Mr. Trump’s Applause Lies (Editorial)

Donald Trump Credit Brian Snyder/Reuters


America has just lived through another presidential campaign week dominated by Donald Trump’s racist lies. Here’s a partial list of false statements: The United States is about to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees; African-Americans are responsible for most white homicides; and during the 9/11 attacks, “thousands and thousands” of people in an unnamed “Arab” community in New Jersey “were cheering as that building was coming down.”

In the Republican field, Mr. Trump has distinguished himself as fastest to dive to the bottom. If it’s a lie too vile to utter aloud, count on Mr. Trump to say it, often. It wins him airtime, and retweets through the roof.

This phenomenon is in fact nothing new. Politicians targeting minorities, foreigners or women have always existed in the culture. And every generation or so, at least one demagogue surfaces to fan those flames.

Here’s Donald Trump on Sunday: When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don’t know if they’re ISIS, we don’t know if it’s a Trojan horse. And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watch lists. We want to go with databases. And we have no choice. We have no idea who’s being sent in here. This could be the — it’s probably not, but it could be the great Trojan horse of all time, where they come in.”

Here’s Joseph McCarthy in 1950: “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time, and ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down — they are truly down.”

Here’s Donald Trump last Tuesday: “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Here’s George Wallace in 1963: “We must redefine our heritage, re-school our thoughts in the lessons our forefathers knew so well, in order to function and to grow and to prosper. We can no longer hide our head in the sand and tell ourselves that the ideology of our free fathers is not being attacked and is not being threatened by another idea … for it is.”

Mr. Trump relies on social media to spread his views. This is convenient because there’s no need to respond to questions about his fabrications. That makes it imperative that other forms of media challenge him.

Instead, as Mr. Trump stays at the top of the Republican field, it’s become a full-time job just running down falsehoods like the phony crime statistics he tweeted, which came from a white supremacist group.

Yet Mr. Trump is regularly rewarded with free TV time, where he talks right over anyone challenging him, and doubles down when called out on his lies.

This isn’t about shutting off Mr. Trump’s bullhorn. His right to spew nonsense is protected by the Constitution, but the public doesn’t need to swallow it. History teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one.


H/t: DB

10 things you need to know today: November 24, 2015

Haberturk TV via AP


1. Turkey downs Russian fighter jet near Syria border
Russia confirmed Tuesday that one of its fighter jets had been shot down near Syria’s Turkish border. Turkey’s military had reported earlier that two of its F-16s had fired on the aircraft after it violated Turkish airspace “despite several warnings.” Russia denied its jet crossed into Turkey. One of the plane’s two pilots was reportedly found dead by Syrian rebels; the fate of the other was not immediately clear. Turkey, a NATO member, had warned Russia against violating its airspace in October. Two weeks later it shot down a Russian drone, but the downing of a fighter jet marks a potentially dangerous escalation.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

2. Five shot near Black Lives Matters protest camp in Minneapolis
Five people were shot Monday night near a Black Lives Matter protest camp a block from a police station in north Minneapolis, according to police. None of the injuries were life-threatening. Witnesses said the shooting occurred as a dozen protesters tried to herd away three counter-protesters — one wearing a mask — and they opened fire. Protest leaders said the attackers were white supremacists. The demonstrations have been ongoing outside the police station since Jamar Clark, a black assault suspect, was shot on Nov. 15 in contested circumstances. He later died.

Source: Star Tribune

3. U.S. issues global travel alert due to terror threats
The State Department on Monday issued a worldwide travel alert for American citizens, citing terror threats from ISIS, Boko Haram, and other Islamist extremist groups. The alert, starting just before Thanksgiving, expires on Feb. 24. Such broad warnings typically stem not from credible intelligence of specific plots, but from concerns that terrorist groups are plotting new strikes. The alert came as the U.S. and its allies have pledged to crack down on ISIS and other terror groups following the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

Source: NBC News

4. Explosive vest found in Paris
A Paris street cleaner on Monday found what appeared to be an explosive vest in a garbage can. It was similar to the ones used by suicide bombers in the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks, which killed 130 people. The vest did not have a detonator, however. It was found in the area where fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam’s cellphone was located by GPS on the day of the attacks. He is believed to have fled to Belgium. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the country would remain on its highest terror alert level for at least another week.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

5. Appeals court calls Wisconsin abortion clinic law unconstitutional
A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that a Wisconsin law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was unconstitutional. The law said doctors had to be able to admit patients at a hospital within 30 miles. Abortion providers challenged the law as a needless burden, but supporters said it guaranteed patients steady care. Earlier in November, the Supreme Court agreed to consider a challenge of a similar law in Texas.

Source: Reuters

6. Family demands $15 million over boy’s arrest for homemade clock
The family of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old boy who was arrested in September after bringing a homemade clock to school, is asking for$15 million in damages and an apology from city and school officials in Irving, Texas. Charges that Mohamed’s clock was a hoax bomb were dropped after Mohamed was handcuffed and suspended from Irving MacArthur High School. The family says top officials tried to “kneecap” Mohamed in the media to cover up their mistake. The family’s lawyer said in a letter they would sue if the money and apologies don’t come within 60 days.

Source: The Dallas Morning News

7. White officer expected to face murder charge for fatal shooting of black teen
A white Chicago police officer will be charged with murder for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 17-year-old, Laquan McDonald, according to The Associated Press. An official close to the investigation said the veteran officer, Jason Van Dyke, was expected to be indictedTuesday. The news came as the city braced for the release of squad-car dashcam video of the incident. McDonald was shot 16 times, and city and community leaders fear the video could prompt angry demonstrations. A judge has ordered the video released by Wednesday.

Source: The Associated Press

8. Carson rescinds support of Trump’s 9/11 cheering claim
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Monday backed away from his claim that he had seen video of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. GOP rival Donald Trump said twice over the weekend that he had seen people cheering in New Jersey neighborhoods with “large Arab populations” — a claim critics say is false. Carson told reporters Monday that he “saw the film.” A spokesperson later said Carson had been thinking of videos of celebrations in the Middle East.

Source: CNN

9. Ex-Benghazi committee staffer files suit saying he was wrongfully fired
A former House Benghazi Committee investigator filed a lawsuitMonday claiming he was wrongfully fired. Air Force Reserve Maj. Bradley Poliska said he lost the job because he left active military duty, and because he resisted what he said was committee members’ efforts to target Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the 2012 Benghazi attacks and is now the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) denies Poliska’s allegations, saying the committee is only interested in the facts. His spokesman called the lawsuit “meritless.”

Source: The Washington Post

10. Trump rivals get free NBC ad time to offset SNLappearance
NBC is giving four Republican presidential candidates free ad time next week to compensate for rival Donald Trump’s appearance on the Nov. 7 episode of Saturday Night Live. Trump was on air for 12 minutes and five seconds on the show, so four candidates who filed for equal time under FCC rules — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Jim Gilmore — will each get 12 minutes on 18 NBC affiliate stations in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. George Pataki also asked for equal time, but declined NBC’s offer.

Source: CNN

One of the Biggest Problems on College Campuses Is One We Never Talk About

Image Credit: Wikimedia


The time for quietly enduring discrimination on college campuses is over.

From the University of Missouri to Yale University to Claremont McKenna College in California and beyond, students of minority groups which were only relatively recently permitted access to higher education are protesting the unacceptable ways they’re treated in their “elite” communities.

But while protests against racism on campus are perhaps the loudest — or at least the most visible — there’s another damaging force against which students are pushing back: classism.

Low-income students’ concerns often intersect with issues of race: Almost two-thirds of African-American undergraduate students and 51% of Latino undergraduate students receive Pell Grants, or federal funds allocated to low-income students, according to the Washington Post. But confrontations over class-based issues on campus often emerge in ways that are different than debates over race. While many low-income students certainly encounter blatantly classist attitudes, their socio-economic backgrounds frequently disadvantage them in more subtle — though equally detrimental — ways.

Is higher education really an equalizing force? For centuries, “college was reserved for elite, mostly white men,” Anne Phillips, executive director of Class Action, an organization that seeks to end classism, told Mic.

That is changing. Affirmative-action policies and other inclusive measures have increased the number of low-income students on campuses across the country. The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that enrollment rates of low-income students have increased over the past few decades. But these students still generally lack visibility, cohesion and necessary support.

“There is very little conversation about class,” Caroline Liu, founder of First Class, a coalition of first-generation and low-income students at Wesleyan University, told Mic. “Talking about class is uncomfortable for people, and that makes it difficult to address the disparities that are born of not acknowledging fundamental differences in background.”

One of the Biggest Problems on College Campuses Is One We Never Talk About
Source: Mic/Wikimedia

That discomfort is found on the most basic level of social interactions, like being unable pay for a meal or a night out with friends. But class anxiety can manifest itself in the academic setting as well.

Liu’s low-income background has forced her to work as many as four jobs in addition to being a full-time student. Ironically, the jobs that have enabled her to pursue her education at Wesleyan have “heavily impacted” her ability to fully engage in her education. Liu said this challenge was magnified by the incorrect assumption on the part of faculty, staff, the administration and other students that she has “all the time in the world to devote to my studies or my student groups,” a luxury enjoyed by her classmates from high-income backgrounds.

Darializa Avila-Chevalier, a senior and low-income student at Columbia University, has had a similar experience. While some on-campus jobs may be useful in that they “can go on your resume and help you gain transferable skills” for a future career, most low-income students’ jobs “lack these opportunities” and pay only minimum wage — meager funds that ultimately “go right back to Columbia,” she told Mic. Full-time students must ultimately choose between “working more hours to pay for groceries or spending that time studying for an exam,” she said.

“Low-income students end up working more and have more anxiety about their financial situation and that creates a tremendous amount of instability for them that’s not conducive to their best possible learning,” Gillian Mason, coordinator of development and education at Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, told Mic.

One of the Biggest Problems on College Campuses Is One We Never Talk About
Source: Mic/Pixabay

In addition to concrete financial struggles, many low-income students also feel a unique sense of shame about their background, which can be exacerbated by administrators. Rather than celebrate the achievement of attending college despite financial obstacles, many administrators purposely don’t address low-income students’ specific needs because they think doing so “perpetuates shame,” Phillips said. This can lead to “a really strong feeling like they don’t belong there — like an imposter syndrome,” she said.

And yet, once immersed in these elite environments, low-income students can feel equally isolated outside of them. Many low-income students achieve a “coveted middle-class status” based not only on their economic status post-graduation, but also on the “cultural and educational capital” they gained at college, Phillips said. Family and friends at home are often unable to identify with the “new knowledge and capital” that low-income students gain while at school, and may even come to resent it.

“The world that they grew up in doesn’t necessarily fit in with the new world of academia,” Phillips said, and students can end up feeling as if they are straddling two worlds, incapable of fully existing in either.

It’s also a cyclical problem: In 2013, 51% of public high school students across the country came from low-income backgrounds and at least half of students in 21 states qualified for free or reduced-cost lunches, according to U.S. News & World Report. It’s perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that many low-income students are more impoverished than ever when they get to college: Nearly three-quarters of the 8.6 million students who received Pell Grants last year have no access to funds beyond their grant while on campus, the Washington Post reported in June.

One of the Biggest Problems on College Campuses Is One We Never Talk About

Source: Mic/Wikimedia

Low-income students are even worse off after graduation, thanks to student loan debt: 88% of Pell recipients who graduate from four-year colleges owe an average of $4,750 more than their peers, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Mason said higher-income students may “have the freedom to pick and choose financial aid packages or advocate for a better package,” while low-income students “don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing.” Low-income students often lack the knowledge needed to advocate for themselves more effectively, and must “pick the financial aid package that will get [them on campus], even if it’s a private loan that will leave you with tremendous debt with few options about reducing your payment,” Mason said.

An ironic result: Low-income students overwhelmingly face a depressing, ironic, catch-22: The debt they incur and extra work needed to attend college in the first place means they don’t get the most out of their social and academic college experience — let alone actually enjoy it. This also frequently results in graduating in worse financial standing, if they graduate at all: There is a significant gap between the graduation rates of low-income students who receive federal Pell Grants and their peers, according to a 2015 study by the Education Trust.

“In the American dream ethic we always say that education equalizes things,” Phillips said. But a “good” education, she continued, is “not necessarily working for people from low-income backgrounds.”

Julie Zeilinger

Ben Carson Insists He’s Seen Non-Existent Video Of New Jersey Muslims Celebrating 9/11



A day after Donald Trump made widely debunked claims that crowds of thousands in New Jersey had cheered as the the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, Ben Carson reportedly has vouched for him.

ABC’s Katherine Faulders tweeted on Monday that the Republican presidential hopeful Carson had told her that “he saw the film” of American Muslims cheering as the towers fell in New Jersey at the time.

Trump initially made the comments about Jersey City, NJ, at a campaign rally. On Sunday, he defended the claims to This Week host George Stephanopoulos, saying, “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something.” Trump added that the alleged celebration “was well covered at the time.”

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop forcefully denied the claim, saying Trump “has memory issues or willfully distorts the truth, either of which should be concerning for the Republican Party.”

Carson, whose own advisers have reportedly questioned his grasp of foreign policy, would appear to fall in the same boat.

A Washington Post article in September of 2001 contained a single line referencing celebration: “In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” Though Carson claims to have seen video footage of these celebrations, even the conservative National Review noted “There are no videos of ‘thousands and thousands of people’ cheering the collapse of the towers from Jersey City, New Jersey,” but rather there was a Fox News video broadcast purportedly showing a handful cheering of Palestinians in East Jerusalem on 9/11.


Donald Trump Defends Racist Retweet: ‘Am I Gonna Check Every Statistic?’


GOP front-runner refuses to back down after citing bogus crime statistics.

Donald Trump on Monday night defended his retweet of fabricated crime statistics that blamed African-Americans for most of the nation’s murders.

“Am I gonna check every statistic?” the Republican presidential front-runner told Bill O’Reilly on Monday night’s “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News.

The phony stats claim African-Americans killed 81 percent of white people. In truth, 82 percent of murders involving white victims were committed by white people, according to the FBI’s 2014 crime data.


“This bothered me,” O’Reilly said of the retweet. “It’s totally wrong.”

Trump was unapologetic.

“I didn’t tweet, I retweeted somebody that was supposedly an expert and it was also a radio show,” Trump said.

“Why do you want to be in that zone?” O’Reilly asked.

“Hey Bill. Bill. Am I gonna check every statistic?” Trump said. “I’ve got millions and millions of people, @realDonaldTrump by the way.”

“You’ve got to, you’re a presidential contender,” O’Reilly said.

“This came out of radio shows and everything else,” Trump repeated.

“Oh c’mon,” said O’Reilly. “Radio shows?”

“All it was is a retweet, it wasn’t from me, and it did,” Trump persisted. “It came out of a radio show and other places because you see all the names.”

Trump was apparently referring to Wayne Dupree, a conservative radio host tagged in the tweet. However, Dupree said on Twitter he had nothing to do with it:

O’Reilly told Trump he was looking out for him and “every honest politician.”

“Don’t do this,” O’Reilly advised. “Don’t put your name on stuff like this, because it makes the other side, it gives them stuff to tell the ill-informed voter that you’re a racist. You just handed them the platter.”

O’Reilly also suggested that Trump give up tweeting.

“Give it up for Lent,” O’Reilly said. “Lent is coming soon.”

Watch the full exchange in the clip above.

That racist Trump tweet about blacks killing whites isn’t just false — it’s neo-Nazi propaganda

German Faith Movement logo (Twitter)

German Faith Movement logo (Twitter)


Donald Trump capped a week that found him flirting with fascism by sharing a blatantly false, racist graphic that apparently originated with a Hitler-admiring neo-Nazi.

The Republican presidential frontrunner tweeted an image Sunday afternoon that claimed 81 percent of white homicide victims are killed by blacks and 97 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks.

The graphic cited the Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco as its source — although that does not exist and the statistics are, quite simply, made up.

In reality, the FBI shows that 82 percent of white homicide victims were killed by other white people and 15 percent of white homicide victims were killed by black people, and 91 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other black people.

So where did the image and the bogus statistics come from?

Blogger Charles Johnson, of Little Green Footballs, was unable to determine its source through a Google Image search or — but he was able to find the earliest tweet using the graphic.

The account’s avatar is a modified swastika used as the symbol of the neo-Nazi German Faith Movement, and the account profile expresses admiration for Adolf Hitler: “A detester of any kind of sick perverted dildo waving marxism and liberalism,we Should have listened to the Austrian chap with the little moustache.”

The image was posted on the conservative Sexy Patriot account shortly before Trump shared it.

There’s no indication Trump was aware the graphic seems to have originated with a neo-Nazi, but a quick Google search should have revealed the statistics as inaccurate — and its racist suggestions are plainly obvious.

Trump supporters beat up a Black Lives Matter protester Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama, and the GOP candidate said afterward that the man was “so obnoxious and so loud” that “maybe he should have been roughed up.”

The Republican repeated his call to closely monitor or even close down U.S. mosques to fight terrorism, and he refused to rule out creating a database of American Muslims and expressed openness to the possibility of requiring them to carry special ID.

This isn’t the first time Trump has tweeted Nazi propaganda on his official social media account.

Trump shared a campaign graphic, which he later deleted, that included an image of Nazi soldiers taken from a World War II re-enactment.

10 things you need to know today: November 23, 2015

AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaer


1. Belgium arrests 16 in anti-terror sweep
Belgian police arrested 16 people on Sunday in terror raids aiming to prevent imminent attacks by Islamist extremist terrorists. Salah Abdeslam, the last known surviving suspect in the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks, was not among those detained. Some of the raids took place in the Molenbeek neighborhood where some of the suspected Paris attackers lived. “What we fear is an attack similar to the one in Paris,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said. Brussels’ metro, universities, and schools would be closed Monday, Michel said.

Source: ABC News, Reuters

2. Liberia monitors new Ebola cases
Liberia officials on Sunday confirmed three new cases of Ebola, and said they were monitoring 153 people who may have had contact with the patients. The West African nation was declared Ebola-free in May, and then again in September. No neighboring countries currently have any known cases of the deadly virus, so World Health Organization investigators are working to determine how the new cases came about in a suburb of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. More than 4,800 people in Liberia, the country hardest hit, have died of Ebola in the latest global outbreak.

Source: USA Today

3. Pfizer and Allergan strike $150 billion merger deal
Pfizer has reached a $150 billion merger deal with fellow drug maker Allergan. The boards of both companies reportedly approved the termson Sunday. A formal announcement could come Monday. A Pfizer-Allergan merger, if approved by regulators, would create the world’s largest drug company. It would also be the largest so-called corporate inversion ever. These transactions allow a U.S. company to move its corporate citizenship abroad to lower its tax bill. Allergan’s headquarters are in Dublin.

Source: The New York Times

4. British leader to ask Parliament to approve anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande agreed Monday in Paris to increase cooperation on counterterrorism. Cameron said he “firmly” supports Hollande’s decision to strike Islamic State targets in Syria, and that “Britain should do so, too.” He said he would ask Parliament this week to approve British airstrikes in Syria. It already has authorized bombing ISIS targets in Iraq, but in 2013 voted down airstrikes in Syria. Cameron also offered Hollande use of a British airbase in Malta for anti-ISIS operations.

Source: BBC News

5. Trump defends supporters’ rough treatment of Black Lives Matter protester
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump on Sunday shrugged off the apparent punching and kicking of a Black Lives Matter protester who disrupted a campaign rally, saying the man was “so obnoxious and so loud” that “maybe he should have been roughed up.” The activist, Mercutio Southall Jr., shouted, “Black lives matter” during a Trump appearance in Alabama. Trump said, “Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Some of his supporters appeared to hit Southall after he fell to the ground in a scuffle.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Conservative elected president in Argentina
Opposition politician Mauricio Macri was elected president of Argentina on Sunday. Macri, a wealthy Buenos Aires mayor, was propelled to victory by anger over government scandals and a weak economy. Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli, the hand-picked successor of outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, conceded Sundayevening. The pro-business Macri declared his election “the changing of an era” after more than a decade of the populist-left rule of Christina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband Nestor Kirchner before her.

Source: The Washington Post

7. 100 killed in landslide at Myanmar jade mine
At least 100 people died when a landslide at a Myanmar jade mine buried about 70 miners’ shacks with mud and stones, the Democratic Voice of Burma web site reported on Sunday. The landslide hit in the town of Hpakant in the country’s northeast. Authorities said a huge pile of rubble discarded by mining companies gave way as locals combed through it hoping to find pieces of overlooked jade, sending debris crashing over the shacks.

Source: Voice of America, EFE

8. 16 injured in New Orleans playground shooting
Sixteen people were wounded in New Orleans on Sunday night in a shooting at a city park. About 500 people were gathered at a playground in Bunny Friend Park in the Upper Ninth Ward for the impromptu shooting of a music video when an apparent gun battle broke out. “At the end of the day it’s really hard to police against a bunch of guys who decide to pull out guns and settle disputes with 300 people between them,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. The victims all were hospitalized in stable condition.

Source: USA Today

9. One of last white rhinos dies in San Diego Zoo
One of four northern white rhinos known to remain worldwide diedSunday at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The animal — a 41-year-old female named Nola — was euthanized after her health began failing. She had arthritis and was being treated for a bacterial infection blamed on an abscess in her hip. Nola had been at the park since 1989. The last three northern white rhinos are elderly. They all are living in a protected preserve in Kenya.

Source: The Associated Press

10. Final Hunger Games film leads box office but sets franchise low
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 handily led the box office in its opening weekend, bringing in $101 million domestically and $247 million worldwide. The figures were less than expected, however.Mockingjay — Part 2 is the last of the Hunger Games films, and its opening-weekend haul set a franchise low for the massively successfulHunger Games films. Mockingjay — Part 1 opened on the same weekend last year and made $121.9 million. Catching Fire debuted at $158 million.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

A brief history of ISIS

REUTERS/FBI/Handout via Reuters


Where we stand today:

ISIS considers itself the “Islamic Caliphate” (a theological empire) and controls vast swathes of land in western Iraq and eastern Syria. They also have “allegiance” from different radical Islamic groups around the world (from Afghanistan to Nigeria) who “govern” self-proclaimed provinces.

Within the areas they control they have established a reign of terror second to none. They have institutionalized slavery and rape (particularly of adherents to the Yazidi religion who they view as devil worshippers) and have carried out genocide and ethnic cleansing of Christians, Alawites, and other Shiites and Yazidis in the territories they control.

They have struck with a vengeance beyond their territories. Suicide attacks in Baghdad, Beirut, and Ankara killed hundreds. In October 2015, they detonated a bomb aboard a Russian airliner leaving from Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board. In November, they orchestrated a multi-suicide attack in Paris, killing 129 people. They have inspired “lone-wolf” terror attacks by sympathizers in places as far away as Ottawa and Sydney.

A bit of nomenclature:

You may have heard about ISIS referred to as IS, ISIL, or Daesh. All of these acronyms describe the group in question.

ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was the name of the group when it captured Mosul in 2014 and became the terrorist juggernaut it is today. They named themselves that to assert their dominance in Syria (more on that later).

ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (aka Greater Syria) is the name that Obama uses to describe the group (pretty much only Obama uses it). Superficially speaking, it is just a translation thing.

IS: Islamic State is the name the group gave itself after a “rebranding” effort when they wanted to show off their global strategy (they wouldn’t be limited to Syria and Iraq anymore).

Daesh: You may have heard French President Francois Hollande refer to the group by this name. This is essentially the Arabic acronym of the group. People assume that using this word somehow weakens them… it doesn’t, because unfortunately in this case it is one of those “sticks and stones” things.

Where did they come from?

ISIS was born out of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. When U.S. administrators, under Paul Bremer, decided to “de-Baathify” the Iraqi civil and military services, hundreds of thousands of Sunnis formerly loyal to Saddam Hussein were left without a job — and they were mad. Al Qaeda chose to capitalize on their anger and established al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to wage an insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq (Saddam was secular, but his intelligence and military supporters were able to make common cause with the jihadis of al Qaeda).

During this time they were quite active in waging a sectarian war against Iran-backed Shiite militias in central Iraq and bombing hotels in neighboring Jordan. Many of their members were imprisoned in U.S.-run “Camp Bucca,” where they were able to meet up and radicalize.

Fast forward to the U.S. “surge” in 2007: The U.S.-installed, Shiite government in Baghdad began reaching out to Sunni tribes, encouraging them to reject AQI. By this point, AQI was basically defeated and it looked like peace was coming to the Middle East (kinda).

Fast forward again to the Arab Spring and the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad (more info on that here). During the Iraq War, AQI would frequently go back and forth between Syria and Iraq to resupply, so it had a lot of contacts in the country. When Assad began shooting and gassing his own people, and the peaceful uprising turned into a civil war, AQI saw an opportunity to establish a presence there.

It quickly moved into Syria, renamed itself as The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and merged with its Syrian counterpart. This pissed off al Qaeda’s HQ, because they were already establishing a separate al Qaeda in Syria (aka al-Nusra front) and wanted it to remain separate. The two groups fought another mini-war amongst themselves and officially separated with AQI rebranding itself into the ISIS we hear about today.

It is important to note that this tiff between the two groups was global and concerned some “practical” things (like if al Qaeda should rule territory or kill Sunnis), as well as ego matters (like if Osama Bin Laden’s lieutenants, who have been on the run since 2001, should be the ones calling the shots). The intra-jihadi battle was waged on the battlefields of Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and northwest Africa, as well as in jihadi forums on the darknet.

As the Syrian civil war ground on, ISIS became the first rebel group to capture major cities (Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor). In the summer of 2014, the group had its breakout moment. In a lightning offensive, it captured Mosul in Iraq and drove south until it was on the borders of Baghdad. A few weeks later it rebranded itself as a Caliphate and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance (bay’ah). At this point, groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Ansar Beit Al Maqdis in Egypt’s Sinai began pledging allegiance and flew the black flag of ISIS. They also established presences in half a dozen other countries.

ISIS grew in notoriety through an aggressive social media and viral video strategy that had it engage with sympathizers and glorify violence. It beheaded many of its victims, including U.S. journalist James Foley. It often filmed executions through drowning, burning alive, and shooting. When it captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, it institutionalized slavery and rape of the Yazidi minority. In short, it installed a reign of barbaric terror.

How did ISIS grow to become so powerful?

There are a number of forces that can explain its strength.

  • Feelings of disenfranchisement: Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria felt alienated by Shiite- and Alawite-led governments. ISIS played on these feelings, pushing forward a sense of victimhood and giving these communities a means to feel in control through violence. They also advanced a twisted interpretation of Islam that found ripe fodder among disenfranchised youth in the area.
  • Unlikely bedfellows: ISIS partnered with the lieutenants of Saddam Hussein’s secular regime (who used to hate jihadis) to perfect their tools of repression along the same lines that Saddam used.
  • Syrian chaos: There is little doubt that as U.S. allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar ,and Turkey) ploughed money and arms into the Syrian civil war much of it ended up in the hands of ISIS (and other jihadi groups).
  • Iraqi chaos: After the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the atrophied Iraqi army was over-equipped and underprepared (and very corrupt) to deal with ISIS. Much of the weaponry ended up in ISIS’s hands.
  • Racketeering and extortion: Before ISIS formally controlled Mosul, it would run a racketeering business (similar to that used by the U.S. mafia) under the nose of the Iraqi government. Businesses and individuals had to pay them a “protection fee” to stay safe.
  • Taxation and exploitation: Properties belonging to religious minorities or regime sympathizers were promptly appropriated (e.g. churches, gold, hard currency), and once ISIS controlled territory and people it began taxing them like any state would.
  • Selling oil: It is the Middle East, so oil is always involved. While technically shut out from the international markets, ISIS could and did still find markets for its oil (usually in neighboring Turkey whose government was sympathetic to many of the Syrian jihadis).

So what now?

There are about a dozen countries (some of which hate each other) fighting ISIS. All of them (except for Iran, Syria, and Iraq) are basically doing it by bombing them from the sky. The U.S. has committed a few hundred “advisors” to the fight (and they are most certainly not wearing boots).

Despite a yearlong campaign against ISIS, the group still controls a lot of territory (even capturing new ground like Palmyra in Syria) and has demonstrated that it can strike in the heart of the Western world.

Post-Paris, there seems to be growing momentum for ground troop involvement against ISIS. The Obama administration has remained reluctant, insisting that its strategy is the successful one and that ISIS is weaker now than before. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad feels emboldened with Russia and Iran by his side, knowing that it is less likely for the West to oust him if the alternative will be ISIS.

As the Syrian civil war closes its fifth year, ISIS seems stronger than ever and the refugee exodus does not look like it will end. As Western governments try to grapple with the threat of ISIS terror reaching the Western world, they will feel the pressure to lock out these refugees (who are also fleeing ISIS). By using refugees as a convenient scapegoat, the risk is alienating them, leaving them susceptible to the toxic mix of conspiracy theories and extremism that breeds jihadi violence.

Note: It should go without saying that while ISIS is a radical Islamic group/movement, it does not, by any means, represent the views of the vast majority of Muslims. The majority of its victims have been Muslims and its twisted interpretation of the Koran is not shared by the 1 billion+ adherents of the Muslim faith.

Further reading and supporting sources:

“The rise of Islamic State”

“ISIS: The state of terror”

“The Islamic State”

“ISIS enshrines a theology of rape”

“Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?”

“What ISIS really wants”

“Secret files reveal the structure of Islamic State”

Tewfik Cassis – DAILY PNUT