Obama has studiously avoided weighing in on the large field of Democratic candidates vying for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Behind closed doors on Friday, however, he tipped his hand a bit.
Sanders is preaching political revolution. Warren is urging “big systemic change”. The former president clearly had those two frontrunners in mind when he suggested such aggressive talk risks alienating the kind of middle-of-the-road voters necessary to defeat Donald Trump next year.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Obama, despite being labelled a radical socialist by his conservative critics, governed as a pragmatic moderate. That created a fair amount of consternation of among progressives in his party, who thought he was one of their own when elected. Some view his presidency as a missed opportunity to enact fundamental structural reforms in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.
This time around, they’re throwing their support behind Warren and Sanders and won’t appreciate being indirectly lectured by the former president.
The moderate-progressive division within the Democratic Party is very real, and it has the potential for combustion. Obama may not be picking a favourite candidate, but it looks like he’s picking sides.
Others not involved in the race for the nomination were more blunt.
In a tweet, Peter Daou, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, wrote: “Saying ‘Americans are moderate than these wild leftists’ is basically conceding that the far-right propaganda machine has prevailed.”
The frontrunners are former Vice-President Joe Biden, senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
At the event held in Washington on Friday, Mr Obama did not mention any candidate by name nor criticise any specific policy proposal.
Instead, he used the appearance to urge Democrats to “pay some attention” to voters on issues such as health care and immigration.
These voters, Mr Obama said, did not necessarily have the same views as what he called “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds” or “the activist wing of our party”.
The comments, which come less than four months before the Democratic primaries, represent one of Mr Obama’s most pointed interventions in the race so far.
They may be seen as a critique of senators Sanders and Warren – widely seen as two of the most left-wing candidates in the field.
Both candidates have called for far-reaching political and economic change, including policies that would end private health insurance and decriminalise illegal border crossings.
But Mr Obama, who occupied the White House from 2009 to 2017, said the country was “less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement”.
“Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality,” Mr Obama said at the meeting, reportedly attended by wealthy liberal donors.
The Democratic race is still largely up in the air even as the first of the state-by-state votes that will decide which of the contenders challenges Mr Trump for the White House looms in Iowa in February.
Some Democrats are concerned that Mr Biden, a moderate, will struggle to beat Mr Trump, prompting a flurry of latecomers to join the race.
In recent days Deval Patrick, the two-time former governor of Massachusetts, entered the field amid speculation that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may follow suit.
In the last three weeks US authorities have arrested at least 28 people accused of threatening acts of mass violence. What’s behind this surge and could they all be convicted?
The threats ranged from posts on social media and video gaming sites to verbal comments to colleagues and friends. In at least two cases, suspects sent text messages to ex-partners. Hoards of weapons were also found in some cases.
The FBI won’t say what is behind the steep bump in apprehensions, some carried out by that agency, others by local police. It’s not clear if it marks a growth in threats or simply a rise in awareness and tip-offs.
But former FBI boss Andrew McCabe said on Friday there was undoubtedly a “renewed awareness” focused on the sort of threats that a few months ago might have been ignored by investigators mindful of the right to free speech as enshrined in the US Constitution.
The first amendment offers broad protection of free speech, even if that speech is racist or of a violent nature. Prosecutions in the US are further complicated by the second amendment which safeguards the right to bear arms.
So what can be done to stop a shooter before they strike?
When a threat becomes a crime
More than two dozen people are reported to have been arrested for making threats to carry out mass violence since the 3 August shooting in El Paso.
Many of the alleged plots foiled by US law enforcement included plans to target specific minority groups. But without any federal penalties in place for acts of domestic terrorism – like those that exist for international terrorism – the charges varied – false threats, terrorist threats, illegal possession of weapons and disorderly conduct.
It’s unclear how these various cases will fare at trial. For charges asserting threats of violence, the threats must be highly specific, accompanied by evidence of imminent danger.
“The whole test is whether something is a clear or present danger,” says Martin Stolar, a civil rights lawyer based in New York. You must be expressing a clear intention to commit a crime, he continued, and close to committing it.
A case in Vermont shows how tricky it can be to prosecute. Jack Sawyer, 18, was arrested in 2018 after he threatened to cause mass casualties at his former high school. A friend had informed police, who searched his car and found a 31-page diary entitled Journal of an Active Shooter.
The state’s attorney charged Mr Sawyer with four felonies – two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and one count each of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, among the most serious charges in Vermont.
But within months, all four felony charges were dropped. Mr Sawyer walked free in April 2018 and has now been adjudicated as a youthful offender for carrying a dangerous weapon. He will remain under state supervision until he turns 22.
The court found that he had stated his intentions to commit harm but no action followed, says Vermont-based lawyer David Sleigh. “Simply contemplating a crime is not a crime in Vermont.”
All states have laws that bar violent threats. Threats made by US mail or interstate commerce, for example, are considered criminal. But those threats generally must include the incitement or solicitation of specific violent acts to be considered criminal.
“You don’t criticise someone for speaking, you criticise people for picking up a gun,” says Mr Stolar. “When speech crosses the line.”
Without a designated target, an immediate timeline, or clear preparations to commit assault, violent words may be protected speech.
There must be “action and imminent danger,” Mr Sleigh says. “As opposed to trying to criminalise evil or unpalatable thinking.”
What happens in other countries?
In terms of free speech protections, the US is singular.
“In some countries, they’ve criminalised certain types of hate speech that are protected here,” says Mary McCord, a former senior national security prosecutor, now legal director at Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
“They have a tool available in those countries to prevent some of the type of speech that can be used to recruit new adherents to an ideology.”
What about other countries?
In the UK, for example, an expression of hatred related to a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal.
In Canada, too, there are more restrictions on free speech than in the US. The federal criminal code includes multiple provisions barring hate speech, including those that impose criminal sanctions against anyone who willfully incites hatred in public against an identifiable group, including those distinguished by race, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.
Such sensitivities “present barriers,” Ms McCord says, “to effectively combat the spread of violent ideologies.”
But in the US, she continues, “we respect the first amendment.”
Is an arsenal legal?
The implications of the first amendment are complicated by the second, which enshrines the right to gun ownership.
In many of the recent arrests, suspects were found in possession of firearms and other weapons. But even where suspects were found with a hoard of firearms – like 18-year-old Justin Olsen, who was found with more than a dozen rifles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition – the cache of weapons uncovered were legally acquired, and do not provide grounds to prosecute.
“If a person’s not prohibited for having a weapon, he could have a bunch of weapons, he could not be breaking any laws at all,” says Ms McCord.
She has drafted a proposal to criminalise the stockpiling of weapons for use in a domestic attack.
“That would enable the government to prove his intent,” says Ms McCord, giving law enforcement an additional tool to thwart potential offenders before they act. Without standing law specifically addressing domestic terrorism, “law enforcement has to find something to charge [suspects] with because there’s nothing that directly applies. They’re cobbling things together to charge.”
Ms McCord is among a growing number of those within the intelligence community calling for domestic terrorism to be classified as a federal crime, giving law enforcement expanded preventative powers – similar to those that apply to international terrorist groups.
But some civil rights advocates and attorneys balk at giving the US government any more power. They argue that existing laws, when enforced, are sufficient.
“I think the rush to try to expand police authority into regulating rights of free speech or rights to gun ownership should be taken very, very carefully,” Mr Sleigh says.
Does the combination of the first and second amendment create a volatility that does not exist elsewhere, he asks.
“I suspect it does. But it’s been part of our national project to embrace that liberty and freedom, knowing that it comes with risk.”
Two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead, has once again brought the spotlight on gun ownership in the United States.
An attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on Saturday left 20 dead, while nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.
But where does America stand on the right to bear arms and gun control?
What do young people think about gun control?
When looking at the period before the Parkland school shooting in 2018, it is interesting to track how young people have felt about gun control.
Support for gun control over the protection of gun rights in America is highest among 18 to 29-year-olds, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre, with a spike after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. The overall trend though suggests a slight decrease in support for gun control over gun rights since 2000.
Pew found that one third of over-50s said they owned a gun. The rate of gun ownership was lower for younger adults – about 28%. White men are especially likely to own a gun.
How does the US compare with other countries?
About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world. There were almost 11,000 deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter involving a firearm in 2017.
Homicides are taken here to include murder and manslaughter. The FBI separates statistics for what it calls justifiable homicide, which includes the killing of a criminal by a police officer or private citizen in certain circumstances, which are not included.
In about 13% of cases, the FBI does not have data on the weapon used. By removing these cases from the overall total of gun deaths in the US, the proportion of gun-related killings rises to 73% of homicides.
Who owns the world’s guns?
While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US with more than 390 million is far out in front.
Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person – they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting – a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service.
How do US gun deaths break down?
There have been more than 110 mass shootings in the US since 1982, according to investigative magazine Mother Jones.
Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage – and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims. The shootings do not include killings related to other crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.
The overall number of people killed in mass shootings each year represents only a tiny percentage of the total number.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,600 deaths from guns in 2016 – of which more than 22,900 were suicides. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the CDC.
A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.
Attacks in US become deadlier
The Las Vegas attack in 2017 was the worst in recent US history – and eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past 10 years.
What types of guns kill Americans?
Military-style assault-style weapons have been blamed for some of the major mass shootings such as the attack in an Orlando nightclub and at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.
Dozens of rifles were recovered from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting, police reported.
A few US states have banned assault-style weapons, which were totally restricted for a decade until 2004.
However most murders caused by guns involve handguns, according to FBI data.
How much do guns cost to buy?
For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.
Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£151) – comparable to a Chromebook laptop.
Assault-style rifles, also recovered from Paddock’s room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,132).
In addition to the 23 weapons at the hotel, a further 19 were recovered from Paddock’s home. It is estimated that he may have spent more than $70,000 (£52,800) on firearms and accessories such as tripods, scopes, ammunition and cartridges.
Who supports gun control?
US public opinion on the banning of handguns has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Support has shifted over time and now a significant majority opposes a ban on handguns, according to polling by Gallup.
But a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with US gun laws and policies, and most of those who are unhappy want stricter legislation.
Some states have taken steps to ban or strictly regulate ownership of assault weapons. Laws vary by state but California, for example, has banned around 75 types and models of assault weapon.
Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide – such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on “watch” lists.
But Republicans and Democrats are much more divided over other policy proposals, such as whether to allow ordinary citizens increased rights to carry concealed weapons – according to a survey from Pew Research Center.
Following the interview, Mr Khosrowshahi sent an email to Axios backtracking on his comments. “I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” he wrote. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Mr Khosrowshahi was appointed CEO in 2017, after former chief executive Travis Kalanick resigned amid pressure from shareholders.
Mr Kalanick, Uber’s billionaire co-founder, resigned after a spate of controversies at the firm. Issues included complaints from employees about a sexist and macho company culture and that accusations of sexual harassment were not taken seriously. He remains a member of the board of directors.
What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?
On 2 October 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered. Conflicting narratives emerged after his death over how he died and who was responsible.
Saudi officials claimed he was murdered in a “rogue operation” carried about by a team of agents, while others – including Turkish officials and the CIA – said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A UN expert earlier this year concluded that Khashoggi’s death was “an extrajudicial execution” and that there was credible evidence” that the crown prince and other high-level officials were individually liable.
Canadian-born rock star Neil Young has said his application for US citizenship has been delayed partly because he smokes marijuana.
Young says he passed the citizenship test but was told he had to take another to prove “moral character”.
In April, the US government clarified that using marijuana and other drugs was a “bar to establishing good moral character for naturalisation”.
Young, who turns 74 this week, has lived in the US since the mid-1960s.
In a post on his website, Young described passing the citizenship test after “a conversation where I was asked many questions” that he “answered truthfully”.
“I want to be a dual citizen and vote,” he said. “Recently however, I have been told I must do another test, due to my use of marijuana.”
On 19 April, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a policy alert clarifying that “violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, remains a conditional bar to establishing good moral character for naturalisation even where that conduct would not be an offence under state law”.
California, where Young lives, legalised cannabis for recreational use in 2018.