What Happened Today
December 4, 2023
The Big Story
On Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the would-be murderer of Derek Chauvin—the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of the second-degree murder of George Floyd and then stabbed by a fellow inmate at Arizona’s Federal Correctional Institution on Nov. 24—was former Mexican Mafia gang leader and FBI informant John Turscak, who was serving a 30-year sentence for racketeering and conspiring to kill another gang member. Turscak told the FBI after the stabbing that he had been thinking about assaulting Chauvin for a month and that he chose the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, because it was “symbolic with the Black Lives Matter movement and the ‘Black Hand’ symbol associated with the Mexican Mafia.” Chauvin was stabbed 22 times but survived the attack, and Turscak has been charged with attempted murder.
So, to recap: A member of the Mexican Mafia, who is not Mexican, stabbed Chauvin on Black Friday, which is a shopping holiday, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. It’s 2023, so I guess we’ll go with it. Media reports indicate that Turscak, whose parents were born in the former Czechoslovakia, was indeed the leader of a Los Angeles faction of the Mexican Mafia in the late 1990s, when he went by the nickname “The Strangler.” Turscak became an FBI informant in 1997, providing information that led to more than 40 indictments of fellow gang members, then was dropped by the bureau for continuing to engage in criminal activity while serving as an informant. But at his 2001 sentencing, Turscak claimed that he had been acting with the approval of his handlers: “I didn’t commit those crimes for kicks. I did them because I had to if I wanted to stay alive. I told that to the FBI agents and they just said, ‘Do what you have to do.’” Oh, and there’s another odd detail: Turscak, after spending more than two decades in prison, was scheduled to be released in 2026.
All of that is weird, sure, but one prison expert we spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous due to the paucity of information about the case, suggested that although the BLM claim sounded like a “silly excuse,” it was possible Turscak could have needed favors from Black inmates or have other reasons for wanting to impress them. They also said it would not be unheard of for an inmate close to release to commit an assault like this if he did not want to leave prison, or was afraid to. Killing a high-profile prisoner, especially an allegedly racist cop, could serve as a “status symbol with bragging rights” among the other prisoners; during Chauvin’s trial, his attorney asked for him to be kept away from other prisoners for precisely this reason. The expert also said it was rare but not impossible for a white man to join a Hispanic gang. Indeed, Turscak is not the first known Croatian member of the Mexican Mafia—there was also Joe “Pegleg” Morgan, a son of Croatian immigrants whose surname at birth was Medugorac.
That said, the attempted murder of Chauvin comes just as there is a new wave of public scrutiny on the process leading up to his trial and conviction. Liz Collin, a former anchor for Minneapolis’ CBS affiliate, recently released a documentary called The Fall of Minneapolis, detailing the extreme pressure that prosecutors, politicians, and witnesses were under to convict Chauvin for murdering Floyd. Among the many allegations of misconduct in the film is a claim that Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker, who initially ruled that “there was no physical evidence to suggest that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxiation,” openly spoke of his fear of being seen to exonerate Chauvin, asking colleagues, “what happens when the actual evidence doesn’t match up with the public narrative that everyone’s already decided on?” and speculating that the case could end his career. After meeting with the FBI, the documentary claims, Baker changed his mind and issued an autopsy blaming Chauvin for Floyd’s death. Collin also interviewed Chauvin, who described his trial and sentencing as a “sham.”
Whatever the case, after the prison deaths in recent years of Jeffrey Epstein and Whitey Bulger, and now the near-murder of Chauvin, it would seem that American prisons are incapable of keeping their high-profile inmates safe—from themselves or from each other.
IN THE BACK PAGES: Jackson Greenberg on the moral blindness of progressive education
→Somebody made millions of dollars shorting Israeli stocks in the five days prior to the Oct. 7 attacks. A new paper from Robert J. Jackson Jr., former commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and Joshua Mitts, an expert on short-selling at Columbia Law School, found a “sharp and unusual increase” in “trading in risky short-dated options on [Israeli] companies expiring just after the attacks,” on both the New York and Tel Aviv stock exchanges. The following graph, reproduced from the Haaretz article, shows the volume of shorts on EIS, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the performance of the Israeli economy as a whole, in the month leading up to Oct. 7 (the dates are formatted European-style, so that “04.09” is Sept. 4).
Although the authors do not identify who conducted the transactions, “they conclude that traders informed about the coming attacks profited from these tragic events.” They also note that there was a similar spike in short transactions on April 3, two days before April 5, which captured Hamas terrorists have said was the date originally planned for the attacks. This suggests that whoever was behind the transactions, they may have been shorting the Israeli economy on behalf of, and with advanced warning from, the terror group.
Read more here: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-12-04/ty-article-magazine/.premium/did-hamas-make-billions-betting-against-israeli-shares-before-october-7-massacre/0000018c-348d-d5f2-a5cc-769d7bea0000
→The Houthis, the Iran-backed Yemeni Shiite militia, stepped up their terror activities in the Red Sea over the weekend. On Sunday, Houthi ballistic missiles struck three commercial ships in the Red Sea, critically damaging one. A U.S. destroyer, the USS Carney, responded to the ships’ distress calls and shot down three Houthi drones approaching it. The missile attacks were the latest in a string of Houthi provocations in the Red Sea, including a Nov. 27 ballistic missile attack on another U.S. destroyer, the Nov. 19 hijacking of the Galaxy Leader, a Bahamian-flagged commercial ship, and the shooting down of a U.S. Reaper drone on Nov. 9. In a press briefing Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the attacks, while “launched by the Houthis in Yemen, were fully enabled by Iran.” The United States formerly designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, but the Biden administration removed that designation in February 2021 as part of its push to improve relations with Iran.
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→On Monday, “dozens” of Israeli tanks entered southern Gaza, and Gaza’s main telecom providers reported a “near total” blackout, as the IDF geared up for its ground offensive against the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis, where much of Hamas’ leadership is believed to be in hiding. “According to commanders in the field,” Haaretz reports, “the fighting in Khan Younis will focus on defined areas, from which civilians will be able to leave but not enter.” A similar operation is expected in Rafah. The Israeli Air Force announced Monday that it had struck more than 200 Hamas targets overnight, while the IDF announced the deaths of three more troops in Gaza. Israeli leaders, meanwhile, attempted to signal their commitment to destroying Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip, following reports last week of escalating U.S. pressure on the Israelis to finish their operation quickly. “The IDF has begun to work in southern Gaza,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday. “The fate of the terrorists in the Hamas battalions there will be the same as those in the north, and worse. We will continue until victory and until all goals are achieved—the elimination of Hamas and the return of the hostages to Israel.”
→Microsoft signed collaboration deals with two state-owned Chinese newspapers and provided one, People’s Daily, which is the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, with an artificial intelligence chatbot to supply English readers with CCP-approved talking points, The Washington Free Beacon reports. In the first deal, signed in 2016 with China Daily, which is published by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, Microsoft agreed “to help enable the outlet to target and profile users and establish the ‘Media Smart Cloud Innovation Technology Laboratory.’” In a 2018 deal with People’s Daily, the company embedded its AI chatbot Xiaoice in the newspaper’s English-language website to “give English-speaking readers a ‘window’ into understanding China.” But, as the Free Beacon reports, “Xiaoice’s responses are all approved by the Chinese Communist Party.” A spokesperson for Microsoft said that both deals have expired and have not been renewed, but the company retains at least one major client: the U.S. federal government, which uses Microsoft 365 as its primary email and cloud provider. In July, the State Department acknowledged that Chinese hackers had breached its Microsoft 365 cloud email server.
→And here’s a roundup of some recent “anti-Zionist” protest activity:
The organizers of a local arts and music festival in Williamsburg, Virginia, canceled a scheduled Hanukkah celebration, citing fears of “folks feeling like we are siding with one group over the other.” In statement criticizing the move, the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula said that one of the event’s organizers claimed the Hanukkah celebration would send a message that the festival was “supporting the killing/bombing of thousands of men, women, and children” and offered to reinstate it only if it was accompanied by a banner calling for a cease-fire.
A group at the Columbia School of Social Work announced it was hosting a Dec. 6 “teach-in and discussion” on the “Significance of the October 7th Palestinian Counteroffensive,” at which attendees would learn about the “centrality of revolutionary violence to anti-imperialism.” CSSW, one of the most prestigious programs in the country for aspiring therapists and social workers, states on its website that its mission is “to interrogate racism and other systems of oppression standing in the way of social equality and justice.”
The executive director of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) said at a Friday rally outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., that “most of the [Israeli] civilians” who died on Oct. 7 were “killed by their own army.” AMP is currently the defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging that it is a “disguised continuance” of an arm of the Holy Land Foundation, which was found to have funneled millions of dollars to Hamas, but that has not stopped elected Democrats from cozying up to the group. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) spoked at an AMP-organized candlelight vigil in Detroit on Thursday, and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) spoke at the group’s annual conference in 2020.
A mob of anti-Israel protestors formed outside falafel shop Goldie in Philadelphia on Sunday night, chanting “Goldie’s, Goldie’s, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” The falafel shop’s connection to the war in Gaza? It’s owned by Mike Solomonov, a Jewish Israeli-born U.S. citizen who grew up in Pittsburgh. Check out a video of the protest here:
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The Un-Conscientious Objectors
How progressive education made my peers morally confused
By Jackson Greenberg
In my 11th grade American Literature class at a private school in the Philadelphia suburbs, our first assignment was to bring an object to class that represented America. Setting aside the inanity of having 16-year-olds perform show-and-tell—and presenting it as “education”—that day stuck with me for another reason.
One of my classmates, a fellow member of the student orchestra, held up a baseball card, explaining: “This is the first African American player to play professional baseball: Doug Glanville.” Glanville is indeed Black and was an excellent centerfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1990s. But he was, as anyone who is familiar with the history of the baseball can tell you, not the first African American to play baseball professionally.
I raised my hand. The teacher called on me. “That’s not right,” I started to say. My teacher stopped me. “Let him finish,” she said, gesturing toward the cellist. When he was done, the teacher nodded and said: “Thank you for that illuminating presentation. Who’s next?”
At this progressive school, we were taught that everyone had an equal voice and worthwhile perspective. There were no advanced classes. All were considered equal and everyone was entitled to their own opinion. All cultures, religions, and worldviews deserved respect, including, apparently, objective falsehoods. Abject right-versus-wrong only applied in geometry class or when discussing violence (always wrong) versus nonviolence (always right).
Over the past several decades, a distinct and real set of politics has infected elite institutions—rooted in a moral relativism that is not just unrealistic, it’s dangerous.
“War is never justified,” proclaimed my middle school Spanish teacher, after America invaded Afghanistan. “Responding to the violence of 9/11 with more violence is not the answer. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind!”
I raised my hand: “But if America hadn’t fought against the Nazis, my grandfather would have died in a concentration camp, just as his parents and four brothers and sisters did. And I wouldn’t be here today. Was that war not justified?”
“No, Jaime,” she said, using the Spanish name she’d assigned me. “Violence is never justified. Callate.”
Fast forward two decades and the effects of this John Lennon “imagine there are no countries” (a song we sang frequently in lower school assemblies) style of education has come to maddening fruition: support for the terrorist group Hamas. I tried last week to confront a former classmate—and fellow Jew—who has been using her Instagram to call for an immediate cease-fire. Since she works in tech and likes to meditate, I figured I’d send her Sam Harris’ recent podcast titled The Bright Line Between Good and Evil. In it, Harris highlights the distinction between innocent, peace-loving Israelis and violent jihadist terrorists: “There is a bright line between good and a very specific form of evil that we must keep in view. It is the evil of bad ideas—ideas so bad that they can make even ordinary human beings impossible to live with.” (Somewhere my Spanish teacher is gasping.)
This was my classmate’s response: “Although, as both a Jew and compassionate human, I mourn the loss of Jewish life and uptick in antisemitism, I won’t stand behind the destruction of any life. In any form, by anyone. Whether it’s Israel, the U.S., Italy, or an organization like Hamas, I will never support violence or war in the name of self-defense because if your existence comes at the cost of someone else’s life, then who are you? What kind of self is that?’”
A self that is … alive? A self that is not raped or tortured, whose loved ones aren’t kidnapped and beaten?
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world without violence or without death. I wish my former classmate was, in fact, asking herself—now—who she is and what kind of self she inhabits. If she did, she’d be forced to admit that her existence already came at the cost of other lives. The only reason she’s able to posit these questions is because of previous wars fought on her behalf. Had America laid down its arms, Hitler would have sailed across the Atlantic in pursuit of global domination and the eradication of all Jews, which doesn’t sound that different from the explicit goals of Hamas. Had we not stopped Bin Laden in his goal to subject all of America to Shariah under a global caliphate, it would also have eventually meant the slaughter of Jews—not to mention the oppression and possible enslavement of millions of others.
My fellow millennials and subsequent generations have become conscientious objectors on steroids, proselytizing pacifists—no one should fight!—who type “taking life is never justified” on Instagram from gentrified neighborhoods separated from war zones by large oceans. This stance, that no one should fight to defend themselves and protect a democratic way of life, turns a blind eye to all of human history.
Freedom always comes at a cost. It just hasn’t been our cost, not even intellectually—as is clear from all those recent Instagram videos, in which current college students can’t even answer who attacked us on 9/11. We are not required to serve. We are not even required to volunteer and clean up some national park. Only 40% of Democrats said that they would stay and fight a Ukraine-style Russian invasion on American soil.
Why did our parents pay enormous sums of money for us to learn that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”? For the type of childhood education that leads directly to my former classmate’s philosophy of “I will never support violence in the name of self-defense”?
I was sent to this school because of its reputation in the arts. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to learn and write music at a young age, which laid the foundation for my career now as a composer for film and television. But even back then, my parents and I had the sense that something was going sideways educationally in these spaces. “Acceptance” began to apply to antisemitic opinions. Schools invited speakers who supported BDS, claiming they were just trying to “present both sides.” (No boycotts of any other countries were ever discussed.) We now have a direct line drawn from our educators remaining silent while students demanded the removal of hummus from the campus store to the cries of “globalize the intifada” at our university’s gates.
On my school’s website they write: “Our vision: To awaken courage and intellect and peacefully transform the world.” “Awaken courage and intellect”? How about teaching right from wrong? “Imagine there are no countries”? I will not. I will not imagine, or hope for, a world with less meaning, less purpose, less morality, less humanity.
Instead, I’d like for all of us—especially parents with school-age children—to imagine, and demand, a world where teachers are not afraid to correct misinformation. A world where we acknowledge that the freedoms we enjoy have come from the great sacrifices of others. A world where the brandishing of slogans like “community of belonging” and “we go further” do not cover up for the absence of clearly stated ethics. Where we do not let so-called educators justify rape, murder, and kidnapping babies. Where we allow the entirely sensible argument to be made that calling for a “cease-fire” may very well not lead to peace, but rather—as in the case of jihadi terrorists—even more violence and bloodshed. A world where these lessons need not be discovered from podcasts, but where the unspoken morals that frame our daily lives are taught, protected, and celebrated openly.
To my pacifist former classmates, to the 48% of 18- to 24-year-olds who don’t condemn Hamas, and to everyone else: We Jews are not asking you to fight. We’re just asking you to stop trying to inhibit those who are. Those who are trying, bravely, to protect your right to dance at Coachella without having to worry about paragliders with machine guns. Those trying to protect the right of women to dance at all. Those protecting Jews’ right to exist.
We’re not asking you to teach English on Zoom to Israeli children whose teachers have been killed or called into reserve duty. Or to send money to the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center or to the Nova Musical Festival Survivors’ Fund. We’re just asking you to simply acknowledge that in some moments, like this one, there is a clear right (free democracies) and a clear wrong (jihadi terrorists), and sometimes the path to defending what is right is difficult. And if your modern show-and-tell education won’t allow you to publicly acknowledge this simple truth, at the very least stop reposting Jewish Voice for Peace (not really Jewish, definitely not peaceful).
Because Hamas, like the Nazis and Bin Laden, must be defeated. Oh, and also? Doug Glanville was not the first African American to play Major League Baseball. That was Jackie Robinson, a man who continued to fight for what he believed was just, all while serving in our country’s military.