Breaking: Suspect in Custody For Burning Down Three African American Churches in Louisiana

Glad they got him, but the description of the suspect in custody does not surprise me in the least.

From The Daily Beast (emphasis mine):

A 21-year-old named Holden Matthews has been arrested in connection with fires that destroyed three Louisiana churches in the span of two weeks, local news outlet KATC reports.

Throughout the end of March and in early April, three churches in rural St. Landry Parish were burned down. Matthews is reportedly the son of a St. Landry Parish Deputy, and he was booked into St. Landry Parish jail at about 5:30 this evening. Holden’s family declined to comment to The Daily Beast.

On a Facebook page that appears to belong to Matthews, he was active in black metal and pagan pages. Although both scenes are predominately apolitical, both have large neo-Nazi fanbases. Matthews commented on two memes about Varg Vikernes, a far-right (and self-described former neo-Nazi) metal musician who served 15 years in prison for burning churches in Norway and killing a fellow metal musician.

Matthews commented on two memes about Vikernes. Neither comment was particularly revealing, but they indicated his familiarity with the fringe figure. The pagan circles Matthews and Vikernes frequented can be popular with neo-Nazis. Matthews frequently posted about pagan beliefs, and recently uploaded a picture of a gun and a knife with the caption “I carry this…..maybe not legally but I only truly follow the law of Odin….. which says as you said,arm yourself…… Odins advice> modern law.” Odin is a pagan Norse god.

One of the pagan pages Matthews was active on specifically forbade racism and “nazi stuff.” Matthews also appeared aware of the religion’s white supremacist associations. In one post, a group member noted that a drawing of a pagan figure had a swastika-like design on his belt. “well yea the belt gives him extra strength and power…..white power lmao jk jk I had to,” Matthews wrote.”

From KATC Channel 3 (video and picture of Matthews at the link):

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, in collaboration with the ATF, FBI, Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and several other local agencies have been investigating suspicious fires at three churches in St. Landry Parish.

US Attorney David Joseph released the following statement on the burnings.

“A suspect has been identified in connection with the three church burnings in Opelousas, Louisiana, and is in state custody.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office, ATF, and FBI are working with state and local law enforcement and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the victims and those St. Landry Parish residents affected by these despicable acts.  A special thanks to St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, Louisiana State Fire Marshal, H. “Butch” Browning Jr., Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s Cybercrime Unit, the Louisiana State Police, and the Florida State Fire Marshal for working seamlessly with federal law enforcement agents in this investigation.”

The first fire occurred on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. The second occurred at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2. The third occurred on April 4 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas.

I’m sure Candace Owens will be along any time now to explain that these African American churches didn’t burn down and this isn’t domestic terrorism and/or a hate crime and/or the result of white supremacy, because white supremacy is a hoax. She wouldn’t lie to us, would she?

Also, obligatory:

Open thread!

If There’s One Thing Attorney General Barr Knows Its Legally Questionable Surveillance Programs

Well this is awkward…

From USA Today (emphasis mine):

Justice under AG Barr began vast surveillance program without legal review – in 1992, inspector general finds

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr launched a vast surveillance program that gathered records of innocent Americans’ international phone calls without first conducting a review of whether it was legal, the department’s inspector general concluded Thursday.

It happened in 1992, the last time Barr served as attorney general.

The secret program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, ultimately gathered billions of records of nearly all phone calls from the United States to 116 countries, with little oversight from Congress or the courts, a USA TODAY investigation found. It provided a blueprint for far broader phone-data surveillance the government launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Justice Department’s inspector general said both the DEA and the Justice Department “failed to conduct a comprehensive legal analysis” of its authority to gather those records.

The Inspector General’s report identified areas in which the program would be vulnerable to legal challenges, but did not reach a conclusion about whether it was lawful.

Attorney General Barr is going to be very, very sorry that he came out of retirement. The news media is going to go through his dirty laundry and the Intelligence Community is going to leak. The question is whether he’ll be smart enough to recognize the warning shots or whether he’ll just keeping doing what he was appointed to do: protect the President, not be the Attorney General of the United States.Attorney General Sessions was, amazingly enough, smart enough to get the hint. Is William Barr as smart as Jeff Sessions? Only time will tell.

Open thread!

Israeli Election Results: Hang On To Your Tuchases, It’s Gonna Get Meshugenah!

The Israeli election returns are very, very, very, very, very close. Right now at 6:15 PM EDT Haaretz has the average of the exit polls as Gantz’s Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) Party with 37 seats in Knesset, Netanyahu’s Likud Party with 35 seats, Shas (technically the Sephardic extreme right religious party) with 7 votes, the United Torah Judaism (UTJ – a partnership between the two most powerful Ashkenazi extreme right religious parties of Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel) with 7 votes, (what’s left of) Labor with 7 points, the Hadash Ta’al Party (the non-Zionist Arab-Jewish communist party), the Rightist Union with 5, Meretz (the social democratic and green party) with 5, Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman’s extreme right party) with 5, and Kulanu (centrist party focusing on economic issues) with 5.

Gantz has declared victory.

12:14 A.M. Gantz hails historic day for Israel

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz told supporters Tuesday overnight he believes he should be the next prime minister, after exit polls suggest his party is either tied or leading over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. “This is a historic day,” Gantz told party activists in Tel Aviv.

“We wish to thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his service for this country, and say that despite our many differences, we will rise above our past disagreements and grudges,” Gantz said. “We will respect the voter’s will — the biggest party is the one that should … form the government.”

And one of the new Kahol Lavan Members of Knesset (MK) Orit Farkash HaCohen has put out a call for Likud MKs opposed to Netanyahu to abandon him and join Gantz in forming a governing coalition. From The Times of Israel:

Blue and White’s Farkash-Hacohen invites Likud rebels into gov’t, sans Netanyahu

Likely Blue and White MK-elect Orit Farkash-Hacohen tells The Times of Israel that she believes Benny Gantz will be able to form a coalition regardless of the final results for the right or left-center blocs.

“We will form a responsible coalition because we can work with parties from across the political spectrum,” she says.

Asked if that included the Likud, Farkash-Hacohen, number 15 on the Blue and White slate, repeats the party line that it would not sit with Netanyahu but that his party was an option.

Who will they speak to in Likud? “They will have to come to us first,” she says of potential Likud rebels. “And they are welcome to.”

The Labor Party’s chairman (for now…) has indicated that Labor will support Gantz and Kahol Lavan:

12:09 A.M. Labor chairman says disappointed with exit polls, Netanyahu must go

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay told supporters he was disappointed with the exit poll results, which predicted his party receiving anywhere between six and eight Knesset seats, adding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “must go.” Gabbay vowed to “spearhead the political and social struggle” against Netanyahu, facing potential charges in several corruption cases.

Gabbay also said he spoke with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. “I told him we will do everything” necessary to help Gantz form a government, he said.

He also pushed back at criticism from his own party over his leadership, including some calls to resign, saying he will go on leading the Labor Party.

The Times of Israel‘s most recent live update indicates that Labor has pulled ahead in the actual tallying of votes and that the Kulanu Party leader will recommend Netanyahu for Prime Minister.

With 228,000 votes tallied, Likud ahead by 5%

228,367 votes have now been counted.

Likud is ahead, with 29%, compared to Blue and White’s 24%.

The front-runners are followed, in descending order, by Shas (6.3%), Yisrael Beytenu (5.5%), Labor (4.9%), United Torah Judaism (4.7%), Union of Right Wing Parties (3.8%), Kulanu (3.6%), Meretz (3.2%), the New Right (3.1%), Zehut (2.8%), Ra’am-Balad (2.6%), Hadash-Ta’al (2.2%) and Gesher (1.8%).

Kulanu leader says he’ll recommend Netanyahu for PM

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon says he’ll recommend Netanyahu as prime minister.

Reports earlier in the evening suggested Kahlon was waiting for the final results before making a decision.

Netanyahu, of course, has also declared victory and announced that he will have his new coalition government formed by tonight.

10:21 P.M. Netanyahu claims victory

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims victory, minutes after Benny Gantz did the same. “The right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory,” Netanyahu writes on Twitter. “I thank the citizens of Israel for their faith. I will begin forming a right-wing party with our natural partners tonight already.” (Jonathan Lis)

I expect that if Likud does not win a larger plurality than Gantz’s Kahol Lavan Party, then Bibi will do what he did when he lost to Tzipi Livni in 2009, which is simply form a majority coalition as quickly as possible and dare anyone to do something about it. I would expect that Benni Gantz, a retired 4 star general and former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces to put up more of a fight than Livni did in 2009, but Netanyahu has demonstrated time and time again that he really does not care about what the law requires and will do what he wants, when he wants to attain, maintain, and/or consolidate power. Which is why he sent Likudniks to polling places in Arab neighborhoods and had them plant over 1,200 cameras to surveil Israeli Arabs voting just to make sure that nothing untoward was being done by Israeli citizens exercising their right to vote. This led to police intervention, calls for an investigation, but also what Netanyahu wanted most: a large drop in Israeli Arab turnout in today’s elections.

The final results are likely to be very close and I fully expect plenty of Bibi’s usual shenanigans. I also expect Gantz to fight to deny Bibi another term as Prime Minister and his execrable, racist, theocratic, xenophobic, and neo-fascist coalition another term as Israel’s governing coalition. If Bibi brazens this out once again, then I expect that Zone C of the West Bank, which includes the legal and illegal settlements, will be annexed in short order, the President will announce that the US recognizes this annexation as legal, legislation will be pushed through Knesset that makes it illegal to prosecute a serving prime minister, and Bibi will, effectively, have pushed Israel into full on authoritarianism using democratic systems and processes to achieve illiberal and undemocratic outcomes.

Updated at 6:35 PM EDT

Here’s the chart from Pfeffer’s twitter feed:

Here’s a bit of positive news and progress:

Oy vey…

Updated at 6:45 PM EDT

From The Times of Israel:

Report: Netanyahu may ask Kahlon to merge with Likud, forming largest party

The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may ask Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon to merge his center-right party with the Likud, making it the largest party and the best-poised to form a government.

Kahlon is a former Likud lawmaker. The report comes as exit polls are split on which party is the biggest, with Channel 12 and Kan handing the title to Blue and White, and Channel 13 giving Likud a one-seat edge. The official results are being counted.


Amended Channel 13 poll has Likud ahead by one seat

Channel 13 has adjusted its exit poll as real-time official results emerge. The amended poll gives Netanyahu’s Likud a one-seat edge over Gantz’s Blue and White at 35-34.

The network had previously predicted that the two front-running parties would be tied at 36. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have crowned themselves the winners of the election.

Updated at 6:50 PM EDT

From Netanyahu biographer (it just came out, I just bought it, it’s in the queue, haven’t read it yet):

Updated at 7:00 PM EDT

Updated at 7:05 PM EDT

The Times of Israel, based on Israel Channels 11’s and 13’s exit polling, has this projection:

Updated exit polls indicate Netanyahu headed for victory

Channel 12 and Channel 13 update their exit polls as the official ballots are counted.

Both networks’ revised samples indicate Netanyahu’s Likud will win 35 seats, compared to Blue and White’s 34.

The Channel 12 survey previously predicted 37 seats for Blue and White and 33 for Likud; Channel 13 had the two parties tied at 36.

Both exit polls now indicate that Shas would be the third-largest party with eight seats, followed by United Torah Judaism with 7. According to the TV stations, the New Right, Zehut and Gesher will fall under the electoral threshold.

In its breakdown of the political blocs, Channel 12 gives 63 of the 120 Knesset seats to the right, compared to 57 for the center-left, giving Netanyahu a clear path to forming a government. According to Channel 13, the right-wing bloc would receive 65 seats, compared to 55 for the center-left.

Haaretz is also reporting this:

01:55 A.M. Updated exit polls show Likud overtaking Kahol Lavan by one seat  

The most recent exit polls still gave advantage to the right-wing bloc, showing that it is likely to garner 63-65 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has 55-57 seats, with the Likud overtaking Kahol Lavan by just one seat.

According to both exit polls by Channel 13 News and Channel 12 News, the Likud will snag 35 Knesset seats.

Both exit polls also showed that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash party did not pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is going to receive four Knesset seats, the exit polls indicated, while the United Arab List-Balad, which was at risk of not making it into the Knesset, will get four to six seats as well.

The exit polls also predicted that Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher party as well as Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party will fail to enter the Knesset.

Gantz’s path to victory is quickly being closed off.

Updated at 7:30 PM EDT

From Haaretz:

02:11 Netanyahu in celebratory speech: ‘This is a night of great victory’

“We love you,” Netanyahu told Likud supporters in a victory speech he held after exit polls showed his party has likely won the election. “23 years ago it was the first time Sara [his wife] and myself stood here, and here we return because of you and for you.”

“This is a night of great victory,” Netanyahu said to a standing ovation.

“I operate day and night for you, for the country, for our land,” he added. “You earned an almost unfathomable feat in the face of biased media and under impossible conditions,” he extolled Israelis who voted for his Likud party.

“The right-wing bloc will continue to lead Israel for the next four years,” he added.

The Times of Israel:

Netanyahu says he’ll form right-wing government, but will be PM for all

Netanyahu says Israel, under his leadership, is strong, prosperous and “a good place to live.”

Even as he declares his win, Netanyahu also counsels patience until all the ballots are counted.

“A long night, maybe a long day, is still ahead of us and we will wait for the final results,” says Netanyahu.

Netanyahu says he is contact with right-wing parties, “our natural partners.”

“Nearly all of them have publicly declared that they will recommend that I form the next government,” he says.

“It will be a right-wing government. But I intend to be the prime minister of all of Israel, right and left, Jews and non-Jews alike.”

So to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson: grab on to your tuchases because things are going to get meshugenah!

Open thread!

Just a Quick Note Regarding the President, Members of His Administration, and Operational Security Matters

Anne Laurie covered the details that we currently have regarding the recent security breach at Mar a Lago, but I wanted to add a couple of quick points.

I would not be surprised at all if Zhang was sent by the PRC’s intelligence services specifically to be caught and divert attention from their real infiltration work, which involves, among other things, buying memberships to Mar a Lago and the President’s golf clubs. And my guess is she was used at that moment to provide cover for someone actually penetrating a Trump property, most likely Mar a Lago, but possibly somewhere else, at roughly the same time. This technique is not novel. When Ramzi Youssef entered the US so he could build the bombs for the first World Trade Center bombing, he was a number of people behind one of his co-conspirators who just happened to go through the something to declare customs line and when his carry on was opened, they found circuit boards and other suspicious materials. When Youssef came through about 20 minutes or so later, he went through the nothing to declare line and zipped through because everyone was still focused on the guy they were sacrificing to get Youssef into the country. Zhang is most likely a PRC sacrifice. The real questions are who they actually got in by sacrificing her, how many, and what are they actually doing?

I expect that all of the President’s commercial properties are fully compromised at this point between employees, contractors brought on to do day work like A/C repair or other repair/replace projects, and membership. This ties in to the concerns about the President being compromised. As we know was the case with the pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow, the President, his campaign’s, his business’s, his employees’, his political surrogates’ repeated denials that he was pursuing the deal during the election was the only compromising information that Putin needed. And I would expect that the Chinese, the Israelis, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Estonians, the Latvians, the Germans, the French, and our Five Eyes Allies all new about this attempted deal too from their own intelligence collection. Regardless, because Putin and the Russian government knew something about the President’s and his business that the President, his business, his campaign, and his surrogates were denying, Putin had compromised the President. Or, more accurately, the President had compromised himself for Putin. Repeatedly lying during and after the campaign about pursuing Trump Tower Moscow gave Putin, his government, his intelligence services, his oligarchs, and his other surrogates leverage over the President because they knew something the President had been lying about. Pursuing Trump Tower Moscow wasn’t illegal. Even pursuing the opportunity during the campaign wasn’t illegal. Trying to conceal it also wasn’t illegal. But by doing so the President compromised himself. And one has to ask why it was necessary to lie about pursuing this opportunity and then lie about when that pursuit stopped. Because those lies just further compromised the President.*

There are similar issue regarding the President’s late night phone calls from the residence with Deity knows whom from his unsecured phone. Everyone and their brother is collecting on those calls. And since there’s no readouts, no notes, no note takers, all of this is just more and more compromising information on the President created by the President. Does anyone think that Sean Hannity or Lou Dobbs wouldn’t break under even the mildest forms of forceful interrogation? And the same issue exists with whomever Jared is texting with, regardless of whether he’s using WhatsApp, which is insecure. It doesn’t matter whether he’s texting MBS or MBZ or Bibi or Ron Dermer, or his dad – all of that data is being collected by allied, partner, competitor, and hostile foreign state actors. I would also expect that whomever the President is speaking with from his unsecured phone or whomever Jared is texting with are also keeping a record – either recording, transcript, or both – of those phone and text message conversations. I have no doubt that Kislyak and Lavrov’s photographer made a recording of what was actually said when the President was alone with them in the Oval Office, which, of course, produces more compromising material. Just letting them in with their own photographer with his own equipment was a major security breach in and of itself. And I’m sure that a similar situation surely occurred in his one on one meetings with no note takers, interpreters, and/or aides with Putin in Helsinki, with Putin at the G20 meeting, as well as in his two one on one meetings with Kim. I’d put good money on the fact that Putin and Kim surreptitiously made recordings of those meetings, just as I’d be very surprised to find out that Kislyak and Lavrov had not done so.

These are two very, very serious and significant operational security issues. Because the President has refused to divest himself from his commercial interests, those interests – from Mar a Lago to his golf clubs and golf resorts – are all targets for infiltration and collection by foreign intelligence services. And because the President and his senior advisor and son in law Jared Kushner continually compromise themselves because of who they are in communication with and how they communicate with those people, they continually put themselves as representatives of the United States and the United States at risk by giving foreign actors leverage that can be used over them and against the best interests of the US.

Open thread.

* This is similar to one of the really big unanswered questions from the Special Counsel’s investigation: why did LTG (ret) Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Attorney General Sessions, Erik Prince, George Papadopolous, Roger Stone, and many others lie about meetings and contacts with the Russians. Why was Jared Kushner seeking to establish an off the books back channel to the Russians housed in the Russian Embassy in DC? If there was no there there, if nothing illicit, illegal, or even unethical was going on, then why lie about it to Federal investigators, Congress, or both?

Separating the News Wheat from the Chaff: Bibi Promises (Threatens?) To Annex Israeli Settlements in the West Bank if Reelected

A whole lot of people are focusing on all the bizarreness and insanity from the President’s speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition that once again conflated American Jews with Israelis, as well as former Senator Norm Coleman’s equally bizarre, as well as idolatrous response. While it is important to pay attention to this stuff, including the obsequiousness and boot licking of those toadying up to the President like Norm Coleman, there is important actual news coming out of Israel. And news that has the possibility, if it actually plays out, to light Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Levant aflame!

As part of his bid to hold on to power and be reelected, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised to annex the Israeli settlements in the Israeli occupied West Bank into Israel proper.

On Saturday, Netanyahu told Israeli TV he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins, a last-minute promise likely to enrage Palestinians and the Arab world.

I cannot state just how incendiary a promise this is, despite it clearly being the endgame of the hard to extreme right coalition that Netanyahu has assembled over the past decade to rule Israel regarding the occupied territories.

Right now the Israeli occupied West Bank is divided into three zones of control: A, B, and C under the Oslo II Accords. Zone A is under full Palestinian civilian and security control and comprises about 18% of the West Bank. Zone B is under Palestinian civilian control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control and makes up about 22% of the West Bank. Zone C is under full Israeli civilian and military (administrative and security) control and accounts for almost 63% of all land in the West Bank, much of which is being occupied by the Israelis in violation of the Oslo II and Wye River Accords. Under the Oslo II Accords all Israeli settlements are, officially, in Zone C. The portions of Zone C that are not settlements, legal or otherwise, are off limits to Palestinians as the Israelis require it for “strategic depth” in case one or more Arab state attacks across the Jordan River. In the map below Zone C is demarcated in the light and slightly darker green:


(Map 1: The Israeli occupied West Bank)

This State Department map from 2015, while being less detailed, shows how Israeli settlements and check points have turned the West Bank into an archipelago of sorts, with Palestinian villages, towns, and cities isolated and cut off from each other. The non-contiguous white areas (Zones A and B) are Palestinian in that they are under Palestinian civilian control (both zones) and security control (Zone A).

(Map 2: 2015 State Department Map of Israel and the Israeli Occupied Territories)

Netanyahu’s announcement that he will annex the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank into Israel proper has been my worry since the President announced last month that the US was recognizing that the Israeli occupied Golan Heights are part of Israel proper. There has also been an official change in US diplomatic language, driven by Secretary Pompeo at the State Department, that the US will no longer refer to the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights as occupied territories. This change only reinforces my concern. While this change in official and diplomatic language only seems to have been noticed in the US news media during Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Israel last month, it actually goes back to 2018. The language change was actually made in the US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018. If Bibi does go ahead with this proposed annexation as campaign promise, I expect that the President, as was the case with his hasty recognition that the Golan Heights are part of Israel and not Israeli occupied, will announce that the US recognizes the Israeli settlements and the rest of Zone C as part of Israel. Should it eventually leak out, I would also not be surprised to find out that Secretary Pompeo gave tacit American approval for this when he visited Israel last month in order to bolster Netanyahu’s reelection bid.

While it is almost impossible to predict what the Palestinians, let alone the other Arab states, will do should Netanyahu officially annex the Israeli settlements and outposts into Israel proper, I would not be surprised if a third intifada were to soon follow such an announcement. The Palestinians will have very little left to lose if Netanyahu does this. But even if there is not a wide scale Palestinian uprising, I would expect a spike in terrorism, which may be what Bibi is counting on. A violent Palestinian response to his remarks this close to the election would allow Bibi to take action that makes him look tough and decisive thereby helping to secure his and the members of his coalition’s reelection. And despite his attempts to build not quite completely under the table and/or back channel relations with the Saudis and the Emiratis, if Netanyahu takes this action, Jared’s nascent and always soon to be, but never announced peace agreement will be dead before arrival.

Open thread.

Full disclosure: From December 2013 through June 2014 I was assigned, under temporary assigned control, as the Cultural Advisor to the Commanding General of US Army Europe in support of US Army Europe’s assignment by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Security Dialogue in the Middle East via US European Command regarding the 2014 US backed Israeli-Palestinian peace process. From June 2014 through August 2014 I was assigned, under operational control, from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Security Dialogue in the Middle East to US Army Europe as the Cultural Advisor to the Commanding General of US Army Europe to assist the Chief of Assessments with finalizing the US Army Europe’s (DOD) report regarding the Palestinian Authority’s capabilities regarding security and stability. I served as the executive editor and the quality assurance/quality control officer for that report, as well as being the primary author of the report’s historical introduction and a separate strategic assessment of the viability of the US’s two state solution policy and strategy.