Washington Republican under fire for setting out ‘Biblical Basis for War’

Matt Shea speaks at a gun rights rally in Olympia, Washington on 13 January 2017.

The Washington state Republican Matt Shea was this week abandoned by donors, over a document he distributed which condemned abortion and same-sex marriage while outlining a “Biblical Basis for War”.

Regarding opponents, the minority caucus chair in the Washington state house wrote: “If they do not yield – kill all males.”

Shea is seeking a fifth term as representative for district four, centred on the Spokane Valley. Amid rising concern over far-right invective, particularly over immigration, and its relevance to violent attacks such as the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last week, the case brought him to national attention. Now, new information has emerged about his beliefs and associations on the far right.

Shea’s oft-expressed belief that Muslims and leftists are organizing “counter-states” within the US appears to have been sourced from a conspiracy-minded seven-page memo by Rich Higgins, a national security council staffer in the Trump administration who was fired in July 2017 after the document became public.

Shea has promoted versions of Higgins’ claim that “the hard left is aligned with Islamist organizations at local … national … and international levels”, and its claim of links between “‘deep state’ actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists and establishment Republicans”.

Higgins also alleges such groups believe that “for their visions to succeed, America … must be destroyed” and Donald Trump removed from office.

According to Higgins, the broader aims of this “cabal” include “population control”, administered by “certain business cartels in league with cultural Marxists/corporatists/Islamists who will leverage Islamic terrorism in order to justify the creation of a police state”, and the maintenance of a high level of immigration.

Higgins also wrote that beneficiaries of supposed subversive activities include “international banking”, a term often used as an antisemitic codeword. The “cultural Marxism” narrative that underpins the document, meanwhile, has been described as inherently antisemitic, due to its baseless allegations of a subversive conspiracy among Jewish intellectuals of the Frankfurt school, with the aim of bringing down western civilization.

The conspiratorial overtones of the Higgins memo resonate with recent concerns about far-right discourse in the US.

Far-right claims about immigration have come under greater scrutiny since similar beliefs were expressed by Cesar Sayoc – the suspect in the sending of pipe bombs to prominent Trump critics including Barack Obama, the Clintons and the financier George Soros – and by Robert Bowers, who is charged with killing 11 people and wounding six at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The Higgins memo has been heavily promoted by groups like the John Birch Society (JBS), with which Shea has formed an apparent alliance.

Shea has hosted Alex Newman, a writer for the JBS magazine the New American, on his podcast. The two men shared a stage at last month’s New Code of the West conference in Whitefish, Montana, which also featured the leader of the 2016 Oregon wildlife refuge occupation, Ammon Bundy. Shea has promoted visits by Newman to the Spokane area. Newman has laudedShea’s speeches.

Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016.
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 Ammon Bundy speaks to reporters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

At the New Code of the West conference, Shea recommended his listeners read the Higgins memo.

“There are two counter-states that have been established in America,” he began. “Rich Higgins’ memo … is a must-read for everyone. Rich Higgins’ memo is tremendous.”

He then explained his belief that far-left “antifa” groups were cooperating with Muslims in subverting the US government.

The Higgins memo has also been promoted by members of the so-called “American Redoubt” movement, which encourages religious conservatives to relocate to the Pacific north-west. On the 29 October episode of Radio Free Redoubt, the host, who broadcasts under the pseudonym John Jacob Schmidt, read the memo in full.

Shea contributes a pre-recorded weekly message to Radio Free Redoubt, which also broadcasts on ACN, a Christian radio network in eastern Washington state. Shea’s campaign expenditure records show four monthly payments to ACN of $1,250 each.

‘A theocratic state’

Following a Rolling Stone story, Spokane resident Tanner Rowe released the “Biblical Basis for War” document on his Facebook page. Rowe showed the Guardian a version of another document which he said came from a January meeting of the Liberty State movement, which aims to create a new state in eastern Washington.

Another local man, Ian Pickett, said he attended a rally in Colville at which Shea spoke in support of Liberty State. Pickett said flyers were handed out under the heading “Stevens County Property Rights Group”. The flyer contained a list of policies to be pursued in the notional 51st state, he said, among them “open public lands”, “no gay marriage” and “no legalized marijuana”.

Since drawing attention to the flyers on social media, Pickett has been characterized by Shea as “antifa”. He said he had received threatening texts from disguised phone numbers and had been criticised several times on Radio Free Redoubt.

Rowe said he worked on Shea’s security detail in 2016, but had not spoken to him since 2017. He said he was given the “Biblical Basis for War” document by someone who attended an American Redoubt-related event at a hotel in 2014. Shea has acknowledged that he wrote the document, though he has disputed the interpretation of it as a “battle plan for when the government collapses”.

Rowe described his own politics as “libertarian” and “constitutionalist” and said he and Shea “share some beliefs”. But he said he supported liberty for all: “If you want to buy a gun, go buy a gun. If you’re gay, go and get married.” Shea’s involvement in plans to carve a 51st state out of eastern Washington, he said, was motivated by his wish for “a theocratic state”.

Spokane county sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, a longtime Shea critic and a Republican, pointed to the politician’s links with the Marble community in Stevens county, north of Spokane.

In a recent series of video podcasts, Knezovich alleged that Marble county was linked to the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. He also pointed to Shea’s relationship to the Coalition of Western States (Cows), a group of conservative legislators who involved themselves in the Malheur occupation in Oregon in January 2016.

Knezovich said Shea has been building a political machine. “They have a game plan of taking over local governments and they are steadily working towards that,” he said. He added: “Anyone who criticizes Matt Shea is immediately demonized, hounded and harassed.”

Asked if he thought Shea was a white supremacist, Knezovich said he could not say.

“But,” he added, “he does hang out with a whole bunch of people who are in that sphere.”

Shea’s opponent in Tuesday’s election, Ted Cummings, said that since the “Biblical Basis for War” document broke, donations had come in from around the US. The sums were not enormous, he said, but “the donations say that all across the country people are saying that we’re not letting hate take root”.

Over time, he added, “the campaign has shifted from issues like labor, jobs, and healthcare to Matt Shea’s fitness for office”.

Shea once called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people”. He did not respond to a request for comment.

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World of Warcraft: Classic will have staggered raid tiers

At a BlizzCon 2018 panel, Blizzard and game director Ion Hazzikostas revealed that World of Warcraft: Classic will not simply dump all of its content at once when it releases next year. Hazzikostas also referred to Classic as a “live game” to Polygon in an interview.

When World of Warcraft: Classic is first released next year, it’ll start with what Blizzard is calling stage one. Stage one is essentially what World of Warcraft was back in March of 2005. Players will have access to the Molten Core and Onyxia’s Lair raids. The Dire Maul three-wing dungeon and world bosses Lord Kazzak and Azuregos will be available as well.

Stage two will recreate July of 2005, and have the 40-player raid Blackwing Lair. Zul’Gurub — a raid that spawned a World of Warcraft pandemic — will also open in stage two. Stage three will bring Ahn’Qiraj and content around Silithus.

Hazzikostas was clear that the opening of Ahn’Qiraj will also be present in Classic — a famous world event from World of Warcraft’s past. Finally, stage four will bring the Naxxramas raid and the Scourge invasion world events.

Hazzikostas and the team stated that they don’t know exactly when these stages will release or how frequently players should expect the game to be updated. Players will be able to find out for themselves in the summer of 2019.

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Simone Biles wraps up remarkable worlds with fourth gold medal

Image result for Simone Biles wraps up remarkable worlds with fourth gold medal

Simone Biles returned to training in November, wondering if she could ever return to the form that made her an Olympic champion.

She doesn’t wonder anymore. Neither does anyone else.

The American star capped a remarkable 2018 world gymnastics championships by claiming gold on floor exercise and bronze on balance beam during event finals Saturday, giving her six medals for the meet and 20 overall in the world championships, tied with Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina for the most by a female gymnast.

“I think there’s a lot to be proud [of], but I’m most proud of that I’m here, I made all the event finals, medaled in all of the events, and I survived,” Biles said.

That wasn’t a guarantee when the meet began. Biles spent the night before qualifying in the hospital, dealing with pain from a kidney stone. The stone was too big to pass and she couldn’t take prescription pain medication because of doping regulations, forcing her to simply deal with it.

Biles did more than deal with it. She dominated.

The 21-year-old will head home to Houston with gold medals from the team final, all-around final, floor and vault, as well as silver on uneven bars and bronze on beam. She became the first woman to earn a medal in all four events since Yelena Shushunova did it for the Soviet Union in 1987.

Biles believes it’s just the beginning. She will visit with doctors to treat the kidney stone, go on a short vacation and then point toward 2019.

“Hopefully I feel more confident next year going into all of the events,” she said. “We’ll see about upgrades. I’m not sure. We’ll see.”

Biles finished a busy 10 days by drilling her floor routine, which includes intricate tumbling runs. Though she stepped out of bounds on her third pass, her score of 14.933 was a full point better than that of teammate Morgan Hurd, who earned her third medal of the meet by finishing with silver. Japan’s Mai Murakami took third.

Biles wasn’t quite as crisp on beam, an event that she has struggled with recently. She wobbled during qualifying and fell off during the all-around final. Though she managed to stay on during the event final, she found herself off balance on multiple occasions. Her score of 13.6 held up for bronze behind China’s Liu Tingting and Canada’s Ana Padurariu.

While allowing it wasn’t her best, Biles tweeted in between beam and floor exercise to chastise those who criticized her for not winning gold. It’s a move she felt was necessary.

“I think it’s upsetting to me whenever I see all the tweets after I do performances of how disappointed they are in me,” Biles said. “It’s not fair because they can’t set expectations on me. I have to set them for myself.”

And no one’s expectations are higher. Biles took herself to task after the all-around, unhappy with a series of uncharacteristic mistakes. She vowed to redeem herself in the event finals and responded by reaching the podium in all four events.

“I’m really happy to be done,” Biles said. “Proud of my performances here. I wish some of them would have been better, but I’m really proud of the outcome.”

So was Hurd, who won a team gold, bronze in the all-around and silver on floor, validating her breakthrough performance at the 2017 world championships when she became an unlikely champion.

“Oh, I wanted it so badly,” Hurd said. “Now I’ve got a full set.”

Five-time U.S. champion and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak, 26, picked up the first world championship medal of his career when he finished third in the high bar final behind Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands and Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, who boosted his career medal at worlds to 21.

Mikulak will settle with having just one for now.

“I made a statement to the world that Sam isn’t some washed-out gymnast that’s holding on,” Mikulak said. “He’s here to play, and he’s here to get medals.”

North Korea’s Ri Se Gwang picked up his third world title on vault. Men’s all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan earned silver while Japan’s Kenzo Shirai took bronze. China’s Zou Jingyuan captured gold on parallel bars with a score of 16.433 — the highest on any apparatus by a man during the meet — while Oleg Verniaiev took silver and Dalaloyan bronze.

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Brazil, Turkey, Slovakia… tyranny’s contagion spreads around the world

Donald Trump and President Erdoğan of Turkey

History will record that when states murdered journalists or used the conspiracy theories of terrorists to fool their subject populations, they could expect reprisals from something called “the west”, an alliance that lasted from 1945 to 2016. The west’s great weakness was that it depended on American power. It died when Donald Trump became the US president, freeing illiberal democracies and actual dictatorships to follow their worst instincts to a grim destination.

Fashion affects the powerful as well as the powerless. They look at each other and learn what they can get away with. “Did you hear what happened in Germany?” Stalin asked Anastas Mikoyan in June 1934, after Hitler had ordered the murder of his enemies in the Nazi party. “Splendid! That’s a deed of some skill!” Inspired by Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives, Stalin began the executions of tens of thousands of communists who posed a real and imagined threat to his power. The west taught, albeit intermittently, albeit with immense blind spots in which crimes against humanity were committed with impunity, that governments had to pretend to protect human rights, freeish trade and democracy.

Now, the US, the country that made the west and guaranteed its existence, teaches that none of the old rules applies. You bet the world is taking notice.

It’s not that Trump is a fascist, as some of his more hyperventilating opponents claim. Fascists don’t allow midterm elections. When he saysjournalists are the “enemy of the people”, he is trying to brainwash his core voters into rejecting any portrayal that doesn’t show him as a superhero. Trump and his supporters revel in a wilful denial of reality. They demonstrate a delight in their brute power to dispense with truth and never face punishment for it.

American journalists worry that the lies are so barefaced they will get a reporter murdered. They probably will; an alleged rightwing terrorist has already tried to bomb CNN. But unlike genuine dictators, Trump cannot order the arrest of reporters who displease him. The real malice of his presidency lies in the permission he grants to regimes that can.

In London last week, the Foreign Office helped arrange a conference for young journalists from semi-autocratic countries. When I spoke, I emphasised that British journalists should never allow anyone to call us “brave” or “courageous” or claim those titles ourselves. We can criticise politicians at will and never fear the sound of a policeman’s fist thumping on our doors. “Britain isn’t Turkey or Hungary or Malta,” I said.

But before Trump, Malta wasn’t the Malta we now know: the rancid island where Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in 2017 after investigating money laundering and the sale of citizenship, and Malta’s Labour government responded by smearing her memory and the anti-corruption campaigners demanding answers.

Slovakia wasn’t Slovakia until Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová were murdered by a contract killer after Kuciak investigated links between the mafia and the country’s elite. Robert Fico, the then prime minister, responded as Trump would have responded, denouncing the citizens who took to the streets as foreign agents in the pay of the demonic George Soros.

Turkey was a Nato member and military dictatorship engaged in a civil war against its Kurdish minority when the supposedly “liberal” west was at its height in the 20th century – we should have no time for fake nostalgia. But in 2018, President Erdoğan has used the excuse of a failed coup to undertake a Stalinesque purge of the army, judiciary and civil service in which tens of thousands have been imprisoned or fired. Hundreds of journalists have been put on trial as “terrorists” or found themselves unable to work. One, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the assembled reporters that writing was his life, it was all he could do and all he wanted to do. But he was writing in a vacuum now: hardly anyone dared publish him.

Aside from protesting about Turkey’s imprisonment of a US pastor, the Trump administration’s sole concern has been the grotesque game in which Erdoğan, who imprisons more journalists than any other tyrant on the planet, pretends to care about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi so he can score points against Saudi Arabia, which flogs and imprisons supporters of peaceful reform.

No corrupt bureaucrat or vicious policeman in eastern Europe, Saudi Arabia, Malta or Turkey is restrained by fear of the west’s reaction, because Trump has closed the west down. The same indifference will be on display when Jair Bolsonaro gets to work on the opposition in Brazil.

The effect Trump has on the world is as bad as, I would say worse than, his effect on America. No one will be able to prove that the gunman who killed 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue would not have become a lethal antisemite if Trump were not screaming out the theory that George Soros was trying to flood white America with immigrants. But Viktor Orbán knows that the US will say nothing as he uses the same conspiracy theory as an excuse to rob Hungarians and deprive them of their liberties.

Many will not miss the west. Few like foreigners telling them how to run their countries, even if their motives are impeccable. Western motives have been far from that. Since the start of the cold war, the charge has always been that former imperialists preached liberalism and democracy while supporting every type of Latin American torturer, African kleptomaniac and Middle Eastern autocrat. All that has been lost since Trump took power is the small chance that western governments could on occasion live up to their values.

Those who believe that hypocrisy is the greatest vice ought to be relieved. But I doubt they will like the bare, unhypocritical world that is upon us. Everywhere, the depraved are looking at Trump as Stalin looked at Hitler and crying: “Splendid!”

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Three ways the US midterm elections will affect world politics

President-elect Donald Trump has proposed a tax rate of 10 percent on overseas money brought back to the United States.

Seldom have America’s mid-term elections been watched so closely across the globe.

The reasons are clear enough: what impact they’ll have on the competitive attractiveness of US democracy around the world, what clues they will provide about the durability of the Trump administration and its foreign policies and – hardest to calculate –the impact they will have on populist and nationalist momentum globally.

On the first issue regarding US democracy, allies are worried that the American model is losing traction, prompting Chinese leaders to promote their state capitalist model as a viable alternative for developing and developed countries alike.

As Stephen Hadley, former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, recently said to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “If you’re worried about the United States, we have a lot of tools to run a successful foreign policy that is in our interests and can provide prosperity and security for our people. But our brand is not doing well internationally. There’s a reason why people are taking seriously China’s claim to have a new model. It’s because ours doesn’t look very good.”

During the Cold War, Soviet officials failed over time in making a credible argument that their Communist system could deliver social and economic progress. However, the more that US politics is mired in polarization and the less effective it appears in addressing core problems, the more attractive authoritarian models will appear.

Said Hadley, “Our economy still is not producing sustained inclusive growth. Our politics are fractious. There is a long list of social problems, budgets, entitlement payments, immigration reform, that we’ve known for years we have got to address, and we haven’t done so… We’ve got to solve some of these questions that have been lingering.”

Second, both friends and adversaries will be gauging what the midterm outcome says about the likelihood of President Trump both finishing his first term and perhaps winning election for a further four years. That will prompt decisions to engage the administration or “wait-it-out” on controversial issues including the escalating US showdown with Iran ahead of next week’s new round of sanctions, ongoing negotiations with North Korea, the future of Russian sanctions and a host of trade conflicts and negotiations from China to Europe.

Finally, the mid-terms could have influence on electoral politics around the world. In that respect, the vote isn’t just a referendum on President Trump’s first two years in office but also on the populist brand of politics he represents. While the populist swing pre-dates his election, it has picked up momentum since, in part due to his inspiration to like-minded politicians around the world.

It isn’t just Trump, but also the broader US political and social environment that has global influence. A few examples: the “me too” movement has created a backlash against sexual harassment and misconduct around the world, particularly (but not only) in Europe. The women’s and science marches, initiated in the United States, were replicated elsewhere.

At the same time, the Trump administration’s “American First” rhetoric and actions have empowered like-minded leaders. In Europe, such leaders have most often rallied around anti-immigration politics, while in Latin American it has been around anti-corruption campaigns. But on both continents, populist candidates have spoken of the Trump inspiration.

As it was with Trump, such candidates have profited from the inability over years of more conventional, establishment politicians to tackle the growing concerns of their societies about the impact, among other issues, of rapid globalization and technological change, which has fed voter uncertainties.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speeches during her meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured)  at Meseberg governmental house August 18, 2018 in Gransee, Germany.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speeches during her meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at Meseberg governmental house August 18, 2018 in Gransee, Germany.

The anti-immigrant fervor among voters that Trump has played up ahead of the mid-terms was what, in part, provided Brexit campaigners their momentum ahead of Trump’s election. Since his presidency, such concerns have helped usher in the rise of Italy’s populist government. On the flip side, anti-immigrant sentiments strengthened opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, ultimately prompting her decision this week to step down as leader of her Christian Democratic party.

Just this past week as well, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told ORF radio that he would not sign a 34-page UN global migration compact that lays out objectives to better organize the flow of refugees and define their rights. In July, all 193 UN member nations, except the United States, expressed their support for the agreement. Following the US refusal to join, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban also renounced the compact .

Recently, however, it has been in Latin American where the populist surge has appeared strongest. The election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as its president in July was a rejection of the Mexican political class and its inability to solve Mexican problems – very much the same sort of electoral thinking that drove the Trump victory.

However, it was in Brazil last week where the impact was clearest, when the country elected the far-right former army captain Jair Bolsonaro. In the midst of extreme voter frustration with violence, corruption and unemployment, he presented himself as an economically liberal and socially conservative law-and-order candidate. That won him the votes of 57 million Brazilians, including evangelicals, business people and extreme right-wingers. Yet, his critics fear his apparent fondness for a stridently intolerant authoritarianism, exemplified by previous inflammatory statements denigrating women, blacks and homosexuals, as well as democracy itself.

“You can be sure Trump will have a great ally in the southern hemisphere,” Bolsonaro told a rally of US-based supporters before the vote. “Trump is an example to me…and in many ways to Brazil.”

Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL), gives thumbs up to supporters during the second round of the presidential elections, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on October 28, 2018.

 CARL DE SOUZA | AFP | Getty Images
Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL), gives thumbs up to supporters during the second round of the presidential elections, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on October 28, 2018.

Bolsonaro’s “Brazil First” talk has marked a sharp break with Brazil’s traditional, multi-polar foreign policy, often putting it at arm’s length to the US. Brazil’s election could result in historically close relations between the two countries. As a sampling, the new president as candidate attacked China’s influence in Brazil, assailed the leftist Venezuelan regime, said he would move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and vowed to pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change (though he’s since changed course there).

No doubt most Americans this Tuesday will be watching whether President Trump’s Republican party can hold onto the Senate and the House of Representatives – and what impact that will have on the rest of his term and potential re-election.

At the same time, however, the global stakes are greater perhaps than for any mid-term election in my memory – given the global contest of political models, the high-stakes drama of Trump leadership and the growing impact globally of populist politics.

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