Some Online ‘Mobs’ Are Vicious. Others Are Perfectly Rational.

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Isn’t it amazing what people can do when they put their minds together? On a Monday in July, a casting announcement blitzed the Hollywood press: Scarlett Johansson would star in a forthcoming drama as Dante (Tex) Gill, a real-life 1970s underworld kingpin who, according to Deadline, “flourished in a male-dominated business of massage parlors and prostitution by essentially taking on the physical identity of a man.” Within hours, though, suspicions were brewing.

Online commenters noted that Gill appeared to live as what we would now call a transgender man, not a woman “cross-dressing” to get ahead. Trans actors and writers asked whether this rare role as a trans man should perhaps be played by a trans man. By the time Daniella Greenbaum, a conservative writer at Business Insider, defended Johansson for just “doing her job,” the wrath she met was so forceful that her editor scrubbed the column from the web. Twelve days into the controversy, Johansson announced her decision to “respectfully withdraw” from the project.

Greenbaum’s new project was just beginning. First she wrote and shared a letter of resignation, criticizing Business Insider’s editor, Nich Carlson, for “capitulation on the part of those who are supposed to be adults to the mob.” Of Johansson’s withdrawal, she tweeted: “The mob claims one more victim.” In an op-ed for The Washington Post, she bemoaned the “policing of speech and opinion” by a “social media mob”; in another, for The New York Post, she warned that the online crowd was gaining strength and that “the mob only gets hungrier when it eats.”

It has been a summer of Hollywood mobbings. When the actor and director Mark Duplass recommended that his fellow liberals might get something out of following the conservative pundit Ben Shapiro on Twitter, the crowd rebuffed his suggestion so strongly that he was forced to issue a formal apology. An online crew dredged up old tweets in which James Gunn, the director of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, made jokes about pedophilia, so Disney axed him. And when 4chan and Reddit dwellers resurrected a risqué “Dexter” parody from 2009, in which the comedy writer Dan Harmon simulated the rape of a plastic baby doll, Harmon nuked his Twitter. Big Hollywood players, fearing the next takedown, are redrawing contracts and purging feeds.

 

Each of these online storms seems, at first, to follow the same script: Locate the target and pummel them with outrage until reputational damage has been sustained. Zoom in, though, and crucial distinctions emerge. The supposedly bloodthirsty mob that robbed Johansson of her role appears, on close examination, more like a critical consensus — one in which genuine stakeholders, including trans Hollywood players, responded spontaneously to dispiriting news. Johansson and her film’s producers had simply failed to read the room and were treated to a sustained round of sincere and mostly uncoordinated boos.

The mobbing of Gunn was another animal entirely. Mike Cernovich — the same internet figure who helped foment Gamergate (a sustained harassment campaign against feminists in the gaming profession) and Pizzagate (a conspiracy theory claiming that liberal politicians were molesting children in a Washington pizzeria) — was one of a few right-wing trolls who spied an opportunity to engineer an outrage campaignagainst a liberal “elite.” Together they pounded it into Twitter until they got results.

But recent rhetoric attributes it all to the same shadowy force: The mob has claimed another victim.

Our popular understanding of a “mob” is more than a century old, tracing back to an 1895 book called “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind,” by the French polymath Gustave Le Bon. Just as critics of “Twitter mobs” worry about people’s behavior when they move from real life to the internet, Le Bon was skeptical about the shift from an agrarian society to city living. The urban crowd, he wrote, is marked by “impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason” and “the exaggeration of the sentiments.” A man on his own “may be a cultivated individual,” but “in a crowd, he is a barbarian.” Over the next several decades, Le Bon’s work attracted many influential fans: Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler.

In the second half of the 20th century, though, sociologists began to puncture these assumptions. Carl Couch argued in a 1968 paper that crowds often appear irrational only because they are working against the “established institutions of the day” — a “mob” was merely what authorities called it when “people organize their behavior on the basis of a different set of norms.” Far from being hyperemotional and irrational, crowds were ruled by the “highly rational” insight that their power was in their numbers. And despite a reputation for destruction, crowds “have generally been as gentle as a loving mother when compared with the established authority.”

Whether a group is labeled a “mob” often does have more to do with its aims than its tactics. The angry crowds coded as mobs are those whose actions are later condemned by history — the pogroms that murdered Jews in Russia or the lynch mobs of the Jim Crow South. Those whose ideas are eventually adopted and normalized become, in hindsight, revolutionaries.

Mob members are also often styled as an underclass, armed with a peasant laborer’s pitchfork and torch — as though the primal fear is that society’s discontents, a mass of people “beneath” you, will rise up, and not in a spirit of reason, fairness or mercy. Just about everyone, these days, seems eager to claim that underdog status — but there are those who lack institutional power because of discrimination, and then there are those who are kept out of polite society because they are amoral ghouls. The true nature of a mob becomes a lot clearer once you differentiate between the two.

The Johansson “mob,” for instance, was dedicated to challenging a fault in the status quo, punctuated by trans actors’ insights into the ways Hollywood was embracing their stories but still boxing them out of participating in telling them; it seemed less interested in punishing Johansson than in gaining opportunities for trans people. (As the actor Jen Richards told The Hollywood Reporter: “In an ideal world, I would like anyone to be able to play any kind of part. That’s the kind of freedom I want for myself and the kind of freedom I want for others” — a kind of thoughtfulness easily obscured by lumping her in with an irrational “mob.”)

The Gunn mob was led by a clutch of far-right men who only frame themselves as outsiders and use as their weapon the most thoroughly accepted norm they can find: that pedophilia is indefensible. The insincerity of their complaint — or the fact that Gunn apologized for his jokes years ago — doesn’t matter, because the goal isn’t to change anything; it’s merely to destroy a rival. As one 4chan user wrote of the Harmon mob, which formed in the wake of the Gunn win: “If they get to take scalps for someone making racist jokes, we get to take scalps for them making pedophilia jokes.”

Like a pitchfork, Twitter is an imperfect tool. Its brevity suppresses nuance; its virtuality opens the door for insincerity; it incentivizes people with no true investment in a controversy to weigh in anyway. And the internet has primed us to demand instantaneous results: When everything we want to know or buy can be accessed with a few clicks, perhaps we expect that justice be served just as swiftly. Members of some crowds acknowledge that these conditions are less than ideal. But for disingenuous outrage trolls, the blunt instrument of outrage is an end in itself: The crude result of getting someone fired is the entire point.

 

It’s true that internet mobs are rarely sated until they achieve some reduction in their target’s authority and power — often a firing. (They’re occasionally referred to as “lynch mobs,” as though losing a career opportunity were a kind of modern extrajudicial killing.) These mobs may not literally have the power to rip words from the web or push an actor off a call sheet, but they intuit that a big-enough public-relations disaster can force corporate interests to do it for them, whether the corporation finds the complaint valid or not.

It may be the employer or the publisher who ultimately makes that call, but it’s the mob that gets the attention — and some targets are beginning to find that blaming the mob is a smart P.R. move. No surprise, then, that so many “mobbings” are slickly converted into opportunities for grandstanding among self-styled freethinkers, their individuality under assault by the politically correct masses. Courting wrath on the internet can give you a powerful tale of persecution to share, surfing a wave of raised fists to fame. Greenbaum, for instance, rode her mobbing from The Washington Post to The New York Post and onward to Fox News, where she perched in a guest chair opposite Tucker Carlson and spoke about the “silencing” she experienced. And Carlson, for his part, found a way to indict the irrational masses and the liberal elites in the same breath. “Even the biggest Hollywood stars,” he marveled, “are no longer safe from the mobs they created.”

 

Source : https://nyti.ms/2MD2npD

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Nine-year-old boy dies after beating by Buddhist monk.

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Nine-year-old boy dies after beating by Buddhist monk.

Bangkok (AFP) – A nine-year-old Buddhist novice has died after a beating by a Thai monk who allegedly battered him with a stick and slammed his head against a pillar, officials said.

Monk Suphachai Suthiyano, 64, flew into a rage during a prayer session last weekend when the young disciple disrupted the ceremony with his “playful” behaviour.

The monk allegedly assaulted Wattanapol Sisawad with a bamboo stick at the temple in Kanchanaburi, two hours west of Bangkok, striking him on his back several times before bashing his head into a pillar.

The child fell into a coma and passed away late Thursday, a hospital worker at Kanchanaburi provincial hospital told AFP on Friday, requesting anonymity.

The incident comes as Thailand, a majority-Buddhist country, grapples with multiple other scandals among its clergy, including cases of extortion, sex and drug use.

The suspect, who was defrocked on Sunday following his arrest, was charged earlier this week with assault.

Police Captain Amnaj Chunbult said the charge will be revised to “assault resulting in death” once he receives official confirmation.

The boy’s mother Sukunya Tunhim told Thai media in a taped phone call she “will not forgive him (the monk)”.

An official from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the National Police Office in Bangkok confirmed an autopsy had already taken place, and that the boy’s relatives have reclaimed his body.

The Buddhist faith is bound with everyday life in Thailand, making it commonplace for most men, even children, to spend some time in a monastery as a novice.

Monks are virtually beyond reproach in the country’s villages, but the ruling junta has taken a strong line against clergy who break the law.

Earlier this month, Thailand’s infamous “jet-set monk” — so-called after footage emerged of him carrying a Louis Vuitton bag on a private jet — was sentenced to 114 years in prison for money-laundering and fraud.

In May the abbot of the popular “Golden Mount” temple in Bangkok surrendered to police after $4 million was found in bank accounts in his name.

The case came on the heels of an ongoing investigation into whether the National Office of Buddhism had misused millions of dollars under its control.

Authorities last year floated the idea of introducing digitised ID cards to better track monks with criminal convictions.

Source : https://yhoo.it/2xEXdTQ

Canada defiant after Saudi Arabia freezes trade over rights criticism.

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Canada defiant after Saudi Arabia freezes trade over rights criticism.

OTTAWA — Canada on Monday refused to back down in its defense of human rights after Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment and expelled the Canadian ambassador in retaliation for Ottawa’s call to free arrested Saudi civil society activists.

In her first public response to Saudi Arabia’s actions, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights.”

Riyadh on Sunday recalled its ambassador from Canada and gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave. The Saudi government also banned new trade with Canada, although it was unclear if it would affect existing annual Saudi-Canadian trade of nearly $4 billion and a $13 billion defense contract.

The moves were a stern rebuke to Canada after the country on Friday expressed concern over the arrests of activists in Saudi Arabia, including prominent women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi, and called for their release.

Riyadh said that amounted to “a blatant interference in the kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols.”

Saudi Arabia’s sudden sharp response to criticism shows the limits of reforms by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs its day-to-day government. He has launched a campaign of social and economic change, but has not eased the absolute monarchy’s total ban on political activism.

In recent months Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on women driving, but it has also arrested activists, including more than a dozen high-profile campaigners for women’s rights.

In the fist comments by Washington since the dispute erupted, a State Department official said the United States had asked Riyadh for details on the detention of activists.

“We continue to encourage the government of Saudi Arabia to respect due process and to publicize information on the status of legal cases,” the official added.

On Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir criticized Canada’s calls to free arrested civil society activists as a position built on “misleading” information.

The moves, carried on the official Saudi Press Agency, caught diplomats in Riyadh off guard. Both the Saudi and Canadian ambassadors were away on leave at the time.

The kingdom will suspend educational exchange programs with Canada and move Saudi scholarship recipients to other countries, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported on Monday.

“It would be a shame for those students if they are deprived of the opportunity to study here,” Freeland told reporters.

Neighbors and allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates said they stood with Riyadh, although they did not announce similar measures.

Saudi state airline Saudia said it was suspending flights to and from Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

As heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed is in line to become the first Saudi king from a new generation after a succession of six brothers dating to 1953. He has ambitions to diversify the economy from oil exports and ease some social restrictions. But his reforms include no changes that would liberalize a political system that allows no public dissent.

Amnesty International said the response to Canada showed that it was important Western countries not be intimidated into silence over Riyadh’s treatment of dissenters.

“Instead of pursuing human rights reform, the government of Saudi Arabia has chosen to lash out with punitive measures in the face of criticism,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns.

Riyadh has a record of responding robustly to Western criticism under Mohammed bin Salman.

“Saudi Arabia is shooting itself in the foot. If you want to open up your country to the world, you don’t start expelling ambassadors and freezing trade with countries such as Canada,” said Joost Hiltermann, regional program director for the International Crisis Group.

Source : https://nbcnews.to/2vp9Kuk

 

Tokyo medical school admits changing results to exclude women.

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Tokyo medical school admits changing results to exclude women.

One of Japan’s most prestigious medical schools has admitted deliberately altering entrance exam scores for more than a decade to restrict the number of female students and ensure more men became doctors.

Tokyo Medical University manipulated all entrance exam results starting in 2006 or even earlier, according to findings released by lawyers involved in the investigation, confirming recent reports in Japanese media.

The school,  which initially denied knowledge of the test score , said it should not have occurred and vowed to prevent it from happening again.

It said it would consider retroactively admitting those who otherwise would have passed the exams, although it did not explain how it would do so.

“We sincerely apologise for the serious wrongdoing involving entrance exams that has caused concern and trouble for many people and betrayed the public’s trust,” the school’s managing director, Tetsuo Yukioka, said at a news conference. He denied any previous knowledge of the score manipulation and said he was never involved.

“I suspect that there was a lack of sensitivity to the rules of modern society, in which women should not be treated differently because of their gender,” he said.

Yukioka said women were not treated differently once they were accepted, but acknowledged that some people believe women were not allowed to become surgeons.

The manipulation was revealed during an investigation into the alleged “backdoor entry” of an education ministry bureaucrat’s son in exchange for favorable treatment for the school in obtaining research funds. The bureaucrat and the former head of the school have been charged with bribery.

The investigation found that in this year’s entrance exams the school reduced all applicants’ first-stage test scores by 20% and then added at least 20 points for male applicants, except those who had previously failed the test at least four times. It said similar manipulations had occurred for years because the school wanted fewer female doctors, since it anticipated they would shorten or halt their careers after having children.

It is not clear how many women have been affected, but the practice started in 2006, according to Japanese media, potentially affecting a large number of candidates.

The education ministry official’s son, who had failed the exam three times, was given a total of 20 additional points, which eventually elevated him to just above the cutoff line.

The report said the manipulation was “profound sexism”, according to lawyer Kenji Nakai.

He said the investigation also suggested that the school’s former director took money from some parents who sought preferential treatment for their sons and that the manipulation was part of a deep-rooted culture that lacked fairness and transparency.

Nakai said the report only covered the latest exam results because of time constraints, and that further investigation was needed.

Nearly 50% of Japanese women are college educated — one of the world’s highest levels — but they often face discrimination in the workforce. Women also are considered responsible for homemaking, childrearing and caring for elderly relatives, while men are expected to work long hours. Outside care services are limited.

Studies show the share of female doctors who have passed the national medical exam has plateaued at around 30% for more than 20 years, leading some experts to suspect that other medical schools also discriminate against women.

The revelations have added weight to claims of institutional sexism in the Japanese workplace and education, frustrating efforts by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to create a society “in which women can shine”.

While women’s representation in the workplace is rising, Japan compares poorly with other countries in promoting women to senior positions. Many female employees find it difficult to return to work after giving birth.

The education minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said exam discrimination against women was “absolutely unacceptable,” adding that the ministry planned to examine admission procedures at all of the country’s medical schools.

The gender equality minister, Seiko Noda, told public broadcaster NHK: “It’s extremely disturbing if the university didn’t let women pass the exams because they think it’s difficult to work with female doctors.”

The revelations sparked fury on social media. “I’m 29 and will probably never get married,” said one poster. “Women are pitied if they don’t, but Japanese women who are married and working and have kids end up sleeping less than anybody in the world. To now hear that even our skills are suppressed makes me shake with rage.”

Another said: “I ignored my parents, who said women don’t belong in academia, and got into the best university in Japan. But in job interviews I’m told ‘If you were a man, we’d hire you right away.’ My enemy wasn’t my parents, but all society itself.”

The lawyers also said that the university’s former chairman and president had received money from the parents of applicants whose entrance exam scores were padded, according to Kyodo.

They allegedly raised the exam results of the children of former graduates in the hope that the parents would make donations to the school, the news agency said.

Source : https://bit.ly/2nlVJt2

9 Teaching Resources That Tell the Truth About Columbus.

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9 Teaching Resources That Tell the Truth About Columbus.

The times they are a-changing for Christopher Columbus 

Finding good teaching materials for Columbus Day is like searching for a needle in a haystack. States and cities are increasingly recognizing Indigenous Peoples, but appropriate and readily available lesson plans have fallen behind the trend.

 

The times they are a-changing for Christopher Columbus. In 1990, only three states failed to honor the genocidal and delusional navigator. The word is getting out, though, and this year, 16 states will not celebrate him. One by one, cities are also taking matters into their own hands. Seattle will now recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, following Minneapolis and San Francisco.

 

But still, even reputable organizations like the National Education Association don’t offer a single online Columbus Day lesson plan we’d recommend. There are a few decent videos out there, but most of them say Natives came from Asia. Others gloss over the genocide as if worried about the delicate ears of the children they teach. But is it the children or the adults who feel the need to insulate their thin-skinned patriotism?

 

Consider the thoughts of Wisconsin high school student, Savana Stuhl, 17, who said, “I was probably in fifth grade when my mom told me about Columbus. At first I didn’t believe her because at school he was called a hero, he found America, he came here first. Then my mother read me a book about the true story that he wasn’t the first one here.” Stuhl now feels even very young children should be told the truth. “I think younger kids could handle it. It is important they know he wasn’t a hero.”

 

In Prescott, Wisconsin, AP History teacher Jeff Ryan agrees. “I would argue that anyone who thinks students aren’t capable of weighing different perspectives, boy that’s a dangerous way to think,” he said. Ryan’s lesson plans include the writings of Friar Bartolome Las Casas, who detailed the atrocities after Columbus’s arrival in horrific detail.

 

Describing the resistance of some people to accept the truth, Ryan said, “If factual information is so brand new, something they have never heard before, and if it is the opposite of what they believe, then they think it is biased. The challenge as a teacher is not about trying to change minds. It is about opening minds, and doing it rationally.”

 

In Wisconsin, ACT 31 makes Native Studies mandatory. “And it is filtering its way into primary and elementary grade levels,” Ryan said. I have an 8-year-old who came back from her first grade class—she told me, ‘You know Columbus was an explorer, but he did some really bad things. He did mean things to the Native people.’”

 

In this new era of honesty in history, where can teachers go for good information? We came up with a list of nine resources: good ideas, books and one lesson plan that work even for very young children.

Rethinking Columbus

The most highly recommended reading, by Oyate.org and American Indian Children’s Literature, is Rethinking Columbus. The book offers this summary: “…the Columbus myth is a foundation of children’s beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child’s first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore. It says nothing about the brutality of the European invasion of North America.” Writings from N. Scott Momaday, Cornell Pewewardy, Barb Munson, Rosalie Little Thunder, Winona LaDuke and many more. It is a readily available source that offers a real Native perspective.

Wikimedia Commons

 

A whitetail deer in winter.

Putting Columbus on Trial

Teachers in McDonald, Pennsylvania, celebrated Columbus Day by putting Columbus on trial, where students gave Columbus a life sentence of imprisonment. In Texas, students learned not only of the import/export trade of gold and jewels, but also of smallpox blankets.

 

Lies My Teacher Told Me

 

Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus, What Your History Books Got Wrong by James W. Loewen, is the perfect antidote for teachers who want to show not only the truth about Columbus, but see a chart showing how textbook historians have hidden the truth from students. It’s a double lesson that teaches about Columbus and encourages students to do their research.

 

Wikimedia Commons

 

A whitetail deer in winter.

 

The American Discovery of Europe

For high school students, the book The American Discovery of Europe by Jack D. Forbes presents the refreshing news that Natives were already traveling the world, and were met in Ireland and other countries more than a decade before Columbus arrived on these shores.

 

 

Wikimedia Commons

 

A whitetail deer in winter.

 

Videos

 

There was not one YouTube video about Columbus that was found to be suitable. Avoid them. The only decent video we found was on the paid subscription site Brain Pop. The video, activities, and additional reading on The Columbian Exchange do more than gloss over the subject of Natives, and gives serious weight to the genocide and slavery.

 

Columbus Day Books

There are two books, both named Columbus Day, that are suitable for young children. One by Holiday Histories and the other by Vicki Liestman. They are not thorough, but are fair.

 

Wikimedia Commons

 

A whitetail deer in winter.

 

Wikimedia Commons

 

A whitetail deer in winter.

 

Columbus’s Journals

 

Columbus’s journals offer many ideas for lesson plans. Exploring stereotypes, cultural norms, religious freedom, are all lessons that could be drawn from his journals.

Protests

 

Showing students a slideshow of anti-Columbus Day protests by modern day Natives shows mainstream children that indigenous people are still here and have strong feelings about the celebration.

Two Perspectives

 

Columbus Day From Two Perspectives offers students in grades 4-6 an opportunity to learn about what happened to the Taino people who suffered at the hands of Columbus and his men. The Lesson Plan website even asks for Columbus Day lesson plan submissions, admitting they only have a very few.

 

“The truth shouldn’t be hidden. Instead of hiding it, people should be able to learn from it,” said Anton Wazlawik, 17, a senior at Prescott High School in Wisconsin. “I feel grateful that our school hasn’t censored that information. Instead of tempers flaring, we should look at the facts. There are too many people who feel their way is the only.”

Source: https://bit.ly/2lBg8cq

Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance.

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Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance.

On the morning a debt collector threatened to rape his wife, Andrew Therrien was working from home, in a house with green shutters on a cul-de-sac in a small Rhode Island town. Tall and stocky, with a buzz cut and a square, friendly face, Therrien was a salesman for a promotions company. He’d always had an easy rapport with people over the phone, and on that day, in February 2015, he was calling food vendors to talk about grocery store giveaways.

Therrien was interrupted midpitch by a call from his wife. She’d gotten a voicemail from an authoritative-sounding man saying Therrien was in some kind of trouble. “I need to verify an address to present you with your formal claim,” the man had said. “Andrew Therrien, you are officially notified.”

A few minutes later, Therrien’s phone buzzed. It was the same guy. He gave his name as Charles Cartwright and said Therrien owed $700 on a payday loan. But Therrien knew he didn’t owe anyone anything. Suspecting a scam, he told Cartwright just what he thought of his scare tactics.

Cartwright hung up, then called back, mad. He said he wanted to meet face-to-face to teach Therrien a lesson.

“Come on by, asshole,” Therrien says he replied.

“I will,” Cartwright said, “and I hope your wife is at home.”

That’s when he made the rape threat.

Therrien got so angry he couldn’t think clearly. He wasn’t going to just let someone menace and disrespect his wife like that. He had to know who this Cartwright guy was, and his employer, too. Therrien wanted to make them pay.

At the same time, he worried that the call might not be a swindle. What if some misinformed loan shark really was coming for them? But Therrien didn’t have any real information he could take to the police.

Then he remembered Cartwright had left a number with his wife.

He dialed.

Somewhere—at the top of a ladder of dirty debt collectors that Therrien would spend the next two years relentlessly climbing—a man named Joel Tucker had no idea what was coming.

“You’ll never get your money back. You might as well get blood out of it”

Earlier this year, I met Therrien, 33, at a Panera Bread restaurant in central Providence. He had reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, on the condition that I not reveal his hometown or his wife’s name.

Therrien had been caught up in a fraud known as phantom debt, where millions of Americans are hassled to pay back money they don’t owe. The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.

The problem is as simple as it is intractable. In 2012 a call center in India was busted for making 8 million calls in eight months to collect made-up bills. The Federal Trade Commission has since broken up at least 13 similar scams. In most cases, regulators weren’t able to identify the original perpetrators because the data files had been sold and repackaged so many times. Victims have essentially no recourse to do anything but take the abuse.

Most victims, that is. When the scammers started to hound Therrien, he hounded them right back. Obsessed with payback, he spent hundreds of hours investigating the dirty side of debt. By day he was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken—using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate. Therrien didn’t punch anyone in the head, of course. He was simply unstoppable over the phone.

When Therrien dialed the number Cartwright had left, a woman answered and said she worked for Lakefront Processing Solutions in Buffalo. She’d never heard of Charles Cartwright, though, and implied he must be some kind of freelancer or bounty hunter. Regardless, she said, Therrien could clear everything up by making a payment. Her records indicated that he owed a payday lender called Vista.

Therrien had indeed once taken out a loan, but he didn’t think it was from Vista. He’d been selling copiers at the time, and when his boss stiffed him on a $20,000 commission, he turned to an online lender to make a car payment. Therrien says he paid back the debt promptly. He was offended by the Lakefront woman’s suggestion that he was a deadbeat. “I’m a person who believes in personal friggin’ responsibility,” Therrien tells me. “I signed an agreement. And I fulfilled my obligation.”

On his laptop, Therrien started digging. He found a securities filing saying Vista had merged with a company called That Marketing Solution Inc. After paying a few dollars to an online people-search service, he got its president on the line. “You sold my personal information to a bunch of thugs,” Therrien recalls telling the man. “I want to know why, and I want to know what you’re going to do about it.” Within hours, the company provided a letter saying that Therrien had never borrowed from Vista.

Armed with proof the debt was invalid, Therrien turned back to Lakefront. More searches yielded a corporate parent, owned by two Buffalo men. Therrien called them, then their lawyer. When the lawyer stalled, Therrien bombarded him with more calls, at home and on his cell—enough to put Lakefront off him for good. (The parties eventually reached a confidential settlement, and Lakefront—whose name I found in a public record—declined to comment.)

By the morning after Cartwright’s call, Therrien’s fears of a psycho collector had been assuaged—no one had showed up at his house. But swatting down Lakefront turned out to be just the first round in a game of whack-a-mole. More collection agencies contacted him, his wife, his brother, even his grandparents. The calls made it clear to Therrien that an overarching force was at play. His name had to be getting on these lists somehow.

Each night, after his wife went to sleep, he cracked open his laptop to comb lawsuits, unearth filings, and uproot the owners of the agencies calling him. When he got names, he’d phone them, often surprising them at home, and make clear that he wouldn’t go away until they’d revealed who supplied their debt portfolios. “Here’s the deal,” he’d say. “I don’t really care about you. There’s a million guys like you out there. You’ll never get your money back. You might as well get blood out of it. Tell me what I need to know to put these guys in jail.”

Sometimes, Therrien would make a small payment on the fake debt, then check bank records to see where it went. He found people with convictions for counterfeiting, stock fraud, drug dealing, and child molestation. He started a spreadsheet, Scums.xlsx, to keep track. On weekends he’d harangue them from his couch while watching New England Patriots games. He used persuasion techniques he’d learned selling copiers, some drawn from a book called Getting Into Your Customer’s Head. On the phone, Therrien is a savant. He has an instinct for when to be a friend—one gruff payday lender tells me, sheepishly, that he simply doesn’t know why he speaks with Therrien so frequently—and when to be a bully.

Therrien would threaten to report the collectors to regulators unless they helped him figure out what was going on. “You are either with me in this, or you are against me,” he wrote to one man. Others he tried to shame. “If my intentions are right, I’ll have God on my side,” Therrien emailed one source. “You may not love poor people, but He does.”

The targets were shocked by Therrien’s doggedness. In their world, complaints are common, but most victims give up after being promised they won’t be called again. One shady-debt player tells me he suspected Therrien was an undercover federal investigator because he’d gathered so much information on his business. “It’s an obsession, it’s unbelievable, an outright vigilante crusade,” another says. “It doesn’t seem to equal the harm that was done to him.”

Therrien knew his fixation seemed odd. He didn’t tell his friends and family much about his nighttime activity. But the collectors’ threats brought back feelings of rage and fear that he’d struggled to suppress since childhood. He grew up in working-class Connecticut, where his father was a factory man and his mother had a series of part-time jobs. Therrien says they mistreated him and his brother, and he moved out at 16 after an incident he won’t discuss. He told me he regrets not doing more to protect his brother. (Therrien’s father is dead, and his mother denies she did anything wrong.)

In college, Therrien worked at a J.Crew store, where a customer spotted his talent for sales and offered him a job. Therrien makes a good living now, and he takes pride in being a more responsible person than his parents—paying his bills on time, going to church on Sunday, and taking care of those close to him. “If it’s just about me, I don’t particularly give a f—,” he tells me, with an incongruous laugh. “You call my wife, and you call my grandparents? You just opened up a door that got really f—ing ugly, and now I’m going to make sure that I just ruin your life.”

As more collectors yielded to Therrien’s persistence and talked, he dropped his pursuit of Charles Cartwright, concluding that it was an untraceable alias, and focused on understanding their business. Phantom debt, he learned, is blended with real debt in ways that are almost impossible to untangle.

Americans are currently late on more than $600 billion in bills, according to Federal Reserve research, and almost one person in 10 has a debt in collectors’ hands. The agencies recoup what they can and sell the rest down-market, so that iffier and iffier debt is bought by shadier and shadier individuals. Deception is common. Scammers often sell the same portfolios of debt, called “paper,” to several collection agencies at once, so a legitimate IOU gains illegitimate clones. Some inflate balances, a practice known as “overbiffing.” Others create “redo” lists—people who’ve settled their debt, but will be harassed again anyway. These rosters are actually more valuable, because the targets have proved willing to part with money over the phone. And then there are those who invent debts out of whole cloth.

Portfolios are combined and doctored until they contain thousands of entries. One collector told Therrien that he’d paid cash at a diner for a thumb drive with a database containing Therrien’s name. Some collectors told him they thought the files were partially legitimate; others knew their paper was completely falsified. Yet they continued to trade it, referring to the people they pursued as deadbeats and losers. The more Therrien learned, the more disgusted he grew with everyone involved.

His search for the ur-source rarely traveled in a straight line. For a time, Therrien focused on Buffalo,one of the poorest cities in the U.S. and a hub for the collections industry—home to agencies that work the oldest, cheapest paper. Debt collector is a more common job there than bartender or construction worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Therrien wore down as many Buffalo collectors as he could, one name kept surfacing: Joel Tucker, a former payday-loan mogul from Kansas City, Mo. By the summer of 2015, Therrien was convinced he’d found his guy.

Therrien needed an ally inside the Kansas City racket. He found one in Frampton “Ted” Rowland III, a middle-aged insurance-broker-turned-predatory-lender whose company was listed as the original creditor for one of Therrien’s supposed loans. When Therrien called, Rowland said he was sorry—and kept talking. His life was falling apart. He’d been sued by the FTC over his lending practices, he’d lost all his money, and his wife was leaving him. Therrien sympathized. He sensed Rowland was a good man who’d made a bad choice out of a desire to provide for his family. They started to speak regularly, and Rowland told Therrien he blamed Tucker for everything.

Tucker had created the local industry with his two brothers. Scott, the oldest, was the brains. He’d served time in prison for a scam in which he’d pretended to work for JPMorgan Chase & Co. The middle son, Blaine, was popular and a talented musician. Joel, tall and handsome, was a natural salesman. But when he was 21, he was selling furniture and working at a mini-mart, so hard up that he got arrested for bouncing a $12 check. (The case was dismissed.)

In the mid-1990s, Scott opened a payday-loan store and gave his brothers jobs. Lending money to people who don’t have any is surprisingly profitable. In states where such stores are legal, such as Missouri, they’re more common than McDonald’s franchises. But in the 15 states where such stores are against the law, there are millions of desperate people willing to pay for fast cash and no one to give it to them. Scott pioneered what he thought was a clever legal loophole that would give him access to that market: He created websites that were owned on paper by an American Indian tribe, which could claim sovereign immunity from regulators. Those sites charged as much as $150 interest on a two-week, $500 loan—an annualized interest rate of about 700 percent.

The loophole was ridiculously lucrative. Scott’s operation generated $2 billion in revenue from 2003 to 2012. He bought a private jet and spent more than $60 million to start his own professional Ferrari racing team. Around 2005, Joel split to start a company that would allow anyone to get into online payday lending—supplying software to process applications and loans and offering access to a steady stream of customers. All the clients had to bring was money and a willingness to bypass state law. Word spread around Kansas City’s country clubs and private schools that if you wanted to get rich, Joel Tucker was your man.

With Tucker’s help, one property management executive and his son, a general contractor, started a lender that saw $161 million in revenue over eight years. An investor presentation from that period shows that Tucker was personally clearing tens of millions of dollars in profit per year.

One of his clients was Rowland, until the gravy train crashed in 2013. Under pressure from regulators, banks stopped doing business with the sketchiest payday lenders, making it hard for them to issue loans and collect payments. In 2014 federal authorities raided Rowland’s office, and the FBI began investigating the Tucker brothers. Blaine committed suicide by jumping off a parking garage in 2014; Scott was charged two years later with racketeering, and prosecutors called his tribal arrangement a sham. (He declined to comment.)

By the time Therrien came looking for Joel Tucker in the fall of 2015, he’d become a hard man to find. Twice divorced, he was moving from place to place, ducking his creditors. A booking photo from the time when he was briefly imprisoned for failing to show up for court in an unrelated lawsuit shows him with bristly gray hair and dark circles under deep-set blue eyes. Therrien couldn’t find a working phone number for him—not even when he reached his 81-year-old mother, Norma. She claimed not to know where he was.

Therrien’s tactics grew more intense, mirroring those of the debt collectors he loathed. As he had in Buffalo, he developed a network of sources in Kansas City, figuring out who hated whom and playing them off each other. He got a burner app that provided disposable numbers for his smartphone, with any area code he wanted. He called wives, widows, business partners, even a waitress who’d once worked at a restaurant the Tuckers owned. He’d have his sources drive by places where he thought Tucker might be living, to look for his car. He told one broker’s mother-in-law that she should investigate who her daughter was married to. Therrien acknowledges that sometimes he went too far.

By November 2015 he developed a simple theory. Tucker’s business had given him access to a huge database of people who’d applied for loans—including, just maybe, the one Therrien had taken out in his copier-selling days. What if, when Tucker was broke and needed money, he’d taken applicants’ personal information, invented loan balances, and sold the list as a portfolio of delinquent debt?

Therrien took his hypothesis to the FBI and FTC. His emails were breathless and confusing, but the authorities were patient, taking his calls and talking to him at length. It was clear they knew about Tucker, but Therrien got frustrated by what he saw as inaction. “There are millions of people out there being threatened daily by these actions and I’m doing my part to try and stop it,” he wrote to an FTC investigator in early 2016, begging him to hold Tucker accountable.

January 2016 saw a breakthrough: A former employee of Tucker’s agreed to arrange a call between him and Therrien to clear the air. Therrien couldn’t believe his unseen antagonist was willing to talk. So anxious he couldn’t sit down, he set up a recording device in his home office, put his phone on speaker, and called.

Tucker seemed hyper and defensive, telling Therrien that if any of the portfolios he’d sold now contained phantom debt, they must have been doctored after leaving his hands. “F—ing shame on them,” he said. “Wasn’t me. It had to have been them.”

Therrien was trying to hold back his anger, but his voice wavered. He wanted to impress Tucker, mentioning tidbits he knew about his business. Tucker didn’t understand why Therrien, this guy he’d never met, was so extravagantly invested.

“I’ll tell you why I care,” Therrien said calmly. “I’ll tell you why I care. I believe, and I’m just telling you what I believe, you sold my personal information 21 separate times. I’ve gotten close to 100 f—ing calls, and because I’ve gotten those 100 calls from scumbag collectors that you facilitated, I’m going to make sure that that kind of shit ends now.”

Tucker was incredulous: “You think this is my fault?”

“You got desperate because you spent two dollars for every dollar you had,” Therrien said.

“What are you talking about? Are you trying to micromanage my life? You don’t know jack shit about me.”

“I know what happened. You f—ing stole money from people,” Therrien said. “I’m giving you the opportunity to come clean.”

“I don’t know who you are, Andrew,” Tucker said. “Who are you?”

“A person that you f—ed with too many times.”

When Therrien played the tape for me, I was amazed at how fluently he channeled emotion—his own and Tucker’s—to get what he wanted. Incredibly, by the end of the half-hour call, Tucker was offering to help Therrien collect evidence about crimes committed by other people in the payday-loan business. “We need to get this stuff resolved,” Tucker said on the tape, with a sigh. “’Cause this—it’s not healthy for anybody.”

The two men started talking and texting a few times a week. “I think he has a mental illness that allows him to think he did nothing wrong,” Therrien told me. (Tucker didn’t respond to most of my emailed questions and kept putting off interview requests. “Lies are not stories,” he wrote in one email. He said that any debt he’d sold was legitimate.)

Tucker’s denials made Therrien hate him more, but Therrien masked his feelings to keep the conversation going. The one-year anniversary of his quest was approaching, and he wanted real evidence of wrongdoing—something Tucker couldn’t deny and officials couldn’t ignore.

Therrien soon obtained two crucial sets of documents to that end. In March 2016 he flew to California to meet a debt broker, who handed over some contracts Tucker had signed. Separately, Therrien received an email from the manager of a collection agency, to whose conscience he’d spent weeks appealing. The email, whose subject line read “Have faith in the good in heart,” included actual phantom-debt files, with names and Social Security numbers. The metadata yielded a new name: Rob Harsh, Tucker’s IT guy. (The author of the email died of a drug overdose a few months later.)

In May 2016, Therrien emailed his discoveries to the FTC. A lawyer replied right away: “Andrew, we need to talk about this.” Therrien also gave his intel to some private lawyers who were going after Tucker in Texas. They contacted Harsh, and in August 2016 he submitted an affidavit to the court. Harsh, who declined to comment for this story, testified that Tucker had asked him to manipulate a database of almost 8 million payday-loan applications, writing in a made-up lender and adding an amount owed of $300 for each person.

Therrien had been right all along.

Vindication didn’t make Therrien happy, not even when the FTC suit against Rowland’s company took a karmic swerve that drew in Tucker, directing him to return $30 million he’d received in ill-gotten profits from the business. Tucker told the court he was broke.

Meanwhile, Rowland was spiraling. He confided in Therrien that he was considering suicide, and one day that summer he called Therrien to say goodbye. “Don’t do anything stupid,” Therrien texted him afterward. “I may be callous with you lately but I still care and don’t want anything bad to happen.” Therrien told me he’d informed the police of Rowland’s plan and that they had intervened. But that October, Rowland shot himself. His death added to Therrien’s outrage at Tucker and other predatory lenders like him who hadn’t faced any real legal consequences.

Finally, in December 2016, the FTC sued Tucker for selling phantom debt. According to the regulator, everything had happened pretty much as Therrien imagined: Tucker had invented more than 7.7 million fake debts and sold them to a series of middlemen for $4.2 million. This September, a judge ruled for the agency, ordering Tucker to pay back that money on top of the $30 million he already owed.

The FTC has never credited Therrien, and Michael Tankersley, an agency lawyer, declined to discuss their interactions. But Tankersley told me that Harsh and the California broker were two key sources of information establishing Tucker’s wrongdoing.

Therrien, as usual, was unsatisfied. He was still getting calls from collectors, for one thing. And he felt that if he’d done a better job investigating, Tucker would be facing criminal charges—not a civil fine he’d never end up paying. Therrien has stayed in touch with the FBI’s Kansas City office. An FBI spokeswoman declines to say whether Tucker is being investigated, but three of his associates told me that agents had contacted them about his debt sales.

After the ruling against Tucker, Therrien heard from him for the first time in months, and they started talking again. Amid their conversations, which were recorded, Tucker’s brother, Scott, was convicted on all 14 charges he faced. Without directly asking Therrien to drop his vendetta, Tucker seemed to be pleading for mercy. “I’ve f—ing had enough harm done,” he said. “I’ve lost a brother. Got a brother going to prison. Put it this way, Andrew. I’m tired, buddy. I’m f—ing tired.”

“I’m tired too,” Therrien replied, “because I’m still getting harassed by these motherf—ers.”

Source: https://bloom.bg/2k0OJzA

Most shooters got their guns legally, didn’t have diagnosed mental illness, new FBI report says.

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Most shooters got their guns legally, didn’t have diagnosed mental illness, new FBI report says

As mass shootings filter in and out of the news cycle at an almost dizzying pace with each new tragedy, the FBI has continued to probe why these atrocities continue and what can be done to stop them.

In a new report released Wednesday, the bureau shed light on behaviors of shooters before they acted out, finding most obtained a gun legally and did not have diagnosed mental health issues, points that run contrary to some popular beliefs.

Active shooting incidents have continued to plague the nation but last year, there were 30 incidents across the U.S. — the highest number since the FBI began tracking the phenomenon. Last year also broke a record for the highest death toll in any single year.

“Faced with so many tragedies, society routinely wrestles with a fundamental question: can anything be done to prevent attacks on our loved ones, our children, our schools, our churches, concerts and communities?” the study says. “There is cause for hope because there is something that can be done.”

The 30-page report examines active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 and suspects in 63 cases, finding suspects showed signs before they attacked but law enforcement wasn’t notified in more than half the cases until it was too late.

Forty percent of suspects purchased a firearm or multiple guns legally for the sole purpose of an attack. Another 35 percent already legally owned a gun before planning an attack, meaning 75 percent of active shooter incidents reviewed by the FBI legally owned the gun they used in the attack.

The remaining suspects stole, borrowed or purchased a weapon illegally.

The FBI could only verify that 25 percent of the gunmen examined in the study had any type of mental illness diagnoses, including disorders affecting mood, anxiety and personality.

The study noted, although, that a large portion of shooters, about 62 percent, were dealing with stressors in their lives such as depression, anxiety and paranoia before their attack.

Those symptoms don’t mean the suspect was necessarily dealing with a mental illness and the conclusion that all active shooters are mentally ill is both “misleading and unhelpful,” the bureau said.

“In light of the very high lifetime prevalence of the symptoms of mental illness among the U.S. population, formally diagnosed mental illness is not a very specific predictor of violence of any type, let alone targeted violence,” the study says. “Careful consideration should be given to social and contextual factors that might interact with any mental health issue before concluding that an active shooting was ’caused’ by mental illness.”

Source: https://usat.ly/2lQ1ZrV