This just in
March 20, 2014
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Fred Phelps — the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that has grown infamous for picketing high-profile funerals — died "before midnight" last night at age 84, says son Timothy Phelps.

On Sunday, Fred Phelps' estranged son Nathan revealed that Phelps was "on the edge of death" in a hospice house in Topeka, Kansas:

Though church officials refuse to discuss their "internal church dealings" with the press, Phelps' son Mark wrote The Topeka-Capital Journal to confirm the accuracy of Nathan's statement. Without Phelps, the future of the Westboro Baptist Church remains unclear; though Nathan Phelps once speculated the church would dissolve without his father's leadership, he now believes there are several members who possess "the rhetoric and the intensity of the father," including younger brother Tim Phelps and spokesman Steve Drain. (One high-profile member it won't be: Former spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper, who would be excluded under the church's rule that "women are to be subservient to men.")

Unfortunately, the church's non-transparency means that the reason for Fred Phelps' alleged excommunication from the Westboro Baptist Church in August 2013 remains unclear — as does the possibility that the church's remaining members will picket his funeral. Scott Meslow

The latest
3:32 p.m. ET
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Police on Tuesday afternoon said they had arrested two suspects in the shooting near a Black Lives Matter protest camp in Minneapolis Monday night, and were still seeking other suspects. The Guardian reports that a 23-year-old white man and a 32-year-old Hispanic man were taken into custody in connection with the incident that non-fatally injured five black protesters.

Witnesses say the shooting happened after protesters tried to get three counter-protesters to move away from the camp outside the police station in north Minneapolis, where demonstrations have been ongoing since Jamar Clark, a black assault suspect, was shot dead on Nov. 15. Becca Stanek

have it your way
2:14 p.m. ET
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When visiting the newly-minted Trump National Golf Club on Lowes Island in Sterling, Virginia, golfers can stop between the 14th and 15th tees and pay their respects to the many soldiers who died in a Civil War battle there.

Or did they?

Even though there's a monument and plaque commemorating "casualties [that] were so great the water would turn red and thus became known as 'The River of Blood,'" all the local historians reached by The New York Times denied anything of the sort ever happened in the area.

"No. Uh-uh. No way. Nothing like that ever happened there," Richard Gillespie, the executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, the region's historical preservation group, said. Alana Blumenthal, who curates the Loudoun Museum in nearby Leesburg, agreed there had never been a battle at or near the site, as did another expert who chose not to be named.

When told about the historians' denial of the so-called River of Blood massacre, Trump replied, "How would they know that? Were they there?"

He elaborated, explaining that the place he marked on the river was a "prime site for river crossings." "So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them," Trump said.

Mr. Trump repeatedly said that "numerous historians" had told him the golf club site was known as The River of Blood. But he said he did not remember their names.

Then he said the historians had actually spoken not to him but to "my people." But he refused to identify any underlings who might still possess the historians' names.

"Write your story the way you want to write it," Mr. Trump said finally, when pressed unsuccessfully for anything that could corroborate his claim. "You don't have to talk to anybody. It doesn't make any difference. But many people were shot. It makes sense." [The New York Times]

Jeva Lange

media matters
1:44 p.m. ET
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How Americans perceive Muslims is linked primarily to headlines — which makes sense, because most Americans haven't even spoken to a Muslim in the past year, The Washington Post reports.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute's American Values Survey, which was conducted before the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks, 56 percent of Americans believe the values of Islam conflict with values of the United States.

However, since the U.S. Muslim population is relatively small — only about 1 percent — and spread out across a handful of cities, many Americans are forming opinions about Islam from a distance. In 2011, seven in 10 Americans said they hadn't even talked to a Muslim in the past year. In 2013, another survey found that a majority of Americans couldn't even locate Syria — a predominantly Muslim country — on a map.

That's a problem, considering "the act of simply knowing someone from a minority group can be a powerful perception game-changer," The Washington Post reports.

Look no further than the recent speedy cultural shift toward accepting gay and lesbian Americans [...] In fact, by the time the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, nine in 10 Americans said they knew someone who was gay. It would seem Americans don't have that kind of connection with Muslims.

Filling that knowledge gap is, of course, the media. And the brutality of the Islamic State — taped beheadings, brash threats, the Paris attacks — is dominating most American news coverage about Islam these days. [The Washington Post]

President Obama has also recently condemned the media for its portrayal of Islam. "We will not give in to fear, or start turning on each other, or treating some people differently because of religion or race or background. That's precisely what terrorists like ISIL want, because, ultimately, that's the only way they can win," he said. Jeva Lange

'Today we stand with you'
1:19 p.m. ET
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During a Tuesday press conference with French President Francois Hollande, President Obama vowed to "do even more" to fight ISIS. "This was not only a strike against one of the world's great cities, it was an attack against the world itself," Obama said of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. "As Americans, we stand by our friends in good times and in bad."

Obama urged the E.U. to adopt a version of a no-fly list, and he called on Americans to fulfill their "humanitarian duty to help desperate refugees" despite calls from the GOP to bar them from the U.S. for fear that terrorists could slip into the country with the flow of migrants. "We cannot, and we will not succumb to fear," Obama said. "For that's how terrorists win."

World leaders will meet in Paris next week for a climate conference in what Obama says will be a "powerful rebuke" to terrorists. Hollande will also meet with the leaders of Germany, Italy, and Russia this week. Becca Stanek

This just in
12:03 p.m. ET
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A state prosecutor charged Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder Tuesday for shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, marking the first time an on-duty officer in Chicago has been charged with murder in 35 years. The news comes as the city prepares to publicly release video footage of the incident, which took place last October.

The footage, captured by a dashboard camera in a police car, allegedly shows McDonald walking away from police with a small knife in hand. As he is walking away, Van Dyke "can allegedly be seen opening fire from about 15 feet and continuing to shoot even after McDonald fell to the ground, hitting McDonald a total of 16 times," ABC News reports. McDonald was reportedly hit with two shots in the back.

Police say that McDonald had been ordered to drop the knife and had refused to do so. Van Dyke has turned himself in to authorities and is scheduled to appear at a bond hearing later Tuesday.

Van Dyke had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting in October 2014. Prior to the lawsuit being filed, the city had offered a $5 million settlement to McDonald's family in April. Becca Stanek

This just in
11:10 a.m. ET
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Adele's newest album, 25, sold 2.43 million copies in just over three days, breaking the single-week U.S. sales record held by *NSYNC, according to Nielsen Music. *NSYNC's No Strings Attached sold 2.41 million albums in a single week during the height of the CD era in 2000. Nielsen only began recording point-of-sale numbers in 1991; album sales prior to that weren't recorded based on how many were sold in a given week.

"Hello," the first single off 25, sold 1.1 million copies in a week and its music video has been watched more than 400 million times. The album is estimated by industry experts to sell 2.9 million copies by the end of the week, perhaps in part fueled by the fact that it isn't available to stream on services like Spotify or Apple Music. Jeva Lange

This just in
10:50 a.m. ET
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Calling Turkey as dangerous to its citizens as Egypt, Russia warned tourists on Tuesday against traveling to Turkey. According to some reports, the State Duma is considering suspending all commercial flights between the two countries.

Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian fighter jet that was allegedly flying over Turkish territory near the Syrian border on Tuesday. In October, a Russian passenger jet was brought down over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula following an onboard explosion; ISIS has claimed responsibility.

"We do not recommend our citizens visit Turkey in light of the growing terrorist threat in this country," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. Lavrov himself canceled a trip to Turkey, which he was scheduled to make on Wednesday. The BBC reports that at least one major Russian travel agency has halted holiday travel packages to Turkey, citing concern for the "safety of Russian citizens."

As many as 10,000 Russian tourists are believed to be in Turkey at this time. The country is a popular destination for Russians, who are second only to Germans in the number of visits they make to the country each year. Jeva Lange

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