audience, “we might have been free a hundred years sooner.”
In their list of demands to Sarandos, the Netflix employee resource group Trans*, which consists of trans and nonbinary employees and their allies, wrote in a news release that they want the company to add disclaimers to transphobic content, make investments in trans creators and recruit trans people to work in Netflix leadership roles. The group did not demand that “The Closer” be removed from the platform.
People protest outside the Netflix at Vine building in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Critics and supporters of Dave Chappelle's Netflix special and its anti-transgender comments gathered outside the company's offices Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, with "Trans Lives Matter" and "Free Speech is a Right" among their competing messages. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (Damian Dovarganes/)
Considered one of comedy’s greats, Chappelle influenced a generation of entertainers with his racially charged and critically acclaimed sketch series “Chappelle’s Show” and his subsequent dramatic exit from the show in 2005. After years spent out of the spotlight, he returned to the stage in 2013, and in 2016 inked a $60 million Netflix deal for a trio of specials that considered no topic too taboo. In the years since, Chappelle has received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, hosted the highest-rated “Saturday Night Live” telecast in years, won multiple Emmy and Grammy awards, and in what he called “the most significant honor of my life,” his alma mater is planning to name its theater after him.
The dedication ceremony at Duke Ellington School of the Arts is set to take place next month in Washington, but some students there are not happy with the decision. “To walk past there and see the name of someone who does not respect my sexuality or me as a person frankly disgusts me,” said 16-year-old student Andrew Wilson, who identifies as gay.
From its very first punchlines, Chappelle’s sixth and perhaps final special for the company establishes itself as napalm. The 48-year-old jokingly refers to himself as “transphobic comedian Dave Chappelle” in an attempt to reanimate the topic of cancel culture and political correctness he explored in his 2019 special “Sticks and Stones.”
Responding to the criticism from LGBTQ groups, Sarandos defended the program in two memos, saying he supported Chappelle’s “artistic freedom.” Though he acknowledged in an interview with Variety on Tuesday that he “screwed up that internal communication” and “should have led with a lot more humanity,” he reiterated that the special would not be taken down and said he defined hate speech on the platform as “something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections. For me, intent to cause physical harm crosses the line, for sure.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, zeroed in on that distinction. “Harm is not always physical,” Hunter said. “It’s psychological, it’s emotional. It happens in many different forms, and words hurt. Words incite violence.”
“This isn’t about Dave Chappelle and what he says,” said David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “It has always been about Netflix platforming transphobia for profit, and creating and holding space for intersectionality to be used as a way to acknowledge how easily and often Black trans, queer and nonbinary people are erased ... in ways that might condone or contribute to violence.”
LGBTQ advocacy organizations expressed their support for Wednesday’s walkout and, as GLAAD wrote in a statement, urged Netflix to “take swift and strong action to address the calls for change from the community and their own employees.”
A spokesperson for Netflix released a statement ahead of the planned rally that said the company respected employees’ decision to walk out “and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that “privilege can cloud what we do or don’t see as harmful. Media companies and content producers have big decisions to make about what is respectful and what deserves a platform.”
But Chappelle has still found support from some fellow comedians. Damon Wayans told TMZ that comedians were “slaves to PC culture” and that Chappelle “freed” them. And Chappelle himself received a standing ovation at the Hollywood Bowl a few days after the special premiered, telling the crowd, “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it.”
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, Dave Chappelle poses in the press room with the best comedy album award for "The Age of Spin" and "Deep in the Heart of Texas" at the 60th annual Grammy Awards in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File) (Charles Sykes/)
The streaming company now finds itself on the edge of a metamorphic moment. Since its transformation from DVD mailer to entertainment industry heavyweight nearly a decade ago, the company has managed to weather the tide of controversy that comes with being a big fish in the rising ocean of online streaming.
But with a marathon list of original programming that in 2019 was equivalent to debuting one new title a day, issues have emerged.
There has been accusations of censorship over deleted episodes of shows, such as when Netflix blocked Saudi audiences from viewing an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show “Patriot Act” after the comedian connected the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi Arabian crown prince in his monologue).
There have been outcries from mental health advocacy groups about the depiction of suicide, such as an intensely graphic scene in the wildly popular teen drama “13 Reasons Why” that the company edited out more than two years after it first aired.
There was a reworking of a promotional poster over concerns of sexualizing prepubescent girls. After Netflix changed the artwork for “Cuties” following intense backlash, it tweeted an apology that read in part, “It was not OK.”
The company has demonstrated that it can change course when necessary. But when it comes to the Chapelle controversy, Netflix has hit a nerve.
Instead of just outside pressure mounting the charge, calls for action are coming from both employees and stars who made their names on the platform.
Terra Field, a Netflix software engineer who is also transgender, took the company to task on Twitter for attempting to be “neutral.” “This is not an argument with two sides. It is an argument with trans people who want to be alive and people who don’t want us to be,” she wrote. She then attended a meeting meant for senior executives along with two other co-workers. All three were suspended and then reinstated days later. But the fate of another colleague was more permanent: Netflix confirmed that it had fired an employee it said had leaked company data, including that the streamer paid $24.1 million for “The Closer,” that appeared in a Bloomberg News article.
While the corporate drama was playing out, the talent was equally as enraged.
Producer Cheryl Rich joins protesters outside the Netflix building in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Critics and supporters of Dave Chappelle's Netflix special and its anti-transgender comments gathered outside the company's offices Wednesday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (Damian Dovarganes/)
Jaclyn Moore, the showrunner of the Netflix series “Dear White People” who is also trans, said she was “done” with the company.
Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, whose 2018 Netflix special “Nanette” was heralded as groundbreaking for her takes on trauma, sexuality and mental health, took particular exception with Sarandos, who in a memo cited Gadsby’s work as an example of the streamer’s diverse slate of programming.
“Hey Ted Sarandos! Just a quick note to let you know that I would prefer if you didn’t drag my name into your mess,” Gadsby responded via Instagram. “Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle’s fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view.”
In the final moments of “The Closer,” Chappelle seems to qualify his remarks, telling the audience that he has “never had a problem with transgender people. If you listen to what I’m saying clearly, my problem has always been with White people.” Now that the transgender community has the country listening, it appears that their argument has something in common with the comedian’s own framing. The main problem isn’t with Chappelle, they insist. It’s with Netflix.
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The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage, Sonia Rao and Vanessa G. Sanchez contributed to this report.
ConocoPhillips and Biden administration won’t appeal court ruling blocking permit for major North Slope oil project
This Feb. 9, 2016, file photo shows an ice-covered ConocoPhillips sign at a drilling site on Alaska's North Slope. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
With the deadline to appeal an August court decision come and gone, it appears federal approval for ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow oil project on the North Slope will be subject to at least a partial do-over, all but ensuring the development will be delayed multiple years.
Environmental and Alaska Native groups successfully sued the Bureau of Land Management over the agency’s approval of the environmental review for the major oil development, which took place under the Trump administration. On Wednesday, those groups thanked BLM officials under President Joe Biden for not appealing the August court ruling invalidating the permit.
But they also acknowledged that the Houston-based oil major has given every indication it will not drop the 100,000-barrels-per-day-plus oil prospect.
“The Biden administration’s decision not to appeal comes as good news. It also comes as the same old news, because we know that ConocoPhillips will continue to pursue this harmful extraction project on Iñupiat lands,” Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic Executive Director Siqiñiq Maupin said in a statement. “We know the real impacts on our bodies and communities. We know that fossil fuel industrialization is an attack on our health and food security. What oil corporations seeking to exploit our homelands need to know is that Indigenous groups around the country are united. We will, alongside our climate and human rights allies everywhere, continue to protect the lands and waters our ancestors protected for us.”
Tuesday was the deadline for attorneys for the Justice Department and ConocoPhillips to appeal an August order from Alaska District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, throwing out BLM Alaska’s October 2020 approval of the Willow Master Plan environmental impact statement.
Gleason ruled that BLM officials erred in, among other things, not sufficiently justifying their rationale for not estimating the project’s likely contribution to foreign greenhouse emissions.
That was in part due to a 2020 9th Circuit decision that vacated the environmental review for another North Slope oil project approved by the Trump administration. In that instance, the court ruled that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval for Hilcorp Energy’s offshore Liberty project was “counterintuitive,” in that the agency concluded that not developing the oil would result in greater foreign greenhouse gas emissions.
At $6 billion to reach first oil and up to $8 billion to fully develop, oil industry advocates see Willow as an infrastructure hub on the western North Slope that could spur other oil projects in the otherwise mostly undeveloped National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
ConocoPhillips had targeted the winter of 2025-2026 for first oil production from Willow, and estimated the project would generate up to 2,000 construction jobs over several years of development.
A spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips Alaska did not respond to questions in time for this story.
Bridget Psarianos, a lead attorney for SILA and the coalition of environmental groups, said she was not caught off guard that Interior Department officials and ConocoPhillips, which intervened in the suit, did not appeal.
“I think given the similarities with our case and the Liberty decision, which the 9th Circuit pointed to when we won our injunction back in February, we would’ve been a little surprised if they would’ve taken an appeal to the 9th Circuit,” Psarianos said.
In February, the 9th Circuit ordered fieldwork stopped at Willow largely before it started. ConocoPhillips had planned to open a gravel pit and begin laying gravel for roads and pads last winter before the ruling. The appeals court then sent the case back to Gleason, who then issued her broader August ruling invalidating the environmental review.
Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz declined to comment on the decision not to appeal Gleason’s ruling, but said BLM officials are determining their path forward in regards to Willow’s federal permits.
BLM’s initial environmental review and approval for Willow took slightly more than two years. It’s unclear how long a supplemental review or entirely new review would take, but it would likely be a multi-year process based on similar situations in the past.
Longtime Alaska oil industry attorney and analyst Brad Keithley said he believes the agency and company may have taken the more expeditious route to keep moving Willow forward by not appealing. That’s particularly true if the Biden administration still backs the project, he added.
“If (the Biden administration) wants to make this work, I think they can pull together the supplemental EIS in the short-term. If they view this as an opportunity to shut down development in the Arctic or set a precedent that’s going to apply to other projects — ANWR and elsewhere — then I think that’s what is going to lengthen it out,” Keithley said.
In May, attorneys for BLM filed court briefs backing the approval of Willow, which drew the ire of the same groups now commending the administration for withholding an appeal.
Psarianos said her clients want BLM to improve the public involvement process, which was disrupted by the onset of the pandemic, for any future Willow review and take a much more holistic look at the project’s potential consequences.
“I think they really need to take a step back, gather baseline information and engage with the communities most impacted by the project,” Psarianos said.
A demonstrator wears an Oath Keepers anti-government organization badge on a protective vest during a protest outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 5. (Bloomberg photo by Stefani Reynolds) (Stefani Reynolds/)
This story was originally published by ProPublica.
North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt swore an oath to uphold the Constitution after his election in 2016 and again in 2020. But there’s another pledge that Clampitt said he’s upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization.
Dozens of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of them looking like a paramilitary group, wearing camo helmets and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party.
ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town’s public works director.
ProPublica’s analysis also found more than 400 people who signed up for membership or newsletters using government, military or political campaign email addresses, including candidates for Congress and sheriff, a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California.
People with law enforcement and military backgrounds — like Clampitt, a retired fire captain in Charlotte, North Carolina — have been the focus of the Oath Keepers’ recruiting efforts since the group started in 2009. According to researchers who monitor the group’s activities, Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people’s guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories. The group is loosely organized and its leaders do not centrally issue commands. The organization’s roster has ballooned in recent years, from less than 10,000 members at the start of 2011 to more than 35,000 by 2020, membership records show.
The hacked list marks participants as annual ($50) or lifetime ($1,000) members, so not everyone on the list is currently active, though some said they viewed it as a lifelong commitment even if they only paid for one year. Many members said they had little contact with the group after sending in their dues but still supported the cause. Others drifted away and disavowed the group, even before Jan. 6.
The list also includes at least three people who were arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and who federal prosecutors did not identify as Oath Keepers in charging documents: Andrew Alan Hernandez of Riverside, California; Dawn Frankowski of Naperville, Illinois; and Sean David Watson of Alpine, Texas. They pleaded not guilty. These defendants, their attorneys and family members didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department also declined to comment.
According to experts who monitor violent extremism, the Oath Keepers’ broadening membership provides the group with two crucial resources: money and, particularly when government officials get involved, legitimacy.
Clampitt said he went to a few Oath Keepers meetings when he joined back in 2014, but the way he participates now is by being a state legislator. He has co-sponsored a bill to allow elected officials to carry concealed guns in courthouses, schools and government buildings, and he supported legislation stiffening penalties for violent demonstrations in response to last year’s protests in Raleigh over George Floyd’s murder. Clampitt said he opposes violence but stood by his Oath Keepers affiliation, despite the dozens of members charged in the Capitol riot.
“Five or six years ago, politicians wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with Oath Keepers, you’d have to go pretty fringe,” said Jared Holt, who monitors the group for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous.”
The state lawmakers
Then-state Delegate Don Dwyer from Maryland was the only elected official at the Oath Keepers’ first rally, back in April 2009. Dwyer was, by his own account, a pariah in Annapolis, but he was building a national profile as a conservative firebrand. He claimed to take direction from his own interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and a personal library of 230 books about U.S. history pre-1900.
The Oath Keepers’ founder, a former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate named Stewart Rhodes, invited Dwyer to speak at the group’s kickoff rally — they called it a “muster” — in Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of the “shot heard round the world” that started the Revolutionary War in 1775.
“I still support the cause,” Dwyer told ProPublica. “And I’m proud to say that I’m a member of that organization.” He left politics in 2015 and served six months in prison for violating his probation after a drunk boating accident.
Dwyer said he was not aware of the Oath Keeper’s presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “If they were there, they were there on a peaceful mission, I’m sure of it,” he said. Informed that members were photographed wearing tactical gear, Dwyer responded, “OK, that surprises me. That’s all I’ll say.”
Among the current officeholders on the list is Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was already publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Finchem was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 but has said he did not enter the building or engage in violence, and he has disputed the characterization of the Oath Keepers as an anti-government group. He is currently running to be Arizona’s top elections official, and he won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in September.
Serving with Clampitt in the North Carolina assembly, deputy majority whip Keith Kidwell appeared on the Oath Keepers list as an annual member in 2012. Kidwell declined to comment, calling the membership list “stolen information.” A spokesperson for the state house speaker declined to comment on Kidwell’s and Clampitt’s Oath Keepers affiliation.
The membership list also names Alaska state Rep. David Eastman as a life member and Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin and Georgia state Rep. Steve Tarvin as annual members. Eastman confirmed his membership and declined to answer further questions. Baldwin’s spokesperson said he was unavailable to comment.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, consults a rule book as he speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)
Tarvin recalled signing up at a booth in White County, Georgia, in 2009 when he was running for Congress. He lost that race but later became a state lawmaker. He didn’t view the Oath Keepers as a militia group back then.
Tarvin said he stands by the pledge he signed and said he isn’t aware of the Oath Keepers’ involvement in the Capitol breach on Jan 6. His congressional district is now represented by Andrew Clyde, who helped barricade a door to the House chamber on Jan. 6 but later compared the riot to a “normal tourist visit.”
Kaye Beach, who is listed as an annual member in 2010, is a legislative assistant to Oklahoma state Rep. Jon Echols, the majority floor leader. Beach sued the state in 2011, arguing that the Bible prohibited taking a driver’s license photo of her. She eventually lost at the state supreme court. Beach and Echols did not respond to requests for comment.
Two other lawmakers have long been public about their affiliation with the Oath Keepers.
Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers announced her membership a few years ago. She responded to Trump’s 2020 loss by encouraging people to buy ammo and recently demanded to “decertify” the election based on the GOP’s “audit” of Maricopa County ballots, even though the partisan review confirmed President Joe Biden’s win.
Idaho state Rep. Chad Christensen lists his Oath Keepers membership on his official legislative biography, in between the John Birch Society and the Idaho Farm Bureau.
Rogers and Christensen didn’t respond to requests for comment.
South Dakota state legislator Phil Jensen appeared on the list as an annual member in 2014, using his title (then state senator) and government email address. His affiliation was reported Tuesday by Rolling Stone. He did not respond to a request for comment.
South Dakota state Sen. Jim Stalzer, whose 2015 annual membership was first reported by BuzzFeed, said he never renewed his membership and stopped supporting the Oath Keepers because he disagreed with “their confrontational approach to what they view as federal overreach.” In an email, Stalzer said he supported peaceful demonstrators on Jan. 6 but “we do not have the right to damage property or harm others, whether it be at the Capitol or anywhere else.”
Virginia Fuller first encountered the Oath Keepers in 2009 at a meeting in San Francisco featuring Rhodes, the group’s founder. Fuller liked Rhodes’ message of upholding the Constitution, she told ProPublica. For a while she corresponded with one of the group’s leaders but they eventually lost touch, and she moved to Florida and ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Republican ticket in 2018.
Rhodes and other leaders of the Oath Keepers embraced Trump’s lies about election fraud and promoted Jan. 6 as a last chance to make a stand for the republic. Asked about Jan. 6, Fuller said, “There was nothing wrong with that. The Capitol belongs to the people.”
The Oath Keepers rose to prominence when handfuls of heavily armed members showed up at racial justice protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and their profile grew thanks to a series of standoffs between right-wing militants and federal agents in the Western U.S.
At the 2016 funeral for a rancher who officers shot while trying to arrest him, Stan Vaughan met several Oath Keepers and became an annual member. Vaughan, a one-time chess champion from Las Vegas, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Nevada State Assembly in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Even though Vaughan ran in a predominantly Democratic district, he had the support of his party’s establishment, receiving a $500 campaign contribution from Robin Titus, the Assembly’s Republican floor leader. Titus did not respond to requests for comment. Vaughan said he’ll probably run again once he sees how new districts are drawn.
Vaughan said he wouldn’t join the Oath Keepers today. It’s not their ideology that bothers him or their involvement in the Jan. 6 riot. Rather, he said he has concerns about how the group’s leaders spend its money.
One Oath Keeper seen on Jan. 6 wearing an earpiece and talking with group leaders outside the Capitol was Edward Durfee, a local Republican committee member in Bergen County, New Jersey, who is running for state assembly in a predominantly Democratic district. Durfee has not been charged and said he did not enter the building.
“They were caught up in the melee, what else can I say? For whatever reason, I didn’t go in,” Durfee said. “They brand you as white supremacists, domestic terrorists. I don’t know how we got in this mix where there’s so much hatred and so much dislike and how it continues to get fomented. It’s just shameful actually.”
The local party officials
When Joe Marmorato, a retired New York City cop who moved upstate, signed up for an Oath Keepers annual membership in 2013, he described the skills he could offer the group: “Pistol Shooting, police street tactics, driving skills, County Republican committee member.” Marmorato later rose to vice chairman of the Otsego County GOP, but he recently resigned that post because he’s moving. Reached by phone, Marmorato stood by the Oath Keepers, even after Jan. 6. “I just thought they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I know most of them are all retired police and firemen and have the best interests of the country in mind,” he said. “No matter what you do, you’re vilified by the left.”
Steven K. Booth, a twice-elected Republican county commissioner and state senate candidate in Minnesota in the 2000s, said he wants to run for office again if his wife agrees to it. He’s still active in the local GOP. Booth joined the Oath Keepers as an annual member in 2011 and said he hasn’t heard from them in years. He said he wasn’t aware of their role in Jan. 6 but he’s concerned that some Capitol breach defendants are being held in jail. “That seems kind of weird to me,” Booth said. “I also think it’s kind of weird that nobody is doing anything about all the fraud we were told about in the last election either.”
Asked about the possibility of Booth running for office again, local GOP chair Rich Siegert started talking through openings Booth could aim for. Booth’s Oath Keepers affiliation did not give Siegert pause. “When tyranny comes, that’s when you stop and say you’ve got to do something about it,” said Siegert, who heads the party in northern Minnesota’s Beltrami County. “To go out and get violent and kill people like they did in the early days, I’m not really in favor of that. How do you get the attention of liberals and get them to listen? Firing guns, I don’t know, it’s what they do in some countries. Define what ‘radical’ is.”
Not all party officials shared Siegert’s view. Richland County, South Carolina, GOP chair Tyson Grinstead distanced his committee from Patsy Stewart, who is listed as an Oath Keepers annual member in 2015. “Personally,” Grinstead said, “I don’t think there’s a place for that in our party.”
Stewart has been a delegate or alternate to the GOP state convention and is currently a party precinct officer in Columbia, South Carolina. She didn’t respond to requests for comment. In recent months, Trump supporters have flooded into precinct positions in South Carolina and other states as part of an organized movement inspired by the stolen election myth, ProPublica reported in September.
The poll worker
When Andy Maul signed up for the Oath Keepers as an annual member around 2010, he touted his role in the Pittsburgh GOP. Maul, who declined to comment, became the chairman of his city council district starting around 2016. But other local party leaders chafed at Maul’s confrontational style and lack of follow-through.
“Andy was getting a little out there,” said Allegheny County chairman Sam DeMarco, who had to ask Maul to take down some of his inflammatory social media posts. “If you want to be associated with our committee, you have to represent mainstream traditional Republican values and not be affiliated with fringe groups.”
Maul left the local party committee in 2020, but he continued serving as a poll worker. According to the county elections department, Maul was the “judge of elections” in charge of his precinct in every election since 2017, including this year’s primary in May.
In Pennsylvania, the judge of elections in every precinct is an elected position. If no one runs, as often happens, the local elections office appoints someone to fill in, so a person can sometimes land the job “if you have a pulse and you call them,” said Bob Hillen, the Pittsburgh Republican chairman.
“If I opposed people based on their views for being a judge of elections or anything, that would eliminate a whole lot of people,” Hillen said. “I’m a city chairman, I don’t have time to think about all those things like that.”
Around 2005, Marine veteran Bob Haran joined the Minuteman Project, a group of armed people who took it upon themselves to patrol Arizona’s border with Mexico. Haran resented that critics called the group vigilantes and Mexican hunters. All they did, he said, was call the Border Patrol.
Haran held positions in the local GOP and had run for the state House as a Republican. During the tea party wave, Haran became frustrated with the new activists’ anti-government tilt and turned to the Constitution Party, a minor party that’s to the right of the GOP. Haran rose to be the state chairman and secretary. By the time he became an Oath Keepers annual member in 2016, Haran was looking for a new political home.
When Trump rode down a golden escalator to launch his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” Haran took offense. He faulted the government for failing to secure the border, but he didn’t blame people for seeking better lives for themselves and their families. Haran grew up in Coney Island, near a middle-class apartment complex built by Trump’s father, and he remembered Trump as a braggadocious playboy, not as the successful self-made businessman he later played on TV. Haran said he was appalled as Republicans fell in line behind Trump.
Then, Haran did something unusual, even among never-Trump Republicans: He became a Democrat.
Haran doesn’t agree with the Democrats on everything, but he said he feels welcome in the party. He’s still passionate about guns and immigration, but he also supports environmental protections and universal health care. Above all, he wanted to help get rid of Trump. In 2020, he joined his local precinct committee and started regularly attending party meetings.
Haran was so excited to see Trump leave office that he tuned in to watch the Electoral College certification process on Jan. 6. He couldn’t believe how fast the Trump supporters reached the Senate floor, or how Oath Keepers were attacking the Constitution they swore to defend.
Haran thought back to when he ran for office as a Republican, in 2000, and lost. “I called my opponent and congratulated him: I would have won except he got more votes,” Haran said. “I conceded, which is bestowing legitimacy on my opponent, which is more important than anything.”
He finds it disturbing that Trump and other Republicans today won’t do that anymore. “They were anti-government,” Haran said of the GOP, “but now they’re being anti-democracy.”
Jeff Kao contributed data analysis, and Carson Kessler, Caroline Chen and Talya Cooper contributed research.
Clients rest at the Sullivan Arena mass care shelter on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
In early October, Shayna Gurtler Rowe went to pick her father up at the Sullivan Arena and found him in a frightening condition.
“When I saw him, it scared me so bad,” she said. “It took my breath away. He literally looked like he was dying.”
Gregory Alan Rowe, 62, was wheeled out of Anchorage’s large homeless shelter to her on a stretcher, she said. He was wearing soiled clothing and had visibly lost weight.
He couldn’t lift his body up and was incoherent, Gurtler Rowe said. She later learned he was down to 145 pounds. Rowe stands 6 feet 4 inches tall.
“The medic kept saying ‘I’m so sorry, we had no idea he was in this condition,’” she said.
Rowe had come to Alaska from Tennessee on an open-ended trip in September, “flying by the seat of my britches,” he said, and quickly ended up at the shelter.
His daughter, Shayna Gurtler Rowe, also from Tennessee, had planned to meet him. She was driving and taking the ferry to Alaska to start a new job as tribal administrator for the Interior Alaska community of Nenana, with an arrival in October.
Despite Rowe having lived at the Sullivan Arena for more than a month, no one seemed to know his name, she said. His cot had someone else’s name on it.
At a hospital hours later, Rowe was diagnosed with sepsis, a dangerous infection that can kill in hours, and COVID-19 pneumonia, according to his daughter. He spent more than a week in the hospital. Now released, he is recovering.
“I got out by the skin of my teeth. Shayna showed up just in time,” Gregory Rowe said in a phone interview Wednesday. “If she had been one day later, I don’t think I would have lived.”
Gregory Rowe, 62, says he was critically ill while recently staying at the Sullivan Arena mass shelter. His daughter picked him up early in October 2021, then he spent a week in a hospital. His daughter Shayna Gurtler Rowe drove him to Fairbanks Oct. 18, 2021. (Photo by Shayna Gurtler Rowe)
Gurtler Rowe said she contacted city officials and news media because she was shocked by how her sick her father became while living at Anchorage’s large homeless shelter, and how seemingly no one intervened.
“I am furious and horrified that other people at the Sullivan are in the same or worse condition,” she wrote in an email.
City officials say they learned of Gurtler Rowe’s complaints on Oct. 7 and sent the head of the Anchorage Health Department to the shelter “immediately.”
The city told the contractor currently running the shelter, 99 Plus One Inc., to make changes, according to Corey Young, a spokesman for the city.
Those included: including having shelter staff wear uniforms, providing “continuous” monitoring of the facility by foot patrol, insisting on a staff to client ratio of 1:30 or less, requiring a shelter manager work on-site evenings and weekends for “additional staff and facility supervision” and clients wearing masks and distancing while in the shelter, according Young.
“What happened to this client should not happen to anyone,” Young wrote.
Officials from 99 Plus One Inc. did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
In general, large shelters are the wrong place for medically fragile and sick people, said Jasmine Boyle, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. It seemed clear that Rowe’s condition must have been overlooked in some way. That’s one of the reasons experts “strongly advocate for smaller shelters” where the staff-to-client ratio is lower, she said.
Rowe is Alaska Native but was adopted by a couple who moved the family to Tennessee, where he has lived for most of his life.
He reconnected with family members in Dillingham in recent years, and decided to take his daughter up on the offer of a plane ticket to Alaska in September.
Rowe arrived in Anchorage in early September.
He has chronic health troubles including a traumatic brain injury and past strokes, according to his daughter, but was well enough to get to Alaska independently. When his housing fell through, he went to the shelter.
Rowe says he told medical staff he was plagued with illness he believes came from being exposed to ticks in Tennessee. He doesn’t remember much about the weeks that followed. He knows he stopped getting up for meals and stayed on his cot.
“I was in and out, incoherent,” he said.
He doesn’t recall interacting with staff at the shelter, which saw an abrupt management transition from Beans Cafe to a new company, 99 Plus One, shortly after Rowe arrived. The transition was rough, with just days between the handoff and residents reporting shortages of cots, water and other necessities at first.
Meanwhile, Rowe was withering away.
“I was just staying on my bunk,” he said. “Just trying to eat and stay alive. I wasn’t bringing attention to myself.”
Other shelter guests helped him. One man in particular — last name Mills — brought food and checked on him.
“He was making sure I had the very basics of what I needed,” Rowe said. Rowe says he would like to thank the man, if he’s out there.
His daughter, who says she was speaking to him dozens of times per day to prompt him for everyday activities like meals, was on the ferry headed north and at times didn’t have cell reception. She could tell things were going badly.
“I would wake up on the ferry in a panic that my dad was going to be dead when I got to him,” she said.
When Gurtler Rowe arrived for her father on the evening of Oct. 7, she was on the phone as medics inside were getting him ready to leave the shelter on a stretcher.
“I was on the phone the whole time they were picking them up, getting him on the stretcher,” she said. Gurtler Rowe says she overheard staff ask if a “tub of urine” near the cot belonged to her father, and he said no.
“Obviously that’s not sanitary,” she said.
Gregory Rowe, 62, as daughter Shayna Gurtler Rowe drove him to Fairbanks Oct. 18, 2021. (Photo by Shayna Gurtler Rowe)
Rowe is recovering after his hospitalization. His daughter says she’s working on getting him eating enough. They made the long drive to Fairbanks, where they are now awaiting housing for her new job as the tribal administrator of Nenana.
Rowe is philosophical about what happened at the Sullivan.
“I have trouble thinking that any of the Beans Cafe or the 99 Plus One was malicious,” Rowe said. “There was a transition. And I kind of...maybe slipped through the cracks.”
FILE - In this Friday, July 30, 2004 file photo, the U.S.S. Virginia returns to the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton Conn., after its first sea trials. A Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Jack Sauer, File) (Jack Sauer/)
For years, the aspiring spy had gone to remarkable lengths to protect his identity and evade detection.
With a cash-bought burner phone, he created an anonymous email account that could send encrypted messages, according to the FBI, then waited to use it.
To avoid suspicion at his job developing America’s most advanced submarines, he allegedly sneaked out sensitive documents for years, a few pages at time.
The Navy veteran’s work for the U.S. government had taught him to spot the clues that betray insider threats, and, according to an FBI affidavit, he would later brag that “we made very sure not to display even a single one.”
But now, after all that caution, the foreign officials Jonathan Toebbe believed he was negotiating with were pushing him to do the one thing he’d been avoiding: come out into the open.
At first, Toebbe - a nuclear engineer and father of two who lives in Annapolis, Md. - pushed back in encrypted email exchanges detailed in the affidavit. “Face to face meetings are very risky for me,” he wrote, “as I am sure you understand.”
A month later, he protested again: “I am sorry to be so stubborn and untrusting, but I cannot agree to go to a location of your choosing.”
He’d already threatened to approach “other possible buyers” if the country wasn’t interested, an FBI agent testified at a court hearing on Wednesday.
Eventually - after a series of trust-building exchanges that involved a secret signal at a Washington, D.C., building and a deposit of $10,000 in cryptocurrency - Toebbe relented.
For almost a decade, Toebbe, who held a top-secret security clearance, had been part of the multibillion-dollar effort to build submarines that could remain submerged and undetected for the longest time possible.
The documents he allegedly smuggled out contained schematic designs for one of the Navy’s most advanced boats - the Virginia-class submarine - with a nuclear reactor that could run for 33 years without refueling.
In this world, stealth was everything. And yet, despite all that technological sophistication, every submarine becomes vulnerable the second it surfaces.
On June 26, Toebbe, 42, drove to West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Accompanying him was his wife, Diana Toebbe, 45, a private-school humanities teacher beloved by students and known among friends for her intelligence and liberal politics. They brought with them a tiny data storage card filled with secrets they allegedly hoped to sell, wrapped in plastic and hidden inside half a peanut butter sandwich.
After years of staying submerged, Toebbe and his wife were surfacing. And unbeknown to them, the FBI was watching their every step.
- - -
When the U.S. government announced the couple’s arrest on espionage charges last week, it filed a 23-page affidavit in support of a criminal complaint. Packed with technical notes, it also contained details as riveting as any spy novel.
There are sly exchanges and red herrings. Traps are set, evaded, then baited again.
But left unanswered in all the plot twists: What drove a suburban engineer and his schoolteacher wife to apparently try to sell secrets to a still-unidentified country?
The residence of Jonathan and Diana Toebbe is shown on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021 in Annapolis, Md., a day after neighbors say the house was searched by FBI agents. Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer, has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. His wife also was arrested. (AP Photo/Brian Witte) (Brian Witte/)
In many ways, the Toebbes are an unlikely pair to stand accused of such betrayal. Both come from devoted military families.
“We strongly believe in duty and honor,” said Jonathan’s father, Nelson Toebbe, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Medical Service Corps, who declined an interview.
Jonathan’s grandfather served in the Navy during World War II, and his great-grandfather was a veteran of World War I. Jonathan himself served five years on active duty as a Navy nuclear engineering officer and more than two years in the Navy Reserve.
Diana’s family was similarly filled with veterans.
In World War II, her grandfather served on four different submarines in the Pacific, according to relatives and public records. He volunteered for dangerous assignments that tested just how long and deep the boats could stay submerged, relatives said, and passed on his love for submariner culture to his son, Douglas Smay, Diana’s father.
Smay served mostly on surface-level naval vessels instead of submarines, but he created a memorial to honor submariner veterans called “52 Boats,” named for the number of U.S. subs lost in World War II.
As a teenager in Southern California, Jonathan Toebbe was one of the top students at Upland High School.
“When I found out he’d become a nuclear scientist,” said one former classmate, “that didn’t strike me as unusual at all.”
The Upland yearbook devoted an entire article to Jonathan when he was a sophomore, ticking off his involvement in varsity swimming, water polo, the honors program, Eagle Scouts and church.
“When asked what his goals in life were, he replied that ‘one goal in life is to be the best at whatever I do,’ " the article said.
Even as a teenager, Diana had a passion for progressive causes.
For years, she was one of the few White students at her school, riding a bus daily from her affluent suburban neighborhood to attend a magnet program in downtown San Diego that was still struggling with integration.
As a 16-year-old, she lamented the stark inequalities to a local newspaper, pointing out her school’s walkways draped with chain-link fencing. “This looks like a prison,” she said. “Grass - is that so much to ask for?”
It was at Emory University that the couple met and fell in love.
Jonathan, three years younger, was in the graduate program for physics. Diana was in Emory’s PhD program for anthropology.
Among the doctoral students, Diana was known for her desire to challenge the field’s assumptions about gender and race, according to former professors and students.
Drawing on her own struggles with anxiety disorder, she wrote a prizewinning paper about how obsessive-compulsive behaviors were not so different from other ritualized behaviors condoned by society.
She was a study in contradictions. A black belt in martial arts who loved knitting. A staunch feminist who attended Renaissance fairs in the archaic garb of peasant women.
But something about her appealed to Jonathan.
“It was their shared intelligence,” said a relative on Diana’s side of the family.
In her dissertation, Diana began her acknowledgments by thanking her “forever first, my husband Jon, who acted as my midwife during the painful birth of this work.”
They married in 2003, according a marriage certificate from DeKalb County, Ga., and two years later moved to Colorado, where both took jobs as science teachers at the high-priced, private Kent Denver School.
In 2008, Jonathan began pursuing a second advanced degree, in nuclear engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, where a classmate recalled him as easygoing and an avid Dungeons & Dragons player.
But he left the program for the Navy in 2012 after becoming a parent. His professors bemoaned losing him as a potential doctoral student, said the classmate, who now works for the U.S. government and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Jonathan said he needed to make much more than he was getting on a graduate student stipend to support his family.
When they’d first arrived in Colorado, the couple bought a newly built four-bedroom home in Aurora for $268,500. But four years later, Jonathan and Diana were struggling to make payments, according to documents filed by their lender. In August 2010, they were forced to sell the home at a loss, for $206,000.
“The Navy was offering him a job. It was a good deal. Trained nuclear engineers - there aren’t a huge number of us,” said the classmate. “And he was probably one of the smartest guys at the school.”
After moving to the Washington area, Jonathan specialized in nuclear power and was eventually assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, which oversees the nuclear reactors used to power more than 60 aircraft carriers and submarines in the naval fleet. He was never deployed by the Navy, nor did he serve on any ships, according to service records and court documents. Toebbe ended his active-duty service in 2017 but remained in the Navy Reserve until 2019. He was earning $153,737 a year for his work as a nuclear engineer, according to a defense official.
Meanwhile, Diana taught at the Key School in Annapolis, where tuition runs as high as $31,050 a year. She was a meticulous instructor who pushed students to think differently, said former students and their parents.
The couple bought a modest house for $430,000 in 2014 in the Annapolis neighborhood of Hillsmere Shores, where residents have a private marina with direct access to a river and a beach. Their two kids, now 11 and 15, went to Diana’s private school, which allows each faculty member to enroll one child tuition-free.
“They had money. They both worked hard. It’s not like they were having difficulty with the bills,” said a relative of Diana’s.
On Facebook and Instagram, Diana chronicled their life together - a look at a potato casserole she baked, pictures from a beach vacation, and a video of her children playing in costumes. She posted knitting tutorials on YouTube, coaching her viewers with generous dollops of encouragement.
“If you’ve gotten this far, well done. I’m really, really proud of you,” she tells first-time knitters in one video. “Take a second and give yourself a pat on the back.”
Her husband kept a lower profile online.
His Facebook page lists “Cryptonomicon” as one of his favorite books.
It’s a science-fiction novel that runs nearly 1,000 pages and spans three generations. The book begins with a young Navy captain in World War II and eventually chronicles his hacker grandson’s mission to build a place where encrypted data can be exchanged without scrutiny.
The key to keeping that data haven running, it turns out, is a sunken Nazi submarine.
- - -
Jonathan Toebbe’s own saga began on April 1, 2020, with a brown envelope with four U.S. postage stamps, according to the affidavit.
Toebbe allegedly sent the package anonymously, with a return address in Pittsburgh, to an unidentified foreign government. Inside were sensitive U.S. Navy documents and instructions on how the country - believed by many national security experts to be a U.S. ally - should reply using an encrypted email service.
For almost nine months, the receiving country held on to the package before it apparently handed it over to the FBI on Dec. 20, 2020.
Six days later, an FBI agent - posing as a foreign spy handler - reached out to Toebbe at the anonymous email address he provided.
Toebbe was cautious at first. In his reply, he avoided any details that might give away his identity, simply calling himself “Alice,” a common placeholder name in cryptographic circles.
When the supposed foreign official asked him to meet face-to-face with a “trusted friend” - someone with a “gift . . . to compensate for your efforts” - Toebbe knew better.
“I am uncomfortable with this arrangement,” Jonathan wrote on March 5, 2021, according to the affidavit. “I propose exchanging gifts electronically, for mutual safety.”
He asked his new friend for $100,000 in Monero, a cryptocurrency popular with cybercriminals that conceals the sender, receiver and even the amount exchanged.
“I understand this is a large request,” he said. “However, please remember I am risking my life for your benefit and I have taken the first step. Please help me trust you fully.”
In the five months that followed, Toebbe and his handler engaged in delicate negotiations. His emails adopted a vulnerable tone that laid bare his dilemma: his need to remain hidden was pitted against worries of offending his new friends or losing their interest.
The handler suggested using a neutral location as a place for dead drops: “When you visit the location alone, you retrieve a gift and leave behind the sample we request.”
But Toebbe did not want the foreign government picking the location.
“I am concerned that using a dead drop location your friend prepares makes me very vulnerable,” he wrote. “If other interested parties are observing from the location, I will be unable to detect them. . . . I am also concerned that a physical gift would be very difficult to explain if I am questioned.”
But the handler kept insisting that the foreign government select the dead drop’s location. And Toebbe kept resisting.
“I must consider the possibility that I am communicating with an adversary who has intercepted my first message and is attempting to expose me,” he said. “Would not such an adversary wish me to go to a place of his choosing, knowing that an amateur will be unlikely to detect his surveillance?”
So, Toebbe proposed that his handlers fly a “signal flag” atop a building their country controlled in Washington over Memorial Day weekend - to prove they were who they claimed.
Yes, that can be arranged, his handler replied.
On Monday, May 31 - after the FBI coordinated with the country to put the signal in place - Toebbe wrote back elated. He’d seen the signal and was finally willing to surface.
“Now I am comfortable telling you,” he said. “I am located near Baltimore, Maryland. Please let me know when you are ready to proceed with our first exchange.”
On June 26, at 10:41 a.m., Jonathan and Diana appeared at the appointed location in Jefferson County, W.Va. Earlier that month, according to the affidavit, Toebbe had been sent $10,000 in Monero cryptocurrency.
FBI agents watching the site described Diana standing three feet from her husband, working as his apparent lookout as he placed into the dead drop the peanut butter sandwich they’d brought containing a 16-gigabyte SD memory card.
On the card, the FBI said, were details on the nuclear reactor used on one of the Navy’s most advanced U.S. submarines - a $3 billion ghost in the water, capable of launching cruise missiles from behind enemy lines.
Over the next four months, the FBI agent posing as a spy handler arranged for three more dead drops - an SD card hidden inside a sealed Band-Aid wrapper in Pennsylvania, another concealed in a chewing gum wrapper in eastern Virginia.
With each successful drop, Jonathan’s emails grew more effusive.
“You can not [imagine] my relief at finding your letter just where you told me to look!” he wrote in one.
Asked if he was working alone, Jonathan responded, in what the FBI said was an apparent reference to Diana: “There is only one other person I know is aware of our special relationship, and I trust that person absolutely.”
He dangled the possibility of more than 11,000 pages of sensitive documents to follow. For a price of $5 million in cryptocurrency, he said, he would deliver it all.
But, he added, he was aware of the risks.
“I have considered the possible need to leave on short notice,” he wrote. “Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family...I pray such a drastic plan will never be needed. . . .”
He’d also discussed with his wife, at some point, the possibility of fleeing the country, according to court testimony Wednesday. Using the phone app Signal, the couple sent encrypted messages:
“We have passports and savings,” Jonathan wrote. “In a real pinch we can leave quickly.”
“Let’s go sooner rather than later,” Diana replied.
“I really don’t want to go back to making $50,000 a year, especially in a country I don’t know the language,” Jonathan responded.
“I don’t see how the two of us wouldn’t be welcome,” she said.
On Saturday, Oct. 9, those plans fell apart.
While in West Virginia making their fourth and final drop, Jonathan and Diana finally came face to face with the handlers he had been working with all along: agents from the FBI, who promptly arrested them.
- - -
On Wednesday, Jonathan and Diana entered a federal courtroom in West Virginia with shackles around their wrists and ankles.
In separate bail hearings, Jonathan did not contest remaining in jail until trial. But Diana’s lawyer argued for her release.
She wore an orange jumpsuit emblazoned with the word INMATE and brown sandals. She kept her eyes mostly fixed on the judge and the FBI agent testifying against her.
Her lawyer asked the judge to consider the couple’s two children, maintaining that they need their mother.
In response, the prosecutor noted that during the final dead drop earlier this month, the couple left their youngest child home alone in Maryland.
Jonathan didn’t bring his phone and Diana turned hers to “airplane mode” in an apparent attempt to avoid being tracked, the prosecutor said.
If Diana was so concerned about the children, the prosecutor demanded, why did Diana and Jonathan leave an 11-year-old with no way to contact them?
Authorities found the child alone when they searched the Toebbe’s house the day of their arrest. But they also found in the couple’s bedroom items suggesting the family was prepared to flee: $11,300 in cash - $100 bills wrapped by rubber bands. Their children’ passports. A ready-to-go backpack with a computer and latex gloves. And a crypto wallet - a device used to store and maintain cryptocurrency transactions.
The Toebbes have been charged with conspiracy and communication of sensitive government records to a foreign nation. If convicted, they could face life in prison. Wednesday’s hearing ended with the judge saying he needed more time to decide whether Diana should be released while she and Jonathan fight their case.
In the meantime, their lives have imploded.
On Diana’s Instagram, photos of her children have been overrun by strangers posting expletive-laden condemnations of the entire family.
“Say goodbye to the kids forever,” reads one with a laughing emoji.
“Hanging, firing squad, electric chair. . .??”
Jonathan’s cousin, Mark Slaughter, said those who know the Toebbes are struggling to reconcile the couple charged with espionage with the couple they once admired.
“People in the family are having a hard time processing it,” said Slaughter, who has served as a Marine sergeant and Army captain. “There’s nothing here that makes sense.”
Both sides are now deliberating which relative could take them in if Jonathan and Diana are imprisoned for years or life, another relative said.
“I worry whether the kids will ever be able to heal or move on from this,” said one relative. “Imagine what it’ll be like for them to grow up with that Toebbe name hanging over them. No matter what their parents may or may not have done, those children are innocent.”
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The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Alice Crites, Alex Horton, and Moriah Balingit contributed to this report.
FILE - This Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 file photo shows vials for the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at a temporary clinic in Exeter, N.H. In September, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved extra doses of Pfizer’s original COVID-19 vaccine after studies showed it still works well enough against the delta variant. And the FDA is weighing evidence for boosters of the original Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa/)
WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators on Wednesday signed off on extending COVID-19 boosters to Americans who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine and said anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decisions mark a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month. But before more people roll up their sleeves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consult an expert panel Thursday before finalizing official recommendations for who should get boosters and when.
The latest moves would expand by tens of millions the number of Americans eligible for boosters and formally allow “mixing and matching” of shots — making it simpler to get another dose, especially for people who had a side effect from one brand but still want the proven protection of vaccination.
Specifically, the FDA authorized a third Moderna shot for seniors and others at high risk from COVID-19 because of their health problems, jobs or living conditions — six months after their last shot. One big change: Moderna’s booster will be half the dose that’s used for the first two shots, based on company data showing that was plenty to rev up immunity again.
For J&J’s single-shot vaccine, the FDA said all U.S. recipients, no matter their age, could get a second dose at least two months following their initial vaccination.
The FDA rulings differ because the vaccines are made differently, with different dosing schedules — and the J&J vaccine has consistently shown a lower level of effectiveness than either of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
As for mixing and matching, the FDA said it’s OK to use any brand for the booster regardless of which vaccination people got first. The interchangeability of the shots is expected to speed the booster campaign, particularly in nursing homes and other institutional settings where residents have received different shots over time.
FDA’s acting commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said the agency wanted to make its booster guidance as flexible as possible, given that many people don’t remember which brand they first received. In other cases, some people may want to try a different vaccine if they previously experienced common side effects like muscle ache or chills.
Still, regulators said it’s likely many people will stick with the same vaccine brand.
The decision was based on preliminary results from a government study of different booster combinations that showed an extra dose of any type revs up levels of virus-fighting antibodies. That study also showed recipients of the single-dose J&J vaccination had a far bigger response if they got a full-strength Moderna booster or a Pfizer booster rather than a second J&J shot. The study didn’t test the half-dose Moderna booster.
Health authorities stress that the priority still is getting first shots to about 65 million eligible Americans who remain unvaccinated. But the booster campaign is meant to shore up protection against the virus amid signs that vaccine effectiveness is waning against mild infections, even though all three brands continue to protect against hospitalization and death.
“Today the currently available data suggest waning immunity in some populations of fully vaccinated people,” Woodcock told reporters. “The availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against COVID-19 disease.”
The Moderna booster decision essentially matches FDA’s ruling that high-risk groups are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, which is made with the same technology.
FDA recommended that everyone who’d gotten the single-shot J&J vaccine get a booster since it has consistently shown lower protection than its two-shot rivals. And several independent FDA advisers who backed the booster decision suggested J&J’s vaccine should have originally been designed to require two doses.
Experts continue to debate the rationale of the booster campaign. Some warn that the U.S. government hasn’t clearly articulated the goals of boosters given that the shots continue to head off the worst effects of COVID-19, and wonder if the aim is to tamp down on virus spread by curbing, at least temporarily, milder infections.
FDA’s top vaccine official suggested regulators would move quickly to expand boosters to lower age groups, such as people in their 40s and 50s, if warranted.
“We are watching this very closely and will take action as appropriate to make sure that the maximum protection is provided to the population,” said FDA’s Dr. Peter Marks.
In August, the Biden administration announced plans for an across-the-board booster campaign aimed at all U.S. adults, but outside experts have repeatedly argued against such a sweeping effort.
On Thursday an influential panel convened by the CDC is expected to offer more specifics on who should get boosters and when. Their recommendations are subject to approval by the CDC director.
The vast majority of the nearly 190 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while about 15 million have received the J&J vaccine.
AP Writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this story from New York.
The Akiachak School is shown in February 2011. (Charles Wohlforth / ADN archive)
A Southwest Alaska teacher is accused of sexually abusing one of his students, according to charges.
Troopers received a report on Saturday about sexual abuse involving 48-year-old John Hammonds, according to an affidavit signed by a trooper and filed Monday. Hammonds is a teacher at Akiachak School. The village is located along the Kuskokwim River northeast of Bethel.
Hammonds sexually assaulted the girl in August at his home, the affidavit said. And on the first day of school, he asked the girl to undress in his classroom while he was alone with her, the affidavit said.
Messages left for the Yupiit School District superintendent were not returned by Wednesday afternoon.
The Akiachak School has 213 students, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
Hammonds has held teaching certificates in Alaska since 2014. He previously taught at Knik Elementary School in Wasilla and was a teacher in Nibley, Utah.
He was reprimanded in 2017 by the Professional Teaching Practices Commission because he didn’t tell the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District that he was not rehired at a school in Utah where he taught for three years, according to the decision and order filed by the commission. A reprimand is the lowest form of sanction for misconduct, Director Melody Mann said.
Hammonds wasn’t rehired at the Utah school because he had been reprimanded by the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission in 2014, the Alaska decision said. It wasn’t immediately clear why Hammonds was reprimanded in Utah, but Alaska records show he was removed from an Alternative Route to Licensing program there.
Hammonds was convicted of felony assault in 2017, but because the crime did not involve children, it does not bar him from being a teacher, a spokesman for Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development said.
Hammonds is facing eight charges of sexual abuse of a minor. Troopers said Tuesday that Hammonds had been arrested without incident and was being held at the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center. Anyone with information about the case is urged to call troopers at 907-543-2294 or submit tips on the AKtips smartphone app or online.
Alaska on Wednesday reported 830 cases of COVID-19, eight deaths and more than 200 virus-related hospitalizations statewide.
State health officials say that the latest counts reflect a relatively flat trend in new COVID-19 cases in recent days — but they’re still not seeing a significant decrease in cases or hospitalizations across the state just yet.
“We continue to have about five times the national average in the number of cases per 100,000,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said on a public call Wednesday afternoon. She described the state’s recent case trend as “flat-ish.”
In hospitals, “the situation is still just as serious and pressure-filled as it has been,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, on Wednesday.
There are currently at least 205 people hospitalized with the virus around the state, including 29 on ventilators. Those high numbers represent a continued, substantial burden on hospitals in Alaska, 20 of which activated crisis standards of care last month, though the situation varies widely from facility to facility.
“We’re still seeing those situations where it’s challenging for bed placements, we’re still seeing our ICUs extremely busy,” Kosin said. “I think we’re more accustomed to dealing with it now that it’s been ongoing at this level for a few weeks, and now that we have relief staff. But it’s still extremely stressful.”
Despite the continued challenges in hospitals, an influx of state-contracted health workers from the Lower 48 has helped with morale and helped meet demand, according to Kosin.
During the latest surge, hospital staffing has posed one of the most significant challenges, and having hundreds more health care workers available to staff beds has increased capacity at facilities, he said.
“But it doesn’t mean that the pressure on the system has softened,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see hospital operations normalize for at least a few weeks, just because we’re operating at such an intense level right now.”
After the state on Tuesday recorded an additional 66 COVID-19 deaths that mostly occurred in September, another eight deaths were reported Wednesday. Of the eight, seven occurred in October, and one from May was identified through a standard review of death certificates.
Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a physician judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, health officials say.
The newly reported deaths involved an Anchorage man in his 80s, an Anchorage woman in her 80s, an Anchorage woman in her 60s, a Juneau woman in her 50s, a Soldotna man in his 50s, a Fairbanks man in his 70s and a Fairbanks woman in her 70s, plus an Anchorage man in his 70s who died in May.
A total of 667 Alaska residents and 24 nonresidents have now died with the virus since January 2020. September 2021 was the deadliest month of the pandemic so far.
By Wednesday, 64.4% of Alaskans 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
State health officials said Wednesday that Alaska children as young as 5 would mostly likely become eligible to get vaccinated as soon as next month.
Alaska has preemptively been allocated 33,000 doses of Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, which is about enough to vaccinate 44% of kids in that age range, said Matt Bobo, immunization program director with the state health department.
A federal advisory committee to the CDC is scheduled to meet the first week of November to discuss Pfizer’s application to approve vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
“Once that happens, then we can start administering that vaccine,” Bobo said.
Of all tests conducted in Alaska over the last week, roughly one in ten came back positive, state data showed.
Epidemiologists say a positivity rate over 5% is an indication of widespread transmission and not enough testing being done.
Leaked list shows Alaska state Rep. David Eastman is a ‘lifetime member’ of a leading Capitol-riot group
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, carries a Bible as he is sworn in for another term on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. Legislators were allowed to remove their COVID-19 masks as they took the oath. (James Brooks / ADN) ( /)
Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman is a lifetime member of a far-right anti-government militia called the Oath Keepers, according to a membership database leaked online last month.
Almost two dozen members of the Oath Keepers, which the FBI labels a paramilitary organization, have been charged in connection with the riotous invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Eastman was in Washington, D.C. during the riot and attended rallies in support of President Donald Trump before it, but he said he did not go to the Capitol. He has not been charged with any crimes, and membership in the Oath Keepers is not a crime.
Asked Wednesday about his involvement in the group, he texted, “I joined the Oath Keepers when it first started and will always consider it a privilege to stand with those in the military and first responders who strive to keep their oaths to the Constitution.”
Asked whether he remains a lifetime member and whether it is accurate to call the group a far-right militia, he wrote, “America needs men and women of courage who will stand by the Constitution even, and especially, when they will be pilloried for doing so; my commitment is to the Constitution, not a president, or party, or group, or school. If each of our elected officials held to this simple commitment, there would be much less to divide us as Americans.”
Eastman wouldn’t answer further questions.
Eastman is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and classmate Edward Brook IV said he recalls Eastman trying to recruit him for the John Birch Society, another far-right group, in the early 2000s.
“He is very much died-in-the-wool, far, far right,” Brook said on Wednesday from West Virginia, where he’s a lawyer.
Oath Keepers was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, an Army veteran who created the group as a reaction to the presidency of Barack Obama. For weeks before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, he said his group was preparing for a civil war and was “armed, prepared to go in if the president calls us up.”
One of the group’s founding beliefs is that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy.
Under that belief, the group targets current and former members of the military and law enforcement for recruitment under the belief that they would be the first people asked to implement the conspiracy’s goals.
Among other appearances, members of the Oath Keepers were present at the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff and were present at protests following the death of George Floyd and protests against lockdowns related to COVID-19.
A database containing membership rosters, emails and payment information was leaked to reporters in late September, exposing the membership of active-duty police, members of the military and politicians.
A man walks with a child through Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village where Afghan refugees are being housed, in New Mexico, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)
I recently returned from a brief volunteer stint at a refugee camp for recently evacuated Afghan people in the desert on the Texas-New Mexico border. I was a bit player in the operation to provide a small measure of comfort and hope to some 9,000 men, women and children who have lost their homes, livelihoods and, in many cases, their families to America’s 20-year war and abrupt withdrawal from their country. Each day, more arrive, and each day some depart as agencies manage to place them with relatives.
I served with Team Rubicon, a nonprofit disaster response outfit that draws most of its members from the ranks of military veterans. With donated funds, TR each year mobilizes thousands of volunteers, in every state and in several other countries, for tough and dirty jobs like cleaning up after hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires.
By comparison, our job was relatively easy. As the third “wave” of TR volunteers there, about a dozen of us — with the help of a few Army troops — ran a big warehouse at the Dona Ana Range Complex. We were receiving, sorting and preparing for distribution the mountains of donated goods intended for the new arrivals. Clothing composes the greatest volume of contributions, but we handled everything from baby strollers to toothbrushes, diapers and sanitary pads, blankets and shoes, skin cream and hair ties. For 12-14 hours each day, from 6 a.m. lights-on to evening debrief back at the makeshift co-ed barracks on Fort Bliss, we were on duty, and most of the day we sorted, filled and moved dozens of cardboard cartons in the desert heat and dust. The evening before we departed, the fourth wave arrived. Others will follow.
The Dona Ana complex looks like a prison, with chain-link fences topped by concertina wire surrounding clusters of gigantic white tents, multiple police checkpoints on the access road, armed MPs at strategic points throughout the camp. But the gates are open. The “guests” — the official term — walk freely through the camp and out the roads for exercise. Despite the language barrier, interactions between guests and staff were cordial. Kids appear for the most part to be enjoying the experience.
My own Marine Corps service half a century behind me, I found TR’s military culture a bit strident. We worked in “strike teams,” and our daily schedule was called the “battle rhythm.” Our incident commander, a big Samoan woman, was a retired Army master sergeant. Several of my teammates were veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq and retained some soldierly demeanor and vocabulary.
TR has a strong culture of mutual care and respect. Team members made friends quickly and supported one another absolutely. No one griped, no matter the assignment or how often it changed. Personal safety and health — physical and mental — came first. We all wore our COVID-19 masks, lights-on to lights-out. In twice-daily briefings/debriefings we got pep talks and offered mutual acknowledgement and support. Our incident commander was also our pal, our mom, our therapist.
Seven long days doesn’t make me an expert, but here are a few observations:
• The U.S. government spent trillions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan. And in a miracle of planning and execution probably unmatched in history, it safely extracted 120,000 people in the space of only a few days. But it can’t seem to provide toothbrushes or soccer balls to the refugees its policies created.
• Other organizations, like the Red Cross, Save the Children, Armed Forces YMCA, Catholic Social Services, to name just a few, also have mobilized — largely with volunteer labor — to do what should be the government’s job. Numerous corporations and organizations, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith-based groups, and thousands of generous and loving people, are giving their time and cash to provide material aid, and to help with the immense task of finding homes for the guests.
• There is a lot to know about running a warehouse. Fortunately, at least two in our wave had done so in the military, and we were able to organized the place into a fairly smoothly functioning facility in just a few days.
• So many of the contributions that arrive each day — thoughtfully assembled kits of travel-size hygiene products, attractive clothing, toys, and much more — don’t reach the refugees. The distribution system is not set up to handle them. We had to disassemble the gift packs and sort the larger containers into huge bins for distribution through an Army-run “storefront.” Cases and pallets of goods move smoothly through the system, but not small items in small quantities. Most clothing gets distributed, but extra-large sizes and culturally inappropriate styles are shunted to other bins, where they may languish indefinitely.
• The new arrivals are people, not statistics and not threats. They are members of a complex and sophisticated culture. Many are professionals or skilled technicians — talented, energetic family people who have been ripped from their homes and lives through no fault of their own. They are in this dire situation because they assisted the U.S. or its allies. They have been vetted and vaccinated. They arrive with literally the clothes on their backs and are entirely at the mercy of the people of this country.
I understand that 100 or so of these refugees are coming to Alaska in the next several months. I hope they get the respect they deserve and the help they need.
Terry Johnson is an Anchorage resident and former Marine.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, discusses votes with Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks (left) and Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks on Sunday, July 21, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)
Alaskans have been talking about the need to diversity our economy for decades, but here’s a little-understood fact: it has been diversified. Let me explain.
In the years after oil began flowing in 1977, the vast majority of Alaska’s economy remained tied to the oil industry. But in the last 20 years, the gross domestic product for the non-oil private sector has more than doubled, which is great news. At its heyday, oil revenue accounted for 90% of state government funding, but today that number has dropped to about 25%.
Alaska’s economy is more diversified, with a year-round tourism industry, a more prominent health care system, financial services, and mining and fishing industries that continue to be significant contributors.
But the problem isn’t our economy, it’s that we haven’t diversified our sources of revenue. Put plainly, all the increase in economic activity doesn’t generate more revenue to the state treasury. The bulk of tax revenue still comes from the oil industry, even though production has been on a downward trend since 1988 and the pipeline today is at a quarter of its peak. Furthermore, the long-term prospects of oil are somewhere between status quo or declining production in a global marketplace that appears to be moving away from its reliance on fossil fuels. The oil industry definitely should pay its fair share, but it’s not realistic to expect them to pay for everything.
That takes us to our other major revenue source, the Permanent Fund, which has grown considerably over the years, both in value and in earnings.
In 2018, a formula was put into law that limited the Legislature to spending about 5% of the value of the fund, which is in line with other endowments worldwide. In the current fiscal year, it’s about $3.1 billion, which accounts for some 70% of the state’s budget.
2021 was a record year for investment earnings, but the Callen Group, which advises the Permanent Fund Trustees on financial forecasting, projects the average return over the next 10 years to be a much more modest growth of 6.25% annually, including inflation. Let’s not forget that in 2009, the fund lost $6.9 billion and there nearly wasn’t a PFD.
But while the Permanent Fund grows in value, oil production and oil revenue could easily be continuing its downward trend, and we will likely need more revenue to balance our budget, to maintain our infrastructure, a capital budget, education and health care cost increases, pre-K and more.
Anyone that moves to Alaska, drives on the roads, uses the public health care system, public safety, court system, public schools, etc., doesn’t pay for those services. If a software company comes here to open a server farm or a renewable energy company builds a major facility, these businesses and their employees would actually cost the state money.
To truly modernize our economy, we need a way to bring in revenue from all parts of the economy, including our many nonresident workers. A small and simple income tax will bring Alaska into alignment with its own growing economy. This would also allow us to tax all corporations, not just C corporations, which is our current law.
When Hilcorp, an S-Corp, bought BP’s assets on the North Slope, all of BP’s corporate taxes paid to the state disappeared, about $30 million per year. The owner of Hilcorp pays state income taxes on his profits in New Mexico and Ohio, but not in Alaska. An income tax would change that.
Maybe it’s time to revisit the 1980 decision to end our state income tax, so common in other states. Residents, nonresidents and profitable businesses would contribute a modest amount each year to help keep Alaska a good place to live and raise a family. Our economy needs the stability and predictability.
Some may say now isn’t the time for an income tax, since oil prices are up and the stock market did very well recently, but things change very quickly — “Winter is coming.”
Speaking of winter, that typically is when many Alaskans plug in their cars. But that is changing, too. For one, it’s getting warmer, so we plug in less often, and two, more of us are plugging in our cars year-round to charge them up. For a time last year, Tesla was worth more than ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP combined.
The future is not oil and gas. The future is electric. Change is happening, and Alaska needs to change as well.
Rep. Adam Wool represents District 5 (West Fairbanks) in the Alaska House of Representatives. He was first elected in 2014.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
Teachers lined Northern Lights Boulevard during a rally outside the ASD headquarters building on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, demanding fair contracts for all educators. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Hundreds of Anchorage educators rallied outside a school board meeting on Tuesday, calling on the district to increase pay and finalize contracts that have been in the works since last school year for thousands of teachers and support staff.
More than 3,000 teachers and others represented by the Anchorage Education Association, and about 1,300 educational support staff represented by TOTEM Association of Educational Support Personnel, have been working under three-year contracts that expired in June.
Over the last school year, the Anchorage School District proposed three-year contracts to both unions that would start July 1, 2021.
The district has proposed no increase to the pay scale for union members during those three years, among other unfavorable terms to teachers and staff, officials with the unions said.
On the other hand, the teachers union has proposed a one-year contract to cover the 2021-2022 school year, with a 3.5% increase to the pay scale.
TOTEM, representing support staff such as classroom assistants, has proposed a three-year contract with a total 7.5% increase to the pay scale over three years.
The Anchorage School District did not return a request for an interview to discuss its position Tuesday.
“We are grateful to our teachers for their unwavering dedication to our students,” Superintendent Deena Bishop said in a statement. “These are challenging times for all teachers across our country. From declining enrollment to implementing COVID-19 mitigation plans, our teachers confront new challenges head on. They do all this day in and day out while continuing to educate all students for success in life. We look forward to continuing our work with the Anchorage Education Association to ensure the best possible outcome where teachers will be supported and thrive.”
The district is offering an annual increase to the pay scale of “zero, zero and zero” while asking teachers to do more, said Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association.
“They are proposing taking away time for us to do the job, and they basically want to micromanage every minute of our time,” Aist said.
The unions are also tangling with the district over proposed health benefits. The teachers union wants a larger contribution from the district for health insurance.
Aist said many teachers in the Anchorage School District are taking home less pay now than they did last school year. They’re paying more for health insurance but have not received a raise, he said.
He said the lack of support from the district comes during an extraordinarily stressful time, with teachers and support staff in short supply and navigating the daily risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“I truly believe the district wants to do the right thing and provide increases in salaries to their employees,” he said. “And they have the money to do it.”
Under the district’s proposal for teachers, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree would receive $52,242 a year, the same as last school year. That pay would not change over the three-year contract term.
Many members of the teachers union are eligible for salary increases under the expired contract, based on experience and educational attainment. Many members of the support-staff union, whose lowest starting pay would remain $13.97 an hour under the district’s proposal, are also eligible for increases under their expired contract, based on experience.
Teachers who attended the rally outside the school district headquarters at 5530 E. Northern Lights Blvd. said the district’s position makes them feel unappreciated and demoralized at one of the most difficult times in their careers.
A throng of educators gathered outside the building waving signs saying, “No contract — Still working,” while dozens of others lined Northern Lights.
Sarah Glaser, a second-grade teacher at Winterberry Charter School, said the district is sending the message that it does not value its educators.
“It’s insulting and not in good faith,” she said of the district’s positions.
Trudy Keller, an English teacher at Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School who has taught since the late 1960s, said this is the most stressful year she’s ever experienced.
Last year was tough, in part because teachers had to adapt to teaching online during the pandemic, she said. Teachers’ ranks have fallen, and the remaining teachers are struggling to get students back on task and into the groove of in-person classes, she said.
“It’s the hardest year I’ve ever had,” she said. “The teaching has been really intense. And we don’t have a contract, for God’s sake.”
Sarah Cronick, a first-grade teacher at Winterberry, said she and other teachers face large classrooms and not enough support staff.
A relatively new teacher on the lower end of the pay scale, she’s struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living rises, she said.
She hugged one of her students, brought to the rally by another teacher.
“They are asking so much of us,” she said.
NEW YORK — Bitcoin stormed above $66,000 for the first time on Wednesday, riding a wave of excitement about how the financial establishment is increasingly accepting the digital currency’s rise.
One Bitcoin was valued at $66,096, as of 4:15 p.m. Eastern time, after earlier climbing as high as $66,974.77. The digital currency has roared back after sinking below $30,000 during the summer to top its prior record set in April. That previous all-time high was nearly $64,889, according to CoinDesk.
The surge has come as more businesses, professional investors and even the government of El Salvador buy into Bitcoin, further broadening its base beyond its initial core of fanatics.
The latest converts came into the world of crypto on Tuesday, when the first exchange-traded fund linked to Bitcoin found huge interest from investors. Shares of the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF changed hands 24.1 million times in a resounding debut. It was even busier on Wednesday, with trading volume topping 29.4 million.
ProShares CEO Michael Sapir, second right, and company Global Investment Strategist Simeon Hyman, right, lead the New York Stock Exchange opening bell celebration, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. ProShares will launch the country's first exchange-traded fund linked to Bitcoin. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (Richard Drew/)
The ETF doesn’t invest directly in Bitcoin. It instead invests in the futures market tied to Bitcoin, but the industry sees the ETF bringing in a new class of investors. Someone with an old-school brokerage account can buy the ETF, for example, without having to open a trading account for crypto.
Investors are getting more interested in Bitcoin because they’re always looking for assets whose prices moves independently of everything else in their portfolios. One school of thought says Bitcoin can offer investors protection from high inflation, and some fans see it as akin to “digital gold,” though it doesn’t have a long track record to back that up.
More high-minded fans say digital assets are simply the future of finance, allowing transactions to sidestep middlemen and fees with a currency that’s not beholden to any government.
Cryptocurrencies are still very far from winning over everyone, though. Critics point to how they’re still not widely used as forms of payment. They also criticize how much energy is used by the crypto system, which can ultimately mean higher bills for home heating and other utilities amid a global crunch, as well as more climate-changing emissions. The biggest threat, meanwhile, is all the regulatory scrutiny shining on it.
China last month declared Bitcoin transactions illegal, for example. U.S. regulators haven’t gone that far, but the chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has said the world of crypto doesn’t have enough protections for investors.
Cryptocurrencies are also notorious for their sharp swings in price. The last time Bitcoin set a record high, the price dropped by half in roughly three months.
A big reason for that volatility is how wide the range of possibilities is for Bitcoin’s future, said Gil Luria, technology strategist at D.A. Davidson.
On one end, Bitcoin could go to zero if it ends up being a fad or if another cryptocurrency supplants it. On the other, it could usurp the role of the U.S. dollar and other currencies and become “all of money.” More people take a position in the middle, believing that Bitcoin can be useful and has some value.
Luria said he sees only a 1% probability of the “all of money” scenario happening, but that’s a better chance than he saw five years ago.
“To become all of money, you have to get a lot of people on board,” he said. And the last year has seen many new people come into Bitcoin as it’s hit records and become more mainstream.
“The higher Bitcoin goes,” he said, “it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Matt Shasby was named University of Alaska Anchorage hockey coach on Oct. 20, 2021. (UAA Hockey)
The University of Alaska Anchorage named Matt Shasby as the head coach of the Seawolves hockey team Wednesday.
Shasby, 41, is a longtime figure in Anchorage hockey, playing for Chugiak High School and then four years at UAA.
The new coach will be tasked with building the Division I team from scratch -- all players from the 2019-20 season either transferred, graduated or quit. The Seawolves didn’t play last season because of the pandemic and also aren’t playing this season in order to regroup.
The team is also without a conference because the Western Collegiate Hockey Association disbanded after last season.
The team moved out of Sullivan Arena in 2019 and into the much smaller Seawolf Sports Complex, raising questions about its ability to provide an adequate number of seats for fans and meet Division I requirements.
Former coach Matt Curley resigned this year after three seasons with the Seawolves. About 25 people applied to replace him and three finalists were announced in September, including Steve Murphy and Chris Cosentino. Shasby was the only finalist who had not coached collegiate hockey.
Alaska Aces defenseman Matt Shasby carries the puck behind his own net with Bakersfield Condors right wing Rane Carnegie in tow during the first period in Game 2 of the ECHL Kelly Cup National Conference semifinals best-of-7 playoff series at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage on April 25, 2007. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth/)
Shasby played six years of pro hockey, including for the Alaska Aces. He was a member of the 2006 Kelly Cup team and retired in 2009.
Shasby worked as a middle school teacher and has coached high school and Anchorage Hockey Association youth teams for years. He’s the vice president of player development for the Alaska State Hockey Association. He was active in fundraising efforts to save the program.
Shasby said he is passionate about Alaska hockey and looks forward to ushering in a new era of Seawolf hockey.
“There’s no other job on the planet that I’ve wanted more than this position. ... I grew up my entire life wanting to be a Seawolf hockey player and I accomplished that goal,” he said after he was named coach. “There’s not a day that’s gone by that I haven’t wanted to give back to the program continually.”
Athletic Director Greg Myford acknowledged the program faces many challenges and some skepticism that it can once again become successful. The team has not had a winning season since 2013-14.
“There may not be a more significant potential underdog story in college hockey -- that’s who we are,” Myford said. “Let’s not be ashamed of that, let’s look at the opportunity that that presents.”
Dr. Nell Loftin’s letter aptly described why Medicare should be allowed to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with drug companies. Are our elected officials in Washington working for the people they represent, or drug companies and lobbyists? Trust in the U.S. government and our elected officials is alarmingly low. Urge your elected officials to demonstrate integrity and support their constituents’ best interests.
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I learned that Canadian Justice Thomas R. Berger died April 29. Many in Alaska will recount his work leading the Alaska Native Review Commission, as he conducted an in-depth review of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in 1983. I remember traveling with Jimmy Stotts of Barrow (Utqiagvik) to Vancouver, B.C., to convince him to undertake the work. I recall the thoughtfulness with which we were received in his study by Justice Berger; I especially remember the kindness Mrs. Berger showed us as she welcomed us into their home.
After considering the matter, Justice Berger accepted the charge. The Alaska Native Review Commission was by and large welcomed by the Alaska Native community — there being but few individuals in the Native community hostile to the idea of a Canadian jurist undertaking a review of U.S. federal Indian law in Alaska.
The Alaska Native Review Commission was a remarkable undertaking by any standard to affect U.S. federal Indian law. And Justice Berger’s report, entitled “Village Journey,” established the standard by which any review of U.S. federal Indian policy would be gauged.
Of the many statements made before Justice Berger during the Commission’s hearings that I found of “interest” were given by Douglas Jones and William Van Ness, staff assistants, respectively, to U.S. Sens. Mike Gravel and Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Douglas Jones stated that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 was a form of “social engineering.” And William Van Ness said, “The act was... a very radical effort at social engineering and it was done on a very, very calculated basis.”The fact that “Village Journey,” Justice Berger’s report, remains as pertinent today as when it was first released in 1985, attests to the integrity of the man Thomas R. Berger.
I suspect that as he approached the “high bench” following his passage, he was prepared to argue for those whom no one else would defend but one other man.
Archie N. Gottschalk
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I am proud to know and vote for Matthew Beck for Mat-Su borough mayor, and so is my son, Grant. He is a first-time voter this year, and he shares my enthusiasm for Beck and the servant leadership he will bring to the borough.
I know Matthew will always make decisions based on what’s best for the people he serves, not on politics. He is a willing listener, and he knows how to bring people together to get things done. He’s going to make a great borough mayor for all the residents of the Mat-Su.
Vote Matthew Beck for Mat-Su mayor on Nov. 2.
Glacier Valley Farm
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The lead story in the ADN Oct. 18 was off the mark. How the Assembly used to get along is kind of beside the point. The real story is why people think rude behavior is OK and why people hold so fiercely to misinformation.
As I read it, the story wrongly implied that the Assembly itself was responsible for the mayhem. In fact, all the rude behavior came from the anti-mask public testimony and from Mayor Dave Bronson.
How did people get so venomous and full of contempt? Why did the mayor order the security detail excused? Why did he order the shield removed? Why did Assembly member Jamie Allard attempt to thwart an orderly public process?
The story implied that the fact of the Assembly’s progressive majority contributed to the mayhem. So we blame the progressives because their majority makes the far right furious? I don’t think so.
The story barely mentioned Donald Trump. I agree with Heather Flynn: the behavior of the anti-mask crowd was part and parcel of the Trump mentality, writ local. That mentality – anti-science, anti-fact and venomous as all get out – is at the core of what we saw in those public hearings.