Category Archives: Ruling Class

Inside the Austrian lockdown – UnHerd

What the ruling classes and the ‘Left’ have come to, or perhaps better, are now showing their true beliefs and character. mrossol

By Freddy Sayers,  11/18/2021

Mia and Christopher are Austrian circus performers. From their home in Vienna, accompanied by their dog, Magic, they go off to take part in theatrical shows large and small around Europe, from the Royal Albert Hall to private parties, sometimes juggling fire, sometimes trapeze, sometimes simply with stunning displays of balance and strength.

Perhaps the least interesting thing about this talented young couple is that they are unvaccinated against Covid-19. When I meet them at their house in a wooded suburb outside Vienna, I am almost embarrassed to ask about it. But they carefully explain how, for reasons of mistrust, caution and, as they see it, integrity, they have decided not to take the Covid vaccine — and how this fact is suddenly defining their whole lives.

 

 

Since Monday, unvaccinated Austrians are not allowed to leave their homes except to go to work, to buy essential supplies, or to take exercise: it’s the world’s first “lockdown for the unvaccinated”. It was introduced in response to rapidly rising cases and a lack of excess capacity in Austrian hospitals. “It is not a recommendation, but an order,” announced the Interior Minister Karl Nehammer at a press conference. “Every citizen should know that they will be checked by the police.”

It is, essentially, a ratcheting up of the regime of vaccine passports that exists already in many countries across Europe, whereby unvaccinated people are already excluded from restaurants, museums and theatres. But to place a minority of the population under partial house arrest does seem to cross a new line.

Mia is an artist who is unvaccinated but allowed out because she had covid recently.

The Brazilian-born Mia has already had Covid and, in the Austrian “2G” system, proof of recovery affords you the same status as if you had been vaccinated — albeit for a period of six months. So, for now at least, she is allowed out and about. Chris is stuck at home. He describes it as a “brainfuck”. Attempting to remain philosophical about it, he explains how he tries to tune out the relentless fear coming out of the TV and keep control of his own mental state. “I don’t want to be dependent on these kind of things to be happy.” But the sense of alienation and unease is palpable. What will the future look like? He is supposed to be performing in Paris before Christmas; who knows if he will get there.

It’s a “brain fuck”, says Mia’s partner, Christopher

Back in the old town, alongside the fancy boutiques of the Kärntner Straße, it’s a very different world. Affluent shoppers are out and about in the crisp November air, and they are more than happy to share their views with us.

“I think it comes much too late,” says one woman. “They’re crazy. All the trouble we have is due to those people that believe in, I don’t know, that the earth is flat… If the majority of society depends on idiots, then they can’t be helped and it’s the end of society!”

Her view is typical — there is very little sympathy here, and a good deal of frustration. Only a few voices take the opposing view, and they tend to be passers-through more than the wealthy locals; the doormen and deliverymen we try to talk to just shake their heads. One man simply describes the latest lockdown as “bullshit”.

What is striking is that very few think the policy will actually work. Covid levels per capita have shot up in recent weeks, and Austria now has one of the highest case rates in Europe. The rationale behind the lockdown is that it will increase the level of vaccination (low for a Western European country at 65%); but even supporters of the move predict that it will be followed up by more universal measures soon enough. The Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg openly explains that the policy is a heavy-handed “nudge”: “My aim is very clear: to get the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, not to lock up the unvaccinated,” he told ORF radio station.

On a practical level, though, the logic of the new rules does not withstand much scrutiny: unvaccinated workers are permitted to travel to and from work, and they work disproportionately within the hospitality sector. This means that they are currently allowed into restaurants and bars to serve, but not to consume. In any case, if there were only vaccinated people in a venue, that wouldn’t necessarily make it Covid-free. Many places require daily testing for non-vaccinated staff, yet not for the vaccinated, leading to the odd situation where the unvaccinated are “safer” than the patrons.

It feels like a bit of a stand-off. The vaccine issue has become a show of strength, a test of principles. As Ivan Krastev, a political scientist at Vienna’s Institute for Human Sciences, tells me: “When some of the anti-vaccine people said, ‘we are ready to defend our freedoms’, the basic message of the Government was, ‘Okay, let’s see what price you are ready to pay for them.’ The idea of this measure is to make people uncomfortable.”

Ivan Krastev: “the government wants to make people uncomfortable”

One peculiar feature of this dramatic new measure is the silence of the liberals. Why are the bien-pensant Viennese, usually so concerned with the rights of minorities, so relaxed about a measure that in other contexts would seem outrageously draconian?

Somersaults of logic have been performed to assert that the policy is more liberal than the alternatives. For one thing, they say, it stops short of an actual vaccine mandate, which just about keeps alive the notion of personal choice; for the majority, it offers the hope of avoiding another lockdown, so seems to them to be a lesser intervention. And, unlike in neighbouring Italy, the unvaccinated can still work, with tests being provided at public expense. In Austria, across the West, there is no one left to assert the rights, or even try to understand the motivations of this despised minority, the anti-vaxxers. They are the new deplorables.

 
 

To interrogate this seeming contradiction, I visit Professor Manfred Nowak, one of Europe’s pre-eminent human rights lawyers, at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He has dedicated his whole life to the upholding of human rights and the defence of oppressed minorities against arbitrary detention and mistreatment. Former Special Rapporteur to the UN on Torture, current Secretary-General of the European Campus of Human Rights, activist against Guantanamo Bay, UN Independent Expert on Children Deprived of Liberty — the list continues. I expect him to be a little concerned about the potential direction of travel in his home country of Austria.

He wasn’t. He thinks the policy doesn’t go far enough. “From a human rights perspective, you always have to balance the obligation to protect the right to life, the right to health, with interfering with other rights such as personal liberty,” he tells me.

He wants to make vaccination mandatory, with refusal equivalent to a traffic offence, resulting in a fine rather than a criminal record. He is also worried about how this partial lockdown might affect an already divided society — but he is unconcerned about the human rights or civil liberties implications. Do you not even have a twinge of anxiety about the shift in democratic norms, or whether such discriminatory policy might be applied in different settings, I ask? “No, not really,” he says, with admirable candour.

Manfred Nowak, an eminent human rights professor: “vaccination should be mandatory”

The final component in this lockdown mix is, of course, politics. In most European countries there are no mainstream political parties that could be described as “anti-vaccine”, but Austria has the populist, right-wing Freedom Party, which was part of the coalition government until 2019; it has made vaccination choice a central issue. The FPÖ organises regular rallies in cities around Austria, and its new leader Herbert Kickl is gaining popularity by condemning Covid policies as “corona fascism”.

Having thus turned vaccine hesitancy into a “right-wing” political campaign, Kickl has managed to put a face to the dissenting minority — and it’s not one that many people like. As a result, instead of thinking of the unvaccinated as a vulnerable, if misguided, group and one worthy of protection and respect, they have become viewed as an extreme political enemy who must be defeated.

It would be hard to think of anyone less threatening or extreme than Mia and Chris. Alternative, certainly; anti-establishment, yes. But good people who in any healthy, confident culture would be cherished and celebrated. Allowing them, and millions like them, to drift into a caste of untouchables, separated from the mainstream, all for the sake of a marginal gain against a virus that is rapidly becoming endemic, may prove to be a grave miscalculation with effects that will be felt for years to come.

https://unherd.com/2021/11/inside-the-austrian-lockdown/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=7c4e768f15&mc_eid=0ff3e7ea29

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The January 6 Insurrection Hoax – Imprimis

The January 6 Insurrection Hoax

Roger Kimball
Editor and Publisher, The New Criterion


Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. He earned his B.A. from Bennington College and his M.A. and M.Phil. in philosophy from Yale University. He has written for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Book Review, and is a columnist for The Spectator World, American Greatness, and The Epoch Times. He is editor or author of several books, including The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, and Vox Populi: The Perils and Promises of Populism.


The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on September 20, 2021, during a Center for Constructive Alternatives conference on “Critical American Elections.”

Notwithstanding all the hysterical rhetoric surrounding the events of January 6, 2021, two critical things stand out. The first is that what happened was much more hoax than insurrection. In fact, in my judgment, it wasn’t an insurrection at all.

An “insurrection,” as the dictionary will tell you, is a violent uprising against a government or other established authority. Unlike the violent riots that swept the country in the summer of 2020—riots that caused some $2 billion in property damage and claimed more than 20 lives—the January 6 protest at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. lasted a few hours, caused minimal damage, and the only person directly killed was an unarmed female Trump supporter who was shot by a Capitol Police officer. It was, as Tucker Carlson said shortly after the event, a political protest that “got out of hand.”

At the rally preceding the events in question, Donald Trump had suggested that people march to the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically”—these were his exact words—in order to make their voices heard. He did not incite a riot; he stirred up a crowd. Was that, given the circumstances, imprudent? Probably. Was it an effort to overthrow the government? Hardly.

I know this is not the narrative that we have all been instructed to parrot. Indeed, to listen to the establishment media and our political masters, the January 6 protest was a dire threat to the very fabric of our nation: the worst assault on “our democracy” since 9/11, since Pearl Harbor, and even—according to Joe Biden last April—since the Civil War! 

Note that phrase “our democracy”: Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and various talking heads have repeated it ad nauseam. But you do not need an advanced degree in hermeneutics to understand that what they mean by “our democracy” is their oligarchy. Similarly, when Pelosi talks about “the people’s house,” she doesn’t mean a house that welcomes riff-raff like you and me.

I just alluded to Ashli Babbitt, the unarmed supporter of Donald Trump who was shot and killed on January 6. Her fate brings me to the second critical thing to understand about the January 6 insurrection hoax. Namely, that it was not a stand-alone event. 

On the contrary, what happened that afternoon, and what happened afterwards, is only intelligible when seen as a chapter in the long-running effort to discredit and, ultimately, to dispose of Donald Trump—as well as what Hillary Clinton might call the “deplorable” populist sentiment that brought Trump to power. 

In other words, to understand the January 6 insurrection hoax, you also have to understand that other long-running hoax, the Russia collusion hoax. The story of that hoax begins back in 2015, when the resources of the federal government were first mobilized to spy on the Trump campaign, to frame various people close to Trump, and eventually to launch a full-throated criminal investigation of the Trump administration. 

From before Trump took office, the Russia collusion hoax was used as a pretext to create a parallel administration shadowing the elected administration. Remember the Steele dossier, the fantastical document confected by the “well-regarded” former British spy Christopher Steele? We know now that it was the only relevant predicate for ordering FISA warrants to spy on Carter Page and other American citizens. 

But in truth, the Steele dossier was just opposition dirt covertly paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. From beginning to end, it was a tissue of lies and fabrications. Everyone involved knew all along it was garbage—rumors and fantasies fed to a gullible Steele by shady Russian sources. But it was nonetheless used to deploy, illegally, the awesome coercive power of the state against a presidential candidate of whom the ruling bureaucracy and its favored candidate disapproved. 

The public learned that the Democratic National Committee paid for the manufactured evidence only because of a court order. James Comey, the disgraced former director of the FBI, publicly denied knowing who paid for it, but emails from a year earlier prove that he knew all along. And what was the penalty for lying in Comey’s case? He got a huge book deal and toured the country denouncing Trump to the gleeful satisfaction of his anti-Trump audiences. 

What was true of Comey was also true of the entire intelligence apparat, from former CIA Director John Brennan to Congressman Adam Schiff and other Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee to senior members of the FBI. All these people said publicly that they had seen clear evidence of collusion with Russia. But they admitted under oath behind closed doors that they hadn’t.

General Michael Flynn, Trump’s original National Security Advisor, had his career ruined and was bankrupted as part of this political vendetta. Meanwhile James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, John Brennan, Peter Strzok, and all the rest of the crew at the FBI, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies suffered nothing. When it came to light that an FBI lawyer altered an email in order to help get a FISA warrant—in other words, that he doctored evidence to spy on a political opponent, which is a felony—he got probation.

The recent news that Special Counsel John Durham is indicting Michael Sussman, a lawyer who covertly worked for the Clinton campaign and lied to the FBI, is welcome news. But it seems like small beer given the rampant higher-level corruption that saturated the Russia collusion hoax.

At least 74 million citizens voted for Donald Trump in 2020, which is at least 11 million more than voted for him in 2016. Many of those voters are profoundly disillusioned and increasingly angry about this entire story—the years-long Robert Mueller “investigation,” the two impeachments of President Trump, the cloud of unknowing that surrounds the 2020 election, and the many questions that have emerged not only from the January 6 protest at the Capitol, but even more from the government’s response to that protest.

Which brings me back to Ashli Babbitt, the long-serving Air Force veteran who was shot and killed by a nervous Capitol Police officer. Babbitt was a useful prop when the media was in overdrive describing the January 6 events as an “armed insurrection” in which wild Trump supporters, supposedly at Trump’s instigation, attacked the Capitol with the intention of overturning the 2020 election.

According to that narrative, five people, including Babbitt, died in the skirmish. Moreover, it was said, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was bludgeoned to death by a raging Trump supporter wielding a fire extinguisher. That gem of a story about the fire extinguisher, reported in our former paper of record, The New York Times, was instantly picked up by other media outlets and spread like a Chinese virus. 

Of course, it is absolutely critical to the Democratic Party narrative that the January 6 incident be made to seem as violent and crazed as possible. Hence the comparisons to 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Civil War. Only thus can pro-Trump Americans be excluded from “our democracy” by being branded as “domestic extremists” if not, indeed, “domestic terrorists.”

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution accords American citizens the right to a speedy trial. But most of the political prisoners of January 6—many of whom have been kept in solitary confinement—are still waiting to be brought to trial. And although the media was full of predictions that they would be found guilty of criminal sedition, none has. 

Indeed, the prosecution’s cases seem to be falling apart. Most of the hundreds who have been arrested are being charged with trespassing. Another charge being leveled against them is “disrupting an official proceeding.” This is a felony charge designed not for ceremonial procedures like the January 6 certification of the vote, but rather for disrupting Congressional inquiries—for example, by shredding documents relevant to a Congressional investigation. It originated during the George W. Bush administration to deal with the Enron case.

The indisputable fact about January 6 is that although five people died at or near the Capitol on that day or soon thereafter, none of these deaths was brought about by the protesters. The shot fired by Capitol Police Officer Michael Byrd that hit Ashli Babbitt in the neck and killed her was the only shot fired at the Capitol that day. No guns were recovered from the Capitol on January 6. Zero.

The liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald further diminished the “armed insurrection” narrative in an important column last February titled “The False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot.” The title says it all. Kevin Greeson, Greenwald notes, was killed not by the protesters but died of a heart attack outside the Capitol. Benjamin Philips, the founder of a pro-Trump website called Trumparoo, died of a stroke that day. Rosanne Boyland, another Trump supporter, was reported by The New York Times to have been inadvertently “killed in a crush of fellow rioters during their attempt to fight through a police line.” But later video shows that, far from that, the police pushed protesters on top of Boyland and would not allow other protesters to pull her out.

Four of the five who died, then, were pro-Trump protesters. And the fifth? Well, that was Officer Sicknick—also a Trump supporter, as it turned out—who, contrary to the false report gone viral of The New York Times, went home, told his family he felt fine, but died a day later from, as The Washington Post eventually and grudgingly reported, “natural causes.” No fire extinguishers were involved in his demise.

***

The January 6 insurrection hoax prompts lots of questions.

Why, for example, did the government mobilize 26,000 federal troops from all across the country to surround “the people’s house” following January 6? Why were those troops subjected to FBI vetting, with some of them sent packing? 

Why is there some 14,000 hours of video footage of the event on January 6 that the government refuses to release? What are they afraid of letting the public see? More scenes of security guards actually opening doors and politely ushering in protesters? More pictures of FBI informants covertly salted among the crowd?

My own view is that turning Washington into an armed camp was mostly theater. There was no threat that the Washington police could not have handled. But it was also a show of force and an act of intimidation. The message was: “We’re in charge now, rubes, and don’t you forget it.”

In truth, there is little threat of domestic terror in this country. But there is plenty of domestic conservatism. And that conservatism is the real focus of the establishment’s ire.

It is important to note that while the government provides the muscle for this war on dissent, the elite culture at large is a willing accomplice. Consider, for example, the open letter, signed by more than 500 “publishing professionals” (authors, editors, designers, and so on), calling on the industry to reject books written by anyone who had anything to do with the Trump administration. 

These paragons pledged to do whatever they could to stop “enriching the monsters among us.” But here’s their problem: over 74 million people voted for Trump. That’s a lot of monsters. 

Many people have been quoting Benjamin Franklin’s famous response when asked what sort of government they had come up with at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. “A republic,” Franklin said, “if you can keep it.” Right now, it looks like we can’t. It looks as if the American constitutional republic has given way, as least temporarily, to an American oligarchy. 

As the years go by, historians, if the censors allow them access to the documents and give them leave to publish their findings, may well count the 2016 presidential election as the last fair and open democratic election in U.S. history. I know we are not supposed to say that. I know that the heads of Twitter and Facebook and other woke guardians of the status quo call this view “The Big Lie” and do all they can to suppress it. But every honest person knows that the 2020 election was tainted.

The forces responsible for the taint had tried before. Hitherto, their efforts had met with only limited success. But a perfect storm of forces conspired to make 2020 the first oligarchic installation of a president. It would not have happened, I think, absent the panic over the Chinese virus. But that panic, folded in a lover’s embrace by the Democratic establishment, was not only a splendid pretext to clamp down on civil liberties; it also provided an inarguable excuse to alter the rules for elections in several key states.

“Inarguable” is not quite the right word. There could have been plenty of arguments, and many lawsuits, against the way the executive branches in these states usurped the constitutionally guaranteed prerogative of state legislatures to set the election rules when they intervened to allow massive mail-in voting. But the Trump administration, though foreseeing and complaining about the executive interventions, did too little too late to make a difference. 

Among the many sobering realities that the 2020 election brought home is that in our current and particular form of oligarchy, the people do have a voice, but it is a voice that is everywhere pressured, cajoled, shaped, and bullied. The people also have a choice, but only among a roster of candidates approved by the elite consensus. 

The central fact to appreciate about Donald Trump is that he was elected president without the permission, and over the incredulous objections, of the bipartisan oligarchy that governs us. That was his unforgivable offense. Trump was the greatest threat in history to the credentialed class and the globalist administrative state upon which they feed. Representatives of that oligarchy tried for four years to destroy Trump. Remember that the first mention of impeachment came 19 minutes after his inauguration, an event that was met not only by a widespread Democratic boycott and hysterical claims by Nancy Pelosi and others that the election had been hijacked, but also by riots in Washington, D.C. that saw at least six policemen injured, numerous cars torched, and other property destroyed. 

You will search in vain for media or other ruling class denunciations of that violence, or for bulletins from corporate America advising their customers of their solidarity with the newly-installed Trump administration. As the commentator Howie Carr noted, some riots are more equal than others. Some get you the approval of people like Nancy Pelosi and at least the grudging acceptance of oligarchs of the other party. Others get the FBI sweeping the country for “domestic terrorists” and the lords of Big Tech canceling people who defend the protesters’ cause.

Someday—maybe someday soon—this witches’ sabbath, this festival of scapegoating, and what George Orwell called the “hideous ecstasy” of hate will be at an end. Perhaps someday people will be aghast, and some will be ashamed, of what they did to the President of the United States and people who supported him: the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, for instance, proposing to put Senator Ted Cruz on a “no fly” list, and Simon & Schuster canceling Senator Josh Hawley’s book contract. 

Donald Trump is the Emmanuel Goldstein (the designated principal enemy of the totalitarian state Oceania in Orwell’s 1984) of the movement. But minor public enemies are legion. Anyone harboring “Trumpist” inclinations is suspect, hence the widespread calls for “deprogramming” Trump’s supporters, who are routinely said to be “marching toward sedition.”

Michael Barone, one of our most perceptive political commentators, got it right when he wrote of the rapid movement “from impeaching incitement to canceling conservatism.” That is the path our oligarchs are inviting us to travel now, criminalizing political dissent and transforming policy differences into a species of heresy. You don’t debate heretics, after all. You seek to destroy them.

Donald Trump’s accomplishments as president were nothing less than stunning. Trump was, and is, a rude force of nature. He accomplished an immense amount. But he lacked one thing. Some say it was self-discipline or finesse. I agree with a friend of mine who suggested that Trump’s critical flaw was a deficit in guile. That sounds odd, no doubt, since Trump is supposed to be the tough guy who mastered “the art of the deal.” But I think my friend is probably right. Trump seems never to have discerned what a viper’s nest our politics has become for anyone who is not a paid-up member of The Club. 

Maybe Trump understands this now. I have no insight into that question. I am pretty confident, though, that the 74 plus million people who voted for him understand it deeply. It’s another reason that The Club should be wary of celebrating its victory too expansively. 

Friedrich Hayek took one of the two epigraphs for his book, The Road to Serfdom, from the philosopher David Hume. “It is seldom,” Hume wrote, “that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” Much as I admire Hume, I wonder whether he got this quite right. Sometimes, I would argue, liberty is erased almost instantaneously.

I’d be willing to wager that Joseph Hackett, confronted with Hume’s observation, would express similar doubts. I would be happy to ask Mr. Hackett myself, but he is inaccessible. If the ironically titled “Department of Justice” has its way, he will be inaccessible for a long, long time—perhaps as long as 20 years. 

Joseph Hackett, you see, is a 51-year-old Trump supporter and member of an organization called the Oath Keepers, a group whose members have pledged to “defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” The FBI does not like the Oath Keepers—agents arrested its leader in January and have picked up many other members in the months since. Hackett traveled to Washington from his home in Florida to join the January 6 rally. According to court documents, he entered the Capitol at 2:45 that afternoon and left some nine minutes later, at 2:54. The next day, he went home. On May 28, he was apprehended by the FBI and indicted on a long list of charges, including conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and illegally entering a restricted building. 

As far as I have been able to determine, no evidence of Hackett destroying property has come to light. According to his wife, it is not even clear that he entered the Capitol. But he certainly was in the environs. He was a member of the Oath Keepers. He was a supporter of Donald Trump. Therefore, he must be neutralized.

Joseph Hackett is only one of hundreds of citizens who have been branded as “domestic terrorists” trying to “overthrow the government” and who are now languishing, in appalling conditions, jailed as political prisoners of an angry state apparat.

Hayek’s overriding concern in The Road to Serfdom was to combat the forces that were pushing people further along that road to servitude. His chief concern was unchecked state power. In a new preface to the book’s 1956 edition, Hayek noted that one of its “main points” was to document how “extensive government control produces a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.”

 “This means,” Hayek wrote, “that even a strong tradition of political liberty is no safeguard if the danger is precisely that new institutions and policies will gradually undermine and destroy that spirit.”

 This dismal situation, Hayek continues, can be averted, but only if the spirit of liberty “reasserts itself in time and the people not only throw out the party which has been leading them further and further in the dangerous direction but also recognize the nature of the danger and resolutely change their course.”

Note the power of that little word “if.” It was not so long ago that an American could contemplate totalitarian regimes and say, “Thank God we’ve escaped that.” It’s not at all clear that we can entertain that happy conviction any longer. 

That’s one melancholy lesson of the January 6 insurrection hoax: that America is fast mutating from a republic, in which individual liberty is paramount, into an oligarchy, in which conformity is increasingly demanded and enforced.

Another lesson was perfectly expressed by Donald Trump when he reflected on the unremitting tsunami of hostility that he faced as President. “They’re after you,” he more than once told his supporters. “I’m just in the way.”

Bingo.

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School Boards Ask Biden Admin to Treat Parents’ Protests as ‘Domestic Terrorism’

Why would the school boards not stop and consider WHY the parents are ‘protesting’ and trying to influence what is happening in the schools? mrossol

The Epoch Times  10/1/2021   By GQ Pan

The national organization of public school boards is calling on the Biden administration to protect its members from “angry mobs” of parents who protest against COVID-19 restrictions placed on students and the teaching of critical race theory, characterizing the protests as “domestic terrorism.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA), which represents more than 90,000 school board members in the United States, wrote in a Sept. 29 letter (pdf) to President Joe Biden that the federal government must “deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”

The letter moves on to cite incidents of “threats or actual acts of violence” against school leaders, alleging that parents who sought to express their opposition to mask and COVID-19 vaccination policies have been “inciting chaos” during school board meetings. It also denies critical race theory is being taught in classrooms, and describes parents’ attempts to hold school board members accountable by posting watchlists online as “spreading misinformation.”

“As these threats and acts of violence have become more prevalent,” the letter claims, “NSBA respectfully asks that a joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and with public school officials be undertaken to focus on these threats.”

Specifically, the NSBA asked that federal agencies such as FBI, the Secret Services, and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security “investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence” by whatever “extraordinary measures” necessary.

 

“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crime,” the NSBA argued in the letter, encouraging the federal agencies to use laws designed to target domestic terrorism, such as the PATRIOT Act, to address the issue.

The group also asked Biden to direct the U.S. Postal Service to filter “threatening letters” and intervene in “cyberbullying attacks” that target students, teachers, and school leaders.

The call for support comes days after the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) made a similar request, arguing that the federal government needs give school leaders the authority to expel “threatening individuals” from their schools.

“At the very least, we need the U.S. Department of Education to issue specific guidance on the authority school leaders have to protect themselves and our ability to remove or ban hostile parents and individuals from school grounds who threaten our safety,” said NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe in a Sept. 16 statement.

https://www.theepochtimes.com/

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The Lab-Leak-Theory Cover-Up – James B. Meigs, Commentary Magazine

July/August 2021

‘Someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not yet here,” a writer named Apoorva Mandavilli recently posted on Twitter. It would have been easy to scroll right past the comment—Twitter is full of people ranting about COVID and calling everyone racist—but for the writer’s Twitter bio: “Reporter @nytimes on mainly #covid19.” Later that day, the Times reporter took down her tweet, saying it had been “badly phrased.” The day in question was May 26, 2021. The mounting evidence that the COVID-19 coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, rather than spontaneously emerging from nature, had become the hottest topic in journalism and potentially the most consequential science story in a generation.

If researchers had manipulated the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be more virulent, and then that virus had escaped the lab, it would mean the pandemic was arguably the worst manmade disaster in history. (A slightly less creepy—but still horrifying—possibility: COVID-19 is caused by a naturally occurring virus that happened to leak while being studied at the Wuhan Institute.) Many observers have compared the accident to the Chernobyl meltdown, another high-tech screw-up compounded by government deceit. But, with a global death toll likely to approach 4 million, a Wuhan lab leak, if it did in fact occur, would be perhaps 10,000 times deadlier than the Ukraine nuclear accident.

For a science journalist, helping figure out the true genesis of this catastrophe would be the opportunity of a lifetime. And yet here was one of the New York Times’ top pandemic reporters fretting that too many people were interested in the question. In a way, you can understand her frustration. Elite institutions and media outlets had been trying to get people to “stop talking about the lab leak theory” for over a year. From their perspective, the issue was raised by the wrong sort of people—including Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton and President Donald Trump—and giving the story oxygen might mean lending credence to conservative talking points. Moreover, focusing on China’s sloppy research practices and possible cover-up would distract the public from the media’s preferred COVID narratives: Trump’s incompetence, racial injustice, and red-state recklessness. Desperate to avoid those risks, media outlets, health organizations, government agencies, even the scientific community labored seemingly in concert to discount the lab-leak possibility and discredit anyone who raised it.

But, to the frustration of gatekeepers like Mandavilli, evidence that COVID-19 did originate at the Wuhan Institute of Virology keeps getting stronger. In recent months, there has been one bombshell disclosure after another. Even some scientists who initially pooh-poohed the idea are now demanding an investigation.

The dam is breaking. And with the surging floodwaters, comes a stunning realization: Almost across the board, our elite institutions got the most important question about COVID wrong. Worse, they worked furiously to discourage anyone else from getting it right. The leading scientific experts turned out to be spinning the truth. Our public-health officials put their political agenda ahead of any scientific mandate. And the press and social-media giants eagerly played along, enforcing strict rules about which COVID topics were acceptable and which had to be banished from the national conversation.

During the Trump years, we heard a lot of hand-wringing about the public’s unwarranted “distrust” of our society’s designated experts and leaders. But to be trusted, people and institutions have to be trustworthy. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a profound corruption at the heart of our expert class. The impact of that revelation will reverberate for years to come.

Interestingly, the idea that the virus might have leaked from a lab wasn’t particularly controversial in the early weeks of the pandemic. Initially, no one thought it was “racist” to note the coincidence that a disease caused by a virus similar to ones found in Chinese bats just happened to emerge at the doorstep of the world’s top laboratory devoted to studying…Chinese bat viruses. But once Senator Cotton brought up the possibility in a January 2020 Senate hearing, the lab-leak notion had to be squelched.

Our country’s most esteemed media outlets moved as one. First, they twisted Cotton’s question. He had said we should investigate whether an accidental leak had occurred. But the Washington Post suggested that Cotton had called COVID-19 a deliberately released bioweapon. It was all downhill from there: Politifact labelled that idea a “pants-on-fire” lie. The Post accused the senator of “fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has already been debunked by experts.” Slate attributed the notion to “good old-fashioned racism.”

Overnight, the self-appointed fact-checkers all agreed that the lab-leak question was “a lunatic conspiracy theory,” as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting put it last year. Of course, that meant anyone who raised the question couldn’t simply be searching for the truth—such a person had to have a political agenda. When Trump mentioned “the theory from the lab,” last April, CNN’s John Harwood concluded that the president was “looking for ways to deflect blame for the performance of his administration.” In an interview on CBS, China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, showed a surgical deftness in manipulating elite American opinion: He cagily warned that pursuing lab-leak questions “will fan up racial discrimination, xenophobia.”

Our leading institutions took their cue, universally declaring that the Wuhan theory wasn’t just incorrect but dangerous and malicious. The World Health Organization called the spread of the idea an “infodemic” of misinformation. Social-media platforms tweaked their algorithms to ensure that these dangerous notions wouldn’t infect the defenseless population. When a New York Post opinion writer raised the possibility of a lab leak, Facebook slapped a “False Information” alert on the piece and made it impossible to share. Facebook also warned it would throttle the accounts of any users who persisted in spreading such wrongthink, ensuring that any dissenters from the approved COVID talking points would fade into the social-media background.


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It almost worked.

For nearly a year, mainstream news outlets barely mentioned the lab-leak hypothesis (except to ridicule it). The scientific community, too, largely banished the topic. In February 2020, a group of 27 eminent virologists had published a statement in the influential medical journal the Lancet, soundly rejecting the idea that the virus might have emerged from a lab rather than passing to humans from bats or some other animal. “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the scientists wrote. One of the organizers of that letter was Peter Daszak, an epidemiologist and president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a group that helps distribute federal grant money to researchers studying viruses. Not surprisingly, discussions about a potential lab leak tapered off dramatically. Working scientists’ careers depend on getting their papers published and winning research grants. How many want to contradict the biggest names in their fields? Only later did it emerge that Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had funneled some U.S. government research money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak’s efforts to shut down debate on the question of that lab’s role in the disaster entailed a massive conflict of interest.

Perhaps most disturbing was the response of the U.S. intelligence community. Two different teams in the U.S. government—one working out of the State Department, the other under the direction of the National Security Council—were tasked with examining the origins of the outbreak. According to a blockbuster investigation by Vanity Fair reporter Katherine Eban, those researchers faced intense pushback from within their own bureaucracies. Four former State Department officials told Eban they had been repeatedly advised “not to open a ‘Pandora’s Box.’”

In particular, they were urged not to reveal the role the U.S. government might have played in helping fund the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s controversial “gain-of-function” projects. Gain-of-function research involves manipulating potentially dangerous viruses to see if they might more easily infect human cells. Advocates, including Peter Daszak, say the process can help scientists anticipate future outbreaks and possibly develop vaccines. Critics say, “It’s like looking for a gas leak with a lighted match,” as Rutgers professor of chemistry and chemical biology Richard Ebright told Eban. Either way, the possibility that U.S. research grants might have helped finance the creation of a super-virus was a revelation some members of the intelligence establishment were loath to see exposed.

Despite the resistance, the State Department team uncovered some stunning intelligence supporting the leak hypothesis. In particular, researchers discovered that three WIV scientists studying coronaviruses had fallen ill in November 2019 and had gone to the hospital with COVID-like symptoms. The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 began erupting around Wuhan less than a month later. In the chaotic last days of the Trump administration, the State Department released a vague statement about its Wuhan finding, but the news didn’t gain much traction at the time. Then the incoming Biden administration promptly disbanded the State Department’s Wuhan team.

The whole investigation into COVID-19’s origins might have petered out at that moment. The story of why the line of inquiry survived is not an account of leading scientists and health organizations dutifully parsing the evidence. Instead, it is largely the story of little-known researchers—many working outside the bounds of elite institutions—who didn’t let the political implications of their findings derail their efforts. Much of what we know today about the Wuhan Institute’s risky research is thanks to these independent skeptics who challenged the institutional consensus. Some risked their careers to do so.

One key group was an international assortment of independent researchers—few of whom were established virologists—that self-assembled on the Internet. The group called itself the Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19, or DRASTIC. The name made them sound like a band of online gamers, but the group diligently uncovered a series of damning facts. Defenders of the Wuhan Institute often describe the lab as a virtually fail-safe Biosafety Level 4 facility. But one DRASTIC researcher discovered that much of the work at the Wuhan lab was performed at lower levels—BSL-3 or even BSL-2, a degree of protection similar to that in a dentist’s office. Another showed that SARS viruses had previously leaked from China’s top research labs with alarming regularity. “The DRASTIC people are doing better research than the U.S. government,” a State Department investigator told Vanity Fair.

Alina Chan, a young molecular biologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, was particularly fearless in challenging the premature consensus laid down by the elders in her field. She zeroed in on the virus’s genetic structure. If the virus had gradually evolved to target humans, those changes should have left traces in the genome. Instead, SARS-CoV-2 appeared “pre-adapted to human transmission,” she wrote in May 2020. Other researchers confirmed that the virus contains a particular genomic sequence that doesn’t typically occur naturally in this family of viruses but that is commonly inserted during gain-of-function research. By early 2021, these sorts of revelations were building into a compelling argument that the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab. Meanwhile, researchers trying to find the natural “reservoir” of the virus—in bats or some other animal—were coming up shockingly empty.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve often heard admonitions to “follow the science.” Looking back we can see that few scientists—and even fewer journalists—really did. 60 Minutes, which aired a skeptical report on the WHO’s milquetoast COVID-origin investigation, was a rare exception. But most journalists who aggressively pursued the Wuhan story tended to work slightly outside the mainstream. In January 2021, Nicholson Baker—a novelist, rather than an established science writer—published “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis” in New York magazine. In May, former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade published a massively detailed argument for the theory on the self-publishing website Medium. Wade (who has faced criticism on the left for his writings on genetics and race) quoted Nobel Prize–winning microbiologist David Baltimore saying that a specific genetic modification at the virus’s “furin cleavage site” was “the smoking gun for the origin of the virus.” Two weeks later, Donald G. McNeil Jr.—who was humiliatingly forced out of the Times last year due to his perceived violations of woke etiquette—posted on Medium a piece entitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lab-Leak Theory.”

Notice the irony here: While two refugees from the New York Times were publishing deep, well-reported articles on an alternative outlet, the Times itself was still mostly ignoring the Wuhan-lab story. And one of its current pandemic specialists, Apoorva Mandavilli, was on Twitter urging everyone to “stop talking about the lab leak.” Fortunately, people didn’t stop talking. The lab-leak hypothesis had moved into the mainstream. Scientists and journalists could finally discuss it without fear of excommunication. Facing mounting pressure, the Biden administration reversed course on May 26, announcing it had asked U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the “two likely scenarios” for the virus’s origin. But so much damage had already been done.

When the pandemic hit last year, we were all urged to fall in line and listen to the authorities. Scientists and bureaucrats were elevated to near-divine status. “Let us pray, now, for science,” Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote last February. “Pray for reason, rigor and expertise…. Pray for the N.I.H. and the C.D.C. Pray for the W.H.O.” Now the public is waking up to the fact that, prayers notwithstanding, those institutions largely failed us. The WHO kowtowed to China’s deceptions. Anthony Fauci trimmed his public statements to fit the prevailing political winds. Some of the nation’s top virologists didn’t just dismiss the lab-leak possibility, they appeared to be covering up their own involvement with Wuhan gain-of-function research. Journalists and social-media companies conspired to suppress legitimate questions about a disease that was killing thousands of Americans each day.

We may never get complete confirmation that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute; certainly, China will never allow an honest investigation. But the idea that the virus resulted from scientific research—and that some U.S. scientists then tried to hide their involvement—is already gaining acceptance with the public. How will Americans react to this perceived betrayal? Not well, I’m afraid. “We may very well see the expert-worshiping values of modern liberalism go up in a fireball of public anger,” writes Thomas Frank. The financial crisis of 2008 triggered widespread suspicion of elite institutions and free markets, burning over political ground that eventually became fertile for both Bernie Sanders and Trump. If the public concludes that COVID-19 was, in effect, an inside job, the political fallout could last a generation. I don’t mean people will believe the virus was deliberately released—although far too many will embrace that idea—but that they will see the disease as a product of an elite power structure that behaves recklessly and evades responsibility.

It would be tempting to cheer on a populist uprising against elite expertise and institutions. But that would be a tragic mistake. The vast majority of scientists, health-care institutions—even many public officials—did vital heroic work during the pandemic. Just look at those miraculous vaccines! Moreover, we can’t survive in a complex and dangerous world without expertise. Replacing today’s expert class with conspiracy theorists, anti-vax charlatans, and populist mountebanks might satisfy the public’s anger for a time. But it would only make our society more vulnerable—to domestic unrest, pandemics, you name it. Can we reform the institutions that failed us? Can they reform themselves, perhaps to be more humble, more attuned to facts and less focused on power? I wish I could say I’m optimistic.

https://www.commentary.org/articles/james-meigs/lab-leak-theory-cover-up/?fbclid=IwAR1HHKpHDFgS7r4khGStJ1VFqnfiAk36G_ME4_e6US2CazVhdIUCLtmnBhY

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