How Are We Supposed to Know What the Government Does?
You should probably be afraid, at least a little, of the federal government. The reason for this doesn’t have anything to do with conspiracy theories about fluoridation or the Obama administration hoarding ammo to keep it out of the hands of True Patriots. It’s simpler than that: you should be worried about the US government because it is huge and well funded and powerful and, most importantly, you don’t know what it’s doing.
The civics class version of government—that there are three branches, each with its own checks and balances and blah blah blah—is hopelessly outdated. For one thing, the legislative branch is paralyzed by partisanship and a set of rules that make it impossible for it to do anything but stop laws from getting enacted. For another, as documented by the Washington Post in 2010, the governmental agencies that are in charge of “national security” have grown like not-all-that-benign tumors, consuming billions of tax dollars, constructing massive top-secret facilities, and employing hundreds of thousands of people whose job descriptions you don’t have the security clearance to know. The national security state is vast and unknowable, practically its own branch of government at this point, with its own secret history. Millions upon millions of documents are classified, many unnecessarily. By some counts, there are more pages of classified documents in the US than there are unclassified—and the government spends $12 billion a year keeping all that information under wraps.
A large black truck parked across the field came into view. Two men were inside, one of them wearing a ski mask. It was Edward. He exited and approached while his driver peered at us through his sunglasses. I introduced myself and asked how much time we had for the interview. “Until it gets hot, I guess,” Edward said and explained that earlier in the day he had received information that African American ex-military sharpshooters who were now gang members had traveled from Detroit to stalk him and his fellow Klansmen before the rally. It sounded ludicrous, but then again I was standing in the middle of a garbage dump talking to a member of the Ku Klux Klan in 2013.
The Department of Justice Secretly Spied on the Associated Press
In what is being called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into a news organization, the Department of Justice has admitted that it seized two months’ worth of phone records from the Associated Press. The president of the AP has now sent a letter protesting the unjustifiable violation, which follows the DoJ’s admission of the probe last Friday.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” AP President Gary Pruitt said.
According to the AP’s own reporting, the records included incoming and outgoing calls, and call durations, for AP office phones, the phone for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press pool, and, perhaps most distressingly, the work and private numbers of individual reporters.
I Spent The Weekend Watching Topless Feminists Piss Off Neo-Nazis
Last Friday, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris to meet the topless feminist protest group Femen. Originally based in the Ukraine, the organization has since spread across the world. The idea was to film the buildup to Femen’s next protest, but I didn’t find out quite what I was getting myself into until I arrived at their headquarters—a lofty space above a theater in Goutte D’or—that afternoon.
The area has a large Muslim population and is dotted with Islamic cultural centrers, so it seems quite a ballsy (or boobsy? Is that a thing?) move to base themselves there considering a large part of their shtick is protesting against conservative Islam. Their last protest action, for example, was Topless Jihad Day—a day where Femen members got their boobs out in various European cities to show solidarity with Amina Tyler. Amina, is a 19-year-old Femen member from Tunisia who was drugged and given a “virginity test” after posting topless protest pictures of herself on Facebook.
When I arrived, the Paris HQ was plastered with banners from previous demos—one that read “Sextremism” in bright red paint covered an entire wall. A few members were trying to decide on the best slogan for the massive new banner, which a girl called Oksana was already decorating with paintings of topless Femen activists. The reason for the extended deliberation was because of a heated discussion over whether “Nazi factions” should be spelled with or without an s at the end. No one’s going to pay you much attention in the protest world if you mess up your spelling.
We can hardly believe we’re saying this, but the sixth episode of our HBO show is upon us. Time flies when you’re hanging out with child suicide bombers, chatting up gun-toting preachers, and looking for love in China. We feel so old. But, like some old people before us once said, “ever onward.” And so tonight at 11 PM we will thrust our faces and adventures into your living room yet again, provided you have HBO.
Here’s what you can expect.
This Is What Winning Looks Like
Our new documentary about the end of the war in Afghanistan premieres Monday. Watch the trailer
Alabama’s Strip Clubs of Death
A strip club regular in Rialto, California, was so obsessed with a dancer he went to the club for several months specifically to see her. But when she refused to go home with him one night a few weeks ago, he shot her in the face—and then he shot himself in the head.
The stripper survived and is now in stable condition. The man is dead. And this kind of violence isn’t particularly rare. According to various local news reports I’ve been combing through, strip clubs in the US have already seen at least 11 shootings this year, which resulted in nine deaths. And that number doesn’t even include the bouncer at a Tennessee strip club who was shot with an arrow.
Reasons for the shootings vary. Most of the time, it’s the result of a fight between patrons that gets out of hand, or a drunk who’s thrown out of the club and comes back with a gun for revenge. In a few cases, they were robberies gone wrong.
But what causes the violence? Your regular armchair psychologist might say the combination of booze and boobs causes men to revert to a primal state and try to kill each other. Richard McCleary, one of the few criminologists who have studied this subject, claims that violence happens because strip clubs with lax security attract unsavory people who carry weapons and end up causing violent situations.
The truth is probably a combination of the two theories, with a dash of America’s gun-obsessed culture thrown in. At least, that’s how it is in Alabama.
VICE: What made you decide to hack the Onion this week after spending so much time targeting serious news organizations?
The Shadow: We are well aware of the satirical nature of the Onion, but this does not detract from the fact that the basis of their “humor” was rooted in the narrative promoted by most major corporate media. What convinced us to make our move was an article titled “The Onion Website Joins the U.S. Anti-Syria Club” by Shamus Cooke that details how the Onion can be a more effective wartime propaganda tool than even “serious” and seemingly credible media. The irresponsible promotion of chemical weapons claims and attribution of all the mayhem in Syria on the one side attempting to keep order is very much an assumption of their focus on Syria. This is why the majority of informed people do not find such articles funny.
Why did you accuse the Onion of taking “Zionist money” in exchange for defaming Syria?
We have various tactics when we penetrate a media outlet. For the Onion, we decided to loosely follow their style. We do not seriously suggest any kind of money transfer from unnamed “Zionist” sources, we realize it is more likely that the Onion follows the corporate line as a matter of ideology. During the Second World War, both the Germans and the Americans used satire to attack one another. The Onion serves the same sort of wartime role that the Disney anti-German short films did back then.
What do you think about the Onion’s response?
Many readers found it in poor taste. One Twitter user responded with a simple “yikes.” This reaction was exactly what we were hoping for, as the writer placed all their anger in it, dropping the mask of the real situation in Syria. The rebels were depicted in the exact same manner as reality, so it cannot really be classified as satire except with one difference—the Syrian army will win and we don’t have a “base” that can be attacked.
—We spoke to an alleged member of the Syrian Electronic Army about hacking The Onion’s Twitter. Full interview
Chatting About Game of Thrones with Syria’s Most Feared Islamic Militants
“Ameriki?” the jihadi asked, pointing at me with a bemused look on his face. I’d just approached him at a house that serves as the local base for Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), the most feared Islamic militant group operating in Syria. A month ago, his colleagues took over a street right next to my fixer’s house, blocking it off and hoisting up the black flag that serves as their symbol. They spend their time milling about outside, sometimes riding off in pickup trucks, the beds overflowing with black-clad young men holding RPGs and AK-47s.
Accompanied by a few Free Syrian Army rebels, I was still quite apprehensive about approaching al-Nusra. More experienced journalists had warned me to be wary of them, and the Obama administration had recentlydesignated them as a terrorist group. While the al Qaeda link hadn’t yet been made official, it wasconfirmed a couple of days later. Additionally, I had awoken that morning to the news that the FBI had justarrested Eric Harroun, an American who allegedly fought with al-Nusra in Syria.
Al-Nusra and other Islamic groups showed up in the Syrian border town of Ras Al Ayn in November, and—along with the Free Syrian Army—forced out the remnants of the Assad regime in fierce, block-to-block fighting. Afterward, this coalition fought against Syria’s most powerful Kurdish militia, the Popular Protection Units (YPG). The fighting lasted months before a ceasefire was arranged, and the city was essentially divided in two, with the YPG operating on one side and the FSA and al-Nusra on the other. More recently, al-Nusra had even clashed with an FSA brigade in the nearby town of Tal Abyad, but peace was restored shortly after.
At the al-Nusra base in Ras Al Ayn, the jihadi who had asked me if I was American pulled back his fist in an exaggerated motion, then play-acted punching me when I confirmed my citizenship. The man—a cross-eyed Egyptian who I would later learn served as the group’s public-relations officer and preacher, of sorts—laughed heartily.
“Watch out, we’re terrorists!” his colleague, a lanky Emirati with facial hair reminiscent of Orlando Bloom chimed in, before he started laughing, too. The Emirati then excitedly asked me what part of New York City I was from. “Oh, Brooklyn? Yeah, I know it. I went to school in Seattle for a year,” he said.