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China Is Warning About a Possible Bubonic Plague Outbreak Because That’s How 2020 Is Going

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The world is in the grip of an unprecedented global pandemic that is causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of infections, and an untold economic catastrophe. So the last thing we need to hear right now is that in a remote corner of China, another plague has emerged.

Authorities in China warned Sunday of a “plague epidemic” after a herdsman was diagnosed with bubonic plague, the cause of the Black Death, which killed 50 million people worldwide in the Middle Ages.

The alert came from the city of Bayannur, located 550 miles northwest of Beijing in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia.

On Saturday, a hospital alerted municipal authorities of the patient’s case, and by Sunday, local authorities had taken action, issuing a citywide Level 3 warning for plague prevention, the second-lowest in a four-level system.

“At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city,” the local health authority said, according to state-run newspaper China Daily. “The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly.”

The authorities also warned people against hunting, eating, or transporting potentially infected animals and to report any dead or diseased rodents.

Bayannur’s authorities particularly highlighted the threat from marmots, a type of large ground squirrel that is eaten in some parts of China and neighboring Mongolia. Marmots live in rural areas and are often a carrier of the disease.

Bubonic plague, which is transmitted by fleas that live off infected rodents, as well as direct contact with infected tissue, is one of the plague’s two main forms. It causes painful, swollen lymph nodes, as well as fever, chills, and coughing. Bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics if caught early, but if untreated it is fatal in up to 60% of cases. Pneumonic plague, which infects the lungs, is a more severe form and is fatal in 90% of untreated cases.

Bayannur’s health officials said the herdsman in question was in a stable condition and was undergoing treatment.

While the plague has been effectively wiped out in large parts of the world thanks to the advent of antibiotics, it still persists.

The Bayannur case is Mongolia’s third known case of the plague in recent weeks. On Monday authorities lifted restrictions in Khovd Province after two cases of bubonic plague linked to the consumption of marmot meat were reported a week ago.

Last May, a couple in neighboring Mongolia died from bubonic plague after eating the raw kidney of a marmot, which is a traditional remedy thought to bring good health, and in November, Beijing announced that two people in Inner Mongolia caught the pneumonic plague.

Cover: A marmot rests in his enclosure at the Moscow Zoo, Russia. Nina Zotina / Sputnik via AP

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Scientists Say Coronavirus Is Airborne and Bars Should Stay Closed

Adam Davy/PA Wire URN:54441437 (Press Association via AP Images)​

Adam Davy/PA Wire URN:54441437 (Press Association via AP Images)

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Over 200 scientists in more than 30 countries say the coronavirus is airborne and that the World Health Organization is not doing nearly enough to address the issue.

In a letter entitled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19” the scientists lay out an argument many of them have been making for months: that coronavirus is not just spread through large droplets and direct contact with infected people, but also though microscopic particles that linger in the air indoors and infect those nearby when they inhale them into their lungs.

It means that crowded or poorly ventilated indoor settings such as bars, restaurants, casinos, schools, and offices are especially dangerous and would account for a number of “super spreading” incidents.

The letter is due to be published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal and is authored by Lidia Morawska, an expert in aerosol transmission at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, and Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland. It has been endorsed by 239 scientists from 32 countries.

Scientists across the globe have tried for months to raise the alarm about airborne transmission, but public health agencies like the WHO have failed to take notice, forcing scientists to take the highly unusual step of publishing this letter.

The WHO guidance says that COVID-19 is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that fall quickly to the ground once expelled by infected patients through coughing and sneezing.

The WHO’s advice on stopping the spread of coronavirus has so far focused on social distancing measures and regular hand-washing, but it has stopped short of saying that face coverings, like masks and face shields, should be mandatory in any situation.

The airborne transmission word seems to be loaded,” Milton told CNN on Sunday. “I guess we are hoping that WHO will come around and be more willing to acknowledge the important roles of aerosols, whether they want to call it airborne transmission or not.”

Milton added that he is most worried about locations where people are crowded together in poorly ventilated buildings speaking loudly, which increases the amount of particles spread by infected people.

“I am very much concerned about the general public and schools and ventilation in school buildings and in dorms on college campuses and in bars and in churches and where people sing and where people congregate,” he said.

Evidence from the U.S. appears to back up the claims in the letter. In recent weeks, as states reopened offices, bars, and restaurants, there has been a surge of cases across almost all corners of the country, with at least 32 states still reporting rising numbers of infections.

Despite muted July 4th celebrations last weekend, there were almost 50,000 new cases reported on Sunday, with California reporting a record 11,700 cases in a single 24-hour period.

READ: 17 developers are testing coronavirus vaccines on humans. Here’s what you need to know about them.

If the scientists are right, governments and health authorities will need to significantly alter what measures they put in place to try to contain the virus.

To prevent airborne transmission, masks will need to be worn indoors even when people are socially distancing. Medical workers will need to wear N95 masks to filter out the smallest particles being expelled by infected patients. And buildings like schools and offices will need to upgrade their ventilation systems in order to filter out any coronavirus particles.

It’s unclear if the WHO will change its advice on how coronavirus is transmitted, but spokesperson Andrei Muchnik said it was aware of the letter and “reviewing its contents with our technical experts.” He added the matter would likely be addressed at the WHO’s daily press briefing later on Monday.

This is not the first time the organization has come under fire for its failure to provide the public with clear and timely advice.

“WHO’s credibility is being undermined through a steady drip-drip of confusing messages, including asymptomatic spread, the use of masks, and now airborne transmission,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post.

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Cover: Drinks are served at The Terrace Bar, Alexandra Palace, London, as it reopens following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England. Picture date: Saturday July 4, 2020. The easing of restrictions, which were imposed on March 23, allows businesses including pubs restaurants and hair salons, to reopen to members of the public with measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire URN:54441437 (Press Association via AP Images)

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Celebrating July 4th Like This Isn’t a Pandemic Will Cost Lives

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Coronavirus cases are on the rise in an overwhelming majority of states now, and Texas just mandated masks in public places. President Donald Trump is set for a super-spreader event at Mt. Rushmore, and Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that a new strain of the virus could spread even faster than the current one.

In other words: maybe rethink the family BBQ this Fourth of July weekend.

As Americans head into the long weekend, 40 states reported on Thursday that their case numbers were rising, according to the Associated Press. Four states—California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona—combined for 15,000 new cases as the total number of new cases in America hit a new one-day high of more than 55,000.

In Texas, where officials are being opaque about which hospitals are hitting capacity, Governor Greg Abbott, who expanded the state’s reopening early last month even as the situation was deteriorating, issued a statewide requirement to wear a mask in public on Thursday, and banned certain gatherings of more than 10 people unless local officials approve. The order goes into effect at noon on Friday.

“COVID-19 is not going away,” Abbott said in a video message released Thursday. “In fact, it’s getting worse. Now, more than ever, action by everyone is needed until treatments are available for COVID-19.”

Despite the avalanche of new cases, President Donald Trump is pressing forward with a holiday event at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Thousands of people are expected to attend, and GOP Gov. Kristi Noem has said that masks are optional and seems to think you can take a day off from social distancing.

“We will have a large event on July 3rd,” Noem told Fox News earlier this week. “We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we will not be social distancing.”

On Thursday, former presidential candidate and prominent Trump surrogate Herman Cain was hospitalized with coronavirus, after attending Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20. A tweet from the indoor event showed Cain (and many people surrounding him) not wearing masks.

A visit from Vice President Mike Pence to hard-hit Arizona, meanwhile, was postponed after 8 Secret Service agents assigned to his detail tested positive for coronavirus, CNN reported Friday.

And as bleak as it seems now, it might not be getting better anytime soon. On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the top public health experts on the White House coronavirus task force, said on Thursday that the coronavirus might have mutated to become even more contagious.

“The data is showing there’s a single mutation that makes the virus be able to replicate better and maybe have high viral loads,” Fauci told Dr. Howard Bauchner of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Earlier on Thursday, researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory published findings in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cell indicating the virus had mutated, though it doesn’t appear to make patients sicker.

In the week leading up to the holiday, public health experts across the country stressed that the threat of the virus is still extremely real and advised people celebrating to take heavy precautions. The leaders of the American Medical Association and the organizations representing state, territorial, county, and city health officials said in a statement that “the Fourth of July celebration could further spread the virus, endanger lives, overwhelm our health system, and undo the progress made toward reopening sectors of our economy.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the head of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, appeared to concede in a Thursday press conference that asking people to celebrate responsibly is more realistic than getting them to not celebrate at all.

“This isn’t where I’d hoped we would be for July Fourth weekend and unfortunately we don’t get a holiday from COVID-19,” Cohen said. “We can celebrate but we have to do so responsibly.”

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Cover: View Of Miami Beach area as Florida shatters records with over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in single day on July 2, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. Credit: mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX

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17 Developers Are Testing Coronavirus Vaccines on Humans. Here’s What You Need to Know About Them.

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Editor’s note: This story was last updated on 7/3. Please check back for new information.

The race to develop the first widely distributed coronavirus vaccine might be the most hotly pursued scientific frontier since the space race.

At least 147 potential COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The people and entities looking to fund a vaccine include world governments, such as the United States and its Operation Warp Speed plan; pharmaceutical firms, big and small; and even wealthy philanthropists like Bill Gates and Dolly Parton. So far, at least 17 have created potential vaccines that have reached human trials.

President Donald Trump and his new vaccine czar, Moncef Slaoui, have said that a vaccine could be ready for widespread distribution by the end of the year. But most public health experts have predicted a less optimistic timeline.

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the director of research at the French National Institute of Health and Research (INSERM) and a former top WHO official, told VICE News that mid-2021 is more realistic to expect the hundreds of millions of doses that would need to be available for herd protection.

The WHO has even warned that the virus may never go away entirely.

“Although it is absolutely possible that a vaccine against COVID-19 can be developed, it is not impossible that the virus will continue to circulate and that we might need to be regularly immunized, like against flu,” Kieny said. “For the moment, all of this is hypothetical.”

How do clinical trials work?

In addition to various companies working on a vaccine, different kinds of vaccines are also being tested, including some that have never been approved for use in humans before.

Most commonly used vaccines are either inactivated, such as the flu shot, or live-attenuated, which is used for the measles and mumps. Some companies, however, are racing to develop genetic-based mRNA vaccines, which introduce a sort of code into the body’s cells to fool it into reproducing molecules of the virus, so the immune system can learn to fight it. No mRNA vaccine has ever been approved for use in humans, but if one is ultimately approved, it’ll be faster and cheaper to produce than conventional vaccines.

“The flu and measles vaccine, they’ve been tested thoroughly for a long time before we have the product,” University of North Carolina research associate Long Ping Victor Tse told VICE News. “We have a very good idea of what to do, but every virus and pathogen is different. Is it safe? Is it effective? All of this costs time and money to test.”

Before a vaccine is approved and widely distributed, it must go through preclinical animal trials and then several phases of human trials. A remarkably small number of vaccines make it to the final stage, so some developers are testing multiple vaccine candidates at once to find their best option.

The process, as described by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), goes like this:

  • Phase I: Twenty to 100 either healthy or infected participants are given the vaccine to make sure it’s safe for human consumption and what dosage works best. Phase I takes several months, and roughly 70% of the drugs move on to the next stage.
  • Phase II: The vaccine is tested on up to several hundred infected people to make sure it’s efficient and that the side effects don’t outweigh the benefits. Phase II can take up to two years, and only about a third of the drugs reach Phase III.
  • Phase III: Also known as “pivotal studies,” Phase III trials aim to “demonstrate whether or not a product offers a treatment benefit to a specific population,” according to the FDA. Due to the breadth and span of the study, Phase III trials can also catch side effects that went unnoticed during the first two trial phases. The process usually takes between one and four years, and only about a quarter of the drugs make it through.
  • Phase IV: The product is continuously tested on thousands of people who have the disease to study effectiveness and long-term side effects. These trials are carried out after the FDA has approved the vaccine.

In some cases, companies are conducting combined Phase I/II or Phase II/III, in which they test for safety and for efficacy in hundreds or thousands of people.

A vast majority of what’s known about the various stages of these vaccines also comes from the developers, which have a vested interest (stock prices, funding, etc.) in being seen at the front of the pack. While many companies have said their results are promising, most of their vaccines aren’t being examined in peer-reviewed studies. Essentially, the world is just supposed to take their word for it until the data gets released.

After the developer has enough data from two large-scale vaccine trials where up to thousands of people are tested, they have to go through a number of other steps — such as filing a marketing application, obtaining licensing for manufacturing and transportation, and undergoing inspections of the facility where the vaccine is manufactured — before the FDA approves their vaccine for distribution.

The 18 entities below have already started or received approval to begin testing their vaccine candidates on humans.

Oxford University/AstraZeneca

County: United Kingdom

Trial stage: Phase III

In April, one of the biggest global pharmaceutical companies signed an agreement with the oldest university in the predominantly English-speaking world to develop a vaccine. The type of vaccine being tested has never been approved for use in humans before, but AstraZeneca’s CEO told a Belgian radio station last month that the company believes it would protect the user from coronavirus for up to a year.

The company started enrolling participants for its Phase II/III trials in May, while the Phase III U.S. trial will begin in August, according to the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In late June, AstraZeneca reached a nine-figure deal with Brazil to produce tens of millions of doses beginning in August if it receives full regulatory approval, and the WHO’s chief scientist recently called the company the “leader” in the vaccine race.

Screen grab taken from video issued by Britain’s Oxford University, showing microbiologist Elisa Granato, being injected as part of the first human trials in the UK for a potential coronavirus vaccine, untaken by Oxford University, England, Thursday April 23, 2020. (Oxford University Pool via AP)

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase III

China’s state-owned pharmaceutical company said its vaccine — developed by an institute based in Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered— “was found to have induced high-level antibodies in all inoculated people without serious adverse reaction,” after early results from a 1,120-person clinical trial conducted in April.

In June, Sinopharm became the first in the world to start Phase III trials in the United Arab Emirates.

The company has also reported positive results from animal trials and has said its facilities in Beijing and Wuhan will be able to produce a combined 220 million doses of the vaccine annually.

Moderna/National Institutes of Health

Country: U.S.

Trial stage: Phase II

In May, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm announced positive results from its Phase I trial (about 8 patients) for its coronavirus vaccine, which is the novel mRNA variety. Phase II results haven’t been released yet, but the company had aimed to start its Phase III trial in July.

After STAT News reported on July 2 that the 30,000-person Phase III trial had been delayed, the company released a statement insisting the trial would still begin in July.

Prior to that, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who serves on the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, called the company’s early results “impressive,” and in late June, the WHO’s chief scientist said Moderna was “not far behind” AstraZeneca in the vaccine race.

But there’s a catch: Moderna’s history of delivering on its promises is shaky at best, and the company has been compared to Theranos, the notorious blood-testing company run by Elizabeth Holmes, for its practice of not publishing its scientific data for peer review.

CanSino/Beijing Institute of Biotechnology (Academy of Military Medical Sciences)

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase II

Working with a branch of the Chinese military, CanSino became the first company in the world to begin a clinical trial for a vaccine back in March, but the May results of its Phase I trial — the first peer-reviewed study completed for a vaccine — were mixed, particularly because older patients were less likely to develop neutralizing antibodies.

In June, however, CanSino got a surge of good news when the Chinese government authorized usage of the vaccine, which has only been through the first two phases of clinical trials so far. It’s the first coronavirus vaccine approved for use in any of the world’s armed forces, according to the South China Morning Post.

The approval means the vaccine can be used to try to stymie major outbreaks within the military. CanSino said the vaccine has gone through the first two phases of clinical trials so far, according to SCMP.

Country: U.S.

Trial stage: Phase I/II

The Maryland-based company, which has secured hundreds of millions in funding from Bill Gates’ Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, announced in May that it was beginning Phase I of human trials, with results expected in July.

Though Novovax is still in the early stages of testing, it’s already ramping up manufacturing. The company’s CEO told the Wall Street Journal that it hopes to produce 100 million doses this year and more than a billion next year.

Country: U.S. & Germany

Trial stage: Phase I/II

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech are in the early stages of human clinical trials to develop an mRNA vaccine. In May, the company began testing four vaccine candidates on roughly 360 participants.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC in May that the company expects to find out which vaccine performs the best in June or July and hopes to launch a trial with thousands of participants in September, with the hopes of delivering “millions of vaccines in the October timeframe.”

In early July, the company released a promising study from one of its vaccines, which had been tested on 45 participants.

“It’s the first positive data I’ve seen coming out of Operation Warp Speed,” Baylor College of Medicine’s Peter Jay Hotez told the Washington Post. “I’m really happy Pfizer took the initiative to publish it, whereas the others haven’t. I think we need to see more of this.”

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase I/II

Sinovac said in mid-June that 90% of its 600 volunteers in its Phase II trial showed an immune response to the virus. One of the company’s executives claimed in June that the developer could wrap up trials by the fall.

One local approval is obtained, the company’s Phase III trial is set to run on 9,000 volunteers at 12 sites in Brazil, which has seen the worst coronavirus rates in the world outside of the United States.

Country: United Kingdom

Trial stage: Phase I/II

This vaccine candidate began a trial on about 300 people in the United Kingdom last week, with an mRNA vaccine similar to the one pursued by Pfizer and Moderna.

“We’ve been able to produce a vaccine from scratch and take it to human trials in just a few months,” Professor Robin Shattock told the BBC. “If our approach works and the vaccine provides effective protection against disease, it could revolutionise how we respond to disease outbreaks in the future.”

Country: U.S.

Trial stage: Phase I

The Pennsylvania-based company entered the clinical trial stage in April and has said it hopes to enter Phases II and III later this summer. A study released by the company showed that all but two of the 36 participants from Phase I had an immune response, but the results haven’t been examined in a peer-reviewed study.

The company had identified a coronavirus vaccine just three hours after it received access to the genetic sequencing in January, according to Inovio’s CEO Joseph Kim. But the company later admitted it had created a vaccine construct (essentially a precursor) and not a complete vaccine. After the company’s stock tanked, a class of shareholders sued in March.

Notably, the company has never brought a product to market in its nearly four decades of existence.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals CEO Dr. J. Joseph Kim attends a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, March 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Institute of Medical Biology at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase I

Not much is known about the Institute of Medical Biology’s vaccine candidate except that it has reportedly moved into Phase II testing. The institute is, however, the country’s “largest production and research base” for the polio vaccine, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Country: South Korea

Trial stage: Phase I

Genexine recently said it’s moving into a Phase I trial for its DNA-based vaccine, which is the first that’s been approved for testing by the South Korean government, according to BioWorld.com.

If Phase I goes well, Phase II is set to begin in the second half of the year in multiple countries.

Gamaleya Research Institute

Country: Russia

Trial stage: Phase I

Gamaleya is perhaps best known in the vaccine race because the head of the institute injected himself with the potential vaccine, a move that was met with mixed reactions in Russia and among the scientific community.

But in mid-June, the vaccine began trials in liquid and powder-based forms on about 38 human participants each.

Clover Biopharmaceuticals

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase I

The China-based company is collaborating with both U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline and California-based Dynavax Technologies in trying to find a vaccine. Phase I human trials began in Australia in June, with results expected in July.

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase I

The Chinese government approved Zhifei’s vaccine candidate for testing in June, but little else is known about the company’s coronavirus vaccine effort thus far.

Country: Germany

Trial stage: Phase I

The German government recently invested $338 million (300 million euros), or a 23% stake, into this company, which was once rumored to be in talks to be sold to the United States. The company said it wanted to start Phase I trials in June but hasn’t given any updates since the end of the month.

In early July, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that his company was working with “CureVac and possibly others” on the vaccine race “as a side project.”

People’s Liberation Army Academy of Medical Sciences/Walvax

Country: China

Trial stage: Phase I

The military-run research institute got approval from the Chinese government on June 19 to begin human trials of its mRNA vaccine, becoming the eighth Chinese-developed vaccine to reach clinical trials.

Country: Australia

Trial stage: Phase I

The first Australian-developed candidate to reach human trials, Vaxine began a Phase I trial in early July in Adelaide. The trial will test 40 healthy candidates and results are expected in six to eight weeks, according to the Australian Financial Review.

“From there we will look to commence phase II and III trials straight away,” the company’s chairman told the paper. “The follow-on trials will need to go broader into the elderly and people with chronic disease, because they’re the most vulnerable to COVID infection.”

Cover: Unprecedented efforts from hundreds of laboratories around the world could help find a vaccine against Covid-19 before the end of the year, pharmaceutical industry leaders hope. (Sipa via AP Images)

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A White Couple Was Arrested After Pointing a Gun at a Black Family In a Chipotle Parking Lot

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A white couple who pulled a gun on a Black woman and her teenage daughter in the parking lot of a Chipotle restaurant in Michigan was arrested Thursday and charged with assault.

The incident, which took place on Wednesday night, saw a shouting match quickly escalate into accusations of racism, before the white woman got a handgun from her car and pointed it at Takelia Hill, screaming at her to “get the fuck back.”

The entire incident, which took place in Orion Township, about 40 miles northwest of Detroit, was captured on viral cell phone footage that police cited when they announced the charges against the couple.

Jillian Wuestenberg, 32, and Eric Wuestenberg, 42, were each charged with one count of felonious assault, which is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Eric Wuestenberg, who was listed on the Oakland University website as a veterans support services coordinator, has also been fired.

“We have seen the video and we deem his behavior unacceptable,” university spokesman Brian Bierley told USA Today, adding Wuestenberg “has been notified that his employment has been terminated.”

The incident began when Jillian Wuestenberg bumped into Hill’s 15-year-old daughter Makayla Green. Hill asks Wuestenberg for an apology, calling her “ignorant.”

When Wuestenberg refused to apologize, saying Hill and her daughter were blocking her from getting to her car, Hill accuses Wuestenberg of being racist.

“You cannot just walk around calling white people racist,” Wuestenberg responds from inside her car. “White people aren’t racist … I care about you and I’m sorry if you had an incident that has made someone make you feel like that. No one is racist.”

After the woman rolled up her window, Hill feared that the car would hit them while backing out, she told Detroit News, which was the first to report the incident, so she banged on the car’s rear window.

It was at this point that Wuestenberg emerged from the car with the gun and can be seen cocking it as she points it at Hill.

“This is crazy! Trump [is] making it real comfortable,” Hill says, pointing out that Eric Wuestenberg was also armed.

Moments later the police arrived and arrested the Wuestenbergs at the scene.

“So this is America,” Hill later wrote on her Facebook page. “I’ve never in my life had a gun pulled out on me. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life I’m so shaken up.”

Cover: YouTube/Telegraph

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Trump Says the Coronavirus Will Soon ‘Just Disappear’ as U.S. Breaks New Infection Record

Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA (Sipa via AP Images)​​

Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA (Sipa via AP Images)

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Back in February, President Donald Trump famously said that the coronavirus would be gone by April. Later in the month, he said it would be “close to zero” in a couple of days. In March he said it would hopefully be gone by the end of April. In April he said it “gonna go, it’s gonna leave.” In May he said it would go away without a vaccine and in June he repeated that unfounded claim.

Yesterday, on the first day of July, as the U.S. topped 50,000 new cases for the first time ever, he once again claimed it would “just disappear.”

“I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope,” he told Fox News. Hours later, his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany doubled down on the claim.

Trump’s baseless claims are not only at odds with the explosion in coronavirus cases across the entire country, but they are increasingly at odds with members of his own party who have reimposed lockdown measures and urged people to wear masks, something Trump has repeatedly refused to do.

Wednesday marked the fifth record-setting day for new coronavirus cases in just over a week. At least five states — Arizona, California, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas — reported a record number of cases.

While Trump and the White House continue to maintain that the increased case numbers are simply a reflection of increased testing, the situation at hospitals across the country suggests otherwise.

In Texas, officials in multiple cities have raised the alarm about the number of people presenting with symptoms at hospitals, which are already almost at capacity. In Houston, ambulances have reported waiting an hour to offload patients, and out-of-state reinforcements have had to be brought in.

“The cases continue to increase in a manner that we just cannot sustain,” Mark Escott, interim medical director of the Austin-Travis County Health Authority, told the New York Times. “Cases are skyrocketing across the state of Texas.”

The intensive care unit at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, which is the largest medical complex in the world, reached 102% capacity on Tuesday, officials said, and COVID-19 cases accounted for more than one third of all cases in the ICU.

As the country heads into the July 4 holiday weekend, health officials have urged people to “celebrate at home,” as the combination of large gatherings, travel, and failure to follow social distancing guidelines will create the “perfect storm,” Joshua Barocas, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, told CNN. The current spike of infection was likely triggered, at least in part, by Memorial Day celebrations last month, according to epidemiologists.

At least 23 states are beginning to reimpose lockdown measures as cases spike, while others are pausing plans to reopen their economies further.

Beaches and public spaces have been shuttered for the weekend across the country, from Florida to California, which has also banned indoor dining for 70% of its population. New York City announced Wednesday that it would not let its restaurants resume indoor service next week as originally planned.

Some states are also introducing the mandatory wearing of masks in public places, and an increasing number of Republicans have urged Trump to wear a mask in public to encourage others to do the same.

Vice President Mike Pence suddenly began wearing and recommending masks this week, while Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted a photograph of her father, the former vice president, wearing a cowboy hat and pale blue surgical mask, adding the hashtag “#realmenwearmasks.”

Speaking to Fox News, Trump appeared to walk back his previous aversion to mask-wearing, saying: “I’m all for masks. If I were in a tight situation with people I would, absolutely.”

He then said he’d worn a mask previously and that he “sort of liked” the way he looked in a mask.

“It was a dark black mask,” he said, “and I thought it looked OK. I looked like the Lone Ranger.”

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Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting in the East Room of the White House on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

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The Sunrise Movement Is Pointing Fingers at Progressives After 2 Big Primary Losses

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Many climate activists were sorely disappointed this week when Green New Deal advocates in Kentucky and Colorado failed to win their primaries against moderates favored by the Democratic establishment. And now one prominent climate group is blaming the entire progressive movement for the losses.

“I’m not going to say these races are important moral victories that mean we need to work harder next time,” reads a statement from Evan Weber, political director for the Sunrise Movement, which worked closely with both candidates’ campaigns. “The truth is, these races were ours for the taking and progressives blew it. These were not races that progressives could afford to sit out, but too many organizations did.”

The frustration of Weber and many other climate advocates comes from two progressive candidates failing to beat their moderate opponents in closely watched primary races: Charles Booker lost by less than three points to Amy McGrath in Kentucky, and Andrew Romanoff missed by a wider margin in Colorado to John Hickenlooper, the state’s former governor.

But climate organizations that stayed out of those races suggested winning isn’t as clear-cut as Sunrise is making it seem. The League of Conservation Voters endorsed neither Booker nor Romanoff because it didn’t see them as likely to prevail.

“We have a high bar for engaging in primary races,” said the group’s senior vice-president of government affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld.

And if Sunrise is going to call out other organizations, then it also needs to assess its own role in the primaries, according to RL Miller of the grassroots advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote, which refrained from getting involved in Kentucky’s primary but threw its weight behind Romanoff in Colorado.

“I’m acutely aware of the fact that the progressive movement is much better about complaining than they are about winning races,” she told VICE in response to Sunrise’s statement.

“These were really winnable races. We had viable progressive options that very very few progressive organizations rallied behind.”

Booker was an aggressive proponent of a Green New Deal stimulus plan that could transform Appalachia’s declining coal economy, whereas McGrath has called the sweeping climate vision championed by people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “more of a theory than an idea.”

A similar dynamic played out in Colorado, where Romanoff promised to ban oil and gas drilling while Hickenlooper rejected calls to restrict the fossil fuel industry and previously drank a cup of fracking fluid in a meeting with oil and gas executives.

“These were really winnable races,” said Weber. “We had viable progressive options that very very few progressive organizations rallied behind.”

Booker started off as a virtual unknown in the Democratic primary that decided who will challenge Mitch McConnell in November. By late May, his vocal support for the Green New Deal had gotten him noticed by climate groups other than Sunrise, picking up an endorsement from Friends of the Earth Action. But the 35-year-old rapidly gained national attention after taking a central role in protests against the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Booker was endorsed by major groups like MoveOn, Democracy for America, and the Working Families Party, as well as Ocasio-Cortez and senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The organization Our Revolution endorsed him on election day. But it might have been too little, too late.

Coronavirus meant that many absentee voters might have cast ballots earlier on before Booker became more of a well-known option, according to Dewey Clayton, a professor of political science at the University of Louisville, and the progressive lost to McGrath in some more rural and conservative areas of Kentucky.

“Some of those national organizations, maybe they didn’t step up quick enough and realize how viable a candidate he was going to be,” said Clayton. “I think if he’d had a little more time he may have been able to turn the tide.”

Booker’s campaign didn’t respond to VICE’s request for comment.

The group Climate Hawks Vote, which endorses and supports candidates who run on aggressive climate platforms, stayed out of the Kentucky primary entirely. Miller said Booker’s campaign never reached out to her group and she didn’t see the state as particularly favorable to a Democrat going into November.

“I always want progressives to win but I also saw that race as unwinnable from the start,” Miller said. “Not in the primary, but in the general election, I find it very unlikely that anybody’s going to unseat McConnell.”

But Climate Hawks did throw its weight behind Romanoff in Colorado’s primary, which decided the Democratic challenger to Cory Gardner, a much weaker Republican. Miller argued Sunrise could have done a lot more to help Romanoff win but instead focussed more of its efforts on a higher-profile but far less winnable election in Kentucky.

“They didn’t do nearly as much for [Romanoff] as they did for Booker,” she said.

Romanoff’s campaign sees things differently. Sunrise endorsed him back in November and worked closely with the campaign by phoning potential voters and creating social media ads. “They made a huge difference,” said Romanoff campaign chair Tara Trujillo.

But like Booker, Romanoff’s campaign also faced daunting challenges. In the early days of the race, he was one of many candidates competing for the Democratic senate nomination. The Democratic presidential primary made it harder to attract staff, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee provided heavy fundraising and organizing to the much more moderate Hickenlooper, particularly in the final stretch as Romanoff seemed like a more serious competitor.

“We were up against headwinds,” Trujillo said.

The Colorado insurgent eventually gained major endorsements from progressive organizations but not necessarily the deeper organizing support that would have helped him win.

“Even amongst the groups that endorsed, only a small handful put in a significant amount of effort to support his candidacy,” Weber said.

Weber conceded that closer to election day, it was easier to get Sunrise Movement members nationally to volunteer on behalf of Booker, who had become a major voice on the anti-police demonstrations taking place across the country.

“We would get more phone-bank signups for Charles than for Andrew,” he said.

These are just some of the difficult calculations and political realities that factor into progressive climate groups deciding which candidates to support.

“The League of Conservation Voters has done long work to elect environmental champions up and down the ballot, and we have no higher priority than defending the House majority, flipping the Senate and electing a climate champion as our next president,” Sittenfeld said. “Each group needs to make their own decisions about how to best to fulfill the mission and goals that I know we all share.”

Weber thinks that with Romanoff and Booker out of the running for the U.S. Senate, the fight to avert the climate emergency just got harder — and that should prompt a reckoning for any organization committed to transformative economic change.

“There are valid reasons why any single organization might not have been involved in any of these races or didn’t get involved until later, but it’s adding up to a failure of the progressive movement as a whole,” he said.

Cover: Left: In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, Andrew Romanoff makes a point against Republican incumbent Mike Coffman as they debate in Spanish in the studio of a television station in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File); Right: U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker speaks at a campaign stop at Pikeville City Park in Pikeville, Ky., Monday, June 22, 2020. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

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Biden Crushed Trump by $10 Million in Fundraising in June

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

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Former Vice President Joe Biden raised over $140 million in the month of June and handily outraised President Donald Trump in his first full quarter as the likely Democratic nominee, in what’s shaping up to be a billion-dollar race for the presidency.

Biden, the Democratic National Committee, and their joint fundraising committees raised $141 million during June, while Trump and the Republican National Committee took in $131 million.

Trump has had a head start on fundraising, having been the likely Republican nominee since, well, 2017. Biden was still competing against Sen. Bernie Sanders into the month of April, but after Biden won primaries in Wisconsin on April 7 and Alaska on April 10, Sanders suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden on April 13.

But since April 1, Biden has raised $281.2 million, and Trump has pulled in $266 million.

It’s part of an overall trend that’s heavily favoring Democrats overall heading into the fall. The Democratic digital fundraising platform ActBlue registered $392 million in June alone. WinRed, the GOP’s newer counterpart, hasn’t released its most recent numbers yet but last week reported raising $450 million in its first year of operations, according to Axios.

Democrats have the upper hand in polling, as well as in fundraising: recent polling has shown Biden opening up a wide lead over Trump nationally and edging him in most swing states, while several Senate Republican incumbents who need to win in order for the GOP to keep its majority, such as Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, appear to be in trouble.

The Biden campaign’s average online donation in June was $34 and the most common occupation was educator, according to the Biden campaign. The campaign also received a surge of new support: 68% of the campaign’s donors in June were first-time donors, and more than 2.6 million signed up for the campaign’s email list last month, they said.

“It’s clear that voters are looking for steady leadership, experience, empathy, compassion, and character—and they’ll find all of these qualities in Vice President Joe Biden,” campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in an email to supporters.

It’s still likely that Trump maintains an overall cash advantage over Biden, however, as the Trump campaign reported having $295 million on hand on Wednesday. The Biden campaign didn’t disclose their cash on hand figure, which won’t be publicly available until later this month.

“The Trump campaign’s monumental June fundraising haul proves that people are voting with their wallets and that enthusiasm behind President Trump’s reelection is only growing,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement about the president’s fundraising total, released before the Biden campaign released theirs. “No one is excited about Joe Biden, which is why he has to rely so heavily on surrogates like Barack Obama and radical Hollywood elites.”

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Trump’s Proposal for Homeless Shelters Could Make Life More Dangerous for Trans People

A new Trump administration proposal would let government-funded, single-sex homeless shelters keep transgender people out for religious reasons, and advocates worry that could subject them to more violence than they already face.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which announced the potential rule change Wednesday, said that sex-segregated shelter providers could accommodate their religious beliefs by establishing policies that “govern admissions determinations” for people whose gender identity differs from the one they were assigned at birth.

“Each shelter’s policy is required to be consistent with state and local law, must not discriminate based on sexual orientation or transgender status, and may incorporate practical considerations of shelter providers that often operate in difficult conditions,” HUD said in announcing its proposal, which would overturn an an Obama-era regulation.

Advocates said that allowing those shelters to turn transgender people away could be disastrous for an incredibly vulnerable portion of the homeless population. At least 17 transgender or gender non-conforming people — many Black or Latinx — have been killed this year, according to data kept by the Human Rights Campaign. The organization notes that homelessness and sex work contribute to the risks that trangender people face.

According to a 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 transgender people from the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly a third of all respondents had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. More than a quarter said they’d avoided shelters specifically because they feared mistreatment; those who stayed in shelters told surveyors they’d faced harassment, assault, and removal. Some said they were forced to present as the wrong gender in order to get a roof over their heads.

“This new rule would be particularly dangerous for the Black and Brown transgender women who face extraordinarily high rates of unemployment and homelessness at any time, and particularly in this economic crisis,” LaLa Zannell, the Trans Justice Campaign Manager for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Housing Secretary Ben Carson: Where should the Black and Brown trans women who have faced discrimination at work and violence in their homes and the streets go after we have been turned away from shelters?”

Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement that access to shelter for transgender people is “always a matter of life or death.”

The Trump administration framed its proposal Wednesday as a means of protecting victims of human trafficking and sexual violence. (HUD Secretary Ben Carson, however, reportedly said last September that he thought the rule would prevent “big, hairy” men from accessing women’s homeless shelters, according to the Washington Post.) One faith-based shelter for women in Anchorage, Alaska, had similarly complained in a high-profile 2018 lawsuit that the city wanted it to “admit men into its women’s shelter,” making survivors of abuse and sexual assault uncomfortable. The lawsuit ended in a settlement last year.

However, there’s no hard evidence to suggest transgender homeless people pose a risk to cisgender homeless people when they’re housed together. The government is relying on “anecdotal evidence,” like the Anchorage lawsuit, to fuel its claims, according to the Washington Post.

In some rural areas, faith-based shelters are the only option for a person seeking sanctuary from the streets, and are therefore considered a critical part of the nation’s safety net. And even in densely populated cities with myriad services to lift people out of poverty, these organizations play an outsized role in helping the homeless. According to one analysis out of Baylor University, approximately 58% of emergency shelter beds across 11 major cities — including Atlanta, Portland, and others — were provided by religious groups. Some faith-based organizations go out of their way to provide services for LGBTQ individuals, while others choose to discriminate.

But the Trump administration has long tried to allow stricter faith-based shelters greater leeway in turning away transgender people, among other efforts to destroy healthcare and civil rights protections for transgender Americans.

HUD said in its statement announcing the rule change, however, that homeless shelters will still have to provide the people they turn away with information about other nearby places to stay. Similarly, if people are made uncomfortable because a shelter accommodates a “person whose gender identity is different from their sex,” they have to be provided with a referral to another facility, too. It’s unclear how that rule will be enforced, or how close a service has to be in order to be recommended.

“Mission-focused shelter operators play a vital and compassionate role in communities across America,” Carson said in a statement Wednesday. “The Federal Government should empower them, not mandate a single approach that overrides local law and concerns. HUD also wants to encourage their participation in HUD programs. That’s exactly what we are doing with this rule change.”

Cover: A photo of two homeless people in Newcastle. Picture date: Monday May 9, 2016. Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire URN:26280001 (Press Association via AP Images)

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Inside the Plot to Kill the Open Technology Fund

In Indonesia, speaking openly about LGBT issues online can result in physical attacks, online abuse, and even arrest.

That’s why Dhyta Caturani, a human rights activist who specializes in helping people to stay safe online, created a training program for Indonesian LGBT groups to track digital threats and give people the skills they need to increase their security.

Caturani’s project was made possible thanks to money from the Open Technology Fund, a U.S. government-funded nonprofit, which is part of the umbrella group called the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which also controls Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.

OTF’s goal is to help oppressed communities across the globe by building the digital tools they need and offering training and support to use those tools. Its work has saved countless lives, and every single day millions of people use OTF-assisted tools to communicate and speak out without fear of arrest, retribution, or even death.

The fund has helped dissidents raise their voices beyond China’s advanced censorship network, known as the Great Firewall; helped citizens in Cuba to access news from sources other than the state-sanctioned media; and supported independent journalists in Russia so they could work without fear of a backlash from the Kremlin.

Closer to home, the tools that OTF has funded, including the encrypted messaging app Signal, have allowed Black Lives Matter protesters to organize demonstrations across the country more securely.

But now all of that is under threat, after Michael Pack, a Trump appointee and close ally of Steve Bannon, took control of USAGM in June. Pack has ousted the OTF’s leadership, removed its bipartisan board, and replaced it with Trump loyalists, including Bethany Kozma, an anti-transgender activist.

“The attacks on the OTF are also an attack against us all, too,” Caturani told VICE News. “Losing our safety and security could mean losing our fights for freedom, human rights, and democracy.”

“Worst-case scenario”

One reason the OTF managed to gain the trust of technologists and activists around the world is because, as its name suggests, it invested largely in open-source technology. By definition, open-source software’s source code is publicly available, meaning it can be studied, vetted, and in many cases contributed to by anyone in the world.

This transparency makes it possible for experts to study code to see if it has, for example, backdoors or vulnerabilities that would allow for governments to compromise the software’s security, potentially putting users at risk of being surveilled or identified.

Now, groups linked to Pack and Bannon have been pressing for the funding of closed-source technology, which is antithetical to the OTF’s work over the last eight years.

Closed-source technology — where all or part of the code is kept private — isn’t inherently a bad thing, but the danger is it can be designed with backdoors that would allow governments to secretly monitor users’ activity.

Developers of open-source technology can tell journalists in Russia and dissidents in Iran that anyone can see exactly how the software works, and so experts are free to vet them for any vulnerabilities or backdoors. No software can be 100% secure, and governments have developed exploits for open-source technology, but the transparent nature of the code means more experts can vet it, and users can make informed decisions about the security of any given tool.

“This is really the worst-case scenario,” Jillian York, director of international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a member of the advisory council at the OTF, told VICE News. “I think the really dangerous thing here is that the new leadership is under pressure to fund these closed-source technologies.”

The technologies that Pack is being pressed to fund at OTF are Freegate and Ultrasurf, two little-known apps that allow users to circumvent internet censorship in repressive regimes but currently have very small user bases inside China.

These apps are not widely trusted by internet freedom experts and activists, according to six experts who spoke to VICE News. That the OTF would pivot its funding from trusted, open-source tech to more obscure, closed-source tech has alarmed activists around the world and has resulted in open revolt among OTF’s former leadership.

VICE News has learned that Ultrasurf recently underwent a security audit to assess if the app contained any critical security flaws. The audit was conducted at the request of the State Department as a condition of funding, but the report has not been published.

This was because the developer of Ultrasurf wanted a reference to “a high-severity bug” removed from the report, according to a source at the company that conducted the audit, Cure53.

The developer, who uses the pseudonym Clint to protect his family in China, subsequently threatened Cure53 with legal action if they ever published the report. Clint told VICE News the audit was “sort of like a trap” and that the report was not made public because it would reveal too much about his source code.

The State Department, which has now received Cure53’s report, according to an email seen by VICE News, refused to comment.

Tearing down the Great Firewall

While the internet freedom community may have issues with Ultrasurf and Freegate, the developers behind the apps — which have been around since 2002 — are convinced they are the answer to China’s censorship problem.

“We can tear down the Great Firewall in a matter of months,” Clint from Ultrasurf said, while Bill Xia, the CEO of Dynamic Internet Technology, which maintains Freegate, told VICE News that his app “has been the most popular circumvention software in China since 2002” and “currently, we serve millions of users from China each month.”

But more than half a dozen experts in the internet freedom community who spoke to VICE News expressed a mixture of incredulity and frustration about those claims. The experts, who were granted anonymity to speak openly, said the apps’ code is out of date, dangerously vulnerable to compromise, and lacks the user base to allow it to effectively scale even if they secured government funding.

One source familiar with the technology said that giving the money to Ultrasurf or Freegate was “just fucking pissing money up against the Firewall.”

So why are these technologies even being considered for funding?

Mainly because prominent individuals with strong links to Pack have spent the better part of the last decade repeatedly pushing these apps to receive tens of millions of dollars in funding from the U.S. government, without providing any evidence that the technology will succeed.

The two loudest proponents of these technologies are Michael Horowitz, a former director of the Project for International Religious Liberty at the Hudson Institute, and Katrina Lantos Swett, the president of the Lantos Foundation Human Rights and Justice.

OTF staffers who spoke to VICE News on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press, say they’re concerned Horowitz and Swett will finally succeed thanks to their links to Pack and Bannon.

In recent months, as Pack’s confirmation gained momentum, Swett and Horowitz have increased their lobbying efforts and attacks on the leadership of the OTF.

In March, around the time Trump decided to pressure Republicans in the Senate to confirm Pack’s appointment, Libby Liu, OTF’s CEO, and Laura Cunningham, OTF’s president, got a phone call from Swett and her colleagues to discuss funding for large-scale circumvention tools to help people in China bypass the Great Firewall.

Swett described it as “a very professional and a very cordial call,” but that’s not how Liu and Cunningham remember it.

“It was quite threatening,” Cunningham told VICE News. “They said that they were very close with Michael Pack [and] told us that there was a lot of disappointment that we were not funding the most effective circumvention tools out there. Their advice was that if we wanted to make sure we stayed in CEO Pack’s good graces, that we needed to reorient our funds immediately to support those technologies.”

Liu says Swett and her colleagues “lectured us, you know, round robin-style, and threatened us.”

Extensive contemporaneous notes of the call made by Liu, and seen by VICE News, back up the assertions made by the pair, including the assertions of close links to Pack and his people.

“The overall gist of the call felt like an effort to threaten OTF into doing an immediate award to Ultrasurf,” Liu notes. “There were so many inaccuracies in their statements that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to correct them all in real time.”

A much less-detailed set of handwritten notes from Swett, also seen by VICE News, makes no reference to any issues on the call.

“Pack’s over there to clean house”

Three months later, Pack was finally confirmed by the Senate, and within days, Swett and the Lantos Foundation sent a lobbying letter, again listing Ultrasurf and Freegate, despite OTF’s obvious concerns about their closed-source nature.

Then, on June 13, Horowitz appeared on Bannon’s radio show “War Room” and openly called on Pack to fire Liu, and Bannon apparently wrote her name down.

Bannon has made no secret of being close to Pack and what he’s doing in his new role. “We are going hard on the charge,” Bannon told Vox. “Pack’s over there to clean house.”

Seeing the writing on the wall, Liu resigned. But four days later, Pack fired her anyway. A day later, believing she had been spared and ready to double down on the work she’d been doing, Cunningham was fired by email.

“I had no intention of resigning and no intention of leaving OTF,” Cunningham said. “I was 100% dedicated to staying with the organization and protecting this critical work.”

The email from Pack, seen by VICE News, gave no reason why Cunningham was being fired.

On Wednesday, seven prominent Republican senators, led by staunch Trump supporters Linsday Graham and Marco Rubio, wrote a scathing letter attacking Pack’s decision to fire Liu and Cunningham and the heads of all the other USAGM entities.

“The termination of qualified expert staff and network heads for no specific reason as well as the removal of their boards raised questions about the preservation of these entities and their ability to implement their statutory missions now and in the future,” they wrote. “These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of USAGM under your leadership.”

Pack’s arrival at USAGM coincides with an unprecedented uptick in internet censorship the world over, as authoritarian leaders follow China’s lead.

While some U.S. companies like Apple and Zoom have shown a willingness to censor their products to retain access to the hugely lucrative Chinese market, a much smaller U.S. company could provide the tools necessary to overcome China’s censorship.

Lantern is a secretive U.S. company that, based on data reviewed by VICE News, is among the largest circumvention tools currently being used anywhere in the world.

The team of 20 or so engineers who maintain the app, which is partly funded by the U.S. State Department, rarely speaks to the media about their efforts, to avoid painting a target on their back for the authorities in Beijing.

But silence also makes it much harder to get funding.

Amid the continuing fallout from Pack’s arrival and louder talk of hefty funding for other technologies such as Ultrasurf, the founders decided to speak up, saying their technology is primed to grow exponentially, if only they had the funding.

“At the moment, we have a cap of 500MB on free accounts,” Wolf, one of the co-founders of Lantern, who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity, told VICE News. “If we got funding, then we could just switch that cap off and grow our user base rapidly. That’s what they don’t know in Washington.”

Lantern was named by the Lantos Foundation in their lobbying efforts, but Wolf said they have no affiliation with the organization and have no reason to be associated with their efforts, because at the end of the day the funding should go to the team with the most widely used tool. “The U.S. government needs to back the right horse—and that’s us,” Wolf said.

Pack has yet to reveal who will be put in charge of OTF or where it will divert funds in the future. A spokesman for USAGM refused to answer any questions posed by VICE News.

But current and former staff members who spoke to VICE News said they’re worried about where Pack will take the organization. If he decides to follow the advice of Swett and Horowitz, and fund Ultrasurf and Freegate, then lives will be put at risk.

Cover: A woman shoots videos with a cellphone during a protest in Srinagar, Kashmir on June 21, 2020. (Photo by Faisal Khan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)