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Sensemaker: Capitol crimes

Thursday 3 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Israeli MPs elected veteran centre-left politician Isaac Herzog president, a largely ceremonial office that serves as the nation’s moral compass.
  • The UK government’s education recovery chief, Sir Kevan Collins, quit after Boris Johnson rejected his proposal to provide pupils with extra time, teaching, and tutoring over the next three years.
  • Mick Jagger and Tilda Swinton supported an appeal urging Italy to safeguard Venice against a return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism.

Capitol crimes

Federal prosecutors have described the probe into the US Capitol riot of 6 January, which left five people dead, as “likely the most complex investigation ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” It’s definitely the largest. So far, it’s resulted in charges against more than 400 people and, now, a second guilty plea.

  • Paul Hodgkins, a 38-year-old Florida man, pleaded guilty yesterday to obstruction of an official proceeding for participating in the riot. Hodgkins, who worked as a crane operator at a steel factory, had waved a “Trump 2020” flag and took a selfie in the Senate chamber. An old friend recognised him in the photo and informed the FBI. He now faces a recommended sentence of between 15 and 21 months.
  • The first guilty plea came from Jon Ryan Schaffer, a guitarist for the heavy metal band Iced Earth and a member of the Oath Keepers, a militia group founded in 2009 that recruits current and former military, police and first responders. Schaffer agreed to cooperate with the Department of Justice, which promised to consider putting him in the witness security programme.

Prosecutors began offering rioters plea deals in April. But many of the negotiations faltered when prosecutors demanded defendants turn over social media data, cell phones, and other evidence while pushing for long prison sentences. Without plea deals, prosecutors are faced with pursuing hundreds of separate trials, stretching out the length and complexity of the investigation and heightening the risk of its failure. 

The real prize for prosecutors, though, is using evidence secured under plea deals to build cases against riot leaders on more serious charges like conspiracy or violation of laws intended to fight organised crime. 

Hodgkins, for example, was a foot soldier. His plea deal can only be justified if it leads higher up the chain of command. Since posting bail, he has been working and volunteering in Sulphur Springs, a neighbourhood in Tampa. “He’s the kind of guy that our city is lucky to have,” his lawyer said.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Royal race
There’s a document from 1968 in the National Archives that shows the Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants that “it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint coloured immigrants or foreigners” to clerical roles in the royal household. The Guardian, which uncovered the document, said it “will reignite the debate over the British royal family and race”. The newspaper also found that the Queen was personally exempted from anti-discrimination labour laws introduced in the 1970s for four decades. Buckingham Palace said it had its own process for hearing discrimination complaints, and that it didn’t keep records on employee ethnicity until the 1990s. In March Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, whose mother is black and father is white, alleged that a member of the royal family had expressed concern about her child’s skin colour. Her brother-in-law, Prince William, responded by saying the royal family was “very much not” racist.


New things technology, science, engineering

Industrial athletes
Employees at US Amazon warehouses are injured at a 80 per cent higher rate than those doing similar work at other companies’ warehouses. The finding comes from a report – “Primed for Pain” – by the Strategic Organizing Centre, a coalition of labour unions. It analysed official safety data from 2017 to 2020, concluding that not only are injury frequencies higher at US Amazon warehouses, but the injuries are also more severe. The SOC blamed Amazon’s “obsession with speed” as the main problem. Amazon said it invested $1 billion (£705.9 million) in work place safety last year and grew its safety team to more than 6,200 people. On a warehouse pamphlet, Amazon told workers they should think of themselves as “industrial athletes”. 


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

The Serena experiment
Serena, a city of 45,000 residents in Brazil’s south-eastern São Paulo state, was subjected to an experiment. Between February and April, the Instituto Butantan, which produces the CoronaVac vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, divided the city into four areas to find the threshold for containing Covid. It was achieved after three of the areas, about 75 per cent of the population over 18, had been given both doses. When they reached 95 per cent of adults, deaths fell by 95 per cent, hospitalisations by 86 per cent, and symptomatic cases by 80 per cent. “The most important result is that we can control the pandemic without having to vaccinate the whole population,” Ricardo Palacios, research director at Butantan, said in reference to the 75 per cent threshold.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Hunted hunter
After a 20-year search, Bangladeshi police arrested a poacher suspected of killing 70 endangered Bengal tigers. Habib Talukder, who went by “Tiger Habib”, lived next to the vast Sundarbans mangrove forest and fled whenever police officers raided the area. It was a tip-off that, in the end, led to Talukder’s arrest. He had started out collecting honey from wild bees in the forest. “He was a big headache for us”, Mainuddin Khan, a regional forest conservation officer, told journalists. “He posed a great threat to the forest’s biodiversity.” 


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Tax transparency
The European Union agreed to force large multinational companies to publish a breakdown of the tax they pay in each member state and in tax havens. The deal, struck between member state governments and MEPs after years of talks, is designed to expose how companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google avoid paying an estimated $500 billion (£358 billion) a year in taxes through shifting their profits to low- or zero-tax jurisdictions, like the Seychelles. British chancellor Rishi Sunak can use the Finance Act 2016 to make multinationals report in the same way. The government has said it would only do so if there’s an international agreement on the issue. There is now.

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs by Getty Images


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