From the BlogMeet Ron

‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America

‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America

Christopher Blair, 46, sits at his desk at home in Maine and checks his Facebook page, America’s Last Line of Defense. He launched the political-satire portal with other liberal bloggers during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
By Eli Saslow November 17
NORTH WATERBORO, Maine — The only light in the house came from the glow of three computer monitors, and Christopher Blair, 46, sat down at a keyboard and started to type. His wife had left for work and his children were on their way to school, but waiting online was his other community, an unreality where nothing was exactly as it seemed. He logged onto his website and began to invent his first news story of the day.

“BREAKING,” he wrote, pecking out each letter with his index fingers as he considered the possibilities. Maybe he would announce that Hillary Clinton had died during a secret overseas mission to smuggle more refugees into America. Maybe he would award President Trump the Nobel Peace Prize for his courage in denying climate change.

A new message popped onto Blair’s screen from a friend who helped with his website. “What viral insanity should we spread this morning?” the friend asked.

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“The more extreme we become, the more people believe it,” Blair replied.

He had launched his new website on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign as a practical joke among friends — a political satire site started by Blair and a few other liberal bloggers who wanted to make fun of what they considered to be extremist ideas spreading throughout the far right. In the last two years on his page, America’s Last Line of Defense, Blair had made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former president Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. “Share if you’re outraged!” his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked “like” and then “share,” most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair’s page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55.

“Nothing on this page is real,” read one of the 14 disclaimers on Blair’s site, and yet in the America of 2018 his stories had become real, reinforcing people’s biases, spreading onto Macedonian and Russian fake news sites, amassing an audience of as many 6 million visitors each month who thought his posts were factual. What Blair had first conceived of as an elaborate joke was beginning to reveal something darker. “No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back,” Blair once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page. “Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they’re being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?”

Blair, in the woods near his home, wanted to make fun of what he and others considered extremist ideas among the far right. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

At his keyboard, Blair has made up stories about sharia in California and undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Blair’s own reality was out beyond the shuttered curtains of his office: a three-bedroom home in the forest of Maine where the paved road turned to gravel; not his house but a rental; not on the lake but near it. Over the past decade his family had moved around the country a half-dozen times as he looked for steady work, bouncing between construction and restaurant jobs while sometimes living on food stamps. During the economic crash of 2008, his wife had taken a job at Wendy’s to help pay down their credit-card debt, and Blair, a lifelong Democrat, had begun venting his political frustration online, arguing with strangers in an Internet forum called Brawl Hall. He sometimes masqueraded as a tea party conservative on Facebook so he could gain administrative access into their private groups and then flood their pages with liberal ideas before using his administrative status to shut their pages down.

He had created more than a dozen online profiles over the last years, sometimes disguising himself in accompanying photographs as a beautiful Southern blond woman or as a bandana-wearing conservative named Flagg Eagleton, baiting people into making racist or sexist comments and then publicly eviscerating them for it. In his writing Blair was blunt, witty and prolific, and gradually he’d built a liberal following on the Internet and earned a full-time job as a political blogger. On the screen, like nowhere else, he could say exactly how he felt and become whomever he wanted.

Now he hunched over a desk wedged between an overturned treadmill and two turtle tanks, scanning through conservative forums on Facebook for something that might inspire his next post. He was 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, and he typed several thousand words each day in all capital letters. He noticed a photo online of Trump standing at attention for the national anthem during a White House ceremony. Behind the president were several dozen dignitaries, including a white woman standing next to a black woman, and Blair copied the picture, circled the two women in red and wrote the first thing that came into his mind.

“President Trump extended an olive branch and invited Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton,” Blair wrote. “They thanked him by giving him ‘the finger’ during the national anthem. Lock them up for treason!”

Blair finished typing and looked again at the picture. The white woman was not in fact Chelsea Clinton but former White House strategist Hope Hicks. The black woman was not Michelle Obama but former Trump aide Omarosa Newman. Neither Obama nor Clinton had been invited to the ceremony. Nobody had flipped off the president. The entire premise was utterly ridiculous, which was exactly Blair’s point.

“We live in an Idiocracy,” read a small note on Blair’s desk, and he was taking full advantage. In a good month, the advertising revenue from his website earned him as much as $15,000, and it had also won him a loyal army of online fans. Hundreds of liberals now visited America’s Last Line of Defense to humiliate conservatives who shared Blair’s fake stories as fact. In Blair’s private Facebook messages with his liberal supporters, his conservative audience was made up of “sheep,” “hillbillies,” “maw-maw and paw-paw,” “TrumpTards,” “potatoes” and “taters.”

“How could any thinking person believe this nonsense?” he said. He hit the publish button and watched as his lie began to spread.

Shirley Chapian, 76, sits in a lot near her home in Pahrump, Nev. She is more than a decade into retirement. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It was barely dawn in Pahrump, Nev., when Shirley Chapian, 76, logged onto Facebook for her morning computer game of Criminal Case. She believed in starting each day with a problem-solving challenge, a quick mental exercise to keep her brain sharp more than a decade into retirement. For a while it had been the daily crossword puzzle, but then the local newspaper stopped delivering and a friend introduced her to the viral Facebook game with 65 million players. She spent an hour as a 1930s detective, interrogating witnesses and trying to parse their lies from the truth until finally she solved case No. 48 and clicked over to her Facebook news feed.

“Good morning, Shirley! Thanks for being here,” read an automated note at the top of her page. She put her finger on the mouse and began scrolling down.

“Click LIKE if you believe we must stop Sharia Law from coming to America before it’s too late,” read the first item, and she clicked “like.”

“Share to help END the ongoing migrant invasion!” read another, and she clicked “share.”

The house was empty and quiet except for the clicking of her computer mouse. She lived alone, and on many days her only personal interaction occurred here, on Facebook. Mixed into her morning news feed were photos and updates from some of her 300 friends, but most items came directly from political groups Chapian had chosen to follow: “Free Speech Patriots,” “Taking Back America,” “Ban Islam,” “Trump 2020” and “Rebel Life.” Each political page published several posts each day directly into Chapian’s feed, many of which claimed to be “BREAKING NEWS.”


On her computer the attack against America was urgent and unrelenting. Liberals were restricting free speech. Immigrants were storming the border and casting illegal votes. Politicians were scheming to take away everyone’s guns. “The second you stop paying attention, there’s another travesty underway in this country,” Chapian once wrote, in her own Facebook post, so she had decided to always pay attention, sometimes scrolling and sharing for hours at a time.

“BREAKING: Democrat mega-donor accused of sexual assault!!!”

“Is Michelle Obama really dating Bruce Springsteen?”

“Iowa Farmer Claims Bill Clinton had Sex with Cow during ‘Cocaine Party.’ ”

Chapian’s glasses reflect a Facebook page as she reads it on her computer. She gets most of her news from the social-media site. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Chapian scrolls through her newsfeed. She sometimes wakes up to check Facebook in the middle of the night. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
On display above Chapian’s screen were needlepoints that had once occupied much of her free time, intricate pieces of artwork that took hundreds of hours to complete, but now she didn’t have the patience. Out her window was a dead-end road of identical beige-and-brown rock gardens surrounding double-wide trailers that looked similar to her own, many of them occupied by neighbors whom she’d never met. Beyond that was nothing but cactuses and heat waves for as far as she could see — a stretch of unincorporated land that continued from her backyard into the desert.

She’d spent almost a decade in Pahrump without really knowing why. The heat could be unbearable. She had no family in Nevada. She loved going to movies, and the town of 30,000 didn’t have a theater. It seemed to her like a place in the business of luring people — into the air-conditioned casinos downtown, into the legal brothels on the edge of the desert, into the new developments of cheap housing available for no money down — and in some ways she’d become stuck, too.

She had lived much of her life in cities throughout Europe and across the United States — places such as San Francisco, New York and Miami. She’d gone to college for a few years and become an insurance adjuster, working as one of the few women in the field in the 1980s and ’90s and joining the National Organization for Women to advocate for an equal wage before eventually moving to Rhode Island to work for a hospice and care for her aging parents. After her mother died, Chapian decided to retire and move to Las Vegas to live with a friend, and when Las Vegas become too expensive a real estate agent told her about Pahrump. She bought a three-bedroom trailer for less than $100,000 and painted it purple. She met a few friends at the local senior center and started eating at the Thai restaurant in town. A few years after arriving, she bought a new computer monitor and signed up for Facebook in 2009, choosing as her profile image a photo of her cat.

“Looking to connect with friends and other like-minded people,” she wrote then.

She had usually voted for Republicans, just like her parents, but it was only on Facebook that Chapian had become a committed conservative. She was wary of Obama in the months after his election, believing him to be both arrogant and inexperienced, and on Facebook she sought out a litany of information that seemed to confirm her worst fears, unaware that some of that information was false. It wasn’t just that Obama was liberal, she read; he was actually a socialist. It wasn’t just that his political qualifications were thin; it was that he had fabricated those qualifications, including parts of his college transcripts and maybe even his birth certificate.

For years she had watched network TV news, but increasingly Chapian wondered about the widening gap between what she read online and what she heard on the networks. “What else aren’t they telling us?” she wrote once, on Facebook, and if she believed the mainstream media was becoming insufficient or biased, it was her responsibility to seek out alternatives. She signed up for a dozen conservative newsletters and began to watch Alex Jones on Infowars. One far right Facebook group eventually led her to the next with targeted advertising, and soon Chapian was following more than 2,500 conservative pages, an ideological echo chamber that often trafficked in skepticism. Climate change was a hoax. The mainstream media was censored or scripted. Political Washington was under control of a “deep state.”

Trump calls media ‘enemy of the people,’ says ‘fake news’ wants to ‘stoke resentment’
President Trump said Oct. 31 that “33 percent of the people” in the country believe the “fake news” is the “enemy of the people.” (The Washington Post)

Chapian didn’t believe everything she read online, but she was also distrustful of mainstream fact-checkers and reported news. It sometimes felt to her like real facts had become indiscernible — that the truth was often somewhere in between. What she trusted most was her own ability to think critically and discern the truth, and increasingly her instincts aligned with the online community where she spent most of her time. It had been months since she’d gone to a movie. It had been almost a year since she’d made the hour-long trip to Las Vegas. Her number of likes and shares on Facebook increased each year until she was sometimes awakening to check her news feed in the middle of the night, liking and commenting on dozens of posts each day. She felt as if she was being let in on a series of dark revelations about the United States, and it was her responsibility to see and to share them.

“I’m not a conspiracy-theory-type person, but . . .” she wrote, before sharing a link to an unsourced story suggesting that Democratic donor George Soros had been a committed Nazi, or that a Parkland shooting survivor was actually a paid actor.

Now another post arrived in her news feed, from a page called America’s Last Line of Defense, which Chapian had been following for more than a year. It showed a picture of Trump standing at a White House ceremony. Circled in the background were two women, one black and one white.

“President Trump extended an olive branch and invited Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton,” the post read. “They thanked him by giving him ‘the finger’ during the national anthem.”

Chapian looked at the photo and nothing about it surprised her. Of course Trump had invited Clinton and Obama to the White House in a generous act of patriotism. Of course the Democrats — or “Demonrats,” as Chapian sometimes called them — had acted badly and disrespected America. It was the exact same narrative she saw playing out on her screen hundreds of times each day, and this time she decided to click ‘like’ and leave a comment.

“Well, they never did have any class,” she wrote.

Chapian’s newsfeed awaits her return. She says she doesn’t believe everything she reads online, but she also is distrustful of mainstream fact-checkers and reported news. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Blair had invented thousands of stories in the past two years, always trafficking in the same stereotypes to fool the same people, but he never tired of watching a post take off: Eight shares in the first minute, 160 within 15 minutes, more than 1,000 by the end of the hour.

“Aaaaand, we’re viral,” he wrote, in a message to his liberal supporters on his private Facebook page. “It’s getting to the point where I can no longer control the absolute absurdity of the things I post. No matter how ridiculous, how obviously fake, or how many times you tell the same taters . . . they will still click that ‘like’ and hit that share button.”

By the standards of America’s Last Line of Defense, the item about Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton was only a moderate success. It included no advertisements, so it wouldn’t earn Blair any money. It wasn’t even the most popular of the 11 items he’d published that day. But, just an hour earlier, Blair had come up with an idea at his computer in Maine, and now hundreds or maybe thousands of people across the country believed Obama and Clinton had flipped off the president.

“Gross. Those women have no respect for themselves,” wrote a woman in Fort Washakie, Wyo.

“They deserve to be publicly shunned,” said a man in Gainesville, Fla.

“Not surprising behavior from such ill bred trash.”

“Jail them now!!!”

Blair had fooled them. Now came his favorite part, the gotcha, when he could let his victims in on the joke.

“OK, taters. Here’s your reality check,” he wrote on America’s Last Line of Defense, placing his comment prominently alongside the original post. “That is Omarosa and Hope Hicks, not Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton. They wouldn’t be caught dead posing for this pseudo-patriotic nationalistic garbage . . . Congratulations, stupid.”

Beyond the money he earned, this was what Blair had conceived of as the purpose for his website: to engage directly with people who spread false or extremist stories and prove those stories were wrong. Maybe, after people had been publicly embarrassed, they would think more critically about what they shared online. Maybe they would begin to question the root of some of their ideas.

Blair didn’t have time to personally confront each of the several hundred thousand conservatives who followed his Facebook page, so he’d built a community of more than 100 liberals to police the page with him. Together they patrolled the comments, venting their own political anger, shaming conservatives who had been fooled, taunting them, baiting them into making racist comments that could then be reported to Facebook. Blair said he and his followers had gotten hundreds of people banned from Facebook and several others fired or demoted in their jobs for offensive behavior online. He had also forced Facebook to shut down 22 fake news sites for plagiarizing his content, many of which were Macedonian sites that reran his stories without labeling them as satire.

What Blair wasn’t sure he had ever done was change a single person’s mind. The people he fooled often came back to the page, and he continued to feed them the kind of viral content that boosted his readership and his bank account: invented stories about Colin Kaepernick, kneeling NFL players, imams, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrants, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Michelle and Malia Obama. He had begun to include more obvious disclaimers at the top of every post and to intentionally misspell several words in order to highlight the idiocy of his work, but still traffic continued to climb. Sometimes he wondered: Rather than of awakening people to reality, was he pushing them further from it?

“Well, they never did have any class,” commented Shirley Chapian, from Pahrump, Nev., and Blair watched his liberal followers respond.

“That’s kind of an ironic comment coming from pure trailer trash, don’t you think?”

“You’re a gullible moron who just fell for a fake story on a Liberal satire page.”

“You my dear . . . are as smart as a potato.”

Chapian has sometimes liked and shared fake stories by Blair on America’s Last Line of Defense. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Blair has built a community of more than 100 liberals to police his page with him. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“What a waste of flesh and time.”

“Welcome to the internet. Critical thinking required.”

Chapian saw the comments after her post and wondered as she often did when she was attacked: Who were these people? And what were they talking about? Of course Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton had flipped off the president. It was true to what she knew of their character. That was what mattered.

Instead of responding directly to strangers on America’s Last Line of Defense, Chapian wrote on her own Facebook page. “Nasty liberals,” she said, and then she went back to her news feed, each day blending into the next.

A Muslim woman with her burqa on fire: like. A policeman using a baton to beat a masked antifa protester: like. Hillary Clinton looking gaunt and pale: like. A military helicopter armed with machine guns and headed toward the caravan of immigrants: like.

She had spent a few hours scrolling one afternoon when she heard a noise outside her window, and she turned away from the screen to look outside. A neighbor was sweeping his sidewalk, pushing tiny white rocks back into his rock garden. The sky was an uninterrupted blue. A mailman worked his way up the empty street. There were no signs of “Sharia Law.” The migrant caravan was still hundreds of miles away in Mexico. Antifa protesters had yet to descend on Pahrump. Chapian squinted against the sun, closed the shades and went back to her screen.

A picture of undocumented immigrants laughing inside a voting booth: like.

“Deep State Alive and Well”: like.

She scrolled upon another post from America’s Last Line of Defense, reading fast, oblivious to the satire labels and not noticing Blair’s trademark awkward phrasings and misspellings. It showed a group of children kneeling on prayer mats in a classroom. “California School children forced to Sharia in Class,” it read. “All of them have stopped eating bacon. Two began speaking in Allah. Stop making children pray to imaginary Gods!!”

Chapian recoiled from the screen. “Please!” she said. “If I had a kid in a school system like that, I’d yank them out so fast.”

She had seen hundreds of stories on Facebook about the threat of sharia, and this confirmed much of what she already believed. It was probably true, she thought. It was true enough.

“Do people understand that things like this are happening in this country?” she said. She clicked the post and the traffic registered back to a computer in Maine, where Blair watched another story go viral and wondered when his audience would get his joke.

Moral Inventory 

Moral Inventory 

Here are some things we can ask ourselves.

You can rate yourself 1 – 10 for each, 1 representing No success in that area and 10 means that you are having habitual success.

How am I doing in each of the following virtues?

1. Thankfulness: It is the habit of my life to thank my higher power and others for what they have done…I can honestly say that I am a thankful person and often express my gratitude.

2. Gentleness: My life is free from all outbursts of selfish anger or rage. I am approachable, quiet in spirit, open to criticism, and don’t get defensive when I am corrected or rebuked.

3. Humility: I do not have an inflated self-opinion and consistently consider others as equal with myself. I have a teachable spirit and avoid all bragging, name-dropping and spiritual pride.

4. Pure Attitudes: My lifestyle is one of the right relationships, not just outwardly but inwardly too. I have no hate, ill will, malice or bitterness toward any other person anywhere on this earth.

5. Acceptance: I refuse to fight back when people criticize, condemn, reject or complain against me, even if they do it with wrong motives. I practice giving a soft answer to turn away their wrath.

6. Peacemaking: It is my practice to try to bring peace between others who are at odds. I don’t just stand by and allow division to fester without trying to get involved to bring peace.

7. Boldness: I have been able to launch out and take risks for my recovery and beliefs, keeping fear under control and taking risks when my higher power calls to me to do something. There is nothing now that My Higher Power is asking me to do which I’m resisting because of fear.

8. Trust: I not only believe, but “act as if” my higher power is guiding my life and situations. My life is one of simple reliance on my Higher Power. I’m free from fretting, worry or anxiety about the future.

9. Persistence: It is normal for me to hang in there, when I am acting in healthy ways, when things get difficult, stressful and unrewarding, even if I must face suffering difficulty and persecution. My persistence keeps me from giving up too easily and I just keep on keeping on.

10. Harmony: I’m not a participant in any group evil, like quarreling, dissension, fighting or factions in my family or in my place of worship, fellowship or work.

11. Submission/Surrender: I do not resist those placed in authority over me, even if they’re less competent or gifted. When I “turn my will and life over” to the care of my Higher Power, it means I follow my H.P.’s direction even if I question it at first.

12. Right Relationships: Reflecting on all my relationships past and present, I’m able to say there are no broken relationships with anybody, anywhere, which I have not attempted to straighten out.

13. Giving Living: I regularly practice generous giving to my family, place of worship, AA, and homeless, helpless, widows, orphans, and other needy folk. Generosity is a normal behavior to me.

14. Family Time: It is the routine of my life to control the amount of time I spend in work, pleasure or other activities which take too much time from my family. I obey my spiritual leading and make my Family time the top priority of my relationship life.

15. Forgiveness: If there is an individual or group of people who have hurt me in the past, I release my resentment, bitterness or grudge against them. I have fully forgiven everyone who has ever hurt me.

16. Restoring others: I hurt when temptation overtakes a brother or sister in the fellowship or elsewhere in my life, so I do not avoid or exclude them; rather I often get involved, humbly coming alongside to help them back to their feet spiritually.

17. Restitution: If I’ve ever taken things which do not belong to me, or hurt people by what I said or did, I have gone back and made restitution for everything my Higher Power has prompted me about so far (knowing that my H.P. would not prompt me to do so if it would cause harm to me or another person).

18. Resisting Materialism: I resist the grasping materialistic lifestyle of my culture, choosing rather to live a life of contentment and satisfaction with what I have. I’m not always “wanting more”.

19. Selfish Ambition: I have laid aside all envy and selfish ambition. I have no jealousy of another’s success. I do not eagerly hunger to climb the ladder to gain personal power and position.

20. Spiritual Intimacy: It is the routine of my life to spend time alone with my Higher Power each day to read spiritual books, meditate and pray…and beyond that I “practice the presence” of my Higher Power all day long. I’m constantly sensing my Higher Power’s surrounding presence in my life like the air I breath.

21. Thought Life: My thought life is absolutely free from all impure thoughts. I have habitual victory over all tempting sexual fantasies, daydreams, or other selfish thoughts. I never get high on “old highs”.

22. Living Above Reproach: I painstakingly avoid situations which could feed lustful or selfish desires or even tempt others to gossip about me. I have no dangerous emotional bonds which could lead to trouble. I carefully attend to all my relationships so that not even the hint of impropriety exists.

23. Truthfulness: My yes is yes, my 200 is 200, my five-point buck is a five-point buck, and the fish is whatever size it is. I totally avoid half-truths, white lies, flattery or exaggeration. I practice absolute honesty both in my relationships with others and myself. I do not lie in order to allow myself or others to avoid unpleasant emotions.

24. Tongue Stewardship: I abstain from slander, gossip, harshness, unkindness, biting criticism, caustic remarks, obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. Instead I use my tongue to build others up, giving words of encouragement, comfort, help, inspiration, and challenge. My tongue is completely under my Higher Power’s control.

25. Living my Recovery: I typically share my recovery with both straight and chemically dependent people every time my Higher Power prompts me to do it. Twelfth stepping is a habit of my life.

26. Spiritual Passion: I hunger to become more spiritual and take my spiritual growth seriously. I do not ignore, dismiss or excuse areas where I fall short, even those I have listed above, since I have a spiritual passion for becoming more like my Higher Power would have me be, the I AM of Him.

Victory for ‘Valve Turners’ as Judge Allows ‘Necessity Defense’ for Climate Trial

Victory for ‘Valve Turners’ as Judge Allows ‘Necessity Defense’ for Climate Trial

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Victory for ‘Valve Turners’ as Judge Allows ‘Necessity Defense’ for Climate Trial

“The whole planet will be inside a single courtroom the day this trial begins,” says Bill McKibben. “It’s a rare chance to explain precisely why we need to act, and act now.”

Climate activists Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein shut down Enbridge Corporation’s tar sands pipelines 4 and 67 in Minnesota on October 11, 2016. (Photo:

In a decision that is being called “groundbreaking” and “precedent-setting,” a district court judge in Minnesota has ruled that he will allow oil pipeline protesters to present a “necessity defense” for charges related to a multi-state action by climate activists last October.

“Finally, we’ll get to bring climate experts into a court of law, to describe the distance between our current reality and what physics demands of us if we hope to leave a stable planet for our kids.”
—Emily Johnston, defendant

In his decision last week, Judge Robert Tiffany ruled that four activists who participated in the #ShutItDown action—in which pipelines across five states were temporarily disabled, halting the flow of tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S.—may present scientists and other expert witnesses to explain the immediate threat of climate change to justify their action.

“The ruling is only the third time a judge in the United States has allowed for such a defense in a climate case,” InsideClimateNews reports. “The first case, in Massachusetts in 2014, did not go to trial after the prosecutor dropped the charges. A judge allowed the necessity defense in a Washington State case in 2016 but then instructed jurors they could not acquit on necessity.”

This is the third “valve turner” case to go to court, but the first time a necessity defense has been allowed for this group of activists. Earlier this year, valve turner Ken Ward was convicted of one felony in Washington state.

In North Dakota earlier this month, valve turner Michael Foster was convicted of two felonies and a misdemeanor, while Sam Jessup, who livestreamed Foster’s protest, was convicted of one felony and one misdemeanor. Climate experts including Dr. James Hansen—”the father of modern climate change awareness“—traveled to North Dakota to appear in court but were barred from testifying.

This latest case in Minnesota involves valve turners Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein as well as videographer Steve Liptay and support person Ben Joldersma, who will be tried separately but are also allowed to present a necessity defense.

“What we did is not in dispute,” said Klapstein. “The only question before the jury will be whether our action was necessary to prevent imminent climate catastrophe.  Now we’ll be able to present evidence connecting the devastation we’re seeing—from hurricanes in the Caribbean to wildfires throughout western North America—to an oil-soaked political system utterly failing to respond.”

“Finally, we’ll get to bring climate experts into a court of law, to describe the distance between our current reality and what physics demands of us if we hope to leave a stable planet for our kids,” said Johnston. “Doing so means there’s an outside chance we can bridge that distance—and we need every chance we can get.”

Hansen—who told Common Dreams that he believes jurors would have found Foster and Jessup innocent if a necessity defense were allowed in that case—is expected to testify in support of the Minnesota defendants.

“The whole planet will be inside a single courtroom the day this trial begins,” said climate activist Bill McKibben, another potential expert witness. “It’s a rare chance to explain precisely why we need to act, and act now.”

DATA FROM THE DEEP A trip with Sonia Rowley

Blog of the Rolex Scholar. Our World – Underwater Scholarship Society in Europe

With my face glued to the car window, mouth agape, making ooos and aahhhs I kept Vaughn and Kayem well amused as they drove myself and Sonia through the stunning scenery of Pohnpei to Nihco Marine Park. And even after a month spent on the island, my jaw never ceased to be dropped as I was always blown away by this incredible place.

A view of Ant Atoll, an hours boat drive from Pohnpei, top and bottom side

I came to Pohnpei with the brilliant evolutionary biologist Sonia Rowley, winner of the David Attenborough award for exceptional Field Work in science (the third person ever to receive the award). And boy, is her field work exceptional. With the use of rebreather technology she is able to go depths that few would even fathom of going to. Every day she would descend the reef walls of Pohnpei and it’s surrounding atolls to 140 meters to collect data from the deep.

Sonia taking a quick break from her surveys to enjoy the swirling Chevron Barracudas – Photo credit, Felix Butscheck
Her muse that takes her to this incredibly environment are gorgonians, also known as Octocorals or fan corals. Since very few have explored down there, there are so many new species yet to be found, described and after most dives Sonia would surface holding a new species!

Gorgonians… In the depths, Sonia would find fields and fields of these creatures… But in the shallows you would have to go into caverns to find them.
It’s quite impossible to try to define the work that Sonia does as it manages to cover every aspect of marine biology from evolution, ecology, molecular and behaviour and it was truly inspirational to see this woman in action. Myself and Dan decided to make an acronym for SONIA (Sub Observing Nearly Into the Abyss) We would shout “Deploy the SONIA”, as every time she descended, she looked like a space rover with countless tools clipped onto her for the multiple experiments and data collection she would conduct during her 6 hour dive.

Making sure everything is in working order before committing to a dive that could last as long as 3 hours for me… 6 hours for Sonia.
Of course, as a newbie to rebreather diving I was limited to 30 meters. However, I was still able to stay in the water for three hours, and was tasked with identifying the sponge species found at different depths to help Sonia build a pattern of the distribution of species with depth.

A small collection of the sponges I collected and identified (well tried my best to identify…these guys aren’t the easiest of creatures to conduct taxonomy on as they vary so much).
It began to become very apparent that not all the life is shallow. Far from it. Obviously some species are limited to the shallow regions of the reef if they rely on sunlight. But if they don’t, then they can penetrate further down into the depths. We were joined by many different scientists from varying institutions, and the guys from James Cook University who are at the forefront of coral reef ecology explained to me that this was an interesting paradigm they were trying to solve and figure out; what really does determine the patterns we see in nature? Even after years of scientific research, we are still unsure to what drives the distribution of species.

In the shallows one species seemed to dominate – Acropora – but the deeper you went, the patterns changed…
Most dives I would have my head in crevices searching for sponges along my transect line, so much so I would miss sharks swimming above my head and huge schools of barracudas. But even with these great sightings, I still must be honest when I say the reefs of Pohnpei, probably one of the most remote locations I’ve ever been to (taking me 52 hours to get there from Grand Cayman), weren’t in the best conditions.

Doing my sponge transects… head in crevices… oblivious to sharks and barracudas above my head!
And this is only a recent occurrence. Sonia has been studying the reefs of Pohnpei for the last 4 years, and was astonished by how different they looked from her last visit. In 2016 just after Sonia left, there was a huge amount of coral bleaching in Pohnpei, where corals lose their colour that helps them photosynthesise, which without for an extensive period will cause them to die. Now, the shallow reefs of the atolls look like a graveyard of a coral reef, where most colonies has been covered in a layer of pink crustose coralline algae, almost mummifying the corals… and unfortunately they cannot be resurrected from this state. BUT this is the perfect substrate for baby corals to colonise, and so there is hope that in a few years time, the reefs on the atolls will be back. IF, nothing else happens.

Coral Castles – A few of the hardier coral colonies that have survived
Yet, that’s seems a dubious outcome as surveying the reefs there were dozens of Crown of thorns, a cousin of the starfish, which loves to devour corals. If the reefs avoid being totally munched by these guys they still have to contend with the fact that there is a huge lack of fish on the reef due to over fishing. As we drove out of the lagoon to the dive sites, we would pass the ominous threat of international fishing vessels with their huge nets, who were fishing in the Micronesian waters for tuna and other commercially targeted fish species. What made this sight worse was the fact that non of the fish caught on these boats would make it back to the people of Pohnpei. Instead they would be transported all the way back to China, Japan and Korea in tin cans.

A beautiful view, tainted by the huge fishing vessels that sit in the lagoon of Pohnpei
With a big hole in the food chain created by depleting the population of commercially targeted species, there was a lack of herbivorous fish that resulted in an overgrowth of algae. So, areas of reef that had not been hit by the bleaching were instead slowly being overgrown by algae, smothering them… It doesn’t seem like the shallow reefs are having much luck. However, Sonia would tell me that the depths were still looking good. With plenty of fish, sharks and of course her gorgonians!

Correct me if I am wrong – but this may be the deepest a scholarship flag has ever been. Sonia took my flag down to 130 meters! And here she flies on one of Sonia’s Gorgonians!
Another positive to look towards was the result of an outreach event Sonia organised with one of the local colleges. Throughout the whole hour their mouths were just as wide as mine when I first arrived in Pohnpei, as they were amazed at what their little island held beneath the waves.

Even more so, they were super engaged when we touched upon the issues their reefs held and wanted to know what they could do to contribute and who to talk to, to get their voices heard. They realised that the land and sea is connected and we have to think in the long term if future generations are to benefit from the wealth of the oceans.

A picture I took when I finally looked up from my sponges and was met by this beautiful school of Chevron Barracuda
I feel transparency with the locals is such a crucial part of conducting scientific research. And Sonia does this brilliantly in Pohnpei as all the data and footage she collects is given to anyone who wants it. Every evening, we would sit with the family and staff of Nihco, who would drink Sakau (a traditional drink they make my banging the sakau root and squeezing it with hibiscus bark to produce a muddy looking beverage you consume from a coconut cup that makes you relaxed and lethargic). The locals would ask us what we found and would be super appreciative of the work we were doing, especially telling them about how their reefs were doing.

It’s hard for me to explain how much I got out of my time on the expedition. It was incredible to be surrounded by some exceptionally intelligent scientists, who reminded me of how much I loved science. Asking questions, being curious and exploring new places because we can! Its apart of being human.

Additionally, I had one of the best birthday presents ever and had a brand new dive site named after me on Ant Atoll!

Sonia briefing us on her dive with a view of Ant Atoll in the back – I think we were driving to Mae’s Day
(a site named after my birthday!)

There are so many people to thank for my time here. Wilber, the absolute legend who owns Nihco Marine park was the most openhanded host. Him and his family were incredibly generous and super supportive of Sonia’s research that gave us more drive to go out everyday to collect data.

But of course, the biggest thank of this month goes to Sonia for inviting me along on her expedition. I doubt I’ll ever meet such a tenacious woman again who never ceased to pursue her science, whatever came her way. Thank you for all of the advice whether it was science, diving or life based… I’m eternally grateful for learning from you and hope to one day be as impressive as you are. And nothing will make me laugh as much underwater as when you came up to me with a super squeaky voice after breathing helium asking for scissors because yours were broken!

Scoop: 48 HOURS on CBS –

I was asked by Judge Heavey to put this on my sight.
Scoop: 48 HOURS on CBS – Saturday, April 15, 2017

Scoop: 48 HOURS on CBS - Saturday, April 15, 2017Nearly two decades after an Idaho teenager was killed, New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry, the producer of a short film about a brutal death, found himself the suspect in the teen’s murder. What led police to the auteur? Anne-Marie Green and 48 HOURS investigate the 1996 death of Angie Dodge and the unusual police hunt for her killer that led to Usry in “The DNA of a Killer” to be broadcast Saturday, April 15 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

“Nobody every thinks that they’re gonna get picked up by the police and taken into an interrogation room and questioned about a murder,” Usry tells 48 HOURS. “When it happens to you, it’s definitely a game changer.”

Angie Dodge was brutally murdered in 1996. The killer left behind a semen sample on her body, which police and her family believed would quickly lead to the person who murdered the teen. Police tested the DNA of men she knew; none matched. Then came along Christopher Tapp, who knew Dodge. His DNA did not match either, but after 28 hours of interrogation over 23 days, Tapp confessed to being there when she was killed. He said that he participated while others stabbed her. One of the men there, he said, was named Mike. But with no last name it seemed like a dead end. Tapp was convicted of killing Dodge. Officially, though, the murder case was still open because Tapp’s DNA didn’t match the man who left semen at the crime scene.

In 2014, police took a new approach to try to find a match to that DNA. They searched a public database that had been bought by The goal was to find a close match, perhaps a family member to the alleged killer, through a process called familial searching. The search resulted in a partial match that sounded like a strong lead. Armed with a warrant, police got to reveal the name of the anonymous man behind the DNA sample. His name was Michael Usry Sr. and it turns out he had a son: Michael Usry Jr. Police wondered if Usry Jr. could be the “Mike” that Tapp told them about.

Usry Jr. is a filmmaker with a short film titled “Murderabilia.” Given the subject of Usry’s film, along with the fact he’d been through Idaho Falls at one point in his life, police thought they had their man.

But in truth, Usry Jr. had nothing to do with the 1996 death of Dodge and was officially cleared. Still, his story raises serious questions about what happens when police use publicly available DNA databases to solve cases – and what goes on when an innocent man is tagged as a suspect.

Usry Jr. has now joined with Angie Dodge’s mother to search for the man who left his DNA at the scene. And through their search, they came to believe that Chris Tapp, the man who was serving time for the murder after his confession, was in fact innocent. 48 HOURS follows their fight for justice and their hunt for a killer. “Angie was my only daughter, and she’s my baby,” says her mother, Carol Dodge. “I’ll never stop missing her.”

48 HOURS: “The DNA of a Killer” is produced by Judy Rybak, Elena DiFiore, Lindsey Schwartz and Chris O’Connell. Gregory McLaughlin is the producer-editor. George Baluzy, Michael McHugh and David Spungen are the editors. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.

Hawaii looks to mainland to deal with big teacher shortage

HONOLULU (AP) The Hawaii Department of Education has been seeking out educators from the mainland to deal with the state’s growing teacher shortage.Officials expect as many as 1,600 vacancies throughout the state next school year. The department has respo

Source: Hawaii looks to mainland to deal with big teacher shortage | KUTV