January 21, 2019

If you went on social media over the weekend, you almost certainly saw a video clip of MAGA hat–wearing students from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School in some sort of standoff with a Native American advocate and Marine Corps veteran, Nathan Phillips, after Friday's March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High did, and they said in a joint statement Saturday that they "condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students toward Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general. ... The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."

After that clip went viral on Saturday, on Sunday "the nation picked apart footage from dozens of cellphones that recorded the incident," The Associated Press notes, and the student featured in the viral clip, Nick Sandmann, released a statement explaining his side of the story. He said Phillips approached him, and "I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation." He added that he is now "being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family's name." Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said the "honorable and tolerant students of Covington Catholic School" learned "a brutal lesson in the unjust court of public opinion and social media mobs."

Phillips told the Detroit Free Press that he stepped in to defuse a brewing brawl between the crowd of about 100 Covington students and a handful of confrontational men from a religious group called the Black Hebrew Israelites. "I'm a Marine Corps veteran and I know what that mob mentality can be like," he said. "I mean, it was that ugly." He said some Covington students started shouting "Build the Wall" and insulting Native Americans. Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes, told The Associated Press that he and Phillips approached the Covington students in part because one of their school cheers was a haka, or war dance of New Zealand's Maori people, and they thought it was mocking. Some students are seen doing a "tomahawk chop."

When you watch the nearly 2-hour video of the incident and what led up to it, says Jorge L. Ortiz at USA Today, "the fuller video would seem to assign more blame on a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites," who hurled insults first at Phillips and other Indigenous Peoples March participants then called the Covington students "crackers" and disparaged Catholicism and President Trump, among other aspersions. Peter Weber

4:19 p.m.

Self-isolators, rejoice! Not only are you keeping your friends and neighbors safe, you now have plenty of time to binge the almost 500 hours of HBO shows and movies that the premium channel is making available for free for a limited time without subscription.

Starting on Friday on HBO Now and HBO Go, you'll be able to watch every episode of nine different series — The Sopranos, Veep, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Ballers, Barry, Succession, Silicon Valley, and True Blood — as well as 10 docuseries and documentaries, and 20 Warner Bros. theatrical movies. You can check out the full list of what will be available on the "Stay Home Box Office" here.

Notably, the promotion comes just weeks before the launch of the new streaming service HBO Max in May, which will run you $15 a month — so definitely get that Succession binge in now. Jeva Lange

4:11 p.m.

South by Southwest may have been called off this year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but in some form, the film festival must go on.

Organizers of South by Southwest, the film, music, and technology festival that takes place every year in Austin, Texas, on Thursday announced it's bringing some movies that were set to premiere at the 2020 event to stream on Amazon as part of a 10-day "online film festival."

As the novel coronavirus spread in the United States, South by Southwest was among the first major events to be called off; the decision came after Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster. It was a major blow to Austin's economy, not to mention to all of the filmmakers who'd been making preparations to debut movies at the festival, which would have kicked off on March 13.

Now, some of these movies can reach audiences online as part of "Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection." Those who were taking part in the festival this year will be invited to opt-in to the online version, the announcement said Thursday. The specific selection of movies hasn't been unveiled yet — The Associated Press notes it's probably safe to say Netflix won't be opting in — but filmmakers who participate will receive a screening fee.

"We're inspired by the adaptability and resilience of the film community as it searches for creative solutions in this unprecedented crisis," Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW, said.

There's no specific date for the online festival, which will be free to watch in the U.S. and will require an Amazon account but not a Prime Video subscription, though organizers are "targeting" late April. Brendan Morrow

3:48 p.m.

Shortly after finally signing a statewide stay-at-home order on Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) quietly signed a second order that undermines the efforts of local governments to keep their citizens safe, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

DeSantis has faced criticism for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, from allowing spring breakers to continue to party on the state's beaches to permitting people to still gather in large groups for worship. On Wednesday, he became one of the last governors in the country to effectively order a "shelter in place" for his constituents, only to later order that the state's new guidelines "shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19." In other words, writes the Tampa Bay Times, "local governments cannot place any limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines."

Authorities in the state, though, are in a panic trying to prevent their localities from becoming the next coronavirus hotspot; regions like Hillsborough County, for example, that had put into place stricter measures are now seeing those regulations rolled back. "For reasons I can't fathom, the governor is using his power to remove safe guards that Hillsborough County and other counties have put in place to save lives," explained Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.

DeSantis additionally deemed that gun and ammo shops are included as "essential services" that can remain open during his state's lockdown. The New York Times reports that coronavirus cases jumped by more than 1,000 on Tuesday in Florida's largest single-day increase, and by Thursday they had surpassed 8,000, with more than 100 COVID-19 deaths. Jeva Lange

2:57 p.m.

President Trump's campaign is accusing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions of trying to "confuse" voters into thinking he has the president's support amid his Alabama Senate campaign, The New York Times reports.

The Trump campaign's chief operating officer, Michael Glassner, in a letter to Sessions' campaign this week demanded the former attorney general "immediately stop circulating mailers" such as one in which Sessions makes frequent mention of Trump's name and calls himself a supporter of the president.

"The letter even makes the delusional assertion that you are President 'Trump's #1 Supporter,'" Glassner writes. "We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump's loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the president supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary runoff election. Nothing could be further from the truth."

As Sessions campaigns for his old Alabama Senate seat, Trump has endorsed his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, last month calling Tuberville a "REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down!" When Sessions didn't win a majority in the Republican primary, Trump mocked him in a tweet saying the former attorney general didn't "have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt." Trump fired Sessions in 2018 and has long complained about his decision to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the letter, Trump's campaign reminds Sessions that the president and his campaign "do not support your efforts to return to the U.S. Senate."

A spokesperson for Sessions' campaign told the Times that the mailer in question was put together before Trump endorsed his opponent. The spokesperson also said that Sessions "is indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda," and "no one can change that." Brendan Morrow

2:20 p.m.

A train engineer working at the Port of Los Angeles has been charged with stealing a locomotive and intentionally derailing it in an attempt to hit the USNS Mercy.

The Mercy arrived in Los Angeles last week to provide an additional 1,000 hospital beds to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Eduardo Moreno, an engineer at the port, told authorities he found the boat "suspicious" and drove a train toward the ship because "people don't know what's going on here," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Moreno steered the cargo train through barriers designed to stop its engine and a few fences, according to a court filing. The train still ground to a halt about 250 yards away from the Mercy, CNN reports. No one was injured in the crash, but it did cause a diesel fuel leak, which firefighters and hazmat crews quickly cleaned up.

Moreno tried to flee the scene after the crash, but was quickly apprehended, a court filing says. He allegedly took a video from inside the train, which shows him lighting a flare as he drove the train through the barriers. Moreno could end up in jail for up to 20 years upon conviction, per the Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:16 p.m.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration significantly rolled back restrictions on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men, citing an "urgent need for blood" caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The FDA's decision marks a dramatic shift from federal rules that have been in place since 1983, the height of the AIDS crisis, when the government ordered a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, NBC News reports. Those rules were slightly loosened in 2015, when it was changed to a year-long abstinence requirement. On Thursday, the FDA shortened the window of abstinence even further, to three months.

Peter Marks, the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the announcement that "[blood] donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives" since the outbreak began, and that "the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply."

Activists, though, have long criticized restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood, BuzzFeed News notes, calling the rules scientifically unfounded and biased. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday that "these changes are based on the best science that we have today regarding the time that it takes to test positive for HIV" and that he encouraged all people to "do the right thing: donate blood." Jeva Lange

1:46 p.m.

Having someone who's got your back is everything, according to Zac Efron, who appeared on Thursday's episode of Hot Ones.

The High School Musical actor specifically told host Sean Evans about the first time he met his pal Leonardo DiCaprio. The pair were sitting next to each other at a basketball game, when the veteran star unexpectedly invited him over for breakfast. "He cooked waffles, and he burnt those, and then he made pancakes," Efron remembered, laughing.

Efron added that he had "a billion questions" for DiCaprio, particularly about dealing with the paparazzi. DiCaprio admitted "frankly, you're getting it a little bit different [than I did]," noting that there'd never been so many paparazzi at his house as when Efron came over.

DiCaprio nevertheless reassured the young actor. "He was like 'Don't worry about it, man. You're good,'" Efron said. "I really appreciate that he took that time … I feel like that's the biggest hand you can give someone in Hollywood, looking out for somebody younger." Watch the full interview below. Jeva Lange

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