Political MoJo

Louisiana Republican Stokes Fears of Syrian Refugees to Boost Struggling Campaign for Governor

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 10:31 AM EST

In the days since terror attacks roiled Paris, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has been trailing in the race for governor against his Democratic rival John Bel Edwards, has settled on a new strategy for winning over voters: warning them about Syrian refugees entering the state. 

After Edwards released an apparently altered statement on Facebook in the attacks' aftermath noting he would help "to assist the people coming here and fleeing from religious persecution," Vitter's campaign pounced. In a robocall over the weekend, Vitter warned that President Barack Obama's "reckless policies" for allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country would turn Louisiana into a "dangerous refugee zone." (The State Department confirmed to the Times-Picayune that only 14 Syrian immigrants had settled in Louisiana since January 1.) 

On Monday, as Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order seeking to block refugees from entering the state, Vitter released an ad claiming that Obama had been "sending refugees to Louisiana" and that Edwards had vowed to work with the president to welcome them. A day later, Vitter introduced federal legislation that would halt incoming refugee admissions for at least 300 days while a review of the screening process takes place. 

An email sent from the Louisiana Republican Party on Tuesday warned supporters about the possibility of "missing" refugees in the state.  

Just yesterday, David Vitter had to notify the Obama Administration that a Syrian refugee who had been living in Baton Rouge has gone missing. What kind of accountability is that? There is an unmonitored Syrian refugee who is walking around freely, and no one knows where he is.

It turns out that the "missing" refugee in Baton Rouge hadn't disappeared at all. A day before the email went out, the New Orleans Advocate reported that Catholic Charities, the organization that aids in refugee resettlement, had helped the Syrian man for a few days before he left the state to meet with family in Washington, DC. Before he left, the man filed relocation paperwork to the federal government.

Vitter's wife, Wendy Vitter, reportedly works as a lawyer for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which is affiliated with Catholic Charities. The organization received a flood of phone calls about the supposedly "missing" refugee, according to the Advocate, and a Jefferson Parish Sheriff warned that "somebody's going to get killed" as a result of the misinformation, according to the New Orleans alt-weekly The Gambit.

Vitter, whose campaign has also been mired in reports that he may have had a love child with a prostitute, will find if his last-ditch effort to lure Louisiana voters is successful when the election takes place on Saturday. 

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Alleged Planner of Paris Attacks Killed in Saint-Denis Raid

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 8:41 AM EST

Paris' chief prosecutor announced on Thursday that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected architect of the deadly terrorist attacks that killed 129 people, was killed during Wednesday's seven-hour-long standoff in Saint-Denis, during which some 5,000 rounds of ammunition were exchanged between the police and militants.

The Associated Press reported that the Belgian-born terrorist was identified by fingerprint samples.

Early on Wednesday, heavily armed authorities descended on the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis to raid an apartment believed to be hiding a terrorist cell.

The police say they were able to locate the apartment after recovering a cellphone used by one of the terrorists near the Bataclan concert hall where the attackers killed 89 people.

Two people, including Abaaoud, were killed in the raid. Eight others were arrested. On Thursday, officials confirmed that the woman who detonated herself using an explosive vest was Abaaoud's cousin.

The Latest Issue of ISIS's Magazine Is As Terrible As You'd Think

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 7:20 PM EST

Since the end of October, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the murders of almost 400 people in strikes against France, Russia, and Lebanon. As officials continue to investigate how these attacks were carried out, the so-called Islamic State released its own version Wednesday morning—in the latest issue of its digital magazine, Dabiq.

As Mother Jones has reported before, Dabiq is a recruitment tool for ISIS, which uses the publication to deliver "informative" updates from its territory and articulate lengthy religious arguments that the group says justify its brutal tactics. ISIS's propaganda arm, which began publishing Dabiq after the group's declaration last summer that it had established a caliphate, uploads the magazine online as an English-language PDF and distributes it on social media. (Dabiq takes its name from a farming town in northern Syria, where, according to Islamic prophecy, the caliphate will defeat the forces of "Rome," ushering in a series of events that will lead to the apocalypse—a story that is crucial to ISIS's recruiting tactics.)

Here's what the terrorist group had to say about recent attacks:

Dabiq doesn't add much to what we already know about the simultaneous attacks that killed 129 people Friday at the Bataclan Theatre, Stade de France, and other locations around the Boulevard Voltaire in Paris. As European authorities mount raids looking for anyone who might have been involved in the plot, the magazine states that a total of eight people were involved in carrying out the attacks.

Here's how Dabiq justifies last week's events in Paris: 

A year earlier, on "19 September 2014," France haughtily began executing airstrikes against the Khilāfah [Caliphate]. Like Russia, it was blinded by hubris, thinking that its geographical distance from the lands of the Khilāfah would protect it from the justice of the mujāhidīn. It also did not grasp that its mockery of the Messenger would not be left unavenged. Thus, the Islamic State dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders, leaving Paris and its residents "shocked and awed." The eight knights brought Paris down on its knees, after years of French conceit in the face of Islam.

The alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks, 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, gave an interview to Dabiq earlier this year. In it, Abaaoud brags about being pursued by Western intelligence agencies and describes traveling between Syria and Belgium, where he claimed he was leading a terror cell that was broken up by Belgian officials.

Metrojet Flight 9268 crash
In a foreword to the issue, Dabiq's unnamed creators published an image of the bomb they say was used to bring down Metrojet Flight 9268, the Russian airliner that crashed on October 31 over Sinai, Egypt, killing all 224 passengers. The photograph shows a can of Shwepps Gold, alongside what appears to be a switch and detonator for the device.

New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers weighed in on the bomb on Twitter:

According to Dabiq, ISIS originally planned to attack an airplane belonging to the US-led coalition against ISIS, but switched its target to a Russian flight. An Egyptian branch of ISIS has previously claimed responsibility for the attack.

Neither the photograph nor any of the group's claims about the attacks have been verified. Alexander V. Bortnikov, the head of the Russian Federal Security Service, said Monday that Russian investigators had determined that the plane was brought down in an act of terrorism, using an "improvised explosive device" that contained up to one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of TNT.

Dabiq explains how the attack on Metrojet Flight 9268 came about:

On "30 September 2015"…Russia decided to participate directly with its own air force in the war. It was a rash decision of arrogance from Russia, as if it held that its wars against the Muslims of al-Qawqāz were not enough offence. And so after having discovered a way to compromise the security at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport and resolving to bring down a plane belonging to a nation in the American-led Western coalition against the Islamic State, the target was changed to a Russian plane. A bomb was smuggled onto the airplane, leading to the deaths of 219 Russians and 5 other crusaders only a month after Russia’s thoughtless decision…This was to show the Russians and whoever allies with them that they will have no safety in the lands and airspace of the Muslims, that their daily killing of dozens in Shām through their airstrikes will only bring them calamities, and that just as they kill, they will be killed, by Allah’s permission.

Beirut, Lebanon
Dabiq also includes the November 12 suicide bombings in Beirut among a larger list of its recent "military operations":

The soldiers of the Khilāfah in Lebanon parked a motorbike rigged with explosives on al-Husayniyyah Street in the region of Burj al-Barājinah located in the southern suburb of Beirut, a Hizbul-Lāt stronghold, and detonated it on a gathering of Rāfidī mushrikīn. When the murtaddīn subsequently gathered at the site of explosion, one of the soldiers of the Khilāfah detonated his explosive belt in their midst. The operation succeeded in killing more than 40 Rāfidah and wounding over 200 more, and sent a clear message to the Rāfidī allies of Bashar in Lebanon that they are well within the vengeful reach of the Islamic State.

According to CNN, Lebanese investigators apprehended a would-be suicide bomber who survived the attacks, and who claimed to have traveled to Beirut from Syria as part of an ISIS cell.

Roanoke Mayor Makes the Most Appalling Argument Yet for Rejecting Syrian Refugees

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 5:35 PM EST

Here is Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, Virginia—a member of Hillary Clinton's Virginia Leadership Council—making perhaps the worst argument we've seen yet for rejecting Syrian refugees:

A take so bad that it prompted this member of Congress to weigh in:


Update: Bowers is off the Clinton team as of Wednesday afternoon.

The One Country You'd Expect to Reject Syrian Refugees Wants to Take 30,000 of Them Instead

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 1:45 PM EST

A growing number of politicians in the United States have used last Friday's terrorist attacks in France to argue for tighter restrictions, if not an outright halt, on accepting Syrian refugees. But in France itself, the government is keeping its doors open.

French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday at a meeting of French mayors that France will accept 30,000 refugees over the next two years, calling it his country's "humanitarian duty." The announcement earned a standing ovation from the mayors, according to the Washington Post.

France had already committed to take in just over 24,000 refugees under the terms of a mandatory EU quota plan that was adopted in September. Extending that commitment to 30,000 is one of the few positive signs for the EU's efforts, largely led by Germany, to spread refugees more equitably across the continent. The plan was opposed by Eastern European and Balkan countries through which large numbers of refugees have crossed in recent months, and opposition has increased following the Paris attacks. The government of Hungary announced on Wednesday that it will sue the EU to overturn the quota plan. "Most of Europe's population doesn’t agree with the quota. Its social legitimacy is lacking," said Laszlo Trocsanyi, the Hungarian justice minister.

New York Daily News Compares the NRA to Jihadists

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 11:01 AM EST

In three words, the front page of Wednesday's New York Daily News launched one of the boldest attacks on the National Rifle Association in recent memory.

The tabloid's cover denounced "NRA's Sick Jihad," in characteristically huge typeface. The story inside accused the gun rights group of tacitly abetting the arming of terrorists by blocking a proposed bill that would make it more difficult for terror suspects to buy guns in the United States. The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015, formally known as H.R. 1076, was introduced in February, and includes a ban on the "sale or distribution of firearms or explosives to any individual whom the Attorney General has determined to be engaged in terrorist activities."

The earliest version of the legislation was originally introduced under President George W. Bush in 2007, but it has yet to be signed into law. According to the Daily News, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI's Terrorist Watchlist have been able to purchase weapons in the United States in the last 11 years.

The story begins, "The NRA—and their gun-loving Republican cohorts—are refusing once more to stop terrorists intent on getting armed in the U.S.A."

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These Senators Want To Break the NRA’s Stranglehold on Gun Violence Research

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 10:00 AM EST

For years, Congress has blocked funding for research into the impacts of guns on public health. On Wednesday morning, twenty Senate Democrats demanded a necessary first step to upset that status quo, by asking the Government Accountability Office to audit what health programs exist to make guns safer.

"With more than 300 million guns in American homes, we write to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study to assess the efficacy of public health and safety programs designed to impact gun safety, including the storage and security of guns in households throughout our country," they wrote in a letter to Gene Dorado, Comptroller General of the United States.

The senators note that other federal public health campaigns, such as those to reduce drunk driving and smoking, have been hugely effective. But for nearly 20 years, Congress has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to steer clear of firearms violence research. "I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease," said former House Speaker John Boehner this summer, after the House Appropriations Committee voted to block funding on gun research to the CDC.

"Prevention of gun deaths and injuries should be an essential component of the federal government's commitment to public heath and safety along with other efforts such as background checks on gun purchases and closing other gun loopholes," the senators wrote.

A Mother Jones investigation, inspired by the lack of research on the matter, found that gun violence costs Americans a whopping $229 billion each year. In 2013, Mother Jones found that at least 194 children were shot to death in the year following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  A Washington Post investigation earlier this year found that Americans are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis.

The senators' request was lauded by gun control advocacy groups. "The American people have had enough of gun violence and this is an important step," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Read the full letter below:


Watch part of our investigation into the costs of gun violence here:


This post has been updated to include more gun crime statistics.

Two Dead and Seven Arrested in Raid Targeting Paris Attacks "Mastermind"

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 8:42 AM EST
Police forces prepare in St. Denis, a northern suburb of Paris, Wednesday.

Update, 8:30 a.m. EST: Paris's chief prosecutor announced on Thursday that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-born terrorist believed to be responsible for Friday's attacks in Paris, was killed in the St. Denis raid.

Update, 12:56 p.m. EST:  Big questions remain concerning the identities of those killed and arrested in the early morning raid carried out in Saint-Denis. The Washington Post reports Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected "mastermind" behind last Friday's attacks on Paris, had been killed. However, France's chief prosecutor said in a press conference that the identity of those killed and arrested could still not verified.


Two terror suspects, including one female suicide bomber who detonated herself using an explosive vest, were killed in an early morning raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday. Seven people were also arrested in the seven-hour standoff.

The raid was targeting Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-born terror suspect believed to be the "mastermind" behind the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. Authorities have yet to determine the identities of the terror suspects arrested and killed in Wednesday's raid.

According to some reports, the woman who blew herself up may have been Abaaoud's cousin.

A heavy police presence remains in the city. The Guardian reports that residents have been told to stay inside and roads have been blocked off.

Speaking to mayors around the country on Wednesday morning, French President Francois Hollande pointed to the violent raid as a sign the country was at "war with ISIS." He also reaffirmed France's commitment to taking in 30,000 refugees, despite fears that terrorists may try to enter Europe with the flow of migrants. 

Here's What the Latest Investigation of Planned Parenthood Just Revealed

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Government investigations of Planned Parenthood in response to a series of deceptive videos produced by anti-abortion activists continue to lead to nothing.

On Monday, a 48-page report released by Washington state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson stated that his team's investigation into allegations about Planned Parenthood profiting from sales of fetal tissue "found no indication that procedures performed by Planned Parenthood are anything other than performance of a legally authorized medical procedure."

After undercover videos filmed by David Daleiden and his anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, went viral, legislators across the country called for probes of Planned Parenthood operations. So far, none of these investigations has turned up any wrongdoing.

They have, however, had a chilling effect on important research into cures for diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's, as Mother Jones reported last month. That Planned Parenthood was cleared of any misconduct in Washington is particularly notable because Washington is one of only two states that allow patients to donate tissue to scientific research. (California is the other.)

Despite the lack of evidence from these state investigations, Republicans in the US Senate continue their attempts to defund Planned Parenthood; they are currently working to pass a fast-track "reconciliation" package that aims to dismantle key components of Obamacare and rescind Planned Parenthood funding.

Bobby Jindal Drops Out of the Presidential Race

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 6:23 PM EST

RIP Jindal 2016:

"It has been a great honor for me to run for president of the United States," Bobby Jindal told Fox News host Bret Baier in an interview on Tuesday night. "This is not my time. I've come to the realization that this is not my time."

Even in his dropping out speech the Louisiana governor couldn't help but call Obama a "community organizer."