Ex-militia man hunted: Federal and state agents searched for an armed, mentally unstable ex-militia leader and survivalist in the rugged mountains west of Lolo. “This is a very dangerous person,” said Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick, describing suspect David Burgert, who allegedly led Missoula County sheriff’s deputies on a chase and then fired at them before disappearing into the forest. No one was hurt in the initial skirmish. Burgert, who is on probation, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on weapons charges in 2004 and served time in federal prison before being released on probation. A decade ago, he led a right-wing militia known as Project 7 that allegedly plotted to assassinate local officials, attack the National Guard, and overthrow the federal government. Police said Burgert had been planning the ambush for at least a few days. Last week, when he was stopped by the Montana Highway Patrol for a moving violation, he told police he wasn’t “going to be taken down like last time.”
Giffords to leave hospital: Five months after she was severely wounded by a point-blank gunshot to the head, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is preparing to leave TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital to begin long-term rehabilitation. Though she has made great strides in her recovery, brain-injury experts agree that hope for a return to Congress may be unrealistic. “To expect that now, it’s not fair,” said Dr. Anand Germanwala, a neurosurgeon at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Giffords’s chief of staff, Pia Carusone, last week said that Giffords speaks in one- or two-word sentences, communicating primarily with nonverbal gestures. “Her words are back more and more now, but she’s still using facial expressions,” Carusone said. There’s reason for optimism, said Dr. Brian Greenwald, a brain-injury expert at Mount Sinai Medical Center, “but being able to speak again and rejoining Congress are two different issues.”
Contentious call to prayer: Texas Gov. Rick Perry faced a chorus of criticism last week after he invited fellow governors to join him on Aug. 6 for “a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation.” Some commentators speculated that the Houston event was a prelude to a presidential bid—it’s scheduled a week before the Iowa straw poll—but the Republican governor insisted the prayer-fest was a nonpolitical Christian gathering aimed at solving America’s ills. Whatever Perry’s aims, the plan drew strong protests from advocates for the separation of church and state, who said an elected official should not be leading an evangelical Christian revival. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League also condemned the event as “exclusionary and divisive,” saying it made non-Christians feel like “outsiders.”
Levees breached: Crews worked frantically around the clock to fortify a makeshift earthen barrier providing Atchison County’s last line of defense against the raging Missouri River. The rising river this week collapsed two levees near Hamburg, flooding lowland farms and threatening towns in Iowa and Missouri. The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood watch for Hamburg, pop. 1,200, which had been largely deserted as the flood approached. “It was surreal to see the river take the levee out,” said witness R.D. Hendrickson. “The water was shooting out of the ground straight up.” The Missouri is expected to rise to record levels and stay dangerously high for months, due to heavy winter snowmelt and heavy spring rains.
Mountain lion killed: Confirming a flurry of recent sightings in suburban Connecticut, a mountain lion was killed this week by a motorist driving an SUV on a parkway near the town of Milford. Officials insist that the 140-pound male, thought to be less than 6 years old, must have escaped from captivity in New York or Connecticut and was the same animal seen previously in Greenwich, Conn., some 40 miles away. “We still believe there is no native population,” said Dennis Schain, a spokesman for Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection, noting that it is a crime to keep a mountain lion in captivity. A biologist, however, said that the cat showed no signs of domestication. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported earlier this year that the eastern cougar, or mountain lion, was extinct.
Immigration crackdown: Gov. Robert Bentley last week signed what he called the nation’s toughest state law against illegal immigration. The new law requires schools, businesses, and landlords to verify the immigration status of students, workers, and tenants, and even makes it a crime to knowingly give a ride to an illegal immigrant. Under the new law, police may arrest anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, even if the person was stopped for some other reason. Employers will be required to use a computerized checking system called E-Verify to ensure that newly hired workers are in the country legally. “It is clearly unconstitutional,” said Mary Bauer, the legal director for the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s mean-spirited, racist, and we think a court will enjoin it.” The American Civil Liberties Union has also announced plans to challenge the law, which takes effect on Sept. 1.