Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Trump Widens Rift With Congress as Critical Showdowns Loom

WASHINGTON — President Trump has widened an extraordinary rift with his own party, as he threatened a government shutdown over his long-promised border wall and attacked key lawmakers whose votes he needs heading into a crucial legislative period.

The escalating tensions between the Republican president and the Republican Congress endanger delicate negotiations in the coming weeks to overhaul the tax system, keep the government running and avoid a costly default on the country’s debt. They are the clearest signs to date that the uncomfortable alliance between Mr. Trump, who won the presidency promising to “drain the swamp,” and Republican lawmakers who hoped to enact long-stalled conservative priorities, has begun to fray.

In a challenge to Republicans late Tuesday, Mr. Trump threatened to shut down the government in a matter of weeks if Congress did not fund the wall on the southern border that was a signature promise of his campaign for the White House.

“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Mr. Trump told a raucous rally in Phoenix as his supporters chanted, “Build that wall!”

On Wednesday, he followed up on the threat by attacking Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who has said he is skeptical of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico unless, as Mr. Trump promised, Mexico pays for it. Mr. Flake is one of two Republican senators up for re-election next year in a swing state, and the president has put his finger on the scale toward a primary challenger, Kelli Ward.

“Not a fan of Jeff Flake,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post. “Weak on crime & border!”

And amid a frosty period in his relationship with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, Mr. Trump questioned the Senate leader’s approach, faulting Republicans for failing to blow up longstanding Senate rules that make most legislation subject to a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.

“If Republican Senate doesn’t get rid of the Filibuster Rule & go to a simple majority, which the Dems would do, they are just wasting time!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, suggesting a change that Mr. McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders have repeatedly rejected.

Mr. McConnell on Wednesday sought to play down the friction between himself and the president, issuing a statement in which he insisted that their common legislative priorities were on track.

“The president and I, and our teams, have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals,” Mr. McConnell said. “We are working together to develop tax reform and infrastructure legislation so we can grow the economy and create jobs; to prevent a government default; to fund the government so we can advance our priorities in the short and long terms; to pass the defense authorization and defense appropriations bills so we can support our troops and help implement an effective strategy against ISIL; to provide relief from Obamacare; and to continue our progress for our nation’s veterans.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, echoed that statement and said the president and Mr. McConnell “will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the president’s cabinet.”

But there is growing evidence of tensions that have erupted privately between the president and other senior Republicans as well. In a testy call this month, first reported by Politico, Mr. Trump vented angrily to Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, over Russia sanctions legislation he said would damage his presidency, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Mr. Corker insisted that the would not back down on the measure, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Mr. Trump has asked Congress to allocate $1.6 billion this year toward building a wall along the roughly 1,900-mile border with Mexico. Currently, a mix of barriers — from chain-link fences and steel walling that keep people from crossing to steel beams to stop vehicles — stretch across about 650 miles of the border. So far, Congress has provided $341 million this year to repair and bolster the existing border barriers.

Overall, the Trump administration is seeking $3.6 billion for the border wall over the next two fiscal years. In the past, however, Mr. Trump has said there is no need for a wall along the entire border, which spans four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Congressional leaders distanced themselves from the president’s threat. Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said on Wednesday in Oregon that no one wanted a dispute over the border wall to result in a lapse in government funding, adding that he did not believe that such a confrontation would be necessary.

White House officials said Mr. Trump’s words were not meant as a legislative directive or veto promise so much as a message to lawmakers, including Democrats who have previously supported spending on border fencing.

“Protecting our borders is only controversial if you are looking for reasons to obstruct a longstanding and bipartisan effort,” said John Czwartacki, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

Hard-line conservative nationalists such as Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist ousted from the White House last week, have counseled the president to take a hard line on wall funding to buck up his political base after the embarrassing defeat of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have warned Mr. Trump that signing a funding bill that does not include substantial sums for the wall could would enrage his core supporters.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s bare-knuckled tactics could alienate congressional Republicans when he can ill afford to lose their support.

A budget resolution is always difficult, but it will probably become entangled in another divisive issue, the debt ceiling: The Treasury Department has estimated that the government will reach its borrowing limit sometime in October, at which point Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit to avoid a default.

Most immediately, the government will run out of money on Oct. 1 unless Congress approves new government spending bills. But in that conflict, the president may have handed Senate Democrats the whip, while inoculating them from blame. They can now filibuster any spending bill that contains wall funding, forcing Republicans to strip out the money and challenge Mr. Trump to veto it.

“If the president pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading toward a government shutdown, which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, said Mr. Trump’s threat had made it clear that he was willing to sow chaos in the service of his top policy priority. “The president said he will purposefully hurt American communities to force American taxpayers to fund an immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall,” she said.

Republicans privately vented their dismay at the president’s tactics and language — especially his political maneuvering against their colleagues. The contest between Mr. Flake and Ms. Ward appears to have become something of a proxy fight between the president and the majority leader.

“I would just say that I think it’s important that we all stay unified as Republicans to complete our agenda,” Mr. Ryan cautioned.

But Ms. Sanders signaled that the president was willing to stoke such disputes if he believed it served his purposes.

White House aides had urged Mr. Trump not to mention Mr. Flake by name at the rally in Phoenix, which he instead used to savage the news media as unpatriotic and “sick,” angrily defend his response to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va., and praise Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff whose aggressive immigration crackdowns led to a federal conviction for criminal contempt of court.

The president criticized Mr. Flake only obliquely in the speech — “Nobody knows who the hell he is,” Mr. Trump said — and waited until Wednesday morning to take aim at the senator by name on Twitter.

In an interview Wednesday on “The Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox News Radio, Mr. Flake said, “I will continue to support the president and work with him when I think he’s right, and challenge him when I think he is going in the wrong direction.”

Mr. Trump appears to be in a fighting mood. Before his exit, Mr. Bannon repeatedly warned Mr. Trump and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, that September could be the breaking point for the Trump presidency — “a total meat grinder,” Mr. Bannon told them.

Conservatives will object to raising the debt ceiling unless it contains some provisions to help rein in government spending — an unlikely scenario. Instead, Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell will have to rely on Democratic votes to pass the increase — and put the president in the awkward position of having to sign it despite repeatedly promising to tackle the country’s debt.

Mr. Bannon warned White House colleagues that that could send the conservative House Freedom Caucus into open revolt against the speaker. To placate them, Mr. Bannon counseled, the White House must extract wall funding at all costs.


Trump’s demand to build border wall could upend sensitive negotiations on Capitol Hill

By Damian Paletta

President Trump’s threat to shut down the federal government if Congress doesn’t budget money for a border wall could upend delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to keep the government fully operating past September as Democrats harden their resolve to oppose the funding.

During a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump leveled his latest threat about blocking new government funding if it doesn’t include money to start building a new barrier along the Mexico border.

“Build that wall,” he said. “Now, the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Congressional Democrats are holding their ground in opposing Trump’s proposal. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated their objections to funding a wall and argued that Trump would be responsible if the government shuts down over the impasse.

“If the President pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading towards a government shutdown which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” Schumer said in a statement.

Billy Foster’s Texas ranch sits along the U.S.-Mexico border. He wants more security, but not a physical wall. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) played down the prospect of a shutdown at the end of September, telling reporters Wednesday at a tax policy event in Oregon that Congress will likely pass a stopgap extension of current funding — known as a continuing resolution — in the coming weeks.
“I think that’s something we all recognize and understand, that we’re going to have to have some more time to complete our appropriations process,” he said. “So I don’t think anyone is interested in having a shutdown. I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.”

Ryan said the border wall should ultimately be funded, reflecting the wishes of most congressional Republicans, including key conservatives who have rallied to Trump’s side.

“We do agree that we need to have the physical barrier on the border. We do need to have border control. We do need to enforce our borders,” Ryan said. “We completely agree on that, and we have been talking over the year, and the last few weeks, about how best to achieve that.”

But Trump on Tuesday escalated a conflict with Democrats that has been brewing for months, telling his supporters, “Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America’s safety at risk.”

The timing of Trump’s threat is significant. Current federal spending authority expires on Sept. 30, the end of the government’s fiscal year, and Congress must act by then to keep the government fully operating after that.

The shutdown threat is a response to the leverage granted to the minority party in the Senate. Spending legislation is subject to the same rules and procedures as any other law, and while

Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster any bill — giving them the power to make demands on what is or isn’t included in a funding package.
Trump has called for the end of the Senate filibuster in recent weeks, including at Tuesday’s rally. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposes such a move, and there appears to be no stomach among Senate Republicans, many of whom are wary of what might happen under a Democratic majority, to push the issue.

In recent years, when Democrat Barack Obama was in the White House and Republicans held one or both chambers of Congress, partisan demands over federal spending were hashed out among top leaders in closed-door negotiations. And while leaders on both sides set out aggressive positions, they typically refrained from issuing hard ultimatums in order to preserve space to bargain.

Capitol Hill aides took note on Tuesday that while Trump threatened to “close down our government” over the border wall issue, he stopped short of an explicit threat to veto any spending bill that did not include wall funding.

A veto threat could box in GOP leaders as they prepare to negotiate with Democratic leaders who have pledged never to support wall funding. But Trump clearly placed the border wall at the center of those negotiations, increasing pressure on congressional Republicans to deliver.

“We’re looking forward to working with Congress to get funding for the border wall,” White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said Wednesday. “The President ran on it, won on it and plans to build it. Opposing the wall is simply opposing security for all Americans.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to have only a dozen working days in September to hash out a deal, though they could agree to a temporary stopgap ranging from a few days to several months to allow negotiations to continue.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed to force Mexico to fund construction of a wall along the U.S. border that he said could be up to 50 feet tall. Since the election, he has changed course, saying that Congress instead needs to spend taxpayer funds to begin construction on new segments of the wall. There is already a wall or fence along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security prepared an internal report earlier this year that estimated the cost of building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border would be $21.6 billion. Trump has chafed at that estimate, saying he could get the cost to come “way down.”

On Wednesday, a committee that raises money for Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee sent an email to supporters calling on them to pressure Senate lawmakers that “the American VOTERS want this beautiful, impenetrable wall constructed” and asked them to digitally sign an “Official Build The Wall Petition.”

Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has weighed in on Trump’s remarks, but some prominent conservative lawmakers are urging Republicans to support the president.

“Congress would do well to join the President by keeping our own commitments and including border wall funding in upcoming spending measures,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter before Tuesday’s rally.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another influential voice within the group, repeated that message. “Secure borders are vital to natl security — Congress shld fund border wall in govt funding legislation this fall — time to keep our promise,” he tweeted Tuesday.

While a border wall is quite popular among fervent Republicans, surveys show that the public at large is skeptical — a divide that has helped fuel the Democratic opposition.

Rasmussen Reports, a conservative-leaning firm, conducted an automated poll of likely U.S. voters late last month and found that a solid majority of Americans oppose building a border wall “to help stop illegal immigration,” with 37 percent supporting Trump’s proposal versus 56 percent against. That is similar to a poll conducted in February by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that found Americans opposed the wall 62 percent to 35 percent.

House Republicans voted last month to provide the $1.6 billion in seed funding for the border wall as part of a larger spending package. That bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate.

Spending legislation that passed into law earlier this year did not include border wall funding after Democrats refused to accept it. That impasse increased pressure on Republicans to deliver wall funding in future spending battles.

Democrats uniformly slammed Trump’s remarks, with several calling the president’s speech “unhinged” on Twitter.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called Trump’s threat the “polar opposite of leadership” and said the president should be held accountable if the government shuts down.

“Wasting tens of billions on a useless and immoral border wall is a nonstarter for Democrats, particularly at a time of such real need in our communities. Congress should use this funding to help American families — not fulfill campaign applause lines,” Lowey said Wednesday in a statement.
Rank-and-file Democrats and several caucuses representing them took to Twitter Tuesday to double down on that position.

“Threatening to shut down the gov’t for a campaign promise and a wall we don’t need is irresponsible and reckless,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, tweeted from an account representing the panel’s Democrats.

Tweeted the Congressional Hispanic Caucus: “Trump irresponsibly vows to shut down govt if his immoral, ineffective & unnecessary #borderwall isn’t funded by the American taxpayer.”

Trump could follow through on his threat to shut down the government by blocking any funding bill sent to the White House by Congress. If he doesn’t sign a funding bill, or if he vetoes one, it would lead to a partial shutdown. This means that national parks would close, many federal agencies would suspend certain operations, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be sent home indefinitely without pay.

The last government shutdown lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17, 2013, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) led a conservative revolt against the Affordable Care Act. The number of federal employees placed on furlough during that shutdown peaked at 850,000 workers, with federal employees losing a total of 6.6 million work days, the Obama administration said at the time. Economists also believe that the shutdown had a negative impact on economic growth, though they disagree on precisely how much.
Federal workers are typically repaid for their lost wages during a shutdown, but it can cause financial strain while they wait for lawmakers to sort out differences.

Last week, Goldman Sachs issued a research note estimating that there was a 50 percent chance that Trump could lead the country into a government shutdown.

“Low approval ratings raise legislative risks,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. “In the near term, we believe there is a 50% chance of a brief government shutdown, as the president seeks to solidify support among his base by embracing more controversial positions, despite needing Democratic support to pass spending legislation.”

Spanish Thrives in the U.S. Despite an English-Only Drive

ALBUQUERQUE — Wander into El Super, a sprawling grocery store in the same valley where fortune seekers on horseback laid claim nearly four centuries ago to one of Spain’s most remote possessions, and the resilience of the language they brought with them stands on display.

Reggaetón, the musical genre born in Puerto Rico, blares from the speakers. Shoppers mull bargains in the accents of northern Mexico. A carnicería offers meat, a panadería bread, a salchichonería cold cuts, and there’s also a tortillería that one’s self-explanatory for many who never even studied the language of Cervantes.

“Everything I need here is in Spanish,” said Vanessa Quezada, 23, an immigrant from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, gesturing toward the branch of the First Convenience Bank, where tellers greet people with a smile and “Buenas tardes.”

Indeed, the United States is emerging as a vast laboratory showcasing the remarkable endurance of Spanish, no matter the political climate.

Juan Rodríguez, 44, a Colombian immigrant who owns La Reina, a Spanish-language radio station in Des Moines, said it was an “extremely uncertain time” for some Spanish speakers, particularly undocumented immigrants who are trying to be seen and heard less often now that the president has made deportation a priority.

“But that fear doesn’t prevent us from living our lives in Spanish,” Mr. Rodríguez added. “Iowa may be an English-only state, but it’s also our state.”

Greetings for customers in both Spanish and English in the San José neighborhood of Albuquerque. Credit Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Throughout the world, the position of English as the pre-eminent language seems unchallenged. The United States projects its influence in English in realms including finance, culture, science and warfare.

But on a global level, Mandarin Chinese dwarfs English in native speakers, ranking first with 898 million, followed by Spanish with 437 million, according to Ethnologue, a compendium of the world’s languages. Then comes English with 372 million, followed by Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese and Russian.

Immigration from Latin America bolstered the use of Spanish in the United States in recent decades, but scholars say other factors are also in play, including history, the global reach of the language, and the ways in which people move around throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Authorities in parts of the United States have repeatedly argued for curbing the spread of Spanish, like the former Arizona schools chief who said all Spanish-language media should be silenced. A judge pushed back this week against that official’s drive to also ban the state’s Mexican-American studies program, saying the ban was “motivated by racial animus.”

As the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes explained in “The Buried Mirror,” his book about the Hispanic world, the 13th-century Spanish king Alfonso X assembled a cosmopolitan brain trust of Jewish intellectuals, Arab translators and Christian troubadours, who promoted Spanish as a language of knowledge at a time when Latin and Arabic still held prestige on the Iberian Peninsula.

Alfonso and his savants forged Spanish into an exceptionally well-organized language with phonetic standards, making it relatively accessible for some learners. They are thought to have hewed to a policy of castellano drecho — straight or right Spanish — imbuing the language with a sense of purpose.

Even today, Spanish remains mutually intelligible around the world to a remarkable degree, with someone, say, from the Patagonian Steppe in Argentina able to hold a conversation with a visitor from Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s largest oil exporters.

A washing machine with instructions for both Spanish and English speakers. Credit Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Drawing on entropy, a concept from thermodynamics referring to disorder, Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, the Canadian authors of a 2013 book charting the evolution of Spanish, describe the degree to which Spanish is spread out geographically over a wide array of countries.

By this measure, Mandarin ranks low on the entropy scale since most of its speakers live in the same country. English boasts greater entropy, but Spanish, the majority language in more than 20 countries, ranks first, followed by Arabic.

Rivaling Spain and parts of Latin America, the United States exemplifies how the movement of people throughout the Spanish-speaking world is taking the language in new direction.

In metropolitan Los Angeles, an area with more than 4 million Spanish speakers — more than Uruguay’s entire population — linguists say that a new dialect has coalesced as different types of Spanish come into contact with one another. And here in New Mexico, an influx of Mexican and Central American immigrants is nourishing and reshaping a variant of Spanish that has persisted since the 16th century.

Ojos Locos, a cavernous sports bar in Albuquerque, offers a glimpse into how Spanish is changing. Like El Super, it’s part of a chain founded in the United States aimed at the Latino market.

But some tables were effortlessly mixing English and Spanish, especially those where children were accompanying their parents, while others, including tables of mixed-ethnicity couples, cheered, conversed and cursed (Mexico lost, 1-0) over their frozen margaritas almost entirely in English.

The ways in which families use languages at the dinner table also show how Spanish is evolving.
In the Nava family, which moved to New Mexico from northern Mexico more than 20 years ago, the grandparents passionately debate in Spanish the performance of their football team, the Dallas Cowboys.

Chavez Karate in the South Valley of Albuquerque. The United States now has by some counts more than 50 million Spanish speakers. Credit Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

But when their adult children talk to one another, it’s in Spanglish. And the language of their grandchildren? Mainly English, with a sprinkling of Spanish words here and there.

“Our real communication is in Spanglish,” said Cindy Nava, 29, a policy analyst at the New Mexico Legislature who arrived in the United States at the age of 7. “But we still recognize the importance of speaking Spanish correctly.”

Irking some grammarians, Spanglish is indeed gaining ground, evident in the way characters in telenovelas are speaking, Daddy Yankee’s reggaetón lyrics or ads like the Wendy’s commercial in which sweethearts bond over bacon cheeseburgers served on buns of “pan de pretzel.”

Mia Mundo | La hermana desconocida de Tina | Telemundo Video by Telemundo
Wendy's bilingüe Video by Laura Martinez

Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latino culture at Amherst College who has translated classics like Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” and Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” into Spanglish, argues that we are witnessing “the emergence of something totally new, not in any way pure, a mestizo language.”

Long before Mr. Trump was elected, the growth and durability of Spanish had caused concerns, leading to “official language” laws that in some cases limit the use of any language other than English in government offices and documents, and in other cases are largely symbolic.

“Today it’s different,” said Ms. Porter, whose group, ProEnglish, was founded by John Tanton, a Michigan doctor who started a handful of organizations seeking to restrict immigration. “Immigrants enjoy a lot more visibility” she added, emphasizing that she understood the business reasons behind the growth of Spanish-language media.

Even apart from political efforts, the continued growth of Spanish in the United States is not assured. Linguists have documented how new generations of Latinos around the country are steadily shifting to English, just as descendants of other immigrants have done.

But if the past is a guide, Spanish will continue to evolve and endure.

“In many places in the U.S., English and Spanish are in bed with each other, a contact that is both generative and exciting,” said Junot Díaz, the writer who masterfully explores the immigrant experience in the United States, largely through the travails of his Spanglish-speaking Dominican protagonist, Yunior.

“For many of us,” he went on, “Spanish is our path to love, and as history has proven no one can legislate away love.”


Latin Pop Thrives, No Bieber Required

The Popcast is hosted by Jon Caramanica, a pop music critic for The New York Times. It covers the latest in pop music criticism, trends and news.

At the top of the Billboard Hot 100 sits a remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” featuring Justin Bieber singing in Spanish. It’s the first Spanish-language song to top the chart since “Macarena,” and a useful mirror of the current musical moment. Mr. Bieber has been using styles borrowed from black and Latin music for years — here he was returning the favor.

There have been complications, naturally: Recently, in a nightclub, Mr. Bieber crudely performed the song with the exception of the actual words, replacing them with packing-foam blahs and at least one “Dorito.”

So, a less feel-good story of cultural exchange and respect, then. Either way, to dwell on “Despacito,” even the pre-Bieber version, is to focus on a strain of Latin pop — middle-aged mainstream singer partners with a late-career rapper for credibility boost — that is, if not on the wane, then at least of less importance than ever.
The last few years have seen numerous shifts in the sound of Spanish-language pop: Colombian reggaeton (J Balvin, Maluma) giving a bright sheen to the Puerto Rican original; Dominican dembow (El Alfa) emerging as an eccentric counterweight to reggaeton; and in the last couple of years, Latin trap (Fuego, Bad Bunny), a Spanish-language take on American hip-hop, growing in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the United States.

On this week’s Popcast, for a conversation about Latin music’s speedy and constant evolution, Mr. Caramanica is joined by Isabelia Herrera, the music editor of Remezcla, and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, the culture editor of Jezebel.

Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee - "Despacito" ft. Justin Bieber Video by LuisFonsiVEVO

Email your questions, thoughts and ideas about what’s happening in pop music to


A Hunt for Ways to Combat Online Radicalization


Credit Doug Chayka for The New York Times

Law enforcement officials, technology companies and lawmakers have long tried to limit what they call the “radicalization” of young people over the internet.

The term has often been used to describe a specific kind of radicalization — that of young Muslim men who are inspired to take violent action by the online messages of Islamist groups like the Islamic State. But as it turns out, it isn’t just violent jihadists who benefit from the internet’s power to radicalize young people from afar.

White supremacists are just as adept at it. Where the pre-internet Ku Klux Klan grew primarily from personal connections and word of mouth, today’s white supremacist groups have figured out a way to expertly use the internet to recruit and coordinate among a huge pool of potential racists. That became clear two weeks ago with the riots in Charlottesville, Va., which became a kind of watershed event for internet-addled racists.

“It was very important for them to coordinate and become visible in public space,” said Joan Donovan, a scholar of media manipulation and right-wing extremism at Data & Society, an online research institute. “This was an attempt to say, ‘Let’s come out; let’s meet each other. Let’s build camaraderie, and let’s show people who we are.’”

Ms. Donovan and others who study how the internet shapes extremism said that even though Islamists and white nationalists have different views and motivations, there are broad similarities in how the two operate online — including how they spread their message, recruit and organize offline actions. The similarities suggest a kind of blueprint for a response — efforts that may work for limiting the reach of jihadists may also work for white supremacists, and vice versa.

In fact, that’s the battle plan. Several research groups in the United States and Europe now see the white supremacist and jihadi threats as two faces of the same coin. They’re working on methods to fight both, together — and slowly, they have come up with ideas for limiting how these groups recruit new members to their cause.

Their ideas are grounded in a few truths about how extremist groups operate online, and how potential recruits respond. After speaking to many researchers, I compiled this rough guide for combating online radicalization.

Recognize the internet as an extremist breeding ground.

The first step in combating online extremism is kind of obvious: It is to recognize the extremists as a threat.

For the Islamic State, that began to happen in the last few years. After a string of attacks in Europe and the United States by people who had been indoctrinated in the swamp of online extremism, politicians demanded action. In response, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other online giants began identifying extremist content and systematically removing it from their services, and have since escalated their efforts.

When it comes to fighting white supremacists, though, much of the tech industry has long been on the sidelines. This laxity has helped create a monster. In many ways, researchers said, white supremacists are even more sophisticated than jihadists in their use of the internet.

The earliest white nationalist sites date back to the founding era of the web. For instance,, a pioneering hate site, was started as a bulletin board in 1990. White supremacist groups have also been proficient at spreading their messages using the memes, language and style that pervade internet subcultures. Beyond setting up sites of their own, they have more recently managed to spread their ideology to online groups that were once largely apolitical, like gaming and sci-fi groups.

And they’ve grown huge. “The white nationalist scene online in America is phenomenally larger than the jihadists’ audience, which tends to operate under the radar,” said Vidhya Ramalingam, the co-founder of Moonshot CVE, a London-based start-up that works with internet companies to combat violent extremism. “It’s just a stunning difference between the audience size.”

After the horror of Charlottesville, internet companies began banning and blocking content posted by right-wing extremist groups. So far their efforts have been hasty and reactive, but Ms. Ramalingam sees it as at the start of a wider effort.

“It’s really an unprecedented moment where social media and tech companies are recognizing that their platforms have become spaces where these groups can grow, and have been often unpoliced,” she said. “They’re really kind of waking up to this and taking some action.”

Engage directly with potential recruits. 

If tech companies are finally taking action to prevent radicalization, is it the right kind of action? Extremism researchers said that blocking certain content may work to temporarily disrupt groups, but may eventually drive them further underground, far from the reach of potential saviors.

A more lasting plan involves directly intervening in the process of radicalization. Consider The Redirect Method, an anti-extremism project created by Jigsaw, a think tank founded by Google. The plan began with intensive field research. After interviews with many former jihadists, white supremacists and other violent extremists, Jigsaw discovered several important personality traits that may abet radicalization.

One factor is a skepticism of mainstream media. Whether on the far right or ISIS, people who are susceptible to extremist ideologies tend to dismiss outlets like The New York Times or the BBC, and they often go in search of alternative theories online.

Another key issue is timing. There’s a brief window between initial interest in an extremist ideology and a decision to join the cause — and after recruits make that decision, they are often beyond the reach of outsiders. For instance, Jigsaw found that when jihadists began planning their trips to Syria to join ISIS, they had fallen too far down the rabbit hole and dismissed any new information presented to them.

Jigsaw put these findings to use in an innovative way. It curated a series of videos showing what life is truly like under the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The videos, which weren’t filmed by news outlets, offered a credible counterpoint to the fantasies peddled by the group — they show people queuing up for bread, fighters brutally punishing civilians, and women and children being mistreated.

Then, to make sure potential recruits saw the videos at the right time in their recruitment process, Jigsaw used one of Google’s most effective technologies: ad targeting. In the same way that a pair of shoes you looked up last week follows you around the internet, Jigsaw’s counterterrorism videos were pushed to likely recruits.

Jigsaw can’t say for sure if the project worked, but it found that people spent lots of time watching the videos, which suggested they were of great interest, and perhaps dissuaded some from extremism.

Moonshot CVE, which worked with Jigsaw on the Redirect project, put together several similar efforts to engage with both jihadists and white supremacist groups. It has embedded undercover social workers in extremist forums who discreetly message potential recruits to dissuade them. And lately it’s been using targeted ads to offer mental health counseling to those who might be radicalized.

“We’ve seen that it’s really effective to go beyond ideology,” Ms. Ramalingam said. “When you offer them some information about their lives, they’re disproportionately likely to interact with it.”

What happens online isn’t all that matters in the process of radicalization. The offline world obviously matters too. Dylann Roof — the white supremacist who murdered nine people at a historically African-American church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 — was radicalized online. But as a new profile in GQ Magazine makes clear, there was much more to his crime than the internet, including his mental state and a racist upbringing.

Still, just about every hate crime and terrorist attack, these days, was planned or in some way coordinated online. Ridding the world of all of the factors that drive young men to commit heinous acts isn’t possible. But disrupting the online radicalization machine? With enough work, that may just be possible.

Police Use Tear Gas on Crowds After Trump Rally


A protester threw a tear gas canister back at the police in Phoenix on Tuesday night. Credit Reilly Kneedler for The New York Times

PHOENIX — The police used tear gas to disperse crowds numbering in the thousands on Tuesday night outside the Phoenix Convention Center as tempers flared around President Trump’s divisive speech at a campaign-style rally here.

Hundreds of people ran off, streaming into the surrounding streets, coughing and wiping tears from their eyes.

Police helicopters circled above downtown Phoenix after the speech, telling people to leave the area or face arrest. While tensions were high before and during the speech — the police tried to keep supporters and opponents of the president apart outside — they escalated afterward.


Police used tear gas to break up protests on Tuesday. Credit Laura Segall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jeri L. Williams, the chief of the Phoenix Police Department, said at a news conference late Tuesday night that officers were attacked with bottles, rocks, and tear gas, and that two officers were being treated for heat exhaustion at a hospital.

She disputed the suggestion that officers were overly aggressive, saying they responded with tear gas and so-called pepper balls, which emit pepper spray, only after they were assaulted.

But some witnesses said that events unfolded differently, with protesters throwing a water bottle or two in the direction of the police, before the police fired tear gas into the crowd.

Mayor Greg Stanton, who also spoke at the news conference, said that the police had attempted to allow people on the streets of downtown Phoenix to protest peacefully, and that there had been no serious injuries. But he added that officials were going to examine whether the approach by the police was necessary.

“There’s going to be an after-incident review,” Mr. Stanton said.

Four people were arrested in connection with the rally, including two people charged with assaulting police officers, the authorities said.

“The handling by the police of this peaceful protest was reprehensible,” said Jordan Lauterbach, 31, a bartender who drove from Flagstaff to join in the demonstrations against Mr. Trump. “I was gassed tonight for exercising my right to express my views. I was disgusted by that.”

At some points, tension between Trump supporters and opponents approached disaster.

After the rally, the driver of a Ford Ranger pickup enraged protesters by performing the Nazi salute in their direction. A scene of chaos ensued as protesters approached the truck and yelled at the driver and passengers. The driver then tried to speed away from the protesters, raising fears of a repeat of the car-related violence in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month. Police officers intervened to stop the truck and have its occupants get out of the vehicle.

The tension had started hours earlier. Before Mr. Trump landed here, thousands of supporters and opponents gathered around the convention center. They shouted at one another, chanted slogans, hoisted placards and complained about the 108-degree heat. Some expressed worries that the event would set off the kind of deadly violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., this month.

Waving an American flag as he marched past supporters of Mr. Trump, Hugo Torres pointed to a list emblazoned on his shirt under the heading “Bad Hombres”: former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Ku Klux Klan and the 45th president of the United States.


Tear gas engulfed protesters in Phoenix. Credit Matt York/Associated Press

“It’s an insult to me as a freedom-loving American for Trump to come to this place to spew his hate,” said Mr. Torres, 41, a house painter who drove from Tucson to protest. “This is our house, our state, our country. But Trump and his people think it belongs just to them.”

Shortly after Mr. Torres said those words, a woman waiting to enter the convention center, who wore a T-shirt that read “Trump 45: Suck it up buttercup,” shouted at him: “Hey, can I see your papers? Let me see your papers, dude!”

Mr. Trump’s appearance touched nerves in a city that has been at the center of the debate over restricting immigration. Mr. Stanton, a Democrat, urged Mr. Trump to delay his trip in an op-ed in The Washington Post, writing that the president “may be looking to light a match.”

While the president delivered his speech inside the convention center downtown, tempers flared on the streets around the site. Arguments between his supporters and opponents escalated to shouting matches in numerous locations.


A protester received first aid after police used tear gas on the crowd. Credit Laura Segall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, many Trump supporters said they welcomed the visit as an opportunity to express their views. Tim Foley, an Army veteran who leads his own citizens’ border patrol in Arizona, showed his Glock handgun to a reporter, saying he and his comrades had come to Phoenix to “keep the peace.”

“Ignorance is fueling the opposition to Trump,” Mr. Foley, 57, said in an interview outside the convention center alongside other members of his Arizona Border Recon, which he calls a nongovernmental organization. (Critics call it a militia.) “We’re the last line of defense. No one wants another Charlottesville.”


Hugo Torres, center, protested President Trump’s rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. Credit Conor Ralph for The New York Times

The violence at a rally of white supremacists in Virginia this month, which left a 32-year-old woman dead — and Mr. Trump’s widely criticized responses to those events — had many in the city bracing for clashes. Police officers barricaded downtown streets and patrolled the area. Restaurants closed early, and hotels restricted access to their lobbies to guests carrying key cards.

“We have a president without any sense of morality,” said Jimmy Muñoz, 72, an Army veteran who showed up with his family to protest. “Trump loves to rile people up and appeal to their worst instincts. We’re here to show we’re better than that.”

Others, however, expressed glee about the event.

“I can’t describe a Trump rally other than they’re the most fun things to go to,” said Paula Rupnik, 59, a consultant for a physical wellness company. She said she wanted to show her support for Mr. Trump and Mr. Arpaio.

“Trump’s base here in Arizona loves Sheriff Joe,” she said.

Mattew Haag contributed reporting from New York and Rebekah Zemansky from Phoenix.

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