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Democrats Have Buyer’s Remorse About Trump’s Homeland Security Chief

WASHINGTON ? When 37 Democrats cast their votes to confirm Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in January, they did so in spite of heavy opposition to the policies he would be tasked to carry out: more deportations, a southern border wall and a travel ban targeting Muslims.

Their hope was that the former Marine general would be a moderating influence on President Donald Trump and a better option than other names floated for the post. Kelly wasn?t known for being a virulent crusader against unauthorized immigration, and he had experience with Central and South America as former head of the U.S. Southern Command. He said in his confirmation hearing that he opposed a registry based on ethnicity or religion, which Trump once floated for Muslims.

Four months later, some of the Senate Democrats who voted for Kelly are exasperated, disappointed and, in some cases, even wondering if they made a mistake. Arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants are up significantly, plans for a border wall are underway, and Kelly has joined Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in framing immigration almost exclusively in terms of crime. He defended the now-blocked ban on refugees and most travelers from several Muslim-majority nations and joked with Trump about using a saber ?on the press.?

?I think the secretary has gone above and beyond even what the president?s dictates are and I?m disappointed in the way he?s acted,? Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who supported Kelly?s confirmation, told HuffPost.

The senator said he wouldn?t vote for Kelly if he had the chance now.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) voted for Kelly as well, but went on to publicly spar with him over the deportation of a Honduran mother and child who had been detained in Pennsylvania. Casey wouldn?t go so far as to say he regretted his vote, remarking instead that he would ?try to work with Secretary Kelly and encourage him and the Administration to move in a better direction.?

But the senator acknowledged that he?s frustrated by the administration?s decisions to deport children and families. His ?hope that Secretary Kelly would be more evenhanded on enforcement … hasn?t been borne out.?

?The administration?s approach is not only wrong, but it also doesn?t make our nation safer,? said Casey via email. ?When you talk to Secretary Kelly, he says he?s just following order[s] but he was confirmed to lead, not just to go along with some wrongheaded immigration approach that was cooked up during the campaign.?

Kelly, more than most figures in Trump?s orbit, illustrates the stain that the administration?s policies can leave on an individual?s public standing. The secretary has been at the forefront of both the legally contentious travel ban and the highly controversial crackdown on undocumented immigrants. His willingness to defend both has given him a reputation as the kind, respected face of draconian initiatives.

He was confirmed to lead, not just to go along with some wrongheaded immigration approach that was cooked up during the campaign.
Sen. Bob Casey

Kelly has chafed at such criticisms. He has argued that if agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection encounter people who are removable from the U.S., they must work to remove them. His officials have said that even people without criminal records and with longstanding ties to the U.S. can fit that category under the law and they won?t be exempt from removal, although they were often passed over under President Barack Obama.

This focus on what the law broadly directs has come up repeatedly, including when Kelly responded to Casey?s call to stop the deportation of the Honduran mother and child.

?I say it over and over again: If the laws are not good laws, then change them,? Kelly declared during a speech in early May. ?Don?t call me, or Twitter or tweet, or go to the press with outrageous stories about how we do business or why we?re deporting somebody.?

Homeland Security spokeswoman Joanne Talbot made the same point in a statement to HuffPost: ?Secretary Kelly has said that if lawmakers do not like the laws they?ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should work to adopt legislation instead of asking DHS to ignore existing law and court orders. The Secretary? like all DHS law enforcement officers? has taken an oath to follow the Constitution.?

Kelly ?firmly believes that the policies adopted by the President to secure our borders and combat terrorism and transnational criminal organization are Constitutional,? Talbot said.

Other Democratic senators still support for Kelly and say that some of their hopes for the secretary have been borne out, at least behind the scenes. At a hearing last week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted for Kelly?s confirmation, told the secretary that he and many of his colleagues ?are so proud that you have agreed to serve in this position, makes us all feel a lot better.?

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.) was similarly enthusiastic at that hearing.

?When I voted for your confirmation, Mr. Secretary ? and I would do it again today ? I said you are one of the adults in the room that I am dependent on to make good decisions for this country?s security,? Tester said. ?I still believe that.?

Even one of the toughest critics of Trump?s immigration policies suggested that Kelly has been a moderating influence. At the time he voted for Kelly, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he wouldn?t have backed him if the confirmation vote were ?a referendum on President Donald Trump?s immigration policy.? Earlier this month, Durbin told HuffPost that behind the scenes, when senators have brought specific cases to Kelly, ?he has dealt with them quickly and honestly, and that?s all I can ask.?

Even as the controversies piled up, Durbin was willing to give the secretary a bit more leeway to make his mark.

?I?ve maintained a closer-than-usual relationship with him and frequent conversation, and I think there have been forces within the administration which want to move him into a more radical position,? Durbin said. ?Am I happy with everything he?s done? No. But I want to continue to work with him.?

According to Democratic House members, Kelly has insinuated in private meetings that he helped save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some undocumented young people to stay in the U.S. Trump promised to end the program immediately and yet he still hasn?t. In March, Kelly repeatedly told House Democrats that he was the ?best thing that ever happened to DACA folks,? Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) said at the time.

Kelly?s critics say no one should be surprised by the early results of his tenure. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was one of 11 Democrats to vote against his confirmation. Her staff emailed other Democratic senators ahead of the vote to note that at his confirmation hearing, Kelly hadn?t committed to not sharing the personal information of DACA recipients with ICE or to shield them from deportation.

She told HuffPost that those concerns persist today, as do concerns about the travel ban, standards for hiring border patrol agents and Kelly?s ?ability to manage the department as it relates to giving clear guidance to the tens of thousands of people that work in that department about the policies of the administration writ large and his policies as the director of that agency.?

Whether surprising or not, Kelly?s actions are disappointing to immigration reform supporters who had been cautiously optimistic about him. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said that Kelly?s experience with Central America should have given him ?a better appreciation of the factors pushing refugees to flee the region and factors driving migration in other parts of the world.?

?[B]ut there have been no indications of compassion, expertise, or cooperation coming from the DHS Secretary or his senior staff,? Gutiérrez said in an email. ?DHS seems to wish Congress would just go away and stop asking them about what they are doing and why, which is not an option.?

Immigrant rights advocates argue that Kelly is wrong to claim his hands are tied by the law. He has the discretion to avoid deporting certain people and focus on others, as previous homeland security secretaries did, said Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro of the National Council of La Raza. Thus far, she doesn?t think he has used it.

?There was a sense that perhaps given his experience he would bring a more tempered approach to the issue of immigration and immigration enforcement,? Martínez-de-Castro said. ?I think that based on what we?ve seen, now the question is whether he is a helpless executioner or a willing one of what are, at the very least, ethically questionable policies.?

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One Official Tried To Warn Us About Attacks Like Portland. He Was Pushed Out.

WASHINGTON ? The anti-Muslim white supremacist charged with murdering two men in Portland, Oregon, when they intervened in his bigoted tirade at two teenagers is the kind of extremist that former Department of Homeland Security official Daryl Johnson worried about.

Eight years ago, working in the department?s now-defunct Extremism and Radicalization Branch, Johnson authored a memo intended to warn law enforcement about the threat posed by right-wing extremists. It wasn?t just the election of the first black president, he wrote, but the troubled economic situation, the divisive political climate, and angry rhetoric about immigrants and outsiders that could spark attacks. Right-wing extremists, he wrote, could capitalize on ?racial and political prejudices? to reach a ?wider audience of potential sympathizers.?

The backlash to Johnson?s 2009 memo was swift. Some conservatives portrayed it as an Obama administration attack on the tea party movement. Under political pressure, the administration backed away from the memo. They dismantled Johnson?s team. He left the government.

In the years since, the U.S. has seen several high-profile incidents of violence by right-wing extremists. The latest tragedy occurred last week with the stabbing deaths of Ricky John Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, on a commuter train. A third man, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was severely injured. Jeremy Christian, 35, has since been charged in the incident. The men had confronted Christian as he was harassing two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. 

Christian left a long trail of hate online. His mother told HuffPost that her son, who had spent time in prison, had a habit of ?spouting anti-establishment stuff.? At his first court appearance on Tuesday, he called for the death of the ?enemies? of America. ?You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism,? Christian said. ?You hear me? Die.?

Johnson, now a security consultant, has fielded calls from reporters in the wake of other such attacks by domestic extremists. After a white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012. After another white supremacist slaughtered African-American churchgoers in South Carolina. After militia extremists occupied a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. After radicalized military veterans murdered police officers in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, and Dallas. After three members of a Crusaders militia were arrested for plotting an attack on Muslim immigrants in Kansas.

Rather than dialing back after President Donald Trump?s win, as some had predicted they would, domestic extremist groups seem to have been ?emboldened? by the rhetoric of the 2016 election, Johnson told HuffPost. Friday?s attack in Portland, he said, highlights once again the federal government?s failure to take the threat of domestic terrorism seriously.

?This just re-emphasizes that we have an issue that has pretty much permeated the entire country, and yet the legislators and leadership in government either don?t recognize it, or are de-emphasizing it, or are not really playing close attention to it,? Johnson said.

On that point, he agrees with then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who told HuffPost in 2015 that the murder of black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, should serve as a ?wake-up call? about the danger of domestic terrorism. Holder said America liked the fiction that the extremist threat arose solely from ideologies coming from outside the United States.

?We have a young man who apparently becomes radicalized as the result of an incident and becomes more radicalized as a result of what he sees on the internet, through the use of his computer, then goes and does something that by his own words apparently is a political, violent act,? Holder said at the time. ?With a different set of circumstances, and if you had dialed in religion there, Islam, that would be called an act of terror.?

There?s a history of the U.S. government treading carefully when it comes to domestic extremists. During the Clinton administration, extremists seized on two deadly conflicts between federal agents and fringe groups ? in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993  ? to recruit and propagandize. Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995, was motivated by those incidents. Since then, the government has adopted a strategy of acting with what one former FBI hostage negotiator called ?infinite patience? in direct standoffs with domestic extremists. Rhetorically, too, the government has largely avoided language that could heighten tensions with those groups. In some situations, like the wildlife refugee standoff in Oregon, that approach has generated criticism and accusations that the feds are appeasing extremists.

More recently, the government has taken some limited steps to address domestic extremists. In 2014, the Justice Department re-established the Domestic Terrorism Task Force, which had been set up in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing but allowed to go dormant after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In 2015, the head of the department?s National Security Division said that domestic groups organizing online were a ?real threat? to the United States and established the position of counsel for domestic terrorism matters. The counsel, former FBI official Thomas E. Brzozowski, said last year that extremists? underlying ideology is ?immaterial? to how the Justice Department approaches domestic terrorism.

The major hurdle that prosecutors face in the realm of domestic terrorism is that supporting such groups is largely protected by the Constitution. That?s not the case for those who back designated foreign terrorist groups: They can be hit with ?material support? charges for a wide variety of activities, even tweeting support for foreign terrorists

Johnson noted that the government also puts a much greater emphasis on preventing attacks inspired by the Islamic State and al Qaeda and has assigned a lot more resources to those types of cases. But that doesn?t mean domestic extremists are any less of a threat, he said.

?If the government wanted to shift its focus and look at other types of domestic terrorist groups and individuals, if they decided, ?Hey, that?s a priority of ours,? they could pump out as many cases on the right-wing side,? Johnson said. ?It?s just a matter of priorities and budget and resources.?

It is, of course, a tall order for the federal government to track every self-radicalized lone wolf in the country. Still, FBI stings aimed at right-wing extremists have been rare. And some cases against domestic organizations, like the Hutaree militia in Michigan and the anti-government forces that took over the Oregon wildlife refuge have been unsuccessful, with prosecutors facing skepticism from judges and juries that is rarely seen in cases against Muslim extremists. (There are also successful prosecutions: Alaska extremist Schaeffer Cox received 25 years, while senior citizens in a Georgia militia got sentences in the range of five to 10 years.)

The federal government doesn?t make much of an effort to really keep an eye on domestic extremists, according to Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center?s Intelligence Project.

?It seems that the federal government is very reluctant to call American citizens terrorists, even when their actions meet the definition of what terrorism is,? said Lenz. ?It?s much easier to assign that label of terrorist to someone who is Muslim and comes from a foreign country than someone who is American and looks like people in Congress.?

It?s not just the government, Johnson said, it?s the way cases are treated by the media as well. There would be a lot more reporting on the Portland attack if it had been committed by a Muslim, he contended, and it likely would have been national news for days. 

What is it going to take for them to step up and actually recognize the threat for what it is?
Daryl Johnson, former Department of Homeland Security official

When an attack is committed by a Muslim, Johnson said, ?everybody gets real spun up, and there?s a lot more news coverage, and you have all of these counterterrorism consultants all over the news talking about the threat of Muslim extremists. You don?t get that same attention and that same response from the public or these counterterrorism officials or the government over these similar incidents that were hate-motivated.?

For now, Johnson predicts the government will continue to aggressively target sympathizers of Muslim extremist groups with sting operations and pay only lip service to the idea of tackling homegrown terrorism.

?That?s just the government?s stances and its policy, wanting to reinforce the war on terror. So we?re going to target these ISIS supporters and do these sting operations against people we feel are being sympathetic towards ISIS and al Qaeda,? Johnson said.

In the short term at least, he?s not very hopeful that the government will launch a similarly dedicated effort to combat domestic extremists.

?We?re already behind on resources and attention given to domestic terrorists, and now we?ve got even more emerging from different sides of the political spectrum,? Johnson said. ?Right now, the picture in my opinion is bleak.?

He also had some urgent words for those critics in Congress who attacked his 2009 memo.

?I would say it?s never too late to reconsider your stance on how serious this threat is,? Johnson said. ?We?ve seen the threat grow and grow year after year, and here we are eight years removed and incident after incident has pretty much validated the analysis in that report. What is it going to take for them to step up and actually recognize the threat for what it is??

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Indy 500 Winner Speaks Out On Newspaper Columnist’s Racist Tweet

Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato is speaking out about the racist tweet posted by a former writer of the Denver Post.

On Sunday, Sato became the first driver from Japan to win the Indy 500, but the accomplishment wasn?t appreciated in all quarters.

After the race, sports writer Terry Frei posted on Twitter that he was ?uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend.?

Frei later deleted the tweet, but a screenshot can be seen here:

On Monday, the Denver Post fired Frei and apologized for his ?disrespectful and unacceptable tweet.?

Sato finally commented on the incident on Tuesday, telling the Associated Press that it was ?unfortunate? Frei had lost his job.

Sato said he appreciated the support he?s received from people who considered Frei?s tweet to be inappropriate.

?I do respect the Denver Post decision,? Sato said.

Frei has apologized on Twitter, but tried to justify it by saying he had just placed flowers on the grave of his father who flew combat missions over Japan in World War II.

Frei?s original tweet and apology aren?t acceptable to at least one of his former coworkers at the Denver Post.

On Sunday, Gil Asakawa, a former executive producer at the Denver Post?s website, wrote a Facebook wondering what Frei might have thought about a Japanese man running the website that featured his sports coverage.

?Was he ?very uncomfortable? with me having power over his content?? he said, before questioning whether Frei would?ve reacted the same way had a German or Italian driver won the race.  

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