Archive for the ‘guns’ Tag

“America Under the Gun”: Our award-winning investigation

Proud to share some exciting news: The investigation into mass shootings that I’ve led at Mother Jones has recently been honored with multiple journalism awards: the 2013 Izzy Award, a Society of Professional Journalists award for reporting excellence, and an Online Journalism Award.

AmericaUndertheGun
You can read my series of stories from the project and explore all of our data, charts, maps, and additional coverage on MoJo’s special report page.

Gabby Giffords and poison politics

In case you missed it, Gabrielle Giffords’ arrival for the State of the Union on Tuesday night was something to behold. In a House chamber so often filled with vapid political theater, the recovering congresswoman’s presence drew a powerful and authentically poignant response—watch it here.

Sadly, the bloodbath she barely survived in Arizona a year ago and its aftermath do not seem to have tempered America’s poisonous politics at all: Just hours before Giffords got a standing ovation in Congress and embraced President Obama, some unknown stalker was targeting four female Democratic lawmakers in Missouri’s Capitol with rifle crosshairs. Details are in my piece from last night over at MoJo.

Porn at the Pentagon, Glenn Beck’s gunman, MILF rebels and ancient mullets

Inspired by a robust number of clicks from the first three installments, herewith is another bundle of microblogging, back by popular demand! I’ll return to lengthier writing in this space in the near future; for now I’m occupied with our preparations to expand MediaBugs into a national project (this fall), trying to scale something of a brick wall at Bloomberg, and working on a couple of other research & writing projects. Meanwhile, I think I’ve discovered a handy addendum to the maxim: The art of writing is rewriting, indeed, but the art of writing also is turning off your Internet access for a little while. Until next time… enjoy.

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Is it “douchebag” or “douche bag”? @LoriFradkin has the answer! http://bit.ly/cafs3d about 1 hour ago

oh, lovely: child porn at the Pentagon, US intel agencies “at risk of blackmail, bribery, and threats” http://bit.ly/dxZDaB about 1 hour ago

you can bet the farm this crazed Calif. shooter watched Glenn Beck and/or Fox News. See quotes from his mom: http://bit.ly/cIKMf2 11:02 AM Jul 19th via web

Told ya so! re Oakland gunman likely inspired by Glenn Beck: http://bit.ly/axh2kL Wed Jul 21 14:01:48 2010

how to stop gorging on digital information: http://bit.ly/crZRZ4 Wed Jul 21 08:33:11 2010

once the heart of the Mayan empire, now a “rapidly deforesting mini-narco-state” http://nyti.ms/dD45S4 9:10 AM Jul 19th

some pretty f–@%*! funny Blagojevich ringtones: http://bit.ly/cOg4VW 11:46 AM Jul 16th

97-year-old stoner seriously bummed out by Vallejo authorities: http://bayc.it/p2P/ 10:24 AM Jul 15th

the Moro Islamic Liberation Front: a rebel group with a headline-grabbing name! http://bit.ly/bbFDtM 10:01 AM Jul 15th

Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd take it to the hole on Lebron and Jim Gray http://youtu.be/KtIaMr2hGeI 9:51 AM Jul 15th

Utah one-ups Arizona on anti-immigrant fear mongering http://nyti.ms/b30CfF 10:38 PM Jul 14th

but U.S. still in critical condition RT @nprpolitics Cheney Recuperating From Heart Surgery http://n.pr/dwbwVu 2:37 PM Jul 14th

CBS News: The Netherlands Win World Cup! (by a score of “SCORE to SCORE”) http://bit.ly/aon754 3:14 PM Jul 12th

apparently the mullet is ancient history: http://bit.ly/d4cs1p 9:19 AM Jul 12th

Lots more straight from the source, right here.

In the shadowy trenches of the Tea Party

America’s so-called Tea Party movement has been a fixation of pundits both left and right for many months now. It got considerable credit for one of the biggest electoral turnabouts in a long time. But elusive, it seems, is who or what exactly constitutes this gathering storm of grassroots rage. And is it worthy of serious attention?

If a recent spate of coverage digging deeper is an indication, the answer is yes, although nobody has quite been able to say what the movement portends. Angry populism is an age-old theme in American politics. What is intriguing about the contemporary manifestation is that it seems to be as incoherent as it is alarming.

A Tea Party rally in Washington in September. (Photo: Amanda Lucidon/New York Times.)

In a lightning rod of an Op-Ed this week, Robert Wright pondered whether Joseph Stack, the anti-tax crusader who piloted a suicide mission into a Texas office building, could be considered “the first Tea Party terrorist.” He also wondered about how “purely conservative” the Tea Party movement actually may be. “Yes, it mobilized against a liberal health care bill and the stimulus package, but it also opposes corporate bailouts,” Wright noted. “Sure, Tea Partiers hate taxes, but that alone doesn’t distinguish them from many Americans. On social issues the Tea Partiers include some libertarians along with a larger number of family-values conservatives. And when you move to foreign policy, things don’t get more coherent. Though some Tea Partiers are hawks, many follow Ron Paul’s lead, combining a left-wing critique of military engagement with a right-wing aversion to the United Nations and other multilateral entanglements.”

A lengthy dispatch from New York Times investigative reporter David Barstow earlier this month cast light on the rising fringe of the movement: “Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, [President] Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.”

Maybe it’s just that tough times in America call for a tough kind of paranoia. As Barstow further considered:

A popular T-shirt at Tea Party rallies reads, “Proud Right-Wing Extremist.”

It is a defiant and mocking rejoinder to last April’s intelligence assessment from the Department of Homeland Security warning that recession and the election of the nation’s first black president “present unique drivers for right wing radicalization.”

“Historically,” the assessment said, “domestic right wing extremists have feared, predicted and anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States.” Those predictions, it noted, are typically rooted in “antigovernment conspiracy theories” featuring impending martial law. The assessment said extremist groups were already preparing for this scenario by stockpiling weapons and food and by resuming paramilitary exercises.

(Photo: Lucian Read/MoJo.)

Enter the Oath Keepers faction of the movement, a loose-knit group of military and law enforcement officials who vow to disobey orders they deem unconstitutional — and to mount violent resistance to the U.S. government if necessary. Reporting for the latest issue of Mother Jones, Justine Sharrock trailed the Oath Keepers for months, also encountering a murky organization and ideology. “Oath Keepers is officially nonpartisan, in part to make it easier for active-duty soldiers to participate,” Sharrock explains, “but its rightward bent is undeniable, and liberals are viewed with suspicion.” Yet, some of the group’s objections to federal power would seem to align them directly with the fiercest critics of the George W. Bush government. Oath Keepers keep a list of orders that they should refuse to obey, according to Sharrock — including conducting warrantless searches and holding American citizens as enemy combatants (e.g. José Padilla) or subjecting them to military tribunals.


“In the months I’ve spent getting to know the Oath Keepers,” she reports, “I’ve toggled between viewing them either as potentially dangerous conspiracy theorists or as crafty intellectuals with the savvy to rally politicians to their side. The answer, I came to realize, is that they cover the whole spectrum.”

Postcard from Wyoming

Did Joe Biden just give Israel the green light to attack Iran? Is Sarah Palin completely cuckoo? Have we reached the saturation point on Michael Jackson yet?

Apologies, dear readers, but I don’t have a lot to say about current affairs at the moment. (Anyway, Palin’s baffling resignation speech more than speaks for itself.) What I do have are a few photos I took during recent travels with friends in the great state of Wyoming. Enjoy…

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July 4th festivities in the town of Saratoga:
Saratogaparade1

Saratogaparade2

Saratogaparade3

At the bar inside the Hotel Wolf:
HotelWolfbar

Twilight commemoration involving ignition:
sparklers1

sparklers2

sparklers3

Thunderstorm approaching over Laramie:
TstormLaramie

At the base of Medicine Bow peak:
MedicineBow1

MedicineBow2

It’s no longer the war next door

Rising talk stateside about Mexico’s violent drug war has included a lot of buzz about potential “spillover” of the trouble — but it spilled over long ago, reaching far and wide. According to a report in December from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Mexican cartels maintain distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 American cities, from Orlando to Omaha to Anchorage. They control a greater portion of drug production, transportation and distribution than any other criminal group operating in the U.S., filling their coffers with billions of dollars a year.

Indeed, the war against the cartels is very much a Mexican-American one. Just take a look at this current threat assessment map from the National Drug Intelligence Center, showing U.S. cities implicated:

U.S. cities reporting the presence of Mexican drug trafficking, January 2006 - April 2008.

U.S. cities reporting the presence of Mexican drug trafficking, January 2006 - April 2008.

Violence has also been imported in no small quantity. Although the most sensational killings have taken place south of the border, brutal assaults, home invasions and murders connected with the drug trade have plagued U.S. cities and towns, particularly in the south but reaching as far north as Canada.

Buzz in Washington has also included the specter of Mexico becoming a “failed state.” Journalist and author Enrique Krauze says the talk is overblown. “While we bear responsibility for our problems,” he wrote this week, “the caricature of Mexico being propagated in the United States only increases the despair on both sides of the Rio Grande.” It is also profoundly hypocritical, he said.

America is the world’s largest market for illegal narcotics. The United States is the source for the majority of the guns used in Mexico’s drug cartel war, according to law enforcement officials on both sides of the border. Washington should support Mexico’s war against the drug lords — first and foremost by recognizing its complexity. The Obama administration should recognize the considerable American responsibility for Mexico’s problems. Then, in keeping with equality and symmetry, the United States must reduce its drug consumption and its weapons trade to Mexico.

Apparently this concept has reached the presidential level. At a prime time news conference on Tuesday otherwise dominated by discussion of the economy, President Obama reiterated a major border initiative unveiled earlier in the day and acknowledged: “We need to do even more to ensure that illegal guns and cash aren’t flowing back to these cartels.”

One way to help achieve that goal, it seems, would be to reconfigure policy with the recognition that the war on drugs as we know it is a proven failure.

Update: The San Francisco Chronicle reports about how cheap and easy it is to get high-powered assault rifles in Nevada. Many of them filter south to Mexican gangs by way of California. One of them was used to kill two police officers in Oakland on Saturday.

Mexico’s drug war, fully U.S. loaded

The raging drug war in Mexico is about to command even greater attention inside the United States. It’s not just the gruesome tales of drug cartel violence to the south; the U.S. is far more caught up in the maelstrom than many north of the border may care to realize.

Tuesday at the White House, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano laid out Obama administration plans to throw additional money and manpower at the problem, amid mounting fears about “spillover” of corruption and violence into the U.S. On Wednesday, Napolitano will go to Capitol Hill specifically to address the crisis, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Mexico.

The administration is deploying big guns like Napolitano and Clinton with good reason. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, “The government is girding for a possible Katrina-style disaster along the 2,000-mile-long Mexican border that would involve thousands of refugees flooding into the U.S. to escape surging violence in northern Mexico, or gun battles beginning to routinely spill across the border.” A recent story from international reporting start-up GlobalPost shows how joint U.S.-Mexican operations have been implicated in the spreading violence, on both sides of the border.

Some relatively obscure testimony by senior officials from the ATF and DEA to a Senate subcommittee last week contains stark details about our country’s role in the predicament. Simply put, the U.S. is serving as a vast weapons depot for the drug gangs. Because firearms are not readily available in Mexico, cash-wielding drug traffickers have gone north to obtain many thousands of them. According to the law enforcement leaders’ testimony, 90 percent of traceable seized weapons have come from the United States. The ATF reports disrupting the flow of more than 12,800 guns to Mexico since 2004.

Smuggled weapons seized recently in Texas. (Photo via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

Smuggled weapons seized last December in Texas. (Photo via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

The weapons aren’t just coming from the U.S. border region. The law enforcement leaders cited a case from April 2008 in which 13 warring gang members were killed and five wounded: “ATF assisted Mexican authorities in tracing 60 firearms recovered at the crime scene in Tijuana,” they said. “As a result, leads have been forward to ATF field divisions in Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle.”

Sources of the weapons, they said, “typically include secondary markets, such as gun shows and flea markets since—depending on State law—the private sale of firearms at those venues often does not require background checks prior to the sale or record keeping.”

Military weapons are also a growing problem: “In the past six months we have noted a troubling increase in the number of grenades, which are illegal to possess and sell, seized from or used by drug traffickers, and we are concerned about the possibility of explosives-related violence spilling into U.S. border towns.”

Given that the global war on drugs is a proven failure, there was another striking aspect of the testimony: The top revenue generator for the Mexican cartels isn’t cocaine, heroin or other hard stuff. It’s… marijuana.

Napolitano’s message Tuesday included the assertion that the Obama administration is “renewing our commitment to reduce the demand for illegal drugs here at home.” That comes on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcing that the federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in California and other states where they are legal under state law. With the prospect of a day trip to Ciudad Juarez looking increasingly like a visit to Kabul, and with the violence ricocheting northward, perhaps those who have been advocating fundamental changes in the nation’s marijuana laws will start to see some political traction for their ideas.

Mexico’s chilling drug war, at the door

In yesterday’s post about the chronically failing war on drugs, I didn’t mention Mexico — drug war-related problems just across the southern U.S. border have gotten big enough and scary enough to command their own focus. Mexico’s growing instability draws from a complex and long-running set of government and societal issues. But U.S. policy is a large and indisputable factor, and not just anti-drug policy. Indeed, our vast market for marijuana, cocaine and other illicit substances provides the criminal gangs with an endless river of cash. But even more troubling, our lax gun laws and prolific gun dealers supply them with stockpiles of nasty, sophisticated weaponry.

The contents of a new travel warning from the U.S. State Department posted in late February are nothing short of astonishing. The greatest increase in violence has occurred near the U.S. border. And it literally is a war:

Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez.

The carnage, according to the State Department, has included “public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues.” In Ciudad Juarez alone, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed since January 2008.

Hot zones in Mexico's drug war. (Wikimedia commons.)

Hot zones in Mexico's drug war. (Source: Wikimedia commons.)


According to a report in early March from “60 Minutes,” nearly 6,300 people were killed across Mexico last year in drug-related violence, double the amount of the prior year. There have been mass executions of policemen, kidnappings and beheadings. Mexico’s attorney general Eduardo Medina-Mora tells of weapons seizures including thousands of grenades, assault rifles and 50-caliber sniper rifles. The vast majority of them, he says, were acquired inside the United States.

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