The U.S. at a glance ...
Antifa attack: About 100 masked members of the “antifa” movement attacked peaceful pro-Trump demonstrators last week in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Garbed in black bandannas and hoodies, the antifascist group at first blended into a liberal-leaning crowd of about 2,000 people assembled for a “Rally Against Hate”—organized in response to a much smaller conservative protest, dubbed “No to Marxism in America.” The opposing demonstrations were peaceful for several hours until antifa protesters overran police barricades and descended on the right-wing marchers. In one incident, five antifa members furiously punched and kicked a conservative demonstrator, while others tossed water bottles and smoke bombs at police, resulting in 13 arrests. A number of left-leaning counterprotesters bemoaned the violence. “This is recruiting for the Right,” said one.
Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
Protected lands downsized: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week proposed reducing the size of at least three recently established national monuments in Utah and Oregon, which could open the lands to new mining or drilling. Most drastically affected would be Utah’s 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument—established under former President Obama and home to thousands of cultural and archaeological sites—which Zinke would pare down to approximately 160,000 acres. He also suggested shrinking Utah’s 1.9 million– acre Grand Staircase–Escalante and the 113,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou monument in Oregon. In a statement, Zinke said the 1906 Antiquities Act should not be used “to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, [or] burden private land.” Navajo and other Native American groups have vowed to sue over the downsizings.
New York City
Trump Tower Moscow: The Trump Organization sought to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in late 2015, months into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported this week. The deal ultimately fell through, but emails the Trump Organization gave to congressional investigators this week highlight more ties with Russian interests. In November 2015, Russian-born developer Felix Sater, a longtime associate of Trump’s, boasted in an email to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen that he had connections to Vladimir Putin and that winning Putin’s backing for the tower would help Trump politically. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” he wrote. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.” In January 2016, Cohen emailed Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, for help on the project. Peskov confirmed that he received the email, but said he didn’t respond.
Cheer camp controversy: A Denver high school cheerleading coach was fired last week after disturbing videos emerged showing him forcing teenage girls into leg splits, even as they cried out in pain. Coach Ozell Williams was terminated after a local TV station obtained the clips, shot on cellphones by team members at his cheerleading camp last June. In one video, 13-year-old Ally Wakefield repeatedly shrieks “Please stop!” as she is forced into a split and held down by both arms by other cheer team members. “[Williams] was pushing down on the back of my right leg,” she told Denver NBC affiliate KUSA. “He was pushing, like, with his other knee on my back to try to keep my posture straight.” A former contestant on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, Williams was fired from a previous coaching stint at another Colorado high school after a coach saw him use a similar method to force splits at a summer camp. Williams said the latest incidents had been taken out of context.
Gorka out: White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka was forced out last week, the latest in a string of West Wing departures since John Kelly was named chief of staff. In a resignation letter published in TheFederalist.com, Gorka complained that establishment forces have taken over Trump’s administration, writing that “the individuals who most embodied and represented the policies that will ‘Make America Great Again’ have been internally countered, systematically removed, or undermined.” That was seen as a clear reference to the ouster of senior adviser Steve Bannon, Gorka’s onetime boss at the far-right site Breitbart.com. Gorka was a frequent target for Trump critics for his hard-line views on Islam and his vocal defense of the travel ban. The White House denied Gorka had resigned, implying he had been fired, and emails obtained by MSNBC showed he had been barred from the White House grounds. Gorka said he was returning to Breitbart.com.
Transgender ban: Defense Secretary James Mattis said this week that he would establish a panel of experts to study how to implement a transgender military ban ordered by President Trump, effectively allowing transgender troops to remain for at least the next six months. The statement came days after Trump issued a formal directive—first announced in a series of surprise tweets in July—declaring that transgender service members will no longer be able to serve, reversing an Obama administration policy. Trump’s order directed Mattis to deliver recommendations on how to carry out the ban by Feb. 21, 2018. It also ordered the military to halt spending on sex-reassignment surgeries, but it gave Mattis some discretion in determining the status of active transgender troops, possibly opening the door for some to remain. Human rights groups have already begun to challenge the ban in federal court. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in Maryland this week on behalf of six transgender service members.