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Trump admin pulling millions from FEMA disaster relief to send to southern border

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The Trump administration is pulling $271 million in funding from the Department of Homeland Security, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, to pay for immigration detention space and temporary hearing locations for asylum-seekers who have been forced to wait in Mexico, according to department officials and a letter sent to the agency by a California congresswoman.

To fund temporary locations for court hearings for asylum-seekers along the southern border, ICE would gain $155 million, all from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, according to the letter from Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.

The allocations were sent to Congress as a notification rather than a request, because the administration believes it has the authority to repurpose these funds after Congress did not pass more funding for ICE detention beds as part of an emergency funding bill for the southwest border in June.

Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security will lose $116 million previously allocated for Coast Guard operations, aviation security and other components in order to fund nearly 6,800 more beds for immigrant detainees, the officials said.

“We would not say this is with no risk but we would say that we worked it in a way to…minimize the risk. This was a must pay bill that needed to be addressed,” said a DHS official, who noted that the funds would begin transfer immediately to fund ICE through Sept. 30.

Combined with existing space, the funding would allow ICE to detain nearly 50,000 immigrants at one time.

The Trump administration has claimed that the sudden rise in border crossings in 2019 has overwhelmed resources at the border, and that the lack of detention space at ICE has caused backlogs at border stations that offer migrants substandard conditions.

In July, there were 82,049 undocumented migrants who were apprehended or presented themselves at the southwest border, a sharp decline from over 144,000 in May, but still double the number seen the same month the previous year.

The $155 million for court hearings was originally allocated to FEMA in 2006 and 2007, but would have been used in the current budget to prepare to respond to natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

The administration began sending Central American migrants back to Mexico to await their court hearings in the U.S. as a means of slowing down the number of asylum-seekers who present themselves for asylum and remain in the U.S. until their court hearing. The funding will allow those immigrants waiting in Mexico to have their cases heard at the border, rather than being transported to locations within the interior of the country.

“I object to the use of funds for that purpose because the Department has provided no substantiation for a claim that this transfer is necessary due to ‘extraordinary circumstances that imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property,’” Roybal-Allard said, referring to a provision that would allow DHS to repurpose funds at this point in the budget cycle without notifying Congress.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, also expressed reservations about the administration’s plan.

“I have grave concerns about DHS’s proposed end-run around laws passed by Congress that would drain millions from agencies tasked with protecting the homeland from security threats and natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires — including CBP, TSA, FEMA and the Coast Guard,” Tester said in a statement.

“Congress has already deliberated DHS’s request and appropriated the highest-ever funding for border security and immigration enforcement, which passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed by President Trump,” he added.

Purdue Pharma offers $10-12 billion to settle opioid claims

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The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, and its owners, the Sackler family, are offering to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits against the company for $10 billion to $12 billion. The potential deal was part of confidential conversations and discussed by Purdue’s lawyers at a meeting in Cleveland last Tuesday, Aug. 20, according to two people familiar with the mediation.

Brought by states, cities and counties, the lawsuits — some of which have been combined into one massive case — allege the company and the Sackler family are responsible for starting and sustaining the opioid crisis.

At least 10 state attorneys general and the plaintiffs’ attorneys gathered in Cleveland, where David Sackler represented the Sackler family, according to two people familiar with the meeting. David Sackler, who was a board member of the company, has recently been the de facto family spokesperson.

The lawsuits that Purdue and the Sacklers are seeking to settle allege that their company’s sales practices were deceptive and at least partly responsible for the opioid crisis, which claimed more than 400,000 lives from 1999 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the lawsuits also allege that after 2007 the Sackler family drained the company of money to enrich themselves.

“The Sackler family built a multibillion-dollar drug empire based on addiction,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in May when his state joined others in suing the Sackler family and their company. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was the first to name family members in her suit in January.

Purdue Pharma, which makes the opioid painkiller OxyContin, and the Sackler family have denied the allegations laid out in the lawsuits.

The company said: “While Purdue Pharma is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, the company has made clear that it sees little good coming from years of wasteful litigation and appeals.”

“The people and communities affected by the opioid crisis need help now. Purdue believes a constructive global resolution is the best path forward, and the company is actively working with the state attorneys general and other plaintiffs to achieve this outcome,” the company added.

A representative for the Sackler family did not respond to a request for comment.

At the Cleveland meeting, the company presented a plan for Purdue to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy and then restructure into a for-profit “public benefit trust.

The Purdue lawyers claim the value of the trust to plaintiffs would include more than $4 billion in drugs that would be provided to cities, counties and states, the people familiar with the matter said. Some of the drugs are used to rescue people from overdoses.

The in-kind drugs, combined with profits from the sale of drugs, would add up to a total Purdue settlement ranging from $7 billion to $8 billion, according to two people familiar with the offer.

The trust would exist for at least 10 years. Three “well-recognized expert” trustees would be independently appointed by a bankruptcy court, according to the terms of the potential deal. Those trustees would in turn choose a board of directors to run the trust, according to the term sheet.

Any profits from the sale of Purdue’s drugs such as OxyContin or Nalmefene, a drug that has been fast-tracked by the FDA and would be used for emergency treatment of opioid overdoses, would go to the cities, counties and states if they agree to the settlement.

The Sackler family would give up ownership of the company and would no longer be involved, according to two people familiar with the matter.

For their part, the Sackler family, which has faced an increasingly hostile activist movement, would pay at least $3 billion. Forbes ranks the family as the 19th richest in America, with a fortune of at least $13 billion shared by an estimated 20 family members.

The Sackler money would be obtained by the family selling off Mundipharma, a separate global pharmaceutical company they own, according to a person briefed on the potential settlement deal. An additional $1.5 billion may be tacked onto the $3 billion if the sale of Mundipharma exceeds $3 billion.

Mundipharma describes itself on its website as a privately owned network of “independent associated companies” with “a presence in over 120 countries.” Mundipharma is controlled by the Sackler family.

A 2016 Los Angeles Times investigation of Mundipharma described how the global venture offered a new international pipeline for Purdue’s opioids.

Purdue Pharma’s legal team informed the assembled plaintiffs’ attorneys that if they did not take the potential settlement, the company would go ahead and declare bankruptcy, the people familiar with the matter said. The company’s lawyers claim the value of a fully liquidated Purdue in a standard bankruptcy would be considerably lower than the current settlement offer amount.

Purdue Pharma is just one of the opioid companies being sued by more than 2,000 cities and counties for “grossly” misrepresenting “the risks of long-term use of those drugs for persons with chronic pain,” according to court documents. The cases against a variety of opioid companiesare being overseen by U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster of Northern Ohio, who attended the meeting last week, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

The states have brought their cases separately. But the Purdue settlement deal was presented as a global deal for all plaintiffs, including the states, according to people familiar with the potential deal.

The opioid crisis has cost the United States more than $504 billion, according to a 2017 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Purdue Pharma has earned more than $35 billion from the sale of OxyContin.

What Jeffrey Epstein ‘could not buy, he forcibly took’: His accusers speak out in court

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Alleged victims of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself this month in his federal jail cell, shared their stories Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom.

The first accuser to speak, Courtney Wild, said Epstein sexually abused her for years.

His suicide “robbed” his victims of the chance “to confront him one by one” in court, she said. “For that, he is a coward.”

Another woman said Epstein was “strategic in how he approached us.”

“Each of us has a different story and different circumstances as to why we stayed in it,” the woman, identified in court only as Jane Doe 2, said. “It was like the analogy where the frog is in the pot and the heat goes up over time.”

More than 20 women either spoke in court or read statements.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who oversaw the case against Epstein before the financier’s death Aug. 10, invited alleged victims and their attorneys to attend the hearing after prosecutors asked that he scrap charges against the defendant since he is dead.

One woman, identified as Jane Doe 3, said she quit modeling after an encounter with Epstein.

Another told the court that she thinks Epstein’s victims “will never heal” from what they endured, a view echoed by others.

“He could not begin to fathom what he took from us,” one accuser said. “I am every girl that he did this to and they are me. Today, we stand together.”

Another woman, identified as Jane Doe 5, read a letter that she wrote to Epstein.

“I will never be able to get over the overwhelming emotions and embarrassment from that drama,” she said.

One woman said she almost died following an encounter with Epstein.

“He took me by the wrist. I was searching for words but all I could say was please stop, but that only seemed to excite him more,” Chauntae Davies said.

She also agreed with the other alleged victims that his suicide robbed them of justice.

“Every woman who is sitting in this room today, we have all suffered and he is winning in death,” she said.

Accuser Jennifer Araoz, who has previously said that she was manipulated to give Epstein massages that ended with him pleasuring himself, spoke through tears at the hearing.

“The fact he felt entitled to take away my innocence …. hurts me so very much,” she said.

Araoz’s lawyer said what Epstein “could not buy, he forcibly took.”

The lawyer asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to bring all of Epstein’s “co-conspirators to justice.”

Prosecutors said at the start of the hearing that a dismissal of the case against Epstein would not prohibit the government from investigating the alleged conspiracy related to the multimillionaire financier’s alleged sex trafficking.

“The investigation into those matters has been ongoing, is ongoing, and will continue,” a prosecutor for the Southern District of New York said.

Several accusers who spoke in court Tuesday named Epstein’s former longtime associate, Ghislaine Maxwell.

“We all know he did not act alone,” Sarah Ransome said, asking prosecutors to “finish what you have started.”

Theresa Helm said that Maxwell needs to be “held accountable.”

Another accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, said she was 17 when Maxwell allegedly recruited her. Giuffre said she was told that she could have a career as a massage therapist, but she instead became “a victim of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell and the horrible acts they committed against me.”

“I commend the prosecutors for the Southern District of New York for their ongoing pursuit of justice,” she said.

Maxwell, a British socialite, has been named in some court filings by women alleging abuse by Epstein.

A cache of court papers relating to a separate 2015 federal defamation lawsuit filed by Giuffre against Maxwell shows that she claimed in a 2016 deposition that Epstein and Maxwell groomed her to become a “sex slave” for high-powered men starting when she was 16.

Maxwell has not been charged with a crime and has not commented publicly since the papers were released earlier this month. Her lawyer also has not previously returned a request for comment upon release of the documents Friday and could not be immediately reached on Tuesday.

Previously, in a motion to dismiss the suit, Maxwell’s lawyers said Giuffre “produced no evidence substantiating any of her fantastical claims that she had been trafficked by Epstein, or by Maxwell.”

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Epstein’s death was “a rather stunning turn of events” and that giving the women a chance to speak was a matter of law and “respect.”

“I believe it is the court’s responsibility and in its purview that the victims in the case are dealt with, with dignity and with humanity,” he said.

Epstein, 66, was arrested July 6 on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005. He was also accused of paying his victims to recruit others, allowing him to build a vast network of girls to exploit.

One accuser who wants to remain anonymous and is represented by lawyer Lisa Bloom, said in a statement prior to the start of Tuesday’s hearing that Epstein’s suicide “denied everyone justice.”

“I cannot say that I am pleased he committed suicide, but I am at peace knowing that he will not be able to hurt anyone else,” the woman said in the statement. “I do not want the narrative to be ‘those poor girls.’ … I want some sort of closure for those of us who will relive those horrible moments where we were assaulted, abused and taken advantage of by Epstein.”

Bloom announced prior to the hearing that none of her clients would be attending as they wish to remain anonymous.

Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking. He faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

His death in his jail cell was ruled a suicide.

He had been placed on suicide watch in July after he was found in his cell semiconscious with marks on his neck. He was later taken off suicide watch after being evaluated by a doctoral-level psychologist, the Justice Department said in a letter to Congress.

Why it will take more than $20M to help Brazil put out Amazon fires

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An offer from the world’s richest nations to help Brazil stamp out the Amazon fires with $20 million in aid is a goodwill gesture, but it will barely make a dent in preventing further destruction of the rainforest’s vast and intricate ecosystem, observers who have studied the region say.

“Twenty-million dollars is a drop in the bucket,” said Robert T. Walker, a University of Florida professor who has conducted environmental research in the Amazon for 25 years. “It’s absurd to imagine logistically what effect it can have.”

But the money and what it represents — a concerted effort to protect the Amazon, and by extension, the health of the planet — remains embroiled by the political gamesmanship between Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The rancor was ratcheted up a notch this week when Bolsonaro appeared to comment on a Facebook post that mocked Macron’s wife, drawing a rebuke from the French president.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro was the one demanding an apology from Macron, and said he must retract past comments criticizing him before they can talk about Brazil accepting any money from global leaders, The Associated Press reported. Britain has also offered a separate $12 million in aid, while Canada has pledged another $11 million.

President Donald Trump has not offered any financial help, but tweeted Tuesday that Bolsonaro and Brazil have “the full and complete support” of the United States.

In turn, Bolsonaro tweeted: “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success” and the “fake news campaign built against our sovereignty will not work.”

Just how much money would be effective in the fight against the fires is unclear, but such an effort can cost governments billions of dollars a year.

In fiscal year 2017 — one of America’s most destructive wildfire seasons on record — the U.S. Forest Service spent more than $2.4 billion in firefighting costs. California alone saw more than 505,000 acres scorched.

The fires in Brazil, where a majority of the Amazon is located, have swept across more than 4 million acres, according to government officials. In neighboring Bolivia, more than 1.8 million acres have burned.

Brazil is using its military to fight the fires in seven states and deployed warplanes to dump thousands of gallons of water in the state of Rondônia, near Bolivia.

This year to date, almost 80,000 fires have been observed across Brazil, the most since at least 2013, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research.

While some of the blazes are due to uncontrolled wildfires, environmental groups say that many are the work of farmers who are clearing land illegally to be used for cattle and agricultural farming. They say those farmers have become more emboldened under Bolsonaro, who took office in January with the view that developing the Amazon would propel Brazil’s economy.

Most of the fires are starting in agricultural areas and are relatively easy to control and put out, said Rachael Garrett, an assistant professor of environmental policy at the Swiss university ETH Zürich and an expert in Brazilian land use. But when they escape from their intended locations, they grow much bigger.

“These large fires are substantially more difficult to put out,” she said, “especially when the agency in charge of fighting these fires has had their budget massively cut.”

September is the peak of the current dry season, and experts worry the fires will only grow further out of control in the coming month.

Walker said fending off these fires is extremely difficult because of how spread out the Amazon is, how decentralized the blazes are and the rough terrain that doesn’t easily allow for firetrucks on the ground.

“The nature of the beast in respect to fighting them is completely different” than in the U.S., he added.

Bolsonaro, who ran for president on a populist platform and antiglobalist wave, has generally rebuffed any aid from the international community, riding on the sentiment against the “colonialist mentality.” Brazil is a former Portuguese colony.

To get through to everyday Brazilians, world leaders need to drive home the message of respecting Brazil’s sovereignty, said Christie Klimas, associate professor of environmental science and studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

“Since the question of who owns the Amazon is a touch point in Brazil, it’s definitely worth the international community acknowledging that theirs is a gesture to help our global neighbors in an area where lives and land may be lost,” Klimas said.

But the idea that the Amazon must remain free from outside interests is misleading, given that Brazil’s meat and soybean production have a global reach and transnational companies have a stake in the region — driving the Amazon’s deforestation, Walker added.

Garrett said there’s a larger issue that still needs to be addressed: How to change the behavior of farmers who use fires to clear lands because they lack access to modern-day machinery and fertilizer.

“It’s very important that the international community acknowledges the reasons why farmers currently do what they do and offers to help them change their behaviors in ways that will improve farmers’ well-being,” she added. “Focusing only on telling farmers or Brazil at large what not to do and attempting to ‘save’ the Amazon without the cooperation of the farmers who live there just plays into the colonization narrative being put forward by Bolsonaro.”

Popeyes chicken sandwich lines are not an excuse to replay stereotypes about black voters

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The Popeyes chicken sandwich frenzy seemingly has no end in sight. People have been waiting hours for it, and it is said to put Chick-fil-A’s rival offering to shame. Black folks on social media have made this moment fun, finding joy amid a constantly punishing news cycle. Unfortunately, the cost of having public displays of Black joy is always high. For Black people, our joy has to always be juxtaposed against a struggle or need, tempering the job while also removing our ability to even do something as small as eat without thinking about oppression.

As lines wrapped around the block, a young Black boy had a smart idea. David Ledbetter, 17, went to his local Popeyes in Charlotte, North Carolina, and set up a booth to register Black folks to vote as they waited in line. To the teen’s surprise, when asking customers in line he learned that most of the people waiting were already registered to vote. Registering is not the same thing as voting, but the fact that so many people in line were registered offers at least a partial rebuttal to the perception that many Black people aren’t interested in the right.

But social media took Ledbetter’s good idea and turned it into something much less helpful.

Artist Janelle Monáe suggested on Twitter that “perhaps we put voting booths at every Popeyes location?” Actress Cynthia Erivo, star of the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic, chimed in to agree.

The problem is that Black people don’t need special fast-food voting booths; suggesting they do plays into problematic (and frankly racist) talking points about lazy Black people who can’t or won’t vote. Indeed, Republican elected officials over the past decade have repeatedly used rhetoric about how Black people will stand in line for food stamps or to get “free stuff.” The party’s presidential nominee in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed that Barack Obama beat him because Obama was offering “gifts” to Black voters. A few years later, Jeb Bush was quoted as stating: “Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and ‘Get in line, and we’ll take care of you with free stuff.'”

Whether or not they’re trying to echo people like Newt Gingrich, those asking this week if people willing to wait in line for chicken were also willing to wait in line to vote sure sounded a lot like “welfare queen”-obsessed Republicans.

Because not only is this rhetoric insulting, it’s inaccurate. The truth of the matter is Black people will and have waited in line hours to vote, and it’s our tenacity that has gotten us this far despite the systems against us.

Voter suppression, not Black voter laziness, is the real problem here. (And by the way, low voter turnout is in no way a “Black” problem.) Although Black people make up only 13 percent of the population, we account for over 30 percent of the prison population, the highest of all racial groups. Felons lose their right to vote in most states, and incarceration has aided in the suppression. Florida recently gave the right to vote back to nearly a million felons, something that is sure to make a difference next election — most of those felons being Black and brown people.

Other issues affecting voting while Black in America include racially biased gerrymandering and the closing of polling stations in predominantly Black areas. Look no further than the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. Her opponent used every tactic to drive down the Black vote, an effort that succeeded. From issues with machines in majority Black counties to the purging of Black voters from registration rolls, the suppression attempts were real. Abrams has since filed a lawsuit to overhaul the current election process in Georgia.

Black people must be allowed to exist — to find joy on social media and, yes, even silly fast-food rivalries — without our motives or oppression coming into question. Our support for a new trend or fad shouldn’t come with a “but.” Not to mention the very long and very sensitive history of prejudice tied to Black enjoyment of foods like fried chicken.

To be very clear, the Black vote is desired because we vote in high numbers and remain one of the most loyal voting blocs in America. Black women have supported the Democratic Party en masse for decades — even when the party didn’t wholly support them — and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. When it comes to stereotypical rhetoric, joking or serious, our bar has to be higher. We’ve been traumatized enough — let us enjoy that spicy chicken sandwich in peace. And have some faith: Black folks can eat and vote at the same time.

Lori Loughlin appears in court over choice of law firm

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Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in a Boston court Tuesday for a hearing relating to a possible conflict with the legal team they hired to fight federal charges in a widespread college admissions scam.

The embattled Hollywood couple was being represented by law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, which recently represented the University of Southern California, according to court documents. The school is an alleged victim in the couple’s case.

Prosecutors argued that employing the same firm posed a potential conflict of interest, but the couple said the firm’s work for the university was unrelated to the admissions case and was handled by different lawyers.

U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley allowed Latham & Watkins to continue representing the couple but said she would rule on a different potential conflict with another firm representing the couple that also represents other defendants in the case at a later hearing.

Both Loughlin and Giannulli also waived their rights to separate attorneys and agreed to be represented by the same legal team during the hearing.

Both left the courthouse showing little expression and holding hands. Loughlin was widely criticized for smiling, signing autographs and posing for photos at her previous hearings.

The actress, best known for her role as the wholesome Aunt Becky on “Full House,” and her husband face a slew of federal charges, including money laundering and bribery, in the massive college admission scandal that rocked the nation earlier this year.

The couple is accused of allegedly paying bribes totaling $500,000 to help their two daughters get into the University of Southern California as crew team recruits, even though neither has played the sport.

Both pleaded not guilty in April.

The charges alleged that the parents funneled bribes and other payments through a purported charity and for-profit corporation and transferred money from outside the United States into the country “for the purpose of promoting the fraud scheme,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Each face charges that carry up to 20 years of prison time if convicted.

Loughlin was swiftly fired from the Hallmark Channel in the scandal’s aftermath, and her daughter, Olivia Jade, a YouTube star, lost paid partnerships with several brands.

Several universities are still reeling from the scandal, including USC, which is still investigating almost 20 incoming students for potential roles in the scam, according to The New York Times. Their admissions may still be revoked, the Times reported.

More than 50 people have been charged for their alleged involvement in the scandal, including parents and university personnel. Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to ensure that their children received guaranteed admission at the schools of their choice.

Officials conceal KKK letters welded on building in Arkansas

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The letters “KKK” that were welded on an Arkansas building have been replaced with U.S. Marshals stars after one of the owners called it “offensive” insignia that’s commonly associated with “a shameful organization.”

The concealment comes after the Southwest Times Record reached out to Fort Smith Mayor George McGill earlier this year to ask about the “KKK” — letters denoting the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

McGill then reached out to the building owners Richard Griffin and Benny Westphal, who agreed to cover them, the newspaper reported. McGill is the city’s first black mayor who took office in January.

“Those letters are offensive to several residents in Fort Smith, many of whom are good friends of ours. I’ve never walked in their shoes, but I certainly wouldn’t want to send the wrong message to anyone,” said Griffin, adding that he believes the KKK is “a shameful organization.”

The letters are on three different addresses of the downtown building. Griffin owns the property of two of those addresses, while Westphal owns the property of the third.

Westphal said he and Griffin agreed to use Marshals stars to cover the letters because the city served as the agency’s regional headquarters. They said they felt inclined to take the letters down because of their common association with the hate group.

Griffin said he’s not aware of any evidence linking his building to the KKK.

But 1920s newspaper articles show the KKK had a presence in downtown Fort Smith and was closely tied to at least one mayoral election in the city.

Charolette Tidwell said she first noticed the letters in the 1960s and that obscuring them was important for inclusion.

“The community needs to understand the value of diversity and the value of how we promote diversity,” she said. “Whether they’re in our history or in our common practice, we remove the insult to people.”

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