Governments Prepare for May Day Protests Worldwide

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Major cities around the world have ramped up security, increasing police presence and even using drones to monitor crowds expected at May Day rallies.

International Workers’ Day, which is commonly known as May Day, celebrates the international labor movement on the first day of May every year. It’s a national holiday in more than 80 countries around the world.

France, which has been recently rankled by violent anti-government yellow vest protests, plans to deploy more than 7,400 police and dozens of drones in Paris. 

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there was a risk that “radical activists” could join anti-government yellow vest protesters and union workers Wednesday in the streets of Paris and across the country. He said the goal was to protect demonstrators with “legitimate aspirations” and defend Paris from calls on social media to make it “the capital of rioting.”

He said other cities around France were also on alert.

In Germany, more than 5,500 officers will be deployed in Berlin where protesters, led by the “1 May Revolutionaries,” have been for weeks calling on people to demonstrate. As many as 20,000 activists are expected to protest against gentrification in the eastern district of Friedrichshain.

Across the world in Jakarta, police spokesman Commander Argo Yuwono said there will be 1,500 personnel deployed for a protest in the Istora Senayan area and 25,000 for a protest near the State Palace. He said more than 40,000 protesters are expected to take to the streets of Indonesia’s capital.

Turkish police have barricaded Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where May Day demonstrations have been held for years. The square was blocked off even though city authorities denied permits for rallies there this year. Taksim Square gained notoriety on May Day in 1977, when 34 demonstrators were killed when shots were fired from a nearby building. Hundreds of others were injured, but no one has been brought to justice for the shooting. 

In Iran, 12 members of the Free Workers Trade Union of Iran have been arrested as they met to plan International Workers’ Day celebrations, local media reported. Iran does not recognize labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups. 

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New French Energy Law Puts off Difficult Climate Decisions

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France has set more ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions by 2050 but few measures will take effect on President Emmanuel Macron’s watch as the “yellow vest” protest movement limits his scope for environmental protection.

A draft new “energy transition law,” presented to cabinet on Tuesday and seen by Reuters, pledges to reduce carbon emissions by a factor of more than six by 2050 compared to 1990. That increases the emissions’ reduction target from a factor of four stipulated in a 2015 energy law introduced by Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande.

Months after coming to power in 2017, Macron dropped that law’s key provision — despite a pledge to respect it — to reduce nuclear energy’s share in French electricity production to 50 percent by 2025, from 75 percent currently.

The new law will delay the 50 percent nuclear target to 2035, transfer the European Union’s 2018 “Winter Package” energy targets into French law and will also form the framework for a detailed “PPE” 2019-2028 energy strategy.

However, it includes no landmark measures to reduce CO2 emissions now, and replaces an election promise to close coal-fired power stations with a CO2 emission cap that would not take effect before Jan. 2022, just before the end of Macron’s term.

“This government systematically makes vague and very long-term commitments, but never any concrete, short-term policies that would be implemented during this president’s term,”  Greenpeace energy campaigner Alix Mazounie said.

Macron was breaking his promise to close coal-fired plants by 2022, she said, adding that under the new system their life spans could be extended forever.

A senior environment ministry official denied the president was backtracking on environment pledges but acknowledged that no major new measures would be implemented on Macron’s watch.

“Energy policy must balance constraint with encouragement, and as we saw with the carbon contribution, going too fast and too hard is not necessarily the road to success,” she said, without wishing to be identified.

Late last year, Macron’s centrist government dropped planned fuel tax increases after protests by irate motorists turned into a nationwide movement by so-called “yellow vests” against his reforms.

Asked why Macron was setting targets for more than three decades away while he had undone the key element of his own predecessor’s energy law, the official said that was a normal process. 

“Anything one government decides, another government can change, that is the principle of democracy,” she said.

Climate Action Network campaigner Anne Bringault said France has fallen behind on eight of nine key climate targets.

“The state is not respecting its own climate objectives, and since the energy law states that the PPE must respect these objectives, they are now changing the law,” she said.

Environment lawyer Arnaud Gossement said the new law was necessary after Macron had extended the lifespan of state-controlled utility EDF’s nuclear reactors by a decade.

“Once you reserve a huge place for nuclear for another 10 years, that changes everything for the place you leave for other forms of energy,” he said.

Macron is an ardent supporter of nuclear energy, which he sees as France’s answer to climate change, Gossement said.

The draft law is due to be submitted to parliament in late June and then head to the senate for final approval later in the summer.

WWF France’s Pierre Cannet said he hoped that lawmakers would force changes to the new law to make it more effective in fighting climate change.

“We hope that they will at least make sure coal plants are closed and that we do more to insulate buildings,” he said.

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Warren Buffett Bankrolls Occidental’s Anadarko Bid With $10 Billion

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Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc committed $10 billion on Tuesday to Occidental Petroleum Corp’s $38 billion cash-and-stock bid for Anadarko Petroleum Corp, boosting its chances of snatching a deal from Chevron Corp.

Occidental and Chevron are locked in the biggest oil-industry takeover battle in years as they eye Anadarko’s prized assets in West Texas’ huge Permian shale oil field.

Anadarko on Monday agreed to start negotiations with Occidental, saying its bid could potentially be superior to Chevron’s existing deal to buy Anadarko for $33 billion in cash and stock.

Berkshire’s cash provides Occidental with flexibility to fund and even increase its proposal. Anadarko has previously expressed reservations about the risk of Occidental having to get any deal voted through by its own shareholders. Occidental could now use the majority of the Berkshire investment to add cash to its bid and remove the requirement for a vote, if it so chooses.

The Berkshire investment, contingent on Occidental completing its proposed acquisition of Anadarko, could also repay some of the debt being taken on to finance the deal’s cash portion, or cover the $10 billion to $15 billion of proceeds from asset sales which Occidental plans in the two years after closing the acquisition.

Analysts said Buffett’s endorsement supports Occidental’s push to get the deal done but comes at a high cost.

Berkshire Hathaway will get 100,000 preferred shares and a warrant to purchase up to 80 million shares of Occidental at $62.50 apiece in a private offering, a statement from Occidental said.

The preferred stock will accrue dividends at 8 percent per annum, compared with about 5 percent yield on common equity and 4 percent on term debt, Tudor Pickering Holt analyst Matthew Portillo said.

“For Occidental shareholders, our view is this is a fairly expensive cost of financing for the transaction even though it carries a kind of nice headline of having Berkshire Hathaway participate in the potential financing here.”

It is rare for Buffett to participate in a bidding war for a company. The last time he did this was in 2016, supporting a consortium including Quicken Loans Inc founder Dan Gilbert that tried unsuccessfully to buy Yahoo Inc’s internet assets.

Shares of Occidental were down 2.1 percent at $58.89 at midday Eastern time, while those in Anadarko were down about 0.3 percent at $72.69. Chevron shares were up 2.7 percent at $120.88.

A Chevron spokesman reiterated that the San Roman, California-based company believes its “signed agreement with Anadarko provides the best value and the most certainty to Anadarko’s shareholders.”

Occidental and Chevron, two of the largest oil and gas producers in the Permian by production volumes, argue they can best squeeze more oil from Anadarko’s 240,000 acres (97,120 hectares)in the area.

The two companies control land adjacent to Anadarko’s properties and expect a deal will add deposits that can produce supplies for decades using low-cost drilling techniques.

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Facebook Overhauls Messaging as It Pivots to Privacy

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Facebook Inc on Tuesday debuted an overhaul of its core social network and new business-focused tools, the first concrete steps in its plan to refashion itself into a private messaging and e-commerce company.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a fresh design for the world’s biggest social network that de-emphasized its News Feed and showcased services like its messaging app, online marketplace and video-on-demand site.

The company also rolled out features aimed both at encouraging users to interact with their close social circle as well as with businesses, including appointment booking and a “Secret Crush” option for Facebook Dating.

Zuckerberg in March promised changes to the advertising-driven social media company as it was under regulatory scrutiny over propaganda on its platform and users’ data privacy. Facebook’s News Feed continues to draw ad dollars but user growth in its most lucrative markets has slowed.

“We believe that there is a community for everyone. So we’ve been working on a major evolution to make communities as central as friends,” said Zuckerberg on Tuesday, speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 conference, where the company gives developers a peek at new product releases.

Other Facebook executives introduced changes within the Messenger and Instagram apps aimed at helping businesses connect with customers, including appointment booking and enhanced shopping features as well as a tool to lure customers into direct conversations with companies via ads.

Zuckerberg identified private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups as the fastest-growing areas of online communication. In last three years, the number of people using WhatsApp has almost doubled.

The social media company is now working on “LightSpeed” in order to make its Messenger app smaller in size and faster.

Facebook will also introduce Messenger for Mac and Windows and launch a new feature called “Product Catalog” for WhatsApp Business. The desktop version of Messenger will be available this fall.

“I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” Zuckerberg said.

The online ad market is largely dominated by Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google. But by focusing more on messaging, e-commerce, payment and enterprise-focused tools,

Facebook will also need to battle the likes of Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp as well as fast-growing Silicon Valley unicorns like workplace messaging app Slack.

“We’ve shown time and again as a company that we have what it takes to evolve,” Zuckerberg said.

Making money

Facebook pulled in nearly $56 billion in revenue last year, almost of all which came from showing ads to the 2.7 billion people who access its family of apps each month.

But Facebook is no longer adding many new users in the United States and Europe, its most lucrative markets, and it must find additional sources of revenue if it is to sustain growth.

The product releases at F8 indicate its answer involves efforts to keep users on its apps for longer, coupled with e-commerce tools Facebook is hoping businesses will pay to use.

Features that drive the most user engagement, like Stories and videos, are being decked out with new tools and given increased prominence across the platforms.

One new feature will allow users to watch videos together in Messenger, while also viewing each other’s reactions in simultaneous texts and video chats.

Facebook Dating will be expanded into 14 new markets, including places in Asia like the Philippines where Facebook has high user growth. A “Secret Crush” feature will allows users to explore potential romantic relationships within their friend circle.

The company is also courting businesses, giving them ways to chat with customers and conduct transactions, similar to how consumers in China are already shopping on services like WeChat. Instagram is expanding a sales system introduced last month, allowing public figures, known as influencers, to tag products in their posts so fans can buy them right away.

Sellers on Marketplace will likewise receive payments and arrange shipping directly within Facebook.

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Kudlow: Trump Administration Eyes More Aid to Farmers if Necessary

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The Trump administration is ready to provide more federal aid to farmers if required, a White House adviser said on Monday, after rolling out up to $12 billion since last year to offset agricultural losses from the trade dispute with China.

“We have allocated $12 billion, some such, to farm assistance. And we stand ready to do more if necessary,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had previously ruled out a new round of aid for 2019. As of March, more than $8 billion was paid out as part of last year’s program. On Monday, the department said it had extended the deadline to apply to May 17.

A constituency that helped carry Republican President Donald Trump to victory in 2016, U.S. farmers have been among the hardest hit from his trade policies that led to tariffs with key trading partners such as China, Canada and Mexico.

While farmers have largely remained supportive of Trump, many have called for an imminent end to the trade dispute, which propelled farm debt to the highest levels in decades and worsened the credit conditions for the rural economy.

Beijing imposed tariffs last year on imports of U.S. agricultural goods, including soybeans, grain sorghum and pork as retribution for U.S. levies. Soybean exports to China have plummeted over 90 percent and sales of U.S. soybeans elsewhere failed to make up for the loss.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer were scheduled to travel to Beijing on Monday for the latest negotiations in what could be the trade talks’ endgame.

Both sides have cited progress on issues including intellectual property and forced technology transfer to help end a conflict marked by tit-for-tat tariffs that have cost the world’s two largest economies billions of dollars, disrupted supply chains and rattled financial markets.

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Palm Oil Development Leaves Liberians Poorer, says Winner of ‘Green Nobel’

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Palm oil plantations in Liberia are billed as bringing jobs and development but actually leave locals poorer, said a Liberian lawyer who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize on Monday.

The U.S.-based Goldman Environmental Foundation gives the prize — often known as the Green Nobel — to six grassroots activists each year for efforts to protect the environment, often at their own risk.

Alfred Brownell was awarded for his successful campaign to protect more than 500,000 acres of tropical forest from palm oil development in the West African country, after which he was forced to flee Liberia in fear for his life.

He now lives in the United States but hopes to return to continue his work, as palm oil development continues to displace farmers without giving them an alternative means to earn a living, he said.

“These forests mean a lot to Liberia. The communities that we supported who live in these areas … it is their home and their resources and their farms,” said Brownell, 53.

“Instead of trying to empower them, (palm oil) causes the impoverishment of those communities. So this is not development at all,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sometimes palm oil companies offer jobs, but not enough for the number of people who lose their land, he said.

Liberians have protested land grabs by foreign palm oil companies for over a decade, since the former government gave out nearly half the nation’s territory in resource concessions.

The World Bank has credited these policies with transforming Liberia into a promising place for investors after a long civil war, but activists say local communities rarely benefit.

“We’re talking about lots of communities seeing their customary lands go away, lands they depend upon on a daily basis for their livelihoods,” said Patrick Kipalu, Africa Program coordinator for Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that advocates for indigenous peoples’ land rights.

“It’s so negative compared to the economic opportunities that those companies can bring,” Kipalu said.

Liberian authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brownell helped community members file a complaint in 2012 alleging environmental damage and human rights violations by Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), a Southeast Asia-based agro-industrial company that had signed a deal with the state to lease 543,600 acres of land for palm oil production.

An industry body responded by halting GVL’s work on most of the land – a decision that was upheld last year after a legal battle.

Protests by community members led to violent clashes in 2015, and Brownell said that his home was attacked and family members arrested — leading him to flee.

GVL, still active in Liberia, said in an email that it acknowledged past mistakes and that it created a sustainability action plan in 2018 to resolve grievances with communities.

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Making Driverless Cars Safer For Pedestrians

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One big concern about autonomous vehicles is that logical computers sometimes have trouble dealing with a messy world. To the point, a pedestrian was struck and killed by an autonomous vehicle in Arizona last year. But new algorithms are trying to solve that potentially deadly problem. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Mexico President Kicks Off New Capital Airport Project

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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday symbolically launched work on a new airport for Mexico City to replace the nearly half-built $13 billion project he cancelled upon taking office.

 

Lopez Obrador promised the new Felipe Angeles airport northeast of the capital won’t exceed its budget and will save the government money even with the cancellation of the partially built airport.

 

“It’s going to resolve the problem of saturation at the current Mexico City airport, but also be an example of how you can carry out a rational, austere policy based on honesty that needs to establish itself as the way to live and the way to govern in our country,” Lopez Obrador said.

 

The new airport — named for a general allied with revolutionary icon Pancho Villa — is at the Santa Lucia military air base and the army is in charge of getting it built for $4.1 billion.

 

It is supposed to begin operating in mid-2021, though construction has not yet begun.

 

Two new runways would be added to its existing one and the commercial airport would share the space with the military.

Critics have argued that the new airport will have difficulty operating simultaneously with the existing airport, but in a report by the military, consultant Navblue said they could operate simultaneously in terms of air space.

 

One of the early hitches pointed out in the military’s environmental impact statement is a small mountain named “Paula” that sits beside one of the runways. It would be too close for commercial airliners to use that runway, so the report says it would be dedicated exclusively to military use.

 

But the biggest concern raised in the report has to do with water. The airport would consume an estimated 6 million liters (1.6 million gallons) per day from an already severely overtaxed aquifer that the capital depends on, and that’s not including consumption from hotels and other businesses that will spring up around it, the report said.

 

Three existing wells on the air base should provide enough water, but that is expected to lower the water table in the aquifer, so some wells could go dry.

 

The report says that could be mitigated by creating recharge zones in the area to put water back into the aquifer. Another possibility would be bringing water from another, less-stressed aquifer.

 

On Monday, the Zeferino Ladrillero Human Rights Center called on the government to consult with the more than 20 communities around the airport. The group warned that the water consumption would directly impact livestock and agriculture, and with it the livelihoods of thousands of families.

 

Lopez Obrador, though, said consultations had already taken place.

 

“I can tell you now that the consultation with the communities around Santa Lucia happened and what do you think? The people approved the project,” he said. There was no description of when or how those consultations were performed.

 

When the time the airport it begins to operate in mid-2021, it could handle nearly 20 million passengers.

 

One of the looming questions is how flights will be divided between the capital’s main airport, Benito Juarez International, and the new one at Santa Lucia. The environmental impact statement for the project mentions that initially two airlines will be operating there, but it does not say which.

 

The new airport would connect to the existing one via a 28-mile (46 kilometer) route with dedicated bus lanes to speed passengers to their connecting flights. About 5 miles of that route would actually be along a perimeter road built for the now-cancelled airport at Texcoco.

In October, before Lopez Obrador had taken office, he held an unofficial referendum on cancelling the $13 billion Texcoco project, which was already nearly half completed. He proposed converting the Santa Lucia air base and making improvements at Benito Juarez, which had been targeted for closure. The plan received 70% approval, though critics complained that fewer than 2 percent of Mexico’s registered voters took part.

Lopez Obrador complained the Texcoco project backed by the previous administration was drenched in corruption and faced environmental problems because it was being built on a former lakebed. Auditors said in February that they had found some $167 million in questionable costs.

 

The government says it will build a third terminal at Benito Juarez. That airport, surrounded by residential neighborhoods and with no possibility of adding an additional runway, is beyond capacity. More and more flights are parked on the tarmac with passengers shuttled to the overcrowded terminals on buses.

 

Arriving flights are increasingly delayed because they can’t get a landing slot.

 

The government announced last week that the nearly 31,000-acre (12,500 hectare site of the scrapped airport would be converted into a park.

The survival of Santa Lucia, which also had been set for closure under the Texcoco plan, is another victory for Mexico’s military, which has been tasked with running the project. It also has been given the lead in combating the country’s rampant fuel theft problem and a soon-to-retire general will head the newly created militarized police force, the National Guard.

 

The general in charge of airport construction said Friday that its design would be “austere,” in contrast with the elaborate Norman Foster-designed terminal for the now cancelled airport. The government says even factoring in the lost investment in the cancelled airport and the cost of converting Santa Lucia, the total expense will be only slightly more than a quarter of what the Texcoco airport would have cost.

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IMF: US Sanctions Cutting Iranian Growth, Boosting Inflation

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The International Monetary Fund is forecasting Iran’s economy to shrink by 6% this year as it faces pressure from U.S. sanctions.

In a report released Monday, the IMF said its estimates for Iran, which include the potential for inflation to top 40%, predate a U.S. decision to end waivers that have allowed some Iranian oil buyers to continue making their purchases despite new sanctions that went into effect last year.

The Trump administration is due to formally end the waivers on Thursday for some of Iran’s top crude purchasers, including China, India, Japan, Turkey and South Korea.

The United States says it wants to deprive Iran of $50 billion in annual oil revenues to pressure it to end its nuclear and missile programs. The White House says it is working with top oil exporters Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure an adequate world oil supply.

Turkey and China have attacked the U.S. action, but it is not clear whether they will continue to buy Iranian oil.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said an interview broadcast on the U.S. cable show Fox News Sunday accused the United States of trying to “bring Iran to its knees” and overthrow its government by seeking to thwart its international oil trade.

​He said U.S. officials are “wrong in their analysis. They are wrong in their hope and illusions.”

Zarif said the fact that Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 international agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program “would not put the U.S. in the good list of law-abiding nations.” Iran state media reported that Zarif told Iranian reporters in New York that Tehran’s withdrawal from the pact is one of “many options” it is considering in the wake of the U.S. end to the waivers on sanctions for countries buying oil from Iran.

Zarif said a team of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, and leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is trying to push U.S. President Donald Trump “into a confrontation he doesn’t want.”

“They have tried to bring the U.S. into a war,” Zarif said, with the goal, “at least,” of Iranian regime change.

Bolton, appearing on the same Fox News program, said the U.S. goal is not regime change, but a change in behavior, specifically an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile testing.

“The Iranian people deserve a better government,” Bolton said.

He called Zarif’s accusations “completely ridiculous, an effort to sow disinformation.”

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Twitter Terror: Arrests Prompt Concern Over Online Extremism

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A few months after he turned 17 — and more than two years before he was arrested — Vincent Vetromile recast himself as an online revolutionary.

Offline, in this suburb of Rochester, New York, Vetromile was finishing requirements for promotion to Eagle Scout in a troop that met at a local church. He enrolled at Monroe Community College, taking classes to become a heating and air conditioning technician. On weekends, he spent hours in the driveway with his father, a Navy veteran, working on cars.

On social media, though, the teenager spoke in world-worn tones about the need to “reclaim our nation at any cost.” Eventually he subbed out the grinning selfie in his Twitter profile, replacing it with the image of a colonial militiaman shouldering an AR-15 rifle. And he traded his name for a handle: “Standing on the Edge.”

That edge became apparent in Vetromile’s posts, including many interactions over the last two years with accounts that praised the Confederacy, warned of looming gun confiscation and declared Muslims to be a threat.

In 2016, he sent the first of more than 70 replies to tweets from a fiery account with 140,000 followers, run by a man billing himself as Donald Trump’s biggest Canadian supporter. The final exchange came late last year.

“Islamic Take Over Has Begun: Muslim No-Go Zones Are Springing Up Across America. Lock and load America!” the Canadian tweeted on December 12, with a video and a map highlighting nine states with Muslim enclaves.

“The places listed are too vague,” Vetromile replied. “If there were specific locations like ‘north of X street in the town of Y, in the state of Z’ we could go there and do something about it.”

Weeks later, police arrested Vetromile and three friends, charging them with plotting to attack a Muslim settlement in rural New York. And with extremism on the rise across the U.S., this town of neatly kept Cape Cods confronted difficult questions about ideology and young people — and technology’s role in bringing them together.

The reality of the plot Vetromile and his friends are charged with hatching is, in some ways, both less and more than what was feared when they were arrested in January.

Prosecutors say there is no indication that the four — Vetromile, 19; Brian Colaneri, 20; Andrew Crysel, 18; and a 16-year-old The Associated Press isn’t naming because of his age — had set an imminent or specific date for an attack. Reports they had an arsenal of 23 guns are misleading; the weapons belonged to parents or other relatives.

Prosecutors allege the four discussed using those guns, along with explosive devices investigators say were made by the 16-year-old, in an attack on the community of Islamberg.

Residents of the settlement in Delaware County, New York — mostly African-American Muslims who relocated from Brooklyn in the 1980s — have been harassed for years by right-wing activists who have called it a terrorist training camp. A Tennessee man, Robert Doggart , was convicted in 2017 of plotting to burn down Islamberg’s mosque and other buildings.

But there are few clues so far to explain how four with little experience beyond their high school years might have come up with the idea to attack the community. All have pleaded not guilty, and several defense attorneys, back in court Friday, are arguing there was no plan to actually carry out any attack, chalking it up to talk among buddies. Lawyers for the four did not return calls, and parents or other relatives declined interviews.

“I don’t know where the exposure came from, if they were exposed to it from other kids at school, through social media,” said Matthew Schwartz, the Monroe County assistant district attorney prosecuting the case. “I have no idea if their parents subscribe to any of these ideologies.”

Well beyond upstate New York, the spread of extremist ideology online has sparked growing concern. Google and Facebook executives went before the House Judiciary Committee this month to answer questions about their platforms’ role in feeding hate crime and white nationalism. Twitter announced new rules last fall prohibiting the use of “dehumanizing language” that risks “normalizing serious violence.”

But experts said the problem goes beyond language, pointing to algorithms used by search engines and social media platforms to prioritize content and spotlight likeminded accounts.

“Once you indicate an inclination, the machine learns,” said Jessie Daniels, a professor of sociology at New York’s Hunter College who studies the online contagion of alt-right ideology. “That’s exactly what’s happening on all these platforms … and it just sends some people down a terrible rabbit hole.”

She and others point to Dylann Roof, who in 2015 murdered nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. In writings found afterward, Roof recalled how his interest in the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin had prompted a Google search for the term “black on white crime.” The first site the search engine pointed him to was run by a racist group promoting the idea that such crime is common, and as he learned more, Roof wrote, that eventually drove his decision to attack the congregation.

In the Rochester-area case, electronic messages between two of those arrested, seen by the AP, along with papers filed in the case suggest doubts divided the group.

“I honestly see him being a terrorist,” one of those arrested, Crysel, told his friend Colaneri in an exchange last December on Discord, a messaging platform popular with gamers that has also gained notoriety for its embrace by some followers of the alt-right.

“He also has a very odd obsession with pipe bombs,” Colaneri replied. “Like it’s borderline creepy.”

It is not clear from the message fragment seen which of the others they were referencing. What is clear, though, is the long thread of frustration in Vetromile’s online posts — and the way those posts link him to an enduring conspiracy theory.

A few years ago, Vetromile’s posts on Twitter and Instagram touched on subjects like video games and English class.

He made the honor roll as an 11th-grader but sometime thereafter was suspended and never returned, according to former classmates and others. The school district, citing federal law on student records, declined to provide details.

Ron Gerth, who lives across the street from the family, recalled Vetromile as a boy roaming the neighborhood with a friend, pitching residents on a leaf-raking service: “Just a normal, everyday kid wanting to make some money, and he figured a way to do it.” More recently, Gerth said, Vetromile seemed shy and withdrawn, never uttering more than a word or two if greeted on the street.

Vetromile and suspect Andrew Crysel earned the rank of Eagle in Boy Scout Troop 240, where the 16-year-old was also a member. None ever warranted concern, said Steve Tyler, an adult leader.

“Every kid’s going to have their own sort of geekiness,” Tyler said, “but nothing that would ever be considered a trigger or a warning sign that would make us feel unsafe.”

Crysel and the fourth suspect, Colaneri, have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism, their families have said. Friends described Colaneri as socially awkward and largely disinterested in politics. “He asked, if we’re going to build a wall around the Gulf of Mexico, how are people going to go to the beach?” said Rachael Lee, the aunt of Colaneri’s girlfriend.

Vetromile attended community college with Colaneri before dropping out in 2017. By then, he was fully engaged in online conversations about immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, gun rights and Trump. Over time, his statements became increasingly militant.

“We need a revolution now!” he tweeted in January, replying to a thread warning of a coming “war” over gun ownership.

Vetromile directed some of his strongest statements at Muslims. Tweets from the Canadian account, belonging to one Mike Allen, seemed to push that button.

In July 2017, Allen tweeted “Somali Muslims take over Tennessee town and force absolute HELL on terrified Christians.” Vetromile replied: ”@realDonaldTrump please do something about this!”

A few months later, Allen tweeted: “Czech politicians vote to let citizens carry guns, shoot Muslim terrorists on sight.” Vetromile’s response: “We need this here!”

Allen’s posts netted hundreds of replies a day, and there’s no sign he read Vetromile’s responses. But others did, including the young man’s reply to the December post about Muslim “no-go zones.”

That tweet included a video interview with Martin Mawyer, whose Christian Action Network made a 2009 documentary alleging that Islamberg and other settlements were terrorist training camps. Mawyer linked the settlements, which follow the teachings of a controversial Pakistani cleric, to a group called Jamaat al-Fuqra that drew scrutiny from law enforcement in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, Colorado prosecutors won convictions of four al-Fuqra members in a racketeering case that included charges of fraud, arson and murder.

Police and analysts have repeatedly said Islamberg does not threaten violence. Nevertheless, the allegations of Mawyer’s group continue to circulate widely online and in conservative media.

Replying to questions by email, Mawyer said his organization has used only legal means to try to shut down the operator of the settlements.

“Vigilante violence is always the wrong way to solve social or personal problems,” he said. “Christian Action Network had no role, whatsoever, in inciting any plots.”

Online, though, Vetromile reacted with consternation to the video of Mawyer: “But this video just says ‘upstate NY and California’ and that’s too big of an area to search for terrorists,” he wrote.

Other followers replied with suggestions. “Doesn’t the video state Red House, Virginia as the place?” one asked. Virginia was too far, Vetromile replied, particularly since the map with the tweet showed an enclave in his own state.

When another follower offered a suggestion, Vetromile signed off: “Eh worth a look. Thanks.”

The exchange ended without a word from the Canadian account, whose tweet started it.

Three months before the December exchange on Twitter, the four suspects started using a Discord channel dubbed ”#leaders-only” to discuss weapons and how they would use them in an attack, prosecutors allege. Vetromile set up the channel, one of the defense attorneys contends, but prosecutors say they don’t consider any one of the four a leader.

In November, the conversation expanded to a second channel: ”#militia-soldiers-wanted.”

At some point last fall the 16-year-old made a grenade — “on a whim to satisfy his own curiosity,” his lawyer said in a court filing that claims the teen never told the other suspects. That filing also contends the boy told Vetromile that forming a militia was “stupid.”

But other court records contradict those assertions. Another teen, who is not among the accused, told prosecutors that the 16-year-old showed him what looked like a pipe bomb last fall and then said that Vetromile had asked for prototypes. “Let me show you what Vinnie gave me,” the young suspect allegedly said during another conversation, before leaving the room and returning with black explosive powder.

In January, the 16-year-old was in the school cafeteria when he showed a photo to a classmate of one of his fellow suspects, wearing some kind of tactical vest. He made a comment like, “He looks like the next school shooter, doesn’t he?” according to Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan. The other student reported the incident, and questioning by police led to the arrests and charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The allegations have jarred a region where political differences are the norm. Rochester, roughly half white and half black and other minorities, votes heavily Democratic. Neighboring Greece, which is 87 percent white, leans conservative. Town officials went to the Supreme Court to win a 2014 ruling allowing them to start public meetings with a chaplain’s prayer.

The arrests dismayed Bob Lonsberry, a conservative talk radio host in Rochester, who said he checked Twitter to confirm Vetromile didn’t follow his feed. But looking at the accounts Vetromile did follow convinced him that politics on social media had crossed a dangerous line.

“The people up here, even the hillbillies like me, we would go down with our guns and stand outside the front gate of Islamberg to protect them,” Lonsberry said. “It’s an aberration. But … aberrations, like a cancer, pop up for a reason.”


Online, it can be hard to know what is true and who is real. Mike Allen, though, is no bot.

“He seems addicted to getting followers,” said Allen’s adult son, Chris, when told about the arrest of one of the thousands attuned to his father’s Twitter feed. Allen himself called back a few days later, leaving a brief message with no return number.

But a few weeks ago, Allen welcomed in a reporter who knocked on the door of his home, located less than an hour from the Peace Bridge linking upstate New York to Ontario, Canada.

“I really don’t believe in regulation of the free marketplace of ideas,” said Allen, a retired real estate executive, explaining his approach to social media. “If somebody wants to put bulls— on Facebook or Twitter, it’s no worse than me selling a bad hamburger, you know what I mean? Buyer beware.”

Sinking back in a white leather armchair, Allen, 69, talked about his longtime passion for politics. After a liver transplant stole much of his stamina a few years ago, he filled downtime by tweeting about subjects like interest rates.

When Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, in a speech memorable for labeling many Mexican immigrants as criminals, Allen said he was determined to help get the billionaire elected. He began posting voraciously, usually finding material on conservative blogs and Facebook feeds and crafting posts to stir reaction.

Soon his account was gaining up to 4,000 followers a week.

Allen said he had hoped to monetize his feed somehow. But suspicions that Twitter “shadow-banning” was capping gains in followers made him consider closing the account. That was before he was shown some of his tweets and the replies they drew from Vetromile — and told the 19-year-old was among the suspects charged with plotting to attack Islamberg.

“And they got caught? Good,” Allen said. “We’re not supposed to go around shooting people we don’t like. That’s why we have video games.”

Allen’s own likes and dislikes are complicated. He said he strongly opposes taking in refugees for humanitarian reasons, arguing only immigrants with needed skills be admitted. He also recounted befriending a Muslim engineer in Pakistan through a physics blog and urging him to move to Canada.

Shown one of his tweets from last year — claiming Czech officials had urged people to shoot Muslims — Allen shook his head.

“That’s not a good tweet,” he said quietly. “It’s inciting.”

Allen said he rarely read replies to his posts — and never noticed Vetromile’s.

“If I’d have seen anybody talking violence, I would have banned them,” he said.

He turned to his wife, Kim, preparing dinner across the kitchen counter. Maybe he should stop tweeting, he told her. But couldn’t he continue until Trump was reelected?

“We have a saying, ‘Oh, it must be true, I read it on the internet,’” Allen said, before showing his visitor out. “The internet is phony. It’s not there. Only kids live in it and old guys, you know what I mean? People with time on their hands.”

The next day, Allen shut down his account, and the long narrative he spun all but vanished.

 

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