As China and Iran hunt for dissidents in the US, the FBI is racing to counter the threat

“After a student leader of the historic Tiananmen Square protests entered a 2022 congressional race in New York, a Chinese intelligence operative wasted little time enlisting a private investigator to hunt for any mistresses or tax problems that could upend the candidate’s bid, prosecutors say.
“In the end,” the operative ominously told his contact, “violence would be fine too.”

As an Iranian journalist and activist living in exile in the United States aired criticism of Iran’s human rights abuses, Tehran was listening too. Members of an Eastern European organized crime gang scouted her Brooklyn home and plotted to kill her in a murder-for-hire scheme directed from Iran, according to the Justice Department, which foiled the plan and brought criminal charges.

The episodes reflect the extreme measures taken by countries like China and Iran to intimidate, harass and sometimes plot attacks against political opponents and activists who live in the U.S. They show the frightening consequences that geopolitical tensions can have for ordinary citizens as governments historically intolerant of dissent inside their own borders are increasingly keeping a threatening watch on those who speak out thousands of miles away.”

Russian weapons and trainers arrive in Niger weeks after US military agreement ends

“Since seizing power in a coup last year, Niger’s junta has been strengthening military ties with Russia while turning away from the US and France.
Last month, the junta said it was ending an accord with the US that allowed military personnel and civilian staff from the US Department of Defense to operate in Niger.

France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, withdrew its troops from the African nation at the end of 2023.

Niger’s junta-controlled neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso have also turned to Russia for military support, deepening Western concerns about Russia’s expanding influence in Africa’s troubled Sahel region that has battled a spate of coups and Islamist insurgents for years.”

With new national security legislation, China shows it will never loosen its grip on Hong Kong

“the government of Hong Kong published the latest of a series of increasingly draconian national security laws. This one will target espionage, treason, and foreign political interference, and those found guilty of violating some of its tenets could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
This might sound niche or even well-intentioned; doesn’t the US have its own fears about foreign political interference in its elections? But this isn’t really about national security. It is, as Human Rights Watch put it, “Beijing’s latest effort to transform Hong Kong from a free society to an oppressed one where people live in fear.”

That effort has been underway at varying speeds since Hong Kong was returned to Beijing’s control in 1997. It is now all but complete.

Despite complaints from foreign governments, from what remains of Hong Kong civil society, and even from the city’s increasingly beleaguered international business community, Hong Kong’s now opposition-less legislature will almost assuredly fast-track it into law.

For Hong Kong’s 7.4 million citizens, the multi-year fight to maintain some semblance of self-government and political rights is all but over.”

Record Low Turnout in Iran as Voters Lose Faith in Elections

“Iranians went to the polls…—or didn’t—for the first time since a women-led uprising against religious rule rocked the nation. Authorities reported a record-low turnout of 27 percent, even after they extended voting for an additional two hours, amidst widespread disillusionment and calls for an election boycott.
The country had suffered months of unrest following the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for not complying with the country’s mandatory hijab rule in September 2022. Although the streets have calmed down, it was the most significant challenge to the Islamic Republic yet.”

“Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has had a mix of democratic and theocratic institutions. Election turnout has rarely fallen below 50 percent and has sometimes reached as high as 70 percent. Iranian “leaders crave constantly high turnout as evidence of the people’s love of the revolution, but…loathe the results that high turnout always brings,” in the words of political scientist Shervin Malekzadeh.

Over the past few years, the government has dropped the pretense of caring. During protests in November 2019, authorities launched a crackdown that killed hundreds of people, then banned thousands of candidates from the February 2020 parliamentary election. A record low 42 percent of voters turned out that year, a result that the Iranian government blamed on coronavirus and “negative propaganda.”

Even Hassan Rouhani, who was President of Iran during the November 2019 crackdown, has been banned from running for office. He joins a long list of elected Iranian leaders who have outlived their usefulness to the system, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was in office during the 2009 protest wave and crackdown.

Ahmadinejad and Rouhani have both refashioned themselves as dissidents.”

Why Trump is a Threat to Democracy

Dismissal of James Comey Wikipedia. The Comey firing, as retold by the Mueller report Eric Tucker. 2019 4 23. AP News. Giuliani: Trump fired Comey because former FBI director wouldn’t say he wasn’t a target in investigation Politico Staff. 2018

Accused of Dictatorial Ambitions, Trump Doubles Down on Authoritarianism

“To some extent, Trump’s argument that “A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES MUST HAVE FULL IMMUNITY,” as he put it in an all-caps Truth Social post last week, mirrors the position his lawyers have taken in seeking dismissal of federal charges stemming from his attempts to remain in office after losing reelection in 2020. Although a former president can be prosecuted for “purely private conduct,” they say, he can be prosecuted for “official acts” only if they resulted in impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate.

As one judge noted when a skeptical D.C. Circuit panel probed the implications of that position earlier this month, it could literally give presidents a license to kill by ordering the assassination of their political opponents. Trump’s understanding of presidential immunity is, if anything, even broader.

“ALL PRESIDENTS MUST HAVE COMPLETE & TOTAL PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY,” Trump says, even when their actions “CROSS THE LINE” between legitimate exercises of presidential power and criminality. Otherwise, he warns, presidential “AUTHORITY & DECISIVENESS” will be “STRIPPED & GONE FOREVER.””

What’s the insurrection clause? Here’s what it says.

“Here’s the full text:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Quite a mouthful, right? Let’s simplify. Here’s a streamlined version of the clause with only the most relevant parts highlighted:

“No person shall … hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, … who, having previously taken an oath, … as an officer of the United States, … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same …”

The justices are sure to delve into the precise meaning of those pivotal phrases. For example:

Was the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol an “insurrection”? If not, the insurrection clause doesn’t apply.
Even if Jan. 6 was an insurrection, did Trump “engage” in it? If not, he is eligible to hold office again.
When Trump took his oath of office as president, did he take that oath as “officer of the United States”? If not, the disqualification provision does not apply to him.”

How death threats get Republicans to fall in line behind Trump

“In early 2021, Richer was an Arizona Republican official who regularly attended local party events. At the time, he was the newly elected county recorder of Maricopa County. The job was a new level of prominence — he was now the most important election supervisory official in the state’s largest county — but going to Arizona Republican events was routine: the kind of thing that Richer, like any state politician, had done hundreds of times before.
But at one event, the crowd heckled and harassed him. When he tried to leave, they dragged him back in, yanking on his arms and shoulders, to berate him about the allegedly stolen 2020 election. He started to worry: Would his own people, fellow Republican Party members, seriously hurt him?

There was a clear reason for the madness. Many of the Republican faithful had recently decided that Maricopa County had been the epicenter of “the steal,” Joe Biden’s theft of Arizona from Donald Trump — and the entire presidential election with it. This wasn’t true, obviously. Richer tried to tell them it wasn’t true, hoping his long track record in the state Republican party would give him some credibility.

It did not. What happened instead reveals a pattern that is quietly reshaping American politics: Across the board and around the country, data reveals that threats against public officials have risen to unprecedented numbers — to the point where 83 percent of Americans are now concerned about risks of political violence in their country. The threats are coming from across the political spectrum, but the most important ones in this regard emanate from the MAGA faithful.

Trump’s most fanatical followers have created a situation where challenging him carries not only political risks but also personal ones. Elected officials who dare defy the former president face serious threats to their well-being and to that of their families — raising the cost of taking an already difficult stand.”

“It’s been well over two years since Richer attended the kinds of Arizona GOP grassroots events where he was once welcome. Today, the institutional Arizona Republican party is dominated by politicians who have embraced Trump’s lies about the election — people like Kari Lake, Blake Masters, and Mark Finchem. The harassment and threats from the MAGA faithful was one weapon in the extremist takeover’s arsenal, working to push voices of sanity out of key party events — breaking even determined ones like Richer.

In Arizona, the Trumpist threat of violence worked. And it worked for reasons that should worry all of us at the beginning of an election year that could decide the fate of American democracy.”

“In 2016, the Capitol Police recorded fewer than 900 threats against members of Congress. In 2017, that figure more than quadrupled, per data provided by the Capitol Police.

The numbers continued to increase in every year of the Trump presidency, peaking at 9,700 in 2021. In 2022, the first full year of Biden’s term, the numbers went down to a still-high 7,500. The 2023 data has not yet been released, but a spike in threats against legislators during the House Republican speaker fight and Israel-Hamas conflict suggests an increase over the 2022 numbers is plausible.

Members of Congress are taking these threats seriously. In September, three journalists at the Washington Post reviewed FEC filings to assess how much candidates for the House and Senate were spending on security. They found an overall increase of 500 percent between 2020 and 2022.”