Words kill

Welcome to the free weekly edition of Popular Information, a political newsletter for people who give a damn -- written by me, Judd Legum.

Support accountability journalism with a paid subscription to Popular Information. Reporting in this newsletter first brought scrutiny to the corporate donors of Steve King, the Iowa Congressman who has embraced white nationalism. Since Popular Information's first report, seven major corporations have announced they would no longer contribute to King's campaign.

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UPDATE: AT&T disconnects Steve King

Congressman Steve King, the Iowa Republican with an ugly history of racist comments who has cozied up to white nationalists, continues to hemorrhage corporate support. The latest company to bail is AT&T, which donated $10,000 to King's 2018 campaign.

The company initially resisted pressure to end its financial support of King, releasing a statement saying it would "decide future contributions for 2019 and beyond" to King next year. But when that position failed to stem criticism online, AT&T issued another statement on Friday night saying that it was done with King.

In addition to our prior statement, we want to let you know that the AT&T employees who manage the disbursements of our employee PAC have now had the opportunity to review the controversy regarding Rep. Steve King, and have determined that the PAC will not make future contributions to him.  The committee concluded that further support of Rep. King would not be consistent with one of our core values …"Stand for Equality."

Another two bite the dust

Two other corporations, Smithfield Foods and Black Hills Energy, ended their support of King last week.

"Black Hills Energy’s political action committee has contributed to Rep. Steve King’s campaign, but will no longer do so because of recent statements which conflict with our company values," the company said in a statement to Huffington Post.

All told, seven corporate donors -- including Purina, Intel, Land O’ Lakes, and the Internet and Television Association -- have severed their relationship with King since October 28.

Silence speaks volumes

Despite King's embrace of white nationalism, he retains several prominent corporate supporters.

Among the corporate donors who have remained silent, despite an outcry on social media, are Tyson Foods, Berkshire Hathaway, and Koch Industries.

The billionaire Koch brothers, who run Koch Industries, claim to support immigration reform but are donating tens of thousands of dollars to one of Congress' most vehemently anti-immigrant members. Berkshire Hathaway is run by Warren Buffett, who also claims to be an advocate for immigrants and has criticized Trump's hard-line policies.

King blows up

On Thursday, King became enraged when a constituent at a public event asked him about his meeting in Austria with a far-right neo-Nazi party. The man asked King to distinguish his ideology from the shooter who murdered 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The terrorist who committed this crime, he was quoted as saying, ‘they bring invaders in that kill our people, I can’t sit back and watch our people get slaughtered.’ You, Steve King, have been quoted as saying, ‘we can’t restore our civilization with other people’s babies.’

"I knew you were an ambusher when you walked in the room, but there is no basis for that and you get no question and you get no answer … You crossed the line," King said, visibly angry.

"But do you identify as a white nationalist?" the man asked.

King would not answer and demanded the man be ejected from the room.

Words kill

There is a school of thought among Republican intellectuals that despite Trump's incendiary rhetoric, he governs like a traditional Republican and that's what matters. Trump cuts taxes, nominates conservative judges, and slashes regulation. Everything else is just noise.

All Republicans have to do, they argue, is tune out Trump's words and focus on the results.

This point of view, however, is deeply mistaken. The presidential bully pulpit is the most powerful communications platform in the world. Trump’s words not only matter -- they can mean the difference between life and death.

This reality was put into stark relief last week in Nigeria.

What happened in Nigeria

Last Monday, the Nigerian Army opened fire on a group of about 1,000 Islamic protesters who were blocking traffic near the nation's capital, Abuja. According to an investigation by Amnesty International, dozens were killed by automatic gunfire.

“We have seen a shocking and unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police against IMN members. Video footage and eyewitness testimonies consistently show that the Nigerian military dispersed peaceful gatherings by firing live ammunition without warning, in clear violation of Nigerian and international law,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

“Those injured were shot in different parts of the body – head, neck, back, chest, shoulder, legs, arms – and some of them had multiple gunshot wounds. This pattern clearly shows soldiers and police approached IMN processions not to restore public order, but to kill.”

Amnesty International has evidence that the military used automatic firearms during Monday’s protest, in which at least 122 protesters sustained gunshot wounds and at least 39 were killed. At least six people were killed in protests on Saturday.

While the protest was largely peaceful and the participants unarmed, Nigerian officials claimed some protesters threw rocks at the soldiers. The Amnesty International report found the rock throwing started "as a response to the use of lethal force, to which security forces responded with tear gas and more gunfire."

How Nigeria is justifying the mass execution

The Nigerian Army defended the shooting of protesters by posting a video of Donald Trump on its official Twitter account. In the clip, Trump discusses how the U.S. military, which he has deployed the U.S.-Mexico border, would respond to people who throw rocks at them.

"We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back," Trump says in the video. The tweet was captioned: "Please Watch and Make Your Deductions."

The Nigerian Army deleted the tweet but its sentiments were echoed by Nigerian officials.

“We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” Nigerian Army spokesman John Agim said, “What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”

Empowering authoritarians worldwide

Nigeria isn't the only authoritarian regime to feel emboldened by Trump. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, for example, blasted a media outlet critical of his regime, Rappler, as "fake news." The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission shut down the outlet.

In a January press conference, Duterte denied personal involvement in the move against Rappler and blasted the publication in a Trumpian rant. "You can stop your suspicious mind from roaming somewhere else. But since you are a fake news outlet then I am not surprised that your articles are also fake. You went overboard, you are not only throwing toilet paper, you are throwing shit at us," Duterte said.

In August, a government spokesman responded to reports that Duterte was in poor health by saying anyone that publishes such information should kill themselves. The spokesman told reporters that anyone suggesting Duterte was sick should "just hang themselves because what they want will not happen."

Trump's criticism of "fake news" has been adopted by "prominent leaders or state media in at least 15 countries," according to a report by Politico. Authoritarians are typically using the phrase to "undermine and discredit" critical media coverage.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, for example, brushed off an Amnesty International report that 13,000 people died in a military prison, by claiming "we are living in a fake news era."

Kemp's new gambit in Georgia

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is using the power of his office to try to rig his campaign for Governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Kemp is using technicalities to prevent as many people as possible from registering and voting. His tactics were detailed in the October 25 edition of Popular Information.

On Sunday, Kemp launched a new strategy: He is accusing the Democratic Party of Georgia of "possible cyber crimes." The allegation is that the party attempted to hack into the voting system. Kemp provided no evidence to support his claims.

The accusation against the Democratic party is now featured on the Secretary of State's webpage, which many voters will visit to find their polling location.

The last-minute accusation isn't unprecedented for Kemp.

In 2016, Kemp accused the Department of Homeland Security of an unsuccessful attempt "to penetrate the state’s firewall." The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General conducted an investigation and found that Kemp was wrong. The issue that Kemp cited was "residual traffic from a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center employee checking the Georgia firearms license database." The purported attempt to penetrate the firewall was actually "caused by the employee cutting and pasting data from the database to Microsoft Excel."

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