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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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White Former Police Officer Acquitted In Death of Black Unarmed Teenager

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In this March 12, 2019 file photo, former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, charged with homicide in the shooting death of Antwon Rose II, walks to the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa. A witness in the shooting of Rose by Rosfeld said Wednesday March 20, 2019 at his trial in Pittsburgh, that he saw the officer standing on the sidewalk, panicking, saying, "I don't know why I shot him. I don't know why I fired." (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A jury has acquitted a white former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager outside Pittsburgh.


Former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld was charged with homicide for killing 17-year-old Antwon Rose II last June. Rose was riding in an unlicensed taxi that was involved in a drive-by shooting. Rosfeld pulled the car over and shot Rose in the back, arm and side of the face as the teen ran away.

Rosfeld testified that he thought Rose or another passenger in the car had a gun pointed at him.

The jury saw video of the fatal confrontation. The verdict came Friday after fewer than four hours of deliberations.

The shooting triggered protests in the Pittsburgh area last year.

The family of a black teenager who was shot in the back and killed by a white police officer outside Pittsburgh remained stoic after the man was acquitted.

Antwon Rose II’s sister had tears streaming down her face after the jury cleared former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld of a homicide charge late Friday. Her mother urged her not to cry.

The jury deliberated fewer than four hours before reaching its verdict. There were tears and gasps from black people gathered in an overflow courtroom, and several broke out in song: “Antwon Rose was a freedom fighter, and he taught us how to fight.”

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Mississippi Governor Signs One of America’s Strictest Abortion Laws In The Nation, Welcomes Lawsuits

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Mississippi’s governor has signed one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill Thursday outlawing most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

The Center for Reproductive Rights calls the bill “blatantly unconstitutional” and says it will sue Mississippi to block the bill from taking effect July 1.

Mississippi is one of several states where Republican leaders are considering abortion-restriction bills this year. Abortion opponents are emboldened by new conservatives on the Supreme Court and are seeking cases to challenge the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Bryant tweeted that he will fight for “innocent babies, even under the threat of legal action.”

Developing story, more to come…

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Oil/Gas Drilling Blocked On Federal Land In Wyoming Over Climate Change

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres of federal land in Wyoming, ruling that the Interior Department “did not sufficiently consider climate change” in its assessments of whether to lease federal land for individual projects, the Washington Post reports.


BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A judge has blocked oil and gas drilling on almost 500 square miles (1,295 sq. kilometers) in Wyoming and says the government must consider the cumulative climate change impact of leasing public lands across the U.S. for oil and gas exploration.

The order marks the latest in a string of rulings over the past decade faulting the U.S. for its inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when issuing leases for oil, gas and coal.

But U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras appeared to go a step further than previous rulings. Contreras said late Tuesday the U.S. Bureau of Land Management must consider nationwide emissions from past, present and future oil and gas leases.

The ruling was in a lawsuit challenging leases issued in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado in 2015 and 2016.

Developing story, more to come…

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