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Richard J. Schmidt 

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Republicans fear 'extinction in the suburbs' over gun control

After two gruesome mass shootings in a 24-hour span, some Republicans are raising alarms that their opposition to new firearm limits is making the party toxic to the suburban women and college graduates who will shape the 2020 election.

“Republicans are headed for extinction in the suburbs if they don’t distance themselves from the NRA. The GOP needs to put forth solutions to help eradicate the gun violence epidemic,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and oil-and-gas executive who supports President Donald Trump.

Last year, Eberhart said, he was having lunch with Rick Scott when the then-Florida governor learned of the massacre unfolding in Parkland, Fla. It marked the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, as a gunman used an AR-15-style rifle to kill 17 people. Eighteen months later, as the country reels from killing sprees in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Eberhart said it’s time to join Democrats and majorities of Americans who want to ban those types of guns.

“The GOP needs to make several moves such as universal background checks, eliminating loopholes and banning military-style assault weapons to neutralize the issue,” he said. “Otherwise, Republicans will lose suburban voters just like they did in the midterms on health care.”

Meanwhile, in Concord Monday, close to 200 supporters of gun control marched on the Statehouse and were met by a group of gun-rights advocates. Gov. Chris Sununu will be deciding on three pieces of gun legislation that were brought to him by the Senate Monday. Though there was shouting between the two gun groups, it didn’t escalate beyond that.

While most Republicans have opposed expanding background checks and banning assault-rifles, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday he cut a deal with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on “red flag” legislation to assist and encourage states to keep guns away from people who are found to pose an imminent risk of violence. Many Democrats said that wasn’t enough and called for a renewal of the assault-weapons ban and universal background checks, among other measures.

The 2018 election reflected a changing landscape on guns. Republicans were swept out of the House majority after losing suburban bastions where they were once dominant — in places like Orange County, California, and around Dallas and Houston in Texas. Voters in 2018 favored stricter gun control by a margin of 22 percentage points, and those who did backed Democrats by a margin of 76 percent to 22 percent, according to exit polls. Gun policy ranked as the No. 4 concern, and voters who cited it as their top issue voted Democrat by a margin of 70 percent to 29 percent.

There have been 255 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which counts incidents where at least four people were shot or killed, not including the shooter. With the presidential election 15 months away, it’s unclear just how salient the issue of guns will be in shaping voter behavior.

The renewed debate captures a dilemma for Trump as he revs up his reelection campaign with appeals to rural Americans steeped in a rich gun culture. But he risks alienating upper-income suburbanites, who can make or break his prospects, if he’s seen as unwilling to take action to stop frequent mass shootings.

All of the major Democratic candidates are running on gun control measures, including tougher background checks and banning assault weapons, setting up a stark contrast with Trump.

“Every time the country experiences a tragedy of this nature the Republican brand takes a hit,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former congressman who lost to a Democrat his suburban Miami-area district in 2018. “Because many, many Americans perceive that Republicans are unwilling to act on gun reform, due to the influence of the NRA and other organizations.”

“Certainly in swing suburban districts there is broad support for” policies like universal background checks and 72-hour waiting periods, Curbelo said. “A lot of voters, especially young voters, have lost their patience with this issue.”

A Marist poll last month, commissioned by NPR and PBS, found that 57 percent of American adults support banning “the sale of semi-automatic assault guns such as the AK-47 or the AR-15,” while 41 percent oppose it. Support for such bans was 62 percent among suburbanites, 74 percent among women in the suburbs and small cities, and 65 percent among white college graduates.

But the survey found broad opposition to banning semi-automatic assault weapons among the core elements of Trump’s coalition — 67 percent among Republicans.

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Man charged with attempted murder after July 29 incident in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — Police said they arrested a man Monday on charges including attempted murder stemming from an incident in town last week.

Pedro A. Ocasio, 19, is being held without bail and is due to appear in court today, Brattleboro police said in a Facebook post Monday.

Ocasio is accused of firing a gun at two people at a bus stop on Elliot Street July 29 at around 7:30 p.m., police said in a previous news release that identified him as the suspect. The people, whom Ocasio knew, were not injured, according to the release.

Ocasio turned himself in at the Windham County courthouse in Brattleboro Monday and was taken into custody without incident, according to police.

He was charged with attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated domestic assault, police said.

The news release does not list Ocasio’s town of residence and Brattleboro police Lt. Adam Petlock did not have that information immediately available this morning.

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Area groups work to address hate online

Just shy of 20 minutes before the first shots were fired, a manifesto decrying “ethnic replacement” and a so-called “invasion” by Latino immigrants was posted on the Internet.

After 22 people were killed in Saturday’s massacre in El Paso, Texas, the white nationalist motivations detailed in a screed shared online — which authorities believe was posted by the assailant — have raised additional evidence of social media’s role in radicalization and questions on how to keep communities safe.

8chan — an anonymous online message board where manifestos were distributed almost immediately before the Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso shootings — had been part of a new frontier for white nationalism recruitment until it was shut down Monday.

While the site remained operational after Christchurch — where the first of two mosque shootings was live-streamed, and the video, along with the manifesto, was repeatedly shared in the March attack’s aftermath — the backlash from El Paso brought an end to it Monday after its creator, Fredrick Brennan, called for it to be taken down.

But the recruiting tactics that proved effective on 8chan as well as other sites still pose a challenge for those who aim to stand up against hate.

Celia Rabinowitz, co-interim director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College and dean of the Mason Library, said the center is looking for ways to better address hate rhetoric online and how it can spill over the screen in the community.

A key difference Rabinowitz noted between modern media like 8chan and older, more underground methods of communication lies in how recruitment can take place out in the open.

Rather than having to network and know another extremist on the inside, Rabinowitz said, logging online and sharing outlandish memes anonymously can be far more effective, particularly under 8chan’s ostensible brand of unfettered free speech.

“So it attracted sort of extremists in the broadest sense of the term — people who wanted some place to be able to say anything that they wanted to say,” she said.

Since 8chan was decentralized and had no moderation on the different message boards before its server host, Cloudshare, pulled the plug Monday, the groups that gravitated the most toward the forum — particularly political discussions under the “/pol/” board — bent toward misogyny and racism, according to Rabinowitz.

“People can find and read [these forums], and there’s no filter there, meaning, there’s no critique there, right?” Rabinowitz said Monday. “Somebody who is vulnerable enough or naive enough to simply understand what they’re reading has an easy way [to become radicalized], and once they’re attached, there are then mechanisms that can be put into place to pull that person in underneath, if you want to put it that way.”

The manifesto believed to have been by the El Paso shooter went to great lengths to praise the manifesto preceding the Christchurch shootings and the livestream. The screed even dedicated a whole subsection to the expected media reaction to Saturday’s shooting and how other white nationalists should approach “fake news.”

“This is what happens when the mainstream media becomes too controlled and too corporate — people go to any alternative,” Vincent Moore, a rising senior in Keene State College’s journalism program, said of the appeal the message boards held over people — including, at one point, himself.

Moore said he dabbled in reading 4chan before starting his freshman year at Keene State, but eventually found the free-wheeling, anti-politically-correct banter to be crossing the line into full-blown bigotry.

“I think the danger there, for many people, is just the desensitizing, I guess, of everything,” Moore said Monday, while on his summer break up in Hanover. “... It was sort of like the last vestige of the Wild West of the Internet.”

On forums like 4chan and 8chan, Moore and Rabinowitz point out, users often write in highly ironic and hyperbolic terms in addition to posting the memes. Often, a new reader is brought to the site by clicking on a photo or link that looks funny, but actually signifies support for ethnic-based violence or expulsions, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, according to Rabinowitz.

“I think we view our role in the [Cohen] center, partly, to help people become aware of the context in which these things appear, and also to help people have a better understanding of why certain types of imagery may be used, and why certain types of language may be used — without necessarily pointing a finger at anybody or even insisting that’s why they were chosen and used — but to give people some tools,” she said.

She added that plans are in the works to use the Cohen Center’s space to host shorter sessions for students and other community members about what they’re seeing online, whether they know someone who is being radicalized, and how to know the difference between a credible source and a scam.

At the state and federal levels, these forums are monitored, and the N.H. Department of Justice plays a role, according to Kate Spiner, director of communications for the N.H. Office of the Attorney General.

Elizabeth Lahey, assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Unit, said in a statement that her team works with local police and the FBI to monitor forums and investigate threats in New Hampshire.

“Individuals who are the target of actual or threatened violence should always first report to their local law enforcement agency,” Lahey said. “In addition, they can file a Civil Rights Complaint available at or call 603-271-1181. All complaints are documented and reviewed should further action be required.”

Moore said he wants to be optimistic that more young men will realize how dangerous these forums are, but added that he has seen how skeptical many of those online remain of conventional institutions and notions of shared truth.

“It’s just scary to see how people could become so cult-like with so little to sway them,” he said. “... I wanna say I’m optimistic that, as people are raised in the digital age, [that they] will grow up to be smarter, or more responsible, but I’d be lying if I said I’m optimistic about anything.”

Rhetoric rises in wake of weekend shootings

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday denounced “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after a pair of mass shootings and focused on combating mental illness over efforts to push gun control.

Trump’s nationally televised comments followed a shooting rampage on Saturday in El Paso, Texas, and another, hours later, in Dayton, Ohio, both with assault-style rifles and loads of ammunition. Thus far, 31 people have died as a result of the two attacks; two people who were shot in El Paso died from their wounds Monday. Scores of others were wounded.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said in remarks delivered at the White House. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

Trump condemned the “two evil attacks” and vowed to act “with urgent resolve,” outlining several possible steps, including the use of “red-flag laws” that focus on better identifying mentally ill people — and others who present as threats for violence — who should not be allowed to purchase firearms.

“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” said Trump, who was accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and did not take questions from reporters. Trump also called for cultural changes, including stopping the “glorification of violence in our society” in video games and elsewhere.

Research has found no link between violent video games and shooting people, and studies of mass shooters have found that while some had mental health issues, many did not, with other factors — including past domestic violence, a strong sense of resentment and a desire for infamy — emerging as stronger predictors.

Hours earlier, on Twitter, he called for “strong background checks” and suggested pairing gun legislation with new immigration laws, a top priority of his administration that he has failed to move through Congress. Trump made a similar call to strengthen background checks after a mass shooting last year at a Florida school, and he has since threatened to veto bills passed by House Democrats seeking to do so. Trump did not mention background checks in his televised remarks.

In his tweets, Trump said: “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”

Trump also appeared to blame the media for recent mass shootings in a tweet on Monday, writing that “Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years.”

Authorities are investigating the El Paso shooting, along the U.S. border, as a hate crime and domestic terrorism, and they are combing through a manifesto officials think the suspected attacker posted online that included anti-immigrant sentiments. The shooting occurred in a shopping area with a Walmart known to draw Mexican nationals from Juarez.

The twin terrors in a span of hours over the weekend again horrified a nation that has become numb to the familiar and repetitive tragedies. They prompted, as usual, a push for stricter gun-control measures, debates over virulent rhetoric and anguish over the relentless stream of such attacks across the United States.

While admonishing people to condemn the ideologies that have spawned some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings, Trump and his own commentary have been central aspects of the debate since El Paso. The president, who has staked much of his presidency on efforts to keep undocumented immigrants out of the country, has a history of denigrating them. He also has been criticized for his unwillingness to vilify white supremacists, such as in his response to the violent confrontation between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., after which he said there were “very fine people” on both sides.

During his remarks, Trump said he was directing the Justice Department to propose legislation “ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty” and that this punishment be carried out rapidly and “without years of needless delay.”

People convicted of carrying out such crimes already can face death sentences in many cases. In a recent example involving a mass killing fueled by racial hatred, federal prosecutors sought and won a death sentence for the avowed white supremacist convicted of killing nine black parishioners inside a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015.

Not long after Trump spoke, former president Barack Obama released a statement bluntly pushing back against what he called “language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.”

Obama did not mention Trump by name, but his statement appeared to be an implicit rebuke of his successor, denouncing “leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us” or those who suggest that immigrants “threaten our way of life.”

He also called for new gun laws, saying the country is “not helpless” in the face of the mass shootings that have become a regular feature in American society.

“Every time this happens, we’re told that tougher gun laws won’t stop all murders; that they won’t stop every deranged individual from getting a weapon and shooting innocent people in public places,” Obama said. “But the evidence shows that they can stop some killing. They can save some families from heartbreak.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday evening that Senate Republicans “are prepared to do our part.” He did not mention the word “gun” at any point in his statement.

The top two Democrats in Congress called on McConnell to bring the Senate back from recess to pass bills on background checks already approved by the House.

“McConnell has called himself the ‘grim reaper’ and refuses to act on this bipartisan legislation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement.

Pelosi and Schumer also chided Trump for not mentioning background checks in his televised remarks, suggesting that he was doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association.

“It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “When he can’t mention guns while talking about gun violence, it shows the president remains prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA.”

Federal officials have joined the investigations in El Paso and Dayton. The FBI said it is assisting local police in Dayton, where authorities said Connor Betts, the 24-year-old gunman who opened fire in an entertainment district, killed his sister during the attack.

Richard Biehl, the Dayton police chief, said Monday that a motivation for that attack remained elusive. Unnerving glimpses of Betts’s background have emerged, including from an ex-girlfriend, who said he had worried that he might hurt people and described wrestling with hallucinations and hearing menacing voices.

In El Paso, the FBI dispatched officials from a domestic-terrorism-hate-crimes fusion cell to investigate what John Bash, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, called domestic terrorism. Bash said federal prosecutors are strongly weighing hate-crimes and firearms charges against shooting suspect Patrick Crusius. Those charges could carry a death sentence.

The charges would not necessarily change the punishment handed down, as Crusius already faces a state capital murder charge, and prosecutors in El Paso say they will seek the death penalty.

Crusius remains in jail after surrendering to police. Police say he has cooperated and answered questions, but they declined to elaborate.

“He basically appears to be in a state of shock and confusion,” Greg Allen, the El Paso police chief, said at a news briefing. Asked whether the shooting suspect has shown remorse, Allen said: “No. Not to the investigators.”

Precise details of Crusius’s travels remained unclear Monday, but Allen said the suspected shooter spent between 10 and 11 hours traveling from Allen, Texas, to El Paso. After arriving, the police chief said, he got lost in a neighborhood and then “found his way to the Walmart because, we understand, he was hungry.”

Crusius had lived with his grandparents in Allen until six weeks ago, the relatives said in a written statement, adding that they were “devastated” by the shooting.

According to court filings, he was remanded without bond early Sunday, and an attorney listed in court records said he had been appointed to represent Crusius but declined to comment.

Authorities in El Paso identified the victims on Monday; among them were people from at least three countries — the United States, Mexico and Germany — who ranged in age from 15 to 90. Their stories have provided heartbreaking glimpses of people killed while doing something mundane: shopping at Walmart.

Jordan and Andre Anchondo had gone to the store with their 2-month-old son. They were looking to buy birthday party decorations for Jordan’s daughter, who was turning 6, and were going to have family and friends over to their new home for the first time, said Tito Anchondo, Andre’s brother.

Both of them were killed in the gunfire. Relatives think they died shielding their baby.

Alvaro Mena said Monday that her stepfather, Juan Velásquez, 78, had died earlier that morning. Her mother was still hospitalized, Mena told reporters outside Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso.

The couple had been returning a window blind to Walmart and were shot in their car while parking, Mena said. They left Juarez several years ago seeking a safer city, choosing El Paso.

“That’s why they came here,” Mena said. “And they came for this? I just don’t have words for that.”

Eight of the shoppers killed in El Paso were Mexican. Mexico has expressed outrage at the massacre and suggested that it might try to bring charges against the perpetrator and the seller of the firearm.

Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, visited El Paso on Monday to meet with victims and their families and said that the Mexican attorney general would be opening a terrorism case against the shooter. He also said they would consider an extradition request given that some of those targeted were Mexicans.

“We agree with President Trump’s statement that racism and white supremacism are serious problems in the United States,” Ebrard said.