And we’re back. We hope you had an excellent holiday season, and stepped away from the Internet after getting your fill of end-of-year lists and hot takes. We did. Here are some reads to get you started on the first Monday of 2016, including a few stories from the last week that you may have missed.
Homegrown extremists –> An odd story continues to unfold in Oregon: As many as 150 armed militiamen (though possibly far fewer) are in control of a building on a national wildlife refuge. The Oregonian’s Les Zaitz provides a rundown, explaining that the group is led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, whose 2014 standoff against the Bureau of Land Management became a cause célèbre among right-wing groups. The younger Bundy and his buddies showed up in Oregon at a weekend protest attended by some 300 people in support of two ranchers headed to jail to serve additional time after setting federal land on fire; Bundy’s group broke off from the main protest and occupied a building on the wildlife refuge, which was closed for the holiday weekend.
They demand that government-controlled land be handed over to ranchers and loggers because they claim the Constitution says it should be. But the anti-government and anti-Muslim activists involved in the takeover are not locals — “they are a small group of individuals who travel around the country attaching themselves to various local fights against the federal government, usually over land rights,” explains Jennifer Williams at Vox. Locals sympathetic to the two ranchers who burned federal land have rejected the militia’s extremist tactics and accuse them of co-opting a local issue.
Worst since BP –> A huge natural gas leak that’s been underway in California since October has had “the same 20-year climate impact as driving 7 million cars a day,” reports the Environmental Defense Fund, and led to thousands of evacuations over Christmas weekend, reports the Associated Press. The well may not be plugged until March. “It is easily the worst environmental disaster since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Tellingly, some experts who stopped that leak are working to contain this one,” writes Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker.
“Climate chaos” –> Justin Gillis at The New York Times: “With tornado outbreaks in the South, Christmas temperatures that sent trees into bloom in Central Park, drought in parts of Africa and historic floods drowning the old industrial cities of England, 2015 is closing with a string of weather anomalies all over the world… ‘As scientists, it’s a little humbling that we’ve kind of been saying this for 20 years now, and it’s not until people notice daffodils coming out in December that they start to say, “Maybe they’re right,” said Myles R. Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University in Britain.”
Late-breaking Christmas gift –> In a little-noticed advisory opinion requested by two Democratic fundraising groups, the Federal Election Commission has cleared the way for politicians and their campaign staffs to solicit donations for super PACs. These groups can raise unlimited amounts of money, though they are not supposed to coordinate with campaigns — but the FEC has been quietly knocking down those divides over the objections of some of its commissioners, writes Matea Gold at The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Ken Vogel writes at Politico that the Koch brothers “have quietly assembled, piece by piece, a privatized political and policy advocacy operation like no other in American history that today includes hundreds of donors and employs 1,200 full-time, year-round staffers in 107 offices nationwide.”
“Income defense industry” –> Noam Scheiber and Patricia Cohen at The New York Times: “With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the ‘income defense industry,’ consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.”
Not your granddad’s white supremacy –> Donald Trump’s candidacy has excited a grotesque corner of the Internet that embraces “white nationalism,” writes Rosie Gray for BuzzFeed. Supporters, including many young, internet-savvy Americans, are coalescing into a movement that dubs itself the “alt-right.” Gray: “The movement probably doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before. The alt right is loosely connected, and mostly online. The white nationalists of the alt right share more in common with European far-right movements than American ones. This is a movement that draws upon relatively obscure political theories like neoreaction or the ‘Dark Enlightenment,’ which reject the premises on which modernity is built, like democracy and egalitarianism.
“But it’s not all so high-minded as that. Take a glance at the #altright hashtag on Twitter or at The Right Stuff, an online hub of the movement, and you’ll find a penchant for aggressive rhetoric and outright racial and anti-Semitic slurs, often delivered in the arch, ironic tones common to modern internet discourse. Trump is a hero on the alt right and the subject of many adoring memes and tweets.”
Recruitment tool –> “The militant group Al-Shabaab — Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia — has released a recruitment video featuring GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump… The video includes a clip of Trump calling for a ‘shutdown’ of Muslims entering the United States.” Tom Liddy reports for ABC.
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