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Huntsville police double down on claims antifa prompted riot response

Huntsville’s police chief gave a detailed play-by-play of his decisions in a two-and-a-half-hour presentation.

Micah Danney

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Huntsville Chief of Police Mark McMurray told the Huntsville City Council on Thursday that his department’s response to protests earlier this month was meant to avoid violence and destruction of property that was anticipated based on intelligence reports and what was happening in other cities.

McMurray gave a detailed play-by-play of his decisions in a two-and-a-half-hour presentation that included social media posts by local “antifa sympathizers,” drone surveillance footage and explanations of the police gear and crowd dispersal weapons used.*Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to decapitalize the term antifa, which describes an unofficial group that shares a philosophy, goals and methods but no leadership hierarchy or organizational structure.

Responding to residents’ comments about “our stormtrooper police officers,” McMurray said that he replaced uniformed street officers with the riot-gear-clad Mobile Field Force on June 1 as the day’s peaceful assembly got “more and more riotous.” It is at night, he said, that “spin off” groups of protesters tend to become violent.

“The reason they wear the hard shells on the outside of their uniform — they wear plastic protective gear — is for their defense. It’s not offense,” he said. “It’s to keep them from being injured by things thrown at them in a disorderly conduct type situation.”

[A video of the city council meeting is available here.]

Huntsville police didn’t use the riot shields that were seen carried by other officers because those are meant for hand-to-hand combat maneuvers, McMurray said. His strategy prioritized maintaining distance from protesters in order to use as little force as necessary, he said.

Although officers apprehended a man seen brandishing a pistol in the crowd, McMurray called the June 1 demonstration a “great event” that could have ended on a good note. He showed a list of violations police had witnessed, from people blocking sidewalks and roadways to using language considered to be inciting a riot. But it was the failure to disperse for 46 minutes after an NAACP’s rally permit expired that prompted police to deploy non-chemical gray smoke. *Correction: This story previously stated that a curfew was in place in Huntsville. That was not the case. Police ordered protesters to disperse after a permit expired for an NAACP rally.

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“It’s a smoke can, and our purpose was, let’s just see if that convinces them to leave. Let’s don’t put the CS [tear gas] on them first. Let’s just put some smoke. We’ll be gentle,” McMurray said.

Bottles were then thrown at officers, he said, so two cans of tear gas were deployed and the area was cleared of protesters.

With that experience fresh in memory, Huntsville police gathered an array of social media posts they deemed troubling, including some from people supposedly affiliated with the antifa movement. McMurray said that in his time on the gang squad, he learned that gang members and wannabe gang members were equally dangerous.

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McMurray identified some people as antifa sympathizers by displaying slightly redacted social media pages. Some of those pages have already been called into question, and his assertions that some people shown were antifa sympathizers have been denied, according to AL.com

“They’re defaming my character with absolutely no evidence in a live stream city council meeting with the vaguest attempt at hiding my identity but telling everybody what city I live in,” the man, Benjamin Shapiro, told AL.com. Shapiro denied being an anarchist, a member of antifa, an antifa sympathizer and said he never attended any protests.

“So what’s the difference between an antifa and an antifa sympathizer who wants to be recognized in the gang? In the group?” McMurray said. “You put the title on antifa. I won’t.”

He said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms provides intelligence on “all antifa members” in the southeastern U.S. antifa is short for anti-fascist, he said, and defined it as “a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far-right-wing movements.” It comes from the anarchist movement, he said.

Members can be identified by a host of symbols worn as patches or appearing on their social media pages, McMurray said, adding that liking one of their posts is enough to be tracked as an antifa sympathizer.

The antifa movement first appeared in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s in response to the rise of fascists there, according to the BBC. The American antifa movement has been traced to the 1980s, when a group called Anti-Racist Action formed to confront skinheads who were growing in influence in the punk music scene. It began attracting adherents again with the political rise of President Donald Trump and the alt-right.

The department was joined on June 3 by State Troopers and Madison County Sheriff’s Deputies. McMurray said he called in the State Troopers to protect against property damage to downtown Huntsville’s “valuable assets.”

The day’s events began amid heightened concern by police about an “organized antifa-like effort” based on various social media posts, including a diagram titled “Protest Roles” that McMurray displayed. It shows positions and tasks for protesters to take in a confrontation with police. It includes forming a makeshift shield line, filming police actions, placing medics for injuries and “range soldiers” who throw things when police advance.

McMurray said police identified 10 of the 13 roles on the diagram.

However, the diagram McMurray presented on Thursday has been connected to protests in Hong Kong. Most of the roles identified on the diagram employ defensive techniques.

When crowds did not disperse on June 3, things escalated beyond what occurred two days prior. McMurray attributed that to the level of organization protesters brought this time, which he said indicated a desire for a fight. He noted the setting up of aid stations just beyond where the advancing police line halted. He said their purpose was to keep people in the fight.

“That means they watched our activity from Monday, and they’re using counter-intelligence, and they’re actually setting up their aid station just outside where they think our perimeter is going to stop,” he said. “Do you see how organized they are?”

Protesters who were there that day have denied the police chief’s claims.

After the police advance stopped, the crowd split into separate groups. In McMurray’s analysis, the situation — which he watched via drones overhead — presented a risk that his officers were vulnerable to a potential flanking maneuver as they advanced toward the Confederate monument ahead of them.

After commands to clear the area, which McMurray said were numerous but which many demonstrators said they didn’t hear, the crowd had not left and nightfall was approaching. That meant further action was necessary, McMurray said.

“You can’t avoid that decision when you’re coming up upon an hour and a half of noncompliance,” he said.

When objects were thrown at officers, police started firing bean bag rounds. Shot from orange shotguns, those are typically fired at the ground near people throwing objects in order to scare them. McMurray reiterated that dispersal agents are used “so we don’t touch you.”

Thirty bean bags were fired that night, he said. Five of them hit people. Huntsville police don’t have rubber bullets and did not use them, he said. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says State Troopers were only present as backup support and did not fire any dispersants. Yet some protesters displayed injuries they said were from rubber bullets. One woman had bleeding holes in her legs.

McMurray addressed the complaint that protesters were boxed in with nowhere to go because officers were blocking exits. That was due to a miscommunication between agencies, he said, and he cleared an exit when he found out.

Regarding the testimonies of dozens of residents at a previous meeting, he said that they weren’t lying but they did not have a full view of the events of that day. By sharing the perspective of his department, McMurray said he hoped to help everyone understand why police did what they did.

Council President Devyn Keith said that perspective was indeed the core issue. He acknowledged that patience was exhibited by law enforcement throughout the protests but told McMurray to consider the perspective of the people in the crowds he disbursed on June 3.

“Snipers,” Keith said. “Snipers on top of the courthouse. Those weren’t just snipers – UAV [unmanned aerial vehicles], barricades, bullet-proof vests, hardhats.”

The location of the protest was important to the context of what they experienced, he said. The county courthouse had been mentioned as the site of the protest several times during the meeting.

“Nobody cares about that ugly building,” Keith said. “It is a monument in the front that drew a crowd to converse about that monument, and that location became a synergy point.”

There were three law enforcement agencies seeing the protesters in different ways, he said. How and when they determined who their enemies were that night was when the rubber bullets came out.

Keith said that there will be people who “cry out in very uncomfortable and unfortunate ways” who need to be detained and held accountable.

“But in that way, as a police chief of the city of Huntsville, I urge you to be aware not only of your language and your stance, but that they’re not just looking at you – but that they’re also looking at snipers, they’re also looking at sheriffs. They’re also looking at State Troopers,” Keith said.

Thanking McMurray for his presentation, Keith said he wished there was a presentation by all three agencies.

Councilman Bill Kling said that residents’ complaints about lack of transparency could be addressed by better communication between police and residents.

Keith called for an anonymous online portal for officers and residents to report police misconduct.

The council tabled two resolutions that would call for a review of the protests by the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council. Those will be considered at the regular City Council meeting next Thursday.

Micah Danney is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Palmer supports legislation making unused PPP funds available to small businesses

There is an estimated $137 billion remaining in the Payroll Protection Program that could be immediately available to small businesses.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, added his signature to a discharge petition that would force a vote on a bill that would allow unused Paycheck Protection Program funds to be made available for small businesses.

There is an estimated $137 billion remaining in the Payroll Protection Program that could be immediately available to small businesses. The program has kept thousands of small businesses open since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are still in need as the economy continues to recover.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has refused to hold a vote. The Democratic controlled House passed the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act, which Republicans opposed.

Palmer and House Republicans accuse Pelosi of holding American workers and businesses “hostage,” preferring the Democrats’ relief legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi has made her objectives abundantly clear,” Palmer said. “We could have negotiated and delivered immediate aid for small businesses and individuals weeks ago, but her leftist agenda always comes first. Many businesses are barely hanging, on anxiously awaiting the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, but Pelosi is determined to hold them hostage to get her way. She would like to bail out states that were bankrupt before the pandemic and further a welfare agenda that is harmful to the economy. Today, I proudly signed a discharge petition to circumvent Pelosi’s control of the House floor and force a vote on a bill that would bring real relief to businesses struggling to survive the pandemic. It’s time for Members of Congress to stand up for small businesses and American workers since the Speaker clearly won’t. Small businesses across the country can’t wait.”

A discharge petition on H.R. 8265 was filed on Friday by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, and 218 signatures are needed to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. The bill was introduced on Sept. 16 by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.

“This public health crisis has left our small businesses near permanent closure, and that will happen on a massive scale if Congress doesn’t act,” Beutler said. “Yet Congress isn’t acting, so I’ve filed the discharge petition in the House today so we can bypass the political posturing and bring relief to our nation’s small businesses and their employees. Other relief remains vital, but we either save jobs and businesses now or provide triage soon for the damage caused by empty buildings, lost livelihoods and health care plans, and fewer employment opportunities overall. Reviving the PPP has to be our priority.”

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“The Paycheck Protection Program has served as a critical lifeline for America’s small businesses,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. “Since its launch, the program is credited with saving 51 million jobs nationwide. But our work in helping small business owners stay open and keep employees on payroll is not done. A recent report indicates that as many as 36 percent small businesses say if no new funding comes from Congress soon, they will be forced to lay off workers or cut back hours. Democrats have consistently blocked or delayed relief, but Republicans are not giving up. That is why House Republicans, led by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler have filed a discharge petition to force a vote on a stand-alone extension of the Paycheck Protection Program through the end of the year. It only needs 218 signatures to force a vote, so I hope that our Democrat colleagues will join us in delivering relief. My Republican colleagues and I will continue to act on our Commitment to America; we will be relentless in our fight to protect jobs, small businesses, and the American dream.”

“Since March, small businesses—corner stores, retail shops, and family restaurants—have been struggling to survive,” Chabot said. “Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to pass the CARES Act, which delivered rapid assistance to small firms through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. Unfortunately, in recent months, additional relief for small businesses has been caught up in the partisan logjam and the livelihoods of real people hang in the balance. Congress must work together to get help to small businesses in Washington, Ohio, and across our great nation. Rep. Herrera Beutler’s discharge petition to force a vote on my legislation is the way to do just that. I thank her for her leadership on behalf of America’s small businesses.”

Multiple news outlets, including Roll Call and The Hill, are reporting that several House Democrats are “strongly considering” signing Beutler’s discharge petition.

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Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer does not have a Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Agriculture Secretary Perdue to tour storm damage today

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will tour farms in South Alabama on Monday to see damages from Hurricane Sally.

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate and Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff Jo Bonner will visit South Alabama on Monday to tour damages following Hurricane Sally.

They will visit Flowerwood Nursery, a horticulture operation in Loxley, Alabama, severely impacted by Hurricane Sally.

Perdue, Pate and Byrne will also meet with Baldwin County farmers at a visit to Underwood Family Farm, a pecan farm in Summerdale.

Following the two stops in Alabama, Perdue will visit Jenkins Farm in Jay, Florida, a cotton farm impacted by Hurricane Sally. The secretary will hold a roundtable discussion with local Florida farmers and stakeholders impacted by Sally.

Hurricane Sally came ashore on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 miles per hour winds and torrential rains. The wind, the downpour and then the flooding devastated crops in the area as well as blowing down trees and damaging homes and businesses.

Sally was the first hurricane to make landfall in Alabama in 16 years.

“Throughout Southwest Alabama, winds and flooding have left many without essentials like power, water and shelter,” Byrne said on Thursday. “Fortunately, help is on the way.”

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“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who experienced significant damage during this powerful hurricane,” Pate said. “Alabama farmers have already faced economic hardships this year due to market instability, trade concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.”

Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia Counties have been declared a natural disaster area by the Trump administration.

“I went up to Escambia County today to check out some storm damage around Atmore and meet with local officials,” Byrne said. “Thanks to Sheriff Jackson for showing me some of the damage. It wasn’t just the coastal counties who took a beating from Hurricane Sally. Residents of Escambia County are all eligible to seek Individual Assistance from FEMA for any disaster related issues.”

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The Alabama Farmers Federation has started a relief fund so that people can help Alabama farmers who were impacted by Hurricane Sally.

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Elections

Sewell: Confirming Barrett before the election would undermine Supreme Court’s legitimacy

“The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is clearly tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to go back on their own promise,” Sewell said.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell (via Office of Rep. Terri Sewell)

Saturday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) released a statement claiming that President Donald J. Trump’s (R) nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court was tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans and that confirming Judge Barrett would undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court nomination by President Trump today, with the 2020 presidential election only 38 days away, denies the American people a voice in this very important decision,” Rep. Sewell said. “The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is clearly tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to go back on their own promise not to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election. This standard articulated by Senate Republicans was applied against President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland eight months before the 2016 presidential election. This blatant power grab by Trump and Senate Republicans is especially disturbing given that the voting process has already begun with hundreds of thousands of voters having cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election.”

“Fairness and comity demand that the Senate not confirm any vacancy on the Supreme Court until the American people have chosen the next president,” Sewell concluded. “To do otherwise, I believe would undermine the very legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Friday before Barrett was even nominated, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) announced that he will not support any Trump nominee for the Supreme Court for the vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. Jones stated, “I will not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee before the election.”

“Justice Ginsburg was a role model and an inspiration,” Sen. Jones said. She was a brilliant and tireless advocate, a champion for fairness and equality, and her efforts have brought our country closer to the ideals upon which it was founded.”

“It is a poor reflection of the state of our national politics that, just hours after Justice Ginsburg’s passing, we were thrust into a divisive partisan fight over her successor, denying the nation the time to mourn this extraordinary American’s death,” Jones continued. “Just weeks from a national election, we are confronting a blatant power grab by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President that will undermine the court and subvert the will of the American people.”

“Just four years ago, Leader McConnell held open a Supreme Court seat for ten months before a presidential election because he said time and again that, in an election year, we must let the American people decide,” Jones said. “If confirming a Supreme Court justice ten months prior to a presidential election would have denied the American people a voice, then isn’t he now denying the American people a voice by rushing to confirm a justice just weeks before a presidential election?”

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“I believe the answer to this question is a resounding YES,” Jones continued. “This is especially true given the urgent legislative work we have yet to do. Leader McConnell should turn his focus instead to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the American people by bringing a new bipartisan COVID-19 relief package up for a vote. We also need to pass the National Defense Authorization Act to support our military. We need to pass our annual funding bills instead of kicking the can down the road with yet another costly continuing resolution. We need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has languished in this Senate, in order to protect the right of all Americans to vote and participate in our democracy.”

“Consequently, under these circumstances, I will not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee before the election,” Jones explained. We should not force the country into a brutal and divisive partisan confirmation fight while Americans are already voting to choose the next President. If President Trump is re-elected, I will evaluate any pending or future nominee on their merits and vote for or against the nominee based solely on their qualifications.”

Trump has already appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Barack H. Obama (D) only got to select two of his nominees to the court. When conservative icon Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 – the previous election year, Republicans led by McConnell and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) blocked Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland.

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Jones also voted against previous Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Sewell has no Republican general election opponent.

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Palmer bill would give states flexibility in spending remaining coronavirus funds

Palmer said passing this legislation, HR8360, will give states a much-needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19-related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Gary Palmer

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, has introduced the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act, which would allow states to determine how to spend their remaining coronavirus relief dollars issued under the CARES Act.

“The initial legislation was perhaps too restrictive,” Palmer said. “What we hope to do with this legislation is not only create some flexibility to prevent waste but to incentivize states to use the funds towards much needed infrastructure. The one-size-fits-all nature of the underlying measure fails to consider how each state is responding to the pandemic differently, so this legislation would put the spending decisions in the hands of those on the ground in the states who have a better understanding of their specific needs.”

Palmer said passing this legislation, HR8360, will give states a much-needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19-related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.

States and localities were provided with $150 billion through the CARES Act relief fund for mitigation and response to COVID-19. Alabama’s legislators originally thought they could do whatever they wanted with that money. State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, even went so far as to produce a wish list that included hundreds of millions for broadband expansion and a new Statehouse.

Federal authorities, however, made it clear that there were restrictions on what that money could be used for. It can not be used to make up for lost revenues due to the lengthy economic shutdowns, the dramatic cutbacks in travel and hospitality, and the reductions in business capacity.

It is now estimated that approximately $80 billion remains unspent. HR8360 would allow state legislatures to determine how to utilize these remaining funds, with measures to encourage infrastructure development and future COVID-19 preparedness.

Palmer said that the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act would prohibit funds from being spent on government employee bonuses, lobbying expenses or budget shortfalls predating the pandemic, while providing a 50 percent match for funds spent on infrastructure projects begun in the next year.

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It would also require states to hold 25 percent of their remaining relief funds in trust for future COVID-19 expenses. The states are currently required to return any unspent CARES Act money in January.

Democrats have been pushing for more than $1 trillion in funding for cash-strapped state and local governments, but the White House and congressional Republicans have resisted this call, arguing that would be just rewarding state and local governments for poor fiscal planning.

The White House and Senate Republicans are in negotiations with Democratic leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, on a possible compromise coronavirus relief bill prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

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Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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