10/28/19

The USA PATRIOT Act: The Story of an Impulsive Bill that Eviscerated America’s Civil Liberties

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The USA PATRIOT Act: The Forgotten History of the Bill that Destroyed America's Civil LibertiesThe USA PATRIOT Act provides a textbook example of how the United States federal government expands its power. An emergency happens, legitimate or otherwise. The media, playing its dutiful role as goader for greater government oversight, demands “something must be done.” Government power is massively expanded, with little regard for whether or not what is being done is efficacious, to say nothing of the overall impact on our nation’s civil liberties.

No goals are posted because if targets are hit, this would necessitate the ending or scaling back of the program. Instead, the program becomes normalized. There are no questions asked about whether the program is accomplishing what it set out to do. It is now simply a part of American life and there is no going back.

The American public largely accepts the USA PATRIOT Act as a part of civic life as immutable, perhaps even more so than the Bill of Rights. However, this act – passed in the dead of night, with little to no oversight, in a panic after the biggest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor – is not only novel, it is also fundamentally opposed to virtually every principle on which the United States of America was founded. It might not be going anywhere anytime soon, but patriots, liberty lovers and defenders of Constitutional government should nonetheless familiarize themselves with the onerous provisions of this law, which is nothing short of a full-throttle attack on the American republic.

What’s Even in the USA PATRIOT Act?

What is in the USA PATRIOT Act? In the Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11then Rep. John Conyers cracked wise about how no one had actually read the act and how this was in fact par for the course with America’s laws. Thus, before delving into the deeper issues surrounding the PATRIOT Act, it is worth discussing what the act actually says. Here’s a brief look at the 10 Titles in the PATRIOT Act:

  • Title I: Enhancing Domestic Security Against Terrorism: This provision dramatically expands the powers of the President, the military and the intelligence community whenever the specter of “terrorism” is invoked. Bizarrely, it contains a provision condemning discrimination against Arabs, Muslims and South Asians, which seems to have very little to do with protecting Americans from terrorism.
  • Title II: Enhanced Surveillance Procedures: Title II contains the meat of the Act with regard to massive, industrial-scale surveillance on the American public. Beyond the simple spying on Americans and their communications, Title II increases the ability of federal intelligence agencies to share your private communications with one another.
  • Title III: International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act: Not simply a section of the USA PATRIOT Act, Title III is an Act of Congress in its own right. You might have noticed how much more difficult it is to open a bank account or send a wire transfer after 9/11. You can blame this provision, which shredded banking privacy rights in the United States.
  • Title IV: Protecting the Border: Other than expanding the number of federal employees (of course), the provision of the USA PATRIOT Act charged with protecting America’s borders does little other than point toward paths for future action and study. It is worth noting that the weakest provision of the act is the only one explicitly authorized by the Constitution — protecting the border.
  • Title V: Removing Obstacles to Investigating Terrorism: Title V authorizes bounties for the apprehension of alleged terrorists, broadens government power to conduct DNA analysis, allows for greater data sharing between law enforcement agencies and, perhaps most disturbingly, requires private telecommunication carriers to comply with government requests for electronic communication records whenever requested by the FBI. It also expands the power of the Secret Service to investigate computer fraud.
  • Title VI: Providing for Victims of Terrorism, Public Safety Officers and Their Families: Perhaps the most innocuous portion of the USA PATRIOT Act, Title VI provides for a victims’ fund for victims of terrorism and their families.
  • Title VII: Increased Information Sharing for Critical Infrastructure Protection: The subtitle of this section of the act is a rather wordy way of saying that the United States federal government is allowing for law enforcement agencies to share information across jurisdictional boundaries in an easier fashion than was previously legal. To that end, the Bureau of Justice Assistance was given a $50,000,000 budget for 2002 and a whopping $100,000,000 budget for fiscal year 2003.
  • Title VIII: Strengthening the Criminal Laws Against Terrorism: Title VIII is where the rubber meets the road: What exactly is terrorism, according to the federal government? Unfortunately, this Title does little to clarify what terrorism is, instead focusing on declaring a number of actions (such as attacks on transit) as “terrorism,” regardless of intent.
  • Title IX: Improved Intelligence: The section subtitled “improved intelligence” largely expands the powers and responsibilities of the Director of Central Intelligence.
  • Title X: Miscellaneous: When the federal government titles a segment of a law “miscellaneous,” you know it’s going to include everything and the kitchen sink. And so it does: The definition of electronic surveillance, additional funds for the DEA in South and Central Asia, research on biometric scanning systems, a limitation on hazmat licensure and infrastructure protections are all addressed in Title X, which is a catchall for everything the federal government forgot to address in the first nine sections of the law.

Most of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were set to sunset four years after the bill was passed into law. However, the law was extended first by President George W. Bush and then by President Barack H. Obama. The latter is particularly scandalous given that, at least in part, a rejection of the surveillance culture that permeated the Bush Administration was responsible for the election of Obama in 2008.

Passing the USA PATRIOT Act

Next, it’s important to remember the environment in which the USA PATRIOT Act was passed: Post-9/11. It is not the slightest bit of exaggeration to label the environment in which the PATRIOT Act was passed as “hysterical,” nor is “compliant” a misnomer for the Congress of the time. Opposition to the Act was slim and intensive review of one of the most sweeping acts of Congress in American history was nonexistent.

All told, Congress took a whopping six weeks drafting, revising, reviewing and passing the PATRIOT Act. That’s less time than Congress typically spends on totally uncontroversial and routine bills that don’t gut the Fourth Amendment. The final vote found only 66 opponents in the House and one (Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold) in the Senate. The entire passage of the PATRIOT Act, from start to finish, took place behind closed doors. There were no committee reports or hearings for opponents to testify, nor did anyone bother to read the bill.

“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” is the bloated and overwrought full name of the bill, crafted by a 23-year-old Congressional staffer named Chris Cylke. This ridiculous name puts the focus not on the surveillance aspects or the erosion of basic civil liberties enshrined in Western society since the Magna Carta, but on patriotism. At the time of its creation, the messaging was very clear: Real patriots support massive intrusions on civil rights. As President George W. Bush said at the time, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” This sentiment very much seemed to apply to American citizens.

While the argument that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t fear investigation is anathema in a Constitutional republic with regard to citizens, it should be standard operating procedure when it comes to our organs of government. If we cannot expect transparency from the United States Congress – elected officials charged with representing the will of the people and protecting the Constitution – then we certainly can’t expect it anywhere else.

The Unfortunate Growth of the USA PATRIOT Act

It’s no surprise to those in the liberty movement that given an inch, the government (in particular the military-intelligence community) took a mile. Even the nebulous definition of “terrorism,” largely centered around a long litany of acts rather than the motivation behind them, has expanded to include receiving military training from a proscribed organization (without actually committing any terrorist acts or even acts of violence of any stripe) as well as “narcoterrorism” – the latter particularly convenient, as the United States government continues its losing “War on Drugs.”

Indeed, in many ways, the War on (Some) Drugs was the template for the War on Terror. Both wars have no defined enemy, no defined terms of victory. Instead, they are waged against a nebulous concept, while enjoying bipartisan support for their ever-expanding budgets. What’s more, it didn’t take long for the Feds to start using the USA PATRIOT Act for things it was never intended for, including prosecuting the War on Drugs.

Perhaps the silliest application of the USA PATRIOT Act is the prosecution of Adam McGaughey. McGaughey maintained a fansite for the television series Stargate SG-1. The Feds charged him with copyright infringement and computer fraud. In the course of their investigation, the FBI leveraged the PATRIOT Act to get financial records from his website’s ISP. This was made possible by the USA PATRIOT Act amending the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, allowing for search and seizure of ISP records.

The New York Times discovered in September 2003, that the USA PATRIOT Act was being used to investigate alleged drug traffickers without what would otherwise be sufficient probable cause. These were investigations into non-terrorist acts using a law ostensibly designed to investigate terrorism. There was some suspicion that the Act was being used to investigate crimes occurring before the act was passed, violating the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution.

In one of the biggest power grabs (excluding virtually everything we know from Edward Snowden – more on that below), the FBI sent tens of thousands of “national security letters” and procured over one million financial records from targeted businesses in Las Vegas. These businesses were primarily casinos, car rental bureaus, and storage spaces. The data obtained included financial records, credit histories, employment records, and even people’s personal health records.

The FBI maintains and databases this – and, indeed, all information collected through the USA PATRIOT Act – indefinitely. In the good old days before the PATRIOT Act, the Feds were compelled to destroy any evidence they collected on someone later found not guilty of a crime. Note that the aforementioned data collection brought to public attention by Edward Snowden (which, again – we’re getting to that) falls under this provision. Not only is the government collecting obscene amounts of private and personal information about you, they’re also storing it indefinitely with no plans to stop.

What’s more, the FBI has approached public libraries to turn over the records for specific terminals, collecting information not about specific users who might be under investigation, but about anyone who has ever used the computer at the public library. Libraries, to their credit, have been very much at the forefront of resistance against the PATRIOT Act, with some litigating compliance despite operating on small budgets and others posting “canary letters,” which effectively say “The FBI Hasn’t Been Here Yet.” The removal of such a letter would warn patrons that the FBI has been sniffing around in their records.

Indeed, the greatest criticism of the PATRIOT Act is the simplest and perhaps most obvious: Why does an act ostensibly passed to fight terrorism so drastically expand the government’s power to investigate virtually everyone else? The PATRIOT Act is not merely unconstitutional, it is an unprecedented expansion of state power in the Anglosphere, a culture based on restricted government and the primacy of individual rights.

An excellent example of this is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expansion. Most people are familiar with the term “FISA court,” but very few people actually know what it is – a special federal court created under the Carter Administration that grants approval of electronic surveillance of both citizens and resident aliens in the event that they are accused of acting in the service of a foreign power. The last part of this sentence is very important: The FISA courts are not simply for allowing surveillance of anyone that it might be expedient to collect information about. The scope of their powers is very, very limited.

Or was.

The PATRIOT Act lowered the burden of evidence required to obtain a FISA warrant for electronic surveillance and expanded the overall scope of the FISA courts. Any savvy federal agent can now drape his charges in the garb of (what else?) “national security” and obtain electronic surveillance privileges hitherto only dreamed of by investigators. FISA courts have become pliant tools in the hands of the Feds, gladly approving their requests to monitor phone and internet surveillance, as well as access to medical, financial and educational records.

The Future of the USA PATRIOT Act

Do we still need the PATRIOT Act? Did we ever? All laws are certainly a product of their times. But this seems much more acutely true of the USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed in a rush and under duress without due consideration.

Particularly in light of the revelations from Edward Snowden – that the government is spying on everything they possibly can – it’s worth asking if there’s any walking back. He points out that the police state apparatus was originally for drug dealers, then for terrorists, but ultimately ended up being applied to anyone and everyone.

What’s more, Bob Bullard notes another frightful aspect of the USA PATRIOT Act: Terrorism-related cases are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. This means that there is little or no oversight. There is no surer hallmark of a police state than an all-powerful domestic surveillance agency with no transparency or oversight. While the USA PATRIOT Act might not create an American Stasi as such, it certainly paves the way for one.

10/15/19

If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass Shootings

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If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass Shootings

“I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media the following if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders: Don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photos of the killer. Don’t make it 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story. Localize the story to the affected community. And make it as boring as possible in every other market.”

 Dr. Park Dietz, Forensic Psychologist, on how to stop mass shootings

Video games. 4chan. “Toxic masculinity.” These are just a few of the media’s favorite folk devils when it comes to assigning blame for mass shootings in America. However, there is startling evidence that how the media covers these tragedies makes them culpable in perpetuating future ones.

This might sound like an outlandish claim, but it’s supported by evidence from no less an authority than the National Institutes of Health. It’s related to a well-established phenomenon of copycat suicides known as the Werther Effect. Other countries’ medias have taken steps to minimize the Werther Effect through self-imposed industry standards on suicide reporting, and many of these standards have parallels with the coverage of mass shootings.

The American media currently has no industry standard practices for how to cover either suicides or mass shootings. However, one can easily see the difference between how mass shootings and suicides are covered. Whereas suicides are treated as sombre tragedies, mass shootings often have the sensationalism turned up to 11. There’s a detailed discussion of the shooter’s life story, motives and methods. Strong evidence suggests that this both encourages and instructs potential mass shooters.

Statistically speaking, mass shootings represent a tiny portion of all deaths in the United States. For example, 2017 was the deadliest year for mass shootings in America with a total of 117 people killed. For context, 102 people die from automobile accidents every day according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute.

Despite the low frequency of these tragedies, the media pays outsized attention to them for self-serving reasons, which are both political and economic: There’s a demonstrated anti-gun agenda amongst America’s media. And there’s the ongoing shift in the media’s business model to attention-based revenue that results in ever-more sensational news coverage and “clickbait” headlines.

The lurid attention to mass shootings is profitable for America’s press, cable news networks, and social media companies – despite the consequences encapsulated by the Werther Effect. Thus a look at the role the American media plays in perpetuating these rampage killers is in order.

What Is the Werther Effect?

Ask yourself: Can suicides be contagious? Some studies say yes. It’s known clinically as the Werther Effect, after Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. This is a particularly important topic in the era of the so-called “mass shooter” and the phenomenon of “suicide by cop.” Researchers at Northeastern Illinois University and Arizona State University found that as many as 20 to 30 percent of all mass shootings are copycat shootings inspired by media coverage of other shootings.

The history of the Werther Effect is quite curious. Goethe’s novel was a cultural phenomenon at the time. Melancholic men were dressing in blue jackets and yellow pants in emulation of the novel’s protagonist, Werther, who was effectively a stand-in for Goethe himself. Some men took their love of the novel one step further by committing suicide with a pistol in the same manner as Werther, who ends his life at the end of the novel after being rejected by the woman he loves. This led to the book being banned in several places.

The term “Werther Effect” was first coined by researcher David Phillips in 1974. Further studies in 1985 and 1989 by Phillips and his team found that suicide rates, as well as other accidents, increased after a well-publicized suicide. The Werther Effect impacts the young and the elderly – but not the middle-aged. Those who commit copycat suicides tend to be of a similar age to the original suicide they are copying.

How Do Copycat Suicides Work?

If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass ShootingsThe timeline for a copycat suicide is generally weeks and months, though in the case of a high-profile celebrity suicide, it might be as long as one year. Some of the most famous suicides that have caused a spike in the overall suicide rate include Marilyn Monroe (that August had about 200 suicides more than was typical for the month) and the Tunisians street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation kicked off the Arab Spring. The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why saw a 26-percent increase in searches for “how to commit suicide,” an 18-percent increase in searches for “commit suicide” and a 9-percent increase in searches for “how to kill yourself.” The teen suicide rate itself spiked after the release of the show.

The Werther Effect for mass shootings was found to be 13 weeks by the study conducted by Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University.

For his part, Phillips mostly blamed the media. He believed that people who were having a hard time felt that in some way they had been given “permission” to end their life by a high-profile suicide. He compared this with similar studies about other risk-taking behaviors such as taking drugs. People were more likely to engage in such activities if someone else had done so first.

In the case of a mass shooting, potential shooters are not just given a sick kind of “permission,” they are also given a script from which to follow – a ready-made game plan that they can copy and tweak to best fit their purposes. The shooter in El Paso, Texas directly referenced the manifesto of the Christchurch mosque shooter, for example.

Suicides due to the Werther Effect, in addition to being similar with regard to age group, were also similar with regard to method. This is important to remember when considering those mass shootings which are, in effect, a highly dramatic form of suicide. Some shooters seek to get out alive. But for many, the intended effect is being killed by police in the act of shooting other people.

Curiously, the Werther Effect is not an inevitability, but is largely a function of how the media reports on the suicide in question. For example, there were fears that the suicide of Kurt Cobain would lead to a rash of suicides. However, in the media coverage of Cobain’s death, the focus was primarily on the need for mental health care and the suffering of his family due to his suicide. The result was that there was actually a decrease in the suicide rate around the time of his death.

The Media’s Role in Creating the Werther Effect

The United States is anomalous when it comes to coverage of suicide, in that it has no national professional code on how suicides should be covered. Norway forbids publicizing suicide in any way in its media, while other countries have a much more moderate, but sensible, approach. For example, in the United Kingdom, journalistic practice is to not romanticize the death, use lurid photos, or use the word “suicide” anywhere in a headline.

Not only does the United States not have rules against celebrating or glamorizing suicide – either as an industry-standard journalistic practice or by government fiat – the United States media has a lurid fascination with suicide in general as well as suicide by cop and its close cousin the mass shooting.

There is an equally lurid motto for this principle in the American media: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Note the coverage in the New Zealand media of Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch mosque shooter. His face is blurred out in all media coverage. The government of New Zealand requested that other countries not show footage from the shooting, which was live streamed. While the jailing of no less than eight people who shared the shooters video is an extreme reaction that infringes upon freedom of speech and free exchange of ideas, it shows just how committed New Zealand was to prevent any glorification of the shooter.

The media does this for two reasons: First, it moves units. Newspapers and other media are businesses and do what creates the greatest profits. However, there is another, more sinister and cynical reason that can be credibly put forward: The American media has a left-wing political agenda that includes the wholesale banning and confiscation of private firearms.

Mass shootings are, in terms of sheer number of deaths, a blip on the radar. The euphemism “gun violence” is often used to mask this, which lumps murders and suicides into the same statistic. While suicides are undoubtedly tragic, they’re not what one thinks of when hearing the term “gun violence.” All told, there were 11,004 gun homicides in 2016. While this sounds like a lot, some context is in order: 34,436 died of car crashes in the United States in the same year.

Neil deGrasse Tyson came under fire for pointing this out – that not only do gun deaths not amount to a lot in the grand scheme of things, but “mass shootings” are even less.

Indeed, what counts as a “mass shooting” is a political game that deliberately excludes mass shootings. Vox, Mother Jones, The Washington Post and the Congressional Research Service all keep detailed records of mass shootings. Each of these deliberately exclude gang violence in their tallies.

For context, a total of 888 people have died in mass shootings since 1982. That’s a total of 1 percent of all gun deaths, approximately two-thirds of which are suicides. In 2017 alone, police killed 1,189. Americans should be concerned about mass shootings and any other topic where public policy might be able to reduce the number of deaths.

But Mark Manson and others have discussed how mass shootings are not only something virtually every American doesn’t have to worry about, but panicking and virally boosting the incidents might also be creating more of them (along the same lines as the Werther Effect). Sam Harris has discussed how new legislation is probably not the answer, but a different view of public social violence is.

It’s worth noting that, like terrorism, the intended effect of a mass shooting is attention and fear. When society reacts hysterically to mass shootings without proportion, it is playing into the hands of the agenda of the mass media as well as the intended shooter.

How the Werther Effect Works in Mass Shootings

If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass ShootingsThat the Werther Effect has some analog with mass shootings is difficult to dispute. First, mass shootings are largely a product of the post-1968 world – i.e., the world after gun control. What’s more, shooters have studied the actions of other shooters to understand how to commit their crimes.

FBI Director James Comey certainly believed that media predictions of mass shooters contributed to the phenomenon in the United States. After the Orlando shooting, he said:

“You will notice that I am not using the killer’s name and I will try not to do that. Part of what motivates sick people to do this kind of thing is some twisted notion of fame or glory, and I don’t want to be part of that for the sake of the victims and their families, and so that other twisted minds don’t think that this is a path to fame and recognition.”

More than simply a desire to see these shootings not reported, the FBI is actively investigating potential copycat criminals in the wake of mass shootings, such as the ones that took place in Dayton and El Paso. A study conducted by Mother Jones located no fewer than 74 copycat killings (attempted or executed) of the 1999 Columbine shooting alone. The casualty toll of these attacks included 89 deaths, 126 injuries and nine suicides.

There is more than just circumstantial evidence to suggest that there is a Werther Effect for mass shootings. Indeed, this has been studied. The National Institute of Health produced a meta-study of mass shootings that concluded what most people probably already suspect: that there is an imitative effect. It’s not that mass shootings are “contagious” as such. Contagion is something belonging to the world of epidemiology and virology, not psychology. It’s that mass shooters tend to imitate one another.

Where do they get the information to imitate one another? While the National Institute of Health hedges a bit on whether or not mass shootings are “contagious” in the same way that other violent and dangerous behaviors are, it is very clear that the media plays a key role in disseminating the information about how to commit a mass shooting.

Gang bangers might observe how to commit a mass shooting first hand, but we know of no mass shooter in a non-gang related sense who witnessed a mass shooting personally, then used that knowledge to commit his own. On the contrary, they learn what they know about mass shootings from the media.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that the NIH study found that it didn’t matter if the portrayal of a mass shooting was even factual or realistic to be an influence on a mass shooter. Even merely describing the behavior of a shooter had the effect of influencing later shooters.

The report specifically called out the media’s portrayal of mass shooters, however. They cite the reporting ad nauseum of the personal life details of the shooter, his crimes, and even the manifesto (an increasingly de rigeur part of any mass shooting) that have an imitative effect on future mass shooters.

Government censorship need not be the answer. Consumer pressure as well as a voluntary industry-wide set of standards could literally save lives.

How the Media Portrays Mass Shooters

Consider the portrayal of mass shooters in the media. The very act of being the obsession of the news and social media is a sort of social status attractive to the type of person flirting with the idea of being a mass shooter. The life story of a mass shooter can provide a point of resonance and relatability, as similar criminals tend to fit a similar profile. The portrayal of shooters wielding guns or even looking menacing in photographs projects an aura of danger and toughness that can be attractive to those who are hanging on the edge. Manifestos can inspire further action, especially if one of the goals of the manifesto is to create terror and panic – mission accomplished. Detailed reports of what happened can provide a sort of instruction manual for future shooters.

All of this combined provides a very powerful and attractive cocktail enticing further mass shootings.

Note that the suggestion here is not to ban the reporting of mass shootings. This would also be a mistake. The public has a right to be informed of significant events and mass shootings are no exception. However, the manner in which mass shootings are reported on is the problem – the emphasis on the personal narrative of the shooter, the views that motivated him to commit the crime, and the gory details of his dubious success are what is at issue.

The report from the NIH is unambiguous in its belief that a change in media policy could very well directly lead to a decrease in mass shootings in the United States:

“If the manner with which the media (legacy, new, social) report a mass shooting event plays a role in promoting further mass shootings, changing these reporting methods could decrease imitation.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has specifically requested that the media stop naming mass shooters, but this plea has thus far fallen on deaf ears.

There are likewise alternatives with regard to the portrayal of mass shooters in the media beyond tactics like withholding their names or blurring their faces. For example, mass shooters are often treated as dangerous, powerful men. This makes mass shooting attractive to a certain unstable psychological profile. On the other hand, shootings could just as easily be portrayed as the shameful act of a cowardly individual. Coverage could likewise emphasize punishment in cases where the shooter is apprehended alive.

What’s more, the shooter’s rationale could be downplayed in coverage. Descriptions could be very surface, for example “Islamic jihad” or “white nationalism.” Eschewing discussion of the personal and biographical information about the shooter would likewise have a similar effect. The NIH points out that repeatedly reporting years of bullying as the motive portrays rampage killing as the only response to being bullied.

Finally, there is the question of duration and frequency on which mass shooters are reported. When a mass shooting occurs, the coverage tends to be wall-to-wall for days. This certainly belies an agenda on the part of the media. What’s more, coverage of the shooting as it unfolds could be eschewed entirely, which would not only lessen the coverage, but also prevent conspiracy theories arising later when inconsistencies between “breaking news” and the full story arise.

The main thing, however, is to make the coverage as general and nonspecific as possible. This is the best way to reduce the overall “excitement” and “prestige” (such as it is) enjoyed by the shooter and his actions. Even seemingly innocuous terms like “lone wolf” can glamorize a shooter.

How You Can Combat the Werther Effect

If It Bleeds It Leads: How the American Media Perpetuates and Profits from Mass ShootingsNo one is suggesting that the Werther Effect is the primary or even the only cause of mass shootings. It is, however, a contributing factor. As such, working against it should be explored as a means of harm reduction overall. Given that mass shootings have only increased since the introduction of gun control measures, it is arguable that working to combat the Werther Effect will do more to prevent future mass shootings than will taking away guns from law-abiding citizens. While violent crime in general is down sharply since the 1990s, mass shootings are up.

One does not have to call upon the federal government to institute speech codes to impact the behavior of the media. Consumer pressure can move things in this direction in the same way that, for example, consumer pressure has largely ended animal testing among boutique cosmetic brands. What’s more, one can begin taking personal responsibility for how one shares information about mass shootings in social media. When one has the urge to share an article about a recent mass shooting, particularly one with gory or lurid details or detailed information about the shooter’s biography or ideology, one can simply choose not to do this. Finally, one can inform one’s friends and family about the Werther Effect of mass shooting media coverage (for example, by sharing this article) in the hopes that they will begin similarly refusing to share this information.

The Attention Economy and the Media

A big contributing factor in the viral spread of mass shootings is not just the increased role of social media in how people get their news. It’s also the decline of a centralized news media. While this certainly has a number of positive attributes (most people reading this probably get a significant portion of their news from alternative and independent media sources), it also has its downside.

For example, legacy media no longer relies on subscribers for the lion’s share of their revenue. Instead, they get their money from page clicks on the Internet, which are then pitched to advertisers as a symbol of their overall strength as an advertising avenue. This means that the business model of the average newspaper or magazine has shifted from getting long-term subscribers to getting as many clicks as possible. Studies have shown that people are far more likely to click on sensationalized news stories and “clickbait” than anything else. What this means is that legacy media has a high incentive to publish the most outrageous, sensational, and lurid version of events when reporting the news.

Mark Mason calls this principle the Kardashian Rule. It is also known as the Attention Economy. Social media, round-the-clock cable news coverage, and both new and legacy media now operating on a page-view economy all contribute to this phenomenon.

Put simply, whatever gets the most attention then spreads the furthest and generates the greatest amount of income for the company in question, be it Facebook or the New York Times. Mass shootings generate big business for the media, so they help to fuel the attention directed toward them.

Refusing to share articles about mass shooters can be one way that consumers begin reversing this trend.

When it comes to the problem of mass shooters and other rampage killers, there is no set of easy answers. This is perhaps what is most frustrating about the problem. However, it is also empowering to realize that small choices made by consumers every day of their lives can start making an impact on how the media portrays mass shooters, and in turn reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. It might not have the visceral impact of a new, shiny piece of legislation, but ultimately it’s more effective – without trampling on the liberties of others.

A final thought: What do suicides and mass shooters have in common? The common denominator might well be a loss of all hope caused by social isolation and depression. Both underscore the need for a healthy civil society and social connections. In addition to refusing to participate in the viral outrage mill, reaching out to people around you who seem to be having a hard time can be seen as doing your part.

None of this is “sexy” or high profile, but these are arguably the only effective weapons we have to stop mass shootings.

If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or the Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

09/8/19

The Pittman-Robertson Act: The Forgotten History of the Celebrated Tax on Firearms and Ammo

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The Pittman-Robertson Act: The Forgotten History of the Celebrated Tax on Firearms and Ammo

It’s unusual to think that Second Amendment proponents and members of the freedom movement would celebrate the day that a tax took effect. But that’s precisely what the Pittman-Robertson Act is – a tax often celebrated by gun enthusiasts, patriots and pro-freedom elements in the United States. Its story is one of the more fascinating in the history of American legislation.

Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 2, 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act, known officially as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, does not establish a new tax. Instead, it commandeered an existing 11-percent excise tax on rifles, shotguns and ammunition, and a 10-percent tax on pistols. Rather than going into the general fund of the United States Treasury, the Pittman-Robertson Act earmarked this money for the Department of the Interior and its wildlife preservations efforts. The money is then distributed to the states and can be spent how they see fit.

This was a coup for the Second Amendment and liberty movements. Rather than the money going toward a federal government interested in stripping them of their rights, it went to the Department of the Interior, with interests in keeping the American wilderness wild at heart. With this bill, hunters and firearms enthusiasts continued their role as the unsung heroes of the American conservation movement. In fact, Federal Ammunition was instrumental in getting the bill made into law.

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09/5/19

Following the Prophet at all times is a challenge

By: T.F. Stern | Self-Educated American

That’s a heck of a way to start off, Following the Prophet at all times is a challenge.  But that’s as true a statement from me as you’ll get.  The Prophet is the mouthpiece of the Lord and speaks only what the Lord would have said if He were addressing us; this I believe and so I do my best to be obedient.

I consider all the knowledge obtained in my years of mortality, mix in the wisdom of the Lord which I may or may not yet possess as gleaned from the scriptures and Prophets and try to figure out if it makes sense as I move forward in my journey to become more like the person the Lord would have me be.

That brings us to the topic of the day, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recently announced the newest policy regarding the carrying of concealed weapons in church buildings.

“Churches are dedicated to the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”

This new policy is a minor, yet significant change from the previous policy; the previous rule said the carrying of lethal weapons was inappropriate.  Why, I asked myself, why did the policy go from “inappropriate” to “prohibited”?

I ask this for a number of reasons; but there are a few that come mind, some of which are in the form of posters commonly available.

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08/21/19

Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement

Ammo.com

Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia MovementThe Siege at Ruby Ridge is often considered a pivotal date in American history. The shootout between Randy Weaver and his family and federal agents on August 21, 1992, is one that kicked off the Constitutional Militia Movement and left America with a deep distrust of its leadership – in particular, then-President George H.W. Bush and eventual President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

The short version is this: Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki moved with their four kids to the Idaho Panhandle, near the Canadian border, to escape what they thought was an increasingly corrupt world. The Weavers held racial separatist beliefs but were not involved in any violent activity or rhetoric. They were peaceful Christians who simply wanted to be left alone.

Specifically for his beliefs, Randy Weaver was targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) in an entrapping “sting” operation designed to gain his cooperation as a snitch. When he refused to become a federal informant, he was charged with illegally selling firearms. Due to a miscommunication about his court date, the Marshal Service was brought in, who laid siege to his house and shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old son.

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08/15/19

Annie Oakley: The Forgotten History of the Most Iconic American Woman Sharpshooter

By: Ammo.com

Annie Oakley: The Forgotten History of the Most Iconic American Woman SharpshooterPhoebe Ann Moses (or perhaps Mosey) was born on August 13, 1860, to humble beginnings. The daughter of Quakers, America’s first female superstar grew up log-cabin poor in the rural western Ohio county of Darke. From this rough start to entertaining world leaders, Phoebe Ann Moses, better known as Annie Oakley, was not only an icon of the American West, she was, and still is, a hero to women and girls from coast to coast.

Annie’s story begins as the youngest of eight siblings. Already poor, the family became desolate when Annie’s father died when she was six. Her mother remarried quickly, but was widowed a year later and soon after bore another child. Left with too many mouths to feed and little choice, Annie’s mother turned Annie, then nine, and one of her sisters into the care of the superintendent of the Darke County Infirmary, a home for the elderly, orphaned, and mentally ill.

In exchange for her room and board, Annie helped care for the family’s children and the Infirmary’s patients. While there, she learned to sew and decorate clothing, a skill that she used for the rest of her life.

Annie was then transferred to a neighboring home, to a family with a new child, and was told she would receive an education and $.50 a week for her services. Instead, she was treated like a slave, abused, and neglected. Eventually, Annie ran away from the family that she only referred to as “the Wolves” and made her way back to her mother’s farm.

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08/12/19

State Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State Gun Control Laws and Acts

By: Ammo.com

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsThe Second Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to bear arms, but both federal and state governments determine how citizens may legally exercise that right. And while both federal and state gun control laws regularly change, laws at the state level change more frequently and often without the media coverage that surrounds changes at the federal level.

This results in a constant challenge for gun owners to keep up with the latest state laws, especially for those who carry their weapons across state lines. Because while some states have more restrictions than others, state gun control policies across the country are diverse and can change quickly – too easily putting responsible gun owners on the wrong side of the law.

This guide is a timeline of major state gun control acts throughout the history of the United States – not only to help gun owners understand the state laws that have influenced our nation, but also to showcase how one state’s gun laws can set an example for others, creating a domino effect of gun control policy for the entire country.

Colonial America: Slavery Versus The Second Amendment

Pre-Constitution, the original Articles of Confederation established that “every State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia.” The Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment holds that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” However, those rights were at that time granted specifically to white males.

Fear of slave and Native American uprisings prompted many colonial states to establish laws banning “free Mulattos, Negroes and Indians” from having firearms. By the antebellum period, southern states like South CarolinaLouisianaFloridaMarylandGeorgiaNorth CarolinaMississippi, and even Delaware all had various laws denying guns to people of color and allowing search and seizure of weapons as well as punishment without trial. Crucial to all of this was the Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford.

Previously a slave, Dred Scott sued for freedom based on the fact that he’d lived in the free state of Illinois and a free area within the Louisiana Territory for a decade. When his suit was unsuccessful in Missouri, he appealed to the federal courts. The contention was whether “a free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves,” was a citizen with protections under the Constitution. The Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857 denied “a free negro of the African race” citizenship – a milestone its issuer cited as “the most momentous event that has ever occurred on this continent,” excluding the Declaration of Independence. In that moment, those denied citizenship were also excluded from any of the rights associated with it.

After the Civil War: The Postbellum Era, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Black Codes

While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves, President Andrew Johnson’s failing leadership brought with it all the struggles of the Reconstruction Era. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Dred Scott decision still denied people of African descent citizenship.

Former Confederate states enacted Black Codes to define and restrict freedmen’s positions within society. Along with mandating legal responsibilities, land ownership rights, contract labor wages, and harsh criminal laws, nearly all the Black Codes effectively and pointedly banned “persons of color” – anyone “with more than one-eighth Negro blood” – from possessing firearms. MississippiSouth CarolinaLouisianaFloridaMarylandAlabamaNorth CarolinaTexas, and Tennessee all enacted Black Codes, attempting to maintain the status quo and deny weapons to people of color.

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments banned slavery, provided all citizens equal protection under the law and ensured voting rights for all citizens. The 14th Amendment was particularly important, as it defined citizenship as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” overturning the Dred Scott decision, establishing people of color as citizens and overriding state statutes denying them the right to possess firearms based on their heritage.

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08/11/19

ONE PICTURE OF AMERICANA: What has Changed?

By: Doug Ross @ Journal

Here is a picture of a rifle class typical of those conducted in schools just a few decades ago.

Kids took their rifles to class on the school bus.

What’s changed?

Could it be the growing epidemic of kids in single-parent households (“Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Were Fatherless“)?

Could it be the mainstreaming of America hatred and demonization of law enforcement?

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08/6/19

El Paso Shooting: Latest Atrocity Exploited By Democrats

By: Lloyd Marcus

My prayers and heartfelt sympathy goes out to the victims of the El Paso mall shooting.  The gunman posted a manifesto.

One of the issues that angered the gunman is illegal immigration.  Democrats and fake news media will jump on this like white on rice.  Despicably, they will launch a bogus narrative that the gunman is a typical Trump voter, driven to violence by Trump’s racist rhetoric.

Don’t be fooled, folks.  The deranged gunman’s views are all over the ideological map.  However, his environmental views are clearly the result of the progressives dominating public education and fake news media.  This quote from the manifesto exposes his insane progressive environmental views.

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