Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Tia Sewell
Friday, March 26, 2021, 3:34 PM

Far-right extremists are adopting a new anti-vaccine agenda as part of a campaign to undermine the Biden administration’s pandemic response, according to the New York Times. In chat rooms frequented by members of various right-wing groups including the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo movement and other paramilitary organizations, extremists are falsely bashing the safety and efficacy of vaccines as part of a narrative that the vaccines symbolize excessive control from a government that can’t be trusted.

Parler has claimed that it referred violent content from its platform to the FBI more than 50 times, including specific threats to the U.S. Capitol, writes the Washington Post. Lawyers for Parler, an app popular among conservatives, submitted a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform containing detailed information about the company’s interactions with federal law enforcement. On Dec. 24, for example, Parler’s lawyers wrote that the company sent the FBI a post that “called for the congregation of an armed force of 150,000 on the Virginia side of the Potomac River to ‘react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another referral included a Jan. 2 post in which a user asserted that he would wear body armor on Jan. 6 and stated that the event was “not a rally and it’s no longer a protest.” The FBI declined to comment.

The chief executives of Facebook, Twitter and Google testified before House lawmakers yesterday in a hearing that stretched longer than five hours, reports the Wall Street Journal. Members of Congress chastised the CEOs for societal problems they claimed were exacerbated by the tech companies’ lack of accountability for content posted to their platforms, building momentum to weaken Section 230, which serves as a liability shield for online platforms. In a Lawfare article this morning, Jacob Schulz and Justin Sherman reflected on the Christchurch report’s implications for online extremism and considered future avenues for internet reform.

Recently, Google’s security teams publicly exposed an “expert” hacking group’s nine-month operation—but did not disclose that the hackers in question were actually Western government operatives conducting a counterterrorism operation, writes Patrick Howell O’Neill, cybersecurity senior editor at the MIT Technology Review. The article details that Google teams knew internally who the hacker and targets were, but still chose to unilaterally block the operation. A senior U.S. intelligence official told O’Neil that the move has caused ethical debates about oversight on Western operations: “How one treats intelligence activity or law enforcement activity driven under democratic oversight within a lawfully elected representative government is very different from that of an authoritarian regime,” the official said.

Taiwan today reported that 20 Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense zone—the largest incursion to date by the Chinese air force since Taiwan’s defense ministry began disclosing Beijing’s exercises in Taiwan’s territory last year, according to Reuters. A person familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters that the Chinese exercises would simulate an operation against U.S. warships sailing through the Bashi Channel, a body of water south of the island which separates Taiwan from the Philippines.

Yesterday, Georgia Gov. Brain Kemp signed a bill that will change the state’s election requirements by imposing new limits on absentee voting and mail voting and changing county election board authorities, among other measures, reports the Journal. The legislation has garnered widespread opposition from Democrats, who allege that the bill is designed to suppress voters and are expected to challenge the new measures in court.

Over the past year, the Justice Department has charged 474 people with trying to steal more than $569 million in total in fraud schemes connected to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Washington Post.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged Congress to make a “generational investment” in infrastructure during his inaugural testimony before the House yesterday, writes the Times. “Across the country, we face a trillion-dollar backlog of needed repairs and improvements, with hundreds of billions of dollars in good projects already in the pipeline,” Buttigieg stated. “We face an imperative to create resilient infrastructure and confront inequities that have devastated communities.”

Two trains collided in Southern Egypt today, killing at least 32 people and injuring 90, reports the Times. Egypt’s national rail authority said that “unknown actors” had activated the brakes on one of the trains involved in the disaster, causing the other to crash into it from behind.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

William Ford and Rohini Kurup presented findings from the House and Senate hearings on the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

Emma Campbell-Mohn argued that the U.S. has a unique opportunity to pursue multilateralism and human rights interests in the Indo-Pacific by continuing support for Myanmar’s democratic movement.

Victoria Gallegos shared a livestream of a joint House subcommittee hearing on social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation, featuring testimony from Facebook, Google, and Twitter CEOs.

Gallegos also shared a livestream of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. Cyber Command.

Jen Patja Howell shared the latest edition of Lawfare’s Arbiters of Truth miniseries on disinformation, featuring Quinta Jurecic and Evelyn Douek’s interview with Brendan Nyhan on YouTube and extremism.

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