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There’s no reason you can’t grow amazing plants all year in Alaska

Alaska News - 3 hours 21 min ago

(Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/)

Right now our lawn is clear of snow, but I realize some of you are contending with half a foot of wet and heavy stuff. I may be able to dig in the gardens, but many cannot. So, instead of suggesting you plant a tree or put in more spring flowering bulbs, this is my annual harangue urging all Alaskan gardeners to get — and to use — indoor grow lights.

So, here goes: I counted them. We have 140 or so days of real outdoor gardening. That leaves 225 days when we have to garden indoors or not at all. A perennial question is why Alaskans spend so much time and money during those 140 outdoor days, but ignore their hobby for the bulk of the year?

I also calculated the cost of buying new starts every spring and compared it to the $10 in seed you could buy and start your own under lights instead. Isn’t growing plants what you love to do anyhow? And, if the rule is real gardeners start at least one thing from seed, imagine what kind of gardener you will be when you start almost everything you grow from seed. All it takes is a good set of lights.

And then there are your houseplants. We all have them. Some were started from cuttings from friends, maybe even given to you by a relative in the Lower 48. You want to keep these in their best health, and given our dim winters, supplemental grow lights are in order. Each of your houseplants can do with a bit of light during winter darkness so they can photosynthesize their chloroplasts out even if it is only for a week or so at a time.

I could go on, but given the number of times I have urged readers to act in the early days of the darkness and get some sort of lights, I won’t. I will point out what a joy it is to have lights go on in the early morning and remain shining until early or even mid-evening. Who needs a SAD light when you have plant lights?

This year I am finally abandoning old advice to simply get a two-bulb, shop-type fluorescent lighting fixture and a timer. Sure, you can put something together for 25 bucks, but let’s get serious. Shop fixtures were fine when all we had were those purple-light-emitting fluorescent bulbs. Today there is an array of lighting options to fit every single need a reader might have. They are all way better than a shop fixture.

Take LED lighting systems. These have greatly advanced — thanks to indoor cannabis growing. Fixtures for other types of lighting, including fluorescent ones, have changed as well. So have the size and types of bulbs. It is time to go modern and get serious, just as we do for outdoor seasons. Alaskan gardeners shouldn’t fool around; gardening is too important to us.

So my advice is to either visit a “grow” store if one is conveniently located and ask for advice, or hop on the web and do some exploring to get educated. Search for “indoor grow lights,” “LED lights” and “plant lights.” This way you can take into consideration your level of interest, size of your particular grow area — room, table or kitchen counter? — and the kinds of plants you want to grow. There is some really neat stuff out there.

And, let me toss in just a little pitch in case you still need a push here. Dare I suggest indoor growing is easier than outdoor growing? You have consistent, controllable conditions, fewer insect pests and no moose. Best of all, once you have lights, you can grow some really great things. Just think of the flowers, the fragrances, the herbs and even vegetables you will have given the right lighting system.

So, don’t roll your eyes when I mention supplemental lights. Go out and get something to satisfy both your plant needs and your gardener needs.

Jeff garden calendar for the week:

Cat owners: There should be a law that all cats who go outside wear a cat bib to prevent them from getting birds: catgoods.com.

Houseplants: Check for bugs and slugs.

Amaryllis: Make yours go dormant. Withhold water and place the pot on its side in a dark, cool location for the next eight weeks.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Snow does not stop life at the garden. Check out all the activities at alaskabg.org.

Shell asks Alaska regulators for more time to find partners for North Slope prospect

Alaska News - 3 hours 27 min ago

Shell Offshore is asking Alaska regulators for more time to find partners to explore a remote North Slope prospect.

In Oct. 6 filings recently posted to the division’s website, attorneys representing the subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell asked Division of Oil and Gas officials for an extra year to secure a new operator for exploring the oil giant’s West Harrison Bay Unit.

Oil and Gas officials last December approved formation of the West Harrison Bay Unit in state waters of the Beaufort Sea, north of ConocoPhillips’ $6 billion Willow oil project, as well as a multi-year exploration plan for the area. The exploration plan at the time called for Shell to bring in partners to spread out the costs and risks of drilling the area. That included finding a company willing to take on the operator role for the West Harrison Bay Unit by the end of 2021. Shell is proposing that deadline be pushed back to Dec. 31, 2022.

According to the proposed amended exploration plan, Shell’s attempts to finalize commercial arrangements with other industry players continue to be hampered by the pandemic. That is despite Alaska North Slope oil prices in the $80-per-barrel range, which have recovered from an early 2020 collapse to now exceed pre-pandemic prices.

Shell currently holds 100% of West Harrison Bay.

“COVID-19 makes marketing the (West Harrison Bay) project more challenging as all meetings and negotiations have to be held virtually, and because the timing of execution of the project is uncertain due to logistical restrictions to operations, including surveying; and, until very recently, the low oil price suppresses the cashflow available to prospective investors for new projects and management appetite for new, higher risk exploration projects,” the second West Harrison Bay exploration plan states.

Shell’s focus in the area is on the Nanushuk sands formation — the relatively shallow, conventionally produced oil-bearing geologic formation that is the primary source for the large Pikka and Willow developments, as well as a host of smaller North Slope prospects identified in recent years.

Leaders of Oil Search Alaska, the company that has led exploration and development work at Pikka since 2018, have also acknowledged challenges they have had securing funding to construct the $3 billion first phase of the oil project.

If Shell can put together a team for West Harrison Bay, the game plan is for the operator to drill an initial exploration well — and possibly a sidetrack — into the Nanushuk formation during the 2023-24 winter drilling season. A second well and potential sidetrack would be drilled in the 2024-25 season, according to Shell’s filings, after which time an additional exploration or development plan would be submitted to the division depending on the outcome of the drilling.

The company is also asking state oil and gas officials to remove an expectation in the first exploration plan filed last year for the wells to penetrate the deeper Torok sands, which Shell claims would add unnecessary time and expense to the work and could jeopardize the timing of the overall program.

The Torok zone was the primary target for Caelus Energy’s similarly situated Smith Bay prospect, discovered in 2016 to the west of Shell’s acreage. Caelus leaders said at the time the Smith Bay prospect could hold upwards of 6 billion barrels of oil, but appraisal drilling at Smith Bay was not conducted largely due to funding and logistical challenges associated with the isolated prospect.

Hilcorp plans more Prudhoe drilling

Hilcorp North Slope expects to drill up to 10 wells next year into the western portion of Prudhoe Bay as oil prices continue to strengthen.

According to the proposed 2022 Prudhoe Bay Unit Western Satellites Plan of Development recently filed with the Division of Oil and Gas, the Alaska subsidiary of Houston-based Hilcorp Energy plans to drill the wells into the Aurora, Borealis, Orion and Polaris participating area after restarting development drilling at Prudhoe earlier this year, following a pandemic-induced pause on development drilling work.

In July, Hilcorp filed an amended 2021 Prudhoe plan with the division to drill up to six wells into the Orion participating area in the far western portion of Prudhoe. According to the 2022 development plan, one well was spud into the Orion area on Sept. 22 and the rest will be drilled the remainder of 2021 or possibly early next year depending on operational timing.

Hilcorp increased oil production from the western Prudhoe satellite areas by 43% in the first year after taking over for BP, mainly through returning idle wells to service, targeting under-developed reservoirs and optimizing production through existing infrastructure, according to the filings with the state.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, Oct. 20

Juneau Hot Topics - 4 hours 3 min ago
COVID at a glance for Wednesday, Oct. 20. The most recent state and local figures. Wednesday, October 20, 2021 6:24pm; NewsCoronavirus.

Thrills and chills on tap for the capital city

Juneau Hot Topics - 4 hours 3 min ago
Pull out the costumes, dust off your spooky decorations, and buy some candy—Halloween 2021 is a go. After the pandemic muted last year's Halloween ...

City officials certify election

Juneau Hot Topics - 4 hours 3 min ago
According to a news release from City Clerk Beth McEwen, ... Anchorage because Juneau does not have the equipment needed to count votes locally.

Best THC Gummies: Top 10 Weed Edible Brands in 2021 | Courier-Herald

Juneau Hot Topics - 4 hours 3 min ago
Best THC Gummies: Top 10 Weed Edible Brands in 2021 ... (according to CFAH, Herald Net, Juneau Empire, The Daily World, and Peninsula Daily News).

‘Counter Cartographies’ asks: How do we ‘map’ our lives on the land?

Alaska News - 4 hours 5 min ago

Presented by the Anchorage Museum

What does “cartography” mean to you?

If you’re like most people, the term probably brings to mind a paper or digital map. But a new exhibition at the Anchorage Museum aims to get you thinking beyond those two-dimensional representations of place by exploring other ways people think and communicate about landscapes -- and how our relationship to the land is formed by factors like time, identity, power and culture.

“Counter Cartographies: Living the Land,” which opened Oct. 8, features impermanent and experiential artworks that go beyond the traditional topographic geography or satellite images typically associated with western maps, said Anchorage Museum Senior Curator Aaron Leggett. The exhibition -- and its exploration of differing perspectives on place -- grew out of the museum’s efforts over the past several years to contribute to the growing awareness of Indigenous place names and land acknowledgements. It also evolved from the museum’s work to find connections and commonalities throughout the circumpolar north, according to Leggett. Through those connections “we start to realize that there are these shared histories and shared concerns,” he said.

“This (exhibition), to me, if you boil it down to an essence, is: How are other ways that people communicate information about a place or landscape in nontraditional ways?” Leggett said.

Photos provided by Anchorage Museum (anchorage museum/)

Those other ways of communicating vary across cultures and landscapes. Accordingly, “Counter Cartographies” features a wide range of works, said Chief Curator Francesca DuBrock.

“This exhibition is meant to kind of destabilize and question and reimagine what we think of when we hear that word,” DuBrock said. “So it is intentionally open-ended, and it is intentionally going to kind of push people’s comfort levels in terms of what they might find recognizable or relatable. Some projects are very conceptual and some projects maybe are using maps, using something someone would visually recognize as a map.”

“Counter Cartographies” emphasizes works that are impermanent or experiential. One piece features water falling on drums; another is a film that will change seasonally throughout the year the exhibition is on display; a different film uses puppetry to explore the idea of homeland and the African diaspora. All of the works are installations, incorporating audio components, storytelling, and even dance and choreography.

“It’s not just a picture on a wall,” she said. “There’s sound, there’s video, there’s water, there’s built sculptures in the space. It’s going to be pretty visually and physically dynamic.”

Nearly two dozen artists are represented, as the museum wanted to showcase a variety of voices.

“Mainly we wanted to highlight circumpolar perspectives, perspectives of Indigenous (people) and people of color,” DuBrock said. “There are some queer perspectives represented. (We wanted) to be inclusive and expansive in terms of who is doing the talking about these ideas, and really to let the artists lead the conversation.”

The museum worked collaboratively with the featured artists to develop the gallery space. Some of the installations were created specifically for “Counter Cartographies,” but even among the works that were previously developed, there tended to be some evolution as they were installed, according to DuBrock.

“There are artists from across the spectrum, across the circumpolar region and beyond, who are all working with these ways of thinking about place that either use western cartography to sort of critique geopolitical structures and forces, or they’re completely reformulating that sort of western approach to mapping and communicating about place and thinking in much more kind of abstract and imaginative ways about how we experience the places that we inhabit,” DuBrock said.

Just as individual relationships to land vary from person to person, the abstract works in “Counter Cartographies” elicit different reactions in each viewer. The exhibition includes both the artist’s and the curators’ reflection on each work, and there’s space for the viewer to interpret each piece, too.

“The show is not meant to present a single view or any kind of dogma around what a map is or what people should think or feel when they experience the artwork. It’s really meant to be an open exchange between the viewer and the work,” DuBrock said.

Variations on theme

Although “Counter Cartographies” emphasizes the abstract and impermanent, there are more traditional physical maps on display in a complementary exhibition curated by Leggett -- one of several places in the museum where the same themes and ideas are being portrayed.

This map exhibition explores how the modern understanding of Alaska has developed over the past several centuries, as well as how the Municipality of Anchorage has evolved over the last 100 years, Leggett said.

The maps in the exhibition date show the circumpolar region as far back as the 16th century -- when there were many more blank spots in the cartography.

“There’s some little squiggles, Alaska doesn’t even really exist, and then as it moves through time up into present day you start to see Alaska emerge on the maps, and then you start to see things like mapping for different political and economic agendas,” DuBrock said.

The more modern maps show the interests of the mapmakers, depicting resources for extraction, land use, military communication, real estate, natural features, and more. Leggett said he was pleasantly surprised that the museum had more than enough maps in its archives to put together an interesting narrative about the state and the north.

Photos provided by Anchorage Museum (anchorage museum/)

“We had to cut out quite a few to tell this story,” he said. "

Leggett said the museum hopes the maps will help Alaskans think about the different ways to view and consider their state.

The map display is just one of several complementary exhibitions and events planned at the museum. Two more related exhibitions open this fall -- Christina Seely’s “Dissonance/Disturbance” and Stuart Hyatt’s “Stations” -- and additional programming will also explore the themes and ideas raised in “Counter Cartographies.” Visitors may attend talks about Indigenous place names, make their own creative maps in mixed media art workshops, and even submit their own memories of important places for the museum’s archives.

Through “Counter Cartographies,” its companion exhibitions and the slate of related events that will be held over the next 11 months, DuBrock and Leggett both said their wish is for visitors to leave the museum thinking about the idea that there’s more than one story about a given place -- and that, just like not all cartographies are the maps we recognize, not all stories are written down.

“My hope is that they can get a new more nuanced appreciation of place,” Leggett said.

“Counter Cartographies: Living the Land” will be on view through Sept. 4, 2022. Learn more about the exhibition and related events at AnchorageMuseum.org.

This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with the Anchorage Museum. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

Amazon’s self-driving cars are coming to downtown Seattle. Safety advocates are not pleased.

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 20:39

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.”

‘The stakes are enormous’: Bannon case tests Congress’ power

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 20:09

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

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 19:46

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.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage, Sonia Rao and Vanessa G. Sanchez contributed to this report.

Leaked list shows Alaska state Rep. David Eastman is a ‘lifetime member’ of a leading Capitol-riot group

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 19:04

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 the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia, according to membership information leaked online and published by multiple publications on Wednesday.

Eastman is among dozens of elected officials named in the leak, which has been dissected by various news agencies to discover active-duty police officers, members of the military and military veterans. Several organizations wrote on Wednesday about elected officials, including Eastman, who appear as members.

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.

[From ProPublica: Oath Keepers in the statehouse: How a militia movement took root in the Republican mainstream]

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 dyed-in-the-wool, far, far right,” Brook said 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 in Nevada 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.

ConocoPhillips and Biden administration won’t appeal court ruling blocking permit for major North Slope oil project

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 18:45

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.

[Supply shortages in Alaska continue, forcing retailers to stock up on goods and hope for the best]

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.

[Set for aggressive growth, Alaska Airlines begins hiring pilots again]

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.

Southwest Alaska teacher arrested on charges alleging he sexually abused a student

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 18:31

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.

[Western Alaska school district that employed principal despite sex abuse complaints will pay $3.8 million to his victims]

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.

Daughter says her father languished, severely ill, at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena shelter

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 18:11

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 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 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 Allen 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 to 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 Bean’s 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 Bean’s Cafe or the 99 Plus One was malicious,” Rowe said. “There was a transition. And I kind of ... maybe slipped through the cracks.”

Oath Keepers in the statehouse: How a militia movement took root in the Republican mainstream

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 17:36

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.

Three of the state lawmakers on the list had already been publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Other outlets have also scoured the list, finding police officers and military veterans.

[Leaked list shows Alaska state Rep. David Eastman is a ‘lifetime member’ of a leading Capitol-riot group]

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.”

The candidates

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.”

The Democrat

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.

The accused spy knew stealth was crucial from his work on submarines. He surfaced anyway.

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 16:56

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.

[Navy nuclear engineer charged with trying to pass secrets]

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.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Alice Crites, Alex Horton, and Moriah Balingit contributed to this report.

FDA approves mixing COVID-19 vaccines, backs Moderna and J&J boosters

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-10-20 16:50

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.

[White House details plans to vaccinate millions of children ages 5 to 11 after FDA approval]

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.