On Jan. 2, a group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. The militia members, led in part by to Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.
Yes, the anti-government radicals were demanding a government handout from Washington in the form of free land.
Almost immediately, the threat of violence seemed quite real, but in the days that followed, very little happened. If the militants were expecting some kind of armed confrontation, they were probably surprised to discover that law enforcement officials can be extraordinarily patient.
Last night, however, the calm was interrupted by gun fire. NBC News reported this morning:
Oregon occupation protest leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were arrested Tuesday in a highway traffic stop that ended in gunfire and left an anti-government rancher dead. Five others were also detained. [...]
One of their supporters, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, 54, was killed in the shooting, his daughter told NBC News.... Finicum had previously stated that he preferred death to jail, telling NBC News in a Jan. 6 interview that he had no intention of being taken into custody.
Three others were arrested at the scene, and two more were arrested later "in separate but related incidents." They will reportedly face "federal felony charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats."
As is always the case in a situation like this, many of the details of what transpired are still coming together, but based on what we know, it appears no one from law enforcement was hurt during last night's confrontation.
Katy Tur, NBC News political reporter, talks with Rachel Maddow about the game of chicken between Fox News and Donald Trump in which Fox News insists on including its host, Megan Kelly, in the debate, so Donald Trump says he won't participate. watch
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Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will be asking the federal government to provide long term health coverage for the children of Flint exposed to lead-tainted water. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver joins on the phone to explain the details of the needs of Flint's kids. watch
* Syria: "Multiple bombings struck a government-run checkpoint in the central Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, killing at least 20 people and wounding over a hundred amid intense political jockeying ahead of U.N.-backed peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva on Friday."
* In related news: "The United Nations invited representatives of the Syrian government and members of opposition groups on Tuesday to political talks in Geneva this week, as its top humanitarian official gave the warring parties a concrete list of demands: Let in food and medicine, stop bombing schools and hospitals."
* Afghanistan: "An Afghan policeman turned his weapon on fellow officers as they were sleeping in their quarters near a checkpoint in the country's south, killing 10, a provincial spokesman said Tuesday."
* A humane decision: 'President Obama on Monday announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system, saying the practice is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences."
* Um, what? "Call it a cover up: Nude statues were hidden in Rome in an apparent attempt not to offend the visiting president of socially-conservative Iran. President Hassan Rouhani was in Italy on Tuesday as part of a European tour aimed at drumming up investment in Iran following years of international sanctions."
* A case worth watching: "The bitter dispute about North Carolina's elections laws returned to a federal courtroom here on Monday as the state's voter identification requirement went on trial."
* Told you so: "Markets sure seem to think that the Federal Reserve has made a big mistake. It hasn't just been stocks selling off 10 percent to start the year. It has also been bonds saying that they don't think the Fed will come close to hitting its target of 2 percent annual inflation anytime in the next 10 years."
On the surface, the political dynamic is baffling. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of a legendary right-wing TV preacher and the head of one of the nation's largest evangelical universities, threw his official political support behind Donald Trump -- a secular, thrice-married casino owner who's never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith.
And yet, here we are. Falwell has not only offered a spirited (no pun intended) endorsement to the Republican frontrunner, he's even gone so far as to say Trump "reminds me so much of my father."
There's a fair amount to a story like this one, but let's start with a blast from the recent past.
In November 2007, another thrice-married New York Republican was running for president, who also had a secular track record of supporting abortion rights and gay rights. And yet, a high-profile televangelist -- Christian Coalition president and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson -- nevertheless threw his support to that GOP candidate, Rudy Giuliani.
Social conservative activists and leading religious right groups howled, for reasons that are probably obvious. Giuliani was the antithesis of everything evangelicals were looking for in a Republican presidential candidate, and yet, Robertson ignored his allies and threw in his lot with the secular, Catholic adulterer.
Why? Because Robertson's priorities weren't (and aren't) at all similar to those of many other evangelical leaders: the "700 Club" host saw a Republican leading in the polls; he wanted a seat at the table with a man he perceived as a future president; and so Robertson followed the prevailing political winds.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know this was a poor bet -- Giuliani failed spectacularly as a candidate, earning exactly zero delegates -- but it was a reminder that Robertson is a partisan first and a culture-war ideologue second, while other prominent social conservatives reverse the two.
And Robertson isn't the only social conservative who thinks this way.
Capital punishment has evolved over time, but the progression tends to move in one direction. As we discussed last year, those who believe that the government should have the authority to kill its own citizens have adapted over time to changing norms and technologies. When one method of execution is deemed gruesome, cruel, or of dubious efficacy, policymakers move towards another.
The standards have shifted more than once: from stoning to guillotines, nooses to firing squads, electric chairs to lethal injections. In each instance, the idea has been to make the killing process cleaner and more sanitary.
Occasionally, however, we're confronted with an official who likes the idea of rolling back the clock. Politicoreports today that Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) endorses use of the guillotine.
"I think the death penalty should be appropriate for people who kill Mainers," LePage said.... He said he was "appalled" at critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who are angry over his comments, saying they are protecting drug traffickers.
"What we ought to do is bring the guillotine back," he said, interrupting the hosts. "We could have public executions and we could even have which hole it falls in."
It's not altogether clear whether the governor was serious. With Paul LePage, it's often hard to tell.
But the broader point about contemporary conservatives looking backwards for methods of executions is nevertheless true.
The Rachel Maddow Show travels to Flint, Michigan on Wednesday, January 27, where Rachel Maddow will host a town hall with Flint residents to talk about the steps ahead in dealing with their toxic water crisis. read more
The religious right, desperate to choose the Republican Party's presidential nominee, was determined not to repeat the movement's previous mistakes this year. Heading into 2016, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins spearheaded an initiative that pulled together dozens of like-minded social conservative leaders for one purpose: to choose the next president.
Late last year, the group, which referred to itself as "The Group," met in a hotel boardroom in Northern Virginia and agreed that Ted Cruz would serve as the movement's standard bearer.
And while this was an important breakthrough for the GOP senator, to assume that social conservatives would stick together is a mistake. Take this morning, for example.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. will endorse Donald Trump on Tuesday, his campaign confirmed to NBC News.
Support from Falwell, the son of a famed evangelical televangelist, is a stamp of approval for Trump from one of the country's best-known religious conservatives and comes just days before the Iowa caucuses.
Given the praise Falwell recently offered Trump, the news doesn't come as too big of a surprise, but note that Cruz expected to at least be in the running for this same endorsement. Remember, when the Texas Republican launched his presidential campaign last spring, he did so at Falwell's Liberty University.
The point, at the time, was to send a not-so-subtle message to social conservatives that Cruz wanted to be their candidate. Falwell no doubt heard the message, but sided with Trump anyway.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Iowa, the new Fox News poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders by six points, 48% to 42%. That's much closer than the 14-point advantage Clinton enjoyed in a Fox poll from early December.
* In New Hampshire, the latest Boston Heraldpoll shows Sanders building on his lead over Clinton among Granite State Democrats, 55% to 39%.
* Clinton is in better shape in national Democratic polling. A new CNN poll shows her ahead 52% to 38%, while Fox has Clinton leading 49% to 37%.
* At a forum last night, Sanders emphasized tax increases as part of his campaign platform. "We will raise taxes, yes we will," Sanders said in a quote that will end up in an attack ad if the senator wins the nomination.
* An interesting tidbit on the Democratic data: pollsters that rely on random-digit dialing tend to show Bernie Sanders faring well; pollsters that rely on voter-registration files tend to show Hillary Clinton in the lead.
* In Kentucky, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) kicked off his Senate campaign this morning, throwing his hat into the ring to take on Sen. Rand Paul (R) in November. Paul, you'll recall, is also a struggling presidential candidate, who hasn't spent much time in his adopted home state lately.
* Ted Cruz has an effective new ad targeting Donald Trump, taking aim at the frontrunner's "New York values," which includes the time Trump described himself as pro-choice.
* The editorial board of the Boston Globe, which has a sizable audience in New Hampshire, has endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primary.
With so little time remaining before Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire start the presidential nominating process in earnest, there isn't much the candidates can say that they haven't already said -- so they're turning to high-profile allies to lend a hand.
Last week, we saw Donald Trump celebrating an endorsement from Sarah Palin, and over the weekend, Ted Cruz welcomed support from a conservative media personality of his own.
Conservative media personality Glenn Beck officially endorsed Ted Cruz's presidential bid on Saturday while campaigning with the Texas senator in Iowa.
"I am here to announce that I am officially endorsing Ted Cruz," Beck said as he introduced the GOP hopeful in Ankeny.
Right on cue, Trump referred to Beck as a "sad sack" and "a serious loser."
But of particular interest was how Beck endorsed the Texas senator. "I have prayed for the next George Washington," Beck told supporters. "I believe I have found him."
The obvious problem with the praise is that Ted Cruz has nothing at all in common with the nation's first president, but the less obvious problem is that Beck keeps finding the next George Washington.
Salon's Simon Maloy explained this morning, "Who wouldn't want to be the next George Washington? But, unfortunately for Cruz, he's not the only person Beck has pegged as the potential second coming of America's first president. In fact, Cruz is something like the fourth or fifth 'next George Washington' that Beck has identified over the past few years."
In his State of the Union address two weeks ago, President Obama acknowledged that "expectations for what we will achieve this year are low," but he hopes the White House and the Republican Congress "can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform." The comment generated some applause in the chamber.
But not everyone clapped.
Real, meaningful progress on criminal justice reform offers promise -- it's one of the few issues supported by the president, GOP leaders, and even the Koch brothers -- and in October, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a compromise package. As of this morning, the "Criminal Justice Reform and Corrections Act," has already picked up 28 co-sponsors, 15 Democrats and 13 Republicans.
That kind of balance is uncommon on major issues -- it helped the agreement clear the Senate Judiciary Committee easily -- which is why it's all the more important that some far-right senators are positioned to kill the legislation. Politicoreported yesterday:
Sen. Tom Cotton, the hawkish upstart who's already made waves on the Iran nuclear deal and government surveillance programs, is now leading a new rebellion against a bipartisan effort to overhaul the criminal justice system -- hoping to torpedo one of the few pieces of major legislation that could pass Congress in President Barack Obama's final year. [...]
"It would be very dangerous and unwise to proceed with the Senate Judiciary bill, which would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons," Cotton said later in an interview with POLITICO. "I think it's no surprise that Republicans are divided on this question ... [but] I don't think any Republicans want legislation that is going to let out violent felons, which this bill would do."
Cotton is joined in this campaign by Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and David Perdue (R-Ga.). Politico's piece added that there are "pockets" of opposition within the GOP that will resist "anything that might erode its tough-on-crime reputation."
In other words, a worthwhile, bipartisan agreement, backed by the Koch brothers, may be scrapped because some far-right senators are worried about the Republican Party's branding.
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.