OurWeek In Politics (10/22-10/29/18)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Florida Trump Supporter Charged With Attempting to Assassinate Democratic Party Leaders With Pipe Bombs

Ceasar Sayoc, a Florida-based Trump supporter, was charged with mailing several pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, CNN executives this week.

On October 23, several pipe bombs packed with shards of glass were intercepted en route to several prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, in an unnerving wave that deepened political tensions and fears two weeks before national midterm elections. None of the seven bombs detonated and nobody was hurt as authorities in New York, Washington DC, Florida, and California seized the suspicious packages. One of the explosives was sent to CNN, which prompted the evacuation of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan where the news outlet has its offices. The targets of the bombs were some of the figures most frequently criticized by President Donald Trump, who still assails Clinton at rallies while supporters chant “lock her up” two years after he defeated her and she largely left the political scene. Trump also often singles out cable news network CNN as he rails against the “fake news” media.

The suspect in the attempted bombing is Cesar Sayroc, a 56-year-old resident of Florida. A registered Republican and strong supporter of President Donald Trump, Sayoc was previously charged in 2002 for threatening to “throw, project, place, or discharge any destructive device.” Additionally, Sayoc was known for posting anti-Democratic material on social media sites such as Twitter. Recent activity in what appear to be two social media accounts belonging to Sayoc paint a picture of a staunch supporter of Trump and Ron DeSantis, the GOP nominee for governor who the president has endorsed, as well as Republican Governor Rick Scott. Other posts vilify Gillum, Tallahassee’s mayor, who is locked in a fierce battle with DeSantis. A Wednesday post included an anti-Gillum meme with the caption “$500,000 SOROS PUPPET” and a photo of the liberal philanthropist George Soros, who has contributed to Gillum’s campaign and had a bomb delivered to his home this week, holding a puppet meant to resemble Gillum. Other posts criticize the Clintons and accuse David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland school shooting earlier this year of working with Soros to oust Republicans from Congress.

Despite his known radical viewpoints and violent past, many observers note that Cesar Sayoc is the person they would have least expected to attempt such a horrific attack on leading Democratic Party politicians. Daniel Lurvey, a Miami-Dade defense attorney who represented Sayoc in two theft cases in 2013 and 2014, described Sayoc as an average guy who did not seem the type to mail suspected pipe bombs. “If I went down my list of clients and you said to pick the Top 20 that you think might be capable of this, he wouldn’t even be close,” Lurvey told the press in an interview. For his attempted murder of American political leaders, Sayroc potentially faces a 48-year jail sentence, as well as other legal penalties.

The reaction to the attempted assassination of leading Democratic party politicians has thus far been mixed. Despite condemning the attempted attacks, President Donald Trump sought to minimize their impact and in a Twitter post repeated the false claim that the media has tried to pin the responsibility for Sayroc’s action on himself and his administration. This sentiment was later echoed by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Overall, the attempted assassination of opposition political leaders shows that the rhetoric by President Trump and his fellow Republicans has served little than to increase the partisan divide in US politics and convince their most hardcore supporters to resort to illegitimate tactics to prevent rival political leaders from having a voice.

2. Pittsburgh synagogue Shooting Leaves 11 Dead, 4 Wounded in One of the Worst Acts of Religious Violence in US History

A Pittsburgh-area synagogue was the site of one of the worst religiously-motivated mass shootings in US history on October 27.

Armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27, killing at least 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others. In a rampage described as among the deadliest against the Jewish-American community, the assailant stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation, where worshipers had gathered in separate rooms to celebrate their faith, and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, shattering what had otherwise been a peaceful morning. The assailant, identified by law enforcement officials as Robert Bowers, fired for several minutes and was leaving the synagogue when officers, dressed in tactical gear and armed with rifles, met him at the door. According to the police, Bowers exchanged gunfire with officers before retreating back inside and barricading himself inside a third-floor room. After his capture, federal officials charged Bowers with 29 criminal counts. They included obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, defined as a hate crime under federal law, and using a firearm to commit murder. Bowers also faces state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.

The public reaction to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was one of condemnation. Calling it the “most horrific crime scene” he had seen in 22 years with the FBI, Robert Jones, special agent in charge in Pittsburgh, said the synagogue was in the midst of a “peaceful service” when congregants were gunned down and “brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith.” “We simply cannot accept this violence as a normal part of American life,” said Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf in a news conference in Pittsburgh shortly after the incident occurred. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Pennsylvanians and are not who we are as Americans.” Additionally, President Donald Trump similarly condemned the shooting, stating that “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world, and something has to be done.”

In addition to the widespread condemnation of the attack within the US, many foreign political leaders expressed their condolences, including many Arab and Muslim politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in a press conference that he was ‘heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue today.” Additionally, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and a strong supporter of Israel forcefully condemned the shooting, stating that “houses of worship are meant to provide a safe and spiritual refuge. Those who desecrate their sanctity attack all humanity. Perhaps the strongest condemnation of the attack came from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who said in a Twitter post that “Extremism and terrorism know no race or religion, and must be condemned in all cases,” and that “The world deserves better than to have to live with weaponized demagoguery.”

Overall, the Pittsburgh synagogue shotting reveals that religious bigotry and violence is far from a settled issue in the US. For example, the Justice Department noted that there were at least 1,800 violent incidents motivated by religious bias in 2017, a 57% spike when compared to 2016. Many observers claim that this increase in religious bigotry is attributed to President Donald Trump’s bigoted rhetoric towards non-Christians. Additionally, the shooting reveals a major split within the American Jewish community regarding President Trump. Despite making major inroads with the Jewish vote in 2016 (with the Jewish vote going from 25% to 33% Republican when compared to 2012) due to his strong support for Israel, advocacy for a neo-conservative foreign policy, and opposition to the interests of both Shi’a Muslims and the Palestinian people, many American Jewish leaders have expressed concern regarding the divisive rhetoric spouted off by President Trump, arguing that it is encouraging violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the US.

3. Afghanistan Holds First Parliamentary Elections Since 2010

The first Parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in nearly a decade were held this week.

Voting under threat of Taliban violence, Afghans across the country cast ballots in parliamentary elections held on October 22 during one of the most fragile moments in the 17 years since the US and NATO-led invasion of the country. The election was supposed to be held in 2015 but was delayed several times due to widening political schisms and worsening security within the country. And where the voting did go ahead, it did so under the shadow of a Taliban vow to punish those who took part. There was no voting at all in two critical provinces, and the government said ahead of the vote that only two-thirds of polling stations would open because of security issues. In response to the elections, the Taliban announced that they would be attacking polling places to prevent Afghan citizens from voting, though security forces prevented dramatic attacks that many feared had the potential to occur. Despite the efforts of Afghanistan’s security forces, at least 78 people were killed in scattered attacks, and at least 470 were wounded in smaller attacks targeting dozens of districts. In the city of Kabul alone, more than a dozen attacks were reported by officials.

The election commission of Afghanistan put voter turnout at more than three million, what observers saw as a realistic figure with increased monitoring and fraud prevention mechanisms helping to prevent ballot-box stuffing. The commission said the 400 locations that faced technical problems would vote the next day. The province of Kandahar, where voting was postponed after its police chief was killed last week, will vote next week. Despite the threats of violence from the Taliban and other militant groups, many citizens of Afghanistan were eager to participate in the election. “I have been waiting here for five hours, and the voting hasn’t started,” said Nawroz Ali, 83, outside a polling station in central Kabul. “The police told me to sit in the sun, get some sun, and when it opens, I will be first.”

Overall, many international observers applaud the government of Afghanistan regarding the conduct of the election despite some lingering issues with violence and logistical and political problems. The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan noted that the elections are a step forward for Afghanistan and represent a positive trend of increased citizen participation in its political system. “Afghans, despite all of the security issues and threats, demonstrated a massive turnout in today’s elections,” the organization said in a report. Despite the growing levels of political participation within Afghanistan, many international observers note that the country has a long way to go to recover from decades of warfare, imperialism by Western powers, authoritarianism, and political instability.

4. President Donald Trump Announces His Intention to Roll-back the “Birthright Citizenship” Provision of the 14th Amendment

President Donald Trump announced his intention to end the practice of birthright citizenship this week.

President Donald Trump has said that birthright citizenship “has to end” and believes he can enact that policy without having to amend the Constitution. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1868 following the Civil War to guarantee the equal citizenship rights of freed slaves, established the concept of birthright citizenship. It states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” But in an interview with Axios, a part of which was published late on October 29, Trump said he believed he could end the practice with an executive order. “It was always told to me that you needed the Constitutional amendment,” he said. “Guess what? You don’t.”

In practice, the 14th Amendment has conferred citizenship on anyone born in the US, regardless of the legal status of their parents, and the idea was upheld in several Supreme Court cases, including United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) In the Ark case, the court held that a child born to foreign citizens here permanently and legally “becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.” Despite the fact that the practice of birthright citizenship has long been viewed as constitutional, the practice has gained controversy in recent years with conservative political groups, many of whom argue that the amendment was not meant to qualify foreign citizens to automatically become US citizens provided that they were born on US soil.

The proposal by President Donald Trump has sparked a mixed reaction. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) applauded Trump’s attack on birthright citizenship, tweeting in part “This policy is a magnet for illegal immigration, out of the mainstream of the developed world, and needs to come to an end.” On the other hand, the ACLU condemned the potential executive order via tweet, calling the move a “blatantly unconstitutional attempt to fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms.” Additionally, critics noted that President Trump’s statement that the US is the only country in the world who offers birthright citizenship is false. Many countries in the Western Hemisphere offer birthright citizenship including both Canada and Mexico.

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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