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UPDATE: Woman charged with homicide of Mika Westwolf  Judd Legum

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In the early morning of March 31, 2023, Mika Westwolf, a 22-year-old Indigenous woman, was walking on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 93, which passes through the Flathead reservation in Montana. Westwolf was struck by a Cadillac Escalade and declared dead at the scene.

Authorities said that 28-year-old Sunny White was behind the wheel of the Escalade with her two young children in the back seat and fled the scene. White is allegedly a white nationalist; she named her children “Aryan” and “Nation.” Some speculated that Westwolf’s death was a hate crime. 

White was initially charged in April with two counts of criminal child endangerment. But Lake County District Attorney James Lapotka dropped the charges, saying more time was needed for the Montana Highway Patrol to investigate. 

In May and June, Popular Information revealed that the investigation into Westwolf’s death was under-resourced, haphazard, and focused on pinning blame on the victim. Trooper Wayne Bieber of the Montana Highway Patrol was the lead investigator. In a visit to Westwolf’s family three weeks after her death, Bieber appeared unfamiliar with basic facts, confused about Montana law, and dismissive of White’s potential connections to white nationalists.

“Once they found out that she was a young Indian woman, and it was late at night, early in the morning, they started investigating whether or not she was drinking or doing drugs,” Erica Shelby, a legal advocate for the Westwolf family, told Popular Information. “Then they started investigating if she was suicidal.”

At that point, Westwolf’s death had been the subject of two articles in the Missoulian and a handful of other reports from Montana outlets. The dearth of coverage is typical in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. But Popular Information’s report was picked up by major national media outlets, including Democracy Now, Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and New York Magazine. Shortly thereafter, the Montana Highway Patrol told Popular Information that the FBI had begun assisting with the investigation. 

Over the weekend, White was arrested and charged with five felonies, including vehicular homicide while under the influence, criminal child endangerment, and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. According to documents filed on October 19 by Lapotka, White initially told an officer that she “had hit a deer and not stopped.” A search of White’s car yielded “a small makeup tube with methamphetamine inside, five syringes, and two unopened packages of Narcan.” A blood sample taken from White allegedly “came back positive for fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

Westwolf’s mother, Carissa Heavy Runner, engaged in a lengthy campaign to raise awareness of her daughter’s case and other missing and murdered Indigenous women. “I was glad to hear [the news], you know, but I’m still kind of in shock because it really seemed like this day was unreachable,” she told the Missoulian.

If convicted, White could face decades in prison. 

 

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June 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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My First Job, at the Stanford Internet Observatory Julia Steinberg

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Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised I’d “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time,” writes Julia Steinberg. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

The Stanford Internet Observatory—a research center tasked with rooting out “misinformation” on social media—is shutting its doors. Chances are if you’ve heard of the SIO it was in a scathing piece from Michael Shellenberger or Matt Taibbi, who have accused the center of being a key node in the censorship-industrial complex.

It was also my first employer. Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised to “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.” To me, that meant ending internet abuse like the glamorization of anorexia on social media or financial scams that steal billions every year. But mostly I worked on the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which SIO ran during the 2020 and 2022 elections. The purpose of that project was to identify so-called “fake news” spreading on social media. 

In actuality, SIO hired a load of interns to scan social media for posts deemed to be mis- and disinformation. It turns out that the posts we students flagged were often sent along to moderators at Twitter (now X), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, which took them down in order to quash dissenting viewpoints—viewpoints that sometimes ended up being right, as in the case of Covid likely being the result of a lab leak, or Hunter Biden’s hard drive being his actual hard drive—not Russian disinformation. 

Thanks to the work of independent journalists, the SIO’s work has come under a lot of scrutiny, including in Washington. A recent House Judiciary Committee report alleges that, by cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security, the SIO’s Election Integrity Partnership “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” 

The SIO has stated that “Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure. SIO does, however, face funding challenges as its founding grants will soon be exhausted.” But on June 13, Platformer reported that much of SIO’s staff was on the way out: “Its founding director, Alex Stamos, left his position in November. Renee DiResta, its research director, left last week after her contract was not renewed. One other staff member’s contract expired this month, while others have been told to look for jobs elsewhere, sources say.”

The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case, Murthy v. Missouri, that addresses whether the U.S. government should be able to collaborate with social media companies to censor commentary. The plaintiffs, in their brief, lambast SIO for its role in abetting government censorship. We’ll be watching that case closely.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

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My Promise to Palestine Chris Hedges

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When I accepted the Tafik Diab Prize for my writing on the genocide in Gaza in Cairo on June 10 I explained why the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I are planning to do our next book together on Gaza.

Written speech:

I would like to start with a story that happened to me in Gaza on October 5, 2000. One day I was working on a report at Natzarim (Jewish settlement). There were Palestinian boys near me. The boys threw rocks towards the Israeli army. A soldier shot one of the boys — and the boy died. Four boys each lifted up a limb and we ran. The incident aftected me to such an extent that I did not shave for three weeks. After three weeks, I went to visit the boy’s house to meet his family. I told his mother I was with her son when he was killed. The mother told me that when her younger son heard that his brother had been killed he went into the kitchen, and then he left the house. After ten minutes she asked her husband where her son had gone. They went out to look for him and saw him in the street with a knife in his hand.

She asked him, “Where are you going?”

He answered, “I am going to kill Jews.” I have never been able to forget that child. I often wonder where he is. He would be a man in his thirties now. Is he still alive? Married? Does he have children? Are he and his family frightened of the bombing? Where have they taken refuge? God willing, I will write a book on Gaza with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, the author of “Palestine” and “Footnotes in Gaza.” During that time I will look for him, I will complete his story and the stories of many others. Israel is determined to erase them from existence and from history. This is my promise.

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