• chevron_right

    NYPD Accused of Fabricating Domestic Violence Survivor’s Murder Confession / TheIntercept · Thursday, 30 November - 11:00 · 8 minutes

A woman who was charged with murdering her husband in 2020 sued the New York City Police Department, alleging that police officers fabricated the confession that was the basis of the case against her. The federal civil rights lawsuit also alleges that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office obtained a search warrant for an email account she created to draw attention to her case — and never disclosed it, as required by law.

Prosecutors dropped their case against Tracy McCarter last December, citing insufficient evidence. In the lawsuit, which was filed on November 2 in the Southern District of New York, McCarter said she had “sustained serious physical and psychological harm as a result of being wrongfully arrested, charged, imprisoned, searched, and prosecuted.”

The lawsuit names four NYPD officers who were involved with the arrest and one investigator from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who worked on the case. All four of the police officers have previously faced civilian complaints of misconduct, though such allegations are famously hard to prove . A spokesperson for the NYPD declined to comment on whether any of the officers are being investigated in relation to McCarter’s case, citing the pending litigation. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the allegation involving the undisclosed search warrant.

According to the NYPD’s disciplinary guidelines, making false, misleading, and inaccurate statements is cause for termination. There’s no data showing how often that happens, however.

Still, New York City taxpayers end up footing the bill when officers are accused of abusing their authority. The majority of lawsuits against the NYPD are settled, according to Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at the Legal Aid Society, a public defense organization in New York City.

“It seems like unless the story makes it to the press, somehow, cops are not actually paying the price for their perjury or for their false statements that are made in investigations.”

Those settlements are paid out from the city, not NYPD coffers, and New York City is on track to pay more than $100 million for such lawsuits this year alone, according to an analysis by the Legal Aid Society . As The Intercept previously reported, that figure is separate from the $30 million the city paid to settle lawsuits ahead of litigation, while 16 of the 20 officers named in the lawsuits with the highest payouts have been promoted .

“It seems like unless the story makes it to the press, somehow, cops are not actually paying the price for their perjury or for their false statements that are made in investigations,” said Wong. “It’s obscured in a way that they’ve always been obscured, with DA’s offices pleading out a case to a lesser charge or dismissing cases, or avoiding calling that particular officer to the stand and calling a different officer instead.”

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2021/08/03: Manhattan district Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. speaks on stage during National night out against gun violence in Harlem. Various organization joined police community affairs officers to drive a message against gun violence on streets of the city. There were service to help youth to get decent paying jobs, medical tents to get tested for HIV and COVID-19, to get COVID-19 vaccination, there were offering of free food. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance speaks on stage during National Night Out Against Crime in New York on Aug. 3, 2021.
Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Police arrested McCarter , a nurse at New York-Presbyterian, after the death of her estranged husband, James Murray, in March 2020. The lawsuit provides the following account of their relationship and Murray’s death: Murray struggled with alcoholism and abused McCarter when he was drinking, including choking her. On the night of his death, he drunkenly went to McCarter’s apartment demanding money. After she refused, Murray put her into a chokehold. McCarter held out a kitchen knife in an attempt to ward him off, but Murray tripped and fell into the kitchen knife, piercing him in the chest. (This account was later confirmed by forensic experts hired by both McCarter’s team and the prosecution, according to the lawsuit.) McCarter said she immediately called for help and applied pressure to Murray’s wound.

A transcript of body camera footage reviewed by The Intercept shows McCarter in distress and pleading for officers to help Murray. “Jim. Please stay with us,” she screamed, according to the transcript. “Oh god. Oh god. Why [unintelligible] did you do this Jim? Why did you do this? Why did you do this? He tried to take my money. Why did he do this? Oh my god.”

Shortly after, Officer Shahel Miah handcuffed McCarter. Another officer, Samantha Cortez, stated, “She said he tried to take her money and she stabbed him in the chest.” The transcript of the body camera footage does not show McCarter making the second part of that statement, but Cortez memorialized it in her report nonetheless, according to the lawsuit.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office cited the alleged confession to charge McCarter with second-degree murder, an offense that carries a possible sentence of 25 years to life. McCarter’s lawyers later tried to refute the claim with body camera footage, but the judge overseeing the case ruled against them.

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, McCarter was jailed on Rikers Island; she was ultimately released on house arrest in September 2020. Meanwhile, the prosecution used Cortez’s account as probable cause to obtain search warrants on McCarter’s phone and computer, including for dating apps that she shared with Murray. District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who entered office in January 2022, dismissed the charge against McCarter in December of that year after determining there was insufficient evidence to prosecute her.

Months after the charge was dropped, McCarter learned that the district attorney’s office had withheld information about its surveillance activities. In August 2023, Google notified McCarter that it had given prosecutors access to information about an email account she used to communicate with people who were advocating on her behalf. Google, in its email, wrote that a court order had previously prohibited the company from notifying her about the request.

McCarter’s lawyers later obtained the warrant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. It shows that prosecutors got a search warrant for the account, StandWithTracy, in December 2021, during Vance’s last month in office, on the grounds that it was being used to “commit or conceal the commission of a crime.” Prosecutors were seeking access to the emails, addresses, and calendars associated with the account, according to the warrant .

New York law requires prosecutors to turn over all documents related to the case. The district attorney’s office provided McCarter’s legal team with documents related to other search warrants, but those records did not mention the activism account.

In the lawsuit, McCarter alleges that the warrant was based on “false information from members of the NYPD.” Her lawyers asked the district attorney’s office — now run by Bragg — about the basis for searching the account, but prosecutors refused to turn over that documentation without a court order, the lawyers said.

“We don’t know what could possibly have been used to justify searching an account that was created to advocate on Tracy’s behalf as a survivor of domestic violence who was criminalized,” said Tess Cohen, one of McCarter’s lawyers. “We didn’t even know the search happened or what the result of that search was.”

For McCarter, the surveillance of the account was “beyond terrifying.”

“That is Orwellian,” she said.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 10: People gather at Foley Square to demand that NYC Mayor take action to shut down Rikers Island Jail Complex on August 10, 2023 in New York City. Activists participate today in a march and rally before the hearing about Rikers to discuss whether control of the jail complex will be taken away from NYC Mayor and assigned to an a third party. (Photo by Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress) People gather at Foley Square to demand that the mayor of New York take action to shut down Rikers Island, on Aug. 10, 2023, in New York.
Photo: Leonardo Munoz/Corbis via Getty Images

New Yorkers have previously complained about the conduct of all of the police officers named in McCarter’s lawsuit, according to The Intercept’s review of the public database for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates police misconduct.

One detective, Carlos Pagan, has faced six CCRB complaints for offenses such as use of force and abuse of authority dating back to 2011. None of those complaints have ever been substantiated, an outcome that means the CCRB found enough evidence of wrongdoing to recommend discipline. The majority of CCRB complaints are found to be unsubstantiated, but that doesn’t always mean it’s because there was no misconduct — the process for proving a case is difficult and burdensome.

Miah, the officer who handcuffed McCarter, has been the subject of three complaints. One of them, for abuse of authority, was substantiated, though the CCRB does not publicly provide details of the basis for the complaint. Miah did not face disciplinary action from the NYPD, according to a department database .

Cortez, the officer who said that McCarter confessed to stabbing Murray, faced a complaint for abuse of authority in September 2021, yet the investigation has been closed pending the outcome of the criminal case.

And Alexander Cruz, a detective who signed off on search warrants and the criminal complaint against McCarter, was the subject of a CCRB complaint in 2008 for abuse of authority. He was exonerated during those proceedings but was named in a lawsuit the following year alleging he filed false police reports and gave false testimony. The suit resulted in a $27,000 settlement that did not include an admission of wrongdoing. The NYPD later disciplined Cruz for knowingly filing “ inaccurate, and factually incorrect departmental reports” on 19 occasions and making “incomplete and inaccurate entries into the department memobook.” (His penalty was losing 15 vacation days.) The CCRB database lists Cruz as inactive.

Miah referred questions to the NYPD press office, which responded with a link to the department’s discipline database. Cortez did not respond, and Pagan and Cruz could not be reached for comment.

Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for Bragg, told The Intercept that the district attorney’s office takes into consideration police officers’ records. The office maintains “records with any information that could negatively impact a testifying officer’s credibility and proactively disclose it in any prosecution where they may be called as a witness,” Tuttle wrote in an email.

McCarter is seeking an unspecified amount in damages related to her loss of income and the trauma she said she endured as part of her arrest. According to her lawsuit, the experience left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideations, and medical bills for in-patient counseling she sought for her PTSD. She was suspended from both her job and her master’s program during the case, and she opted for a hysterectomy instead of a simpler medical procedure out of fear she’d be incarcerated and not receive adequate medical care for her condition.

In an interview, she said she hopes lawmakers in Albany, New York, will take note of the alleged misconduct in her case and review laws that protect police, prosecutors, and judges. She said, “The legislature actually prevents the accountability necessary in a just society to stop these abuses of power.”

The post NYPD Accused of Fabricating Domestic Violence Survivor’s Murder Confession appeared first on The Intercept .

  • wifi_tethering open_in_new

    This post is public /2023/11/30/nypd-domestic-violence-lawsuit/

  • Pictures 7 image

  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • chevron_right

    NYPD Paid Out $30 Million in Misconduct Cases Before Litigation in First Half of 2023 / TheIntercept · Monday, 27 November - 14:54 · 2 minutes

The New York Police Department has been making headlines for the huge settlements paid out by the city in misconduct cases. In the first half of 2023, New York City paid more than $50 million in lawsuits alleging misconduct by members of the NYPD.

That figure is on track to exceed $100 million by the end of the year — but even that total doesn’t capture how much the city has to spend in cases where its cops are accused of everything from causing car accidents to beating innocent people.

The $100 million figure does not include lawsuits settled by the city prior to litigation, which reached $30 million in the first nine months of this year, according to data obtained from the office of the New York City Comptroller through a public records request. Pre-litigation settlements from July 2022 through September of this year totaled $50 million — meaning the city’s payouts in such suits since July 2022, including those settled after litigation — rose to a total of around $280 million.

“It says something that it’s just such a high amount even before people get to file in civil court,” said Jennvine Wong, staff attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at the Legal Aid Society, which provides public defense in New York City. ”And all it does is it helps obscure police misconduct.”

The information about pre-litigation settlements provided to The Intercept through a public records request included settlements ranging from $1.8 million to $119. The comptroller’s office did not have immediately available data on the amount paid in pre-litigation settlements prior to July 2022.

In response to questions, an NYPD spokesperson pointed to a comptroller report that showed an 11 percent decrease in claims from 2021 to 2022, and a 52 percent drop in claims filed with the comptroller against the NYPD since 2013.

“The NYPD carefully analyzes this information as well as trends in litigation against the Department,” said an NYPD spokesperson who did not provide their name. “When it comes to litigation data, the NYPD is seeing similar success in the declining numbers. There has been a nearly 20% reduction in police action filings against the NYPD from 2021 to 2022, and a nearly 65% reduction since 2013.”

The report notes that while the number of tort claims filed against the NYPD declined from 2021 to 2022, the amount of payouts increased by 14 percent, from $208.1 million to $237.2 million.

Earlier this year, The Intercept reported that a new NYPD website dedicated to “transparency” around police misconduct and payouts leaves out cops accused of wrongdoing and only covers a fraction of the millions the city pays out in such cases. The website only includes those cases where there are findings of guilt, even as the police pay out millions of dollars precisely to avoid convictions and other findings of wrongdoing.

Some of the police officers left out of the transparency database have been named in multiple misconduct lawsuits. In some of the cases, rather than receiving public scrutiny through the database, the NYPD cops have received promotions .

The post NYPD Paid Out $30 Million in Misconduct Cases Before Litigation in First Half of 2023 appeared first on The Intercept .

  • wifi_tethering open_in_new

    This post is public /2023/11/27/nypd-misconduct-pre-litigation-settlements/

  • Pictures 5 image

  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • chevron_right

    Defying RICO Indictment, Faith Leaders Chain Themselves to Bulldozer to Stop Cop City / TheIntercept · Friday, 8 September - 00:10 · 5 minutes

Revs. Jeff Jones and Dave Dunn at the construction site of Cop City during a direct action in protest of the planned police training compound on Sept. 7, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of The People’s Stop Work Order

Five participants of the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement broke into the construction site of the planned police training compound known as “Cop City” on Thursday morning and chained themselves to a bulldozer. This is by no means the first direct action Stop Cop City protesters have taken to halt construction of the vast facility, but it carries renewed significance just two days after Georgia prosecutors announced extreme and overreaching racketeering charges against 61 other movement activists.

The charges, filed Tuesday under Georgia’s expansive Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, are an effort to chill the movement and paint one of the most resilient anti-racist, environmentalist efforts in history as a criminal enterprise. In response, activists on the ground are choosing solidarity and standing their ground.

The stakes are high. For one, activists want to ensure that Cop City — which would be the largest police training facility in the nation and would decimate crucial forest land in a majority Black community — will never be built. Thursday’s action also makes clear that efforts to criminalize whole social movements will only invite further resistance.

All five protesters, including two Unitarian Universalist clergy members, have been arrested by the DeKalb County Police. “Those five people have been taken into custody and we are working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation regarding charges on these individuals,” the department said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This is just the latest example of Georgia law enforcement treating typical acts of civil disobedience with a heavy-handed, multiagency response.

Police also downed and confiscated a drone belonging to a documentary crew attempting to film the construction site protest, in a possible infringement on press freedoms.

“Despite the repressive tactics of authorities who wish to disenfranchise the community and charge protestors with domestic terrorism and RICO, people of faith will continue to act to resist the militarization of our society,” said Rev. Dave Dunn, who was among those arrested, in a statement released by organizers.

Thursday’s action offers a defiant lesson in how movement participants can choose to respond when faced with state repression — and the efforts by police, government leaders, and prosecutors to crush the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement have indeed been extraordinary.

“The domestic terrorism and RICO charges against protesters are meant to scare us, or else to orient all of our energy and resources around supporting protesters who have been arrested,” Darcy, an Atlanta resident and movement participant told me. Darcy, like many others in the movement, withheld their last name for fear of law enforcement retaliation — an understandable choice, given how weak grounds for arrest and serious charges have been.

“By shutting down Cop City construction today, clergy and students showed that everyday people can take bold actions to block this facility from being built,” they said, “and that our biggest protection against repression is a movement that wins.”

The sweeping, 109-page RICO indictment paints the decentralized and diverse movement as a criminal enterprise, citing social justice activities such as “mutual aid,” writing “zines,” and “collectivism” as proof of criminal conspiracy. Dozens of people named in the indictment also face malicious state domestic terrorism charges, based on flimsy grounds.

Others facing RICO and money-laundering charges did little more than raise and distribute donations to support arrestees and provide materials for engaging in First Amendment activities, like making protest signs. Also named in the indictment are individuals previously arrested on felony charges for handing out flyers that named a police officer connected to the killing of Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, a forest defender who was shot 57 times during a multiagency raid on the Atlanta Forest protest encampment in January.

Whether the RICO, domestic terrorism, or other extreme charges stick, the prosecutions alone are chilling. If the Stop Cop City movement has offered a model for intersectional, abolitionist, environmentalist, and diverse anti-racist struggle, the charges participants now face present a blueprint for a totalizing approach to repression.

It is no accident that the RICO indictment lists the start of the alleged racketeering conspiracy as the date of George Floyd’s murder by police — May 25, 2020 — which predates the announcement of plans for Cop City. The indictment is explicit in tracing the birth of the Stop Cop City movement back to the 2020 Black liberation uprisings in order to treat any involvement in these connected struggles as grounds for criminal prosecution.

The activists involved in Thursday’s action delivered what they called “The People’s Stop Work Order” against Cop City construction. In a statement , they noted that activists who have attempted to use official, democratic routes to oppose Cop City have been consistently stymied by undemocratic government actions.

“The construction of this project and the destruction of the South River Forest have continued despite over 100,000 Atlanta residents signing a ballot initiative calling for a referendum on the issue,” organizers said. “The city of Atlanta has fought the referendum with lawsuits and technical obstructions.”

Participants in Thursday’s action engaged in just the sort of activity that the government is attempting to cast as criminal conspiracy with the RICO indictment: civil disobedience with a civil rights movement legacy , especially in Atlanta. In the face of such authoritarian responses, ongoing and widespread movement action that uses a range of protest tactics undermines government and police efforts to delegitimize a popular movement. Solidarity rallies and marches have already been organized in over a dozen cities and towns nationwide.

“As we see in the indictment, the act of mutual aid, the acts of our connectedness, are seen as a threat,” Mary Hooks, an Atlanta-based organizer and activist in the Movement for Black Lives, told me. “But these things are exactly what we need for our safety and what we need in the face of rising fascism.”

“Hopefully today does give hope,” she said. “Afraid? Yes we are, but we will choose courage over fear every day in the face of repression and oppression.”

The post Defying RICO Indictment, Faith Leaders Chain Themselves to Bulldozer to Stop Cop City appeared first on The Intercept .

  • chevron_right

    Undercover Federal Police Shot and Paralyzed Unhoused Man in Wheelchair / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 6 September - 19:30 · 9 minutes

Body camera footage shows undercover U.S. Forest Service police officers shooting Brooks Roberts on May 19, 2023.

Still: U.S. Forest Service body camera

Before U.S. Forest Service police repeatedly shot Brooks Roberts in May, he was already disabled and required the use of a wheelchair. Now, at 39 years old, Brooks is unlikely to ever walk again: He is paralyzed from the waist down, has limited use of his right arm, and cannot control his bowels. Such is the punishment for being unhoused in America.

In late August, Brooks and his attorneys filed a claim against numerous government agencies seeking $50 million in monetary damages for “extreme suffering” caused by the shooting. According to the claim, Forest Service officers, in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management, shot Brooks “needlessly and recklessly” on May 19: through his arm and back shoulder, in his armpit and the bottom of his spine, through the middle of his back, and several times in his legs. The officers opened fire when they saw Brooks was carrying a gun — but they were wearing civilian clothing and had not identified themselves as police, according to the complaint.

“Because this incident involved federal law enforcement officers, the investigation was handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It would be inappropriate for us to provide any additional comments at this time,” the Forest Service said in a statement provided to The Intercept. The FBI declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing investigation, and the Department of Justice and BLM did not respond to requests for comment.

The obscene multiagency operation began with a devious trick, designed solely to arrest the Roberts family for low-level misdemeanors related to their overstay on national forest land outside of Boise, Idaho.

Police body camera footage shows two undercover Forest Service officers approached the small trailers in which Brooks, his mother Judy, and his brother Timber had lived since they were evicted from their rental home in 2020. The officers said they needed help starting their car, so Timber promptly went out to get his truck and retrieve jumper cables. They then grabbed Timber and forced him to the ground as he screamed for help.

“They shot him in the back when he was defenseless and immobile.”

According to the claim, “Mr. Roberts, hearing his brother’s cries for help, wheeled out in his wheelchair to find what appeared to be his brother being carjacked or robbed. As he approached his brother to save him, officers saw the .22 revolver Mr. Roberts carried and opened fire on him.”

The complaint adds that Brooks did not fire his gun, and he swiftly threw it on the ground, several feet away, when he realized the men were police. “They shot him in the back when he was defenseless and immobile,” the claim states.

Another body camera video of the shooting’s aftermath shows Brooks writhing on the ground covered in blood and mud, crying that he cannot feel his legs, as police continue to pull his arms behind his back to force him into handcuffs.

“I’m sorry,” Brooks can be heard apologizing, “I didn’t know you were cops.”

Brooks Roberts recovers at Vibra Hospital in Boise, Idaho, on Aug. 7, 2023.

Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Roberts

The shooting is as frenzied and chaotic as it is gruesome, and drenched in what seems to be a disregard for human life. The circumstances that brought dozens of law enforcement officers to ambush an unhoused family over minor misdemeanor charges are emblematic of a social order that turns financial hardship into terminal poverty, and poverty into a crime managed by deadly state violence . “Organized abandonment and organized violence,” as abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore has long put it.

“Federal police officers planned in secret to arrest this homeless family on minor misdemeanor offenses by preying on their good graces. Officers knew that the family would help two people that they thought were stranded motorists,” Craig Durham, one of Brooks’s attorneys, wrote me via email. “It’s a shame that in the wealthiest nation on earth, our federal government will expend so many resources to hassle a homeless family, botch an arrest so badly, and permanently injure someone, rather than just help them find a place to live.”

The Robertses were not staying in trailers — which lacked running water, heat in frigid winters, and air conditioning in brutal desert summers — out of choice. They had been trying to find housing since their eviction in 2020, when Judy lost her job of 13 years at a manufacturing plant after being T-boned in a serious car accident.

According to the wrongful shooting claim, the Roberts family tried to find emergency shelter as the Covid pandemic raged but were told all options were full. “For months they moved from place to place across southwest Idaho, encountering law enforcement who told them, again and again, to move on.” A criminal complaint against the three family members for violations relating to their overstay, and against Timber for a further count of disorderly conduct, notes that law enforcement officials had been informing the family of the need to move off forest land since late 2020.

In this country, the poor do not fall through the cracks, because these are not cracks but traps — from which there is no release.

In this country, the poor do not fall through the cracks, because these are not cracks but traps — from which there is no release. In the winter of 2021 to 2022, Judy suffered severe frostbite as the family stayed on BLM high desert land. “Her feet eventually froze to the floor of an old school bus. Hallucinating, she was rushed to the hospital, but doctors could not save her feet,” the claim filing noted. “After a double amputation, she spent several months in physical therapy learning how to walk with prosthetics.”

The following summer, Brooks was injured during an overnight Walmart shift, which left him requiring a wheelchair for mobility. The family was again forced to move by the BLM and set up their trailers further north on Forest Service land. That winter, 26 inches of snow left Judy, Brooks, and Timber snowed in and stuck. Nonetheless, the government continued to charge all three of them with multiple misdemeanor counts related to staying on federal lands.

In February 2023, the family appeared in court, were arraigned on “multiple misdemeanor violations” and granted pretrial release. A warrant was issued for the family’s arrests in May, however, after they “continued to violate numerous federal laws,” and after Timber allegedly shouted obscenities at federal officers and threatened members of the public, according to the government’s complaint. Forest Service and BLM agents then planned their undercover arrest operation, even though the matter was already in the courts. According to Brooks’s wrongful shooting claim, “No agent contacted the Robertses’ appointed attorneys. No agent reached out to see if they would surrender on these charges, as they had before.”

“I got social security disability, which they garnished for nonpayment of tickets for staying too long on forest land. We needed that money to get into an RV place. They should be using their resources to help people find a place to live instead of persecuting them,” said Judy, in a statement shared by Brooks’s attorneys.

“How can we get on our feet when you keep ticketing us to take away our money that we could have used for housing?” Brooks added. “It just makes the problems amplified. If the person is struggling to find a place and then they get arrested, then they really have trouble, because they don’t have the ability to find a place when they’re in jail.”

Body camera footage shows officers arriving to Payette National Forest where Brooks Roberts was living in a camper with his family following an eviction.

Still: U.S. Forest Service body camera

Like every state, Idaho lacks thousands of much-needed affordable rental homes. Last December, Boise-based organization Charitable Assistance to Community’s Homeless, or CATCH, reported the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city had doubled since 2020. Like the Robertses, a growing number of people who cannot find housing turn to staying on public lands in trailers and encampments. In a Boise State Public Radio report last year, a BLM supervisory field staff ranger said the number of people living on BLM land in Idaho had increased “tenfold, at least” in recent years.

Most national parks have a camping stay limit of two to three weeks. A crucial 2018 federal court decision, however, ruled that unhoused people cannot be punished for sleeping on public land if no shelter beds are available. “The government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided in Martin v. Boise, a ruling that covers the jurisdiction in which the Roberts family were continuously harassed and punished for their homelessness.

Durham, the attorney, told me he and his team believe Martin v. Boise applies in this instance and will be using it to defend the Roberts family in the criminal case brought against them by the government.

Local, state, and federal authorities have keenly sought ambiguities and loopholes in Martin, like banning daytime camping and sanctioning certain encampment sites, so that all others can be cleared without providing the sustainable permanent housing that should be a right.

In the summer of 2022, the National Park Service cleared two unhoused encampments from federal land in Washington, D.C., citing “threats to public health and safety.” The action clarified, in no uncertain terms, who does and does not get to count as “the public” in the eyes of our federal government. Similar rhetoric was deployed to defend the brutal killing of Jordan Neely , an unhoused Black man in crisis, on a New York City subway in May; officials invoked a selective view of a “public” deserving safety, from which Neely was violently excluded.

Following Brooks’s shooting, the National Homelessness Law Center called on the Biden administration “to issue an executive order eliminating all federal police activities in their response to homelessness, and instead to mandate a housing- and services-only approach that is rooted in choice, healing, and racial justice.”

In May, the Biden administration announced an initiative to partner with the country’s major cities with the aim of a 25 percent reduction in national homelessness by 2025 — an already insufficient goal that will still be hard to obtain amid soaring housing prices, slashed social services budgets, and the billions more being poured into policing by Democrats and Republicans alike .

“Data clearly show that a police approach is expensive, diverts community resources that could be used for housing, disproportionately harms Black people and other people of color and is overall ineffective at solving homelessness,” the National Homelessness Law Center said in a statement.

The Roberts family’s story is yet another reminder of the consequences of criminalizing poverty and homelessness. Timber and Judy are currently living in a hotel, where they rely on donations and support from local mutual aid networks. Three months after the shooting, Brooks remains in the hospital.

The post Undercover Federal Police Shot and Paralyzed Unhoused Man in Wheelchair appeared first on The Intercept .

  • chevron_right

    Alabama Trans Health Care Ruling is a Worrying Omen for a Future SCOTUS Decision / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 22 August - 19:57 · 3 minutes

FILE - A person holds up a sign reading, "Trans People Belong in Alabama," during a rally outside the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on International Transgender Day of Visibility, Friday, March 31, 2023. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, a federal appeals court ruled that Alabama can enforce a ban outlawing the use of puberty blockers and hormones to treat transgender children, the second such appellate victory for gender-affirming care restrictions that have been adopted by a growing number of Republican-led states. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)

A person holds up a sign reading “Trans People Belong in Alabama” during a rally outside the Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, 2023.

Photo: Kim Chandler/AP

Three Trump-appointed federal judges ruled on Monday to allow one of the country’s harshest bans on gender-affirming care for minors to go into effect. In Alabama, a doctor who treats a trans person under 19 years old with puberty blockers or hormones could now face felony charges carrying up to 10 years in prison.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision reverses an injunction that temporarily blocked the health care ban and stands at odds with the majority of federal court decisions on the issue so far. The disturbing ruling gives the clearest outline yet of the reactionary judicial logic that could be used to decimate trans peoples’ right to necessary health care, should the issue be taken up by the far-right Supreme Court: the very same reasoning used to end the right to abortion.

Just as SCOTUS ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson that abortion was not constitutionally protected because it was not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” the 11th Circuit stated that parents do not have a fundamental right to direct the transition-related medical care of their children.

“The use of these medications in general — let alone for children — almost certainly is not ‘deeply rooted’ in our nation’s history and tradition,” Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote, citing the Dobbs decision.

“Although there are records of transgender or otherwise gender nonconforming individuals from various points in history,” noted the ruling, “the earliest-recorded uses of puberty blocking medication and cross-sex hormone treatment for the purposes of treating the discordance between an individual’s biological sex and sense of gender identity did not occur until well into the twentieth century.”

That is, trans youths have no right to the medicine they need because that medicine is not hundreds of years old. The decision also implies that the same logic could also be used to find bans on adult trans health care unconstitutional.

To demand that unenumerated rights be “deeply rooted” in U.S. “history and tradition” is, after all, to insist that only the rights of propertied white men are recognized as fundamental.

The deployment of Dobbs to deny established civil rights comes as no surprise. When Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked , it was clear that the “history and tradition” standard would be invoked again to hack away at an array of rights and legal precedents hard won in the last century.

To demand that unenumerated rights be “deeply rooted” in U.S. “history and tradition” is, after all, to insist that only the rights of propertied white men are recognized as fundamental — as Alito and his Christo-nationalist allies well know. The AR-15 assault weapon was only invented “well into the twentieth century” too, but we can be sure that such an argument from history would do little to aid gun control advocates in court. Too much is at stake in our collective struggle for bodily autonomy to entertain the fantasy that pointing out right-wing hypocrisy undermines right-wing rule.

When the first trans youth health care bans were heard by federal courts this past year, it was heartening that judges in state after state saw the bans for what they are — at odds with scientific consensus, ideologically driven, discriminatory, and likely unconstitutional — and blocked them. Even in some notoriously conservative courts, federal judges from Florida to Kentucky to Arkansas agreed that arguments treating youth gender-affirming care as untested and dangerous are simply not based in fact. Only one other federal court, the 6th Circuit, has reversed an injunction and permitted a ban on trans youth health care to go through, in Tennessee.

With the circuits split on the issue, it is ever more likely that a case will soon go before the Supreme Court. The 11th Circuit ruling gives a chilling taste of what a SCOTUS decision could look like: poorly argued and drenched in the sort of authoritarian dogma that the nation’s highest court is known to embrace.

The post Alabama Trans Health Care Ruling is a Worrying Omen for a Future SCOTUS Decision appeared first on The Intercept .

  • chevron_right

    Anti-Press Hatred Is Alive and Well in Kansas / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 15 August - 15:58 · 3 minutes

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - 2020/05/09: A protester holds a placard that says Fake News Is The Real Virus during the demonstration. Citizens staged a protest in front of the Huntington Beach Pier to demand for the reopening of the California economy. (Photo by Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A pro-Trump protester holds a placard that says Fake News Is The Real Virus during a protest in Huntington Beach, Calif., on May 9, 2020.

Photo: Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

An ugly strain of anti-press hatred is stalking the nation.

The latest victim of this poisonous, anti-democratic virus is a small-town newspaper in Kansas.

On Friday, local police, acting like the Gestapo, raided the office of the Marion County Record, as well as the home of its owner and publisher. They used a trumped-up search warrant approved by a compliant local judge to seize newsgathering equipment, including the computers and cellphones of reporters. The raid was so traumatic that the publisher’s 98-year-old mother, who was the newspaper’s co-owner, died on Saturday as a result.

The police were trying to suppress the truth that the newspaper had uncovered about a local restaurant owner who hosted an event for the region’s far-right member of Congress, Rep. Jake LaTurner.

The Marion County Record was doing basic accountability reporting, the lifeblood of small-town journalism.

It has always taken courage to run independent newspapers in small towns and mid-sized cities in America. For generations, politicians and business leaders have fought back against aggressive coverage by local newspapers and have frequently made life difficult for publishers and reporters. Almost every reporter who has ever worked for a small newspaper has experienced resistance from the local power structure. I experienced a bit of it myself during my first job in journalism.

As a young reporter in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the late 1970s, I wrote a story revealing that local banks were not making mortgage loans in the Black community. In response, the biggest bank in town took out full-page ads in the newspaper for two days straight attacking my story. Thankfully, the paper’s top editor backed me up; the day the bank’s first ad ran, he walked past my desk in the newsroom and said simply, “Thanks for the extra ad revenue.”


The Espionage Axe: Donald Trump and the War Against a Free Press

But things have gotten much worse over the past few years. Hatred of the press has deepened on the extreme right, stoked by Donald Trump and his paranoid acolytes. Trump labeled the press the “enemy of the people,” a fascist slogan that has now seeped into common usage on the right. Physical attacks on journalists in the United States are becoming more common and are now a signature of right-wing extremism; reporters who covered the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol were assaulted and had their equipment damaged.

Eric Meyer, the owner and publisher of the Marion County Record, was stunned by Friday’s raid, which involved the town’s entire five-member police force and two sheriff’s deputies. He told the Kansas Reflector that the message from police and the local political establishment was clear: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”

It is probably not surprising that the local establishment that is attacking the Marion County Record is at the same time supporting an extreme right-winger like LaTurner, who has not commented on the raid on his Twitter account. Meyer told the Associated Press that “this is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do.”

(The Intercept and other news organizations signed a letter from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press condemning the raid.)

The unjustified assault on the Marion County Record is another reminder that press freedom is one of the most important democratic traditions under threat from Trumpism.

The post Anti-Press Hatred Is Alive and Well in Kansas appeared first on The Intercept .

  • chevron_right

    Targeting Trans Kids, Florida School Board Requires Parental Approval for Nicknames / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 9 August - 18:00 · 4 minutes

ORLANDO, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - APRIL 21: Students and others attend a âWalkout 2 Learnâ rally to protest Florida education policies outside Orlando City Hall on April 21, 2023 in Orlando, Florida. Demonstrations were held in four Florida cities and included classroom walkouts by students as a response to Republican-led legislation that organizers say âcensorâ education, including instruction regarding gender, sexuality and race. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Students and others attend a “walkout to learn” rally to protest Florida education policies outside Orlando City Hall on April 21, 2023, in Orlando, Fla.

Photo: Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In their latest absurd and overreaching attempt to stomp out gender nonconformity, Florida Republicans have found a new tactic: nicknames. If a child in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools system wants to use a name that deviates in any way from their legal name, they must now submit a signed parental permission form.

According to a memo released Monday, the new rule, while transparently targeted at trans kids, applies to all students, including cis students using common nicknames.

“As an example, if the student is named Robert, but likes to be called the nickname Rob, the form must be filled out authorizing teachers and other personnel to call Robert the nickname Rob,” the new guidelines state.

Such are the extremities to which far-right school boards are willing to go to oppress young trans people.

If a cis boy with the legal name Robert can’t be called Rob in school without parental permission, then neither could a trans girl called Roberta. Even if Roberta could obtain parental permission to use her chosen name, Florida law ensures that the school is still free to misgender her.

“Under the recently adopted House Bill 1069, the teacher or other personnel may elect not to utilize the pronoun ‘she/her’ when referring to Roberta,” notes the school board memo. If parents fail to serve Republicans as a disciplining force against gender nonconformity, the GOP passion for parental rights flies out the window.

Orange County is not the first public school system to introduce a guideline around students’ chosen names. In total, however, the school board’s new rules comprise some of the most extreme and comprehensive anti-trans policies of any public institution in the country — the fruits of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s radically reactionary takeover of education policy. Like most astroturfed assaults on trans existence in recent years, the Orange County rules combine a vile mixture of banned and coerced speech; fixations on bathrooms and genitalia ; threats of harsh penalties and vigilante enforcement; and profoundly selective invocations of parental rights .

As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern noted on Twitter, these anti-trans rules were introduced during a “SEVERE teacher shortage,” as the Orange County Public School system has been “chronically unable to retain teachers year-to-year.” Facing hundreds of vacancies, the school board nonetheless prioritized new guidelines that would either drive out or repel trans and trans-supportive teachers and staff.

These policies are grimly predictable for a school board infiltrated by the far-right extremist group Moms for Liberty, as Orange County and other Florida districts were last year . When it comes to names and pronouns, however, the new rules go particularly far: Teachers — adult workers — must use pronouns and titles that align with their assigned sex at birth, according to Monday’s memo. The guidance brings the school board’s policy into alignment with a vile Florida law , which was passed in May.

This detail bears repeating, as it crystallizes Republicans’ selective approach to free speech: Teachers are not required to use their trans students’ chosen pronouns, but trans teachers are expressly forbidden from using the pronouns that align with their gender. The policy appears to stand in direct violation of the First Amendment, as well as the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision, which protects LGBTQ+ workers from discrimination.


The Unspeakable Cruelty of Targeting Trans Kids to Score Campaign Points

The fact that the rules for students’ chosen names apply to both cis and trans children may at first appear as merely a cynical ploy to avoid legal challenges, as anti-trans laws have consistently been blocked in federal courts in recent months. No one truly believes a teacher will face disciplinary consequences for calling a cis boy Rob without a form from his parents. Any such rules will be selectively enforced to attack gender nonconformity.

The blanket name change rule is no doubt a legal fig leaf, but it nonetheless reveals that gender conformity requires expansive authoritarian enforcement far beyond the policing of trans and queer communities and individuals.

An education policy committed to trans eliminationism must also insist that all children be held in disciplined stasis.

This is not to relativize the suffering inflicted on trans students through such rules. Enforcing the use of trans kids’ deadnames is a violence; enforcing the use of legal names for cis children doesn’t come close, but it remains a significant denial of autonomy.

To insist on gender conformity requires broad social control; an education policy committed to trans eliminationism must also insist that all children be held in disciplined stasis. That’s a feature of the far-right agenda, not a bug.

Thankfully, hundreds of thousands of students have protested and continue to protest school board meetings, staging walkouts against anti-trans laws and policies, including in Orange County. They will not be readily controlled — they will use each other’s names.

The post Targeting Trans Kids, Florida School Board Requires Parental Approval for Nicknames appeared first on The Intercept .

  • chevron_right

    The Online Christian Counterinsurgency Against Sex Workers / TheIntercept · Saturday, 29 July - 10:00 · 16 minutes

The most popular video on Vaught Victor Marx’s YouTube now has more than 15 million views. Standing solemnly in a dark blue karate gi while his son Shiloh Vaughn Marx smiles and points a gun at his face, Marx uses his expertise as a seventh-degree black belt in “Cajun Karate Keichu-Do” to perform what he claims was the world’s fastest gun disarm. Over a period of just 80 milliseconds — according to Marx’s measurement — he snatches the gun from his son and effortlessly ejects the magazine. It’s a striking display, one that unequivocally shouts: I am here to stop bad guys.

Marx is more than just a competitive gun-disarmer and martial artist. He is also a former Marine, a self-proclaimed exorcist, and an author and filmmaker. He also helped launch the Skull Games, a privatized intelligence outfit that purports to hunt pedophiles, sex traffickers, and other “demonic activity” using a blend of sock-puppet social media accounts and commercial surveillance tools — including face recognition software.

The Skull Games events have attracted notable corporate allies. Recent games have been “powered” by the internet surveillance firm Cobwebs, and an upcoming competition is partnered with cellphone-tracking data broker Anomaly Six .

The moral simplicity of Skull Games’s mission is emblazoned across its website in fierce, all-caps type: “We hunt predators.” And Marx has savvily ridden recent popular attention to the independent film “ Sound of Freedom ,” a dramatization of the life of fellow anti-trafficking crusader Tim Ballard. In the era of QAnon and conservative “groomer” panic, vowing to take down shadowy — and frequently exaggerated — networks of “traffickers” under the aegis of Christ is an exercise in shrewd branding.

Although its name is a reference to the mind games played by pimps and traffickers, Skull Games, which Marx’s church is no longer officially involved in, is itself a form of sport for its participants: a sort of hackathon for would-be Christian saviors, complete with competition. Those who play are awarded points based on their sleuthing. Finding a target’s high school diploma or sonogram imagery nets 15 points, while finding the same tattoo on multiple women would earn a whopping 300. On at least one occasion, according to materials reviewed by The Intercept and Tech Inquiry, participants competed for a chance at prizes, including paid work for Marx’s California church and one of its surveillance firm partners.

While commercially purchased surveillance exists largely outside the purview of the law, Skull Games was founded to answer to a higher power. The event started under the auspices of All Things Possible Ministries, the Murrieta, California, evangelical church Marx founded in 2003.

Marx has attributed his conversion to Christianity to becoming reunited with his biological father — according to Marx, formerly a “practicing warlock” — toward the end of his three years in the Marine Corps. Marx’s tendency to blame demons and warlocks would become the central cause of controversy of his own ministry, largely as a result of his focus on exorcisms as the solutions to issues ranging from pornography to veteran suicides. As Marx recently told “The Spillover” podcast, “I hunt pedophiles, but I also hunt demons.”

Skull Games also ends up being a hunt for sex workers, conflating them with trafficking victims as they prepare intelligence dossiers on women before turning them over to police.

Groups seeking to rescue sex workers — whether through religion, prosecution , or both — are nothing new, said Kristen DiAngelo, executive director of the advocacy group Sex Workers Outreach Project Sacramento. What Skull Games represents — the technological outsourcing of police work to civilian volunteers — presents a new risk to sex workers, she argued.

“I think it’s dangerous because you set up people to have that vigilante mentality.”

“I think it’s dangerous because you set up people to have that vigilante mentality — that idea that, we’re going to go out and we’re going to catch somebody — and they probably really believe that they are going to ‘save someone,’” DiAngelo told The Intercept and Tech Inquiry. “And that’s that savior complex. We don’t need saving; we need support and resources.”

The eighth Skull Games, which took place over the weekend of July 21, operated out of a private investigation firm headquartered in a former church in Wanaque, New Jersey. A photo of the event shared by the director of intelligence of Skull Games showed 57 attendees — almost all wearing matching black T-shirts — standing in front of corporate due diligence firm Hetherington Group’s office with a Skull Games banner unfurled across its front doors. Hetherington Group’s address is simple to locate online, but their office signage doesn’t mention the firm’s name, only saying “593 Ringwood LLC” above the words “In God We Trust.” (Cynthia Hetherington, the CEO of Hetherington Group and a board member of Skull Games, distanced her firm from the surveillance programs normally used at the events. “Cobwebs brought the bagels, which I’m still trying to digest,” she said. “I didn’t see their software anywhere in the event.”)

The attempt to merge computerized counterinsurgency techniques with right-wing evangelism has left some Skull Games participants uncomfortable. One experienced attendee of the January 2023 Skull Games was taken aback by an abundance of prayer circles and paucity of formal training. “Within the first 10 minutes,” the participant recalled of a training webinar, “I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’”

2M69C9D Jeff Tiegs, chief operations officer of All Things Possible Ministries, blesses U.S. Army Soldiers and explains to them the religious origins of a popular hand gesture on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, April 20, 2022. Tiegs said the hand gesture popularized by Star Trek originated as a blessing of the descendants of Aaron, a Jewish High Priest in the Torah.

Jeff Tiegs blesses U.S. Army Soldiers and explains to them the religious origins of a popular hand gesture on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, on April 20, 2022.

Photo: Alamy

Delta Force OSINT

The numbers of nongovernmental surveillance practitioners has risen in tandem with the post-9/11 boom in commercial tools for social media surveillance, analyzing private chat rooms, and tracking cellphone pings.

Drawing on this abundance of civilian expertise, Skull Games brings together current and former military and law enforcement personnel, along with former sex workers and even employees of surveillance firms themselves. Both Skull Games and the high-profile, MAGA-beloved Operation Underground Railroad have worked with Cobwebs, but Skull Games roots its branding in counterinsurgency and special operations rather than homeland security.

“I fought the worst of the worst: ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban,” Skull Games president and former Delta Force soldier Jeff Tiegs has said . “But the adversary I despise the most are human traffickers.” Tiegs has told interviewers that he takes “counterterrorism / counterinsurgency principles” and applies them to these targets.

“I fought the worst of the worst: ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban. But the adversary I despise the most are human traffickers.”

The plan broadly mimicked a widely praised Pentagon effort to catch traffickers that was ultimately shut down this May due to a lack of funding. In a training session earlier this month, Tiegs noted that active-duty military service members take part in the hunts; veterans like Tiegs himself are everywhere. The attendee list for a recent training event shows participants with day jobs at the Department of Defense, Portland Police Bureau, and Air Force, as well as a lead contracting officer from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Skull Games employs U.S. Special Forces jargon, which dominates the pamphlets handed out to volunteers. Each volunteer is assigned the initial informal rank of private and works out of a “Special Operations Coordination Center.” Government acronyms abound: Participants are asked to keep in mind CCIRs — Commander’s Critical Information Requirements — while preventing EEFIs — Essential Elements of Friendly Information— from falling into the hands of the enemy.

Tiegs’s transition from counterinsurgency to counter-human-trafficking empresario came after he met Jeff Keith, the founder of the anti-trafficking nonprofit Guardian Group, where Tiegs was an executive for nearly five years. While Tiegs was developing Guardian Group’s tradecraft for identifying victims, he was also beginning to work more closely with Marx, whom he met on a trip to Iraq in 2017. By the end of 2018, Marx and Tiegs had joined each others’ boards.

Beyond the Special Forces acumen of its leadership, what sets Skull Games apart from other amateur predator-hunting efforts is its reliance on “open-source intelligence.” OSINT, as it’s known, is a military euphemism popular among its practitioners that refers to a broad amalgam of intelligence-gathering techniques , most relying on surveilling the public internet and purchasing sensitive information from commercial data brokers.


American Phone-Tracking Firm Demo’d Surveillance Powers by Spying on CIA and NSA

Sensitive personal information is today bought and sold so widely, including by law enforcement and spy agencies, that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently warned that data “that could be used to cause harm to an individual’s reputation, emotional well-being, or physical safety” is available on “nearly everyone.”

Skull Games’s efforts to tap this unregulated sprawl of digital personal data function as sort of vice squad auxiliaries. Participants scour the U.S. for digital evidence of sex work before handing their findings over to police — officers the participants often describe as friends and collaborators.

After publicly promoting 2020 as the year Guardian Group would “scale” its tradecraft up to tackling many more cases, Tiegs abruptly jumped from his role as chief operating officer of the organization into the same title at All Things Possible — Marx’s church. By December 2021, Tiegs had launched the first Skull Games under the umbrella of All Things Possible. The event was put together in close partnership with Echo Analytics, which had been acquired earlier that year by Quiet Professionals, a surveillance contractor led by a former Delta Force sergeant major. The first Skull Games took place in the Tampa offices of Echo Analytics, just 13 miles from the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command.

As of May 2023, Tiegs has separated from All Things Possible and leads the Skull Games as a newly independent, tax-exempt nonprofit. “Skull Games is separate and distinct from ATP,” he said in an emailed statement. “There is no role for ATP or Marx in Skull Games.”

The Hunt

Reached by phone, Tiegs downplayed the role of powerful surveillance tools in Skull Games’s work while also conceding he wasn’t always aware of what technologies were being used in the hunt for predators — or how.

Despite its public emphasis on taking down traffickers, much of Skull Games’s efforts boil down to scrolling through sex worker ad listings and attempting to identify the women. Central to the sleuthing, according to Tiegs and training materials reviewed by The Intercept and Tech Inquiry, is the search for visual indicators in escort ads and social media posts that would point to a woman being trafficked. An October 2022 report funded by the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, however, concluded that the appearance of many such indicators — mostly emojis and acronyms — was statistically insignificant.

Tiegs spoke candidly about the centrality of face recognition to Skull Games. “So here’s a girl, she’s being exploited, we don’t know who she is,” he said. “All we have is a picture and a fake name, but, using some of these tools, you’re able to identify her mugshot. Now you know everything about her, and you’re able to start really putting a case together.”

According to notes viewed by The Intercept and Tech Inquiry, the competition recommended that volunteers use and PimEyes , programs that allow users to conduct reverse image searches for an uploaded picture of face . In a July Skull Games webinar, one participant noted that they had been able to use PimEyes to find a sex worker’s driver’s license posted to the web.


Texas State Police Purchased Israeli Phone-Tracking Software for “Border Emergency”

In January, Cobwebs Technologies, an Israeli firm, announced it would provide Skull Games with access to its Tangles surveillance platform. According to Tiegs, the company is “one of our biggest supporters.” Previous reporting from Motherboard detailed the IRS Criminal Investigation unit’s usage of Cobwebs for undercover investigations.

Skull Games training materials provided to The Intercept and Tech Inquiry provide detailed instructions on the creation of “sock puppet” social media accounts: fake identities for covert research and other uses. Tiegs denied recommending the creation of such pseudonymous accounts, but on the eve of the eighth Skull Games, team leader Joe Labrozzi told fellow volunteers, “We absolutely recommend sock puppets,” according to a training seminar transcript reviewed by The Intercept and Tech Inquiry. Other volunteers shared tips on creating fake social media accounts, including the use of ChatGPT and machine learning-based face-generation tools to build convincing social media personas.

Tiegs also denied a participant’s assertion that Clearview AI’s face recognition software was heavily used in the January 2023 Skull Games. Training materials obtained by Tech Inquiry and The Intercept, however, suggest otherwise. At one point in a July training webinar, a Virginia law enforcement volunteer who didn’t give their name asked what rules were in place for using their official access to face recognition and other law enforcement databases. “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,” replied another participant, adding that some police Skull Games volunteers had permission to tap their departmental access to Clearview AI and Spotlight, an investigative tool that uses Amazon’s Rekognition technology to identify faces.

Cobwebs — which became part of the American wiretapping company PenLink earlier this month — provides a broad array of surveillance capabilities, according to a government procurement document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Cobwebs provides investigators with the ability to continuously monitor the web for certain keyphrases. The Tangles platform can also provide face recognition; fuse OSINT with personal account data collected from search warrants; and pinpoint individuals through the locations of their phones — granting the ability to track a person’s movements going back as many as three years without judicial oversight.

When reached for comment, Cobwebs said, “Only through collaboration between all sectors of society — government, law enforcement, academia — and the proper tools, can we combat human trafficking.” The company did not respond to detailed questions about how its platform is used by Skull Games.

According to a source who previously attended a Skull Games event, and who asked for anonymity because of their ongoing role in counter-trafficking, only one member of the “task force” of participants had access to the Tangles platform: a representative from Cobwebs itself who could run queries from other task force analysts when requested. The rest of the group was equipped with whatever OSINT-gathering tools they already had access to outside of Skull Games, creating a lopsided exercise in which some participants were equipped with little more than their keyboards and Google searches, while others tapped tools like Clearview or Thomson Reuters CLEAR, an analytics tool used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement .


Powerful Mobile Phone Surveillance Tool Operates in Obscurity Across the Country

Tiegs acknowledged that most Skull Games participants likely have some professional OSINT expertise. By his account, they operate on a sort of BYO-intelligence-gathering-tool basis and, owing to Skull Games’s ad hoc use of technology, said he couldn’t confirm how exactly Cobwebs may have been used in the past. Despite Skull Games widely advertising its partnership with another source of cellphone location-tracking data — the commercial surveillance company Anomaly Six — Tiegs said, “We’re not pinpointing the location of somebody.” He claimed Skull Games uses less sophisticated techniques to generate leads for police who may later obtain a court order for, say, geolocational data. (Anomaly Six said that it is not providing its software or data to Skull Games.)

Tiegs also expressed frustration with the notion that deploying surveillance tools to crack down on sex work would be seen as impermissible. “We allow Big Data to monitor everything you’re doing to sell you iPods or sunglasses or new socks,” he said, “but if you need to leverage some of the same technology to protect women and children, all of the sudden everybody’s up in arms.”

Tiegs added, “I’m really conflicted how people rationalize that.”

People march in support of sex workers, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Las Vegas. People marched in support of decriminalizing sex work and against the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, among other issues. (AP Photo/John Locher)

People march in support of sex workers and decriminalizing sex work on June 2, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Photo: John Locher/AP

“Pure Evil”

A potent strain of anti-sex work sentiment — not just opposition to trafficking — has pervaded Skull Games since its founding. Although the events are no longer affiliated with a church, Tiegs and his lieutenants’ devout Christianity suggests the digital hunt for pedophiles and pimps remains a form of spiritual warfare.

Michele Block, a Canadian military intelligence veteran who has worked as Skull Games’s director of intelligence since its founding at All Things Possible, is open about her belief that their surveillance efforts are part of a battle against Satan. In a December 2022 interview at America Fest, a four-day conference organized by the right-wing group Turning Point USA, Block described her work as a fight against “pure evil,” claiming that many traffickers are specifically targeting Christian households.

Tiegs argued that “100 percent” of sex work is human trafficking and that “to legalize the purchasing of women is a huge mistake.”

The combination of digital surveillance and Christian moralizing could have serious consequences not only for “predators,” but also their prey: The America Fest interview showed that Skull Games hopes to take down alleged traffickers by first going after the allegedly trafficked.

“So basically, 24/7, our intelligence department identifies victims of sex trafficking.”

“So basically, 24/7,” Block explained, “our intelligence department identifies victims of sex trafficking.” All of this information — both the alleged trafficker and alleged victim — is then handed over to police. Although Tiegs says Skull Games has provided police with “a couple hundred” such OSINT leads since its founding, he conceded the group has no information about how many have resulted in prosecutions or indictments of actual traffickers.

When asked about Skull Games’s position on arresting victims, Tiegs emphasized that “arresting is different from prosecuting” and argued, “Sometimes they do need to make the arrest, because of the health and welfare of that person. She needs to get clean, maybe she’s high. … Very rarely, in my opinion, is it right to charge and prosecute a girl.”

Sex worker advocates, however, say any punitive approach is not only ungrounded in the reality of the trade, but also hurts the very people it purports to help. Although exploitation and coercion are dire realities for many sex workers, most women choose to go into sex work either out of personal preference or financial necessity, according to DiAngelo, of Sex Workers Outreach Project Sacramento. (The Chicago branch of SWOP was a plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union’s successful 2020 lawsuit against Clearview AI in Illinois.)

Referring to research she had conducted with the University of California, Davis, DiAngelo explained that socioeconomic desperation is the most common cause of trafficking, a factor only worsened by a brush with the law. “The majority of the people we interview, even if we removed the person who was exploiting them from their life, they still wanted to be in the sex trade,” DiAngelo explained.

Both DiAngelo and Savannah Sly of the nonprofit New Moon Network, an advocacy group for sex workers, pointed to flaws in the techniques that police claim detect trafficking from coded language in escort ads. “You can’t tell just by looking at a picture whether someone’s trafficked or not,” Sly said. The “dragnet” surveillance of sex workers performed by groups like Skull Games, she claimed, imperils their human rights. “If I become aware I’m being surveilled, that’s not helping my situation,” Sly said, “Sex workers live with a high degree of paranoia.”

Rather than “rescuing” women from trafficking, DiAngelo argued Skull Games’s collaboration with police risks driving women into the company of people seeking to take advantage of them — particularly if they’ve been arrested and face diminished job prospects outside of sex work. DiAngelo said, “They’re going to lock them into sex work, because once you get the scarlet letter, nobody wants you anymore.”

The post The Online Christian Counterinsurgency Against Sex Workers appeared first on The Intercept .

  • wifi_tethering open_in_new

    This post is public /2023/07/29/skull-games-surveillance-sex-workers/

  • Pictures 9 image

  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility
  • visibility