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Confederate flag-wielding man and son convicted in Capitol breach

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Confederate flag-wielding man and son convicted in Capitol breach

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“Where are the members at? Where are they counting the votes?”

Kevin Seefried with a Confederate battle flag in the Capitol, Washington, on Jan. 6, 2020. Erin Schaff/The New York Times

By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post

WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Wednesday found a Confederate-flag wielding father and his adult son who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, guilty of obstructing lawmakers as they met to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

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U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden found Kevin Seefried, 52, and Hunter Seefried, 24, guilty of the felony obstruction charge, as well as trespassing and related misdemeanor offenses. His verdict came after a two-day bench trial in which U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement witnesses alleged the men overran police lines and were among the first 15 rioters who broke into the Capitol building.

The group notably pursued U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman toward the chamber of the Senate, with Kevin Seefried shouting, “Where are the members at? Where are they counting the votes?”

The judge found Hunter Seefried not guilty of destruction of federal property worth less than $1,000 for clearing shards of glass and climbing through a window shattered by the first group of rioters.

On the most serious charge, punishable by a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years, McFadden – ruling in a bench trial after the two men waived their right to a jury – found that the Seefrieds had “the requisite intent” to “wrongfully” obstruct lawmakers when they broke into the building, chased police and prompted the evacuation of lawmakers.

“As an initial matter of wrongfulness, things like breaking into a Capitol window, threatening police, and joining a mob that chases an officer through the Capitol are so self-evidently wrong that it requires little further explanation,” said McFadden, a 2017 Trump appointee.

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“I find the defendant Kevin Seefried did, in fact, obstruct the certification by his actions,” McFadden said.

McFadden said that while there was “overwhelming video evidence” that events unfolded as prosecutors alleged, whether Hunter Seefried intended to damage property or acted as aggressively as his father was “a closer call.”

Though McFadden acquitted the younger Seefried in connection with the window damage, he said the 24-year-old “knew what he was doing.”

“He joined a mob in the Capitol that was repeatedly yelling, ‘Where are thy hiding? Where are the members at? Where are they counting the votes,’” McFadden said. “It’s not definitive proof, but his decision to continue with the mob is suggestive of his intent.”

McFadden also cited a statement Hunter Seefried gave to the FBI, in which he claimed to have told police, “What’s going on in that room, in that building affects my way of living.”

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Goodman – whose actions inside the building that day were captured on a video that went viral – testified in court that Kevin Seefried was the first intruder he encountered during the breach of the Senate Wing Doors on the building’s first floor.

Goodman said the elder Seefried jabbed at him with the butt end of the flagpole and yelled about wanting to know the location of lawmakers. Kevin Seefried told an interviewing FBI agent that he confronted an officer matching Goodman’s description, saying, “You can shoot me, man, but we’re coming in,” according to evidence presented by prosecutors.

A video taken from the crowd shows Kevin Seefried was quickly joined by other angry rioters who pursued Goodman up the stairs. The officer led them away from a hallway that goes to a Senate entrance used by Republicans, staffers and the ceremonial offices of then-Vice President Mike Pence. The group instead followed him toward the Ohio Clock Corridor on the mosaic-tiled floor above. Goodman testified that corridor leads to the main entrance to the Senate, where he knew officers were situated to provide backup.

Prosecutors Brittany Reed and Benet Kearney argued that the Seefrieds were part of the first group of rioters who entered “intent on getting to the Members of Congress.” The group included two highly visible figures who were accused of leading the charge: Douglas Jensen, who wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with an eagle and logo of the QAnon extremist ideology, and so-called QAnon shaman Jacob Chansley, who carried a spear and a bullhorn onto the Senate floor and wore red-white-and-blue face paint and a fur headdress with horns. Jensen faces trial in September; Chansley has pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors played video of Hunter Seefried’s interview with the FBI, in which he said he wanted to support Trump and “stop the steal.”

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Similar video showed Kevin Seefried saying he came to Washington to stand up for Trump, and admitting to telling a police officer in the building, “This affects us all.” Prosecutors argued that comment showed his intention to stop lawmakers’ work.

FBI Special Agent Joseph Lear said investigators did not examine Kevin Seefried’s social media communications because he deleted them before he and his son turned themselves in on Jan. 12, 2021.

Nichols set sentencing for father and son on Sept. 16 and 23, respectively.

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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UNITED NATIONS — Donors pledged about $160 million for the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.

Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.

“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”

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UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.

Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.

In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

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Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”

Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.

Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3% of the agency’s income.

Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.

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“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.

Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s U.N. Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of U.N. values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with U.N. policies.”

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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MEXICO CITY — A woman mountain climber in Mexico died and a climbing companion was injured when they scaled the highly active, off-limits peak of the Popocatepetl volcano.

Mexico’s volunteer Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade confirmed Friday that the climbers fell into a gully about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the volcano’s crater, suggesting they had reached the crater or near it.

The crater of the 17,797-foot (5,426-meter) tall volcano has been belching toxic fumes, ash, and lumps of incandescent rock persistently for almost 30 years.

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Civil defense authorities have strictly prohibited climbers from going within 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of the peak since it began erupting again in 1994.

Valentín Martínez Castillo, the mayor of the nearby town of Ozumba, identified the dead woman as a 22-year-old resident of the town.

Martínez Castillo wrote in his social media accounts that the climbers fell about 150 feet (50 meters) down a gully, and that the woman’s body and the surviving climbers had been successfully removed from the peak.

The Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade posted a notice on their social media Friday reading: “She shouldn’t have died. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. The Popocatepetl volcano is closed.”

The country’s National Disaster Prevention Center said it “calls on people not to go near the volcano, especially the crater, due to the risk of falling ballistic fragments.”

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Popocatepetl is located 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City, and occasionally showers ash on surrounding towns and some parts of the capital.

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

Former President Clinton is slamming the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying it contributes to putting “democracy at risk” and calling the high court “radical” and “activist.”

“This decision puts partisanship ahead of precedent, ideology ahead of evidence, and the power of a small minority ahead of the clear will of the people,” Clinton said in a statement on Friday.

“This jarring removal of rights that had long been guaranteed, along with decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act and abolishing any judicial remedy for admittedly unconstitutional gerrymandering by state legislatures and abuses of power by federal authorities, has put our democracy at risk in the hands of a radical, activist Court,” he added.

He said said voters should be electing people “who will defend, not deny, our cherished rights and liberties” in addition to confirming judges who put the importance of the Constitution over partisanship.

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His wife, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called the decision “a step backward for women’s rights and human rights.”

The development comes as the high court ruled on Friday to eliminate federal-level abortion protections, which many anticipated after a leaked draft ruling last month. 

Several states, including Missouri, South Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky, have now effectively banned abortion. More are expected to follow.

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