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Conspiracy theorists arrested for alleged threats at site of Texas church shooting

Robert Ussery charged with making terroristic threat after allegedly threatening to ‘hang’ pastor whose daughter was killed

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Conspiracy theorists arrested for alleged threats at site of Texas church shooting” was written by Sam Levin in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 7th March 2018 19.29 UTC

Conspiracy theorists were arrested at the site of the Sutherland Springs church shooting after harassing families and survivors with death threats and taunts about their loved ones, residents said.

Robert Ussery, 54, was charged on Monday with making a “terroristic threat” after he showed up to the First Baptist church in Texas and and allegedly threatened to “hang” the pastor, whose 14-year-old daughter died when a gunman killed 26 people in November. Ussery shouted profanities at the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and demanded proof that his daughter had died and that the shooting was real, according to witnesses. Jodie Mann, a woman who accompanied Ussery, was also arrested for trespassing.

The case appears to be the latest example of viral online conspiracy theories leading to real-world harassment and abuse of gun violence victims and grieving families in the US. In recent years, conspiracy theorists have repeatedly spread false claims that mass shootings were staged and have attacked survivors as “actors” – a form of harassment that has intensified in the wake of the recent Florida high school shooting.

“He [Ussery] taunts people on the internet and in person,” Sherri Pomeroy, the pastor’s wife, told the Guardian on Tuesday. “He says, ‘Produce me a death certificate,’ like we have to prove something to him. He was spouting all this hatefulness.”

The small town of Sutherland Springs, which has a population of just a few hundred, was thrust into the national spotlight last year when a gunman killed 26 worshippers in one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history. In recent months, Ussery – who is from Lockhart, Texas, an hour north of the church – has repeatedly targeted Sutherland Springs residents with harassing comments, in town and online, according to Sherri Pomeroy and other locals.

Robert Ussery and Jodi Mann.
Robert Ussery and Jodi Mann. Photograph: handout

“We’ve been on heightened alert,” Pomeroy said. “Lives have been turned upside down not only because of the shooting, but because of this guy.”

Ussery and Mann arrived at the church on Monday morning, refused to leave, were “belligerent” andswore at the officers who arrested them for trespassing, according to police reports. Mann also had a “wire and a small video camera on her” when she was arrested, police said. Prosecutors alleged that Ussery had committed a “terroristic threat”, a misdemeanor, after he threatened to kill Pastor Pomeroy and Rod Green, another victim who was present.

Green, 71, said: “He had been warned to get off the property.” Green, who called Ussery a “sick individual” and a “fool”, said he called 911 and “just tried to ignore” Ussery, who he said was yelling about birth certificates and demanding they take lie-detector tests to prove the shooting was real.

Green is a member of the church who was not inside the building when the gunman opened fire in November. He added: “We’ve been through enough. This is evil.”

Ussery told the pastor that he would hang him on a tree and urinate on him, according to Sherri, who was not present for the confrontation.

The San Antonio Express-News, which first reported on the arrests, says Ussery runs a conspiracy theory website where he calls himself a “journalist” and promotes his “investigations” by falsely claiming that the government staged recent mass shootings. Mann also allegedly works with Ussery and spreads the conspiracy theories online.

After publication of this article, Ussery said in an email that he and Mann were “100% innocent of all charges”, except for a marijuana possession charge. He further claimed that there were “never any specific threats made by us”, but at the same time noted that they had said they “hoped one day to see the people hang those involved for their treason against the American people”.

Sherri said Ussery had filmed himself harassing people and has published highly edited videos that don’t include his taunts. She said he had often tried to push the boundaries without breaking the law, making it difficult to stop him: “He is yelling and cussing, saying he knew his constitutional rights and could do what he wanted to.”

The situation has made it difficult at times for Sherri to feel safe in her own town, she said, adding: “This is making our town rally together. … Even the people that aren’t part of the church are rallying together to protect the church.”

The church is working on getting a restraining order following the arrest, she said.

The situation resembles the attacks after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, including conspiracy theorists sending death threats to parents whose children died. Last year, one woman who harassed an outspoken father was sentenced to five months in prison.

In 2016, a gunman motivated by a fake news story known as “Pizzagate” ended up firing his weapon inside a restaurant because of conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the pizza shop. Google, Facebook and YouTube have also faced intense scrutiny in recent years for providing a platform and helping spread these kinds of beliefs, which can lead to online abuse and even real-world violence.

“People are frightened,” said Green, adding that he hoped the conspiracy theories and harassment would not have a long-term impact on the town: “We’re recovering very strong.”

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Trump May Pardon Military Men Accused Or Convicted Of War Crimes

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has asked for files to be prepared on pardoning several U.S. military members accused of or convicted of war crimes, including one slated to stand trial on charges of shooting unarmed civilians while in Iraq, the New York Times reported on Saturday.


Trump requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed, indicating he is considering pardons for the men around Memorial Day on May 27, the report said, citing two unnamed U.S. officials. Assembling pardon files normally takes months, but the Justice Department has pressed for the work to be completed before that holiday weekend, one of the officials said.

One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, scheduled to stand trial in coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.

Also believed to be included is the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010, the Times said.

Reuters could not immediately identify a way to contact Gallagher and Golsteyn.

The newspaper reported that the cases of other men are believed to be included in the paperwork, without naming them.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the report, while the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Legal experts cited in the report said that pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, and some worried such pardons could erode the legitimacy of military law.

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Migrant Crisis

Trump Administration Considers Flying Migrants Across Country to Relieve Border Crowding

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Migrants wait in El Paso, Texas, to board a van to take them to a processing center on May 16. PHOTO: PAUL RATJE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration may begin flying asylum-seeking families at the southern U.S. border across the country to have their initial claims processed, a Customs and Border Protection official said Friday.


For months, immigration authorities have been shuttling newly arrested migrants—mostly families and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—between border stations as facilities have become overwhelmed. Migrants have routinely been bussed hundreds of miles from the border in Southern California or El Paso, Texas, to as far away as Tucson, Ariz., before authorities process and then release them to aid groups.

Now, plans are being laid for the air transportation of parents and children out of overcrowded stations to other locations in the U.S., including northern and coastal states with Border Patrol offices that have capacity, if the flow of families doesn’t diminish, the CBP official said.

“This is an emergency. The entire system is overwhelmed,” the official said. “We are just trying to safely get them out of our facilities as quickly as possible.”

Border Patrol officials have flown nearly 1,000 migrants from overcrowded processing centers and stations in the Rio Grande Valley to nearby Del Rio, Texas, and San Diego since last Friday, another U.S. official said Friday.

The private, contracted flights have cost between $21,000 and $65,000 each and can carry a maximum of 135 people, that official said.

Mark Bogen, the mayor of Broward County in South Florida said Friday that he was told by local law-enforcement to expect as many as 135 migrants to be flown to the area and released by the Border Patrol after their asylum claims are processed.

Mr. Bogen said Broward County doesn’t have the resources to manage such an influx and that its shelters are already crowded with homeless local residents.

“We don’t know if these are seniors or kids,” he said of the potential migrant arrivals. “We were provided one thing: the number 135.”

The CBP official said no migrants were currently being flown to Florida. “We are in preliminary planning stages,” the official said.

The Trump administration contends that the record number of adults with children presenting themselves for asylum has brought the border infrastructure to a breaking point. CBP said on Friday that the agency had averaged 4,500 apprehensions per day over the preceding week. Some 248,000 migrants travelling as families illegally entered the U.S. between October, the start of the federal fiscal year, and April—more than in any prior full year.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have blamed President Trump for exacerbating the flood of families to the southern border by cutting aid to Central America and threatening to close the border altogether.

The White House is seeking $4.5 billion in emergency border funding from Congress along with changes to asylum laws that the Trump administration says would make it easier to detain families longer, process applications more quickly, and deter more people from making the journey to the U.S.

Democratic lawmakers have refused to fund asylum policies they consider inhumane, but indicated late Thursday that they would consider funding some of the administration’s requests, making a counteroffer that excludes funding for detention beds, a Congressional aide said.

(Reporting by Wall Street Journal)

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Trump Administration Rejects Subpoena For Tax Returns

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is missing another deadline to produce President Donald Trump’s tax returns. A top House Democrat says he expects to take the administration to court as early as next week over the matter.


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) says in a letter Friday that he will not comply with the subpoena from the House Ways and Means Committee for six years of Trump’s tax returns because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena had been expected. Earlier Friday, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal had said, “We will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week.”

Democrats are seeking Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that directs the IRS to furnish such information to the chairs of Congress’ tax-writing committees.

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