All posts by Eli Shaw

Editor – WriteLeft

Fort Brewery and Pizza: A Lesson in Discipline


Community defense is a powerful and essential ethos. All of us on the left are painfully aware that we walk a fine line, along the side of a cliff. Police have a tendency to be more violent toward progressive protesters, and are more forgiving of violence when it comes from the far-right, up to and including Neo-Nazis and Insurrectionists.

Fascism must be resisted. However, the government has a monopoly on violence and power, and dictates in what form that resistance can take shape without fear of legal consequences. If we antifascists choose to resist fascism under a particular banner, like that of a John Brown Gun Club, we must acknowledge that our actions will sometimes have consequences for others beneath that same banner, all over the nation. If antifascists choose to operate as a public facing organization, they must operate within the existing legal framework of American law so long as the American government’s monopoly on violence and power exists. To violate that unwritten contract jeopardizes the Left’s mission of liberation and equity for all people, and may limit other organizations future efforts to achieve that goal.

Thus, it is our solemn and unpleasant responsibility to call out failures and missteps in our community as they happen, not to admonish or shame fellow antifascists, but to caution them and highlight the consequences of our failure to walk that cliffside line closely.

That said, no antifascists will be named in this article. We will not participate in the doxing of our allies and friends.

The Incident

It’s Sunday, April 23rd, 2023. A drag event is scheduled at a location near the intersection of Tillar Street and North Foch Street in Fort Worth, Texas. As is usual in the South, the community is alerted to the fact that anti-drag protesters are likely to be attending the event in protest. Even in red states like Texas, this can draw anti-fascists out of the woodwork to support the civil liberties of their community against Christo-Fascism.

Clashes like this are commonplace in America today. Not only are informal anti-drag protests happening, but Republicans in several states are taking extraordinarily undemocratic measures to pass anti-drag and anti-LGBT laws, going so far as to silence elected representatives and expel elected representatives from the floor.

April 23rd was no exception. Alleged members of the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club arrived on the scene at some point, dressed mostly in black-bloc and openly carrying firearms as is their right under Texas law 87(R) HB 1927.

So what did Elm Fork do that was so wrong as to result not only in three of their members being arrested, but to bring members of their own community to speak against their actions?

In short, a complete and total failure in the discipline of community defense. Emphasis on the word defense.

The intersection where the incident occurred. X is where antifascists began. Circle is the anti-drag protesters’ location. Vertical arrow shows route where police intercepted antifascists.

Let’s say you’re accused of assault in Texas.

Was someone else actually the aggressor?

You’re allowed to defend yourself against violence in Texas. Texas law allows you to use a certain amount of reasonable force and defines the kind of situations in which you can use force.

In the above scenario, if someone beat you with a baseball bat and you believed at that moment that they intended to cause you serious harm, your decision to punch the attacker or use your fingernails to thwart them may be considered reasonable.

– Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp

As activists, it is important to remember that we must act responsibly and within the confines of the law. When we use force, it must be legally and obviously a self-defense measure. Otherwise, we risk damaging our own reputation and ability to protect our community. Emotionally-driven and unprovoked actions reflect poorly on our cause and impair the efforts of all similar groups across the country.

The video below was captured from a traffic camera mounted on a utility pole on the Northeast corner of Tillar and North Foch Street. It captures alleged members of the Elm Fork JBGC crossing the street, North to South, to confront the anti-drag protesters at 12:51 CST. Within 36 seconds, one of the individuals in black bloc, the one standing furthest away from the protesters, draws a can of what appears to be mace or a similar self-defense irritant spray. They hold it in hand for approximately six seconds, and then begin to spray members of the protest group.

It’s essential to note that while this was happening, the protesters appeared to be peacefully engaged with (read: not actively attacking) the antifascists, and one individual even had his hands extended, palms facing out, in a de-escalatory manner. The video from that camera contains no audio, and we cannot hear the exchange between the two parties. However, unless the protest group said something to the tune of “We intend to attack you right now.” then nothing the antifascists did soon after was legally defensible.

Let’s stop for a moment. WriteLeft supports antifascism, community defense, and stands by the mission and members of armed community defense outfits. WriteLeft stands firmly against fascism and firmly believes the Republican Party is actively preparing to commit genocide against the American LGBTQIA+ population. That said, we are not yet in open warfare. Violence against American fascists is not yet legally or socially palatable. As stated, it’s a fine line.

The confrontation continues. Roughly ten minutes later, at 13:01 CST, law enforcement body cameras show officers following the antifascists as they walk East down Tillar Street on the right side of the road. The officers confront the group and single out the individual who sprayed the protesters. They notably do not tell the individual they are being detained or arrested. They only utter vague commands like “You need to come with us.” and “[to the others] get away from him.”

The sprayer retreats first casually but then jogging behind several other antifascists armed with umbrellas to shield themselves from the officers. This is where the next misstep occurs.

In Texas, assault is defined as follows:

Texas Penal Code Ann. § 22.01 states that there are 3 actions that constitute assault:

  • Threatening the deliberate, imminent, physical harm of another person
  • “Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causing physical harm to another person
  • Any contact with a person’s physical body that you know is offensive or provocative
– Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp

As the officers attempt to apprehend the sprayer, two other antifascists appear to engage with the officers physically in an attempt to frustrate or prevent the arrest of the sprayer. In Texas, this likely constitutes assault of a police officer. The two are apprehended along with the sprayer and as a result are doxed, their identities exposed.

The reckless and unwarranted decisions made by three members of Elm Fork JBGC on April 23rd have not only compromised their own operational security, but damaged the reputations of other John Brown Gun Clubs and similar antifascist organizations all over the country. Further, this incident could easily have risen to a use of lethal force by either side, and the blame for any injuries or deaths would have fallen solely on EFJBGC.

The goal of community defense is to defend your community. The goal of American antifascism is to oppose fascism in the United States. The goal is also to build positive relationships in our communities so that our neighbors know us and feel safer when they see us opposing fascism in the streets.

On April 23rd, EFJBGC failed to protect its community when its members acted irrationally, and crossed the fine line we all walk with reckless abandon. Their actions cannot be condoned in this instance, and we sincerely hope that they focus future trainings on organizational discipline, rules of engagement, and de-escalation.

The Left Doesn’t Talk, and That’s A Problem.

On January 6th, 2021, the right’s ability to connect and communicate reached a tipping point. They stormed the capitol. Deep connections, communication structures, even social media like Discord and Slack, have allowed them to coordinate their efforts and amplify their voices. Now listen, I know that’s giving the fascists too much credit.

Thankfully, it was a mess and they accomplished little more than the catharsis that comes with pissing on your elected representative’s office chair while he flees for his life in a tunnel 50 feet below you.

In contrast, left-wing activists have struggled to merely keep in touch. We exist only in disparate, fractured signal chats and servers. We rarely interact, and larger leftist organizations like the PSL and DSA are often derided by armed, security conscious direct action groups. We’re leftists, we infight. It’s like 20% of our personality.

Before we look inward, we need to look at our adversary. The right’s success in communication and coordination is the related to the nature of their circles. Conservative politicians, media personalities, and activists are often connected through shared religious beliefs, financial ties, and the dynastic nature of well-to-do society. We know the conservative movement in America has strong ties to evangelical Christianity, which serves as a social focal point for many right-wing activists. But it goes deeper than that. Our society’s structures, like it or not, cater to conservatives.

At the core, the fascists own the nation right now. Cops and the Patriot Front are one and the same. fascists working together. Every police officer is a threat to your life. One of the richest men on the planet is a fascist, and owns one of the biggest social media sites on Earth.

This interconnectedness has allowed the right to build a robust infrastructure that can quickly mobilize people and resources in support of their causes. This includes well-funded think tanks, media outlets, and grassroots organizations that work together to promote conservative values and policies. The money seems to help.

Where does that leave us? Our decentralized nature is both laudable and problematic. The lack of hierarchy and structure allows for greater individual autonomy and creativity. This can lead to innovative ideas and approaches to social and political issues. On the other hand, it also makes it difficult for activists to coordinate their efforts and amplify their voices.

Let’s not forget, of the two political parties that actually matter due to the dismal First Past the Post system, the party which claims to represent us is an utter embarrassment.

The lack of funding on our part is also a blessing and a curse. Money corrupts. That’s kind of, like, our whole thing. But the lack of funding does make mass organizing more difficult. Spreading the word about actions, helping activists grow their resources, their reach, and even pay their bail when needed. People function as the cogs, but every machine runs better with grease.

Maybe someone can convince the Sixteen Thirty Fund to give armed leftists money.

This lack of coordination and communication has been a significant hindrance to the left’s ability to achieve its goals. While there has been a growing movement for social and economic justice in America, many of these movements have struggled to gain traction and make significant progress due to a lack of cohesive messaging and coordination. Even union membership has hit an all time low.

Put simply: the left doesn’t talk.

Come on, everybody. We can do better than this.

We have media personalities. We have Jay Tomlinson. We have Alyson Escalante and Breht O’shea. We have Robert Evans, Garrison Davis, Margaret Killjoy, Max, and 99.

We have political organizations. We have the PSL, the DSA, the Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Rifle Association, John Brown Gun Club, Coalition of Armed Labor, and hundreds of other small groups and networks spread across America. Every union in this country has comrades in it with the power to halt business.

Our ideology has news media, magazines, education, and even a free library, a massive trove of information.

The problem isn’t numbers, it’s communication.

For an ideology with community in the name, we sure are bad at forming them in America. Groups are splintered and scattered. Small cells and interpersonally connected groups that are ideologically aligned, but who have no communication with the greater left movement. Larger organizations like the PSL and DSA exist, but both groups have lofty political aims, and tend to resist direct action, especially armed confrontations. This alienates many of these smaller cells.

Independent cells are adept at appearing out of the woodwork to combat specific threats. Most recently, that tends to be bigots and Nazis targeting the trans and drag communities. That resistance is a powerful tool, and it could be scaled up to the national level in an incredible way.

Only, we don’t— not yet, at least. Once the immediate threat is over, the cells retreat into near-invisibility. Even once nation-spanning groups like the John Brown Gun Club has lost its nationwide communication structure. How can the left transform America if it cannot communicate?

The defeatists and accelerationists will say there’s no point in trying.

To hell with that. We can, we should, we must. Every day, attacks on innocent people increase. Transgender people, activists, drag queens, students, the unhoused, and more.

Every day the problem gets worse. Oh, and about the problem.

Hot take: we are part of it.

There is no excuse that the left is as weak and impotent as it is. The problem is me. It’s you. It’s your comrades, and those that came before us. We have failed and are failing at present. We must do better, and we can do better. Instead of churches, imagine every town with a community center built and run by anarchists, communists, and socialists. Centers that reflect our community. Young and old, Hetero and queer, white and black, neurotypical and divergent. Places for us to relax, to talk, to plan, to put down roots and make real communities.

A ‘third place’ made by the left.

All it takes is communication.

Check Out This Job Board Made For Leftists

Your personal politics don’t usually matter when it comes to the workplace. But for some people, it does matter. Whether you don’t want to work around conservatives, or you want to find a job that helps the left’s cause, you’ll need a way to search for jobs that are ‘left’.

Well, you’re in luck! Jobs That Are Left is an open job-board style forum that keeps a current and curated list of positions friendly to the political left!

Check it out!

NPR’s Codeswitch: Is ‘Race Science’ Making A Comeback?

Our nation has long struggled with the idea of racial equality. It was founded on the principals of freedom, yet many of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. Long after the Civil War that ended slavery in America, women and African Americans were still not allowed to vote. Even when American freedoms finally applied to people of all races and genders, people have crawled from the woodwork to talk about racial pseudoscience. They claimed to be able to prove through the study of anatomy that the White Man was truly superior.

Those ideas have long since died out… or so we thought. NPR’s Codeswitch covers the return (if it ever left) of ‘Race Science’.

“After the Second World War, when we saw eugenics play out — saw the consequences of Nazi racial hygiene in the Holocaust — the world kind of took a collective intake of breath and tried to put its house in order. So scientists, policymakers, the United Nations all came together and decided race has no place in biology anymore. It’s not scientifically accurate. Race is not how difference plays out in the real world.

“But there were two problems with this. Number one was the hardcore scientific racists. This includes Nazi race scientists. So the ones who believed that whites were superior, that slavery was justified, that segregation was justified. They kept scientific racism alive within a small, but very active, global network.

“The other aspect is mainstream science. Did everyday scientists really abandon these ideas completely? My argument is no. They clung on to them partly because, of course, racism was still there in society. We still had racism all around the world, discrimination embedded in the structures of institutions. And that means even to this day, there are still scientists who, despite knowing better and despite being mainstream, good-hearted, well-intentioned scientists, still sometimes invoke race in scientific research, particularly medical research, when it’s inappropriate.

NPR’s Codeswitch

The Fight Strengthens in Hong Kong As Protesters Go On Strike

The people of Hong Kong are now embroiled in a profound, unprecedented civil uprising against the controversial extradition bill that threatens to ship citizens accused of crimes in China off to the mainland to be tried and sentenced.

Anybody who knows the horrific history of the Chinese justice system knows that this extradition bill puts the democracy that Hong Kong enjoyed under British administration to the guillotine. From confining Muslims and Falun Gong to concentration camps and allegedly harvesting their organs, to imprisoning journalists for decades for criticizing the government. If you’re especially unlucky, you just get ‘disappeared.’

Liberty would be replaced by the all-seeing, all-knowing Chinese Communist Party, infamous for disappearing political dissidents and forcibly placing Uyghur Muslims into re-education camps in an attempt to stamp out radicalism. The bill is the first of many changes expected in Hong Kong’s future. Ever since the British conceded Hong Kong to China, beginning the “One country, two systems” policy, the city and its people were placed on a slow-moving, but inevitable journey that ends with Hong Kong’s absorption by China.

In accordance with the “One country, two systems” principle agreed between the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China, the socialist system of the People’s Republic of China would not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years. This would have left Hong Kong unchanged until 2047.

Wikipedia, “Handover of Hong Kong”

Official sources in the Hong Kong police have confirmed at least 500 arrests since the beginning of June. As for anti-protester measures, they claim at least 1,000 teargas grenades were launched, and at least 160 rubber bullets were fired at protesters. Those numbers could double within a week.

Citizens in Hong Kong have begun a general strike, now 14,000 strong, targeting the city’s industrial infrastructure. They reason that if crowds of millions can’t get this bill withdrawn, then they will shut the city down. This has only furthered tensions with the government. Politician Junius Ho called for the deaths of pro-independence activists: “If those who are pro-independence lead to the subversion of the fate of the country; with Hong Kong and the 1.3 billion people in the motherland having to pay a huge price, why shouldn’t these people be killed?”

Protesters are wising up to police tactics. The Guardian reports that demonstrators in the streets are now working together using ‘flash mob tactics’ to evade authorities.

“Ahead of a city-wide strike and simultaneous protests in seven districts, on Sunday night protesters evaded and frustrated the police by holding flashmob demonstrations. Groups of protesters scattered, switching locations at the last minute and disappearing before riot police were able to arrive en masse.”

Lily Kuo, The Guardian

An anonymous spokesperson for the strike’s leadership, providing only the name ‘Chan,’ says this strike is the only way forward, as the Hong Kong government “did not pay heed to people’s demands.”

“Various sectors have expressed their views in most peaceful ways. But, the government did not listen to them,” Chan says. Not only has the government failed to listen to the protesters, they have sent police after them with violent, non-lethal weapons, and condoned the mass gathering of thugs in white shirts who ambushed, attacked, and hospitalized the peaceful Hong Kongers, while the police closed their doors and ignored emergency phone calls.

Chan’s excerpt ends with a sentiment that tugs at the heart-strings of the American spirit, echoing our Declaration of Independence. “A lot of protesters were attacked with violence, and persecuted by a tyranny … When society has become like this, we need to paralyse it temporarily to force the government to face the problems.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

United States Declaration of Independence, 1776

Despite the fact that the Hong Kong government has voiced opposition to Chinese military intervention in the protests, PLA forces have been documented amassing on the border, and Beijing is not being coy about it.

You can receive live updates on the situation in Hong Kong from CNN, here.

We Thought We Had Centuries. We Have 12 Years.

The time to act isn’t today or tomorrow. It was years ago. Today, the world’s climate continues to accelerate as governments cave to public pressure at a trickle, passing piecemeal legislation that only scratches the surface of what needs to be done to mitigate the worst case predictions for the climate emergency. When once we thought we had centuries, we now know there are only 12 years left.

One factor frustrating the issue is that the people who contribute most to the worsening climate are not the same people suffering from its effects. “Compare it to the map above. It’s not the same people at all. In economics this is called a ‘negative externality’. Some people get the benefits, other people get the bill.” says writer Indi Samarajiva, “America, Europe, Russia, and China get the benefits of pollution and fossil fuels. Which is perhaps why they are pretending the problem doesn’t exist. Or asking for timid solutions. Because they’re making money off it, and someone else is paying.” He links to a “more robust map” here.

The effects of climate change have been worsening for decades. In the beginning it was easy to write these off as flukes or natural fluctuations in climate. Today, it’s undeniable, with over 99% of scientists in agreement. Europe, a traditionally cool continent is trapped in the worst heatwave its ever seen, with never-before-seen 114 degree days in temperate France, and Swiss glaciers melting. We have entered the Anthropocene epoch, the first geologic era influenced by humanity. The sixth mass extinction the Earth has seen in its 4 billion years of existence, the Holocene Extinction Event. Previous named extinction events killed up to 83% of all life on Earth. The last recorded mass extinction event was the K-Pg Event, precipitated by the asteroid impact in part responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Already we see niche species struggling to survive, as ecological ‘surprises’ make generalist species more prone to stability. A paper by multiple scientists recently published to PNAS reads” Anthropogenic climate change is now adding strong trends on top of existing natural variability. These trends elevate the frequency of “surprises”—conditions that are unexpected based on recent history. Here, we show that the frequency of surprising ocean temperatures has increased even faster than expected based on recent temperature trends. Using a simple model of human adaptation, we show that these surprises will increasingly challenge natural modes of adaptation that rely on historical experience.”

Popular ocean-side vacation destinations are already seeing changes. In this instance, Amazonian deforestation at that hands of the notoriously corrupt Brazilian government are to blame. Most recently Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to fire an official over damning data on deforestation under his administration. The cutting down of forests, increased wild fires, and fossil fuel use drastically increases the CO2 content of our atmosphere, which is predicted to damage food supplies and even cognitive function.

“I don’t know what’s going on but it’s really not a good sight to see, you know what I’m saying? We’re tourists,” said Sed Walker, 48, who was visiting from Los Angeles.

A study published in July by the University of South Florida in the journal Science concluded that the seaweed problem, which started in 2001 and showed peaks in 2015 and 2018, is here to stay.

Satellite imagery shows blooms of sargassum form at the mouth of the Amazon. From there it spreads across the Atlantic, from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to Africa.

And those are tropical regions. The rapidly worsening climate emergency is now affecting our arctic regions at alarming rates that we didn’t think were possible for another lifetime. In Alaska, sea ice has entirely melted away for the first time; a region that even in warm summers retained some of its ice. “I’m losing the ability to communicate the magnitude [of change],” exclaimed Jeremy Mathis, an Arctic researcher and board director at the National Academies of Sciences in an interview with Mashable, “I’m running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we’re seeing.”

Progressive government officials in the United States are slowly signing on to the Green New Deal, a sweeping and drastic mobilization of US resources on the scale of World War II to combat the climate emergency. Private organizations like the Sunrise Movement are also pushing for its extreme measures. If we do not act now, many fear that it’s not that our great-grand children will suffer, it’s that they won’t ever be born.

Trump Delivers Public Address After two mass shootings in two days, “We vow to act with urgent resolve.”


“We are a loving nation,” Trump speaks in a softer tone than he is known for, “and our children deserve to grow up in a just, peaceful, loving society.” The 45th President of the United States delivered a somber address today following two mass shootings over the weekend; one perpetrated by a racist white-supremacist, who expressed support for the Christchurch shooter, the other for unknown reasons. Trump commonly receives criticism from citizens and allied countries for his failure to condemn racists and white supremacists, and at times for being racist himself.

“We vow to act with urgent resolve.” states Trump.

“Today we also send the condolences of our nation to President Obrador of Mexico, and all the people of Mexico for the loss of their citizens in the El Paso shooting; terrible, terrible thing.” Despite Trump’s condolences, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has announced that families of the El Paso victims have plans to sue the United States.

“The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”

Donald Trump

Trump’s comments today aimed to comfort Americans in a time of distress, but those who know the President’s antics have cause for alarm. Trump cites the internet as a source of radicalization for Right-Wing extremists. Given his history of cozying up to the leaders of nations fond of heavily censoring the internet, and Republican support for internet deregulation, proponents of a free and open internet should expect attempts from the Right to politicize these attacks to further their goals. Lawful gun owners are also on edge; previously Trump inflamed his gun owning constituency after the Parkland massacre, where he stated “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

11 Billion Tons of Ice Gone In a Single Day

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The Arctic is accustomed to seasonal ice melt and regrowth, or at least it was. The Climate Emergency is changing that, fast. Greenland normally sees its annual melt begin at the end of May. In 2019, the melt came early. In the beginning of May. Admittedly, 11 billion tons of melt in one are not abnormal. What is abnormal, unprecedented even, is when it happens several days in a row. Melt of this degree wasn’t expected until 2070.


The Climate Emergency, formerly known as Climate Change, is ramping up. Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) has come forward, telling the world about Greenland’s mass melt-off. 197 billion tons of ice, gone. Many parts of the world have joined the fight against Climate Change, committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


“It comes in a summer where the Arctic has experienced “unprecedented” wildfires, which scientists say have been facilitated by high temperatures.

Since the start of June, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), has tracked more than 100 intense wildfires in the Arctic Circle.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, providing the right conditions for wildfires to spread, Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECWMF), told CNN last week.”


Unfortunately, net-zero by 2050 is not enough. To put the Climate Emergency in perspective, one could use an analogy. The Titanic. Climate scientists recently told the world that we have roughly twelve years left to curb the worst-case scenario projections for the Climate Emergency.

So imagine we are the Titanic, and we’ve seen the iceberg coming at us for forty years or so. Nobody really cared much or put much thought into it until the last twenty years. Right, here we are, twelve years to throw the ship into full reverse and dodge the deadly iceberg. Sounds like a plan, let’s do it. Only…that’s not what most governments are doing. The UK’s ‘net-zero by 2050’ plan is the equivalent of killing the throttle, but not reversing it, about twenty years after we’ve slammed into the ice and are well on our way to the bottom of the sea. The final cherry on top? Some people have seen the iceberg, decided it doesn’t exist, and started throwing passengers who do see it overboard.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Pentagon Tests “Mass Surveillance Balloons” For Use Near US Borders

The Pentagon is testing large, unmanned blimps in order to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats ” on US soil, according to a recent “experimental temporary authorization” published by the FCC. The solar-powered balloons are similar to a prototype craft that crashed in Pennsylvania in 2015, after escaping the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military installation in Maryland, and would provide the government with perpetually powered, high-definition coverage of large geographic areas. Even more invasive, perhaps, than spy satellites.

“Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois.” writes The Guardian. “The balloons are carrying hi-tech radars designed to simultaneously track many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather. The tests, which have not previously been reported, received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September, following similar flights licensed last year.”

The US has a touchy relationship with mass surveillance, despite it largely having become the norm in the rest of the world. This isn’t surprising to Americans, who have largely opposed domestic surveillance and spying, even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, which saw the bipartisan passing of the 2001 Patriot Act, a bill that greatly expanded the powers of law enforcement agencies in investigating domestic terrorism under US President George W. Bush. The bill received public criticism for also compromising the security and privacy of innocent Americans. Components of the bill were granted a four year extension in 2011 by US President Barack Obama.

In 2004, then-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III defended the controversial act, stating “the Patriot Act has proved extraordinarily beneficial in the war on terrorism and has changed the way the FBI does business. Many of our counterterrorism (sic) successes, in fact, are the direct results of provisions included in the Act…”

17 years later, American citizens’ fears about the Patriot Act, and further mass surveillance, have largely been realized. In 2013, ex-CIA systems administrator Edward Snowden, leaked a substantial amount of data on secret, government spy programs that he felt the American public deserved to know. This includes previously unknown capabilities like the “bulk collection of phone and internet metadata from U.S. users, spying on the personal communications of foreign leaders including U.S. allies, and the NSA’s ability to tap undersea fiber optic cables and siphon off data.” As well as “releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into ‘honey traps.'”

These balloons are the latest in the continuing trend of growing mass surveillance in the US. Ex-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter describes use of similar devices in the Middle East nearly ten years ago: “You can spot someone burying an IED or setting up a checkpoint on a road near you; you can catch someone about to mortar your base; you (can) check whether the market is open in a nearby village.”

In the present day, more advanced models will be tested and utilized on US soil to, officially, better track and prevent drug trafficking shipments from entering the US. Naturally, citizens worry about what else they’ll be used for. In the past, new and invasive surveillance technologies have been abused, and some worry this latest development will be no different.

“We do not think that American cities should be subject to wide-area surveillance in which every vehicle could be tracked wherever they go,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Even in tests, they’re still collecting a lot of data on Americans: who’s driving to the union house, the church, the mosque, the Alzheimer’s clinic,” he said. “We should not go down the road of allowing this to be used in the United States and it’s disturbing to hear that these tests are being carried out, by the military no less. …if they decide that it’s usable domestically, there’s going to be enormous pressure to deploy it.”

Mark Harris, The Guardian

While public opinion of the practice is low in the US, the facts remain contentious. Some say surveillance makes us less safe and opens citizens up to dangerously dystopian realities already in effect in other parts of the world. But the technology has proven useful at times. The UK utilized its massive CCTV network to track Russian operatives who entered the country and poisoned a former Russian military operative with a deadly nerve agent, from the moment they stepped out of the airport. The attempted assassination had unintended casualties and has furthered Western tensions with Russia.

Despite public uneasiness, testing of the new surveillance balloons is predicted to move forward unimpeded.

Tsunami Warning Issued For Jakarta Following Magnitude 7.4 Quake

Potential for a deadly tsunami on the horizon in Jakarta is significant following a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. The Indonesian capital is on high alert mere minutes after being alerted to the quake that occurred just shy of 150 kilometers offshore.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) ranked the earthquake at a 6.8, which though less severe than a 7.4, is still more than capable of producing deadly tsunamis. Officials have warned residents of Pandeglang in Banten and West Lampung to be ready for up to a 3 meter rise in water levels, should a tsunami reach the shores.