Trump’s mixed messaging sparks concerns of ’emboldened’ white supremacists

With major cities across the country bracing for an unusual wave of far-right rallies in the coming days, local and federal law enforcement officials are concerned about the potential for more violence amid warnings that white supremacist groups were empowered by President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday.

There’s evidence to suggest the events in Charlottesville have motivated numerous individuals to join or actively reengage in dark web white supremacist forums.

“The chatter therein indicates that many of these actors feel emboldened and reinvigorated by the rallies and the controversial remarks made by President Trump amidst the unrest,” according to an analysis by the online datafirm Flashpoint, which tracks and monitors activity on the dark web, a part of the internet that’s accessible only by special means.

Trump has faced a wave of bipartisan backlash in the wake of a jaw-dropping press conference Tuesday at Trump Tower in which he blamed the violence that led to the killing of counterprotester Heather Heyer in Charlottesville on both sides of the conflict, not solely on the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who instigated the rally.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now,” Trump said during a contentious back-and-forth with reporters in the lobby of his midtown Manhattan building.

The mixed messages coming from the White House have only fueled the escalating rhetoric from “alt-right” figures and notable white supremacists — many of whom cheered Trump’s statements Tuesday. Law enforcement officials have indicated they are worried about more violence ahead of the widespread alt-right rallies planned in coming weeks across the US.

“I just think the rhetoric has really brought this to a different level, and that’s what we’re worried about,” Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said Friday when asked about an event planned in his city. “I’ve never seen so many people looking, almost looking for confrontation, and we’ve gotta knock it down.”

James Norton, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, said he thinks the President’s remarks “obviously reignited the issue in a not-productive way.”

“It is incumbent on the President to tone down the rhetoric and be clear that the US government has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racially charged hate group organizations that’s mission is to commit violence, spread fear and divide the country,” he said.

More rallies to come

Several organizers of the upcoming “alt-right” rallies have pledged that their events are about free speech, but that reasoning has done little to mitigate concerns.

“What they’re doing is choosing flashpoints around the country to try to rally their people around,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

“They do it under guise of free speech or security,” he said. “But really what it is is an opportunity for them to express their hatred in the communities.”

The uptick of white supremacist online activity taking place within these secure chat rooms reflects “a new sense of motivation to either actively re-engage or get started in this community,” according to Alex Kassirer, Flashpoint’s director of counterterrorism.

And that renewed motivation has spawned a number of posts that echo the comments made by one subscriber to the white nationalist site Stormfront on Tuesday.

“Just want to say I’ve been a long time lurker, but with the events in Charlottesville I feel more supportive/compelled than ever. I want to join the fight for a White nation that rules as it was …” the post said.

The decision of several online hosting providers to deny service to alt-right websites in the wake of the events in Charlottesville has resulted in the migration of such communities to the dark web, according to Flashpoint’s analysis.

“Individuals with alt-right sympathies are actively seeking out spaces for interaction with like-minded individuals,” which will “likely result in sustained surges of activity on deep dark web white supremacist forums,” according to their recent report.

Law enforcement response

For the most part, local and federal law enforcement agencies said they will prepare for the upcoming rallies the same way they do for all public protests and rallies.

One law enforcement source at the Boston Police Department told CNN that they anticipate large crowds, but there is no indication of an uptick in white supremacist threats.

Officers “expect good behavior but will be prepared should it go bad,” the source said.

The Department of Homeland Security said it continues to work with federal and local partners “to assess threats and analyze trends in activity from all violent extremist movements, regardless of ideology.”

While law enforcement agencies may not be changing their approach following the violence in Charlottesville, CNN has previously reported that the threat from far-right groups has been on their radar for months, as noted by an internal DHS and FBI memo from May.

The memo, titled “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,” was obtained by Foreign Policy and shows that white supremacists killed 49 people in 26 separate attacks from 2000 to 2016, more than any other extremist group in the US.

The authors of the memo predicted that attacks from white supremacist groups in the coming year would be mostly “spontaneous and involve targets of opportunity.”

But despite monitoring efforts by law enforcement, alt-right and white supremacist organizers have been clear that they have no interest in deescalating the situation after Charlottesville.

“I think a lot more people are going to die here before we’re done here, frankly,” said Chris Cantwell, a white nationalist and speaker for “Unite the Right” in an interview with Vice News.

Former Ku Klux Klan Wizard David Duke called the deadly protests in Charlottesville “a turning point for the people of this country.”

“We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” Duke said in an interview while attending the rally on Saturday.

Duke also praised Trump’s comments on Tuesday, thanking the President for his “honesty and courage” in a tweet.

“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” read the full tweet from an account that is not verified by Twitter but appears to represent Duke and features videos apparently posted by and of him.

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Venezuelan president calls classical music maestro a traitor

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is at war with the country’s beloved classical music maestro. 

Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s musical director, was distraught after 17-year-old violinist Armando Cañizales was shot dead during a protest against Maduro in Miami.  

During a Friday night television appearance, Maduro said Dudamel had betrayed the socialist government. 

Maduro said Dudamel had betrayed El Sistema, a government-funded program that educated musicians nationwide. Violinist Wuilly Arteaga believes Maduro is the one who betrayed Venezuela’s musicians. 

Arteaga has been persecuted for choosing to play his violin, while Maduro’s riot police attack students who are willing to sacrifice it all for a better Venezuela. 

Arteaga’s violin was damaged. He later suffered injuries while playing. He was arrested. Arteaga said he was tortured and witnessed a sexual assault while in custody. Now authorities have banned him from playing his violin in the streets of Venezuela. 

Dudamel, who lead the program that nurtured both Cañizales and Arteaga, toured with El Sistema ensembles. He also supported Maduro during the protests against him in 2014. The death of Cañizales during a protest in May changed his mind. 

Dudamel is scheduled to lead the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in a U.S. tour next month.

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2 police officers shot in Jacksonville

Two police officers were wounded while responding to reports of a suicide attempt Friday night at a home in Jacksonville’s Westside, where they believed three people were in danger.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police officers shot and killed a man they say who came out of the house firing a high-powered rifle.

“As the officers approached the house, they knew it was a rifle the individual was shooting,” Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Director Mike Bruno said. “They knew they were staring danger in the face and yet they moved forward to meet the commitment they held and swore to take for this community.”

The three people in the house were safe. One of the officers was shot in both hands and the officer who was shot in the stomach was listed in critical condition early Saturday morning. 

The shooting happened as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was assisting the Kissimmee Police Department with the death of Officer Matthew Baxter in Osceola County. 

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted, “We stand with ALL law enforcement in Florida.”

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1 Kissimmee police officer killed, officer wounded in ‘very grave condition’

One police officer was killed and another seriously wounded while responding to suspected drug activity Friday night in Kissimmee just south of Walt Disney World. 

Kissimmee Police Department Chief Jeff O’Dell identified the two shot as Sgt. Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter. They were not able to return fire, O’Dell said. 

“They were surprised,” O’Dell said. 

O’Dell said Baxter, who is married to a fellow police officer and has three children, died. He had been working for the department for three years. Howard, who is also a father, was in “grave critical condition and the prognosis is not looking good,” O’Dell said. He is a 10-year veteran. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he was “heartbroken.” President Donald Trump tweeted a message to the Kissimmee Police Department early Saturday morning. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Kissimmee Police and their loved ones,” Trump said. “We are with you.”

Howard and Baxter, who were both wearing their uniforms, were shot about 9:30 p.m. in a neighborhood known for having drug activity, O’Dell said. Both officers were taken to Osceola Regional Hospital where doctors pronounced Baxter dead.

Four suspects were in custody early Saturday morning, O’Dell said. Detectives recovered the weapons involved and took Everett Miller, a U.S. Marine who is accused of killing Baxter, to the Osceola County Jail in Baxter’s handcuffs.

Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said the last Kissimmee police officer who was killed on duty was in 1983. 

“Heartbreaking loss of two of Kissimmee’s finest officers,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs tweeted. “Please join in prayers for families, friends and law enforcement.”

Police officers and deputies from St. Cloud, Orlando, Orange County and Florida Highway Patrol troopers were assisting the Kissimmee Police Department. 

“Our solidarity is with Kissimmee police as they deal with this tragic loss,” Orange County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Friday night. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was also at the scene. 

Local 10 News partner WFTV contributed to this report. 

Chief O’Dell: This is a tough time in law enforcement. I would ask that you pray for the men and women of law enforcement. pic.twitter.com/MEp056LfSm

— Kissimmee Police (@kissimmeepolice) August 19, 2017

More messages of solidarity

KPD reporting two officers shot in the area of palmway and cypress. Media staging area at Stapkesvon Main Street.

— Kissimmee Police (@kissimmeepolice) August 19, 2017

Our hearts are heavy with the news of our 2 fallen @kissimmeepolice Officers. Our prayers are with their families & their fellow officers. pic.twitter.com/TvJoNXTmRK

— Sanford Police (@SanfordPolice) August 19, 2017

We are 1 family. This makes 4 police officers shot in FL tonight. Our heavy hearts are with our brothers & sisters & their loved ones https://t.co/24rwxMEHxr

— Mike Chitwood (@SheriffChitwood) August 19, 2017

Two Kissimmee Police Officers murdered tonight. Please keep @kissimmeepolice and all of the nation’s peacekeepers in your prayers.

— MartinCountySheriff (@MartinFLSheriff) August 19, 2017

We stand with @kissimmeepolice in grief tonight. All official info will come through their Twitter feed and briefings in media staging area pic.twitter.com/UhYIxWEm55

— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) August 19, 2017

The men and women of BCFR stand with our brothers and sisters in blue tonight as we mourn the loss of two Kissimmee Police Officers.

— BCFRpio (@BCFRpio) August 19, 2017

We stand with our brothers and sisters at the Kissimmee Police Department. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved.

— Winter Park Police (@WinterParkPD) August 19, 2017

Our thoughts & prayers are with our brothers & sisters @kissimmeepolice after 2 of their Officers were shot tonight. 🚔💙 #LESM https://t.co/dlpJ6QHsuA

— SarasotaPD (@sarasotapd) August 19, 2017

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Firefighters extinguish flames at warehouse in Allapattah

City of Miami firefighters responded to a warehouse fire Friday night in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood. 

The flames took over a part of the warehouse at 1900 NW 23 St., near the Juan Pablo Duarte Park. 

Lt. Ignatius Carroll, a spokesman for Miami Fire Rescue, said firefighters were able to contain the fire before the business owners were at a major loss.

Carroll said there were no injuries and they were investigating the cause of the fire.

 

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Charlottesville: A monumental week of debate over the nation’s identity

Violence in Virginia last weekend fanned running national debates about race and free speech, and could resonate politically and socially for weeks or even years to come.

The country watched in dismay on August 12 as right-wing demonstrators — including white supremacists and neo-Nazis upset in part over the city’s plan to remove a Confederate monument — and counterprotesters clashed in Charlottesville. After a car plowed through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old named Heather Heyer and injuring several, the nation reeled.

Other monuments were torn down, legally and otherwise. Minority groups expressed fear that hate groups were emboldened. Heyer was mourned. And the President who prides himself as a Washington outsider found himself at odds with some of the few political friends he has there.

Here’s a look back at a historic week in the United States:

Monday: 48 hours after rally, Trump finally condemns supremacists

Trump took heat for a statement he made on the night of the rally. He denounced “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” but in that moment didn’t specifically mention the white supremacists who staged the event.

He shifted gears Monday, condemning white supremacists and neo-Nazis in a brief statement to reporters.

“Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said.

But it was too late for some. Among them: Three business leaders who quit Trump’s manufacturing advisory council on Monday.

That was just a taste of what was to come from that council in the coming days.

Other Monday developments:

• James Alex Fields Jr., accused of killing Heyer and injuring 19 others when he drove his car into a crowd and another vehicle in Charlottesville, made a court appearance and was denied bond. He was held on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.

• Both the white supremacists and the counterdemonstrators blamed each other for instigating clashes. Both groups accused Charlottesville police of not doing enough to prevent the violence.

• In a moment shared widely on social media, protesters used rope to pull down part of a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina. At least eight would be arrested.

• Anti-Trump and anti-racism rallies were held across the United States, including outside New York’s Trump Tower, where the President was staying that night.

Tuesday: Trump: ‘I think there’s blame on both sides’

Even if President Trump appeased some critics on Monday, he kicked a virtual hornet’s nest a day later.

At Trump Tower, he told reporters that he thinks “there is blame on both sides” for the Charlottesville violence.

That outraged Democrats and Republicans alike, who said Trump was wrongly equating white supremacists with the people demonstrating against them.

“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right?’ Do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump asked. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said. “Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”

Trump said some “very bad people” were on both sides, but that some who came out to protest the removal of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue were “fine people.”

Criticism of the President was swift and broad-based. Some, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, reacted without naming Trump. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity,” Ryan tweeted.

Others called him out by title or name. “Mr. President,you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain,” US Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida tweeted.

Public figures in Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere also condemned Trump’s remarks.

Former KKK leader David Duke, who didn’t seem to appreciate Trump’s rebuke the day before, now tweeted thanks to the President for condemning “the leftist terrorists in BLM / Antifa.”

Other Tuesday developments:

• Three more business leaders left Trump’s manufacturing council, bringing the total to six. More would soon follow.

• The American Civil Liberties Union took heat for having fought in court for white supremacists’ rights to hold the Charlottesville rally. But the ACLU counters that even hateful, bigoted speech must be aired.

Wednesday: Mourning

This was a day for Charlottesville to try to heal and mourn, starting with a public memorial for Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who lived and worked in Charlottesville. Friends have said she joined the counterprotesters to oppose racism and injustice.

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her,” her mother, Susan Bro, said to loud applause at the city’s roughly 1,000-seat Paramount Theater.

Later, University of Virginia students and Charlottesville residents marched peacefully on campus, carrying candles to mourn Heyer and two state troopers who died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the city hours after the violent rally.

They organized without social media, publicizing only by word of mouth and text message to decrease the likelihood of attracting anyone who’d want to disrupt the event.

Meanwhile, backlash to Trump’s comments continued. As even more people pulled out of Trump’s manufacturing council, the President disbanded that panel and a separate business advisory council.

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” he tweeted.

Other Wednesday developments:

• In a rare move, top commanders in the US military — five Joint Chiefs — issued public condemnations of white supremacist groups.

• US Sen. Lindsey Graham got into a tit-for-tat with Trump about the President’s statements.

• Descendants of prominent Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said they want monuments of the men to be removed.

Thursday: No Mar-a-Lago

Fallout from Trump’s comments appeared to continue. From Thursday to Friday, three organizations announced they were canceling plans to hold events at the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

For one of the groups, the Cleveland Clinic, it will be the first time in eight years that it has not held its fundraiser at the resort.

None of the groups specifically cited Trump’s comments. But one, the American Cancer Society, said that “it has become increasingly clear” that hosting its fundraiser on Trump-owned property presents a “challenge” to its values.

And a US senator who’d maintained a collegial relationship with Trump’s administration gave a blistering assessment of the President’s handling of Charlottesville.

“The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said in a video posted by Chattanooga news website Nooga.com.

Friday: Mayor wants help removing statue

The memorial that ostensibly precipitated last weekend’s rally in Charlottesville — the Lee statue — is now more squarely in the crosshairs of Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in February to remove the Lee statue and sell it. Signer had been against the move, but because of the recent violence, he’s changed his mind.

Signer said Friday that he’s asked Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special session to change the law so local governments can have more authority in deciding what to do with Confederate monuments.

A judge issued a temporary injunction in May stopping Charlottesville from moving the statue for six months. A court hearing in the lawsuit is set for later in August.

McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said Friday the governor probably won’t call a special session because of the lawsuit.

Other Friday developments:

• Fields, the man accused in the car attack, was charged with five additional felony counts.

• Heyer’s mother, who on Monday thanked Trump for “denouncing those who promote violence and hatred,” said Friday she won’t speak to the President, citing his Tuesday news conference.

• By Friday, many public and private monuments and memorials across the country had been vandalized — and not just Confederate ones.

What’s next

• More rallies coming: A free speech rally is set for Saturday at noon in Boston. A Facebook page purportedly linked to the event has sought to distance itself from last weekend’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Event organizers have invited “libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, (Donald) Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech.”

One organizer, John Medlar, a student at Fitchburg State University, told CNN affiliate WCVB that his group is libertarian and opposes bigotry and the Ku Klux Klan.

A counterdemonstration has been organized by a coalition of mostly left-leaning groups and activists such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rallies are also planned in the Bay Area later this month, with another “free speech rally” scheduled for August 26 in San Francisco and a “No to Marxism” event planned in nearby Berkeley the next day.

• Debates over Confederate symbols will continue: There are 1,500 public symbols of the Confederacy in the United States, including monuments, schools and holidays. Many local government officials are weighing whether to keep memorials in their cities and towns.

• Tech companies are debating whether and how to confront white supremacists. GoDaddy and Google each stopped hosting the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer after it published a derogatory story about Heyer. Facebook has taken down a number of white supremacist Facebook Groups and pulled the Charlotteville rally’s event page after it became clear it was violent.

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