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New movement of religious extremists push ultra-conservative vision

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Photograph: Wong Maye-E/AP

A new group of religious extremists in the United States is seeking to promote and defend an ultra-conservative vision of Mormon belief and harass perceived opponents of those beliefs, which are often racist and bigoted or promote violence.

The conduct of so-called “Deseret nationalists” or “DezNats” has raised questions about how the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is responding to the movement, whose members direct harassment at other Mormons, including those working in church-sponsored institutions such as Brigham Young University (BYU).

Some who identify as DezNats take extreme right positions on gender, sexuality and race. Others describing themselves as Deseret nationalists have advocated for a Mormon-ruled, separatist white ethnostate, located in the Great Basin area briefly claimed by the LDS church in the mid-19th century.

The Guardian’s recent exposure of an assistant attorney general in Alaska – who had posted racist and violent tweets on a DezNat Twitter account – led to that official stepping down from his job. But it also prompted concern about how many DezNat supporters occupy positions of authority across the US.

Last weekend, an anonymous antifascist collective called “DezNat Exposed” published a blogpost alleging that a prominent DezNat account, @extradeadjcb, an associated Substack newsletter and a previous, suspended account, @jcbonthedl, was under the control of Kevin Dolan.

Dolan, who claims on his LinkedIn profile to have US government security clearance, was employed since January by consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton as a enior data scientist. The company has extensive contracts with US military and intelligence agencies and has been labeled “the world’s most profitable spy organization”.

The blogpost identifying Dolan details not only racist, antisemitic and homophobic posts made from the Twitter accounts, but the links between him and the accounts, which include archived posts from previous incarnations of his blogs and Twitter accounts, which point to his personal Facebook and Twitter pages.

Dolan did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment on the blogpost, sent both to his professional and private email accounts.

A spokesperson for Booz Allen Hamilton issued a statement saying that company policy prevented any specific discussion of employees, but that “Booz Allen is guided by our firm’s purpose and values and uphold all of our employees to those same tenets”.

The statement added: “Booz Allen strongly condemns supremacy groups of all kinds.”

The spokesperson did not immediately respond to further questions on Dolan’s employment status and the nature of his security clearance.

The most recent identification has contributed to a sense that the DezNat movement, whose members often defend the hashtag associated with the group as a simple marker of orthodox LDS belief, is in fact a rallying cry for activists – some of whom are in positions of real world influence – who seek to meld conservative Mormonism with white nationalism and other strands of far-right doctrine.

Last month, Matthias Cicotte, after being identified by the Guardian as the operator of the prominent DezNat twitter account @JReubenCIark, left his job at the Alaska department of law (DoL) after over nine years working there, most recently as chief corrections counsel.

The Guardian’s investigation showed that the Twitter account, under Cicotte’s control, had advocated antisemitic conspiracy theories, anti-Black and anti-Latino prejudices and anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ sentiments.

In a statement emailed to reporters, DoL head and Alaska attorney general Treg Taylor – himself a member of the LDS church – said that “although we cannot talk about personnel matters, we do not want the values and policies of the department of law to be overshadowed by the conduct of one individual”.

Earlier, between the initial revelations about Cicotte and his departure from the DoL, Taylor had sent an all-staff email that he did not “share or condone the personal views espoused by the subject Twitter handle or in other posts using #Deznat”.

Amy Chapman, a researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has carried out research on the DezNat hashtag and the movement around it, said that while the movement was not as large as other, more secular far-right groups, it had extensive “real world effects” on those whom the movement targeted.

The movement and DezNat Twitter hashtag unites a loose collection of ultra-conservative Mormon activists.

In the past, as well as on public social media platforms, members of the movement have reportedly gathered in a private chat using the Discord service, where members freely exchanged “violent, racist, homophobic and sexist remarks”.

Some DezNats have denied that the movement nurtures prejudice, including Gregory Smith, who is running for city council in Ogden, Utah, reportedly has sympathies with the DezNat movement and has repeatedly used the hashtag.

But Chapman said she had long observed the account now revealed as Cicotte’s, and “the thing that struck me the most about the account was its negative attitude towards women and LGBTQ people”, adding that misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are recurring motifs in DezNat discourse.

Often, DezNat accounts claim to be defending the LDS church from advances in the status of women and LGBTQ people in secular society, the effects of which they see as corrupting.

This has led to campaigns of harassment against perceived adversaries, who are overwhelmingly either former members of the church or those perceived as members with progressive social attitudes.

In particular, their ire has been directed at perceived progressives who occupy positions inside church-run institutions such as LDS-sponsored BYU, and are often considered apostates by DezNats.

A member of the faculty at BYU whose identity is being protected for reasons of personal safety told the Guardian that DezNats had weaponized elements of Mormon doctrine in efforts to harass and threaten the employment of people who worked at the university.

That harassment had gone beyond social media mobbing and efforts to have people fired, and crossed over into direct, in-person action. One DezNat aligned activist visited BYU’S Salt Lake City campus to leave photographs of aborted fetuses on the doors of faculty members.

That incident led to the involvement of BYU’s police department.

The victims of these campaigns, along with other Mormons opposed to the hard-right tenets of the DezNat activists, have called for the LDS church to disown the movement.

In response to questions about DezNats, and the church’s willingness to disown them, Douglas Anderson, the church’s media spokesman, wrote in an email that the group was “not affiliated with or endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Anderson added that “in recent months, church leaders have spoken directly on such issues as condemning the recent violence in Washington DC and lawless behavior, the evils of racism … and peacefully accepting the results of political elections”.

Anderson’s statement concluded that “anything that encourages or incites violence is contrary to the recent instruction given by church leaders”.





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India tests nuclear-capable missile amid tensions with China

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NEW DELHI (AP) — India has test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles) from an island off its east coast amid rising border tensions with China.

The successful launch on Wednesday was in line with “India’s policy to have credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to no first use,” said a government statement.

The Agni-5 missile splashed down in the Bay of Bengal with “a very high degree of accuracy,” said the statement issued on Wednesday night.

Beijing’s powerful missile arsenal has driven New Delhi to improve its weapons systems in recent years, with the Agni-5 believed to be able to strike nearly all of China.

India is already able to strike anywhere inside neighboring Pakistan, its archrival against whom it has fought three wars since gaining independence from British colonialists in 1947.

India has been developing its medium- and long-range nuclear and missile systems since the 1990s amid increasing strategic competition with China in a major boost to the country’s defense capabilities.

Tension between them flared last year over a long-disputed section of their border in the mountainous Ladakh area. India is also increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s efforts to heighten its influence in the Indian Ocean.

Talks between Indian and Chinese army commanders to disengage troops from key areas along their border ended in a stalemate earlier this month, failing to ease a 17-month standoff that has sometimes led to deadly clashes. India and China fought a bloody war in 1962.



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Friedman, Dodgers facing decisions on FAs, Bauer this winter

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Andrew Friedman is headed into an offseason filled with crucial decisions involving the Los Angeles Dodgers’ big-name free agents, a rebuild of the starting rotation and Trevor Bauer’s future with the team.

As always, Friedman is guided by the ultimate goal of the monied Dodgers, saying, “The number one objective is to put ourselves in the best position to win in 2022.”

After coming within two wins of reaching the World Series for the fourth time in five years, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations defined the team’s postseason as “our struggle to consistently score runs.”

“We needed someone to step up and pull an Eddie Rosario,” Friedman said, referring to the Atlanta Braves left fielder who was named MVP of the NL Championship Series.

“After we made the Trea Turner deal, in my opinion, one through eight, it was the deepest and best lineup I’ve been around. But it didn’t quite play like that over those two months. It was a little bumpier than I would’ve expected,” he said Wednesday. “Figuring out the why of that is the hard part.”

The turbulence began well before the postseason.

Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Bauer went on paid administrative leave in early July under MLB’s joint domestic violence and sexual assault policy. MLB is conducting its own investigation and has yet to announce any findings. Bauer, through his representatives, has denied any wrongdoing.

Asked if Bauer will pitch for the team again, Friedman said they remain in the same position as before.

“It’s being handled by the league office,” he said. “Whatever they decide, we’ll have to figure out from there what makes the most sense for us.”

If MLB suspends Bauer, it could create a domino effect on the team’s payroll plans.

“The extent of it, I don’t know yet,” Friedman said.

The Dodgers began the season with eight starters and tried to get through the postseason with just Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and 20-game winner Julio Urías. The lack of depth was exposed by the team’s decisions to use Scherzer in relief in Game 5 of the NL Division Series and Urías out of the bullpen in Game 2 of the NLCS that left both pitchers tired in their later starts.

“We’re got a really good group of young starting pitchers coming,” Friedman said, citing Mitch White, Andre Jackson, Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Landon Knack. “Gives us a really strong foundation of depth.”

Friedman and the front office have decisions to make on such key veterans as Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen and Chris Taylor, who will become free agents after the World Series.

“We’ll do everything we can to keep as many of this group together,” Friedman said, “but not standing in the way of a great opportunity and I’m sure there will be for different people.”

Kershaw, the 33-year-old three-time Cy Young Award winner, reinjured his left arm not long after returning from over a two-month absence for the same issue and wasn’t available to pitch in the postseason.

“He just wants to feel good again and get to the point where he’s healthy,” Friedman said.

Kershaw has spent his entire 14-year career in Los Angeles, where he’s been the longtime face of the franchise.

“There’s something nostalgic and great about Kersh playing for one team and winning another championship and having a parade,” Friedman said.

Offseason moves would be impacted if no agreement on a collective bargaining agreement is reached before the current deal expires Dec. 1.

“We need to be prepared accordingly,” Friedman said.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports





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Trump Jr. Gets A Reality Check After Comparing U.S. To Communist Czechoslovakia

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Donald Trump Jr. was ridiculed this week after he likened shortages of certain products in the U.S. under President Joe Biden to living in communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s.

Trump Jr. made the remarks during conversation Saturday on Newsmax with Sebastian Gorka, a right-wing media personality and former aide to Donald Trump.

Gorka asked Trump Jr. to discuss the “empty shelves” and backlog of cargo ships in California due to supply-chain issues, given his “perspective” as someone who, “as a child, traveled behind the Iron Curtain and saw real socialism.”

“When conservatives say, ‘They’re socialists. The Democrats have gone radical,’ this isn’t an exaggeration, is it? You’ve seen it, Don,” Gorka added.

Trump Jr.’s mother, Ivana Trump, grew up in Czechoslovakia before moving first to Canada and then the U.S. in the 1970s. He told Gorka his Czech grandparents wanted him to understand the “freedoms and blessings we have here” in the U.S.

“So I traveled with them there every summer, you know, six, eight weeks. I’ve waited in those bread lines,” said Trump Jr., whose father was estimated to be worth more than $1 billion in the 1980s. “We’re starting to see the empty shelves that I experienced then in communist Czechoslovakia in the ’80s in America right now.”

Grocery stores in the U.S. are having problems stocking certain products due to the coronavirus pandemic, a worker shortage and shipping congestion at the Port of Los Angeles.

Some social media users and conservative media personalities have shown images of empty shelves to attack Biden over the supply-chain issues. However, some of these images have turned out to be photos from years ago.

Trump Jr. was slammed on social media for the absurd comparison. A number of people also pointed out that last year, at the peak of the pandemic during the Trump administration, shelves in stores across the country were stripped bare of certain essentials and people lined up for miles in their cars or for blocks on foot to get aid from food banks.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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