Coronavirus crisis update


This 8 April 2020 video says about itself:

“People Are Dying in the Streets”: Ecuador Struggles to Cope with COVID-19 as Cases Skyrocket

The coronavirus pandemic is exhausting Ecuador’s medical resources, with at least 220 dead and more than 4,000 cases. Ecuador is among the top three countries with the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the entire Latin American region. In recent days, images of dead bodies wrapped in plastic tarp left on the streets of the city of Guayaquil as families desperately try to bury loved ones have shocked the entire country and the world. Guayaquil is Ecuador’s most populous city and the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. We speak with Denisse Herrera, the Ecuador correspondent for teleSUR.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain, 8 April 2020:

Our health is not negotiable, which is why we’ve had to walk

Seven security guards at a prestigious London university explain why — with the support of the UVW union — they have decided to self-isolate instead of clock on

OUR health and the health of the public was being put at risk by our employer, Bidvest Noonan.

As a result, we’ve been left with no choice but to walk off the job. As an outsourcing giant recording huge yearly profits, Noonan’s wealth is built upon the backs of thousands of workers like us — all of whom it exploits, by employing them on the worst terms and conditions legally possible.

Of course, it does this, like all outsourcing companies, on behalf of clients who wish to keep their hands clean and project an image of being a socially conscious employer — all while in reality being just as culpable as Noonan for our atrocious treatment; after all, they are the ones who draw up the contracts.

Britain: Concerns for Assange‘s health following Covid-19 death in Belmarsh: here.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain, 8 April 2020:

Hospital staff treating coronavirus patients with PPE that’s 19 years out of date

HOSPITAL staff have reportedly been issued with protective equipment which is almost 20 years old.

Staff at Barnsley Hospital in Yorkshire say that the age of some equipment has been hidden by a sticker put over the date of manufacture, with one batch of face masks dated 2001.

General union GMB said that the desperate attempt at disguise exposes the failure of the government to provide health workers with the personal protective equipment (PPE) they desperately need to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain, 8 April 2020:

Watchdog hits out at government’s Covid-19 safety failings

Hazard Group says millions of lives have been put at risk by inadequacies of government

MILLIONS of lives have been needlessly put at risk by the government’s inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic, health and safety campaigners warned today.

The analysis comes as authorities reported a further 936 deaths from Covid-19, the country’s highest total so far and bringing the total to 7,172.

Analysis by the Hazards Campaign group has exposed a catalogue of government shortfalls, including its refusal to stop all non-essential work, inability to supply health service staff with protective equipment and failure to introduce a comprehensive testing and tracking system to contain the virus.

Britain: Government’s promise to protect vulnerable rings hollow after it asks care homes to take in coronavirus patients: here.

Scotland must increase testing or risk ‘catastrophe’, think tanks warns.

Top EU scientist quits over inadequate response to the coronavirus: here.

The European Union still refuses to confront the coronavirus crisis: here.

US failures have caused delayed response to Covid-19 outbreak, research reveals: here.

Triassic tanystropheid reptile discovery in Brazil


This 2016 video says about itself:

Paleo Profile is back! Today we look a super-weird Triassic long-necked reptile, Tanystropheus! We will examine what this animal used its long neck for, what it ate, and where and how it lived.

Hope you enjoy!

Life restoration of Elessaurus gondwanoccidens, from the Sanga do Cabral Formation (Lower Triassic), Brazil. Credit: Márcio L. Castro

From PLOS:

New fossil from Brazil hints at the origins of the mysterious tanystropheid reptiles

New species named after Tolkien‘s Aragorn hints at early southern evolution for these reptiles

April 8, 2020

A new species of Triassic reptile from Brazil is a close cousin of a mysterious group called tanystropheids, according to a study published April 8, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tiane De-Oliviera of the Federal University of Santa Maria, Brazil and colleagues.

After the Permian mass extinction, 250 million years ago, reptiles took over global ecosystems. Among the early groups to appear after this extinction event were the tanystropheids, a group of long-necked animals whose lifestyles are still mysterious, but who were nonetheless successful in the Triassic Period. However, the early evolution of this group is poorly understood, as their remains are very rare from the Early Triassic.

In this study, De-Oliviera and colleagues describe a new specimen of reptile from Early Triassic rocks of the Sanga do Cabral Formation in southern Brazil. Skeletal comparison indicates this specimen, known from remains of the hind leg, pelvis, and tail, is the closest known relative of tanystropheids. The researchers identified these remains as belonging to a new species, which they named Elessaurus gondwanoccidens. The name derives in part from the Elvish name (Elessar) of a character from Lord of the Rings also known as Aragorn or Strider, chosen as a reference to the fossil animal’s long legs.

Most tanystropheid fossils are found in Middle to Late Triassic rocks of Europe, Asia, and North America, and often in marine sediments. The presence of Elessaurus in continental deposits of Early Triassic South America suggests that the origins of this group may lie in the southern continents, and that their ancestors may have lived on land before later species adapted to aquatic life. A clearer view of the group’s origins will rely on more rare fossils from this early time in their evolution.

Bernie Sanders suspends United States presidential campaign


This 8 April 2020 video about the USA says about itself:

Bernie Sanders Suspends Campaign, but has Transformed American Politics Forever

Bernie Sanders has suspended his 2020 presidential campaign for President, making Joe Biden the presumptive nominee. While I am sad and disappointed, I am proud of all that Bernie and his movement has accomplished. Bernie has made Medicare for All, a $15 dollar minimum wage, and democratic socialism mainstream ideas, and though he lost, his movement isn’t going away ever again.

The suspension of Sanders’ campaign is bad news at a bad time for democracy in the USA. Yesterday, there was a primary election in Wisconsin in which voters had to choose between their voting rights and their right not to die from coronavirus. How will the rest of the presidential campaign go? Also much coronavirus emergency. Sanders would have been beaten Trump. It is very uncertain whether ‘Trump lite’ Biden will.

Trump moves one step closer to re-election after Sanders drops out of Democrat nomination race. The socialist senator said he could not ‘continue to mount a campaign that cannot win,’ but added that while his campaign is coming to an end ‘our movement is not’: here.

Jews react with sadness to Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race.

Sanders lost the Democratic primary. But he won the moral argument.

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS DEMAND CHANGE FROM BIDEN Eight youth-heavy progressive groups challenged presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to adopt a host of left-leaning policy stances in order to earn the support of the young voters who overwhelmingly supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The organizations laid out their demands in an open letter to Biden shortly after Sanders withdrew from the Democratic primary on Wednesday. [HuffPost]

How deforestation affects Amazon rainforest birds


This video says about itself:

Wingbeats to the Amazon – The Secrets of Nature

Flourishing in the wilds of South America is a greater variety of birds than anywhere else on Earth. Like its people, the continent¹s birds are unique and flamboyant. This superbly shot programme, WINGBEATS TO THE AMAZON, captures the more colourful, majestic and bizarre of South America’s birds….the world’s biggest and most colourful parrots, tiny hummingbirds not much larger than a bumblebee and stylish male manakins that perform odd, vibrating dances to entice a female.

This documentary takes viewers on a journey across the bird capital of the planet. Supporting a quarter of all the bird species on Earth, South America is “the world’s biggest aviary”. The programme explains – with graphic vision – that South America’s astonishing diversity of birdlife boils down to geography. From tropical rainforests to snow-capped peaks not far from the shores of Antarctica, South America is a land of extremes.

The journey begins amongst the icy southern peaks of Patagonia. A windswept landscape, Patagonia is renowned for freezing temperatures and breathtaking scenery. Curious, camel-like animals, wander through the valleys and mighty Andean condors, the world’s largest bird of prey, dominate the skies above.

The foothills below support flocks of Upland geese. In the grasslands slightly further north, big birds dominate. Ostrich-like rheas live here, the males engaging in flamboyant displays in a bid to lure as many females as possible into their harem.

Dotted throughout the Pampas and other South American habitats, there are king-sized swamps thronged with ibises, storks and wildfowl. Spread mainly through northern Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil, woodlands are the next major stamping ground for South American birds.

And with sunrise comes the dawn chorus, an inspirational opera featuring close-up views of singing jays, thrushes, sparrows and a host of others. One bird, the oropendola, combines its song with a deep bowing action.

The final destination in this program is the renowned Amazon forest. Here, the greatest variety of animals and plants have come to live. Indeed four out of five of all South American birds survive in rainforests. Beasts and butterflies crowd the river banks, amongst them skimmers, cattle egrets, hoatzins and jacamars. Star is the male manakin – the most flamboyant resident of all, as he slides backwards, his feet never appearing to leave the perch. As well, there’s toucans – with their enormous beaks among the most exotic of South American birds.

The bird-filled landscapes of South America echo to the sounds of literally millions of winged individuals, each taking part in a host of daily rituals. Many such customs may not be quite so spectacular as hundreds of giant macaws picking clay from a riverbank at dawn each day, but they’re all equally important. Over millions of years, the world’s biggest aviary has given rise to some of the most flamboyant members of the bird family – every one of which has carved out their own unique style and associated survival techniques, ideally suited to this vast continent of extremes.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office:

How does habitat fragmentation affect Amazonian birds?

April 8, 2020

The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP), located near Manaus, Brazil, began in 1979 and is the world’s longest-running experimental study of tropical forest fragments. A new paper in The Condor: Ornithological Applications summarizes four decades of data from the project about how Amazonian bird communities respond to habitat fragmentation, a question as relevant today as ever in light of the recent increase in deforestation in the Amazon.

Louisiana State University’s Phil Stouffer, who authored the new paper, led bird research at the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project from 1991 to 2019. As he describes, studying the changes in bird communities over the forty years following habitat fragmentation led to some surprises. The original plan was to monitor “forest islands” permanently isolated by surrounding cattle pastures, but changes in the Brazilian economy led to the abandonment of the cattle pastures within a few years after their establishment. As trees began to regrow in the areas surrounding the fragments, forest bird species that had initially disappeared began to recolonize the fragments, highlighting the unexpected value of second-growth habitat for rainforest birds. Additional work yielded both good and bad news for fragment-dwelling birds — for example, non-forest bird species typically didn’t invade forest fragments, but even very narrow strips of deforested land could limit the movement of forest-dependent species.

“The long history of the project allowed us to follow changes in the avifauna rather than just trying to interpret what we saw in any particular slice of time,” says Stouffer. “This project was important for stepping away from the idea that habitat fragments are analogous to actual islands — the modern interpretation is a lot more nuanced, and the recovery of birds in second-growth forest provides encouraging evidence that many rainforest birds can use deforested areas that are allowed to regrow. Our challenge now is to determine under what conditions remnant patches and second growth can support rich Amazonian bird communities.” Another issue that the BDFFP hopes to address in the near future is one that didn’t even exist when the project began: what has climate change done to Amazonian birds since 1979, and what does the future hold?

Working in Manaus once meant being isolated from the global scientific community, but no more — BDFFP scientists even hosted an international ornithological conference there in 2015. “On the 40th anniversary of the BDFFP, it seems appropriate to summarize what we’ve learned. It’s also important to reflect on how technical advances that we now take for granted in modern fieldwork were incorporated into the project. For example, digital photography helped resolve criteria for determining the ages of Amazonian birds and GPS technology allows us to determine bird locations and movement with high precision, goals unimaginable when I started at the BDFFP,” says Stouffer.

Neo-fascist billionaire’s facial recognition attack on privacy


This 7 November 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Why a Former Top Lawyer at Peter Thiel’s Mithril Is Suing the VC Firm

Crystal McKellar, Anathem Ventures managing partner and former general counsel of Mithril Capital, explains why she is suing Mithril for wrongful termination and retaliation against her. She speaks with Bloomberg’s Taylor Riggs on “Bloomberg Technology.”

A 30 July 2019 video from the USA used to say about itself:

Journalist Eric Draitser on Peter Thiel’s Palantir, ICE, & The Surveillance State (+ #29Leaks)

On this edition of Parallax Views, journalist Eric Draitser of Counterpunch joins us to discuss his recent article “Records Show Palantir Made $60 Million Contracting with ICE for Mobile App”.

Palantir Technologies, a software company co-founded by the controversial Silicon Valley Trump supporter Peter Thiel,

an opponent of women having the right to vote

has recently come under heavy scrutiny thanks to a July expose that detailed its relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Draitser, however, argues that ICE‘s use of Palantir’s FALCON mobile app is just the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, the big data giant’s fingerprints can be found in everything from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the targeting of dissident journalists. Put another way, it can be argued that Palantir may well represent the Orwellian nightmare of 1984‘s Big Brother or Phillip K. Dick’s Minority Report made a frightening reality. Additionally, Eric tells listeners about the announcement of Counterpunch‘s collaboration with previous Parallax Views guest Barrett Brown, Distributed Denial of Secrets, and others to expose the corruption of a scandalous London investment firm through #29Leaks.

By Luke O’Brien in the USA, 04/07/2020:

The Far-Right Helped Create The World’s Most Powerful Facial Recognition Technology

Clearview AI, which has alarmed privacy experts, hired several far-right employees, a HuffPost investigation found.

Advanced facial recognition technology poses a mortal threat to privacy. It could grant the government, corporations and even average citizens the ability to capture a photo of anybody and, with a few keystrokes, uncover all kinds of personal details. So when The New York Times published an exposé about a shadowy facial recognition firm called Clearview AI in January, it seemed like the worst nightmare of privacy advocates had arrived.

Clearview is the most powerful form of facial recognition technology ever created, according to the Times. With more than 3 billion photos scraped surreptitiously from social media profiles and websites, its image database is almost seven times the size of the FBI’s. Its mobile app can match names to faces with a tap of a touchscreen. The technology is already being integrated into augmented reality glasses so people can identify almost anyone they look at.

Clearview has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, BuzzFeed reported earlier this year, and FBI agents, members of Customs and Border Protection, and hundreds of police officers at departments nationwide are among its users.

With the coronavirus pandemic increasingly throwing the country into chaos and President Donald Trump moving to expand domestic surveillance powers ― in theory, to better map disease spread ― Clearview has sought deeper inroads into government infrastructure and is now in discussions with state agencies to use its technology to track infected people, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Even if you’ve never heard of Clearview, you likely have an online presence — maybe a friend or a relative has posted a photo of you to Facebook — which means you’re probably in its database. Clearview’s CEO and co-founder, Cam-Hoan Ton-That, and his associates chose to mass-violate social media policies against scraping accounts to build an image warehouse of unprecedented size, as several outlets have noted recently.

What hasn’t been reported, however, is even scarier: Exclusive documents obtained by HuffPost reveal that Ton-That, as well as several people who have done work for the company, have deep, longstanding ties to far-right extremists. Some members of this alt-right cabal went on to work for Ton-That.

Clearview stated that it had immediately parted ways with some of these people when HuffPost reached out for comment for this story, but the pervasive links between the company and the alt-right can’t be simply dismissed as a few bad apples.

Big Brother, it turned out, was wearing a MAGA cap.

A Mysterious Hacker

Little is known about Ton-That, a 31-year-old Australian hacker who moved to San Francisco in 2007. He made a name for himself two years later by unleashing a computer worm that phished the login credentials of Gmail users. Ton-That showed no remorse after journalists traced the worm to him— he simply set up another phishing site.

By 2015, he had joined forces with far-right subversives working to install Trump as president. They included Mike Cernovich, a Trump-affiliated propagandist who spearheaded the near-deadly Pizzagate disinformation campaign; Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, a neo-Nazi hacker and the webmaster for The Daily Stormer; and Pax Dickinson, the racist former chief technology officer of Business Insider who went on to march with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In this far-right clique, two of Ton-That’s associates loomed larger than most thanks to their close connection to billionaire Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member and Trump adviser: Jeff Giesea, a Thiel protégé and secret funder of alt-right causes, and Charles “Chuck” Johnson, a former Breitbart writer and far-right extremist who reportedly coordinated lawfare against media organizations with Thiel. And according to new documents obtained by HuffPost, Johnson appears to have received funding from Thiel for a startup that the Southern Poverty Law Center would label a “white nationalist hate group.” (Johnson has filed suit against HuffPost in Texas over a January 2019 article about his visits to members of Congress to discuss “DNA sequencing.”)

People involved with Clearview appear to have gone to great lengths to conceal their links to the company and each other. Johnson, for instance, does not appear on any of the incorporation documents and has left little public trace of his association with Ton-That beyond a Facebook post. But multiple far-right sources who know Johnson told HuffPost that he and Ton-That were in close contact at least as early as 2016, and that Johnson told them he was working with Ton-That on facial recognition.

Johnson told one source late that year that he viewed the technology as a way to potentially “identify every illegal alien in the country.” In early 2017, Johnson introduced Ton-That to another source, saying he was a gifted coder he’d hired to build the facial recognition tool. Around the same time, Johnson stated on Facebook that he was “building algorithms to ID all the illegal immigrants for the deportation squads.”

Video and private messages obtained by HuffPost confirm that Johnson and Ton-That were collaborating on far-right schemes in 2016; by early 2017 at the latest, they were in contact about scraping social media platforms for the facial recognition business. At least two people who worked for Johnson took jobs with and worked for Clearview until late March, when the company claims to have severed ties with them after HuffPost reached out with questions.

Thiel himself has an obvious interest in mass surveillance: Palantir, his data-mining behemoth, aggregates enormous amounts of personal information about immigrants and undocumented workers, and it provides the analytical tools for ICE raids. In 2017, Thiel became one of Clearview’s earliest investors. He did not respond to questions sent to him and his spokesperson.

Like other tech products scaled in dodgy ways, Clearview may have grown too big to rein in. Every time police use Clearview, they upload images of people they’re trying to identify ― even child sex abuse victims ― to Ton-That’s unregulated and ever-expanding database, where they are stored indefinitely.

No federal laws exist to govern the use of facial recognition. “The weaponization possibilities of this are endless,” Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, told the Times.

Clearview also appears to spy on law enforcement searches. After a Times reporter had police officers run her photo through the app, the officers received calls from Clearview representatives asking if they were speaking to a journalist. The potential for abuse is vast.

“The fear is that the kind of authoritarian control this [tool] will grant will wind up in the hands of the wrong people,” said Liz O’Sullivan, the technology director at the nonprofit Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

Like, for instance, a Clearview contractor who is fond of disseminating Third Reich propaganda about Jews.

A Clearview “investigator” who appeared to work for the company until late March is part of a D.C.-based white nationalist crew that gathers in secret.

Yet another Clearview employee who left the company after an inquiry from HuffPost is a Croatian-born extremist who wrote in 2015 that he “wholeheartedly endorse[s] racism, racialism, ethnocentrism, Islamophobia, Eurocentrism and anti-Semitism.” …

A White National Convention

In July 2016, far-right extremists descended on Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. The alt-right’s intellectual figurehead, Richard Spencer, was there, as was Cernovich. So was Johnson, who at the time was running GotNews, a site that employed white nationalists to crank out race-baiting content for Trump supporters. Peter Brimelow, the publisher of the white nationalist VDARE, showed up. British political saboteur [and apologist for pedophilia] Milo Yiannopolous attended a “twinks for Trump” party that featured anti-Muslim speakers such as Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders.

One night, Spencer attended a dinner with Johnson and other members of the far-right at an upscale Italian restaurant. He found himself sitting at a table with Ton-That, a striking figure with long black hair. The hacker arrived at the dinner with Johnson after they’d caused a minor fracas. They’d harassed Michelle Fields, a former Breitbart reporter who’d had her arm roughly grabbed at a Trump rally a few months earlier by the candidate’s then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. At the RNC, Johnson chased after Fields in the street until her fiancé shoved him away. The incident was captured in a video uploaded to Johnson’s GotNews YouTube channel. In the background, you can see Ton-That with Johnson, laughing as Fields scrambles away. (Fields worked for HuffPost at the time.) Over dinner that night, the hacker was more subdued.

“He was smart,” Spencer told HuffPost of Ton-That. “He was into this esoteric reactionary sphere stuff. I remember he was talking about celibacy and the priestly order being celibate and thinking for the group and not having mundane concerns. He was into quasi-Catholic neo-trad[itional] reactionary type stuff.”

The neoreactionary movement, also known as “NRx” or “Dark Enlightenment”, is a geeky subset of the racist, misogynistic far-right that has festered in Silicon Valley’s libertarian circles for over a decade, especially within the cryptocurrency community. Its members revere Thiel, microdose LSD and gussy up totalitarian ideas with a pseudo-intellectualism that creates a moral pretext for them to undermine ― “engineer”, they might say ― democracy. With tech skills and access to vast wealth, they have an influence that has eluded the bookish young men in Spencer’s orbit. Ton-That had been affiliated with this neoreactionary confederacy since before the 2016 RNC.

The movement’s high priest, Curtis Yarvin, is a programmer who goes by “Mencius Moldbug” and has a cryptocurrency startup funded by Thiel. Yarvin, who seemingly endorses slavery and has written approvingly of apartheid, has argued the U.S. would be better off if ruled by a CEO-king. To make this happen, he advocates for a soft coup. Among neoreactionaries, Trump is often referred to as the “God-Emperor” who will restore order to an immigrant-flooded nation under the thumb of a progressive media-academic complex ― “global Jewry”, in neo-Nazi-speak.

Giesea, whose ties to Thiel go back decades, organized the dinner in Cleveland. As a student, he edited Thiel’s libertarian newspaper, The Stanford Review. He later worked for Thiel’s first hedge fund, and then for Koch Industries’ public affairs office. Thiel put up seed money when Giesea started his own company.

Ahead of the 2016 election, Giesea worked closely with Cernovich to help organize a social media insurgency that could direct the far-right’s energy toward a singular purpose: getting Trump elected. …

In a “How to Fund the Alt-Right” guide posted online in 2016 under an alias Giesea used, donors were encouraged to give money to white nationalist and neo-Nazi organizations. …

The guide stressed the importance of anonymity and recommended donors use Bitcoin and PayPal, the online money transfer company founded by Thiel.

Spencer said Giesea donated $5,000 ― the maximum amount that didn’t require donor disclosure to the IRS ― to his white nationalist organization, the National Policy Institute, in 2016. (“No comment,” Giesea said.) Spencer told HuffPost that he later came to feel as if Giesea was trying to use the energy of the alt-right for political subversion and profit.

Auernheimer, the neo-Nazi hacker, described Giesea in a private Discord chat as a “major investor providing help to racists … a hugely connected dude … with lots of business interests who was supporting [T]rump stuff.” …

At Giesea’s dinner in Cleveland, conversation turned, inevitably, to building the ethnostate, according to Katie McHugh, a former Breitbart editor who attended the event and has since renounced far-right extremism. A group of Hispanic waiters in earshot looked on warily. Someone at the table apologized to them. The waiters laughed nervously. Then the extremists, Ton-That among them, set out into the night to put their plans into motion.

Chuck Johnson’s Online Hatefest

If you were a hip far-right elitist in 2016, the online place to be was a Slack channel Johnson set up for WeSearchr, a now-shuttered crowdfunding platform he had launched. In private messages between Johnson and McHugh from 2015, Johnson described a meeting with Thiel that year to pitch his crowdfunding idea.

“Thiel gave me all the money I need,” Johnson said. “[W]rote me a check on the spot.”

Thiel declined to comment.

WeSearchr raised bounties for alt-right causes and would soon earn the designation of “white nationalist hate group” from the SPLC.

Johnson had a well-deserved reputation as a troll, but he was also a central node in a web of extremists. And he had many enemies ― the social media companies that took away his platforms, the news outlets that exposed him, the liberal society that he was convinced had allowed minorities to get into Harvard at his expense.

“When I met Chuck, I wondered why we weren’t weaponizing people like him,” Giesea told BuzzFeed.

Giesea belonged to Johnson’s WeSearchr Slack. So did Cernovich. And so did Ton-That.

Altogether, there were about 400 people in the channel, according to McHugh, who was a member and provided HuffPost with several dozen messages from the channel. The group was a who’s who of racist political saboteurs and moneyed terraformers of society, with a sprinkling of alt-right celebrities like George Zimmerman, who joined the channel in June 2016 and was auctioning off the weapon he used to kill Trayvon Martin. Johnson, who had deemed Zimmerman a “great man”, published a GotNews post to drive up the price of “the mighty gun that slain the dindu.

Ton-That shared his far-right views in the WeSearchr Slack, as well as online more broadly. He has since deleted his social media accounts, but archives of his Twitter exchanges from 2015 and 2016 show him spreading anti-liberal talking points and Islamophobia, as well as amplifying figures like Yiannopolous.

Ben Wheeler, a coder in New York who met Ton-That in 2015 through programmer pals, called out the Australian for tweeting far-right conspiracies in the run-up to the 2016 election. …

“He was clearly reading/listening to pretty trashy conservative media, and/or pretty trashy conservative people.”

One of these people was likely Andrew Auernheimer, the webmaster for The Daily Stormer, the most popular neo-Nazi website. Another member of the WeSearchr Slack channel and a close collaborator with Johnson, Auernheimer devoted ample time to boosting both Johnson’s crowdfunding platform and his extremist friends.

Aurenheimer told HuffPost that he had “never heard of” Ton-That. But in 2015, he appeared to interact publicly with him on Twitter to bemoan the number of liberals in academia, a conversation HuffPost was able to piece together by looking at replies to the two alt-right members that remain online.

Auernheimer spoke often of his desire to slaughter Jewish children, start a race war … He landed in federal prison in 2013 on identity fraud and hacking charges. After his conviction was vacated on a jurisdictional technicality, he reentered society with a giant swastika on his chest. He declared himself a neo-Nazi on The Daily Stormer and called for government agents and their families to be assassinated. …

Like Ton-That, Auernheimer also had an interest in biometrics. Around the time of the 2016 RNC, he told a friend that he was “working on facial recognition, specifically about black people.” When contacted by HuffPost, Auernheimer clarified that he’d been “building a racial, not facial, recognition project [that] took characteristics from the entire body, not just the face.” At the time, the system had been too costly to mount on drones, he said, but he planned to revisit the idea soon. …

Auernheimer had worked closely with Johnson for years, and he, too, claimed a connection to Thiel. A month after being released from prison in 2014, Auernhemier told a hacker friend in direct messages that he was “meeting with Peter Thiel’s right hand.” …

That same year, Auernheimer teamed up with Johnson to mine the leaked database of the Ashley Madison infidelity website for kompromat. They partnered again in 2015 to publish covertly recorded smear videos of Planned Parenthood officials. (Auernheimer told HuffPost he and Johnson “have nothing to do with each other” and are “radically opposed politically and socially.” HuffPost obtained numerous friendly emails they had exchanged.)

Johnson frequently collaborated with Giesea as well. …

[Johnson] filled his black book with the names of far more important people whose coattails he could ride: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; xenophobic commentator Ann Coulter; Blackwater founder Erik Prince; high-profile attorney Alan Dershowitz — and Ton-That, whose technical ability offered Johnson a different pathway to power. They were the same age, with the same focus, fighting the same internet culture war.

In one WeSearchr Slack exchange, Johnson linked to an article about the aggressive stock trading habits of Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), calling her “one of the best day traders ever.”

“Of course,” Ton-That replied, “it’s a chink.”

They also agreed on target selection. The WeSearchr Slack members reserved a good portion of their animus for Gawker, a publication that had aggressively covered Thiel and his business interests. Thiel had furtively bankrolled numerous lawsuits against the blog ― the most notable being an invasion of privacy case filed by former professional wrestler Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea after Gawker published a portion of sex tape he was in.

The alt-right backed Thiel to the hilt. WeSearchr co-founder Pax Dickinson urged members of Johnson’s Slack channel to compile a list of Gawker employees and feed it to neo-Nazi trolls on far-right websites such as 4chan. “Let them do the contacting,” Dickinson wrote of the trolls, seemingly aware that his plan could lead to harassment.

Johnson had his own vendetta against Gawker, which had covered him critically and in one instance mocked him over a rumor that he defecated on a floor in college. Johnson had sued Gawker for defamation and later reached a confidential settlement with the blog. “In a just world, I’d have them killed,” Johnson said of Gawker and its CEO, Nick Denton. “But we are not there yet.”

Johnson, however, was in a position to crowdfund a WeSearchr bounty to sniff out plagiarism at Gawker, an ultimately fruitless quest. Ton-That, whom Gawker had also covered critically after his phishing scams seven years earlier, jumped at the chance.

“[W]ho else is working on gawker plagiarism & wants to collaborate?” he messaged the channel at the beginning of June 2016. “[I]’m scraping all their articles right now.”

On June 10, 2016, Gawker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and put up its assets for sale. A few days later, Cernovich posted a photo of Ton-That and Johnson having a meal, both of them flashing the “OK” sign that has become a popular hand gesture for white nationalists in the Trump era.

When BuzzFeed confronted Ton-That about the photo, he claimed he was “only making the Okay sign in the photo as in ‘all okay.’” That August, Ton-That messaged the WeSearchr channel with an idea to crash a “funeral” party Gawker employees were throwing to mourn the demolition of their publication. “Wish I had a hulkomania shirt,” he wrote.

It was during this period of his life, ensconced among extremists online and off, that Ton-That began building the company that would become Clearview.

In 2016, the Australian hacker brought on two unnamed engineers to help him on the project, according to The New York Times. Ton-That refused to give HuffPost their names. One helped design a program to scrape images of faces from a range of sites and social media platforms, often in violation of their policies. The other created a facial recognition algorithm.

The Birth Of ‘Smartcheckr’

On election night, Ton-That partied with Johnson and Dickinson in New York amid a sea of red MAGA caps. Two days later, Johnson posted a news story from The Sun to his Facebook. It included a photo of Dickinson and Ton-That celebrating bawdily. “My business partners are in the Sun and I feel left out,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson was very likely referring to a business that was registered in New York a few months later and followed the same naming convention as WeSearchr: Smartcheckr. The company would eventually rebrand as Clearview, as Ton-That later told the Times.

In January 2017, Johnson indicated on Facebook that he was “building algorithms to ID all the illegal immigrants for the deportation squads.” Soon, he was boasting to friends and acquaintances that he was working on a powerful facial recognition tool.

A person who used to be close to Johnson and requested anonymity out of concern for their safety told HuffPost that they saw him “with a whole bunch of really important people” at Trump Hotel in spring 2017, “and he was going on and on about this facial recognition software he had hired people to build.” Johnson, they added, was with one of these hires ― “some coding wizard” with long hair in a ponytail. “He kept introducing him as a prodigy who was building the software,” the source recalled. When HuffPost showed the source photos of Ton-That, they confirmed he was the man with Johnson. “If it’s not him, that’s his twin.”

Not long after the election, McHugh got a call from Johnson. “He told me they had a way to identify every illegal alien in the country,” she said. “He brought up facial recognition technology and demanded I call Stephen Miller because he knew Stephen Miller was a true believer.”

It’s unclear if Johnson ever spoke to Miller, the architect of Trump’s brutal immigration policy. But around the same time, Johnson was working behind the scenes with Giesea and Thiel ― a member of the transition executive committee ― to recommend alt-right candidates for science and technology appointments with the incoming administration, according to Forbes. A person close to Trump’s transition confirmed to Politico that Johnson participated in transition-related meetings.

By this point, Johnson had a well-documented track record of bigotry and dirty tricks. In 2015, he’d been permanently ― and noticeably ― suspended from Twitter after requesting funds to “take out” a Black civil rights activist. In 2016, he’d gone on an alt-right podcast called “Fash the Nation” to talk at length about the evolutionary traits of “Jews” and “Blacks.” (“They’re dumber,” Johnson said of African Americans.)

In January 2017, Johnson hosted a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session during which he was asked for his thoughts on “the Holocaust, WW2, and the JQ in general.” (The “JQ,” or “Jewish Question,” is a term anti-Semites, including Hitler, have used for over a century as shorthand for their conspiracy theory that Jews have too much control over society.) “I do not and never have believed the six million figure,” Johnson wrote. “I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic but I confess to having complicated views on the subject. I think the Allied bombings of Germany were a war crime. I agree with [Holocaust revisionist] David Cole about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real. Why were their [sic] swimming pools there if it was a death camp?”

Two weeks after Johnson’s Holocaust denial on Reddit, SMARTCHECKR, LLC was registered in New York. The address associated with it belonged to Richard Schwartz, who had been a top aide to Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York City. Schwartz would later admit to being one of the founders of Smartcheckr.

Thiel was one of the company’s earliest investors. “In 2017, Peter gave a talented young founder $200,000, which two years later converted to equity in Clearview AI,” Thiel’s spokesman, Jeremiah Hall, said in a statement. Hall didn’t specify which founder he meant and did not respond to questions for this story.

Emails and messages obtained by HuffPost show that Ton-That and Johnson were in touch about Smartcheckr in 2017. In one email thread, Johnson and his associates at GotNews discussed a dog-whistle post they were putting together about a racially motivated mass shooting in Fresno, California, that had been committed by a Black man who was Muslim. Tyler Bass, a GotNews writer, wondered if there was an easy way to scrape “an entire Facebook page quickly … the next time another American goes apeshit and before Facebook pulls it down out of shame.” He added Ton-That to the conversation, who replied quickly. “I’m working on this for smartcheckr,” the hacker wrote. “Plan to make these tools available for our guys.”

A Series Of Troubling Hires

Bass was one of Ton-That’s guys. He had become interested in hacker culture as a young man, and he was arrested on a computer harassment charge in Virginia in 2013 that either the alleged victim or the prosecutor declined to pursue.

Bass later morphed into a committed racist. By 2017, he was asking around about a writing job with American Renaissance, a heavyweight white nationalist organization. He already belonged to a white nationalist crew called the “DC Helicopter Pilots,” according to McHugh, who dated him in 2017. The group was a Washington-area chapter of The Right Stuff, an influential pro-Trump organization that attracts neo-Nazis. Members of the DC Helicopter Pilots ― likely a reference to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s practice of executing dissidents by throwing them out of helicopters ― met regularly, at least once to eat swastika-shaped cookies. One chapter leader was a State Department official assigned to the Bureau of Energy Resources who advocated for a nuclear-armed white ethnostate.

A few weeks after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 ― which Bass told McHugh that he attended with his 8-year-old son ― he found a job as an “investigator” doing “remote software testing” at Smartcheckr.

HuffPost obtained five of Bass’s résumés spanning from May 2017 to the present. He claimed to have assembled “devastating opposition dossiers on open-borders figures and activists” while working for Johnson and said he created “counternarratives for third-party reporters to mold mass perception.” His résumés also say he helped Johnson vet candidates for the Trump administration transition team. The administration declined to comment.

Another early Smartcheckr hire was Douglass Mackey, an otherwise unremarkable Middlebury graduate who’d washed out of a job in finance and became an alt-right superstar in 2016 under the alias “Ricky Vaughn.” The advocate of “global white supremacy” was so effective at disseminating pro-Trump, anti-Semitic propaganda … that MIT Media Lab named his Twitter account on a list of top influencers on the election, ahead of NBC News and the Drudge Report.

In 2017, Mackey and an unidentified partner pitched Smartcheckr to the racist Republican candidate Paul Nehlen, who was vying for the Wisconsin seat of retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan. Nehlen, another member of Johnson’s WeSearchr Slack channel, was quickly radicalizing from outlandish bigotry to white nationalist extremism. He’d soon appear on David Duke’s radio show to talk about machine-gunning migrant children.

In a proposal Mackey sent Nehlen, Smartcheckr promised to micro-target potential voters and donors for $2,500 per month. The company would do oppo research by tapping “unconventional databases.” Ton-That’s “proprietary search and facial recognition technology” would allow for analysis of voters’ social media and their views on various issues.

Nehlen said on a podcast that he gave Mackey access to his Facebook through Business Manager, a tool for managing pages and accounts, for three months. “He didn’t post anything,” he said. “He didn’t do anything. He was suggesting that he was going to be able to grow my audience or whatever. He did nothing.”

Ton-That told BuzzFeed that Mackey only worked “for 3 weeks as a consultant to Smartcheckr, which was the initial name of Clearview.” He denied any knowledge of Mackey’s Ricky Vaughn persona — even though Mackey was also a member of the WeSearchr Slack channel, where he used the handle “Richard Vaughn” and the same avatar that he did on Twitter. Ton-That claimed Mackey had been referred to him by a “liberal Democrat.” But Johnson posted a video in October 2016 in which he called Mackey a “friend of mine, a guy that I’ve talked to on the phone, a good guy.” Mackey did not respond to emails from HuffPost.

Ton-That also claimed Mackey sent an “unauthorized proposal” to Nehlen and that “the technology described in the proposal did not even exist.” And yet Johnson had been bragging about the technology for the better part of a year. Bass was already troubleshooting Smartcheckr’s “flagship product,” according to his résumé.

In early 2018, still angry about getting ripped off, Nehlen disclosed that Mackey was Ricky Vaughn — something that was previously known only to high-ranking members of the alt-right. One of them, Christopher Cantwell, posted the Smartcheckr proposal Mackey sent Nehlen on his website. Twitter and other platforms lit up with white nationalist chatter. …

Smartcheckr employees and associates scrambled to hide their connections to the company and each other after the incident. Schwartz, the former Giuliani aide, sanitized his LinkedIn profile. Smartcheckr used a reputation management service to suppress information about itself and Schwartz by clouding Google search results with fake webpages, according to a source close to the company.

Schwartz did not respond to questions from HuffPost.

Eventually, the commotion subsided. Ton-That and Smartcheckr tightened up operational security. They’d incorporated Clearview AI in Delaware through a third-party registered agent the previous year and would shift to that name for the facial recognition business.

“Thank … goodness the panicked speculation about Smartcheckr is dying down,” Bass emailed McHugh. “Still, it’s not going to be great. If you have any thoughts on how to tailor things going forward in light of Mackeygate, as you offered, please let me know.”

Clearview Hits The Bigtime

In January 2018, Ton-That surfaced at the “Night for Freedom” party Cernovich organized in New York. Up on stage, Gavin Mcinnes, the Canadian founder of the neo-fascist Proud Boys gang, joked about “faggots” and the genitalia of transgender women. Pizzagate-peddler and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec turned up. So did Canadian cult leader Stefan Molyneux and James O’Keefe, who in 2009 made a Thiel-financed video that mocked people of color.

McHugh was standing in a cluster of people when Ton-That materialized out of the crowd. It had been almost two years since she’d seen him at the far-right dinner in Cleveland. They chatted briefly. “Hoan told me things were going well for him,” McHugh said. “Especially with his company.”

The hacker melted back into the party. McHugh never saw him again.

Things certainly were going well. By the time of Cernovich’s event, Clearview had found more investors, including Ton-That’s former boss at AngelList, Naval Ravikant, and Kirenaga Partners, a small venture capital firm in New York. The firm’s founder, David Scalzo, told the Times that “there’s never going to be privacy” and shrugged about the possibility that technology “might lead to a dystopian future or something.”

Another early investor was Hal Lambert, a Texas money manager and major GOP fundraiser who is close with Ted Cruz and claimed to be on Trump’s inaugural committee. Lambert had also invested early in Anduril, a Thiel-backed defense contractor that is building autonomous surveillance systems to police the southern border. Lambert has railed against the political left and the news media, most recently appearing on Fox Business Network to downplay the danger of coronavirus and accuse journalists of stoking fear.

When reached by phone, Lambert expressed surprise to hear about anti-democratic extremists associated with Clearview. But he admitted to knowing Johnson. He also said he’d known Ton-That prior to Clearview because the coder “worked on some data stuff” for the investor. Lambert declined to provide further details, citing “proprietary” work.

Throughout 2018 and into the following year, Ton-That worked with Schwartz to sign up law enforcement agencies for Clearview. The company claimed to have “mountains” of data in its “proprietary image database.” The Clearview team started aggregating every mugshot taken in the U.S. over the last 15 years, according to emails obtained by OneZero. Schwartz peddled the tech at law enforcement conferences. Ton-That set up bogus LinkedIn profiles to run ads that hyped the technology, according to BuzzFeed.

To help drum up more business, Clearview recruited Jessica Medeiros Garrison, a former executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association and a Daily Caller contributor. The company also retained Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general and perennial right-wing consideration for the Supreme Court, as its attorney.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies were signing up for Clearview: the Indiana State Police, the New York State Police, the Chicago Police Department, the Atlanta Police Department, police departments in New Jersey and Florida, and the Department of Homeland Security. So did the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, a contract that has not been previously reported. Clement sent a letter to the Atlanta Police Department last summer stating that “over 200 law enforcement agencies around the nation” were using Clearview. That number would triple within months, according to The New York Times.

Clement provided a legal cover for police to sidestep civil rights concerns, writing that Clearview didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment because the mere act of posting anything to social media removed any expectation of privacy.

Clement also anticipated the argument that facial recognition has baked-in racial bias problems. A majority of algorithms tested in 2019 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology falsely identify female and darker-skinned faces at much higher rates than white male faces. Clearview was simply more accurate than existing technology, Clement wrote. (The company appears to have shunned an independent audit of its technology and did not participate in the NIST test.) Moreover, he added, Clearview used “non-race-based algorithms” to minimize bias. Clement offered no evidence in his letter to support either claim.

On his April 2018 résumé, Bass wrote that he was identifying “prostitution and gang connections of subjects on 24-hour deadlines.” Clearview promotional materials state the company “began solving crimes using newly developed facial-recognition technology” in 2018, meaning that Ton-That and his employees may have had the ability to snoop on police searches and criminal investigations and harvest images of suspects for their database for almost two years.

The company also found a big client in Rudin Management Company, a multibillion-dollar real estate firm for which Bass did “background screenings of tenants and hires.” He started hiding his employer on his résumé. He worked, he said, for “Confidential.”

On his current résumé, Bass highlights that he used his “familiarity with the Spanish language” at Rudin Management, an indication that Clearview and the real estate firm may have had a white nationalist vetting Spanish-speaking people for jobs and housing. Bass now claims to work directly for Rudin Management, which Rudin Management says is untrue.

“The individual in question was never employed by Rudin Management,” a spokesperson said. But Rudin did use Ton-That’s company to screen people, according to the spokesperson: “We utilized Smartcheckr’s services for a period of time to conduct routine background checks based on publicly available information.”

Rudin Management refused to provide further details, but the firm previously told BuzzFeed that it also used a surveillance camera system developed by Clearview that works with the facial recognition technology.

Bass declined to speak with HuffPost.

A Radical Liaison To Law Enforcement

As Clearview continued to sign up police departments, the far-right extremists at the company interacted more with law enforcement. In an email from December 2019 obtained by BuzzFeed, Clearview employee Marko Jukic pitched a free trial of the technology to a nationwide police listserv: “We invite you to test the limits for yourself.”

Jukic had for years used an alias derived from his surname to spread racism and anti-democratic ideas … Born in Croatia, Jukic identified as an extremist Catholic traditionalist and had spent most of his childhood bouncing around the world with his Croatian mother and American father, a political officer with the U.S. State Department.

He dropped out of Northwestern University in 2016. Soon enough, he went to work for Johnson and became an active member of the WeSearchr Slack channel. He coordinated with Ton-That on the Gawker-scraping project and tweeted about radical organizing with the former director of the Thiel-funded Machine Intelligence Research Institute.

In his early adulthood, Jukic, who just turned 24, published many thousands of extremist words on neoreactionary blogs. He declared that “diversity, equality, tolerance and the rest of the lot of contemporary progressive values are indisputably corrosive to civilization as they are today practiced.” He expressed homophobic, misogynistic and racist views. “[I]f you spend a few hours letting your disenchanted friends and family know that it’s OK to use the word ‘nigger’ [and] point out that democracy is a miserable failure,” he wrote, “you will have accomplished far more concrete good in the world than you would have by spending a few hours doing almost anything else.”

He was opposed to multiculturalism and wrote that Jews did not belong among people of European heritage. “The answer to the Jewish question,” he wrote, “is quite simple: segregation and separation. … [U]nlike progressives, neoreactionaries do not believe one can abolish the laws of nature and turn diversity into a strength, least of all using the State. Diversity engenders animosity and eventually violence, and is thus a weakness.” Genocide wasn’t a solution, Jukic wrote, “unless you have the biggest bully around on your side.” By that, he meant the power of the state. …

Jukic was prone to flights of wild-eyed neoreactionary fancy, imagining a future where a king ruled America and would tackle “welfare spending” by sending the military and heavily armed militias to “pacify” the “ghettos” with lethal force. Journalists who set foot in occupied zones would be assassinated. “[V]iolence most definitely is the answer,” he wrote. He supported the “generous use” of racial profiling to curb immigration, as well as a wall along the Mexico border equipped with high-tech cameras and drones. …

Three years later, Jukic was pitching Clearview to law enforcement.

Subverting Democracy

After the Times published its investigation into Clearview in January, New Jersey’s attorney general ordered all police in the state to stop using its tool. Two Democratic senators introduced legislation to put a moratorium on facial recognition use by government officials and contractors until Congress could regulate the technology. Other lawmakers questioned Clearview about the company having licensed its technology to organizations in authoritarian countries such as Saudi Arabia, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.

Social media companies fired off cease-and-desist letters demanding that Clearview stop scraping photos and data. The company was hit with multiple lawsuits by people who alleged that Clearview illegally collected their biometric information, including a class-action suit in New York federal court. Another class-action in Virginia federal court alleged that Clearview had violated the Virginia Computer Crimes Act, the same law Bass was arrested for allegedly violating in 2013 and for which he was never prosecuted. Vermont’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against Clearview last month, alleging that the company had broken state laws by collecting images of Vermonters, including children, without their consent.

Clearview raced to do damage control. A “user code of conduct” materialized on the firm’s website, along with a promise that the technology would have no consumer applications and be available only to law enforcement and “select security professionals.” But that wasn’t true ― Clearview was aggressively courting companies and private clients such as Macy’s, Bank of America and Walmart, according to a list leaked to BuzzFeed.

Clearview also allowed investors and Trump-affiliated elites to play around with its app and unregulated database. The company set up an account for the company of former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller. His company has run almost 20 searches, according to BuzzFeed. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire Trump donor and owner of Gristedes Foods, the largest grocery store chain in Manhattan, tested the facial recognition technology at one of his supermarkets in an effort to catch shoplifters, according to The New York Times. But Catsimatidis, who is friends with Schwartz, also used the app to snoop on a man he spotted on a dinner date with his daughter.

And Johnson appears to still be involved with the company. On a flight to Boston in January, the far-right extremist befriended a passenger and showed off a facial recognition app that could only have been Clearview, according to BuzzFeed.

Ton-That bobbed and weaved through television interviews, letting more details slip while asserting a First Amendment right to access anything posted on social media. A number of banks were using Clearview, he told CNN, but he declined to name them. He admitted to meeting with legislators but didn’t say what they’d discussed. He declined to name them, too. Most of all, he downplayed the dangers of his technology.

“This is not a 24/7 surveillance system,” he said.

Another Clearview attorney, Tor Ekeland, emerged to field media requests. Ekeland was also Auernheimer’s lawyer and had made his name by getting the neo-Nazi out of federal prison. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Another round of damage control ensued after HuffPost reached out to Jukic with questions last week. Ton-That said through a spokesperson on March 27 that Clearview had severed ties with both Bass and Jukic.

“I was shocked by and completely unaware of Marko Jukic’s online writings under a different name,” Ton-That said. “As soon as those writings were brought to my attention, we took steps to separate him from the company.”

But Ton-That almost certainly knew Jukic’s neoreactionary pen name. In Slack channel messages and emails between the two that date back to 2016, Jukic used the same alias as he did on Social Matter, a prominent, now-defunct neoreactionary blog run by a former Daily Caller writer who later took a job at a Thiel-funded think tank.

When HuffPost contacted Johnson in late March, he pretended to be an undercover U.S. intelligence operative who’d been recruited out of high school. “Would prefer being kept out of whatever you are doing,” he said. “Nearly got me killed by a foreign government last time.” Johnson said his government contract prohibited him from talking to the press. He then spoke at length with HuffPost, and said if this article ran, “you’ll wind up hurting our country as China, Russia, Israel, and Britain all roll out facial recognition products …”

The next day, a man using the pseudonym “John Smith” called from a VoIP line with a West Palm Beach number after HuffPost insisted that Johnson have a credible person verify his claims. “Smith” refused to say where he worked but offered vague reassurances that the government had vetted “the DNA” of the Clearview team and found no “red flags.” That team, according to Smith, included Johnson, whom Smith described as “not a significant equity holder” in Clearview. When asked again if Johnson had a stake in Clearview, Smith said, “I believe so. I don’t know for sure.”

Johnson later texted HuffPost. “I’ve done my part,” he wrote. “Marko and Hoan do good work on behalf of our country.” Johnson refused to answer any questions about his involvement in the company or his relationship with Ton-That, who did the same when first contacted by HuffPost but eventually distanced himself from Johnson.

“Charles Johnson is not an executive, employee, consultant, and doesn’t have a board seat at Clearview Ai,” Ton-That told HuffPost a week after his first statement. He refused to disclose whether Johnson had an equity stake in the company.

But the money behind Clearview and the company’s opaque origins are bound to raise more eyebrows, especially during a health crisis in which a hard-right Trump administration could expand domestic surveillance in ways that would be hard to unwind. Clearview’s secretive founders have already shown a callous disregard for the privacy of American citizens. Even more concerning are their connections to a dark strain of political extremism now coursing through Silicon Valley and Washington.

In April 2016, Johnson announced himself as an extremist in a GotNews video. “What is the alt-right?” he said. “I guess I’m sort of on the ground floor here given that I’m friends with Curtis Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug.”

To read Yarvin is, in the neoreactionary godfather’s own words, to find “instructions” for a quiet “fascist coup” in America, one that might take 25 years, maybe 50. What Yarvin calls a “reboot” of America would dissolve the government and “terminate democracy”. All in the name of a stable new world order.

If you squint, you can almost see it underway, as techno-authoritarians who openly deride modern America as an obsolete operating system build-out, through their own companies and the complicity of law enforcement, an all-seeing eye unbound by the statutes that constrain the government’s use of personal data. Does the Trump adviser behind many of these efforts — the German-born American billionaire with a third citizenship quietly purchased from New Zealand ― really have the best interests of every American in mind?

More than a decade ago, Thiel committed a statement to print that should adjoin his every mention in the press

“I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” the Clearview investor wrote in a 2009 essay for the Cato Institute.

He meant it.

FACIAL RECOGNITION FAIL LED TO FIRST KNOWN WRONGFUL ARREST A botched facial recognition match led to the first known wrongful arrest in the United States based on the increasingly used technology, civil liberties activists alleged in a complaint to Detroit police. Robert Williams spent over a day in custody in January after face recognition software matched his driver’s license photo to surveillance video of someone shoplifting, the ACLU said in the complaint. In a video shared by ACLU, Williams says officers released him after acknowledging “the computer” must have been wrong. [AP]

Botanical garden during coronavirus spring


This 8 April 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Now that we cannot enjoy the Hortus botanicus Leiden [because of coronavirus], we’d like to bring the Hortus to you. So enjoy the spring in the botanic garden with #hortusathome. Enjoy.

On 9 April, an exhibition starts in the Leiden botanical garden. Because of the coronavirus, visitors cannot go to it. So, now, the exhibition is online.

They say about the exhibition:

The Hortus botanicus Leiden will be highlighting the plants that made the Atlantic crossing in the exhibition From Columbus to the Mayflower: seeds over the sea, from 9 April to 26 November 2020.

In 2020 it will be 400 years since the voyage of the Mayflower, which sailed to America with a group of English separatists known as the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ on board. Before the Pilgrim Fathers made the crossing and founded the Plymouth Colony in 1620, they lived and worked in Leiden, free of persecution for their faith by the English crown.

Four hundred years after this voyage, America, England, the Native Nations and the Netherlands will be cooperating in organizing commemorative activities. Not only the story of the Pilgrim Fathers will be spotlighted, but also the cultures and places with which they came into contact. The city of Leiden will join in with the international commemoration via the Leiden 400 theme, including a programme of events covering culture, science, education, heritage, heritage-tourism and society.

The Hortus botanicus Leiden will be highlighting the plants that made the Atlantic crossing in the exhibition From Columbus to the Mayflower: seeds over the sea, from 9 April to 26 November 2020. The herbarium compiled by the Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) will be used as a guide; the Pilgrim Fathers brought a copy of this book with them on their crossing and it already included a number of plants from the ‘New World’ such as maize, tomato, tobacco, pumpkin and the sunflower.

Coronavirus United States update


This 7 April 2020 video says about itself:

Mehdi Hasan and Naomi Klein on Coronavirus Capitalism

The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan speaks with Senior Correspondent Naomi Klein about coronavirus capitalism and the selective use of emergency measures to offload risks onto workers and families, while the people who are relatively more secure get no-strings-attached bailouts.

[ELON] MUSK‘S BILLIONAIRE BROTHER CALLED WORKERS ‘FAMILY.’ THEN CORONAVIRUS HIT. At Next Door, the community-oriented “sustainable” restaurant chain owned by billionaire Kimbal Musk, workers were told they were part of a family. Workers at Next Door had something called the Family Fund, a pool of money they contributed to out of their paychecks that was supposed to be there for them in times of crisis. Then a crisis hit. And the Family Fund wasn’t there for them at all. [HuffPost]

DON DEFENDS DITHERING: ‘I’M A CHEERLEADER’ President Donald Trump rejected assertions that he downplayed the spread of the coronavirus for weeks, saying he maintained a rosy public outlook because he felt the president needed to be a “cheerleader” for the country. “The cases really didn’t build up for a while,” Trump said during a daily coronavirus briefing. His comments followed the revelation that a top adviser had warned him of the extreme dangers of a pandemic in January. [HuffPost]

“It’s a war zone”: A Brooklyn nurse on the front lines of COVID-19.

Who gets a shot at life if hospitals run short of ventilators?

TRUMP GOES FULL CONSPIRACY THEORY ON WISCONSIN Trump fired off a number of conspiracy theories about Wisconsin’s Democratic-backed effort — thwarted by Republicans — to adjust its primary election for the coronavirus pandemic. During his daily COVID-19 briefing, Trump falsely claimed that the state’s Democrats tried to implement an extended mail-ballot-only election in reaction to Trump endorsing a conservative judge for the state Supreme Court. [HuffPost]

GOP FORCED THOUSANDS TO POLLS DURING PANDEMIC Despite a stay-at-home order issued by Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, the state held an election during the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. As voters lined up at the polls, the state health department reported 138 new coronavirus diagnoses and 15 deaths. This election was not a democratic exercise, as it required voters to choose between their health and their right to vote. It is a poor omen for what awaits when November comes. It also shows how Republicans, who have made voter suppression a key feature of their grip on power, are harnessing the coronavirus for next-level disenfranchisement. [HuffPost]

CALL GROWS FOR ABSENTEE AND EARLY VOTING Efforts to make it easier for Americans to vote during the coronavirus pandemic got sidelined in negotiations over the massive $2 trillion rescue package last month. Now, a growing number of Democrats are pushing to expand early in-person voting and no-excuse-required absentee voting by mail to all states ahead of the November election, and they want to attach extra funding for it in the next coronavirus relief bill. [HuffPost]

THE REAL REASON TRUMP IS PITCHING BOGUS CORONA CURES The real estate tycoon’s Trump steaks and Trump vodka flopped, but the Trump COVID-19 cures — regardless of whether the drugs the president has been pushing help people recover from the illness — could wind up overshadowing his blunderous response to the pandemic and winning him reelection. [HuffPost]

TRUMP OUSTS TOP COVID-19 BAILOUT WATCHDOG Trump removed Pentagon inspector general Glenn Fine, who was set to probe corruption and provide oversight of the government’s massive response to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The $2 trillion coronavirus response law, passed last month, set up a panel of 10 inspectors general to serve as watchdogs as the government tries to limit fraud, wrongdoing and mismanagement. [HuffPost]

10 TO 1, AMERICANS SUPPORT STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS By a roughly 10-to-1 margin, Americans say states with stay-at-home orders are making the right call, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey. An 81% majority of the public says it’s currently the right decision for states to tell residents to stay at home unless they have an essential reason for going out. Just 8% say it’s the wrong decision. An even broader 89% say they are personally trying to stay home as much as possible, with only 6% saying they’re not making any such effort. [HuffPost]

NAVY SECRETARY QUITS AFTER CALLING OUSTED CAPTAIN ‘STUPID’ Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly resigned after backlash for calling the ousted captain of a coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier “stupid.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he accepted Modly’s resignation Tuesday morning, stating that Modly has stepped down “on his own accord.” [HuffPost]

FOLK LEGEND JOHN PRINE DIES OF COVID-19 COMPLICATIONS John Prine, the ingenious singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in “Angel from Montgomery”, “Sam Stone”, “Hello in There” and scores of other indelible songs, died Tuesday at the age of 73. His family announced his death from complications from the coronavirus. He died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. [AP]

SANDERS ADDRESSES EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON BLACK AMERICA Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke with a panel of experts about the disproportionate effect of coronavirus on Black Americans, which is becoming more apparent as areas hit hard by the pandemic begin to release racial data. Sanders raised issues with the health care system, poverty, and systemic racism, saying: “It has a whole lot to do with who lives and who dies in this pandemic, who gets sick, who doesn’t get sick, who gets treated, who doesn’t get treated.” [HuffPost]

Sikh volunteers are delivering thousands of meals during the pandemic.

A crisis in education: School can’t reach thousands of children.

California condor flying, video


This 1 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

A California Condor in flight is an impressive sight. With a nine-foot plus wingspan, the birds can stay aloft for hours, floating up to 15,000 feet on warm air thermals.

To learn more, visit here.

Video by Don DesJardin.

Amazon workers dying for Jeff Bezos’ billions


This 7 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Amazon Worker on Its Coronvavirus Recklessness: Jeff Bezos Doesn’t Care About His Workers

Status Coup’s Jordan Chariton spoke with an Amazon worker in New Jersey’s wife, who translated for him (this warehouse is comprised of mostly immigrant workers).